Archive for February, 2008

CHICAGO – (REUTERS) – Scientists have long admired the gecko lizard for its gravity-defying feet. Now U.S. researchers have made a waterproof bandage inspired by the sticky surface of a gecko’s paws.

The finding, published on Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, could be used in the operating room in surgeries or to repair wounds.

“What we did was to mimic what the gecko does,” Robert Langer, a professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said in a telephone interview.

Langer and colleague Jeff Karp of Harvard Medical School used computer technology to sculpt extremely tiny hills and valleys on the surface of the bandage to grip the underlying tissue, improving its adhesion.

The bandage is made of a biorubber material invented by Langer, Karp and others.

While different teams have created gecko-inspired glues that could be used in dry environments, the bandage would be suitable for use in wet environments, such as in heart, bladder or lung tissue.

It is biodegradable, so it could be left inside the body.

“There is a big need for a tape-based medical adhesive,” Karp said in a statement.

He said such adhesives must stick well when wet without causing undue inflammation or toxic effects. They also must be flexible.

To make it sticky on wet surfaces, Langer and Karp added a thin layer of a sugar-based glue to the tape. In tests on samples of pig intestines, the glue was twice as strong as adhesives with no pattern.

Langer said the bandage could be used to prevent leaks in gastric bypass surgeries or they could be used to augment sutures or staples.

“You could also put drugs in these and use them as drug or cell-delivery mechanisms,” he said.

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CLEVELAND – (NYT) – A huge Ellen suddenly materialized behind Hillary on a giant screen, interrupting her speech Monday night at a fund-raiser at George Washington University in Washington.

What better way for a desperate Hillary to try and stop her rival from running off with all her women supporters than to have a cozy satellite chat with a famous daytime talk-show host who isn’t supporting Obama?

“Will you put a ban on glitter?” Ellen demanded.

Diplomatically, Hillary said that schoolchildren needed it for special projects, but maybe she could ban it for anyone over 12.

Certainly, Hillary understands the perils of glitter. The coda of her campaign has been a primal scream against the golden child of Chicago, a clanging and sometimes churlish warning that “all that glitters is not gold.”

David Brody, the Christian Broadcasting Network correspondent whose interview with Hillary aired Tuesday, said the senator seemed “dumbfounded” by the Obama sensation.

She has been so discombobulated that she has ignored some truisms of politics that her husband understands well: Sunny beats gloomy. Consistency beats flipping. Bedazzling beats begrudging. Confidence beats whining.

Experience does not beat excitement, though, or Nixon would have been president the first time around, Poppy Bush would have had a second term and President Gore would have stopped the earth from melting by now.

Voters gravitate toward the presidential candidates who seem more comfortable in their skin. J.F.K. and Reagan seemed exceptionally comfortable. So did Bill Clinton and W., who both showed that comfort can be an illusion of sorts, masking deep insecurities.

The fact that Obama is exceptionally easy in his skin has made Hillary almost jump out of hers. She can’t turn on her own charm and wit because she can’t get beyond what she sees as the deep injustice of Obama not waiting his turn. Her sunshine-colored jackets on the trail hardly disguise the fact that she’s pea-green with envy.

After saying she found her “voice” in New Hampshire, she has turned into Sybil. We’ve had Experienced Hillary, Soft Hillary, Hard Hillary, Misty Hillary, Sarcastic Hillary, Joined-at-the-Hip-to-Bill Hillary, Her-Own-Person-Who-Just-Happens-to-Be-Married-to-a-Former-President Hillary, It’s-My-Turn Hillary, Cuddly Hillary, Let’s-Get-Down-in-the-Dirt-and-Fight-Like-Dogs Hillary.

Just as in the White House, when her cascading images and hairstyles became dizzying and unsettling, suggesting that the first lady woke up every day struggling to create a persona, now she seems to think there is a political solution to her problem. If she can only change this or that about her persona, or tear down this or that about Obama’s. But the whirlwind of changes and charges gets wearing.

By threatening to throw the kitchen sink at Obama, the Clinton campaign simply confirmed the fact that they might be going down the drain.

Hillary and her aides urged reporters to learn from the “Saturday Night Live” skit about journalists having crushes on Obama.

“Maybe we should ask Barack if he’s comfortable and needs another pillow,” she said tartly in the debate here Tuesday night. She peevishly and pointlessly complained about getting the first question too often, implying that the moderators of MSNBC — a channel her campaign has complained has been sexist — are giving Obama an easy ride.

Beating on the press is the lamest thing you can do. It is only because of the utter open-mindedness of the press that Hillary can lose 11 contests in a row and still be treated as a contender.

Hillary and her top aides could not say categorically that her campaign had not been the source on the Drudge Report, as Matt Drudge claimed, for a picture of Obama in African native garb that the mean-spirited hope will conjure up a Muslim Manchurian candidate vibe.

