On the Benefits of Regulation

Frances Oldham Kelsey died this week, at the age of 101. A life well lived for so long is remarkable enough. What she did for American families in the 1960s should never be forgotten.

I remember, as a young man, the photos of Thalidomide crippled babies coming out of England and other European countries.  Ghastly then, ghastly now.  Kelsey, almost single handedly, and against the usual onslaught of pressure tactics, smear campaigns and obfuscation by the drug’s producer, the William S. Merrel Company, prevented Kevadon from entering the American market.

“She was called a fussy, stubborn, unreasonable bureaucrat.”

And I have no doubt, there was much said about her female incompetence.

Dr. Frances Oldham Kelsey receiving the nation’s highest federal civilian service award in 1962 from President John F. Kennedy, saying she had “prevented a major tragedy of birth deformities.”

Dr. Frances Oldham Kelsey receiving the nation’s highest federal civilian service award in 1962 from President John F. Kennedy, saying she had “prevented a major tragedy of birth deformities.”

For her part:

“I had the feeling,” she wrote after a meeting with company executives, “that they were at no time being wholly frank with me, and that this attitude has obtained in all our conferences, etc., regarding this drug.”

So next time an anti regulatory fanatic pounds the drums of regulation crippling the American economy, remember Frances Kelsey.  Thank her, and shout her name. Smart regulators are thin protection in a world of greed, untested new products and powerful interests.

See more at NYT 

Barney Frank

Gary Wills is sorry he wasn’t able to vote for Barney Frank as the first gay president. So should we all. Here’s a snip from Wills’ look at Frank’s new book.

“Frank fears some forms of “big government”—especially our monstrous financing of exotic weaponry, occupying forces around the world, and the wars we start rapidly and end (if at all) after guaranteeing our own defeat. But he knows that the same people who hand out huge contracts for this overkill capacity are calling for “small government” when its services could help the poor, or disabled, or ordinary citizens.

They base their claim that government does not work not on the part that really does not work, the defense that we make too big to control, but on service to our own citizens. They are following the “starve the beast” strategy of men like David Stockman and Grover Norquist—declare that programs cannot work, deregulate them as not worthy of correction, underfund them, and then, when they do not work, declare the first presumption vindicated.

Frank was horrified when Bill Clinton said, in effect, that the starvers were right but that he would starve government moderately. After the president in 1996 declared, “The era of big government is over,” Frank says he wanted to ask, “What country are you describing?” And he asked Clinton’s staff, “Did I sleep through the big-government years?” “

Read all

Courage: Not Just a Game

Two stories today about shameful history and courageous men.

Charlie Sifford, the first black player allowed on a PGA tour, has passed at age 92. Breaking par, as a caddy at age 13, he was not allowed to play in the PGA until it dropped its white’s only rule in 1961.

“In 1952, he was allowed to play in the Phoenix Open in an all-black foursome that included the former heavyweight champion Joe Louis. When the golfers arrived at the first hole, they found that someone had put excrement into it.”


Tiger Woods has called Sifford “one of the bravest men ever to play this sport.”



Val James, alive and writing his autobiography, Black Ice, helped break the color barrier in another very white sport – professional hockey.  He was the first American born black player in the NHL and endured abuse from Americans and Canadians for years.

Warren Skorodenski, a former Springfield, Mass., Indians goalie who spent parts of five seasons in the N.H.L., recalled Springfield fans yelling racial slurs at James and throwing so many bananas on the ice that linesmen collected them during stoppages of play. A few fans, he said, dressed in Ku Klux Klan-style hoods.

“It was disgusting,” said Skorodenski, who is not mentioned in the book. “To be in his shoes, I just couldn’t imagine.”

In Salem, Va., in 1981, a CBS News crew filming a report on James recorded fans chanting a racial epithet at him. A producer interviewed a proud teenager who brought a watermelon to the game for James. Gallagher shared a copy of the report with The New York Times.

“There is the only way I can explain it for people who don’t understand that feeling,” James said. “Let’s start with women. What’s the worst thing you can call a woman? Imagine having one of those words thrown at you every three seconds for 60 minutes. Now multiply that 40 road games a year.”

NY Times

A Sunni Stands up for the Shiites — and pays

MIKHLIF AL-SHAMMARI has been jailed repeatedly, declared an infidel, ruined financially and shot four times — by his own son — all for this: He believes his fellow Sunni Muslims should treat Shiites as equals.

In a Middle East torn by deepening sectarian hatred, that is a very unusual conviction. He has made it a kind of crusade for eight years now, visiting and praying with prominent Shiites and defending them in print, at enormous personal cost. The government of this deeply conservative kingdom continues to file new accusations against him, under charges like “annoying other people” and “consorting with dissidents.”

