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Big Pharma Pressures Doctors in the Developing World

| Wed Oct. 31, 2007 6:15 PM EDT

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A new air conditioner, washing machine, microwave, camera, television, expensive crystals, and a luxury vacation.

A fabulous Showcase Showdown package? Nope. Just some of the loot that pharmaceutical companies like GSK, Novartis, Roche, and Wyeth are offering doctors in the developing world in exchange for prescribing their drugs, according to a report just released by Consumers International.

If all that schwag isn't enough to raise your hackles, consider the fact that as part of their promotional strategies, drug companies often bend the truth about the pills they're pushing. An example from the report:

An article in the Pharmaceutical Society of Ghana's (PSGH) newsletter claimed "Lifestyle modifications [such as diet and exercise] alone are usually ineffective in maintaining weight loss on a long term basis so there is usually the need to institute supported drug therapy." While other types of treatments are mentioned, Roche's Xenical is the only branded product named in the article. Below the packaged Xenical pills, as pictured on the left, the article advised readers to get customers to take one pill after a fatty meal.

No wonder, then, that another recent study found that 50 percent of drugs in the developing world are misprescribed.

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Last Hired, First Fired but Merrill Lynch's Black CEO Had it Coming

| Wed Oct. 31, 2007 5:18 PM EDT

Given all the turmoil that's been rocking the world of high finance, it wasn't surprising to hear that the first head had been chopped off—E. Stanley O'Neal at Merrill Lynch. What was surprising was finding out that he was black and that no protest squads have been dispatched to demand he be reinstated.

I'm money-stupid so what finance news I get is inadvertent, sandwiched between things I actually pay attention to on the radio. If my friends at NPR discussed O'Neal's race, it must have either been during a Manilow-moment or during mommy drive-time when I was rocking to "There's a Hole In My Bucket." Either way, it's remarkable that someone who follows 'black stuff' for a living wasn't hit over the head with discussions of the black CEO who got the boot, just with a CEO who got the boot. It's progress that black robber-barons, while still rare, are common enough that we forget their race after the initial hooplah of mag covers, fawning profiles and NAACP Image Awards and it's progress that, when they screw up, nobody black gives a damn. (Maybe that's because making Wall Street money makes you 'white,' and therefore on your own when you screw up.)

If you want to flashback to your freshman year of college, check the World Socialist Web Site's take on O'Neal and the evils of capitalism in general. Otherwise, check out Clarence Page on why black failure can sometimes equal black equality. As he notes:

O'Neal's departure is a disappointment to those of us who praised his rise after 16 years at the company to become the first African-American to lead a major Wall Street firm. But just as his rise was a sign of progress, so is his slide out the door, as long as it indicates that women and minorities have to meet the same rigorous profitmaking standards that white men do. ...America truly is a land where any kid can grow up to be president of, at least, a multibillion-dollar corporation."

And where any kid can get his hat handed to him for screwing up.

Update: Second Plain Dealer Blogger Leaves

| Wed Oct. 31, 2007 5:14 PM EDT

The second of the liberal bloggers on the Cleveland Plain Dealer's political group blog Wide Open has decided to resign over the paper's decision to fire the first liberal blogger, Jeff Coryell. Coryell's termination was due to pressure from Repbulican Congressman Steve LaTourette.

The second blogger's name is Jill Miller Zimon, of Writes Like She Talks, and she's given money to Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown (D); if that means not writing about Brown or his opponents in the future, she's jumping ship. Her thoughts are after the jump.

Cleveland Plain-Dealer Fires Blogger After Congressman Complains

| Wed Oct. 31, 2007 4:29 PM EDT

In August, the Cleveland Plain Dealer hired four political bloggers, two on the right and two on the left, to write a group blog called "Wide Open."

