Saturday, June 01, 2002

2000 hits

I have had my 2000th visitor. Two months and three days.

Where's my prize? (grin)

Note to self:

Washington is not too far north to ignore sunscreen.

Friday, May 31, 2002

USA Today vs. Reason

I am not one who bashes USA Today; I feel that it is unfairly maligned. To be sure, it revolutionized the use of color and changed the layout of many papers, but there are those out there that find the writing to be sub-par. I disagree.

However, when it comes to the editorial page, USA Today is a reliable supporter of regulation. Today they trained their sights on the pharmaceutical industry, one of the favorite whipping boys of the regulations crowd (after tobacco companies and firearms manufactureres, of course). They make several claims (all tried and true) that beg to be rebutted. Luckily for us, Ronald Bailey did just that, in Reason magazine. The interesting thing is that he anticipated USA Today's line by over a year, as his article appeared in the April 2001 issue of Reason. I have linked both articles, but I am going to excerpt both down below. For clarity's sake, the USA Today quotes will be in italics, and Bailey's writing will be in boldface. Any statements in normal face are mine, as USA Today's initial statements cover an area that Bailey did not discuss in his article.

In fact, Clarinex isn't particularly new. It is a modified version of Schering's blockbuster drug Claritin, which will lose its patent protection, and much of its $2 billion in annual sales, by year's end. By modifying Claritin, Schering got a fresh patent and the monopoly profits that go with it.

By attacking Clarinex, USA Today is attacking the idea of copyrights, although they don't realize it. Does a performance of a song (such as an orchestra recording Beethoven's Fifth symphony) not have copyright protection? After all, it's been done before, and previous performances already had copyrights protecting their renditions. We could extend this to print--Paul Ehrlich keeps repeating the same apocolyptic tales of horror in his books, yet each has its own copyright, and the newest will still enjoy copyright protection when the others are in the public domain. Does USA Today really believe that drug companies that improve their medications should not reap the benefits of their research? (Remember, the FDA does not approve drugs that use the same effective ingredients, but provide little to no improvement.) Clarinex probably has some significant improvements, either in reduction of side effects or in treatment of the allergic reactions it was designed to combat.

But the study shows the industry turns tidy profits by making simple modifications to already-proven therapies. The findings are just the latest evidence suggesting the drug industry is more interested in fattening its bottom line than funding innovation.

Such charges raise several issues. First, do less-expensive medicines work just as well as those "newer and more expensive ones"? In a study of the benefits and costs of newer drugs, [Columbia University economist Frank] Lichtenberg shows that older drugs are, in general, not as good as newer drugs. Using data from the 1996 Medical Expenditure Panel Survey, an in-depth national survey of the health care expenditures of more than 22,000 people, Lichtenberg developed an econometric model to compare the costs and benefits of using older and newer drugs to treat similar medical conditions. He concluded that "the replacement of older by newer drugs results in reductions in mortality, morbidity, and total medical expenditure."

Fighting generics. Once a drug goes off patent, cheaper generic copies flood the market, lowering prices. To combat that, the industry uses a number of tricks to extend patents, some of them of questionable legality. The government is investigating the tactics, and this week, the AARP joined a class-action case claiming drug companies illegally thwart generic competition.

Lichtenberg also found that "denying people access to branded drugs [as opposed to cheaper generic drugs] would increase total treatment costs, not reduce them, and would lead to worse outcomes" (emphasis in original).

Fighting discounts. The industry is battling a discount plan in Maine that extends drug discounts to low-income consumers and is lobbying against similar plans in other states.

Central to virtually all "reform" agendas is reining in those drug company profits. Will that contain health care costs? "Suppose we seize all pharmaceutical profit," suggested Sidney Taurel, CEO of Eli Lilly & Co., in a speech last October. "Drugs are just 8 percent of total health care. To simplify the arithmetic, let's stretch and say [profits are] 20 percent of sales. Twenty percent of 8 percent equals just 1.6 percent of total health care costs. Does that sound like a solution to you?" Despite its political appeal, it's not much of one. In fact, that sort of thing would almost certainly retard the development of new drugs by destroying the incentive for research. (It's not called the profit motive for nothing.)

