Political MoJo

Waxman Hearings: Big Pharma's Institutionalized Kickback Racket

| Fri Feb. 9, 2007 12:45 PM EST

Witnesses before Congressman Waxman's House oversight committee this morning said regulating drugs is literally impossible because nobody knows what they cost to make.

Steven Schondelmeyer of the University of Minnesota said the pharmaceutical industry insists its products make up a relatively small part of the health care budget. Yet, he pointed out, "half of all working adults and three quarters of elderly use one prescription every week… the drug industry accounts for 4 percent of the nation's overall economy and18-19 percent of the health care dollar."

"Let's quit minimizing drugs," said Shondelmeyer. "This is an institutionalized case of kickback."

Different government agencies pay different prices for the same drugs. "There is no way of knowing whether and how the market works," said Gerard Anderson, a Johns Hopkins professor who has tracked the pharmaceutical industry. "Some states pay five times more than other states."

At the same time, it is pretty well established that Medicare Part D plans (covering Medicare recipients) are paying 20 percent more than the government pays for Medicaid recipients. At the same time, the federal and state governments are pushing people off Medicaid into Medicare where they end up paying higher prices.

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"News You Already Knew," Iraq Edition

| Fri Feb. 9, 2007 11:58 AM EST

Highlighting this story on MoJoBlog is a formality at this point, because every reader we have must be familiar with the lies and misrepresentations the Bush Administration fed us in the lead-up to the Iraq War.

But there's a new report out from the Pentagon's inspector general that details exactly what role Douglas Feith and his office had in this dirty business.

Intelligence provided by former undersecretary of defense Douglas J. Feith to buttress the White House case for invading Iraq included "reporting of dubious quality or reliability" that supported the political views of senior administration officials rather than the conclusions of the intelligence community, according to a report by the Pentagon's inspector general.

I know, I know, it's old hat. I'm just doing my job...

The New American Dream

| Fri Feb. 9, 2007 11:51 AM EST

A man who served as an interrogator in Iraq has penned a short but powerful article for the Washington Post describing how his actions in that role haunt his thoughts and dreams. A snippet:

Despite my best efforts, I cannot ignore the mistakes I made at the interrogation facility in Fallujah. I failed to disobey a meritless order, I failed to protect a prisoner in my custody, and I failed to uphold the standards of human decency. Instead, I intimidated, degraded and humiliated a man who could not defend himself. I compromised my values. I will never forgive myself.
American authorities continue to insist that the abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib was an isolated incident in an otherwise well-run detention system. That insistence, however, stands in sharp contrast to my own experiences as an interrogator in Iraq. I watched as detainees were forced to stand naked all night, shivering in their cold cells and pleading with their captors for help. Others were subjected to long periods of isolation in pitch-black rooms. Food and sleep deprivation were common, along with a variety of physical abuse, including punching and kicking. Aggressive, and in many ways abusive, techniques were used daily in Iraq...

Heavy stuff. Worth a read.

Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don't

| Thu Feb. 8, 2007 9:30 PM EST

Looks like John Edwards just can't win. The netroots drama that has transpired over the past few days doesn't show signs of letting up. Not only may Edwards have isolated the progressive online audience he sought to reach through liberal bloggers Amanda Marcotte and Melissa McEwan (who he fired yesterday and rehired today), he looks to also have upset religious Democrats, a group he has worked long and hard to win over. His wife, Elizabeth Edwards sits on the board of Call to Renewal, a popular religious left organization. Maybe the lesson learned here is: do your homework. If you want to use liberal bloggers to reach out to a progressive audience, but you don't want to isolate a group whose favor you have worked hard to cultivate, you should read their blogs before you hire them.

Guantanamo Bay Investigator Fails To Interview Alleged Victims, Files His Report

| Thu Feb. 8, 2007 8:31 PM EST

Col. Richard Bassett, the Army officers assigned to investigate possible abuse at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, has concluded that there is no evidence that guards mistreated the prisoners. In the course of his investigation, Bassett failed to interview any of the alleged victims.

