A New Can Of Worms
04 October 2003
Wesley Clark Critiques Iraq

In Iraq: What Went Wrong General Wesley Clark gives us a pretty good critique of Iraq.

This is not your standard campaign fare, mind you, but a sober accounting of some of the short comings of the mission that our military planners will be studying for a long time.

Some of Clark's criticisms come directly from what you would expect an US Army General to say, some will be dismissed, but I'm sure will be widely read in military circles.

03 October 2003
Outside View: The next Gray Davis?

A piece by msyself and Jeff Trigg on the Washington Times website. It tells the tale of the sewer tax, and how IL is on the path of CA.
02 October 2003
Here's A Good Idea For Illinois
Is This YOU?

"Procrastination is not just an issue of time management or laziness. It's about feeling paralyzed and guilty as you channel surf, knowing you should be cracking the books or reconfiguring your investment strategy. Why the gap between incentive and action? Psychologists now believe it is a combination of anxiety and false beliefs about productivity."

I know it can be me. Luckily help may be on the way...
NH, Here We Come

`Free staters' choose New Hampshire in today's Trib:

"A group of libertarians announced a project Wednesday to get 20,000 Americans to move to New Hampshire and transform it into a 'free state' with fewer laws, smaller government and greater liberty."
The Chicago teachers union may have just made a huge miscalculation if I read the Chicago Sun-Times right today:

"Chicago Teachers Union delegates voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to reject a proposed five-year contract deal, the first time they've said no in at least 20 years.

The 402-289 vote is only advisory. Still, it gives CTU President Deborah Lynch the first major defeat of her two-year-old presidency. The CTU's 33,000 members will vote Oct. 16. "

They are rejecting 4 percent increases over the next 4 years because they only received 2 percent over the last 4 years. Somehow, I don't think they'll get much public sympathy in the current economic climate.

Teachers have a hard job, but anymore they are pretty much well paid...and in later years they are very well paid. Yet, their results are totally lacking. They'd be wise not to push their luck.
01 October 2003
Policy Guy is on Reimportation Watch

John La Plante reports that:
"The FDA reports that shipments of foreign drugs to the U.S. 'often contain dangerous unapproved or counterfeit drugs that pose potentially serious safety problems. "

He links to yesterday's FDA press release on the subject. I've emailed that release to over 100 reporters around the state along with yesterday's Policy Brief in an attempt to get the safety issue taken seriously. What I am observing around the state is a complete and utter indifference toward the issue.

If the issue is brought up it is in a he-said she-said format such as this from Mary Massingale of the State Journal-Register:

Pharmacists cite the lack of FDA oversight of reimported drugs as dangerous, claiming consumers have no way of knowing if the drug is authentic, of the correct dosage or past its expiration date.

A Blagojevich spokeswoman said pharmacists are pushing the panic button, noting the governor had only asked for a study of the issue.

"The governor wants a full assessment of how much would be saved and what are the legal and potential safety implications," said Abby Ottenhoff.

The increasing costs of prescription drugs have consumers listening more often to their wallet than their pharmacist. Senior citizens living in border states have for the past several years boarded buses bound for Canada, intent on getting Canadian physicians to write prescriptions they can fill at local pharmacies. More recently, online pharmacies based in Canada and other foreign countries have proliferated, offering a variety of prescription drugs at discounted prices.

She is not wrong, but there are plenty of specific concrete instances that would lend credence to the pharmacists. However, safety is merely treated as a claim that pits grandma's drugs vs. the greedy pharmacists and pharmaceutical companies. It is presented in a self serving away by just another interest group looking to separate people from their wallets.

Mike Dorning of the Chicago Tribune really only covers who is up and who is down:

"On its face, the decision by regulators would appear to be a stunning rebuff to Blagojevich, who has gained national stature and considerable media attention after jumping on the drug-import bandwagon less than two weeks ago.