Aggressive marketing. The industry spends more marketing new drugs than on research and development.

This widespread assertion, however, is just plain wrong. In 1999, for instance, the pharmaceutical industry spent $13.9 billion on advertising and promotion. (Half the promotion costs, incidentally, were for drug samples that doctors give to patients for free.) R&D expenditures for 1999 were more than $24 billion.

The industry complains that Blue Cross, which sponsored the NIHCM study, has a clear interest in cutting drug costs. But so do employers and consumers, as spending on drugs nearly doubled since 1997. That has helped push up health insurance premiums, forcing many companies to reevaluate the coverage they provide.

In many cases, spending on drugs does lower health care costs, but often enough the new drugs do cost more than earlier, less effective therapies, so third-party payers are shelling out more money while patients are getting greater benefits. From a strictly actuarial point of view, it's cheaper for patients to drop dead of heart attacks than for the government or insurers to pay for years of cholesterol-lowering life-extending drugs. Employers who don't want to pay the rising costs for employee health insurance, and politically potent seniors who have been schooled by Medicare to think that all health care is a right, complain to legislators that drug costs are out of control. Such complaints focus on increased spending on drugs, while ignoring the costs saved through pharmaceutical treatments and the suffering and disability that afflicted patients before pharmaceutical companies developed the new drugs.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average consumer spends just over 1 percent of her annual income on pharmaceuticals, about the same amount that gets spent on tobacco and alcohol. The elderly, who are by far the largest consumers of medicine, spend roughly 3 percent of their annual income on drugs, about the same amount they spend on entertainment. Households with seniors 65 to 74 years old spend $1,587 on entertainment and $698 on drugs, while those over 74 years old spend $875 on entertainment and $719 on drugs. (The average income for 65-74-year-olds is $28,928; for those over 74 it is $23,937.)

As mentioned before, Americans are indeed spending more on prescription medicines in absolute terms. Average expenditures per household were $301 in 1993 and $370 in 1999. But spending totals aren't the end of the analysis. A more important question is whether we are getting value for our money. According to Lichtenberg, the answer is absolutely yes. Between 1960 and 1997, life expectancy at birth for Americans rose from 69.7 years to 76.5 years. "Increased drug approvals and health expenditure per person jointly explain just about 100 percent of the observed long-run longevity increase," writes Lichtenberg in a working paper done last year for the National Bureau of Economic Research. Lichtenberg found that for an expenditure of $11,000 on general medical care, there is a gain of one life-year on average. (A life-year in this context is simply an extra year of life that a patient gains by being treated.) However, spending just $1,345 on pharmaceutical research and development gets the same result. Economists have calculated that, on average, people value an extra year of life at about $150,000. (That figure is based on people's willingness to engage in risky jobs.) Assuming an average value of $150,000 per life-year, the benefits from medical care expenditures outweigh the costs by a factor of more than 13; the benefits of drug R&D are more than 100 times greater than its costs. As important, drugs can also reduce health care costs. In "Do (More and Better) Drugs Keep People Out of the Hospital?" -- a 1996 study published in the American Economic Review -- Lichtenberg found that "a $1 increase in pharmaceutical expenditure is associated with a $3.65 reduction in hospital-care expenditure."

The story of stomach-acid-blocking drugs such as Tagamet and Zantac illustrates how drugs save money by keeping patients out of the hospital. In 1977, the year in which such drugs were introduced, surgeons performed some 97,000
operations for peptic ulcers. In 1993, despite population growth, that number had shrunk to 19,000. The shift from surgery to highly effective pills -- a change that has made life better for tens of thousands of people with stomach problems -- is the sort of quiet development that escapes much attention. The Boston Consulting Group's health care practice reported that it saves patients and insurers at least $224 million in annual medical costs.

