Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Kersten on target

Posted by Craig Westover | 8:30 AM |  

New Star Tribune metro columnist Katherine Kersten is right on target with a piece on home-schooling on Sunday.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Son of Sen. Becky Lourey dies in Iraq

Posted by Craig Westover | 4:38 PM |  

Matthew Lourey. Photo from the Pioneer Press

The Pioneer Press is reporting that the son of state senator Becky Lourey, D-Kerrick, died in a helicopter crash in Iraq. Matthew Lourey, 41, was a helicopter pilot stationed near Fallujah and was doing his second tour of duty when he died.

Sen. Lourey is chairwoman of the senate Health and Family Security committee. She is the chief sponsor of the senate bill to curtail the use of vaccines containing the mercury-based preservative thimerosal, which is how I came to know her.

I have no magic words that can ease the hurt for Becky and her family. However, having gotten to know her a little, I have faith that she will find strength in that same source that imparted that characteristic to her son.

My thoughts and prayers for Becky and her family.

How about those Twins?

Posted by Craig Westover | 12:52 PM |  

There is an old cliché (can there be a “new cliché?”) that “In life as in baseball, it is the number of times you reach home safely that counts.” Well, if that’s true, then let me add a new statistic to the pantheon of baseball statistical fodder -- the ABR (official At Bats required to produce a run).

ABR is calculated by taking official at bats (which does not include walks, sacrifice bunts and flies) and dividing it by the total of runs scored and runs batted in.

The astute baseball fan will note that the ABR captures a player’s contribution to the ultimate goal of baseball -- scoring runs. It rewards a player for taking a walk (ultimately scoring). Although not a mathematical factor, the ability to steal a base and get in scoring position accounts for a higher ABR.

At this point, the uninitiated that have yet to realize that the baseball box score is the most perfect mathematical expression ever devised by man have gone to other things. For the enlightened, consider a few revelations of the ABR.

First, there’s a reason power hitters make the big bucks (or someday will). Despite a recent slump, through today, Justin Morneau leads the Twins with an ABR of 2.59. In other words, Morneau accounts for a run in just over two-and-a-half official at bats. Mathew LeCroy is the only other Twin with an ABR under 3.00 at 2.93 official at bats to produce a run.

Some other fun with ABR. Who’s having a better season -- Joe Mauer or Torii Hunter? Well, despite grounding into inning-ending double plays with the base loaded in two consecutive innings the other day, through today, Hunter had an ABR of 3.30 compared to Mauer’s 3.77. The other Twins counted on for some power, Jacques Jones has an ABR of 4.18.

Improving in the past week or so, Lew Ford, who led the Twins much of last year in ABR, stands at 3.76. Michael Cuddyer has an ABR of 4.47 for the season.

At the top of the order, Shannon Stewart has an ABR of 3.84 . Nick Punto currently stands with an ABR of 4.29 There’s a reason Juan Castro and Luis Rivas hit at the tail end of the order -- ABRs of 6.00 and 7.67 respectively.

In terms of a career, Babe Ruth has the best ABR I’ve found at 1.98 official at bats to produce a run and the only career ABR under 2.00. In his 60-homerun season of 1927, Ruth’s ABR was 1.68.

Other notable career ABRs include Lou Gehrig at 2.06, Ted Williams at 2.12, Barry Bonds at 2.33, Mark McGwire at 2.40, Mickey Mantle at 2.54 and Henry Aaron at 2.77.

In Twins’ history, Harmon Killebrew comes out on top with a career ABR of 2.84. Another “who’s better” question -- Kirby Puckett or Kent Hrbek -- takes a twist looking at ABR. Hrbek’s career ABR is 3.11; Puckett’s is 3.36. Torii Hunter’s career ABR coming into this season was 3.37. Rod Carew finished his career with a 3.82 ABR.

Twins perennial Hall of Fame snub Tony Oliva has a career ABR of 3.47 -- exactly the same as Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente.

The ABR is kind of a fun statistic to throw around -- more fun than the cost of a retractable roof.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

David Kirby's book promotion in the Twin Cities

Posted by Craig Westover | 5:18 PM |  

A few observations from David Kirby's stop in the Twin Cities to promote his book "Evidence of Harm -- Mercury in Vaccines and the Autism Epidemic, A Medical Controversy."

It’s important to note that in presenting his material Kirby makes a repeated effort to stress two things.

First, he is not presenting “proof” of harm from mercury in vaccines, but “evidence” of harm. Kirby constantly reminds his audience that as a journalist, his job is not to answer scientific questions, but to raise them. One of his objectives is to spur government research to provide a definitive answer to the question. He makes the case that there is a growing body of scientific evidence supporting a mercury/autism connection. That and the fact that government authorities often refused to be interviewed while he was writing the book, give the book its slant toward there being a connection.

Second, Kirby emphasizes over and over again that neither he nor the people he writes about are anti-vaccine. What he and they want is simple assurance that vaccines are safe and that research is done into some of the controversial biomedical treatments for autism. As Kirby noted, parents, physicians, and public health officials are pretty much flying blind for lack of research and government consistency. Nonetheless, independent research, in the case of one treatment study independently and anonymously funded research, is leading the way.

Most of the technical epidemiological and hard science related to a mercury/autism connection that Kirby discussed can be found in posts on this site. In addition to that information, Kirby offered a couple of unique insights that relate to other discussion taking place on this blog.

Kirby, a self-defined New York liberal, noted that conservative media outlets were more responsive to his book than were the liberal media. For example, while he has done three interviews on local Air America stations, his one national Air America interview was canceled at the last minute, and he has been unable to secure another on any national Air America show. MPR requested that it be removed from Kirby’s mailing list because they only work with “important authors.”

In the Twin Cities, prior to his visit Kirby was interviewed on David Strom’s Taxpayers League Live radio program on AM 1280 "The Patriot." In studio was one of Minnesota’s “Mercury Moms,” the mother of diagnosed “autistic” child, recovering with the help of biomedical treatment for mercury poisoning. Significantly -- she has a Wellstone bumper sticker on her car and has written to Nick Coleman about the autism issue. But it was David Strom that picked up the interview that might help parents of autistic children while Nick worried about a blogger’s sexual preference.

Related to the liberal conservative world view, I posted here the findings of a Pew study that found low-income liberals, far more than low-income conservatives, believe that people do not necessarily get ahead by working hard. Less than half of disadvantaged liberals believe that everyone has the power to succeed.

Of the parents that were at the first Kirby lecture, given the sponsorship of the event which consisted largely of traditionally liberal groups, a good percentage of the audience were political liberals. And if anyone has a right to whine and be pessimistic and make the claim that life has treated them unfairly, it's the parent of an autistic child.

However, these people were certainly not the pessimistic liberals the Pew study described. Even parents with seriously ill children were upbeat and enthused about Kirby’s appearance and their involvement with their children’s treatments. The energy was contagious. Where does it come from?

Might it have something to do with the fact that the government has not only told these parents "We're not going to help you," but it has said "You're nuts, and we're going to get in your way"? What these people have accomplished in terms of elevating their issue and pioneering treatment for their children is nothing short of amazing -- all without government help and in fact with government opposition.

I would make the case that taking their fates and futures into their own hands, regardless of how unfair the fate or how uncertain the future, is what gives these parents the energy they have not simply to exist day-today, but to live positive lives despite their situations. These parents may not love their children more than those of us blessed with healthy kids, but they certainly express it more easily.

A second point Kirby made that I found interesting concerned reaction to his book. He noted that reaction was, generally, extremely positive, for which he was thankful but also disappointed. Although some publications and reviewers savaged the book (some without even reading it), few are willing to come on air and discuss the issue with him. He’s anxious to spark deiscussion, but no one wants to discuss.

Kirby’s stop in the Twin Cities is a case in point.

Today Kirby appeared on Kare11’s morning news show. According to Kirby, the station tried to find someone -- from the Minnesota Health Department, a pediatrician, any medical professional -- to come on the air at the same time. None did. (Developing . . . )

According to some of the parents attending the afternoon lecture -- parents who through their activism are familiar with the state players at the Department of Health -- a "Management Analyst 4" from the Minnesota Department of Health was present. To anyone’s knowledge, no one with a vaccine-related responsibility was present. (Developing . . . )

At his book signing at Bound to Be Read on Grand Avenue in St. Paul, before Kirby presented, someone anonymously placed on chairs set up for his presentation a flyer entitled “A Few Good Questions for David Kirby.” Some might characterized these as “I gotcha” questions, but most were legitimate questions -- if the real intent was to discuss the answers. However, when Kirby asked if the person leaving the flyer were present, no one stepped forward.

