December 17, 2004

WASHINGTON'S revolving door -- in which public service reaps private gain -- has long been criticized as unethical. In certain cases, it also produces bad policies or expenditures that cost the taxpayer.

Rarely have both been so true as this week, when Representative Billy Tauzin of Louisiana, a Republican and the key author of the 2003 Medicare drug law widely seen as being far too generous to the drug companies, announced that in January he will become president of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the industry's top lobbying group.

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Public Citizen Calls for a Change in Ethics and Lobbying Rules

The selection of outgoing U.S. Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-La.) to be president of the pharmaceutical industry‚s main lobbying group is yet another example of how public service is leading to private riches, Public Citizen said today. 

Tauzin played a leading role in shepherding the Medicare prescription drug bill through Congress. The bill was a huge win for the pharmaceutical industry and prevented the federal government from using its buying power to negotiate the cost of prescription drugs.   The $2 million that Tauzin reportedly will be paid in his new position means that he will be one of  the highest paid lobbyists in Washington.

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"Many FDA Scientists Had Drug Concerns, 2002 Survey Shows

Almost one-fifth of the Food and Drug Administration scientists surveyed two years ago as part of an official review said they had been pressured to recommend approval of a new drug despite reservations about its safety, effectiveness or quality.

The survey of almost 400 scientists also found that a majority had significant doubts about the adequacy of federal programs to monitor prescription drugs once they are on the market, and that more than a third were not particularly confident of the agency's ability to assess the safety of a drug.

The results of the survey, conducted by the Department of Health and Human Services' inspector general, appear to support some portions of the controversial Senate testimony last month by FDA safety officer David J. Graham. The 20-year agency veteran told senators that the FDA was unable to keep some unsafe drugs off the market, and that scientists who dissented about drug safety and effectiveness were sometimes pressured and intimidated.

December 16, 2004

Rep. John Conyers feels he needs a million e-mails to compel the House Judiciary Committee to hold hearings about the 2004 election.

Go here: http://www.house.gov/judiciary_democrats/contact.html and tell the Judiciary Committee you want hearings on Ohio!

You can copy and paste in this sample message:
I am writing to urge the House Judiciary Committee to hold hearings as soon as possible on the irregularities of the 2004 election. I need not remind the Judiciary Committee members that the United States is a beacon of democracy for the rest of the world. If we truly wish to remain the embodiment of democratic values, then we must treat the right of every citizen to vote and for their vote to count as sacred. Ample evidence has arisen that this right was violated or undermined for many Americans in the 2004 election. I strongly believe that holding hearings to investigate and resolve these irregularities would be an act of tremendous patriotism on the part of Congress, and would serve as a declaration that we are the world's greatest democracy not only in word, but in deed.

December 15, 2004

Watch out! The Christian conservatives are going to the states to bring their "mandate" home to you.

Christian Conservatives Turn to Statehouses Energized by electoral victories last month that they say reflect wide support for more traditional social values, conservative Christian advocates across the country are pushing ahead state and local initiatives on thorny issues, including same-sex marriage, public education and abortion.

State Representative Cynthia Davis of Missouri prefiled two bills for the next session of the Legislature that she said "reflect what people want." One would remove the state's requirement that all forms of contraception and their potential health effects be taught in schools, leaving the focus on abstinence. Another would require publishers that sell biology textbooks to Missouri to include at least one chapter with alternative theories to evolution.

"These are common-sense, grass-roots ideas from the people I represent, and I'd be very surprised if a majority of legislators didn't feel they were the right solutions to these problems," Ms. Davis said.

"It's like when the hijackers took over those four planes on Sept. 11 and took people to a place where they didn't want to go," she added. "I think a lot of people feel that liberals have taken our country somewhere we don't want to go. I think a lot more people realize this is our country and we're going to take it back."

December 14, 2004

White House can't explain lurking trade imbalance

According to U.S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service estimates, 2005 will be the first year in nearly 50 that America will not turn an agricultural trade surplus.

The dubious milestone was met with odd silence at USDA. (USDA) has no explanation of how Bush administration economic and trade policies have taken American agriculture from a $13.6 billion trade surplus in 2001 to a flat line in four short years.
more...

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Norman Solomon
Announcing the P.U.-litzer Prizes for 2004
"The P.U.-litzer Prizes were established a dozen years ago to provide special recognition for truly smelly media performances. As usual, I've conferred with Jeff Cohen, founder of the media watch group FAIR, to sift through the large volume of entries."
And now, the thirteenth annual P.U.-litzer Prizes, for the foulest media performances of 2004:

MANDATE MANIA
-- Too many winners to name
It became a media mantra. Two days after the election, the Los Angeles Times reported that "Bush can claim a solid mandate of 51 percent of the vote." Cox columnist Tom Teepen referred to Bush's vote margin as an "unquestionable mandate." Right-wing pundit Bill Kristol argued that Bush's "mandate" went beyond the 49-states-to-one landslides of Nixon in 1972 and Reagan in 1984. Reality check: This was the narrowest win for an incumbent president since 1916. As Greg Mitchell wrote in Editor & Publisher: "Where I come from, 51 percent is considered a bare majority, not a comfortable margin. If only 51 percent of my family or my editorial staff think I am doing a good job, I might look to moderate my behavior, not repeat or enlarge it."
more...

