December 31, 2003

Naw, Bush had Nothing to Do With Libya Coming Clean....

I mentioned this elsewhere about ten days ago, but couldn't provide a reference for what should be obvious reasons--the news was not yet "public" and the person who provided it sure wasn't going to tag their name on it. So when folks wrote and called me a liar, I had to bite my tongue and take my lumps, not being Matt Drudge or anyone resembling him.

The accusation was that Libya's decision to come clean on their WMD programs was NOT a response to the Iraq invasion, or to any U.S. enforcement of WMD restrictions. When I said otherwise and cited this incident, I was castigated for making things up. Some folks just can't concede that the Bush strategy in the Middle East has had some positive results. So now that it's public knowledge, here's what really provided the final impetus for Qadaffi's sudden change of heart, and brought him to the table.

U.S. Blocked Centrifuge Parts for Libya

December 30, 2003

Politics, Autism, and Science

Can't I find anything to write about other than health care and drug companies? Well, usually yes, but it's been a landmark year for blatant greed and naked political corruption by the drug companies, so fresh insults to my intelligence have inspired me lately.

The latest insult comes on the Wall Street Journal editorial page of December 29, and it's called The Politics of Autism--Lawsuits and emotion vs. science and childhood vaccines, in which the WSJ castigates three Moderate Senators for holding up a "reform" bill that would cut the pins out from under the Greedy Trial Lawyers bedeviling those pristine drug companies, and threatening our vaccine supply. It's a well-written editorial, and would normally have had me cheering for anyone who could muzzle them thar lawyers, except....

Except that I've followed the issue for years, and what is noticeably lacking is some background on the controversy. Details like the situation that led to the flap in the first place. Details such as the thorough discrediting of the (drug company sponsored) studies the Journal cites as "definitive science" of no vaccine/autism link. Details like the REAL reason Frist's VICP "reform" bill hasn't made it out of the joint House/Senate committee. Details like Senator Frist's incestuous relationship with the drug companies, and his self-interest as a major stakeholder in the Hospital Corporation Of America (HCA).

The Journal (and the Frist crowd, and the Bush administration) would have you believe that the vaccine/autism link has been totally disproved. The autism advocates would have you believe there is no possible doubt of a connection. The scientists and statisticians and analysts among us who've reviewed the data know that it may take decades to prove either way (e.g., the causative mechanism for thalidomide injuries was not found until the '90's!) and that the evidence of a link is ambiguous but by no means insubstantial. So, as Paul Harvey says, "And now, the rest of the story."

The real issue in this case is NOT whether infant vaccines and components therein can be linked to the epidemic of Autistic Spectrum Disorder. Despite what you may hear from either side, the definitive science is still not there either way. The real issue is that the drug companies want a blanket immunity from ALL vaccine liability, regardless of what science may show now or in the future, and their Congressional lapdogs are quite willing to provide it. On the other side, Congressional supporters of the tort bar want to open the cash vaults of the drug companies. In the middle, thoughtful and sober moderates want to address the actual problem with a real solution, and are keeping both the drug reps and the lawyer-lovers at arm's length and stalling bad bills. And the basic problem that needs fixing is a thoroughly dysfunctional Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP) desperately in need of reform and repair.

VICP was designed to compensate those injured by acute reactions to vaccinations. It has an incredibly short filing statute, 36 months maximum. It has absolutely NO provisions or mechanisms for dealing with any chronic or late-appearing vaccine injuries. None. And the average age of diagnosis for ASD aka "autism" is about four years. So parents believing their child's autism might be related to vaccines discovered that, regardless of the science, regardless of any American conception of justice, they were barred by federal law from making any legal claims anywhere except the VICP, but that they couldn't make any claims with the VICP because the filing statute ran out before their child was even diagnosed.

So the parents went searching for lawyers who could find loopholes, and they found them, and the lawyers found loopholes and proceeded to sue the bejeezus out of the drug companies. The drug companies, looking at a plaintiff's class of tens of thousands of autistic children, panicked and went running to their friends in the federal government. Specifically, to the Bush administration and Senator Frist. And the administration saw those tens of thousands of claims and realized that if they made it into the system and there was anything at all to back them up, either the drug companies or the government would have a tab of many, many billions to pay out, and that public faith in the vaccination programs would be severely shaken. So, lo and behold, in the middle of the night several clauses were anonymously inserted in the Homeland Security bill, clauses that would have forced all current and future vaccine-related claims of any kind into the VICP, where they were utterly assured of being rejected due to the time limits. A hue and cry arose from the lawyers and the parents, and the clauses were stripped out when Congress reconvened in January.

