Saturday, January 10, 2009

Cannabis cure for Alzheimer's

By Libby Spencer

There are relatively only a handful of studies on the efficacy of medical marijuana because it's so difficult to get funding, much less authorization to conduct it, but here is one that shows great promise for marijuana based medicines that could cure Alzheimer's. Or at least mitigate some of its worst effects.

New research suggests that one of the active ingredients in marijuana—THC—and similar compounds could possibly prevent or even reverse one of the most devastating memory disorders of all: Alzheimer's disease.

In a paper published in the December 2008 issue of the journal Neurobiology of Aging, researchers found that a compound that affects the same brain receptors as THC reduced brain inflammation and improved memory in older rats. (The rodents were the human equivalent of age 65 to 70.) Although there's debate over the role played by inflammation in Alzheimer's, many researchers believe it's an important part of the process that causes dementia.

Marijuana, an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant, has been used medicinally for 10,000 years without one recorded overdose. It has already been proven to be useful in the treatment of a wide range of diseases. It's a shame that millions of terminally ill patients are denied its benefits because legitimate scientific inquiry is so often shut down by bureaucrats whose own interests are better served by continuing its total prohibition.

(Cross-posted at The Impolitic.)

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Moyers on Gaza

By Creature

We need more Moyers in America.

[h/t Glenn]

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The talent of Anna Nalick

By Michael J.W. Stickings

I've long been a sucker for (er, fan of) female singer-songwriters -- Sarah McLachlan (whom I once met and in whose presence I was a blithering idiot), Shawn Colvin, Vienna Teng, Patty Griffin, Thea Gilmore, Sheryl Crow, Michelle Branch, Lisa Loeb, Dar Williams, Emm Gryner, Vanessa Carlton, Aimee Mann, Melanie Doane, Tara MacLean, Kim Richey, etc. -- and one of the better ones I've come across in the past few years is Anna Nalick (official site here), whose 2005 debut, Wreck of the Day, featuring the hit "Breathe (2 AM)," was stunningly mature, featuring great lyrics and a well-developed pop sound with a decided edge to it. (Her second album will hopefully come out this year -- an EP with the song "Shine" was released last year.) And, yes, it helps that she's extremely attractive. (I'm a guy -- what can I say?)

Here, below, are the video for "Breathe (2 AM)" and an acoustic performance of "Wreck of the Day." Enjoy.


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Friday, January 09, 2009

The Reaction In Review (Jan. 9, 2009)

A week's Reactions that deserve a second look:


By Michael J.W. Stickings: "Palin feels exploited, blasts Couric and Fey" -- Michael's thorough analysis of this strange episode is helpful.

By Mustang Bobby: "What's at stake" -- Bobby sets conservative columnist David Brooks straight regarding President-elect Obama's plan for dealing with Congress and their plan for confronting the troubles of the U.S. economy.

By Libby Spencer: "Creeping toward the total police state" -- Libby's post is a good heads-up regarding the potential for alarming plans by the active military inside U.S. borders.


By Michael J.W. Stickings: "Sanjay Gupta, Big Pharma flack" -- Michael expresses opposition to Gupta's being nominated for the post of Surgeon General, because of ties with the pharmaceutical industry. See also, Conyers contra Gupta and Sanjay Gupta for surgeon general?

By Carol Gee: "None of them knew what to do" -- The White House meeting among Presidents is the subject of this post, that looks at it in light of their various dealings with the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

By Carl: "Heads I win, tails you lose" -- Carl's very interesting exploration of political party philosophies and the idea that "Life levels the playing field that man's order works so hard to preserve."


By Michael J.W. Stickings: "Sign of the Apocalypse #62: Joe the Plumber, war correspondent and pro-Israeli propagandist" -- Another in a long series, this one looks at what could happen when Joe embarks on another new career, this time as a reporter.

By Carol Gee: "Activists find ways to stay involved" -- A look at what online activists find to keep themselves busy; organizational links included.

By Michael J.W. Stickings: "Polling Palin: Where she stands for 2010" -- An examination of some questionable Alaska poll results that Sen. Lisa Murkowski should not take too seriously.


By Michael J.W. Stickings: "Republicans are so popular" -- Michael makes a bit of fun of the RNC chair wannabes; special lyrics included.

By Michael J.W. Stickings: "Panetta? Why not" -- Michael, along with others, is willing to give Obama "the benefit of the doubt" on this one. Se also, More on Panetta.

By Michael J.W. Stickings: "Minnesota Senate Recount -- update 11" -- a good analysis of the latest in the Franken-Coleman recount saga, recounting the Canvassing Board's recount.


By Creature: "Leon Panetta" & "More Panetta" -- Creature has the absolute best way of nailing an issue or news item in a few well chosen words, [Panetta's] "a cause for joy."

By Carl: "Silence is golden?" -- Carl thoughtfully reflects on what may be behind the President'elect's decision to hold his opinions about the Israeli/Palestinian war privately until he takes office.

By Capt. Fogg: "God is Great" -- is the ironic title of Fogg's beautifully written and heart felt lament about the insanity of the Israeli/Palestinian war.

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Smearing Franken

By Michael J.W. Stickings

If you've been following the dramatic Senate recount in Minnesota -- and even if you haven't -- check out Joe Conason's welcome shredding of Franken's opponents over at Salon. Here's the gist of it:

If Al Franken were not a longtime public figure -- and thus severely handicapped by American jurisprudence -- he could file a powerful complaint for libel or slander against several of the most prominent wingnuts in the United States. From Rush Limbaugh to Bill O'Reilly to Richard Mellon Scaife, a chorus of familiar voices is loudly defaming the Democrat whose razor-thin win in the Minnesota Senate race will now be tested in that state's courts. Ever since Election Day, on radio and television, on the Internet and in print, they've screamed that Franken is stealing, rigging, pilfering, scamming, thieving and cheating his way to victory.

These media figures, some of whom occasionally pretend to be journalists, have spewed such accusations repeatedly, without offering any proof whatsoever -- in plain contradiction of the available facts. Not only is there no evidence that Franken or his campaign "cheated" in any way during the election or the recount, but there is ample reason to believe that the entire process was fair, balanced and free from partisan taint.


Here's a challenge to all those lying liars. In essence, they have accused my friend Franken of a felony under Minnesota law. If they know of any evidence that would show he has stolen votes or violated any election statute, let them report it to the state law enforcement authorities. And if they don't, perhaps they will at last have the decency to shut up.

I have argued before that Coleman has every right to take his fight to the courts. But what Franken's opponents are doing is, as one has come to expect from them, reprehensible. They should just shut up, but they don't have the decency to do anything of the kind.

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Blago impeached, Burris exposed

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Blago, in case you missed it. And what a worthy fellow he is.


