Sense from Seattle

Common sense thoughts on life and current affairs by a Seattle area sexagenarian, drawing on personal experience, years of learning as a counselor to thousands of families and an innate passion for informed knowledge, to uniquely express sensible, thoughtful, honest and independent views.

Monday, January 31, 2005

Nickel and Dimed

People who work full time should be able to keep their family out of poverty, agreed 94% of Americans according to a poll cited by Barbara Ehrenreich in her book, "Nickel and Dimed". Unfortunately, the "should" and the "be able" don’t co-exist in the real world of the USA today.

In her fascinating book, prompted by a desire to study the impact of so-called "welfare reform", Barbara writes about her undercover stints in Florida, Maine and Minnesota, attempting to make ends meet on paychecks from employers such as Wal Mart. The bottom line was that, even with a family consisting just of herself, Barbara could not earn enough money to be able to cover her essential expenses. Rent was the back breaker. She found wages too low, "affordable" housing non-existent, but most significantly rent too high. Barbara includes reference data in footnotes and in an evaluation chapter showing her experience was consistent with the depressing reality of poverty in America.

With colorful style, Barbara depicts the employers, landlords, fellow employees and customers she encountered on her adventures. Corporate employment practices seem designed to demean the worker, starting with the farcical application process and proceeding through comical orientation and onto the job itself, replete with silly rules. The effect on the workers seems to be just what the employers want, resulting in overworked, underpaid, brainwashed and fully disposable "associates".

Poverty is a quagmire. Fall in and you will likely end up stuck there. Flailing expends what little energy you have, and not only does not get you out, but may get you in deeper. Those of us who are not impoverished disregard the evidence that the working poor make our lives economically easier. Read Barbara’s book and the next time you shop at Wal Mart you will feel appropriately guilty.

Iraq Election Turnout

Preliminary reports show Sunni voter turnout for the Sunday election in Iraq was perhaps even lower than expected, while non-Sunni turnout may have been fairly high.

The process leading up to this election is deeply flawed and there will undoubtedly be reasons to complain about future aspects of the process. But the process itself is the best hope the Iraqis have to arrive at actual self-governance. In fact the only alternative seems to be to disdain the electoral results and work with the insurgents to gradually wear down the will of the American people to stay in Iraq. But even if the insurgents prevailed in a war of attrition, self-governance is not what the insurgents are offering - they are offering anarchy and civil war, leading to establishment of an Islamic theocratic government.

In the pre-invasion discussions, the Bush people always seemed to discount the question, "But what if we liberate the Iraqi people and then they freely choose Islamic theocracy?" They said it would not happen because free people would never choose a theocracy over a democracy. In fact, they knew it would not happen, because they never intended to give the Iraqis that choice. I agree with not giving them that choice, because theocracy, like dictatorship, can never be freely chosen. To vote to submit to such dominance is to vote to be unfree.

The process now is for the Iraqis to work within the guidelines, admittedly established under overwhelming US influence, to establish the best Constitution they can under the circumstances prevailing. Scholarly examination of the history of Constitutional adoption from other nations, combined with free debate and open consideration of all viewpoints should be the foundation for working out agreements and compromises and ultimately arriving at the best possible consensus.

I am beginning a read of "Miracle at Philadelphia", Catherine Drinker Bowen’s account of the American Constitutional Convention of 1787. I have read a few books on the subject before, but as Bowen writes in her preface, "Considering the immense amount of literature on the subject, it is surprising how little the average American knows about the making of our Constitution." We may have a vision of the "Founding Fathers", flush with the success of the 13 colonies over the British in the Revolutionary War, harmoniously and spontaneously agreeing to our Constitution, as if by some almost divine guidance. But in fact, relations between the colonies were quite acrimonious and the Founders were more mindful of the differences between the colonies than of the similarities. Rhode Island, like most Sunnis in Iraq, chose not to participate in the process.

The initial appointment of an Iraqi governing council and the supposed turnover of sovereignty had little or no credibility, because of minimal Iraqi participation. This election, with large numbers of Iraqis choosing to vote, even with its obvious shortcomings, has much more credibility. The insurgents do not seem to have discouraged significant numbers of non-Sunni Iraqis from voting. We might hope this would take much wind out of the insurgent sails, but until sitting duck American troops can be replaced by adequately trained Iraqi forces, anti-American insurgents will continue the storm.

Clean Elections

Arizona voters in 1998 passed an initiative providing for optional public funding of election campaigns. The "clean elections" concept is designed to allow candidates to participate without having to take contributions from special interests. This public funding has been used in three Arizona elections and has resulted in several "clean" candidates being elected.

Special interests who are losing influence under the clean concept, especially the business community, sought to dismantle the Arizona law by a ballot initiative called "No Taxpayer Money for Politicians". That initiative was challenged in Court for violating the requirement of a single subject in proposed initiatives. The Arizona Supreme Court agreed the initiative not only would cut off candidate funding, but also would cut off funding for the clean election monitors, and therefore was in violation of the single subject rule and would not be allowed on the ballot.

The technical nature of the Court decision to disallow the initiative means it is likely to be re-written and submitted again. Those opposed to clean election laws have the money which they traditionally use to influence elections, and now they are putting that money into preventing clean election laws from coming into being in the first place or into overturning such laws if they do get passed. Campaign finance reforms should include limits on the amount that can be contributed to an initiative campaign.