Then VICP reform bills were passed by both the House (R-Burton, IN) and Senate (R-Frist, TN) and went into joint committee in April, where they deadlocked. Burton's bill would reform the VICP to address chronic injuries, and provide for future claims on newly discovered causation. If conclusive evidence was found in the future that vaccines were implicated in autism, then claims could be made on behalf of those tens of thousands of kids without the filing statute being applied to exclude them. Frist's bill superficially looks much the same, but would only allow claims excluded in the last six years to be brought forward, and would not reform the VICP to address chronic injuries. As thimerosal was pulled from infant vaccines in 1999, the longer the bill takes to pass, the more autistic kids who received thimerosal-containing vaccines would be excluded from claims by time limits, no matter what science the future may bring. (The bulk of thimerosal claims would by definition be from children born between 1985 and 1999.) Thus, if evidence of a definitive autism/vaccine link was ever uncovered, the bulk of those injured would once again have been excluded from ever, in any venue, seeking damages or compensation.

You can guess which part of the two bills has resulted in the lack of compromise, and intense and massive lobbying by the pharmaceutical industry to pass the Frist version of the "reform" bill. Yep, the part that would allow claims based on new evidence to be allowed without applying the filing limit.

The administration, the Wall Street Journal, and Frist's favorite contributors want the Frist bill. The trial lawyers and their Congresscritters, and the "true believer" parents of autistic children want litigative blood, and an open shot at the deep pockets of the drug companies. The there's those of us in the middle who still believe that justice is desirable in our society and would like to see Burton's bill pass, leaving the VICP open to retroactive claims if and when the science is there to support them. My hat is off to Snowe, Collins, and Chafee for holding their ground and keeping the Frist bill bottled up despite intense pressure.

December 24, 2003

I Just Can't Leave 'em ALone!

I've written extensively about the Medicare Bill both here and elsewhere. Now comes the confirmation that of all the things the bill is intended to do, actually lowering drug prices is NOT one of them.

To be sure, much of the stated intention of the bill is to lower drug costs to the elderly with huge drug bills. And to some extent it actually does that, by shifting the cost burden to the taxpayers. But it doesn't do a single thing to control the extortionate price of drugs that led to millions of Americans buying their drugs from Canada and other countries. Quite the opposite--by tapping into the Treasury, the bill gives pharmaceutical companies a blank check to continue making huge profits stiffing U.S. consumers with much higher prices than they sell those same drugs for elsewhere. This is why the drug companies were all in favor of the bill, and massively lobbied for its passage.

It's also why the bill specifically prohibited states and cities from negotiating price agreements on their own to reduce the cost burdens they face. Predictably, those same cities and states, faced with sharply rising drug costs both under Medicaid programs and their own self-funded health plans and with the ban on price negotiations that by itself constitutes a huge unfunded federal mandate to pay extortion to the drug companies, are exploring and establishing their own deals with Canadian drug suppliers, which has the FDA frantic. The FDA is going to great lengths to discourage the practice, which is illegal under federal law. To do so, they not only are loudly threatening legal action against the cities and states, but also trotting out the old "foreign drugs are not safe" argument.

Canadian drugs are susbstantially cheaper for two major reasons. The first is that under the Canadian health care system, the individual provinces are allowed to negotiate prices with the drug companies. The second is that Canadians aren't stiffed the same "premium" for drug development costs that U.S. consumers are. So Canadian drugs are cheaper because they can negotiate prices, and because American consumers already subsidizes the lower price of foreign drugs by soaking up those development costs themselves.

Remember, these are the same drugs, produced by the same companies, that Americans get. The drug companies tried the "foreign drugs aren't safe" argument briefly during the debate on the Medicare Bill, but quietly dropped it when people started asking why drug companies were manufacturing and selling unsafe drugs to Canadians. Now the FDA has taken up the baton to justify the support of a pharmaceutical monopoly price structure, and the massive giveaway of American tax dollars to drug companies.

And it still doesn't wash. A revolt is brewing over this massive unfunded mandate, and it's not going to get smaller. There is no good reason for Americans to be charged more than others for these drugs. If passing the development costs on to consumers in other countries is a problem, it's a problem for those countries. And there is absolutely NO good reason to ban states and cities from negotiating their own drug prices, rather than getting stuck with a full-price mandate from the federal government.

But hey, you already knew the drug companies really liked the Medicare Bill for good reasons, didn't you?

December 18, 2003

Not those Evil Drug Companies Again!

BLAME THE TORT LAWYERS!!! They're driving us out of the vaccine business with frivolous lawsuits!

It's become the standard response of the pharmaceutical industry to complaints about the shortage of flu vaccine this year. You hear it spouted by drug reps, politicians, even by doctors. And it's a bare-faced lie.

The argument is that there aren't enough doses of flu vaccine because lawsuits have made it unpofitable for pharmaceutical companies to manufacture enough vaccine. That since the federal government is the biggest single buyer of flu vaccine, federal price controls have finished the job by making it unprofitable to produce enough to make a profit. That despite the federal Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP) designed to prevent it, the tort lawyers are digging through loopholes to bleed drug companies dry suing them over vaccines.

