November 2012 Archives

Thanksgiving, 2012 - Cheers

Last Thanksgiving we stumbled upon a cache of recipes politicians had submitted to the public over the years, hundreds!- quite a collection. Some were odd - "BrainsNGravy", some rich - "Chocolate Mousse", or even uninspiring - "Microwave Chicken". We commented on the penchant of member of Congress, governors, presidents, for publishing people pleasing pot-luck recipes in the face of pressing national challenges.

WhiteHouseBeers

White House Beers
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We therefore couldn't let the holiday pass without noting the Obama family recipes popularized this year. In the Family Circle's Presidential Bake-off (a dustbin worthy mid-century tradition if there ever was one), Michelle's chocolate chip cookie recipe won a few hundred more votes than Ann Romney's M&M/peanut butter cookies. Some people excitedly noted that the bake-off winner ended up in the White House in the last four of the last five elections, popular speculation even though I'd rate it a middling B-...we ALL know that there are more accurate ways of predicting these things.1

Home Brewers - A More Powerful Voice Then You'd Have Thought?

That fanfare was nothing compared to the excitement over the White House Beer recipes that I somehow missed last summer because the European media was more worried about the plight of Greece, and Fran´┐Żois Hollande's ideas for taxing the rich. Apparently American home brewers submitted a Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) for the recipe, because it was so important, and more brewers started a "We The People Petition" request for the recipe on the White House website. Unlike the hundreds of unanswered FOIA requests, and before the petition even reached the needed 25,000 signatures 2, the White House published recipes for two of the three brews, an ale and a porter. They even made a very slick YouTube video explaining the whole process, part of the Inside The White House series.

A writer at the Boston Globe brewed the White House Honey Ale and reported that it was an easy recipe to follow and that the ale was "an entirely pleasant drinking experience".

Hush, Hush About the Commoners' Brew?

Beer has a solid place in American history, although a lot of quotes about beer attributed to the likes of Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt are made-up. It is true that way back, George Washington brewed beer at Mount Vernon, and Thomas Jefferson brewed beer at Monticello. The White House ale and porter recipes use honey that the chefs get from the White House bee hives. Jefferson's beer had honey too. But the Obamas might be the first ever to brew beer in the White House, despite a long and proud tradition of beer brewing in America.

Why has no one else brewed beer in the White House? I have no idea. Although Prohibition ended in 1933, there has been a raised-eyebrow-view of drinking by White House inhabitants. Even today, there is a disdain for the type of relaxation common to everyone coming home after a long day at work. As you can see in this hilarious FOX News clip from last summer, where Hilary Clinton is described as "throwing back a beer and tearing up the dance floor at a Colombian salsa bar" by anchor Stuart Varney. Varney interviews Nile Gardner from the Heritage Foundation, who criticizes Clinton for appearing unstatesman-like on "the world stage" and the two bicker collegially about her transgresions in clipped English accents. As anyone would, Varney actually laughs at Gardiner, a British Conservative commentator, and for balance interviews a GOP strategist who tempers Gardner's intolerance, by saying Clinton deserves a beer.

This echoes a prickly uneasiness around drinking that extends back through several White Houses. Maybe it's the culture wars, or the old Protestant work ethic coming back to bite us. Some presidents either couldn't or wouldn't admit to enjoying alcoholic beverages. A few came from families of nightly beer drinkers, which I'll speculate may offer some explanation. Others, like Richard Nixon, couldn't handle alcohol. According to John Haldeman: "Often times, he would rage at his enemies, fancied and real, and imagine various revenges...one beer would transform his normal speech into the rambling elocution of a Bowery wino."3

Then there were the so-called culture wars. We wrote about Reagan's horror over "a dance" with "three bands playing simultaneously", in "Letter From Berkeley, California -- The Cliche". The Bushes also leveraged intolerance to win elections and maintain power; though, if you type in "Bush" and "beer" into Google, the search engine relentlessly auto-corrects to "Busch" (beer) - so that family's liking for beer I can't say. Apparently George W. Bush was a heavy frat drinker, but more recent photographs of him with a beer mug held to his lips tend to mention "non-alcoholic" or "O'Doul's".

Out With Arugula, in With Ale?

So is this all part of an old-fashioned uptight America in it's last throes? Paul Begala, back in January, 2012, wrote that "Romney Would Fail the Presidential Beer Test". Obama socializes easily, he observed, but when "Romney tries to relate to ordinary folks, he looks like a debutante at a cow-chip-tossing contest: he just doesn't fit in, and the harder he tries, the more ridiculous he seems". That, Begala wrote, "could have Republican's crying in their beer come November".

