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Philadelphia Inquirer Feature Pending

I had a call from the Philadelphia Inquirer yesterday. They are doing a feature story on a lady, Ms. Florence Duckett, who was inspired by Joe Roche's Keep the Faith: A Letter from Iraq after a photocopy of it was handed to her when she was going into church earlier this year. She then took up making and sending comfort and care packages to our troops overseas to such an extent that the Inquirer is doing a feature story on her.

Joe's piece and his follow-up pieces eventually were reprinted or linked to by at least 200 blogs this year, that I know of. It may be that one of those blogs supplied the copy of the piece that was handed to Ms. Duckett, thus inspiring her to reach out to our troops. It is hard to overestimate the potential of the blogosphere.

I very much look forward to reading the piece in the Inquirer. I'll post a link to it here in the blog when it appears.


MTBE Issue Redux: A Thoughtful Response to the Federal Employee Who Opposes Groundwater Pollution, Right-Wingers and Christians

From my in-box, a thoughtful letter in reference to issues raised in the post about the federal employee who thinks about poisoning right-wing Christian children with MTBE:

Regarding Ms. McKonnell's letter referencing feeding MTBE [Methyl Tert-butyl Ether]....

As you correctly point out, this was an additive that was mandated by the EPA, and therefore the Federal government. As Ms. McKonnell pointed out, it leads the nastiest stuff coming out of petroleum spills and leaks, as it is 'small' and highly mobile. This crap is among the worst [as it spreads amongst the fleetest] of the things we face in areas that are still served by drinking water wells. It also costs everybody that is not on a well, for their local municipal water supply service to capture this and clean it from their source.

When I say 'leads' and compare it to Benzene, I refer to it's motility in groundwater. This stuff moves and spreads like nothing else I am aware of, ruining drinking water supplies. I live in a state where the soils are mostly sands, clays, and limestones. In the west, this stuff intermingles with what they refer to as 'cobbles' rocks the size of bowling balls and larger. This sort of material cannot be drilled and suctioned to clean these messes up. Quite frankly, it cannot be economically drilled. Certainly, the idea of excavating the vast areas contaminated by this crap, washing down the sands and cobbles and boulders, will be prohibitively expensive; fortunately, we taxpayers will pay for every penny of that effort for many years to come, so we won't have to rely upon the people that caused this mess to quit pointing fingers and resolve it. The downstream halos around gasoline stations all over the country, all over the planet, dwarf the imagination in two dimensions. Now multiply that by a third dimension, especially the large third dimension in the western states, the depth from your feet in a service station parking lot down to the groundwater.

If Ms. Mckonnell has an idea about how to efficiently recover this mess, given her background, I say let her get started. We only need stop her before she starts feeding it to students.

As for the rest of us, we just keep plugging along, washing rocks and cleaning this mess up the old fashioned way. That, and we don't mandate that it become a part of the waste stream in the first place.

I will not give up trying to clean this crap up, even though I know there are well-meaning people that will keep spilling it, and will keep adding new challenges like the old MTBE. Next week, I will scrub my face and go start cleaning up a horrible waste stream in New Orleans.

By the way, Ms. McKonnell, how is Love Canal going? That's your project, isn't it? The Holy Grail. EPA's project, your first Superfund site, your chance to prove your skills and determination on a clean-up effort. After 30-plus years of studying it, has your agency even gotten started? Please send me a copy of your most current physical and your doctor's opinion, allowing you to even wear a respirator. That's Public Record. Why is it that when the federal government gets in trouble that they hire private contractors to come in and clean up the mess? It seems to me that they must be either trying to shed the responsibility/ liability or they haven't got the first clue about what they are doing.

Why did the EPA issue a clean bill of health over the air quality in lower Manhattan after 9/11/01? Why did the federal government bring in private contractors to clean up the mess when the cameras were turned off? Was this somehow the fault of a dreaded Republican administration? Or is it a fact that the federal government is incapable of taking on such an unexpected event and that private industry maintains and employs people that have to deal with this sort of thing, not because they are evil, but because they are not?

Perhaps, before people purposely poison children, the people want to know.

It is time and long past time that the good people in this country stopped tearing each other apart. The people I work for and the people that work with me are not red or blue, they are Red, White, and Blue. We do not poison anyone. We diligently and at the risk of of our lives clean up the accidental mistakes that were made by our fathers, uncles, and mothers. Mistakes, made in the name of making livings for families. The well-meaning folks that introduced MTBE to our fuel supply, regulators, but probably under the influence of industry son-and-dance-men, probably meant well. That's not our problem. Getting rid of this crap is and it will take some time and effort.



