Monthly Archives: February, 2008

Canvassing for Obama, February 28, Kennedy Plaza

I took the bus downtown, with a few campaign flyers in my hand. A group of teenagers got on at the Thayer St. tunnel. One kid was talking to another, it was ‘nigguz’ this and ‘nigguz’ that. It wasn’t even fighting words, this was just normal conversation. I said to him, “Young man, that’s not a good word.� I handed him a flyer.

He didn’t get angry, more like total incomprehension as to what I meant. He handed the flyer back and started talking to a girl in Spanish. A couple of high school girls saw this and immediately asked me for flyers. They are excited about this candidate. I hope their parents will vote for him.

I went to Obama HQ, on Westminster St. I am convinced that the bus stop is the place to be, although the campaign organizer says that approaching random people has been shown to be ineffective. But he let me take a sign and more flyers. I’m signed up to canvass on the weekend anyway, and I’ll stick to their plan.

This time I walked to Kennedy Plaza and held up my sign. I was really feeling the love. Contrary to all my previous experience distributing literature, I didn’t need to chase anyone. People came up to me. Most of them were young, probably too young to vote, but I talked to a good number of people who were registered and determined to vote on March 4th.

A few boys yelled, “Hillary!� I doubt that meant they were going to vote for her. I talked to a couple of women who were Hillary Clinton supporters and it was friendly enough. I don’t have any trouble saying good things about Senator Clinton. I’m a feminist from way back. It even feels good to me to say, ‘Senator Clinton’. I’m proud of her. But I’ve listened to both candidates and Barack Obama is my choice. Sure beats the ‘lesser of two evils’ voting I’ve done most of my life.

Before my hands froze totally solid I got into this conversation with some teenage girls, “Why’re you not voting for the white lady?�

“I think Barack Obama’s the better candidate,â€? I replied.

“He’ll just get shot if they elect him.� she said.

I told the girls that I had lived through the decade where so many of our leaders were assassinated, or shot and injured. I told them that all the candidates who get up in front of crowds are brave, but you have to fight for what you believe in.

These girls were born a generation after those days, but the murder of our leaders left scars on our country. A long period of disengagement and despair. Now there’s hope. And now, for the first time in my life, my vote really counts.

I’m Not a Doctor, But I Play One on TV

I’m not fond of drug companies advertising on TV. “Ask your doctor�, they say, “if Haldol might be right for you.� Then cut to Britney Spears talking about how she’s studying economics at her local community college since she started taking Haldol.

It wasn’t Britney, but another celebrity, who was appearing on a drug commercial: Robert Jarvik, a pioneering researcher of the artificial heart. I thought it was unbecoming that such an illustrious doctor was using his prestige to push one particular cholesterol drug. There are several commonly used ones, and other treatments for high cholesterol. Shouldn’t the doctors give some thought to prescribing the best treatment for the individual patient?

Well, that’s no way to make a profit. We’re all supposed to ‘ask our doctor’ to prescribe whatever we saw on TV. But Dr. Jarvik won’t be appearing any more.

From the business section of the New York Times

Under criticism that its ads are misleading, Pfizer said Monday it would cancel a long-running advertising campaign using the artificial heart pioneer Dr. Robert Jarvik as a spokesman for its cholesterol drug Lipitor. Pfizer has spent more than $258 million advertising Lipitor since January 2006, most of it on the Jarvik campaign, as the company sought to protect Lipitor, the world’s best-selling drug, from competition by cheaper generics.

But the campaign had come under scrutiny from a Congressional committee that is examining consumer drug advertising and has asked whether the ads misrepresented Dr. Jarvik and his credentials. Although he has a medical degree, Dr. Jarvik is not a cardiologist and is not licensed to practice medicine.

One television ad depicted Dr. Jarvik as an accomplished rower gliding across a mountain lake, but the ad used a body double for the doctor, who apparently does not row.

This really bites. He’s not only not a cardiologist, but he didn’t even do his own rowing. So let’s look at his great accomplishment–the invention of the artificial heart.