Other examples abound. In 1991, for instance, the benefits that drugs offered became painfully apparent when New Hampshire, in a cost-saving measure, adopted spending caps on the number of reimbursable medications that Medicaid patients could receive. The result was that nursing home admissions doubled among chronically ill elderly patients and raised government costs for institutional care by $311,000, which was 20 times more than was "saved" by imposing spending caps on drugs. As John Calfee, a drug policy analyst at the market-oriented American Enterprise Institute, has noted, drugs that break apart blood clots cut hospitalization and rehabilitation costs for stroke victims by about four times the cost of the drug. In his recent monograph Prices, Markets and the Pharmaceutical Revolution, Calfee also reports that schizophrenia drugs costing $4,500 per year save more than $70,000 in annual institutional treatment costs.

A yearlong study of 1,100 patients done by Humana Hospitals found that using drugs to treat congestive heart failure increased pharmacy costs 60 percent, but cut hospital costs by 78 percent, for an overall savings of $9.3 million. Better still, the death rate dropped from an expected 25 percent to 10 percent. In Virginia, an asthma study found that new asthma drugs cut emergency room visits by 42 percent. And, relevant to my cat situation, a study by the consulting firm William M. Mercer concluded that every $1 spent on non-sedating antihistamines yielded a $3.07 return to employers, due to increased productivity and reduced accident costs.

Please, read the article in Reason. I have only quoted a few sections of Bailey's article, which is very well written, and demolishes virtually all of the myths and allegations against the pharmaceutical industry.

(EDIT 9:00 PM--sorry about the missing close italics tag. It's fixed now)

EU ratifies Kyoto

Read a report from USA Today here.

OK, now that someone has actually ratified this turkey, the ranting can begin.

Oh, wait, they started that last year. My bad...

Change of Address

Daily Pundit has moved to a new home, and my, is it stylish. Stacy Tabb (the goddess behind the loveliness of VodkaPundit, InstaPundit, Blogatelle, Dawson dot com, and more) transformed his site. Right now, the site can be reached via, but once the DNS catches up, the old address ( should take you there.

Adjusting to life up north

It's 9:01, and the sun has just set.

Growing up in South Florida, I never understood why people up north talked about it being dark at 5PM. Because of its latitude, Florida has less variation in the length of time the sun shines--it's usually about 10-14 hours. Life in San Diego was similar, although the amount of time between sunrise and sunset was more noticeably different. However, up here in Washington, the sunsets (in the summer) are way too late for my body, and it's playing havoc with my circadian rhythm. I'm not used to going to bed an hour after sunset, which is what I have been trying to do here, since I awake at 4:45 every work day. I imagine that I will have a similar problem in the winter, when I will want to go to bed at 7pm, because sunset was 3 hours prior. I am sure I will adjust, but it is certainly a struggle sometimes.

Thursday, May 30, 2002

Reigning in the Bureaucracy

Tom McClintock (R-Thousand Oaks), a California state senator, has introduced a bill (SB 1428), that goes after the dizzying array of state boards, agencies, and commissions. The bill, which is written to sunset after three years, would require a thorough audit of all state agencies by California's fiscal authorities and the "Little Hoover" commission, and link all of the deadwood into a single package for the legislature to vote upon. Since there is little appeal trying to publicly defend a vote to preserve useless agencies (as opposed to the hidden deals that usually preserve them), this bill, which passed 33-1 in the California Senate, should be passed into law.

The Los Angeles Times has written an editorial supporting this measure, but the last paragraph of the editorial is simply wrong:

One other point: McClintock is so stingy with the public's tax money he's proposing to limit the commission to $250,000 in the first year and $500,000 over its lifetime of two to three years. That's about enough for an office, an executive director and a few low-paid aides. It may take a bigger bureaucracy than that to really attack the bureaucracy.

