Thursday, December 18, 2014

When it comes to torture, consider the source

by Mark Shields,
December 2014
On election night in 1986, when John McCain won the U.S. Senate seat in Arizona long held by Republican incumbent and 1964 GOP presidential nominee Barry Goldwater, who had served as McCain's campaign chairman, the two men had a private chat. Goldwater, McCain recalled, got "a little nostalgic" and said: "You know, John, if I had beaten Lyndon Johnson in 1964 and been elected president, you would not have spent all those years in that North Vietnamese prison camp." McCain, mindful of Goldwater's hawkish positions, answered: "You're right, Barry. If you had been elected president in 1964, I wouldn't have spent all those years in a prison camp in Hanoi. I would have spent them in a prison camp in China."

It was in the 2000 New Hampshire presidential primary when McCain's campaign taught this occasionally cynical observer what an American political campaign at its best might be. Vastly outspent by the money machine of the prohibitive Republican favorite, Texas Gov. George W. Bush, underdog McCain responded by holding 114 town hall meetings in the Granite State, in which he would stand alone and answer, with rare candor and humor, voters' questions. For example, asked when the Senate might pass a so-called "patient's bill of rights" bill, McCain bluntly explained: "We won't. Not as long as the insurance companies control my party and the trial lawyers control the Democratic Party. Next question." It worked. While advocating campaign finance reform, McCain, in a major upset, defeated Bush in New Hampshire by 18 percent.

But what impressed me most about that New Hampshire campaign was the willingness of the men who, as prisoners of war, had for years endured with McCain unspeakable brutality at the hands of their North Vietnamese captors to work in his behalf.

McCain's Hanoi cellmate — when the Arizonan wasn't in solitary — Medal of Honor recipient and Air Force pilot Bud Day, Marine aviator Orson Swindle, who was held prisoner for six years, and Navy aviator Everett Alvarez, the longest-held U.S. prisoner of the Vietnam War, were willing to come to New Hampshire, knock on doors and testify to voters about the courage and character of their comrade John McCain.

At the same time U.S. Navy pilot McCain was being abused in Hanoi, back in Wyoming young Dick Cheney was petitioning for another of his five deferments to avoid the draft call to serve, which the law then required all able-bodied men to do, in the U.S. military and, possibly, to face combat. Thirty years later, Cheney would publicly explain his conduct: "I had other priorities in the '60s than military service." It's probably a good bet McCain in that same decade had "other priorities" than being starved, being beaten, having his teeth and bones broken, and being offered food contaminated with human feces.
Cheney, who went on to become one of the nation's toughest-talking draft-evading armchair warriors, has called the Senate Intelligence Committee's report of the CIA's disregard of the rule of law and its endorsement of torture as a legitimate policy option "full of crap."

The United States of America John McCain knows, loves and has served so generously does not chain half-naked prisoners to the floor and then let them freeze to death. To rationalize or excuse the torture documented in the report is, McCain rightly charges, "an insult to the many intelligence officers who have acquired good intelligence without hurting or degrading prisoners." The ex-POW and American hero provides true moral clarity: "This question isn't about our enemies. It's about us. It's about who we were, who we are and who we aspire to be."

Cheney or McCain? Consider the source. I'll take the fellow who holds us to a higher standard, thank you.

Friday, December 12, 2014

New Exceptions Proposed for Washington's Background Check Law (I-594)

I have followed with interest the expressions of angst, confusion, frustration, and yes, even rage, from gun enthusiasts over the background check legislation (I-594) passed by an overwhelming percentage of Washington voters during the 2014 midterm elections. In the hopes of preventing someone from getting shot over the contentious debate, I am offering a proposed rewrite of the section of the law addressing exceptions, to wit:

