• Tips gratefully accepted here. Thanks!:

  • Recent Comments

    Seagrl on Howard and Hillary
    William on Howard and Hillary
    Ivory Bill Woodpecke… on Howard and Hillary
    William on Howard and Hillary
    Catscatscats on Howard and Hillary
    Seagrl on Howard and Hillary
    Catscatscats on Howard and Hillary
    Catscatscats on Howard and Hillary
    Catscatscats on Howard and Hillary
    Ivory Bill Woodpecke… on John Dean is still right
    Seagrl on Howard and Hillary
    riverdaughter on John Dean is still right
    riverdaughter on John Dean is still right
    riverdaughter on John Dean is still right
    riverdaughter on And now a word from High …
  • Categories


  • Tags

    abortion Add new tag Afghanistan Al Franken Anglachel Atrios bankers Barack Obama Bernie Sanders big pharma Bill Clinton cocktails Conflucians Say Dailykos Democratic Party Democrats Digby DNC Donald Trump Donna Brazile Economy Elizabeth Warren feminism Florida Fox News General Glenn Beck Glenn Greenwald Goldman Sachs health care Health Care Reform Hillary Clinton Howard Dean John Edwards John McCain Jon Corzine Karl Rove Matt Taibbi Media medicare Michelle Obama Michigan misogyny Mitt Romney Morning Edition Morning News Links Nancy Pelosi New Jersey news NO WE WON'T Obama Obamacare OccupyWallStreet occupy wall street Open thread Paul Krugman Politics Presidential Election 2008 PUMA racism Republicans research Sarah Palin sexism Single Payer snark Social Security Supreme Court Terry Gross Texas Tim Geithner unemployment Wall Street WikiLeaks women
  • Archives

  • History

    December 2019
    S M T W T F S
    « Nov    
    1234567
    891011121314
    15161718192021
    22232425262728
    293031  
  • RSS Paul Krugman: Conscience of a Liberal

  • The Confluence

    The Confluence

  • RSS Suburban Guerrilla

  • RSS Ian Welsh

    • Open Thread
      Use the comments to this post to discuss topics unrelated to recent posts.
  • Top Posts

Thursday: Elections have consequences (with a long digression on Jon Huntsman and research in China)

Russians protest election fraud

Vladimir Putin is accusing Hillary Clinton of inciting insurrection.  “Occupy Russia” seems to have taken to the street in protest over fraud in the last election.  Here’s what we’re talking about in case you haven’t already seen it:

Isn’t that amazing?  Looks like punch card optical scan paper ballots are the way to go.

Throngs of young Russians hit the streets in protest.  And who was to blame for this?:

MOSCOW — With opposition groups still furious over parliamentary elections that international observers said were marred by cheating, Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin on Thursday accused Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton of instigating protests by baselessly criticizing the vote as “dishonest and unfair” and he warned thatRussia needed to protect against “interference” by foreign governments in its internal affairs.

Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin of Russia spoke in Moscow on Thursday.

Follow@nytimesworld for international breaking news and headlines.

“I looked at the first reaction of our U.S. partners,” Mr. Putin said in remarks to political allies. “The first thing that the secretary of state did was say that they were not honest and not fair, but she had not even yet received the material from the observers.”

“She set the tone for some actors in our country and gave them a signal,” Mr. Putin continued. “They heard the signal and with the support of the U.S. State Department began active work.”

Damn, she’s good.  All she has to do is say it’s “dishonest and unfair” and the entire Russian nation answers to her call.  She’s wild and crazy.  She can’t be stopped.  I’m telling you, if she had been elected as our president, she would have bent Congress to her will, tamed the restless oceans, stopped the planet from spinning on its axis…

Huh?  Oh, she couldn’t stop the DNC from stealing (blatantly on television with no hidden cameras) the Democratic primary away from her and fraudulently awarding delegates from Michigan to a guy who wasn’t even on the ballot?  Well, at least here in the US, we’re not sneaky about our election fraud.

But if anyone would know how it feels to be on the losing end of dishonest and unfair election procedures, it would be Hillary.  So, you know, there’s that.

