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Interview: Dr. Amesh Adalja on Ebola Virus

AAmeshAdaljamesh A. Adalja, MD, is a senior associate at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s Center for Health Security, assistant clinical professor in the Department of Critical Care Medicine, assistant clinical professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine. He is board certified in internal medicine, emergency medicine, infectious diseases, and critical care medicine.

Dr. Adalja is a member of the Infectious Disease Society of America’s (IDSA) Public Health Committee, the American College of Emergency Physicians Pennsylvania Chapter’s EMS & Terrorism and Disaster Preparedness Committee, the Allegheny County Medical Reserve Corps, and the US Department of Health and Human Services’ National Disaster Medical System Disaster Medical Assistance Team (PA-1), with which he was deployed to Haiti after the earthquake in 2010. He has also served on U.S. government panels tasked with developing guidelines for treatment of botulism and anthrax in mass casualty settings as well as a FEMA working group on nuclear disaster recovery. He is associate editor of Biosecurity and Bioterrorism, contributing author for the Handbook of Bioterrorism and Disaster Medicine, and he has published in the Journal of Infectious DiseasesEmerging Infectious Diseases, and Annals of Emergency Medicine. He also writes a blog about his work.

Dr. Adalja is a member of various medical societies, including the American Medical Association, the Infectious Diseases Society of America and the HIV Medical Association. Prior to joining the Center, Dr. Adalja completed two fellowships at the University of Pittsburgh—one in infectious diseases, for which he served as Chief Fellow, and one in critical care medicine. He completed a combined residency in internal medicine and emergency medicine at Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh, where he served as Chief Resident and as a member of the infection control committee.

I first became acquainted with Dr. Adalja over 20 years ago when he was a pre-med student and I was editor for a health policy and patient advocacy group in Orange County, California. This is an edited transcript of the interview.

Scott Holleran: Is there 100 percent certainty among scientists that the Ebola virus is not airborne?

Amesh Adalja: When you talk about Ebola there are different species. What the evidence has shown in multiple experiences and multiple outcomes is that the Ebola Zaire and Ebola Sudan strains cause infection in humans that lead to symptoms. The virus Zaire is most deadly. There are also the Sudan, Bundibugyo and Tai Forest strains—these four species of Ebola cause infections which lead to symptoms. There is a fifth strain, Ebola Reston, which is addressed in The Hot Zone, which is different and those infected [with it] didn’t have symptoms. There is some concern that that strain may have had the potential to spread airborne. With regard to this current outbreak, there is no evidence that the strain has natural airborne properties. You may read about airborne lab model infection and that is not the same thing as how people come into contact with Ebola in a natural setting. The primary means Ebola spreads between humans is through blood and body fluids—for example, through contact with vomit, blood or fecal matter.

Scott Holleran: What concerns if any do you have about the potential for an Ebola outbreak in the West?

Amesh Adalja: I have very little concern that Ebola will be able to spread in a modern, industrial country like the U.S. chiefly because of the way it spreads. You really have to work to become infected—it’s not like measles—and you have to be in very close contact while not wearing personal, protective equipment like gowns, gloves and masks. In a U.S. setting, a patient with Ebola would be placed under protection and we wouldn’t expect it to spread. We’ve had eight importations of lassa fever, another viral hemorraghic fever spread in the same manner as Ebola, and the Marburg [virus] is in the same family as Ebola—and we’ve had no secondary spread when it was imported.

Scott Holleran: You’ve said that a best case scenario is that an Ebola treatment may be available in one year. Do scientists know most of what they need to know in order to develop a vaccine or cure?

