McCain and Sarah Palin: Till Death Do Them Part?  And If So, How Soon? Is McCain A Lot Sicker Than We Know?

In the crucial final weeks of the campaign John McCain is mostly doing only one event a day. This is the man of whom his primary care physician at the Mayo Clinic in Arizona, said to journalists in a  conference call last May 23: “At the present time, Sen. McCain enjoys excellent health and displays extraordinary energy.”  He looked tired and sick in the second debate in Nashville. As Sarah Palin rabble-rouses the crowds with calls for Obama to be forthright, she may be wondering, “how forthright has John McCain been with me? If he wins on November 4, will I be president in six months  or a year?”

But if McCain’s battle with melanoma  has suddenly turned critical, wouldn’t his doctors feel compelled to divulge their knowledge about the candidate? The answer is No. The legal penalties under HIPPA (the medical privacy act) for disclosure of protected health information, without that patient’s consent, are extremely serious.

No one is more under day-to-day scrutiny than the President. When Reagan ran for re-election he already knew he had colon cancer and that was kept quiet until after he won. In health matters, secrecy often wins out in the political crunch. What follows are the essentials of a story by Fred Gardner and myself in the latest issue  of our CounterPunch newsletter.

In the past fifteen years, John McCain has had four melanomas removed. The most dangerous was the one taken from his temple in 2000, classified by his doctors as an invasive melanoma, stage IIA, on a standard scale that makes stage IV the most serious.

The 2000 surgery left McCain not only with a puffy jaw but also with a scar down his neck.  Dr Eckstein’s public statement, released May 24 of this year, stated:

“Regarding his past skin issues, the Senator has received skin care at Mayo Clinic in Arizona since August, 2000. Four malignant melanomas were surgically removed in the past. Three of these were ‘in situ’ melanomas, meaning they were limited to the top layers of the skin and were not invasive. These three early melanomas on his left shoulder, left arm and left nasal sidewall, were removed in 1993, 2000 and 2002, respectively. A fourth melanoma that was invasive was removed from his left lower temple in 2000.

“Each melanoma was a new primary melanoma and did not represent a recurrence of any previous melanoma. There was and is no evidence of recurrence or metastasis, meaning spread of the invasive melanoma nearly eight years after surgery. Other less serious skin cancers have been removed over the years without complication. These have been non-melanoma basal cell and squamous cell cancers.

“Many questions have been asked about the removal of the invasive melanoma from Senator McCain’s left lower temple in August 2000… To summarize, we continue to find no evidence of metastasis or recurrence of the invasive melanoma as we approach the eighth anniversary of that operation. This was most recently confirmed with his comprehensive examination and tests in March 2008 and with Dr. Connolly’s skin examination on May 12, 2008. The prognosis for Senator McCain is good because the time of greatest risk for recurrence of invasive melanoma is within the first few years after the surgery.”

A press conference at the same time received relatively upbeat treatment. The New York Times’ medical correspondent, Dr. Lawrence Altman, sharing a byline with Elisabeth Bumiller, informed readers the next day, May  24, 2008: “Sen. John McCain, 71, is in excellent health and shows no evidence of the recurrence of the melanoma skin cancer that led to extensive head and neck surgery in 2000, McCain’s doctors said Friday.”

The McCain campaign had just allowed three-hour access by a group of reporters to 1,173 pages of medical records. They were not allowed to make any copies or take any of the materials out of the room. Reporters did note that two pathologists at the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology who examined the melanoma specimen from McCain’s left temple in 2000 suggested there were two melanomas on his temple, not one, as his doctors had said publicly at the time.

“Two experts in the field, who reviewed the report,” wrote Altman and Bumiller “said it was unclear whether the melanoma on McCain’s temple had metastasized from another, or whether there was one new primary melanoma. If the spread was through the nearby melanoma, then there is greater risk to McCain than the public has been led to believe, said Dr. Lynn Schuchter, a melanoma expert at the University of Pennsylvania, and Dr. Mohammed Kashani-Sabet, director of the Melanoma Center at UC San Francisco.”

For stage IIA melanoma, the survival rate 10 years after diagnosis is about 65 per cent. But the outlook is much better, as McCain’s doctors noted, for patients who have already survived more than seven years.