It’s not like elections have consequences or anything.  After all, the Democratic party loyalists have been telling us for the last three years that Obama and Clinton were indistinguishable from one another.  I’m sure Hillary’s Secretary of Health and Human Services would have overruled her FDA administrator on the sale of the Morning After Pill, just like Kathleen Sebalius did:

The statements from the two camps pretty much stick dryly to issues of whether minors are mature enough to decide such matters. FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg said today “there is adequate and reasonable, well-supported, and science-based evidence that Plan B One-Step is safe and effective and should be approved for nonprescription use for all females of child-bearing potential,” but noted that Sebelius had disagreed. Sebelius, in a statement, writes:

“It is common knowledge that there are significant cognitive and behavioral differences between older adolescent girls and the youngest girls of reproductive age. If the application were approved, the product would be available, without prescription, for all girls of reproductive age.”

NPR notes that today’s decision is “likely to prolong a fight that has raged for more than eight years,” so stay tuned.

That’s like saying, “we’re not going to let young, immature females have access to this pill to prevent the them from getting pregnant because they might use it”. And restricting access to Plan B so they end up having to get abortions at their tender young ages, exposing them to a bunch of wild-eyed crazies as they run the gauntlet from the car to the door of the clinic, accomplishes *what*, exactly?  Did you know that some of those crazies take pictures of the patients as they run that gauntlet and then publish those pictures?   Well, that’ll learn’em.  Young girls have to be taught very early that there is no age that is too young to be shamed, humiliated and punished for an infraction that her boyfriend will slide away from scott free.  I guess we should thank Sebelius for affording these girls an opportunity to mature.

I smell incense and old, celibate men with red beanies in this story somewhere.  Or, maybe it’s just more campaigning.  Obama needs the anti-choice vote now, since many women in his own base have his number.  The last thing he needs is a bunch of fundagelicals occupying Walmart’s ‘over the counter’ departments.  Because then, he would have to send out the goon squads to pepperspray them and drag them off to retention facilities where they wouldn’t be able to use the bathroom for hours and hours.  And one of them might have a cell phone and know how to use the video camera.  It would only be fair.  You can’t treat religious fanatics who want to impose their authoritarian worldview on the rest of the country differently than a bunch of non-violent, regular people who are just protesting economic injustice. (go read that link, it will make your blood boil) Some of us might see it as unfair that the fanatically religious are treated with greater consideration and respect. It might start a whole new round of protests and Obama and DHS think they just nailed the lid on the last round of protests.  Better to just let the ban stand.  It’s too messy in an election year.

Hmmmm, elections, fraud, protests.

There is one bright spot this week though.  Hillary’s speech in Geneva on Gay Rights are Human Rights was very well received worldwide. Of course, her State Department has been proactive about this from the minute she took office.  If you really believe it, you need to lead by example, which she has.  But the credit for the policy goes to Obama, who invited an gay rights are *not* human rights preacher to have a prominent role in his inauguration.  Well, this is an election year and he’ll take credit from whomever he can and wherever he can get away with it.  It worked so well in 2008. Did I mention that Hillary previously gave a speech on Women’s rights are Human Rights over a decade ago?  Oh, how quickly we forget that when we have to approve a controversial pill.  Let’s remember that Obama appointed Sebelius.

Speaking of appointments, remember Jon Huntsman?  He’s the Republican that some Democrats say they could reconcile themselves to vote for.  He was appointed as ambassador to China by Barack Obama.  He’s also the wealthy scion of a family who owns a company that makes chemicals.

My tin-foil antenna are twitching.  Be patient because this is going to be long.

It started with the layoffs.  Massive layoffs.  Thousands and thousands of people in the research industry being laid off since 2008.  For example, the company I used to work for, Wyeth, was bought by Pfizer in 2008.  In 2009, Pfizer laid off the vast majority of Wyeth scientists and support staff. 19,000 jobs including every one of my former colleagues.  Gone.  Let’s not pretend that 19,000 people had poor performance reviews.  I know for a fact that most of them were very competent scientists.  A few people that filled  a need in Pfizer’s labs were retained and sent to Groton, CT, where they live in constant anxiety as Pfizer capriciously rejiggers its reorg.  But Pfizer’s is just the most notorious of the recent bunch of layoffs.  There have been many, many others.

