Progressive Politics, Indian Issues, and Autism Advocacy

Saturday, June 14  

If you've come to the old Wampum, you will get this update. If you head to the new Wampum, which is lost in the belly of a Verisign DNS snafu, you'll come up with some error message.

The new Wampum, when its DNS finally resolves, will be posting an update on our present and future status. For all of those who have expressed such warm and kind support, I hope the update will be heartening. For those of you who danced on our grave; as I've said to a few friends, there's an old Abenaki saying, "If you wait long enough by the river, the bodies of your enemies will float by."

There is much sweetgrass smudging to be done in the blogosphere. But time heals.

posted by MB | link | 4:39 PM |

Sunday, May 25  

Today is the day...

Most of the bugs are worked out over on the new site, so I guess there's no good reason to keep double posting.

Update your bookmarks!

Wampum has formally moved to:


Old Wampum archives will remain on Blogspot until I can figure out how to move them without mangling them, as I did yesterday. [Note to self: Don't attempt complicated technical maneuverers when feeling like death-on-toast.]

posted by MB | link | 5:32 AM |

Saturday, May 24  

Krugman explains it all

If you're at all the neophyte econoholic I am, deflation is one of those concepts you sort of grasp, but know there's a whole lot more you don't get. Fortunately, that's where Professor Krugman comes in. In his latest column, he not only tackles deflation, but cues us in on the dangers of a good old fashion, but little known concern:

The particular type of quagmire to worry about has a name: liquidity trap. As the I.M.F. report explains, the most important reason to fear deflation is that it can push an economy into a liquidity trap, or deepen the distress of an economy already caught in the trap.

Here's how it works, in theory. Ordinarily, deflation — a general fall in the level of prices — is easy to fight. All the central bank (in our case, the Federal Reserve) has to do is print more money, and put it in the hands of banks. With more cash in hand, banks make more loans, interest rates fall, the economy perks up and the price level stops falling.

But what if the economy is in such a deep malaise that pushing interest rates all the way to zero isn't enough to get the economy back to full employment? Then you're in a liquidity trap: additional cash pumped into the economy — added liquidity — sits idle, because there's no point in lending money out if you don't receive any reward. And monetary policy loses its effectiveness.

Once an economy is caught in such a trap, it's likely to slide into deflation — and nasty things (what the I.M.F. report calls "adverse dynamics") begin to happen. Falling prices induce people to postpone their purchases in the expectation that prices will fall further, depressing demand today.

Also, deflation usually means falling incomes as well as falling prices. In a deflationary economy, a family that borrows money to buy a house may well find itself having to pay fixed mortgage payments out of a shrinking paycheck; a business that borrows to finance investment may well find itself having to pay a fixed interest bill out of a shrinking cash flow.

In other words, deflation discourages borrowing and spending, the very things a depressed economy needs to get going. And when an economy is in a liquidity trap, the authorities can't offset the depressing effects of deflation by cutting interest rates. So a vicious circle develops. Deflation leads to rising unemployment and falling capacity utilization, which puts more downward pressure on prices and wages, which accelerates deflation, which makes the economy even more depressed. The prospect of such a "deflationary spiral," rather than the mere prospect of deflation, is what scares the I.M.F. — and it should.

One of the things which strike me as eerie each week when I run through the 1991 news archives is that stories of Japan, whose economy made our manufacturing sector tremble, our trade protectionists rail to the point of bigotry and our President chuck on the Japanese Prime Minister, filled every financial section in every paper, day after day. They were our largest competitor in the sprint for the world's markets, and we were prepared for that race to last decades.

How, in just a few short years, times have changed. The meltdown of the Japanese economy in the late '90s seems to have erased a great deal of our national not-always-so-friendly rivalry, which has shifted elsewhere (China?) For many right-wing media outlets always happy to whip up anti-Japanese sentiment in the 80's, the Japanese are now too much of a non-entity to even bother with. What the dismantling of the Soviet Union did for the political Cold War, the collapse of the Japanese market did for the economic Cold War.