Will Iraqi Trials Interest Mainstream Media, Or Will They Be Too Focused on the San Quentin Lunch Menu to Cover Them?

Will the mainstream media cover the trial of "Chemical Ali" as extensively as it has (I'd like to put that in past tense, but, so far, no luck) the Scott Peterson trial?

Last week the ABC network national radio actually ran, as its lead story, the news that there was a shortage of chairs for people waiting on-site to learn to results of the sentencing deliberations.

That's simply not newsworthy.


Heritage Policy Weblog: Social Security Tax Increases and Benefit Cuts Needed, Says Congressman

The Heritage Policy Weblog is having a little fun with Rep. Robert T. Matsui (D-CA), ranking member of the House Ways and Means subcommittee on Social Security.

Based on a literal reading of Congressman Matsui's recent rhetoric on Social Security, Heritage's Policy Weblog commends Congressman Matsui for his honest advocacy of Social Security benefit cuts and Social Security tax increases.

No doubt that's just what Congressman Matsui intended to convey.

Addendum:: Our condolences to the family and friends of Congressman Matsui, who passed away on January 1 from complications relating to Milo Dysplastic Disorder. Congressman Matsui represented the Sacramento area and recently served as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. He was the senior Democrat on the House subcommittee with juristiction over Social Security and was elected to his 14th term this past November with 71 percent of the vote. He is survived by his wife, son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter.


Ed Haislmaier on Drug Importation Economic and Safety Issues

Ed Haislmaier has some follow-on thoughts to my recent posts (here and here) on drug importation from Canada.

Readers who believe importation of drugs from Canada would save Americans a bundle should particularly note Ed's last four paragraphs.

Regarding the issue of legalizing third-party wholesale importation of pharmaceuticals from Canada, this article in the Financial Times has some bearing, by way of example from another area, on the question of what might happen if the U.S. changed it's laws.

The article discusses how post-9/11 changes in U.S. visa rules are resulting in more international travelers (e.g., ones going from Asia or Europe to Latin America and vice versa), choosing to fly with Air Canada rather than on U.S. carriers and "... choosing to travel via Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal rather than U.S. cities."

The article further notes that:

"The new U.S. visa requirements have also benefited Canada in other ways. Several Canadian universities are seeking to attract foreign students and researchers who might otherwise have attended U.S. institutions.

Canada has also become a base for some offshore outsourcing companies to serve US customers without their employees needing to enter the U.S.

Nevertheless, many other Canadian companies are concerned that tighter border security could severely jeopardize their business in the U.S."

The relevance is that, just as we can't expect Canada to enforce U.S. visa rules, neither can we expect Canada to enforce U.S. "chain-of-custody" regulations with respect to the trans-shipment of pharmaceuticals from manufacturers to wholesalers to pharmacists to consumers if the U.S. decides to remove its controls on bulk drug importation from Canada (a point you made in your last post).

In both cases, the entirely reasonable and justifiable Canadian position is, "We set and enforce our own laws. Your [the U.S.] laws are your problem."

One implication of the article is that disparities between U.S. and Canadian immigration controls might now encourage terrorist organizations to focus more on getting would-be terrorists into Canada first and then across the U.S. border, where U.S. controls are not as effective as at U.S. airports. Now, while we can all agree the U.S. needs better border controls, the larger point is that a change in U.S. law has follow-on effects as people outside the U.S. (including bad guys) react to the change by modifying their own behavior. Thus, it is also reasonable to expect that relaxing U.S. controls on the bulk importation of drugs from Canada would likely encourage those who would tamper with drugs for either profit or malicious reasons to set up shop in Canada.

On a related note, while I realize that your arguments have focused on the safety issue, there is one overriding economic point that needs to be made. Namely, even if all the safety issues inherent in third-party bulk importation of drugs could be satisfactorily resolved, it is still highly unlikely U.S. consumers would see more than a marginal decrease in end-user prices. Rather, the middlemen doing the importing would pocket the lion's share of the price difference. In fact, this is exactly what has been happening in Europe for years as "parallel traders" arbitrage away the price differences among EU countries that set drug prices at different levels.