Office space is not going to be a big requirement--an office somewhere in one of California's many state government buildings will suffice. In fact, with the advent of the internet as a communications tool, a few small offices, located in different areas of the state, could be used, with a net cost of $0 for rent. As to the salaries of workers, why would a high-paid executive director need to be hired? This is something that can be handled by mid-level employees, without supervision. In fact, there are a wealth of good-government/anti-waste groups out there (liberal, conservative, and nonpartisan) that would be more than willing to assist in such an effort, free of charge. Judicious use of available resources would allow this low-budget project achieve significant savings to the state's taxpayers, and probably improve service as well.

Another Catholic Scandal--not

Norah Vincent's column in today's Los Angeles Times notes that not all "scandals" are really all that scandalous. She documents a case of what appears to be extortion against the church, riding on the coattails of the ephibophilia revelations currently occupying the church. The only problem is that the alleged victim was 30 at the time of the alleged molestation, and is not physically or mentally challenged.

Wednesday, May 29, 2002

More news on the McDermott Circus

Yes, it continues to get worse. This report in Roll Call tells us about McDermott's attempts to subpoena three Republican representatives in what appears to be a clumsy attempt to embarrass the GOP. It's fascinating watching McDermott's lawyers justify their antics, as McDermott opposed subpoenas from a grand jury investigating the case by citing the Constitution's Speech or Debate Clause, which the three GOP former ethics panel members are citing in their request to quash the subpoenas. The house counsel's brief noted senior government officials are subject to deposition only in extraordinary circumstances. McDermott, they argued, has not met the test defined in dozens of cases that would allow the questioning of busy, high-ranking government officials. They also pointed out that what McDermott is attempting to obtain in the depositions is not relevant to his case against Boehner. Roll Call notes:

Cicero, McDermott's attorney, wrote in letters to the general counsel that he wanted to question the three former ethics members on whether they believed the conversation captured on the tape violated the terms of the agreement with Gingrich. But the House lawyers said they could not discern any link between this information and Boehner's claims or McDermott's defenses.

It is a rather transparent attempt to coerce Boehner to drop his suit by strongarming his fellow Republicans.

Another installment of the Scheer Idiocy Watch

Scheer's latest toxic spewing is even more vile than normal. Please activate the flamethrower.
(registration required to read link)

OK, so maybe John Ashcroft and Robert Mueller are not the sharpest tools in the shed. How else to explain that, after Sept. 11, it took the attorney general and the FBI director more than eight months to get around to telling the president and his top national security advisors about that prescient memo from the Phoenix FBI office warning of potential terrorists flooding American flight schools?

Because, it was only obviously important when one views it with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight. The FBI has hundreds (perhaps thousands) of clues that they are tracking, and it may not be readily apparent which clues are important, and which are simply red herrings.

Of course, the best thing would have been to clue in the president when there was still time to tighten airport and immigration security and possibly avert tragedy. But, at the very least, you would think that Ashcroft--who learned of the Phoenix memo a few days after the attack--would have piped up when the president asked his top people whether U.S. intelligence had advance warning of the terror attacks.

Let's see, Ashcroft found out *after* the attacks. Tightened security was in place after the attacks, but they would not have prevented the attacks. Scheer is such a flourescent idiot that he misses an obvious point.

Further, since Scheer has never shut his yap about how Ashcroft has been trying to curtail our civil liberties, any actions taken before the attack in an effort to prevent it would have been met by outraged resistance by all the flaming lefties, and I'm sure that Scheer would have led the charge.

Remember, though, that Ashcroft, who managed to lose a Senate race to a dead man, was not picked for his smarts but rather as a naked political concession to his fellow right-wing fundamentalists. The new president wanted to assure conservative zealots that he would hew to their religious commandments when it came to appointments of prosecutors and judges--and to zing ACLU liberals by putting an extremist in charge of our nation's civil liberties. Unfortunately for the victims of Sept. 11, the consequences of putting a Keystone Kop in charge of federal law enforcement mock such callow Beltway calculations. Ashcroft's FBI chieftains ignored field reports of outspoken Muslim fanatics training at U.S. flight schools--and later cited manpower shortfalls for not investigating further--while the bureau had plenty of resources for drug interdiction forays and surveillance and questioning Wen Ho Lee, now exonerated of spying.

