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"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"

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Monday, 26 July 2004

Topic: Couldn't be so...

"How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is to have a thankless child!"
King Lear - Act I, Scene 4

But Chalabi PROMISED this - and Wolfowitz and Perle told us Iraq would, first thing, recognize Israel and establish full diplomatic relations. For many neoconservatives, that was the WHOLE POINT of this war ? to change things. Peace in the Middle East depended upon this ? ?The road to Jerusalem goes through Baghdad.? That was what we knew. So it seems we?ve been betrayed by this ex-CIA agent we installed to run Iraq. There is no justice in the world.

Iraqi PM: No Normalized Relations with Israel Before Mideast Settlement
Voice of America (VOA) News - 26 Jul 2004, 16:32 UTC
Iraqi interim prime minister Iyad Allawi says his government will not normalize relations with Israel before other Arab states do as part of a Middle East settlement.

Speaking during a visit to Lebanon Monday, Mr. Allawi said Iraq's future relations with Israel will be determined by two issues, "international resolutions and a just and comprehensive peace."

Mr. Allawi also rejected as "totally false" reports that Israeli intelligence agents were operating out of Iraq.

The Iraqi prime minister said his country and its territory will not be a base for any action hostile to any Arab nation.
Richard Perle, for so many years the head of the Defense Advisory Board, the man who told Rumsfeld what to do, the man who for years ran Conrad Black?s Jerusalem Post, the man who was the key advisor to Benjamin Netanyahu and told him to be tough with the Palistineans and kill them all if possible ? well, tonight Perle is probabaly contacting Guido from Detroit to arrange a hit on this man who embarassed him. Iyad Allawi is toast.


Background from Just Above Sunset -

On Richard Perle and just how important he is, or was, see November 23, 2003: Why We Fight

On Conrad Black and his press empire and how it fell apart, see December 28, 2003 - Lord Black and his pearl...

Perle and Henry Kissinger and the rest are all involved.

Posted by Alan at 18:53 PDT | Post Comment | View Comments (1) | Permalink

Topic: Iraq

Also in Boston this week ? Psychoanalysts for Peace and Justice
And one of them explains the history of Iraq?

It seems everyone is linking to this ?

Iraq: What Went Wrong?
Stephen Soldz, Z Magazine (Znet), July 26, 2004

Soldz is identified here as a psychoanalyst and a faculty member at the Institute for the Study of Violence of the Boston Graduate School of Psychoanalysis. He is a member of Roslindale Neighbors for Peace and Justice and founder of Psychoanalysts for Peace and Justice, and maintains their Iraq Occupation and Resistance Report web page.

One shouldn?t confuse Soldz with Juan Cole, the professor of history at the University of Michigan, the middle-east expert on Iraq who travels down to Washington to testify before congess now and then, and pops up on the PBS ?News Hour? every month or two. Cole?s site is called Informed Comment.

Cole is an expert on Iraq ? its politics and history ? and fluent in Arabic. Soldz is an expert is how people think ? although he?s not an expert in fixing how people think. He is, after all, a psychoanalyst, not a psychotherapist. Big difference.

The Soldz piece here - A Short History of 21st Century Iraq - isn?t short. If you glance at it you?ll see seventy-two footnotes. Soldz is either thorough, or obsessive. Or the history of Iraq is complex.

Don?t worry. Soldz ends with the basics. In clear prose anyone can understand ? absent of any psychobabble -
To conclude, imagine yourself an Iraqi. You've suffered terribly under a ruthless dictator. The Americans invade your country under false pretenses. They promise democracy but don't organize elections. They appoint exiles to rule you, exiles who spend most of their time out of the country and the rest in a few highly protected areas. The occupiers break into your homes in the middle of the night and arrest your men, who then disappear, with no accountability. They shoot Iraqis at roadblocks and from convoys. They declare war on the second most popular man in the country, announcing his death in advance. They open the economy to US corporations and give them sweetheart contracts, ignoring local business. Then they write hundreds of laws and establish commissions limiting any future government. They build permanent military bases on your soil. Then they turn your country over to a former associate of Saddam Hussein, also a former CIA agent, known for his ruthless brutality. Imagine that was your country. What would you do?
Well, that certainly ?reframes? our heroic efforts to free Iraq.

