Showing posts with label Politics. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Politics. Show all posts

Monday, July 7, 2014

Hobby Lobby and the Supreme Court Misjudge Emergency Contraceptives

This past week, the US Supreme Court decided that "closely held" companies can opt out of covering particular forms of birth control for their employee insurance based on a "sincere" religious objection.  The sincerely-religious owners of Hobby Lobby objected to the Obamacare requirement of insurance plans to cover birth control for their employees.  To be fair, they did not object to all forms of birth control, just the ones that they felt were the same as causing abortions.  Unfortunately, many people continue to believe that the morning after pill, emergency contraceptive, Plan B, or levonorgestrel is an abortion-causing pill.  The ruling also applied to Inter-Uterine Devices (IUDs) for the same reason.

One problem - these pills do not cause abortions.  An abortion refers to the medical termination of a pregnancy.  Levonorgestrel and IUDs prevent a pregnancy from occurring in the first place.  Thus preventing the potential for an employee to seek an abortion due to an unwanted pregnancy.  Hobby Lobby, and the other conservative companies that will soon be refusing to pay of emergency contraceptives, do provide health insurance plans that cover most of the other forms of oral contraception.  Normal contraceptives must be taken daily and generally at the same time everyday.  Missing a dose can prevent the hormonal control "the pill" is attempting to maintain.  This is were Plan B comes in.  If a woman forgets to take her normal birth control pill, levonorgestrel can help.  And a lot of people forget to take their pills.

So how does Plan B work?  Levonorgestrel is a synthetic version of progestin.  Progestin prevents ovulation.  Pregnancy actually only occurs during a very small window of about 4 or 5 days, sort of.  The sperm can survive for a while waiting for an egg to be released, but the egg lasts for less than a day.  Oral contraceptives prevent the release on an egg over the course of the month.  An emergency contraceptive like levonorgestrel serves as a surge of progestin than prevents ovulation about 72 hours.  To work best, Plan B should be taken as soon as possible after unprotected sex, but it doesn't always work.  Levonorgestrel does not work after ovulation.  So if the egg is out, pregnancy is possible whether you take the pill or not.  If fertilization has already occurred, levonorgestrel will not help either.  Some thought that it could prevent implantation of a fertilized egg, but no evidence supports that mechanism of action.  And one thing that it definitely does not do is terminate a pregnancy.

So here's where I am concerned about the Hobby Lobby ruling.  Forcing employers to cover abortions is controversial, so I am okay with taking that out as a compromise.  But allowing them to object to certain forms of birth control because they believe that they cause an abortion is wrong.  Plan B does not cause abortions (period).  We study the mechanism of action.  We know how it works.  It prevents pregnancy.  This is not about a belief system.  This is an education problem.  They can believe that it causes an abortion, but they are flat out wrong.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Tamiflu and Drug Trial Transparency

Ben Goldacre, British writer and blogger, looked into a growing scandal and the actual governmental cost of making pharmaceutical decisions based on very little information.  He wrote the book Bad Pharma and became a leader in the European push to open up the transparency of clinical trials.  

In 2009 facing a potential flu pandemic, the British government stockpiled (LB) 500 million worth of Tamiflu to cover 80% of their population.  Roche, the makers of Tamiflu, claimed that their drug reduces the serious complications, including pneumonia, from the flu and the number of hospitalizations.  A 2008 Cochrane review gave the green light to Tamiflu after reviewing the available evidence.  Their evidence?  All positive implications of Tamiflu stemmed from one article funded by the industry that summarized ten other summaries, eight of which had not been published.  With big money and high hopes riding on the national , Cochrane initiated a new review and the evidence began to swing in the opposite direction.

Cochrane reviewers contacted the writers of the summary to look at their data, but unfortunately their files were missing.  Turning to Roche, the company offered to help, but put in roadblocks along the way.  Initially, they required a secret confidentiality agreement about the data they hand over.  Then Roche claimed another group was conducting a review elsewhere.  Finally, the company sent some excerpts of research documents, but far less than necessary to complete a thorough review of Tamiflu.  Roche began attacking the credibility of the reviewers and complaining that journalists had been included in their correspondence.  Five years later, after growing scrutiny, Roche relented and provided their data.

