2009 - %3, August

A Brief History of Sleaze

| Tue Aug. 4, 2009 1:59 PM EDT

Bonner and Associates claims to be shocked that a wayward temp in their offices sent letters purporting to be from African American and Hispanic groups to lawmakers, asking them to vote against cap and trade. This is odd, because creating the illusion of popular support for or opposition to a bill is what Bonner and Associates does. Below the jump, a few of their greatest hits:

 

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Obama's Plan for August

| Tue Aug. 4, 2009 1:44 PM EDT

Earlier today, I speculated that the "birther" movement is actually helping Obama and that the White House has no interest in further marginalizing the birthers by releasing Obama's "real" birth certificate. Now Marc Ambinder reports that the White House's strategy going forward on health care is along those lines: paint the astroturfed crowds harrassing members of Congress in their districts as crazy people. The danger for the GOP is clear:

The challenge for Republicans is to prevent the media from labeling everyone who attends a meeting with a Democratic lawmaker and who calls him or herself a conservative as a crazy person. Some polling suggests that the percentage of Republicans who don't know whether President Obama was born in the United States is fairly high, although it is hard to say how much of that confusion stems from ignorance or from a generally jaundiced, perhaps racist, view of the President.

That's why Obama doesn't want to do anything to encourage the GOP to distance itself from the birthers. If the Republicans are tied to crazy people, they're all going to start looking a bit crazy, too. Of course, the danger with not standing in the way of the opposition's embrace of crazy people is that those people might one day end up in power.

Exodus From Tanning Beds

| Tue Aug. 4, 2009 1:30 PM EDT

In reaction to news that UV radiation from tanning beds is just as deadly as arsenic, fake bakers are fleeing salons, reports MSNBC. It's not exactly a scientific finding, but they've at least found a few folks who quit after reading last week's report. My favorite quote:

“I mean, even just the headline,” says Jill Brizzi, who’s 26 and lives in Charlotte, N.C. ‘Tanning beds as deadly as arsenic.’ Like, what? Isn’t that poison?”

And some tweets:

shutup!! omg i've been saying forever that I'm going to stop tanning, but wow now im seriously done! Xoxox

Pretty sure I'm going to cancel my tanning membership. "Beds compared to arsenic" is a little extreme for me!

I guess I am never going tanning again…

 

Web Video Isn't Easy

| Tue Aug. 4, 2009 12:45 PM EDT

A lot of print media outlets seem to think that simply putting two journalists in front of a webcam and letting them dish makes for good web video content. That's usually wrong. More often, you get something like this, and then you get made fun of like this:

Whatever Happened to Safer Sex?

| Tue Aug. 4, 2009 12:44 PM EDT

Safer sex and pregnancy prevention advocates have had their work cut out for them over the last couple of weeks. A recently published study declared that the withdrawal method was almost as effective as condom use in typical practice. Now, a study soon to be published in the Archives of Sexual Behaviour argues that unprotected heterosexual sex can improve your ability to deal with stress and curb depression.

Claims about the positive effects of semen are nothing new. Back in 2002, researchers at the State University of New York conducted two studies in which they concluded that semen positively affected women's mental health. While the 2002 study was carried out by psychologists, the theory was that it was the hormones within semen that elevated women's moods.

This time around, the hypothesis has more to do with the act itself, and asserts that both men and women can benefit from the practice of unprotected heterosexual sex. Its author, Stuart Brody, believes that's due to evolution:

"Evolution is not politically correct, so of the very broad range of potential sexual behaviour, there is actually only one that is consistently associated with better physical and mental health and that is the one sexual behaviour that would be favoured by evolution. That is not accidental."

While science may not always confirm what we would like to be true, some dispute the validity of this type of evolutionary psychology, which tends to laud heterosexual sex and support male dominance as an evolutionary necessity, providing excuses for violence.

The validity of this study is also put into question by its small sample size of only 210 subjects. Besides, as Tony Kerridge of Marie Stopes International argues, the contemporary risks of unprotected heterosexual sex probably outweigh any evolutionary benefits:

"I would have thought that the mental health of anyone would be tested if they found out they had a sexually transmitted disease or that there was an unwanted pregnancy."