What we have done, seen from the point of view of the locals, doesn?t look so heroic.

The counterargument, the one that has been made to me, is that the Iraqi populace, even with their sorry national history weighing on their minds, doesn?t see the bigger global picture ? and that would be the Global War or Terror and Evildoers and how they fit in. They have also seemly forgotten how bad a fellow Saddam Hussein was to them, and should thus be, as Wolfowitz and Chalabi and all the rest said should happen, tossing flowers at us and welcoming us with open arms. But they toss bombs. And those arms aren?t exactly open.

Wolfowitz and Chalabi and all the rest said what one would logically expect is scenes reminiscent of the Liberation of Paris, but in Baghdad, with the flowers and cheering in the streets. Now they don?t know just what is wrong with these people.

Soldz says, given our actions, one should not be surprised that we get something more like Algiers in 1954, not Paris in 1944. And there is nothing at all wrong with these people.

So, who is a better judge of what is logical to expect from human nature ? a cabal of neoconservative theorists who have been thinking about this stuff since their days at the University of Chicago and their years at the Rand Corporation ? or a psychoanalyst musing in his office in Boston, far from the corridors of power in Washington?

And the larger question hangs in the air ? one that has been around long before we actually rolled into Baghdad. Should we care at all what these people think? Are there not more important issues? Don?t we have to do? well, what we have to do?

Maybe so. But expecting folks to like us for it was a bit of a miscalculation.

Posted by Alan at 13:48 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

Topic: Photos

Heads Up!

The new issue of Just Above Sunset - Volume 2, Number 29 ? went online yesterday.

Do check it out.

Five new hot news topics and four follow-ups to previous issues raised (with reader comments). Bob Patterson returns - on Hemingway in Paris and as The Book Wrangler - and Ric Erickson has the hot crime news from Paris.

Bonus for writers - reports on the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest AND the Faux Faulkner Contest (amazing stuff!) And a bonus link list for political junkies!

Three photography sections - Venice Beach to the Sunset Strip!

Here?s a shot from Venice Beach?

Posted by Alan at 09:09 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 26 July 2004 09:11 PDT home

Sunday, 25 July 2004

Topic: The Law

Lawsuits Destroying American Business

This is just too cool...

In a Shift, Bush Moves to Block Medical Suits
Robert Pear, The New York Times, Published: July 25, 2004

Here's the deal -
The Bush administration has been going to court to block lawsuits by consumers who say they have been injured by prescription drugs and medical devices.

The administration contends that consumers cannot recover damages for such injuries if the products have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. In court papers, the Justice Department acknowledges that this position reflects a "change in governmental policy," and it has persuaded some judges to accept its arguments, most recently scoring a victory in the federal appeals court in Philadelphia.

Allowing consumers to sue manufacturers would "undermine public health" and interfere with federal regulation of drugs and devices, by encouraging "lay judges and juries to second-guess" experts at the F.D.A., the government said in siding with the maker of a heart pump sued by the widow of a Pennsylvania man. Moreover, it said, if such lawsuits succeed, some good products may be removed from the market, depriving patients of beneficial treatments.
You see the logic. If the government says it works - and the "it" might be a medical device or medication - then it does. And you cannot complain. If you do you just hurt other folks. So stop it, damn it!

Got it?

Pear notes that at a 2002 legal symposium the Bush administration outlined plans for "FDA involvement in product liability lawsuits," and it has been "methodically pursuing" that strategy. This is all part of tort reform - stopping personal liability attorneys like John Edwards from destroying healthcare as we know it. Bush doesn't like trial lawyers - personal liability attorneys - because, he says, they impose a huge burden on the economy and drive up health costs.

Pear quotes Representative Maurice D. Hinchey, a Democrat (of course) from New York, saying the administration had "taken the FDA in a radical new direction, seeking to protect drug companies instead of the public."