The point is, the questions were never intended to be answered, but were there only to induce doubt in the minds of people that had come, many parents or grandparents of autistic children, and discourage them from seeking answers to and possible treatment for the autistic children. One can only surmise that if such action were not taken out of cruelty, its purpose was to preserve the status quo and protect a public health system that itself has worried it was “asleep at the switch.”

Kirby noted that such tactics have not proved unusual on his book tour.

And finally, following the national CDC lead, the Minnesota Department of Health issued a formal warning about David Kirby’s book. The CDC memo listed talking points that health officials might use to refute Kirby’s points. Neither memo recommended that health officials actually read the book and formulate their own opinions.

Kirby often repeated, especially in answering audience questions, that he did not believe there was any kind of organized conspiracy, speculating it is just very hard for people whose intentions were nothing but good to accept that they might be doing harm -- although he did acknowledge that a very few people in high health positions do realize what is going on.

Nonetheless, an oft-cited criticism of parents, researchers and (shock) even journalists looking at this topic is that they are a bunch of conspiracy theory wackos. That’s not the case, but looking at situations that surrounded Kirby’s visit, one at least has to acknowledge that resistance by public health officials to even look at the mercury/autism connection is pretty damn well organized.

A final point -- did I mention that the mercury/vaccine issue might have a significant role in the 2006 off-year elections? That it might determine who is NOT on the 2008 presidential ticket? (Developing . . . )

READER RESPONSE -- National notes

Posted by Craig Westover | 3:28 PM |  

Because this blog is sort of a trial ground for and response area for my Pioneer Press columns, I tend to focus on local issues or issues with a local slant. However I do receive some email on issues of national and international significance and some is worth sharing.

Gary Larson, not the cartoonist but a retired journalist and often-spurned (unjustly so) contributor to the Pioneer Press, takes to the Accuracy in Media web site to rebut a column by Jim Boyd in the Star Tribune.

Another 'Nam vet, editorialist Jim Boyd, a malicious Bush critic (once he compared his policies, actually, to Adolph Hitler's), is a quagmire theorist. In his column in the hard-left liberal Minneapolis [MN] Star Tribune , on the 30th anniversary of the fall of Saigon, Boyd tries mightily to make a case for quagmire. ("Vietnam's past poses hard questions about Iraq's future," on May 1, 2005.)

Boyd ponders how "...like Vietnam the situation in Iraq has become." Earth to Boyd: We won the war in Iraq. Before that, in Afghanistan. Terrorists are being hunted down. Good and decent Iraqis support hunting down the evil-doers. New Iraq's police forces take deadly hits. Democracy is taking root, a far cry from "our" war, Vietnam, by any rational standard. Clear-headedness is clearly not Boyd's forte.

Larson goes on to do a concise dissect and discard of Boyd’s premise and conclusions. Read it here.

Jack Stassen is another strong conservative that has trouble breaking into the pages of the Pioneer Press. Given his solid conservative views, his thoughts on the liberal/conservative filibuster compromise are worth noting.

It also worth noting that while Jack is not specifically responding to this Star Tribune piece, the Strib use of personal attack reinforces Jack’s point. As noted in the Center for the American Experiment newsletter, the Strib refers to conservatives as -- Deceitful, Extremist, Fringe Fundamentalists, Radical, and Ultraconservative Sectarians.

Here are Jack’s observations.

It's amusing how lefties, including the media, constantly refer to ALL conservatives as "neo cons", "far right faction folks", and "radical right wing extremists".

Those labels seem to apply to EVERYONE who doesn't buy into the Socialistic, do-gooder, anti-Bush, bleeding heart, confiscatory redistribution mindset. In other words, the majority of Americans who went to the polls in recent elections are so categorized by the left wing.

The recent jawboning and compromise relative to retaining the filibuster mechanism provided us with some classic examples.

Democrats roundly berated Republican Senators as belonging to one or more of the aforementioned groups, SOLELY because those folks wanted to eliminate the filibuster as an abusive Congressional tool and proceed henceforth with up and down votes for Judicial nominees on the Senate Floor.

The irony is that (and it hasn't dawned on morons as yet) the Republicans probably scored a victory in reaching the compromise.

We all know that shiftless, irresponsible types, who always vote Democrat, are gradually outbreeding and outnumbering us. In the not too distant future, they undoubtedly will be electing a majority of Democrats to the U.S. Senate.
At that point in time, Republicans, as a minority, will be happy to have the filibuster available to them. Hopefully, they will use it in a responsible manner rather than being purely pigheaded and obstructionist.

Of course, when that time arrives, you can bet the Democrats will scream to the heavens to do away with the filibuster. When the shoe is on the other foot, Democrats have never been known to let any sense of fair play, reciprocity, or integrity get in their way.

Sometimes, political myopia and shortsightedness wins a battle but those with some vision and sophistication win the longer term war.

Katherine Kersten makes Strib debut

Posted by Craig Westover | 11:34 AM |  

In her maiden effort as a new metro columnist at the Star Tribune, Katherine Kersten answers in kind Archbishop Catholic Archbishop Harry Flynn’s “sharp moral rap on the knuckles to Gov. Tim Pawlenty” -- the claim that if the governor understood the plight of the poor better, he would raise taxes. That way the state could spend more on government programs for single mothers and other needy Minnesotans. Writes Kersten --

For years, there's been a saying in the Catholic Church: "The poor belong to us." The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis could do a lot to help the poor become truly self-reliant.

In that spirit, I have a proposal for Archbishop Flynn. The archdiocese will soon put St. Gregory and St. Therese parishes up for sale. Both sit on valuable land in St. Paul's Highland Park.

Would the archbishop consider donating the proceeds from these sales to such efforts?

Kersten’s piece is good read with lots of documentary evidence for those commenting on my post about the Liberal American Dream. Archbishop Flynn is a good example of a victim of liberal thinking -- he’s gone so far as to advocate ceding the properly religious function of providing charity and compassion to the coercion and entitlement mentality of government.

In introducing Kersten to Strib readers, publisher Anders Gyllenhaal sets some expectations --
The Metro columnists have always been among the signature positions at the paper. Part storyteller, part opinion maker, the columnist carries on a conversation with readers that puts the life into the pages of the paper. We can all look forward to watching Katherine go to work this week.
Although her first effort is a strongly reasoned and logical piece, as is her style, Kersten’s first piece reads more like an OP ED piece and doesn’t have the strong story-telling elements of a metro column -- something, which quite frankly, Nick Coleman does very, very well. Although the expectation is she will proceed with more dignity than phraseology like “YOUR SCHOOLS ARE BURNING,” there is an expectation in the conservative community (and with Gyllenhaal) that Kersten will mature into a conservative counterpoint to Nick and Doug Grow in the story-teller, metro-columnist genre.

I wish her well in her quest for the holy grail of metrocolumnhood -- simian independence.

READER RESPONSE -- School choice at issue

Posted by Craig Westover | 11:29 AM |  

Jerry Ewing passes along another example of school choice being bargained away that also supports my contention of the political difficulty of passing a tax credit for business, even if it supports education.

The school choice legislation was part of a vetoed budget bill and would have built upon an individual tax credit by allowing corporations to make contributions to Scholarship Tuitioning Organizations, which in turn distribute scholarships worth up to $4,200 for mostly low-income students in grades K-8 and $5,500 for high school students.
“It’s unfortunate that for the moment this bipartisan agreement has been turned on its head,” said Gordon St. Angelo, president and CEO of the Milton and Rose D. Friedman Foundation. “Children in Arizona shouldn’t have to wait for greater educational freedom because of legislative wrangling.”
King Banaian at SCSU Scholars comments on my yesterday’s columnin the Pioneer Press on making Minnesota’s school choice initiatives part of the ill-advised “Health Impact Fee” ultimatum. King agrees that now might be a good time for Governor Pawlenty to reinvigorate the school choice issue by noting --
As Republicans search for leaders that actually have courage, it might be a good time for Pawlenty to step up.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

COLUMN -- School choice should not be reduced to a bargaining chip

Posted by Craig Westover | 8:50 AM |  

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Lost in the fussing and fuming over whether Gov. Tim Pawlenty's proposed "health impact fee" on cigarettes is really a "fee" or a "tax" is the stark reality that once again Minnesota children are political bargaining chips.

In the game of brinkmanship politics, a low-income family's ability to make a decision about their children's educations is equated with the decision to hit a soft 17. The welfare of kids is up against the welfare of Education Minnesota and other special interest groups salivating over initiative and referendum.

The governor's controversial proposal of a 75-cents-a-pack "fee" would raise $380 million over the next two years. Under the proposal, the new revenue would fund health care programs and free up general funds to be diverted to K-12 education.

However, the proposal comes with conditions. Pawlenty insists that the Legislature pass two of the following measures: initiative and referendum; meaningful school choice; a ban on teacher strikes during the school year; and a tribal/racino partnership.