Amesh Adalja: Yes, I do think we have the answers for how to control Ebola. Right now, in terms of vaccines, we have a product that was used in a lab in Germany which is being developed by the Canadian government, which, when tried in monkeys, was 100 percent effective. In fact, it works so well in non-human primates, which is the closest you can come to humans, that it leads me to believe that this will be the vaccine that will hopefully lead to the means to control future Ebola outbreaks. Vaccines don’t cure disease. However, it’s very early. It really has to be tested. With regard to cures, I would think about ZMapp, which was administered to [recently infected and admitted U.S. Christian missionaries] Dr. Brantly and Nancy Writebol. I wouldn’t call it miraculous, though, because, for instance, Dr. Brantly also received a blood transfusion and there were other factors, such as the best medical treatment by doctors. There is a third product made by a Canadian company—a drug which shows strong results against [the] Marburg [virus].

Scott Holleran: Recently, an Ebola outbreak has been reported in the Congo. Briefly explain who is being infected with the Ebola virus.

Amesh Adalja: What usually happens with Ebola outbreak in remote regions of Africa—in countries like the Congo, Sudan and Uganda—is that you have an individual who may have been in the forest hunting animals, such as antelopes, gorillas or chimps or bats, and that person gets sick and goes to the local health care facility in their village and the symptoms may mimic other conditions such as malaria or typhoid and may be misdiagnosed. Then, there’s an outbreak because people [caring for the infected patient] don’t realize that the person is infected with Ebola and [they treat the patient in a way that actually accelerates the spread of the virus]. For example, we’re hearing that people are using the same thermometers for patients in Liberia [where Ebola is spreading]. When that person dies, the outbreak is magnified.

Scott Holleran: Do experts know how the two infected Americans, who were working as Christian missionaries in Africa, were contaminated and, if so, how do experts know what they know?

Amesh Adalja: I haven’t seen any definitive answer to how they were contaminated. We do know that they were working there with personal protective equipment, which is very difficult to wear in those settings. Due to heat and humidity, some people may not be fully compliant [with necessary guidelines and use of equipment]. It’s always important to wash hands, especially for missionaries, who aren’t there to respond to [an] Ebola [outbreak] and they may have been there for treating some other condition. My understanding is that they were there [for some other purpose] and Dr. Brantly is not an infectious disease specialist. He’s a family medicine doctor. Doctors who work with Doctors Without Borders are very meticulous and compliant. Not everyone else is.

Scott Holleran: What criteria does the government hold if any for admitting or re-admitting those infected with a communicable disease?

Amesh Adalja: It’s largely going to depend [upon the context] and be handled on a case by case basis. For example, there are diseases that are quarantinable. Recently, there was an arrest warrant for someone with tuberculosis. The number one priority for the government, in this context, is to protect people from contracting a contagious infectious disease. Really, the criterion is to avoid putting someone at undue risk at becoming infected with a contagious pathogen. Typhoid Mary and individuals with tuberculosis are much more contagious than those with Ebola virus.

Scott Holleran: When the infected Americans were re-admitted into the United States, what medical treatment was administered at Emory University?

Amesh Adalja: When these two patients came to Emory [University in Atlanta] they would have received standard supportive care and treatment, such as supplemental oxygen, intravenous fluids, medicine to control fever and medicine to control nausea and vomiting, electrolyte repletion, and possibly blood products were administered they also received doses of ZMapp. The special blood transfusion was administrated in Africa.

Scott Holleran: Do infected individuals pose a risk to society?

Amesh Adalja: I do not believe the infected individuals pose a risk because of the nature of how Ebola is transmitted.

Scott Holleran: As a doctor who writes about ethics in health care, does the U.S. have a moral obligation to re-admit any infected individual American—or groups of infected Americans—under any circumstances?

Amesh Adalja: I believe that in the case of these Ebola patients—because they pose no risk of infection or contagion to Americans—this isn’t an issue, so there would have been no justification to prohibit their re-entry into the United States. However, I don’t believe that this fact is self-evident. Ebola has captured the minds of writers and the ordinary person is very fearful against Ebola. But it’s not like the virus has never been in the U.S.-it’s been in U.S. labs since the 1970s.

Scott Holleran: Government corruption has recently been discovered in nearly every branch including government-controlled science and medicine and military and national security intelligence. Is any degree of skepticism toward government on the Ebola virus or infectious disease in general warranted in your judgment?