Is it possible that the US could be following in the footsteps of Japan? Krugman approaches that question hypothetically. I, on the other hand, waiting for take our Chinese, picked up a local real estate booklet. One thing I remember of the time I spent in Japan after finishing my undergrad study was the Tokyo real estate boom. I was shocked to see prices have skyrocketed in the Portland area, just in the past few months since I last picked up one of these flyers. At the same time, layoffs are on the rise, and most likely will continue, with pending budget cuts and the exporting of more manufacturing and technology jobs overseas. While a crash of the housing market is only one piece of a deflating market, seeing it so close at hand was rather startling.

The one piece of good economic news in Maine. With US dollar falling against the Canadian, maybe the Quebecois tourists will return for the first time in a decade. That is, if the Bushies don't stop all Francophones at the border.

posted by MB | link | 11:55 AM |

Friday, May 23  

Moving the lodge!

I can't believe it, I finally figured it out. Movable Type, that is. I'll be posting on both sites until I'm sure I've got it down, as well as getting all my archives moved over. But my new home is..(drumroll, please)...


Wabanaki.net is one of the few Indian-owned and operated hosting sites, so it'll be great to be back on rez again.

(note: I'm finally able to begin fix my blogroll which was eaten not once, but three times, by Blogger. My regrets to all my friends who mysteriously disappeared over the past month - I'm hoping Movable Type is not so buggy.)

posted by MB | link | 9:11 AM |

Whodda thought?

While doing my early morning deja vu research, I ran across this column that I thought too good not to post all by itself:


Donnie Radcliffe, Washington Post
May 21, 1991

The Queen of England got two George Bushes for the price of one when she arrived at the White House last Tuesday. What she didn't know was that the president's eldest son, George Walker Bush, so unpredictable that the family never knows what he'll say in polite society, was under strict orders from his parents not to address the queen. Somehow, though, he and the queen got to talking anyway. About boots, the new pair he was wearing, made especially for the occasion. Usually he has them printed with something like "Texas Rangers." Was that on these boots, the queen wanted to know.

"No, ma'am," George replied. "God Save the Queen."

The queen thought that so jolly good that she further fueled their exchange with another question. Was he the black sheep in the family? she inquired.

"I guess so," he admitted.

"All families have them," observed the queen.

"Who's yours?" asked George.

"Don't answer that!" cut in Barbara Bush, appearing from out of nowhere.

And in her queenly manner as she walked away, Elizabeth II did not.

posted by MB | link | 4:31 AM |

Thursday, May 22  

I'll see you on that vote, and raise you one cake...

Atrios, challenging W to a winner take all (votes) wager, writes:

The Bush administration is claiming that there will average 306,000 net new jobs per month over the next 18 month. If that happens, I promise to vote for him. Now, what will he promise if it doesn't?

I thought about putting up all kinds of pretty charts and graphs, but you know, I'm just too damn sick today with some psuedo-SARS bug, so I just crunched the numbers from the BLS and here's the bottom line: Clinton, the job-making machine of this half-century only averaged 268,000 jobs a month. If Bush can do 306,000 jobs a month, I'll not only vote for him, but jump out a cake at his inaugural.

posted by MB | link | 5:15 PM |

And it's not even Flashback Friday yet

I realize that Josh Bolten has been lurking around the West Wing for the first few years of Bush Deux, where his duties ran towards secretly developing the Office of Homeland Security, intervening with the Treasury Department for Enron, and figuring out how to sell steel tariffs.

But this move shines a spotlight on a man known to jealously guard his, and the Administration's, privacy:

Bolten to Be Named OMB Director
Bush's Intensely Private Deputy Chief of Staff to Replace Daniels

By Mike Allen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 22, 2003

President Bush plans to name Joshua B. Bolten, a deputy White House chief of staff, as his new budget director, administration officials said yesterday.

Bolten is to replace Mitchell E. Daniels Jr., who announced earlier this month that he plans to return to Indiana in June, probably to run for governor next year.