Here is a background article on the Arizona law from Democracy Matters:

Here is an article on the Court decision from Reclaim Democracy:

Detailed information on the operation of the Arizona Clean Elections Law is at the Clean Elections Institute site at

For a map of States which have a clean election law or a campaign underway to enact one, from Public Campaign, see

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Charity Navigator

While Channel Surfing I saw some tsunami vicitm footage on a station I rarely stay on for more than two minutes. It was the Christian Broadcasting Network and the show was the 700 Club, with Pat Robertson having a fundraising telethon. He was using the tsunami victim footage as part of his fundraising pitch, implying that funds contributed would be used for tsunami relief. I seriously doubt that even a small portion of funds sent would ever be used to help those victims.

The Charity Navigator rates CBN at two out of four stars in its financial analysis at , indicating it underperformed most charities in its cause category in terms of the amount of money that ends up going to the cause, rather than to fundraising and administrative expenses.

The CBN website includes a tsunami victim story along with donation solicitations, but does not give details on the connection between making a donation and aiding the tsunami vicitms. The site does mention Operation Blessing, a relief organization rated at three stars by Charity Navigator. But, using the Charity Navigator search functions to find International Relief charities that are most efficient in using donated funds for the actual relief work, I found 81 given the top four star rating.

For helpful advice and comparisons of the fiancial efficiency of various charities under your consideration for donations, check out the Charity Navigator at

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

We’ve Been Framed

If you are enjoyably reading this blog, you are likely a "tax and spend liberal" [13,700 hits for that exact phrase on Google], rather than a "reactionary conservative" [4,030 hits].

Right after the November election I began putting together a list of word labels to use against conservative debaters as a counter to what they have been throwing at liberals. Here is what I wrote: use anti and ism, reactionary, backwards, fundamentalist, intolerant, quasi-religious, extremist, radical right wing, ultra-conservative, arch conservative, self-appointed messengers from God, church controlled government, majority domination demanding minority submission, holier than thou attitude, religious prejudice, God bless America and no one else, might makes right, religious Presidency, one-sided, and selective biblical mis-interpretation.

The much more qualified George Lakoff, linguistics professor and author of "Don’t Think of an Elephant; Know Your Values and Frame the Debate" [high on my list of books I have yet to read], is offering much needed guidance to progressives about how conservatives have successfully used language to frame the political debate to the linguistic disadvantage of holders of the traditional liberal point of view. The basics of what he is doing is discussed in this article, also cited in the Sense posting on Fatherhood:

If you are a progressive, you are going to need to participate in taking back the language to keep the neo-cons from hijacking the debate in the future. If you have read Lakoff’s book, I defer to his advice, but in the meantime, my advice is, in any discussion with a political non-progressive, to stop the person when he or she uses a word that might have a political connotation and suggest the word be defined by each participant to see how it may mean something different to each of them. Don’t do this in a defensive or threatening way, but rather approach it as a joint effort to make sure the communication is as clear as possible, free of confusion over terminology.

Many more discussion words need definition than we might realize. In fact, starting the process with more generic words may be less emotionally charged and may lay a groundwork for later discussion of more volatile terminology. Take a word like "success" as in "a successful person should be entitled to reap the rewards of their success" (an argument you may hear in support of "tax relief"). The word itself only means to attain a goal - it includes no value judgment about the goal itself. Osama bin Laden was highly successful in the attacks of 9/11. What the speaker really is doing is challenging the concept of taxing the financially successful. But who else can be taxed if not the financially successful? Failures are not good sources of tax revenue. So the issue is not really the taxation of financially successful people, but rather what is the fair amount of taxes for them to pay.

Let’s shift to the word "taxes". Many conservatives talk as if taxes are inherently evil. Taxes are assessments for the support of the government. Oliver Wendell Holmes said, "Taxes are what we pay for civilized society". In our American system, taxes are assessed under laws passed by our elected representatives as part of a government budget they approve, which specifies the purposes for which the taxes will be used. Some taxes are earmarked for certain purposes and others are not. Taxes in general are neither good nor evil, they are just a necessary reality.

What about the word "fair" as in "paying one’s fair share of taxes". Now we are getting somewhere. Fair means just and equitable, which are subjective terms at best, and in a political discussion are often used to describe one’s own pre-conceived position. To a conservative businessman, it is not fair that his hard earned income be taxed to support a "welfare queen", and to a single mom paying a small amount of tax on a modest income, it is not fair that her tax money goes to "corporate welfare".

If the businessman and the single mom were the two people having the discussion, we might have an ending worthy of Frank Capra, the director of "It’s a Wonderful Life". After a healthy give and take, the businessman would say to the mom, "You’ve got a good head on your shoulders, much better than old Potter’s niece who really wants to run away and join the circus instead of being our PR person. Why don’t you come to work for me as our new PR person?" To which single mom replies, "I’ll do it if you listen to me and provide day care and other decent benefits for all your employees, and if you let me show you how to increase net income by providing a better product at a fairer price while becoming a better corporate citizen in the community."

See what can be accomplished with better communication?

What Kind of a Father Is Best?

I was taught religion in Catholic school. From the stories of the Old Testament I learned that God the Father was very strict, someone to be feared and absolutely obeyed. He often seemed to be downright mean to people, like Eve in the Garden of Eden and Job on the dung heap. From the New Testament I learned that Jesus was a loving, if somewhat cryptic, person who was also the same person as God the Father and the Holy Ghost [this was pre-Spirit days, folks]. The concept of two or more people in one was supposed to be hard to grasp, but I never had difficulty with it since some of my favorite heroes operated in the same way. What Don Diego and Clark Kent lacked in panache, they made up in spades as Zorro and Superman.