Only politicians and members of the education establishment could view this proposal as anything but obscene treatment of children from low-income families, and yet ironically, it is proposing "meaningful" school choice as the backside of a political power play that endorses its criticality to the future of children in Minnesota.

As long as the state continues to view school choice and government schools as competing rather than coexisting elements within an overarching public education system focused on children, children will be sacrificed to the whims and political aspirations of state politicians. School choice is a way to put parents back in control of their children's educational futures.

Kudos to the governor for putting "meaningful" school choice on his short list of ultimatums, but one has to ask where was the governor and where was his commissioner of education on that issue during the session?

While school choice advocates were fighting for educational access grants for low-income families and reform of the education tax credit with local support, especially from communities of color, the governor proposed his own education tax credit, with good intentions but little support, that was simply the wrong approach at the wrong time.

Under the governor's proposal, a corporation would be able to claim a tax credit equal to 50 percent of the amount it contributed to a scholarship-granting organization — similar to programs in Arizona, Pennsylvania and Florida.

Good in theory and intent, but the pragmatic sell on the governor's proposal was convincing legislators that a tax cut for business that essentially took money out of the general fund without increasing funding to public schools is a politically good idea. Not likely. A corporate tax credit for education works best as the tail end of a tax credit package, not the upfront lead.

Contrast the governor's proposal with the educational access grant legislation introduced by Rep. Mark Buesgens, R-Jordan, and Sen. David Hann, R-Eden Prairie. It would provide school choice to low-income families and require no new money. The legislation would result in an increase in per-student funding for public schools.

Contrast the governor's plan with reform of the education tax credit in legislation introduced by Rep. Jim Knoblach, R-St. Cloud, and Sen. Julianne Ortman, R-Chanhassen. Reforming the current tax credit would raise the family cap and allow the tax credit to be applied to tuition payments already made by low-income families, further encouraging parental involvement in education.

Two sound approaches with a focus on children presented during the session and foundering in no small part for lack of support from the governor's and commissioner's offices.

Thanks to Pawlenty, however, "meaningful" school choice is back on the table, albeit in some questionable company. The governor has created the opportunity to redeem himself on the education issue and not incidentally garner some political capital in communities of color. Having witnessed the arrogant Democrat resistance to school choice, minority parents who had hoped to improve their children's educational outlook are looking for new champions.

Elevating meaningful school choice to a priority in its own right is not just the morally right thing to do; politically, it allows the governor some wiggle room behind the scenes to maneuver his way out of the self-inflicted "fee" versus "tax" issue. Pawlenty has shown the bluster to kick open the door to educational opportunity; it remains to be seen if he also has the courage to walk through it.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Kirby challenges CDC on autism data

Posted by Craig Westover | 10:45 AM |  

Although much criticism has been leveled at the Huffington Post by established members of the blogosphere, that shouldn’t negate the possibility that some very good pieces might be posted there. Case in point is a piece today by David Kirby, author of “"Evidence of Harm -- Mercury in Vaccines and the Autism Epidemic, A Medical Controversy."In the piece entitled “Memo to the CDC: We’re not Getting our Money’s Worth,” Kirby writes --

Can mercury in vaccines cause autism in children? This hotly disputed question will only burn brighter as more biological evidence surfaces to suggest a link. But a definitive answer might take years. Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is sitting on a multi-million-dollar database – paid for by you and me – that could probably resolve this contretemps within weeks.

They have the data. We paid for the data. Yet we cannot see the data. The information is kept under lock and key within the massive health agency -- as jealously guarded as nuclear secrets.

The CDC tells us that they have looked at the data exhaustively and found “no evidence of harm.” They implied that their own scientists are perfectly capable of analyzing the data, thank you very much, and outside researchers cannot be trusted to independently verify their analyses, nor to protect the confidentiality of patients whose numbers they would be crunching.
Kirby notes that only two researchers, Mark and David Geier, have managed to gain access to the raw CDC data. Despite roadblocks thrown their way by CDC officials, the Geirs found highly elevated risks for autism among children the higher their exposure to mercury through vaccinations they received. This stands in direct contradiction to a four-year study by the CDC of the data.

The CDC study originally showed highly elevated, statistically significant increased risks for autism and other disorders among the kids receiving the most mercury. After four years and five reiterations, that finding was reduced to statistical insignificance. As Kirby notes --

So we now have two extremely different interpretations of the same data. It is way past time that the CDC allow a third team – outside researchers completely acceptable to all parties involved in this dispute – into the database to conduct any analyses they see fit. (Patients names are removed from the data, making it exceedingly hard for researchers to identify anyone, even if they desired, which is extremely unlikely in itself).
Here’s where parents, researchers and journalists calling for the CDC to open the data base run into a perception problem; their critics, rather than open data that they claim shows "no evidence of harm" to children from mercury in vaccines, resort to labeling the parents and others as “conspiracy theorists." Never, however, do they address basic questions like those Kirby goes on to propose --

If that is true, then why are they so reluctant to let someone else in to verify this claim? I cannot answer that question, because the CDC is not talking to me. But I do know that people with nothing to hide are unencumbered by doubts of what others will find if they rifle through their closet.

If the data can prove that injecting a known neurotoxin into infants at levels up to 125 times over federal safety limits was a safe and sane thing to do, then why isn’t the CDC having an open house for all researchers worth their salt to come on down and have a look-see for themselves?
He goes on to note --

Without access to the raw data, parents who support the thimerosal theory – and their allies in Congress, academia and law – are falling back on other recent studies that show a possible link between mercury and autism. They may not have the epidemiology on their side, yet, but the mounting evidence emerging from the fields of biology and toxicology is becoming too urgent to ignore.


David Kirby will be making two appearances in Minneapolis on Wednesday, May 25.

From 2 - 4 p.m. he will presenting an overview of the thimerosal, mercury, autism controversy at Lake Harriet Spiritual Community Church, 4401 Upton Avenue South, Minneapolis. The presentation is open to the public; donation of $8.00 at the door.

At 7:30 Kirby will do a book signing and discussion at Bound to be Read, 870 Grand Avenue in St. Paul

UPDATE: The following letter was posted on the Yahoo Evidence of Harm discussion group.

Dear Tim,

In response to your question, we are still having significant trouble with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) allowing us access to the VSD database.

As it turns-out, the National Immunization Program (NIP), the group that created the VSD database, is no longer in charge of allowing external researchers to access the VSD database, and has turned-over its authority to grant access to external researchers to see the VSD database to the Research Data Center (RDC) of the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS).

The RDC has become the new road block to us being able to see a VSD database assembled that meets our vaccine safety proposal specifications. The RDC has engaged in a process of delaying our appropriate access to the VSD database by requiring numerous further clarifications/consultations, and as of today, still have not assemble a VSD dataset that reflects the requests we made for access to data in the VSD in our original proposals to analyze the VSD database that was approved by the CDC in December 2002.

In addition, they have restricted access to important portions of the VSD database, such as the data post-2000 (i.e. this is the data of most interest in the VSD database regarding the neurodevelopmental disorder epidemic, because thimerosal was begun to be phased-out of some childhood vaccines by the end of 1999).

All of the difficulties are occurring despite the fact, as you said, that in February 2005, an Institute of Medicine (IOM) report was issued regarding the CDC's VSD research activities and difficulties experienced by external researchers attempting to access the VSD database, which stated that the CDC needed to maintain, and even help to facilitate, open access by external researchers to the VSD database.

Furthermore, regarding the February 2005 IOM, a day after this report was issued the NIP of the CDC was fired, meaning that the Immunization Safety Branch (ISB) of the CDC, which had been in charge of vaccine safety for many years was removed from the NIP and placed under Dr. Julie Gerberding (Director of the CDC)'s personal control, and the ISB former Chief, Dr. Robert Chen was removed, and a new Chief was installed to head the ISB (see New York Times article 25 February 2005 “Health Agency Splits Program”).

We hope that this brief commentary is useful.

Dr. Mark Geier
David Geier

Gypsies in the palace -- A few words on Nick, T-Paw and Bloggergate

Posted by Craig Westover | 10:16 AM |  

Being a little too mainstream and still searching for that elusive blogosphere persona that drives a lot of traffic, I was not among those who attended what has become a "Bloggergate" reception for local bloggers at the Governor’s mansion. The criticism of the event reminds me of watching the Twins play -- critics had the bases loaded, and they couldn’t score.

Let’s be honest -- it was a partisan event. True enough, it was recognition of the new media; it is also true of the bloggers in attendance, most have on more than one occasion been critical of the governor on any number of policy issues. Nonetheless, this was a group predisposed to support Pawlenty. The gathering was in the tradition of wink, wink, nod, nod, thanks for the support access to power that goes on all the time on both sides of the political aisle.