Bolten, a silver-haired former Goldman Sachs executive, is soft-spoken and intensely private. His appointment as director of the Office of Management and Budget will bring a major shift in style to the job and appears to be an effort to improve White House relations with lawmakers, many of whom were rankled by the blunt, aggressive style of Daniels.

Ironically, this position is much closer to his previous one in the first Bush Administration:

Appointment of Joshua B. Bolten as Deputy Assistant to the President and Director of the Office of Legislative Affairs
March 18, 1992

The President today announced his intention to appoint Joshua B. Bolten, of the District of Columbia, to be Deputy Assistant to the President and Director of the Office of Legislative Affairs. He would succeed Stephen T. Hart, who will be joining the Department of Transportation as a Deputy Assistant Secretary for Industry Liaison.

Since 1989, Mr. Bolten has served as General Counsel at the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative. Previously he served as international trade counsel to the U.S. Senate Committee on Finance. In 1984 - 85, prior to joining the finance committee, Mr. Bolten was in private practice in international trade law with the Washington, DC, office of O'Melveny & Myers. From 1981 to 1984, he worked in the Office of the Legal Adviser at the Department of State, providing legal counsel primarily to the Bureau of Inter-American Affairs. He also served as executive assistant to the Director, Kissinger Commission on Central America. During 1980 - 81, Mr. Bolten served as a law clerk at the U.S. District Court in San Francisco.

When I first found this biographical piece, I didn't read it very closely. Later, as I was writing this post, heading in different direction altogether, I noticed Bolten's tenure with State, and his involvement with Inter-American Affairs in particular, during the early 80's. Those were the years just prior to Iran-Contra, when US Central American policy was more focused on a peasant uprising in the tiny country of El Salvador. I spent my first years in college under the tutelage of Bob White, Carter's final ambassador to El Salvador, a man who saw 30 year foreign service career evaporate after he interfered with CIA funding of D'Aubuisson's death squads. That Bolten cut his political eye teeth in the BIAA during that time sends shivers up my spine: Even more disconcerting is that he is the son of long-time CIA insider, Seymour Bolten, who also happened to be George H.W. Bush's assistant director for operations in the mid-'70's. The OMB has been tainted for years by the Mitch Daniels-Eli Lilly-George HW Bush connection, which included Bush's tenure on the Lilly Board of Directors, being sanctioned by the Supreme Court while VP for lobbying the IRS on behalf of Lilly and other drug companies, and choosing Lilly-heir Dan Quayle as his running mate. Having another OMB director with dubious Bush Sr. ties makes me want to pull out my tinfoil hat.

Time to buy stock in Reynold's Wrap.

posted by MB | link | 12:18 PM |

Unemployment claims on the way up again

After two weeks where the number appeared to be on the decrease, new jobless were up sharply again in this morning's report:

In the week ending May 17, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 428,000, an increase of 7,000 from the previous week's revised figure of 421,000. The 4-week moving average was 433,000, a decrease of 7,750 from the previous week's revised average of 440,750.

Of course, last week's figure was once again revised upwards from 417,000 by 4K jobs, so the week-to-week pre-revised increase was 11K.

Update: As I speculated last week, layoffs in the public sector are increasing due to budget cuts: New claims for federal employees were up 16% last week. I suspect that number will only grow in the weeks to come.

posted by MB | link | 5:43 AM |

Wednesday, May 21  

Rats deserting a sinking ship?

Something to wish for, but somehow I doubt that is the case:

Whitman, E.P.A. Administrator, Submits Resignation
May 21, 2003

WASHINGTON -- Christie Whitman, who has often been at odds with the White House over environmental issues, submitted her resignation Wednesday as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Whitman said in a letter to President Bush that she was leaving to spend time with family.

"As rewarding as the past two-and-a-half years have been for me professionally, it is time to return to my home and husband in New Jersey, which I love just as you do your home state of Texas," she wrote Bush.

With Whitman's departure, Bush loses one of the most prominent women in his Cabinet -- a moderate former New Jersey governor selected by the president to help soften his image as a political conservative, particularly on environmental issues.