Ashcroft had been running neck-and-neck with Mel Carnahan, a popular two-term governor, but was starting to show a small lead. When Carnahan died, the new governor announced that he would appoint Jean Carnahan (the bereaved widow) to the seat if Carnahan won. Carnahan won, due in large part to the sympathy vote for his widow.

Before Ashcroft was a senator and governor, he was the attorney general for the state of Missouri, and was elected by the 50 attorneys-general as the leader of their organization, a testament to his qualifications. The fact that he was conservative was clearly a consideration for Bush, but he was not chosen because he was conservative, he was chosen because he was an excellent choice who happened to be conservative.

Ashcroft was not responsible for the attacks. The FBI's budget for intelligence shrank approximately 20% during the Clinton administration, and over 40% of the FBI's agents were on the job for less than eight years. The Wen Ho Lee case, which ultimately proved to be incorrect, was most certainly an important activity for the FBI to investigate (even without the added concern of Clinton's ties to the Chinese government). While I will agree that the war on drugs is of dubious value, I doubt that most Americans would agree with my assessment.

Federal agents in Minnesota, who questioned alleged wannabe terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui last summer, were so frustrated with HQ that they took the radical step of going to the CIA for help in their investigation, according to FBI whistle-blower Coleen Rowley. Some of the Sept. 11 terrorists were so clumsy before their suicide missions as to suggest a subconscious desire to be caught: asking to be taught to fly but not to land airliners, for example, and showing up at flight school with huge quantities of cash and little aviation experience. Moussaoui was exposed to agents as an extremist because he had talked openly about his respect for "martyrs" who kill non-Muslims.

I agree with Scheer's contention that there is deadwood in the FBI, but firing entrenched bureaucrats is a daunting task at best. Considering that Ashcroft was confimed in March, and his choice to head the FBI, Robert Mueller, was confimed in August, it is fairly obvious that they didn't have enough time to reshape the agency. The command structure in place at the time of the attacks was almost entirely left over from the previous administration's Justice Department, headed by the spectacularly inept Janet Reno.

The good news is the FBI has some very good agents who picked up these troubling signs. The bad news is that these warnings stalled in a chain of command that included Ashcroft and never made it to the president.

Again, Scheer inserts Ashcroft's name into the mix in an attempt to tie him to something that was not entirely his fault. The insertion of "including Ashcroft" is obvious and heavy-handed, and should have been omitted. The fact that Scheer has to get in his jab at Ashcroft weakens his argument.

Meanwhile, the clues picked up inside the country were meshing in frightening ways with those gathered beyond our borders. In late June, Osama bin Laden promised a major attack on the United States in an interview with the Arabic television channel MBC. Ashcroft later said he was unaware of any such specific threats at that time. Two weeks later, however, a top FBI official issued a grim warning.

"I'm not a gloom-and-doom type person," FBI Assistant Director Dale Watson told a gathering of state governors July 10, "but I will tell you this ... [We are] headed for a [terrorist] incident inside the United States."

Ashcroft was present when Watson spoke, but if he understood the speech's import he apparently did not convey the G-man's sense of urgency to the president.

Gee, that's a really prescient statement, one that indicated that the FBI knew exactly when, where, and how the terrorists were going to strike.

Perhaps not coincidentally, in the eight months of his presidency leading up to Sept. 11, Bush rarely mentioned Afghanistan, the Taliban and Bin Laden in the same context.

When he spoke of terrorism, he usually focused relentlessly on his father's nemesis, Iraq.

