Thursday, January 31, 2008

Cliches and the Definition of Insanity

My mind is cliche-driven this morning as I read about Eli Lilly and the potential one billion dollar criminal and civil settlement for the drug company's tactics in marketing its antipsychotic drug Zyprexa. "You can't teach an old dog new tricks" and "Deja vu all over again" keep percolating through my mind. Way back in the 1980s, i.e. less than twenty years ago, Lilly was indicted and prosecuted for its outrageous conduct in producing and selling a new arthritis product, Oraflex, that was marketed in the United States for a brief eleven weeks while nearly four thousand (not a misprint, 4000) elderly Americans died. Please try to focus on the points I am trying to make here and don't get side tracked by comparing the loss of life in the Oraflex fiasco with the Word Trade Center disaster. It wouldn't be fair to the Oraflex victims who all died slow and painful deaths over weeks because of combined liver and kidney failure. At least the WTC victims had the advantage of sudden death, or at most a few minutes of terror. (Please don't read this as any attempt on my part to minimize the horror of that event). It turns out that more than four hundred citizens of the British Isles took Oraflex and died, a fact which was known to Lilly BEFORE it was FDA-approved and sold to an unsuspecting American public. Lilly claimed that it didn't understand that it needed to report these known incidents to the FDA. The real outrage was that Lilly was allowed to subsequently plead guilty to 25 misdemeanor counts and pay a $25,000 fine, prompting the federal prosecutor to resign out of frustration and disgust. Before the Oraflex incident there was Lilly's sale and promotion of DES, a synthetic estrogen made from coal tar and a known carcinogen, to millions of pregnant women in the fifties and sixties. Virtually 100% of the female offspring of these pregnancies suffered cancer or structural deformities of their reproductive tracts thereby confirming what was observed when the drug was administered to pregnant animals in the 1930s. Of course, it is only incidental that the drug by the early 1940s had caused cancer in every organ system in every animal species it had been administered in hundreds of different scientific studies. What's that definition of insanity? Expecting different results from the same behavior?

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Do It Now, John.

For Obama hopefuls I offer the following. When, and if, John Edwards leaves the presidential race, the question is which of the remaining two candidates will receive the benefit? Clinton or Obama? The stage is set not far down the road for Edwards to give one of the most potentially important and historic speeches in American history. At the risk of overstating the obvious I offer this background note: When was the first time a presidential candidate has been a woman? Same question, an African-American? I am certain that John (what's in it for me?) Edwards views his status as the opportunity to be the potential compromise candidate once a consensus for either of the first two cannot be reached. In his view, there will be John, standing in the wings, waiting for his chance, the default candidate (white and male). I submit that Edwards has the opportunity to put his personal ambition aside and provide one of the illuminating and unifying moments ever. On the issues, there is very little to distinguish the three candidates. All pretty much want the same thing and the petty bickering of the recent debates reveals that Clinton doesn't mind trash politics in seeking to attain her goal of becoming president. Edwards can and should abandon his ambitions at the appropriate time and endorse Obama. The specter of an upper middle class white male from the South setting aside his personal ambition and endorsing a black candidate for the presidency is a Camelot opportunity. A lot of people of my generation, the old farts, remember the dream of the Kennedy presidency before that dream was shattered by the bullets of Oswald on November 22, 1963. As Caroline Kennedy wrote a couple of days ago, Obama is the first candidate since that time who has aroused the hopes and the dreams of voters around the country who legitimately feel that the political machines have subordinated principle to politics. So this is my message to John Edwards. John, I will forgive you for stealing my client in the middle of the trial we handled together back in the early 1990s. I swear forever that I will not mention your alley cat antics during that trial that led us to lose a winnable case, given the 25 criminal convictions of Eli Lilly and Co, that served as the basis for my portion of the trial presentation. To receive my forgiveness you must now do the honorable thing, the obvious thing, the correct thing. The question is when should this take place? There is a certain urgency to the need for this to occur. Time is running out. Do it now.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

What's So Funny?

