Friday, September 05, 2008

Sarah Palin gets the spiteful Margaret Thatcher treatment

A comment from Janet Daley in Britain

There are few sights more bloodcurdling than the liberal pack in full cry. The viciousness of the attacks on Sarah Palin is a testimony to the degree of panic her appointment has generated in Leftist circles. It would seem that it is only sexist to trash a woman candidate if she is a Woman Candidate, which is to say a liberal.

It took about 20 minutes after John McCain announced her as his running mate for the attack machine to mobilise: woman candidate (bleep, bleep), no previous warning (nee-naw, nee-naw), exterminate, exterminate.

At first, it was pretty tenuous stuff: her husband had once been caught on a drink-drive charge - when he was 22 years old. You don't say. In blue-collar America, having only one drink-drive offence pretty much qualifies you as a Grade A wimp. Then the piranhas got hold of a real prize (or so they thought): the 17-year-old daughter of this Christian Evangelical family was pregnant.

Yes, these things happen - and this particular thing happens quite a lot among the working-class American families that Mrs Palin personifies. She and her daughter are being true to their convictions: the girl will have her baby and marry her boyfriend. There will be no abortion or adoption.

The Palin family will offer them love, compassion and support. What's your problem? Christianity (even of the Evangelical sort) does not expect human beings to be faultless: it demands only that they make amends for their transgressions and accept responsibility for them. The Evangelical churches have made it their particular mission in recent years to support teenage mothers and urge their families to stand by them. So where is the shame in this situation?

Now those who are not of the Palins' religious persuasion may well feel that it is wrong to allow a 17-year-old to marry and start a family. If one of my daughters had become pregnant at the age of 17, would I have advised her to have the baby and marry the father? No, I would not.

Do I respect the decision of another mother and daughter to make that choice based on their own values? Yes, I do. And that - as far as I am concerned - is what it means to be a "liberal". Which brings us to the subject of those hokey old redneck values that the Guardian and the blogosphere find so amusing (or pernicious, depending on their degree of dedication).

I personally am, and always have been, fervently pro-choice on abortion. I do not consider this to be the only sanctified Woman's point of view because I am aware that huge numbers of women disagree with me. Whenever I touch on the subject, they write in and tell me so, often in eloquent and passionate terms. But according to the official feminist sisterhood (which was taken over by the totalitarian Marxist tendency long ago) you can represent the views of Women only if you accept the tenets of their ideology. Ergo, Mrs Palin is not a Woman Candidate.

She is a renegade, the gender equivalent of an Uncle Tom. In the US, her position is particularly incendiary because it is part of the culture war between metropolitan liberals and provincial America: that vast fly-over country where people (or "folks", as they call themselves) still live by the standards the Palin family embodies. Life is about hard work and hard play.

They hunt with guns from childhood. They talk about sin (and redemption) in ways that embarrass the urban elite, and they regard patriotism as a fundamental part of their moral code. (It is the liberals' ambivalence about patriotism that they detest most.)

Like Margaret Thatcher before her, Mrs Palin is coming in for both barrels of Left-wing contempt: misogyny and snobbery. Where Lady Thatcher was dismissed as a "grocer's daughter" by people who called themselves egalitarian, Mrs Palin is regarded as a small-town nobody by those who claim to represent "ordinary people".

What the metropolitan sophisticates failed to understand in the 1980s when Thatcher won election after election is even more the case in the US: most (and I do mean most) ordinary people actually believe in the basic decencies, the "small-town values", of family, marital fidelity, and personal responsibility. They believe in and honour them - even if they do not manage to uphold them. Middle America - of which Alaska is spiritually, if not geographically, a part - builds its life around those ideals and regards commonplace moral lapses as part of the eternal struggle to be good.

The life of small-town USA is based on the principles of those Protestant colonial settlers who founded the nation: hard work, self-improvement, personal faith and family devotion. Mrs Palin speaks to and for them in a way that patronising "liberal" elitists find infuriating.


Obama Is the Anti-Thatcher

The Democratic Party Convention in Denver has been called political theater, but it was really a masquerade ball. Again and again, speakers invoked the language of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan -- stressing the value of hard work and responsibility for self and family -- while advancing a set of pro-union and collectivist economic policies. If today's Democrats had their way, they would put the United States in the same approximate position as pre-Thatcher Britain, when the streets of London were choked with garbage because of a strike by sanitation workers and Britain was known around the world as "the sick man of Europe."