Even before receiving Roche’s data, Cochrane had noticed several problems with the clinical studies conducted on Tamiflu.  “Double-blind studies” used a different color placebo or large Phase Three trials were never even published.  With the full data, the Cochrane Review issued its opinion on Tamiflu.  It failed.  Tamiflu does not significantly reduce the number of hospitalizations or the cases of pneumonia.  While it may reduce the duration of your flu by a few hours, Tamiflu can produce serious side-effects.  Remember that the UK bought enough to cover their population in the case of a pandemic.  Cochrane applied the incidences of side effects to a million patients – 11,000 psychiatric cases, 31,000 headaches, and 45,000 people vomiting. 

Clinical transparency is important.  Many medical decisions are based on only a fraction of the appropriate data.  Doctors and pharmacists believe they make recommendations about medications on evidence.  That evidence only applies to what is publicly available.  The Cochrane group ran around and jumped through hoops to get the information needed to make a decision.  Companies will not provide more information than required.  And there are billions of reasons why.  

Monday, July 1, 2013

Voter Literacy Test

Last week, the Supreme Court offered their opinions on several important cases.  While the Defense of Marriage Act and California's Proposition 8 were voted down, the 1965 Voting Rights Act took a shocking hit.  Slate blogger, Rebecca Onion, published an interesting article in response to that decision.

First let's get some background.  After the Civil War, the former slaves were named citizens of this country.  With that citizenship, comes the right to vote (if you were male).  In order to get around that, the white population came up with interesting methods to prevent the black population from voting in elections.  Since most of the former slaves were poor, they instituted a poll tax.  Since many of the new citizens couldn't read, they created citizenship or literacy tests.  These methods disenfranchised many citizens of their constitutional right to vote.  Also, this was most likely to happen in the South.

Part of the 1965 Voting Rights Act looked more closely at the states and counties that had used these methods in the past.  If Alabama wanted to change an election law, they required pre-approval from the Department of Justice.  Alabama didn't like that and took their case to the Supreme Court and won.  Essentially, the Court said that states and counties should not be punished today for their historical crimes.  I would agree with that in principle, except that almost every state affected immediately came out to say how they were going to change their voting procedures.  And most of those changes disproportionately affect blacks, hispanics, and poor people.  Things really haven't changed as much as they think it has.

Anyway, back to the Slate article which takes us back to Louisiana before 1965.  She provided a full example of the Literacy Test that everyone had to take before they could vote.  It is 30 tricky questions completed in 10 minutes, and you must get a 100.  I went to one of the best colleges in the country, but I had to read some of the questions two or three times to understand what they were asking.  If you made one mistake, determined by the white election official, then you were not allowed to vote.

I present to you, the first page of the test.  If you follow this link, then you can take a look at the rest of the questions.  Good luck, you're going to need it.  Maybe we all need it.

Monday, July 4, 2011

The Story of America and Other Stuff

Here's a few stories for Independence Day:

Several political leaders have made prominent mistakes about US History lately.  Jimmy Kimmel offered Michele Bachmann's Story of America on his show mocking the historical inaccuracies people have given us.

On a sad note, 25% of Americans are not sure who we declared independence from.  Half aren't even sure what year.  Maybe we shouldn't make so much fun of the politicians.  Just kidding.  If you base your platform on the Revolutionary War Era, then you should know the history of the period.

For the historically inclined, the website provided some of the questions that our kids failed recently.  This was the study that used Santorum claim that American Ignorance was a liberal plot to destroy the US.

No matter what side you are on, enjoy this holiday for ALL Americans!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Santorum Blames Liberals for Low History Scores

Rick Santorum is running for president.  Like a previous candidate I have mentioned, he has said many stupid things.  If you don't know who he is, I beg of you NOT to google him.  You will not like the results (No seriously, don't do it).  Anyways, this stupid comment concerns education so I thought that I would mention it on here.