In a letter to Pfizer in August 2006, three former colleagues of Dr. Jarvik’s at the University of Utah complained that the ads erroneously identified Dr. Jarvik as “inventor of the artificial heart.â€? That distinction, they said, should go to Dr. Jarvik’s mentor, Dr. Willem J. Kolff, and his associate, Dr. Tetsuzo Akutsu. Pfizer subsequently changed its ads to identify Dr. Jarvik as the inventor of the “Jarvik artificial heart,â€? but Dr. Jarvik’s former colleagues, members of a large team that worked on the heart, were not entirely satisfied…

I wonder why?

Next time you see your doctor, you won’t have time to ask about the stress of working in primary care. If you did, they might start telling you about it, and that would take hours. But if they don’t give you this week’s miracle pill every time you see them, they are doing their job. Drug company advertising is not an unbiased source of information. You’ll get more objectivity talking to other people who have the same concerns, or checking internet forums. All the drug company wants you to ask your doctor is, “Give me that drug, now.� And if they got caught in sloppy marketing this time, they’ll be more subtle the next time.

At Obama HQ-Wednesday, February 27, 4:26pm

I took the bus downtown, right about the time the high school kids were coming through. A girl called out to a handsome, brown-skinned boy, “Barack Obama!� You don’t have to be that good-looking to get elected, but it doesn’t hurt.

It’s so chilly and grey that a few blocks seem like a mile. On Westminster St. I passed two news cars, and walked in on a press conference. Attorney General Patrick Lynch was speaking to a large group of reporters, announcing that Barack Obama will be visiting Rhode Island on Saturday. Location and time to be announced.

There was a group of Obama supporters on the podium. I saw Charlie Forgarty, Angel Tavares, Paul Moura, and Lincoln Chafee. Sen. Chafee was warmly applauded when he spoke in support of Sen. Obama, saying that he has the right experience and is the candidate we need for president. There were other distinguished supporters as well.

I ran into a friend I hadn’t seen in years. I got a lawn sign, and picked up some flyers. They had run out of buttons and stickers. On the way back I saw a Hillary sign set up near the bus depot. Smart strategy if you want to get seen by a lot of people. I marched through the crowd with my Obama sign waving and gave away most of the flyers to people who asked for them.

High enthusiasm, good vibes from young and old. And Barack is coming to Rhode Island.

Obama Returns to L’il Rhody

I saw Barack Obama speak at Roger Williams Park on a beautiful fall day in 2006, when he was campaigning for Sen. Whitehouse and the rest of the Rhode Island Democratic candidates. It was inspiring stuff — enough to get this tired 38-year-old mommy holding a sleeping baby to hoot and holler. Now Obama is planning a visit this Saturday, to give an extra charge to his Rhode Island supporters ahead of Tuesday’s primary. It should be quite an event.

For more information and details on when and where to see Obama on Saturday, go to

Lyndon LaRouche on my Doorstep

A glossy-cover magazine, rolled up with several flyers in a rubber band, landed on my doorstep. Unfortunately, it was raining. Only a political junkie would bother to dry the thing off, but so I am.

How could I resist a headline like, ‘Is the Devil in Your Laptop?’ Such a promising title, such impenetrable writing.

I know the LaRouche people as political chameleons hanging out on the fringes of various political groups I worked with over the years. They were especially active during the 1980’s. They are so extreme that they don’t even fit the left-right spectrum. I don’t know how to describe them, some see them as a political cult. Their magazine, running 64 pages, must have been expensive to print, even if the organization owns a press, which likely they do. They are casting their bread upon the waters in Rhode Island, with this hand-delivered (avoiding the US Postal Service) outreach.

I don’t know who their intended readership would be. I found the contents impossible to understand, and I am pretty well-informed. The organization has a history of slapping lawsuits, and has been linked to violence, so I will refrain from direct quotes from the magazine. Their publications are easy to find, anyway, at one of their many websites. Just to say that the writers have issues with Wikipedia, (see bio here), and bloggers. There were many sexual references, which you would think would be pretty basic, but I couldn’t make sense of them either. They have some occult preoccupations, with rants against witchcraft and references to ‘the noosphere’. And they have harsh words for the British, especially The Beatles.

