Saturday, September 26, 2009


What’s the difference between good reporting and hardly reporting at all? Look at this comparison of two different reports from the same newspaper printed on the same day – The New York Times for Saturday, September 26, 2009:

In The Arts Section, there is a review of the new ABC-TV drama “FlashForward.” No, that’s not a typo. ABC wants it printed as a single word despite the double capitalization. This is a futuristic, science fiction thriller, a drama with many more questions than answers, a plot rife with ambiguity and subject to varying interpretations from reasonably intelligent people with reasonably different points of view. As a brand new TV show the main question about it is – Will viewers be shown the answers by the season’s end? Look carefully at how The Times’ reviewer writes about this.

“… the producers (of “FlashForward”) have said repeatedly that almost all of the questions posed in the first episode – “virtually” all of them, Mr. Goyer said – will be answered by the end of the first season. Virtually? It is an important caveat.”

Now, that’s good reporting. Why? Because the reporter recognizes a caveat, a qualification when he hears one. And furthermore, the reporter clearly understands his obligation to point out the implications of such a statement. There is doubt there – about the show’s outcome - and the reader knows it because The New York Times has done a good job of reporting.

So much for popular culture.

What about the really important stuff? What about the life-and-death matters of today’s perilous world situation? How does The New York Times report on such weighty affairs of state?

The #1 issue of the day – today’s front-page story - is the disclosure of Iran’s newest uranium enrichment plant. “Deception” cries The Times’ 5-column wide headline, together with a photo of the US President backed by the serious faces of the French President and the British Prime Minister. The New York Times story begins its second paragraph this way:

“In a day of high drama…”

No reader could possibly doubt the seriousness of the situation, which is to say the nuclear threat posed by Iran. After all – no nuclear threat… no “day of high drama” … no frowning faces from the traditional Great Western Powers.

Then… buried a little deeper in the article we find this tidbit:

“American intelligence officials say it will take at least a year, perhaps five, for Iran to develop the full ability to make a nuclear weapon.”

Unlike the reviewer of ABC’s “FlashForward” The Times’ front-page reporter fails to see the caveat, the qualification or the possibility for doubt. Anytime someone uses the phrase “at least” don’t they lose the high ground when measurement is in question? What does “at least” mean? Not to mention the inclusion of “perhaps five (years).”

Which is it – one year or five? That’s some “at least,” some leeway don’t you think. Four years! And if not one, “perhaps five” - why not six or seven or eight or nine… or fifteen? How many years must pass before any reasonable focus is completely lost? We’ll never know because The New York Times doesn’t bother to mention it.

And what do they mean by “full ability to make a nuclear weapon” – huh? What exactly is “full ability?” And does the phrase “to make” mean they “will” make? Does it mean they already “have made?” … or what? If some 31 nations already have operating nuclear power plants and some 14-18 countries openly admit to enriching uranium, right now, today – does that means that they all have the “full ability to make a nuclear weapon” while Iran does not?

Later in the same story, The Times reports this questionable logic about the Iranian enrichment plant’s supposed purpose:

“Moreover, its location (the enrichment plant still under construction), deep inside an Iranian Revolutionary Guards base about 20 miles from the religious center of Qum, strongly suggested it was designed for covert use in weapons, they (intelligence officials) said.”

Where’s the caveat here? Where is the qualification or the reasonable explanation?

Imagine that you were about to build something – something beneficial to yourself but harmless to others – something that many others all around the world already have in operation without controversy – and imagine that the Vice President of the most powerful country on earth publicly favored bombing you and the “something” you wanted to build. Imagine too that your near-neighbor (itself a nuclear power!) also wanted to launch a “preemptive attack” against you. Now, imagine where you might decide to build this “something.”

Does deep underground, perhaps even on a military base, begin to make any sense?

Does that “strongly suggest” a weapons use? Or does it just suggest you might want to keep your “something” from being blasted to smithereens by the mightiest military power on the planet, a country that was already bombing and occupying your most immediate neighbors on both sides of you? If you didn’t put your “something” underground, you’d be pretty stupid, wouldn’t you?