Maybe this whole beer-brewing thing transpired because the Obama team perused Facebook for some arugula antithesis with which to market the president. But scanning the hundreds of recipes in the repository, it's clear anyway, that the Obama White House is the first in a long history of politicians submitting recipes to offer a recipe for beer - or any libation. And even though my taste in beer is about as sophisticated as picking the one with the cool bicycle label on it, I find the White House beer distraction very refreshing.

Cheers! Happy Thanksgiving.

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1 Regardless of the sound statistical analyses, I'll admit that I too was on the edge of my seat on election night -- and relieved not to have hang a "Despair" poster.

2Very few of these petitions succeed in getting the 25,000 signatures needed to get an official answer, it seems. The White House did answer another We The People Petition requesting that Rush Limbaugh be removed from the military media offerings, but Mr. Limbaugh has his rights, the White House explained.

3 President Nixon's Inner Circle of Advisers Author(s): Betty Glad and Michael W. Link Presidential Studies Quarterly, Vol. 26, No. 1, The Nixon Presidency (Winter, 1996), pp. 13-40

Related readings:

Carter, Paul A.: Prohibition and Democracy: The Noble Experiment Reassessed: The Wisconsin Magazine of History, Vol. 56, No. 3 (Spring, 1973), pp. 189-201

Tim Hefferman: Last Call, plus useful comments.

Talking Turkey and How To Pick The Correct "-ologist"

In 2007, we wrote in Thanksgiving - all Things Ottoman, about the origins of the turkey, as well as some other Thanksgiving day staples, many of which were thought mistakenly to originate in the country of Turkey.

You've Come So Far, Turkey

The ancestor to our domesticated turkeys was thought to be a wild turkey Meleagris gallopavo, domesticated in Mexico then brought to Europe, as we wrote in a post about the historical confusion about the turkey's origins:

"The Spaniards fancied the turkey when they invaded Mexico where turkey was indigenous, and then introduced the bird to Europe when they returned in the early 1500's. However, during the expansion of the Ottoman Empire, turkeys were thought by northern Europeans to be a product of Turkey..."

The great thing about science is it's always moving on. Research forever advances as new technology is developed or because scientists think of new experiments to test ideas and previous research.

Wild_turkey_eastern_us
Wild Turkey Eastern US
via Wikimedia Commons, used with permission, Creative Commons.

Since 2005, research has significantly advanced our knowledge of turkeys. In 2010, scientists finished sequencing the turkey genome. Turkey is the second most important agricultural fowl, the chicken is the first, so sequence data provides information for researchers to learn more about both the origins of the turkey as well as information to improve breeding and production. For instance scientists have compared the turkey genome to the chicken genome, the two shared an ancestor 40 million years ago and have analyzed and compared today's domesticated turkeys with various fowl and ancient turkeys (including ones from museums).

This year scientists ventured out for other interesting turkey research. Archaeologists unearthed evidence they published in PLoSONE, describing (perhaps) domesticated turkey remains at a Mayan site in Guatemala that date back to 300BC-AD100, almost 1000 years before the turkey was known to be being raised in captivity in Mexico. Although their evidence needs bolstering because it's based on scant DNA samples, they also hypothesized that this new research pointed to possible turkey trade between the two places.

Wild or Mexican? Turkey Talk

I found this papers comments at PLoSONE interesting. Whereas most scientific journals depend on peer-review prior to publication, this particular PLoS journal research depends more on post-publication peer-review. Comments are theoretically key to evaluating the paper in PLoSONE, then, an interesting twist that many people are unaware of. For this paper, one commenter takes issue with a common name the authors give to the turkey Meleagris gallopavo - "Mexican Turkey". It's "not and never has been" called a "Mexican Turkey" he writes, it's called a "Wild Turkey". It's "misleading and incorrect", he says. The researcher is an ornithologist.

The lead author of the paper writes back. We chose to call the bird a "Mexican Turkey" to designate that it was a Mexican bird found in Guatemala, they say. They point out that they were archaeologists, they'd conferred with other archaeologists, and archaeologists were their "primary audience".

The first author writes back again, chastising the paper author for "inventing your own English-language" name for a species, a name that is "inherently confusing and could be interpreted as somewhat disrespectful to the ornithological community". Not only that, he writes, there are other species of turkeys indigenous to Mexico that could also confusingly be called "Mexican Turkeys."

