Saturday, November 12, 2005

Invertebratology

There has been a good bit of well-deserved media scrutiny of the UC Irvine Medical Center's troubled liver transplant program in the wake of this LA Times story exposing the deaths of over thirty patients who waited in vain for organs that the center was silently declining. However, the last paragraph of the story, which I have seen no one else comment upon, is what caught my eye:

"[I]n 1999, UC Irvine fired Christopher Brown, the director of its donated cadaver program, amid suspicion that he had improperly sold spines to an Arizona research program. The buyers paid $5,000 to a company owned by a business associate of Brown. Brown was not prosecuted."

The market price of a spine is $5000?!? Igor, order me four dozen and have them delivered to Capitol Hill. STAT. Less than a quarter of a million for a GOP that might actually pass some spending cuts and stand firm on tax reductions? What a flippin' bargain that would be.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Original Sin, Mea Culpas, and the GOP

I'm a Republican, and it's my fault. My most grievous fault. Mea maxima culpa. Now, then, and in advance.

Picking through the MSMspeak auspices of my LA Times (one must learn how to read the entrails of his newspaper), I discover/divine that budget cuts are being thwarted by the smaller number of GOP "wobblies" and those from heavily Democratic districts. And, it should be needless to say, every single Democrat.

Of course the GOP as a whole is blamed. Even in the Times' headline and in the lede itself. (Duh.) Some things will never change. Perhaps it's original sin or the Mark of Cain, but it's not exactly media bias (altho every little bit helps):


When the Democrats shut down the government in 1990, demanding more taxes to maintain spending, it was the GOP's fault. GHWBush gave in, and read my lips on this, it cost him the 1992 election.

When Newt Gingrich shut down the government in 1995 over spending, it was the GOP's fault. Bill Clinton hung tough, and that helped him toward his 1996 re-election victory.

Spending wins, but even more precisely, opposing spending cuts is a winner.


Fact is, if the Democrats wanted spending tamed (or illegal immigration for that matter), it would already be so. The threat of their demagoguery hangs like a veritable Sword of Damocles over the GOP pols, who are learning to like being the majority party.

But there's a structural weakness in being an anti-government party that finds itself in charge of the government: The GOP gets credit neither for cutting spending nor for increasing it.

Now, the Democrats have the same problem on foreign policy, where they are the anti-government party. The impotence of the Carter and Clinton administrations was palpable and near-disastrous, and each time ushered in a Republican. But Democrats enjoy a structural advantage: when (and if, ever again) they are remotely credible on national security, their home field advantage on domestic policy will take home all the marbles.

Progressivism in domestic policy is enticing; things can always get better. Wi-fi for the disadvantaged, geez, why not? Anyone who can promise cost-effective dental care for stray dogs has our complete attention. Or if anyone can promise to ease the plight of the poor, boy, we feel good about voting for that, too. We see poor people everyday, and not just on TV. Somebody ought to do something, even if it only requires a really futile and stupid gesture be done on somebody's part. Everybody knows that it's the Democrats who are just the guys to do it.

The Revolution Be Dead, Man.

And we didn't line up any fat, prosperous programs against the wall when we had the chance.

Friends at the cool blog Rock, Paper, Dynamite, noted that we know the revolution is over when Republicans are happily killing budget cuts.

To quote the guys at RPD, "I think it’s safe to say, 1994 – 2005 RIP."

Newt, you philandering scoundrel, we miss you.

What's Good For General Mac Is Good For America

In honor of Veterans' Day, the words of General MacArthur at West Point:

And what sort of soldiers are those you are to lead? Are they reliable? Are they brave? Are they capable of victory? Their story is known to all of you. It is the story of the American man-at-arms. My estimate of him was formed on the battlefield many, many years ago, and has never changed. I regarded him then as I regard him now -- as one of the world's noblest figures, not only as one of the finest military characters, but also as one of the most stainless. His name and fame are the birthright of every American citizen. In his youth and strength, his love and loyalty, he gave all that mortality can give.

He needs no eulogy from me or from any other man. He has written his own history and written it in red on his enemy's breast. But when I think of his patience under adversity, of his courage under fire, and of his modesty in victory, I am filled with an emotion of admiration I cannot put into words. He belongs to history as furnishing one of the greatest examples of successful patriotism. He belongs to posterity as the instructor of future generations in the principles of liberty and freedom. He belongs to the present, to us, by his virtues and by his achievements. In 20 campaigns, on a hundred battlefields, around a thousand campfires, I have witnessed that enduring fortitude, that patriotic self-abnegation, and that invincible determination which have carved his statue in the hearts of his people. From one end of the world to the other he has drained deep the chalice of courage.

