John Wayne is the Duke. Elvis is the King.

John Wayne's Holster: March 2005
John Wayne's Holster
Visit my main blog at Monkey Wrench Revival. Visit my birdwatching blog at The Birding Nerd.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Corporations Are Destroying America!

I am a proponent of free markets and individual rights. The founding fathers established this country as a democratic republic to protect those rights from governmental encroachment. A government of the people, by the people, for the people! A government that derives is power from the consent of the governed! However, policy reforms have slowly eroded many of these rights and protections.

In recent decades, corporations in this country have acquired immense power via their lobbying efforts and financial contributions to politicians. Politicians repay the favor by enacting legislation and programs favorable to their financial patrons – often to the detriment of the citizens whose interests they are supposed to represent.

Government of the people, by the people, for the people? Hardly! Our elected officials have sold out their public interests.

America has embraced corporate socialism! Our politicians don’t like to call it that. It goes against our dearly held ideologies of democracy and capitalism. They can call it what you want, but don’t be fooled by the façade. From the outside, corporate socialism appears to be capitalism, wherein capital is owned and managed by the private sector. But, unlike capitalism, where the flow of goods is controlled by forces operating in a free market, the flow of goods in corporate socialism is under government control. That is what we have today.

Under our present system, profits are spoils for the enjoyment of private enterprise. Sounds like capitalism, right? But, when private enterprise fails or “needs” an injection of capital, the taxpayer bears the responsibility. In essence, corporate socialism is welfare. Meanwhile, the gap between rich and poor widens.

Let’s examine a few examples that illustrate this point.

1. Agricultural subsidies. These subsidies were designed to help the farmer, but in fact, about 90% of the money goes to the biggest agricultural corporations. Under this system, small farmers can not compete. In effect, they are being forced to surrender their tax dollars to fund a system whose end goal is to put them out of business.

2. Corporate bailouts. When large corporations are in danger of failure, due to mismangement , market saturation or whatever, the government steps in, with our tax dollars, to bail them out. The Chysler bailout, the S&L bailouts and the recent bailout of the airlines are examples.

3. Federal Reserve System. This is the grand daddy of them all. Contrary to popular belief, the Fed is not a government agency, but rather a partnership between the government and a cartel of private banks. Member banks are required to hold shares of stock in the Fed. Like all business ventures, the Fed answers to its stockholders, not the public. The Fed issues money (from nothing) and sets the rate of interest. The Fed then loans the money to the government. The government pays the interest on the loans with tax dollars collected from the public. The banks make billions and the government gets deeper and deeper in debt.

People have lost faith that the free market can consistently provide for them. Almost instinctively, they turned to their government to fill the void. However, many of the ills frequently associated with the free market are actually the result of corporate socialism. The government, prompted by corporate America, has addressed these ills with Orwellian double-speak. Combating corporate excesses is addressed by implementing more government regulatory programs. The cycle continues.

It seems as though we are stuck with this system. Politicians like campaign contributions – they help keep them in office. Corporations have surprisingly become supporters of big government programs. These programs typically mandate excessive regulations that prevent entrepreneurs and small businesses from competing with the corporate giants. This translates into less competition and more contracts for the large corporations.

So much for democracy and the free market!

Friday, March 18, 2005

Perscription Drugs From Canada Are Good, eh?

Perscription drugs in the US are too darn expensive! Many Americans can not afford to pay for the medicine they need. This is a particularly acute problem for those on fixed incomes or without medical insurance.

The same drugs across the border are cheaper! Why not let people purchase them over there?

On the surface, this may look like a good alternative to the rising prices of medicine. However, I believe that this is a short-sighted solution. It avoids the real problems and will make things worse in the long run.

Some may argue that the pharmaceutical industry is a powerful lobby and they won’t let us buy drugs in Canada because they are greedy and want to make money. I won’t argue that they are indeed a powerful lobby. And I won’t argue that their goal is to make money. Perhaps there is some level of truth in these allegations that contribute to high drug prices. But if one were to leave the argument there, they would be missing a major part of the problem!

Consider this point for a moment. With few exceptions, almost all new drugs are developed here in the US. Not in Mexico! Not in Canada! And Not in Europe. Why? Because it is profitable for companies to do it here and not there!

Fortunately or unfortunately (depending on your perspective), we live in a capitalistic society. Pharmaceutical companies invest hundreds of millions of dollars in discovery and development of new drugs. Most drugs never make it to market. In order for companies to remain solvent, they need to recoup R&D costs and turn a profit. That’s the American way! If they can not turn a profit, we remove their incentive to discover and develop new drugs – and the process stops.

So why are the same drugs cheaper in Canada than they are here? There are several reasons. For starters, Canada does not have an FDA or AMA that establishes standards on the pharmaceuticals they sell. There is also price discrimination. In Canada, the average person makes about 20-30% less than the average American. To reflect that difference, the drug companies adjust their prices (i.e. charge less) to accommodate market conditions. On the flip side, the American prices are driven up to help pay for expensive advertising and promotional campaigns we are bombarded with. Canada does not allow drug ads. Finally, there are price controls. National and provincial laws in Canada limit the prices for which pharmaceuticals can be sold. These lower costs reduce revenue to the drug companies, and drive up prices in the US. In essence, Canadian consumers are NOT helping to recoup R&D costs, so we Americans are forced to foot the bill.