The most overworked word at the Democratic Convention was "work" itself. Barack Obama used the word 35 times in his address. Joe Biden mentioned it 22 times. Both told stories of parents and grandparents who worked their fingers to the bone in realizing the American dream of building a better life. Mr. Biden's speech included a touching vignette about his father, who told him, "Champ, when you get knocked down, get up. Get up."

But the real thrust of the message that Mr. Obama and he gave to the cheering multitudes in Denver was: You are entitled to your job. If you are hit by a foreign competitor who is leaner and hungrier and less coddled than you, get down and stay down, and expect the government to put you back on your feet.

When Mrs. Thatcher became Britain's prime minister in 1979, she assumed leadership of a country that had been devastated by several decades of ruinous economic and social policies. This was due to the same aversion to competition and international trade, and the same misplaced faith in the ability of government to act as the engine of progress and the guarantor of jobs.

In her speech to the Conservative Party in 1981, Mrs. Thatcher said: "We have to earn a living in a world that can choose between the goods that we produce and those of other countries. . . . And here let me say plainly to the trade union leaders: You are often your own worst enemies. Why isn't there more? Because too often restrictive practices rob you of the one thing you have to sell -- your productivity. . . . When two men insist on doing the work of one, there is only half as much for each."

In his speech to the Democratic convention, Mr. Obama said: "I'll help our auto companies re-tool, so that the fuel-efficient cars of the future are built right here in America. I'll make it easier for the American people to afford these new cars. And I'll invest $150 billion over the next decade in affordable, renewable sources of energy -- wind power and solar power and the next generation of biofuels; an investment that will lead to new industries and five million new jobs that pay well and can't ever be outsourced."

One has to wonder who Mr. Obama thinks he is to suppose he'd be able to make so many correct calls in directing investment flows in one industry after the next while sitting in the White House. But his presumptuousness is not unprecedented. The Labour Party politicians in Britain who came to power at the end of World War II shared the same enthusiasm for government direction and micromanagement of the economy.

Like the Democratic Party of today, the Labour Party of yesteryear was obsessed with the issue of job security and fearful of competition from abroad. However, by the mid 1970s, having seen the country's fortunes decline for three consecutive decades, even the Labour Party could see the futility of its centralized, interventionist approach. Labour's Jim Callaghan, the last prime minister before Mrs. Thatcher, admitted in Parliament: "Let me say that of course there has been a fall in peoples' standard of life. It has fallen this year and will fall again next year."

In revitalizing the British economy, Mrs. Thatcher lightened regulation, reduced trade barriers, privatized a raft of publicly owned companies, lowered taxes (especially for the most highly taxed, which is to say those at higher income levels), and went to battle against the powerful trade-union bosses in order to establish greater democracy within the unions. She outlawed the closed shop and required ballots before strikes and ballots in the election of trade-union leaders.

One thing she did not do was to set a goal of full employment -- insisting that "jobs (in a free society) depend not on government but upon satisfying customers." Contra Mr. Obama, she also stated: "The fact is that in a market economy government does not -- and cannot -- know where jobs will come from: If it did know, all those interventionist policies for 'picking winners' and 'backing success' would not have picked losers and compounded failure."

Due to the success of the United Auto Workers in making unreasonable demands over an extended period of time, what the Iron Lady might drily refer to as "an increase in wages and benefits out of proportion to any increase in output or productivity" has clearly crippled today's domestic U.S. auto makers. An Obama presidency would give a huge and unwarranted boost to union power and privileges.

The misnamed and undemocratic Employee Free Choice Act -- co-sponsored by Mr. Obama and almost certain to pass into law if he becomes president -- would go a long way in extending union power over a far greater number of private-sector companies by taking away the right to a secret ballot in union elections. It would give union organizers the time and opportunity to badger and intimidate workers who refused to sign union cards.

If, under an Obama presidency, the unions succeed in organizing Wal-Mart -- now the biggest target in their sights -- it will have one entirely predictable result: not the protection of jobs but the destruction of jobs by slowing or stopping Wal-Mart's growth. Nor will it help U.S. consumers if Wal-Mart is forced to hang out new signs saying "Everyday High Prices."


