Monday, April 25, 2016

An Unexpected Honor


Without going into specific details, there is a nagging issue that occupies a large space in my mind. This issue through a variety of experiences and observations has been present in my thinking since my childhood and has recently come to the front burner, so to speak, in a way that I could never have imagined. First, let me describe the honor that has been bestowed upon me by a small, elite group of people, the Detroit Public Schools Board of Education, who have been elected by the citizens of Detroit for the purpose of providing all Detroit schoolchildren the free public education mandated by the Michigan Constitution. The ‘honor’ is that I have been selected by the Board to represent the 58,000 children of the school district to restore some semblance of sanity to a system that has been run aground by our Michigan state officials and the recent emergency managers since the state took control of the school district in 1999. In a subsequent blog I will describe what my personal ‘issue’ is as well as the plan to change the downward spiral of the DPS. But first, there is some extremely important background information that must be presented to place the current dilemma in appropriate context.

At the time of the initial takeover, the school district had a $93 million budgetary surplus, a large chunk remaining of a $1.5 billion bond approved by Detroit voters in 1994 for providing necessary repairs, renovations of district schools and new school buildings. There were 178,000 children in the district at that time and the district was acknowledged to be the best-performing school district in the country of districts containing over 100,000 students. To make a long story short, the state now manages a school district of some 58,000 children more or less, that is considered to be the worst in the country where it counts, i.e., education performance, and has a half billion-dollar deficit. The damage done to individual children of the district is the incalculable loss of life opportunities that an adequate education would and should have been provided. The damage done to Detroit schoolchildren is the equivalent of the Flint water crisis on steroids.

Who does the Michigan legislature and governor blame for this fiasco?  The local publically-elected school board, of course. The reality is the school board and local officials bear no responsibility for this current fiasco. Gov. Snyder’s standard response for Republican-created disasters, such as the instant situation and the Flint lead-poisoning crisis, is to lay the blame on someone else, particularly the locals. Politicians find that when they’re sniffing around for votes, it plays very well in the suburbs and western Michigan to blame the current on the fine people of Detroit. It’s all part of the welfare myth that serves as the basic credo of a certain political party. The rubric goes like this; All black and poor people want welfare so they don’t have to work while hard-working others have to pay. In actual fact, the welfare queens of American are big businesses; State and local governments annually award at least $110 billion in taxpayer subsidies to business, with 3 of every 4 dollars going to fewer than 1,000 big corporations, Add the federal contribution and the combined cost of these corporate welfare programs is $1.539 trillion per year. The three main programs needy families depend upon — Temporary Assistance for Needy Families ($17.3 billion), food stamps ($74 billion), and the Earned Income Tax Credit ($67.2 billion) — cost $158.5 billion in total. This means we spend ten times as much on corporate welfare and handouts than we do on welfare for working families struggling to make ends meet.

Stay tuned for the next blog.  Just saying . . .

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

"Safe Nowhere" - An Exciting New Venture!

My latest novel Safe Nowhere, a fictional account of the clashing of a brilliant and quirky new lawyer, Katie Hornsby, with a powerful and crooked drug company and its deadly foreign generic drug, will be released near the end of February in print and e-book formats on Amazon, I-Books, Barnes and Noble and other major sellers. The story line of Safe Nowhere follows the pattern of my previous novels in presenting timely issues of safety and corporate wrongdoing within the pharmaceutical industry and the book specifically addresses the lack of quality and purity of foreign generic drugs that are currently flooding the American marketplace. Katie Hornsby faces obstacle after obstacle in her fight to help her clients.  A powerful combination of interests stack the deck against her quest.

While Safe Nowhere is a work of fiction, it is written within the context of present-day reality.  More than 83% of all U.S. prescriptions written in the United States are filled today with generic drugs. India’s generic drug industry is the source of more than forty per cent (40%) of our generic drug supply and routinely violates basic quality control standards and knowingly exports sub-par medicines. The Drug Controller General of India, G N Singh, recently offered an alarming excuse for the transgressions of India’s generic makers, “Our society and our economy are different from those in the US. If I have to follow US standards in inspecting facilities supplying to the Indian market, we will have to shut almost all of those. We are not the US, the infrastructure and resources available there are much different from those in our country.” If you are taking a generic drug, it is highly probable that you are one of millions of guinea pigs being unknowingly exposed to an ongoing crap-shoot-like experiment on the safety of these foreign products. 

