Blogs

The FDA Just Approved "Viagra for Women"

Should women be rejoicing?

| Tue Aug. 18, 2015 8:35 PM EDT
Flibanserin, a drug to treat low sexual desire in women.

More than 17 years after it ushered in Viagra, the Federal Drug Administration approved the first women's sex-drive drug, flibanserin, earlier today.  Sprout Pharmaceuticals will manufacture the drug, which they've named Addyi, and sell it to women with low libido, or hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD).

While the pill has garnered much attention under monikers like "pink Viagra" or "Viagra for women," its purpose and mechanism have little in common with the famous blue pill for men. The drug will not physically bring blood to parts of the body to assist arousal, but instead will alter chemicals in the brain to increase sexual desire.

Is this a victory for women after decades of being ignored by biased pharmaceutical researchers?

Well, not necessarily. As we reported in June:

Women who took the drug in trials reported no more than one additional "sexually satisfying event" per month than women who received a placebo.

Not a great track record. Many health experts and academics doubt the existence of HSDD and believe Big Pharma is fabricating a disorder and exploiting gender imbalances to create a new market. Private investors staked some $50 million on flibanserin's approval, according to Forbes.

The FDA's decision came after two prior rejections of the drug because of side effects like dry mouth, fatigue, nausea, and fainting. On the bright side, consumers of Addyi ready to jump into bed will be relieved to hear that the side effects have apparently been diminished.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

The White House Just Hired Its First Openly Transgender Official

A former activist who's criticized Obama's immigration policies just started work in the West Wing.

| Tue Aug. 18, 2015 4:30 PM EDT
Raffi Freedman-Gurspan is the first openly transgender official to work in the White House.

The White House has hired its first openly transgender staff member, a former activist who started working in the West Wing on Monday. Raffi Freedman-Gurspan, who previously served as a policy adviser at the National Center for Transgender Equality, will work as a director of outreach and recruitment for the White House personnel office, the Wall Street Journal reports. Valerie Jarrett, a White House senior adviser, said in a statement that Freedman-Gurspan "demonstrates the kind of leadership this administration champions."

The Obama administration has taken recent steps to promote transgender rights. Last month, President Barack Obama signed an executive order prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of gender identity, while the Department of Defense announced that transgender people would be allowed to serve openly in the military by early next year.

But the White House has also faced criticism for not doing enough, as transgender women face disproportionately high rates of violent crime as well as abuse in prisons and immigration detention centers. In June, just two days ahead of the Supreme Court's landmark ruling on marriage equality, Obama was heckled by Jennicet Gutiérrez, an undocumented transgender activist, during his speech at a gay pride event. "I am a trans woman!" she yelled at the president, denouncing the treatment of transgender women in immigration detention centers. "No more deportation!"

Gutiérrez was promptly escorted from the room. "I am just fine with a few hecklers, but not when I'm up in the house," Obama said with a smile. "Shame on you, you shouldn't be doing this," he added, before the crowd began chanting his name. Some LGBT activists did not approve of his response, with one onlooker describing his treatment of Gutiérrez as "heartless."

Freedman-Gurspan, who was adopted from Honduras and raised by a single mother in Massachusetts, has also criticized Obama's immigration policies in the past. Following the gay pride event, immigration officials issued new guidelines calling for better treatment of transgender detainees. "This is all interesting on paper, to say the least, but we need to see how this actually plays out," Freedman-Gurspan told the Associated Press of the new guidelines. "We don't think these folks should be in detention centers, period."

Was Ted Cruz a Big Winner or a Big Loser From the GOP Debate?

| Tue Aug. 18, 2015 3:06 PM EDT

We now have a second poll showing who gained and who lost from the first GOP debate. It's from CNN/ORC, and its results are similar to yesterday's Fox News poll with two significant exceptions.

First, Donald Trump gained significantly in the CNN poll instead of holding steady. However, this may be just an artifact of the date of the comparison poll: July 30 for Fox and July 22 for CNN. They both have Trump at about the same absolute level currently.

The other big difference is Ted Cruz. Fox had him up four points after the debate; CNN has him down two points. Since they both had him starting at 6 percent, that's a pretty substantial difference. Aside from the normal statistical vagaries of polls like this, I can't think of a reason for it.

Anyway, it's still early days. This stuff is entertaining, but probably doesn't mean a whole lot.

E-Cigarettes May or May Not Be a Gateway Drug. (But Probably Not.)

| Tue Aug. 18, 2015 2:37 PM EDT

Are e-cigarettes a gateway drug to traditional cigarettes? There's a new study out that suggests they might be:

The study focused on ninth-graders at 10 public schools in Los Angeles who had tried e-cigarettes before the fall of 2013. Researchers surveyed those students in the spring of 2014 and fall of 2014, and discovered that they were about 2½ times as likely as their peers to have smoked traditional cigarettes.

