Browsing the blog archivesfor the day Monday, October 23rd, 2006.

Don’t Miss

Bush Administration

At Crooks and Liars — tonight’s special comment from Keith Olbermann.

At — Dan Froomkin on “stay the course.”

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elections, Health Care, science, stem cells

I’m not talking about Michael J. Fox’s television ad for Claire McCaskill. I’m talking about rightie reaction to it.

Apparently embryonic stem cell research is a big issue in the McCaskill-Talent senatorial campaign in Missouri. The Democrat, McCaskill, is fer it, and the Republican, Talent, is agin’ it. Sam Hananel of Forbes describes the ad made by Fox:

His body visibly wracked by tremors, actor Michael J. Fox speaks out for Missouri Democratic Senate candidate Claire McCaskill in a television ad that promotes her support for embryonic stem cell research.

“As you might know I care deeply about stem cell research,” says 45-year-old actor, who has struggled with Parkinson’s disease for more than a decade. “In Missouri you can elect Claire McCaskill, who shares my hope for cures.”

McCaskill has made support for the research a key part of her campaign to unseat Sen. Jim Talent. The Republican incumbent opposes the research as unethical, saying it destroys human embryos.

The new ad debuted prominently Saturday night during Game 1 of the World Series between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Detroit Tigers and will continue airing statewide this week, a campaign spokeswoman said.

I bet everybody in the state saw it, then.

Debate over stem cell research looms large in the state, where voters are considering a ballot measure that would amend the state constitution to protect all federally allowed forms of the research, including embryonic stem cell research.

“Unfortunately, Senator Jim Talent opposes expanding stem cell research,” Fox says in the 30-second spot. “Senator Talent even wanted to criminalize the science that gives us a chance for hope.”

Rightie reaction? John Amato has an audio of Rush Limbaugh accusing Fox of faking his symptoms. “He is an actor, after all,” says Rush. (Rush is from a very wealthy and influential southeast Missouri family.)

Dean Barnett, writing at Hugh Hewitt’s blog, disgusts me just as much. I have annotated the quote with footnotes.

By way of response, let me first say that I think almost any kind of ad in support of a political campaign is fair game. If a candidate goes too far, the public will punish him or her. So while I find the Michael J. Fox ad crass, tasteless, [1] exploitative and absurd, I fully support Claire McCaskill’s right to shoot herself in the foot. [2]

The most distasteful aspect of the ad is the way it exploits Michael J. Fox’s physical difficulties. [3] Fox is an actor, and clearly knew what he was doing when he signed up for the spot – no victim points for him for having been manipulated by the McCaskill campaign.[4] The ad’s aim is to make us feel so bad about Fox’s condition that logical debate is therefore precluded. [5] You either agree with Fox, or you sadistically endorse his further suffering as Fox accuses Jim Talent of doing.

This is demagoguery analogous to the pernicious and pathetic chickenhawk argument. The whole “chickenhawk” logic is that only people who have served in the military are entitled to have an opinion on military matters. Thus, the ideas of non-veterans don’t warrant a hearing and thus don’t need rebutting.[6]

While Michael J. Fox (like me) has some skin in the stem cell game that most people don’t, that doesn’t give him any special appreciation of the moral issues involved with embryonic stem cell research. Sick people may want cures and treatments more than the healthy population, but that doesn’t make them/us experts on morality. [7]

My comments:

[1] I’m sorry that Dean Barnett takes offense at the sight of other peoples’ suffering. I’m sure that in Dean Barnett’s perfect world, sick and handicapped people would be kept hidden away so the sight of them does not upset healthy people.

[2] On the other hand, crass remarks about Michael J. Fox’s infirmities are certain to rally voters to the Republican cause.

[3] Not only are physical infirmities tasteless; they also confer an unfair advantage.

[4] Fox was “manipulated” by McCaskill? Apparently people with disabilities have lost the right to be free agents.

[5] Ooo, “logical” debate! I wrote about “logical” morality yesterday. I’ll come back to it again in a minute.

[6] A stirring argument. Too bad that Burnett’s “chickenhawk” is a straw bird.

[7] Actually, I’d say the Fox ad is less an argument for morality than a test of morality. If you see the ad and feel compassion for Fox, you pass. If you whine about how tasteless, unfair, exploitative, or illogical it is, you flunk.