Please show me someone who often mentioned Afghanistan, the Taliban and bin Laden in the same context.

Iraq was the focus of terrorism because Iraq is a sponsor of terrorism, and unlike the relatively insular Taliban, he has boasted of his efforts to strike at the US.

China too was a devil in Bush's first-year foreign policy; before Sept. 11 his administration seemed intent on fighting a new Cold War with China. Playing geopolitical chess with "enemy" states appealed to the old Cold War enthusiasts who dominate the Bush team, but combating stateless terrorists was slippery new terrain.

I'm sure the illegal interception, damage, and detention of our aircraft had nothing to do with Bush's animosity towards the Chinese.

Instead of godless communists controlling tank battalions, the new enemy was a shadowy collection of individuals motivated by religious fanaticism who saw their actions as the ticket to heaven.

I want to hear specific ideas on how we could have combatted terrorist threats without outrage from the left. Even *after* the attacks, we still have people like Scheer fretting that we are headed toward a police state due to egregious violations of our civil rights by the government. Any attempts to isolate Islamic extremists would have resulted in CAIR and PAW screaming about "profiling" and the like.

Perhaps it is just too difficult for a stern, God-fearing fundamentalist like the attorney general to fully anticipate the dark side of religion's wrath.

And it's obviously too difficult for a stupid, Christian-hating ideologue like Robert Scheer to fully anticipate the bright side of religion's worth.

In any event, whether because of bias or incompetence, Ashcroft is clearly not the right man to wage this new "war" against religious fanatics. It's time for him to go.

Scheer's attacks against Ashcroft are reminiscent of the tactics utilized by David Bonior against Newt Gingrich; Bonior filed over 70 ethics complaints against Gingrich, of which only one stuck. (Incidentally, the FEC later cleared Gingrich of the charge for which he was fined $300,000.) Scheer has waged a ceaseless campaign against the Attorney General in a hope that one of his charges will catch the attention of the public. So far his crusade (irony intended) has not succeeded; let us hope that it continues to fail.

Monday, May 27, 2002

My blog, and my nom de blog

While looking through my referral logs, I saw a referral from a site with which I am unfamiliar: So, of course, I headed over to check it out. I discovered that the writer (who appears to be leftist, but literate and thoughtful) misses Sgt. Stryker (since the sarge has hung his uniform up and is wearing ony his civvies). He has started a list of military blogs. Well, I'm not sure if I fit the bill. Sure, I'm military, but most of my views are independent of my job; I'd hold these views even if I was an accountant in Topeka. Sgt. Stryker was different--his posts were more explicitly about military views and the impact of politics upon the armed forces. I write about my job occasionally, but it is not the central focus of my blog, and that is not likely to change.

He also notes the fact that I write under a pseudonym (and presumably won't be getting any hits from Charles Murtaugh),and points out one other (non-military) pseudonymous blog, The Man Without Qualities. I've discussed my reasons for writing under a pseudonym, and don't use it as a cover to slag others (I'd be just as vitriolic at those with whom I disagree if I was using my real name). However, posts such as the one I wrote last night, in which I criticized President Bush's trade policy, can literally jeopardize my job. I'm not likely to get kicked out,l but I could be reprimanded, which would stop any chance I have to advance further. A Marine major was punished for criticizing then-President Clinton after the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke in 1998; his views were published (under his own name) in the Navy Times, and the powers-that-be came down upon him. I'd rather not have the same happen to me, thankyouverymuch. The pseudonym allows me a little freedom, although I doubt it would protect me against serious misconduct.

More on McDermott

Reader (and fellow blogger) James Miller sent me this information about the McDermott tape issue.