At a rally on Sunday, she tried sarcasm about Obama, talking about how “celestial choirs” singing and magic wands waving won’t get everybody together to “do the right thing.”

With David Brody, Hillary evoked the specter of a scary Kool-Aid cult. “I think that there is a certain phenomenon associated with his candidacy, and I am really struck by that because it is very much about him and his personality and his presentation,” she said, adding that “it dangerously oversimplifies the complexity of the problems we face, the challenge of navigating our country through some difficult uncharted waters. We are a nation at war. That seems to be forgotten.”

Actually it’s not forgotten. It’s a hard sell for Hillary to say that she is the only one capable of leading this country in a war when she helped in leading the country into that war. Or to paraphrase Obama from the debate here, the one who drives the bus into the ditch can’t drive it out.

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At the District’s tax office, the favors flowed freely.

(WP) – EVERY DAY was Christmas in the D.C. Office of Tax and Revenue. One employee got $35,000 to remodel her house, two others got $15,000 to help pay off credit card bills. Breakfast and lunch were often on the boss, as were high-end shopping sprees. District officials trying to figure out how a multimillion-dollar embezzlement scheme went undetected for years need look no further than a government culture in which goodies were taken for granted.

New revelations show that the scheme was costlier, older and more deeply entrenched than first thought. As reported by The Post’s Carol D. Leonnig, federal authorities now think the amount of money stolen may approach $50 million and that the theft started as early as 1989. Even more mind-boggling are reports of the largess handed out by Harriette Walters, former tax office manager and the alleged mastermind of the scam. Investigators are interested in at least 40 people, most of them city workers, who received cash or gifts from Ms. Walters or who signed off on paperwork to issue the bogus checks. Did they knowingly receive ill-gained goods and cash? Should they have known? Why did no one speak up? It’s outrageous that some of these employees still work for the D.C. government — and urgent that questions about their behavior be cleared up and that disciplinary action be taken where appropriate. Needless to say, the District must also aggressively seek to recoup its stolen millions.

It’s reassuring that the District is conducting top-to-bottom reviews of the city’s tax operations separate from the ongoing criminal probe by the U.S. attorney’s office. Just as anyone who broke the law needs to be prosecuted, it’s important to find out why the system failed and even more critical to fix it. The D.C. Council has retained William R. McLucas, a lawyer well known for his probe into Enron, to lead an investigation with PricewaterhouseCoopers. Additionally, Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi has established an audit committee with distinguished outside experts to review the office’s management and recommend improvements. Some 600 people work at the tax office, and it’s tragic that their accomplishments have been overshadowed by their selfish co-workers’ deceptions.

The scam appears to have been underway well before Mr. Gandhi became director of the tax office in 1997. Why, though, weren’t the notable changes instituted by Mr. Gandhi — such as ethics training, an employee hotline for wrongdoing and improved technology — more effective? No doubt part of the answer lies in the difficulty of bringing about lasting reform in a government that for too long served as easy employer for those with political friends and family connections.

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A piece by Dick Morris-

Whether on likes, dislikes, loves, hates, admires, fears, despises, or envies them, every Clinton watcher has this in common: They are dumbfounded both by the incompetence with which Hillary has run for president and her intransigence at sticking to a failed message. In a demonstration of inability and inflexibility reminiscent of her healthcare debacle of 1993-4, Mrs. Clinton seems destined to fulfill Voltaire’s description of the Bourbon kings of France: “They learn nothing. The forget nothing.”

Even now, with her back against the wall, fighting for her political career, Hillary, presumably with Bill’s acquiescence, insists on making the same mistakes that landed her in the soup. No new tactics, no new strategy, no new message emerges.


Incredibly, both Clintons are harping, once more, on the theme of experience to carry the day. No matter that it hasn’t worked since before Iowa; they repeat the same mantra endlessly – that Hillary can “hit the ground running” on “Day One.” Will they ever realize that voters grasp two essential facts:

(a) That Hillary’s experience is derivative of Bill’s and her claims to his achievements are largely invented and spurious, and

(b) That the real edge she has in experience is her ability to repeat strategies, tactics, message, fundraising models and campaign style of the 1990’s, something modern voters reject emphatically?

Why, after losing 24 states, do Hillary and Bill fail to get these messages? Are they saving up these insights for their memoirs?



And why do the Clintons persist in running a negative campaign even when they can’t find anything to be negative about? Alienating voters with their abrasive attacks without attracting them with their consent, they throw pitty-pat punches accusing Obama one day of plagiarism for borrowing speech lines from his close and consenting friend and the next day for accurately describing Hillary’s healthcare plan as requiring sanctions to make those who do not wish to sign up do so against their will – albeit for policies Mrs. Clinton deems to be “affordable”.

