Political MoJo

Poor Pregnant Women with Herpes Don't Get Meds, and Someone Notices

| Wed Dec. 6, 2006 9:03 AM EST

GlaxoSmithKline, in testing their herpes med, Valtrex, may have put women in harm's way. This according to Public Citizen, which, in the Dec 1 issue of Obstetrics and Gynecology accuses the pharma giant of withholding important medication from poor and minority women.

In a recent clinical trial 168 pregnant women were given a placebo rather than an alternative herpes drug, while the other 170 were given medication. This, despite the fact that research has shown that the drug and its generic, acyclovir, reduces risks associated with herpes and pregnancy (the virus can be fatal for infants who contract the disease at birth).

The study, which took place earlier this year and was funded by GlaxoSmithKline, enrolled more than 300 black and Hispanic pregnant women at Parkland Hospital in Dallas. The hospital serves a largely indigent population. Public Citizen's Dr. Peter Lurie is outraged:

"What I don't understand is how you can do a research study and conclude that a drug is effective and then stare a bunch of pregnant women in the face and withhold the very drug you've just recommended."

A doctor involved in the study, Dr. George Wendel, would not comment specifically on allegations that poor women were taken advantage of, instead saying that the study was designed and conducted "according to good research practices" and was approved by the hospital's ethics review board.


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Justice for Thai Drug War Victims?

| Wed Dec. 6, 2006 2:42 AM EST

The families of thousands of Thai citizens slaughtered in a 2003 government assault on alleged drug dealers may finally get a measure of justice. Gen. Surayud Chulanont, Thailand's new prime minister who seized power in a recent coup, has pledged to look into dozens of cases in which families of those killed in the crackdown by the former government have lodged formal complaints. Thai human rights groups say the former prime minister gave security forces a "license to kill" in the anti-drug campaigns. To date, not a single person has been prosecuted for the 2,600 killings they carried out.

Income Inequality in the U.S.? Nah.

| Tue Dec. 5, 2006 9:46 PM EST

Via Think Progress, you can see Paul Krugman and Neil Cavuto duke it out over Krugman's new article, "How the Super-Rich Are Screwing America," in Rolling Stone Magazine. Cavuto tells Krugman he is lying to people and that income inequality is actually not worse now than it was 10 and even 20 years ago, as Krugman argues in his piece. Income inequality seems to be the topic of the day. Over at the Economist's Free Exchange, they argue, citing an in-house report, that although "high earners experienced more than a 30% increase in their real income over the last thirty years...[and] the bottom 50% of wage earners saw their real income increased by only 5-10%," income inequality isn't that marked and if it is, who really cares anyway? It might spawn economic growth. Whether you want to argue that economic inequality creates an incentive for education, which then leads to a more productive workforce and greater economic growth, as the folks over at the Economist have done today, is up to you. Although Clive Crook from the Atlantic Monthly would definitely disagree. In his article "A Matter of Degrees," Crook argues that education is not an "economic cure-all," which it is so often touted as, but in fact it is just a way to differentiate oneself from another (so if everyone is going to college, then it won't give you a leg up anyway). Regardless, the facts are in. The income gap is growing and the effects of this are dire (for many). In "How the Rich Get Richer" and "Poor Losers," Mother Jones highlights this growing chasm between the rich and the poor:

In 2005, there were 9 million American millionaires, a 62% increase since 2002.

Since 2000, the number of Americans living below the poverty line at any one time has steadily risen. Now 13% of all Americans—37 million—are officially poor.

Only 3% of students at the top 146 colleges come from families in the bottom income quartile; only 10% come from the bottom half.

Since 1983, college tuition has risen 115%. The maximum Pell Grant for low- and moderate-income college students has risen only 19%.

Bush's tax cuts give a 2-child family earning $1 million an extra $86,722—or Harvard tuition, room, board, and an iMac G5 for both kids.

