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Washington Post Ignores StopWatchingUs Rally

12:36 pm in Uncategorized by E. F. Beall

According to the Guardian,

Thousands gathered by the Capitol reflection pool in Washington on Saturday to march, chant, and listen to speakers and performers as part of Stop Watching Us, a gathering to protest “mass surveillance” under NSA programs first disclosed by the whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Similarly Huffpo, RT (which thought enough of the event to run a live blog), and others. NBC’s Lester Holt led off last night’s news with a report that there were “hundreds” at the rally (although its cable affiliate MSNBC put the number at “close to two thousand”; go figure). You can find more coverage in posts by FDL’s Elliott and Brian Sorenstein, and other articles are listed at the Reddit Restore the Fourth page.

But the Washington Post? Nothing, nada, zilch. I’ve searched the website and all the sections of today’s print edition that were actually type-set last night, and it simply did not cover the rally. It has a nice article about the drive-in by “more than 60 women” in Saudi Arabia, and coverage of the movement against sexual harassment in India, but not of an event in its own back yard.

Back in the day WaPo would typically cover a national protest on the Mall by running an article in the Metro section (because the event had been “in Washington”; get it?), with lowballed numbers for the turnout. We used to complain about this, but I guess we should have felt lucky that the paper of record in the capital of the world’s most important country should deign to take any notice of us.

To be fair, the paper did run an advance story on the rally the other day, a piece in the Style section by one of the gossip columnists which noted that “Techies concerned over NSA surveillance” would be having a march. Maybe it thought that was sufficient.

On the other hand, maybe no one is writing a book on the subject that new owner Jeff Bezos can sell at his Amazon.

Update 8:00 PM Eastern The cases of the Guardian and RT show that the event WaPo chose not to cover garnered international media interest. Two other examples are Deutsche Welle and the South China Morning Post.

10:15 PM Nor have our Portuguese-speaking friends to the south forgotten us. O Globo (corrected Google translation):

About 2000 demonstrators protested against the spying programs of the U.S. government, at the Capitol, one of the greater symbols of political power in the United States.

(snip)

From the right-wing radicalism of the Tea Party to the American liberal left of Occupy Wall Street, various demonstrators denounced what they considered an illegal attitude of their own government.

Folha de São Paulo is cursory, but has more photos.

WaPo Legal Comment Adds To Recent Media Hysteria On Tsarnaev

11:28 am in Uncategorized by E. F. Beall

The cover article of the Outlook section of today’s Washington Post is a piece by criminal defense attorney Abbe Smith, ostensibly on why such attorneys take on the cases that they do. In the process of answering the question she offers comments on the cases of George Zimmerman, Ariel Castro, and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. In particular:

I don’t envy the lawyers representing Tsarnaev. He is young — I can understand why those nurses were instinctively kind to him — but there is overwhelming evidence that he killed, maimed and terrorized innocent people in the place where he grew up. I would want to say to him: “What the hell were you thinking?”

Those who have followed this series of posts will understand that I disagree with Ms. Smith’s evaluation of the evidence. (See especially here). More importantly, it is irresponsible of her to adopt a professional opinion like this when presumably all she knows about the evidence comes from the government’s inflammatory media leaks in April and May. In context, this only adds to the hysteria noted in my most recent posts on the subject, such as here.

What does it take to make people understand that a person is innocent until proven guilty if even a criminal defense attorney doesn’t get it?

Neocons Tell Obama: Keep the Nukes

6:07 pm in Uncategorized by E. F. Beall

At first I missed it because it was on the “Sunday Opinion Page” instead of opposite the Editorial page, but yesterday a quartet of self-described “professionals with extensive experience in national security and defense policy” got together to write an essay in the Washington Post entitled “Obama’s ‘nuclear zero’ rhetoric is dangerous” (on-line version) or “Obama’s harmful nuclear illusions” (print edition).

Nuke Silo

Republican pundits gathered to encourage Obama to invest more in nuclear weapons.