For example, if a 90 day supply of drug X cost $100 in Country A and the price is set at $50 in Country B, then a parallel trader can buy the pills in Country B for $50 and resell them in Country A for $90 or $95 and make a nice profit. The end consumer in Country A gets only a 5-10% discount, not the 50% discount he sees across the border and wants for himself. To get that full discount the consumer would have to cut out the middleman by going to Country B and buying the drugs directly -- something individual U.S. consumers can and are doing in Canada right now.

Furthermore, even competition among parallel traders won't further lower prices to the end-user so long as the demand for cheaper drugs exceeds the supply. Again, using the above example, unless manufacturers put no limits at all on the quantity they will supply to Country B for sale at $50 (highly unlikely) competing parallel traders will have no reason to lower the prices they charge in Country A. They will simply continue to "shadow price" in the destination market. The most that aggressive competition among parallel traders might produce is the offering of a somewhat higher "black market" price in Country B to ensure supply. For instance, a parallel trader might offer a supplier in Country B $55 or $60 if he diverts his supply to the trader instead of selling it to a competing trader or dispensing it to patients in Country B at the controlled price of $50. While more people are getting a slice of the price arbitrage, the price to the end-user in Country A remains the same.

It's simple economics. When supply exceeds demand, suppliers cut production and/or cut prices. But, when demand exceeds supply, suppliers raise production and/or raise prices. However, if demand exceeds supply but the supplier is under price controls, suppliers have no incentive to increase supply and thus the demand/supply imbalance continues. The inevitable result, if the price difference is large enough, is middlemen enter the market to arbitrage the price difference. If the supply is sufficiently constrained, the middlemen might eventually offer suppliers inducements to violate the price controls in the form of higher "black market" purchase prices, but in none of this does the end-user wind up with anything more than a marginal reduction in the sales price.



Michael Savage = Michael Moore?

David at The Sparse Matrix has called talk radio host Michael Savage "the right-wing's Michael Moore."

Apparently, David's not the only Michael Savage listener to be dissatisfied of late. Visit The Sparse Matrix for more commentary and links.


Where Does He Go to Get His Reputation Back?

It looks like this judge deserves a day in court. More specifically, a chance to share his version of events in the court of public opinion.


Poisoning Right-Wing Christian Children: Your Tax Dollars At Work

Used as I am to hostile, even homicidal emails from the left wing, I first started to delete this little gem of hostile stupidity I received in my junk mail folder. (And what a piece of junk it is!) But then, I read it again and got angry.

The correspondent, who suggests feeding poison to children at "private right wing Christain schools" (the redundancy and the spelling all are hers), apparently is employed by the federal government and writing on a government e-mail account.

Just makes you want to go work on your 1040 form, doesn't it?

Our correspondent apparently is upset at this National Center article (or so we guess), which criticizes trial lawyers for trying to stick certain California taxpayers with a $66 million legal bill. The case referenced happened to be about groundwater contaminated by the gasoline additive MTBE, but it could have been a case about spoiled hamburgers -- the legal bill was the issue at hand.

No matter. Any excuse to go after right-wing Christians, no matter how tenuous, is a cause that must, dear taxpayer, be taken up.

But don't let my disgust get in the way of a few facts. Such as:

The pollutant Kathleen K. McConnell ("Kat" to her friends) of the federal Tennessee Valley Authority rails about is in some of our drinking water because the federal government mandated that it be put into gasoline.

Yep. The feds caused the pollution.

So shouldn't this federal employee be embarrassed, ashamed, filled with remorse?

Shouldn't she be on her knees apologizing to the little right-wing Christian children, not threatening to poison them even more?

I can tell you that if The National Center for Public Policy Research ever poisoned drinking water, why, I'd actually think we did something wrong.

And I assume the feds would jail us for it (that's their territory, after all).

Well, I might think so, you might think so, but Kathleen K. McConnell of the federal Tennessee Valley Authority has a better idea: Feed the poison to even more kids. Or fantasize about it, anyway.

One more thing: The National Center for Public Policy Research has written about MTBE many times. There is this piece from 2000 explaining that MTBE is dangerous and that the federal government mandated it, and this one saying the government-mandated additive is not only dangerous, but makes gasoline more expensive, and (lo and behold!) this one describing the impact of these ill-conceived government mandates in, as our Tennessee Valley Authority correspondent just might put it, "urban industrial/low income residential neighborhoods."