December 13, 2004

Gary Webb, a reporter who won national attention with a series of articles, later discredited, linking the Central Intelligence Agency to the spread of crack cocaine in Los Angeles, was found dead on Friday at his home in Carmichael, Calif., near Sacramento. He was 49.

The cause was an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound, The Los Angeles Times reported Sunday.

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From Tom Tomorrow:
"Webb tried to take a serious look at the ties between US foreign policy in Latin America and the flow of cocaine into the US in those days, and was driven out of journalism for daring to suggest that the US government might have looked the other way while its momentary allies in a proxy war behaved in a less than ethical manner. The New York Times, to its eternal discredit, led the charge. Even the obit (above), notes that the series of articles were "later discredited", which is bullshit. Major newspapers did not "discredit parts of his work" so much as they set up complete straw men and then knocked those straw men right down and declared it a good day's work done. And in the long run, they might have destroyed a man's life.

Here's a cartoon I did about all of this, back in 1996. Not a very good scan, for some reason, but it's the best available at the moment."

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Undernews , the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who has covered Washington under nine presidents and edited alternative journals since 1964, has a back story that tell it like it is.

All three papers skirt the central charge: that the CIA must have condoned selling crack in America. When they wish to demolish this hypothesis, they blandly quote officials and experts to the contrary. The LA Times even resorts to asking former CIA director Robert Gates about his agency's performance. "Did someone turn a blind eye?" Gates asks incredulously. "I would be quite surprised by that. To me it's inconceivable."

The paper does not mention that Gates, the CIA deputy director for intelligence during the Contra war, pressured staff analysts to alter intelligence estimates to conform with his own political line. This was revealed at his own confirmation hearing as CIA chief, when one staffer testified: "Mr Gates' role was to corrupt the process and the ethics of intelligence."

December 12, 2004

The administration sends Homeland Security funds to the least needy places. Albany, NY get a windfall of $23.90 per capita, while New York City gets less than half that much at $11.34.

From the New York Observer:
"The administration continues to insist on sending a disproportionate amount of security funds to states with more cows than people. It remains a pork-barrel program, which is a shame," said U.S. Representative Carolyn Maloney in a Dec. 3 press release.

New York‚s elected officials often complain about the way the Department of Homeland Security distributes money. They repeat the finding that America spends more money per capita securing Wyoming than protecting New York State. Quietly, however, New York officials in both parties have created a local copy of Congress‚ spending priorities, distributing money to places like remote Wyoming County.

Less than 60 percent of federal homeland-security funding sent to New York State this year has ended up in New York City, the scene of the most damaging attack in American history. That left nearly $50 million to spread around the rest of the state. The state government also shaved the maximum allowable share, 20 percent, off grants targeted specifically at urban areas.

Those priorities helped free up $65,000 for Wyoming County in western New York, which spent the money largely on radio equipment that was out of the county budget‚s reach. "We can use it on anything [from] a large mutual-aid fire to a terrorist attack," said James Reger, the county‚s director of emergency services.

Wyoming County‚s choice to upgrade its communications system was a popular one, but local officials had fought for, and won, wide discretion in choosing how to spend the federal money. Officials in Yates and Madison counties said they had strengthened defenses against illicit drug labs. Cattaraugus, Sullivan, Erie, Clinton and other counties bought pickup trucks to haul around the huge packages of equipment for nuclear, biological and chemical attacks that the state gave them the previous year. Others are using federal funds for more exotic gear, like a robot in Chautauqua County.

December 11, 2004

Amputation Rate for US Troops Twice That of Past Wars  

US troops injured in Iraq have required limb amputations at twice the rate of past wars, and as many as 20 percent have suffered head and neck injuries that may require a lifetime of care, according to new data giving the clearest picture yet of the severity of battlefield wounds.

The data are the grisly flip side of improvements in battlefield medicine that have saved many combatants who would have died in the past: Only 1 in 10 US troops injured in Iraq has died, the lowest rate of any war in US history.

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Specialist Robert Loria of Middletown lost his arm in Iraq, but instead of a farewell paycheck from the U.S. Army he got a bill for nearly $1,800.

Loria was wounded in February. But as he was about to leave the Army this month, officials told him he had been overpaid for his time as a patient at a military hospital in the Washington area, and claimed he still owed money for travel between the hospital and Fort Hood, and $310 for items not found in his returned equipment.

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US Army plagued by desertion and plunging morale

WHILE insurgents draw on deep wells of fury to expand their ranks in Iraq, the US military is fighting desertion, recruitment shortfalls and legal challenges from its own troops.

The irritation among the rank and file became all too clear this week when a soldier stood up in a televised session with Donald Rumsfeld, the US Defence Secretary, to ask why the world's richest army was having to hunt for scrap metal to protect its vehicles.

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No War in Iraq march.
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