What concerns me is not the existence of fringe political groups, even those that have a dangerous ideology. That’s freedom of speech. We prefer the consequences of free speech to the consequences of censorship.

But our culture sanctions unpopular speech, and across the board, anyone who wants to be taken seriously tones it down. That means that some very unpopular agendas hide behind bland names and code words. What concerns me is the ease with which such a group can introduce a stealth bill into an uninformed state legislature.

The LaRouche organization is pushing a bill called, ‘The Homeowner and Bank Protection Act’. At a time when many families are thrown into crisis by foreclosure, and banks are feeling the effects of a shaky economy, there is a need and demand for legal protection for homeowners who were caught up in the sub-prime mortgage mess. Communities are suffering as vacant houses bring down property values and empty out neighborhoods. In the midst of all this pain, a bill that protects homeowners and banks sounds good.

According to the LaRouche literature, The Homeowner and Bank Protection Act has already been passed in 34 municipalities, many of them in Pennsylvania.

Rhode Island is listed as a state where an HBPA Memorial has been drafted and is pending introduction. The LaRouche people are so slippery with language that I have to question what they mean by ‘memorial’. Is that the same as legislation?

If there is a LaRouche operative lobbying for a bill in our General Assembly, our reps had better read the fine print and check the source before they find themselves supporting a law that they will be unable to defend, and allying themselves with a world-view they do not endorse.

Diplomatic Dress

While noting the excitement over a photo of Barack Obama in traditional Somalian garb, I recalled that somehow, somewhere, I had seen a picture of President Bush wearing a lovely blue silk tunic and a strained smile.

Donning the costume over his suit for the obligatory “family photograph� alongside 20 other leaders of Asian and Pacific nations, Mr Bush grimaced repeatedly and shifted from foot to foot, a portrait of embarrassment in turquoise blue brocade with yellow trim.

For the rest of the article from The Guardian, and the photo, go here. And even better, YouTube has a video of George, Laura, Hillary, Condoleeza, and others showing off the local fashions on their various goodwill tours. All the news photos you’ve seen over the years strung together. I especially like the president in large polka dots, it becomes him.

At Obama HQ

There’s no escaping that great American tradition of door-to-door canvassing for votes. So if you live in Codding Court, that weird white-haired lady lurking around the buildings was me. But thank you, those of you who answered the door, took the flyers, and especially those of you who said, “Yes, I’ll be there on March 4th.�

Why Barack Obama? Lately I am impressed with his consistent statements that he will open talks with nations we are in conflict with. We’ve had eight years of ‘shoot first and ask questions later’. We discharged scores of skilled Arabic interpreters from the military, trained soldiers who would have saved lives if they had been allowed to do their job, because the nut wing of the Republican party wants to get rid of gays. I hope that if any of them are standing in a window of a burning building, and a firefighter shows up with a ladder, that they will remember to take a sexual history and refuse rescue on principle if the firefighter is not living in accord with Biblical principles. (And not the polygamy chapters, no fair quoting those). I heard on public radio that our diplomatic corps is badly understaffed, on the watch of Secretary of State, Condoleeza Rice. In all fairness, even she seems worried about it.

Pick your issue, whatever it is. The next president will inherit a huge mess. The election, good citizen, if your candidate wins, is only the beginning. Then we have to hold their feet to the fire and make sure they don’t compromise and sell out, because that is the way of Washington.

Oh heck, of course they’ll compromise and sell-out, but they’ll do it less if we stay on them.

If you live in Providence, Obama HQ is where Westminster Mall used to be. It’s at 235 Westminster St., corner of Westminster and Union St. For more information, go to or call 401-277-2008 for details.

As Attorney General Patrick Lynch said, now is the time when Rhode Island can make a difference.

“A Poor Substitute for Democracy”

Leave it to the great historian, Howard Zinn, to remind me of my progressive roots and to remind us all that elections are a fundamental part of democracy but are not a substitute for democracy. From The Progressive:

[Election frenzy] seizes the country every four years because we have all been brought up to believe that voting is crucial in determining our destiny, that the most important act a citizen can engage in is to go to the polls and choose one of the two mediocrities who have already been chosen for us. It is a multiple choice test so narrow, so specious, that no self-respecting teacher would give it to students.