Dr. Suzanne Connolly, McCain’s dermatologist at the Mayo Clinic, told reporters that there was “no crystal ball to predict with certainty” if McCain’s cancer would return, but she put the chance at less than 10 per cent at this stage in his life.”

On September 20, 2008, CounterPunch was contacted by a reader in Washington, D.C., reporting conversations pointing to a dramatic, recent worsening in McCan’s medical condition and prognosis.

Though pressed by CounterPunch the reader insists on remaining anonymous. Over the course of several exchanges with our reader, we can report the following. An official in the National Institutes of Health, well known to our reader, has confided to her that in an informal conversation with a doctor in a California hospital the NIH official  had learned that there had been a metastasis of McCain’s melanoma, and that this had come to light in a checkup in the past few weeks.

Urged to reconfirm this news and to provide further details, our reader pressed the NIH official for more details and reported back to us on September 26 that after she had asked the NIH official to verify the details, the official:

“decided this was important, and contacted her doctor friend to get what info she could. So here it is. John McCain recently was diagnosed with a melanoma recurrence, with a metastasis to the lymph node, in his latest, most recent cancer checkup, which took place at John Wayne Cancer Institute in California.”

Attempting to confirm this intelligence, CounterPunch  contacted four physicians, none of whom want to be identified. Two remarked the subsidence of swelling in McCain’s left jaw in recent months. A UC San Francisco cancer specialist said, “It looked to me like he had something going on in his left jaw for a long time, and then it appeared much less puffy in the last few months. My theory was that he had gotten some radiation therapy. It was way pooched out compared to what it is now. He used to not show his left side on camera. And then he appeared to be going head-on. So my guess was that he had had some radiation.”

An East Coast oncologist said of John Wayne Cancer Institute in Santa Monica, California,  “That would be the place he’d go because the world’s expert surgeon for melanoma, Donald Morton, is there.” Dr. Morton, while head of surgical oncology at UCLA, developed a technique that minimizes the number of lymph nodes that must be removed during biopsies.

A Los Angeles radiologist put the question of McCain being treated directly to two colleagues at John Wayne. “They said ‘no,’ but I had the strong impression they weren’t being forthright. I’ve known these guys 30 years and I sensed from their tone that they weren’t leveling with me.”

You can get the full article  by myself and Fred Gardner by subscribing  to our newsletter. So subscribe now.

Threat of Martial Law

On October 2, Representative Brad Sherman, a California Democrat and opponent of the bailout, stated in the House that members of Congress were threatened that “there would be martial law in America if we voted no.” A day earlier, here onCounterPunch, Doug Valentine had pointed out  that George Bush was equipped with such powers, having issued in May 2007 National Security Presidential Directive 51 and Homeland Security Presidential Directive 20. These directives gave Bush the authority to assure the “Continuity of Government” in the event of a “Catastrophic Emergency”— which resulted in, among other things, some extraordinary disruption of the economy.

By a pleasing coincidence amid these dramatic events, the Army Times reported on September 30 that the 3rd Infantry Division’s 1st Brigade Combat Team, lately in Iraq, would be employed October 1 on US soil “under the day-to-day control of U.S. Army North, the Army service component of Northern Command, as an on-call federal response force for natural or manmade emergencies and disasters, including terrorist attacks.” This new mission, wrote the Army Times’ Gina Cavallaro, marks “the first time an active unit has been given a dedicated assignment to NorthCom.”

Obama helped arm-twist recalcitrant Democrats, particularly in the Congressional Black Caucus, to vote for the Paulson bailout,  in the national interest, the line urged on House members  by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Barney Frank.

Sarah Palin’s Tax Returns

Professors of accounting are being wheeled on to denounce the Palins for improper deductions and unreported income. What mostly interests me is that the Governor Palin and the First Dude use H&R Block to prepare their returns. I’ll bet Joe Biden, always eager to assert his credentials as a regular working stiff, doesn’t use H.&R. Block. Biden claims he spends a lot of time at Home Depot and I doubt that too, because if he did he wouldn’t have shown up for his debate with Sarah. He ‘d still be somewhere halfway down Aisle 19 in a Home Depot,  waiting for someone to help him find the tile grout.

Anyway, Sarah should hire Arianna Huffington’s accountant, assuming the fellow has time for any other client.