Bush's tax cuts (extended until 2010) save those earning between $20,000 and $30,000 an average of $10 a year, while those earning $1 million are saved $42,700.

You can get all the stats here and here.

Who's Classless Now?

| Tue Dec. 5, 2006 9:23 PM EST

By now, most people have heard about the exchange between George W. Bush and newly elected Congressman Jim Webb of Virginia. To refresh your memory: At a White House reception, Bush asked Webb, "How's your boy?", referring to the Congressman's son Jimmy, who is serving in Iraq. "I'd like to get them out of there," Webb replied, and Bush said "I didn't ask you that, I asked how's he doing."

"That's between me and my boy," was Webb's final statement to Bush. Webb, not known for verbal niceties, was immediately attacked by the press. George Will called him a boor, Bill O'Reilly called him "rude" and "disrespectful," and The National Review called him "classless."

Here is the rest of the story, according to Congressman Jim Moran of Virginia: Jimmy Webb was recently standing next to a vehicle in Iraq that was blown up. All three Marines in the vehicle were killed. Before the reception, Bush was briefed on the young Webb's close call, and was also warned to be extra sensitive in discussing him with his father.

So there you are. Just imagine if Bush hadn't been warned.

Warner: Best Hearing Ever

| Tue Dec. 5, 2006 5:59 PM EST

Before the Senate Armed Services Committee interrupted its questioning of Robert Gates to break for lunch, outgoing chairman John Warner commented that today's hearing was among "the best we've had" in his 28 years in the Senate – "best" being code, one assumes, for least contentious. The hearing was certainly uncharacteristically civil and free, for the most part, of partisan barbs, save for one surreal moment when Senator Hillary Clinton questioned Gates on whether he believed the President and the Vice President are "intelligent men." But absent from the hearing as well were any tough questions about the serious allegations that have been leveled against Gates in the past, including his role in Iran-Contra and in politicizing intelligence at the CIA.

Senator Carl Levin, the ranking Democrat on the committee, came the closest to raising these issues, asking Gates to comment on a passage from former Secretary of State George Shultz's memoir, Turmoil and Triumph: My Years as Secretary of State, which relates a conversation Shultz had with Gates, then the acting CIA director, in January 1987. "I don't have any confidence in the intelligence community," Shultz reportedly told Gates. "I feel you all have very strong policy views. I feel you try to manipulate me. So you have a very dissatisfied customer. If this were a business, I'd find myself another supplier."

Gates responded by telling Levin that he believed Shultz's view of intelligence was colored by his fractious relationship with former CIA director (and Gates' mentor) William Casey. "Bad blood influenced the Secretary of State's view of intelligence," he said, pointing out that Casey had once written to President Ronald Reagan recommending that Shultz be fired. Levin did not press him further.

Certainly Shultz was not the only one who distrusted the information coming out of the CIA. So did some career CIA analysts who believed Casey and Gates were subverting the intelligence process in order to play up the Soviet menace. One of them was Mel Goodman, a longtime friend of Gates and a veteran Soviet analyst, who became one of his most vocal critics, offering damaging testimony during Gates' confirmation hearings in 1991 as he sought to become the director of Central Intelligence. "My major concerns are issues of integrity," Goodman told me recently. "For me, basically, the test of character is what you do when no one's looking. I don't think Bob Gates can be trusted when no one's looking."

Perhaps the Democratic wing of the Armed Services Committee, who would seem the most likely to raise questions about Gates' past, feel this is ancient history, but it certainly seems relevant given the intelligence failures – to put it charitably – that preceded the Iraq war.

During the hearing Gates, who has previously been circumspect about what he knew about Iran-Contra, was praised repeatedly by members on both sides of the aisle for being a straight-shooter. "Dr. Gates, thank you for your candor," Clinton remarked. "That's something that has been sorely lacking from the current occupant in the position that you seek to hold." She was referring to the way Gates had fielded questions about Iraq, at one point answering "No, sir" when asked by Carl Levin whether "we are currently winning in Iraq." Sadly, it seems any semblance of truth passes for candor in Washington these days.