And sad to say, the Presidential contest has mesmerized liberals and radicals alike. We are all vulnerable.

Is it possible to get together with friends these days and avoid the subject of the Presidential elections?

The very people who should know better, having criticized the hold of the media on the national mind, find themselves transfixed by the press, glued to the television set, as the candidates preen and smile and bring forth a shower of clichés with a solemnity appropriate for epic poetry.

Even in the so-called left periodicals, we must admit there is an exorbitant amount of attention given to minutely examining the major candidates. An occasional bone is thrown to the minor candidates, though everyone knows our marvelous democratic political system won’t allow them in.

No, I’m not taking some ultra-left position that elections are totally insignificant, and that we should refuse to vote to preserve our moral purity. Yes, there are candidates who are somewhat better than others, and at certain times of national crisis (the Thirties, for instance, or right now) where even a slight difference between the two parties may be a matter of life and death.

I’m talking about a sense of proportion that gets lost in the election madness. Would I support one candidate against another? Yes, for two minutes—the amount of time it takes to pull the lever down in the voting booth.

But before and after those two minutes, our time, our energy, should be spent in educating, agitating, organizing our fellow citizens in the workplace, in the neighborhood, in the schools. Our objective should be to build, painstakingly, patiently but energetically, a movement that, when it reaches a certain critical mass, would shake whoever is in the White House, in Congress, into changing national policy on matters of war and social justice.

Let’s remember that even when there is a “betterâ€? candidate (yes, better Roosevelt than Hoover, better anyone than George Bush), that difference will not mean anything unless the power of the people asserts itself in ways that the occupant of the White House will find it dangerous to ignore….

Today, we can be sure that the Democratic Party, unless it faces a popular upsurge, will not move off center. The two leading Presidential candidates have made it clear that if elected, they will not bring an immediate end to the Iraq War, or institute a system of free health care for all.

They offer no radical change from the status quo.

They do not propose what the present desperation of people cries out for: a government guarantee of jobs to everyone who needs one, a minimum income for every household, housing relief to everyone who faces eviction or foreclosure.

They do not suggest the deep cuts in the military budget or the radical changes in the tax system that would free billions, even trillions, for social programs to transform the way we live.

None of this should surprise us. The Democratic Party has broken with its historic conservatism, its pandering to the rich, its predilection for war, only when it has encountered rebellion from below, as in the Thirties and the Sixties. We should not expect that a victory at the ballot box in November will even begin to budge the nation from its twin fundamental illnesses: capitalist greed and militarism.

So we need to free ourselves from the election madness engulfing the entire society, including the left.

Yes, two minutes. Before that, and after that, we should be taking direct action against the obstacles to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. [full text]

In the Absence of Trust

Trust matters. If an individual cannot trust those upon whom they are in some significant measure dependent, that is a problem. In families in which there is incest, it is not unusual for the non-offending parent (if they know or suspect what is going on) to overtly or covertly encourage their child to remain silent about the abuse. Or, if the parent is truly clueless, it is not unusual for the child to keep the secret to themselves nonetheless, out of fear that they will get in trouble, be ignored or disbelieved, or receive even greater harm. However real or perceived the mistrust, it tends to make a bad situation worse.

The same is true in the less personal arena of politics. When the citizenry does not trust that those who (ostensibly) represent them will consistently put public interests ahead of self-interest or the interests of an elite minority, participation in democratic institutions and practices falters. Given the abuses of the Bush administration and the polarizing politics that have become all too common in the last decade and a half or more, there is reason for the governed not to trust those who govern. And while that may not be reason enough to simply abandon speaking up and speaking out, it is understandable that many would resign themselves to silence. There is a reason, too, that Obama fever is sweeping the nation. This candidate, unlike any in a very long time, is giving voice and hope to those who have led lives of quiet desperation.