According to the FDA there are 526 drug manufacturing plants in India making products for the U.S. market. The agency has 10 investigators, soon to increase to only 19, to cover the entire country. China, as another example,  has 517 drug manufacturing plants making products that will end up in the U.S. market. At last count there were three investigators for the entire country.  Other countries have had problems as well. It was recently reported that, “The US Food and Drug Administration found that foreign producers of drugs were increasingly falsifying data about the quality of medicines, and  . . . issued six warning letters to companies in Mexico, Poland, the United Arab Emirates, India, and Canada about the quality of active pharmaceutical ingredients, over-the-counter solutions, and injectables.*  

Under the rubric of “transparency,” the FDA has claimed on its website in the past that “foreign drug manufacturing plants are routinely inspected for compliance with applicable regulations, including the Current Good Manufacturing Practices.” and that the “agency ensured that generic makers adhered to proper manufacturing standards and ‘the entire generic industry should not be judged by a few isolated incidents'.” This rose-colored myopia is not borne out by reality.  A more realistic assessment of the FDA’s current ability to do its job correctly is found buried deep in the FDA’s latest Global Assessment Program report  that tells the alarming truth; “Because of the vast and growing number of foreign facilities, FDA does not have—nor will it—the resources to directly inspect all the higher-priority facilities at desired frequencies.” and “Inspections still account for only a small fraction of the more than 300,000 foreign facilities manufacturing or processing FDA-regulated products for the U.S. market." The danger potential is growing geometrically. Imports of foreign-made drugs increased by nearly five-fold from 2007 to 2013 and India and China, the leaders of the pack, expect more than 400 per cent increases in their product exports by 2020. 

Just saying . . . .

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Man Up, Republicans!

 Perhaps my wife's dearest mentor as a child was a neighbor who had spent part of his life in politics.  One of the favorite expressions that he shared frequently with her was that 'politicians can smell a vote a mile away." This summarizes what this entire business of why all these goofy politicians have spent so much time and effort on anti-gay legislation that flies in the face of constitutional principles as well as just plain common sense.

Let me digress a moment so that my point can be placed in an appropriate context.  A short video interview of a florist in Georgia by a Huffington Post reporter is currently posted on its website. That florist is adamant that she would not provide services to gay couples for the purpose of having flowers present at a wedding ceremony. She relies on the Bible and her well-honed religious beliefs that she cannot condone such sinfulness by others. That would be wrong, she says. In the next breath, she freely admits that she would willingly provide all of her services to adulterers. The last time I checked the Ten Commandments which do appear in the Bible, there is nothing in those commandments preventing LGBT marriages, but it is pretty clear that "Thou shalt not commit adultery" is front and center. The definition, by the way, of what constituted adultery early on permitted a married man to have sex with his slaves and single women, but not another man's wife.

Now, connecting the dots, it is crystal clear that most of the anti-gay crap is hypocritical in the extreme, particularly when another one of the Commandments states, "Love thy neighbor as thyself." (I guess having sex with slaves and single women came under a hybrid version of 'loving thy neighbor'.) What is also clear is that those who are fervently opposed to any type of same sex relationships will vote for any politician who (apparently at least through the Republican primary season) shares the same beliefs. One of the quirks of the selection of the Republican presidential candidate is the need to run through the gauntlet of a series of primaries in which the majority of actual voters are fundamental Christians opposed to same sex anything. Politicians 'smelling votes' will say anything that appeals to this group. I submit that what is needed is a Republican candidate who has the guts to 'man up' and say that such discrimination against gay and lesbian people is wrong. This position should be stated during the primary season, not after the nomination has been nailed down and the winner finds himself in a general election. The majority of Americans are smart enough to spot phony hypocrisy when they see it, so when the flip-flopping on the issue occurs after the primary season is over, it will cost the Republican candidate for president dearly.  No amount of Koch brothers or Adelman's money will offset the problem.

Just saying . . .

Thursday, January 29, 2015


Andrew Sullivan, perhaps one of the most prolific bloggers of our time recently announced that after fifteen years he is retiring from this activity. In his latest post, he discussed what he would do next. “I want to read again, slowly, carefully,” he wrote. “I want to absorb a difficult book and walk around in my own thoughts with it for a while. I want to have an idea and let it slowly take shape, rather than be instantly blogged.”