Who are these worthies, you might ask? They are, namely (are you sitting down?): Douglas J. Feith, famous as one of the architects of the disastrous Iraq War, and whom the first commanding general of that war Tommy Franks once called “the f*cking stupidest guy on the face of the earth”; Frank J. Gaffney, columnist for the arch-conservative Washington Times, original signatory of the Statement of Principles of the Project for the New American Century, and anti-Muslim activist; James A. Lyons, retired Navy admiral and prominent critic of the Obama administration’s relation to last year’s attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya; and R. James Woolsey, former director of that delightful organization the CIA. And they say they are only part of a group of 20 people.

Their piece begins with the claim that the Obama administration has not done enough to counter “recent threats from North Korea.” It is not enough merely to adjust missile defenses, they say; rather, Obama should “rethink his basic approach to nuclear weapons policy” in response. This èxtraordinary assertion that an entire foreign policy is to be determined by the perceived hostility of a single small country of course relies on a certain common perception. This is that Pyongyang’s actions or posture have been the cause of tension in the Korean peninsula, rather than a symptom thereof, extending back to 1950 when it allegedly started the Korean War. The perception is certainly shared by the Obama administration at least in its public posture, by the establishment media, and even by some in FDL (see the comments thread to this post).

BTW this perception views as responses rather than provocations the continuous garrisoning of U.S. troops south of the DMZ for the past 60 years (numbering 28,500 as of 2011), numerous joint U.S.-ROK military “exercises” over the years, and the flying of nuclear-capable bombers from Missouri to the Korean peninsula last week; and it ignores the fact that there is disagreement on who started the Korean War. But that’s another story.

Having offered that point the quartet give a list of seven actions in the direction of nuclear disarmament they credit to O, whether or not accurately, from “opposition to developing a reliable, new nuclear warhead” to “endorsement of ‘nuclear zero.’” They then say:

But these policies have not yielded the hoped-for diplomatic benefits regarding North Korea and Iran. Their nuclear weapons programs progress, as do their programs to develop long-range missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads.

Thus is brought in that other current bogey man, Iran. What is ignored, of course, is that according to the best intelligence, at best Iran has not made any decision to convert the peaceful use of nuclear energy that it says is its goal into a weapons program.

From there the authors raise the dread specter of nuclear proliferation to still other countries if there is any weakening in the perception that the U.S. nuclear deterrent is weakening. That is, the logic is that any reduction in the arsenal that could destroy the solar system many times over (if delivery systems to the outer planets were developed) will somehow cause more nuclear weapons to be built in other countries.

I couldn’t take reading any more at that point, but the link is in the first paragraph above if you wish to do so. I think I do see why the paper did not put the piece on the more prestigious Op-Ed page.

Read the rest of this entry →

Stress and WaPo’s “5 Myths”

12:36 pm in Uncategorized by E. F. Beall

Normally the Washington Post’s Sunday “5 myths” article is highly topical. Thus last week “Five myths about a government shutdown” had been ready to go several days in advance, in anticipation of Congress not being able to reach a deal so as to avoid a shutdown on March 27. Trouble was, Congress did reach a deal, and before last Sunday. No problem, WaPo simply whipped up “Five myths about Chinese hackers.” certainly a subject that’s been in the news, and ran it instead.

BTW, that’s not the only substitution the editors made for last Sunday. They killed a straightforward article about the media failures at the beginning of the Iraq War that had been assigned to Greg Mitchell, who has a book on the subject, in favor of a wishy-washy piece by their in-house media beat hack, Paul Farhi.

All this is why today’s offering, “Five myths about stress,” is surprising in two ways. First, while stress is certainly an issue in our times, it’s not on the front page. Second, the article is actually pretty good.

The author is Dana Becker from the Social Work Department of Bryn Mawr College, who has a lot of experience in psychotherapy and family therapy. She is also the author of a brand-new book with the intriguing title One Nation Under Stress: The Trouble With Stress as an Idea (New Republic review). Her introduction today notes that “stress” is everywhere and that everyone today including Drs. Oz and Phil is talking about the need to reduce it. Then here are the “myths”:

1. Getting enough sleep, exercising and eating right can reduce stress.

Here Becker notes that this statement needs to clarify that is talking about “stress” as subjective feelings, not objective conditions of life. For:

Eating her fruits and veggies, even if she can get them at a decent price in her neighborhood, won’t do much for the single mother who has three children, an hour-long, multi-bus commute and an angry boss who can easily find another employee if this one shows up late.