And if we’re really going to be honest, the post-reception posts that appeared for the most part did provide more than a little “fawning” over T-Paw and his political potential. They were a little self-congratulatory and zealous about the power of the new media (which as unseemly as critics might have found it, I think is well-deserved if overstated).

So with a lot to shoot at, how did the critics blow it so badly?

The misnomered radio “personality” Nick Coleman stuck out by swinging wildly at the bloggers with his usual mix of ad hominem attack and homosexual innuendo. The former is always professionally embarrassing, the latter always offensive. Nick made his usual charge that blogs lack of journalistic impartiality, which is a ludicrous comment coming from someone speaking on Air America whose family has a historical and present influence in Democrat politics. Bias isn’t bad, Nick -- pretending you don’t have one is.

With knees jerking wildly, he assailed the obvious and missed the elements of the reception and subsequent posting that revealed two major blogosphere flaws.

First, bloggers (and I include myself here) are for the most part new to this kind of exposure to power. Aside from political partisanship in the post-reception posts, they had a “gee wiz” quality that betrayed a kind of awe that a seasoned journalist may feel, but suppresses in order to observe and convey what’s going on around him. My criticism of the posts is that they didn’t provide any meaningful insights into the governor garnered by the bloggers actually being in the governor's mansion. That, not partisanship, is indicative that bloogers have a ways to go in the quest to become citizen “journalists.”

Second, the post-reception posts were more than a little “inside baseball.” As the blogosphere grows, more and more people are reading blogs for information, not camaraderie. Again, the posts read more like a letter to mom than an journalistic analysis of an event.

The best post on the event, and a very good post, comes the Atomizer at Fraters Libertas. He pokes a little fun at both bloggers and critics and portrays the event and the criticism for what is was -- much ado about nothing. He displays a bit of professionalism, insight and style that Nick could learn from.

Is this really the liberal American Dream?

Posted by Craig Westover | 9:04 AM |  

A Pioneer Press reprint of a Washington Post article by David Balz analyzes the findings of the latest effort by the Pew Research Center for people and the press that maps the changes in the shape of American politics.

The study divides the electorate into nine groups along liberal/conservative, Democrat/Republican lines. It finds that traditional characteristics of wealth and education level associated with the two parties are no longer the predictors of party affiliation they once were. Religious and cultural attitudes are the primary distinguishing characteristics. Duh!

Nonetheless, despite this less than surprising conclusion, there is one set of comparisons that leaps out of this study. From the article --
The most striking differences between lower-income Republicans and lower-income Democrats come in their perceptions of the power of the individual. Both Pro-Government Conservatives and Disadvantaged Democrats include a substantial number of people who consider themselves to be struggling financially. Overwhelming majorities in both groups say they often cannot make ends meet.

But where they part company is in their overall sense of optimism, with the Republican group expressing much greater faith in personal empowerment. Three-fourths of the Pro-Government Conservatives agreed that people can get ahead by working hard, and four-fifths agreed that everyone has the power to succeed. Just 14 percent of Disadvantaged Democrats agreed with the first statement, and only 44 percent agreed with the second.
Think about that. Just 14 percent of the Democrat disadvantaged base believes that people can get ahead by working hard. Less than half believe that everyone has the power to succeed. Marketing 101 -- if you want to advance the Democrat agenda, that’s the pessimistic perception that is your message.

And therein is why modern liberalism is at its heart a morally corrupt philosophy. Therein lies the reason Democrats support programs that expand the range of government benevolence. That is the road to power. The more people that can be convinced that working hard does not lead to success and that not everyone has the power to succeed, the greater the Democrat constituency.

To my liberal friends -- Is that really your idea of the American Dream?

Update: Swiftee also picked up on the section of the Pioneer Press article and posts a real world example of this attitude in action.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

PREVIEW -- Dale Carpenter interview on same-sex marriage

Posted by Craig Westover | 2:32 PM |  

I just returned from interviewing University of Minnesota law professor Dale Carpenter on the same-sex marriage issue. Incorporated in that interview were many of the dissenting points that have made in the discussions and comments on posts here in the past weeks.

This was a very interesting interview, which I’ll try to transcribe and post in a couple days. Carpenter lays out a strong conservative argument for same-sex marriage as well as a methodology for achieving it. Taking into account many of the arguments made against same-sex marriage, his argument is based on benefit to society, not civil rights and not equality before the law, although both those concepts play a role.

What many will find surprising is that despite his support for same-sex marriage, Carpenter agrees with many of its critics on issues like judicial activism, agrees that tactics of some supporting gay marriage hurt the cause and agrees that religion can play a role in legislation without invalidating that legislation constitutionally. He does not agree with the Massachusetts Court decision on gay marriage.

Although he disagrees with the idea of a constitutional amendment defining marriage, and he takes exception to the contention that Minnesota’s proposed amendment intends only to apply to gay marriage, he provides wording for what would be a constitutionally valid amendment that would address fears of judicial actisism mandating gay marriage -- if that is really the concern.

As a gay man, he believes the worst thing that could happen to the gay marriage issue is a federal amendment effectively banning gay marriage. As a conservative gay man, he believes that the second worst thing that could befall gay marriage is that the Supreme Court mandated gay marriage in all states. He believes that gay marriage is a legislative issue, not an issue for the courts.

I found it a fascinating conversation. Carpenter presented a view that for both moral and political reasons conservatives will find challenging. Liberals? You might be surprised at how irrelevant (and perhaps damaging) to the cause your support for gay marriage is. If the battle isn’t won on conservative principles, it probably won’t be won at all.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Unraveling the metaphor -- An Interview with Cheri Pierson-Yecke

Posted by Craig Westover | 10:07 AM |  

Note: I had planned to do a Pioneer Press interview column on former Minnesota Commissioner of Education Cheri Pierson-Yecke, "celebrating" the anniversary of the non-confirmation vote of the Minnesota Senate, May 16, 2004. Because she is an announced candidate for the 6th Congressional District Seat, the Pioneer Press felt it could not run the column as it might be construed as an early endorsement.

Nonetheless, Yecke's ouster was a significant event in recent Minnesota politics for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the clear transfer of the real power behind education policy from the education commissioner's office to the Senate Education Committee chaired by Sen. Steve Kelley. The interview found here sheds some perspective on the "Borking" of Cheri Yecke.

One additional note: The previous paragraph is my observation. As she should, Yecke did not comment in the interview on the current education department or specifics of Minnesota education policy. She rightly felt it unfair, given her position, to comment.

Turn onto the punaciously named Arnold Palmer Drive, and you find yourself in a suburban upper-middle class golf-course community that is either a 21st century vision of the American Dream or a gilded environment inhabited by soulless couples with 2.5 children and 1.3 pets.

Drive toward the inevitable cul-de-sac past small yards and big houses. Every yard exquisitely manicured, each house a unique application of the same basic design -- it’s a perfect example of the democratization of the good life or another statement of material trimuph over the human spirit.

The house has a small yard sign supporting the troops in Iraq and a flag pole tucked next to the attached garage from which fly both an American and Marine Corps flag. Symbolic American pride and patriotism or jingoistic imperialism?

That is Cheri Pierson-Yecke’s neighborhood and not a bad metaphor for the former Minnesota Commissioner of Education current Senior Fellow at the Center for the American Experiment and candidate for Republican congressional endorsement in the 6th District. People see in her what they want to see -- she is either the devil incarnate complete with horns and a tail, or a haloed champion of the conservative cause.

Stereotypes, however, are but a little bit truth and a lot a bit wishful projection, and that's the case with Cheri Yecke. She's less devil and less saint than any might like her to be, but then she's also a lot more. As one converted critic described her, she is “articulate, smart and compassionate.” And she's a hit at McDonald's.

It was just a year ago, May 16th, after a contentious committee hearing, that the Minnesota Senate voted, after she had already served 16 months, not to confirm Gov. Pawlenty’s appointment of Yecke as Minnesota’s Commissioner of Education.

She was called “divisive,” “a divider, not a healer.” Some criticized her for a certainty of purpose that excluded those that disagreed with her; some said it was unclear what she stood for, while others said she lacked leadership. “Blast” was a popular headline word associated with Yecke -- she was either “blasting” the political climate or the state auditor’s office or being “blasted” by teachers, parents and legislators. City Pages accused her of bring “hypocritically flexible” on the issue of federal education policy.

And yet when one looks at the record, one has to wonder how someone so at odds with the world could possibly have built the consensus necessary to -- in a very brief 16 months -- finally put down the Profile of Learning, put into place a set of rigorous academic standards and lay the foundation for the state’s implementation of the No Child Left Behind act -- all very controversial projects with very partisan supporters and detractors.