This is a classic case of correlation which may or may not also be causation (something the authors acknowledge). Did more of the e-cigarette kids take up smoking because e-cigarettes gave them a taste for it? Or do the kids who are most likely to take up smoking in the first place simply start with e-cigarettes? There's no way to tell just from this study.

That's not to say it's worthless, though. If the study found no correlation, then you could be pretty sure that e-cigarettes don't lead to cigarette smoking. That would be worth knowing. But since it did find a correlation, we need more research to know if there's causation here.

One way to get a tentative read on this is to look at total cigarette smoking among teens. If it's up, then e-cigarettes might be leading more kids to cigarettes. If it's not up, then e-cigarettes are probably just temporarily replacing cigarettes for kids who were going to take up smoking anyway. So which is it?

As it happens, we know the answer to this: cigarette smoking has plunged among teenagers over the past four years. On the other hand, total cigarette use among teens (cigarettes + e-cigarettes) has gone up. The cigarette plunge makes it unlikely that e-cigarettes are a gateway to traditional cigarettes. But the increase in total cigarette use suggests that e-cigarettes really are creating a new market. It's complicated.

Here's How Hillary Clinton's Meeting With Black Lives Matter Activists Went

"Respectfully, if that is your position, then I will talk only to white people about how we are going to deal with the very real problems," Clinton said in one response.

| Tue Aug. 18, 2015 1:57 PM EDT

After being shut out of a scheduled campaign event in New Hampshire last week, Black Lives Matter activists engaged in a candid and, at times, tense conversation with Hillary Clinton on racial issues and criminal justice reform. Footage of the conversation, released on Monday by GOOD, appeared to show Clinton sympathizing with activists' calls for candidates to bring forth more concrete policy proposals.

"You can get lip service from as many white people as you can pack into Yankee Stadium and a million more like it who are going to say, 'We get it, we get it. We are going to be nicer,'" Clinton said. "That’s not enough, at least in my book."

But the discussion took an awkward turn when activist Julius Jones rejected Clinton's suggestion that the movement formalize a more specific plan for its next steps. "I say this as respectfully as I can," Jones told Clinton. "But if you don't tell black people what we need to do, then we won’t tell you all what you all what you need to do."

Jones also accused Clinton of engaging in victim-blaming.

"I'm not telling you," Clinton shot back. "I'm just telling you to tell me. Respectfully if that is your position then I will talk only to white people about how we are going to deal with the very real problems."

She then offered a more personal perspective on how to address the deep-seated racism in America.

"Look, I don't believe you change hearts," Clinton said. "I believe you change laws, you change allocation of resources, you change the way systems operate. You're not going to change every heart. You're not. But at the end of the day, we could do a whole lot to change some hearts and change some systems and create more opportunities for people who deserve to have them, to live up to their own God-given potential."

Following the video release of the encounter, Jones and fellow activist Daunasia Yancey told Melissa Harris-Perry of MSNBC that Clinton's responses were not enough.

“What we were looking for from Secretary Clinton was a personal reflection on her responsibility for being part of the cause of this problem that we have today in mass incarceration," Yancey said. "So her response really targeting on policy wasn’t sufficient for us."

I Read Scott Walker's Health Care Plan So You Don't Have To

| Tue Aug. 18, 2015 1:12 PM EDT

It's health care day for Scott Walker. Today he released "The Day One Patient Freedom Plan," a title that's apparently designed to give the impression that his plan would start on Day One of his presidency. Yuval Levin comments that Walker's proposal "will be familiar to health wonks," and it's true. It's the usual conservative mish-mash of HSAs, high-risk pools, tax credits, interstate insurance sales, tort reform, and block-granting of Medicaid.

Oh, and Walker's plan won't require any tax revenue. This is....a little hard to believe since a quick swag suggests that the gross cost of Walker's tax credits will run about $200 billion per year. I figure the net cost, once you account for the end of Obamacare subsidies and other current outlays, is still in the neighborhood of $100 billion or so.1 That's a lot, so I assume Walker explains pretty carefully how he's going to pull this off without any new taxes.

Indeed he does. Here's the answer: "We would simplify and reform how the federal government helps people access health insurance." Gee, I wonder why no one's thought of that before?

So far, there's nothing very interesting here. Every Republican candidate is going to release a plan very similar to this. But there is one other thing I was curious about. It turns out that protecting people with pre-existing conditions is really popular, and this means that Republicans all feel like they have to support the idea. But how? Apologies for the long excerpt, but I want to make sure you see Walker's whole answer:

No individual should fear being denied coverage, or face huge premium spikes when they get sick and then try to change jobs or insurance plans. My plan would address these concerns. It would make additional reforms to insurance coverage laws to ensure individuals with pre-existing conditions would be protected, not only when moving from employer-based plans to the individual market, but also when switching between plans. This would make insurance coverage more portable, permitting individuals to own their coverage, regardless of how or where they purchase it.