I grew up with an irrationally strict step father - definitely an Old Testament type guy. When I became a father myself, I wanted to be more of a New Testament type. Problem was, Jesus never had kids, so he was no paternal role model. [If the New Testament is ever re-written, the authors should consider having Jesus get married and raise a couple kids before he ends up on the cross - but then they would have to handle the matter of whether his kids were also God, something which we never had to ponder with the childless Zorro and Superman]. I kind of liked Joseph, but the Bible does not tell us much about his parenting of Jesus, definitely a tough task when your paternity is questioned from the start and your child is actually God.

I think the Prodigal Son story may provide the best biblical guidance for fathers. Hearing that story as a child, I always identified with the good son who was loyal and obedient, and I was troubled that he was not given more reward from his dad. Later, as a young adult who had traveled various roads, I began to see a little more of the prodigal perspective, the need for parental forgiveness and rejoicing on return. Gradually, after I became a father, and with the experience that comes from parenting, I finally was able to identify with the father in the story, understanding that we love all our children equally and accept their individual differences and paths through life, rejoicing with all the family when a child finds a right path to follow.

George Lakoff, a linguistics professor at Berkeley, points out how current American political division is based on two different views of the paternal role of government. Republicans see the government as a strict Old Testament father, reminding us that the world is full of evil and we must be tough and disciplined, like Dad, to stand up to it. We must be competitive and use all available power and resources in our own self-interest, because if everyone pursues self-interest, the self-interest of all will be maximized. Whining, undisciplined, overly dependent children should not be coddled, but should be required to sink or swim on their own. Currently masquerading as President in this Republican vision is George W. Bush, who Arianna Huffington points out in her book "Fanatics and Fools", got the part based on winning the birth lottery rather than on having any valid qualifications.

The Democratic view of government is more like the prodigal father. He tries to rein in the children who would run rough-shod over their siblings and to nurture and encourage those who need more help. He wants his children to learn we are all in this life together and we all do better when we seek cooperation and agreement and are mindful, considerate and loving of each other. In the last two Presidential elections, the Democrats have not been able to cast the right person for this role.

For an interview with Professor Lakoff on this subject, check out:

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Iraqis Should Vote

I just re-read my November 8th post entitled "Advice to the Iraqi People" (
With their election just a week away, I think my advice is still relevant and sound. In particular, I recommended the majority of the Iraqi people speak out against the insurgents and in support of the election process. I labeled the insurgents as mostly Islamic fundamentalist militants, mixed with some generic foes of the American occupation.

The insurgency has turned out to be much larger and more broadly based than I thought, apparently having much more support from non-fundamentalist occupation foes than I realized. Even more significantly, the Sunni population has embraced what seems to be a growing civil war mentality and has opposed the election itself,. The occupiers have so screwed up matters that resentment against the occupation appears to have overcome all other factors. The election process is increasingly seen, even by Shiites, as another fiasco caused by the occupiers - a sloppy rush job to be conducted in a military state of occupation, with no valid political forums in existence and with hopelessly inadequate security. Even the questionably authorized overseas voters are apathetic or in fear, with only 1 out of 9 of those eligible registering so far.

One glaring mistake made by the occupiers was to close down a radical Shia newspaper which criticized the occupation. That sparked Shia insurgents and showed the depth and breadth of resentment against the occupiers, giving a huge push to the militants. Letting critical viewpoints be expressed is a hallmark of a true democracy, and the self-proclaimed democratic occupiers looked like hypocrites when they practiced censorship. Balancing free speech with security concerns is tricky enough in an established democracy, but in an occupied country on which democracy is being imposed, it is essentially unworkable. [For an excellent article on censorship in Iraq, see the Project Censored 2005 article by Alex Gourevitch at]

The terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi says on a tape just released that this election is rigged against the Sunnis, which it may well be, but the Sunnis could not expect to accomplish much even in a fair election, given their small numbers and the fact the brutal dictator was one of them. But al-Zarqawi, of Palestinian roots, goes beyond the rigging claim, saying democracy is wrong because it is rule by man rather than rule by God. Al-Zarqawi believes freedom of religion and expression, separation of church and state and having more than one political party are against God. The only such theocracies at present are the Christian Vatican and the Islamic Iran, so al-Zarqawi’s concept of government does not seem to ultimately be very achievable.

It is a lot to ask of the Iraqi people that they overlook historic differences and wrongs and that they brave terrorist voter intimidation to participate in a seriously flawed election, but what are the alternative? To not participate in the election could encourage the insurgency and prolong the occupation. My advice is to vote, and to consider that by voting you are telling both the Americans and al-Zarqawi to go home.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Condoleeza Rice - the next Secretary of State

After two days of spouting platitudes to a Senate committee, Dr. Condoleeza Rice will be confirmed as the next Secretary of State.

Dr. Rice’s biography is not typical of black American women who face the most severe discrimination and obstacles in our society. She was born and bred to succeed in a white dominated society, and has learned extremely well how to seem to ignore race as a factor while in fact using it for her own gain. She has been aptly called "interracially fluent", knowing how to operate in a white dominated society by making her white associates feel comfortable without them even realizing she is doing it. She has accomplished much in her life and deserves great credit for what she has achieved.