Then there were the very clear and unmistakable signs that the pharmaceutical company CEOs and Barack Obama were scratching each other’s backs in 2009.  Maybe they couldn’t get all they wanted from the healthcare insurance reform bill, and they didn’t.  But what if they could get Obama to look the other way while they dismantled research operations in the US and shipped them to China?  Derek Lowe posted yesterday about the last holdout, Merck, finally giving in and laying off scads of scientists (reports vary from 17,000 to 34,000 worldwide with the bulk coming from the US) only to plan to open a new facility in China that will employ 600 people.  There’s a very good reason why the shareholders should look skeptically at this new arrangement but I won’t go into that now.  Suffice it to say that this all about money and not about science.

But to get to the stage where the Mercks and other big pharmas could conduct research in China, there would have to be substantial negotiations and understandings with the Chinese government because it is the entity that can make or break your intellectual property agreements.  And big pharma is all about intellectual property.  They’re so secretive with their data that they don’t even let all of the scientists see it.  It’s strictly “need to know”.  Up until now, China’s research industry has been pretty good at making knock-off drugs based on what’s already published.  It’s a whole different animal when you have to do “first to market” research all on your own with biological systems that insist on doing their own thing.  But shareholders will find out.

Anyway, I found the passage in Barack Obama’s Osawatomie speech about science and research very disturbing.  He only mentioned encouraging “young” people to go into science.  And of course, that would make sense if you think you can raise a whole generation of mini-human calculators who never sleep because they have to finish their overwhelming load of math homework.  What I can’t figure out is how they’re going to turn those kids into scientists.  In China, there’s a certain amount of coercion involved.  You get tested and the government narrows your career choices.  Here, it’s not so easy.  You can force young people to spit out the answer to what is the derivative of sin(x), but you can’t make them like it.  Yes, we have a lot of Chinese scientists here in the US and some of them are brilliant.  Some of them.  Some of them are excellent technicians.  And some of them look like they were horribly miscast.

But back to the “young people” comment in his speech.  That was a tell to the those of displaced research workers. If you listened to Obama and the rest of the “serious people”, you’d think that there was a huge shortage of scientists.  And in some respects, they would be right.  I’ve never worked at a lab that wasn’t under some kind of hiring freeze.  The last lab I worked at had many unoccupied labs and offices.  Beautiful, new facilities with state of the art hoods and workflow and lots of natural light and very few chemists.  We just didn’t hire that many.  Projects were always fighting for the chemists that we had.  This was the result of mergers and re-organizations.  If anyone is curious as to why scientists have been less productive, this is part of the reason.  In the last decade, the shortage has become severe but it’s an artificial shortage.  There are plenty of chemists around.  They’re just out of work.  The chemistry has gone to China.  The chemistry isn’t any easier and the biological systems are the same.  But the workers are cheaper there.

So, we have a generation of scientists in their prime wage earning years sitting around not doing  chemistry.  So, why all of the focus on the young?  Obama has all of the talent he will ever need, including some excellent American trained Chinese scientists, right here, right now.  Do the business leaders really have him convinced that the average American kid can be force fed math and science and then lead a monastic existence because business won’t pay for the expertise?  What planet are they on?  Water seeks the path of least resistance.  Unless our government starts restricting career choices here as well, it’s not going to happen.  I suppose you could send all of the talented kids to college for free so they graduate without debt but if you don’t provide a decent living at the end of those 4, 6, 10 years, you’ll just end up with a lot of miserable drones in the lab instead of bright, creative thinkers whose brains are working optimally because they are doing what they love and they are compensated well for doing what most Americans can’t do.

And then I saw Paul Krugman’s blog post yesterday about how at a debate he had on Tuesday night, one of his fellow debaters made a point that our country was going through an unavoidable deleveraging process:

I continue to find Carmen Reinhart’s fatalist view puzzling. She agrees with me that we’re facing a demand-side problem — but insists that this problem can’t be solved quickly, that we need to go through many years of painful deleveraging that leave millions of potentially productive workers idle.

I agree that this is probably what will happen, given the political realities. But surely this is a huge failure of policy, not something we should accept as inevitable. It’s truly bizarre, if you ask me, to say that our economy suffers from too little spending, and that nothing can or should be done to increase that spending.