Really? What would make you think Bush the guys want to protect drug companies? Would it be the new Medicare Prescription Drug Program that expressly forbids the government from negotiating bulk discounts on drug price, and, in fact, expressly forbids the government from seeking any discount of any kind from the pharmaceutical companies - and expressly forbids purchases from any place like (gasp!) Canada? It might be that. Oh, and as you recall, that Medicare Prescription Drug package passed narrowly when the White House assured Congress it would cost four hundred billion dollars over ten years - and threatened to fire the fellow who was asked by congress how much it would really cost and was going to tell them. Five hundred and thirty-five billion was the actual projected cost. They knew. And the fellow kept his mouth shut. Ah, just a little fib and a little intimidation.

What about this Pennsylvania case? That was last Tuesday. The appeals court threw out a lawsuit filed by one Barbara Horn, who said her husband had died because of defects in the design and manufacture of his heart pump. A crybaby, of course. The Bush folks argued that "federal law barred such claims because the device had been produced according to federal specifications." Yes, in its briefs the administration conceded that "the views stated here differ from the views that the government advanced in 1997," in the United States Supreme Court.

But times change. Then the Bush team argued the FDA sets the minimum standard, and now they argue that the FDA's approval of a device "sets a ceiling as well as a floor."


The Bush folks are holding that no one now has a right to use - and this benefits consumers.

Why? Because the threat of lawsuits, "can harm the public health" by encouraging manufacturers to withdraw products from the market or to issue new warnings that overemphasize the risks and lead to "underutilization of beneficial treatments."

I suppose. The federal appeals court in the Pennsylvania case said the FDA was entitled to "great deference" because the agency was "uniquely qualified" to determine when federal law should take precedence. And the Bush folks said well, gee, all they were trying to do... well it wasn't that they wanted to shield drug companies. They wanted "to vindicate the federal government's authority to regulate drug products."

They did.

Pear trots out some cases of interest in this matter, using a popular feel-good drug as an example of where this is leading -
Kimberley K. Witczakof Minneapolis said her husband, Timothy, 37, committed suicide last year after taking the antidepressant drug Zoloft for five weeks. "I do not believe in frivolous lawsuits," Ms. Witczak said, "but it's ridiculous that the government is filing legal briefs on the side of drug companies when it's supposed to be protecting the public. My husband would be alive today if he had received adequate warnings about the risk of self-harm." Ms. Witczak sued Pfizer, the maker of Zoloft, in May. The government has not intervened in her case.

Thomas W. Woodward of North Wales, Pa., whose 17-year-old daughter committed suicide last year after taking Zoloft for a week, said, "I've been sickened to see the government taking the side of pharmaceutical companies in court." Mr. Woodward has not filed a suit.

Mr. Hinchey said that F.D.A. lawyers, led by the agency's chief counsel, Daniel E. Troy, had "repeatedly interceded in civil suits on behalf of drug and medical device manufacturers."

Ms. Witczak, Mr. Woodward and Mr. Hinchey said Mr. Troy had a potential conflict of interest because Pfizer was one of his clients when he was a lawyer in private practice.
What? The FDA Chief Counsel used to work for Pfizer? Imagine that.

More fox-guarding-the-hen-house detail?
The administration has also joined Pfizer in opposing a lawsuit filed by Flora Motus, a California woman who said her husband had committed suicide after taking Zoloft. Mrs. Motus argued that Pfizer had not adequately warned doctors and patients that the drug could increase the risk of suicide.

But the Bush administration said that when federal officials approved Zoloft, they saw no need for such a warning, and that a false or unnecessary warning could "deprive patients of beneficial, possibly life-saving treatment." Susan B. Bro, a spokeswoman for Pfizer, said this week, "There is no scientific evidence of a causal relationship between Zoloft and suicide."

Likewise, the administration intervened in a California case to help GlaxoSmithKline fend off consumer demands for restrictions on the advertising of Paxil. The government said the restrictions "would overly deter use of a life-improving medication."

Patients had persuaded a federal district judge to order a halt to television advertisements that declared, "Paxil is non-habit forming." The administration joined the manufacturer in challenging that order. ...
Oh well. Most people know better. The government cannot protect all fools.