As I listened to those songs [of the glee club], in memory's eye I could see those staggering columns of the First World War, bending under soggy packs, on many a weary march from dripping dusk to drizzling dawn, slogging ankle-deep through the mire of shell-shocked roads, to form grimly for the attack, blue-lipped, covered with sludge and mud, chilled by the wind and rain, driving home to their objective, and for many, to the judgment seat of God.

I do not know the dignity of their birth, but I do know the glory of their death.

They died unquestioning, uncomplaining, with faith in their hearts, and on their lips the hope that we would go on to victory.

Always, for them: Duty, Honor, Country; always their blood and sweat and tears, as we sought the way and the light and the truth.

And 20 years after, on the other side of the globe, again the filth of murky foxholes, the stench of ghostly trenches, the slime of dripping dugouts; those boiling suns of relentless heat, those torrential rains of devastating storms; the loneliness and utter desolation of jungle trails; the bitterness of long separation from those they loved and cherished; the deadly pestilence of tropical disease; the horror of stricken areas of war; their resolute and determined defense, their swift and sure attack, their indomitable purpose, their complete and decisive victory -- always victory. Always through the bloody haze of their last reverberating shot, the vision of gaunt, ghastly men reverently following your password of: Duty, Honor, Country.

The code which those words perpetuate embraces the highest moral laws and will stand the test of any ethics or philosophies ever promulgated for the uplift of mankind. Its requirements are for the things that are right, and its restraints are from the things that are wrong.

The soldier, above all other men, is required to practice the greatest act of religious training -- sacrifice.

In battle and in the face of danger and death, he discloses those divine attributes which his Maker gave when he created man in His own image. No physical courage and no brute instinct can take the place of the Divine help which alone can sustain him.

Call Me Ishmael (While I Burn Your Car)

Is Ilana Mercer an absolute genius or what? What does it say about the conservative movement in America to have this level of passion and talent?

Her article today eclipsed my understanding of the media France coverage, left me feeling like a rank amateur in understanding the depth of the kulturkampf. I had contented myself with the lazy observation that the media was disposed to "excuse" criminality when it wore a liberal-political fig leaf.

Ilana digs much deeper. She explains that the miscreancy is itself cited as "proof of virtue".

Her brilliant insight hit me like an epiphany. I felt like I could actually hear Isaiah (5:20): Woe to those who call evil good and good evil; who assert that darkness is light and light is darkness; who assert that bitter is sweet and sweet is bitter. (My translation.)

Will Europe Return from Post-Capitalism?

Daniel Henninger of the Wall St. Journal thinks a major part of the problem with Muslim rioters in France is lack of economic opportunity. This is an additional consideration to go with theories about the lack of religious freedom in the public square, too cuddly multi-culturalism, and plain ole Muslim cussedness. Henninger terms the last "the young Muslim solution," which is "to burn down the house and rule the embers." The columnist doesn't dwell on these other notions, though, because he is more interested in the economic question. And in that area, he thinks the problem is Europe-wide and applies to more than Muslim immigrants.

Henninger's contention is that Europe is a museum, economically speaking, trapped in the period when Marxism was a putatively serious option. The result, in Western Europe at least, is that unemployment is high and economic opportunity is artificially restricted. In the end, a nation like France, which translates worker demands into law as though wishing makes it so, strangles its own economic future and expedites the process of transforming France into Franceland, an interesting place for tourism, but not for starting businesses or trying to maintain a payroll.

What of Eastern Europe which has experienced the less diluted form of state socialism? Those nations have taken a different course, choosing low, flat tax rates on both corporate and personal income. Result? Businesses, instead of Muslims, are moving east toward greater economic freedom.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Paris Plastered

A colleague wrote a piece today in which he used the phrase: "Paris is burning."

I dropped him a quick e-mail, saying that "if my boyfriend just smashed my Bentley into a delivery truck, I'd be burning too".

More Lyrics from Bob Roberts

Tom brought up Tim Robbins and I commented on the film Bob Roberts that Robbins made as a parody/paranoid comedy about right-wingers. I decided to look for the lyrics and found that Robbins refused to make a soundtrack because he didn't want to hear the songs outside the context of the film. I suspect that's the case because the songs are great conservative humor and would be heard for years to come.