The truth is that the amount of flu vaccine produced in any given year is determined months ahead of the flu season, is based solely on projected demand, and that ALL flu-vaccine related suits ARE handled by the VICP, not the regular courts. After several years of mild flu seasons, demand had dropped off, and the drug companies accordingly manufactured less vaccine in response to the anticipated weak demand. When the quantities to be manufactured were determined, months ago, the Fujian flu strain now sweeping the country and boosting demand for vaccinations was only beginning to be noticed, and was not included in the vaccine. So less vaccine was manufactured than in the past, and there's simply no way to switch gears and produce a new vaccine (or even more of the same vaccine) overnight. It takes months.

And the other truth is that the vaccine cases now being pursued by tort attorneys outside the VICP aren't over the flu vaccine, but over mercury-containing pediatric vaccines suspected of causing the explosion in autism cases in the last two decades. The drug companies knew for years that mercury, though useful as a preservative, can produce profound neural problems in fetuses, newborns, and infants, yet they continued to sell and promote these mercury-containing vaccines even as the number of required infant vaccinations expanded, raising the doses of mercury received by infants to many times the "safe" amount for infant exposure.

Autism is a neural-developmental disorder with symptoms nearly identical to mercury poisoning. As infant mercury exposure through vaccines rose over the last two decades due to the increase in required vaccinations, so rose autism levels. While no direct mechanism has yet been established, the epidimiological evidence of a connection between mercury and autism is suggestive. (For reference, while thalidomide was indentified as causing birth defects in the early 1960's, the actual mechanism by which it did so was not found until the 1980's.)

The law says that vaccination suits must be brought through the VICP. But the VICP is designed to compensate acute (quickly appearing) adverse reactions to vaccines, not chronic late-appearing injuries like autism that may not be diagnosed for years after the exposure. As evidence of an autism/mercury connection began appearing the parents of autistic children began asking questions, and were referred to VICP, where they quickly discovered that they not only couldn't sue through the regular courts, they were barred from seeking compensation from VICP because of extremely strict time limits for filing claims. In short, if you think your child became autistic due to mercury in pediatric vaccines, it doesn't matter if you're right or wrong. You're simply out of luck, and barred from making any claims. UNLESS, as some attorneys are attempting, you can somehow file suit for intentional negligence in leaving doses of a known brain-crippling poison in infant vaccines, when the evidence that it was dangerous was there all along.

That is what the shouting was about on those clauses buried in the Homeland Security Act in the dead of night--clauses that released drug companies for ALL liability related to pediatric vaccinations, and also left the government compensation program immune from claims for same through those time limitations. The scientific verdict is still out on the mercury/autism connection, and it may be many years before medical science can say for certain if there's a solid link, and what that link is. In the meantime, tens of thousands of autistic children require massive amounts of treatment for a chance at a real life, and their families go bankrupt paying for it, and both the drug companies and the federal government fight like wolverines to immunize themselves from any liability regardless of what that truth may turn out to be. There is already considerable evidence that both the CDC and the drug companies have altered and distorted research that showed a plausible connection, and the paper shredders may well be in overdrive in many corporate headquarters.

A shortage of flu vaccine related to increased demand and panic buying provides an opportunity for the drug companies to muddy the waters on this related issue of autism/mercury suits, and they did not become the largest, most powerful corporations in the world by passing up opportunities. A panic related to any the shortage of ANY vaccine provides an opportunity to immunize themselves a bit more from their own past actions, and they're not going to let that slip away.

None of these inconvenient realities will stop the drug companies and their minions from blaming it all on the lawyers. And none of the screaming and shouting and finger-pointing will provide any relief for chronic victims of vaccine reactions. Only a comprehensive reform of the VICP to address future chronic injuries and "grandfather" existing chronic injuries into the program could do that, but that reform continues to be buried in committee, fought at every turn by both the drug companies and the administration, neither of whom want to pick up the tab, which could easily run to many billions of dollars. With tens of thousands of autistic children (and their families) suffering, this is one issue that won't go away until the truth is finally known. But it's hard to seek the truth when the full resources of the world's largest corporations and the world's wealthiest, most powerful government seem determined to bury it.

December 07, 2003

My last Medicare Drug Bill rant...maybe.

I can hear what you're thinking already...oh, no, another rant about the Medicare Drug bill! Well, yes. More precisely, a rant about a little clause therein that no one bothered to mention (or want noticed) before President Bush signs it Monday Dec. 7, and the bill becomes law.

You've already heard about the billions in subsidies for drug companies, insurance companies, and big business that make up about half the spending in this $400 billion monstrosity, including the fact that it will likely cost much more than the claimed $400 billion. Indeed, that estimate has already increased to $436 billion in the last two months. You've already heard about the prohibition on re-importing drugs into the U.S. from Canada, something that will boost prices for all drug consumers, not just the seniors who will get benefits under the new plan, and pour billions of dollars more into the pockets of the pharmaceutical industry. You may have even noticed that there's something not exactly just about all the taxes on working families required to pay for Medicare, many of whom can not afford any health insurance at all, an amount estimated to rise to as much as $4,000/yr per household under this massive unfunded behemoth.