How is it that arch-MTBE foe Kathleen K. McConnell of the federal Tennessee Valley Authority failed to notice this modest July 2000 essay by Project 21 member Stuart Pigler criticizing the fact that minorities were paying ten cents more per gallon of gas just because of MTBE in the aptly-named "Bill Clinton Makes Blacks Pay More at the Pump."

(Perhaps our friend Kat was too busy looking for the never-published piece by Jerry Falwell: "Bill Clinton Makes Little Right-Wing Christians Pay More at the Pump.")

Kathleen K. McConnell of the federal Tennessee Valley Authority could have learned that we have extensively condemned MTBE had she done something revolutionary, such as click on our search page and enter "MTBE." But she apparently did not want to find out that her biases against right-wing Christians were unfounded.

Enough said. Here's her e-mail. I didn't alter the formatting, punctuation or spelling. It is all hers -- and yours, since you paid for it.

Your article neglects to mention that MBTE is a highly suspected carcinogen and that the amounts showing up in drinking water supplies is in excedence of the Safe Drinking Water Act if not on a federal level, for sure in some states. Except for the minor inconvenience of it having a pesky little trace odor, how about serving it up at the private right wing Christain schools all across the nation, instead of insisting that its presence in public water supplies in urban industrial/low income residential neighborhoods where it is most commonly found poses no health risk?

As MBTE is highly soluable in groundwater, it usually is the first paramter of nastiness to indicate a leading edge of a contaminant plume. Therefore, when it shows up, you can be assured that the other known carcinogens like Benzene and her pals Ehtyl benzine, Toluene, Xylene and others are sure to follow. Although many of the leaking underground storage tanks have been removed or taken out of service, the contaminant plumes beneath them have been left behind taking years to clean up. Furthermore, many of these contaminant plumes are not being addressed at all, unless through regulatory actions or litigation. So although lawyers are the boils on society's butt, the lack of voluntarily cleaned up sites, regulatory enforced corrective actions, and ambiguous or poorly written legislation, legal action suits are frequently the only options for precipitating a necessary remediation to address this public health issue across our nation.

Your site does damage to your readers as it only gives partial truth, not full disclosure, one of the criticisms you cite throughout your blog. This makes me question which sector of Corporate America sponsors your propoganda.

Kat McConnell


Harry Reid and Clarence Thomas: The Furor is Not Dying Down

Project 21 notes the furor over Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid's December 5 remarks about Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas is not dying down:

In the wake of the hurtful and racially-insensitive comments made by incoming Senate minority leader Harry Reid (D-NV) about U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, members of the black leadership network Project 21 are demanding the liberal senator immediately apologize. They further demand Senate liberals pledge to allow fair and timely hearings and votes on judicial nominees regardless of their race and political beliefs.

"Senator Reid has revealed the intolerance found on the political left for minorities who do not reside on their ideological plantation," said Project 21 member Wendell Talley. "Justice Thomas has been in the public eye for approximately 15 years and conducted himself with integrity. Reid seemed to be around just 15 minutes before he made a fool of himself. He should apologize to Justice Thomas for his comments."

While being interviewed on the NBC News program "Meet the Press" on December 5, Senator Reid was asked about the possibility of Justice Thomas replacing current Chief Justice William Rehnquist, who is currently being treated for thyroid cancer. Reid called Thomas "an embarrassment to the Supreme Court" and said his "opinions are poorly written."

In the same interview, Senator Reid praised Justice Antonin Scalia, calling him "one smart guy." Scalia and Thomas share many views. Scalia, of course, is white.

Legal scholars are not as critical of Justice Thomas' legal prowess as are liberal politicians and activists. Commenting on liberal criticism of Thomas' jurisprudence, University of Wisconsin Law Professor Ann Althouse wrote: "It is my observation that liberals tend to lapse into the lazy belief that those who don't agree with them must be stupid or evil, and to me Reid's remarks look a bit like that... I realize the senators can't get away with opposing a judicial nomination on the grounds that they simply disagree with their opinions... but to attack Thomas' intelligence is shameless."

"I consider Senator Reid's comments against Justice Thomas to be among the boldest and most unambiguously racist public attacks since the day when lynchings were commonplace and Orval Faubus and Bull Connor openly used their political power to keep blacks down," said Project 21 member Mychal Massie. "The fact that Justice Thomas may become our nation's first black Chief Justice is a tremendous civil rights milestone, but it will be a tremendous step backward if he were undermined simply for being a black conservative. Not only will it hurt Justice Thomas personally, but it could stifle future generations of black Americans from expressing independent and diverse political opinions."