But in the world of politics, especially in Washington, a policy loss on such a hot-button issue as bringing down the cost of pharmaceuticals also can create a partisan opportunity. The FDA ruling only serves to provide more ammunition for Democrats who are looking for a potent 2004 campaign issue to run against Republicans up and down the ballot."

Again, he does nothing wrong in reporting the facts. And Dorning presents an interesting story of how losing can sometimes help you win in DC (been there done that). Except he treats the story as a political issue in which there are merely winners and losers. Its still the wrong story line. This is the familiar theme of Republican sticking up for big business vs. Democrats and the little guy.

The people who have to live with consequences of potentially unsafe drugs have a right and need to know exactly what those claims are. The reason the issue is politically potent is because journalists refuse to cover the safety issue. Instead they chooseg to cover the issue in terms of familiar story lines: Big business vs. the little guy. Republicans vs. Democrats.

There are real consequences to this debate. This isn't the Transportation Bill. Taking adulterated drugs or expired drugs or counterfeit drugs can be fatal. Proponents of reimportation argue that it is all about "cheap drugs" and greedy drug companies. They claim safety is a red herring but offer no proof. The FDA and the Border Patrol keeps providing evidence to the contrary, yet it fails to make the news.

This is a consumer protection story if there ever is one. It's about demagogues using an issue that flies in the face of good public policy. But because that theme doesn't fit into any general cultural biases and myths, the press continues to ignore it.
FDA/U.S. Customs Import Blitz Exams Reveal Hundreds of Potentially Dangerous Imported Drug Shipments

They must have read my brief from, yesterday.
30 September 2003
Leo Strauss in the Public Interest

In What was Leo Strauss up to? Stephen Lenzer and William Kristol discuss the role Strauss played in attempting to revive the liberal tradition:

"Strauss, for example, was well aware that the language in which problems are discussed and debated shapes the way they are understood. Accordingly, he sought to ensure that his readers thought and spoke about political matters in a language appropriate to political life. As we have noted, Strauss helped reintroduce the concept of tyranny to political and social science and, thus indirectly, to the broader political debate. And he did so for the best of reasons: “A social science that cannot speak of tyranny with the same confidence with which medicine speaks, for example, of cancer, cannot understand social phenomena as what they are.” Similarly, Strauss’s devastating critique of the distinction between “facts” and “values” has gradually made itself felt within contemporary political discourse: Virtues are now spoken of more often, and values less. And arguments that not too many years ago would have been dismissed as illegitimate attempts to “impose one’s values” - a semantic trick used to end debate on important matters before it can begin—are now more frequently acknowledged to raise serious questions of principle. "

Where the modern language of science unhinged us from values in the twentieth century, Leo Strauss' work stands out as re-anchoring ourselves to what was important so that we could begin to move forward again. Read the entire piece and you'll know what I mean.
Illinois Policy Institute Weighs In on the Safety of Reimported Drugs

Here's the Conclusion:

"Long-time Illinois residents can recall the “Tylenol Scare” in which adulterated over-the-counter drugs sold in Chicago in 1982 killed at least one woman and resulted in tens-of-millions of dollars of losses to a key industry. Can we really trust the State of Illinois over the FDA with life saving – or life risking drugs?

Reimportation of prescription drugs is about a lot more than cheap drugs and policymakers have an obligation to address the serious issues surrounding their proposals. Most critical of these issues is the safety and integrity of nation’s drug supply. Proponents of reimportation who casually dismiss the threats to the nation’s drug supply as overblown are literally gambling with their constituents’ lives."

