Monthly Archives: May 2010

Anti-Vaccine Crusader Wakefield Banned from Practicing Medicine

By Marc Seltzer; originally published on May 23, 2010, at care2.com

Andrew Wakefield, who published a study in 1998, linking autism to vaccines, has been banned from practicing medicine by the General Medical Council, which overseas and licenses doctors in the U.K.  The council found Wakefield guilty of serious professional misconduct.

The study published by Wakefield and several other authors was originally published in the leading medical journal Lancet.  The Lancet recently retracted the study and ten of the other original participating authors have renounced its conclusions.  Among the problems for Wakefield, he did not have approval for the research that made up the study and he took blood samples from children at a birthday party.  Numerous studies since 1998 have failed to show a correlation between vaccines and autism.

The official medical community has generally had harsh words for Wakefield because subsequent studies have shown that the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine is safe and effective and because children have become ill and died from the diseases such as measles that are stopped by the vaccine.

”That is Andrew Wakefield’s legacy,” said Paul Offit, chief of infectious diseases at the University of Pennsylvania. ”The hospitalizations and deaths of children from measles who could have easily avoided the disease.”

In the United States thousands of claims have been filed seeking compensation for children who are alleged to have been hurt by vaccines.  However, two rulings by the U.S. Court of Federal Claims in March of 2009 found no link between vaccines and autism.

Health care policy professionals are concerned that Wakefield’s claims, despite being discredited, have undermined confidence in vaccines and lowered the rate of vaccination of children, putting more children at risk of death or complications from illnesses.

Visa and Mastercard Retail Debit Transaction Fees Restricted under New Reform Amendment

By Marc Seltzer; originally published on May 13, 2010, at care2.com

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A Senate amendment to the comprehensive financial reform legislation directs the Federal Reserve to cap retail debit card transaction fees at a level that is “reasonable and proportional” to the cost of processing the transactions.  Sixty-four Senators sided with retailers over banking industry objections.  33 opposed.

The restrictions are not contained in the House version of financial reform that passed in December.  Thus, if the current bill passes the full Senate vote, the provision will still have to make it into the final legislation during reconciliation of the House and Senate bills.  The banking lobbyists will push hard to stop the final legislation from containing the restrictions, which could cost banks billions of dollars.

Anger at banks has shifted the power in the Senate towards small businesses and away from large banks, for the time being.  The amendment was written by Senator Dick Durbin, Democratic whip, and brought for a vote by Senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut, who is managing the financial reform legislation as Chairman of the Senate Banking Committee.

Some of the savings would likely be passed from retailers to customers, especially in highly competitive markets like groceries and chain stores.

The law would only apply to large banks and would not apply to credit card transaction fees.  Still, it would give retailers a path to lower transaction costs.

The Columbia Journalism Review covered the change and noted that the press has been fairly mute on amendments to the financial reform bill and poor in explaining what’s at stake.  Spotty Coverage of the Financial Reform Amendments More information is available:  Reuters reportingProgressiveOhio

Marc Seltzer is also a contributor to SupremePodcast.com and Redefining America: Constitution and Leadership 2010.

Where the Stock Market Goes, Jobs Follow

By Marc Seltzer; originally published on May 10, 2010, at care2.com.

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Right on schedule, 2010 jobs numbers are improving dramatically, following in the footsteps of the U.S. stock market’s impressive, year-plus climb back from 2008-2009 financial-crisis lows.  “The best job growth in [the] manufacturing sector since 1998” as Senator Dodd described it on Face the Nation.  However, in the past week, the market has fallen 5%.  Does this indicate a problem for the recovery or signal that employment gains will not continue?

The stock market, which reflects a willingness to invest in companies on the prediction of future profits, gained 23% in the last twelve months.  However, many called this a “jobless recovery” because unemployment numbers were poor during much of this period.  Job growth typically follows many months after the stock market gains, as businesses turn increased prospects, sales and planning activity into action on the hiring front.