An apparent dilemma for successful blacks in America is how to enjoy the fruits of success without ignoring the plight of the less successful black Americans. Some blacks, usually entertainers like Oprah and Bill Cosby, manage to enjoy the fruits while still helping and sharing. Others make the lifting up of black brothers and sisters their life’s work, usually wining awards and sometimes paying the ultimate price, as Dr. King did. "Why should I have to take time away from the enjoyment of my success to concern myself with other blacks; let white people spend their time on that and let black people take responsibility for achieving their own success like I did", is the answer given by some, including Condi Rice.

My criticisms of Dr. Rice fall into two categories, one race related and one not. The non-race related complaints against her are the same as those against all the Bush chicken hawks, for whom she has been an especially compliant front person as previously pointed out in this blog (

As for race related criticism, as a white man, I have to be careful in criticizing a black woman. But a critical article, written by a black female journalist, Betty Baye’, speaks to much of what my racially related concerns are about Condi Rice. The article is at

Here are some interesting facts about Dr. Rice: she is an only child, third generation college grad; at age 15, she enrolled at the University of Denver, where her father was Vice Chancellor; her early collegiate academic mentor was the father of Madeline Albright, the Clinton Secretary of State; she has held corporate directorships at many large corporations, including Chevron, which even named an oil tanker after her. Here is the Wikipedia bio on Dr. Rice:

Homosexual Bomb

Friend Reiko forwarded a New Scientist link sent to her from her Syracuse friend Tony. The article mentions several bizarre chemical weapons considered by the Pentagon, with a homosexual bomb being a highlight [more aptly a lowlight].

The sex bomb aphrodisiac would supposedly make enemy soldiers sexually irresistible to each other, with resulting homosexual behavior contributing to low morale. The concept prompts me to ask some immediate questions.

Would the bomb reverse the sexual preferences of homosexuals, and would that increase their morale? Was this bomb an offshoot of research looking for a chemical that could cure homosexuals?

What about a blind aphrodisiac bomb that would make soldiers seek sex from all other soldiers, regardless of gender or sexual preference [possible code name Elton John]? Then maybe "Make love, not war", would become a reality.

Why do all the military sex scandals always seem to involve heterosexuals?

Why do people who preach the loudest against "immoral" sex sometimes turn out to be especially attracted by it? E.g., some priests and televangelists, Ken Starr and Bill O’Reilly.

The article is at:

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Undressing Dr. Sheep

Warning to the reader: This piece has been brewing for some time and is longer and more detailed than most of what I write here. If you choose to read it, don’t lose sight of the forest, just because I point out so many particular trees. The forest is the attempt by the rich and powerful to limit the ability of the judicial branch of our government to redress wrongs to the average American and to concentrate more power in the legislative and executive branches, which can be more easily influenced by the wealthy and powerful.

George W. Bush is not the creator of the myth that our judicial system of civil suits and trials is unfair to defendants. That myth has its roots in the industrial revolution. The harsh realities of gross exploitation of industrial labor and the pervasiveness of corporate greed spawned the rise of organized labor and progressive reforms to regulate monolithic capitalism. Realization also arose that the average individual really did have rights to be compensated for wrongful injury by the rich and powerful and that our existing system of civil courts was a legitimately effective forum for obtaining such compensation. The law has always recognized two separate bases for civil redress of wrongs: breach of contract suits; and suits for any non-contractual wrong, known in the law as a tort (from the Latin word for crooked - like contorted). The tortious wrongdoer is called a tort-feasor.

Teddy Roosevelt started the progressive reform. The bubble of 1920's prosperity slowed it down, but the Depression and the New Deal accelerated it again. During the 1950s, the industrial complex mounted a campaign seeking to place restrictions on our court system to limit the ability of injured victims to receive compensation for their injuries in tort suits - so-called "tort reform". These campaigners fabricated an argument that tort lawsuits were driving up the cost of goods to consumers. But the timing was not right for their campaign, because the then powerful labor unions and the rising consumer protection movement combined to successfully thwart imposition of any restrictions.

What Bush has done is bring the tort-feasor wolf back in the clothing of a different sheep - the conscientious and competent doctor who supposedly can no longer make financial ends meet, due to exorbitant malpractice insurance premiums, presumably necessitated by the cost of defending tort suits, all of which are assumed to be frivolous.

Our contact with the medical establishment usually begins with our doctor, but also includes other providers such as hospitals, drug companies, labs and diagnostic services. Since doctors are willing to be the poster folks for the establishment, let’s turn the tables on them and look under their gowns.

Before proceeding with the undresing, please allow a disclaimer. Though tort law was one of the few courses in law school for which I received an A grade, and though the attorney I worked for during and shortly after law school made a fair portion of his income from auto accident cases, in my years of private practice I rarely handled tort cases.

Doctor Sheep complains about rising malpractice insurance costs, but let’s ask Doctor Sheep to do a full financial disclosure, telling us not just how much his insurance premium is but also how much he has grossed in fees and what his income is from other medical establishment investments (many doctors have financial stakes in hospitals, drug companies, labs and diagnostic service providers - and some even have ownership stakes in the medical malpractice insurance providers).

Dr. Sheep can also tell us what his other overhead costs are so we can better understand what he actually nets from his practice. I wonder if he would be interested to see the same financial information from all the medical providers of Mr. Typical Patient, to calculate how much money the medical providers are making altogether from Mr. Patient and the insurance coverage Mr. Patient pays for, and to calculate what portion of this total outlay goes to the cost of lawsuits [answer: less than 2%].