Well said imo.

2. Stress makes people more vulnerable to illness.

Not so, says an impressive article Becker cites, which analyzes 300 empirical studies that relate at least one objective measure of stress to at least one measure of the immune system. Its conclusion, according to Becker, is that “they didn’t find any evidence that stress makes otherwise healthy people susceptible to illness.” I’m not going to disagree.

3. Most people exposed to traumatic events develop post-traumatic stress disorder.

Admittedly I don’t get out much these days, but this sounds suspiciously like one of the straw men that were a regular feature of the 5 myths articles I’ve written about prior to the piece two weeks ago, but was dispensed with there. I don’t know who really believes the proposition. And here Becker confusingly merges the question with the issue of whether or not PTSD is properly described as an injury or illness as opposed to a normal reaction to abnormal events. She seems to favor less pathologizing of such reaction without being definitive about it, although as to the question she claims that statistics don’t bear it out. Fine, I guess.

4. Men and women respond to stress differently because of genetic and hormonal differences.

This segment is largely a clever putdown of pop author John Gray (of Men, Mars; Women, Venus fame). Becker says he has “run amok” (without giving a citation) with research on mice which seems to show that the female hormone oxytocin helps mothers behave protectively toward their young when under stress, to claim that doing household chores and taking care of children is therapeutic against stress in women but not in men. To this she cites some authorities asserting that not all differences between men and women are hormonal, and says, “if Gray spent enough time in the kitchen, maybe his oxytocin would eventually follow him there.” Delicious.

5. If women learn to cope better with stress, they’ll be able to resolve work-family conflict.

Becker really lays into this one. Noting the deluge of advice middle-class women (whom she is careful to distinguish from low-income women who have always had to work) have received about “balancing work and family” since they went back to work in droves beginning in the 1970s, she correctly says that it’s not work and family that are in conflict, but work and workplace policies, or work and limited child-care options. She then concludes the article with:

If we stop treating stress — and women’s stress in particular — as the problem to be solved and instead work for the kinds of social and political changes that will benefit women, men and children, maybe then we can find a real solution for women’s “stress.”

It is true that Becker does not get into how the situation that needs to change is related to the profit motive in this article, but others can do that. To me it is sufficient that she handily demystifies the subject of “stress” (despite some lack of clarity on myth #3). I know I won’t have time for it, but her new book is one of the few I’ve heard of lately that sound like something I’d like to read.

Good show, WaPo (but don’t let it go to your head).

WaPo Liberal Admits: I Need the Republicans

5:22 pm in Uncategorized by E. F. Beall

You may have noticed that there has been some soul-searching lately within the Republican Party (one take; another; another). That’s understandable since they lost the November election. But why do Democrats (such as MSNBC hosts) also talk a lot about what the Republicans should do to be more relevant?

Honorary Hasbarist (Richard Cohen) has the answer. In today’s edition of his regular Tuesday Washington Post Op-Ed he discusses how difficult it has been for the Republicans to nominate someone who can actually win the Presidency; and toward the end he says:

I am not now and never have been a Republican, so you might think it’s all right with me if the party keeps serving up lame candidates with lame ideas. But I rely on the GOP to keep the Democrats honest, to challenge some of their occasionally ludicrous ideas and, every once in a while, to come up with a candidate who gives me pause in the voting booth.

Of course, the conventional way of interpreting this admission would be to say that HH is not a true, died-in-wool Democrat, but someone about a quarter of the way to switching parties if a Republican candidate who did somewhat more than “giving pause” came along, or perhaps if the Democrat in the race had too many “ludicrous ideas” (like, say, affirming the United Nations’ position that Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territory are illegal).

But I take HH at his word. He greatly fears the collapse of the Republican Party over the current division between its right-of-center and tea party wings (as happened to the Whigs in the mid 19th century over the question of slavery). For what would a Democrat like him do if that happened? The answer, it seems to me, is that the Democrats would have to acknowledge that the mess the country is in was entirely their responsibility. There would be no one else to blame.

What do you think?

