Turned up to eleven: Fair and Balanced

Thursday, July 31, 2003

Drugs, Sex, Rock and Roll (well, maybe just drugs)
I really don't understand the Big Pharma argument against "drug reimportation" from Canada. Of course, I understand why they are fighting it, but I really don't understand the method they are using. The big public argument is a basic scare tactic "Drugs from Canada aren't approved by FDA, you might die from contaminated meds" or some such. Riiiiight... like all those poor Canadian saps who keep keeling over from the cyanide in their Lipitor, huh? Give me a break. Canadians don't live in thatched roof huts, they don't ride to work on stagecoaches, drugs sold there are exactly the same as drugs sold here, in terms of quality. Basically, they have a national medical service that can fix the price lower than the "market" (I'll explain the scare quotes) here. So the price is cheaper there, and thanks to the internet and rapid shipping worldwide, the low price drugs can be accessed here, too. This seems to me like the free market in action. The very large buyer (Canada) can negotiate a lower price. Essentially, American consumers are "free riders" on this particular transaction.
So, why did I put the "scare quotes" "around" "market"? Well, basically, the market in medical care in the US is extremely dysfunctional, as anyone with an ounce of common sense can tell. We have a cumbersome insurance industry that charges very high prices for poor coverage, a public health care system obliged to care for the uninsured sick, and pass the cost on to the taxpayer, and, fundamentally, medical device and drug industries that get monopolies, and thus can charge what they will, on the products they make, for a number of years. Finally, you have consumers who are in no position to bargain as they are told they will die without this medicine/operation/device. So it stretches credulity to argue that US "market" prices are "fair", while Canadian or European prices are "artificially low".
This is all the product of globalization, as people in the US become aware that they are paying far more for health care than other people, and that they have access to cheaper meds. So, regardless of Congressional grandstanding, Big Pharma (and Little Pharma) is going to have to deal with losing the ability to set high prices in their wealthiest market. How to respond? First of all, the notion that this will kill innovation is laughable. Innovation occurs on University campuses and at start-up biotechs, not at GlaxoSmithKline (I exaggerate, but I am mostly right). Simply put, drug discovery is hugely subsidized both on the front end (by NIH) and on the back end (by 7 year monopolies on the drug). So reducing the back end subsidy (they may still have the monopoly, but can't set the high price) will have no effect on innovation (they may have to cut their advertising budgets, though.
There is a fundamental conundrum here, though. On the one hand, it is important that new drugs be discovered and used to fight disease. However, it is also important that those drugs be available to the consumers who need them, and that people are not deprived of treatment because of poverty (example: HIV, TB, Malaria in Africa compared to high blood pressure in the developed world). The profit motive provides an incentive to develop drugs to treat disease in people who can pay for it, rather than those who need it most.

Wednesday, July 30, 2003

Rage, Rage, Rage
I thought that my anger at the Bushistas would probably subside, as things calm in Iraq, and we get back to the business at hand of reviving the stalling economy and fighting Al Qaeda. Never in a million years did I suspect that they would pull a ridiculous stunt like this one. Apparently, they quietly pulled air marshals off cross continent and intercontinental flights (you know, like Boston to LA) to save money (they since restored them, apparently, under pressure from Chuck Schumer, according to this MSNBC report.
Once again, for those who aren't to clear, or didn't click through- the Bush administration tried to save money by scrimping on AIR MARSHALLS! Only an alert Democratic senator saved this insanity from happening. Can someone please explain to me why the GOP is the party of national security.
As if that wasn't enough, another story making the rounds in the left of center blogo(hemi)sphere is about the clear evidence that even before the Iraq war, force repositioning and redeployment was hurting the hunt for Al Qaeda. By the way, can someone tell me why this headline is phrased as a question? "Did war compromise al-Qaida hunt?" Liberal media my ass, as they say! (story via Kevin Drum, among others)
Finally, I would just like to note that in Sept. 2002, Al Gore said that this was the case, and was ridiculed for it. I also said it, but of course, no one cares what I think (and for good reason!). Is there still any doubt that Al Gore is smarter, more dedicated, more perceptive, and more able thank Dubya? Only the most dedicated, know-nothing GOPer can still suggest that Gore would not have done better in the War on Terror. Ridiculous. In case you don't click through, here is the relevant portion of the speech.