I happen to agree with Krugman.  There’s no need to do this.  It’s an artificial deleveraging created by the political and business class.  With respect to the research industry, it has to be. The demand for new drugs is certainly there, even if they are ridiculously expensive in this country. If you need it, you find a way to pay for it.  The discovery of new drugs can always be done more cheaply (don’t expect the savings to be passed on to you) but it can’t be done more quickly, not in this day and age when we are learning so much about biological systems and they continue to thwart us.  And business people are all about quick turnaround.  They need something to sell.  Big pharma is going off the patent cliff en masse this year and in the next several years.  The drugs that will be turning generic were discovered in the 90’s.  And right now, as a result of very poor management and mergermania, there’s very little in the pipeline to replace them.  The MBAs can try cracking the whip on Chinese scientists but the rate limiting step is the biological system which tends to stymie the FDA approval process.  You can’t get around that.  Plus, the Chinese need to learn how to do A-Z research and that’s going to take time.  Even if they’re brilliant, learning interdisciplinary problem solving skills takes years to develop.  So, why dismantle your US research apparatus?  Once it’s gone, and the present generation of scientists goes away, you’ll be no better off than the Chinese when the fantasy horde of young American uber scientists takes over.

It seems to me that there is a fundamental misunderstanding of what it takes to do research and that the policy makers have bought into this misunderstanding.  Maybe the MBAs have made presentations with lots of numbers and made it look like a facile thing.  Just up the number of eager young geeks in this country that will work for a pittance and in the meantime, they’ll drink the milkshakes of the Chinese and voile!  Drugs galore.  But to do it, they need the cooperation of the Chinese government.  And that’s where Jon Huntsman comes into the picture.

Obama appoints the scion of a chemical company, who presumably has some inkling of how his industry works since he was raised in the family business.  And off he goes to make sure that what happened to Fellowes business machinery corporation joint venture with China doesn’t happen to Merck.  Do we have any proof?  I welcome any information that readers can send me but I think we can make an educated guess based on past statements and actions of Huntsman.  For example:

Huntsman Money made in China tests Obama’s Envoy’s 2012 Hopes, which features this nugget:

Huntsman Corp.’s revenue in China surged 57 percent from 2009 to 2010 during his ambassadorship, almost two decades after its entrance there, data compiled by Bloomberg shows. Its expansion in the world’s second-largest economy offers a target for rivals when U.S. unemployment is shaping the 2012 presidential race.

China has become a bigger and bigger issue in recent elections, especially exporting jobs to China,” said John Feehery, a Republican strategist in Washington who isn’t working with any of the presidential campaigns. “If I were an opposition researcher, I would have a field day with this.”

A Republican strategist says this.  But wait!  There’s more:

This is from Huntsman’s own issues pages on his campaign website:

America’s strength lies in our creative class, our entrepreneurial spirit, and in governance wise enough to allow our great companies to compete in the international marketplace. The countries that lead in defining the new trading system will be the countries that benefit the most. If we don’t assume the mantle of leadership, our economy will be relegated to competing in a marketplace defined by our competitors.

And who would those competitors be, Jon?  The US practically owns the pharmaceutical market.

Then there’s this:

Jon Hunstman on China- in his own words:

  • On How U.S. Companies can enter the Chinese market:

“I think the first step is getting to know and understand the China market. That means investing time, and it means investing one’s self, as a manager or a corporate leader in the fact you will be doing business together.It means at some level one has to develop a lao pengyou (old friend) relationship, if you will. You’ve got to develop some level of guanxi (interpersonal relationship) as they call it, if you’re to be taken seriously in China.

This takes time and sometimes unwestern-like patience. Regardless of which product you’re looking to sell or market in China, an early step should be to develop relationships and establish yourself as a credible business representative.” (Source: China Daily’sBusiness Weekly on October 22, 2002.)

Jeez, I wonder if he put that on his resumé when he sent it to Obama.