Whitman had a history of clashing with the White House, starting with the president's abrupt decision to withdraw from the international global warming treaty. She had been the administration's point person in rolling back environmental protections initiated by previous administrations.

As his re-election campaign gears up, Bush's senior staff and advisers consider the next few months as optimum time to leave the government; otherwise, they will be expected to remain aboard until after the 2004 election. White House press secretary Ari Fleischer announced Monday that he will resign in July.

I suspect that the Clear Skies initiative had something to do with her leaving. As a former popular governor, having your former colleagues in the Northeast, both Democrats and Republicans, file suit against your office, and even hold you personally responsible for allowing the dismantling of 30 years of good environmental law, can't sit well. Then again, there's a little nagging question as to whether Whitman's resignation is at all related to that of Mitch Daniel's, and Senator Barbara Boxer's call for an investigation of the EPA's delay in the release, and alteration of data, in the Children's Health Report back in February. If you recall, sources within the EPA leaked information that Daniel's had requested the report, altered it so as to downplay the dangers of mercury exposure, and only sent it back for release by Whitman when threatened by whistleblowers. Any possibility that a scandal is about to blow?

Oh, one can only hope.

posted by MB | link | 8:17 AM |

Tuesday, May 20  

Republican cannibals

Give the Republican Party controlling power over all three branches of the federal government, and do they restrict their attacks to Congressional Democrats?

No. They begin to eat their own.

First, they use the radical Club For Growth to hammer fiscally-moderate Senators Snowe and Voinovich over their opposition to Bush's tax cut debt increase plan, painting them as anti-patriotic and obstructionist.

Now that the plan has passed the Senate, albeit as a smaller, much "gimmicked" piece, House leaders are not content. Speaker Dennish Hastert and Leader Tom Delay are looking to once again stick it to one of their own, Senate Finance Committee Chair, Chuck Grassely. Seems the House tax hawks are still not thrilled with the deal Grassley cut with Snowe and Voinovich in order to even get the plan out of committee, and want to sidestep any future control he might wield in the upcoming conference committee.

Under one strategy being considered, formal negotiations between the House and Senate would never be started. Instead, the House would take up the Senate- passed bill, make changes, and then send it back to the Senate.

If the Senate disagreed with the House's changes, it could send the measure - with further revisions - back to the House. The process could continue until both chambers agreed to a plan, explained aides and lobbyists familiar with the strategy.

Conservative Republican and leadership aides said the strategy is just one of several being considered. Still, the aides said, the proposal has merits.

If the tax bill were allowed to go to a formal House-Senate conference committee, Grassley would be one of four Senate Republicans doing the negotiations. Grassley would be even more powerful in these particular negotiations given a House-Senate tradition of alternating control of conference negotiations. This would be Grassley's turn to chair the negotiations.

In contrast, if a bill were being "ping-ponged" between the House and Senate, Grassley would be just one of 51 Republican votes on the Senate floor, and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., would control the time and tempo of debate, aides and lobbyists explained.

Seems the crux of the matter is that any bill that came out of a conference wouldn't be big enough for the House Republicans, who obviously have drank way too much supply-side kool-aid. Of course, thinking that bypassing the head of the Finance committee, humiliating him in the process, leads me to believe they've lost their copy of "How to Make Friends and Influence People [of your own Party]". Somehow I don't see passage of any ping-ponged tax cut plan being a slam-dunk for House Republicans.

posted by MB | link | 9:03 AM |

Coming out of the MMR closet

At some point today, in the peer-reviewed medical journal, International Pediatrics (published by Miami Children’s Hospital) the article described in the following abstract will appear (link via Schafer Autism Report):

Title: Pediatric MMR Vaccination Safety
Authors: Dr Mark R. Geier and David A. Geier
Journal: International Pediatrics

A new study published on-line in the medical Journal International Pediatrics on May 20th 2003 examines the possible link between MMR vaccination and serious neurological disease including autism, cerebellar ataxia (loss of co-ordination due to damage to the cerebellum, at the back of the brain), mental retardation and permanent brain damage.