During the eight days since Reid's comments, the furor over his remarks has not died down.
* Editorialist Armstrong Williams wrote of Reid's remarks in USA Today and elsewhere over the weekend: "The United States now confronts a modern edition of Jim Crow. If you are born white, you may aspire to achieve greatness as a liberal, conservative, moderate, independent or otherwise. There are no intellectual no-go zones. But if you are born black, your ambitions will be crushed unless you ape black power brokers."

* In a December 12 Los Angeles Times op-ed, the Claremont Institute's Thomas L. Krannawitter wrote: "...we must ask why a Democrat would go on national television and criticize the second black Supreme Court justice in history while praising fellow-conservative Justice Antonin Scalia as 'one smart guy'?"

* The Washington Times editorial page noted on December 12: "What is most striking about the comments Mr. Reid made about Justice Thomas and the NYT made about Justice Scalia is how glibly they describe their targets as an 'embarrassment,' or 'retrogressive' or 'ultraextreme' without providing any evidence to substantiate their attacks."

* In a nationally-syndicated column distributed December 13, attorney and Project 21 member Horace Cooper wrote: "Senate Democrats should realize that just because you disagree with someone it doesn't make them stupid or evil. Memo to the war room: Sliming blacks you disagree with is not the pathway to an electoral majority. It will more likely lead to the opposite."

* On December 13, James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal made sport of Harry Reid's writing ability in his Best of the Web column, calling Reid's allegation that Thomas is a poor writer "projection," and analyzing Reid's maiden speech in the Senate for quality.
Project 21 members have been outspoken about the need for senators to allow for timely confirmation hearings of judicial nominees and full floor votes - a practice routinely blocked over the last four years by liberal senators and their staffs at the urging of liberal special interest groups...


Michael Crichton's "State of Fear" Takes on Global Warming Alarmists

Michael Crichton is taking on the global warming industry in his latest thriller, "State of Fear."

Crichton told ABC's John Stossel that the controversy the book will engender almost kept him from writing it: "I'm 62 years old. I've had a good life. I'm happy and I'm enjoying myself. I don't need any of the flak that would come from doing a book like this."

Yet Crichton thought the message of the book, in which he says that environmental organizations are "fomenting false fears in order to promote agendas and raise money," was important enough to do anyway.

The book is a rare thriller: It has footnotes. (Which means that Michael Crichton's fiction has better documentation than many environmental organizations' websites.)

Crichton, however, warns people not to believe anyone who says they know for sure if the Earth is warming and, if so, how much and why.

As reported by the Guardian, Crichton says in an "author's message" in the book:

* In every debate, all sides overstate the extent of existing knowledge and its degree of certainty

* Nobody knows how much of the present warming trend might be a natural phenomenon

* Nobody knows how much warming will occur in the next century. The computer models vary by 400%, de facto proof that nobody knows. But if I had to guess - the only thing anyone is doing, really - ... the increase will be 0.812436 degrees C

* For anyone to believe in impending resource scarcity, after 200 years of such false alarms, is kind of weird. I don't know whether such a belief today is best ascribed to ignorance of history, sclerotic dogmatism, unhealthy love of Malthus, or simple pigheadedness

* Most environmental "principles" (such as sustainable development or the precautionary principle) have the effect of preserving the economic advantages of the west and thus constitute modern imperialism toward the developing world. It is a nice way of saying: "We got ours and we don't want you to get yours, because you'll cause too much pollution"

* We desperately need a nonpartisan, blinded funding mechanism to conduct research ... Scientists are only too aware of whom they are working for
Here's a review of the book from the Globe and Mail. The review says it is good, except for the injection of the scientific facts.

For me, that's a plus.

Reading this one is going to be fun.

Addendum: In a link to this post, Sean at Everything I Know is Wrong has assembled a collection of global warming posts.


Civil Rights Commission Gets Back to Business

Project 21 is applauding President Bush's new appointments to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

Here's most of a new press release issued by Project 21 on the matter:

Members of the Project 21 black leadership network are applauding recent appointments to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights made by President George W. Bush.

President Bush selected Gerald A. Reynolds, a former civil rights official with the U.S. Department of Education, and Ashley Taylor, a former deputy attorney general for the state of Virginia, to replace Commission chairman Mary Frances Berry and vice chairman Cruz Reynoso whose terms expired in early December. Reynolds will serve as the Commission's new chairman, and serving commissioner Abigail Thernstrom will become the new vice chairman. Kenneth Marcus, another former civil rights official at the Education Department, was also named to be the Commission's new staff director.