And then:

The Trouble Lurking Offshore for Jon Huntsman

But I’m not worried about Jon Huntsman’s prospects for election.  He hasn’t achieved frontrunner status yet, one of the few Republican candidates who hasn’t.  The irony is thick because if there was ever a politician who would warm the cockles of a businessman’s heart, it would have to be Jon Huntsman.  The problem for rabid Republican voters is that he was appointed by that “socialist” Obama.  And *that*, IMHO, is a problem for Obama.

Because, it is becoming increasingly clear to me that Obama’s passivity at the prospect of losing virtually all of his US research infrastructure is intentional.  This is the policy thing that Krugman was referring to.  It doesn’t have to be this way but Obama is letting it happen on purpose.  The biz guys want to lower their costs.  They could be making a decent profit like they did in the 80s and 90s but those are not the obscene profits they have become used to in the 2000s.  They are unwilling to lower their own expectations so we must lower ours.  They tell Obama that the reason their pipelines are empty is because US scientists are stupid and lazy and he probably believes that.  If you’ve never worked in a lab, you’d have no idea how false and unfair that is.  For one thing, labrats work like dogs.  For another thing, many of those labrats are Chinese.  Many of those Chinese labrats are the cream of the crop who came to study here after Tienammen Square and have no desire to go back to China.  So, in a sense, the biz guys are undercutting their own argument.  If they already have the cream of the Chinese crop, and they still have an empty pipeline, why do they think that going to China is going to help things?  Oh, they’re cheaper there.  Oh, Ok.  Well, alright then, let’s rip research right out of America.  Oh, sure, there will be a generation that will suffer but so what?  In the big scheme of things, a hundred thousand scientists are a drop in the bucket.  The economy will never even miss them.

Well, it’s not like I’m ever going to vote for Obama.  But it won’t take too long for my friends to put it all together.  And there goes New Jersey.  Did I ever mention how we have a nasty habit of electing Republican governors here?  Reliable states are only reliable until you impoverish their middle class.  And then those people who you called voters 4 years ago get all angry at the fact that they can’t pay their COBRA and their children are on reduced price lunches and their houses are underwater and they can’t sell and they don’t turn up for you when the election rolls around.  They say, “Fuck him, he’s an incompetent opportunist that sold our jobs to China and ruined our careers.  It can’t get any worse with a Republican because we have nothing left to lose. I’m staying home on election day.”

By the way, since there is nothing in the pipelines and the older drugs are going off patent, expect the costs of generics to start spiking.  You heard it here first.

Elections have consequences.

Resolving drug shortages shouldn’t be a political “opportunity”

The cancer hourglass runs fast

Barack Obama is finally starting to notice that there is a shortage in the production of some older prescription drugs and is offering some carrots and sticks to resolve the problem:

WASHINGTON — President Obama will issue an executive order on Monday that the administration hopes will help resolve a growing number of critical shortages of vital medicines used to treat life-threatening illnesses, among them several forms of cancer and bacterial infections.

The order offers drug manufacturers and wholesalers both a helping hand and a gloved fist in efforts to prevent or resolve shortages that have worsened greatly in recent years, endangering thousands of lives.

It instructs the F.D.A. to do three things: broaden reporting of potential shortages of certain prescription drugs; speed reviews of applications to begin or alter production of these drugs; and provide more information to the Justice Department about possible instances of collusion or price gouging.

Such efforts are included in proposed legislation that has been pending in Congress since February despite bipartisan support for its provisions.

The order, the first since 1985 by a president to affect the functions of the Food and Drug Administration, is part of a series of recent executive orders involving such disparate issues as mortgage relief and jobs for veterans. They are intended to show that the president, plagued by low approval ratings, is working to resolve the nation’s problems despite a Congress largely paralyzed by partisan disagreements.

Yes, by all means, let’s wait until there is a chance to shore up low approval ratings before we do anything.  After all, that colon cancer isn’t going anywhere.

Do you ever get the feeling that the president is playing “whack-a-mole”?  “Drug problem?  Didn’t we go after medical marijuana and that Mexican drug cartel?  What do you mean people can’t get their chemo?  WTF??  I’ve got three, no, two wars to deal with and these bankers breathing down my neck and those pain-in-the-ass occupiers who ruined my fund-raising dinner in the Bay area last week.  How am I supposed to keep up with all of this?  Wait!  How many months are there until the election?”