The paper's lead author writes back again: "I am an archaeologist, not an ornithologist", she writes, and re-explains her position, including that they consistently used the Latin names also, so readers shouldn't be confused.

I found this fascinating for several reasons. One, it was great to see the journal's goal for discussion being fulfilled - so many papers go without comment. More discussion about other aspects of the paper would have been even more interesting.

But since I'm not an expert in either ornithology or an archaeology, which expert we should believe, the ornithology expert or the archaeology expert? PLoSONE is by design not a journal for a specialist or expert audience, in fact isn't it just the opposite? So how is the average reader to know? Sure there are good ways to work through this issue if a) you read the comments in the first place and b) needed to write something as a journalist, say, but I venture that excludes a good number of readers.

This is an incredibly common and general problem, that of conflicting expertise, therefore it's important to keep in mind, with which expert do you choose to confer? Which expert ("expert") do you choose to believe? How do you know?

Tobacco: The U.S. Can't Handle The Truth...

A few years ago, the FDA mandated that tobacco companies put the labels on cigarette boxes warning smokers about the deadly health effects of tobacco. The tobacco companies sued, claiming the FDA was "compelling speech", which was unconstitutional. Last year we checked in with the legal wranglings of the case when one District Court judge ruled that the tobacco companies shouldn't have to display the images or print 1-800-QUIT-NOW on cigarette boxes.

FDACigaretteLabels

Cigarette Warnings
via the Food and Drug Administration.

The battle over graphic picture tobacco warning labels is actually world-wide and decades old. Tobacco companies fought ferociously against the first country that tried to enforce graphic labels in 1986, fashion-forward Iceland. Today, more over 50 countries require text warnings, and a growing number are moving to picture warnings. Australia passed one of the strictest laws, as Stanton Glantz recently described:

"All the cigarette packages are going to have to be the same kind of puke-green color with the name of the company and the variety on standard type on half the pack, and the other half of the pack will be a large graphic warning label."

Graphic Labels: Nails in The Coffin?

The cigarette companies battle against these labels for a reason. Compared to text warnings, the graphic pictures scare the heck out of smokers research shows, especially people with less education.

However, through the court systems, tobacco companies have successfully bogged down governments' attempts at regulation. In Canada, the Supreme Court last year ruled that Imperial Tobacco couldn't draw the government into a class action case. Imperial had argued that the government shared the health costs of smoking since it had allowed Imperial to market "light" cigarettes. The court dismissed their argument. In Scotland, Imperial Tobacco recently challenged the government ban on displays in shops, claiming that the law is "anti-choice". Scotland's' Supreme Court - Lord Hope, Lord Walker, Lady Hale, Lord Kerr and Lord Sumption, are currently hearing arguments in the case.

In the US, tobacco companies recently asked the Supreme Court to hear their First Amendment arguments after another District Court claimed that the FDA rules were constitutional, the opposite of the previous District Court's decision. The tobacco companies have petitioned the court to decide 1) whether the FDA's label mandate violates the First Amendment 2) if the FDA is stepping on companies' free speech rights to promote "modified risk" products, and 3) whether the companies have a First Amendment right to offer free gifts and samples to entice potential smokers. The FDA has until the end of November to respond, and after that the Supreme Court will decide whether to take the case.

Tobacco: A Dilemma?

Some observers speculate whether the Supreme Court will take the case, but authors of a recent New England Journal of Medicine article think the Supreme Court will hear it. The NEJM article reviews the background of the commercial speech doctrine and the speculates various outcomes for the case.1 The authors say commercial speech was first recognized as a lower value speech in the mid-1970's. From there, the court has enabled creep that brings the commercial speech doctrine to its current very controversial status, where it can essentially curb states' abilities to candidly warn consumers about about health risks of things like smoking.

Because of the court's commercial speech doctrine, the authors write, the FDA can best frame their arguments for the cigarette warnings as promoting consumer choice, rather than as protecting public health and discouraging smoking. This not only hobbles the FDA's ability to frame and defend their arguments for public health, the authors write, it gives the cigarette companies the advantage in defending themselves because they can argue that the FDA is not trying to promote consumer choice, rather it's attempting to influence the behavior of smokers by browbeating them.

Faced with the science related to tobacco, the health affects of smoking, and the tax burden of health costs shared by all citizens, tobacco's costly legal protests seem crazy. However, the Supreme Court has often sided with corporations, and has been quite skeptical of government regulation. As well, science and economics don't necessarily win the day over "free speech" in US courts. So altogether the FDA's idea that science derived photos inform consumers in ways that are hard to ignore, these arguments may not win. The Supreme Court hasn't seemed particularly swayed by science arguments or sympathetic to public health arguments.