McCain and Palin are whacking Obama for his ties with the Weather Underground. Obama’s defenders point out that at the time Bill Ayers and his wife Bernadine Dohrn were active in the 1960s, Obama was 8. So? I  remember an antiwar newspaper some time in the late 1960s featuring a photo of a young kid standing beside a railroad line holding a chunk of metal and the caption said something like,  “Youngster  holds the  steel pipe with which he derailed an arms cargo.”

Is Sarah a racist? We had a piece on this site last week by Linn Washington Jr citing jazz musician Charles Greg Royal as saying in  the National Press Club in Washington, DC that in 1990, when performing with the Duke Ellington Band in Anchorage,  trombonist Royal struck up a conversation with a woman at a fast food restaurant who initially identified herself as Sarah. During that conversation, according to Royal. Sarah told him  her last name was Heath, He also says Sarah’s whole manner changed when fellow band members came over. He asked her if anything was wrong. According to Royal, Heath’s response to his inquiry was, “Excuse me, but I don’t mess with black men.” Royal says he told Heath, “I’m a black man” and Sarah responded, “But, you’re not really black.”  Royal, who told Washington he was trying to “hit on” Sarah, says he ended the conversation telling her not to worry about it and have a nice day.

Hmm. Eighteen years…  Young Sarah certainly made an impression on Royal. How much do you remember what you said  to anyone  after a concert eighteen years ago? And how does this charge of racism square Palin’s enthusiasm for the Kenyan witch exorcist?   On the other hand, her gubernatorial record on minorities and natives in Alaska is poor. Odd, considering the First Dude is a quarter Yup’ik.

I’ve had a few notes chiding me for seeming indulgence towards the governor of Alaska. My take is more or less that of a friend of Steve Conn, who quite rightly congratulated him for his excellent pieces on Palin on this site. The friend wrote to Conn:

Loved your recent piece on anti-Palinism in Counterpunch. I wish there were more people like you on the left.

I’ve been saying for a while that much of   the Palin-bashing is just bourgeois working-class-bashing.I was recently at a dinner party in Beverly Hills, where I listened to several very rich women (Hollywood execs and the wife of a real estate mogul) complain about Palin’s accent, her hairstyle, her lack of education, etc. The capper, from the wife of the real estate mogul, who owns a chunk of Rodeo Drive: “I can’t believe anyone likes her. She has NO CLASS.”

The left needs to be as anti-anti-Palin as it is anti-Palin.

Biden  is the guy who pretty much singlehandedly, on behalf of MBNA — the largest employer in Delaware, also the largest independent credit card company in the world, major contributor to Biden and sometime employer of Biden’s son — swung the Democrats in the Senate behind the credit card bill in 2005  which makes it impossible for Americans to go bankrupt and get clear of their debts. Think how many people are going to go bankrupt in the years ahead. As Eric Nguyen points out in an Friday NYT op ed:

Lenders have been foreclosing on about 250,000 homes every month this year — one every 10 seconds. And among the hardest-hit Americans have been families with school-age children. Many of those families file for bankruptcy; indeed, nearly two-thirds of those trying to save their homes in bankruptcy have young children. Yet our laws make it especially difficult for families to keep their homes.

Thank you, Joe Biden. Of that bankruptcy bill Biden said in the debate, “I though the glass was half full; Obama thought it was half empty.” And then of course Obama voted against establishing interest rate caps and said of the bailout that it should NOT include bankruptcy reform.

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CounterPunchers know that two and three years ago our writers were predicting the global crash that is now overwhelming markets and terrifying the citizens. Week by week Gabriel Kolko, Paul Craig Roberts, Mike Whitney, Michael Hudson and our other regular contributors have described the underlying fissures, the explosion of “securitized debt”, the huge credit overhang. Sometimes we were chided for excessive alarmism, party poopers at Belshazzar’s Feast. Not any more.  In our latest newsletter we feature  a brilliant essay by Michael Hudson on the Doomed Bailout, the collapse in Congress and What Has to be Done. You want to read Hudson? You want to help CountrerPunch bring you this daily, free site? SUBSCRIBE NOW!



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Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined!, A Colossal Wreck and An Orgy of Thieves: Neoliberalism and Its Discontents are available from CounterPunch.