Mr. Barnett, for reasons argued here, flunks.

The Anchoress claims Fox is fighting for “bad science.” I’ve already explained here and here that it’s righties like the Anchoress who lie through their teeth about the science. Sister Toldjah, no lightweight in the idiot department, compares the ad to race baiting. (Go ahead and pause to ponder that one, if you need to.)

At NRO, Kathryn Jean Lopez ladles the lies on thick and heavy by claiming the issue is about cloning. She links to this anti-science web site that says —

When you see Amendment 2 at your polling place, you will be asked to decide whether to “ban human cloning or attempted cloning.” Sounds good so far, right? Who’s in favor of human cloning anyway?

But the 2,100-word Constitutional Amendment—which you won’t see on election day—actually creates legal protection for human cloning. Hard to believe? It’s true. Amendment 2 only outlaws reproductive cloning, which no one in Missouri (or anywhere else on earth) is doing.

Meanwhile, it protects anyone who wants to clone human beings for science experiments. Amendment 2 glosses over the issue of lab-created human life with complicated phrases like “Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer.” But cloning is cloning, and Amendment 2 would put this ethically questionable practice beyond the reach of state law.

And the Big Lie is, of course, that non-reproductive cloning, also called “therapeutic” cloning, does not clone “human beings.” In therapeutic cloning the cloned cells do not develop into an embryo but instead are used only to develop stem cells. A stem cell is no more a “being” than a toenail.

The fact is that righties are just plain on the wrong side of the embryonic stem cell issue. They’re on the wrong side of it both morally and scientifically. Whine all they like, that’s not going to change. I’m afraid they’ll be whining for a while.

BTW, McCaskill is my adopted Senate candidate. Please help fight the forces of darkness and donate a buck or two by clicking here.

Update: See Jonathan Cohn, who interviews William J. Weiner M.D., professor and chairman of the department of neurology at the University of Maryland Medical Center and director of the Parkinson’s clinic there. Dr. Weiner said:

What you are seeing on the video is side effects of the medication. He has to take that medication to sit there and talk to you like that. … He’s not over-dramatizing. … [Limbaugh] is revealing his ignorance of Parkinson’s disease, because people with Parkinson’s don’t look like that at all when they’re not taking their medication. They look stiff, and frozen, and don’t move at all. … People with Parkinson’s, when they’ve had the disease for awhile, are in this bind, where if they don’t take any medication, they can be stiff and hardly able to talk. And if they do take their medication, so they can talk, they get all of this movement, like what you see in the ad.

Hat tip John Amato.

Update update: This is rude.

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Bush Administration, Democratic Party, Republican Party

[Update: Read complete Krugman column here.]

Paul Krugman has advice for Dems (behind the NYT subscription firewall) — he says, don’t listen to advice.

There are those who say that a confrontational stance will backfire politically on the Democrats. These are by and large the same people who told Democrats that attacking the Bush administration over Iraq would backfire in the midterm elections. Enough said. …

…What the make-nice crowd wants most of all is for the Democrats to forswear any investigations into the origins of the Iraq war and the cronyism and corruption that undermined it. But it’s very much in the national interest to find out what led to the greatest strategic blunder in American history, so that it won’t happen again.

What’s more, the public wants to know. A large majority of Americans believe both that invading Iraq was a mistake, and that the Bush administration deliberately misled us into war. And according to the Newsweek poll, 58 percent of Americans believe that investigating contracting in Iraq isn’t just a good idea, but a high priority; 52 percent believe the same about investigating the origins of the war.

Why, then, should the Democrats hold back? Because, we’re told, the country needs less divisiveness. And I, too, would like to see a return to kinder, gentler politics. But that’s not something Democrats can achieve with a group hug and a chorus of “Kumbaya.”

The reason we have so much bitter partisanship these days is that that’s the way the radicals who have taken over the Republican Party want it. People like Grover Norquist, who once declared that “bipartisanship is another name for date rape,” push for a hard-right economic agenda; people like Karl Rove make that agenda politically feasible, even though it’s against the interests of most voters, by fostering polarization, using religion and national security as wedge issues.

As long as polarization is integral to the G.O.P.’s strategy, Democrats can’t do much, if anything, to narrow the partisan divide.

Pretty much says it all, doesn’t it?