Here's another aspect of the McDermott tape case that most have missed. The original NYT story, written by Adam Clymer - yes, that Adam Clymer - included the transcription of the crucial portion of the tape. The conversation on it convinced McDermott, Clymer, and other Gingrich haters that Gingrich had broken his promise not to campaign against the agreement he had reached with the Ethics Committee. Even a casual reading of the transcript shows that to be false, that Gingrich and the others were not organizing a campaign. Gingrich explicitly says that he is not to campaign against the agreement. Then, one of the other congressmen predicts that the Democrats will attack Gingrich and that the Republicans will be asked to reply. That's it. No plan for planting stories, no suggestions for contacts with supporters, nothing to show that Gingrich was not keeping the agreement.

It shows, I think, just how much McDermott, Clymer, and others hated Gingrich that they could read this innocuous conversation this way. Or, perhaps, it shows just how cynical they were to present it as evidence
against Gingrich. Either way, it isn't a pretty sight.

This was something of which I was not aware. I went searching, and I found the excerpt from the tapes cited by the New York Times. The link can be found here. While it is true that Gingrich and his allies are looking for the best possible way to deal with an embarrassing situation, they are clearly following the constraints placed upon them. The hysterical fulminations of some lefty Seattleites notwithstanding, the republic was not being threatened by their actions in any way.

Today is Memorial Day.

Remember to take time today to remember those who died to defend our country, and our troops who died to defend other countries from totalitarianism the world over.

Don't forget the national moment of silence at 3pm (your local time).

Airport Security--The Ultimate Solution

Steve at Happy Fun Pundit discusses his experiences at Bay Area airports, and hits upon the best way to solve the problem.

Actually, I think I'd be more comfortable with Disney running the security system... when's the last time you heard about suicide bombers on the Matterhorn Bobsleds?

Sunday, May 26, 2002

Political Prostitution on Trade

Tapped has this to say about the fast track authority bill passed recently by the senate:

The latest confirmation of our Postest with the Mostest theory came this morning, when both the Post and the Times (NY) ran stories on the Senate's final passage yesterday of the fast track trade bill. Both papers noted the final vote (it passed 66 to 30), but only the Post broke down that vote by party. And lo and behold, it turns out the Democrats actually opposed final passage, albeit by the narrowest of margins (25 Nos, 24 Ayes).

This, of course, is the only notable aspect of the bill's passage, which has been assured since time immemorial. While House Democrats have routinely opposed free-trade accords by steadily widening margins, Senate Democrats have long been staunch free-traders. For instance, when Congress voted two years ago on permanent normalizing trade relations with China (essentially, paving the way for China's entry into the WTO), House Democrats opposed the bill by a two-to-one margin, while Senate Dems approved it 37-to-7, as visions of business contributions danced in their heads.

Wheras I, cynic that I am, have to note this:

Democrats in the Senate supported Clinton, while opposing Bush. Partisanship trumps principles.

Remember, NAFTA only passed due to overwhelming GOP support, despite the fact that it was a victory for Clinton. Clinton also got fast-track trade authority with the assistance of the Republicans. Even though they were the opposition party, they supported the president (because his aims coincided with theirs). The Democrats in the senate appear to be willing to prostitute their vote, depending on which party controls the White House.

They go on to lament:

As to the votes of the individual Democratic senators, one fact stands out: all of the four potential 2004 presidential candidates (Daschle, Edwards, Kerry, Lieberman) voted yes. This reflects more than the gang-of-four's personal convictions, of course. It also acknowledges one of the grimmer political realities these days: No one can run for president without a huge war chest, and no one can amass such a war chest absent major support from American business. Voting No might mean you'll get money from steel and textiles, not to mention unions, but all the other money (oodles, by actual count) is on the other side. Today, for the first time, the odds that a Democratic Senator is not a free trader may be just under 50-50. But the chances of a Democratic President not being a free-trader is precisely zilch.

Big business, Tapped seems to forget, provides jobs to millions of people. They donate money to candidates that are willing to support the issues that are important to them, and these days, globalization is one of those issues. The presidential candidates know this, and vote accordingly. Perhaps it really *is* personal convictions that led these four to support the bill. Besides, there is always Dick Gephardt to nominate for president if you want an anti-business crusader rather than a potentially electable candidate.