While arguments about the effectiveness of condoms versus withdrawal can have the statistics to back them up, studies like these may also create risks. All kidding about the rationale of high school boyfriends aside, there are other concerns associated with unprotected sex, beyond pregnancy. The HIV rate among heterosexual couples continues to rise. According to CDC estimates, heterosexual contact led to 27 percent of new HIV diagnoses in 2006. While I am no evolutionary scientist (psychological or otherwise) I would guess that that type of risk is not evolutionarily favorable.

Quote of the Day

| Tue Aug. 4, 2009 12:42 PM EDT

From Arlen Specter (D–Pa.), responding to Joe Sestak's decision to run against him in next year's Democratic primary:

His months of indecisiveness on his candidacy raises a real question as to his competency to handle the tough rapid-fire decisions required of a Senator.

Rapid fire?  The U.S. Senate?  Are we talking about the same U.S. Senate here?

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Ad Wars

| Tue Aug. 4, 2009 12:29 PM EDT

Dan Neil, whose day job consists of winning Pulitzer prizes for driving around test tracks in Porsches and Lamborghinis, also writes an advertising column for the LA Times.  And he says that in the healthcare war, liberals are getting their asses kicked:

There's some hope on the horizon, though, in the ad from Americans United for Change....To a kicky bass riff and the occasional cash register ring, the female narrator asks, "Why do the insurance companies and the Republicans want to kill President Obama's health insurance reform?" Note the yoking of insurance companies to Republicans. Note also that it's Obama's health insurance reform. Evil insurance.

The ad then lights into Cigna Corp. CEO Ed Hanway, who is retiring with a $73-million golden parachute. The GOP's prescription for the healthcare crisis? "Be as rich as Ed and you'll be happy too."

Of course it's disingenuous. Executive compensation at insurance companies is at best peripheral to escalating healthcare costs. For all we know, Hanway may be one of the good guys. The important thing is that the ad hominem ad is pointed, shrewd and manipulative.

Well, watch the ad and decide for yourself.  If you ask me, it's still got too light a touch.  And unlike Ezra, I can't say that I feel especially sorry for Karen Ignani, head lobbyist for the health insurance industry.  She's got a job to do, and she's doing it.  But the reality is that I don't think the insurance industry has actually conceded all that much during this round in the healthcare wars.  They were afraid of getting steamrolled, so they did what they had to do to survive.  Nothing more, nothing less.

Does Joe Sestak Have A Chance?

| Tue Aug. 4, 2009 12:05 PM EDT | Scheduled to publish Tue Aug. 4, 2009 1:45 PM EDT

In 2006, when recently retired Naval Admiral Joe Sestak announced his candidacy to represent Pennsylvania's seventh congressional district, he knew he'd be fighting an uphill battle. He was a Democrat and a political newcomer facing 10-term GOP incumbent Rep. Curt Weldon in a traditionally conservative district. But first Sestak bested his opponent in the fundraising race, and then he beat him at the polls, becoming only the second Democrat to win that seat since the Civil War. On Tuesday, after serving for little more than two years in the House of Representatives, Sestak announced that he would run against Sen. Arlen Specter in the Democratic primary.  Can he defy the odds once again?

Well, maybe. But it won't be easy. When Sestak pulled off his upset victory over Weldon, he was helped by the fact that his opponent was the target of an FBI investigation. Specter, by contrast, is a 30-year incumbent with some major Democratic heavyweights standing behind him—including President Barack Obama; Vice President Joe Biden, who helped broker his party switch; and Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell. So far, the only big(ish) Pennsylvania pol to jump on board for Sestak is Joe Hoeffel, the former congressman and current vice-chair for the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners, whom Specter defeated in the 2004 election.

Should Journalists Call It Like They See It?

| Tue Aug. 4, 2009 11:58 AM EDT

The Economist's anonymous Democracy in America blogger says journalists should make sure to call the show trials of opposition figures in Iran what they are: show trials.

That point goes to a key advantage that opinionated newsmagazines enjoy: magazine journalists are more likely to call 'em how they sees 'em. Instead of offering readers phony evenhandedness, a magazine writer will generally give you a position on a story (markets are awesome!) and trust her readers to be smart enough to know the difference between fact and opinion. And since they're not used to "opinions on the shape of the earth differ" journalism, magazines don't fall into the trap of turning everything into a he-said she-said cable news argument as often as newspapers do.

Happy Birthday!

| Tue Aug. 4, 2009 11:46 AM EDT

Happy birthday, Mr. President!  Or is it?  If we don't really know where he was born, do we really know when he was born either?