There are those who believe that the partisan gap can be bridged if the Democrats nominate an attractive presidential candidate who speaks in uplifting generalities. But they must have been living under a rock these past 15 or so years. Whoever the Democrats nominate will feel the full force of the Republican slime machine. And it doesn’t matter if conservatives have nice things to say about a Democrat now. Once the campaign gets serious, they’ll suddenly question his or her patriotism and discover previously unmentioned but grievous character flaws.

The truth is that we won’t get a return to bipartisanship until or unless the G.O.P. decides that polarization doesn’t work as a political strategy. The last great era of bipartisanship began after the 1948 election, when Republicans, shocked by Harry Truman’s victory, decided to stop trying to undo the New Deal. And that example suggests that the best thing the Democrats can do, not just for their party and their country, but for the cause of bipartisanship, is what Truman did: stand up strongly for their principles.

Glenn Greenwald
also speaks out for investigation:

In my view, more than anything else, this will be the value of a Democratic takeover of at least one of the houses of Congress. As much wrongdoing as we have learned about on the part of Bush administration already, it is almost certainly the case that there is much, much more that we don’t know about, but ought to.

Beginning even before the 9/11 attacks and worsening substantially since, the administration has operated behind an almost impenetrable wall of unprecedented secrecy. More than preemptive wars, tax cuts, or presidential lawlessness, secrecy is its guiding principle, its core belief (hence the incomparable hatred that spews forth at those, such as reporters, whistleblowers, and former allies who reveal their secrets). Their allies who have controlled Congress for the last five years have not only failed to fulfill their oversight and investigative duties, but have actively helped shield the administration from any real scrutiny. …

… It is difficult to overstate how crucial that is for exposing what the Republican Party has become and undermining those who control it. The administration has been able to ward off even the most incriminating accusations and disclosures because they control the primary sources of information. They can deny anything, selectively release misleading exculpatory information, and operate in the darkest shadows and behind the highest walls of secrecy. As a result, disclosures about what they have done are always piecemeal and easily obscured. But full-fledged hearings will shine a bright light on what the administration has really been doing, and that will enable the public to get a full picture of the true state of affairs.

I have to keep reminding myself the Dems haven’t won the midterm elections yet. Recent history has shown us that elections have a way of not turning out as expected (cough). But for a moment, let’s pretend —

At this point, whether investigations lead to impeachment seems to me a secondary consideration. If the Bush Regime were removed from power but the Radical Right continued to wage destructive partisan warfare, we might find in a few years that nothing much has changed. Further, I suspect the Dems would prefer to have an unpopular Republican president in the oval office when they campaign in 2008. However, if Bush continues to overreach his constitutional authority, Congress may have to slap him down to save the Constitution. We’ll see. But remember — it’s Bush isn’t the real problem. He’s just a symptom.

What’s most important is, as Glenn says, giving the public “a full picture of the true state of affairs.” I think a large majority of Americans would be appalled if they knew the whole story. The pseudo-conservatives have got to be so humiliated and discredited they crawl back into whatever hole they crawled out of and stay there. For a generation or two, anyway.

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big picture stuff, Health Care

Via TPM Reader DK at Josh Marshall’s place — reporter Chris Rose of the New Orleans Times Picayne describes his descent into clinical depression and how he got his life back with medication.

He starts with an anecdote that perhaps only other depressives can relate to:

I pulled into the Shell station on Magazine Street, my car running on fumes. I turned off the motor. And then I just sat there.

There were other people pumping gas at the island I had pulled into and I didn’t want them to see me, didn’t want to see them, didn’t want to nod hello, didn’t want to interact in any fashion.

Outside the window, they looked like characters in a movie. But not my movie.

I tried to wait them out, but others would follow, get out of their cars and pump and pay and drive off, always followed by more cars, more people. How can they do this, like everything is normal, I wondered. Where do they go? What do they do?

It was early August and two minutes in my car with the windows up and the air conditioner off was insufferable. I was trapped, in my car and in my head.

So I drove off with an empty tank rather than face strangers at a gas station.

Many years ago I went to a DMV office for some reason; I think I had to change my address. After wandering around a bit in the office I found some forms I needed to fill while waiting in line. But there were no pens or pencils handy. I dug around in my purse for a while and found nothing to write with. So I took the form and went home, because I couldn’t bring myself to ask anyone for a pen.