NY Times

Not Everyone Loved Mandela

A reminder, in these days of mourning for Mandela.  It wasn’t always so.  From the Nation

Jack Abramoff, now a disgraced former lobbyist convicted of fraud, conspiracy and tax evasion, got much of his start from his work with South Africa. Abramoff visited the country following his term as National Chair of the College Republicans in 1983 and met with pro-apartheid student groups linked to the South Africa’s Bureau of Security Services. In 1986, he opened the International Freedom Foundation. Ostensibly a think tank, it was later revealed as a front group for the South African Army as part of “Operation Babushka” meant to undermine Nelson Mandela’s international approval. The group had over “30 young ideologues in offices on G Street in Washington, Johannesburg, London and Brussels” working on propaganda in support of the South African government.

Rather than stay in Washington, Abramoff moved to Southwest Africa (present-day Namibia) to shoot a propaganda film, Red Scorpion, that valorized the fight of anti-Communist fighters in Angola led by Jonas Savimbi, who was allied with South Africa. The movie was mocked by The New York Times for its bad acting and boycotted by anti-apartheid activists led by tennis star Arthur Ashe for the movie’s cooperation with the South African army. Abramoff’s movie career tanked, but he used the experience to launch his career as one of the most well-connected Republican lobbyists on K Street.

Like Abramoff, GOP tax guru Grover Norquist became enamored with the conflict in South Africa and went there to extend his support. Norquist ran College Republicans from 1981 to 1983 and went to South Africa in 1985 for a “Youth for Freedom Conference” sponsored by South African businesses. While other college students, such as Barack Obama, had been active in anti-apartheid work, this conference was seeking to bring American and South African conservatives together to end that movement. In his speech there, Norquist said, “The left has no other issue [but apartheid] on campus. Economic issues are losers for them. There are no sexy Soviet colonies anymore.” A few months after the conference, Norquist went to Angola to work with Jonas Savimbi, the rebel leader that Abramoff valorized in his film. Norquist became a ghost-writer for Savimbi’s essay in Policy Review. When he returned to Washington, he was greeted in conservative circles as a “freedom fighter,” and he proudly placed an “I’d rather be killing commies” bumper sticker on his brief case.

A few years later and much further along in the anti-apartheid movement, a young Jeff Flake (now a senator from Arizona) became active in lobbying for South African mining interests in the late 1980s and early ’90s, after returning from his Mormon mission to South Africa. As a graduate student at Brigham Young University, he testified against an anti-apartheid resolution in the Utah State Senate and then became a lobbyist in Washington for Smoak, Shipley and Henry, a lobbying firm specializing in representing the South African mining industry. Flake went on to personally represent the Rossing Uranium plant in Namibia, which had been a major target of anti-apartheid activists for its discriminatory and unsafe practices.

And of course, President Ronald Reagan branded Mandela as a terrorist and vetoed Congressional support of sanctions against the apartheid regime, a veto which was overturned, with the votes of some Republicans, the only foreign policy veto over-ridden in the 20th century.

President Reagan added the ANC to the US terrorism watch list, a designation not removed until 2008, and unsuccessfully vetoed sanctions against the apartheid regime. Many Republican lawmakers did break with the Reagan administration’s stance, but “all 21 [Senate] votes to sustain the veto were cast by Republicans.”

[When the South African anti-apartheid campaigner, Anglican Bishop Desmond Tutu, visited Washington soon after winning the Nobel Peace Prize, he denounced Reagan’s ‘constructive engagement’ as “an abomination,” and he said that Reagan’s close ties to the Pretoria regime were “immoral, evil and totally un-Christian.”] McClatchy

Mandela faced criticism from Republican leaders including Dick Cheney, who described Mandela’s ANC as a “terrorist organization,” and Jesse Helms, who “turned his back during Mandela’s visit to the U.S. Capitol.” Even in 1998, Eagle Forum founder Phyllis Schlafly lumped Mandela together with notorious dictators.

The late Jerry Falwell urged [PDF] his supporters to write their congressmen and senators to tell them to oppose sanctions against the apartheid regime. “The liberal media has for too long suppressed the other side of the story in South Africa,” he said. “It is very important that we stay close enough to South Africa so that it does not fall prey to the clutches of Communism.”

David John Marley notes in Pat Robertson: An American Life that Robertson criticized the ANC because it was “led by communists and was hostile to Israel” and “far too radical an element to ever work with,” while “his campaign literature made similar claims for the need to support the white government.”

The televangelist regularly spoke ill of Mandela’s group and his Christian Broadcasting Network ran segments critical of sanctions against the apartheid government as Congress debated sanctions.

– See more:

Antoinette Tuffs: Love Against the Guns

What a calm, wonderful woman.  She saved the children, saved herself, saved the gunman.  “I just told him I loved him.”


Heroes in Hard Times

There is nothing I am more moved by than men and women who stand up against cruelty, hatred and discrimination.  These three scorpions are popular pets amongst way too many, carried on their shoulders and in their hearts.  Joe Arpaio would be one such person.  So those who stand against his bullying under color of the law deserve our special attention and should be in our pantheons of heroes way higher than the make-believe heroes we make such a fuss over.

