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'I'm thinking about taking up smoking. My doctor says I'm not getting enough tar.' -- Steve Martin


Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, resigned Wednesday after reports she had purchased stock in tobacco companies after being appointed to head US America's leading public health agency; at least once she left the office she could kick back with a nice relaxing smoke. Politico had reported Tuesday on the stock purchases, which were made a month after she started work at the CDC. Kind of a pity, since that level of tone-deafness probably could have brought us years of additional entertainment.

Yr Wonkette is hoping Fitzgerald will at least explain the tobacco stock purchases were a misguided attempt to fit in with Scott Pruitt, who's using the EPA to ruin the environment, and Ryan Zinke, who's turning the Department of Interior into a real-estate broker for oil and gas exploration. "It's not fair!" she could protest. "All I wanted was MY chance at doing the complete opposite of my agency's mission!" And then she could blame her resignation on sexism, because look who the boys decided was expendable for ethical lapses. (OK, that one might even be plausible. A mere CDC director, and a lady at that, is definitely expendable in Trumpworld.)

Fitzgerald had already been getting the stink-eye from Congress thanks to her financial entanglements with food and pharma industry investments, so the tobacco stock purchases were just the tarry ashy cherry on top of a heap of possible financial conflicts of interest. It's not just the hypocrisy of the nation's top public health official profiting from deathsticks; the fact that the CDC's ostensible mission is to fight public health risks means it's MAYBE A BAD IDEA for the person leading that effort to have a financial interest in the agency not doing its job.

See again the examples of Zinke and Pruitt -- if Fitgerald had simply had a free-market ideological commitment to letting people get cancer after choosing to smoke, then that would be another matter entirely. The ethical concern only arises because it might look like her stake in tobacco could lead her to slack off on public health. Whoever is appointed to succeed Fitzgerald can probably approach running the CDC with all the deregulatory zeal of any other Trumper, just as long as they don't appear to be lining their own pockets.

Richard Painter, the GW Bush ethics lawyer guy with that wonderful gravelly voice, said of Fitzgerald's investments, “You don’t buy tobacco stocks when you are the head of the CDC. It’s ridiculous; it gives a terrible appearance,” and added that even if Fitzgerald's stock portfolio somehow turned out not to actually be illegal, "it stinks to high heaven." That's why he's on the cable shows and you're not. OK, that and the whole "top ethics lawyer" thing.

You can't really blame Fitzgerald too much for thinking it would be just peachy to buy a bunch of tobacco stocks, considering that former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price was confirmed by the Senate despite his own smelly financial dealings -- as you'll recall, he bought shares of medical device manufacturers which later benefited from bills he introduced in Congress. And heck, for that matter, as Politico reported Tuesday, Fitzgerald's investment manager did sell the problematic stocks after noticing they were "potentially conflicting." Among the questionable investments, which were eventually sold off, Fitzgerald acquired shares in Japan Tobacco, which has several US subsidiaries, as well as in Merck & Co., Bayer, Humana, and "US Food Holding Co," which sounds like the sort of conglomerate that makes pretzels and fighter jets.

Irony fans will appreciate this detail:

On Aug. 9, one day after purchasing stock in global giant Japan Tobacco, she toured the CDC’s Tobacco Laboratory, which researches how the chemicals in tobacco harm human health[.]

But if a little grifting was OK for Tom Price, who got shitcanned resigned after diclosure of his excessive spending on chartered jets, not for his muddy ethics, why couldn't Fitzgerald skate, too? Politico reported yesterday that defending a tobacco-puffing CDC director wasn't on the priorities list for new HHS Secretary Alex Azar, who was looking for a chance to look ethical while pursuing the Trump administration's priorities of gutting Obamacare and also gutting Obamacare. He simply didn't want ethics stories getting in the way of improving America's health by making sure fewer people have healthcare.

OK, fine, and if you want the less cynical version, Politico does point out that Azar's previous job as HHS general counsel during the GWB administration "meant he was intimately familiar with the agency’s ethics rules" and "cultivated a reputation for a strict adherence to the rules," so sure, this was definitely about ethics, you bet. So now, with that distraction out of the way, it's time to get to the real work. How about limiting ACA enrollment to three weeks instead of the six weeks that were allowed in 2017? Stupid consumers went and bought insurance on the exchanges anyway, so there's lots of improvements to be made.

Yr Wonkette is supported by reader donations. Click here to help! Hey, you could quit smoking, send us your cig money, and live to read Wonkette longer! Everyone wins!

[NBC News / Politico / Politico]

Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.

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