If you are going to pay the price of going negative, throw real punches. Hit Obama with big negatives. You take the backlash for going negative in order to pass the lethal message on to the voters. But if you don’t have any negatives to throw and your detectives have, indeed, come up empty, then stop trying to go negative. Stop alienating people to no purpose.

But as obvious as these observations are, they seem to be lost on Bill and Hillary and the geniuses who are running her campaign. Despite defeat after defeat, we still hear about experience and still get a daily dose of so-what attacks on Obama.

The deeper reality of this campaign is that Obama has shown, by his incredible skill in the way he is waging it, an ability to handle himself and a talent for the demands of center stage that show, experience or not, he is better able to be president than the inept Hillary.

We are watching a grim re-enactment of all of the character traits that led Hillary to decompose in the healthcare debate of her husband’s first term. The blind reliance on a guru-delivered strategy, the religious insistence on following the same rhetorical line even when it obviously isn’t working, and the inability to formulate new strategies or to improvise tactics when her preconceptions are found to be so obviously faulty – this is Hillary at her worst.

As citizens, we are entitled to watch Obama’s skill, leadership style, and savvy sophistication and contrast it with Hillary’s doctrinaire insistence on approaches that aren’t working and to conclude that Hillary would be a disaster as president and that Obama would be pretty good. We can, at least, conclude that the same tenacity that led Johnson into Vietnam and may be inducing Bush to risk his party, his reputation and the attitudes of a generation in Iraq may be abundantly present in Hillary.

But we are driven to wonder: Does Hillary’s rigidity stem from a false conviction or from an absence of sufficient imagination and creativity to formulate an alternative course?

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TOKYO-(G-UK) – Japan’s grim reputation as one of the world’s suicide nations has been confirmed by statistics that show more than 30,000 people a year have taken their own lives since figures first began to rise in 1998. In 2006, there were 32,115 suicides – 25 per 100,000 people; nearly 100 people a day; one every 15 minutes. The most common hour of death is 5am for men and noon for women, after their families have left for work or school.

Japan has roughly half the population of the US, yet the same number of suicides. There were 5,554 suicides of people aged 15 and over in the UK in 2006; three quarters involved men.

Experts in Japan were puzzled when the suicide rate jumped in 1998 from 24,391 to 32,863 – a 35 per cent rise – and the annual figure has continued to stay above 30,000. Two theories have been put forward by the media: bullying at school and netto shinju – online suicide pacts.

The world’s first internet suicide pact involving strangers took place in Japan in 2003. The bodies of three young people were discovered in a van on a mountain road. The windows were sealed with black duct tape and a burnt-out charcoal stove was found inside.

Police across Japan began to make similar discoveries: three or four bodies, victims usually in their late teens to mid-twenties, and often a burnt-out charcoal stove.

Last year the National Police saved 72 potential suicides who had made postings on the net. But Yukio Saito, the director of a 24-hour suicide helpline, said that until recently Japan has done nothing to stop tens of thousands of others taking their lives. The helpline takes an estimated 720,000 calls a year at its 49 centers.

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Picture of GMO Oilseed Rape

(G-UK) – The consequences of contamination between GM crops and non-GM varieties will be much more serious with the next generation of GM crops, an influential group of US scientists has warned.

Mixing between GM and non-GM varieties has already caused serious economic losses for producers in lost sales and exports. But the consequences of mixing will be much more serious with new crops that are altered to produce pharmaceuticals and industrial chemicals, the scientists argue. The crops could harm human health and be toxic to wild animals.

“What would be the impact societally, economically if for example, cornflakes were contaminated by some sort of drug or chemical? I think it would be a vast impact economically,” said Karen Perry Stillerman, senior food and environment programme analyst with the Union of Concerned Scientists.

“I think it’s really hard to say [what impact contamination would have] because there is a variety of different drugs and chemicals that might be manufactured in plants this way,” she added. “Our perception is that some of them might be toxic, but all of them would certainly cause tremendous economic upheaval.”

The group presented its findings at the American Association for the Advancement of Science conference in Boston.

Huge research effort

Up to now, commercial GM varieties have been restricted mainly to modifications for herbicide tolerance or resistance to pests. But a huge research effort is going into a new generation of crops that are genetically modified to produce drugs, hormones, vaccines and industrial chemicals such as the precursors of plastics.

Although public opinion in Britain and the rest of Europe remains firmly against GM crops in general, it is more favourable to crops with medical benefits. But the Union of Concerned Scientists said that these are precisely the crops that pose the greatest risks if they exchange genes with wild relatives or conventional versions of the same crop.