Amesh Adalja: Just prior to the Ebola outbreak, there had been reports of laboratory mishaps where certain pathogens were handled in a manner which wasn’t what biosafety guidelines would recommend. There were incidents and mishaps at the CDC, though no one had been infected. I think it’s important that Americans question what safeguards are in place and what protections and protocols are being taken. I do think they will be reassured that there are a lot of safeguards in place.

Scott Holleran: You’re an expert in bioterrorism and you work within government agencies to protect against an attack. Is a terrorist attack using biological or nuclear weapons likely to be detected by the U.S. government in advance?

Amesh Adalja: There’s been a lot of preparation after 2001, when five individuals were killed by an attack using anthrax. Biological weapons leave no signature—they’re natural pathogens. The fact that the former Soviet Union had a biological weapons program in violation of a treaty [banning such weapons] is a reminder of the danger. In Japan, they tried to weaponize botulism and Ebola. We know that Al Qaeda tried to do the same thing. So, these are real threats. This is a core function of government to protect against these threats. The Soviet Union proved how extensive a program can be created. Since the George W. Bush administration funded these programs and created these agencies, we’ve come a long way. But there are still a lot of gaps. [Anthrax infected newspaper editor] Robert Stephens initially thought he contracted anthrax from going into the wilderness and [it became apparent that] he got it from a letter in Florida. In 1984, in the state of Washington, a religious cult that wanted to influence a local election through voter turnout ordered salmonella and went to a salad bar and poured salmonella on the salad bar and the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)] came in and investigated, thought it was poor food preparation and fined the business—but the salad bar had been poisoned by religious terrorists.

Scott Holleran: What is the single worst bioterrorist threat to the United States?

Amesh Adalja: Anthrax—because it’s been proven to be effective.

Scott Holleran: Is there a single source, such as a book or movie, that contains reliable information for a general audience on infectious disease—its facts, history and the risks and dangers—such as The Hot Zone or the movie Outbreak?

Amesh Adalja: I read The Hot Zone and I think it’s a fascinating book and it does get people to think about Ebola. It does provide very good information on the Reston, Virginia [strain of] Ebola out in an animal facility. In terms of movies, the movie Contagion is probably the best, though it dramatically accelerates how quickly a real-life vaccine can be developed.

Scott Holleran: What is the most encouraging news on the topic of infectious disease?

Amesh Adalja: I think the infectious disease in the future is going to harness the ability to use genome sequencing to create targeted therapies at just the pathogen to avoid collateral damage to other microbes or bacteria that may live in your body.

Jonas-SalkJonas-SalkStarzlScott Holleran: Dr. Jonas Salk created the polio vaccine in Pittsburgh, where you work with Pitt to study, treat, cure and prevent infectious disease. Is Pittsburgh still a center for innovation in science and medicine?

Amesh Adalja: Absolutely. Not only do we have Pitt, CMU [Carnegie Mellon University] is here as well. People think of Pittsburgh’s past with the Industrial Revolution and great industrialists like Andrew Carnegie and they’re really idolized—and they’re idolized by me, too—but there are heroes such as [Thomas] Starzl [pictured], a pioneering transplant surgeon, and Dr. Salk, who have also been true to the [enterprising] spirit that built this city with steel and heavy industrial technology and transportation. Pittsburgh is still part of the Industrial Revolution. But now it’s a biotechnological revolution. ZMapp and all the anti-viral medicines were created as a result of the aftermath of 9/11. The threat of Ebola being used as a potential biological weapon has created an incentive [to counter with protective medicine] – so it’s important to remember that, as scary as Ebola can be, it’s been a market incentive, too.

Obama Shakes Down Doctors

The Obama administration is initiating a secret government operation investigating doctors in private practice, according to the New York Times in its Sunday, June 26 edition.

The article reports that, according to government documents obtained from Obama administration officials, government agents posing as patients “will call medical practices and ask if doctors are accepting new patients and, if so, how long the wait would be. The government is eager to know whether doctors give different answers to callers depending on whether they have public insurance, like Medicaid, or private insurance, like Blue Cross and Blue Shield.”