And that’s when I was getting better. At least I got to the DMV office.

Here’s a passage I endorse enthusiastically.

In his book “Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness” — the best literary guide to the disease that I have found — the writer William Styron recounted his own descent into and recovery from depression, and one of the biggest obstacles, he said, was the term itself, what he calls “a true wimp of a word.”

He traces the medical use of the word “depression” to a Swiss psychiatrist named Adolf Meyer, who, Styron said, “had a tin ear for the finer rhythms of English and therefore was unaware of the damage he had inflicted by offering ‘depression’ as a descriptive noun for such a dreadful and raging disease.

“Nonetheless, for over 75 years the word has slithered innocuously through the language like a slug, leaving little trace of its intrinsic malevolence and preventing, by its very insipidity, a general awareness of the horrible intensity of the disease when out of control.”

He continued: “As one who has suffered from the malady in extremis yet returned to tell the tale, I would lobby for a truly arresting designation. ‘Brainstorm,’ for instance, has unfortunately been preempted to describe, somewhat jocularly, intellectual inspiration. But something along these lines is needed.

“Told that someone’s mood disorder has evolved into a storm — a veritable howling tempest in the brain, which is indeed what a clinical depression resembles like nothing else — even the uninformed layman might display sympathy rather than the standard reaction that ‘depression’ evokes, something akin to ‘So what?’ or ‘You’ll pull out of it’ or ‘We all have bad days.’ “

Some time before the DMV incident, when I was worse, I abandoned a cart full of food and ran in panic from a grocery store because someone told me to cheer up and smile. (Don’t ever do that to anyone you don’t know.)

Styron is a helluva writer. His words were my life. I was having one serious brainstorm. Hell, it was a brain hurricane, Category 5. But what happens when your own personal despair starts bleeding over into the lives of those around you?

What happens when you can’t get out of your car at the gas station even when you’re out of gas? Man, talk about the perfect metaphor.

Depression don’t get no respect because of the name. The common emotion depression and the disease depression are two entirely different things, but even some doctors and therapists can’t get that.

… here’s my doctor’s take: The amount of cortisol in my brain increased to dangerous levels. The overproduction, in turn, was blocking the transmission of serotonin and norepinephrine.

Some definitions: Cortisol is the hormone produced in response to chronic stress. Serotonin and norepinephrine are neurotransmitters — chemical messengers — that mediate messages between nerves in the brain, and this communication system is the basic source of all mood and behavior.

The chemistry department at the University of Bristol in England has a massive Web database for serotonin, titled, appropriately: “The Molecule of Happiness.”

And I wasn’t getting enough. My brain was literally shorting out. The cells were not properly communicating. Chemical imbalances, likely caused by increased stress hormones — cortisol, to be precise — were dogging the work of my neurotransmitters, my electrical wiring. A real and true physiological deterioration had begun.

I had a disease.

Rose was lucky. His employer realized he was sick and cut him slack, and his wife also recognized he needed help. He got almost immediately relief from a new medication, Cymbalta, instead of going through weeks or months of trial and error — waiting for a new drug to begin working, trying another dosage or another drug if it doesn’t. As Rose’s psychiatrist said, it’s a crapshoot. Many anti-depressants have to be taken for two to four weeks before any effects kick in, and sometimes the effects never kick in.

Do-gooders trying to get anti-depressive meds banned because of anecdotal evidence they cause suicides need to understand that untreated depressives kill themselves at much higher rates than not-depressed people. If someone who just started to take Paxil commits suicide, that doesn’t mean the Paxil made him do it. If the Paxil was a factor at all, more likely the patient became more despondent because it wasn’t working. Or, it’s possible a patient who is too enervated and mentally disorganized to do much but sit and stare into space might get just better enough to carry out a suicide plan.

And don’t forget — people get misdiagnosed. When someone taking an antidepressant becomes violent — Eric Harris of Columbine High School fame, for example — before blaming the drug, ask why he was taking it to begin with. He may not have been depressed; he may have been bipolar, which calls for different drugs, or he may have been psycopathic, a condition that doesn’t respond to medication. Also, the drugs may work differently on juvenile brains than on adult brains.

