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This is What Democracy Looks Like

Today's Note From a Madman

Monday, July 3, 2006

A Word on Shutting Down Government

The State of New Jersey is being shut down. Governor Jon Corzine (D) and Assembly Speaker Joseph Roberts (D) are at odds over a one penny sales tax increase (a raise from six to seven percent) that would make the state solvent again. Just as a reminder, the last time New Jersey's budget was balanced was under the administration of Governor Jim Florio (D). He got beat out by Christine Todd Whitman (R) for all his hard work. Whitman's administration then began spending as Republicans do, without regard for the state's constitution, which requires a balanced budget.

A sales tax increase is a consumption tax. The more you buy, the more you pay.

I don't want to see the summer season on the shore, or the taxes collected from Atlantic City's casinos lost, but Governor Corzine needs to make this happen. If I were Speaker Roberts, I would make this deal with the governor. Agree to the sales tax increase with the provision that it has a sunset provision (one that would bring the sales tax back down to six percent again in a few years, assuming a budget surplus).

-Noah Greenberg

Corporate Friendly FDA

As it goes with a corporate-friendly administration, accountability is always a casualty when it comes to protecting Americans. An investigation into just what the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) has been doing in relation to their job as a watchdog agency, has shown that they are watching much the same way my 11 year old Bassett Hound, Charlie, watches: Only when he's awake.

Wait a second. That's not fair to Charlie. At least he wakes up when there might be danger.

From 2000 through 2005 warning letters to drug companies, medical device manufacturers and others who fall under the review of the FDA have fallen by more than half (54 percent). At the same time, "mislabeled, defective or dangerous products dipped 44 percent" (The New York Times). That doesn't sound like a good thing, anyway you shape it.

The inquiry, which was asked for by Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA), the ranking minority party member of the House Government Reform committee (talk about a contradiction in terms), was initiated when the Bush administration controlled FDA failed in its mission last year of making sure there were enough flu vaccinations to go around.

You know, that whole checks and balances thing that congress is responsible for but rarely ever does? Yeah, that's the one.

It isn't that drug companies or medical device manufacturers have been making a concerted effort to resolve these problems, but a more industry friendly FDA which only wants to focus on the most "serious violations".

Is there s shortage of investigators? Has the FDA forgot to pay their telephone bill? Or is it just too much work to have those in charge of our government agencies to answer the questions of average Americans who have concerns about what they are putting in their bodies?

Just how many patients do poorly working pace-makers or surgically implanted defibrillators have to kill before the FDA might consider it a "serious violation"? Ten? One hundred? One thousand? Or maybe just one in the chest of a certain Vice President.


(Beep... Beep...)

"Americans have relied on FDA to ensure the safety of their food and drugs for 100 years. But under the Bush administration, enforcement efforts have plummeted and serious violations are ignored."
-Rep. Waxman

Hey... They'll be the judge of what is "serious" or not, Rep. Waxman. Mind your own business.

"As a result of FDA's focus on those firms and those violations that present the highest risk to consumers and public health, the agency has taken prompt, targeted and aggressive action against firms that are in violation of law."
-David K. Elder, FDA director of Enforcement

An interesting statistic that came out of this inquiry is the increase of product recalls that have occurred over the same time period. That increase is 44 percent. Looking into that statistic, one can come to two conclusions:
1- If more "less serious problems" were looked into before products were released to the public, there would have been less problems in manufacturing and, certainly, less recalls overall;
2- How many other products have slipped through the cracks abd are currently installed in, or are being injested or injected into unwitting patients?

Again... What constitutes "serious"?

"Since one of the goals of an enforcement system is to deter violations and keep dangerous products off of the market, the increase in recalls is not a hallmark of effective enforcement."
-Rep. Waxman's report

"In one prominent case, in December 2000, a worker at a nursing home in Xenia, Ohio, mistakenly hooked up a tank of nitrogen gas to the home's oxygen delivery system. Four residents died."
-The New York Times

The company which delivered the wrong gas, BOC, had an FDA described "corporate-wide problem" in training their personnel and company controls. Investigators recommended prosecution, but the FDA, basically, let it slide. However, BOC spokeswoman Kristina Schurr said it had not been company controls to blame for the four deaths, but they have improved their procedures since then.

In other words, "We didn't do it, but even if we did do it, we'll never do it again... We promise."