To begin with, I believe we should focus our efforts first and foremost against those who attacked us on September 11th and have thus far gotten away with it. The vast majority of those who sponsored, planned and implemented the cold blooded murder of more than 3,000 Americans are still at large, still neither located nor apprehended, much less punished and neutralized. I do not believe that we should allow ourselves to be distracted from this urgent task simply because it is proving to be more difficult and lengthy than predicted. Great nations persevere and then prevail. They do not jump from one unfinished task to another.

We are perfectly capable of staying the course in our war against Osama Bin Laden and his terrorist network, while simultaneously taking those steps necessary to build an international coalition to join us in taking on Saddam Hussein in a timely fashion.

I don't think that we should allow anything to diminish our focus on avenging the 3,000 Americans who were murdered and dismantling the network of terrorists who we know to be responsible for it. The fact that we don't know where they are should not cause us to focus instead on some other enemy whose location may be easier to identify.

Nevertheless, President Bush is telling us that the most urgent requirement of the moment - right now - is not to redouble our efforts against Al Qaeda, not to stabilize the nation of Afghanistan after driving his host government from power, but instead to shift our focus and concentrate on immediately launching a new war against Saddam Hussein.

As they say, read the whole thing.
One final thought- A Democratic Presidential contender needs to step forward and scream at the failures of Bush Admin. policy. This is not a hawk/dove or left/right thing. The most fundamental job of the President is to protect the USA against attack, foreign or domestic. If his actions are demonstrably counter to that goal, then he is derelict in his duties. This point MUST be hammered home, repeatedly, AND a concrete plan to fix the mess has to be presented.

Tuesday, July 29, 2003

Politics, Politics, Politics
"When you die at the palace, you really die at the palace" Mel Brooks
I have been reading Kevin Phillips fascinating Wealth and Democracy, which is an important lesson in the role of government in creating wealth, and the cycles of private v. public interest in American and world politics. The analogies between post-Civil War America, present day America, 18-19th Britain, 16th century Spain, and 17th century Holland are very compelling, if often loose. The overall notion is that economic powers come and go, and new ones take their place. Within those leading economic powers, societal and economic changes follow similar patterns- the rise of manufacturing or production, followed by the rise of financialization, followed by the decay of production infrastructure and total financialization of the economy. This emphasis on capital asset protection and growth of non-productive wealth leads to the fall of the economic power from past glory.
What is interesting about this to me is not just the historical pattern, but the pattern of wealth accruing within a nation, and finally the public opinion on wealth. First, let's be clear-there is not, never has been, and never will be laissez-faire capitalism. Government has always, always, always intervened on behalf of growing wealth. Whether it is the first colonial and American revolutionary fortunes built on war profiteering, to the later government backing of railroad development by use of eminent domain land acquisition, to later government support of research in technological development, government funding, support, and defense of capital is a constant of economic power. It's just that economic elites do not like the downside of government, which is to regulate the capital that it helped form. As a person with an interest in the economy and the polity, however, you should know that all of those great fortunes were dependent on government largesse, and therefore, on you.
Within the polity, in addition, there are waves of public sentiment in support of, and later against, the wealthiest few. It usually goes like this; at first, the public celebrates the fortunes of brave, risk-taking entrepeneurs and their rise to wealth. Inevitably, however, the quest for ever greater wealth leads to corruption, as the great fortunes buy influence in Washington (or London, or Amsterdam), and attempt to secure their own dominion. In the past, this has lead to sharp backlashes. Will it happen again?