And let me repeat: There's no way the Senate should seat Roland Burris -- even if Obama wants him seated. It looked like it was inevitable, what with Reid et al. ingloriously caving in, but now it has emerged that Burris did, contrary to his own initial testimony, "[reach] out to a close friend and former chief of staff to [Blagojevich] to discuss the Senate seat. That appears to contradict Burris' statement in a sworn affidavit that he had no contact with any of the governor's 'representatives.'"

Burris, of course, is defending himself, claiming that the "close friend," Lon Monk, was no longer one of Blago's representatives, but Burris clearly knew that what he told Monk would get through to Blago. As he told Monk, "[i]f you're close to the governor, you know, let him know I'm certainly interested in the seat."

Corruption runs rampant. So does the lying.

And now the whole Burris affair goes back to Reid. I have no confidence in him whatsoever -- but maybe, with Blago now impeached, and with Burris caught lying, just maybe he'll reconsider. (But I doubt it. I suspect we're stuck with Sen. Burris.)

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George W. Bush, going out on a high

By Michael J.W. Stickings

In unemployment, that is, which, now at 7.2%, has reached a 16-year high, taking us right back to the end of H.W.'s presidency.

Good times, from one Bush to another.

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Conyers contra Gupta

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Needless to say, I'm not alone in my opposition to Sanjay Gupta for surgeon general (though it is evident that it is hardly Obama's most controversial move thus far, generating comparatively little criticism).

As HuffPo reports, Rep. John Conyers has sent a letter to his Democratic colleagues arguing against Gupta:

I join in opposition with respected Noble Peace Prize award wining economist Paul Krugman, who has very serious concerns with having Dr. Gupta be the nation's Surgeon General. [...]

Also, there are highly experienced medical professionals who question whether Dr. Gupta has the necessary experience or even the medical background to be in charge of some 6,000 physicians or more who work in the United States Public Health Service. Gerard M. Farrel, Executive Director of the Commissioned Officers Association, stated in the January 7, 2008 Washington Post that Dr. Gupta will certainly face a "credibility gap" because he never served in the National Health Service Corp, and furthermore, does not have the "experience or qualifications to be the leader of the nation's public health service." Clearly, it is not in the best interests of the nation to have someone like this who lacks the requisite experience needed to oversee the federal agency that provides crucial health care assistance to some of the poorest and most underserved communities in America.

I do not oppose Gupta because he lacks experience -- indeed, what is needed in the position is not so much bureaucratic competence as the ability to lead public relations efforts on public health issues, and, in this sense, Gupta, with his extensive experience in broadcasting, could do well -- but rather because of his flacking for the pharmaceutical industry, that is, because he is part of the problem, a celebrity cog in the marketing machine for Big Pharma and the very system that so badly needs to be overhauled or, preferably, replaced.

Still, Conyers makes a good point, adding to the growing case against Gupta.

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Palin feels exploited, blasts Couric and Fey

By Michael J.W. Stickings

In an interview with conservative John Ziegler, Sarah Palin lashed out at Katie Couric and Tina Fey for exploiting her during the campaign:

I did see that Tina Fey was named entertainer of the year and Katie Couric's ratings have risen. I know that a lot of people are capitalizing on, oh I don't know, perhaps some exploiting that was done via me, my family, my administration -- that's a little bit perplexing, but it also says a great deal about our society.

Right, because Fey and SNL have never targeted anyone else, Democrat or Republican. It was all about Palin -- she, and she alone, was their object of ridicule. Actually, I found SNL's treatment of Palin rather tame, and Fey, hardly some vicious comedian, brought an undeniable humanity to her characterization of Palin. It was funny, but it wasn't nasty. How did it exploit Palin any more than any other comedic impression of any other public figure?

And, right, because it was Couric's fault that Palin stumbled and bumbled her way through that interview. It's not like Couric was just luring Palin into gotcha moments, waiting in ambush with tricky questions to trip her up. Last time I checked, a vice presidential candidate ought to know a thing or two about, oh, say, the Constitution, or the economy. But she didn't seem to know much about anything, and the Couric interview exposed her as both a liar and an idiot, which is why it had such resonance during the campaign. Simply put, it exposed her for what she is, an unqualified extremist without much of a clue. And yet I found Couric's treatment of her, like Fey's, rather tame.

Palin wasn't ready for Prime Time, as the saying goes, and she certainly wasn't ready for Couric and Fey. Being lampooned on SNL simply comes with the territory, as do interviews with benevolent network anchors. But she didn't want to face any such scrutiny, comedic or otherwise, and she certainly didn't want to have to answer any tough questions. Which is why she preferred the friendly confines of partisan GOP rallies, where she could feed the frenzy of the mob, and one-on-ones with the likes of Sean Hannity, where smiles, approving nods, and right-wing banter allowed her to play well to the party's base.

Noam Scheiber has written that "Palin's resentment of elites was the key to understanding her." I tend to agree, though I would add that her ignorance and self-absorption -- that is, who she is, not just what she resents -- are very much the driving forces of her life, or at least seem to be.

Ultimately, to Sarah Palin, what happened in the election wasn't her fault, it was everyone else's: Couric's, Fey's, the Democrats', even McCain's. And instead of taking responsibility for herself, her response is to lash out at her enemies, real and perceived alike, claiming that she was exploited, that she was a victim, that "society" is against her.

She may find comfort in such delusion, but delusion is all it is.

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What's at stake

By Mustang Bobby

David Brooks is worried that Barack Obama is overconfident about his financial stimulus package:

This will be the most complex piece of legislation in American history, and as if the policy content wasn’t complicated enough, Obama also promised to pass it via Immaculate Conception — through a new legislative process that will transform politics. The process, he said, will be totally transparent. There will be no earmarks, no special-interest pleading. In a direct rebuttal to Federalist No. 10, he called on lawmakers to put aside their parochial concerns and pass the measure in weeks.

And as if that isn’t enough, he promised next month to make repairing Social Security and Medicare a “central part” of his budget. “I’m not out to increase the size of government long-term,” he told John Harwood of The Times.

This is daring and impressive stuff. Obama’s team has clearly thought through every piece of this plan. There’s no plank that’s obviously wasteful or that reeks of special-interest pleading. The tax cut is big and bipartisan. Obama is properly worried about runaway deficits, but he’s spending money on things one would want to do anyway. This is not an attempt to use the crisis to build a European-style welfare state.


Maybe Obama can pull this off, but I have my worries. By this time next year, he’ll either be a great president or a broken one.

Mr. Brooks is worried that the Obama stimulus plan is being put together in a hurry. But unlike some people, Mr. Obama's team has been aware of the financial crisis for a while longer than four months, and there is more substance to Mr. Obama's plans than the smoke, mirrors, and balloon animals that the Bush administration cobbled together in their hurried and messy response to the collapse of Wall Street in September; remember Treasury Secretary Paulson's three-page memo granting him absolute power?