The investigation was created when prison guards allegedly bragged about having beaten some detainees. Marine Sgt. Heather Cerveny reported, in fact, that the guards bragged to her at a bar that beating detainees was a common practice at Guantanamo.

Bassett's investigation team conducted twenty interviews with suspects and witnesses, and then Bassett came to his conclustion. According to a command spokesman, "He talked to all the parties he felt he needed to get information about the allegations that were made."

The investigation, which began in October, was expanded to include a similar allegation made by a civilian employee, who reported a conversation involving a guard. A "letter of counseling" will be sent to that guard, who is supposed to have concocted a fictitious account of detainee abuse.

Edwards Keeps Liberal Bloggers, Grows Thicker Skin, Sort of

| Thu Feb. 8, 2007 6:50 PM EST

Presidential candidate John Edwards has decided to keep his two female liberal bloggers after all, even though numerous sources reported the two were fired yesterday. The former senator's HQ released statements today, from Edwards, Amanda and Melissa (the two bloggers). The folks over at Tapped and Pandagon have the whole rundown. But essentially, Edwards reprimanded Amanda and Melissa for their "intolerant language." (I really think Bill Donohue is the one who needs a reprimand but it's not like anyone takes him seriously anyway.) And, surprise, surprise, Amanda and Melissa had to apologize to appease the right wing fanatics. Honestly, this is just another example of Democrats succumbing to pressure from the right. Are the Dems ever going to learn that walking the moderate line just doesn't win votes? The ironic part is that Edwards hired Amanda and Melissa to reach a progressive audience, one he might have just isolated.

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Iran vs. U.S.: What About the Oil?

| Thu Feb. 8, 2007 4:34 PM EST

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader, has now warned that should the U.S. attack, Iran will strike U.S. interests around the world. In that case, what would happen to Middle Eastern oil, which flows through the Iranian-controlled Straits of Hormuz on its way out of the Persian Gulf, into the Arabian Sea, and on to world markets?

Iran might shut down the Straits of Hormuz, through which 20 percnt of Middle Eastern oil flows. Or, on the other hand, because it is so dependent on oil revenue, it might not. Nobody knows.

Beginning a year ago, Japanese oil refineries, which obtain 14 percent of their supply from Iran, began to diversify to Saudi and Kuwait crude. Japan must import literally all its oil and gas from abroad and Iran is the third largest supplier. Iran is the fourth largest supplier of oil to South Korea. China buys substantial and growing amounts of oil from Ira. Most Iranian oil exports go to Asia, followed by Europe, where major purchasers include Italy, Turkey, and France.

"When Bush announced that he would fill our Strategic Petroleum Reserve last spring and also expand it, crude prices went up by $1.50 in just 20 minutes because of speculation that the U.S. might attack Iran. If the US attacks and oil prices rise, Bush would likely release oil from the SPR to soften the blow to the oil markets," Matt Piotrowski, an oil market analyst at the Oil Daily, told Mother Jones.

Cal. Dem Seeks Repeal of Statute of Limitations on Sex Crimes

| Thu Feb. 8, 2007 3:42 PM EST

Democratic California Assemblywoman Sally Lieber has introduced a bill to eliminate California's statute of limitations on rape and child molestation. The state now has a 10 year limit, which it unsuccessfully tried to shed in 2003 during the priest child molestation scandal. (That attempt was shot down by the Supreme Court because it would have applied retroactively.)

The state's defense lawyers wasted no time speaking out against the measure, arguing that it would be unfairly difficult to prove an alibi for a crime that took place more than 10 years previously. But isn't it equally difficult to prove guilt in those cases? Particularly in instances of child molestation--where the child him or herself cannot press charges--it seems unfair to allow the statute of limitations to expire before the child reaches 18.