"With the selection of Gerald Reynolds and Ashley Taylor, the once-venerable U.S. Commission on Civil Rights is finally able to begin a sorely needed restructuring and rebirth," said Project 21 member Donald E. Scoggins. "By appointing these highly-qualified individuals, President Bush illustrates his genuine commitment to the protection of all citizens. In these assignments, there is also reason to anticipate that this organization will once again become apolitical and professional in scope."

During Berry's tenure as head of the Commission, the government body became recognized more for her divisive and political behavior and allegations of mismanagement than for its mission to investigate potential civil rights problems. Berry frequently ignored the input of commissioners she did not agree with and even refused to seat Bush-appointed commissioner Peter Kirsanow until ordered to do so by an appeals court. A Government Accountability Office investigation found the Commission regularly disobeyed budgetary guidelines and was an "agency in disarray."

Reynolds pledged that his first action as chairman will be to proceed with a financial audit of the Commission.

"It's well past time the Civil Rights Commission gets back to business, as opposed to the constant playing of partisan politics fostered during her tenure," said Project 21 member Michael King. "Contrary to the constant bickering that Berry and her cohorts in groups such as the NAACP have fostered, there is much the Commission can constructively deal with as our nation moves forward. The Commission is now in a position to provide true leadership."

Reynolds is a member of Project 21, as is fellow commissioner Kirsanow.


Bush and Putin: Tougher Road Ahead?

From the December 12 Boston Globe:

A debate is brewing at the highest levels of the Bush administration over whether to adopt a tougher stance toward Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin, who has systematically rolled back democratic freedoms and tried to snuff out democracy in weak neighboring states with little American opposition, according to US officials and policy analysts.

The recent standoff in Ukraine over a disputed election between a Soviet-style strongman, whom Putin has aggressively backed, and a reform-style candidate backed by a sea of protesters, has brought renewed calls for an overhaul of the US friendship with Putin.

Until now, US policy has been to largely forgive Russia's attack on democracy, even as Putin moved to consolidate authoritarian rule not only in Russia but also in a federation of former Soviet states he is cobbling together, largely by force, according to regional specialists. But officials in the National Security Council and the State Department have begun discussing whether to recalibrate their approach to Putin...
Of course, this is the kind of thing Administrations sometimes leak on purpose, as a cost-free, utterly deniable, warning to a foreign leader that the U.S. President isn't happy about something. Bush can't be at all pleased with Putin, but who wants trouble with Russia? Plus, and somewhat ironically, given the nature of the U.S.-Russia relationship over the past 80-some years, the things Bush hopes Putin will do are actually the best ways to build and economically and socially strong Russia.

Too bad Putin increasingly seems to be putting his own interests and those of his cronies ahead of what is good for the Russian people.


Yushchenko, Putin and Poison -- Or Not

I hate to use a cliche, but when it comes to allegations by doctors in Vienna that Ukraine opposition presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko was poisoned by dioxin, possibly after it was put in his food, I have to wonder: What does Vladimir Putin know, and when did he know it?

In a front page article in the December 12 Washington Post comes this paragraph:

Paul M. Wax, with the American College of Toxicology, said two scientists he met in Volgograd, Russia, in 1992, told him that during the Soviet era they had investigated the potential of developing dioxin as a chemical weapon.
I don't allege that Putin had it done. I have no information one way or the other, but I believe he is ruthless enough, and poisoning was a known KGB tactic. I also know that he has excellent intelligence sources within Ukraine (once a captive nation within the old USSR), and, regardless of whether he knew about the supposed poisoning when it occurred, he now no doubt knows more about Yushchenko's malady than he is sharing.

(For a totally different take, check out CodeBlueBlog, where Yushchenko's symptoms are compared to Rosacea.)


Banning the Declaration of Independence: More Wicked Than an Infidel

The controversy about the Cupertino, California teacher who was banned from distributing documents written by America's Founding Fathers, including the Declaration of Independence, to his fifth grade students reminds me of a quotation from George Washington:

The Hand of Providence has been so conspicuous in [American victories over the British in the Revolutionary War] that he must be worse than an infidel that lacks faith, and more wicked that has not gratitude to acknowledge his obligations....
One need not imagine what George Washington would have thought of the controversy over the Declaration of Independence.

The Father of Our Country spelled it out in plain English: Wicked.