 Salvador Reza, [is] an Air Force veteran with long experience in organizing Latino entrepreneurs and day laborers. When Sheriff Arpaio teamed up with local business owners to harass day laborers in 2007, Mr. Reza helped organize weekly protests outside M. D. Pruitt’s furniture store, a now-legendary series of confrontations that drew Minutemen vigilantes and white supremacists to one side of the street, and Mr. Reza and his supporters, accompanied by traditional dancers and musicians, to the other.

Mary Rose Wilcox, the only Democrat, woman and Latina on the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, was an early critic of Sheriff Arpaio’s, speaking out against his “saturation patrols” of Latino neighborhoods in 2008, when few other elected officials dared to defy the sheriff. She paid a heavy price: she was indicted by a grand jury in 2009 on dozens of trumped-up corruption charges.

 Lydia Guzman is like a 911 operator for the community. Her advocacy organization, Respect-Respeto, monitors reports of civil-rights violations by the police and sheriff’s deputies and spreads the word so immigrants know their rights when they are detained.

Dennis Gilman is a relentless independent videographer — the chronicler of Arizona in the age of Sheriff Arpaio. When immigration tension erupts, or bad policing happens, you will often find Mr. Gilman and his camera — at white supremacist rallies, pro-immigrant marches, politicians’ and lawyers’ news conferences and the sheriff’s “crime suppression” sweeps.

And quite a  few others.  Thanks to Lawrence Downes and the New York Times for bringing us news about these folks. Let their courage and tenacity spread like fire to many others.

Sherwood Rowland: Gone

Sherwood Roland, not being a frequent face on People or US magazines,  has not got hundreds of weeping fans dropping flowers and teddy bears on the sidewalk outside his home.  In a better world, his name would be on every tongue; he would be given a state funeral attended by tens of thousands who knew what they owed him.

F. Sherwood Rowland, whose discovery in 1974 of the danger that aerosols posed to the ozone layer was initially met with disdain but who was ultimately vindicated with the 1995 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, died on Saturday at his home in Corona del Mar, Calif. He was 84.

… Industry representatives at first disputed Dr. Rowland’s findings, and many skeptical colleagues in the field avoided him. But his findings, achieved in laboratory experiments, were supported 11 years later when British scientists discovered that the stratospheric ozone layer, which blocks harmful ultraviolet rays, had developed a hole over Antarctica.

The discovery led to the 1987 Montreal Protocol, a landmark international environmental treaty to stop the production of the aerosol compounds known as chlorofluorocarbons, or CFC’s, and other ozone-depleting chemicals and to eliminate inventories of them.  NY Times

Joe Romm, at Climate Progress calls Rowland

… one of the true scientific heroes of our time — both for his research and for what he did with it:

He wasn’t content to publish his findings and move on to more experiments.  He took what he knew public, and insisted that people pay attention.

“Mario and I realized this was not just a scientific question, but a potentially grave environmental problem involving substantial depletion of the stratospheric ozone layer,” Rowland said later. “Entire biological systems, including humans, would be at danger from ultra-violet rays.”

They decided they had to advocate for a ban on consumer products that were earning billions annually. Industry representatives fought back: At one point Aerosol Age, a trade journal, speculated that Rowland was a member of the Soviet Union’s KGB, out to destroy capitalism. Even some fellow scientists grumbled that he was going overboard with a hypothesis.


Vaclav Havel — A Remembrance

Very good remembrance of Vaclav Havel by Paul Wilson, in NYRB, who was in Prague during his death and subsequent mourning:


All his life, Havel lived by the belief that if you wanted something to happen, you had to do something to make it happen, and damn the consequences, including arrest and prison, and possibly even death. Speaking about the early days of the post-Stalin thaw, he once said: “The more we did, the more we were able to do, and the more we were able to do, the more we did.” It is a fine summary of his attitude, and, in a sense, his legacy. Havel was continually pushing the boundaries of the possible, and in doing so, he was able to create space for others to follow.

This quality is what, quite properly, put him in the same league as Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King Jr. But what put him in a league of his own is the corollary: you act not to achieve a certain outcome; you act because it is the right thing to do. That is what he meant by “living in truth,” a notion he explores in some depth in his most radical and enduring work: The Power of the Powerless.

Goldman Environmental Winners

April is a good month every year, bringing news of the Goldman Environmental prize winners. Beyond the actual environment work that has been done to win the recognition is the wide sweep of the Prize committee’s award process. This year folks we wouldn’t have otherwise heard of, from Costa Rica, Poland, Cambodia, Swaziland, the US and even Cuba! are honored.

Tuy Sereivathana, a Khmer from Cambodia, got front page treatment in the SF Chronicle for his work in helping agricultural villagers learn to adapt to and live with the elephants which had been raiding their crops and storage bins. Very touching story.

Be sure to look over the GoldmanPrize site itself for more on the recipients and other work the foundation is doing.

The awards are tonight, Monday, in San Francisco at the Opera House. I doubt there are tickets available but heck from 4:30 to 5:00 when it starts you could go practice your paparazzi skills. Send a photo or an interview if you get ’em.