So-called “pharma crops” can offer advantages over current methods of drug manufacture. Vaccines produced this way could be grown cheaply in developing countries and simply given to patients in the food. That would remove the need for sterile needles and refrigerators to keep vaccine doses cold – a major obstacle for delivering therapies in poor countries.

Prof Paul Gepts, a plant geneticist at the University of California, Davis, said past experience suggests that “contamination” events cannot be avoided. “Gene flow is really a regular occurrence among plants. So if you put a gene out there it’s going to escape. It’s going to go to other varieties of the same crop or to its wild relatives,” he said. “It’s clear that zero contamination is impossible at present.”

Major economic losses

There have been a handful of examples in the US and elsewhere of genes from GM varieties not cleared for human consumption getting into nearby food crops and hence the human food chain. This has led to major economic losses for producers in lost sales, exports and clean-up costs, but there have been no proven cases of damage to human health.

“With the products we are talking about, there’s the potential for that to be much more serious than what we have seen so far,” said Prof Robert Wisner at Iowa State University.

According to Gepts, most of the ideas for keeping crops apart are inadequate, because pollen and seed are carried on the wind, by animals and birds and on farm machinery. He said the only way to be sure that food crops would not be contaminated by drug genes or genes for industrial chemicals would be to use non-food crops such as tobacco.

Alternatively, GM food plants could be grown in greenhouses or underground to prevent pollen escaping, he said.

Call for ban

The Union of Concerned Scientists is calling on the US Department of Agriculture to ban the growth of GM pharma crops outdoors unless they are species that are not eaten by people or livestock.

The USDA is currently putting together new guidelines on GM that are expected to be completed by the end of the year. Currently, no GM crops that produce industrial chemicals or pharma crops are grown commercially, although there are some field trials under way in the US.

Similar issues will apply in the UK and Europe if pharma crops are approved. So far, though, only a handful of GM crop varieties are grown in Europe.

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HERSHEY, Pa. — The Hershey Co. is halting production of Ice Breakers Pacs in response to criticism that the mints look too much like illegal street drugs, the company’s president and chief executive officer said Thursday.


Hershey CEO David J. West disclosed the decision during a conference call about the company’s newly released fourth-quarter earnings report.

Ice Breakers Pacs, which first hit store shelves in November, are nickel-sized dissolvable pouches with a powdered sweetener inside. The pouches come in blue or orange and bear the Ice Breakers logo.

Members of Philadelphia’s police narcotics squad said the mints closely resemble tiny heat-sealed bags used to sell powdered street drugs. They charged that the consequences could be serious if, for example, a child familiar with the mints found a package of cocaine.

“Some community and law-enforcement leaders have expressed concern” about the shape of pouch and the Xylitol sweetener inside, and about the possibility of the mints being mistaken for illegal substances, West said.

“We are sensitive to these viewpoints and thus have made the decision that we will no longer manufacture Ice Breakers Pacs,” he said.

Ice Breakers Pacs remain on store shelves but are expected to be sold out early this year and no more are being made, West said. Kirk Saville, a company spokesman, said they had been distributed nationally on a limited basis.

Hershey has said the mints were not intended to resemble anything, and West said consumers who tested and purchased the product liked it.

Linda Wagner, a narcotics officer with the Philadelphia police whose daughter died of a heroin overdose in 2001, had protested the product in letters to both company and government officials. She said she was pleased by Hershey’s decision but questioned why it took so long.

“I will not buy a Hershey’s product” again, she said. “I think they were really irresponsible” in marketing the product.

Bill Katzel, a community activist who lives near Tucson, Ariz., and worked with Wagner in fighting Ice Breakers Pacs, said the product remains widely available at stores near him.

“A better solution would have been a total recall of this product,” said Katzel, a retired medical administrator for the federal government.

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Obama Cites NAFTA in Questioning Her Criticism of Corporate World

PROVIDENCE, R.I., Feb. 24 – (WP) – Blasting “companies shamelessly turning their backs on Americans” by shipping jobs overseas and railing that “it is wrong that somebody who makes $50 million on Wall Street pays a lower tax rate than somebody who makes $50,000 a year,” Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton increasingly sounds like one of her old Democratic rivals, former senator John Edwards of North Carolina.

Eager to recapture the white, working-class voters who favored her in some of the early primaries but who have since shifted to Sen. Barack Obama, Clinton traded her usual wonky style this weekend for a fiery, populist tone in speeches in Ohio, Texas and Rhode Island.

Instead of giving precise policy details, she repeatedly pointed her finger skyward, declared that Americans “got shafted under President Bush” and cast herself as a fighter, as Edwards often described himself, promising to help most Americans, not just the “wealthy and the connected.”


Don’t look at this picture too long. I did and it made me quite ill.