Imagine one more thing – imagine if the front-page story about Iran had been written by the reporter who reviewed the new television show “FlashForward” while the TV review had been written by the front-page reporters for The New York Times.

Then you would know the difference between good reporting and hardly reporting at all.

Friday, September 25, 2009


The Western/Christian/Jewish fear of nuclear power in the hands of Muslims is a great threat to world peace and an offense against reason and clear thinking.

The Presidents of the United States and France, together with the Prime Minister of Great Britain, appeared this morning to admonish and warn Iran about something they called Iran’s “secret nuclear facility.” But, it was hardly a secret. Everyone knew about it already. The US and other western intelligence agencies are quoted freely in today’s press and on worldwide TV about their knowledge of the this “secret Iranian nuclear facility” - for as long as three years – or since construction of it was commenced. So, apparently it wasn’t a secret at all. Not ever.

As well, the Iranians themselves advised the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) of the facility in a letter on Monday, four days before the Presidents and the PM made their dramatic TV appearance this morning from Pittsburgh.

Let’s set the record straight – so far as we know it. The Iranians are presently building this facility to enrich uranium. They have been constructing it for at least three years and completion is “at least” another year away. Who knows how long “at least” means or how long it will be before the enrichment facility is ready to actually produce enriched uranium? It seems nobody knows? But, then, despite this morning’s dire warnings, nobody is claiming this nuclear plant is anywhere near ready, or will be finished anytime in the near future.

President Obama did say that the facility’s “configuration and size” were not consistent with the peaceful use of atomic energy. What evidence did he produce regarding the facility’s “configuration and size”? – none, absolutely nothing. I am not saying President Obama is wrong. I am only asking for some proof. If he’s right, he should have such proof, shouldn’t he? How else could he make such a charge? If Iran has any capability to make weapons-grade enriched uranium, let’s see some evidence of it.

Has Iran violated the IAEA rules about disclosure? It seems they have. If they began construction three years ago, they were obliged to disclose that. They failed to do so. Is Iran unique in this failure? Have other countries done the same thing Iran has done? Sure, we all know about Israel, but forget about them for a moment. You might be surprised at who else rejects their legal obligations to the UN and to the IAEA. Countries you may never think of have failed to comply. But the response to those nations was nothing like it is today.

For example… On October 22, 2004 Brazil refused entry to IAEA inspectors at their nuclear construction site in Brazil. Did George Bush and Tony Blair go on worldwide TV to warn Brazil? What was Brazil building? A nuclear facility to enrich uranium. Did Brazil eventually allow the IAEA in? Of course they did. So, they gave in, right? And when did they do this? When did Brazil allow the IAEA inspectors inside?

In February 2009.

It took Brazil four and a-half years to comply with the IAEA rules for inspection. Do you recall the Presidents of the United States, France and the Prime Minister of Britain holding a press briefing in October 2004 to admonish and warn Brazil? No? I didn’t think so. What about 2005 or 2006 or the year after that? Or 2008? Or ever?

About a dozen and a-half countries openly enrich uranium to feed their nuclear reactors and those of other nations as well, reactors that make electricity for consumer and commercial consumption. The latest figures show there are currently 484 working nuclear power reactors in the world producing electricity in 31 different countries around the world. 104 of them are in the United States. France is second with 59. Japan has 53. Russia has 31 and South Korea has 20. A total of 26 other nations also have working nuclear reactors. There are also 47 nuclear reactors now under construction. China, which has 11 active reactors, is building 13 new ones. India, which has 17 active nuclear reactors, is building 6 more. In the years to come, China and India will have as many nuclear facilities as France and someday they will rival the number here in the United States. Almost a third of the world’s people live in China and India. Barely 5% live in the US. So, it makes sense that someday – maybe soon – they will have more nuclear power plants than we do.

Although more than 21% of the world’s population lives in Muslim countries, instead of those nations having about 100 nuclear power reactors (which would equate to statistical equality), they only have 2, both in Pakistan – That’s only 2 of 484. The IAEA is on record showing that 1 nuclear power reactor, for the purpose of producing electricity, is under construction in Iran. It has been under constant monitoring and evaluation. Iran has cooperated with the IAEA on this.