When talking about the recent study which found that US students don't actually know American history, Santorum used the opportunity to blame liberals.  He called the poor scores on a survey the results of a "conscious effort on the part of the left ... to desensitize America to what American values are."  In this he inserts two ways of blaming the left.
  1. We purposefully teach your children the wrong information.  Apparently, liberals have a huge impact on the curriculum and use it to screw up education.  This assumes a conspiracy of all teachers (in this case, history teachers) to agree to an alternative history which may or may not have happened just so kids would do badly on a survey.  Actually that does seem to be happening, but from the other side.  Conservatives frequently reconstruct history to suit their ideological agenda.  Take for example the Texas Board of Education or Sarah Palin's recent Paul Revere statement.  David Barton makes lots of money creating history to pander to conservative Christians.
  2. We want to impose our own anti-American values on your kids.  The real reason the evil liberals screw up education is to indoctrinate children with the ideas of equality, peace, and etc.  We must teach an alternative history to support our agenda for social purposes.  Actually, this is happening too.  Conservatives use their altered histories as excuse to institute their theocratic objectives.  According to their history, the United States was founded by Jesus for the True Christians.
I am sure that there are plenty of examples of liberals making mistakes about history, but I don't seem them attempting to make public policy based on their factual errors.  Truthfully, we are all to blame for our children's education.  Only offering lip service to making schools better, we make no effort to fund education or actually improve anything.  Education should be the issue that brings both sides together (just as it brought Newt Gingrich and Al Sharpton).

Santorum took a cheap shot at his percieved enemy, the liberals, and opened the door for people to mock how members of his party have screwed up historical facts.  At some point we should be able to agree on reality, as historical and scientific facts don't have a partisan point of view.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

HS Students Show Up Congresswoman

Minnesota's Republican Congresswoman, Michele Bachmann, hopes to become the next President of the United States.  While she has said some fairly ridiculous things, at least two people have decided to stand up to her and they are both high school students!  That's right!  High school students have taken it upon themselves to challenge the presidential hopeful and congresswoman.

A high school student from New Jersey, Amy Myers, has challenged Michelle Bachmann to a debate about the US Constitution and American History.  In a letter to the Congresswoman, Amy wrote, 
As a typical high school student, I have found quite a few of your statements regarding the Constitution of the United States, the quality of public school education and general U.S. civics matters to be factually incorrect, inaccurately applied or grossly distorted.
Burn! We all know that the Congresswoman would not participate in the debate, because she could not possibly win. The image of her debating a 16-year-old would ruin her career. I think the awesome thing is that this student has decided to take a stand. The sad news is that Bachmann supporters have started attacking Amy Myers throughout the internet. You know, keeping it classy.

In a more recent story, Zack Kopplin has also challenged the congresswoman on her understanding of evolution.  Zack is the high school lstudent from Louisianna leading a campaign to repeal their Intelligent Design education law.  He showed up on Hard Ball to discuss his efforts.  Bachmann became involved because of this statement:  "There is a controversy among scientists about whether evolution is a fact ... hundreds and hundreds of scientists, many of them holding Nobel prizes, believe in intelligent design."  Among others, Kopplin has called Bachmann on this falsehood and asked for her to present a list of Nobel Lauretes that support creationism.  Kopplin actually got 43 to sign a petition with him, still no word from Bachmann.  To top off the the challenge, Kopplin makes the best statement that presidential candidates don't get to just make stuff up.  

These students keep me hopeful for the future and I say Bravo!  Check out the video!  Enjoy!

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Common Controversy

I wanted to post about this on Friday, but Blogger experienced some difficulties that prevented me from accessing my account.  So I will just talk about this today.