But seriously, let's put this in terms of personal responsibility.

It is the job of government to assure the economic health of the country. That means it is the job of the government to make sure businesses flourish and the economy grows. Prosperity benefits everyone. If you hurt a business, any business, you hurt us all. And that's what claims of defective products actually do - they hurt the economy.

It is your personal responsibility to keep yourself healthy. You may take a particular drug or submit to some medical procedure, or have some sort of medical device implanted - on the urgent order of your doctor - but that's YOUR choice. YOU decided to do that. If you are harmed by that drug, procedure or device - if it is truly defective - well, it's your own damned fault. You should have known better. Caveat Emptor. Don't hurt us all by filing some frivolous lawsuit claiming it was defective, even if it was. The government isn't your Mommy. And YOU were the one who trusted your doctor. Your problem, you fool.

Or at least that's the conservative, Republican view of the matter.

And the counterargument is...?

Posted by Alan at 18:51 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

Topic: The Economy

Gloom and Doom: The Really Dismal Science and the Damned Invisible Hand

David Rothkopf was deputy undersecretary of Commerce for international trade policy during the Clinton administration. So in the Washington Post - the newspaper the "got" Nixon when, really, what had he does that was so very bad? - you would expect Rothkopf to write a doom and gloom column on the economy. And he does.

Just As Scary As Terror
Anyone Seen Our Economic Policy?
David J. Rothkopf, The Washington Post, Sunday, July 25, 2004; Page B01

His opening contention us that the world's investors have been voting on Bush already, with their money, and Bush, and his United States, is losing this "money election."

Last month, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development released figures showing that last year for the first time, China supplanted the United States as the No. 1 destination for foreign direct investment worldwide -- that is, money that goes into factories, equipment, real estate or existing companies. And in a blow to fans of "freedom fries," No. 2 was France. Though other major economies also suffered a drop-off in this category, no nation fell as far in percentage terms as the United States.
Oh my! France? Not France!

I thought we destroyed France, economically, when we boycotted their wine and cheese and no tourists from Iowa ever again appeared at CDG. Bill O'Reilly told us so.

In an April 27th radio debate with a Canadian journalist, Bill O'Reilly threatened to lead a boycott of Canadian goods if Canada didn't deport two American military deserters, saying that his previous boycott of French goods - the one he thought-up and championed - cost France billions of dollars in lost export business. And Bill O'Reilly cited the Paris Business Review as his source for those losses. Cool. Of course, Media Matters found no evidence that a Paris Business Review even existed, and it seems France's export business with us actually increased during the run-up to the Iraq war. But it should have been true.

And by the way, some internet wags tweaked Bill O'Reilly a few weeks ago and started a satire site called The Paris Business Review - just helping him out a little. "Although some in the media have disputed the statistics (and the existence) of The Paris Business Review, our data analysis demonstrates without question that the united American refusal to say `cheese' when smiling for snapshots has had a significant impact on the French economy." They will sell you Paris Business Review coffee mugs too.

So. Where do you get good data? The Paris Business Review or the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)? Decisions, decisions....

Rothkopf works with the second source.

And here's how he sees the problem with people deciding to invest in ventures not here, but in China, or in the land of the cheese-eating surrender monkeys:
While such numbers fluctuate and foreign direct investment is just one type of capital flow, this dramatic swing can be seen as further evidence that in the 21st century, America is going to have to fight hard for its piece of the global investment pie - money that translates directly into new jobs and the industries of tomorrow. Clearly, the world economy is shifting around us and our place atop it is being challenged.
Yeah, like we need more to worry about, David.

Should we worry about this?
Investment flows into emerging economies grew dramatically between 2002 and 2003, with investors pumping more than six times as much into developing markets as they did in the prior year -- nearly $200 billion. OECD analysts concluded that the primary reason for this redirection of capital was not simply that countries like China offer cheap labor; rather it was the size and promise of their markets. This is a big deal, because even when low wages in these countries go up, that will mean increased buying power -- so the attractive labor markets of today will gradually become the attractive consumer markets of tomorrow.