Here are the lyrics of the song I mentioned in the comments to Tom's post:

COMPLAIN

Some people will work
Some simply will not
But they'll complain and complain and complain and complain and complain

Some people must have
Some never will
But they'll complain and complain and complain and complain and complain

Like this:
It's society's fault I don't have a job
It's society's fault I am a slob
I got potential no one can see
Give me welfare
Let me be me

Hey bud, you're living in the land of the free
No one's going to hand you opportunity

I spend all my time drunk in a bar
I want to be rich
I don't have a brain
So give me a handout while I complain

Some people must have
Some never will
But they'll complain and complain and complain and complain and complain

If anybody knows where I can get the lyrics to the rest of the songs short of getting a copy of the film and transcribing them, let me know.

Another Deserving Loser

Kathy Hutchins writes on the Virginia gubernatorial race:

Jerry Kilgore comes along and runs a campaign that makes Mayor Quimby look like Albert Einstein. The only thing it was a referendum on was opposition to egregious stupidity.


The Kilgore campaign ran an attack on now Governor-elect Tim Kaine's personal opposition to capital punishment, saying he wouldn't even execute Hitler.

C'mon, man.


Capital punishment is a serious and difficult issue on which persons of good conscience can disagree, and it should trouble all persons of good conscience, regardless of where they eventually end up on the issue.

First, Kaine stated that he would not defy the law or frustrate the will of the people by refusing to carry out lawfully decided death sentences. It was no longer a real political issue. But OK, for the sake of argument...

Kilgore's using Hitler in commercials diminishes the scope and gravity of Hitler's crimes. If the Kilgore campaign had any sense of proportion or honesty, it would have brought home the horror of murder with the example of an already-executed Virginia murderer, a real crime with real victims. Perhaps they'd have made a point.

Even Tim Robbins, as director and author of the screenplay of the painful yet elegant Dead Man Walking, by showing both the execution and the crime simultaneously, had the honesty to do that. And Robbins is opposed to capital punishment.


Turning everything into grist for the mill insults not just our intelligence, but our very humanity.

No lousy political office is worth the price you tried to pay, Mr. Kilgore, or the price you tried to extract from another man's conscience. People who do that should be shunned, and enough Virginia voters shunned you on Tuesday. Good on them.

(And I've always wanted to express my admiration for Tim Robbins' professionalism and the purity of his art in Dead Man Walking. I see you ranting on politics at a podium now and then on TV and my eyes glaze over, Tim, but regardless, you'll always get a fair hearing from me.)

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Those Lazy, Crazy, Hazy Days of The Cindy Sheehan Summer

Yeah, the polls are clear. Pick a poll, any poll. Toppling Saddam was a mistake, and Iraq is a quagmire. Not a surprising public sentiment. The Pew poll asked (11/3-6/05):

"A few weeks ago, Iraq held a nationwide vote on the country's constitution. How much have you heard about this: a lot, a little, or nothing at all?"

A Lot 22%
A Little 52%
Nothing At All 25%
Unsure 1%

Well, duh. That explains it. Terrell Owens' numbers are probably pretty close. Opinions are like...well, you know the rest.

Like Cindy Sheehan? Nah, I wouldn't compare her to one of those. She suffered, not only from the loss of her brave son, but apparently from a pre-existing psychological/political condition. But her effect was felt.


A tour of the lefty blogosphere (I do it, so you don't have to) tells us that since new darling Gen. Wesley Clark calls for pretty much Bush's status quo, more or less , the Cindy Sheehan summer (I shall always think of it as "The Cindy Sheehan Summer"---we should print T-shirts) revival of the glory days of Vietnam withdrawal protests are pretty much dead. Don't blame me, blame Wes Clark, OK?

(The music sucked anyway. Steve Earle played Camp Casey, but Woodstock had The Who and Jimi. Everyone, both then and now, was subjected to Joan Baez, tho. There is no protest without pain.)

Polls always lag, so I expect they'll catch up to Wes Clark soon and leave Cindy as just another fond memory, like Country Joe & The Fish or Al Gore.


So pretty much all that's left is "Bush lied."

John Podhoretz dutifully and nobly took it all on, once again, ad infinitum, ad nauseum in a well-researched article, with lots of quotes.

Not surprising that lefty mainstay Kevin Drum (he's considered the reasonable one) gets up in arms and unloads on it, although more with a snarl than a scalpel.