The government’s subversive and deceptive campaign targeting America’s doctors is another part of the incremental assault on the rights of doctors, who are becoming enslaved by ObamaCare. I think this particular attack is designed to intimidate doctors into submission to ObamaCare, which effectively forbids doctors from autonomously practicing medicine, and will eventually prohibit doctors from quitting state-sponsored medicine. It’s a first strike against any doctor who dares to defy the government.

[source: New York Times, registration required: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/27/health/policy/27docs.html?_r=1&hp=&pagewanted=all ]

Interview: Randy Barnett on ObamaCare

Randy E. Barnett

Law professor Randy Barnett, who has argued before the Supreme Court, is described by Forbes as the legal scholar “who laid the intellectual groundwork for the surprisingly effective legal attacks on ObamaCare by state attorneys general.” Barnett, the Carmack Waterhouse Professor of Legal Theory at the Georgetown University Law Center, where he teaches contracts and Constitutional law, has also taught torts, criminal law, evidence, agency and partnership, and jurisprudence. He graduated from Northwestern University and Harvard Law School, tried felony cases as a prosecutor in the Cook County States’ Attorney’s Office in Chicago and, in 2008, he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in Constitutional Studies. Professor Barnett, who lectures internationally and has appeared on the CBS Evening News, The News Hour (PBS), and National Public Radio, offered his thoughts on America’s sweeping new nationalization of medicine—ObamaCare—during a recent interview.

Scott Holleran: In terms of American law, is health care a right?

Randy Barnett: Health care is not a Constitutional right. There are a lot of spending programs that create various entitlements, such as Medicare, but these are statutory rights not fundamental or Constitutional rights.

Scott Holleran: Is ObamaCare Constitutional?

Randy Barnett: ObamaCare, or the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, is unconstitutional for at least two reasons. One is that the individual mandate requires every American to purchase [health] insurance or face a penalty, which is an extension of Congressional power that goes beyond anything that has previously been authorized by the Supreme Court. From its inception, the substantial effects doctrine, though commonly conceived as a Commerce Clause doctrine, has been grounded in the Necessary and Proper Clause. The Supreme Court developed a judicially administrable test for whether it is “necessary” for Congress to reach intrastate activity that substantially affects interstate commerce: the distinction between economic and non-economic intrastate activity. Because [ObamaCare’s] individual mandate [forcing people to “buy” health insurance] fails to satisfy the requirements of this test, it exceeds the power granted to Congress by the Commerce and Necessary and Proper Clauses as currently construed by the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court has said that Congress could not reach non-economic activity and Congress, in this case, is trying to reach non-economic activity, mandating that people engage in economic activity. The other problem is that, as certain states are contesting, Congress is using its spending power coercively.

Scott Holleran: Is ObamaCare legally inevitable?

Randy Barnett: Absolutely not—it is not inevitable that legal challenges will fail or succeed. Neither side has an argument that can dictate or mandate or require the Supreme Court to decide this issue for or against their side.

Scott Holleran: Is the Constitutional case against ObamaCare an originalist perspective?

Randy Barnett: I am an originalist who advocates interpreting the Constitution according to its original meaning, but nothing in the legal challenge to ObamaCare is based on the original meaning of the Constitution—we’re just following the opinions on the Supreme Court, applying what they have previously said to this statute. I would describe our arguments as doctrinal, not originalist.

Scott Holleran: What are the legal options for opposing ObamaCare?

Randy Barnett: There are more lawsuits than I can keep track of, but, of the five district court judges who have ruled on the Constitutionality of the law, two struck it down and all five are on appeal, and we’ve so far had three appellate arguments, in Richmond, Cincinnati, and Atlanta, involving four of the lower court decisions. There may be other options that arise but I don’t want to express an opinion at this point and I don’t want to be overly optimistic. We expect decisions in the cases that have already been argued by the end of the summer, or possibly by September [2011] and, if the Supreme Court takes a petition for appeal, there could be a decision by June 2012. That would be the earliest. I have a high opinion of the lawyers in the Virginia case, and the lawyering in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals was excellent.