Um, yes, Barry, there are people who aren’t getting their chemo.  The FDA has been a disfunctional agency for years.  Politicized?  You betcha!  We can’t decide whether to make a spectacle of Plan B and regulation when we’ve got a bunch of looney Republicans in charge or to grandstand about drug safety to scare the hysterical consumers to hyperbolic levels in order to demonize Big Pharma (which hasn’t done itself any favors lately in the PR department).

Let me tell you, Barry, my dad died of cancer 15 years ago, that mother works fast when there is nothing to keep it in check.  Patients do not have the luxury of months.  And this stuff just pisses me off:

The president’s order is a modest effort that, while possibly helpful, is unlikely to resolve the problem soon or entirely. Administration officials characterized it as one step in a long and complicated effort. Indeed, Mr. Obama eschewed more ambitious proposals — like government drug stockpiling or manufacturing — that would have injected the government more directly into the nation’s drug market and cost more but that might have been more effective. [yes, by all means, let’s do as little as possible]

Still, Mr. Obama’s order and others he has issued recently reflect his belief in the power of government to improve people’s lives.  [which campaign operative dictated *that* line?] By contrast, top Republican legislators and presidential candidates have almost uniformly argued that resolving the nation’s economic and other problems depends mostly on scaling back or ending government regulations to allow the free market to function more effectively. No regulatory agency touches people’s lives more thoroughly than the F.D.A., which regulates 25 cents of every dollar spent by consumers.

I don’t need a political operative to tell me that Republicans are criminal.  No, really, they are.  The drug industry needs regulation.  It would be helpful if those regulations were updated to reflect changes in technology and the FDA is way past due for a modern overhaul of its data systems in general.  But if any Republican is out there beating a drum against regulations for pharma, they really should be in jail.  It’s not that the industry is deliberately bad or negligent, despite what the class action lawyer contingent would have you believe.  It’s not.  And I’d like to keep it that way.  Better to be safe than sorry.  But let’s get the damn agency working efficiently please.

But wait, there’s more!  I’ll bet that Obama isn’t even paying any attention on the thousands of R&D professionals that lost their jobs only last week.  Merck, Schering-Plough, Amgen and Novartis are only the lastest pharmas to toss their researchers to the curb adding to the hundreds of thousands of us already out there.  That means that there won’t be very many new drugs coming on the market in the forseeable future.  With Big Pharma falling off the “patent cliff” this year and next, the executives are throwing the labrats overboard at Wall Street’s behest in order to serve the shareholders and protect their compensation packages.  China and India are not ready to take on hardcore pharmamceutical research and many Asian companies are content to just make me-too drugs.  Expect a lost decade while we cool our geeky jets and seriously consider finding other professions instead of finding new cures.

Of course, it didn’t have to be this way.  Barry was so over his head when he came into office that looking out for the researchers was probably the last thing on his mind. Besides, who listens to the labrats?  They don’t make huge contributions to your campaign.  They never get invited to the White House to tell you exactly what’s going on.  No, why should the president listen to a bunch of disgruntled R&D workers who will only tell him how catastrophically their industry has been managed by the guys who hobnob over some “shrimp, cod and lentil soup” and creme pie with chocolate truffle shavings?   We just become part of clueless Jeffrey Immelt’s plan to outsource absolutely everything.  After all, if we had opinions and concerns what were important, we wouldn’t be laid off losers, would we?

And the patients and scientists pay the price.

So, what is Obama going to do to enforce his executive order?  He’s sending some sternly worded letters to make  sure manufacurers voluntarily comply.  {{rolling eyes}} Way to go, Barry.

***************************************************************************************

Damn, even in death, Steve Jobs never stopped inventing.  Best final words ever.

***************************************************************************************

On the Occupation front, Occupy Oakland is calling for a General Strike on November 2, 2011.  I think I will join this strike and urge the rest of my fellow recetnly unemployed researcher contingent to wear your labcoats on Wednesday in solidarity.  We’ve been screwed over by Wall Street too.

Love the solidarity orange.

Here’s a video of the California longshoreman’s union occupier throwing his support behind the strike (Copied shamelessly from Atrios’ page):

Saturday: Leave Cheese Alone!!