Look at the recent employment numbers:  290,000 new jobs in April; 230,000 new jobs in March, after 39,000 in February; and 14,000 in January.  While it will take a few years for the 8+ million unemployed Americans to find new work even if the economy creates three- or four-hundred thousand new jobs a month as the recovery continues, the strong stock market of the past year would suggest continued strength.

Following the same reasoning, does this past month’s stock market downturn foretell a loss of jobs in 2011?  That depends on whether the stock market slide reflects only a “correction” — temporary profit taking and selling in light of how extraordinarily fast the market rebounded over the past year — or a more negative economic prediction in light of financial instability in Europe.

On the bright side, the trouble in Greece, which has shaken Europe, is still small in proportion to the size of the U.S. economy — the entire Greek bailout package, somewhere above 100 billion dollars, is in the ballpark of what the U.S. government spent to bailout insurer A.I.G.  On the other hand, the European Union is not the United States, politically speaking (although public disapproval of the bailout is reminiscent), and if the rescue is not performed as well as it was in the US, instability could spread to larger EU nations.  As an important trading partner, what happens in Europe will impact the United States (More coverage of Greek financial issues in the New York Times).

Even with EU weakness, however, the North American and Asian economies are poised for growth.  After a severe recession, U.S. growth will be driven by pent-up demand and new innovation, as well as continuing stimulus spending.  The bubble and bust of the 2000s was very destructive, but there should be no doubt of the underlying demand for U.S. goods and services.  The need for quality health care, environmentally sound products, better energy solutions and cutting-edge technologies has never been greater.  Even the U.S.’s greatest liabilities, such as its over-dependence on fossil fuels, will force research, development and significant economic activity.

It remains to be seen how European economies will cope with the current crisis, but the United States is now beginning a significant economic recovery.  With plans for better regulation of financial markets working their way through Congress, a new period of sustainable economic growth, while by no means guaranteed, is within reach.  It will take more than a minor setback to derail the U.S. economy now, and that’s good for workers waiting to get aboard.

Marc Seltzer also podcasts about the Supreme Court at SupremePodcast.com

Comment re Holding Back Miranda Warnings for Terrorism Suspects

Comment to politics blog at care2.com

I like what Holder said and how he said it. I think it was carefully put, unlike political barbs that over-simplify. Holder said that the “public safety exception” to the Miranda requirements allowed police to delay giving Miranda warnings for a few hours when the officers needed information about a crime in progress to protect the public. If they caught a suspect in the course of a bank robbery, for example, they getting information quickly and was more important than providing a lawyer quickly. The warning against self-incrimination and the lawyer would still be provided as soon as the emergency was over.

Holder is saying that in the terrorism context, the “public safety exception” should give law enforcement more time to interrogate a suspect and get information about ongoing terrorist activity before providing Miranda warnings and legal representation. There are a number of issues to be looked at about treatment of a suspect, but there is nothing wrong, in my book, with being practical and facing changing circumstances. Holder is saying that Congress and the administration, working together, can craft a law that will meet constitutional requirements while updating the public safety exception to meet the needs of law enforcement in facing terrorist attacks on U.S. soil. This is an incremental approach, respecting the laws and constitution, but also asserting that law enforcement needs new procedures to deal with current problems.

Redefining America: Constitution and Leadership 2010 – BP Gulf Oil

Marc Seltzer and Jessica Pieklo continue a podcast conversation about current issues:

May 12, 2010:  BP Gulf Oil Disaster Podcast (click to listen)

What We Wont Learn from the Sotomayor Confirmation Hearings

By Marc Seltzer; originally published on July 9, 2009, at politicsunlocked.com.

(Linda Greenhouse’s New York Times piece about the confirmation hearings for Elena Kagan raised the issue of whether a justice can be forthcoming in their testimony to congress.  Interestingly, Kagan has articulated her belief that the executive brach has largely unfettered authority in the areas of national security, the point that I wrote about in reference to the Sotomayor hearings.  Still, I do not see any reason for Kagan to speak openly in the upcoming confirmation hearings in light of the intense politicization of the process.  My early post is reposted below.)