If Mr. Obama's campaign for the presidency and his deft handling of the transition so far are any guide, it appears that when it comes to planning ahead, Mr. Obama has got this. His confidence, which seems to be unsettling to Mr. Brooks, is sure enough that he is willing to work with Republicans and recalcitrant Democrats to accomplish his goal without worrying about his ego or his legacy. I know this may come as a shock to Mr. Brooks, but unlike some of his predecessors, including his immediate one, but Mr. Obama isn't in this to establish his legacy. (In the first place, his legacy is already been set by his election.)

Like a lot of conservatives, Mr. Brooks is confusing self-confidence with bravado. I know this might be a new concept to some people, especially those on the right who have this annoying habit of turning everything into a cult of personality, but whether or not Mr. Obama is a great president or a broken one a year from now doesn't really fit into the equation, because if the economy isn't on the road to recovery a year from now, it won't matter: there won't be much of a country left to be president of.

(Cross-posted from Bark Bark Woof Woof.)

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Creeping toward the total police state

By Libby Spencer

I know that the Bush administration is almost over and I'd like to think that an Obama administration won't be embracing these policies, but it still concerns me that they feel like making them on their way out the door. Granted the level of drug cartel related violence in Mexico has reached alarming levels, but it rarely spills across the border and even when it does, it's more in the nature of terrorist attack style warfare so this DHS contingency plan sounds about as sensible as the strategy in Iraq. Meaning not sensible at all.

Officials of the Homeland Security Department said the plan called for aircraft, armored vehicles and special teams to converge on border trouble spots, with the size of the force depending on the scale of the problem. Military forces would be called upon if civilian agencies like the Border Patrol and local law enforcement were overwhelmed, but the officials said military involvement was considered unlikely.

Sure, they said they were unlikely to really attack Iraq unless absolutely necessary at the time the AUMF was enacted too. And then there's this little item from a couple of weeks ago.

Deepening economic strife in the US could lead to civil unrest and violence that would require military intervention, warns a new report from the US Army War College.

The author warns potential causes for such civil unrest could include another terrorist attack, "unforeseen economic collapse, loss of functioning political and legal order, purposeful domestic resistance or insurgency, pervasive public health emergencies, and catastrophic natural and human disasters." The situation could deteriorate to the point where military intervention was required, he argues.

"Under these conditions and at their most violent extreme," he concludes, "civilian authorities, on advice of the defense establishment, would need to rapidly determine the parameters defining the legitimate use of military force inside the United States."

The author is quick to point out that this is his own opinion and not a US policy -- yet -- but seeing a pattern here? You can download the full report, "Known Unknowns: Unconventional 'Strategic Shocks' in Defense Strategy Development," at the link. I feel certain that some policy maker at the DoD will be reading it. Somehow, that doesn't make me feel safer.

(Cross-posted at The Impolitic.)

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Thursday, January 08, 2009

Sanjay Gupta, Big Pharma flack

By Michael J.W. Stickings

I'm still not sold on Sanjay Gupta for surgeon general. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I dislike the very idea of putting Gupta in charge of public health.

As I wrote on Tuesday, when the story broke, Dr. Gupta "seems to be very much a part of, as well as a defender of, the status quo, namely, the corporatized health care system controlled by Big Pharma and the HMOs."

And, indeed, more is coming out about his seemingly unethical (or at least questionable) dealings. For example, at TNR's The Plank today, Marin Cogan and Suzy Khimm add that he is "no stranger to the ethically sticky situation physicians often find themselves in with drug companies":

For over six years, Gupta has been co-hosting "AccentHealth" -- a CNN television segment beamed straight into doctors' waiting rooms, sponsored in part by many of the major pharmaceutical companies. Touted on its website as an "integrated marketing opportunity" that allows companies to deliver their message "in a trusted environment," the show has been underwritten by drug industry leaders Aventis, Pfizer, Procter & Gamble, Merck, and Warner Lambert.

At the same time, Gupta has been appearing on CNN's primary broadcasts as an ostensibly objective medical authority, discussing the drugs produced by the very same pharmaceutical companies.

In other words, Gupta takes money from Big Pharma and then promotes their products both directly to patients and more broadly (and untransparently) in his capacity as a celebrity doctor on television. And he has done this, no doubt much to his profit, for drugs like Lipitor (cholesterol), Aventis (allergies), and Gardasil (HPV).

I realize that the world of health care ethics, not least where Big Pharma is concerned, is rather murky. The fact is, like it or not, these companies, and others like them, do manufacture and market drugs that work -- and that we would not want to do without. I do not necessarily fault them for wanting to sell their products, and to target both practitioners and patients. I would not want a doctor to prescribe a drug simply because he or she accepts what he or she is told unthinkingly, but if a doctor, like Gupta, thinks a drug is effective, then he or she should be able to speak positively to it.

As Cogan and Khimm point out, though, "[a] growing body of evidence... suggests American medicine is far too aggressive, which leads to higher costs and, all too frequently, actual harm for patients. If Obama wants to reform the health care system, his surgeon general will have to push back against both the pharmaceutical companies that promote ineffective treatments and the doctors who prescribe them."

The problem is that Big Pharma and the HMOs control health care in the U.S. -- and many doctors just buy into the marketing machine. Gupta may not be your basic GP -- he is surely more aware of the big picture than most -- but what he is instead is a significant contributor to the problem, a telegenic broadcaster with the credibility that comes from being on television. It would be one thing if he simply reported on the pharmaceutical industry and its products from a perspective of balanced detachment. But he doesn't. He actively tries to sell those products, and, in so doing -- and without being open about his connections to Big Pharma -- he's part of the marketing machine at the core of the problem.

Gupta has a lot going for him -- not least that he's an engaging communicator. But surely there is someone else -- a public health advocate, a leading researcher, an expert from the CDC -- who is qualified for the job and who hasn't been shilling for, and profiting off, Big Pharma. At the very least, if his nomination does go forward, Gupta should be required to answer for what he has been doing.

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Chris Matthews and the velocity of sexism

By Michael J.W. Stickings

This morning, I referred to Chris Matthews's "egotism and sexism." Earlier this afternoon, Media Matters sent out this latest example of the former.

Matthews was interviewing CNBC financial reporter Dylan Ratigan. In this clip (see below), Ratigan discusses the movement of money in the economy, specifically the frequency of movement, or activity, or what is known as the velocity of money. In terms of economic stimulation, the key is not just to inject more money into the economy but to increase the velocity of money in the economy.

Now, Ratigan's a decent reporter, and he's talking here about a rather complicated subject. And you would think that any good interviewer, and any decent person, would engage him with similar gravitas.