Trouble in Paradise

| Tue Dec. 5, 2006 5:28 PM EST

The New York Times is running a fantastic article today about homelessness in Hawaii. Rents there have skyrocketed in recent years, leaving many working class Hawaiians with no other option than to set up camp along the state's gorgeous coastlines (see Cory Lum's amazing photo for the Times below). The problem is especially bad along the Waianae coast of Oahu, where the population is largely native Hawaiian.

 hawaii_tents.gif

Needless to say, Hawaii's officials are displeased. Lester Chang, Waianae's parks and recreation director, said "I think all communities have to deal with this situation, but Hawaii is unique because it's an island. There's no place to push them off to."

To their credit, local and state officials are looking into substantive solutions to the problem. They face an uphill battle, since the state dissolved its housing department in the late 90s in the wake of a scandal. But it's a bigger scandal to have such a lavish gift of nature converted into a dumping ground for island natives who have jobs and are able to pay reasonable rents, and still can't find a place to live in their homeland.

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Al Sadr's Mouthpiece Chimes in on Iran, Secession and Saddam

| Tue Dec. 5, 2006 4:56 PM EST

The Oxford International Review, an international affairs journal, released their special coverage of Iraq in early November (and has subsequently been releasing transcripts each week). OIR has compiled exclusive interviews with Iraqi and coalition leaders. (The Iraq Special Edition in its entirety is available for purchase here, but Foreign Policy has an excerpted interview in their November/December issue.) The interview is with Baha al Araji, the spokesman of powerful Iraqi leader, Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al Sadr. Some highlights:

FP: What should be the role of Iraq's neighbors?

BAA: They think that there is major collaboration between Iraqi Shia and Iran, but we will control this. It is a very big mistake to think that our community works at the behest of Iranian allies and friends.I don't think Iran likes Iraq. Iran is the beneficiary of this current situation. Iran's enemy is the United States, so Iran does everything in its power to fuel instability in the new Iraq so that Iran can remain strong and keep the United States distracted. The reason nobody is doing anything about Iran's nuclear program is that they are all too busy trying to salvage Iraq.

FP: Do you think Kurdistan will split off from Iraq? Will the south also secede?

BAA: Of course other regions want to secede. Would you want to be part of this mess by choice? If you believed that you could build a prosperous life and leave the forces of violence to fight their own petty wars of attrition on the streets of Baghdad, you would do it. These threats of secession say nothing of Iraqi unity or fragmentation. People just want a normal life.

The release of these interviews is interestingly timed as President Bush faces decisions to be made about the future of Iraq. The Baker Commission's recommendations are set to be released tomorrow. Like I have said before, I do not think al Sadr should be driving the decisions of the adminstration or those of the Iraqi government, for that matter, but nonetheless, al Sadr is a powerful dissenting voice (although by no means is he the only one) who could shape the future of Iraq much more than the President, the Baker Commission or the Pentagon, so it is best not to ignore him.

Hopefully Bush is springing for the entire edition.

List of Bush Officials Indicted, Convicted, Investigated, Etc.

| Tue Dec. 5, 2006 3:20 PM EST

They are doing God's work over at TPMmuckraker. They've thrown together a list of the Bush Adminstration officials who have been indicted, convicted, forced to resign due to scandal, or bumped from the nomination process due to ethical problems. We highly recommend checking it out. It's a long list, topped, of course, by Scooter Libby, but in total there are only 26 names.

In contrast, consider this quote, from Sleepwalking Through History: America in the Reagan Years: "By the end of his term, 138 Reagan administration officials had been convicted, had been indicted, or had been the subject of official investigations for official misconduct and/or criminal violations."