If the left loses "Bush lied," it's Game Over. Iraq will make its way somehow to a self-governing system, because without murderous tyrants, history is teaching us that that's what human beings tend to do.

And these al-Qaeda maniacs and their Ba'athist collaborators have shown themselves as the enemies of all humanity, just like their patrons bin Laden and Hussein, all smoked out for the world to see by the occupant of the White House for the next 3+ years.

(Personal Note: Our regular and welcome guests from the left do not harangue TRC with Iraq 24/7, and I for damn one appreciate it. I've opened the door here, so it's all fair game. I just had to write this essay, even knowing what might follow. If at least the initial salvo had something to do with Cindy, Wes, John, or Kevin, that would be cool. Cheers.)

GOP Woes and What the Dems Will Do about Samuel Alito

S.T. does a nice job of giving us the "what it all means" review of Tuesday's events and I'd like to build on it. The Republican Party has fully lost its fashionable insurgency quality and is stuck with the unatractive prospect of just plain governing. Since Newt left, the GOP has not seemed much like the party of big ideas and the war has, in fact, gone on a lot longer than most expected (certainly at the popular level). Fact is, the GOP is on its heels. There is one saving grace. Unlike the GOP of the 80's and early 90's, the Democratic Party is not flush with exciting policy prescriptions. Nevertheless, the GOP doesn't have much positive force right now. They haven't proven the ability to deliver any of the basic agenda beyond some modest tax cuts. No cut in the size of government, no revolution in social security, no market-driven healthcare reforms, no school choice to speak of . . . just a lot of military action with a steady drip-drip of casualties blown into a flood by an unsympathetic press.

Here's where Alito comes in. The only thing that saved Bill Clinton and the Dems, perhaps, was that they gained sympathy when conservatives appeared overzealous to crush him. A filibuster against Alito would constitute similar overreach and would give people a reason to rally around Bush and the GOP again. The Dems want to keep W. in the uncomfortable place he's been stuck in for a while. They won't offer him the easy way out of emerging as the gallant knight riding to the rescue of the well-qualified and dignified Samuel Alito. He'll be confirmed with just a little more sturm and drang than John Roberts got.

"Stinging Defeats for G.O.P." Yesterday

The New York Times characterized the Democrat candidates' victories in the New Jersey and Virginia governors' races as "stinging defeats" for the Republicans nationwide, and suggested that the losses portend further losses in next year's midterm congressional elections.

In California, ballot initiatives supported by Gov. Schwarzenegger met defeat, but so did three initiatives brought by the political Left. In Ohio, four initiatives "backed by labor unions, government reform organizations and the Internet-fueled activist group MoveOn.org," in the NY Times's words, were likewise defeated. In New York state, the voters soundly rejected a ballot initiative for a state constitutional amendment, dubbed by taxpayer advocacy groups as the "Runaway Spending Amendment," which would have sharply curbed the governor's ability to veto spending bills.

The Times painted a basically gloomy picture regarding Republicans's prospects, but suggested that the Democrats still have some work to do in convincing voters that they are a better alternative:

The elections capped a season of political turmoil for the Republican governing majority, which has been buffeted by Hurricane Katrina, the war in Iraq, soaring energy prices, scandal on Capitol Hill and, most recently, the indictment of I. Lewis Libby Jr., who was chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney.

The national mood remains dark. A new poll by the Pew Research Center, released on Tuesday, showed Mr. Bush with an approval rating of 36 percent, the lowest of his presidency; his approval rating among independents had dropped to 29 percent, from 47 percent in January, and he was also losing support among Republican moderates and liberals.

But Republicans note that voters have yet to turn to Congressional Democrats as a compelling alternative. The Pew survey found that voters were unhappy with both Republican and Democratic leaders.

Still, the results are likely to feed the Republican anxiety on Capitol Hill and exacerbate the sense among Republican lawmakers that after years of having Mr. Bush as an advantage at the top of the ticket, they are increasingly on their own.

Certainly the two gubernatorial defeats must sting. (Update: Jay Homnick makes a good point in the comments section, observing that the Democrats already held both of these governorships.) However, the record on the ballot initiatives suggests that although voters are not overly excited by Republican candidates and sitting political figures (such as Bush and Schwarzenegger) at this time, they are not ready to move strongly to either the Left or Right in policy terms.

