Juan Cole says the possible death of Baitullah Mahsud, leader of Pakistan's Taliban Movement and likely mastermind of the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto in 2007, is only the second most important news out of Pakistan:

The really big news out of Pakistan in the last week was the  finding of the restored Supreme Court that Gen. Pervez Musharraf's emergency decree of November, 2007, was unconstitutional. The ruling has larger implications, in perhaps suggesting that all of Pakistan's military coups have been unconstitutional. This is the first time that the Pakistani Supreme Court has so forcefully stood up to the military.

If the American press and political establishment was serious about supporting democracy in Pakistan and the Muslim World, we'd have seen an avalanche of comment praising the Supreme Court ruling as a victory for democracy. I did a keyword search at Lexis under television transcripts and could not find any evidence that anyone in national television or radio except Julie McCarthy at NPR even mentioned the epochal Pakistani Supreme Court ruling!

Consider it reported.  I confess to some skepticism about how seriously to take a court decree that military coups are unconstitutional, since military coup leaders don't generally pay a lot of attention to the niceties of judicial review in the first place.  But Prof. Cole calls it "a bigger turning point in Pakistani history than any we have seen since 1947," so it's worth knowing about.

On Wednesday, the American Psychological Association made headlines by repudiating gay-to-straight therapy. In a report, the APA found that not only is there no evidence that the practice actually works, but it can also lead to depression and suicidal tendencies. Considering that so-called "reparative therapy" has been enthusiastically championed by the religious right, you might be surprised to learn that they're touting the report as a major victory.

Confused? Here's what happened. In addition to instructing members not to seek to change a patient's sexual orientation via therapy, the APA also issued additional guidelines advising therapists how to deal with a patient struggling with their sexual identity. And these guidelines explicitly state that it may sometimes be appropriate for a therapist to help a client deny his sexual orientation because of his faith.

Need To Read: August 7, 2009

Some Friday web content you should check out:

Like most bloggers, I also use twitter. I mostly use it to send out links to interesting web content like the stuff above. You can follow me, of course. David Corn, Mother Jones' DC bureau chief, is also on twitter. So is my colleague Daniel Schulman, and our editor, Clara Jeffery. Follow them, too! (The magazine's main account is @motherjones.)

 

Soldiers with Company A, 2nd Battalion, 77th Field Artillery Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division fire a 120mm mortar at the hills surrounding Forward Operating Base Kalagush, Aug. 2. (Photo courtesy army.mil.)

Granny Conspiracy: Who's behind misinformation that the Dems' healthcare reform will kill olds? Kevin Drum and James Ridgeway explain.

Ants in the Pants Syndrome: Is Restless Leg Syndrome real, or a Big Pharma invention?

Chemical Switch: The EPA may be revising its position on perchlorates in water.

Polar Bear Soup: By 2070, the Arctic could be a polluted soup, scientists say. [New Scientist]

Obama's New Tactic: Obama's campaign organization gets fired up about healthcare.

Public Enemy: Insurance companies might like the likely-to-fail healthcare "co-ops" as alternatives to the public model.

Green Label: The USDA is proposing labels for products using renewable plant and animal sources. [Environmental News Network]

Vive La Healthcare

David Gauthier-Villars has a piece about France's healthcare system in the Wall Street Journal today that's worth a read.  Like everyone, the French have been fighting a rearguard action against financing problems in their system for as long as I've been reading about it, but that means something a little different there than it does here:

Despite the structural differences between the U.S. and French systems, both face similar root problems: rising drug costs, aging populations and growing unemployment, albeit for slightly different reasons. In the U.S., being unemployed means you might lose your coverage; in France, it means less tax money flowing into Assurance Maladie's coffers.

....Today, Assurance Maladie covers about 88% of France's population of 65 million. The remaining 12%, mainly farmers and shop owners, get coverage through other mandatory insurance plans, some of which are heavily government-subsidized. About 90% of the population subscribes to supplemental private health-care plans.

Italics mine.  Despite the story's focus on France's "financing woes" — a problem shared by every healthcare system in the world — the chart on the right tells the real story.  The French spend a third less than we do per person and have a growth rate about a third lower than ours.  We should be so lucky as to have woes like that.  Their healthcare costs may be rising, but their tax-funded system reins in costs better than ours and still remains among the best in the world.