The authors of this study used the data-base established and maintained by the Centers for Disease Controls and Prevention (CDC) in the US known as VAERS (Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System).

VAERS is designed to act as an early warning system for detection of adverse events to childhood vaccines, occurring in the first 30 days after vaccination.

The authors compared the incidence of reports of serious neurological diseases following MMR vaccine with the incidence of the same serious neurological diseases following the mercury-containing DTP vaccine.

The results find a highly significant association between the Measles, Mumps and Rubella combined vaccination (MMR) and autism as compared with the diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis combined vaccine (DTP).

The increased risk for autism following MMR was over 5 times that for DTP. The risk of other serious neurological diseases was also increased with MMR.

The paper identified reactions in a relatively small number of children compared to the numbers vaccinated.

Whilst this paper suffers from the usual limitations of passive surveillance, it still marks a significant milestone in the ongoing MMR debate by clearly flagging up potential problems.

It could be argued that the noted increase occurred because doctors and parents became aware of the potential link between MMR and autism in 1998 following the publication of Wakefield and colleagues in the Lancet.

In response to this possibility, the authors have shown in a separate analysis, that the number of reported cases of autism following primary childhood MMR vaccination went down from 52 cases in the four years up to the end of 1998, to 29 cases in the following 4 years. A reporting bias does not appear to account for their findings.

I first saw Dr. Mark Geier on C-SPAN during his testimony last fall before the House Committee on Reform. He described in part his experience working with the VAERS data, or more precisely, maneuvering the immense number of obstacles the CDC erected to prevent the use of such data for epidemiological vaccine research. Geier testified as to how the records were only available for a couple of hours per day; no copies were allowed, no laptops, only pencil and paper in the reading room. Getting permission to even access the data took years of battling bureaucracy. Despite the difficulties, the father and son research team were able to amass enough information for two studies, one on thimerosal published a few months back, and the present one on MMR.

While I have adamantly supported expanded unbiased research on the impact of high levels of thimerosal in vaccines during the 1990s, it was never due to personal reasons. Although I have two sons with autism, neither were exposed to more than one shot with the mercury-based preservative. Well, that's not completely honest: my motivation was in part personal. For years, much of the medical and scientific community have patronized parents who claimed their children were injured by thimerosal. The parents were viewed as overwrought and irrational, easily manipulated in their grief by charlatans and trial lawyers to believe that they were victims of a pharmaceutical-government conspiracy and cover-up of a perfectly safe, and even beneficial, product. The public, through drug company-sponsored studies fed to the media, was offered this negative view of vaccine critics. Prior to my exposure to autism, I, as a rational scientist, bought the marketing ploy, and can even remember berating parents who were concerned with vaccination as silly and superstitious.

However, as more studies have emerged implicating mercury in neurological damage in children, those parents seem less and less hysterical, and more like normal, rational, concerned parents enraged over government complicity in their children's exposure to harmful toxins.

A similar pattern of disinformation of possible dangers and marginalization of its critics developed regarding the MMR vaccine. So much so that many of us who watched our children sicken and emotionally withdraw after the jab were hesitant to express our concerns openly. Losing our happy, chatty, normal toddlers was painful enough; being publicly castigated as hysterical, beyond the pale.

Thus, when the public, even some segments of the media, became more open to the possibility that there may in fact be genuine concern over thimerosal, those of us sitting on the MMR bench had reason to hope. And research such as that published by Geier today makes me think, hmm, maybe it's safe to stick my head out, just a bit?

Sadly, with every bit of good (as in vindicating, not really "good") news, bad news seems to follow. Back in April, with the help of many in the Lefty blogosphere, I was able to get the word out that Senator Frist had resurrected his pet legislation immunizing campaign contributor Eli Lilly from lawsuits over thimerosal. Apparently, the phone lines lit up for Senators on the HELP committee, and Frist was temporarily thwarted. A second attempt left him again empty-handed, although this time, it was due to vaccine lobbyists pulling the plug on the deal. Well, it's round three.