Provided individuals maintain continuous, creditable coverage, no one would see their premiums jump because of a health issue or be shut out of access to affordable health insurance because of a new diagnosis or a pre-existing medical condition. Newborns, as well as young adults leaving their parents’ insurance plans and buying their own, would have these same protections. Unlike the ObamaCare approach, my plan would protect those with pre-existing conditions without using costly mandates. By relying on incentives rather than penalties, individuals would be free to choose.

This is literally a non-answer. We do know a couple of things: (a) if you let your insurance lapse, you're screwed, and (b) Walker will somehow prevent insurance companies from raising your rates if you maintain continuous coverage. He provides no clue just what kind of insurance regulation would accomplish this, and for a good reason: I doubt there is one. Obamacare accomplishes it via community rating, which requires insurance companies to cover all comers at the same price, but Walker surely rejects this approach. What he replaces it with remains a mystery.

One other thing worth noting: Walker's tax credits would, at best, pay only for catastrophic coverage. Maybe not even that. Nor will his plan cover everyone. Nor is it likely to cost nothing. Nor does it have any concrete proposals to reduce the cost of health care. If you think that's OK, then Walker is your guy. If you think everyone should be able to receive affordable routine health care, and you're willing to pay for it honestly, you might want to stick with Obamacare.

1Don't worry about the numbers. They're just illustrative guesses on my part. I'm sure experts will weigh in eventually with better estimates.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Here Is a Video of Marco Rubio Accidentally Hitting a Kid in the Head With a Football

The "beaning" happened at the Iowa State Fair.

| Tue Aug. 18, 2015 12:31 PM EDT

Marco Rubio decided to play a friendly game of "toss a football to children to demonstrate to voters how normal and approachable I am" at the Iowa State Fair this week. Things didn't go as planned.

Our friends at SB Nation say it was the kid's fault.

This isn't some political statement. Marco Rubio is fine here. We're not talking about his politics, we'll leave that up to you -- but this is 100 percent on the hands (or head) of his receiver. The kid's arms are wide like he's catching a beach ball, his coordination is all off. Rubio threw a tight spiral.

We Are All Fans of Self-Deportation

| Tue Aug. 18, 2015 11:47 AM EDT

Ezra Klein has read Donald Trump's immigration plan and finds it even worse than he expected. I didn't feel that way: it read to me like a pretty standard right-wing take on illegal immigration, with just a few added Trumpisms (Mexico will pay for the wall, we should force companies to hire Americans, etc.). But two things in Klein's piece struck me enough to want to comment on them:

The plan would be a disaster for immigrants if enacted. But even if it's not enacted, the plan is a disaster for the Republican Party, which is somehow going to need to co-opt Trump's appeal to anti-immigration voters, but absolutely cannot afford to be associated, in the minds of Hispanic voters, with this document.

....When Mitt Romney embraced "self-deportation" in 2012, it was considered an awful mistake....But self-deportation is Trump's plan, too. And Trump's insight here is that the best way to drive unauthorized immigrants out of the country isn't to target them. It's to target their children and families.

On the first point, I think this ship sailed a long time ago. Maybe the Trump publicity juggernaut will aggravate things further, but I honestly don't see how the Republican Party could appeal to Hispanics much less than it already does. The anti-immigrant rhetoric from leading Republicans has been relentless for years, and Trump is merely adding one more voice to the chorus. Will Trump's bluster about making Mexico pay for the wall really make things any worse?

The second point is a little trickier. It's true that Mitt Romney blew it in 2012 with the infelicitous phrase "self-deportation." But the uproar that followed elided an important point: every immigration plan involves putting pressure on illegal immigrants in order to motivate them to (a) leave or (b) not come in the first place. There's a sliding scale of pain involved, and liberals tend to want less while conservatives tend to want more. But both sides make use of it.

The easiest way to think of immigration control is like this:

  1. Figure out how many illegal immigrants you're willing to tolerate.
  2. Ratchet up the the cost of illegal immigration and ratchet down the cost of legal immigration.
  3. Eventually, you'll figure out the right combination of costs that gets you to your number.

Nobody talks about immigration like this, but it's the thought process behind every immigration plan. Both Republicans and Democrats support E-Verify, for example, which makes it harder for immigrants who lack legal documents to get jobs. But what is this, other than a way to use economic pressure to persuade illegal immigrants to go back to Mexico? Likewise, both Democrats and Republicans support border security. Republicans may generally want more of it than Democrats, but Democrats are nonetheless willing to use increased security to raise the cost of crossing the border.