In an appearance here Sunday afternoon, she mocked Obama’s hopeful rhetoric, declaring that it is not the answer to fighting entrenched interests.

“I could stand up here and say, ‘Let’s just get everybody together, let’s get unified, the sky will open, the light will come down, celestial choirs will be singing, and everyone will know we should do the right thing and the world will be perfect,’ ” she said, as people cheered and laughed. “You are not going to wave a magic wand and have the special interests disappear.”

But her rhetoric did not go unanswered. In trying to reach the same working-class voters, Obama continued to emphasize over the weekend that Clinton was part of the White House that pushed the North American Free Trade Agreement through Congress and highlighted remarks Clinton made in support of the deal.

On Saturday, Clinton charged Obama with sending out a mailer that unfairly quoted her as saying that NAFTA had been a “boon” for America, a word that Obama acknowledged Clinton had not used. But the senator from Illinois kept up his attack on Sunday while speaking to dozens of workers at a gypsum plant in Lorain, Ohio.

“Yesterday, Senator Clinton also said I’m wrong to point out that she once supported NAFTA. But the fact is, she was saying great things about NAFTA until she started running for president. A couple years after it passed, she said NAFTA was a ‘free and fair trade agreement’ and that it was ‘proving its worth.’ And in 2004, she said, ‘I think, on balance, NAFTA has been good for New York state and America.’ ”

The senator from New York has tried to distance herself from NAFTA, which is unpopular among workers in manufacturing who believe the deal has contributed to the movement of jobs overseas. In Ohio on Saturday, Clinton argued that while NAFTA “passed” during husband Bill Clinton’s administration in 1993, President George H.W. Bush actually “negotiated” the deal. Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland (D), a Clinton backer, told Bloomberg News this weekend that Bill Clinton told him Hillary Clinton had opposed NAFTA in 1993.

In Lorain, Obama blamed NAFTA for the loss of 1 million jobs since 1994, including 50,000 in the Buckeye State, and ridiculed Clinton’s efforts to distance herself from the trade deal. “It was her own husband who got NAFTA passed,” Obama said. “In her own book, Senator Clinton called NAFTA one of ‘Bill’s successes’ and ‘legislative victories.’ ”

Clinton is trying to assume the populist mantle of Edwards — whom she described in December as “screaming,” in his critiques of special interests — with March 4 looming as the decisive day for her candidacy. Four states will vote that day, but Bill Clinton, among others, has said that his wife must win the two largest — Ohio and Texas — to continue her campaign.

Her campaign aides say wooing both working-class voters and middle-income people concerned about the economy is crucial, particularly in Ohio.

“These are the voters who are up for grabs,” said Doug Hattaway, a Clinton adviser.

During the campaign, Clinton has often criticized trade agreements and the movement of jobs overseas. Over the weekend, she adopted a far more pointed tone and spent a lot of time emphasizing her populist message, reducing mentions of issues such as balancing the budget that have been standard in her speeches. She spent less time on the intricacies of her health-care plan and her proposal to withdraw troops from Iraq, heeding advice from aides who have urged her to speak in broader terms.

Clinton is seeking to get past the loss of 11 straight contests to Obama and to shore up the support of groups that have been key to her candidacy. In the states where she has performed strongly, Clinton has won among households with less than $50,000 in income, among people without college degrees and among families with at least one member in a labor union. But in last week’s primary in Wisconsin, she lost all three groups.

White, working-class men, in particular, are a key voting bloc in a race where blacks have overwhelmingly supported Obama and white women have backed Clinton. A Washington Post-ABC News poll last week showed Clinton leading overall in Ohio, where she led among white men, while the candidates were tied in Texas, where Obama had an advantage among white men.

James Rivard, a Cleveland technician who was polled and whose family makes less than $50,000, said he is leaning toward Obama but wants to hear more about the economy. “My income has been stagnant for like 12 years now, but my expenses have continued to go up, while all of this capital is leaving the country every year,” he said.

Edwards’s campaigns in 2004 and 2008 targeted working-class voters, and both Obama and Clinton have adopted some of his language about the plight of low-income voters as they seek to win over the group. In the weeks since Edwards dropped out of the race, Clinton and Obama have enthusiastically courted his endorsement and noted their support for reducing poverty, one of the key planks of his candidacy.

At a debate Thursday night in Austin, Clinton closed with a statement similar to one Edwards often used.

“Whatever happens, we’re going to be fine. . . . I just hope that we’ll be able to say the same thing about the American people, and that’s what this election should be about,” she said.

At a Dec. 13 debate, Edwards said: “All of us are going to be just fine, no matter what happens in this election. But what’s at stake is whether America is going to be fine.”

I rarely comment on this site – I leave that up to you. HOWEVER, I just have to tell you that Hillary’s revisionist statement regarding NAFTA is a bunch of horse shit.