Warning: This tartiflette could kill you. Extreme caution advised

The FDA is considering new rules for cheese. The 60 day aging rule was simply not enough to completely remove all subtlety and flavor from cheese.  No, it’s not enough that buying raw milk cheese in this country is like trying to score good thai stick these days (not that I would know anything about that.  I’ve just heard rumors.).

Who is running this country??  Is it the insurance companies and class action lawyers?  For millenium, the French have been able to eat lovely, tart and grainy cheeses aged in caves with all of the microbes that attend the maturation process and no one says boo over there to a little extra flavor.  But tracking down a smelly and delicious Reblochon cheese in this country is like trying to find the Ivory Bill Woodpecker.  You hear about such things but when you actually go to buy it, you find that it’s really a Reblochon made for the American market where the sucker has been pasteurized and aged within an inch of its life.  In fact, it’s NOT alive.  It lacks the dirty toe smell, the “Oooo, *that* smells interesting” aroma.  Melting a “processed for YOUR protection” Reblochon on a tartiflette, well, you might as well have bought a cheap wheel of brie.

Look, I’m all for safety.  And so are the French.  So, if they can enjoy cheese in its natural state, why can’t we?  Why not package it up like a box of cigarettes with a ton of warning labels for pregnant women and children under the age of 2 and anyone with a weakened immune system?  Don’t reduce the entire American cheese market to stuff that tastes like Velveeta and CrackerBarrel.  In fact, it’s really unfair that you can buy cigarettes and smoke yourself silly into a nice case of small cell carcinoma, a well known, provable effect of smoking tobacco, but you can’t buy a raw milk cheese that Europeans gulp down on a daily basis without ill effects because *someone*, *somewhere* might get a case of e coli, which many of us get all of the time from various sources.  E coli was found in a crop of scallions several years ago, but did we ban all green onions?

What’s really behind the move to protect us from enjoying even the simplest pleasures of life?  Are there really so many mothers out there who can’t read a label on a package of raw milk cheeses that we have to prevent the entire 300 million of us from enjoying them?  If that’s the case, we need to improve our literacy skills.  Or are we just beholden to the insurance industry who is interested in keeping lawsuits to a minimum?  Lets get the profit motive out of the insurance industry and class action lawsuit business so we can enjoy  extremely dangerous things again like cheese, playground equipment and antibiotics.  Find out what French safety standards are, copy them religiously, label the damn things and let us eat at our own risk.

This is one rule the FDA should be relaxing, not tightening up.

The Ring of Gyges (It’s a post election blog)

Note: This is a post election blog but it has a slow buildup.  It will all make sense by the last paragraph.

Last week, Glaxo Smith Kline (GSK) was fined $750 million for failing to clean up a production facility in Puerto Rico.  Here’s a quick summary of how the case went: The plant in PR produces Cidra among other products.  It was cited by the FDA for violations of good manufacturing processes.  The FDA told the plant to clean it up.  GSK sent a woman named Cheryl Eckard, a quality assurance manager, to PR to look into it.  Eckard reported back that the plant was in worse shape than previously thought.  And GSK ignored her.  Repeatedly.  GSK did not address the issues of the PR facility.  I guess what the FDA doesn’t know won’t hurt them.  Eckard got to be a pain in the ass, so GSK fired her.  That’s when Eckard decided to blow the whistle.  As part of the settlement with the government, GSK has to fork over $96 million to Eckard for damages.  She’ll never get another job.

Derek Lowe, who writes the excellent pharmageek blog In the Pipeline has this to say about the suit:

I’ve written about this sort of thing before, and I continue to think that this is a good law. It takes a tremendous amount of nerve to put your own livelihood at stake to report something that’s going wrong (and isn’t being fixed). The incentives need to be there. If we were a perfectly altruistic species, any of us would have no problem sacrificing ourselves immediately for the good of the whole. But the very fact that there’s such bad conduct to take the risk of reporting on tells you that we’re not that sort of species at all.

[…[

I’m not enough of a libertarian to think that the market will take care of all such behavior without an extra possibility of punishment backing it up. I think that we really do need regulatory authorities (although we can argue the details after that statement!), in the same way that we really do need police forces. Both of those groups can (and do) abuse their authority at times, but both of them also provide a much-needed function, human nature being what it is.