The ballot initiative defeats in all three states mentioned earlier, especially the two in California that would have given greater power to the governor and the one in New York that would have favored the state legislature, suggest that voters in these big states were highly wary of making any serious changes at this time. That is to say, the voters were conservative in rejecting overt movements to the Right or Left in all three states.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Oh, That... That's Tomorrow's News

Being a Reform Club member has to count for something, especially after the novelty of the secret decoder ring wears off.

So now we are offering a prepublication glimpse at an article whose other millions of readers have to contain themselves until tomorrow.

Yes, it's just what you have been waiting for: an omnibus article cataloguing some of the distinctive features of the modern-day Democrat and Republican.

And if I must offer a little teaser of a taste to get you to chew on our links, here is a mere morsel:


IF YOU'RE too dumb to figure out a butterfly ballot, then you're probably trying to vote for that smart Democrat Presidential candidate. If you are smart enough to handle the ballot, you are probably voting for that dumb Republican.

If you're afraid to take a magnetic resonance image because your nose ring might stick to the magnet, you're a Democrat. If you're afraid to bob for apples at the church carnival because your tie might fall into the water, you're a Republican.

Happy Belated Blogiversary to Us

On Oct. 18, 2004, The Reform Club launched into the roiling blogwaters of the Bush-Kerry 2004 conflict. S.T. Karnick (founding editor of American Outlook, contributor to everything) conceived it. Hunter Baker (Religion/Politics Ph.D. seeker, former public policy professional, contributor to lots of online mags, -- mainly TAS) filled out the blogwork and made the first post. And, oh yeah, this guy named Alan Reynolds (minor deity of supply-side economics, Cato Institute) was on board POSTING (kidding, Alan, I kid because I love).

I kept thinking that I would remember to commemorate the occasion, but I didn't and neither did anybody else. We're sentimental fools here, aren't we?

If memory serves, Alan told us we should invite Ben Zycher, which we did. With a stroke, we became multi-faith and added our second well-known economist. Next, we invited this fellow Jay Homnick (Jewish World Review, TAS, ghostwriter), whose articles I used to link because I was in wonderment at his facility with wordplay. Then came Kathy Hutchins, who knew S.T. from the Hudson Institute days and whose comments were begging for a more prominent placement. Ditto Tom Van Dyke, whose achievements I mentioned recently (hint, he wrote the quote that got us in Newsweek and everywhere else). And finally, Herb London (NYU Prof. and Hudson Institute president) joined up and brought us full circle because he co-founded American Outlook with S.T. Karnick.

I suppose you could say American Outlook folded its tent and experienced reincarnation as The Reform Club.

Monday, November 07, 2005

A Tale of Two Counties

Apparently, the subject of fundraisers and outings at "all-white" country clubs will continue to be raised in political campaigns. I, frankly, think that this is lazy politics. It's shorthand for racial intolerance and insensitivity, but the chain of causation is never spelled out, it's assumed. If a country club has no black members, it's because of conscious policy by the club. If you set foot in an all-white club, you are not only aware of the club's history and policy, you condone every aspect of it. QED.

I find all this silly (although not as silly as similar charges levelled against males who frequent all-male clubs). Is there a policy goal anywhere within shouting distance of meaningful? Is there a human being in the state of Maryland who really honestly thinks that if only Vernon Jordon or Michael Powell were members of the Elkridge Club that the plight of underclass blacks in Baltimore or Seat Pleasant would improve one tenth of an iota? Of course not. Yet refusing to host fundraisers at Elkridge is a necessary proxy marker for sufficient sensitivity to racial issues? Apparently people do think this. Why is that so?

I don't know where Mr. Trippi lives, or how much he knows about Maryland. I've lived here for three years, and I've learned a lot about race issues by doing something I was warned not to do by a lot of people, including some liberals. I bought a house in Prince Georges County, and starting paying attention.

It is staggering to me how segregated Maryland -- a state which never had Jim Crow laws -- remains in the 21st century. What is even more staggering is that this segregation seems to be almost entirely voluntary, and continues even where black socioeconomic status is higher than anywhere else in the country. Despite forty years of civil rights legislation, despite fifty years of integrated public schools, despite enough haranguing about tolerance to choke a stableful of elephants and donkeys, and despite almost identical voting patterns, middle class and affluent whites buy houses in Montgomery County and middle class and affluent blacks buy houses in Prince Georges County, operating in sufficient lockstep that Montgomery County is 27% black and Prince Georges County is 27% white.