Cholesterol lowering drug 'increases risk of cancer by 50 per cent'

LOL! Conventional "wisdom" again. How often have I repeated the old saw that the medical miracle of today is the iatrogenic disaster of the future! The solons are spinning like tops, of course -- even though the evidence for harm is similar to the evidence for benefit -- weak in both cases

A cholesterol-lowering drug may increase the risk of cancer by half, according to new findings. Researchers found there were 105 cases of cancer in people taking Inegy compared to 70 in those on a dummy drug over a four year period. The study also suggested that Inegy, which combines a statin called simvastatin and another drug called ezetimibe, has little effect in reducing the risk of heart attacks and strokes

Prof Heinz Drexel, of the University of Innsbruck in Austria and spokesman for the European Society of Cardiology, said: "I am not sure that the efficacy is proven and I am not sure that the safety is proven. I wouldn't take the drug myself. "In patients with an urgent need to reduce cholesterol I would give them the drug but that is they are the exception and that is not consistent with how it is being used currently. "It is being more widely used than I think it should be. We can use something else in patients whose cholesterol is not sky high."

In the last two years 300,000 prescriptions for Inegy were dispensed in England and Wales and between four and five million people are thought to be taking standard statins. The National Institute for health and Clinical Excellence (Nice) has approved ezetimibe for use in people with an inherited high cholesterol disorder who cannot take normal statins. Doctors have not been told to stop prescribing the drug but the British Heart Foundation said any patients with concerns should speak to their GP.

The lead author of the new study, Prof Terje Pedersen, of Ulleval University Hospital in Oslo, called for caution, saying the findings could be down to "chance". An analysis carried out by a team at Oxford University also said two other trials had not found the same link and the findings probably were due to chance. But Prof Drexel said there were 50 per cent more cases of cancer among patients taking the drug, which suggested it was unlikely to be a statistical fluke. He agreed that the findings, presented at the European Society of Cardiology congress in Munich, do not prove the drug causes cancer and said a longer follow up will be needed to know for sure.

The research involving 1,873 people with a mild to moderate aortic stenosis - which causes partially blocked heart valve - also showed that although the drug did lower cholesterol, it appeared to have little effect on the number of cardiovascular events such as heart attacks and strokes. There was also a higher proportion of deaths from cancer with 39 deaths in the Inegy group and 23 deaths in those on the placebo. The cancers in both groups were across all major areas of the body including the skin and lungs, according to the findings, which were also published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

An editorial in the journal said it should not be assumed that the cancer finding is down to chance until more data is available. It said ezetimibe interfered with the absorption of cholesterol but also affected the absorption of other molecules which could affect the growth of cancer cells. The editorial states: "Physicians and patients are unfortunately left for now with uncertainty about the efficacy and safety of the drug." British and American drugs regulators are investigating the findings but doctors have not been advised to stop prescribing the drug.

Dr Mike Knapton, Director of Prevention and Care at the British Heart Foundation (BHF) said: "People should be reassured that drug regulators will act quickly if robust evidence of risk to patient health appears. "If you have been prescribed ezetimibe you should continue to take it. If you have concerns about side effects of this or other medication, you should talk to your doctor to weigh up the risks and benefits."

A spokesman for Merck and Schering-Plough, makers of Inegy, said: "We do believe that the cancer findings in the study are likely to be an anomaly and that in light of all the available data does not support an association with Inegy. "We are working with regulatory agencies to further evaluate the data. However, we do not believe that changes in the clinical use of Inegy are warranted."


We need a change of heart on statins

They say love is blind, and if there is one thing that doctors can be accused of, it is being in love with statins. Over the past few years, prescribing figures at my practice have constantly been topped by these drugs.

They also say love endures and our love affair with statins is likely to survive yesterday's report of a link between a combination statin and an increased risk of cancer (especially as this link has not been seen when patients have been on statins alone).

Love has its basis in attraction, and statins are extremely alluring - between four and five million of us are being prescribed the standard version. Their prescription, in combination with other powerfully effective medicines, makes a real difference to those with diabetes or existing cardiovascular disease (the so-called secondary prevention). The inexorable decline of the "heart patient" can often be arrested and, following a heart attack, or the development of angina or diabetes, patients are able to maintain a level of health unimaginable a decade or two ago. No wonder GPs are so enthused.

Love, though, can go to your head. And while no one would dispute the use of statins in secondary prevention, there is increasing pressure to prescribe them to people who are fit and well - but who may be worried about their cholesterol levels, or their risk of cardiovascular disease (this is primary prevention). Here the drug's power is not so great, and so doctors and patients should listen to their heads as well as their hearts when embracing statins.