Don't worry, George! You only need 112 more convictions, indictments, or resignations-in-disgrace to catch up to your role model. That's only 4.5 per month for the last 25 months of your presidency. With a Democratic Congress, you might have an outside chance!

Gates on Iran and Syria

| Tue Dec. 5, 2006 1:02 PM EST

Amid the predictable softball questions directed at Robert Gates at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee this morning, it was only Robert Byrd, the elder statesman of the Senate, who cut to the chase.

When Byrd asked Gates if he supported an attack on Iran, Gates replied, "I think military action against Iran would be a last resort…. Military consequences [could be] quite traumatic."

What about the likely consequences of a US attack on Iran, Byrd asked Gates. "While Iran cannot attack us directly militarily, their capacity to close off the Persian Gulf to exports of oil and to unleash a significant wave of terror in the Middle East, in Europe, and even here is very real."

An attack on Syria? "Syrian capacity to do harm to us is far more limited…."

Gates, prompted by Byrd, added that an attack on either Syria or Iran would lead to greater American casualties in Iraq. "I think that it would give rise to significantly greater anti-Americanism than we have seen to date. I think that it would immensely complicate our relationship with virtually every country in the region."

Byrd, possibly testing Gates to make sure he'll not simply be a shill for the administration, then asked the nominee who he believed was responsible for the 9/11 attacks, Saddam Hussein or Osama bin Laden. "Osama bin Laden," Gates responded quickly.

Seven Questions for Robert Gates

| Tue Dec. 5, 2006 10:50 AM EST

No one expects that Robert Gates, the nominee for Defense Secretary who begins his testimony this morning before the Senate Armed Services Committee, will face the withering scrutiny he did in 1991, when he was confirmed as the director of Central Intelligence after a monthlong series of hearings that spotlighted many of his alleged misdeeds as a senior official at the CIA. But one can only hope the Committee members don't steer clear of Gates' questionable past and ask the nominee some pointed questions. Among them:

-Why did the CIA fail to predict the collapse of the Soviet Union?

-What role did you have as a subordinate of CIA director William Casey in the Afghan war against the Soviets?

-Please tell us all the occasions since 1988 (under both Bush administrations) on which you were asked for advice on the Afghan and Iraqi wars and what advice you gave.

-In 1984 you wrote Casey that: "It is time to talk absolutely straight about Nicaragua," and added, "The Nicaraguan regime is steadily moving toward consolidation of a Marxist-Leninist government, and the establishment of a permanent and well-armed ally of the Soviet Union and Cuba on the mainland of the western hemisphere. Its avowed aim is to spread further revolution in the Americas." You said this was an "unacceptable" course and argued the U.S. should do everything "in its power short of invasion to put that regime out." Any hopes of causing that regime to reform itself for a more pluralistic government are "essentially silly and hopeless." With Daniel Ortega back in power, what should we do now? Does he now pose a threat to the western hemisphere? Are hopes for a pluralistic government still "essentially silly and hopeless"? Your views, please.

-In 1985 you wanted to "redraw the map of North Africa," advocating invading Libya with a force of 90,000 American soldiers, seizing half the country, and overthrowing Muamar Ghaddafi. On the basis of your advice, Casey ordered up a list of Libyan targets. Please explain your thinking on Libya.

-You have said that you first learned of the operation we now know as Iran-Contra when Eugene Hasenfus's plane was shot down over Nicaragua on October 5, 1986. If that is so, tell us about your meeting on October 1, 1985 with the CIA's National Intelligence Officer, Charles Allen, who told you of his suspicion funds were being diverted to the Contras. What action did you take when he told you this?

-Some of your former colleagues at the CIA allege that you played a role in politicizing intelligence at the agency, a claim you have long denied. Can you explain how a memo came to be drafted under your direction, based on information from one source, that alleged Soviet involvement in the Papal Plot? Why did your cover note on this memo, which was sent to the president and the vice president, call this assessment a "comprehensive examination"?