May 15, 2010

The modern era of fire as a weapon of war came with jellied gasoline, or napalm, dropped from bombers in the latter days of World War II. The bombing of Tokyo created a firestorm that incinerated more people than the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima.

The modern era of corporate shareholder activism was born during the Vietnam War when the Medical Committee for Human Rights and its leader, Dr. Quentin Young, were given shares in Dow Chemical Company, infamous for manufacturing the napalm used in Vietnam. In 1968, Young submitted a resolution to Dow saying "napalm shall not be sold to any buyer unless that buyer gives reasonable assurances that the substance will not be used on or against human beings."

Dow fought inclusion of the proposal in its proxy statement, and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) initially sided with the company. Young appealed, and the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., ruled that part of the original intent of Congress in creating the SEC was "to give true vitality to the concept of corporate democracy," and the resolution made it onto the proxy.

May 15, 2010

Last month, Indiana University Maurer School of Law Professor Dawn Johnsen withdrew as the nominee to head the U.S. Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel.

Johnsen’s statement cited “lengthy delays and political opposition,” and several senators openly opposed her nomination, including Senator Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., the Senate Judiciary Committee's ranking Republican member.

But Johnsen may have faced less obvious barriers as well.

The Office of Legal Counsel, where Johnsen worked during the Clinton administration, has been described as the constitutional conscience of the executive branch of government. Ironically, it was also the source during the Bush administration of the so-called “torture memos,” which used shoddy and disingenuous legal reasoning to approve illegal acts of torture.

May 15, 2010

I was talking politics the other day, talking politics with a real politician. He and I, both amateur radio operators, were making a pilgrimage to Dayton for that city's annual "Hamfest" and the two-plus-hour drive each way afforded lots of opportunity to gab radios and realpolitik.

Much of my interest was on the recent party primaries and what the results, particularly in the far more interesting Republican contests, might mean about national sentiment and the situation going into next fall's elections. Was the hyper-reactionary "tea party" movement real? If it was real, had it peaked too early? Where was it all going?

May 1, 2010

Editor's Note: On Friday April 30, 2010, veteran journalist Bill Moyers, host of the PBS public affairs series Bill Moyers Journal, retired from broadcasting at the age of 75.


Dear Bill,

Like a lot of people across the country who are troubled by the crisis of journalism, I have mixed feelings about your retirement from the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS).

On one hand, I have grave misgivings about the future of investigative journalism and current affairs programming on public television. Despite assurances from PBS executives to the contrary, I fear that in your absence journalistic standards on U.S. public television will decline precipitously.

On the other hand, I appreciate your desire to take a break from the demands of a weekly public affairs program. You have been a fixture on public television for as long as I can remember, and you deserve some time for yourself.

May 1, 2010

The Web site recently released a video of a 2007 U.S. Army attack in Baghdad that included among its victims two Reuters news agency employees, several would-be rescuers of the dead and dying, and two children.

The video depicts U.S. soldiers agitating for permission to shoot, then gunning down civilians and laughing as tanks run over dead bodies. To some, this suggests that prosecution of the soldiers is called for.

Josh Steiber sees it differently.

"I urge you to be slow to judge those who are trapped in these [war] machines and ask yourself if you did or didn't do anything to create this trap," he wrote on the Iraq Veterans Against the War Web site. "The high number of soldiers that I deployed with, including my friends whose voices and images are in this chilling video, wanted to improve the lives of their friends, families and their own futures."

Researchers say epidemic began in 1988-89

April 24, 2010

A new U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) study lends support to the argument that some children are susceptible to autism as a consequence of their exposures to environmental toxins.

At least part of the dramatic increase in autism diagnoses the past two decades cannot be explained by improving and expanding diagnostics, Michael E. McDonald and John F. Paul from EPA's National Health and Environmental Effects Research Laboratory conclude in a seven-page study in the March 15 issue of the journal Environmental Science & Technology.

"From a precautionary standpoint, it seems prudent to assume that at least some portion of this increase in incidence is real and results from environmental factors interacting with susceptible populations," they wrote in the paper titled "Timing of Increased Autistic Disorder Cumulative Incidence."

April 24, 2010

When J.B. Handley told me about Jackson County, Ore., a few weeks ago, I wondered why no one had looked at autism rates there. The county of about 200,000 located just north of the California border has one of the largest populations of unvaccinated children in the nation. And, as Handley suggested, those kids' medical histories are natural subjects for studies on the cause-effect relation between autism and vaccines.

Well, as I contemplated whether I might find a way to follow up on this angle from 2,000 miles away, I learned that the PBS series FRONTLINE will air a documentary titled "The Vaccine War" this Tuesday, April 27, that will explore not only the conflict between the vaccine industry and parents who believe immunizations caused their children's autism, but also the situation in Jackson County.

In a news release on "The Vaccine War," FRONTLINE says it will lay bare the science of vaccine safety and examine the "increasingly bitter debate" between the "public health establishment" and a "formidable populist coalition of parents, celebrities, politicians and activists."

April 17, 2010

On April 6, 2010, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) does not have the authority to prevent Internet service providers (ISPs) from blocking or controlling Internet traffic.

National media outlets reported the story in a timely and accurate fashion. The court decision was described as a victory for Comcast and other ISPs -- and a blow to advocates of "net neutrality" -- the long-standing principle of Internet regulation that ensures web users equal access to all Web sites.

Unfortunately, there hasn't been much follow-up on this decision. Nor have the consequences of the court's ruling received press coverage or analysis. Instead, Tiger Woods' appearance at the Masters Golf Tournament and the roll out of Apple's i-Pad dominated the week's news cycle.

April 17, 2010

The public-speaking trick of looking directly over the heads of your audience reportedly gives the illusion of eye contact without the speaker having to actually engage with the folks in the room.

I was reminded of this technique while watching Governor Mitch Daniels' press conference the day after Congress passed health care reform into law. The governor was addressing Indiana media, but it was clear he was looking over the heads of Hoosiers to gaze longingly at the Republican donors and pundits who are sizing up 2012 presidential hopefuls.

There was a nationwide surplus of hysterical reactions to the health care legislation, but for sheer cynicism and callousness, our governor had few equals.

April 17, 2010

Wasichu is the Lakota (Sioux) word for "those who take the fat," the greedy ones. WellPoint/Anthem, the health insurance behemoth born of Blue Cross, is a wasichu corporation.

As the Blue Cross movement grew in the 1930s, one of the foundational standards established in 1937 was "No private investors should provide money as stockholders or owners." There was no concept of pre-existing condition. Excluding someone from health insurance because they might be likely to become ill (and need to actually use the policy) was felt to be immoral. Their mission was essentially charitable.

Over the following 50 years the Blues grew dominant, but in the late 1980s the marketplace began to change, and many state Blue plans found themselves in trouble. Blue Cross of California established a for-profit subsidiary in 1994, and that summer the national Blue Cross Blue Shield Association changed its policies so that its licensees could convert to for-profit status and distribute their earnings to those who controlled the company. Enter WellPoint, under the guidance of Leonard Schaeffer.

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