Not Matthews, who, evidently in well over his head, pulls out a typically lame and predictably sexist comeback:

Well, maybe if husbands should pay their wives for cooking dinner tonight, we can move the money around.

There's Chris Matthews for you. As charming as ever.

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None of them knew what to do

By Carol Gee

Former Presidents George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Jimmy Carter, President-elect Barack Obama, and President George W. Bush posed for a group picture in the Oval Office of the White House Wednesday. (White House photo by Eric Draper.) It was a momentous occasion, requested by President-elect Obama and hosted by our current president (OCP). First there was a private meeting at which reportedly, the old heads advised our new president-to-be on how he could avoid being caught in a White House bubble of group-think, and how a President Obama could make it more possible for his people to bring him bad news. At the end there was a dynamite photo-op for everyone, during which these distinguished gentlemen were discussing the current Oval Office rug.

In an escalating Israeli/Palestinian conflict, at the same time half way around the world, there were people working very hard to kill each other . The headlines had been very troubling for several days: The Raw Story: A Norwegian doctor reports that "Israel intentionally targeted civilians"* (1/5/09). McClatchy: "Airstrike kills 3 at Gaza school-UN"* (1/6/08). Informed Comment: "Israel/Gaza Cyberwar and parallels to Abu Ghraib*" (1/6/09). And, recently, Informed Comment: "Something Horrible has been Discovered"* (1/7/09) Cole's post linked to The Telegraph/UK headline: "Gaza medics describe horror of strike which killed 70" (1/8/09).

Any talk of the Middle East? One could wonder whether the Oval Office occupants had anything to say in their meeting about how the United States has been forever unable to help generations of these determined combatants achieve a lasting peace. In turn each of these powerful "leaders of the free world" have been singularly unsuccessful as Middle East peacemakers. Warmakers, yes; temporary agreements, yes; but peacemakers with permanence, no.

Madeleine Albright's book, "Madam Secretary" recounts a great deal about how hard former presidents have tried for peace. About Carter, elected in 1976, she said:

President Carter was one of our most intelligent chief executives and one who showed a fierce dedication to conflict prevention and individual human dignity both during and after his term in office. He was a proactive President who achieved much in foreign policy, including the historic Middle East Peace Accords at Camp David. . . . Politically, however he was unlucky.

About Bush 41, Albright observed, regarding her work in the Clinton administration in 1997:

People were worried about Saddam's weapons and asking what we were going to do. . . No serious consideration was given to actually invading Iraq. The senior President Bush had not invaded when given the chance with hundreds of thousands of troops already in the region during the Gulf War.

In Albright's Chronology of her diplomatic work are included these pertinent entries: 11/4/92 - Bill Clinton elected President. 6/26/93 - U.S. bombs Iraqi intelligence headquarters in retaliation for assassination attempt against former President George Bush. 9/13/93 - Israeli and Palestinian leaders sign Oslo Declaration of Principles. 1/23/97 - MKA sworn in as 64th secretary of state. 10/15/98 - Middle East talks result in Wye River Memorandum. 7/11-25/2000 - Middle East summit. 9/28/2000 - Israeli politician Ariel Sharon visits the Temple Mount/Haram alSharif, violence breaks out. January 2001 - Last efforts to negotiate Middle East settlement failed.

"More than meets the eye." Following shortly after that we saw the Republicans take over. For a time the Middle East appeared to be quiescent. It was not of great concern to George W. Bush, until the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. That tragic loss of American life set the U.S. on a path in the Middle East that largely ignored the unsolved conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Walls went up, Israel withdrew from Gaza, Hamas won an election, Ariel Sharon left the picture and tensions grew. The war in Lebanon happened. In all of these things the U.S. efforts were absent or made relatively little difference. All eyes have been on Afghanistan and mostly, Iraq.

President-elect Obama has promised to turn attention form Iraq to Afghanistan and Pakistan. And he is not talking much about Israel and Palestine, reminding that "we have one president at a time." At the end of last year an important article appeared on Steve Clemons' blog, The Washington Note: "Daniel Levy: What Next on Israel/Gaza? Why Should Americans Care?" (12/28/08). This brilliant thinker asked a number of important questions that should have prompted some actions or answers from the Republican administration or former Republican leaders or opinion makers.

But these are the stories that appeared. From at-Largely came this story: "John Bolton continues to have no clue but plenty of propaganda..."* (1/5/09). See also Think Progress: "Gaza Crisis Means We Should Attack Iran Now"# (1/1/09). And this appeared at ThinkProgress: "Perino: Ground Invasion Will Help ‘Create A More Stable And Secure Area’ For People Of Gaza"* (1/5/09). AlterNet asks my question: "Why Do So Few Speak Up for Gaza?"* (1/7/08). And now this happy news -- AlterNet: "Israeli Militants Poised to Resettle Gaza After Assault"* (1/7/09).

I have not listened to the news today. Absolutely everything might have changed. It will not make any difference what the Bush administration does because, as Politico says: "Gaza reshuffles [the] Israeli political deck" (1/8/09) for Barack Obama. And none of his predecessors in the Oval Office can tell him what to do, because they do not know. None of them figured out the magic formula. Perhaps there is none. But one thing upon which you can count is that our new President will give it his best. He sees the world with very different eyes than the people in the picture, and that is a good thing.

Hat Tip Key: Regular contributors of links to the leads are "betmo"* and Jon#.

(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

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Heads I win, tails you lose

By Carl

I had a curious discussion with a friend of mine the other evening, and I'm stunned to think that someone as intelligent as he held such a ludicrous opinion.

I proposed that life is a zero sum game: I win, you lose, that's the end of it.

See, life itself is the ultimate zero sum game. A body dies, and is reabsorbed into the collective resources of the world, to create other life. But that body doesn't reanimate...except in zombie movies and maybe the Republican party's Reagan wing. That creature loses. Full stop. It's done.

The entire system is closed, so ultimately there are no win-win scenarios. That can only happen in open systems, where the totality of resources available can increase. If you and I agree to team up and improve our lot, by definition we improve our lot at the expense of someone (or something) else. Symbiosis only works at a tiny micro level, and then only at the expense of something outside the combination.

Take the shark and the pilot fish. The pilot fish never gets eaten by the shark because it cleans the shark of parasites and scraps from its teeth, which benefits the shark. The pilot fish gets protection from predators, because who'd be dumb enough to get that close to a shark? Pretty symbiotic. They're protecting each other's life. The shark even gets free dental care.

Note, tho, that this supports the shark in his feeding on other fish.

Life is quantitative. Life holds no emotion. Life is chaotic and random.

"No, no," my friend says, and puts forth the following scenario.