Is it just me or did anybody else think that Bush's style of delivery during his State of the Union address was inappropriate? From day one I have reacted negatively to the smirk on his face. I see that some in the press call it the frat-boy smirk and I share in that assessment. But last night was beyond frat-boy. His pattern of delivery was double frat-boy. He would deliver a line about some major problem the United States faces all the while grinning like he was telling a joke. Then he would pause and smirk while half the room (I will let you guess which side) applauded. I didn't have to stretch my imagination too far to picture him at a college party exhibiting the same demeanor, the first and the last to laugh at his own jokes. Except this time, the jokes aren't so funny. I'm glad that this eight year nightmare is almost over.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Imploding His Legacy

Up front I need to tell you where I am coming from; I think Clinton (Bill that is) was one of our best presidents. The country did very well under his direction, although he needed to steal a few pages (remember welfare reform) from the Republicans to do so. One hundred years from now, the historians will hardly remember the Monica Lewinski incident. I know, I know, the Limbo-ites will sharply disagree with me on this, but I am going somewhere else and I need to make the point that, in fact, he was a good president. Thus, it is fascinating to me to watch the man, almost daily, tarnish himself as he red faces and underhands his way through the mind field of his wife's presidential campaign. The two of them, Hillary and Bill, seem to have settled on a campaign strategy which, in effect, says that 'we as a couple ran this country in the nineties, so we would like to run it again beginning in 2008.' To continue to do so will have one of two natural effects because the public isn't buying it. The first effect will be that Barack Obama will prevail in the Democratic primaries and become the candidate, and eventually, the next president of the United States. The second will be that if the Clintons prevail and win the presidential nomination and the Republicans are smart, McCain will be the next president. If the Clintons do make it into the White House, we all need to prepare for at least four more years of bunker mentality-polarized nation stuff, stuff which 85% of the voting population wants to leave behind as a grim reminder of the Bushian/Rovian pseudo-con era.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Victory At See

Ever since I was a kid, a time that gets further away all the time, one of the things that has aggravated me most was someone who would rub salt in the wounds of a pyrrhic win over me in something trivial by saying "See I told you". I would like to talk about one of the best at this game. I am referring to my dear friend, the dubious private investigator Nat Sluzak. Nat, as he prefers to be called, is a master at the "See I told you" game. A former defense lawyer, Sluzak would deliberately irritate the hell out of people in legal settings, put them under stress so that they would react in a manner that would ultimately be favorable to his client. Then he'd put that smirk on his face, sit back and declare "See I told you . . .". Over the past few years, as the arteries inside Sluzak's brain have hardened and deteriorated, he has become the spokesman, self-designated, for the Republican party and I have had to listen endlessly to taunts and chants of the 'I told you so" variety. If we were playing golf, he would play an obvious left breaking putt far to the right and on the rare occasion when the ball would go in the hole, he would preen like a peacock. Just like George W. Which brings us to the present; last night we spoke by phone and my inveterate friend informed me that he was considering voting for Obama. I listened silently on the line as Sluzak ticked off reason after reason why Obama would be good for our country as the next President. I resisted the desire to interrupt his diatribe by saying it to his face. I woke up early this morning refreshed and re-energized and just itching to get to it. Here it is: Now it's my turn. Paybacks are hell, Nat. See. I told you.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Every Once In A While

Every once in a while I listen to Rush Limbaugh. The first time I ever heard of him was when my wife arranged for us to hear him speak at the Masonic Temple in Detroit, back about fifteen or so years ago. He sold out and the audience was comprised primarily of young men in their twenties. I learned that night that these young men were called dittoheads because they agreed with everything this guy said. I also thought at the time and for quite a few months after that Rush was a comedian. That night by request he repeated his hamster (or was it a guineau pig?) story about a gay guy who had to seek treatment because of a little furry animal stuck in his rectum. The audience howled with every sentence. Truth is, the guy was funny that night if gay bashing is your thing. It took me about three or four years after that to realize that the guy was serious, that he actually believed the crap he put out on the air each day and that the ditto heads were soaking up every word. People that like to think about things were tagged with names such as bleeding heart liberal, tree hugger, feminazi and worse. Somewhere along the way the phrase 'dittohead' was dropped because it was apparently important to convey the impression that people who agreed with him had reached their opinions by themselves without his influence. And I'm the tooth fairy. Rush and his dittoheads created a fervor across America starting in the late 1990s and extending through today. A favorite whipping boy was the 'liberal media'. Another was Hollywood. His definition of who is a conservative narrowed based on his apparent need to always be angry about something. That talent, or rather lack of it, is what amazes me about the guy. I thought when Bush and the pseudo-conservatives took over Washington, Rush would have nothing left to vent his spleen over. I was wrong.. It became necessary to pass certain purity tests — on immigration, abortion, taxes and Terri Schiavo. Recently Rush took on McCain and Huckabee. “I’m here to tell you, if either of these two guys get the nomination, it’s going to destroy the Republican Party,” he said recently on his radio show. “It’s going to change it forever, be the end of it.”