Finally, my modest backlash proposal- A new tax bracket of 50% on income over 300k per year (essentially, the top 1%). Easy to explain, most people won't think they make over 300k if they don't (unlike the infamous 20% in the top 1% of 2000). It will scare off some big donors, although I expect wealthy Dems in Hollywood and Omaha will still support it. Additionally, the payroll taxes should be cut in half, on a percentage basis, but the cap should be removed. For the vast majority of people, this is a tax cut, but for the wealthy, it is a tax increase. Finally, my free advice to political animals is stop listening to analysts; the problem with Gore was not his populism (he won the popular vote) or his demeanor (he won the popular vote!) but rather his anemic sidekick (what state did Lieberman bring), his opponent on the left (thanks Ralph!), and some bad luck against some ruthless operators.

UPDATE: Coincidentally, Ruy Teixeira on his blog Donkey Rising essentially proposes the same thing as I did (he don't know from permalinks, so scroll down to July 28 "tax reform"). He has a lot more influence than I do, so maybe there is hope!

Friday, July 25, 2003

Democrats for Camejo??
Well, the recall is a go, and so far the two declared candidates are Peter Camejo (Green) and Darrell Issa (R). It is expected that Dick Riordan (RINO) and Arnold Schwarzenegger (actor, RINO) may also step in, as well as some other GOPers. Here is my suggestion- No established Dem should get into this, but instead the DNC should start a campaign against the Recall, suggesting that Dems vote for Camejo as well as No to recalling Davis. Assuming some level of split in the GOP vote, this makes Peter Camejo, governor of California, a pretty plausible outcome. If you can think of a better way to stick a thumb in Darrell Issa's eye, along with the rest of the CA Repub. Party, I would like to hear it!

Thursday, July 24, 2003

It's not the crime, it's the cover-up

Everyone has heard this before, and it is a mantra that held true in Watergate, Iran-Contra, and the Clinton scandals. In all three cases, the actual event itself was not what brought down powerful people, but rather the cover-up lies, misdirections, and attempts to intimidate. It's happening again. It seems to me that the Amb. Wilson/Valerie Plame story will have "legs", and will threaten the administration to its core, maybe even as a direct threat to Bush's re-election. See Mark Kleiman for all the details. It also seems, from what I have read, that Condi Rice may be on her way out. I actually think this is bad news for the country, but, it may be that she truly wasn't good at her job. Bob Somerby, who has taken an incredibly (in this day and age) principled stand on this and other press accuracy related issues, has some details on this as well. Basically, she is now in a position where either she lied publicly about the info she had on the "16 words", or she is completely incompetent. She has been deftly outmanuevered by George Tenet and Steven Hadley, the two men who "took responsibility" for the yellowcake statement. I must differ with Mr. Somerby on the issue of the press accuracy on this story. He has basically taken the position that Bush's statement is being misrepresented because he said Saddam tried to get yellowcake from Africa, not Niger. But the Bushies have admitted that they were basing the statement on the forged Niger docs, so I think this explanation is not sufficient. It falls in the "technically accurate" category, along with the "British government" caveat. Nevertheless, I applaud his willingness to stick to his guns, even when his liberal audience turns on him.

The big question, though, is will the congressional Republicans hang together with the Bushies in the face of all of this, or will they defect and allow Dems to get public hearings on all of this? My guess is that the Senate will hold public hearings, and things may get very interesting. It seems to me that the Bush political machine is strong on offense, but weak on defense. Actually, I am not even sure they are all that strong on offense. It might be time to start reminding people who won the popular vote in 2000...

By the way, anyone seen Osama bin Laden lately? Me neither. Saddam Hussein? Me neither. Any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq? Me neither.

Yes, I know we killed Uday and Qusay. I'm glad. I would be even happier if they had been captured and had divulged 1) where their father is and 2) where the WMD are.

It is time to start asking the following question. Either there were no WMD in Iraq, or they have been moved out of the country. Mr. President, did we attack Iraq for no good reason, or did we merely fail in securing our objectives?

Freedom, Horrible Freedom
I have officially ended my employment at Caltech, and am now joining the ranks of the unemployed (only till Sept, though, so don't cry for me, Argentina!) I will spend my time playing with my kids, fuming about the reckless, feckless incompetents currently running this country (into the ground), and perhaps blogging. I don't think I will be posting more excerpts from my putative book, although I will be writing it. I may just post the odd tidbit as I come across it. Anyway, on to more regular bloggage !