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LOS ANGELES -(YN)- The “fellas” who worked for Ronald Reagan — he called them that because he couldn’t remember their names — rarely saw the boss angry. But James Lake, a campaign press secretary, did, just once.Lake walked into Reagan’s section of the campaign plane in 1980 and said he had to talk about something important, some issue of the day. The candidate blew up, growling: “Can’t you see I’m busy. I’m working on my speech. Go away! We’ll be there in 20 minutes and I have to give this speech.”

Lake was stunned. What did it matter? Reagan gave the same speech over and over again, practically word for word. What he did not understand, and Reagan did, was that speeches were the candidate’s real work. The words he was studying one more time, changing one or two, were what really counted. The 40th president, an amazingly effective one, understood a few big things.

This was one of them, told in two different ways:

The president’s job is not to run the country; it is to lead the nation.

In that business, words are more important than deeds.

Poor Hillary Clinton! She is smart, knowledgeable and disciplined. And she has been getting it wrong, wrong, wrong — 10 times in a row, at least. Yes, it was bad luck that she, improbably, had to run into this “kid,” a former state senator from Illinois who knew what Reagan did and what John Kennedy did. In the end, in a great democracy, what a president can and must do is bring out the best in the American people. Some, tragically, bring out the worst in our nature, as President Richard Nixon did.

Ready to govern on Day One? Does Sen. Clinton think the Office of Management and Budget is the heart of the Republic? Does she believe there is something lacking in her opponent, Sen. Barack Obama, because he is eloquent and inspirational, because he can move people, because his words can persuade and prepare them to do what must be done? Does she know why no one remembers whether Lincoln balanced the budget?

Reagan knew. We used to laugh at him because he said one of his favorite presidents was Calvin Coolidge, whose idea of a good time seemed to be taking a nap. Well, there was a lot wrong with Coolidge — for one thing, he wasn’t much of a speaker — but there was something important about one of the paragraphs in Coolidge’s autobiography that Reagan underlined as a young man: “In the discharge of the office (of president) there is one rule of action more important than all others. It consists in never doing anything that someone else can do for you.”

Ah, that Reagan, growing up along the Mississippi River, a regular Tom Sawyer, ready to persuade people to paint fences for him. Great training for a president. You can hire fence-painters and smart people.

Choosing a president is the great, most important, most dangerous responsibility in the world. It’s a gamble on character, not so much the character of a candidate but the character of the American people. In her struggle to stay in this year’s Democratic race by stopping Obama in Texas and Ohio, Clinton is right about one big thing: No one knows enough about the man to know if he will be a good president, much less a great one.

Obama does not know himself. Nor does Clinton know about herself. The job is sui generis . The presidency is not about qualifications or experience; it is about judgment. Beyond being wise and lucky in making appointments, much of any presidency is essentially reactive. The job is dealing with crises unpredictable and unanticipated: attacks, strikes, bombings, market crashes, revolutions, plagues of nature.

The best a voter can hope for is a man or woman who can find the right words to explain such things and persuade us all to follow the dictates of our better angels.

Another reason why she stumbled might be that she’s always got her nose up in the air, kinda like she’s sniffing something bad and therefore, she’s not watching where she’s walking  — ergo she’s constantly steppin’ in the shit.

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From Slate.

Stanford University law professor Richard Thompson Ford was online Thursday, Jan. 24, 2008, at noon ET to discuss his new book, “The Race Card: How Bluffing About Bias Makes Race Relations Worse,” and offers ways to separate valid claims of prejudice from mere bellyaching.

Excerpts From ‘The Race Card’

The transcript follows.

Ford is published regularly on the topics of civil rights, constitutional law, race relations, and anti-discrimination law. He is the author of “Racial Culture: A Critique.”


Richard Thompson Ford: Hello, I’m Rich Ford; thanks to everyone for your interest in my book, “The Race Card” and for taking the time to submit your questions today.


Albuquerque, N.M.: Professor Ford, I found your article in Slate about the lack of racism implicit in the Bush administration’s response to Katrina and New Orleans to be very interesting. Let’s say (heaven forbid) that Katrina had hit West Palm Beach; do you really think the administration’s response would have exhibited the same indifference and lack of engagement that we saw in New Orleans? Would those residents of West Palm Beach still be living in the same formaldehyde-infused mobile homes that the people in New Orleans have been stuck in? Would there be the same massive level of indifference from the federal government towards those people?