Another area in which mistrust has become problematic is health care. In today’s New York Times, Amy Harmon writes about how “Insurance Fears Lead Many to Shun DNA Tests.” An excerpt follows:

Victoria Grove wanted to find out if she was destined to develop the form of emphysema that ran in her family, but she did not want to ask her doctor for the DNA test that would tell her.

She worried that she might not be able to get health insurance, or even a job, if a genetic predisposition showed up in her medical records, especially since treatment for the condition, alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, could cost over $100,000 a year. Instead, Ms. Grove sought out a service that sent a test kit to her home and returned the results directly to her.

Nor did she tell her doctor when the test revealed that she was virtually certain to get it. Knowing that she could sustain permanent lung damage without immediate treatment for her bouts of pneumonia, she made sure to visit her clinic at the first sign of infection.

But then came the day when the nurse who listened to her lungs decided she just had a cold. Ms. Grove begged for a chest X-ray. The nurse did not think it was necessary.

“It was just an ongoing battle with myself,� recalled Ms. Grove, of Woodbury, Minn. “Should I tell them now or wait till I’m sicker?�

The first, much-anticipated benefits of personalized medicine are being lost or diluted for many Americans who are too afraid that genetic information may be used against them to take advantage of its growing availability.

In some cases, doctors say, patients who could make more informed health care decisions if they learned whether they had inherited an elevated risk of diseases like breast and colon cancer refuse to do so because of the potentially dire economic consequences.

Others enter a kind of genetic underground, spending hundreds or thousands of dollars of their own money for DNA tests that an insurer would otherwise cover, so as to avoid scrutiny. Those who do find out they are likely or certain to develop a particular genetic condition often beg doctors not to mention it in their records.

Some, like Ms. Grove, try to manage their own care without confiding in medical professionals. And even doctors who recommend DNA testing to their patients warn them that they could face genetic discrimination from employers or insurers.

Such discrimination appears to be rare; even proponents of federal legislation that would outlaw it can cite few examples of it. But thousands of people accustomed to a health insurance system in which known risks carry financial penalties are drawing their own conclusions about how a genetic predisposition to disease is likely to be regarded.

As a result, the ability to more effectively prevent and treat genetic disease is faltering even as the means to identify risks people are born with are improving. [full text]

Brighter Days

By the middle of this week we will have eleven hours of daylight, and we are just about a month away from the vernal equinox.

In honor of the sun, here is some good news on the solar energy front from Scientific American…

The energy benefits of solar photovoltaics will only improve as the technology continues to boost its efficiency at converting sunlight to electricity or proves to last longer than the 30 years anticipated by manufacturers. “There is no reason for this not to last a lot more than 30 years,” Fthenakis says.

If solar energy begins to power its own production—a so-called PV breeder cycle, in which PV-generated electricity goes to produce more PV cells—the outlook is even sunnier. “I think 30 percent of the energy consumption in the [manufacturing] facilities is easily met from the land they have available [on] the roof and in the parking lot,” Fthenakis says.

Wow! Can’t you just feel the singularity coming? Of course, with all that energy production, we’ll need some big batteries to store it. Good news there too…

VRB will start mass production this year of a longer-lasting rival to the lead acid battery currently used to store energy for example produced by solar panel, Hennessy said.

Low carbon-emitting renewable energy is in vogue, driven by fears over climate change, spiraling oil prices and fears over energy supply and security.

While the supply of the wind and sun far exceeds humanity’s needs it doesn’t necessarily match the time when people need it: the sun may not be shining nor the wind blowing when we need to cook dinner or have a shower.

Soaring production of solar panel and wind turbines is now spurring a race to develop the winning energy storage technologies which will drive the electric cars and appliances of the future.

Wouldn’t it be great to tell the rest of the world, especially those nations that don’t like us, that they can keep their oil, we don’t need it. Remember when a young, visionary and daring president led our country to put a man on the moon? Now we just need a battery. We can do it. Now is no time to build more nuclear power plants — that’s so 20th century. We need to invest in solar.

And if you are thinking local as well as global, check out Natural News Network for what is happening in a neighborhood near you. Today’s headline is an amazing photo of last week’s lunar eclipse, by Kathy Hodge who braved the cold to take it.


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