Last week, the Obama's invited the Chicago rapper and lyrical poet, Common, to perform at a poetry reading event in the White House.  Fresh off of the President's birth certificate revelation and Bin Laden extermination, the right wing needed something new to attack him for.  In this case, they chose to question why he invited Common to the White House.  Fox News and their hosts provided the most idiotic statements about this non-event while attempting to resurrect the "dangerous black man" routine.  They claimed that Common raps about drugs and cop-killing.  He doesn't.  In fact, Common may be one of the most positive rappers in today's music.

This was nothing more than another attempt to play to the racist elements of those who oppose President Obama.  People do exist who hate our President for nothing more than being black.  The birth certificate issue, his name, his school records, and now the Common Controversy, all have the same basic intent.  To emphasize that Barack Obama is not white.

Hannity, Beck, Palin and others can say that they are not racist, which might be true.  But they are playing to the racists in their followers by promoting this kind of racially and culturally motivated animosity.  I bet they do it unintentionally.  They reflexively attack anything our President does and will use anything to smear him.  If it comes off as racist, then that is just liberals playing the race card.

I will leave you with Jon Stewart's segment on Fox News' latest hissy fit.  Below the fold, you will also find Common's performance at the White House.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Constitutional Fundamentalism

As the first order of business, the 112th Congress began the new term with a reading of the US Constitution. In what reminded me of a litany of passage readings, some 140 members of Congress took the podium to read their section.  The ritualization of the reading seemed very much like the reading of Biblical passages in churches across the America.

The exercise reminded me of a religious ceremony in another sense as well.  Just as fundamentalist Christians read the Bible literally and demand that others do as well, Constitutional fundamentalists demand a literal interpretation and a strict adherence to the original intent of the writers whom they revere as Saints.  But the Constitution poses a problem for Fundamentalists. The "sacred original" texts speaks of human servitude and only counting some people as three-fifths of a person. In an effort to whitewash history, the Constitutional originalists read an edited version of the Constitution.  Similarly Fundamentalist Christians ignore sections of the "literal Word of God" describing them as anachronisms such as many Mosaic Laws.  

Often the literalists express a fear that if some part of the Bible isn't (literally) true, then the whole book must not be true. This theology ignores the poetic beauty of Biblical language with many allegorical interpretations and lessons available. Likewise, strict originalism forgets the Constitution as a living document to be read and applied for our own times. 

This is the problem with Fundamentalism. Too many contradictions pop up in the philosophy- theologically and politically. It ignores some ugliness of our past even when explicitly written in the "sacred" documents. Discussing our tortured past can help us correct our social, religious, and political problems in the future. 

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

A More Perfect Union

In the shadow of a looming Federal Government Shutdown, I would like to look at the roll of government.  Debate about federal authority  has lasted since the writing of the Constitution in 1786 and the signing in 1787.  Federalists led by Hamilton and Marshal debated at length with the Anti-federalists, led by Jefferson and Madison, about how strong the central government should be.  The debate rages on in the form of Republicans and Democrats.  In most cases, not all, the animosity of the left is equally matched by the ire of the right in this centuries old conflict.  But why do people join one party over the other?

When looked at the debate in this manner, we must realize that their are legitimate reasons to join either party.  We must strive for open and honest debate that does not make assumptions or personal attacks.  Too often our dialogue is emotional and irrational.  Government cannot be effective if fueled by partisan emotions, but rather by the creative compromises envisioned by the Founding Fathers.  Democracy will not work without compromise.  That is a lesson we are learning too often in our political environment and in the fledgling government of Iraq.

At the heart of the Republican idea is small government.  The smaller the government the more freedoms  the people will enjoy.  For every law that the government makes a little bit of liberty is taken away.  We all admit that some freedoms such as theft and murder must be taken away, but from thaat point on arguments begin.  Lower taxes and few, if any, government programs.  A true small-government Republican would call for the end of Welfare, Social Security, Medicaide, Medicare, IRS, Department of Education, etc.  In this version, the power of government is not at the federal level, but the State.

On the other hand, the Democratic idea is a bigger government.  Government must take care of the people.  Government aid programs are required by the constitution and are for the good of the people.  Because our federal programs cost money, our taxes cannot be so low because we will go into debt.  A true Democrat works for the continuation of these programs and the ability of the government to help the people.  Because we are one country the seat of power is at the federal level.