Scott Holleran: Have you read Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli’s address to Hillsdale College arguing against ObamaCare?

Randy Barnett: I have not seen that speech but I’ve testified to Congress with him. This guy is smart but what really amazed me was his press conference in Richmond. He was amazing—he got up there and gave one of the most knowledgeable, careful, legal analyses of his case [against ObamaCare] and he was crystal clear and completely on top of the case. I thought it was a masterful performance. I was really, really impressed.

Scott Holleran: What are the legislative options for opposing ObamaCare?

Randy Barnett: It would be helpful if the Republicans in Congress would pass a law that is Constitutional and market-based—I don’t think anybody wants to go back to [the mixed health care system of] 2008—and I have discussed this with several people and I get the sense that there is interest. If the GOP were to pass the [Rep. Paul] Ryan plan, it would be very beneficial [to killing ObamaCare] because it would show that there are alternatives [to ObamaCare]. It would offer something identifiable as an alternative—not just a think tank proposal—something worked out of a legislative body and that would be important. Ultimately, the people will have to elect a president who will sign a repeal bill and, if the court upholds the [ObamaCare] law, that will fuel the fires. I think any Republican who gets the nomination will have to pledge to repeal ObamaCare. I do think it’s going to be a challenge for people on the Hill to come up with something that’s not ObamaCare-lite because that’s the way they think. But the need for health care for poor people does not deprive other people of the right to choose their health care. A government takeover and distortion of the health care market is not the way to go.

Scott Holleran: Are there executive options for opposing ObamaCare, in case Congress buckles in favor of the law?

Randy Barnett: [Former Massachusetts] Governor [Mitt] Romney says he’ll give a waiver to everyone. But I’m a Constitutional lawyer and, when you’re talking about something so far down the road, a lot can happen.

Scott Holleran: Are there state law options for opposing ObamaCare?

Randy Barnett: Some states have enacted health care freedom [from ObamaCare] acts and the Constitutionality of those acts are at issue in the lawsuits. If we lose [and ObamaCare is upheld], those acts will be inoperative. States can try to resist the Medicaid part, if they can afford to—and they generally can’t—but the idea that 27 or 28 state attorneys general are suing is significant and it’s going to be noticed by the Supreme Court.

Scott Holleran: Are there opt-out provisions that a single individual can exercise in compliance with U.S. law to get out of ObamaCare?

Randy Barnett: I don’t want to comment on that.

The Suicide of Leanita McClain

Leanita McClainLeanita McClain was a rising Chicago journalist in the 1980s whose Memorial Day 1984 suicide made an impression on me as a suburban Chicago youth. By the age of 32, she had gone from growing up in a city housing project on the south side to graduating from Northwestern University’s journalism school and working as a top editor at the Chicago Tribune. She had written an influential column for Newsweek and she’d been headed for success. Known to her friends as Lea and married to journalist Clarence Page, McClain had, to me, been living the American Dream—being productive, living in a lakefront high-rise and being happily married.

That’s why her suicide didn’t add up. I later learned that Leanita McClain had been suffering from depression, that she had divorced Page and had felt guilty for being black and successful. As someone who had been pre-judged for factors (like hers) beyond my control and had once had thoughts of suicide, an act which permeated my youth in an area in which 33 teen-age suicides were committed in an 18-month period, the suicide of Leanita McClain resonated.