So if the tobacco companies and courts continue to dither over the FDA's graphic warnings, thereby keeping them off the cigarette boxes, maybe journalists can write lots of stories about the controversy and include lots of the graphics that the smokers are missing out on?

1Ronald Bayer, Ph.D., Lawrence Gostin, J.D., and Daniel Marcus-Toll, M.S.: Repackaging Cigarettes -- Will the Courts Thwart the FDA? November 14, 2012DOI: 10.1056/NEJMp1211522

Malaria Vaccine - Rough Waters

A malaria vaccine over two decades in the making given to infants in Africa was shown by preliminary data to be 30% effective. Good news or bad news?

It depends on who you talk to. Most scientists and public health workers described the partial phase III clinical trial result of RTS,S/AS01 as disappointing, frustrating, or underwhelming, while trial sponsors, a few scientists, the government of Ghana, and KTN streaming LIVE from Kenya 24/7, remained upbeat, stressing that given the millions of malaria infections, a 30% reduction in would give the vaccine a significant place in malaria prevention.

In 2010 there were an estimated 216 million cases of malaria and 655,000 deaths, 91% of which were in Africa. In the past decade years, the concerted effort to combat malaria has decreased deaths and infections significantly, by 25%. But without a doubt, an effective malaria vaccine would be, if not the end of a horrible scourge, at least be an excellent addition to the arsenal of indoor spraying, bednets, and available treatment options. The question is, given the costs of developing and deploying a vaccine and the current economic climate, what's considered effective?

RowingUpstreamish2

Rough Waters
via Creative Commons License.

This month's 31% results are disappointing compared to last year's results from older kids, 5-17 months, that showed the vaccine to be 55% effective. As well, the newest results from the Phase III trial, show about half the efficacy of those from the previous Phase II trial for the same-aged infants, which seemed to show the vaccine as 62% protective.

Not 55% but 30% Effective

The RTS,S vaccine targets the Plasmodium falciparum and is made with proteins from both the parasite and Hepatitis B virus that serves to enhance the immune response. So why is the vaccine now apparently only 31% effective at preventing infection and 37% effective at preventing severe disease, almost half what it was? Scientists have several hypotheses. It might be the high levels of malaria around the test centers included in this data release, or that increased immunity from mothers in the younger infants blunts the response of the infants' immune systems against the vaccine, or perhaps since the vaccine for the infants was administered with other vaccines the infant immune systems responded less vigorously to the malaria shot. What there's no question about is how tricky it is to make a vaccine that successfully combats infection from an evolving and evasive parasite that moves through different stages of its lifecycle in different parts of the human (host) body.

With the efficacy data so low, scientists were left emphasizing how safe the vaccine is (important, of course, but not exactly the point at this stage). They stress how successful of the logistically complicated and ambitious trial (across 11 centers in 7 countries). Indeed the trial logistics are impressive, important, and a huge inroad to drug testing and public health, but the accomplishment doesn't address the high expectations and promises made during last year's data release.

Glass Now Less Than Half-Full

While the results were discouraging, some scientists weren't surprised. When researchers announced last year's interim results some scientists predicted based on the data that the younger 6-12 week cohort would be less protected by this vaccine. This was one of several caveats scientists pointed out. They also warned against early incomplete data releases, stressed that the older children weren't the target group, and questioned various aspects of the 55% number. We covered some of these questions in a post -- the same caveats and questions apply to this year's data release.

Vaccine development, especially against malaria, is incredibly difficult. Although there are about 30 vaccines in development now, according to the World Health Organization's Rainbow Tables, the closest candidates are 5-10 years behind this one. This fact of course influences the biggest unanswered question: How effective does a vaccine need to be in order to be put into production? There are limits to both attention and money available for urgent public health initiatives, so realistically, funding one initiative can potentially handicap others - but then the argument always swings back -- there is no malaria vaccine right now.

Vaccine Goals - Made To Be Eschewed?

To help guide answers to this question, the World Health Organization, in concert with invested organizations including the public and private sponsors of this vaccine, established in a roadmap(pdf) a "Strategic Goal" to "by 2025, develop and license a malaria vaccine that has a protective efficacy of more than 80% against clinical disease and lasts longer than four years." RTS,S/ASO1 is no where near this. But the WHO also established a "Landmark" Goal, to "by 2015, develop and license a first-generation malaria vaccine that has a protective efficacy of more than 50% against severe disease and death and lasts longer than one year." WHO is currently in the process of updating the roadmap, but warns that the Landmark goal is not being changed.