At the same time, the image the United States is presenting to global investors is increasingly tainted by our apparent disregard for both economic and diplomatic fundamentals. The message we have conveyed in recent years is that there is no economic problem we confront today - from gigantic deficits to huge under-funded liabilities - that we wouldn't prefer to have our children solve tomorrow. So, it should not be surprising that other important measures of investor interest have also taken a dramatic turn for the worse in recent months.
But everyone likes lower taxes (well, normal people earning over four hundred thousand a year), and putting off payments with deficit spending is, well, so convenient.

Yes, foreign purchases of Treasury bonds and other government securities are up, and we are financing amazingly large budget deficits is by selling more paper. So? And yes, Rothkopf says that the percentage of those foreign purchases made by private investors - people with confidence in our economy - is falling sharply. So? Foreign governments will take up the slack, as it seems they are doing the buying now. The private guys are wimps?

Rothkopf quotes Treasury Secretary John Snow sating this in Cleveland a few weeks ago - "There is no more serious threat to our economy than the threat of terrorist attacks on our soil."

Rothkopf says that's wrong-headed. The economy is a bigger problem, or just as big -
Let's start with the biggest domestic economic problems. Almost any one of them is a greater threat to the economy than virtually any imaginable form of terrorism. There is the record-breaking budget deficit that is likely to amount to $5 trillion over the next decade. Then there's the burgeoning trade deficit. And the $72 trillion in unfunded future retirement and health care obligations to our own citizens. And a record low savings rate, which suggests that we will need even more help with retirement funding. And the hemorrhaging of manufacturing jobs and the cost of fixing our dysfunctional health care and energy systems. Every one of these is a gigantic problem on its own. Taken together, they represent a series of bombs placed at the foundations of our society, and they are capable of exploding in ways that would touch more Americans than anything even the most sophisticated terrorists could devise.
Damn. Gloom and doom! Economics is the dismal science.

And this -
Let's move on to the global economic threats. One, as I've said, is the erosion of American economic leadership and consequent disaffection of important classes of international investors. Another is our dependence on those investors, and still another is our addiction to foreign oil. Even more important is the growing tension between developed and emerging nations, as a billion new workers from the emerging world compete for their place in the global economy. Emerging economies depend on change. Advanced markets are comforted by the status quo. This is the bipolar reality that has replaced that of the Cold War.
Well, that's cheery.

Rothkopf then says that while we do this war thing in Iraq quite earnestly, we have "undertaken what amounts to unilateral economic disarmament by ignoring, exacerbating or failing to adequately address any of the real economic threats...."

How would we do that?

We could do what Singapore has done - "come up with an actual National Economic Strategy that reorients public policy - tax laws, worker training, industry regulation - to strengthen competitive industries and shore up weak aspects of the economy."

But of course, that is a bit big-government and not exactly free-market, isn't it? Democrats do such things. Republicans don't. Bush and his crew won't. Trust the invisible hand.

Singapore it seems has an annualized growth rate about three times that of the United States - but we trust the invisible hand.
The United States has no such formal strategy, nor any systematic process for devising one, and this is a mistake. There's little point in producing a National Security Strategy every year if we ignore the wellsprings of that security -- the economic might that underlies our military strength, our political clout and our internal stability.

Consider our broken health care system. Americans pay, on average, $4,000 more a year for the same or less adequate health care than citizens of other OECD countries; at General Motors the cost of employee health care now exceeds the costs of steel. That is the kind of labor cost that drives foreign investors (and domestic companies) overseas. So health care becomes a jobs issue; and the lost jobs are an economic security issue.

This is a cold, hard reality. And every minute we ignore the problem or fail to view it in strategic terms we are losing ground. In this light, health care should become a top priority in a thoughtful National Economic Strategy, as should education and investment in infrastructure. Addressing these areas would mean creating jobs -- and that is a much more positive, proactive approach to protecting workers than reactive, punitive trade strategies that produce tensions with our trading partners.
Dream on. Ain't gonna happen.

Unless the party of the invisible hand loses in November.

Posted by Alan at 14:34 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

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