Let’s ask Dr. S. what he has done through his Medical Association to investigate and advocate for safer and more cost effective delivery of medical services. For example, what has he done to encourage the Association to seek the revocation of the licenses of the small number of particularly incompetent practitioners who account for a disproportionately large share of the negligent injuries? What has he done at the hospital he uses to try to reduce its contribution to the 100,000 annual death toll of persons killed through hospital error?

Under the Doctor’s gown we find another layer of clothing. The labels don’t seem to say anything about content or care, but there is some sort of invoice, supposedly justifying the price: "Modest premium charged; frivolous lawsuit resulting in excessive jury award paid; barely token profit earned; modest premium increase needed". Further review indicates more accurate invoice wording for this malpractice insurance premium layer would be: "Virtually unregulated premium charged and significant portion invested elsewhere for medically unrelated profits; good market results in large profits distributed; then bad market results in investment losses to be made up by raising premiums, providing more funds to invest; no sincere effort to reduce claims and pay outs, since they justify higher premiums; charge as high premiums as possible and blame increase on claims to divert attention from reality".

Now we are down to the underwear, but reader discretion need not be advised. Removing the final layer does not reveal anything more titillating than what all this started with - a plan by the wealthy and powerful to place restrictions on our court system to limit the ability of injured victims to receive compensation for their injuries in tort suits, not just medical malpractice suits, but all tort claims. The wealthy and powerful don’t like courts - or so they tell themselves. But the reality is they just don’t like being defendants and having to pay for injuries caused by their tortious acts. They have no reluctance to be plaintiffs in suits based on contracts, because they have the money and power to see to it that the contracts are drawn as much as possible in their favor and that the contract always includes an attorney fee provision to chill the other party to the contract from suing Mr. Big for breach, because if the suit fails, the loser will not only have to pay their own attorney but also pay Mr. Big’s Wall Street firm.

So much for the strip show, now here are a few prescriptions from a former attorney:

Improve State and Federal regulation and oversight of medical malpractice insurance companies.

Let our Federal and State constitutional judicial system of lawyers, judges, juries and appellate courts continue to handle litigation without interference from the legislative and executive branches. Right now, in particular, do not allow our legal system of State courts to be interfered with by the Federal government for the financial benefit of doctors and insurance companies at the expense of victims of medical malpractice.

The relationship between a patient and a doctor or other health care provider has enough business aspects that it should be subject to a standardized contract including what is in practically every business contract, an agreement that if either party breaches the agreement that party will be liable for the attorney fees of the other party. The provider would agree to provide services up to the prevailing standard of competence in the community and the patient would agree to pay the specified fee for those services. Under the present system where there are no contracts between patients and doctors, a patient wrongfully injured by his doctor has to pay for his attorney out of the compensation he receives for the injury and is not entitled to any reimbursement of the attorney fee he had to pay to obtain the compensation.

Lawyers bringing frivolous malpractice lawsuits can be restrained and essentially eliminated by a combination of the following: revoking licenses of incompetent doctors and other health care providers to reduce the need for suits; vigorous defense counsel where there is a meritorious defense; pre-screening and monitoring of malpractice lawsuits by the local courts and attorney regulators with consequences for attorneys bringing baseless suits.

Finally, here are a dozen prescriptions for a broken medical system, written by the patients themselves, as just surveyed by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health, in descending order of importance (with the percent of those making each prescription the top priority):

1. Lowering cost of health care and insurance (63%)
2. Making Medicare more fiscally sound for the future (58%)
3. Increasing number of Americans with health insurance (57%)
4. Improving quality of care/reducing medical errors (53%)
5. Improving nation’s ability to respond to bio-terrorism (50%)
6. Protecting patient’s rights in HMOs/managed care (38%)
7. Improving medical RX drug law (38%)
8. Allowing RX drugs to be imported from Canada (31%)
9. Spending more on medical research (28%)
10. Strengthening the system that provides flu vaccines (27%)
11. Reducing jury awards in malpractice lawsuits (26%)
12. Increasing Federal spending for stem cell research (21%)

To read the news release on this survey, which also includes comparison of health issues with other issues, go to

Thursday, January 06, 2005

How to Hold an Election

In a democracy, it is said, all other rights rest on the right to vote. Citizens vote in elections which are conducted by their government. Citizens should expect elections to be conducted fairly, regardless of the outcome. A recurrent theme at Sense from Seattle is that in a democracy the process is at least as important as the outcome. Such is the case with elections. They need to be conducted as fairly as possible and the fairness needs to be apparent to all reasonable citizens, regardless of how they voted.

The 2000 Presidential election was not perceived as fair by a significant number of Americans, including this writer. Fairness concerns were raised in particular about the Florida vote, covering issues at three stages of the process, pre-election (questionable rolls purging), on election day (misleading and defective ballots and voting equipment and lack of provisional balloting for challenged voters) and post-election (U. S. Supreme Court intervention to stop the re-count).

In the Ukraine, masses of voters took to the streets to protest improprieties in the first two stages of the process. The Ukranian high court in the third phase ordered a new election, which produced an opposite result through a process the citizens seem to accept as fair. No hue and cry seems to have arisen from the Afghan election, perhaps since most accepted the outcome as a forgone conclusion and as a necessary part of a long transitional process. Elections are about to be conducted in Palestine and in Iraq, both under very challenging conditions, especially since neither of those electorates have experience or established rules for the process. The UN and impartial international observers are trying to help administer and monitor the process. Iraq is the greater challenge because of strong internal animosities and voter intimidation, blatant by the insurgents and subtle by the occupiers.