And the nature of big organizations being what it is, too. “Never explain by malice what can be explained by stupidity” is a pretty good rule, and in a large company, you can add inertia, backside-covering, careerism, and deciding that a given mess is someone else’s problem. The bigger a company, the more chances there are for these things to happen. Perhaps the possibility of a $750 million dollar fine will help to concentrate attention in such cases – and if not, well, how about a billion? Try for two?

The FDA busts production facilities all of the time but most companies suck it up and fix the problem or shut the facility down, as happened with the makers of the Today Sponge.  Remember Seinfeld’s Elaine Benis who picked her lovers based on whether they were Spongeworthy?  The company that made the sponge couldn’t get rid of bacteria in the manufacturing step and they couldn’t identify and fix the problem so no more sponges.  That’s the way it should work.

So, we see that regulation of what goes into our bodies is working.  And no one would argue that that is a bad thing.

But when it comes to the financial industry that handles our money, it’s a fricking free for all.  What we have is like a never ending season of Deadwood.  There’s very little regulation, no one agency that’s minding the store, financial entities who choose their own regulators, trillions of dollars gambled away, young hotshot assholes who think they are smarter than the rest of us and deserve whopping bonuses, and companies who should be paying massive fines for fraud instead receiving billions of dollars in taxpayer bailout money instead of being shut down for failing to clean up their act.

No one is accountable for any of their actions in the financial industry.  They get away with anything and everything.  Their actions have brought the world economy to the brink of catastrophe and we were spared that by a hasty and ill structured financial bailout package that hasn’t fixed anything.  Not only have the financials learned nothing, but they turn out to be the biggest terrorists we face.  All they have to do is threaten to send the stock market plunging and presidents and legislatures give in to their demands for more chips to gamble on the world economy.

The result of letting the financials off the hook is misery for millions of workers from Ireland and Iceland to America and Greece.  It is simply inexcusable for these people to continue to operate unchecked.

So, before Speaker Boehner decides to slash taxes for many of his buddies with a cent or two for the rest of us and before he decides to make it almost impossible for me and my buddies to retire, the very first thing I expect him to do is hold the financials accountable. The people have spoken.  They want change.  But if we want real change, we can’t put the cart before the horse.  No one should get a tax break while the fox is still guarding the hen house.  I want to see takeovers of failing banks by the FDIC, no matter how big they are.  I want to see banks fined heavily for fraudulent foreclosures.  I want to see a real mortgage program so that people can stay in their houses and pay a reasonable amount to the investors who stupidly got themselves and us into this mess.

No presents until someone pays for the party. Don’t look to taxpayers to pick up the tab or sacrifice even one more cent.

That is what I want Speaker Boehner to concentrate all of his efforts on in the next two years.  Everything else is superfluous.  He’s got a lot on his plate holding the people who got us into this mess responsible for their actions and accountable for the high deficit spending that was necessary to keep us from teetering on the edge of insolvency.  There is no greater responsibility he has to the rest of us than making the financial industry solvent again without any additional sacrifice from us and I expect him to take this job seriously this time and forego stupid Republican slogans and grandstanding.  The last thing I want to see is Speaker Boehner blaming the victims, ordinary American citizens, for this catastrophe.

Human nature has not changed in the more than two thousand years since Plato wrote his story about The Ring of Gyges.  The magical ring was found in a cave by a poor shepherd.  The ring gives its wearer the ability to become invisible.  With that invisibility, the shepherd was able to sneak into the palace, seduce the king’s wife, kill the king and take over the kingdom and all of its riches.  The moral of the story is that morals themselves are not innate.  Society has a role in correcting misbehavior.  If a person can operate invisibly, they can get away with murder.  We shouldn’t assume that anyone can resist the temptation to take advantage of an opportunity if they think they won’t be held accountable.

Speaker Boehner now has the opportunity to shed his partisan skin and show the rest of us that he means to make people accountable.  Or he will be the first one tossed out in 2012.

The Republicans have now been warned.  If they don’t make bankers and the financial industry accountable, they will be held accountable instead.

Austerity without accountability will get you fired.  We’re holding Republicans accountable now.  Don’t test us.