Blood Electrification Devices Amaze Coffee Spills Blogger

Coffee Spills blog nearly choked on her java when she learned of the latest in medical cures: "Blood electrification."

I see one can spend nearly $3,000 for a blood electrification device, if one chooses.

As Coffee Spills notes, blood electrification devices are easy to find on the web. In fact, there are over 1,800 references for "blood electrification" on Google (to be fair, though, that includes web references by skeptics).

Don't even think of trying to get blood electrification cheap by importing electrification devices from Canada. Due to some mystifying interference from the "USA feds," as one website selling blood electrification devices put it, they already are sold direct from Paraguay.


Foundation College: Comming Soon

Would you trust your future to a college that can't spell?

(If you pay federal taxes, you are subsidizing it.)


Dr. Donald R. May: We Should Not Covet Canada's Drugs

In this column, Dr. Donald R. May explains more about the pitfalls of prescription drug importation from Canada.

I've been posting this week about how U.S. importation of drugs from Canada can be unsafe for Americans. Dr. May explains how U.S. importation of drugs from Canada can harm, possibly even kill, some Canadians.


Drug Reimportation Safety Issue Debate Continues

Michelle Malkin has responded to my post disagreeing with her December 8 assessment of the drug reimportation safety issue, asking: "The problem of counterfeit drugs surely is worse in Third World countries than in the U.S., but is there any evidence that it is worse in Canada? In other words, is there any reason to believe that a bottle of Lipitor sitting on the shelf of a Canadian Wal-Mart is more likely to be counterfeit than a bottle of Lipitor sitting on the shelf of an American Wal-Mart?"

First, it should be acknowledged that an individual American can buy a prescription drug from a Canadian pharmacy with reasonable assurance of quality. Canada, the U.S., Europe and Japan all have enforced (not perfect, but enforced) drug safety standards in place.

However, the safety of an individual prescription purchased in Canada by an individual American is not the actual issue involved in the drug reimportation policy debate. If Sarah Smith has a prescription for Lipitor and wants to buy it from Canada, she already can. Current U.S. law permits individual Americans to purchase up to a 90-day supply of drugs for personal use from Canadian drugstores.

The policy battle over drug reimportation actually is about legalizing large scale drug importation from Canada and other nations (the drug reimportation bill approved by the U.S. House last year would have allowed importation from 26 nations).

Safety is very much a concern. Here's why:

Under current procedures, the FDA and drug manufacturers guard against the sale of counterfeit, diluted and/or expired drugs by 1) having safety standards for drug manufacturing plants that sell product in the U.S. (even if the plants are located abroad); 2) inspecting those plants, even if located abroad; 3) maintaining a "chain of custody" so that criminals do not have access to the product as it travels from the manufacturing plant to the consumer.

A typical drug sold in the U.S. follows thus follows this chain of custody: manufacturing plant - U.S. drug wholesaler - U.S. drug retailer - consumer.

When the FDA is able to monitor the first three steps, it can make reasonable assurances that the drug is what the consumer expects to buy. If the drug first goes to another nation, however, the chain of custody is broken and an invitation to (very lucrative) criminal mischief is issued.

At this point it might be assumed that I am about to insult the efficiency of Canadian law enforcement and regulatory agencies, but I'm not.

An American consumer would be mistaken to assume Americans can rely on Canadian authorities to monitor the progress of prescription drugs through the Canadian supply chain, not because Canadians don't know how to regulate, but because Canada has already warned the United States that it has no intention of providing expensive drug safety monitoring services for large-scale drug reimportation sales into the United States.

In other words, Canada won't even be trying to stop Canadian-based counterfeiters from selling what appear to be perfectly safe drugs to U.S. retailers.

Given this, how can the FDA possibly be reasonably sure that our drug supply would be safe if we were to permit large-scale reimportation from Canada?

It couldn't be, of course. And if the FDA can't, how could a consumer possibly do so?

Now some might point out that counterfeiting has not been a huge problem in Canada in the past, which is true, although counterfeiting appears to be on the increase. But that's the past. What of the future, in which (if drug reimportation is permitted) the huge American market sits exposed to criminals who inject themselves into the supply chain?

Ed Haislmaier has reminded me that there were many who opposed huge cigarette tax increases who claimed that such increases would dramatically expand the counterfeit cigarette market. Those who issued this warning were ridiculed, but they turned out to be right.