I knew that she had struggled with being a successful black woman, which she wrote about, and that she felt guilt about living in a wealthy white area of the city. Before she killed herself, McClain had returned to living on Chicago’s predominantly black south side—she had moved into the wealthy and racially mixed Hyde Park—after volunteering to tutor poor blacks in government sponsored housing. The light-skinned McClain, whose mother was albino, was apparently taunted for living among whites. I, too, had been pre-judged; for being white—bullied by blacks using racial slurs in streets, parks, and offices—for being male, for being gay, and, constantly, for living in the suburbs. To someone who used to hear the Chicago and Northwestern train whistle near the tracks where I lived and wonder who would take their own life and not show up for school that day, her final act was intriguing. Had McClain felt alone, alienated and envied for merely existing, too? I wondered. I knew that people tried to make me feel guilty for living in a nice, clean suburb, that some hated me based on my skin color, and I knew I felt like I did not fit in. Her death showed me that someone from a poor background who had achieved success and had the best of everything might also fall prey to such feelings. What thoughts had preceded her feelings, I wanted to know. Why did she choose to check out?

What deepened the mystery was the deficit of information about her death—it was as though there was a seal of information on suicide, any suicide, but especially hers, and, years later, when I booked and met Clarence Page while working as a talk radio production assistant, I didn’t dare ask about his ex-wife, the late Leanita McClain. But the touchstones of her life and career—Chicago, race, and envy—were never far from my thoughts. When I interviewed writer and director Robert Benton about his evocative 2003 movie, The Human Stain, which was vilified by the liberal press for casting Anthony Hopkins as a black man passing for white, I thought of her again.

And again, when writing a column about the year 1967 in motion pictures, when a black New York Times columnist called Sidney Poitier, one of my favorite actors, a derogatory term for appealing to white audiences in his historic trifecta of a year with In the Heat of the Night, To Sir with Love and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? Poitier, I knew, never portrayed a leading man in another major movie again. I saw that what Ayn Rand, who had denounced racism as a variant of collectivism, called the Age of Envy could destroy people of all races and backgrounds. And still no one breathed the name of Leanita McClain.

Until now. I had recently reconnected to Clarence Page, still writing for the Chicago Tribune’s Washington, DC, bureau, and gamely debating me on Facebook between talk TV appearances, and I gently reached out in memory of Leanita McClain’s Memorial Day suicide and asked for an interview, which he graciously granted. As I read more about her suicide, I decided to seek the input of her friend and fellow journalist Monroe Anderson, and a lively conversation ensued. I did ask one of her white Tribune editors for an interview. I never heard back and I was not surprised. In my view, many in the media are often purely subjective in using people to advance a certain perception about their business (i.e., newspaper, news channel, Web site) and her suicide is partly a lesson in what’s wrong with the media, the culture, and the country.

What follows are the facts and writings of her short life. Leanita McClain was born to a poor family on Chicago’s south side. With two much older sisters, an albino mother and a father who worked in a factory, she spent a lot of time alone and her early writings foreshadow her sense of alienation. In a brief teen-age essay, entitled “On Me, Segregation, Integration and Pink Polka-Dotted Gremlins With Olive Ears,” McClain wrote:

“Why is there so much hate and contempt among people? I have never been blocked from anything because of my color, and I’m not ashamed of it, either. My great grandfather was Caucasian and so was my great grandmother. My grandmother was part Seminole Indian. I hate to talk like that. It sounds like someone drained all of the blood out of my grandmother and decided that one color was Negro, another color Indian and another Caucasian.” She added: “Why can’t people just be people and live in peace and harmony. Maybe I’m in search of the perfect world. Or maybe I’m just me. That’s it. I’m me. But . . . to be me is to be nothing — to be nothing is to be me. And I love all people. Even pink polka-dotted ones with olive ears.”

McClain grew up in the Ida B. Wells government housing project. She was a bright student, attended Chicago State University, aimed to be a teacher like her older sisters but changed her mind after a violent crime, and went to Northwestern University’s prestigious Medill School of Journalism on a scholarship. After being hired as an intern at the Chicago Tribune, where she met both Page and Anderson, McClain worked in several editing positions, and, in its October 13, 1980, edition, Newsweek published the strong-minded young woman’s My Turn column, “The Middle-Class Black’s Burden”. Her first line signals her dilemma: “I am a member of the black middle class who has had it with being patted on the head by white hands and slapped in the face by black hands for my success,” she wrote. “I am not ashamed.” McClain, an unabashed advocate for welfare-statism, continued: “As for the envy of my own people, am I to give up my career, my standard of living, to pacify them and set my conscience at ease? No, I have worked for these amenities and deserve them, though I can never enjoy them without feeling guilty.” Clarence Page would write in his introduction to A Foot in Each World, a posthumously published collection of her work: “Material comfort and worldly honors could not lighten the burden she placed on herself, a cross she felt she had to bear for her people.”