I am going to wonder aloud. Instead of principled people like John McCain and Mike Huckabee who refuse to walk lockstep contributing to the downfall of the Republican party, I would suggest that Rush is the poster child of the downfall. By his personal example, he demonstrates with accuracy and clarity the hypocrisy of the pseudo-conservative movement. Consider this; one of his favorite targets is the trial lawyer, but guess who he relied on to evade prison for his felonious conduct in altering and forging narcotics prescriptions to feed his personal addiction? You guessed it. A trial lawyer. I think the American public has had it with the group of people, typefied by Limbaugh, who like to tell people how to think. Although these people apparently don't believe in evolution, it is an example of evolution at its best; the neo-cons have evolved into pseudo-cons. The con game is over.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Best Line of the Day

I read a few newspapers each day. It's one of the things one can do when retired. My best estimate is that I spend three to four hours each day poring over stories and editorials and what-all as a means of staying informed about what is going on in this world of ours. Every once in a while, something strikes me as funny, funny hilarious. That happened today as I read Maureen Dowd's op-ed in the New York Times about Bush's beleaguered trip to the mid-east and his attempt to salvage what little is left of the worst presidency in the history of the United States's. Dowd has a one-liner I find hilarious: "Puddle jumping through Arabia, the president saw his share of falcons in little leather hoods — presumably not a Gitmo reference — and Arabian stallions, including one retired stud from Texas — presumably not a W. reference." Maybe it's just me. In fact it may not be funny. It is not as funny to me as I write this now, but I laughed like hell when I read it initially. What it does provide me now, after the initial guffaw, is a sense of relief that our national nightmare is nearly over. I predict that history will judge Bush as the little man who tried to destroy his own democratic nation under the guise of forcing lip-service democracy on other nations. He can't get out to pasture fast enough.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

I've Got Friends in Low Places . . .

A good friend, Susan, sent me this snippet of an e-mail in the aftermath of the New Hampshire primary:

"I don't have a blog, so I'm sending this to you! (I also sent versions of it to Oprah, Lou Dobbs, CNN and MSNBC): As I listened to the morning pundits grasping for a reason for the discrepancy between the polls' predictions and what happened last night in N.H., a more sinister explanation than any I've heard occurred to me:
The day after the Iowa caucuses, I began receiving forwarded emails from friends from Michigan and Alabama, resurrecting the old defamations about Obama being schooled in a mudrassah, but also a new one (to me): that the Trinity Unity Church to which he belongs is African-based, has a completely black agenda, etc. (If you haven't read these, go to and type in "Obama". It quotes the emails verbatim and also examines their truthfulness, point by point.) What I'm wondering is this: Is it possible that voters in N.H. were also bombarded by these emails? Is it just a coincidence that I began receiving them Jan. 4th? (and that is also the date that Snopes first responded to the Trinity Church slur.)It seems to me that this kind of inflammatory "information", disseminated right before the vote, with little time to be vetted, might lead to Obama-leaning voters changing their votes or simply staying away from the polls. It also occurs to me that people who were turned off because of these charges might not reveal during exit polling why they changed their minds, out of fear of seeming racist. Is this too paranoid? I just can't buy the "gender gap" or the "tearing up" explanations. Neither, nor both, seem dramatic enough to me to explain the roughly 15 point difference b/t poll numbers and actual votes. Especially when those same polls got the Republican numbers right. What is your view?"