I hear people who have tried antidepressants say that the drugs suppressed their emotions and made them feel mentally foggy, which suggests to me they didn’t have the disease depression but just the common emotion of depression. If your brain chemistry and neurotransmitters are functioning normally, anti-depressants may make you feel worse. They aren’t “happy pills.” Taking anti-depressants if your brain is healthy is as stupid as taking insulin if you aren’t diabetic. However, if you are depressed, with the right meds your thinking becomes clearer and your emotions are normal. It’s important to understand this, because ignorance may be keeping some people from taking meds who could genuinely benefit from them.

Too many people still have medieval attitudes about psychiatric disorders. Many of them are caused by real physical and chemical changes in the brain, and these should be treated with the same respect as any other disease in any other organ.

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Obama, Pro and Con

Democratic Party

Follow up to the last post — today Bob Herbert writes (behind the NYT subscription firewall),

It’s a measure of how starved the country is for a sensible, appealing, intelligent, trustworthy leader that a man who until just a couple of years ago was an obscure state senator in Illinois is now suddenly, in the view of an awful lot of voters, the person we should install in the White House.

At the Kennedy Library forum on Friday night, Mr. Obama declined to rule out a run for the White House in 2008. In an appearance on “Meet the Press” yesterday, he made it clear that he was considering such a run.

With all due respect to Senator Obama, this is disturbing. He may be capable of being a great president. Someday. But one quick look around at the state of the nation and the world tells us that we need to be more careful than we have been in selecting our leaders. There shouldn’t be anything precipitous about the way we pick our presidents.

That said, the Barack Obama boom may well have legs. During the forum, every reference to the possibility of him running drew a roar from the audience. He’s thoughtful, funny and charismatic. And there is not the slightest ripple of a doubt that he wants to run for president. …

… The giddiness surrounding the Obama phenomenon seems to be an old-fashioned mixture of fun, excitement and a great deal of hope. His smile is electric, and when he laughs people tend to laugh with him. He’s the kind of politician who makes people feel good.

But the giddiness is crying out for a reality check. There’s a reason why so many Republicans are saying nice things about Mr. Obama, and urging him to run. They would like nothing more than for the Democrats to nominate a candidate in 2008 who has a very slender résumé, very little experience in national politics, hardly any in foreign policy — and who also happens to be black.

The Republicans may be in deep trouble, but they believe they could pretty easily put together a ticket that would chew up Barack Obama in 2008.

My feeling is that Senator Obama may well be the real deal. If I were advising him, I would tell him not to move too fast. With a few more years in the Senate, possibly with a powerful committee chairmanship if the Democrats take control, he could build a formidable record and develop the kind of toughness and savvy that are essential in the ugly and brutal combat of a presidential campaign.

At MyDD, Matt Stoller thinks Obama should run for the Dem nomination in 2008:

I think there are two keys to understanding Barack. The first is to look at his formative political experience, the seering loss to machine politician Bobby Rush in the Democratic primary in 2000. Before Brand Obama emerged, the Senator got destroyed by bucking the system. Losing to a machine, as Cory Booker also did, does strange things to idealistic-appearing hyperambitious politicians. It makes them a lot more wary of picking fights and making enemies, and it makes them a lot more inclined to cultivate chits and work within a system they know isn’t working.

And Obama knows America is broken. He knows it, he gets it, and that’s why he is so aggressively dismissive of progressives. He feels that he is one of us, and so we should understand why he has to have contempt for us. Here is, for instance, what he wrote on Daily Kos:

    Unless we are open to new ideas, and not just new packaging, we won’t change enough hearts and minds to initiate a serious energy or fiscal policy that calls for serious sacrifice.

Barack Obama knows we must change, but he also knows the penalty for fighting for change. This internal contradiction comes out in his sickening praise of Bush, whom he praised today on Meet the Press, or in his embrace of bipartisanship for him and his Senate buddies. It comes out in a strong disdain for progressives, be it random sneering insults towards liberals or pandering to an authoritarian pagan right-wing evangelical tribalism. He doesn’t like that we make him revisit his loss to Bobby Rush, because the last thing he wants to think of himself as is a loser, and because we make him make choices. You know, like the choice he made to not go to Connecticut to campaign for Ned Lamont, which we will remember as the unprincipled betrayal of the Democratic Party that it is. We want to hold him accountable for the dreams that are invested in his persona, and he doesn’t want to be responsible for the hope of millions, though he does want to sell a book called The Audacity of Hope.

Go to MyDD for the rest of the argument.

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