Therein was at least part of the problem, as reaction to the column—controversy, acclaim and a sudden promotion by the white liberal Tribune—may have fed the roots of her clinical depression. By the time Chicago’s corrupt Democratic Party had its first major black candidate, Harold Washington, for mayor, Leanita McClain was poised for despair. Washington ran, many of the city’s white Democrats fled to a Jewish Republican candidate named Bernie Epton (whom I supported), and Washington won. But McClain, already stung by criticism among blacks for having gone “uptown,” wrote a blisteringly racist commentary for the Washington Post. The newspaper’s editors gave her essay a headline she did not like—Page wrote that she thought it overstated her case—“How Chicago Taught Me to Hate Whites.” Leanita McClain killed herself less than a year after it was published.

In the essay, she wrote that she had heard a voice during the heated mayoral campaign that “was going on about ‘the blacks.’ ‘The blacks this’ and ‘the blacks’ that, ‘the blacks, the blacks, the blacks.’ My eyes fogged, but not from the bathroom steam. ‘The blacks.’ It is the article that offends.” Long before an interracial Illinois senator calling himself a black man from Chicago was elected president, McClain described what followed Harold Washington’s victory: “[b]lack strangers exchanged sly smiles on the streets. A jubilant scream went up, but it was a silent one, something like the high-pitched tones only animals can discern. The black man won! We did it! It rose to the stratosphere, crystalized and sprinkled every one of us like sugared rain. We had a feeling, and above all we had power.”

McClain admitted in the piece that she had put so much effort into “belonging”, and that the political acrimony showed her that solving the racial problem would take more than living, marrying and going to school together. “What is there, then, to believe in?” She asked, indicating that she held integration as a dogma more than as a goal and referring to what she called her innate black hope. Amid her abrupt abandonment of racial harmony as an attainable goal and embrace of what she called the comradeship of blackness, her insights were clear and penetrating:

“I’ve detested my colleagues at the Chicago Tribune whose antiseptic suburban worlds are just as narrow, who pretend to have immense racial concerns and knowledge, but who don’t know blacks other than me and who haven’t even come in touch with ordinary whites in decades.” Leanita McClain was prophetic about a newspaper that never regained the common touch and has floundered ever since.

Despite her newly declared hostility for whites, in a column in which she wrote about wanting to gun them down, liberal black editor Leanita McClain had at various times also criticized Chicago public schools, the 1960s, Robert F. Kennedy, Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, and Chicago’s self-aggrandizing race-baiter, the Reverend Jesse Louis Jackson, whose budding presidential candidacy she dismissed. But there were signs that defeatism had pierced her soul: “no black is going to be president of the United States for so far in the future that it isn’t worth pondering.”

McClain, whose parents had vowed that their children would leave public housing—which they did—was not afraid to question liberal articles of faith, denouncing both progressive education and the permissiveness of the 1960s. She also argued for the right to an abortion, absolute free speech, and she observed that the black middle class was largely dependent on government jobs. When Vanessa Williams won the 1984 Miss America contest, McClain wrote that Williams’s ability as an individual swayed the judges, and McClain rightly predicted that the nation’s first black Miss America would not be co-opted into becoming a spokesman for black causes. When she heard from some black readers that Williams won Miss America because she was light-skinned, like McClain, she called the self-hate out, firing right back: “Color variations are joked about uninhibitedly among black people, but any serious discussion of it is whispered; and it is an unmentionable in the company of whites. Even civil rights has not relieved this twisted, parasitic tendency…those people who choose to feel superior or inferior to others of their own race on the basis of skin color ought to spend more time looking over themselves.”

