Archive for Politics

Important Perspective…

Monday’s catastrophic fire inside the cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris, terrible as it was, might just allow us to step back from the 24-hour news cycle and reflect on the longer horizon of human history. The fire damage to this iconic structure provides us an opportunity to look at a longer horizon and set other events in perspective. There is little doubt that the church will be rebuilt and restored. Even as the embers were still glowing, President Emmanuel Macron was promising to rebuild. This is not the first time its existence has been in peril. With luck, however, it may be the last. read more

Kindergarten Rules Updated…

In 1988, a local Unitarian Universalist minister published a book called All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. It was a back to basics primer for Baby Boomers. It snuck onto the New York Times bestseller list and stayed there for 2 years. Twenty-five years and 7,000,000 copies later the author, Robert Fulghum, revised his little primer and added  a few new essays for the anniversary re-release. Today, his advice is just as cogent as it was when first published – maybe more so in the Age of Trump.

Here’s Fulghum’s Kindergarten code, in red, updated for the Age of Trump, in black:

“All I really need to know about how to live and what to do and how to be I learned in kindergarten. Wisdom was not at the top of the graduate-school mountain (We don’t know about Donald, since he ordered his schools to hide his grades),but there in the sand pile at Sunday School. These are the things I learned: (Pay attention Donald. Turn off Fox and Friends. This is not Executive Time).

  • Share everything.Your tax returns and all the tainted money your father gave you. Be grateful.
  • Play fair. Stop lying, cheating at golf, and stealing from the American people.
  • Don’t hit people.Or put them in cages.
  • Put things back where you found themRussian money. Golf divots. Your dick.
  • Clean up your own mess. OMG, this is the big one. If you’ll get out of the way, the Democrats will do it for us.
  • Don’t take things that aren’t yours. The Affordable Care Act.
  • Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody. Mexicans, disabled reporters, Christine Blasey Ford, and the other 372,200,000 of us.
  • Wash your hands before you eat. Especially after you put everything back where you found it.
  • FlushFox News.
  • Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you. KFC, Big Mac’s, and porn stars are not.
  • Live a balanced life—learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some. Hard to balance when you’re dancing with Lucifer.
  • Take a nap every afternoon. Alone. No tweeting.
  • When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together. If Melania lets you.
  • Wonder. Remember the little seed in the Styrofoam cup: The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that. The great wonder is how Trump ever got to the White House and how he manages to stay there.
  • Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup—they all die. So do we. And, so will Trump, in spite of Dr. Ronnie Jackson’s bogus misrepresentations.
  • And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned—the biggest word of all—LOOK. Not TAKE.
  • Everything you need to know is in there somewhere. The Golden Rule and love and basic sanitation. Ecology and politics and equality and sane living. Fulghum’s Golden Rule is not a reference to the tacky decoration in Trump’s New York apartment, but I couldn’t resist this picture.
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    Forgiveness and Tolerance…the limits.

    Forgiveness (noun): “Psychologists generally define forgiveness as a conscious, deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person or group who has harmed you, regardless of whether they actually deserve your forgiveness.” (http://greatergood.berkeley.edu) read more

    Drugs of Choice?

    I yearn for a simpler time when doctors carried black bags and made house calls, baseball players stayed with the same team their entire career, and serious drugs were recommended and prescribed only by physicians.

    I doubt that we’ll ever see the first two again, but we might live to see the day when America joins the rest of the world’s developed countries and stops hawking dangerous drugs on prime-time TV.

    For the past week I’ve been watching, and one of the subtle take-aways is that most of these drug ads are targeted at older viewers – the news (CNN, Fox News, MSNBC) or television magazines (GMA, Today, or CBS This Morning). Implicit is the recognition that younger viewers are getting their news online.

    Regardless, the next time a Vraylar or Eliquis ad interrupts your program, stay with it and listen to the sotto voce side effects while the happy family on the screen enjoys a hot air balloon ride or sail on the lake. In the meantime, here are Vraylar’s side effects:

    • extrapyramidal symptoms (muscle spasms, muscle rigidity, tremor, jerking movements)
    • agitation
    • indigestion
    • nausea
    • vomiting,
    • sleepiness,
    • restlessness,
    • weight gain
    • headache,
    • insomnia,
    • abdominal pain,
    • constipation,
    • toothache
    • anxiety,
    • diarrhea,
    • pain in the extremities,
    • dry mouth,
    • loss of appetite,
    • back pain
    • dizziness

    Vraylar is just one example of the 27 drug ads I screened in the five days before writing this – all the while wondering why dangerous drugs were being advertised like Reese’s Pieces on TV? Curiously, these ads are all approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) not the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) or Health and Human Services (HHS). What possible justification is there for allowing drugs that can only be obtained with a physician’s written prescription to be “sold” on TV?