When I read his comments, it reminded me that my postings on “Just Saying . . .” have dwindled more and more each of the last three years. In 2015, I’ve published two posts, twenty in 2014, thirty-one in 2013, more than sixty in 2012, and  a total of four hundred and sixty four times since my blogging activity began in 2008. The impulse to tell  the reason for the decline has been percolating over the last year, and Sullivan’s announcement has moved me past the ‘I’ll do it tomorrow” point to this posting.

First of all, I need to digress and explain my initial venture into blogging.  By 2008, I’d spent nearly six years writing most of the novel “Serenity” but I couldn’t figure out how to end the story.  I was stuck. The common malady is generally called “writer’s block.” It took four years of maintaining the practice of nearly daily blog writing before the block disappeared and I was able to finish the story.  As a humorous and coincidental aside, every time I now type the word “blogging” my Auto-correct changes the word to “bogging,” which neatly depicts the state of my writing and mind when I started blogging, i.e. “bogging” begat “blogging.”

The purpose of my blogging was to help me, a retired senior citizen, develop the practice of consistent daily writing to keep me occupied in a fruitful manner while my golf game, and various and sundry other activities, declined in what might be viewed as in an “age-related” fashion. After completing Serenity, I was able to focus more clearly on another project that, as Mr. Sullivan so aptly characterizes as ”an idea that slowly takes shape," the net result being the near-completion of another novel which is now in the final stages of editing.  As that project is slowly coming to an end, other ideas have “slowly taken shape” and I am now at work on another novel, revising my first book, and writing two screenplays based on Serenity and the new novel.

So, what I am “just saying” is that my blog posting is coming to an end.  Thanks so much for having allowed me to present my thoughts, good or bad, to you this past seven years.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Money Talks!

An extremely interesting statement appears in the New York Times this morning (January 29, 2015) in a story about the Koch brothers 900 million dollar plan to grasp control of state and federal governments in the 1916 elections. The statement “The group’s budget, disclosed by a conference attendee, reflects the rising ambition and expanded reach of the Koch operation, which has sought to distinguish itself from other outside groups by emphasizing the role of donors over consultants and political operatives.” tells all of us and, hopefully, members of the U.S. Supreme Court that money buys results. The 5-4 Citizens United decision five years ago danced around the definition of corruption and the Court reversed its own decisions as well as a legislative history of over 100 years in giving corporations and individuals the unlimited right to donate as much money as they want in exercising their, ahem, first amendment right to participate in our rapidly-evolving oligarchic-hybrid form of democracy. This hybrid has as its motto “Money talks.” This is no equal playing field, folks. The millions of us who are willing and able to contribute fifty or a hundred dollars to a favorite candidate are being left in the literal dust as the Koch-types purchase more and more politicians to advance their own objectives.

Under current law, campaign contributions are illegal if there is an explicit quid pro quo, and legal if there isn’t. But legal campaign contributions can be as bad as bribes in creating obligations, the tit-for-tat being the gateway to bribes. In the current campaign financing system, candidates receive cash and respond by serving donors’ interests. Politicians spend more than half their time talking to their funding sources, seeking money and keeping them happy. We will undoubtedly hear current Republican members of Congress campaign the next election cycle parroting what the Koch brothers want. Statements like “I voted to repeal Obamacare 42 times” will be viewed by the Kochs as an affirmation of their control over these politicians, because the pols really don’t give a damn what or how they do things so long as the money continues to flow. Unlimited spending on these politicians is a poison that has entered the bloodstream of American democracy. This process is a real threat to our democracy. If left unchecked, the country is going to go to “hell in a hand basket.”

Just saying . .  .

