Americans Want to Defeat Terrorism in Afghanistan, but Fret Over Involvement

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Americans are conflicted about the eight-year war in Afghanistan, with a majority saying the U.S. is doing the right thing in order to keep that nation from being a haven for terrorists, but they are not supportive of a troop increase and are pessimistic about the outcome, according to a Quinnipiac University poll conducted Sept. 29-Oct.5.


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Obama’s Approval Ratings Rise

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Most national polls recently have had President Obama’s job approval rating trending down, but an Associated Press/GfK survey conducted Oct. 1-5 showed his numbers have increased from 50 percent in September to 56 percent. Those who disapproved dropped from 49 percent to 39 percent.


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Thompson Would Beat Feingold in a Senate Match-Up

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While former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson has hinted he might try again for his old office in 2010, a Wisconsin Policy Research Institute poll conducted Sept. 27-29 said that if he decided instead to take on three term Sen. Russ Feingold, he would defeat the Democrat by four points.


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Senators Examine Constitutionality of Obama’s ‘Czars’

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Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) made good on his promise to hold hearings on the constitutionality of President Obama’s “czars.” In a Tuesday afternoon hearing on the Judiciary subcommittee on the Constitution, of which Feingold is chairman, the senator worked through a list of criticized nominees whose un-approved appointments he believes may circumvent the Senate’s advise-and-consent role. The administration did not send a representative to the hearing, but sent a three-page letter detailing the positions of the 18 appointees under examination.


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Women’s Happiness Studies Are Bringing Me Down

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Lizzie, I agree that all the studies out there theorizing why ladies are darn near impossible to make happy are a little, well, sad. They’re so ubiquitous you would almost think there were some Ladies Home Journal of Unhappiness — most likely with a pink cover, featuring a gaggle of scientists brunching while they compare research notes and their latest shoe purchases — exclusively dedicated to the topic of female glumness.

Whether women really are suffering from a happiness deficit is debatable — Gallup just released a poll of 600,000 men and women on Monday that had levels of reported happiness trending about equally across gender lines. But the really gloomy part comes when the question is not whether women are happy but why women might be unhappy — and everything from romance to biology to children to no children to feminism to office politics to religion to having just too many options to pick from gets a moment in the sun. Just check out Maureen Dowd asserting, among other things, that women are down because they are “hormonally more complicated,” though she also ends up putting most of the burden on too many choices, paired with too many obligations.


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Et Tu, Potatoes? Spud Is Among ‘Riskiest’ Foods

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Well, fellow WUppers, it looks like I may have to retire my fork and knife forever. First came Sunday’s gruesome New York Times story detailing what happened to a young woman who ate a hamburger that was tainted with a virulent form of E. coli bacteria.

On Tuesday, the food watchdog group Center for Science in the Public Interest hit us with its Top 10 list of the riskiest foods — that is, foods regulated by the Food and Drug Administration that accounted for the largest number of food-borne outbreaks since 1990. Are you ready? They are: leafy greens, eggs, tuna, oysters, potatoes, cheese, ice cream, tomatoes, sprouts and berries.

I must say, this list gives new meaning to the expression, “Let them eat cake,” as cake seems to be the only safe food left for us to consume.

In the press release accompanying the report, CSPI is quick to point out that the report is “no reason to forgo the occasional salad Niçoise . . . [or] pass up tomatoes, sprouts, and berries.” Instead, the group is using its list to urge Congress to pass improved food safety laws.

“It is clearly time for FDA’s reliance on industry self-regulation to come to an end,” the group said in its press release. “The absence of safety plans or frequent inspections unfortunately means that some of our favorite and most healthful foods also top the list of the most risky.”

I agree that the FDA, which regulates 80 percent of the nation’s food supply, needs more muscle to do its job properly (though there are apparently some real concerns about how enhanced regulations might affect small farmers and food producers). And I appreciate that CSPI is bringing attention to the fact that some of the very foods we should be eating more of may hold hidden hazards because of our inadequate food-safety system. But I also worry that singling out these foods in a “Top 10 Riskiest” list will send some people running back to the processed-food aisles at their local supermarket.

I have no intention of banning any of the foods on the list, not even oysters (I don’t get to eat them often anyway because they are too expensive), and certainly not . . . potatoes? How on earth did such a benign vegetable make such a sinister list? Indeed, the report says potatoes were responsible for 108 outbreaks and 3,659 illnesses since 1990.

As it turns out, it’s potato dishes, such as potato salad, rather than plain old potatoes, that contain the most risk, the report says. More than 40 percent of the potato-related outbreaks were linked to foods prepared in restaurants and other food establishments. At least I don’t have to give up my own roasted potatoes.

But seriously, what is a food lover to do?

One option is to buy organically produced foods, foods that are locally produced, or foods from sources you trust, under the assumption that these hold a lower risk of contamination than mass-produced foods or prepared foods. But, of course, this is no guarantee, and as my colleague Linda so eloquently put it here, it is not even a question of choice for many people.

Another option is to arm ourselves with more information, which I suppose is what CSPI hopes to do with this report. Becoming a conscientious consumer and a more conscientious eater certainly can’t hurt. As some astute readers pointed out in response to my post yesterday about the bacteria-ridden burger and its horrible consequences, simply cooking the meat to an internal temperature of 160 degrees would have killed any food-borne pathogen. I agree, though there is more to it than that, such as what sort of “meat” the burger contained in the first place, where it came from, and how it was processed.

A third option, which is what CSPI is advancing, is better government regulation. But as my WU colleague Joann pointed out here, directing more resources toward food inspections in one area could result in fewer resources toward inspections in other areas. Beef? Or Spinach?

Or, as some advocate, we can ask the companies to voluntarily be more vigilant, even if it costs them 30 cents more to produce a better burger.

On second thought, I think I’ll have that slice of cake now.


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Senator Proposes State-Run Health Plans as Compromise

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As the debate over the health care bills winding their way through Congressional committees seems to hinge on the inclusion of a public insurance option, one Senator has a new idea: let the states each run their own government health care plan. The proposal by Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) is earning warm praise from centrist Democrats as a way to both expand coverage and spur competition in the private market.

“Conceptually, having the states take responsibility makes a great deal of sense,” said Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.). “It is important that we really take a close look at this.” Sen. Ken Conrad (D-N.D.) called the Carper proposal “very constructive.” But Sen. Olympia Snowe, the key Republican in the debate, reiterated her support for her own solution — a “fallback” government plan that would kick in if the new bill failed to expand coverage as expected.

In an interview with Politics Daily‘s Jill Lawrence last week, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va.), who proposed one of the public options voted down by the Senate Finance Committee, said there are too many ways state-run plans can go wrong. A plan like the one Carper is proposing could leave health care coverage up to the whims of the governor or the financial condition of the state, and would create a messy situation for people who moved between states.

State-Run Health Plans Garner Support [Wall Street Journal]


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