In the end, everyone uses this calculus,1 whether consciously or not. The amount of pressure—or cruelty, if you prefer—that you're willing to employ depends on just how many illegal immigrants you're willing to tolerate. But no matter what that number is, if you put any pressure at all on illegal immigrants, you're exploiting the power of self-deportation. Just don't say it out loud, OK?

1The exception, I suppose, are the people who advocate completely open borders. But they're a very tiny minority.

Bernie Sanders: Donald Trump Is a National Embarrassment

He didn't mince words.

| Tue Aug. 18, 2015 11:18 AM EDT

In an interview with the New York Times published on Monday, Bernie Sanders offered his views on the always entertaining presidential campaign of Donald Trump. And he didn't mince words. When asked what he thought of the Republican front-runner's continued surge in the polls, Sanders responded, "Not much," and hit back at Trump's racist rhetoric.

"I think Donald Trump's views on immigration and his slurring of the Latino community is not something that should be going on in the year 2015," Sanders said. "And it's to me an embarrassment for our country."

Sanders' comments come on the heels of several recent op-ed's attempting to draw similarities between Trump's and Sanders' policy proposals, specifically on immigration. Judging from Sanders' latest remarks, however, we're guessing the Vermont senator isn't exactly thrilled to be compared with the inflammatory real estate mogul.

Just last week, Trump took a shot at Sanders, calling him "weak" for sharing the stage with Black Lives Matter organizers at a campaign stop in Seattle. Trump assured his audience that unlike Sanders, he would have taken charge, and he even insinuated that he would have been prepared to get violent.

"I don't know if I'll do the fighting myself or if others will, but that was a disgrace," he said.

#Feelthebern? Not Really: Hillary Clinton Is Still the Odds-On Favorite.

| Tue Aug. 18, 2015 10:45 AM EDT

Should Hillary Clinton's recent spate of problems (Bernie Sanders, the email server, sagging favorability numbers) be enough to make people nervous about her chances of winning the Democratic nomination? I can answer that in four words:

It's August, folks. Chill.

In the early stages of primaries, people get nervous about candidates all the time and start tossing out bizarre ideas (Hillary will get indicted, maybe Joe Biden should run, etc.). But even strong candidates never win all the votes or cruise to victory without any problems. With the exception of incumbents running unopposed, you should expect that no candidate will get more than 60-70 percent of the vote. The fact that Bernie Sanders is polling at 30 percent or so isn't a sign of Hillary Clinton's weakness. It's a sign of a perfectly normal campaign. Nate Silver goes into more detail:

Being “inevitable” doesn’t mean you’ll sweep through all 50 states with no opposition. In the modern era (since 1972), the non-incumbent candidates who were similarly “inevitable” to Clinton, judging by the number of endorsements they had early on in the race, were Bob Dole in 1996, Al Gore in 2000, and George W. Bush in 2000. You can probably also add George H.W. Bush in 1988 to the “inevitable” list; he had a narrower endorsement lead but was the presumptive Republican nominee by virtue of being the sitting vice president.

Among these candidates, only Gore went undefeated in the primaries (and Bill Bradley came within a few percentage points of beating him in New Hampshire). In 1988, George H.W. Bush finished third in Iowa — behind Dole and Pat Robertson. In 1996, Dole lost New Hampshire to Pat Buchanan. George W. Bush lost badly to John McCain in New Hampshire in 2000.

....In Sanders, Clinton has drawn an opponent who is relatively well suited to New Hampshire and Iowa....Based on current polling averages, Sanders would almost exactly replicate Bradley’s performance in 2000, losing Iowa by double digits, giving Clinton a close call in New Hampshire, then losing badly once the calendar turned to more populous and diverse states. Or Sanders could do better than that, winning New Hampshire and a few other states in New England, the Upper Midwest or Pacific Northwest, perhaps along with one or two surprises elsewhere. But that too would be consistent with the losses that “inevitable” candidates like Clinton have endured in the past.

Silver goes on to say that emailgate doesn't seem to have hurt Hillary much (the slide in her approval ratings was both slow and inevitable) and she was going to get lots of unflattering press coverage no matter what she did. He puts her chances of winning the nomination at an unchanged 85 percent.

Barring some kind of epic meltdown, I'd put it even higher. I just don't see any credible competition out there: Bernie Sanders has a fairly low ceiling and it's too late for Joe Biden to get in. And so far, at least, I don't see much evidence that her email server problems are serious enough to cause any permanent damage.

It's traditional for leading candidates to inspire a movement to stop them. It's so traditional, in fact, that there's even a name for it: AB__. That is, "Anybody But ______ ." If Hillary Clinton inspires a similar movement, she'll be in illustrious company.