Notorious RBG

Like most, I knew Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a justice on the U.S. Supreme Court.  But I had no clue of who she really was or what she did in a remarkable lifetime until her death.  But I have certainly learned a lot about her in the last few days and now realize why she was so revered by so many, especially females.

Obviously she had a spine of steel and simply would not take “no” for an answer.  No doubt the fact that she was tiny was a benefit.  How could something that small be such a fierce opponent?

But she coupled her resolve with a brain that never seemed to turn off.

She definitely saw the world through the eyes of a woman and often enlightened her male colleagues with a viewpoint they had no way of relating to on their own.  In so doing, she became a champion for females and impacted their lives in ways most never understood.

Time after time a TV clip showed her speaking to young women and they were enthralled by her.  Many said that she became a “rock star” and I’ve seen nothing to make me think otherwise.  Someone gave her the moniker of “Notorious RBG”, a play on words from the name of a rapper.  She seemed amused by this and must have realized that it was a term of endearment used by young women.

She was devoted to her husband Marty, one of the top tax lawyers in New York City.  They were married for more than 50 years.  Like her, he also died of cancer.

He was quite a chef and said at an interview one time that she didn’t tell  him how to cook and he didn’t tell her about the law.

An extraordinary woman who lead an extraordinary life.

The Odd Couple: Ruth Bader Ginsburg & Anthony Scalia

The death of U.S. Supreme Count Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg shocked the country,  Even though she battled a number of health issues in recent years, her passing came as a surprise.  Appointed by President Clinton in 1993, she had been a consistent voice for equality and women throughout the land hailed her for often leveling the playing field for females.

Accolades from both Democrats and Republicans echoed throughout the country.

It was remarkable to me that after her death Friday night, hundreds and hundreds of citizens gathered in front of the nation’s Supreme Court building to pay their respects, at one point uniting in singing Amazing Grace.

But what really got my attention was her great relationship with the late Justice, Anthony Scalia.

Philosophically they could not have been farther apart.  More often than not, their opinions were at opposite ends of the spectrum.  However, this did not prevent them from having a genuine respect and admiration for one another.  One of their bonds was a great love of opera.

One of her former law clerks talked of how close their relationship was and that Scalia always came to her office to sing Happy Birthday to her.

What a contrast this is in these days when winning is the only thing that seems to matter in politics.  Rather than seeking common ground, those on the other side of a political divide must be vilified and conquered.  Campaigns are viscous, take no prisoner affairs.  Truth is thrown out the window.

And how well I know this to be true.  When I ran for a seat on the Montgomery County school board in 2018, my primary opponent’s ENTIRE campaign was to trash me with phone calls and mail.  When this is what happens in a local school board race is it any wonder that such lack of tolerance and civility is vastly escalated in bigger campaigns?

Unfortunately the nation lost an outstanding jurist with the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.  (Just as it did when Judge Scalia passed away.)

While they passionately disagreed on their interpretations of the law, they did show us a great example of respect and dignity.





What Happened To Civility?

The circumstances that lead to the phone call are incidental.  Suffice it to say that the female on the other end of the line lives in Montgomery, is in her 70’s and like me, is Caucasian

We were doing the usual “who’s your mama and ’em” when she wanted to know if I was voting for Trump or Biden..

“Biden,” I told her.

She went off like a Roman candle.  Immediately questioning my manhood, patriotism, heritage and God knows what else.  Suddenly I was a 2nd class citizen, unfit to even cast a ballot.

She told me that masks worn for protection during the pandemic were worthless, that most deaths attributed to Covid-19 were from something else and that all she watched was Fox News.  (Which explained a lot to me.)

I told her that grandpa fought in WWI and daddy was in WWII and that I was not a draft dodger like Trump.  She did not want to hear any of it.  According to her, Biden is a socialist and that “black” woman will be running everything if he is elected.  I was jolted by her total lack of tolerance or civility.  I was the only “white” person she knew who was not voting for Trump..

I told her that if she wanted to vote for Trump, fine.  That this is a free country and therefore we can vote for whomever we wish.  Which includes me.

No doubt there are Biden supporters who are just as vocal and obnoxious as she was.  People who have forgotten what civility is and what it encompasses.

They are just as disturbing as she was.

Auburn University and the University of Alabama will play football against each other on Nov. 28.  It is an intense, storied rivalry, some say the fieriest of any in college football.  Young athletes will spare no effort to best the other team that day.  But watch what happens as soon as the game ends.  Men from both sides will shake hands afterwards, they will hug one another, share a laugh.  They are both civil toward and respectful of one another.

It’s an example a great majority of our citizens should follow.



You Decide

The closer we get to election day on Nov. 3, the more the news will be engulfed in charges and counter-charges about both candidates for president.

The latest blockbuster was an article in The Atlantic magazine by editor-in-chief Jeffrey Goldberg on Sept. 3.  Titled, Trump: Americans Who Died in War Are “losers” and “suckers.”  The outcry was both immediate and loud.  The president said the article was total nonsense.  However, this did not stem the reaction from Democrats, as well as retired military.

