In Iran, Opium is the Opiate of the Masses.

Back in 2001, the BBC ran a story on Iran’s drug problem and quoted a doctor who put the number of “serious addicts” at 1,200,000. The article goes on to say that the number of drug users was rising by 600,000 each year, with ever-increasing numbers of women among the new users. Drug addiction had suddenly become the primary social concern for the government, with over 70% of the country’s prison population incarcerated on drug-related charges. At that time, opium consumption in Tehran alone was estimated to be five tonnes a day. A more recent two-part BBC documentary states that Iran has the highest rate of opiate addiction in the world, with the official figure set at over two million addicts: Unofficially, the figure could be twice that. But as alarming as the figures are, Iran’s drug problem might merely be a symptom of wider and deeper problems.

After all, drug use in Iran is by no means a recent phenomenon. Just last year Rudi Matthee, a history professor, published The Pursuit of Pleasure: Drugs and Stimulants in Iranian History, 1500–1900 (Princeton University Press), for which he won the Albert Hourani Book Award and the Said Sirjani Award. Nonetheless, the fact that today’s Iran is governed by religious law does render the high rates of drug use a bit surprising, if not outright shocking. Further research, however, turned up some answers.

One explanation—also mentioned in the BBC documentary—was the impact of the eight-year war with Iraq, during which many young men started their drug use. This is plausible, considering it’s not unusual for soldiers to use drugs in wartime. The experience of American GIs during the Viet Nam War is a good example, differing only in that just a small percentage of returning American soldiers lapsed into opiate use once back in the US. Similarly, the chief psychiatrist in Sierra Leone reports that about 90% of the mental-health cases he has dealt with involve substance abuse. During Sierra Leone’s 10-year civil war, drug-influenced fighters (including child soldiers as young as 11) could be found in the ranks of all the warring factions. Although drug use declined after the war, it is once again on the rise. It is conceivable, then, that after a long and destructive war, many Iranians may have brought their drug habits back from the war front.

The experience of war, however, only explains drug use among that segment of the population that was old enough to actively take part in the war. And, since that population is largely made up of men (although women did fight as well), how can one explain the increasing rates of drug use among young Iranians and Iranian women? There’s always the possibility that the documentary was biased or that the figures they cited were inaccurate, but there can be no doubt that Iran has a drug problem. The issue has recently been examined by the UN, the Council on Foreign Relations, the International Herald Tribune, and the Los Angeles Times, so regardless of the figures, it seems hard to argue that Iran does not have a drug problem. 

But is the experience of long-term war the only explanation? The answer appears to be “not entirely.” Another reason for the high rates of drug use is the availability of cheap, raw opium. After all, Iran shares a border with Afghanistan, a top producer of unprocessed opium, making Iran a natural conduit for drugs making their way to markets in Europe, the Mediterranean, and or other parts of the Middle East. Clearly, Iran is also becoming more of a market for these drugs. Introductory Economics teaches that the closer a product is to its state and source of extraction, the cheaper it is. In other words, a more refined, processed, or finished product fetches a higher price. Uncut diamonds are therefore cheaper than cut and polished ones, peanuts are cheaper than peanut butter, and iron ore is cheaper than steel. Moreover, a product’s cost can increase as it moves farther away from where it was originally extracted. So it’s not unexpected that Iranians would—thanks to their country’s proximity to Afghanistan—have access to cheaper opium and opium-based drugs than say, someone living in Paris.

But all this leaves one glaring question unanswered. How is it possible that a country ruled by a conservative theocracy—which governs through religious law—happens to have the world’s highest number of drug users? Perhaps the answer lies in the question. After all, a government that believes that all the solutions to social problems can be found in religion might not be best equipped to deal with problems like depression and drug addiction, problems that cannot be easily solved through prayer and meditation. Perhaps such a government might not be the best suited for managing an economy and retaining human and intellectual capital, both vital for a strong economy. Is it any surprise that, according to the IMF, anywhere between 150,000 and 180,000 highly skilled Iranians annually vote with their feet by emigrating? Perhaps there is a possibility that those who are unable—or for whatever reason, unwilling—to leave join the ever-growing ranks of drug users. After all, lack of economic opportunity and personal and professional fulfillment lead to frustration and depression, which in turn may lead to substance use.