But what seniors, the purported winners in this typically Rube Goldberg monstrosity of a pork barrel, have not yet noticed is that the new legislation that is supposed to ease their problems with high drug prices may do the exact opposite, locking them out of any alternatives. You see, not only does the bill provide a benefit with a big hole in the coverage, a hole that will grow with inflation indexing, it also prohibits seniors from buying any outside drug coverage at all to fill those gaps in the new benefit.

As reported today in the New York Times, the New Medicare Bill Bars Extra Insurance for Drugs. If you're already covered by an employer retiree policy, those expenditures don't count towards the $3600/yr deductible in the new plan. And if the drugs you're using are not part of the Medicare formulary of approved drugs, your spending on those drugs won't count towards that deductible either. So no matter what, in the complicated rules of the new plan, of the first $5,100 in annual drug expenses the patient is responsible for $3,600, period, an amount which can't be reduced by using outside coverage of any sort, and which must be spent on "approved" drugs before Medicare starts picking up 95% of the tab. So get used to generics at full "manufacturer's suggested retal price," Grandma, and don't hold your breath waiting on formulary approval of those cutting-edge drugs that the drug companies claim they must have oodles of cash to develop.

To make things even "better," low-income seniors eligible for both Medicaid and Medicare would have to obtain their drugs through Medicare, which has a more restrictive formulary offering fewer approved drugs. States will be generally prohibited from supplementing Medicare drug coverage with Medicaid drug coverage. And states will not get the discounts and rebates they now receive from manufacturers under Medicaid. So costs for state Medicaid programs will rise as well, something you won't find in the glowing reports from Congress on what a wonderful bill this is, or in the estimated cost of same.

November 25, 2003

Medicare Redux

What is it that is despised by Ted Kennedy, Dick Gephardt, the Wall Street Journal, and Rush Limbaugh?

Trick question, you say. It must be something on the order of killing puppies in public. Or animal husbandry of the Biblically forbidden type. It would take something truly extreme, something really revolting and disgusting, to get those folks to agree on anything, no?

Well, yes and no--it's the new Medicare bill. Conservatives are outraged over this budget-buster, as are liberals. Why? Because the bill is less about solving a problem than it is about paying major campaign donors billions of dollars out of the taxpayer's pockets, as Howard Kurtz observes in today's WASHINGTON POST.

You don't solve the problem of extortionate pricing by taxing the public to raise the Danegeld. You do it by dealing summarily with the blackmailers. But when your blackmailers own your politicians, that's easier said then done. So instead, you pay the blackmailers more and tell your constituents you're doing it to make their lives better.

Just don't mention that you're making their children's lives worse, and mortgaging their future. The Republicans seem to have decided it's time to give up on small government and instead try to beat the records of previous administrations in expanding government, and with this bill they've done that nicely. As REASON magazine's Tim Cavanaugh points out, it's gotten awfully hard to tell the evil party from the stupid party lately. And should you be tempted to think it's actually a partisan thing, go back and re-read Kurtz's column again.

The lesson of history that seems to be going ignored here is that once you pay the blackmailers, they never go away.

November 18, 2003


A follow-up to Sunday's blog on the Medicare bill and the health care system, and on the Al-Qaeda/Iraq memo leak.

An editorial in today's NEW YORK TIMES that addresses universal health care in a fairly sane fashion--well worth your time to read. Followed by a frank piece on the monster that is the Medicare "Drug" bill, by E.J. Dionne, Jr. in the WASHINGTON POST. Also well worth your time.

The Universal Cure

Medicare Monstrosity

(Someone wanted to know why I said "Year 75" in the title of the health care piece. Answer: Because it's been 75 years since the invention of antibiotics, which I consider the most definitive date for the birth of modern medicine, and the beginning of the enshrinement of doctors and drugmakers as the modern gods of life and death. Some might argue for the introduction of antiseptic procedures, but there's no real firm date on that so I went the easy route.)

From Yahoo News/AP comes this first confirmation on the authenticity of the Al-Qaeda/Iraq memo leaked last week via the Weekly Standard, as noted here on Saturday.

Senate Panel Eyes Justice Dept. Leak Probe

No point in probing the leak unless the memo is actually genuine. QED.

Lastly, I'm not sure how people manage to get the email address I removed due to uncontrolled spamming, but the mail keeps trickling in even though the spam level dropped. I'll figure something out to restore email contact without it turning into a spambot spiderfest. I'm also going to get the comment function going again. As always, utter morons deleted, mindless rants ridiculed, thoughtful commentary and discussion greatly encouraged. And as always, my html skills remain on a par with my brain surgery talents and fiduciary prowess, so don't hold your breath too long, or expect anything flashy.