A man gets home from work. He has a choice to make: spend time with his family or go bike riding. He can choose to postpone his quality time and go bike riding, since the kids will be there when he returns and there's limited amounts of daylight. Too, the bike ride will make him healthier and give him more time to spend with his kids as the years pass.

I had to admit, this wasn't a bad example of a win-win...until I thought about it.

This is a qualitative decision, not quantitative. I'll get back to that, but first let me analyze this from a quantitative position.

First, the bike: unless it's built of bamboo and the tires are hemp, we're talking about something that was manufactured out of some natural resource, which means that natural resource was now unavailable for other uses.

This friend (he had a specific person in mind) happens to be an avid biker, so I can guess at the bike and what is was made of. It was not bamboo and hemp.

A factory made it, a factory which had to spew an incremental amount of waste into the environment, the same environment that my friend is riding his bike to have less of an impact on.

A factory that had to use an incremental amount of energy, which was probably (altho I can't be certain of this) not renewable.

The tires are petroleum based, so there's the oil extracted from the ground to make that. And what is oil? Dead dinosaurs. One could jokingly make the claim that a dinosaur had to die for my friend to ride his bike (but that would be extremist), and that's before we get to the necessary lubricants to keep the bike moving smoothly.

Now, none of this is to judge bike riding or my friends' value judgements. I applaud and support those. Indeed, I have a pretty hot ride myself and enjoy pedaling around. It's healthy, makes me feel better and gets me off my ass.

The decision to postpone family time for the bike ride is a zero-sum equation too, altho of a far more subtle and benign nature: until someone can clone me, I can't be in two places at once. If I'm not at home with my kids, I'm riding. Full stop. It doesn't matter if I can do one later, this is an either/or choice right now.

Life is quantitative. It is humans who make it qualitative. And there rises a dilemma.

Imposing a new layer on top of life is going to impose conflict as well. By placing value judgements on things we do and things others do is denying life its essential randomness.

I'm not saying this is a bad thing. I, for one, applaud that someone else is legally prohibited from killing me, so long as they abide to our laws, even if physically they can and that there might indeed be some value to them in doing so.

Here's the oddity, tho. By layering our values on top of this quantitative system, we insist that we are doing it out of some motivation of making things "fair," that we are maintaining order.

Order on chaos. I suppose there's something to that when you deal with sentient beings. After all, I may want to take (not steal) your food and eat it for myself, but if I do that often enough, you die and then I have to find some other food source. And your dead. Neither of us really wins, but if we work together, growing and preparing the food, we can survive. Neither of us really loses in the short term.

But in the background, there's life and as we all know, life is not fair. Both of us will die.

Life is unfair. Bollocks. In fact, life is the ONLY fair game in town. The events that happen in life, earthquakes, fires, floods, weather, disease, and so on, can hit you, they can hit me, they can hit Donald Trump, and there's no logic or order to them. Life levels the playing field that man's "order" works so hard to preserve.

If you look superficially at the positions of the two major political parties in this country, you'd be tempted to think that conservatives recognize this subtlety, while liberals do not. After all, life is hard and the conservatives want to acknowledge that in their positions: those who have, get more, those who don't, lose. The liberals attempt to impose a sort of "fairness" to the world, to shift resources around, ignoring the basic fairness of life.

In truth, it's just the opposite. The more conservative Republican party tries to impose order and discipline on an essentially chaotic system, while the more liberal Democratic party acknowledges that life is fair, and that each of us has to live it, so why make your life more miserable in order to make my life incrementally better?

Liberals live in a world where we recognize that to prevent chaos is not going to work all the time, so the best we can hope to do is to mitigate its effects. Conservatives want to try to keep the wolf from the door, while forgetting there are no walls.

(Cross-posted to
Simply Left Behind.)

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Proud to be a Democrat

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Oh... so... proud.

Roland Burris and Harry Reid. Together at last.

(Reid, by the way, wants to remain Senate majority leader until at least 2015. Obama may have been behind the push to seat Burris, but the whole sordid episode has made Reid look bad. Not at bad as Blago, to be sure, but Reid clearly isn't what the Dems need in a leader. His recent support for Ted Stevens doesn't help. In case you missed it, check out Jane Hamsher's great post from yesterday on Reid's various fumbles on Blago-Burris.)

(Photo: The Plank.)

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No Senate bid for Chris Matthews

By Michael J.W. Stickings

What's worse:

a) Chris Matthews on TV (being a blowhard and making millions); or

b) Chris Matthews in the Senate (being a blowhard and wielding power)?

I'd say the latter, which is why it's a good thing that he's decided not to run for the Senate in 2010. I can't take much of him on TV, but at least I can turn the channel and ignore him.

Either way, though, he would have continued to provide a wealth of material to those of us in the commentariat, and we can all look forward to much more of the egotism and sexism to which we've grown so accustomed.

Yes, it bothers me that he'll continue to have a profitable platform from which to spew his nonsense, but at least he won't have his hands in the legislative cookie jar and the distinct honour of being a senator.

Then again, given that the Senate may soon include Roland Burris in its lofty ranks -- to go along with the likes of Joe Lieberman, Saxby Chambliss, Mitch McConnell, David Vitter, Jim Inhofe, Tom Coburn, and Jim DeMint -- well, I'm sure the appallingly low standards of that august body could accommodate someone like Matthews. He may not be an ideological extremist, after all, but he'd fit right in with the old boys.

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Wednesday, January 07, 2009

A handshake deal is reached around the table

By Carl

Now, I'm against most bailouts, but
this industry is in hard times:

WASHINGTON (CNN) — Another major American industry is asking for assistance as the global financial crisis continues: Hustler publisher Larry Flynt and Girls Gone Wild CEO Joe Francis said Wednesday they will request that Congress allocate $5 billion for a bailout of the adult entertainment industry.

“The take here is that everyone and their mother want to be bailed out from the banks to the big three,” said Owen Moogan, spokesman for Larry Flynt. “The porn industry has been hurt by the downturn like everyone else and they are going to ask for the $5 billion. Is it the most serious thing in the world? Is it going to make the lives of Americans better if it happens? It is not for them to determine.”

Francis said in a statement that “the US government should actively support the adult industry's survival and growth, just as it feels the need to support any other industry cherished by the American people."

Look, boob jobs ain't cheap. This is clearly an industry that is desperate for assistance. It needs to be firmed up and a hard injection of capital is probably just what the doctor ordered after his examination.

Sales reports do seem to indicate that things are sagging in porn. Market penetration is way off, and their assets simply aren't what they used to be. Of course, prior years' results could have been artificially inflated, but my suspicion is we're just seeing the tip of the iceberg.

The hole is deep, my friends. I've studied reams of data which suggest that at least half the adult stars blew their chances to sock away a little for retirement and will have to press their noses to the grindstones in order to make ends meat.