So maybe the differences between the parties really come down to individualism and community.  In the small government scheme, you are responsible for everything.  If you get into trouble, you must help yourself.  Personal responsibility is an important trait for all Americans, but according to Democrats sometime we need a little help.  Big government would focus on the health of the community, not just the individual.  Lend a helping hand to your neighbor who may be in trouble.  The majority of our Federal Programs began as a way to get out of the Great Depression.  Government assistance was needed to help those who lost their jobs.

I really do not like to frame the debate as "Government Good" versus "Government Bad".  But it seems as though it must be done.  To me, government is a place for people to come together.  People of all faiths, races and genders have the ability to choose the individual who controls their government.  Everyone should have a voice.  Everyone should be heard.  Government must ensure that minority voices be allowed with the majority.  "Whom among the 80% will look out for the 20%?"  Those in the majority have the duty to look after the rights of the minority, not infringe upon them or force their own belief system on them.  

Government can be a good thing, a helpful thing, when the right people are in control.  Your neighbor's welfare affects your life in many ways.  This goes all the way back to the beginning.  To understand what government must do, we should look at what the govenment has been ordained to do.  For this is still a government of the People, by the People, for the People:

"We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."

Thursday, March 17, 2011

House Republicans Vote Against Science

In a less than shocking turn of events, the Republicans of the House Energy and Commerce Committee voted that Global Warming does not exist.  Instead of accepting the scientific data detailing how the Earth continues to warm causing severe changes to our climate, these brave Congressional leaders covered their eyes and ears to pretend that nothing is happening.

Henry Waxman (D-Ca) introduced an amendment that would let Congress admit that the "warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising global average sea level.’’  This first amendment only resolved THAT Global Warming was happening.  A later amendment asserted that human actions have played a role in the acceleration of the event (like the burning of fossil fuels and more).  While both of amendments carry consensus among the people who actually model climates (you know, experts), the first amendment carries less political promise. Basically, you can agree that it is happening but if it isn't our fault we don't have to do anything about it.  

Instead, the 31 Republicans and 3 Democrats on the committee voted to keep their heads in the sand about a problem with society, economic, and security concerns for the future of the planet.  It should be noted that each member who voted against the amendment have received considerable contributions from Koch Industries.  

At least one congressman, Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass), recognized that a committee vote (biased by money and ideology) does not actually affect climate science.  Even with this event, the Earth will continue to get warmer and our actions will continue to harm the planet.  Reality continues to exist even if we ignore it.  Markey delivers the best response to this vote in the video below.

For more information about Global Climate Change check out NASA's website on the topic.

Monday, January 17, 2011

MLK- A Dreamer and A Pacifist

Today marks another opportunity to celebrate the life of America's greatest dreamer and pacifist.  We should reflect on his importance year round, but this day is as good as any.  Martin Luther King's legacy rests on a devotion to peaceful protests.  In today's politics, King would serve a fresh air boldly standing up for what is right without resorting to violent rhetoric or bully tactics.  Tragically, the man who brought non-violence to America was also the target of a tragic political assassination.

However, Dr. King also had the most famous dream in American history.  His dream may not be completely realized, yet but we are making progress.  If you have never seen his "I have a dream" Speech, I have it here for you.  Let us use this to remember the power of peaceful protest against the ugliness of political violence (actual or rhetorical).

For Further Reading:
At the Huffington Post, Errin Haines ponders the connection between Tuscon and MLK.   Kerry Kennedy describes the scene of Robert Kennedy telling people about King's assassination.  They also have a list of MLK's best quotes. 

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

On the Arizona Shooting

This past Saturday, America experienced an attempted assassination of a politician.  While one man pulled the trigger, many aspects of our country require retrospection and correction including how we discuss politics.