Let's remember that the FDA is also the agency which not only refused to allow the sale of "The Day After Pill", but "indefinitely" postponed any decision on the matter. Noting that politics trumps common sense, the former woman's health chief at the FDA had this to say:

"I have spent the last 15 years working to ensure that science informs good health-policy decisions. I can no longer serve as staff when scientific and clinical evidence, fully evaluated and recommended by the professional staff here, has been overruled."
-Former Assistant Commissioner Susan Wood, considered a highly regarded scientist, regarding the FDA's "no-decision" on the over-the-counter sale of "The Morning After Pill"

"There's fairly widespread concern about FDA's credibility"

"Day by day, the public's confidence in the FDA's ability to make decisions based on scientific evidence of safety and efficacy is eroding."
-A statement by Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) and Patty Murray (D-WA)

Corporate cow-towing and pandering to the religious right is what the Bush administration is all about, and it "trickles-down" to everything that they touch.

"This is a tragedy. Congress has failed to realize that our single most important government agency is being systematically dismantled."
- Peter Barton Hutt, a former FDA general counsel, now a teacher of food and drug law at Harvard as well as a representative of drug companies

"The public is getting the kind of FDA that the industry is paying for them to get."
-Dr. Sidney M. Wolfe, director of Public Citizen, a Health Research watchdog Group

In Corporate America, this is the best we're going to get. It's just another reason that the "G"reed "O"ver "P"eople party has got to go in November.

-Noah Greenberg

What They Did Before 9/11

The U.S. National Security Agency asked AT&T Inc. to help it set up a domestic call monitoring site seven months before the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, lawyers claimed June 23 in court papers filed in New York federal court….

“The Bush Administration asserted this became necessary after 9/11,'’ plaintiff’s lawyer Carl Mayer said in a telephone interview. “This undermines that assertion.'’

It also kind of undermines the assertion that warrantless spying will help protect us from acts of terror, doesn’t it?

-submitted by Victoria A. Brownworth from a blog post by Tom Tomorrow

Asking and Telling

One of the aspects to the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy that's always bothered me, aside from the transparent bigotry, is the Pentagon's inability to explain the purpose of the rule.

Physically-fit, well-trained Americans, who want to volunteer for military service during a time of war, and who have conducted themselves as military personnel should, want to wear the uniform and serve their country. Their government tells them not to. Asked why, the Pentagon will offer vague rhetoric about "unit cohesion," but the explanation not only lacks detail, it lacks coherence.

Maybe the policy has something to do with the Pentagon thinking gay people are mentally ill.

"A Pentagon document classifies homosexuality as a mental disorder, decades after mental health experts abandoned that position.

"The document outlines retirement or other discharge policies for service members with physical disabilities, and in a section on defects lists homosexuality alongside mental retardation and personality disorders.

"Critics said the reference underscores the Pentagon's failing policies on gays, and adds to a culture that has created uncertainty and insecurity around the treatment of homosexual service members, leading to anti-gay harassment."

The Center for the Study of Sexual Minorities in the Military, at the University of California at Santa Barbara, uncovered the document and pointed to it as further proof that the military deserves failing grades for its treatment of gays.

For what it's worth, the document caused a bit of a stir yesterday, as medical professionals, nine members of Congress, and the American Psychiatric Association, among others, condemned the Defense Department Instruction. A Pentagon spokesman said the policy document is under review.

-Victoria Brownworth, with thanks to the ever-wonderful carpetbaggerreport.com

In response to, "Hillary Clinton is considered too moderate (or too far to the Right) for many liberal Democrats," Robert Scardapane writes:

The problem with Hillary is not that she is too moderate. The problem is that she is a triangulate that constantly tries to find a position that fits a "perfect" middle ground. As one of my favorite populists Jim Hightower is fond of saying: "Ain't nothing in the middle of the road but yellow stripes and dead armadillos."

I don't expect a politician to be on the left on all issues. There is latitude. There is also room for evolving positions on an issue. But, I am suspicious when policies are calculated to appease both sides. Such policies often have the consistency of a "tub of jello" - wobbling back and forth and really saying nothing useful.

And in response to, "The Clintons failed at gaining health care for all in 1994," Robert Scardapane adds:

The reason they failed was twofold:

1) A sufficient portion of the population was not unhappy about their health care coverage. This is the key point in the health care debate. Nothing will change until there is sufficient critical mass pushing for change. We are very close right now according to several leading economists such as Paul Krugman and Dean Baker - much closer to critical mass than in 1994.

2) It wasn't a very good policy. The plan Hillary Clinton came up with was complex and carefully calculated not to rub the health care corporatists the wrong way. There was doubt even amongst Democrats that her plan would help.