Richard Thompson Ford: No, I don’t think the reaction would have been the same, but I’m not convinced the reason for the difference is racism. Instead, I think it’s politics. In a part of the book we could excerpt, I argue that the Bush response was a combination of ideological opposition to social programs — which left FEMA ill-prepared for a disaster of this scale — and indifference to a population that didn’t vote for him and would be unlikely to swing elections to Republicans in the future. This had predictable racial consequences, but I do think it’s distinct from racism in the classic sense that Kanye West evoked when he said Bush didn’t care about black people. My larger point is that a racial injustice occurred even without a racist to blame for it — hence the title of that chapter of the book, “Racism without Racists.”


Shaker Heights, Ohio: I read excerpts from your book, and I am amazed you are using examples of upper-echelon rich people as support for your thesis deploring the use of the so-called race card. What about ordinary people who endure overt bigotry in hiring and promotion? Why have you fallen into the lexiconic trap of using that ridiculous phrase? I was born into this world black and female. Navigating America is not and has not ever been a card game, and I am tired of the media and others reducing racial attitudes ingrained in the majority culture to a lazy catch phrase. You obviously are capitalizing on it to make money, not engender thoughtful discussion. Shame on you.

Richard Thompson Ford: I can see you’re angry, but let me explain why I wrote this book. For me the term “The Race Card” evokes the cynical, aggressive, adversarial use of and reaction to accusations of bias. So my point is to explore the “lexiconic trap” as you put it, of the phrase — why is it so commonly used, and what social conflicts does it reflect? I do in fact discuss at length the plight of ordinary people who suffer racial injustices — both those caused by bigots and those caused by social forces, the legacy of past discrimination, indifference and misunderstandings. You may think the examples in the excerpts aren’t representative — fair enough. But they do reflect a social phenomenon and a rhetorical use of claims of bias — by both left and right and by people of all races — that demand examination. I think we could do better in addressing the many racial injustices that remain if we broke out of the familiar adversarial cycle of finger-pointing, defensive reaction and digging in of heels that has come to characterize race relations today. As for your speculation as to my motivations — first of all, you don’t know much about publishing if you think writing books on social issues if a way to get rich, and honestly, you could register your objections without unfounded and gratuitous ad hominem attacks. Thanks for thoughtful question, but for the last bit, shame on you.


Rockville, Md.: Thanks for taking my question(s). How do you define “racism”? Do you see a difference between unconscious reactions and assumptions, as opposed to acts of deliberate malice? If you think the former is a type of racism, how do you propose fostering discussion about internal prejudices without people immediately recoiling for fear of being accused of racism?

Richard Thompson Ford: How we should define racism is a question at the heart of the book. I devote a chapter to it, exploring the legal definitions of unlawful discrimination (there are several — not just one) and also the common social understandings of racism. I also talk about unconscious bias and some of the methods used to uncover it, such as the Implicit Association Test. It’s hard to talk about unconscious bias right now because people still immediately hear the word “bias” as a moral accusation, but these studies show us that bias is probably pervasive in society, and that people can’t help but make the negative associations with race that the media and our history have conditioned us to make — in fact, even most blacks seems to exhibit them. I’d like to see more discussion of how we can fix the social conditions that lead people to make negative association and less moralistic accusation. This isn’t to say there are no more old-school bigots — but I do think that most of the racial problems in our society are now caused not be virulent racists, but by old habits, entrenched patterns of behavior and the legacy of past racism — and decent people may be involved in perpetuating these evils even though they don’t mean anyone ill.


Ocala, Fla.: Let me preface my remark by saying that I am a white man. Although there have been strides in our society, the reality is that millions of white men still deny black/Mexican men two of our basic freedoms, whether inwardly or outwardly: the freedom of association, and the freedom to live where they want to. In other words, they think “don’t even think about trying to move next door to me, and don’t you dare try to get close to my daughter. I don’t see a change in those freedoms for another three or four generations. Until then, race is the issue in our country.

Richard Thompson Ford: One issue I spend a lot of time on in the book is residential segregation. I think this is the single most severe racial problem in the United States today, and a lot of the other racial injustices we face — poverty, joblessness, poor schools, crime and disproportionate arrest and incarceration rates — all either are caused or exacerbated by segregation. I agree that there are still a lot of old-school bigots with the attitude you mention; nothing I’ve written is meant to suggest otherwise. But that doesn’t mean that people don’t also use and exploit these real racial injustices by claiming bias where it’s not really at issue.

Moreover — and this is the heart of the book — there’s a lot of legitimate disagreement about when racism is in play, how to define racism and how many of today’s social evils are caused by racism as opposed to other forces — poverty, the change from an industrial to a post-industrial economy, etc. We’ve sort of run aground in terms of race relations because so much of debate hinges on finding a racist — the left too often insist that if there’s a racial problem there must be a blameworthy racist to pin it on, and the right insists that if you can’t find a evil racist then there’s no problem and no obligation to do anything about the many racial inequities that still face us. This leads to the problem of “The Race Card” — people insist on racism because that’s the only was to get anyone to address pressing social evils, but insisting on racism often leads decent and fair-minded folks to get defensive and resentful. Everybody winds up bluffing and posturing, and as a result race relations are worse. It’s possible that race is the issue — or at least a major issue — but the response needn’t be to look for a racist every time.