November 16, 2003

Medicare and more: Health Care Crisis (year 75)

News has leaked that the committee working on the Medicare prescription drug issue has reached "agreement in principle" on the basics of the proposal. It remains to be seen if the bill can pass the House and Senate, where the vote margin is razor-thin. Key legislators are not jumping on the bandwagon--yet.

The real problem with drugs in America (the legal kind!) and health care is not that they aren't covered by Medicare, but that they cost too much to begin with. The current legislation is not being driven by the public outcry over availability or price. Medicare recipients have complained for years about the lack of coverage, and nothing happened until the drug companies started losing revenues to overseas sales of drugs re-imported back into the United States. American drug prices are sky-high because drug companies use American sales to recoup their development costs (and pad their profits) on drugs while selling those drugs at much lower prices in other markets. In short, we not only pay for the drugs, as U.S. consumers we subsidize the low overseas prices that make Canadian internet pharmacies such a pain to the drug companies' bottom line.

But note that nothing came before Congress until the drug companies started to take that financial hit, and the political solution that has emerged is, predictably, not to address the pricing disparities and the reasons for them, but to directly and indirectly subsidize the drug companies' revenues, with the health insurance companies getting a slice of the action as well. We've already seen what "competition" within the health care insurance industry means. It means that insurance companies will "skim" the healthier patients off, excluding the sickest from private policies. So the taxpayers end up subsidizing insurance companies and drug companies, while those stuck in the government programs face declining benefits.

And in the meantime, more and more non-elderly taxpayers not eligible for ANY government-subsidized health care benefits are finding out that they can afford neither medical care nor health insurance. Sky-rocketing premiums are making insurance for family members so outrageously expensive that even if a worker is covered by an employer's policy, they often can not afford to have their spouse and children covered as well. This is the driving engine of the increase in the uninsured. More and more middle-class families are facing the choice of gambling for continued good health, or paying premiums that exceed their total monthly household bills. They make enough money that they're not eligible for government programs, but not enough to pay the insurance bill, which can easily exceed $1000/month for a family.

Greatly suffering are the middle-class self-employed, who must pay the full 15.4% portion of their Social Security and Medicare taxes instead of the 7.7 percent taken out of corporate paychecks (employers pay the other half), yet often can't afford to buy health insurance for themselves or their families. So the younger and more healthy workers caught in the squeeze are increasingly doing without insurance altogether, using their earnings for housing and other living expenses. Given the choice of effective poverty and being insured, or better disposable income and no insurance, they increasingly are choosing to do without insurance.

Not that being insured is any gaurantee of good treatment. Insurance policies are increasingly coming loaded with exclusions, restrictions, and high deductibles. Some conditions are not covered at all, or are covered so partially that insurance claims are woefully insufficient to cover the costs.

The solutions coming from Congress, for either Medicare or for general health care, don't even begin to address the real problems of runaway profiteering and skyrocketing costs. Beset by wealthy lobbys such as physicians, for-profit hospitals, and drug companies, the "solutions" proposed all fall into one of two categories: either taxpayers subsidizing for-profit health care, or forcing the healthy uninsured to pay for mandatory insurance in order to subsidize the less healthy.

A decade ago the Clinton administration ran head-first into the medical lobby while trying to promote a "National Health Insurance" plan that was doomed to fail, constructed to sneak in the actuality while still leaving enough monopoly power on the table to please the medical and insurance lobbies. It didn't work. Those lobbies are now more firmly entrenched in Washington than ever before, and as a result more and more Americans are going without health care so that the recipients of the public largesse can keep getting richer. There are no easy solutions. If we expect our health care system to continue to achieve breakthroughs, the incentives must be there. But right now, those breakthroughs are increasingly being paid for by reduced health among those who can afford it least, by the people who do without basic healthcare so that the well-insured and wealthier patients can have access to the best and most recent treatments. The money MUST come from those not paying into the system now, but forcing those who can't afford the basics to pay more in taxes for others who are already insured isn't the answer--and let us remember that the Medicare tax will sooner or later rise to cover the extra costs.

We are the only major nation that does not have national health insurance, and our system is breaking down. Health insurance used to be a fairly low-cost benefit for employers, but that's changed to the highest-cost benefit, and the nature of the job market has changed, as has the nature of the entire economy. Insurance must become "portable," attached to the person and not the job, or the system will simply break down, which it already shows signs of doing. National basic health care is coming, sooner or later. The questions we need to explore are what form it will take, and how we will pay for it?

November 15, 2003

Al-Qaeda and Iraq

I'd love to see some confirmation on this story! While the Dems seem to be doing their best to turn the Senate Intelligence Committee into an arm of the Democratic Election Committee, some of the folks on the SIC are bent on actually performing the mission assigned.