In the true spirit of American capitalism, these pioneers of prurience have opened wide and bared their assets for the shot, just the shot, at a peak market.

But as we all know, markets have their ups and downs, and no doubt right now, porn is at its bottom. However, with a brief respite, and this stimulus package, I have no doubt that as interest rises, this market too shall begin to swell and grow.

(Cross-posted to Simply Left Behind.)

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Needless to say, there's much more on this oh-so-sexy story over at Memeorandum. Check out Think Progress, which notes that Bush's '08 stimulus package stimulated the porn industry. -- MJWS

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Sign of the Apocalypse #62: Joe the Plumber, war correspondent and pro-Israeli propagandist

By Michael J.W. Stickings


This is the second time that Samuel "Joe" Wurzelbacher has made our SOTA list. First he got a book deal, now he's off to war, sort of:

TOLEDO, Ohio – Joe The Plumber is putting down his wrenches and picking up a reporter's notebook.

The Ohio man who became a household name during the presidential campaign says he is heading to Israel as a war correspondent for the conservative Web site

Samuel J. Wurzelbacher (WUR'-zuhl-bah-kur) says he'll spend 10 days covering the fighting.

He tells WNWO-TV in Toledo that he wants to let Israel's "'Average Joes' share their story."

That's right, he's being sent over to cover the war for Pyjamas Media's TV arm -- that is, for a right-wing media outlet.

But just who are these Israeli "Average Joes"? Will he really be interviewing average Israelis, many of whom are far more critical of their own government's actions than Israel's defenders, like Joe himself, in the U.S.? I suspect not. More likely, he'll be interviewing his Israeli counterparts, carefully chosen, right-wing regurgitaters of official government propaganda. See, he'll tell his all-too-eager right-wing American audience, these Israelis really want war just as much as you do. Not that Joe himself is smart enough to figure this all out for himself. He's just a tool, a pawn, in the larger propaganda war that Israel and its American allies are waging. (And I say this as someone who, in the past, has been extremely supportive of Israel and her various military excursions, arguing that it has a right to, and that it must, defend itself.)

What would be far more instructive would be to send Joe off to meet some average Palestinian Joes, those who may or may not much care for Hamas but who certainly don't like the Israelis invading them. Perhaps Joe could, for example, ask one of these average Palestinian Joes how he feels about the Israeli attack on that U.N. school. Perhaps he could even talk to someone who lost a loved one in that attack.

But, no, Joe is one of Israel's more mindless supporters, and all we'll get from him -- not that I'll be watching -- is some all-too-predictable pro-Israeli spin.

The situation in Gaza is complicated. A resolution to the current conflict, not to mention to the larger problem, will be difficult to achieve, to say the least. In his own pathetic way, Joe the Plumber just makes it all worse.

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Activists find ways to stay involved

By Carol Gee

People all over the world have protested for one side or the other in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. AlterNet reported that, "An unprecedented number of Americans question Israel's actions in Gaza.* (1/6/09). Activism, protest, organizing -- there are legitimate activist organizations as well as illegitimate ones. The following story refers to the sometimes very dark and terrible side of protest. On 1/6/09, McClatchy reported on a "Cross burned in yard of man who helped troubled youth."*

"People are getting ready"# to be actively involved in helping to get our nation back on track during these very dark times. Our president-elect has invited this. The official working website of the incoming administration is here: The Obama-Biden Transition Team.

"Grassroots for Obama" was spawned by his campaign in the blogosphere. Communication on the web is also done through e-mail. Activists probably receive a lot of e-mails. I am not even a real "activist," in the classic sense, and still my box is usually full. These are tough times* and there are lots of needs. The e-mails, while absolutely legitimate, are unsolicited. I have no idea how I have gotten on these lists. I find the range of good causes heartening and interesting, however. A few examples follow:

  • Blago -- Phil Molfese is the contact. The cause is a "citizen group to hold demonstration" outside of Governor Blagojevich's office, 100 W. Randolph St., Friday at noon. They will ask the governor to resign. I will not be attending but you might want to show up.

  • Media Bias -- Sarah Coles wanted me to know about "the top 5 trend predictions for political communications and political media under the Obama presidency," via Skewz (, the first user-driven political media aggregation site for exposing media bias. I joined Skewz, an interesting twist, and intend to post biased pieces as I find them.

If I were a young person, I would also find all the the communications perfectly normal, but I am a granny. Millenials are activists, very involved with each other and with their communities, their nation and the world. I am by no means a milennial, but I do get a lot of e-mails from Michelle and Barach, and David Plouffe at Barack, where I have posted just a few times. The Democratic Strategist explains:

. . . there is probably a good reason why Obama has decided to keep his personal organization and its vast electronic relationship with millions of supporters intact instead of disbanding it or folding it into the national or state Democratic parties. This officially nonpartisan network will work overtime to keep the bipartisan grassroots engaged in the struggle in Washington, and deploy pressure accordingly. This formidable organization is a tangible asset that should not be dismissed or minimized.

The range of kinds of potential involvement in Obama's grassroots bipartisanship is wide. The biggest thing right now, of course, is to be one of the ten people selected to attend the Inauguration as the Obamas' guests. The first guest has just been announced. Quoting Michelle's e-mail:

Cynthia Russell from Newberry, Florida, and her guest will attend the welcome ceremony, Barack's swearing-in, the Inaugural Parade, and our Neighborhood Inaugural Ball.

Cynthia is a builder and has been feeling the impact of the recent economic crunch. She wrote:

"I'm a single woman who has been building homes for over 18 years. I've supported myself and have been able to help out my mother from time to time. Now I find myself wondering how much longer I can hold on and be able to pay my bills and keep the doors open for business. Barack gives me hope. Hope that 2009 will truly bring change to Americans who find themselves in this mess with me."

Earlier a first set of Obama "house meetings" focused on getting people to tell President-elect Obama how to fix health care, is probably the first of many example of many similar efforts to come in the future. Obama coffee mugs were for sale at Christmas time. Michelle's Christmas card suggested donating to your local food bank or to the USO care package program. Filling out a survey (550,000 participated) prompted this recent interesting information:

. . . your ideas about the future of this organization are taking shape. Here are a few things you shared in the survey:

  • House meetings were the primary way supporters got involved in the campaign

  • People are excited to volunteer around a number of top issues, including education, the environment, health care, poverty, and the economy
  • 86 percent of respondents feel it's important to help Barack's administration pass legislation through grassroots support

  • 68 percent feel it's important to help elect state and local candidates who share the same vision for our country

  • And a staggering 10 percent of respondents indicated that they would be interested in running for elected office

This feedback is essential to our next steps, because this movement is fueled by your ideas and your passion.