Of the total of 531 nuclear plants, active and/or under construction around the world, the new one being built in Iran would bring the total in the Muslim world to 3, or about one-half of one percent of all the world’s nuclear reactors. There are almost 1.5 billion Muslims. How long can they be denied the benefits of nuclear power?

The irrational fear of peaceful nuclear power – for the purpose of making electricity – in the hands of Muslims has gripped the non-Muslim western world – the Christian and Jewish western world – It holds tight like a powerful wrench ready to turn on a tiny screw. Except we are not talking about a wrench or a screw. We are talking about the mightiest nations on earth preparing a possibly violent reaction to something that seems so normal and so acceptable in 30 other – non-Muslim – countries.

The nuclear power double standard is more than simple hypocrisy. It is a danger to world stability; to peace among nations; and it is an affront to common sense.

Friday, September 18, 2009


I have a heart transplant. Yes, the cost of the transplant itself was enormous. And yes - here in America many people who need one can't get one because they simply have no way to pay for it. The Internet is full of "bake sales" and other fundraisers trying to raise enough cash to get people on the waiting list for a heart transplant. You see... you can't even get on the waiting list unless you can prove - in advance - that you can pay for the operation. The US is the only place in the civilized world where this happens.

And then, what is often neglected, hardly reported on at all in our national press, is the plight of those who actually get a new heart and later die because they cannot afford the lifesaving immunosuppressant drugs they must take daily for the rest of their lives. Yes, after paying hundreds of thousands of dollars for a heart transplant, some successful transplant patients suffer and die without the necessary maintenance drugs. I take two such drugs. They are Cellcept and Prograf. Cellcept is manufactured by Roche Pharmaceuticals, a company based in Switzerland. Prograf is made by Astellas Pharma Inc., a Japanese corporation.

A 90-day supply at my dosage level costs more than $5,400 for Cellcept and a mere ten bucks less than $7,300 for Prograf. A small price to pay for staying alive - if you have it. A $12,700 death warrant for those who don't.

In England - where they also do heart transplants and where they have socialized medicine - a 90 day supply of Cellcept costs less than $100 US or 1/54th the cost for a patient here in America. You read it correctly - less than a hundred dollars for three months. In France where they also do heart transplant operations and where they still have private doctors and hospitals but a highly regulated healthcare system, the same 90-day supply of Cellcept costs half of what the English pay - only $51 US.

So, that's $5,400 here in the US. $100 in England. Only $51 in France. Makes you want to stand up and cheer, doesn't it? USA! USA!

Prograf, the other immunosuppressant drug I take every day costs $7,291.22 in the United States for a 90-day supply. The same prescription in England costs $517.50 and in France it only costs $284.62.

Neither Roche nor Astellas refuse to sell their products in the countries where universal, highly regulated or outright socialized medicine exists. Nor do they claim to lose money there. Look closely at those dollar costs again and decide for yourself if the cost of selling these drugs in America can possibly be so much more than they are in England and France.

Numbers can be dull and boring... unless your life depends upon them. Regardless of income or assets, a citizen of France can get a heart transplant when and if they require one, and the cost of staying alve afterward is $3.72 per day. In the United States of America only those who can prove in advance they can pay for it get a heart transplant and then their cost of survival is about $141.02 per day. That's a hundred and fifty bucks yesterday, today, tomorrow and every day for the rest of their lives.*

* If there was the usual small print disclaimer here - the kind often seen in drug company print advertising - it would have to say that these prices are based on today's costs in 2009 and are not guaranteed to remain the same - because we all know drug prices never remain the same. They go up. They increase in price. They do not - ever - go down. So, who can say what it will cost to stay alive next year and the year after that, and the year after that? Every heart transplant patient in the US worries about this. Our compatriots in the Rest of the Civilized World live under no such stress.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


A couple of weeks before the Presidential election of 1964 - on October 21, 1964 - I heard the Accidental President, Lyndon B. Johnson, say this:

“We are not about to send American boys nine or ten thousand miles away from home to do what Asian boys ought to be doing for themselves.”