But there is yet another, darker possibility. In 1848, a famous German scholar wrote that religion was the opiate of the masses. A century later, George Orwell gave us a dystopia ruled by a brutal and despotic regime that used pornographic literature and alcohol to pacify the nation it governed. Today, with Iran having the lowest mosque attendance of any Muslim country, it seems the regime is witnessing the limitations of religion’s power to stupefy the nation. Luckily for them, though, it appears the nation has decided to replace a metaphoric opiate with the real thing.


In VP Debate, Sarah Palin Talked Straight to the American People . . . and Insulted Their Intelligence.

About thirteen minutes into last Thursday’s vice presidential debate, Republican candidate Sarah Palin declared that she was not going to answer the questions the way her opponent, Joe Biden or Gwen Ifill, the moderator, would have liked. Instead, she said, she was going to talk straight to the American people. By the end of the debate, it became clear that Sarah Palin’s straight talk was little more than rambling, disjointed answers, folksy anecdotes about small-town life, and political talking points. It also became clear that Sarah Palin has little regard for the intelligence of the American people.

Take, for example, her answer to the question about taxation. After pointing out that paying taxes is not patriotic, she went on to state that she and her husband, Todd, are middle class. While it’s difficult to get hold of exactly how much Sarah Palin earned as governor of Alaska, at least one source reports that she earned $125,000, and that her and her husband’s assets add up to a net worth of over $1 million. However, despite her six-figure salary (which is roughly half of her family income), Sarah Palin insists on painting herself as an everyday, middle-class American. Now, I’m not sure what planet the Alaska governor inhabits but here on planet Earth, a six-figure salary puts its earner above joe-sixpack status. Yet Sarah Palin spoke as if the American people are not expected to know this—in much the same way they were not expected to see any irony in the fact that the Republican party (which is trying to sell itself as the people’s party) mocked community organizers at their recent convention. In keeping with this line of thinking, Sarah Palin actually said in the debate that the Republican party puts people first. Of course, anyone who remembers 2005 would have been forgiven for asking if she was talking about the same party that so notoriously failed to put the people of New Orleans first.

Such hypocrisy seems par for the course for the Republican party, so there’s nothing new here. After all, this is the party whose presidential candidate owns more houses than he can count—including a $12 million mansion in Arizona—yet accuses his Democratic opponent of being elitist. But again, that sort of hypocrisy has become commonplace in presidential campaigns. At the end of the day, it was Sarah Palin’s utter failure—or refusal—to even engage with the moderator’s questions or her opponent’s rebuttals that was most insulting to the American people’s intelligence. Several times she ignored the question outright and answered whatever she pleased. For example, when given the chance to rebut Biden’s charge that Republican Presidential Candidate John McCain supported “deregulation almost across the board,” Palin responds, “Oh, I’m still on the tax thing . . ..” Clearly, even when the discussion had moved on, Palin insisted on answering only the questions she wanted. Why?

At another point, after the moderator had asked—and Joe Biden had answered—a question about subprime mortgages and legislation that had made it harder for debt-strapped Americans to declare bankruptcy, Palin decided she would rather “talk about again my record on energy versus your ticket’s energy ticket also,” because she thought it was “important to come back to.” First of all, what kind of incoherent, rambling answer is that? Secondly, how could she have expected to get away with so blatantly not answering the question? But she didn’t miss a beat. She started talking about how “East Coast politicians” are keeping energy-rich states like Alaska from tapping into their energy resources, thereby leaving the US dependent on foreign oil while sending around $700 billion dollars to foreign countries who don’t necessarily like us. Although Sarah Palin’s energy-policy answer had nothing to do with the issue being discussed nor the challenge her opponent had just put on the table, she seemed unperturbed. She was on a roll. Throughout this charade, in fact, she acted as though the American people were not expected to notice any of this.