Today the US Congress is considering a Democratic challenge to the electoral vote of Ohio. The challengers admit the Ohio votes should be cast for Bush and that he should be declared the winner, but they are using the electoral college process in Congress as a platform to point out how the Help Americans Vote Act, adopted after the 2000 election, has not been properly implemented and is need of improvements. Republicans are responding by saying the Democrats are wasting time and just trying to cast doubt on the election result in a sour grape response. The fact is Republicans are not ordinarily concerned about addressing fairness issues of the pre-election and election day phases, because they think problems in those phases work to their advantage. Republicans also seem to think they are not in need of addressing post-election fairness issues, because the US Supreme Court not only surprised most constitutional law scholars by agreeing to hear the Florida recount case, but then voted along party ideological lines 5-4 in favor of the Republican.

Here in Washington State, the shoes are now on the other feet. The Republican Secretary of State, the State Supreme Court by a 9-0 vote and every County Auditor are in agreement that the Democrat, Christine Gregoire, has been elected Governor by the slimmest of margins, and she has been officially certified as the victor. Her Republican challenger, my compadre Dino Rossi, is now the one giving the sour grapes response, arguing that some late absentee military voters were disenfranchised, some invalid ballots may have been cast and an entire new election should be held to remove any doubt. Never mind that the rules that addressed these issues were all fairly applied and the issues resolved by the rules, Rossi doesn’t like the taste of losing, particularly since he made a fool of himself during the recount by proclaiming himself Governor-Elect. A court challenge to the vote is still possible, and though the State Supreme Court would be expected to reject the challenge 9-0, the US Supreme Court still includes the 5 Justices who "elected" the Republican President in 2000.

To steal a phrase from Don Rumsfeld, hopefully with better results, you have to conduct an election with the rules and equipment you have and you have to accept the results. But that does not mean we should stop working to insure the rules are as fairly written and fairly applied as can be, so that the results of the next election will, as much as possible, be seen as legitimate in the eyes of all reasonable voters.

Co-operation Does Not Require Support

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist is intent on getting Bush judicial nominees approved by the Senate through whatever means necessary, including changing whatever Rules of the Senate might stand in the way. Most notable of these Rules are those regarding deliberation, debate and speaking on the floor of the Senate. Senator Frist says, "Cooperation does not require support for the nominees. Cooperation simply means voting judicial nominees brought to the floor up or down." This is not the process of democracy as it should be exercised, especially in the US Senate and especially for lifetime judicial appointments.

The Senate was constituted and functions as an elite deliberative body uniquely positioned to advise and consent to proposed appointments made by the President. The most significant of such appointment are the judicial ones, because federal judges serve for life and the process of selecting those judges is one which directly involves all three branches of our government, the executive who nominates, the legislative Senate who advises and consents and the judge who proposes to serve.

Democracy is not just simply a matter of putting something to a vote and letting the majority rule. If that were the case then it would more appropriately be called Majorcracy. In a democracy the process is at least as important, and arguably even more important, than the outcome. Decisions need to be made by an informed and deliberative process where all views are heard, considered and factored in as part of the process. The majority needs to be considerate of the minority, not just because it is the decent thing to do, but also because today’s minority might become tomorrow’s majority and then might take the position that turnabout is fair play.

Virtually unanimous decisions are not always right. Mobs are usually unanimous, with perhaps one dissenter being trampled. The decision to put Americans of Japanese ancestry in concentration camps was approved unanimously by both the House and the Senate. The best results of decision making are those that can be accepted by all participants, even those who do not totally agree with the decision. Such decisions are often referred to as arrived at by a process of consensus, with the result that all parties feel their opinions were heard and considered and the result is something all parties can accept without rancor.

When Frist says, "Co-operation does not require support", it does not sound to me like something a Senate Majority leader should be saying to the Seante minority. Rather it sounds to me like something a rapist might say to his victim, elaborating with, "Just lie there and take it".

Here is the US Senate page on the history of the filibuster, with links to historical essays on the subject:

Incidentally, the first use of the filibuster to block a judicial nominee to the Supreme Court was by the Republicans to block the appointment of Abe Fortas to become Chief Justice in 1968. (See ‘The Rehnquist Choice" by John W. Dean, 2002)

Appearance of Fairness

In the middle of my former career as a lawyer, the Appearance of Fairness Doctrine began to develop. In a nutshell, the doctrine said a lawyer or judge should not only avoid conflicts of interest but also avoid anything that would appear to a reasonable observer to be a conflict of interest. The premise of the doctrine was that the integrity of the law is more important than the personal desire of a judge or lawyer to be able to do something that, though not in fact wrong, looks wrong in the eyes of the public. In order for the public to have confidence in our legal system, the system not only has to be fair, it also has to look fair.

I agreed with the Appearance of Fairness Doctrine then and I agree with it now. Lawyers are officers of the Court, the judicial branch of our government and should be held to higher standards of conduct than citizens in general. The same goes for legislators and for government executives. No one has a right to hold such positions that is as great as the right of the public to have the confidence that our government is being run fairly.