    Since 1962, the FDA has regulated pharmaceutical advertising with a mandate to ensure it is not false or misleading. What about dangerous, inappropriate, improper, unnecessary, and out of place?

    Here’s the FDA mission statement:“The Food and Drug Administration is responsible for protecting the public health by ensuring the safety, efficacy, and security of human and veterinary drugs, biological products, and medical devices; and by ensuring the safety of our nation’s food supply, cosmetics, and products that emit radiation.” 

    There is nothing in the mission statement about marketing prescription drugs, nor is there anything related in the FCC or HHS regulations. If these three agencies are charged with protecting the public’s health doesn’t it make sense to limit the advocacy of serious drugs with harmful side effects to the medical professionals charged with matching the right drugs with the needs of their patients? Let’s take away the temptation of those who are gullible or desperate enough to be seduced by the happy family scenes in TV ads.

    In 1970 Congress voted to ban tobacco advertising in the interest of the nation’s public’s health. It makes sense that it should do the same with prescription drugs.

    I believe in a market economy, but advertising has nothing to do with good medical practice? We know that pharmaceutical companies pay doctors to promote their drugs. That in itself is shameful – on both sides of the equation, but let’s not have patients telling doctors what drugs they want based on something they saw advertised on TV? America and New Zealand are the only two developed countries that allow the direct to consumer advertising of pharmaceuticals on television.

    Here’s how it hit home for me; I got annoyed by the interruptions and began cataloging all the drugs that were advertised on the programs I watched over a five day period. I quit adding to the list when I had 27.

    Like most television watchers, I’d rather skip the commercials, but there are lessons to be learned when you pay attention to the spaces in between. Big Pharma is big business and marketing is a key element in growing that business.

    Here’s how important TV ads are for Big Pharma: In the past 3 years (October 2015 to October 2018) prescription brands spent an estimated $10.1 billion on TV advertising. Last year 76 prescription drug brands spent an estimated $2.96 billion, running 200 ads 534,000 times on national TV. In total, these ads generated 148.9 billion impressions. None of these ads included price information, although Johnson & Johnson announced this week that it will begin to include that information in upcoming ads. According to an industry watchdog group called BiopharmaDive, spending for pharmaceutical ads in 2012 was the 12th-largest ad category. Last year, it was sixth. read more

    Present at the Creation…

    My “office” these days is a scarred up antique table at Folio, Seattle’s membership non-profit for people who love books. Out my window this morning is a quintessential Northwest scene with the January sun reflecting off the Bainbridge Island ferry’s trailing wake and the dark blue waters of Elliott Bay. Further west are the peninsula’s foothills and the sharpened peaks of the Olympic mountains. So, while the rest of the country is being cold-soaked by a Polar Vortex, I’m in one of my favorite settings, surrounded by books and the natural beauty of the Northwest.

    Founded by David Brewster, a serial literary entrepreneur, Folio is located one floor above Pike Place Market, where it functions as a library, event space, work area for writers, and book lover’s sanctuary. Since opening its door three years ago, Folio has assembled a rich collection of books through the donation of private library collections supplemented by the purchase of noteworthy current releases.

    When new books arrive at Folio it’s common to find duplicates of books already in the collection, and in that case some are sold, some donated to school libraries, and others placed on a cart outside the door and given away. These give aways change on a daily basis and I never pass the cart without looking to see what’s on it.

    Today, on my way to lunch, one title caught my eye – Acheson Country – a memoir by David Acheson of his father, Dean Acheson, former Secretary of State and all-around American statesman. I might have ignored it had it not been for the fact that the senior Acheson was the commencement speaker at my law school graduation in 1965.

    On that long ago afternoon in Berkeley, the former diplomat and advisor to presidents gave a graduation address that was memorable not for the advice it contained but for the aura surrounding its speaker. There, in the hot California sun, Mr. Acheson was, as my father might have said, “bandbox” perfect. The expression is dated now, but maybe not inappropriate in this case. The reference is to the container or “bandbox” used to store and preserve the condition of a clergymen’s vestments in earlier times. In the vernacular, according to the Oxford Dictionary, it is used to “convey the smartness or neatness of someone’s appearance.”