The rest of the debate continued in much the same fashion. On the issue of global climate change, Palin agreed the planet’s getting warmer but didn’t admit it was the result of human activity. Instead, she went back to oil drilling as a path to energy independence; as if burning oil drilled in the US was any more of a solution to climate change than burning imported oil. Palin’s rationale? The US is too reliant on countries that produce more oil and pollute more “than America would ever stand for.” Presumably, US dependence on these countries forces us to tolerate their pollution? Sarah Palin must have assumed that the American people don’t know that the US is the largest per capita producer of carbon dioxide, thereby making us the largest greenhouse-gas emitter. When asked about interventionism and nuclear weapons, Palin did not hesitate to make up a General McClellan, who she said is on the ground in Afghanistan. It turns out there’s no General McClellan in Afghanistan (though there was a Civil War–era general who went by that name). And, after Biden rebutted her answer on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Palin responded by calling his plan for an exit strategy in Iraq a “white flag of surrender.” Again, no answer, just a childish taunt. I could go on and on but that would mean listening to the entire debate again, which even I am not prepared to do.

Ultimately, Sarah Palin’s performance in the debate was very revealing. She showed herself to be charming and personable. She proved she is capable of speaking—or at least reading a flashcard—for 90 seconds at a time. She showed that she’s also good at dodging questions and reciting talking points since, more often than not, she barely responded to the question that was being discussed. What she isn’t good at, however, is coherence. But Sarah Palin’s apalling performance revealed something else about her. She is confident—perhaps it’s a trait she honed during her days as a beauty pageant contestant. How else are we to explain her unflinching demeanor during the debate? Anybody who only looked at her body language—or watched the debate with the sound off—would have sworn Sarah Palin was getting the better of Joe Biden. At times, it almost seemed as though she herself thought her answers were brilliant. This raises three possibilities: Sarah Palin is a phenomenal actress; she is delusional and out of touch with reality; or she simply believed that her answers were good enough for the American people. I think it’s the third one.

Now, I don’t mean to imply that Sarah Palin didn’t try hard enough during last week’s debate. In fact, I’m certain she did her best up there on that stage. The trouble is that her best just wasn’t good enough. No doubt, confidence is a good quality for any politician to have but, as a certain former Texas governor showed the world, confidence is not enough. Leading the most powerful country in the world will take more than self-assuredness. It will take experience, knowledge, insight, and—dare I say it?—education. This is something we should all be mindful of, considering there is a 50% chance Sarah Palin may literally find herself a heartbeat away from the presidency.

Hopefully the American people realize this. Otherwise, we might end up with something even worse than more of the same.

VP Debate Live-Blog

In case you missed the vice-presidential debate, here’s a blow-by-blow live-blog. That’s right folks, I typed non-stop for 90 minutes. That’s how much I care. What can I say? I’m a giver.

Wow! Sarah Palin looks pretty good!

Good opening response by Biden. He sounds very friendly. So far so good. Just maintain, Joe. No foot in mouth!

Sarah Palin’s going now. Playing the mom card: did she just say “betcha.” Golly gee! But she hits on the fear factor, which is legitimate. She agrees that the economy is hurting and the federal government’s not done a good job of policing the economy. Gotta call BS on McCain’s role in policing the economy.

Joe Biden worked on violence against women? Good one. I had no idea. Ooohhh! Called McCain out on saying the economy was strong, and then flip-flopping on the economy. John McCain’s out of touch!! Zing!

Sarah Palin says the American workforce is the strongest in the world? In theory, sure. But with jobs being shipped abroad, I’m not sure how strong that workforce is now. Ah! She threw in “maverick.” Less than ten minutes in? Americans are craving something new and different . . . oh maverick again! Twice in two minutes? Damn!

Sarah Palin just said “darn right.” She’s more folksy than Rachel Rae. I think I’m going to keep a tally of “Palinisms.” Oh, there she goes with soccer moms and joe sixpack. A “heck” of a lot of good lessons. She should write a thesaurus of folkisms. Her answers aren’t so deep.

Biden calls McCain out on the deregulation thing again. Cha-ching!! McCain called for deregulation 20 times in the last however many years? Had no idea. OK Joe, you made your point. McCain’s for deregulations. Oh! Biden pulls out the folkism. Talks about guy who doesn’t have enough money to fill up his gas tank!

Palin said “darn right” again. Wassup with that. Just noticed Palin’s gigantic flag brooch. People need to learn to live with less? OK. What about the corporations, Sarah? Are they going to have to learn to live with less? Palin says Obama voted to raise taxes on middle-class families.

Biden comes back saying McCain voted the same way to raise taxes. Calls Palin out for not answering the deregulation question.

Oh, Palin says she’s going to talk straight, admits she’s not going to answer the questions the way Biden or the moderator would like. New tactic. Apparently Palin lowered taxes in Alaska. Got cut off by moderator.