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If there is one legal question that is profound and topical, the discussion of which would be deeply thought provoking and educational in the Supreme Court nomination hearings of Judge Sonia Sotomayor, it is the constitutional division of power between the different branches of government.

The power struggle between the branches is most notably implicated in the national debate over the Bush administration’s conduct of foreign policy and war.  President Bush and Vice-President Cheney asserted generally exclusive executive branch authority in the conduct of intelligence, detention of prisoners and avoidance of oversight in national security operations after 9/11.

Now that Bush and Cheney are out of power and more information is coming out about their conduct, opponents of such policies are on the attack, calling for investigation.  Only the most recent issue is whether Vice-President Cheney directed that the CIA withhold information from Congress that Congress has by law, demanded that the executive branch provide.  Other red-hot manifestations are whether the use of torture by the administration can be subject to explicit laws banning such activity, and whether the President was in fact required to brief congress regularly on its conduct of foreign policy and military action, as Congress has demanded.

Underlying this and other such conflicts is the question of constitutional authority in the different branches of government.  The President is the Commander-in-Chief.  Does this grant the President sole authority for decisions relating to national security, or is it an authority shared by the peoples’ representatives in Congress?

In the same vein, what are the limits of such Presidential authority?  Can the President authorize torture if he believes it is necessary for national defense?  If Congress requests that the President provide information on on-going military operations, can the President ignore the request if he believes that to follow it will harm the operations?

The ultimate answers to these questions cannot be known until the U.S. Supreme Court decides each issue in the context of specific facts presented in a lawsuit.  But a Supreme Court nominee could give us her reflections and a certain education.  This would be far more meaningful then the competing assertions of power by the administration and congress.  Of no more use are the pundits and professors who weigh in.  Almost universally, commentators take political positions based on desired outcomes, but give no real insight into what the Supreme Court would be likely to do.  The Supreme Court is deeply aware of its profound power and cautious about its legitimacy in asserting its authority over other branches of government – being the unelected branch.   Pundits have none of this real world caution.

Consequently, the Supreme Court tends to go to great lengths to avoid constitutional questions, instead deciding cases on smaller technical matters whenever possible.   There is nothing wrong with this judicial approach, except that it leaves many of us wondering where the bounds of legislative or executive power really are.

I, for one, have no doubt that they are not where the President and Congress say they are.

Stocks Tumble, Uncertainty Rises

By Marc Seltzer; originally published May 6, 2010, care2.com
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The U.S. stock market took a wild ride Thursday as the DOW index of stocks fell 1,000 points at its lowest and ended the trading day down 347, or more than 3%.  The economic concerns of the day centered on the turmoil in Europe as Greece needs a bailout to avoid default on its public debt.  However, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is investigating unusual trading activity to determine whether mistakes or manipulation caused a rapid drop of stock prices shortly after 2:30 p.m.

The crisis in Europe is serious.  Greeks have been rioting for several days over the economic hardships that are being imposed, as the government seeks to rein in public spending and convince European nations that it will show fiscal discipline, if given a new loan package.  Skeptics believe that even with new loans and belt tightening, Greece will eventually have to restructure its debt.

However, Greece is a small nation and its economy is only a small fraction of Europe’s economic power.  The market’s concern is that Greece’s problems might also surface in larger European economies such as Portugal, Italy or Spain.  Not unlike the U.S. bailouts to financial institutions in 2008, European governments today are stepping in to stop Greece’s failure from spreading.

While the decline in Greece is in itself too small to negatively impact the U.S. economy, greater weakness in Europe could hurt U.S. export sales and overall confidence in the recovery.  On the other hand, the U.S. stock market has risen dramatically since the financial crisis abated.  It may simply have been due for a correction.