When conflicts issues arise, the stakes for the person with the apparent conflict are relatively low. The lawyer may have to step aside from the case and give up the prospective fee to let some other lawyer handle it. The committee chair may have to accept appointment to a different committee. The legislator may have to decline the special favor offered by a lobbyist. But the stakes for the public are high indeed - every time someone in government looks like they have their hand in the cookie jar, the public becomes more disenchanted and less inclined to continue playing their vital role as informed citizens.

Ego often appears to play an unbilled role in these matters. The person with the apparent conflict frequently expresses a belief that if they step aside, no one else could possibly do as good a job for the client or for the public. But if there was nothing to be gained personally, I doubt the professional concern would be very high.

The machinations of the Republican in the US House of Representatives to treat their Majority Leader Tom Delay as more important than the public perception of the integrity of the House is so shameful that many House Republicans, including the Republican Chair of the House Committee on Ethics have expressed publicly their embarrassment. Nevertheless, the House Republicans continue to vote to change their own rules and those of the House to make the personal ambitions of Delay more important than the integrity of the people’s House.

Here is an NPR story with an interview of the Republican Chair of the House Committee on Ethics, who believes he will be removed from his Chair:

See if He Floats

The Senate confirmation hearings on the proposed appointment of Alberto Gonzales as Attorney General start today. The Bush administration will use questionable "legal technicalities" to withhold requested information from the Senate, and Gonzales will give evasive and self-serving half answers to legitimate questions from Democrats, while also distancing himself from every questionable thing he ever said or wrote by saying those were done as a counselor and do not necessarily represent his personal views. When asked for his personal views, he will answer in vague platitudes. This is the way the game is played.

Gonzales was author and apparently one of the leads in recommending the wholesale elimination of due process rights of any accused persons alleged to be involved in any obscure way with terrorism. As part of the recommended package, the Bush administration disregarded the advice of its own military and 50 years of internationally agreed conventions by approving the use of prisoner torture. The US Supreme Court has handed down a couple rulings rebuking the Bush practices and restoring some semblance of rights for the accused. The official approval of torture "trickled down" to a "few bad apples" at Abu Ghraib prison, resulting in the best recruiting posters in the history of Al Qaeda.

Cabinet post confirmation hearings rarely result in rejection, since the posts are considered as somewhat personal advisory and executory positions under the President for his term of office. The real importance of the hearing is for its effect on any future plans for the nominee, particularly for appointment to a lifetime judicial position like the Supreme Court, which many people think Bush has in mind for Gonzales.

I say we should apply to Gonzales the interrogation tactics he encouraged. Lets put a bag over his head, strip him nude, attach electrodes to his testicles, menace him with snarling dogs, chain him on a leash and sexually humiliate him, to see if he opens up with a little more information. As a final test, lets leave his confirmation in the hands of the "highest authority" by tying a rock around his neck and throwing him in the Potomac to see if he floats.

Here is a link to an NPR piece on the hearing:

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

2004 Book Report

I am a slow reader. Spurred by the election year I was able to read a few more books in 2004 than I normally do. My reading was heavily politically related, with a few diversions.

Here are a baker's dozen books I read in 2004 which I considered very good or excellent:

Cold Mountain (novel)
Book of Rule (government reference)
Getting to Yes (negotiation)
Reflections of a Radical Moderate (government by Elliot Richardson)
Made in America (language) Five People You Meet in Heaven (novel)
Tour of Duty (Kerry biography)
Future of Freedom (government)
Losing America (government by Sen. Byrd)
American Dynasty (bio of Bush family)
Lies and Lying Liars Who Tell Them (politics and media)
Censored 2005 (politics and media)
Who Speaks for God? (religion and politics)

Any recommendations for 2005?

Democracy Comes in Many Flavors

Americans rightly rejoice in our democratic heritage, but we also wrongly believe we hold some kind of patent on democracy. The Bush campaign to spread democracy to the world plays on this erroneous belief, portraying Captain America, aided by some colorful sidekicks like Tony Blair and Perez Musharraf, as a super crusader rescuing the world by whatever means necessary and generously sharing our patented form of government - for a reasonable fee.

Here are the actual facts. Democracy is alive and well world-wide. Planet Earth does not need Captain America to rescue it from wholesale tyranny. It may come as news to some Americans but democracy comes in many flavors, not just the one we are currently experiencing in the USA, and the flavors of democracy can be modified and varied by the use of various seasonings.

The 2004 Dorling Kindersley publication, "The Book of Rule; How the World is Governed", explains that 156 of the 193 nations in the world, 81%, are democratically ruled. The book identifies five basic flavors of democracy, in this descending order of frequency: 59 Parliamentary (e.g. the United Kingdom and Canada); 48 Presidential (e.g. USA and Mexico); 34 multi-party (e.g. France and Lebanon); 9 Presidential Regimes (e.g. Belarus and Zimbabwe); and 6 Non-Party (e.g. Uganda and Micronesia).

All democracies, regardless of flavor, have three key ingredients, executive (e.g. President or Prime Minister), legislative (e.g. Parliament or Congress) and judicial (a Supreme Court and sometimes also a Constitutional Court), and a fourth which is not always identified on the labeling, the media (e.g. Fox News and Sense from Seattle). How governmental officials are chosen and the particular structure and rules of the ingredients constitute the seasonings. Though democracies are by nature dynamic and their seasonings are constantly being modified and adapted, the basic flavor of a particular version does not usually change.