On Tenth Anniversary of Iraq Disaster WaPo Op-Ed Wants More Foreign Intervention

2:41 pm in Uncategorized by E. F. Beall

Michael Gerson, opinion writer

Actually, two Washington Post Op-Eds. Yet we can dispense with one as not worthy of attention: one columnist continues his self-contradictory campaign of earlier pieces to arm the “moderates” among the rebels in the particular case of Syria in order to keep that conflict from getting even worse. (The rest of the regular Tuesday lineup is filled out with making fun of the recent CPAC conference, and calling for legislation to forbid food stamp purchases of “junk foods.” Big issues, those.)

But let’s get serious. On March 19, 2003, U.S. troops invaded Iraq to inaugurate a conflict that would cost over 4000 American and untold numbers of Iraqi lives and at least a trillion dollars of U.S. taxpayers’ money, and would result in a country that is so politically divided today that, for example, the Vice President has been under criminal indictment, with a situation on the ground where the average citizen lives in fear of the next car bomb. It is exactly ten years later that Compassionate Conservative (Michael Gerson) has chosen to pen a column called “Obama’s foreign policy and the risks of retreat” (or in the print edition, “Creating a global vacuum”), which he begins by characterizing the world as in chaos and ends by invoking the specter of Munich 1938.

Before getting to what is in between, however, I must digress. If the PTB and the MSM have not learned the lessons of Iraq, it may be that neither has the left. I remember that at the somewhat anemic protest at the Washington Monument ten years ago tomorrow, as well as at the bigger and better protest in DC on a bitterly cold day two months earlier, there were a lot of “no war for oil” signs. One is invited to think of the CEO of Standard Oil getting President Bush on the phone and saying, “let’s go.” Thus this week a lot of attention is being paid (by the Guardian, TPM, HuffPo and last night’s FDL Late Night, at the least) to a recent Daily Beast article by former Bush speechwriter David Frum in which he reminisces about the times and says in particular that Dick Cheney and infamous Iraqi exile Ahmed Chalabi talked a lot about Iraq as “an additional source of oil.”

For us to swallow this is infantile leftism. Frum was a low level staffer without much access to the administration’s inner workings, who is surely aware that no one will fault him now for saying that oil was a factor, and who is working from memory. (And his memory is faulty in at least one detail in his original post. He writes “My youngest daughter was born in December 2001: a war baby,” and follows this with a series of statements about what was happening in DC at the time. One of these that I saw yesterday when I first looked at the article, since edited out, was a statement that sniper attacks had been terrorizing the suburbs. In fact these attacks took place almost a year later. I guess it’s good to know that Frum came to realize that this was incorrect.)

In fact, the war was started because overthrow of Saddam Hussein had long been on the agenda of key Bush administration figures, certainly including those who consulted with the Project (then called Committee) for the New American Century, the think tank whose manifesto included that goal, namely, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and Feith. Thus any scrap of so-called intelligence, no matter how shaky, that lent weight to the position was eagerly embraced. (Some would even say they “lied” about this intelligence, and I have no basis upon which to disagree.) Oil was a factor in these people’s thinking, as was global power politics, and just plain old hatred of Arabs/Muslims (their minds not making any distinction between these groups). It is just possible that genuine concern over Saddam Hussein’s treatment of his people was a factor in the consciousness of some of our leaders, but I wouldn’t weight it highly.

In this context, without anywhere even mentioning Iraq, CC starts by reviewing the turmoil today in the MENA region and the rise of Asia, and then says:

Barring the option of utter despair, these challenges would seem to require expanded, sophisticated American engagement to shape an economic and security environment favorable to our long-term interests. Do any of these problems grow easier with time and inattention?

After this rhetorical question he laments that our actual response has been “budgetary chaos and military cuts, ideological self-questioning and mixed leadership signals.” A bit further on he castigates “the Rand Paul right” for opposing drone warfare, i.e., “a campaign conducted by U.S. intelligence services and military forces with exceptional patience, restraint and care in targeting.” (Tell that to the survivors whose loved ones were killed by drones hitting funerals.) This is followed by a claim that Obama himself is ambivalent on all these issues, and finally a caution that, after all, isolationism is too familiar an American tendency.