I voted for Johnson. He won. He did exactly the opposite of what he said he would do. It would be ten more years, 57,000 dead Americans and a number best estimated at 4 million dead Vietnamese before the damage of that unfulfilled promise was halted.

Four years later, in 1968, I refused to vote for the nominee of the Democratic Party for President of the United States. He had been Johnson’s Vice President. How could I believe anything he said?

Forty years later I voted for Barack Obama for President largely because of his position on healthcare reform legislation. In 2003, while campaigning for John Kerry in New Hampshire, then Senator Barack Obama said this:

“I happen to be a proponent of a single payer universal health care program.” That’s what he said. I was glad to hear it because that is what I want too. He was also savvy enough to understand what was required in order to get a single payer universal health care program. In the same speech, he also said this:

“We may not get there immediately.”

Now, why did he say that? What’s the explanation? What did we need to accomplish first? Here’s the rest of that statement:

“Because first we have to take back the White House, we have to take back the Senate, and we have to take back the House.”

You got that? Obama understood. Take back the Presidency and the Congress and then what? Then we can have a single payer universal health care program.

Those were the words of Barack Obama. He repeated that pledge in his campaign for the Presidency in 2008. He promised Change We Can Believe In. I supported him and voted for him. He won. Democrats also won the House with a wide majority. They also won a numerical super-majority in the Senate.

So, we’re getting a single payer universal health care program, right?

No. All we are getting now is the Second Coming of LBJ. We never even got a shot at a single payer universal health care program and the so-called “public option” has now been scuttled too. The Change We Can Believe In has turned into either No Change At All or worse - a bill designed to further enrich the healthcare insurance industry, the pharmaceutical manufacturers, doctors, hospitals, private laboratories and all the other associated special interests that comprise the health care segment of our economy.

If the point of partisan politics is to win public office – as Obama pointed out so well himself – what then is the point of winning if you never get what was promised?

I understand you may not be able to get 100% of everything immediately. For me, 100% means a single payer universal health care system, or Medicare-for-all. I am ready to achieve that in steps. But if this Obama administration fails to pass a health care bill with at least a viable public option for health insurance, I will not vote for a Democrat for the House or Senate in 2010 and I will not vote to reelect Barack Obama in 2012. Why should I? What difference does it make?

Looking back, I’m not so sure Hubert Humphrey would have been any different than Richard Nixon and it sure looks like this country may end up no better off with Obama/Biden than had John McCain and Sarah Whatshername won.

Monday, September 14, 2009


Isn't it bad enough that a tiny percentage of the 300 million+ Americans get such massive TV coverage when they show how crazy and stupid they are... "Keep the Federal Government out of my Medicare!" "I want my country back!" "Obama's just like Hitler!" "Socialist!" "Communist!" "African Muslims are taking over!" They are free to say what they please - I don't want to stop them - but do we have to treat these morons as if they represent a serious segment of the American people?

And now... a Member of Congress can go nuts and nothing happens? We have three coequal branches of government - technically. When a President speaks to a joint session of Congress, he is the guest of the Congress. Even small children know how to treat a guest in your house. But it seems a Congressman can do anything without any penalty at all - nothing. Well... nothing except he too, like the Town Hall nutcases, the "birthers" and the bigots, gets famous by being on TV constantly telling everyone why he didn't really mean to apologize and how he was right all along. And then he raises more than a $1 million from fellow traveler-crazies who think he's the New Hero Of The South, a true Son Of The Confederacy, come Home to wave the flag once again. If "the South will rise again!" I suppose it will look like Rep. Joe Wilson.

It always has. Why change now?

My question is: Doesn't the House of Representatives have any Security? Why didn't The Speaker, Nancy Pelosi use her microphone to instruct the Sgt. At Arms to physically remove Wilson from the House? After his outburst, why did the Leader of the Congress just let him sit there?

I have been in the House chamber. Perhaps you have been there too. I am positive that had you or I been there that same evening and either of us shouted "You lie!" from the gallery seats, we would have been ejected before you could say... "Joe Wilson."

It looks like it's a free ride for the crazies in this country... and if you don't know how dangerous that is, you're not paying attention.