Who to believe?  I certainly do not know.  That is for you to decide.  Go here to see the article in its entirety. 

However, I did do some background checking.  The Atlantic has been around since 1857.  So it is hardly a Johnny-come-lately publication.  It has 500,000 subscribers.  It was selected as “magazine of the year” in 2016 by the American Society of Magazine Editors.

Goldberg became editor-in-chief in 2016 after being on staff for a number of years.  A native of New York, he went to the University of Pennsylvania.  An award-winning journalist, his specialty has been foreign policy and it is interesting to note that he served in the Israeli Defense Forces.

The only thing I do know is that the next few weeks will be painful to watch and listen to.  And it will certainly not be one of our prouder moments.


Thank God And Greyhound

The so-called 2020 “conventions” by both Republicans and Democrats are history.

Due to the pandemic, both meetings were more political theatre than usual.  Both sides carefully screened who spoke for them in trying to promote either President Trump or Joe Biden.  Which for the GOP meant that if you were kin to Trump you got a place at the podium.  However, if you were the only living former Republican President like George W. Bush, you were nowhere to be seen.

And of course at the close of each evening the cable news networks chimed in with their commentary.  Meaning that you saw the proceedings through which set of rose-colored glasses they wear. It is amazing how CNN and Fox can listen to the same speakers and come away with interpretations that are 180 degrees apart.

The most amazing presentation of all to me was President Trump’s more than hour long monologue where he described an alternative universe.

When I woke up Thursday morning before this speech, Hurricane Laura was ravaging Louisiana, wildfires were burning in California, the national debt was the highest in history consuming more of the Gross Domestic Product than immediately after World War II, 180,000 Americans had died from Covid-19, there were six million more people out of work than on January 1, racial unrest was rampant and schools were struggling to reopen.

And what did the president tell us?  That things would really get BAD if Joe Biden was elected.

Which is about like your ex-wife putting you in the hospital from a gun shot wound and telling you that the next woman you marry will probably be a much better shot.

I did not see all the speeches from either meeting, but the only one that stuck with me was by 13-year old Brayden Harrington of New Hampshire.  He told about meeting Joe Biden at a political event and learning that both of them had severe issues with stuttering.  Then he related how Biden took a few moments to visit with him and give him some tips on dealing with his speech impediment.

You can go here and see what Brayden told the country.

So now it’s on to election day Nov. 3.  It will be a brutal trip with both sides trying to scare the hell  out of us about the other guy.

Whether you are a Republican or Democrat, It will not be one of our finer hours.

The World We Are Now In

Editor’s note:  Sunday, President Trump, along with Stephen Hahn of FDA announced a “breakthrough” in the battle against Covid-19,. The only problem, scientists working on the virus immediately cried “foul” and pointed out that data was being misinterpreted.  Which lead, as Bloomberg News points out in the article below, to Hahn almost immediately agreeing that he had misspoke.

For the last six months Americans have been swamped with misinformation about the virus and time after time we’ve seen politicos driving decisions instead of science.

And with the presidential election now ten weeks from today, the temptation to err on the side of political fortunes rather than the health of citizens, grows stronger each day.  None of us can take comfort in knowing this.

“The head of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration walked back his claim that an experimental therapy had provided a dramatic benefit to Covid-19 patients, a rare reversal for an agency that has prided itself on rock-solid science and public trust.

On Sunday night at a press conference with President Donald Trump, FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn said that blood plasma from Covid-19 survivors given to new patients could save huge numbers of lives.

“What that means is — and if the data continue to pan out — 100 people who are sick with Covid-19, 35 would have been saved because of the administration of plasma,” Hahn said. Hahn’s remarks followed similar comments by Trump, who said that the therapy is “proven to reduce mortality by 35%,” and by Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar.

On Monday night, Hahn reversed himself.

“I have been criticized for remarks I made Sunday night about the benefits of convalescent plasma. The criticism is entirely justified,” Hahn said in a tweet. He went on CBS on Tuesday morning to continue walking back the claim, telling the network that “I could have done a better job of explaining that at the press conference.”

Hahn had spent much of Monday taking heat from health experts, including two former FDA commissioners, for his remarks.

“That was not the way that I would have worded it,” said one of the doctors who led the blood plasma study, Arturo Casadevall, chair of the department of molecular microbiology and immunology at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. “I hope they will issue a clarification,” he said earlier Monday.

What the data do show is that a higher dose of blood plasma is better than a lower one. And while there are promising signals that it will lead to a real benefit when compared to a placebo, that’s not known yet.

“Until we have a randomized controlled trial, we don’t know definitively,” Casadevall said.

The administration’s misrepresentation of the data may raise fears about how Hahn and the rest of the administration will treat data on a vaccine for the virus. Trump has said he expects one to be ready in time for his potential re-election, and on Saturday accused unnamed members of the “deep state” at the FDA of slowing work to hurt him politically. The “deep state” is a term used by Trump to describe employees of government agencies that he believes are manipulating policy to work against his interests. There is no evidence this is happening at the FDA.

In another interview, with Reuters, Hahn said he had seen no evidence that anyone at the FDA was working against Trump.