On taxes.

Biden says it’s only fairness to raise taxes on people making over $200 thousand. McCain wants to cut taxes for very wealthy. The super-wealthy don’t deserve any new tax cut.

Palin challenges “redistribution of wealth.” Brings up small businesses. Raising taxes will create unemployment? Paying taxes is not patriotic. Government is not the solution, too often the problem. Oh, she and Todd are firmly middle class. Good one. McCain’s health care plan is good, offers a $5000 tax credit so people can buy their own coverage? Hmmm . . . with families being bankrupted by healthcare costs, I’m not sure five grand would make much of a difference to a family.

Biden scoffs at Palin’s “redistribution” argument. Calls BS on tax breaks to ExxonMobile. So Biden’s bringing out facts, Palin’s waxing eloquent with her folkism. McCain’s $5000 credit goes straight to the insurance companies. The ultimate bridge to nowhere!!?? Dag! Zing!!

Promises parties won’t be able to keep.

Biden admits party won’t be able to double foreign assistance. But stands firm on opposing tax breaks for corporations, commitment to education, job creation, affordable healthcare. Biden slips on “characterize” but recovers nicely. Offshore tax dodges are unpatriotic.

Palin says McCain doesn’t say one thing to one group and another to another group. Except for when he flip-flops on the status of the economy twice in one morning? Hmmm . . .. Palin took on the oil companies in Alaska? She knows the names of all the oil companies . . . “bless their hearts” . . . WTF? So Obama’s energy plan gave tax breaks to oil companies and Palin had to undo those policies in her area of expertise (energy)? Palin’s determined to stop the greed and corruption on Wall St.

Biden’s getting sidetracked refuting Palin’s statements. Good comeback . . . no . . . the audio just went out . . . phew! . . . it’s back. Praises Palin’s windfall profit tax. McCain wants to give another $4 billion tax cut to the oil corporations.

Debt, credit, and bankruptcy.

Palin would have supported the bill that made it harder for debt-strapped homeowners to declare bankruptcy. McCain raised the alarm, brought people together. “A toxic mess?” Greed rears it’s ugly head? She’s all about heads being reared. First Putin in Russia, then greed on Wall Street. I feel something rearing its ugly head in my pants.

Damn Palin, answer the questions. Stop talking about your energy policy. We all know this country needs to be energy independent. East Coast politicians? Oh, here it comes: we gotta drill in ANWR. And it’s the fault of East Coast politicians who won’t allow energy-rich states like Alaska to tap into their reserves. “A heck of a lot more than that.”

Climate change.

Palin says climate change is real but she won’t admit that it’s all the result of man’s activities. So she agrees it’s real, won’t comment on the cause. We have to clean up this planet? We pollute far more than any other country. Energy independent again? What does energy independence have to do with climate change? Oh, I see, other countries are polluting more than the US would ever stand for? We’re the biggest polluter.

Biden says climate change is man-made. If you don’t understand what the cause of climate change is, it’s impossible to come up with a solution. Dayyyuuummm!!!! McCain has opposed clean alternative energy more than 20 times in the last 15 years. Obama supports clean coal? Not sure how I feel about that. I mean, clean coal is better than Chinese dirty coal, but still. Drill, drill, drill baby! But the oil won’t come for at least ten years. I had no idea.

Palin corrects Biden: the chant is “drill, baby, drill!!” Ka-pow!! Good comeback. Alaska’s providing natural gas for hungry markets. Drilling is not safe and it’s not environmentally sound. Stop lying! Glad to hear Palin supports capping carbon emission.

Biden asks how to deal with global warming if we only look to oil. Good question.

Granting same-sex benefits (gay marriage).

Biden supports benefits for same-sex couples. Yay!! Equal rights for everyone: hospital visitation, health insurance, etc. Good one, Joe Biden. I had no idea you were so progressive.

Palin is afraid we are redefining the definition of relations between a man and a woman, but she’s tolerant with a diverse family and groups of friends. Some friends don’t agree with her. Does that mean her friends are less “tolerant” than she is? I thought when people say “diverse” they mean different ethnicities and lifestyles? She opposes redefining marriage as something other than a between a man and a woman.

Biden caves on the marriage question.

Palin does not support gay marriage.

Foreign policy.

