The Debate Season Is Here | Drug Maker Feeling Woozy | $50 Oil

The Debates—Polemics 1 and 2 left us calling for a rebate. As the New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd put it, “it was obfuscating versus oscillating.”

The Washington Post‘s TV critic Tom Shales wrote that “Kerry came off as more presidential than the president”; and a New York Times editorial said that if the question was whether Kerry seemed “presidential,” he “delivered the goods.” A Times news headline said: “Bush Talks About Heart; Kerry Focuses on the Brain.” The Times also reported that “Kerry appeared to have accomplished his primary goal for the evening: establishing himself as a plausible commander in chief.”

President Bush helped that by his frequent blurts of mangled language. Republicans have been describing Kerry as a “flip-flopper.” In a typically tongue-twisted gaffe, Bush used his own words for this accusation, criticizing the Senator for sending “mexed—missed messages” on the Iraq war.

The Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne wrote that Democrats could begin to “feel better” because “Kerry looked more like a president than the president.”

A pre-debate poll that appeared in the September 30 Los Angeles Times gave Bush a 5 percent lead over Kerry, 51 percent to 46 percent. But the estimated 62 million TV viewers who watched the first debate changed that ratio. The Gallup poll reported that 53 percent of its respondents believed that Kerry had won. An MSNBC “insta-poll” of its TV viewers gave Kerry a 61 percent edge.

Meanwhile, the increasingly bad news from Iraq is underlining Kerry’s debate assertion that Bush had “rushed the war in Iraq without a plan to win the peace.” The odds are up that the voters’ verdict on the mess in Iraq will decide the election outcome.

The media—or some of it—have belatedly begun examining the Pentagon’s bad news cover-up of American military casualties there. The published total at the end of September was a death toll of 1,152 American men and women and more than 7,500 wounded.

But in interviews with Defense Department officials National Public Radio (NPR) has found that 20,245 service people have been so seriously injured that they had to be “medevaced”—flown out of Iraq and Afghanistan—to military hospitals in Europe or the United States. NPR found that 800 additional people were evacuated for treatment of mental depression or post-traumatic-stress disorder, and 600 for festering skin diseases contracted by exposure to insects and parasites. “Non-combat” injuries, get it?

Pills That Kill—More controversy over the dubious dealings of the pharmaceutical industry is coming into the open about the negative—sometimes lethal—effects of its big bucks prescription pills. In our October 1 FYI we reported on the sometimes lethal injury to youngsters caused by some antidepressant prescription drugs. Companies tend to keep negative news about their pills from becoming public.

Now comes the withdrawal by the pharmaceutical giant Merck of its arthritis-pain pill Vioxx, a $2.5 billion-a-year corporate blockbuster. It turns out that Vioxx is also hard on the heart, causing cardiovascular disease and strokes in too many patients to justify its continued use. Question: Who knew about that, and how long ago did they find out?

$53 Oil—The price of oil has gone above the fifty-dollar level, per barrel, and it may go up further. We’ll need a full Brinks truck to go to the gas station. Which reminds us of a recent editorial-page cartoon showing cops interviewing two Brinks truck drivers, tied down beside their armored vehicle by robbers who left a hose in their fuel tank as they fled. One of the Brinksmen says: “They left the money, but they siphoned all our gas.”