10 out of the last 11 HHS Secretaries, including Clinton's, said that reimportation was a bad idea. Who are you going to believe, them or a 1st year Governor with one term in Congress under his belt?
29 September 2003
Don't Look For This In Your Local Paper, Soon

The Conspiracy to Keep You Poor and Stupid points out that the rich aren't getting richer:

"As leftist rhetoric continues to assert on an almost daily basis that the current federal government deficit is the result of tax cuts for 'the rich' that have hardly even taken effect yet, new statistical data from the Internal Revenue Service helps reveal the truth. Our friend Bruce Bartlett points out that the new data on tax-year 2001 (here and here [go to the site for the IRS links]) reveals that the aggregate income of the top 1% of taxpayers fell by $243 billion, reducing their share of total income from 20.8% to 17.5%. In other words, the rich got poorer."
More Hand Wringing About J-Blogs

Breaking Views' Eric Zorn links to yet another j-blog story. This one in the NY Times.

Mr. Zorn's site doesn't have permalinks so we'll have to scroll down to the "Imbloglio" Headline. He is a good left of center columnist, has a great new blog and he has an original way with words. My complaint is not with him.

It's about all the hand wringing surrounding "j-blogs."

I'd like to see more on the progressive bias (on both the left and right) in the press and the roles of simplification, personalization and symbolization in selling the news. I mean if we are going wring our hands over the news business, let's do it about something important, such as the biases inherently necessary to sell the news.

Why does every feature begin with a personal ancedote, why do we often dumb down the news to simplistic arguments (prescription drug debate is only about saving money) and why do stories, for example, pit granny against the big bad pharmaceuitcals or the big tobacco companies fooling gullible children? I'd like to see that wrestled with on the pages of the NY Times. Blogging is small potatoes compared to how the news is marketed to reflect many of our cultural biases and prejudices.

Journalists work in a bureaucracy designed to efficiently gather and distribute news. Blogging is a decentralized form of communications. Each has strengthes and weaknesses, however there is nothing bureaucrats hate more than being cut out of the process. It threatens their position.

Integrity of the journalistic process and the objectivity of reporters are bureaucratic justifications if I ever saw them and yet they are the angles soberly covered here. But if these same journalists were talking about a corporation or the Defense Department do you really believe you would be getting the same tone? Or, would stories be about personal battles being waged; challenging the bureaucratic justifications and questioning the "truthfulness" of various political figures; divining the innermost Machiavellian ambitions of the players; and then dividing the world into winners and losers?

Somehow I don't think we'll be getting that angle presented to us, soon.

Middle Eastern Culture

The ideal marriage in an Arab family is that the son marries his father's brother's daughter (i.e. first cousin on his uncles side of the family). This tradition reaches back prior to Muhammed. Yesterday's New York Times has an article by John Tierney which attempts to explain the tradition to us.

The key to Arab culture is the tribe or clan. It is headed by a Sheik, who is the family patriarch.

Tierney's take is that this is an impediment to American style democracy. Well, yes and no. Yes, because societies where the clan is the central organizing institution tend to be low trust societies. A sufficient but not necessary condition for a free market economy is a certain level of trust. Countries with higher level of trusts tend to perform more efficiently. A great example of this would be comparing American economic performance to Italy's.

Italian culture has been centered around the family. Yet, they have been democratic for most of the 20th century. Japan is another example -- as is South Korea.

So yes, Iraqi democratic institutions will be a bit trickier to build and sustain than might otherwise be the case. But, it has been done before. And I would point to something not mentioned in the article (but it was incorrectly alluded to) as a encouraging sign.

In Iraq there has been a sense of a national identification (i.e. a collective view that they are in some sense the same people) for quite sometime. This was most in evidence in the Iran-Iraq war when Shia's in the South volunteered to fight their co-religionist Shia's from Iran. They saw themselves as Iraqi's first.

In many respects the Ba'athist regime that guided Iraq since the 60's needed the same self identification that Tierney suggests is lacking. The Nazi party was the model for the Ba'athists. Critical to the national socialist model of governing is a sense of being one people. If the Ba'athist were successful in creating it (and my Iran-Iraq war example would suggest it was), then the transition to some form of democracy will not be as difficult as Tierney's piece would suggest.

So yes, low trust and family centric culture is a hurdle, but it is nothing that cannot be overcome.
This is not a good way to start the week.

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