Palin thinks we have a good plan (the surge) that is working in Eye-rack. Good one. Lots of great Americans. Oh . . . no she didn’t . . . Obama opposed funding for the troops! How can you end an illegal and unjust war while continuing to unquestioningly fund it? I’m just saying . . .. Grow our military, send troops to Afghanistan. Oh, we’re getting closer and closer to victory in Iraq? Yeah.

Biden didn’t hear a plan for Iraq: neither did I. Even the Iraqis want us to get out. McCain’s the only one who doesn’t. McCain also voted to not fund the troops if the funding came with a timeline. McCain wants us to be there indefinitely. Very strong response: we will end this war. For John McCain, there’s no end in sight.

Palin stumbles! Then comes back saying Biden’s plan is a white flag of surrender. Damn!!! Tough cookies! Commanders on the ground will tell us when the Iraqi people can govern themselves. She’s on the attack (Biden laughs). Palin’s got a lot of good facts at her fingertips. Very impressive. Now she’s praising Biden . . ..

Biden says McCain voted to cut off funding for the troops, voted against life-saving equipment. Calls McCain (and Cheney) out for saying Sunnis and Shia got along well and that we will be welcomed as liberators. McCain was dead wrong.

Nuclear Iran vs. Unstable Pakistan

Biden says Pakistan is bigger threat. Pakistan can hit Israel with nukes (boo!). Next attack will come from Al Qaeda in Afghanistan/Pakistan. OK. Pakistan should be stabilized. Schools are better than madrasas. No disagreement. But attacking Pakistan? Crazy talk.

Palin says both are equally dangerous. Great non-answer. Then she talks about . . . wait . . . did she just say “new-killar?” Israel is in jeopardy? Eye-ran? I’m having trouble keeping up . . . but somehow she can correctly pronounce “Ahmedinejad.” Oh brother. Here we go again about Obama meeting without preconditions. Yet she agrees with Kissinger that engagement is crucial. These dictators who hate America, hate our freedoms, hate our tolerance of women’s rights (like abortion, gay marriage, visitation rights for lesbians?). Did she just say diplomacy is hard work by serious people? Guess Obama doesn’t count as a serious diplomatic person because he can’t see Russia from his living room.

Biden’s comeback is good. Good point about McCain not understanding that Ahmedinejad is not really in charge in Iran. Biden, stay cool, brother. Stay cool. Your voice is rising. Uh-oh! Is he gonna blow? OK, last point. McCain won’t sit down with the government of Spain? Incredible!


Palin supports two-state solution. Secretary [of State Condoleezza] Rice met with leaders on one side or other? Which side, I wonder? Yeah, yeah . . . Israel is our greatest ally . . . we’d never allow another holocaust. Israel is a peace-seeking nation? Track record of forging peace? Somebody hasn’t read a lot about the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Biden’s the greatest friend of Israel. Great. We know, Joe. We know. Bush policies might have failed in Israel but I don’t know if AIPAC’s been succeeding at bringing peace either.

Palin says Bush hasn’t failed in the Middle East. Admits huge blunders. Putting the people first? Yeah, ’cause that’s what the Republicans are known for. Like when they put New Orleans first.

Biden says he’s hearing nothing new from McCain, nothing different from Bush. “The past is prologue.”

Interventionism/nuclear weapons

Palin answers about new-killar weaponry. Apparently, she’s answering a different question. The moderator asked about nuclear weapons. Is it a requirement for being a member of the Republican Party, that you can’t pronounce nuclear? Oh well. She likes to name the leaders of countries. Impressive. I’m going to call BS in advance on her talk about Afghanistan. Accuses Obama of making reckless comment about killing civilians. I wonder why the Taliban is resurgent if the US is making such great progress on the ground.

Biden points out that commanding general in Afghanistan says surge would not work in Afghanistan. Said we need more infrastructure, non-military spending. Nation-building versus combat.

What is it about Palin’s voice that makes me yearn for cookies and milf? Then she makes up a name for a non-existing commanding general in Afghanistan. McClellan? I think McClellan was Bush’s press secretary. He was never a general in Afghanistan (further research has revealed there was a civil-war era General McClellan, though).

Biden says the American people have the stomach for success. Yeah. And for swallowing whatever war the government sells them, if you ask me. Our stomachs are actually pretty tough when it comes to war. Not so tough when it comes to helping people in a flooded city, though.