Alexandria, Va.: I really enjoyed your Slate article and have many questions for you. However, as a white woman, I have been told that I am not allowed to have an opinion because I don’t understand. Just saying…

Richard Thompson Ford: Point taken. I think “it’s a Black Thing — you wouldn’t understand” is as insipid a statement as “My Country Right or Wrong.” We’re all in this together, and if white people are unable or unwilling to weigh in candidly on racial issues, I don’t think we’ll get very far in cross-racial understanding. Your concern is one of the main reasons I wrote this book — to try to open up a little space for people to discuss racial issues with honesty and without censorship. Right now, we have two extremes: politically correct tiptoeing and shock-jock provocation. I hope you change your mind and go ahead and ask your questions and voice your opinions


New York: Is it your contention the disparate sentences for crack versus powder cocaine are not the result of willful racial bias?

Richard Thompson Ford: Let’s unpack this for a minute. Criminal sentencing legislation is the result of a lot of different people coming to a compromise for a lot of different reasons. Do I suspect that some of the people who supported these sentencing guidelines were motivated by racial animus? Yes, I do. Do I think everyone who supported them was? No, I don’t. Crack cocaine was a huge problem in inner-city communities in the 1980s — not just addiction and all of it’s horrific effects, but also the turf battles and violence that came with it. Power cocaine did not, by and large, produce similar problems. And it was black communities that suffered the most from the crack cocaine trade, so the sentencing also was motivated by a legitimate desire to stamp out an extremely destructive criminal trade with lots of bad consequences for African Americans. I personally don’t think the War on Drugs crackdown was sound policy, and I do think the incarceration of lots of black men for relatively minor crimes is both a mistake and an injustice — one of the worst racial injustices our society faces, along with the residential segregation that keeps these ghetto neighborhoods vulnerable to crime and violence in the first place. But I think the question of whether the disparity in sentencing is the result of racial bias is more complex than your question suggests


Arlington, Va.: I enjoyed your article on Slate and was wondering if you devote any space in your book to reacting to racist accusations. After Kanye’s comment about Bush I remarked one day that it’s hard not to think that Bush is a racist sometimes, and I was informed by a black colleague that as a white person I am not allowed to discuss racism because I have no idea what it’s like to be black. Experiences like that make it hard to empathize, especially when I grew up poor in a trailer park where both of my parents died because of alcoholism. People assume that because I am white that I am privileged, and I am finding it hard to “feel sorry” for people because they are simply not white. Which in affect seems like racism because I am being forced to treat non-whites differently for fear of upsetting them.

Richard Thompson Ford: I hate the idea that you’re not allowed to discuss racism because of your race. How can we hope to improve race relations if most of the people involved are not allowed to join a civil conversation about the issues. A lot of the book is about the reactions to these accusations — I try to explore when and why people make accusations of bias, when such accusations have merit and when they don’t, and the costs of making accusations when they aren’t warranted. One of those costs is that people just stop talking to each other and we settle into a attitude of mutual suspicion and resentment. I hope you don’t give up, and keep trying to engage people of all races on these important questions.


Silver Spring, Md.: Racism is not something that is always perpetuated by evil racists. Racism is racism — it doesn’t become something less because a person supposedly is “decent” and appears to have no ill will, or because the person who is racist is the same color of the race that they are prejudice toward. (Black folks have been brainwashed since slavery to feel inferior.) I think that is the problem: firstly, the belief that race accounts for differences in human character or ability and that a particular race is superior to others, and secondly discrimination or prejudice based on race. This is racism! It needs to be applied equally without all these qualifying outs.

Richard Thompson Ford: I agree with some of what you say. I titled a chapter of the book “Racism Without Racists” precisely because I do think we can have racial injustices without racists. But too often we act as if there must be a racist to blame when there is a racial problem, and people blame the guy closest by.

I also spend a chapter of the book exploring different legal and social definitions of racism. In the law, we find that “discrimination on the basis of race” is extremely hard to define — it’s an ideologically contested term, not the simple matter you imply it is here. I hope the book helps people to think through the issues your question has raised.


Washington: Have you seen the John Stewart video on the “Race Card”? Extremely relevant.

Richard Thompson Ford: I haven’t seen it but I’m going to as soon as I’m finished here — thanks for the tip


Richard Thompson Ford: Thanks to everyone who submitted questions. I would like to have answered them all, but time wouldn’t permit. My apologies to people who I couldn’t answer.


Thoughts anyone?

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