This story, if confirmed, would be a near-knockout blow to the anti-war Left, or at least that portion to whom facts rather than rhetoric actually still mean something. One of the great underpinnings of the new mythology of the Iraq invasion is that there was absolutely no connection between al-Qaeda and Iraq. While there were indeed some indications that Iraq had provided material support to AQ, the evidence was circumstantial. Kuwaiti passports from the first Iraq war (manufactured and matching records inserted into Kuwaiti records during the Iraqi occupation) turning up in the hands of AQ members, Iraq's "blind-eye" acceptance of the Dar Al-Islam camp, an AQ offshoot and ally, in northeastern Iraq, terrorist training camps in Iraq that were known to be used by Hezbollah and PLO, but not directly known to have been used by AQ.

Of course, no evidence will ever be good enough for the ideologically committed. Even if there had been direct involvement and support of AQ's 9/11 attacks by Iraq, the odds of any direct evidence existing would be small. Hussein is not a total idiot, and any direct communications would not have been either traceable or in writing. But the leaked memo, if confirmed, would bring the connection a quantum leap closer.

November 05, 2003


And that anti-spam email scripting trick didn't work, so email link is down again. Damn spammers. I love the good mail, don't mind the rants, even enjoy the real lunatics, but spam just drives me nuts, so....

November 02, 2003

The Dowdification of the Dead

I quit reading Maureen Dowd for anything but the acquisition of propaganda info last summer, when she intentionally mangled a quote by Bush in order to make it fit her agenda, and then failed to 'fess up to her manipulation. It was blatant--many papers around the county actually published corrections when Dowd herself refused.

In her NEW YORK TIMES column today, ironically titled "Pros at the Con," Maureen Dowd rants about the Bush administration spin on Iraq, using the "Big Lie" argument of which the Left has grown so fond. In her piece she uses a 1996 anecdote about then-editor of THE NEW REPUBLIC Michael Kelly writing a "very angry" letter defending TNR reporter Stephen Glass to illustrate her theme on how people can be suckered in to enabling the "Big Lie." Glass, of course, is the serial fabricator fired from TNR for making up sources and stories. Once again, Dowd's column is notable more for what it doesn't say.

Dowd brings up Kelly's purported defense of Glass and immediately notes Kelly's firing from TNR and Glass' firing by Kelly's successor, Chuck Lane, implying they are closely linked without quite saying so. And that's simply not true. Dowd never mentions that Kelly's defense of Glass is part of the upcoming movie on Glass--which raises the possibility that Dowd lifted her "anecdote" from the movie, and not from real life. Did Dowd manufacture her anecdote from the movie to justify her rant on journalistic fabrication? In the movie, Kelly reportedly calls and checks on the source before dismissing the complaint, a point Dowd doesn't mention.

Kelly was fired by New Republic owner Martin Peretz, a close friend of Vice-President Al Gore, in the fall of 1997 for his relentless criticism of the Clinton/Gore administration. Dowd merely notes he was fired after fighting with Peretz, vaguely implying he was fighting about Glass. During 1996, the year in which Dowd claims Kelly was defending Glass, Glass' work for TNR was apparently exemplary, and there was only one (published) complaint about his accuracy and sourcing. At the time he had nearly two years of work for both TNR and POLICY REVIEW. It was not until 1997, the year Kelly was fired, that Glass apparently began to fabricate his work wholesale, making up sources and events to punch up his stories. And it took Kelly's successor Chuck Lane the best part of a year to "out" Glass and cease publishing him. Glass wrote for and was published by TNR right up until May 1998. All of which makes Dowd's anecdote about Kelly's 1996 defense of Glass and Kelly's subsequent dismissal from TNR less than useful for the point she is trying to make, and illustrative of nearly nothing--except what it says about Dowd.

Could Kelly have stopped Glass earlier? Certainly. The complaints on Glass were starting to stack up during the summer of 1997, and close checking would have revealed his fabrications sooner, though the level of attention paid to Glass' veracity problems, both before and after Kelly's firing, can be gauged by the amount of time it took Chuck Lane to fire Glass. But also stacking up were Kelly's problems with Peretz, and his struggle to publish stories critical of the Clinton/Gore administration over Peretz's objections. One suspects Kelly was a bit distracted at the time.

In her column, Dowd says "It's bad enough to try to hide critical information when you can get away with it. It's really insulting to try to hide it when you can't get away with it. Those who go for the big con, who audaciously paint false pictures, think everyone else is stupid. They want to promote themselves based on the gullibility of others."

I agree completely. Kelly's work is on the record, as is Glass', and the timeline shows that in 1996 Kelly had little reason NOT to defend Glass, who appeared to be a promising young journalist stacking up an impressive resume. The reason for Kelly's departure from TNR is also on the record, and had nothing to do with Glass and everything to do with his pursuit of truth in the face of extreme opposition from TNR's owner and the Clinton/Gore administration.