No system is perfect, but the French do pretty well.  Service is top notch, costs are reasonable, everyone is covered, administrative costs are low, the private sector is substantial, and supplemental insurance is common for people who want more than the standard level of care.  It is, ironically, a very American approach to universal care.  If we had our heads screwed on straight, we could do a lot worse than to adopt it wholesale.

Starkman on Taibbi

Over at CJR today, Dean Starkman has an almost pitch perfect review of Matt Taibbi's famous (or, depending on your point of view, infamous) evisceration of Goldman Sachs in last month's Rolling StoneGo read it.  Both his praise and his criticism match mine nearly perfectly.  There's hardly a word I disagree with.

DEET Is Neurotoxic

DEET, the stuff in insect repellants that actually works for more than 12 minutes, is toxic to the central nervous system.

DEET was thought to be just a behavior-modifying chemical. But it turns out it also inhibits a key central nervous system enzyme in both insects and mammals. The paper's in BMC Biology.

French researchers found that DEET inhibits the acetylcholinesterase enzyme—the same mode of action used by organophosphate and carbamate insecticides. Translation: the really bad kind.

The researchers suggest more investigations are urgently needed to confirm or dismiss any potential neurotoxicity to humans—especially when DEET is used in combination with other neurotoxic insecticides. I think it often is.

DEET was created for the US Army in 1946 and is still the most common ingredient in bug juice preparations. Despite its widespread use, controversies remain concerning both the identification of its target sites at the molecular level and its mechanism of action in insects.

The official DEET site is not biting on this one.

Neither is the CDC. Yet. According to their fact sheet, 30 percent of Americans use DEET products yearly.

Personally, I've used gallons of this stuff over the years, working in malarial, mosquitoey places. Never felt good about it. The way it dissolves plastic is unnerving.
 

Is the mainstream media giving a lot of attention to the "Democrats want to kill granny" meme?  Commenter majun says, "My impression has been that FOX covers it as the unvarnished truth, MSNBC tends to make fun of it and debunk it a lot and CNN falls in the middle."  Sounds about right.  And then there's this exchange:

g.powell: But the right-wing crazies really believe this stuff about "kill granny". My father is one of them. He moved up the schedule of some elective surgeries at the VA because he is convinced Obama is out to kill him.

Anonymous: Wow g. powell. Now that's what I call irony! Moving up surgery within a govt run health care system (the VA) because govt-run health care is so scary.

g.powell: It's worse than that, my dad hates the idea of socialized medicine — it would be a disaster for the country — but loves the VA. Don't ask me to explain. I have thousand of these stories. The laws of physics and logic behave differently in Crazyland.

That's from the land of the email chain letter.  Just thought I'd share.

Rotwang says that whining about right-wing mobilization over healthcare reform just makes liberals look weak.  We're bigger and have a better case and we should just make it:

The numbing details of health care reform are important and worth discussing, but the argument against the [teabaggers] is pretty simple. If you hate socialized medicine, do you want to abolish Medicare? Why not? If not, why not have more Medicare, rather than less? Why not have wider access to health insurance that resembles what Members of Congress have? Medicare is their soft underbelly. It's socialized medicine that people already have, are used to, and support. More, not less. Once that is established, you can have a civil discussion about all the details.

That's exactly what my mother was saying to me on the phone last night.  And it's very logical.  I don't think it will work with these folks, but it's very logical.  I'm not sure Rotwang thinks it will work either, considering his ultimate advice:

Anybody who is unwilling to throw people out of their meetings should not be organizing them.

Yeah, but that has to be done very, very carefully indeed.  One small slip and you'll end up on a 24/7 loop on Glenn Beck's show.  Videotape of your goons dragging some 70-year-old grandma out of the room by her hair will not play well at all in the fabled heartland.

I guess I'd propose the following for members of congress speaking at town hall events: (1) Announce beforehand that there have been organized efforts to disrupt constituent meetings and it might happen here too, (2) ask everyone to please stay calm even in the face of provocation, (3) have your own cameras there to record the lunatics, and (4) rely on the fact that organized screaming doesn't wear well with the American public.  And then turn up the volume on your sound system.

Either that or you can get on the stage and announce that some there are some shaggy punks outside burning an American flag and you want some volunteers to go teach them a lesson.  That should get the riff raff out of the room.