This past week I sat down at the Yecke dining room table -- overlooking the third fairway and a soothing little body of water that was either a “cute little pond” or a “drainage ditch” -- to unravel the Yecke metaphor.

Our conversation focused on the past -- her “dumping” by the Senate -- and the education philosophy that she brought to Minnesota and that she hopes she can take to Congress. We did not talk about a future congressional race per se. I got the sense that this interview was a welcomed venting experience for Yecke (no one else in the media is acknowledging the anniversary of her ousting). Her religious faith and her native intelligence both dictate that she holds no grudge against those that dismantled her personally and professionally. Yet there remains the sense that while all may be forgiven, it is not as easily forgotten.

There is an edge to Cheri Pierson-Yecke, which is what her opponents react to. It is also what makes her an effective leader.

Yecke is clearly a partisan when it comes to education, but she is not the exclusionary partisan she is painted. Yes, she would first make education safe for the data-based, rigorous standards-based system she believes in, but she is also a strong supporter of school choice -- including choice for those who think differently. It’s the “endgame” that is important to Yecke -- however one chooses to get there, at the end of the day, children should be measured against rigorous academic standards and their schools held accountable for student results.

I have areas were I disagree with Yecke -- when I think about the structure of the No Child Left Behind act in the clutches of a President Clinton the Fairer, I get very nervous. Nonetheless, Yecke makes a strong case for the merits of the program when administration is in capable hands. Not completely convinced, I came away with a new perspective.

And that’s the personal power of Yecke. She’s Regeanesque in the sense that years of reflection and struggle with her values has provided her with sincere conviction (contrary to City Pages, she did not go gently into the Washington bureaucracy) that even a mauling by political thugs could not scar.

Full text of my interview with Cheri Pierson Yecke is found here.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Ode to persistence -- same-sex marriage response to Doug

Posted by Craig Westover | 5:36 PM |  

Generally, when a good discussion sinks to parsing semantics, it is nearing an end but not necessarily a climax -- the short strokes, as it were. Doug’s response hinges on parsing of the words “relationship” and “marriage” and “precisely.” However, Doug also cites an example -- opposite-sex cohabitation -- and poses a question -- Where does the burden of proof for societal benefit belong? -- that might well extend this discussion beyond this response.

Doug has written that same-sex marriages don’t currently exist. Peg (What If) and I have argued (my words) that same-sex marriages don’t exist as a recognized civil function, but do exist in fact; i.e. same-sex partners are living together as couples in what is a marriage in all but name.

Doug sees this distinction as a difference in terminology, believing that Peg and I are conflating (any noun can be verbed J) same-sex relationships with same-sex marriages. He writes --
“This presumption doesn't apply equally to opposite-sex relationships. There are plenty of cohabiting opposite-sex couples who aren't married. Since society already has accommodated cohabiting but unmarried couples, I think the correct social designation - the status quo - for same-sex couples lies here, rather than in marriage.”
Again, using Doug’s example, the difference is more than a semantic one. Doug’s example actually more so supports the case for civil recognition of same-sex unions.

First, opposite-sex cohabiting individuals are doing so by choice. They have the option of a civilly recognized relationship, and for whatever reason have elected not to do so. Same-sex couples do not have that option. It is the difference between a coerced “separate but equal” and “separate but equal” by individual choice.

Second, there is a civil recognition of cohabitation ranging from common-law marriage, to palimony, to child support. A cohabiting partner can be required to pay child support, even against his will. The Nebraska law would have prevented an adoptive same-sex partner from acting on behalf of his legally adopted child. Again, coercion versus choice.

Third, on a broader note, social acceptance of cohabitation as a lifestyle shows that what was once shunned as immoral may still be thought of as immoral but regarded as “acceptable” in the sense of “not shunned.” For all practical purposes, cohabiting couples in a “permanent” relationship are treated as if they were married.

We’ll get back to that later.

On to Doug’s parsing of the word “precisely.” Putting the question of same-sex unions into an historical perspective, I wrote --
“I can’t think of another nation at another time that has raised the issue of same-sex marriage in precisely the way that it is being raised today in the context of the American tradition of ever-expanding freedom and tolerance.”
Doug jumped on the word “precisely.” He wrote --
“It's difficult to refute the point that other nations have raised this point in precisely the same way, though I would be curious how much study Craig has given to the matter before drawing this conclusion. Taken in its most literal sense, such a notion frees us from ever considering historical precedent at all - since historical conditions will never be precisely the same as current conditions.”
Here I think Doug is engaged in tree-cutting rather than forest management. I believe the United States is unique among all nations that have ever existed. Our country is founded upon the principle of expanding freedom. Even when we know we have it wrong, we try to get it right. Slavery was enshrined by the founders in the Constitution, but in doing so, they also laid the foundation for its ultimate abolition. We are a country of inclusion, not exclusion.

That’s what my comment intends. I am not talking about the mores of the here and now that a social scientist might study. I’m talking about the freedom that a philosopher seeks to understand, because the American conception of freedom is “precisely” what is unique about this place and this time in the history of the world.

And that brings us back to Doug’s happily cohabiting couple and his question -- “Where does the burden of proof for societal benefit belong in such a matter? On the one proposing change or the one defending status quo?”

I admit that question had me stumped for a minute. Then I stepped away from the trees and looked back at the forest. Not one of us is wise enough to isolate any issue to the point where we can unequivocally say “Lo, verily, this change is good,” any more than we have the knowledge to set “just” wage and price controls. But that does not mean Doug’s question is unanswerable. It only means that the form is wrong.

The right question is not “Who decides?” but rather “How do we decide?”

It would be arrogant to decide solely on issue itself. No one ever decided that cohabitation was tolerable; if some one person had, few today would escape the scarlet “F.” Like $2-a-gallon-gas, it just sort of happened; we bitched about it, declared the end of civilization as we know it, and moved on. Some of my best friends are cohabiters and (perhaps) one will marry my daughter (I don‘t ask; she doesn‘t tell).

When we must decide social change -- a decision same-sex activism is forcing on us -- we must do so on the highest of our values not the meanest of our prejudices. I submit that value is freedom, for without freedom none of the other values we hold dear are possible -- even our most cherished religious and political beliefs.

For without the freedom to sin, we cannot be virtuous. Without the freedom to question God in the manner of Job, we cannot accept his unquestionable being. Without accepting the right of others to their behaviors, we cannot justify the right of our own.

Perhaps same-sex “marriage” is not the right solution to expand inclusion for same-sex couples, but denying inclusion in deference to the status quo is certainly NOT the answer.

I don’t begrudge Doug his beliefs about marriage and what it means. IN essence, I agree with him. What I regret is that his priority is protecting his beliefs through exclusion rather than challenging and strengthening them through inclusion. I regret that, if “marriage” is not the right solution for inclusion, he is not searching for the right answer for inclusion.

I can’t say that same-sex unions per se will benefit or harm society to a greater or lesser degree. What I can unequivocally say is that working toward inclusion and wherever that leads to is of more benefit to this country in this time than a policy of coerced exclusion.

Monday, May 16, 2005

What good does it do . . .

Posted by Craig Westover | 12:30 PM |  

To be part of the vast right-wing conspiracy? Turn your back for a minute, and they close your military base.

(AP) -- A list of military facilities the U.S. Defense Department recommended be closed:


Malony U.S. Army Reserve Center
Otis Air Guard Base
Westover U.S. Army Reserve Center, Chicopee

I guess I'll just have to start arming the girls.

Dale Carpenter Interview

Posted by Craig Westover | 11:00 AM |  

I've been pretty impressed with the reasoning of Dale Carpenter's arguments on the same-sex marriage issue, but many readers have not. I'll be interviewing Carpenter this Friday[correction: Thursday]. Use the comments to this post or drop me an email if you have specific topics or questions you like to see asked. No promises, but constructive thoughts are welcome.

Dale Carpenter
Associate Professor of Law
Yale College, B.A.
University of Chicago Law School, J.D

Dale Carpenter is an Associate Professor of Law at the University of Minnesota Law School. He teaches and writes in the areas of constitutional law, the First Amendment, sexual orientation and the law, and commercial law. Professor Carpenter is the Vance K. Opperman Research Scholar 2004-05 and is the Stanley V. Kinyon Teacher of Year 2003-04 at the University of Minnesota Law School. He also serves as an editor of Constitutional Commentary.

Professor Carpenter received his B.A. degree in history, magna cum laude, from Yale College in 1989. He received his J.D., with honors, from the University of Chicago Law School in 1992. At the University of Chicago he was Editor-in-Chief of the University of Chicago Law Review. He received both the D. Francis Bustin Prize for excellence in legal scholarship and the John M. Olin Foundation Scholarship for Law & Economics.