(A) This measure extends criminal and public safety background checks to all gun sales or transfers except [add the following exceptions to the 20 or more exceptions already covered by I-594]:
  1. If a gun owner has a gun in his glove compartment and his passenger takes the gun out just to look at it and returns the gun to the glove compartment at some point. Ditto for guns kept in the trunk of the car.
  2. If a bunch a guys want to go out and shoot up the desert and only one of them has a gun and the gun owner loans it to each of his buddies in turn, then they don’t need background checks, because that’s a lot of background checks and anyway, they’re his buddies.
  3. If a woman loans her gun to her boyfriend so he can get used to handling it in case he needs to protect her (as long as he promises not to shoot her).
  4. If a gun owner leaves their loaded gun on the kitchen counter and a juvenile takes it and accidentally shoots another juvenile with it, the first juvenile does not require a background check. The second juvenile requires emergency surgery, and the original gun owner requires a good talking to.
  5. A gun owner with multiple guns doesn't own a gun safe so he asks his good buddy to store them in his safe, while the gun owner goes on vacation. The good buddy doesn't require a background check unless he goes on a ‘shooting vacation’ with the guns, and then he needs an ex post facto background check.
  6. A police officer wants a cooler sidearm than what his department issues so he buys a personal sidearm as a backup. He doesn't require a background check because after all, he's a cop and the new sidearm is really cool.
  7. If a gun owner has already acquired a ton of guns without undergoing a background check; why should he have to do so just to buy a few more?
  8. If a gun collector has a wide variety of guns that may or may not be antiques, then he shouldn’t have to undergo a background check just in case.
  9. If a gun seller and buyer have to take a ferry to get to a licensed dealer, then they can forego the background check, because hey, that’s a lot of trouble.
    Cliven Bundy with a copy of the U.S. Constitution in his shirt pocket

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Charitable Giving: Tis the Season to be Generous & Wise

From Charity Navigator

Top 10 Best Practices of Savvy Donors

  1. Be Proactive In Your Giving
    Smart givers generally don't give reactively in a knee-jerk fashion. They don't respond to the first organization that appeals for help. They take the time to identify which causes are most important to their families and they are specific about the change they want to affect. For example, they don't just support generic cancer charities, but instead have targeted goals for their giving, such as providing mammograms to at-risk women in their community.
  2. Hang Up The Phone / Eliminate The Middleman
    Informed donors recognize that for-profit fundraisers, those often used in charitable telemarketing campaigns, keep a large portion (in some cases all) of each dollar they collect (read our report about  telemarketing for more specifics on the costs affiliated with this form of fundraising). Wise donors never give out their personal information – like credit card accounts, social security numbers – over the phone. If they like what they hear in the pitch, they'll hang up, investigate the charity on-line and send their contribution directly to the charity, thereby cutting out the middleman and ensuring 100% of their donation reaches the charity. Taking it a step further, donors may want to reconsider supporting a charity that uses an inefficient telemarketing approach and instead identify a charity that does not use telemarketing to raise funds.
  3. Be Careful Of Sound-Alike Names
    Uninformed donors are easily confused by charities that have strikingly similar names to others. How many of us could tell the difference between an appeal from the Children's Charity Fund and the Children's Defense Fund? Their names sound the same, but their performances are vastly different. Would you be surprised to learn that the Children's Charity Fund is a 0-star charity while the Children's Defense Fund is a 3-star charity? Informed donors take the time to uncover the difference.
  4. Confirm 501(c) (3) Status
    Wise donors don't drop money into canisters at the checkout counter or hand over cash to solicitors outside the supermarket. Situations like these are irresistible to scam artists who wish to take advantage of your goodwill. Smart givers only support groups granted tax-exempt status under section 501(c) (3) of the Internal Revenue Code. All of the charities evaluated by Charity Navigator meet this basic requirement.
  5. Check The Charity's Commitment To Accountability & Transparency
    In 2011, Charity Navigator added an Accountability & Transparency dimension to its rating system. It tracks metrics such as whether the charity used an objective process to determine their CEO’s salary, whether it has an effective governance structure, and whether it has a whistleblower policy. This data is critical because charities that follow good governance and transparency practices are less likely to engage in unethical or irresponsible activities. So, the risk that such charities would misuse donations is lower than for charities that don't adopt such practices.
  6. Obtain Copies Of Its Financial Records
    Savvy donors know that the financial health of a charity is a strong indicator of the charity's programmatic performance. They know that in most cause areas, the most efficient charities spend 75% or more of their budget on their programs and services and less than 25% on fundraising and administrative fees. However, they also understand that mid-to-large sized charities do require a strong infrastructure therefore a claim of zero fundraising and/or administrative fees is unlikely at best. They understand that a charity's ability to sustain its programs over time is just as important as its short-term day-to-day spending practices. Therefore, savvy donors also seek out charities that are able to grow their revenue at least at the rate of inflation, that continue to invest in their programs and that have some money saved for a rainy day. All of this analysis is provided on Charity Navigator's website for free, but when considering groups not found here, savvy donors ask the charity for copies of its three most recent Forms 990. Not only can the donor examine the charity's finances, but the charity's willingness to send the documents is a good way to assess its commitment to transparency.
  7. Review Executive Compensation
    Sophisticated donors realize that charities need to pay their top leaders a competitive salary in order to attract and retain the kind of talent needed to run a multi-million dollar organization and produce results. But they also don't just take the CEO's compensation at face value; they benchmark it against similar-sized organizations engaged in similar work and located in the same region of the country. To help you make your own decision, Charity Navigator's analysis reveals that the average CEO's compensation of the charities we evaluate is almost $150,000. In general, salaries tend to be higher in the northeast and at arts and education charities. Sophisticated donors also put the CEO's salary into context by examining the overall performance of the organization. They know it is better to contribute to a charity with a well-paid CEO that is meeting its goals than to support a charity with an underpaid CEO that fails to deliver on its promises. (Check out our CEO Compensation Study for more benchmarking data.)
  8. Start A Dialogue To Investigate Its Programmatic Results
    Although it takes some effort on their part to assess a charity's programmatic impact, donors who are committed to advancing real change believe that it is worth their time. Before they make a contribution, they talk with the charity to learn about its accomplishments, goals and challenges. These donors are prepared to walk away from any charity that is unable or unwilling to participate in this type of conversation.
  9. Concentrate Your Giving
    When it comes to financial investments, diversification is the key to reducing risk. The opposite is true for philanthropic investments. If you've really taken the time to identify a well-run charity that is engaged in a cause that you are passionate about, you should then feel confident in giving it a donation. Spreading your money among multiple organizations not only results in your mail box filling up with more appeals, it also diminishes the possibility of any of those groups bringing about substantive change as each charity is wasting part of your gift on processing expenses for that gift.
  10. Share Your Intentions And Make A Long-Term Commitment
    Smart donors support their favorite charities for the long haul. They see themselves as a partner in the charity's efforts to bring about change. They know that only with long-term, committed supporters can a charity be successful. And they don't hesitate to tell the charity of their giving plans so that the organization knows it can rely on the donor and the charity doesn't have to waste resources and harass the donor by sending numerous solicitations.