Dowd also says, "This sort of airbrushing is tasteless, because it diminishes our war heroes instead of honoring them."

Once again, I agree completely. Michael Kelly died in Iraq pursuing the facts. Airbrushing his career with false colors diminishes his memory. We should be honoring him for his pursuit of the truth and the price he paid to bring it to us, not flinging mud at his coffin as Dowd has done.

As for Dowd, I hope that someday she mentions that her greatest inspirational source of righteous rhetoric is self-reflection on her own flaws as a journalist. But I'm not holding my breath.

October 25, 2003

Homeland Security, Autism, and Shilling for Drug Companies

Some folks may get the idea that I only have problems with the left and with Democrats. Wrong. While the depths of silliness from the left draw most of my barbs, the right and the Republicans are not in my good graces either.

SO, a tale about our current majority, one very close to my heart. An example of how Big Business and campaign donations can add up to screwing the very weakest of us to the wall, in total violation of everything this country is supposed to stand for, all in the name of patriotism. Brought to you courtesy of the Bush administration and the GOP. It's long and complicated, and I don't even pretend to be unbiased, but it's also 100% factual.

No one likes trial lawyers all that much, just as no one likes ants in their kitchens. But when you think about it, just as those ants play a vital role in the ecosystem, trial lawyers play a vital role in keeping justice available to the little guys (that's us). So while I am in favor of keeping them on a leash, I am not an advocate of Dick the Butcher's policy in Henry VI ("...let's kill all the lawyers."). And then there's the Law of Intended But Unspoken Consequences....

One of the things done in the name of tort reform in the 1980's was to establish the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (NVICP). So many lawsuits were being filed against vaccine makers that they were threatening to pull out of the business in the US. The NVICP was meant to handle vaccine injury claims on a "no fault" basis so that people injured by vaccines could be compensated without chasing the drug companies out of the country through litigation. A great idea, done with the best of intentions, and a reform supported by almost everyone but trial lawyers at the time.

Flash forward to the 1990's. The NVICP has registered some notable successes in clearing up a backlog of acute vaccine injury claims, but only where the injury is so clear-cut that no one can even argue about the cause. If there's any doubt at all, cases tend to drag on for years, and it becomes real tough to find a lawyer to handle one. All the cases must be heard in Washington, attorney compensation is restricted to low book rates, and the attorneys can't be paid until the case is settled under a government-appointed Special Master. NVICP has become a totally dysfunctional bureaucracy with the rules set by the Dept. of Health & Human Services by fiat, and vaccine victims, even their doctors, are mostly unaware the program even exists.

At the same time, the number of mandatory vaccinations for infants rises from three to over a dozen, with recommended vaccinations rising to over twenty in the first two years of life. Right along with the rise in government-mandated vaccinations, the rates of autism, speech, behavior, and developmental disorders in children begin to rise precipitously. NVICP begins to get claims for vaccine-related autism and developmental disorders. They routinely deny all such claims, citing a lack of evidence of any link.

Fast forward to 1999. The FDA disallows the use of thimerosal in infant vaccines. At the time, most pediatric vaccines contain thimerosal. The FDA does not recall any vaccines already distributed, just requires that future production be done without thimerosal. So what is thimerosal? It's methyl mercury used as a preservative, also known as merthiolate. Mercury, by the way, is one of the most poisonous substances on earth, with known severe effects on infant neural development. Thimerosal had already been pulled from veterinary vaccines by FDA edict, a full decade earlier, because of mercury exposure concerns. Our pets get better oversight than our kids.

2001. The CDC produces the first draft of a massive study that indicates a roughly 250% increased risk of autism among children exposed to injected thimerosal, with the incidence of autism rising proportionally with increased exposure levels. The draft study is immediately classified and buried, the final public release months later claims no link but has had data crudely and extensively altered, and the lead author says publicly that the butchering of the data renders the final study meaningless. He subsequently takes a very high-paying job with GlaxoSmithKline, at which point he starts refusing to discuss the study at all. NVICP continues to disallow thimerosal-related autism claims, citing lack of evidence. Parents of autistic children begin to sue vaccine makers under product liability statutes, saying that unnecessary additives such as thimerosal are not the same as the vaccine itself. Some courts agree. Some don't. Pharmaceutical companies panic and start lobbying. A Danish study comes out finding no relation between MMR vaccination and autism. Drug companies proudly trumpet the study, but don't bother to mention that MMR vaccines in Denmark have never contained thimerosal, and that the study group was too small for drawing any real conclusions.