Baltimore County, the location of the Elkridge Country Club, is even whiter than Montgomery. Yet I doubt very much that Elkridge has even a tacit rule against admitting blacks. There are simply too many well-connected, powerful, influential African-Americans in the greater DC area to make this plausible. Blacks just haven't done so, any more than they've moved into the very white liberal neighborhoods that tend to vote for the kind of candidates Joe Trippi works for. If blacks are banned at Elkridge, then it is in the same sense they are banned from the bluest-of-blue census tracts in Chevy Chase, Kensington, and Bethesda, which is to say in no sense at all, other than the sense that comes of their own comfort level.

I don't know why this is so, but I have my guesses. Why do blacks who have, beyond question, "made it" -- nailed down educations and careers and salaries that enable them to build seven figure custom homes on five acre lots in one of the hottest real estate markets in the country -- flock to rural Prince Georges County, where their grandparents sharecropped tobacco and soybeans, to do so? Just maybe it's because, having achieved material success, they don't feel any need to put up with the infernal honky bores that infest places like Montgomery County and the Elkridge Country Club.

This Stinks All the Way From New Jersey

Hold your noses:

At one point the moderator, Gabe Pressman, asked [GOP gubernatorial candidate Douglas] Forrester about his decision to use a critical quote from [opponent Jon] Corzine's ex-wife, Joanne, in one TV spot.

The 15-second ad features Joanne Corzine's quoted remarks, including her statement that "Jon did let his family down and he'll probably let New Jersey down, too."

The Republican businessman defended the comment as fair game.

"We took a quote off the front page of the New York Times," he said, explaining that it highlighted Corzine's "abandonment of principle for political purposes. It has to do with governance and letting New Jersey down."


This is what I was getting at when Joe Trippi came to visit us, and this incident is far worse, well past gamesmanship. Mr. Corzine's private life is not a political issue, and to use it as a symbol for his faithfulness to political principles is heinously dishonest. And Mr. Forrester's defense of this slime is laughably sophistic.

I seldom want a Republican to lose an election, but I do in this case. I find Doug Forrester unfit for office. He is a man without honor.


(And for the record, the Joanne Corzine ad is an echo of a much earlier one featuring Forrester's wife, Andrea, touting that Doug Forrester had never let his family down. Fair enough. But had the rumors over the weekend of some Forrester hanky-panky turned out to be true, his opponent would have been fully entitled to use them. It was Forrester who dragged his marriage into his campaign. Fair game.)

The Plame Game Continues

I was very shocked to receive a letter today from a friend who posits that Scooter Libby is taking a fall for the Administration and will be pardoned later by Bush. Reform Club readers will recall that I made a joke to that effect in an earlier post, where I said: "When I heard that Scooter might be going to jail to protect George, I was surprised to hear that Rizzuto was still that loyal to Steinbrenner."

But beyond the joke, to offer this as a serious contention is trumped by logic in every relevant detail.

1) Libby did not admit to being the leaker of Plame's name. On the contrary, he is being prosecuted for denying that fact.

2) If Libby was taking the fall and hoping for a pardon, he would have plea-bargained and pleaded guilty. Coming to court and loudly proclaiming his innocence is not being helpful to the Administration.

3) If Libby believes that this Administration operates by this type of corrupt loyalty system, then he must know that by pleading Not Guilty he is THROWING AWAY ANY CHANCE OF A PARDON.

4) Since Libby is not admitting being the leaker, he is leaving OPEN the possibility that somebody else is, exposing the Administration to further suspicion and investigation.

Bottom line, you do not deflect blame from anybody by denying blame, only by accepting blame.

I grew up around conspiracy thinking; it is a pandemic among Jews. I never liked the whole approach or the attitude of cynicism that it engenders. And, furthermore, it is almost never right.

Calling All Californians

California voters will be confronted tomorrow with two ballot initiatives on pharmaceutical pricing: Proposition 78, promoted mainly by the pharmaceutical industry, and Proposition 79, promoted mainly by the public employee unions.

The bottom line: Prop. 78 will increase drug access and reduce drug prices for those in need precisely because it will enable the drug producers to make more money, by discounting drugs for those less fortunate without being forced to offer the same discounts to the federal government. Prop. 79 explicitly would reduce drug access for the needy in an effort to subsidize the middle class, and would engender a tidal wave of litigation.