In short our concerned columnist, appealing to a traditional notion that foreign policy here and elsewhere is something methodically developed by a State Department/Foreign Ministry, and backed up by a War/Defense Department/Ministry, all with the guidance of the Chief Executive, wants this complex to act more forcefully against threats to “the national interest.” This is not how foreign policy actually happened with Iraq, and there is no reason to believe it is how business is conducted now. And there is no hint in CC’s thinking of guarding against the influence of moneyed interests, ethnic prejudice, or simple ego tripping in determining what the so-called national interest constitutes.

That is to say, he has learned nothing from the Iraq disaster.

The Iraq Anniversary and the Washington Post

9:01 am in Uncategorized by E. F. Beall

Maybe the Washington Post has discovered that Firedoglake is on its case about the “5 myths” feature, after four articles (the most recent here) have pointed out that the series itself has a mythic quality.

Ahmed Chalabi

I say that because today’s entry, “Five myths about Iraq,” shows a marked development in the conception. The straw men that no one believes any more, if anyone ever did, are gone, as are the subtle distortions of what people actually believe that are easier to shoot down and the true statements that are only made to look false by shoddy reasoning. Instead, we get five statements this time that are actually believed by significant numbers of people, and that for the most part are actually false. There are still elephants in the room, which I’ll get to, but for the moment I’ll give DC’s paper of record its due.

And in honor of the occasion the paper has brought in a heavy hitter to write the article: Rajiv Chandrasekaran, who was actually on the ground in the theater of operations and who has written an award-winning book about it. That is to say, his resume is star-studded all the way back to editor of the school paper at Stanford. (He is also now a big shot at WaPo itself, senior correspondent and associate editor, if anyone cares about that aspect.)

In his introduction Chandrasekaran explains that, no, the myths of which we speak are not about possession of WMD or Mission Accomplished within weeks of the invasion, but a set of beliefs of our own time, the 2010s, that need discussion. Here they are:

1. The troop surge succeeded.

That is, the 20,000 or so extra troops that were sent to Iraq in 2007 succeeded. The issue is certainly topical since in January Sen. McCain, who does think the surge succeeded, attacked then-nominee for Defense Secretary Hagel over it, wondering if the latter had rethought his opposition to the surge at the time. Of course whether or not it succeeded depends on your view of its purpose. According to Chandrasekaran this was twofold: “tamp down the bloody sectarian civil war and forge a political compromise among the three principal groups in Iraqi society,” and that characterization pretty much agrees with the Wikipedia article on the subject. In those terms our author asserts that the tamping down was only successful because of the confluence of other factors, such as the decision by key Sunni leaders to oppose al-Qaeda, whereas the attempt to forge a compromise simply failed.

From what I know that all sounds right, notwithstanding McCain’s view.

2. Iraq today is relatively peaceful.

I suspect Americans think this because the MSM are not reporting the violence that does occur. (Iraq is not sexy any more when the drones are in play elsewhere.) But our author gives a total of 30 deaths from various sectarian attacks over a three day period ending last Monday. Enough said.

3. Iraq is a democracy.

In practice, Nouri al-Maliki is in the process of consolidating his dictatorship, as Chandrasekaran details.

4. Iraq is in Iran’s pocket.

Read the rest of this entry →

AIDS and the Myth of WaPo’s “5 Myths”

1:08 pm in Uncategorized by E. F. Beall

The Washington Post’s weekly “5 myths” series is nothing if not wide-ranging. Recent subjects have included drone warfare, choosing the pope, and the currently active “sequester.” Of course that’s because the series is based on the topic of the moment in the public’s mind — or in the mind of that part of the public the paper would reach. This week it picks up on the news that a neonate in Mississippi evidently had the HIV virus completely removed from her body by immediate and massive doses of drugs.

And so we have “Five Myths about AIDS.” The authors are Craig Timberg, a WaPo technology reporter, and Daniel Halperin, a professor of epidemiology at the Ponce School of Medicine and Health Sciences in Puerto Rico (whose CV reveals continuous work in this area since his 1995 PhD in anthropology from UC Berkeley), who have also written a book together on the subject. (For the general context of the 5 myths series, see the beginning of this post.)