The safety issue, of course, is just part of the overall debate on drug reimportation, which is also very much a debate about economics and foreign policy as well. (For those wanting more, I recommend this efficient overview of the anti-reimportation point of view by Nina Owcharenko of The Heritage Foundation.)

The debate last year leading to a vote in the U.S. House of Representatives was one of the most acrimonious internecine D.C. policy debates among conservatives/free-marketeers I recall in recent years (this press release we issued last year gives a bit of a hint about the heated atmosphere of the debate, though it got a lot more nasty than the press release reveals). I appreciate the fact that Michelle Malkin, unlike several GOP Congressmen, is able to talk rationally about drug reimportation without resorting to unsupportable accusations about reimportation's opponents. Too much of the debate last year was characterized by name-calling, though none of it should have been.


Drug Reimportation: Michelle Malkin and I Disagree

I hate to do it (especially as just last month, I publicly invited Michelle and her family to move from her blue county to our red county next door), but I have to quibble with Michelle Malkin's December 8 post on drug reimportation and what Michelle calls "FDA double standards."

Michelle says, in part: "...If I understand the FDA's argument correctly: it's safe for the federal government to buy 4 million doses of a German-made flu vaccine that hasn't been approved by the FDA, but if a consumer wants to buy a U.S.-manufactured FDA-approved drug from a Wal-Mart in Canada, that's unsafe."

There is more to it than that. The FDA is charged with assuring safety in more than one way.

First, there is the issue of the drug itself being approved as "safe" (a relative term in the pharmaceutical business) when properly manufactured and stored and when dosed correctly to an appropriate patient.

Second, there is the issue of whether the vial or the capsule the consumer is purchasing actually contains what the consumer and his doctor thinks it does.

As Ed Haislmaier wrote in a paper for The National Center last year, counterfeit drugs are a problem:

...three California men pleaded guilty to charges of selling and wholesale distribution of fake Procrit, an anti-anemia drug. The perpetrators of the fraud were passing off vials that "contained only bacteria-tainted water" to unsuspecting pharmacists and patients.

Other recent cases involved criminals selling fake versions of Lipitor (a cholesterol lowering drug) and Serostim (a growth hormone often used to treat AIDS wasting); passing off sterile water as Neupogen (a drug used to treat cancer patients) and aspirin as Zyprexa (a drug for schizophrenia) and selling tampered vials of Epogen diluted to 1/20th strength (like Procrit, Epogen is used to stimulate red blood cell production in cancer and AIDS patients).

In the Epogen case, an FDA official noted that, unwittingly, "a major wholesale distributor was holding approximately 1,600 cartons of counterfeit product," while the Florida health inspector on the case reported "25,000 patients received a one-month supply of diluted drugs."

The problem is much worse overseas. Counterfeit drug sales are rampant in many Third World countries. Also, both at home and abroad, organized crime is getting into the act. It has discovered that the profits from faking legal drugs are as big as those from selling illegal drugs, while detection by the authorities is less likely and the penalties, if caught, are much lighter. In any country, conviction for selling fake pharmaceuticals will get you a fine and maybe some jail time, while in some countries trafficking in heroin carries the death penalty.
Michelle links to a thoughtful piece on reimportation by the Cato Institute's Ed Crane and Roger Pilon. In it, Crane and Pilon argue that legalizing drug reimportation may be the most effective way to stop our "allies" from freeloading on American drug consumers and taxpayers (presently, Americans subsidize the drug purchases of haughty Europeans -- which is an irony we might pause to consider the next time we give Jacques Chirac a richly-deserved headache). Crane and Pilon make a strong case, but they address the economic equation, not the safety concerns.

The FDA argues that it just can't guarantee the content and purity of drugs American consumers purchase if those drugs have been in the foreign retail market.

Some may argue for caveat emptor, or simply believe that safety can be assured even if drugs have been at a Canadian -- or Ugandan -- mini-mart before arrival at the U.S. pharmacy. (Remember, you're not just buying drugs from the country you imported them from, but from every country that country has ever imported from.) The caveat emptor position has its adherents, but they definitely don't include the FDA.

The FDA's flu vaccine purchase, in fact, says nothing at all about the safety of drug reimportation. A situation of secure importation of a vaccine from GlaxoSmithKline is a very different scenario than a case of insecure reimportation of a drug that has been on a foreign drugstore shelf, or, perhaps, was created in someone's basement.


Predictable, But Perhaps Unexpected

One might file this under the category of be careful what you wish for.