Consider a drug that costs, say, 20 cents per pill to produce after the enormous investments in research and development have been made. A wealthy patient might be willing to pay, say, $1 for each pill; but someone less fortunate might be able to afford, say, only 25 cents. Is it profitable for the drug producer to sell the drug to the poorer patient for 21 cents? The answer is yes, as long as the producer does not have to give the same price break to the wealthier patient.

Beginning in 1990, federal law in effect made it illegal to offer that price break to the poorer patient, because then the drug producers would have been required to give that same price to the feds. And so the need to cover large research and development costs prevented the drug producers from using such differential pricing to increase access to medicines for the poor.

The Bush Administration has changed the rules so that the producers now may give such discounts to those less fortunate through Patient Assistance Programs, without being forced to offer those same low prices to federal drug programs. Prop. 78 enables the producers to engage in such discounting in California by creating a legal gateway to the producers’ Patient Assistance Programs. Therefore, as counterintuitive as it may seem, the voluntary approach underlying Prop. 78 yields far greater benefits for those in need precisely because it allows the pharmaceutical producers to make more money.

Prop. 79 attempts to force sharp price discounts for over half the California population by threatening to remove from the Medi-Cal preferred drug list the drugs produced by those pharmaceutical firms not agreeing to the discounts demanded by a new California Prescription Drug Advisory Board. In other words, Medi-Cal patients would be denied the newest and most effective medicines if a given drug producer refused to offer sharp discounts to the middle class, unless a new state bureaucracy granted prior authorization for a given prescription.

That is why Prop. 79 almost certainly would never be implemented: The federal government has made it clear (in a 2002 letter to the state Medicaid directors) that it will not approve state programs that threaten the benefits of Medicaid patients in efforts to reduce drug prices for those not poor. And that is why the original program in Maine---quite similar to Prop. 79---was never implemented; after years of litigation, the state promised not to put drug access for poor patients under the Maine Medicaid program at risk. And so the actual program implemented in Maine is a voluntary one, as is the more successful program in Ohio, similar to Prop. 78.

Under Prop. 79, “profiteering” would be a civil offense, “defined” as “unconscionable prices” or “unjust or unreasonable profits.” This is a blatant attempt to conduct “negotiations” with a gun held to the heads of the drug producers. Any attorney could file a lawsuit, with damages of $100,000 plus costs per prescription. It entirely accurate to say that Prop. 79 would take from the poor and give to the lawyers.

Why is it that the political Left in California is supporting something as preposterous as Proposition 79, a blatant attempt first to politicize pharmaceutical pricing not only in California, but nationwide, second to create a litigation lottery that only the lawyers can win, and third to use political and regulatory processes to confiscate private property? The answer simultaneously is both subtle and crude: Proposition 79 would have the effect of making not only the poor but the broad middle class as well dependent upon government, and that is the overriding central goal of the Left. That is something that all freedom-loving individuals should fear and oppose.

Putin, Russia and American Interests

In the aftermath of the Soviet Union’s fall and dismemberment, it was widely believed that democratic reforms would be ushered in. Gorbachev had his perestroika which was designed to save as much of communism as possible; Yeltsin, however, claimed communism was dead, a relic of a bygone past.

But the Yeltsin era ended not as tragedy but as farce. Yeltsin was besotted more often than not, acted as a buffoon and was susceptible to corruption. He was replaced by Vladimir Putin, a former KGB operative, who was discharged with putting the Russian humpty-dumpty together again.

For Yeltsin, liberation from economic oppression took the form of a Wild West land grab. Oligarchs gobbled up key sectors of the economy protected by their own private armies as Yetsin averted his gaze or was complicit in the public looting.

Putin restored order in precisely the manner one would expect from a KGB agent. He was ruthless and relentless. He didn’t challenge all the oligarchs only those who used their wealth to compete against his political dominance. When Khordokovsky supported Putin’s democratic rivals, he soon found himself in trouble with the law and now spends his time hammering stones in a labor camp, a broken and forgotten figure.

Putin is the embodiment of the Russian Brumaire, a Napoleon there to restore order, but who violates all of the democratic principles that brought him to power in the first place. His government is organized to promote stability. After all, he has argued the Russian people respect a strong leader.

While he is unquestionably a political figure different from Stalin and his Soviet successors, he is by no means either a democratic proponent or a benevolent autocrat. He presides over a still vast nation with seemingly intractable problems. Russian citizens, for example, have a life expectancy that is in continual decline, the only western nation in this predicament.