According to InsideHealthPolicy.com (subscription required, but article available via the Schafer Autism Report):

Senate Republicans are reneging on a key provision of a draft bipartisan agreement on vaccine legislation that would extend the statute of limitations for entering the childhood Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP) from three to six years, according to a congressional source. Senate and House lawmakers are negotiating the bill in a "preconference" to avoid a
deadlock in the Senate health committee and delays in the House, though the House Medicare debate could postpone the VICP conference talks, the source says.

The ranking Democrats rumored to attend the "pre-conference" are Senators Chris Dodd of Connecticut and Ted Kennedy, Massachusetts, and Representative Henry Waxman of California. Calls to these legislators (use the toll-free Congressional switchboard at 1-800-839-5276) urging them not to forgo the extension of the claim period from 3 to 6 years would be greatly appreciated. Our son, Sam, injured by his MMR at 15 months, missed the deadline by two months. So this time, it is personal.

posted by MB | link | 7:39 AM |

Monday, May 19  

Monday blog powwow

Frank, at I Protest, points his readers to an Alternet article on recent changes in federal voting laws which require personal identification, including photo or SSN, to be checked by the voting officials prior to a person entering a booth. Fraught with possibilities for abuse or mishandling, 2004 throughout the nation could make Florida in 2000 look like a picnic.

And speaking of voting, See the Forest has the latest roundup of voting machine information and links.

Earl, at Prometheus6 shares an email conversation regarding the new emerging corporate police state , no Matrix , uh quasi-military state ... Well, you'll have to see what he finally decides upon yourself.

Crowgirl of the always excellent Magpie introduces us to conspiracy-theory, Canadian-style. Unfortunately, the maligned is Salam Pax, fresh from his war-induced hiatus at WhereIsRaed? Also read about CAT Eyes, predecessor of the controversial TIPS program.

Jeralyn of TalkLeft tells us of a town in California which has thrown down the gauntlet to Ashcroft and outlawed compliance with the Patriot Act.

B.J. at StoutDem has recently discovered the old trick of domain-name speculation. The target? None other than Private Jessica Lynch. Fortunately, I know just the geek guy savvy to the ways of the DNS who may be able to help. But I'll have to wait until he gets home from work.

Steve, at No More Mister Nice Blog has some insight on a possible surprise or two should things on the Supreme Court heat up anytime soon.

Finally, my real life friend Allison has been following the story of Mike's Place. Haven't heard of it? Not surprising, as it's barely made the news on this side of the pond. She posted previously on the subject here and here as well.

posted by MB | link | 1:40 PM |

Maine - 1, Big Pharma - 0

Maine Wins Case Over Prescription Drugs


Filed at 10:40 a.m. ET

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Supreme Court on Monday gave a green light to a novel state program to force drug manufacturers to lower prices on prescription drugs, but warned that the program may not survive further court challenges.

The ruling was a defeat for drug makers who claimed that Maine's program, called Maine Rx, violates federal law.

The program, which has never taken effect, would use the state's buying power under the federal Medicaid law to cut drug prices by 25 percent for the working poor, retirees and others who do not receive health coverage or drug benefits through their jobs.

The Supreme Court's ruling does not give Maine what it really wanted, an unqualified endorsement of the drug plan. Instead, the high court said that drug makers did not adequately show why the plan should be prevented from taking effect. It has been on hold pending the court fight.

``By no means will our answer to that question finally determine the validity of Maine's Rx program,'' Justice John Paul Stevens wrote for the court.

Spending on prescription drugs has increased by 15 percent or more annually in recent years, and more than two dozen states had urged the Supreme Court to uphold Maine's effort to hold down the escalation.

Supporters of the Maine program contend it is a response to years of inaction in Congress, which has repeatedly tried and failed to add prescription drug coverage to the federal Medicare program for the elderly.

Labor and retiree groups support the Maine approach.

The Bush administration and business groups and conservative legal organizations sided with the drug industry.

This program was developed by former state senate leader Chellie Pingree, who now heads up Common Cause. Hopefully, this is just the first victory in many such battles against corporate greed.

posted by MB | link | 8:14 AM |
Email Wampum