In their introduction the authors note the Mississippi case, and caution that despite the optimism they say it inspired, “a true cure is almost certainly years away.” Then they get right to the “myths.”

1. The case of the Mississippi baby means we’re close to curing AIDS.

I don’t know who has really thought we were, but let’s assume some have so as to let the authors make their point. They first say that some are skeptical that the infant was really infected, linking to an article which is salted with phrases like “if the report [of the curing] proves true,” but which never really says why it might not.

But their main point, apparently, is that the case is too unusual to serve as any kind of model. They say that even though infected pregnant women are now routinely treated to prevent the fetus from becoming an infected neonate, there are still many, many babies born with the virus. I suppose they mean that those cases will not have access to the treatment the Mississippi baby got, although they are none too clear.

2. AIDS is the leading killer of babies worldwide.

The series usually has at least one straw man, and here it is. I’m sure that most people know that it is classic diseases like malaria that kill the most children in poor countries.

Still, Timberg and Halperin cite useful statistics from UNICEF: 7 million deaths per year of children under age five worldwide, of which AIDS accounts for about 2%. We need to work harder on those other diseases, as they correctly point out.

3. Mothers with HIV should never breast-feed.

This has indeed been a fairly prevalent belief: A professional-sounding 2007 report puts the fraction of the world’s HIV-positive children who got the virus from breast-feeding at one-third, and recommends that formula be used wherever it is available.

Not so, say our authors. Admittedly, the infant’s risk of getting the virus from an infected breast-feeding mother is about 1% per month, but in the parts of the world where AIDS is most prevalent, the water you have to use to make formula can pose worse risks. Add to that the fact that mother’s milk is just plain better for babies than formula, and you get the result that breast-feeding is to be preferred, at least in undeveloped countries.

I’m no expert but it sounds right to me.

4. Drugs are the key to preventing HIV’s spread.

Here T&H first acknowledge the “success” of the Bush 43 administration’s PEPFAR program (without mentioning either name), now ten years old, in getting antiretroviral drugs to the developing world where AIDS has been rampant, linking to a glowing WaPo editorial from last month on the subject.

Here they neglect any mention of the widespread criticism over the ten years of the way the program has actually been carried out. This began even before the measure was enacted, with Rep. Henry Waxman’s (D- CA) attacking the policy that had the effect of requiring expensive brand-name drugs rather than cheaper generics, a policy that was enacted in spite of his complaint, although it was reversed after the first two years. Then there is the fact that some of the program’s funding has been siphoned off to promote ideologically driven abstinence-until-marriage promotions (which work about as well in the Third World as in U. S. high schools), or the fact that funded organizations have been required to sign an anti-prostitution pledge (on which see Michelle Chen’s FDL post from two months ago). And on it goes.

Perhaps T&H would say that all that is irrelevant, since they are concerned to downplay drugs as a means to end the epidemic. Instead, here they tout use of condoms, reduction in the number of sexual partners per person, and male circumcision. But, leaving the first two proposals aside, do they not know that circumcision is now a controversial procedure? As one comment in the thread following their article puts it, demanding circumcision to prevent AIDS is like demanding mastectomy to prevent breast cancer.

The authors round out their argument against this “myth” by saying that

in communities with easy access to AIDS drugs, risky behavior often arises because there is less fear of the disease.

But to me that sounds like saying I should forego eating because I might lose self-control and get fat. So as I said I’m no expert, but the intelligent layperson that I hope I am must conclude that the authors have singularly failed to refute this “myth.”

Rather, it sounds like what is needed to confront the still burgeoning epidemic is a massive program to supply anti-retroviral drugs, free from interference by ideologically-based organizations, coupled to be sure with an also massive educational program in third world countries (and in depressed areas of U. S. cities) about what HIV and AIDS are and what do do about them. And BTW, that is not what we are likely to get from the Obama administration: It reduced funding for the so-called Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria by 22.5% between the fiscal years of 2008 and 2011, and one hates to think of what might still come out of its management of the current sequester.