Throughout her brief career, Leanita McClain pointed out that it was a black journalist who revealed Jesse Jackson’s slur against Jews, that Black History Month was begun by a black historian in 1926 as Negro History Week during the week of the birthdays of President Abraham Lincoln and freed slave and abolitionist newspaper publisher Frederick Douglass, and she warned that Chicago, now governed by a mayor who is dictating drug tests for Chicago’s housing project residents and wants new city casinos, was falling under the control of thugs who would take the city back to the days of Al Capone. And she never let up in railing against racism: “Whether whites can see it or not, or admit to it or not, they are ingrained by this society with a superior attitude toward blacks that is as natural and reflexive and uncontrollable as sneezing.”

One of her best pieces, a Chicago magazine article published in 1981, asks: Who will save our schools? McClain wrote: “It wasn’t that long ago that one could grow up black and poor in Chicago and still receive an education. I did. So did my two sisters, who remain in the system as elementary school teachers. We and the thousands like us did it by mastering standardized tests and the English language. We did it without free meals, busing, pupil or teacher desegregation plans or euphemisms that hid the fact that children simply weren’t making it. To fail was just that. It was not a perfect education. The public schools provided a solid if unimaginative curriculum in basic reading and mathematical skills that those with initiative could develop. We can read, and write, and reason.”

And she did, making a living out of thinking, reading and writing, which I know first-hand is an achievement. Writing later about a sign she kept that evokes blacks sitting in colored waiting rooms, she explained that she kept it as a reminder that, “with a sense of self, we never will again.” Tragically, she lost her sense of self, which I think she erroneously predicated on blood. In this post and related posts, I seek to foster a better understanding of Leanita McClain’s work, life, and death, which moved me as a youth and influenced my career. The following interviews with those who knew her best, two accomplished journalists kind enough to talk to me on the eve of the 27th Memorial Day since she died, are intended to put her suicide in context, as part of studying an important and underreported topic that deeply affects us. This is for the memory of Leanita McClain and individuals who don’t fit in and want to make the world their own.

House of Representatives Votes to Kill ObamaCare

For the first time in decades, every American can be proud of an act Congress: the House of Representatives voted today for an historic rejection of a major new organ for government control of our lives. The House voted 245 to 189 to undo what has been done to our nation’s medical and health insurance professions, with slavery and injustice for all: ObamaCare.

Three Democrats broke from the Democratic Party to vote for repeal — Reps. Dan Boren of Oklahoma, Mike Ross of Arkansas and Mike McIntyre of North Carolina — but, with no trace of irony, Democratic Rep. Steve Cohen of Tennessee compared Republican arguments against government-controlled health care to Nazi propaganda that fed hatred of Jews during World War 2. The idiot from the Volunteer state should know that the Nazis, too, had socialized medicine and Jews, like Americans, had no choice in the matter. Now the bill may go to the Senate, where Repubilcans will try to schedule the bill for a vote. Republican Congressman Lee Terry of Nebraska rightly called ObamaCare “a trillion-dollar tragedy.” Republican Congressman Kevin Duncan of Texas properly noted that “health care is too important to get it wrong, and ObamaCare got it wrong.”

Rep. Duncan got it right. So, Republicans would be wrong to make the same error and seek to replace ObamaCare with other, softer forms of government controlled medicine or other forms of tyranny such as a ban on abortion. They should commit to restoring capitalism and individual rights in medicine and in the nation. And those who remain silent on the issue of socialized medicine, while complaining about the latest comment, quip or half-thought from a lousy opportunist like Sarah Palin, are the worst types of Americans. They should either be ignored or, to varying degrees, opposed as accomplices to dictatorship and enemies of freedom: their passive acceptance of tyranny and submission to totalitarianism is a real threat to one’s freedom. But, for now, the effort to repeal ObamaCare moves ahead and with this bit of good news, too: six more states, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Ohio, Wisconsin and Wyoming, have joined the lawsuit to stop ObamaCare. Now, that’s 26 united states of the union. Let’s roll.