One of the bloggers on the left was Jeff Coryell, known as YellowDogSammy on Daily Kos. In previous blogging positions, but never with Wide Open, Coryell had frequently criticized Rep. Steve LaTourette (R) of Ohio's 14th district. Coryell had contributed $100 to LaTourette's opponent in the 2008 election. LaTourette complained to the online editor at the Plain Dealer (presumably on the assumption that Coryell would be a pain in LaTourette's side throughout the campaign) who then took the issue to the top editor at the newspaper. They asked Coryell to never write about LaTourette as a condition of working at the paper.

Bush PR Maven Hughes Quits for Texas

| Wed Oct. 31, 2007 2:34 PM EDT

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The AP reports that longtime Bush aide Karen Hughes plans to retire from improving America's image in the world and return to Texas. Alas, she acknowledges, the job is far from done. "Hughes said ... improving the world's view of the United States is a 'long-term challenge' that will outlast her," the AP reports. No arguments there. A recent poll found Turkish approval of the United States fell to nine percent -- the lowest in history. Another poll found fewer than one in five Pakistanis have a positive view of the United States. Hughes, a former TV journalist in Texas and press aide to then Governor Bush, was in the job two years.

Waterboarding is Torture... Period

| Wed Oct. 31, 2007 2:30 PM EDT

In light of Mike Mukasey's waffling on whether waterboarding is torture, and Mort Kondracke's recent statement that the procedure is no big deal ("I'm sure it feels like torture, you know, it doesn't result in any lasting damage, but it feels like torture.") I want to point you all to a blog post over at Small Wars Journal that I found via The Plank. The title? "Waterboarding is Torture... Period." And the man making the argument is an authority.

As a former Master Instructor and Chief of Training at the US Navy Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape School (SERE) in San Diego, California I know the waterboard personally and intimately. SERE staff were required undergo the waterboard at its fullest. I was no exception. I have personally led, witnessed and supervised waterboarding of hundreds of people...
Having been subjected to them all, I know these techniques, if in fact they are actually being used, are not dangerous when applied in training for short periods. However, when performed with even moderate intensity over an extended time on an unsuspecting prisoner – it is torture, without doubt. Couple that with waterboarding and the entire medley not only "shock the conscience" as the statute forbids -it would terrify you. Most people can not stand to watch a high intensity kinetic interrogation. One has to overcome basic human decency to endure watching or causing the effects. The brutality would force you into a personal moral dilemma between humanity and hatred. It would leave you to question the meaning of what it is to be an American....

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Anti-Drug Ads That Might Actually Work

| Wed Oct. 31, 2007 2:04 PM EDT

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Ever since the first President Bush held up a bag of crack at a 1989 press conference, the federal government has spent many millions of dollars on anti-drug advertising campaigns targeted at teenagers. All those fried-egg spots ("This is your brain on drugs") have been the butt of many a teenage joke, and as it turned out, they were highly effective at actually encouraging kids to smoke pot.

Some new anti-drug ads now airing in Montana, however, might actually be working, perhaps because they weren't made by dorks in Washington. The new campaign was produced by the Montana Meth Project, a private group founded by a local rancher. The ads are way edgier than anything the drug czar's office ever came up with, including one featuring a near-naked girl in a hotel room after her boyfriend pimps her for drug money and another of some kids dumping an unconscious girl on a hospital driveway before speeding away.

A new study suggests that Montana's ads have reduced teen meth use in the state by 45 percent, a figure compelling enough for the White House to get on the bandwagon and broadcast Montana's graphic ads in other states.

The Best Debate Moment Belongs to Joe Biden

| Wed Oct. 31, 2007 11:51 AM EDT

The best answer in last night's Democratic presidential debate came not from the leading contenders but from Senator Joe Biden.

In his usual manner, moderator Tim Russert tried to put the candidates into a corner with one of his yes-or-no questions that do not allow for nuance or complexity:

MR. RUSSERT: Senator Biden, would you pledge to the American people that Iran would not build a nuclear bomb on your watch?

Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John Edwards each wiggled his or her way out of the question, essentially pledging to do what they could to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Then Russert turned to Biden, and Biden threw the question back in Russert's face.

SEN. BIDEN: I would pledge to keep us safe. If you told me, Tim -- and this is not -- this is complicated stuff. We talk about this in isolation. The fact of the matter is the Iranians may get 2.6 kilograms of highly enriched uranium; the Pakistanis have hundreds, thousands of kilograms of highly enriched uranium.
If by attacking Iran to stop them from getting 2.6 kilograms of highly enriched uranium, the government in Pakistan falls, who has missiles already deployed, with nuclear weapons on them, that can already reach Israel, already reach India, then that's a bad bargain.
Presidents make wise decisions informed not by a vacuum in which they operate, by the situation they find themselves in the world. I will do all in my power to stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons, but I will never take my eye off the ball.
What is the greatest threat to the United States of America: 2.6 kilograms of highly enriched uranium in Tehran or an out of control Pakistan? It's not close.

Biden was taking the mature approach to foreign policy, daring to challenge the false dichotomy: let Iran go nuclear or start a war. A nuclear-armed Iran would indeed be a problem, but a U.S. military strike against Iran could cause greater problems. National security is not always an either/or proposition. Yet Russert, with his gotcha query, was trying to force the complicated Iran issue into such a box. This sort of framing does pervert the national debate, for it precludes serious discussion of the matter at hand and careful consideration of consequences. It also suggests that Americans can have it all—that is, a nuclear-free Iran without creating other difficulties.

Blackwater: Your Destination for "Rapid Response, Turn Key Solutions"

| Wed Oct. 31, 2007 11:32 AM EDT

Blackwater's crisis management campaign has now ventured beyond Eric Prince's tightly scripted television appearances and into the realm of Orwellian propaganda. If you need a "turn key solution" to your pesky insurgency problem, you know who to call...

Debate Reaction: Hillary Clinton's Me-Too Problem

| Wed Oct. 31, 2007 9:42 AM EDT

clinton.jpg Hillary Clinton has a Me-Too problem, and it was illustrated perfectly at last night's Democratic presidential debate in Philadelphia.

Here's the problem. Clinton allows Barack Obama and John Edwards (and sometimes even Bill Richardson and Chris Dodd) to dictate the policy proposals of the Democratic field. By and large, she puts forward relatively moderate ideas that rely heavily on conventional thinking—until one or more of her competitors takes a more bold, populist stand. Then Clinton immediately embraces the new stand, and the competitor or competitors have nothing on which to run against her.

I wrote a comment on David's post on this yesterday, regarding opposition to Michael Mukasey's nomination to be attorney general. Clinton announced she opposed the nomination, though she was following Edwards, who was following Obama, who was following Dodd. "So is this how a candidate maintains frontrunner status?" I wrote. "Make sure there is not an inch of difference between her and any other candidate? In a word, mimicry?"

That doesn't strike me as true leadership. And yesterday's debate had a moment that illustrated this perfectly. Clinton was asked by Tim Russert if she supported New York Governor Eliot Spitzer's proposal to give driver's licenses to illegal immigrants. According to Russert, Clinton had told a group of newspaper editors that the idea made sense. Clinton responded approvingly, saying, "What Governor Spitzer is trying to do is fill the vacuum left by the failure of this administration to bring about comprehensive immigration reform." Illegal immigrants are on the roads and will get into accidents. It's a reality, she said, and we ought to have a system to handle it.

But then Chris Dodd criticized the idea, saying that a driver's license is a privilege and not a right. Clinton instantly said, "I just want to add, I did not say that it should be done." Dodd pounced: "Wait a minute. No, no, no. You said yes, you thought it made sense to do it." Clinton responded by trying to explain that Spitzer's plan included three different kind of licenses. She promptly got lost in the weeds and accused the assembled of playing "gotcha." With that, it was off to the races.