5. AIDS can’t be defeated.

Another one that I suspect few actually believe in the abstract. (A statement that it can’t be defeated by the current means of attacking it would find more supporters.) In any case, here the authors first acknowledge the current grim statistics: 34 million people are currently infected worldwide, and in 2011 there were 2.5 million new infections and 1.7 million AiDS-related deaths.

But, T&H say, we can be optimistic, especially because the infection rate has been falling. What needs to be done to make it fall further, they say, is to do more to curb infection rates and get medicines to those that are infected (in spite of downplaying this solution earlier in the article), and to follow the other measures they have suggested. They conclude with an aphorism:

In public health, curing diseases is great. Preventing them is even better.

At least to me, this updated version of “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” falls flat.

Timberg and Halperin are experts (or at least Halperin is), and I’m sure their book on this subject is worth reading. But their effort here is flawed, whether due to their own lapses or the constraints that WaPo and its “5 myths” format force on them (it’s hard to say which, although the paper’s antipathy to Bush might have played a role in the confusion as to whether or not more drugs are a good idea). The discussion of breast-feeding seems cogent, but otherwise the article contains too many non sequiturs and ignores too many elephants in the room.

In the last analysis, the AIDS epidemic is a political problem. It can only be ended when politicians are forced to recognize that 1.7 million preventable deaths per year is unacceptable. Read the rest of this entry →

Washington Post Op-Eds: Koop, Coolers, Corruption, Consternation

8:02 pm in Uncategorized by E. F. Beall

I knew I would have to write this piece as soon as I saw in one of the WaPo columns that its author composed it while listening to Bach — I presume on a CD or downloaded — in the comfort of his home. What a coincidence, since I had just come from a bit closer to the real thing, a live lunchtime concert where the Prelude and Fugue in A Minor (BWV 543) was played on the fine organ of the Church of the Epiphany in downtown Washington, DC, followed by a performance of the BWV 105 Cantata. That piece, btw, has instrumental obbligatos accompanying the arias, as is usual with Bach, but its continuo for one recitative includes arco upper strings but pizzicato cello and double bass, which is not. Bach was nothing if not an innovator, and innovation is an important theme in today’s study.

Today we are back to the regular Tuesday lineup: Compassionate Conservative, Honorary Hasbarist, Anti-Prometheus (a slight name change), and Liberal #1. CC’s contribution amounts to a meditation on the passing of C. Everett Koop on Feb. 25. This reflection all but suggests that the apparent curing of an infant of HIV the other day was due to the spirit of the late Surgeon General hovering over the Mississippi hospital where it happened. After all, his innovation consisted in bucking his bosses in the Reagan administration to produce a sensible document on AIDS, originally “distributed … on glossy paper to discourage edits.” That got the ball rolling, CC implies, or at least Koop’s “conspir[ing] to have a brochure containing similar information distributed to the entire IRS mailing list of 107 million households” did. Fine, I have no serious criticism as long as no one claims the AIDS problem is now solved.

HH likes to begin his columns with a metaphor, and this time it is the art scene in Paris at the beginning of the last century. This, he says, was the water cooler of its day, and new Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer should have her minions study Picasso and Braque if they want to understand why her new order to stop telecommuting and come into the office makes sense. For the water cooler is where innovation takes place, and innovation is sorely needed at her troubled company. That, indeed, is the essence of her rationale for the new policy according to a leaked memo, although the real reasons, of course, may be otherwise: at least one commentator thinks Mayer is simply on a power trip.

HH duly notes the protests by environmentalists about the increased use of the internal combustion engine and by mothers with daycare problems, but says he misses the newsroom,”a community of experts and eccentrics where the chance remark could spark a retort, an observation, an idea — a column!,” as he sits at home writing, with his creature comforts and his Bach (yes, he’s the one). What, won’t WaPo give him at least a shared desk?