“I have not seen anything that I would consider to be ‘deep state’ at the FDA,” Hahn said to Reuters.

The 35% statistic about blood plasma’s effectiveness has several fatal flaws. Since everyone in the program received blood plasma, it’s not known what would have happened compared with patients who didn’t get the therapy. And scores of variables, like how sick the patients were and when they were treated — that could have skewed the results.

Robert Califf, the FDA commissioner under President Barack Obama, said that he thought Hahn had misspoken. “It would be good for Steve to publish a correction,” Califf said on Twitter earlier Monday.

Azar and Hahn both have extensive experience with drugs and therapies. Azar is a former pharmaceutical executive, and Hahn has spent several decades treating patients and researching cancer. Before joining the FDA, he was the chief medical executive of the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, a leading oncology treatment and research hospital.

In a tweet posted earlier Monday, Hahn said that the agency will “reevaluate our emergency use authorization (EUA) based upon new incoming data that we receive.”

He emphasized that the decision to allow emergency use of the therapy had been made based on science alone.

“The data we need, which is a risk-benefit assessment for an emergency use authorization, were met by the data we received,” Hahn said in the CBS interview. But he noted that clinical trials of the therapy, which he expects will provide firmer evidence for or against its use, have had trouble attracting participants — which can happen when patients and doctors can access a therapy through other channels.

“There’s ongoing clinical trials, unfortunately they’re not accruing like we’d like them to,” Hahn said to CBS.

Blood plasma from recovered patients is being used around the world, with the hope that its infection-fighting antibodies can help combat the virus. It doesn’t appear to pose a major safety risk, and on Sunday the Trump administration announced an emergency FDA measure to make it more widely available. Several studies have shown promising signs of efficacy.

“Based on the data we have today, it’s very likely that plasma is reducing mortality,” Casadevall said. “The one thing we are missing is a randomized controlled trial,” the gold-standard test that will tell researchers and regulators if blood plasma is a breakthrough, an incremental help or something in between.

To understand the confusion over the 35% figure, it’s important to look at two concepts: relative risk and absolute risk.

Imagine a clinical trial to test an experimental drug, with 2,000 patients split into two groups. The first 1,000 patients don’t get the drug, and in that group 10 people die. The other group of 1,000 patients gets the drug, and five people in that group die.

Using relative risk, that’s a 50% improvement — a tremendous number. But using absolute risk, the imaginary drug only decreases the likelihood of death by 0.5%. That means 5 more of those 1,000 people treated with the drug would live, not the 500 implied if you mistakenly use the 50% relative risk number.

The claim of a 35% mortality benefit made by Trump, Azar and Hahn uses the first measure — relative risk. But because clinical trials of plasma therapy haven’t been completed, how many lives it actually saves — the absolute risk improvement — still isn’t known.

Hahn, in his tweet Monday, said he had muddled the difference. “What I should have said better is that the data show a relative risk reduction not an absolute risk reduction,” he said.

The FDA analysis was pulled from a subset of data in the trial — typically a no-no for credible studies. And despite a day of criticism online from doctors and researchers, Hahn’s correction wasn’t enough for some.

“You need to correct the 35 lives saved per 100 sick with Covid-19 so people understand that was absolutely wrong, Steve,” Eric Topol, director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute in California, said on Twitter. “That there is no evidence to support that. That there is no evidence at this juncture to support *any* survival benefit.”

Doctors and patients rely on the FDA to put out authoritative information about the safety and efficacy of drugs, vaccines, medical devices and other products, guiding their use not just in the U.S. but around the world. The agency has historically carefully guarded its reputation and scientific independence,

Hahn’s comments about 35 out of 100 people being saved were still posted to the FDA’s official twitter account as of Monday afternoon.

Miller, the FDA spokeswoman, repeated the error in a tweet after the press conference, saying “convalescent plasma has shown to be beneficial for 35% of patients.” While she clarified the error in a follow-up message about an hour later, the FDA’s main twitter account still carries Hahn’s misstatement.

Alyssa Farah, a White House spokeswoman made a similarly misleading tweet, saying that the therapy cuts mortality by 30% to 50%. And Michael Caputo, Azar’s chief spokesman at HHS, echoed the claim: “If you’re one of the 35 people out of a hundred who survive severe COVID symptoms because of convalescent plasma, you’re damn right this is a BREAKTHROUGH.”

Farah didn’t respond to emails requesting comment. Caputo deferred comment to the FDA, though his tweet with the incorrect information was still up as of Tuesday morning in New York.

Hahn’s predecessor Scott Gottlieb, who served as FDA commissioner under Trump from 2017 to 2019, said he thought the FDA was right to allow convalescent blood plasma for emergency use. But he suggested the press conference hadn’t given the correct picture of what health regulators actually know from the data.

“When we overstate findings it erodes confidence in science and undermines public trust in regulatory decisions. The right message was this ‘may’ provide a benefit, it could be meaningful for some patients, but we need more evidence to prove it, Gottlieb said in a tweet.

“The way the public part was handled will erode precious public confidence,” he said. “You earn public confidence in small drops and you loose it in buckets.”