I have registered/joined several activist organizations, though I have not contributed money. They include:

  1. -- This very active organization looked back at a great 2008. The organization's current effort is a petition drive to ask President-elect Obama to, "In your inaugural address, please make a clear affirmation of your pledge to fight poverty and preventable diseases worldwide, and support that statement with an FY2010 budget request that puts the U.S. on track to meet your historic commitments."

  2. -- The We Campaign is a project of The Alliance for Climate Protection -- a nonprofit, nonpartisan effort founded by Nobel laureate and former Vice President Al Gore. The goal of the Alliance is to build a movement that creates the political will to solve the climate crisis.

The New Year is a good time get reconnected to your community.

Hat Tip Key: Regular contributors of links to leads are "betmo"* and Jon#.

(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

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Polling Palin: Where she stands for 2010

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Sarah Palin is beloved by conservatives here and there, if not everywhere, but it's not clear what her own state thinks of her when it comes to a possible challenge to Sen. Lisa Murkowski in 2010.

On Monday, Alaska's KTUU-TV reported on a new poll showing Palin a solid 24 points behind Murkowski. The same polling firm gave Murkowski a 27-point lead, according to the right-wing Alaska Standard.

Pretty convincing, no?


A Research 2000 poll conducted for Daily Kos a few weeks ago put Palin ahead of Murkowski by a solid 24 points.

Alaska is a difficult state to poll, as 2008 proved yet again, but 24/27 points one way and 24 points the other? What gives?

As polling guru Nate Silver notes, "this is pretty unprecedented," even for Alaska. What he finds, though, is that the pro-Murkowski polling is dubious. Although he doesn't discuss the firm that conducted it, Dittman Research, he points out that The Alaska Standard, though on the right, is vehemently anti-Palin and pro-Murkowski. How convenient that it would produce a poll according with its preferences.

According to KTUU, Dave Dittman himself criticized the Research 2000 poll, but my sense is to go with Silver on this. Palin may not be ahead by so much -- and there's still a long way to go before the 2010 primaries -- but she undoubtedly poses a significant threat to Murkowski.

Whether Palin runs is another matter. So far, there has been no indication that she intends to. Still, Murkowski is right to be concerned. Palin isn't about to go away anytime soon.

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More on Panetta

By Michael J.W. Stickings

I don't have much to add to my thoughts from yesterday on the Panetta-to-CIA pick. He may turn out to be just what the CIA needs, a superb organizational leader with fantastic political skills and an inside track to Obama, or he may, given his lack of intelligence experience, fail miserably either to reform the CIA or to rejuvenate it and to make it even more relevant under a friendlier president.

As with many of Obama's appointees, I'll take a wait-and-hope-and-see approach.

According to Charles Faddis, a "retired senior CIA operations officer," quoted by CQ's Jeff Stein, the reaction to the Panetta pick from the rank-and-file at the CIA has been "overwhelmingly negative":

These are people who are sweating blood everyday to make things happen and living for the day that somebody is going to come in, institute real reform and turn the CIA into the vital, effective organization it should be. To them this choice just says that no such changes are impending and that all they can look forward to is business as usual.

Faddis himself is an Obama supporter, but, to him, "Panetta is not the guy we need to run CIA right now," given that "he knows nothing about intelligence, particularly human intelligence."

Still, Panetta has his prominent supporters, including Sen. Evan Bayh, as well as leading intelligence experts like Paul Pillar and Gregory Treverton. And at The Daily Beast, Leslie Gelb writes that Panetta is a great choice -- and exactly what Langley needs:

The next best thing for the CIA and the best thing for the country is to have Leon Panetta in the job. He is a nonpartisan Democrat, a proven manager, a wise man without being a congenital middle-of-the-roader, and someone who truly knows how to navigate between the political pressures that so dominate Washington without being overcome by them.

As I said, we'll see (though, given that it's the CIA, there's a lot that we won't see).

The key, though, is not so much Panetta as Obama. As Michael Crowley puts it, "[t]he far more important and interesting question is what policies Obama will hand down to the CIA from on high, particularly when it comes to whether we will continue a policy of renditioning terror suspects to other countries for 'interrogation.' Panetta is a hard-liner against torture but he was present at the creation of the rendition practice under Bill Clinton in the 1990s -- but it's Obama's call anyway, not his.

Not to take anything away from what the CIA director does, but it's the president who is ultimately responsible. What is needed, post-Bush, is not just organizational reform, but policy reform, and it is Obama who must be the bringer of change.

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A day in the life

By Carl

There's a man I see at the subway station where I exit the system to go to my office.

Let me describe the station: annexed to the Grand Central Terminal is a platform for the 42 Street Shuttle. It's an open air station, in that the token booths... I guess I have to call them Metrocard machines now, c'est dommage... are on a mezzanine, and there are four open stairways leading down to the train platform.

This mezzanine is shaped like an "H" and overhangs the platforms on one end. Along these corridors are office buildings with stairways that lead to the subway, one of New York's many hidden attractions.

One corridor leads to two buildings, and is lightly travelled, so lightly that the shops along this walkway have shuttered. There was a locksmith and a shoe store, both long gone and gated now.

Down this corridor, dimly lit with greying grimy walls, stands a emaciated man with an unkempt fro and the wisp of a beard. Usually, he's wearing some bizarre combination of clothing. Today, it was a pair of running tights, and a hoodie sweatshirt.

I understand why he wears what he wears: he gets these clothes donated by the overpriced clothing stores in the terminal itself, who probably throw clothes at him, rather than have him linger in their stores with the high priced running shoes and the double-mark-up shirts. Even his shoes speak of high end, albeit leftovers.

Sometimes I see him practicing karate katas, waving his hands with force and purpose, kicking high over his head, but nearly silently.

I'm sure the cops have warned him. There's usually a cop or three on the platform or on the mezzanine. You could say this is ground zero for the anti-terror forces of the NYPD.

Maybe he practices these forms because in his head he imagines kicking bin Laden in the teeth when he shows up wired and strapped with explosives.

Maybe he feels he needs to keep in shape because down in the subway, when things get tough in the city, is where death happens. Certainly, the number of homeless, which has crept steadily upward since the 90s, is beginning an inexorable geometry of expansion.

Maybe he's just insane.

Sometimes he just stands there. In the summer, he wears worn jeans cutoff at the knees and held up with a rope like Lon Chaney's Wolfman.

Sometimes he sings, but not very often and not very loud.

Sometimes, he's scary, screaming and ranting at everyone and everything, including me when I need to walk past him to get to the bank. I ignore it, of course. I've seen how high he kicks.

He holds court in this corridor, this dingy remnant of better days in corporate America. The fence that separates the mezzanine from the platform is embedded in a concrete knee wall, tiled with, well, white ceramic tile laid in the subway pattern.

A long banquette for his imaginary court.