Political discourse has spiraled out of control through hyperbole and vitriol.  Many resort to over-the-top metaphors merely to score a few political points.  Some dehumanize their opponents depriving them of the humanity and compassion they deserve.  Opponents are not mortal enemies, just mortal beings.  A differing opinion will not cause the downfall of our country and the results of a free and fair election do not require a rebellion to "take our country back."

We don't have to take our country back, because it still belongs to us.  Power may have changed peacefully in 2008 but rhetorical allusions to violence exploded.  People who are angry at the government, or the other side of government, must realize that We are The People.  For what you like and dislike about Washington, The People run our government.  "They" are flesh-and-blood human beings with loved ones.  We can attack ideas without attacking the people.  No human being deserves to be targeted.  No human being should be afraid to come out of their house.  No human being should let these types of situations go by without speaking up.

In the wake of this event, please keep Representative Giffords and the other victims in your thoughts and prayers.  Please take a moment to reflect on how we discuss politics and where we move on from here.

Below is Keith Olbermann's Special Comment on the shooting:

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Recommendation: Proofiness by Charles Seife

I recently finished Charles Seife's book, Proofiness: The Dark Arts of Mathematical Deception.  In it, he discusses how politicians, pundits, and pollsters use numbers and statistics to construct an alternate reality and convince us that they are right.  I had never read a math book before, but this kept me interested the entire time.  He describes the various methods of proofiness and provides ample examples of statistics gone wrong.  We automatically accept facts accompanied with a number.  We all know that math provides the basis for understanding nature, but blind acceptance of numbers lets us fall pray to those that would lie using statistics.

For example, Glenn Beck said that a million people came to his Rally to Restore Honor (just as Louis Farakaun said about his less-than-Million Man March).  Beck created the number out of thin air, but the power of the number leads some people to believe it.  A few decades ago, Senator McCarthy picked a random number of Communists in the government that he knew to be false, but the preciseness of his number made it more believable.  We find fake correlations all the time which can sometimes cause real problems- like the anti-vax campaign.

Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of his book comes from the impact on democracy.  We just had a mid-term election- but election results are deeply flawed.  The two most prominent examples are Bush and Gore in 2000 and Franken and Coleman in 2008.  Electoral blowouts are good.  When a candidate wins by a large margin, we can accept the results.  Unfortunately, like 11 races still this year, some elections are too close to call.  The final vote tabulation never truly depicts the will of the people.  Some votes get thrown out, some people fill out ballot wrong, and some write in weird names like Lizard People.  In all cases, elections are full of statistical errors.  Anything less that a 1 percent margin is suspect.  Yet we routinely let candidates and lawyers twist themselves into knots of paradoxes to eke out a 110-vote victory as flawed as it is.  

Similarly, we accept error-proned census data and poll numbers without thinking about them.  We are lazy.  We expect those doing the research to do the thinking for us and allow people to import their subconscious biases and even their hidden motives into their data.  All of these example affect American democracy.  We have a population attuned to accept numbers no matter how bad they are- on both sides of the aisle.  Just last week, Fox News reports that the President's trip to India cost $200 million a day which pundits and politicians accepted blindly and repeated to everyone who would listen.  Numbers have a hold on our brains and sometimes make us act silly. 

I strongly recommend Seife's book, Proofiness, to anyone and everyone.  Nine out of ten people rated the book with five stars.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

It is the President's birthday, right?

Barack Hussein Obama II was born in Honolulu, Hawaii at 7:24 pm on August 4th, 1961.  I know this, because I have seen his birth certificate.  Actually, you can too.  So why do so many Americans fall for Birtherism- the belief that Obama was born somewhere else?  We have evidence to the contrary, yet a shockingly high number of people believe it.

In a new CNN Poll, only 42% of Americans have no doubts Obama was born in the US.  What?!?  Did we suddenly make marijuana legal?  What are all of these other people smoking?  One in ten Americans are absolutely sure Obama was born outside of the United States.  One in four have doubts.  These are frightening statistics.  I hope they frighten you too.  We can have honest disagreement about politics and policies, but we don't have to make stuff up.

Scary Stuff!