    That expression from bygone days perfectly describes the Dean Acheson I observed that day. His neatly trimmed trademark mustache, bespoke steel-gray suit, starched white shirt, pinched regimental tie, and spit-shined shoes reinforced the impression that I was in the presence of one of the 20th century’s greatest statesmen. My father and mother, who attended the graduation, both rock-ribbed Republicans, were equally in awe of Mr. Acheson as they listened to him in the courtyard at Boalt Hall.

    Yesterday, reading the memoir’s foreword by historian David McCullough, took me back to that day and gave me an opportunity to revisit the major figures and events of America’s most critical decades in the last century and to measure their contributions against those of today’s leaders.

    Dean Acheson’s biography reveals a scholarly but pragmatic man, a Groton and Yale patrician who forged a unique bond with Harry Truman, the quintessential common man. Together, they, with the help of others crafted the institutions and policies that maintained the world order for 70 years until recent disruptions upset that balance. His post-WWII foreign policy accomplishments included the establishment of the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, Truman Doctrine, Marshall Plan, United Nations, and the creation of NATO. And, it was he who, during the early 1950s strongly defended State Department employees whose loyalty and patriotism were under attack by Senator Joseph McCarthy. He remained an important advisor to Truman when the US entered the Korean War and participated in the controversial decision to fire General Douglas MacArthur during that conflict.

    Mr. Acheson left government service in 1953 and entered private practice in Washington where he remained a trusted advisor to presidents Kennedy and Johnson. In 1964 he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and in 1970 the Pulitzer Prize for History for his memoir, Present at the Creation: My Years in the State Department. His son’s memoir is an important reminder of the importance of character, diplomacy, and historical perspective. His was a pivotal time in American history, and the contrast with today’s leaders is stark. Dean Acheson, George Marshall, George Kennan, Henry Cabot Lodge II, and Clark Clifford were all public servants who dedicated years to public service.

    As world powers jockey for position in the 21st century, it’s clear that America has fallen from grace and is struggling to find its place in the world order. The Trump administration does not appear to have a comprehensive world view. Foreign affairs is a chess game that requires a grasp of history, culture, politics, economics, and military strategy. Donald Trump is purely transactional. His guiding star is his own self-interest. He gathers ideas by watching Fox News, denigrates his intelligence and national security advisors, and doesn’t read, understand or value the lessons of history that should be guiding him in the global chess match. Is it any wonder he is being played so easily by a former KGB functionary? Why else would he want to pull out of NATO or shred the Paris Climate Accords, Trans Pacific Partnership, Non-Proliferation and Iran Nuclear Treaties? These are the organizations and institutions that hold the world together and keep war at bay.

    Today, the US Secretary of State is an ambitious, smug former Congressman from Kansas who’s attached himself to Donald Trump’s too long, too big, too black overcoat’s coattails and now smiles and prostrates himself with murderous dictators like Saudi’s Mohamed Bin Salman and Turkey’s Recep Erdogan. I don’t want to be pessimistic, but, in light of our present predicament, if Dean Acheson was “present at the creation“ will we have to write that we were present at the destruction? I hope not, but I’m not sure.

    As I write this I’m reminded of the many outstanding US Foreign Service officers I’ve known, especially Angela Dickey, who was interim Consul General in Ho Chi Minh City when I was there. I know she shares my concern for the shredding of Foreign Service professionals at the State Department.

    At the moment I’m pinning my hopes on another patrician public servant, Robert Swan Mueller III,  a graduate of St. Paul’s School, Princeton University, and the University of Virginia Law School who also earned a Master’s in international studies from NYU and served as a Marine Corps officer in Vietnam. His public service includes time as a US Attorney, Assistant Attorney General, and twelve-years as Director of the FBI. While at the Justice Department he oversaw the investigation and prosecution of those responsible for the bombing of Pan Am 103 where 270 lives, including three friends of mine, were lost.

    I’m glad to have serendipitously run across Acheson Country, where my memory was refreshed and faith restored. Dean Gooderham Acheson was a giant among giants, and even though my connection was only a glimpse of the man late in his monumentally important career, I feel honored to have been present and to have heard him speak. I’m sure his words were inspiring, but what I remember most is the imposing figure who made me feel I was in the company of greatness. I think Robert Mueller can stand beside Acheson as an American hero and patriot. It’s possible that future generations will praise him for turning the American ship away from its destructive course and someone like me will read his daughter’s recollections – maybe it will even be called Mueller Country.

    “Always remember that the future comes one day at a time.”

    Dean Acheson