Professor Carpenter clerked for The Honorable Edith H. Jones of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit from 1992 to 1993. After his clerkship, he practiced as an associate at Vinson & Elkins in Houston and Howard, Rice, Nemerovski, Canady, Falk & Rabkin in San Francisco. He is a member of the state bars of Texas and California.

He is a frequent television, radio, and print commentator on constitutional law, the First Amendment, and sexual orientation and the law.

COLUMN -- Politics trumps needs of Minnesota's kids

Posted by Craig Westover | 6:08 AM |  

Monday, May 16, 2005

Despite public support, especially from communities of color, parental school choice is on the brink of extinction in this legislative session.

Educational access grant legislation for low-income families was killed in committee. Until last week, it appeared that a tuition credit for low-income families would be part of the Senate tax omnibus bill.

Enter the power brokers.

The tuition tax credit was removed from the omnibus bill to secure the vote of Sen. Steve Kelley, D-Hopkins, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, who was also instrumental in killing the educational access grant legislation in his committee.

The saga of efforts to provide low-income families educational choice is an object lesson in how the political whims and careers of legislators take precedence over the futures of real children.

Given political realities, it was unsurprising when the educational access grant legislation proposed by Rep. Mark Buesgens, R-Jordan, and Sen. David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, didn't make it out of committee. The controversial Hann/Buesgens legislation would have granted low-income families tuition aid at accredited private schools.

The House committee, chaired by Buesgens, divided along party lines. By a narrow party line vote, Republicans were able to defeat 23 DFL amendments that would have effectively killed the bill. The committee had run well into the night when Rep. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, not present for most of the meeting, made a motion to table the bill (without consulting with author Buesgens). This swung the majority, and the bill was tabled. Buesgens did not have sufficient support to reopen it.

Abeler's political play effectively killed the bill without his having to go on the record opposing school choice or his caucus.

Hann had even less chance in the Senate Education Committee chaired by Kelley. Kelley was pretty clear where he stood on the Hann bill in a debate with Hann on Minnesota Public Radio. He characterized the access grant legislation as a "money laundering scheme."

In a strident response to an MPR caller who asked how he Kelley could look a parent in the eye and vote against the opportunity for a better education, Kelley responded, "I can look a parent in the eye and say if your student is in danger of failing maybe you haven't been involved enough in your child's education regardless of what school it is."

And yet Kelley's opposition to a tax credit for tuition already being spent by low-income parents essentially punishes the very involvement in a child's education that Kelley chastised the straw-parent for lacking.

With support from Senate Tax Committee Chairman Larry Pogemiller, DFL- Minneapolis, and bi-partisan support in committee, Sen. Julianne Ortman, R- Chanhassen, authored the tuition tax credit and managed to have it included in the Senate omnibus tax bill, where it appeared secure — until the controversy stirred up by the DFL proposal for an 11 percent tax increase on wealthy Minnesotans made it into the omnibus bill.

In order to secure DFL caucus unanimity in the face of controversy, Pogemiller polled the caucus for any objections that might cause members to vote against the omnibus tax bill. That's when the Ortman tuition tax credit amendment was stripped from the bill.

Kelley's opposition to providing low-income families with educational choice is consistent with his lock-step march with public school administrators and Education Minnesota. Having ousted a strong commissioner of education (Kelley was the prime mover in the non-confirmation of Cheri Yecke), Chairman Kelley is operating with an unchecked arrogance on education policy.

That will have political ramifications. Many people of color who testified in favor of the Hann bill before Kelley's committee were taken aback by Kelly's harsh treatment of testifiers — most of whom were not paid professionals, but concerned parents — and are now likely reconsidering their Democratic sympathies. [Committee Hearing Audio --April 5 Education Committee. Hann bill testimony starts at approximate 3:09 of the hearing. Kelley arrives late due to responsibility at a concurrent committee.]

That brings us to where we are today. Providing tuition credit for low-income families should be a prudent and moral no-brainer. Instead, it will take a political act of courage by either Pogemiller or Gov. Tim Pawlenty to insist on including the Ortman tuition tax credit in the omnibus tax bill.

The political reality is communities of color are up for grabs. Kelley has alienated them; Pogemiller can do damage control; Pawlenty can inspire Republican inroads. Morally, is there any question educational opportunity ought come before political ambition?


My emphasis in this column was on the tuition tax credit portion of legislation. A note from From Rep. Jim Knoblach, R-St. Cloud reminds me that still alive in the House omnibus bill is a significant change to the family cap calculation for the education tax credit. There was similar language in the Ortmen bill as well, that died with the tuition tax credit in the Senate, although the family cap provision is still alive in a second senate version of the omnibus tax bill.

From Rep. Knoblach --
Craig, I read your article in the Pioneer Press today and was surprised you did not mention the progress we have made on school choice in the House.

I am the author in the House of the bill Senator Ortman has authored in the Senate. The House Tax Committee included that portion of the bill that lifts the family cap in their Omnibus Tax bill. More importantly, I was able to get an amendment added during bill markup that changes eligibility to 185% of the poverty line or the current $33,500, whichever is greater, and also eliminates the requirement of families to assign costs between children, instead just allowing a credit of $1000 multiplied by the number of children.

Jim Davnie, D-Minneapolis and the DFL did attempt to eliminate this on the House floor but their effort was turned back. While it does not include private school tuition, and is major progress and I will certainly be working hard to see that it lasts through conference.
Update: King Bananian Checks in on Today's Column

Especially note the link to a progressive argument supporting school choice. Another, local, liberal perspective supporting school choice can be found here.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

EVENT ANNOUNCEMENT -- David Kirby to speak on autism/vaccine controversy

Posted by Craig Westover | 9:21 AM |  

Note: The following announcement was sent to me by the sponsors of David Kirby's Minneapolis stop on his book promotion tour. I've had the opportunity to speak with David in the process of writing a review of Evidence of Harm and the several columns and posts I've written on this issue.

Kirby understands this issue for what it is -- a controversy. He positions his book for what it is, "evidence" and not conclusive proof. Nonetheless, equally compelling is the lack of serious condsideration of the evidence by government health organizations, which causes the controversy to spill over into the political.

Whether your interest is in autism or the way politics works after the last balloon drop on election night, Kirby's presentation will be of interest.

Additional Note: David Kirby will be a guest (via phone) on Taxpayers League Live on Saturday, May 21st during the 10:00 hour (AM1280 "The Patriot" or online here). Nancy Hokkanen, a Minneapolis mom whose child's autisitic symptoms were treated as "mercury poisoning" with positive results, will be an in-studio guest.


NY journalist David Kirby to discuss mercury in vaccines & its link to autism and attention deficit

Wednesday, May 25, 2005
2 - 4 p.m.
Lake Harriet Spiritual Community Church, 4401 Upton Avenue South, Minneapolis. Open to the public; donation $8.00 at the door.

Are American children suffering from mercury-induced autism caused by the very same medical procedures instituted to protect our health?

In Evidence Of Harm (St. Martin’s Press) journalist David Kirby explores the chilling possibility that the mercury-based vaccine sterilizer Thimerosal may be fueling an epidemic of autism, ADD, speech delay and other disorders nationwide. The book is the result of more than 2 years’ research.

During the 1990’s new vaccinations containing Thimerosal had been added to the already crowded childhood immunization schedule. At the same time, parents noticed that their healthy children were descending into silent, disturbed, and physically ill behavior after receiving vaccinations. U.S. autism cases began spiking, from about 1 in 10,000 in 1987 to a shocking 1 in 166 today.

In 1999, the FDA announced that children were being exposed to mercury at very young ages at levels 125 times federal regulations, but the public health establishment failed to take parental concerns about the impact seriously.

Kirby will discuss national politics regarding mercury in vaccines, and also emerging research showing genetic predispositions in a subgroup of the population which make them more susceptible to heavy metal poisoning. A question and answer session will follow his presentation. Kirby will also autograph books and copies of Evidence Of Harm will be available for sale.

Sponsored by the Minnesota Natural Health Coalition, Autism Society of Minnesota, BEAT-MN, Unlocking Autism, Vaccine Awareness Minnesota, Clean Water Action Alliance of Minnesota, Sierra Club North Star Chapter, DAMS, and the Autism Resource Network / AutismShop.com.

Information: Minnesota Natural Health Legal Reform Project - Jerri Johnson (651) 688-6515, A.J. Paron-Wildes 612/384-7388, Nancy Hokkanen (612) 724-5287

Friday, May 13, 2005

READER RESPONSE -- Answering Carpenter's polygamous marriage argument

Posted by Craig Westover | 2:54 PM |  

Reader Jerry Ewing takes exception to Dale Carpenter's contention that gay marriage is not the same as polygamous marriage and does not necessarily lead to polygamous marriage. It's a well written, tightly reasoned piece.