A-P is concerned with the taxpayers’ money being wasted in Medicare, and has been extolling a lawsuit by Rupert Murdoch the Wall Street Journal to get access to billing records. But “scientists doctors,” he says, (not, for example, their hospitals) are fighting the suit, so pending the outcome of that, he has done his own investigation. He finds that there has been a slew of inflated prices for “durable medical equipment, prosthetics, orthotics and supplies,” in short, DMEPOS.. After some further musings he says that “Congress should accelerate the planned introduction of nationwide competitive bidding on DMEPOS to 2014, and extend it to medical devices, lab tests and advanced imaging services by 2015,” as has been recommended by the Center for American Progress, which is to say, the Obama administration. As much as I would like to poke holes in this analysis, I don’t know enough about the issues to do so intelligently. (Commenters, feel free.) But since he’s talking about overbilling for DME I do wish he’d said something about The Scooter Store, currently under investigation for outright fraud against Medicare,

L1 is angry at the sequester, thus agreeing with just about everyone except Wall Street (where the DJI hit a new record today). Apart from the fact that it changes a verb into a noun, he hates it because it “diverts attention from issues that actually matter, such as unemployment, gun violence, climate change, failing schools and the need to spur economic growth.” He goes on to offer some more reasons for hating it, then reviews the various talking points of the responsible parties, including the standard narrative that it was only supposed to goad them into serious legislative action, not actually happen, quoting the supposed wisdom of Casey Stengel (“Can’t anybody here play this game?,” actually apocryphal), and concludes by agreeing reluctantly that both Obama and the Republicans are to blame.

But in the process L1 reveals something about his priorities. With the sequester,

Medicare will see no more than a 2 percent cut, while Medicaid and Social Security will be untouched. Since these programs are so big and costly, other parts of the budget will have to face much deeper cuts to make up the total $85 billion savings.

And then, “[E-word] spending is largely untouched.” Clearly he wishes it were otherwise. So does O, as has been amply documented in numerous FDL posts

In short, O’s man pure and simple.

Is the University of Virginia Really Out of the Woods? New Developments

8:21 am in Uncategorized by E. F. Beall

In a piece posted three days ago I treated a flare-up in the tension between the University of Virginia’s Governing Board and its President, Teresa Sullivan, that had supposedly been resolved with the reversal at the end of last summer of Sullivan’s forced resignation. According to Jenna Johnson’s March 2 Washington Post article the board’s rector, Helen Dragas lost no time after her own reappointment this January in demanding that Sullivan accomplish 65 “goals” by the end of the academic year, seven months from the date of the email in question, to which Sullivan took offense. The Johnson article triggered an immediate response, in particular revitalizing the campus group that had coordinated the protests last summer that led to Sullivan’s reinstatement, UVA United For Honor.

It now seems that President Sullivan herself is somewhat taken aback by the new public attention, according to yesterday’s Chronicle of Higher Education, at least in the public face she shows. Its reporter caught up with her on Sunday in Washington, DC, where she was attending the annual meeting of the American Council on Education, and elicited her comment that “overly much is being made” of her relationship with Dragas in the wake of the leaked email she sent to the latter, to trigger the WaPo story, particularly in the context that this national conference was taking place.

On the other hand, what else can one expect her to say about the flap in public? She does have to deal with the Board of Visitors. Meanwhile, the Chronicle’s reporter buttonholed some other university presidents and education leaders after a closed session at the ACE meeting, entitled “Moving Forward: Rebuilding Structures, Trust, and Reputation After a Campus Crisis.” One would have liked to have been a fly on the wall at that one, judging from the comments he was able to obtain or not.

For example, one president is quoted as saying, “if you have 65 priorities, you don’t have any priorities.” Another would only speak briefly in generalities, before he “ducked into an elevator.”

Moreover, the University’s Faculty Senate has now spoken. According to Johnson’s update on the situation, although its statement yesterday hedges a bit with boilerplate to the effect that her Saturday article might not give the full context, it says

Rector Dragas’s reported conduct does not embody the spirit of reconciliation and cooperation that we expected to follow the reinstatement of President Sullivan. Unfortunately, it raises the very concerns about minority control that led UVA’s accrediting agency to put us on warning last fall, and suggests that Rector Dragas has not yet learned the governance lessons from last summer’s crisis. This kind of behavior must end.

For its part, UVA United For Honor does not seem to be letting up, judging from today’s version of its Facebook page (cf. its action page). And it now tallies 68 supporting emails sent to Sullivan’s Chief of Staff, out of a goal of 250.

I can only say again, stay tuned.