But this tough-on-crime measure ought to be accompanied by a rethinking of the lack of limitations on how much and how often sex offenders can be punished for the same crime, once found guilty.

How NYPD Blocked Anti-Bush Protest at 2004 Convention

| Thu Feb. 8, 2007 1:46 PM EST

The New York Civil Liberties Union has released documents showing the NYPD deliberately set out to quash protests at the 2004 Republican National convention in New York with a plan to arrest and jail protesters. More than 1800 people were arrested during the four-day convention. Since the NYPD was acting in tandem with federal law enforcement officials, such as Secret Service and FBI to name but two, this then raises the question whether the Bush Administration itself actually ordered the smack down,or knew about it in advance.

"The NYPD documents indicate that as early as May 2004, the Department planned to arrest protestors at the August convention as opposed to issuing summonses. The NYCLU says as a result people were jailed for as long as three days," reports WNYC, the New York radio station. You got to a judge in New York faster during the convention than you would have had you robbed a bank.

The documents show the cops themselves agreed with the protestors in that 40 officers filed occupational health forms complaining about environmental conditions at the 57th Street pier, a former MTA bus depot, that served as a holding and processing facility. The officers said they were exposed to asbestos, carbon monoxide, sludge, oil, fumes and toxic materials.

The Manhattan District Attorney's office is investigating the situation as is the Justice Department, but these have the earmarks of superficial pro forma paper shuffling exercises. The city says the makeshift jail was adequate.

Obama's New Spending Proposal, and Possible Motivations

| Thu Feb. 8, 2007 10:01 AM EST

Barack Obama has a new proposal that could shake up the 2008 presidential election. He wants to limit fundraising and spending in the general election to public financing limits, which are hundreds of millions lower than what the candidates are expected to raise. Obama says that his justification is saving the public financing system, which is on the verge of death due to the fact that several high-profile candidates -- McCain, Clinton, and Edwards -- have all started raising money outside of the system, knowing they'll easily exceed the system's limits. Other candidates -- Obama, Giuliani, Romney, Gingrich, Gore? -- would likely exceed the limits as well, if they raised money unbridled.

But Obama's explanation is hard to believe, because the public financing system is clearly inadequate for today's campaigns and not much worth saving: while the public financing limits are $150 million, current speculation says that the major party nominees will likely raise and spend over $500 million. Any system that is that badly outdated needs to be revamped, not protected. Especially because even if Obama alters the fundraising dynamics of this race, the public financing system will be even more outdated in 2012. The market simply won't allow the limits as they currently exist.

The New York Times gets at the easy explanation -- targeting Hillary:

Mr. Obama's inquiry appears to be a pointed response to Mrs. Clinton, whose campaign was the first to announce that it would forgo public financing for both the primary and general elections.

Now that doesn't make sense, if I read the Times article correctly and the Times is reporting Obama's proposal in full. Obama is suggesting that candidates go through the primary spending as much as they please, and after the party conventions the nominees would come together and agree to limit spending from that point forward.

This pretty clearly hurts Obama, because Clinton has the biggest war chest and has proven to have the strongest fundraising abilities. She could outspend Obama in the primary and then face another fundraising behemoth in the general. To be frank, it's impossible to tell what would happen in the general, because McCain's popularity could go in any number of directions, and the Republican base's reaction to Giuliani and Romney -- while initially not positive -- hasn't been fully seen. Clinton could face someone with the same amount of money as her, or significantly less.

The real explanation, in my eyes, is that this move burnishes Obama's image as the savior-cleanser of modern politics. In the video released on his website declaring his intention to form a presidential exploratory committee, Obama said he is more concerned with the "smallness of our politics" than anything else. This is a way to act on that rhetoric. It feels disingenuous to me, a purely political, image-based move, because the proposal is likely to go nowhere (it's asking the heavy-hitters to give up wayyy too much money), but I wonder if we can expect more of these sorts of drain-the-Washington-swamp ideas from the Barack Obama campaign.