It appears you have already reached a contrary conclusion on the issue of gay marriage, but you did task your readers to defend the contrary position against Mr. Carpenter's "rational" argument. It is somewhat disjointed, but I thought I should pass it on anyway.

Tom Green (top centre left) with his family in a photograph that was presented to the jury during his polygamy trial. Green, 52, who has five wives and at least 29 children, faces charges of bigamy and failing to pay child support in Utah's first polygamy trial in nearly 50 years. He could get up to 25 years in prison and $25,000 in fines. Photo: APMr. Carpenter is trying to prove there is a difference between gay marriage and polygamous marriage, because he needs there to be one.

Unfortunately,he does not control that issue. Those who see an equivalency are going to go to court, or whatever path Mr. Carpenter trods for his "rights," and he will have no power over the "unintended consequences" of his actions.

Mr. Carpenter is not attempting a rational affirmative argument for gay marriage, nor is he attempting to deny the legal and rational grounds for the continuation of traditional marriage. Rather, he is attempting to deconstruct just one small reason for the continued denial of gay marriage-- the "slippery slope to polygamy" argument-- and in that he fails miserably, in my opinion. Please excuse the necessary length.

Here are the logical fallacies of the piece:

“[T]he effect of recognition on the individuals involved — the deprivation to gays of the gay marriage ban is greater than the deprivation to polygamists of the polygamy ban.” That is an opinion, and cannot be otherwise. It does not advance the argument one way or the other.

“The deprivation to the polygamist is large, especially if polygamy involves the exercise of his religious faith, but not total. The gay person, however, has no realistic choice of a mate available under a gay-marriage ban.” That is sheer and utter nonsense. Nothing prevents gay couples from committing to one another, just as polygamous “couples” do, without State involvement. In fact, the polygamist can be prosecuted if discovered, the gay would not be.

“Further, there is no ‘polygamous orientation’ causing a person to need the close companionship of multiple partners (though some people may prefer it).” Another baseless assertion, especially when there are many who argue that humans are NOT naturally monogamous. Gay marriage supporters often say that divorce proves gay marriage is OK. It also proves that polygamy may be.

“The ban on polygamous marriage is the denial of a preference, perhaps a strong one; the ban on gay marriage is the denial of personhood itself.” Only a gay person could make this statement. There are many ex-gays, celibate gays, and gays who don’t want to marry; it IS a choice.

“On the second issue — the effect of recognition on society — the differences between gay marriage and polygamous marriage are more pronounced.” That is a completely unwarranted assumption. If much of what we call a “society” is predicated on religion, and it is, and polygamy is accepted in the Bible but gay marriage is not, then the “effect” is quite the opposite.

“There is ample evidence that people who live in stable, committed couples are healthier, happier, and wealthier than those who are single.” And polygamous people can say the same thing. It isn’t about what makes you happy or rich, anyway, but about what society wishes to promote. Mr. Carpenter has yet to make a single distinction that would erect a roadblock on that slippery slope.

“Gay marriage is a good idea because it will benefit not only the gay couple but their families, friends, neighbors, and taxpayers whose burdens to care for the gay partners singly would be greater.” Also not true. Two gay men living together, each with an income, have no need for “care” from others, and getting “married” would not change that. If gay couples receive government benefits, though, other taxpayers will have to pay for it. Besides, isn’t this about “love?”

“While multi-partner marriages might benefit the partners involved, the much greater potential for jealousy and rivalry among the partners make for a volatile arrangement, reducing the expected benefits to them and to everyone else.” This is another spurious assumption. While the author might be considered a gay “expert,” he is not an expert in polygamy. The more generally accepted image is that [voluntary] polygamous arrangements are just as amicable as normal marriages.

“While we have some evidence that children do well when raised by same-sex couples, we have no evidence they do well when raised in communal living arrangements.” Nonsense. The evidence is overwhelmingly otherwise. “It takes a village,” after all, and the extended family situation, in which multiple adults care for children, has been highly successful. There is no evidence on polygamous families because arrest would immediately follow discovery.

“Since multi-partner marriages will almost always take the form of one man having many wives, they present special risks of exploitation and subordination of women, which is inconsistent with our society's commitment to sex equality.” This one is almost laughable. Our society has not committed to androgyny yet, which is the level of sex equality required to accept gay marriage as the equal of marriage as defined for thousands of years. Polygamy accepts that there are two genders, at least, and it is for the participants in a marriage to determine their own roles.

“Perhaps none of these considerations is a decisive argument against polygamous marriages.” That is absolutely correct. Most of them are simply opinions stated as fact, from which are drawn naturally erroneous conclusions.
“But at the very least they suggest that gay marriage and polygamous marriage present very different issues.” Quite the contrary; gay marriage is about changing the generally accepted and legal definition of marriage. Polygamy is about changing the generally accepted and legal definition of marriage. There are legal advocates ready to file suit for polygamy as soon as gay marriage is approved. The slippery slope is already buttered.

Fifty states already give legal recognition to "serial polygamy," but gay
marriage is recognized in only one and /that/ is under threat of repeal. Which
way does this slippery slope slope?

PiPress Column will appear Monday 5/16

Posted by Craig Westover | 1:25 PM |  

Because of possible legislative action on the omnibus tax bill next week, my Pioneer Press column will run on Monday rather than Wednesday. It is based on a tip I received late Thursday afternoon, which is why I missed the weekly undisclosed location meeting of the right-wing noise machine. (Someone please fax me the Karl Rove talking points for the week.)

In seriousness, however, I want to give some mighty kudos to Art Coulson, Opinion Page editor at the Pioneer Press. Not only did he extend his deadline for Monday’s page so my column could run in a timely manner given the potential for legislative action on the omnibus bill, but he did a really outstanding job of working with me to ensure that the wording of the column was accurate, made the points that I wanted to make, but didn’t extend beyond the verifiable facts at hand.

Indeed, this is a case where having a second set of eyes and a professional journalism background was not just helpful, but essential to making a good column a better and unassailable column.

That said. I feel good about Monday’s column and my chances of graduating from an "also ran" to a full-fledged “Wingnut of the Week.”

Reader Response: In Praise of the Wingnut

The "wingnut" is an admirable piece of design, perfectly suited to multiple purposes.

The "numbnut" is characterologically Nick Colemanesque.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

COLUMN -- Is vehicle miles traveled fee more fair than the gas tax?

Posted by Craig Westover | 8:46 AM |  

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Minnesota is not the only state with transportation funding problems. A possible solution being touted and tested in Oregon is the Vehicle Miles Traveled fee, which would replace, for some drivers, the current per-gallon gasoline tax. The VMT fee provides consistent state revenue and is technologically feasible.

It also raises privacy issues and veils the seductive allure of social engineering.
Fuel taxes calculated on a per-gallon basis are the primary source of funding for state road maintenance and construction. On average, fuel taxes account for 65 to 85 percent of road use costs. In Minnesota, 82 percent of motor fuel taxes come from gasoline sales. The more fuel sold, the more state revenue there is.

More drivers are on the road than ever before and more miles are being driven — 52 billion vehicle miles of travel in Minnesota, which should be producing a lot of gasoline tax revenue. And, in the short term, it is. But looking not-so-long-term, adding alternative-fuel vehicles to the mix means better fuel efficiency and declining fuel tax revenues are inevitable.

The reality is more miles driven means more wear and tear on the roads, which leaves states looking at more costs and less revenue. This is the situation the VMT fee is meant to address.

Today average gasoline mileage is about 20 miles per gallon. But not all vehicles get "average" mileage. A Toyota Prius, for example, has an EPA combined mileage of 55 miles per gallon. A Chevy Suburban logs about 12 miles per gallon. Under Minnesota's current tax-per-gallon system, a 1,000-mile trip in the Suburban produces about $16.67 in tax revenue compared to around $3.64 for the Prius.

In a VMT fee system, both vehicles would pay tax of $12.50 (at the 1.25-cent rate) for equal use of the roads. If gas prices motivate consumers to purchase higher mileage vehicles, in the VMT fee system the state maintains its revenue stream.

There is much to recommend this system; however, the danger lies in the potential for "creeping fairness." The technology being tested in the Oregon program opens the door to a complexity and false precision like that inflicted on the school funding formula.

For example, many people suggest a VMT fee is a disincentive for people to buy fuel-efficient cars. However, that "unfair" situation could be fixed by technology. It's possible to set a higher rate-per-mile for a heavier vehicle.
But how high? What are the social ramifications beyond tax revenues? Legislators are seldom asked those kinds of questions.

Congestion pricing is another policy decision with social consequences. In the congestion rate model, specific high-traffic zones at specific high traffic times carry a higher VMT fee. Technology might also be used to address an "unfair" Minnesota problem; highway usage and cost per mile driven is not uniform across the state.