Monday, January 19, 2015

News on Serenity

Interview with writer Tom Bleakley, Novel Winner for SERENITY

    Watch the Novel Reading from SERENITY (Chapter 3) from the Writing Festival:
Performed by Alissa DeGrazia
Interview with Writer Tom Bleakley:
Matthew: What is your novel about? 
Tom: Serenity is a legal thriller, a fictionalized version of a real case. The story revolves around an unfaithful husband headed toward divorce who is prescribed a drug notorious for causing the side effect of unremembered bizarre behavior, including homicide. The husband kills his wife., but claims to remember nothing about the incident The book asks, “Who is to blame?” Is it the husband who kills to preserve his fancy life style, or the avaricious drug company that attempts to hide news of the drug’s terrible effects to keep the billions of dollars of sales from crashing? The husband is tried for murder and he claims that the drug caused him to kill. A jury decides his guilt or innocence — or does it?
Matthew: Why should people read this novel?
Tom: The main reason is to inform the public about risks of prescription drugs in a manner that is interesting and intellectually stimulating. While the work can be described as fiction, great care has been taken to present a story line that closely adheres to an ongoing event occurring with a currently marketed drugs. As a reviewing journalist for a Detroit newspaper wrote “Serenity . . . should be used as a framework for major changes in our pharmaceutical industry and it’s government oversight. I think it should be on every concerned U.S. citizen’s Top 10 reading lists.” 
Matthew: How long have you been writing stories? 
Tom: I have been writing in one mode or another since high school
Matthew: What movie have you seen the most in your life?
Tom: “What about Bob?” Anything by Bill Murray. He makes me laugh.
Matthew: What artists would you love to work with? 
Tom: Morgan Freeman, Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper.
Matthew: How many stories have you written? 
Tom: A trial lawyer is, in effect, a story teller. During my legal career, I’ve tried more than seventy major lawsuits against the pharmaceutical industry. If this answer is to be limited to the writing of fiction, I have written eighteen short stores or novels. 
Matthew: Ideally, where would you like to be in 5 years? 
Tom: I love writing and I want to be sitting at my desk writing for three-four hours every day. 
Matthew: Describe your process; do you have a set routine, method for writing? 
Tom: I write early in the morning., generally from 4 A.M. to 8 A.M. I have attempted to write Elmore Leonard-style (without an outline) but find that a carefully developed outline both motivates me and takes me down interesting and, sometimes, unexpected pathways.
Matthew: Apart from writing, what else are you passionate about? 
Tom: My eight grandchildren, music (I play the tuba in several concert bands, trombone, euphonium, piano, guitar and banjo), reading, and a love/hate relationship with the game of golf. I’ve exercised nearly every day for more than sixty years.
Matthew: What influenced you to enter the WILDsound Festival? 
Tom: Putting oneself ‘out there’ to be judged/assessed by others is an excellent way to hold oneself accountable for the quality of writing.
Matthew: Any advice or tips you’d like to pass on to other writers? 
Tom: Develop the habit of writing on a daily basis. 

Saturday, December 13, 2014

I Need Some Help on This.

In mid-September 2008, Lehman Brothers declared bankruptcy. In the ensuing economic collapse, the greedy underbelly of our American banking system was exposed for what it was, a tremendous crap-shoot involving credit-default swaps and their ilk purchased by the investments of unknowing regular bank customers. Successful swaps guaranteed banks and their wealthy owner-investors millions upon millions dollars of minimally taxed profits with none of the gains passed on to those whose money was used for those purchases.  On the other hand, massive losses resulting from ill-advised and shady deals using bank customers money were covered by tax dollars bailouts paid by average Joe Citizens, i.e., the economic equivalent of the rectal hydration tactics employed by the CIA (as recently reported), administered to us not just once, but twice.

The above is all background information for my plea for your help for the following reasons. The bipartisan funding bill that just passed Congress sets aside the protections established to separate regular banking activities from risky speculation to prevent the 2008 scenario from recurring. In other words, once the bill is signed, banks will be free to use your money (and mine) to gamble recklessly again.

What follows is a form letter I am sending to the banks where I keep my accounts.

Dear Bank,

It is my understanding that the recent funding bill passed by Congress includes a rider allowing the banking industry to mingle activities of regular banking activities with risky speculation efforts such as using regular bank investments in the purchase of credit default swaps. As a result, as a regular banking customer of yours, I have several questions for you; Are you going to use monies obtained from normal banking procedures for the purpose of engaging in such risky financial ventures? If you do engage in risky speculative efforts with my money, are you planning on sharing any profits realized from those investments with me?  If you lose money on any risky speculative ventures, do you expect the American taxpayers to restore any lost funds to you with tax money? I would like responses to these questions as promptly as possible so that I may restructure my current financial assets in a manner that protects me and my family from a situation similar to the 2008 crash of the economy.                           
                                                                        Very truly yours,
                                                                        A Bank Customer

So this is what I need help on; I think that if the banks of America receive only one such letter, it will be laughed off as simply coming from a miserable old crank. However, if we all band together and submit one million or more such letters, the banks may take the hint that the public is not as stupid as they think we are. So help me and help yourself. Write letters to every bank you do any kind of normal banking business with and request information on their intentions with your money. Feel free to use the form letter above.

Just saying . . .