I listened last night to several experienced pollsters describe a phenomenon they have observed in other elections. The gist of what they described (they had a name for it, but I cannot recall it) is that there is a frequent racial reaction when a black person runs against a white person. During polling, pre and post voting, white voters will lie about how they voted to avoid the discomfiture of indicating that race played a role in their decision. In other words, they will say they voted for the black person, but actually had voted for the white person. I too had received on a couple of occasions the same hateful e-mails about Obama that Susan describes, including the most recent on Jan. 4th. I concur with Susan's thinking that this latest attempt to besmirch this man is the internet equivalent of the Swift boating of John Kerry during the last presidential election. In a conversation about this yesterday on the golf course, another friend, Ron, indicated that the source of this e-mail originally was from Hillary's camp during the Iowa campaign and the individuals responsible had been fired. When that e-mail was circulated a few months ago, Ron had the integrity and courage to stand up to the local sender, another fellow golfer, by suggesting the sender check his facts before doing something like that in the future. He took a little heat from it, but otherwise emerged unscathed. But I digress. It is not difficult for me to see how this e-mail timing, in light of the racial effect when white meets black, could have caused the unusual deviance from the polling results. It doesn't matter who's playbook originated this deed, it would be a sad day for Americans if our next president was chosen as a result.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

I Can't Help But Wonder . . .

Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral argument in Baze v. Rees, No. 07-5439, a case challenging the carrying out the death penalty in Tennessee by the administration of a three drug cocktail; the initial use of a short acting barbiturate intended to induce a deep state of unconsciousness, followed by pancuronium, a profound muscle paralyzing agent for the purpose of minimizing movement of the soon-to-be-deceased resulting from the action of the third drug, potassium chloride, which in the absence of the barbiturate and pancuronium can cause intense pain and random violent movements. The pharmacological effect of the potassium chloride is to stop the beating of the heart. The violent reaction if potassium chloride is administered without pancuronium can be very upsetting to witnesses to the death. In other words, the pancuronium is administered for the benefit of witnesses to minimize their discomfiture. Likewise, if pancuronium were to be administered by itself without a barbiturate beforehand, death would occur by slow, excruciating suffocation with full comprehension by the prisoner. Observers would have no idea of the pain and effects of the drug because the paralyzing action of the drug would eliminate movement. There have been a number of instances across the country, never in Tennessee, when executions have gone awry because the non-physicians carrying out the procedure (the Hippocratic oath prevents physicians from killing fellow human beings) administered either or both of these drugs before the barbiturate.

In the case being heard by the Court, the contention is that the administration of the three drug cocktail violates the cruel and unusual punishment dictates of the U.S. Constitution. From published reports of argument, a majority of the Court is apparently skeptical of this claim. I can't help but wonder if the Court's reaction arises from the same type of thinking that would cause a technician charged with putting a fellow human being to death in the described manner. That is, the prisoner is going to die because of the commission of some heinous act as a result of which no mercy is deserved. I can't help but wonder whether the improper administrations of the drugs on reported occasions were done deliberately to satisfy the longing for punishment that drives the existence of the death penalty itself.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

It's Our Turn - Do You Feel It?

For years, seven at least, we have stood by while our intelligence and patriotism have been questioned, challenged and denigrated. During this time, if one expressed a simple disagreement with actions the current administration had taken, the label 'traitor' or 'bleeding heart liberal' was applied as though the most thing an American could do was to remain in lockstep support, neo-fascist style. Over that time, we have witnessed first hand the steady erosion of the constitutional values that for over 200 hundred years had made this country the greatest land on earth. We have witnessed a steady stream of special interest groups steamroll over free market concepts through funding of political candidates. We have watched the rich get richer, not by principles of fair play, but by backroom wink and nod politics that shredded the notion of doing what is right for all Americans including those who cannot buy their way into the White House for an audience. We have watched with dismay a government run in third world banana republic style via the appointment of party hacks to important governmental positions with no apparent qualifications other than loyalty to the chief. We have felt firsthand the ramifications of a President who does not trust the rule of law in the daily functioning of our system of government, who chooses to disregard that rule at his whim.

Now , it's our turn. I could feel it, tears in my eyes, when Obama spoke after the Iowa caucus. But it is far more than that historical speech that brings a lightness to my step. It is the simple fact that twice as many people turned out to vote for Democrats as Republicans. We are ready. It's our turn. Do you feel it?