Palin says “Oh man” she’s not a Washington insider. Doesn’t answer the question. Answer the question please. Supports no-fly zone in Darfur, all options on the table. Which options, I wonder? Urged divestment of Alaska investments in Sudan. Hmm . . . they’re atrocities in Sudan but not in Iraq or Afghanistan?

OK, so Biden supports invading Sudan or other countries that commit genocide or harbor terrorists. Ho-hum . . ..

This debate is boring now. They’re not really talking about anything real. What’s happened to politics in this country?

Palin says McCain knows how to win a war? The only thing he knows about war is how to get shot down. The US lost the only war McCain was in.

Biden/Palin as President

[I’m fading now] Biden’s not saying anything new. Oh, brought up the Bush Doctrine. Wonder if Palin knows what that is now.

Palin brings up mavericks again. Great. Putting government back on the side of the people? McCain’s entire campaign was run by lobbyists! What’s Palin banging on about?! Putting Wasila Main Street in Washington? Sorry, no moose here. And you can’t carry guns. For now anyway.

Thanks for reminding us how the Republicans have screwed the working class, Biden. Good response.

Palin says “say it ain’t so” and “doggone it.” Is this woman for real? Is this 1950? And “God bless her.” What the hell is she talking about now? Schoolteachers. A family of schoolteachers. How is that an answer to any kind of question? Clearly she didn’t get much from the schoolteachers in her family because she can’t pronounce nuclear.

Views on Vice Presidency

Palin’s being very charming and personable. But she’s dodging the question. Answer the question. What does the Vice President do and how do you see your role in that position. John McCain has already “tapped” Palin? Ha ha ha . . . I bet he wished he’d tapped her . . . if you know what I mean . . . nudge . . . nudge . . . wink . . . wink . . ..

Biden’s got a very clear idea of what he’d do as VP.

Palin agrees with Cheney that the Vice President should have a lot of power. Surprise. She’s stumbling now. She answered the previous question this time around.

Biden says Cheney’s the most dangerous Vice President ever. Damn right!

Wisdom vs. Discipline (Achilles heel)

Palin’s experience comes from being a mayor and governor, being connected to the heartland, being a mom with a kid in the war and a special-needs kid. The question was about your weaknesses, not your strength. Now she’s quoting McCain and Reagan in one breath? She’s talking about democracy, and tolerance, and freedom and equal rights? Yet she opposes abortion and gay marriage. And books she disapproves of. Is this for real? Are people that stupid?

Biden says he is who he is. He’s very confident. Damn! McCain voted against both violence against women acts? Biden reached deep down for the heartstrings talking about his wife’s death. Oh! Here come the tears . . .. The people around the kitchen table are looking for help, not more of the same. Bravo!!

If Palin says maverick one more time, I’m going to rip out my hair! Maverick again, in the same answer? Sarah Palin, stop putting yourself into the same category as real mavericks. Way to hit those talking points: war, economy, greed and corruption, entrenched partisanship in Washington.

Biden attacks on the maverick question! Yay!!! McCain voted against healthcare spending for kids, in education, for sending kids to college.

Have you ever had to change your views?

Biden changed view on what is required of presidential nominees. Changed sides when he figured out that the ideology of the judicial appointee is important too.

Palin talks about caving on not passing vetoes as mayor and governor. Yawn! She’s never had to compromise on anything major. Nice. Way to show you’re capable of changing your mind.

How do you change the tone in Washington?

Biden and Obama will question people’s judgement, not motivation.

Palin will hire people from different parties and political opinions. Working for the greater good is what’s important. Right. Working with other people. I get it. Like when she tried to ban books from the library because she was offended by them, or when she tried to have her ex–brother-in-law fired from the state police. Silly me. I guess she’s very open-minded and tolerant of differing opinions after all.

Final statements

Palin wants to talk directly to the American people without the media filtering what she says. ‘Cause if you say something dumb, gosh-darn it, don’t you know, those awful media people will show it to the world. Another Reagan quote? We have to fight for freedom and protect it and hand it to our children. What does this have to do with anything? Only John McCain has fought for us? I think Senators fight for us too. I don’t think soldiers are the only people capable of defending American democracy.

Biden talks about economics and politics and war, health care and education.