Friday, December 5, 2014

I'm not a scientist

Climate scientists are certainly seen by most laypeople as boring, and sometimes even irrelevant, when they describe increasing concentrations of atmospheric carbon dioxide, and other “greenhouse gases,” the decreasing pH of oceans, Milankovitch cycles, climate forcings, positive and negative feedbacks, etc., without saying why we should care.
 But when these same scientists put their findings in context relative to current and projected consequences of global warming, e.g.: melting ice sheets and rising sea levels, the bleaching of coral reefs and die off of the aquatic life they support, extended droughts, dwindling ice pack, water shortages, increased prevalence and extent of wildfires, extreme weather events, and the attendant human and economic impact of anthropogenic global warming, they are labeled, "alarmists."
If climate scientists venture to suggest government action to address climate change, politicians (primarily but not exclusively on the right) tell them to stick to the science and leave policy to the "experts," that is, politicians. These same politicians when pressed on why they refuse to address global warming invariably begin their reply, "I'm not a scientist..." My response to that sort of dissembling is, "Then shut the fuck up and listen to the scientists."

Monday, December 1, 2014

Patient "Heal Thyself" -- Using Your Own Blood

Autologous blood injection (ABI) or Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP) injection is generally done for the treatment of tendinitis (e.g., "tennis or golfer's elbow"), though other applications also include injecting ligaments, muscles and joints. Any tendon in the body may be injected with a patient’s blood products, with the most frequent clinical uses of ABI or PRP injections used for the plantar fascia (heel), Achilles (ankle), patellar (knee), gluteal (hip), hamstring (buttock), common extensor origin, and common flexor origin. Reportedly, approximately 80% of patients obtain complete or significant pain relief following this procedure. A clinical trail comparing ABI and PRP treatments showed pain relief from both, but longer-term benefits from PRP.

PRP therapy has also recently found use in treating osteoarthritis. By injecting PRP into joints, it is felt that the healing factors may stimulate cartilage and surrounding soft tissue regeneration, as well as dampen the main symptoms associated with arthritis, that being pain and stiffness

Under appropriate circumstances, ABI and PRP treatment may be a better alternative than the injection of corticosteroids.