He never harasses anyone who walks by, apart from the occasional angry running commentary. He never asks or demands spare change, which sets him apart from his homeless brethren and their imitators. He never accepts a handout. I know. I've tried.

And he never looks lost. He always seems to know that he is precisely where he needs to be, when he needs to be there, even when I've seen him patrolling the vaulted main room of the terminal, rummaging through the bins for leftover food.

This is his home, his castle, his palace, this grand and glorious monument to man's inability to remain in one place for very long.

Ironic, ain't it? He tolerates we many, we unhappy many, we band of bummers, because we cook for him, we clean for him, and we entertain him; hundreds of thousands of jesters a day, regaling in our finery. What must he make of us?

The station nominally closes its doors at 2AM for cleaning, but I know, I mean, I know, he's found a spot where he can't be seen and watches his staff cleaning his mansion.

Or maybe he doesn't care to hide himself. Maybe he's allowed by the MTA to wander freely, picking up the leftovers of the food court, sleeping on a bench somewhere because it's warm. I'd like to think so. I'd like to think that this man, whom we might pity, has been allowed the dignity by the bureaucrats and governance to remain in his home.

And yet, I can't help but feel that he deserves better than this
Fisher King-like life he leads. Yes, he seems happy enough, and yes, he's refused help from me, but how can we know for sure that he isn't simply overly suspicious? How can we know he doesn't know how to ask for help? Indeed, how can we be certain that anyone's ever been able to ask him properly?

In a country overseen by Republicans for six of the past eight years, in a state run until recently by Republicans, in a city run by Republicans for decades until one finally had the sense to say basta! and became an independent, this man stands as his own monument to the torment and torture of the poorest of the poor, the meekest of the meek, the most trod-upon of our society.

A shining example of Republic-tude. Mental health be damned! We have wars to fight and cronies to enrich! Economic royalists, we say!

For this man's sake, and for the sake of others like him who have no voice, who hold no seat at the table of American politics but who have to live with our laws and our government, I truly pray that the new hope that Obama promises will include him.

By Jove, I am not covetous for gold,
Nor care I who doth feed upon my cost;
It yearns me not if men my garments wear;
Such outward things dwell not in my desires.
But if it be a sin to covet honour,
I am the most offending soul alive.

(Cross-posted to
Simply Left Behind.)

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Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Sanjay Gupta for surgeon general?

By Michael J.W. Stickings

The WaPo's Howard Kurtz is reporting that Obama has asked celebrity tele-Dr. Sanjay Gupta, he of CNN and CBS fame, to be the new surgeon general.

Now, I'm in no position to question Gupta's abilities as a neurosurgeon or otherwise his medical qualifications. He may very well be an excellent doctor, as he seems to be (he performed brain surgery during the Iraq invasion in 2003). Furthermore, there is no doubt that he is telegenic and that he would make an excellent spokesman for public health issues. And, indeed, what's needed in that position is not so much expertise in medicine as the ability to communicate effectively with the broader public, that is, to inform and teach through the media. (Think C. Everett Koop and his anti-smoking campaign in the '80s.) In this regard, the media-friendly Gupta, a man who is clearly comfortable in front of the camera, seems to be an excellent pick for the job.

And yet.

It seems to me that what is needed in a surgeon general is also someone who can make the case for, or at least someone who is supportive of, a reformed public health care system, given that this seems to be, as many of us hope it genuinely is, one of Obama's main policy priorities. But is Gupta an advocate of such reform? I have my doubts. As he exposed in his critique of Michael Moore's movie Sicko back in July 2007, he seems to be very much a part of, as well as a defender of, the status quo, namely, the corporatized health care system controlled by Big Pharma and the HMOs. As I put it then, he picked apart Moore's movie, avoided subjecting the existing system and/or Moore's critics to similar evaluation, and failed to address the most serious flaws of the American system, namely, the enormous costs even to those with insurance and the utter lack of insurance for millions." So is this really the man who should be the spokesman for public health in the United States?

I see that my friend Steve Benen, while acknowledging (but not making much of) the Moore incident (which occurred on CNN, no less), thinks that Gupta "seems like a strong choice," given that he "would likely be the highest-profile official since Koop, and could conceivably play a valuable role in advancing a reform campaign." Well, maybe. And -- yet again, yet again -- I'm wondering if I should -- yet again, yet again -- give Obama the benefit of the doubt and trust that he knows what he's doing, that all will work out. Like Krugman, though, I just can't quite get past Gupta's "mugging" of Moore -- and that he got it wrong.

Should one ugly high-profile incident like this disqualify him? Maybe not, and, like I said, he undeniably has a lot going for him. For example, as Kurtz notes -- and this I did not know -- "[h]e was a White House fellow in the late 1990s, writing speeches and crafting policy for Hillary Clinton." That certainly inspires greater confidence, but I need to know more about his position on health care reform, as well as on the existing system that has left millions of Americans uninsured, and about his willingness to work with and in support of soon-to-be health czar and HHS Secretary Tom Daschle, before giving Obama the benefit of the doubt and approving this questionable appointment.

It would be good for the U.S. to have a prominent, highly visible, charismatic, and telegenic surgeon general at a time of reform, not to mention in case of public health emergencies. It's just not clear to me that Gupta is the right choice.


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Dumb and dumberer

By Carl

I had a feeling
this might happen:

Weeks before President-elect Barack Obama chose New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson to head the Commerce Department, a small group of volunteers with ethics, tax and investigative expertise -- most of them lawyers -- scoured his background looking for embarrassing facts or political problems.

[...]Sources within the transition and the Justice Department said that Richardson had played down the importance of the probe and did not reveal that his office and staff could be at risk. The seriousness of the matter became apparent after the FBI began its own background check on Dec. 2. But Richardson's longtime aides defended his disclosures, noting that subjects under examination by a grand jury are rarely aware of its secret deliberations.

[...]But a source with the Obama transition said Richardson's disclosures to the team were incomplete.

My first reaction when I heard the BillR was considering taking the Commerce job was "WTF?"

Not that he's a bad choice, but as career moves go, this was a no-brainer: stay governor of New Mexico or go be a minor Cabinet official in the Obama administration, when you had already been UN ambassador and energy secretary?

I'd pick governor in a heartbeat, screw the "pleasure of the president" service stuff.

As well, he would have had to deal with Hillary, whom he knifed in the back at the earliest opportunity. Imagine trying to keep her in front of you for two or four years.

If you're going to accept a plum for beating up your old boss' wife, I would think an assignment as ambassador to a nice tropical island nation that has no extradition treaty with the US would be in order. You're 60. You deserve it. You've earned it.

But Commerce Secretary?

And to think, I gave this moron a contribution for governor!

(Cross-posted to
Simply Left Behind.)

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