American foreign policy analysts are inclined to give Putin the benefit of the doubt suggesting it is better to have his brand of dictatorship than instability. Alas, there is some truth to this contention. Russian intelligence services, eager to ferret out Chechnyan Muslim terrorists, have also worked closely with their counterparts in the U.S. on actions against international terrorism.

But that is only part of a complex story. Putin realizes that the only way to forestall democratic impulses already evident in nearby Ukraine and counter American influence in Asia is to sign a mutual defense pact with China and, this year, engage in joint military exercises. Dictators tend to find like-minded conditions in fellow dictators.

There are many reasons to believe this relationship is unsustainable including border disputes, competition for resources and the growing Chinese population in Siberia. At the moment, however, it is a dangerous challenge to American interests and poses a threat to a U.S. defense of Taiwan should an attack be launched from the mainland.

This China card is an insurance policy for Putin which gives him credibility at home and influence abroad. For the U.S. it is a danger sign that must be thwarted.

At this juncture, the U.S. has some leverage over the Russians because of trade, foreign investment and the development of the still immature oil industry. It is incumbent on President Bush to speak plainly and directly to the man he claims to understand. Russian interests, needless to say, may not be consonant with those of the Bush administration, but when they are in conflict, diplomatic pressure must be exerted.

It is time for Bush to address Putin the way Reagan spoke to Gorbachev in Reykjavik. Just as there must be a “stick” for challenging U.S. interests, there should also be a “carrot” for embracing political openness and liberalization. In the long run, Russian’s future as a European entrant is dependent on democratization.

Enter Bonhoeffer: The Letters and Papers from Prison

Many TRC readers know that I'm powering my way through a massive pile of books in preparation for my doctoral prelims. The next book on the list is Bonhoeffer's Letters and Papers from Prison. My only previous encounter with this book had to do with my sister's wedding. She asked that I do a reading, so I consulted the very knowledgeable Ralph Wood (religion and literature) scholar at Baylor. He recommended the wedding sermon from a prison cell, which was perfect:

As high as God is above man, so high are the sanctity, the rights, and the promise of marriage above the sanctity, the rights, and the promise of love. It is not your love that sustains the marriage, but from now on, the marriage that sustains your love.

Not a popular sentiment today, but a true one, I think.

In any case, I am going to find out just what the soon-to-be hanged 39 year old Lutheran thought he was doing when he resisted Hitler in Germany's churches and then joined a plot to assassinate him. I do know that he met his finish believing it was just the beginning.

I'd love to see comments or insights from anyone who has read the Rev. Bonhoeffer.

He Gets Scooter, And Cuter All The Time

Here's yet another column written in the dark with little beads of perspiration driving me slowly insane.

It's a light-hearted but true-to-life analysis of the Libby case, analyzing those elements in human nature that lead people to damage themselves more in the interrogation process than in the original matter under investigation.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

The New Baylor Pres. Speaks

In an interview with the Waco Tribune-Herald, new Baylor president John Lilley gave the answer that shows he's on board with the university's vision. Here's the relevant exchange:

Q: Here at Baylor, there have been a couple of issues that have been controversial for faculty and others. One is the integration of faith and learning. What do you see as the proper roles for those?

A: Well, the whole issue of Baylor's intention of holding a Christian university in a Baptist tradition, that's at the heart of what Baylor is. In the history of this country, almost all the private schools of any age were founded by churches, and very few of them remain. Most have simply become really outstanding private universities or colleges. And so that was a decision that someone along the way made. And our regents have made the decision, as confirmed by the faculty senate, that Baylor will be intentional about being a Christian university. And Baylor will work at it, as it were. As far as how to do that, where there are disagreements – well, let's rejoice over the agreements, then focus on the disagreements and see how we can work through those. And so it's just kind of a common-sense approach for recognizing, as I said earlier, that the faculty are the heart of this operation. And we have to be unified. Now that's not some false unity, that's genuine unity. I'm confident we can work though theses issues. My impression is that interim president Underwood has been working steadily on them. And I know no one would be happier about a common understanding than Chancellor Robert Sloan.

Looks like Baylor is in good hands. It's also a very good sign that Lilley doesn't run away from association with Robert Sloan.

And Wilma Said "Let There Be Dark..."

Thirteen days after Hurricane Wilma, and Florida Power and Light happily reports on its website that they have restored power to 92 percent of the 3.2 million customers originally affected.

So how unlucky do I (and most of my neighborhood in North Miami Beach) have to be to bottom-feed here in these last 8 percent of unfortunates?

13 days in the dark and counting....