What the drug cannot do is turn vice into virtue. No drug can yet do this. Patients may be half joking when they ask me for something to lower their cholesterol so they can continue eating their high-dairy, high-fat diet, but their request reflects the increasingly prevalent perception that the magic of modern medication can overcome the need for lifestyle changes. Stopping smoking, taking exercise, modifying diet, paying rigorous attention to blood pressure - in many instances these changes can be more effective in warding off cardiovascular disease than taking a statin.

But the power that has been handed to doctors by medical advances often leads patients to believe that science can conquer all, no matter what the ravages of our lifestyle or our age. Why bother going to the gym or eating five a day when you can take one of those new-fangled anti-obesity drugs? Why use sunblock and sit in the shade when Botox will get rid of those wrinkles? And from there, we move on to: I don't have one of those affluent happy lifestyles I see all about me, I must be depressed. Can I please have a happy pill?

We have irrational expectations about our health and wellbeing, which are, ironically, often fuelled by a medication culture. Preventative medicine makes us miserable - reportedly, the higher a population's exposure to medication, the lower its people rate their health. That's the trouble with prescribing biologically active chemicals to those who aren't necessarily high-risk cases: once you're on the tablet, you are medicalised. You have entered the world of checks and monitoring and have replaced the assumption of health with the fear of illness.

I see it in the reactions of patients when I discuss the necessity of medication to lower their blood pressure, replace their deficient thyroid or other long-term treatments. It is a step out of the fearlessness of youth to the multiple medications of old age. So if the love of statins has spun heads, including mine, it is only because they are so wonderful at improving the longevity and function of those already at risk. Those who aren't, however, must resist the siren call of medication which so easily blinds us to the other preventative measures that very often lie within our own grasp. Even if the lure of a magic pill seems like an easier alternative.


More indoctrination for British kids

New pupils enrolling in secondary schools this week will be required by law to stay in education until the age of 17, the government said on Wednesday. Raising the minimum leaving age from 16 to 17 is just one of several initiatives taking place in schools this term. Teenagers heading back to school after the summer holidays will also be among the first to study new diplomas in engineering, construction, IT, media and health. The syllabus for 11 to 14-year-olds will also see significant changes, as will well as changes to GCSE and A level exams, with the latter getting a new A* grade for the top achieving pupils.

The steps are part of the government's drive to keep youngsters in education or training till the age of 18 -- a move which will become enforceable in 2015. Ministers estimate around 200,000 youngsters between 16 and 18 are not in education or training.

"Education is all about opportunities -- a good education opens doors. It is the single best way for anyone, regardless of background, to do well and to gain the skills they need to succeed at whatever they want to do," said Schools Secretary Ed Balls. "I want to see a situation where every single young person has a range of interesting, exciting and challenging options ahead of them at every stage of their education, so that they never feel tempted to drop out or give up," he said. "This year will see some of the biggest steps towards this goal yet."

Meanwhile, a slew of computer glitches has caused more embarrassment for ministers after it emerged that around 150,000 17-year-old pupils will not receive their maintenance grants. The allowances, worth up to 30 pounds a week, were held up when the company responsible for processing applications, developed software problems.


A bonanza in Wales

VAST swathes of the South Wales coalfields could be at the centre of a multi-billion-pound gas industry, according to a global energy firm hoping to extract a valuable energy source. Australian-based company Eden Energy has announced that the coalfield beneath Bridgend, Pencoed, the Llynfi Valley and parts of Port Talbot is saturated with valuable methane. While methane was once the miner's deadliest enemy, causing devastating underground blasts, it could now be at the centre of a major energy supply business.

The clean coal technology firm yesterday made the first resource estimate from drilling for coal seam methane. And the results have been astonishing. Perth-based Eden says the prospective recoverable resource from just one of its drilling areas - Port Talbot - could provide heat to every home in a town the size of Maesteg for the next 670 years.

Eden has a joint arrangement with Pyle-based Coastal Oil and Gas Ltd, run by Welsh businessman and energy expert Gerwyn Williams, to drill not only in Port Talbot but also in an area stretching to the Llynfi Valley above Maesteg to the north and Pencoed to the east.

Eden says the prospective recoverable methane in its Port Talbot area alone could raise 380 to 670 petajoules of methane energy. One petajoule is equivalent to a million gigajoules and the average, well insulated home can be heated using 50 gigajoules a year. At today's inflated gas prices, the value of the methane field in South Wales could run into hundreds of billions of pounds.

Eden Energy's executive chairman Greg Solomon said yesterday: "This initial estimate confirms what we have always suspected, that we are sitting on a major resource of coal seam methane at a time when prices for this commodity have never been so high.

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