Technology required to implement a VMT fee system is a simple global positioning system that would eliminate out-of-state mileage when calculating tax. When a driver pulls in to a service station to purchase fuel, mileage data is wirelessly downloaded to a reader near the station pump. The tax is calculated and paid at the pump.

If the concept proves feasible and one or more states opt for a VMT fee system, equipment would likely be factory-installed much like special emissions systems on vehicles destined for California. Retrofitting all vehicles is impractical and any system must allow for out-of-state vehicles. A dual tax system is required unless and until some multi-state or national standardization is achieved.

VMT fees rightly raise privacy concerns. Initially, the GPS devices installed in the Oregon test will only store the number of miles traveled. Authorities will not be able to track in real time where a vehicle is or reconstruct after the fact where a vehicle has been.

That situation, however, is little reassurance to privacy advocates like David Sobel of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a public interest research center in Washington, D.C.

"Once technology is in place," he noted, "it's virtually impossible to resist finding ways to use it."

A good idea for Minnesota? Perhaps, but there are also myriad policy and privacy issues that cannot be taken lightly. There's tremendous potential for bureaucratic abuse. Nonetheless, a VMT might be more palatable than an increase in the gasoline tax if implemented in the context of consumer choice.

This column was originally researched for an article in the Heartland Institute's "Budget and Tax News" publication.

Monday, May 09, 2005

READER RESPONSE -- The seen, the unseen and marriage: A response

Posted by Craig Westover | 2:25 PM |  

Doug (Bogus Gold) responds here in the continuing discussion of same-sex marriage. What makes Doug’s response -- and his writing in general -- interesting is that he isn’t afraid to stick to the issue. He addresses the argument as put to him. I can do no less.

So, let’s take Doug’s points of disagreement in order.

First, he disagrees with my notion of same-sex marriage creating two slippery slopes: The one Doug fears will cheapen traditional marriage; the one I fear of extending government authority into an area where it does not rightly belong. Doug writes of my contention --
It's an intriguing point. But it's off the mark. Marriage is not some open question set before us to decide anew. It has been around in its current form for generations extending into time immemorial before us. To take Craig's position, one would have to also take in the notion that every generation in memory, cross culturally as well as historically, made the less wise choice - the one Craig characterizes as "the slope of government control" - and got away with it.
Peg at What If has much the same point of view on this as I have -- the fact that marriage has been around in a traditional form does not place it above questioning. The fact that it is being questioned makes the prima fascia case.

Pardon a little philosophical digression. For readers in the business world, forget the popculturalization of the term “Paradigm Shift” -- it actually has some real validity (see Thomas Kuhn‘s "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions").

Everyone one of us operates within the context of a set of beliefs that determines how we look at the world. That “paradigm” not only determines our outlook, it also predisposes us to ask certain types of questions.

Some examples.

What we somewhat arrogantly assume today was a simple scientific discovery -- that the earth revolves around the sun -- was a major paradigm shift in human thought at the time. The church did not resist it without reason. That discovery affected the very nature of man and his relationship to God and the universe. Man was no longer the center of God’s universe. It raised new questions that no one had ever dealt with before. Resolving that human conflict took many more centuries than accepting the scientific fact (and it could be argued that even today, that resolution is not complete).

Cartoon by John Richardson for Physics World, March 1998Look ahead. As a society, we still have not fully inculcated all the ramifications of 19th century evolutionary theory. Most of society is unaware of the numerous ways Freud’s postulate of a deterministic mind influences their daily lives (see Smartie’s and others' comments on "choice" on my original post), and only real intellectual geeks outside the world of physics have any grasp of the ways Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle affects the world outside the atom.

On a smaller but no less significant scale, same-sex marriage is a shift that requires that we ask different questions. As individuals, we need to incorporate it into resolution with our beliefs. That does not necessarily mean accepting it, sanctifying it, or even tolerating it. It does mean justifying our individual belief to ourselves.

As part of society, we need to look at same-sex marriage as a balance between what we individually believe is right and what is the best way to resolve the societal conflicts that arise. The latter is a reality we must deal with as surely as the fact that the earth revolves around the sun. Same-sex marriage is an issue, simply and rhetorically, because the cognitive dissonance it creates challenges the essense of values we hold most close. We do not ignore it because we cannot.

As to the second part of Doug’s comment --
To take Craig's position, one would have to also take in the notion that every generation in memory, cross culturally as well as historically, made the less wise choice - the one Craig characterizes as "the slope of government control" - and got away with it.
I don’t believe this necessarily follows in the sense that until now the question never rose to a level where it was a concern, no more than the average man walked around questioning whether the earth were the center of the universe. I can’t think of another nation at another time that has raised the issue of same-sex marriage in precisely the way that it is being raised today in the context of the American tradition of ever-expanding freedom and tolerance. I am more inclined to agree with Doug’s statement that traditional marriage has been the accepted norm for centuries; therefore, there never has been a “government control” slope on this issue.

[I could, however, argue that societies that attempted enforced morality (or social obligation or justice or however you might characterize it), inevitably paid a significant price.]

Doug accurately surmises that I am not persuaded by his argument. And his reason is correct as well.
Yet I'm sure this alone would be unpersuasive to Craig for a reason I must intuit. It would seem that when Craig looks at government and/or society he looks at it through the lens of the individual. This perspective has its merits, but it also has weaknesses. The "individual" is sexless; so sex distinctions look like examples of inequity. The "individual" is atomistic; so each institution is judged by the standard of "what's in it for me?" for each specific individual.
Here my Randian influence is showing, I believe the only valid standard for action is “what’s in it for me.” But to put that philosophy in those simplistic terms denigrates the thought. “What’s in in for me” is a statement of “rationale self-interest,” which differs from unbridled self-gratification. The only standard of action is one’s rationale self-interest.

A very simple example -- it might be in my immediate interest to steal your wallet, but it is not in my “rationale self-interest” to live in a society where thievery is an operational principle. Therefore, laws against theft are in my rational self interest even if they prevent the immediate gratification of taking your wallet.

Doug adds --
Before I come off too harshly on this position, let me note I share it in many instances, because I believe it is frequently true and moral to a specific situation. But I hold it in check at times, because I don't believe it presents some kind of "unified theory" of social morality. Human defined principles are as fallible and prone to error as any human.
Indeed Doug is correct -- any system of morality that requires human infallibility is neither a system nor is it moral. I argue that is why it is appropriate to question the current civil definition of “marriage,” and why indeed from time-to-time we must subject our most cherished values to the slings and arrows of “outrageous” ideas.

Here Doug hits upon what I think is a far more interesting point of debate for a couple of conservatives than same-sex marriage. My question back to Doug is “What is the principle you use to determine when to take the individual viewpoint and when to hold it in check.” It is that principle, and not my principle of rationale self-interest, that is the essense of Doug's conservatism, and I honestly do not know what that principle might be.

In my original post, I wrote -- "If same-sex unions are so threatening that they can destroy traditional conservative values merely by their existence, then those values can’t mean very much." Doug writes --
Craig and I may disagree, but I think values which are susceptible to cultural destruction can be worth quite a lot indeed. And that this is a very good reason for the existence of a tremendous amount of social mores across time and culture.

But there is also the phrase "by their mere existence" which stands out, because it isn't so. Same-sex marriages don't currently exist. Only some external act - by a court or legislature presumably - can make them exist. It's disingenuous to treat such unions like they're already a norm others are trying to purge, when in fact they're something new being proposed, and are currently untested by history. Perhaps more than the "mere existence," it is this social/governmental activity around bringing them into existence which will cause the greatest cultural fallout. Craig should acknowledge this.
Doug is right in saying same-sex marriages don’t exist as a recognized civil function. But as Peg notes on What If, they do exist in fact. Further Doug is right that government recognition will have a great cultural fallout. It can’t be avoided. Our disagreement really lies in that I fear a greater (less desirable, less controllable) cultural fallout from non-recognition -- in some form.

Doug objects to my characterization of his position as relegating a group to “second-class” citizenship. Because it was a characterization, I’ll accept his criticism and rephrase what I think is still a valid point -- As the welfare state robs individuals of the understanding the need for and capacity of compassion, a state that legislatively limits moral challenges robs individuals of understanding the need for and the capacity of formulating and living by a consistent moral code.

That characterization is not ad hominem argument. The distinction is like that between “separate but equal” as a coerced standard and “separate but equal” as a choice. The first is a collective prohibition on the action of others; the second is a rational individual action.

In summation, the more I struggle with this issue, the more convinced I become that all arguments against same-sex marriage,unbigoted and rationally argued with no malice whatsoever, stem from a misreading of conservative principles. I do not believe DOMA-like legislation is a principled conservative response to a moral challenge.