Isn't it ironic that the health care corporatists aided by their attack dogs in the Chamber of Commerce and Rethuglicans such as Gingrich killed it off anyway? The corporatists just didn't want anything to stand in the way of wringing every dollar they can from the American public.

By the way, Democrats lost the House in 1994 more because of corruption than Hillary Clinton's failed health care plan.

And Jenny Hanniver adds:

I am far from being an extreme left Democrat. I'm a former Republican, then an Independent, and a Democrat only when I agree with most of what they stand for (and lately they haven't bothered to stand for for much of anything). Economically I'm both liberal and conservative--an old-style Keynesian. You could call me an old-fashioned, disgusted "Green Dog Democrat." But I won't vote for Hillary Clinton.

Indeed, I do profoundly disagree with her current defects (her stand on the Iraq War, failure to comprehend the deep moral issues involved in the over-all situation in the Middle East, tendency to change opinions according to her handlers' orders)--but not because I'm a left-wing kook. I decided more than 10 years ago that I couldn't support her for President. In fact, I declared to friends before 1999 that I'd actively work AGAINST her if she ever tried to run. I don't hate her like the fanatic right-wingers, in fact I pity her. She's in 'way over her head. Here's why I wouldn't vote for Hillary Clinton for President:


Hillary Clinton was put in charge of a flawed semi-privatized national health reform in her husband's administration. That was Bill Clinton's biggest mistake, far worse than letting a ditzy groupie into his life, and not just because it disgusted people for its nepotism. The plan was badly flawed, but would have been a tentative first step. Yet Hillary barged in and made every POSSIBLE error of judgment, including selecting insurance industry types as advisers. Over and over until the plan failed and faded away, her clueless "leadership" (and lack thereof) proved that she's an incompetent--no wiser or better-trained for the presidency than Dubya.

If the health plan had succeeded, flawed as it was, there would very likely have been no GOP Congress in 1994, no Tom Delay political slime and corruption, Gore would be in his second term, easily elected and re-elected. Hillary's incompetence wrecked all that. No thank you. Good grief, if the Democrats can't do better than her we definitely need to focus on building a workable third party because both parties are dead--one from arrogance, corruption and immorality; the other from abysmal idiocy.

In response to Rhian’s “Who Can a Citizen Vote For”, Robert Chapman answers:

RHIAN WRITES: I want a guy...
ROBERT CHAPMAN ANSWERS: First mistake, after 225 years of male monopoly on political power, this habit may be hard to break, but the glass ceiling really needs to be broken.

RHIAN: ...who will not use federal funds to wage a 'war on drugs', pay for abortions or send money to foreigners who hate us...
ROBERT CHAPMAN: So zonked out kids and burglaries by strung out junkies hungering for a fix is preferable?
Abortions should be for middle class or higher women with discretionary income only?
Foreign aid money mostly goes to American corporations who may or may not be very efficient in getting aid to people who need it. Also it lot easier and cheaper to pay to feed and even educate someone than it is to fight them on the battlefield.

RHIAN: ...will have nothing to do with torture, who will keep a strong military but wage no wars based on lies...
ROBERT CHAPMAN: Now HOW does that happen? Has anyone, anywhere waged a war without torture? Isn't lying about the enemy an essential part of the PR strategy needed to get the otherwise detached public to go to war?

RHIAN: ...has a IQ higher than room temperature. Maybe two room temperatures added together, fearless in the face of threats from . . . .anyone.
ROBERT CHAPMAN: Like... Stalin, Mao or Nixon?

RHIAN: I want Superman and Princess Di with kids. I want a family who prays (to God, not Satan)...
ROBERT CHAPMAN: Superman and Princess Di with little kids on their needs in Jerry Falwell's moral majority church. Does the term American arrogance mean anything to anyone in the continental US?

RHIAN: ...who cannot be bought. Or sold.
ROBERT CHAPMAN: Ok so slavery still exists and is not even covered in current law.

RHIAN: I want a guy who really cares about kids who cannot afford to go to a doctor for antibiotics for strep throat, and make that possible with good doctors, with real clinics, not hacks who are hunting for cases they can retire on.
ROBERT CHAPMAN: I guess all those guys in white coats balancing mortgages, college loans and practice costs while trying to provide good medical care have me fooled.

RHIAN: I want a David. (as in Psalm writing David), a George Washington, a Mel Gibson/Bruce Willis combo type and Ken, don't forget ken.
ROBERT CHAPMAN: Now that we have that off our chests, let's pull up our socks, take responsibility and be the change we are seeking.

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-Noah Greenberg