All scientists acknowledge that only more data analysis from this trial will provide clearer answers. The WHO provides information on vaccine development and its role in assessing the vaccine in 2014-2015. Some scientists predict that the trend of decreasing efficacy after 6 months shown in the data looks ominous: "The results look bad now, but they will probably be worse later", said vaccine expert, researcher for competing vaccines, and deliverer of not-very-upbeat messages Adrian Hill of Oxford University. (But if subsequent data looked somewhat better - the situation of this year's results compared to last year's - the reaction would probably be euphoric.)

Last year when we discussed the vaccine we commented on possible later outcomes that could stem from the incredible hype around interim results releases -

"...which leads us to wonder whether mid-trial fanfare primes us react to whatever future malaria vaccine news comes along with knee-jerk positive determinism? What if the younger data shows only (say, hypothetically) 30% efficacy? Would we ever abandon the effort...?"

Commenting on the latest results, Andrew Witty, GSK CEO told reporters in a conference call "We've been at this for 30 years, and we're certainly not going to give up now".

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In other malaria vaccine news Sanaria, another malaria vaccine maker whose founders have been knee-deep in malaria vaccines for decades, recently hosted 7th graders in an event hosted by Montgomery County universities. The idea was to introduce kids to science and medicine so they don't think of people who work in biosciences as "crazy scientists", said Stephen L. Hoffman, founder and CEO of the company. Hoffman's latest malaria vaccine effort was profiled by Science in "New Hope for Crazy Vaccine", briefed by us last year. Sanaria received $3 million funding for Phase II trials last summer.

In still more malaria news, a program called the Affordable Medicines Facility - Malaria(AMFm) has been radically downsized, killed, and folded into obscurity within the Global Fund. The reasons remain a little mysterious. By all accounts, the program was successful, even "overwhelmingly successful", in lowering the pharmacy prices of drugs called Artemesin Combination Therapies (ACTs). If you contract malaria in Africa you often need to buy your own drugs. Patients will naturally buy the cheapest drugs, which happen to be those that are least effective or most susceptible to antibiotic resistance. The program made the ACTs competitively priced with monotherapies, therefore competitive in the marketplace and helpful to preventing artemisinin resistance and conquering malaria. The strategy was innovative and effective.

However, some critics claimed that this method wasn't getting the drugs to children, and that some people were buying up the drugs without a diagnosis. Defendants said these criticisms moved the goal posts, phase II could have solved some problems. But more scientists aren't at all sure why the program got cut, some suggesting that for some reason Oxfam and the President's Malaria Initiative lobbied hard against it. One contingent that is probably pleased with the outcome has been lobbying vigorously against AMF-m since its inception. The group's members are variously affiliated with pharmaceutical companies, 'free enterprise think-tanks', and target lobby efforts like "Africa Fighting Malaria", they selflessly devote their lives to promoting DDT spraying, and lobbying against generic drugs. One or more have written accounts claiming that the competitive pricing schemes employed by AMF-m used cheaper drug suppliers with inferior services -- a spurious, tedious and surprisingly effective go-to argument for decades by pharmaceutical companies lobbying against generics for the most deadly diseases AIDS, Malaria, etc.

Who Is He - Romney?

The first time we commented on Mitt Romney was in April, 2005, when as governor of Massachusetts, he was changing his position on stem cells. The Massachusetts Senate and House of Representatives had passed a bill allowing human cells to be cultured for stem cell research. Romney hadn't succeeded in stopping the bill through lobbying, and the legislatures' overwhelming favor of the measure prevented him from vetoing it. Romney explained:

"I think you're going to see at the national level an interest in legislation which limits the creation of new embryos though cloning...So I think you're going to see a national effort to define the boundaries of ethics, and I hope that proceeds."

Seven and a half years ago Romney gave a clear indication about where he was aiming.

ManWithCompass

Drawing of Man Using Compass via Wikimedia Commons

He was crafting his positions for a run as president in 2008, as we wrote, and figuring out that stem cell research was a controversial "ethical" issue -- his statement signaled that he was in step with what he called a "national effort to define the boundaries". He woodenly hewed to the GOP message, the one that qualified him as A Contender. Only later, in 2006, did he start to make a more fluent story around his change of position, taking strident stands against abortion and embryonic stem cell research.