Who are the other 37 nations - are they candidates for the Axis of Evil? Continuing with the food analogy, these nations are just different dishes. While democracy is the most popular, some people prefer a different taste, but that does not necessarily mean their preference is evil. Here are these other nations in descending order of frequency: 15 Monarchies (e.g. Saudi Arabia and Monaco); 9 Transitionals (e.g. Afghanistan and Iraq); 7 Single Party (e.g. China and North Korea); 4 Military (e.g. Pakistan and Sudan); and 2 Theocratic (Iran and Vatican City).

Sound arguments can be made that the nations under military and transitional rule are most likely on the road to democracy. Maybe some of the monarchial nations also will head down that road - some like Jordan and Qatar are more likely candidates than Saudi Arabia and Brunei. The Single Party nations are the four communist ones (China, Vietnam, North Korea and Cuba) and the dictatorial (Libya, Syria and Laos). The world is working successfully to continue encouraging changes in China and Libya. North Korea and Cuba will probably change dramatically when their rulers die. Theocracy in Iran is not respected by the rest of the world and is under internal stress. Vietnam, Syria and Laos are not significant international players and may wear down with time. Monaco and Vatican City are destined for permanent tourist attraction status.

The world is becoming more democratic not because of any American crusade, but because democracy, with all its imperfections, is the best form of government man has devised. World and multi-national organizations, most notably the 60 year old United Nations, are governed democratically.

Here is Amazon’s link to the Book of Rule:

Monday, January 03, 2005

Robert & Shirley

The deaths of one current and one former member of Congress are in the news today. Both were persons of color and therefore not surprisingly, both were Democrats.

Robert Matsui, who was my age, was at his death a quiet, powerful and widely respected Representative from California. He was not one of the talking heads seen on TV and so I am sorry to admit I was not familiar with him. Here is a link to his obit:

Shirley Chisholm was much more well known, having been the first black woman elected to Congress, in 1968. She was a high profile person, ran for President in 1972, and never failed to speak up for the disadvantaged. She observed that she was more discriminated against as a woman than as a black and said the problem with Congress was that it was ruled by a small group of old men, which is still a valid criticism today. Shirley’s obit is at:

George the First & Bill

George W. Bush is a very good at "misunderestimating" the importance of something the American people care about and then jumping on the bandwagon, grabbing the baton and pretending to be the maestro.

The spontaneous generosity of Americans in the wake of the Asian Tsunami manifested itself in a multitude of ways within hours of the tragedy. Donation money has been rolling in, facilitated by the use of the Internet. So George has now announced that he has arranged for his father and Bill Clinton to jointly lead an effort to encourage Americans to contribute.

Colin & Jeb

Colin Powell is a good soldier. He is off on another mission which includes the frequently necessitated element of saving some face for America in spite of the international disdain for George W. Bush. One wonders how many years will have to pass before Colin feels it is proper to tell the inside story of his years in the Bush Administration.

After demonstrating during several days of silence how little personal regard he has for the Muslin peoples of the Indian Ocean perimeter, George decided to show his human concern by sending a family member to accompany Colin to that part of the World. He chose brother Jeb because his State of Florida has recently experienced disasters from the sea - and some cynics say to maybe use the platform of the disaster relief to elevate Jeb on the national scene for a higher political role - maybe even trying for the Presidential trifecta. Of course I won’t believe that until I see a picture of Jeb standing on a rubble pile with one arm around a weary relief worker and the other holding a bullhorn.

Since the elderly, women and children are a high proportion of the victims, George could have sent his mother, Laura and the twins. You remember all Barbara Bush did as first lady to show her compassion for the downtrodden and victims of tragedies. You don’t? Well, what about Laura. I still remember her constant smile after 9/11, including during some of the first memorials, until someone re-programmed her to just a blank stare. The twins would be great for lightening things up - kind of a "Simple Life" Asian style, with the one sticking her tongue out in defiance of the forces of nature.

As for American expertise in the Florida relief efforts, check out this NPR story on questions being raised about the spending of FEMA funds down there:

The NPR story also contains a possible explanation for the origin of the $135 million dollar figure for Tsunami relief. That is exactly 1/1000th of the amount the story says was appropriated by Congress for Florida hurricane relief, $13.5 billion.

Good News of 2004

Daughter Anna remarked to me that my 2004 list was all bad news. Fact is, I did not find any good news for the US in 2004. I suppose I could dig and find some for a list, but they would not be of equal magnitude to the bad news. In the governmental and political area on which I am focusing now, the rise of Howard Dean and his popular appeal to new voters using the Internet was encouraging, but look how the election turned out. There are "feel good" sports stories, but for every curse ending Red Sox team there are crushed losers on the other side, and any appreciation I had for what the Sox accomplished was hugely deflated by Curt Schilling using his fame to plug Bush.

Technology is one area where new developments have been put to some worthwhile uses, both here and abroad. And there have been some good things going on elsewhere in the world, in spite of the US. On the personal front, my life has not been a reflection of the bad news our country experienced in 2004, and I am grateful for that.

In 2005 I will be tracking the concerns I expressed in this blog. Good news will be any that shows the country heading back toward the right course after being hijacked by Bush.

Mickey & Johnny

Never one to pass up an incestuous marketing opportunity, ABC-Disney-Buena Vista-etc, capitalized on an ABC football bowl game telecast by having that football fanatic, Mickey Mouse, conduct the opening game coin toss. With all the current interest in the Indian Ocean disaster, the Disney Channel also caught the marketing wave by recycling the Buena Vista flick, Johnny Tsunami, about a surfer who relocates to Vermont and takes up snowboarding.