What is the solution? To start, we should focus on two key issues. Advertising and price controls. Adverstising should be curtailed. We are not talking about infringing on free speech, or placing restrictions on a free market. We are talking about product safety. Taking medication has certain inherent risks. We have all heard the disclaimers that accompany drug ads (e.g. drug “X” could cause diarrhea, vomiting, liver problems, heart palpitations, lymphoma, internal bleeding, etc. etc). In many cases, a given drug’s safety is not proven. As such, their use should only be with a doctors recommendation, free from the influence of consumer pressure. As it is now, consumers are going to their physician and demanding medications that they have seen advertised - without full consideration of potentially dangerous side-effects (assuming the side effects are known).

We should also stop subsidizing other country’s “rights” to have our drugs. We should demand that they pay their fair share in recouping R&D costs. If that were done, the US consumer would pay 60% less and everyone else would pay 25% more.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Is the War on Terror Really About Terrorism?

In the post- 9/11 world, security has become an important issue for most Americans. We are constantly reminded by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that future terrorist attacks in the US are not a matter of “if”, but only a matter of “when”.

In the past weeks, numerous reports have been issued stating that our borders and airlines are not properly protected. For example, in recent testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee, a DHS official indicated that "…Al Qaeda operatives have considered using the Mexican border as an entry point”. Still the border remains unprotected. Last Thursday, America's unionized airline pilots issued its Aviation Security Report Card in which they contend that “gaping holes” still exist in the way passengers and employees are screened, cargo is scanned, credentials are distributed, flight crews are trained and planes are protected from the possibility of shoulder fired missiles.

Why haven’t we seriously addressed domestic security issues? Do we lack the technology to protect our airlines? Is the border issue too immersed in the immigration issue? Do we lack the money to provide these safeguards? To find the answer to these questions, I think it is prudent to consider a few points.

So far, we have spent over $150 billion on the war in Iraq. There have been some positive developments (elections in Iraq, Quaddafi turning over WMDs, Syria withdrawing from Lebanon), but there have also been negative ones as well. The pre-war sanctions and the war itself have directly led to the deaths of tens of thousands of innocent civilians and over 1,500 US soldiers. Iraq may end up with an extremist theocracy intent on implementing Islamic law. Now there is an escalating situation with Iran.

While it is my hope that democracy will prevail, I think it is fair to say that we have created somewhat of a mess. And a solution does not appear to be imminent.

Nevertheless, we are continuing to pour more of the taxpayer's money into Iraq. American corporate interests, some of which are connected to the very people who sent us to war in the first place, are turning a handsome profit! And they have not borne any significant costs in exchange for the no-bid contracts they received.

And somehow we don't have enough money to address homeland security.

Why so much attention over there and so little attention to domestic security issues?

Maybe the war on terror ISN’T about terrorism after all!

Sunday, March 06, 2005

We Have Heard Ward Churchill, But Were We Listening?

I am sure we have all heard something about Ward Churchill – the University of Colorado Ethnic Studies Professor who penned the now famous article, “Some People Push Back - On the Justice of Roosting Chickens.” For the full article, click Here. In this article, Churchill espouses the belief that civilians in the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were legitimate military targets for Al Qaeda. As a result of these remarks, some have stated that he is anti-American. Others have labeled him a traitor.

It is not my point to place any labels on Churchill. I will leave that up to others. Let me start by stating that I do not agree with many of the incendiary points in Churchill’s article. I do not believe that the civilians in the WTC and Pentagon deserved to die. I am confident that almost all American agree with me. However, I began to wonder what it was that fueled all the anger that came spewing forth from this man. I went back, read and reread his article, then read it again. I came to the profound realization that, underneath all the hate and ranting, there is a kernel of truth in what he has to say.

The thesis of Churchill’s article is that the United States has historically engaged in campaigns of terrorism as a means of implementing its own foreign policy objectives. In our recent history, many of these campaigns have been directed on the Muslim nations of the Middle East, and have led to the deaths of untold thousands of innocent civilians. Our one-sided support in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, our abandonment of the Afghans, the bombings of Lebanon and Sudan, and the sanctions against Iraq are just a few examples.

Churchill maintains that we citizens must bear some of the responsibility for these crimes for (paraphrasing) “allowing and empowering our leaders to carry them out in our name”. The way he sees it, what occurred on 9/11 was essentially an act of revenge, of exacting retribution for our sins. We got a taste of its own medicine.

I think Churchill has a point here! I am not suggesting that civilians killed in the WTC/Pentagon deserved to die. On the contrary, I think the action of the 9/11 terrorists was murder – plain and simple. However, the innocent civilians in the Middle East that died as a result of our imperialistic foreign policies didn’t deserve to die either! We see the actions of the 9/11 terrorists as evil – and indeed they are. But somehow we see the terror we inflict on other nations as acceptable or even noble – but it is not.

We as a nation must make ourselves more aware of what our leaders do in our name, to maintain our “way of life”. We must demand that they employ more enlightened foreign policies that have a prominent humanitarian face. We have to stop acting like the world’s natural resources are our birthright!

If we don’t, we are writing a legacy for ourselves that will go down as one the most shameful in the history of mankind.