Romney's message massaging seems in retrospect indicative not only of his political ambitions, but of the man he is and maybe always was, a man whose convictions are politically defined not personally held. Although he once hailed the potential of embryonic stem cell research, he then showed the nation how easily he could adapt.

Did Romney's Position on the Stem Cell Issue Indicate His Positioning on All Other Issues?

Back when Bain needed capital in the early days and the only people willing to give him money ran shady Salvadoran shell companies, well, that's where he started. Decades later, when the people who had likely campaign donations questioned how he planned to win, he asserted that the only people who don't like him were the ones taking government hand-outs. The shifting hue and cry of Romney campaign has been constant, on stem cells, on immigration, on foreign policy, on climate, etc.

Although as Massachusetts governor he defied Norquistian demands for far-right economic positions, he now clambers out that pole, sleeves up to his elbows, ready to get to work dismantling whatever public institutions have profit making potential or regulatory aims on business. So of course he marched behind the religious right and their "sanctity of life" claims in 2005, because he's an adaptable guy. Which is exactly what concerns us most, that in his forever changing positions he seems totally unattached and untethered from any position or "truth" whatsoever.

What Sort of President Would Romney Be? (C'mon, Ot'll Be Fun)

Since he's so often equivocal, we're forced to make assumptions about the president he'd be. To do so, we'll look at the people he's campaigning to and for. For example, we've observed that people who scream about the "sanctity of life", often want to get rid of the life-saving government agencies like FEMA or the EPA. Strange. It's also worth noting that they're also keen to halt certain science and technology, the very science and technologies that we know are key to curing disease and enabling a decent quality of life for humans. In fact if you've ever read up on the positions of people like those who George W. Bush appointed to his President's Council on Bioethics, you'll know that their ideal world would abolish science altogether. Here's the view of Peter Lawler:

"In the Brave New World the tyrants will be the experts...We have a hard time seeing experts as tyrants, because they don't claim to rule through personal authority but on the basis of the impersonal results of scientific studies...most Americans have no idea of the extent to which they have already surrendered their sovereignty to such experts" (Lawler, Peter Augustine: Does Human Nature Have a Future? The end of history, Bobos, and Biotechnology)

Lawler's fear-mongering positions might seem far-fetched, but consider the larger agenda. A rational person would argue for, I'll say, the need for clean water and air, for technology investment, for women's rights to healthcare, for scientists, for expertise, and yes, for experts. But this bioethicist insists that the very scientists who are experts, who would show the health merits or clean air and water, are actually evil, co-opting You, and not to be trusted. (Forget that he says this as the author of a book claiming expertise in bioethics).

He labels biotechnology morally suspect along with numerous other things, sex except for procreation for example. In the same book, he notes on evolution:

"The interesting question today is whether Darwin will follow the other two great secularist system builders of the nineteenth century, Marx and Freud, onto the ash heap of history."

This religious play pulls in the most susceptible, those who believe that God reached down and molded everything from planet Earth to penises a couple thousand years ago. It bamboozles people into believing that empirical thinking can be supplanted with simplistic answers provided by politicians. Some of these people then line-up to dismantle the very systems that support a civil democracy, erecting flags and chanting U-S-A. Who can argue against U-S-A? No one.

For years, this has all seemed to me some bizarre far-off world of an unpleasant and distant past, best to be ignored. But it's not far-fetched as it seems if you listen to the current political debates fronted with "ethical" positions.

Or Not

For instance, the Indiana Senate contender said a few weeks ago that abortion should be banned ("sanctity of life") because God created the children of rape. Mourdock's comment was no less than sociopathic - violent not only to women but men, insulting to intelligent humans, sacrilegious and vile. Where was presidential candidate Mitt Romney? Silent and continuing to run TV ads supporting his Indiana GOP candidate...

Silent. A silence that assures supporters he'll toe whatever line is politically prudent. The calculated silence of a church going man who poses square-jawed and leader-like, yes, but whose compass now seems alarmingly stuck at a magnetic pole, needle wavering this way and that. So how would he be as president? Optimistically, people argue that Romney is a moderate, now just all revved up in campaign mode. I might agree. However when my thinking trends alarmist, I fear for the liberties we think are important, the right to clean air and water, progress in science that helps people live better lives, rights for women to control their bodies and work for fair salaries, rights for disabled people, immigrants, the poor, and on and on, all the things that democracy promises and a plutocracy wants to threaten...

That's all. Vote.

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