Besides, given Bush's trade record, what is Tapped squawking about? He's run well to the left of Clinton so far, with protectionary measures on steel, and ignoring Pakistani president Musharraf's request for an increase in the quota for textiles and clothing that can be imported to the US from that country. He seems to have an instinct to coddle American business if it is unable to compete with other countries.

UPDATE: 8:45 PM Radley Balko did a nice piece on Bush's trade sins (with plenty of links to articles discussing particular issues) two weeks ago; you can find it here.

The Wage Canary and the Price of Asparagus

is the title of an editorial in today's Seattle Times, and it is instructive. Washington state has the highest minimum wage in the nation ($6.90/hour), and its ramifications are beginning to affect the eastern portion of the state, which is an agricultural region. The biggest problem is that the cost-of-living increases in the the minimum wage (courtesy of Prop 688, in 1998) are tied to Seattle, where the cost of living is increasing faster than that of Pasco or Walla Walla. Further, Seattle's unemployment rate is 5.4%, while it is as high as 11.4% in places such as rural Columbia County, home to an asparagus and carrot processing plant. As labor costs continue to increase, produce becomes less competitive with offerings from other regions and from countries such as Peru. The result is that farming is declining in those areas, and finding industry to replace farming will be difficult, especially in the more remote communities.

Asparagus is considered a bellweather crop (the "canary" of the headline, as in "canary in the coal mine"), and a drop in the cultivation of asparagus imply that other crops may be in trouble too. Seneca, which owns the plant in Columbia county, slashed 24% of the land they contracted with local growers from previous years, so it is not a small drop we are talking about (7100 acres are planted with asparagus this year).

The Blame Game

Syndicated columnist Leonard Pitts, Jr., who is certainly no apologist for Bush, takes the Democratic Party to task for their attacks upon Bush in today's column. He also reminds Dick Cheney that it is not treason to question the government. Go read the whole thing; I'll still be here when you're finished. A sample to whet your appetite:

For the record: I didn't vote for George W. Bush and have never been favorably impressed by his cognitive abilities. But do I believe he would have stopped the Sept. 11 attacks if he'd had half a chance? Yes. Do I believe he had half a chance? No. Does anybody seriously believe otherwise?

How many crooked politicians can dance on the head of a pin?

While bloghopping this weekend, I ran across this article at the Daily Pundit, discussing this article at One section of this fine article caught my attention:

Bad news bias: ... this bias makes politicians look far more crooked than they really are.

It made me stop and think for a while. Now, while most will find fault with many politicians out there for outrageously stupid statements (from both sides; their perceived idiocy level is likely to be inversely proportional to your support of their voting record), it is true that there are few bad apples in congress. In the senate, we have Hillary Clinton and Ted Kennedy, both of whom labor under an ethical cloud. Who else? Oh, yeah, we have Robert Byrd, who used to be associated with the KKK 40 years ago; this is not crooked, just ignorant. I can't think of any more that are crooked.

In the House, we have Gary Condit (at least until January). We have Jim Traficant (until January, or until he's jailed, whichever comes first). We have Jim McDermott. We have a few with checkered pasts, such as Henry Hyde and Dan Burton, and wing nuts such as Cynthia McKinney and Bob Barr, but not a whole lot of crooks.

Six, out of 535. I'm sure there are others, but really, there are not a lot of crooked people in congress, yet we (here in the blogosphere, and elsewhere) fulminate about how crooked congress is, and the news media fan the flames.

We have had some celebrated crooks in the past, such as Dan Rostenkowski and Jay Kim, as well as former presidents Nixon and Clinton (There were others, but they are the two biggies in the last 30 years). But they tend to get weeded out in fairly short order (witness Condit, who was a cinch for reelection until last May, and Kim and Rostenkowski, who lost reelection bids after their legal troubles surfaced).

Anyone who disagrees with me?