2002. The Homeland Security bill passes Congress, with three small clauses anonymously inserted in the dead of night tacked onto the end of the bill. These three clauses define ALL substances in a vaccine, even contaminants and preservatives, as integral parts of the vaccine, exempt the drug companies from ANY liability associated with such additives or contaminants, and wipe out ALL existing lawsuits based on such claims, forcing them into the NVICP. A few (very few) "Liberal" Republicans rebel, and the bill is passed only with the assurance that those three clauses will be stripped from the bill in the next Congress. For most parents of autistic children, this is the first time they become aware of any demonstrated link between vaccinations and autism. [UPDATE: The clause was indeed stripped from the legislation in February.]

At this point it's important to note that NVICP is totally geared, when it works at all, to compensate acute vaccine reactions. It was not designed for, and has no provisions for, chronic disabilities that might be caused by vaccines. At the time, no one knew of any chronic injuries associated with vaccination that didn't have immediate symptoms. NVICP thus has a 3 year statute of limitations from date of injury, NOT from date of discovery, in which to file a claim. This statute trumps ALL state statutes of limitations, even as regards minors. If an injury was caused more than three years ago and not diagnosed or the causation not discovered until after the statute ran out, NVICP's response is too bad for you. You can't sue in any court. You can't file a claim with NVICP. You're just plain shit outa luck. By the way, the average age of diagnosis for autism is 43 months, and the initial injury is presumed to occur with that first HepB vaccination on the day of birth. Do the math.

2003. The American Journal of Physicians and Surgeons publishes a landmark independent study on autism, developmental disorders, and thimerosal in vaccinations. The findings almost exactly replicate those of the government-suppressed CDC draft study, not the final release. The new study shows an overall 250% increased risk of autism and speech disorders for children exposed to injected thimerosal, with risk rising with increased exposure levels.

And the GOP and the Bush admin continue to try to pass legislation wiping out all those product liability suits targeting thimerosal-related autism, claiming they must do so to muzzle the trial lawyers, and to "protect our national security." Even their proposed NVICP "reforms" have a six year limit built in, which would exlude all children born before 1997. The greatest class of injured children would be those born between 1989 and 1999. Can you say "minimizing the potential monetary damages" and "aging out the plaintiff class?" I suppose it's just a coincidence that the drug companies were about the biggest donors to the Republicans in the last few election cycles....

[UPDATE: The competing House and Senate reform bills are stalled in committee, over the issue of "look back" provisions that would allow cases to be filed by those injured more than six years previous--which is now almost all of the class of injured children, given the 1999 order to quit manufaturing pediatric vaccines with Thimerosal in them. Representative Burton keeps trying to get the "look back" provision included. Senator Frist keeps fighting tooth and nail to get it excluded. Guess which one gets piles of money from the pharmaceutical companies? Welcome to Washington! "The U.S. Government crippled my child and I can't even AFFORD a lousy T-shirt!"]

Not dead, just pinin' for the fjords!

Sorry for my recent laxity, but to keep the bills paid requires I actually work occasionally! Next week, articles on the health care meltdown and on rational analysis of slanted news. Today, a rerun from this spring. I will also be restoring the comment section and adding email contact functionality that (hopefully) doesn't draw spammers in droves again. Hang in there.

In the meantime I note that my previous two posts beat the Wall Street Journal and National Review to the punch by hours in one case and two days in the other. Nothin' like being ahead of the curve!

October 18, 2003


The weblog JESSICA'S WELL has couple of wonderful links to articles, one by a famous American novelist, telling us we lost the peace, that the French are skeptical and doubting, how the previous situation before invasion was better, and how the cure is worse than the disease.

Iraq? WRONG! The articles are from the January 7th, 1946 issue of LIFE magazine, and they're about the American occupation of Europe. And the novelist is John Dos Passos.

October 16, 2003

And then there's this....

From today's Philadelphia Inquirer:

Bush orders officials to stop the leaks

WASHINGTON - Concerned about the appearance of disarray and feuding within his administration as well as growing resistance to his policies in Iraq, President Bush - living up to his recent declaration that he is in charge - told his top officials to "stop the leaks" to the media, or else.

News of Bush's order leaked almost immediately.

Bush told his senior aides Tuesday that he "didn't want to see any stories" quoting unnamed administration officials in the media anymore, and that if he did, there would be consequences, said a senior administration official who asked that his name not be used.

I mean, you just gotta laugh....

The Middle's not dead yet....

One of the great tragedies of the Democrat's inability to articulate any national platform other than "We hate Bush and Iraq is a quagmire" is that in chasing and polarizing their extreme Left base, they hurt their moderates in the upcoming Congressional elections and leave the Bush admin no reason to run to the middle, as Clinton did in '96. So it was refreshing to see the following in the Washington Post today...

Senators join forces to roll back parts of Patriot Act

This is a hopeful sign for moderates everywhere that the extremes don't completely control the national agenda, and that common sense still has some followers on The Hill.

October 11, 2003

WMD's and the Lunatic Fringe

If you read the headlines last week, you might have gotten the impression that David Kay and the Iraq Survey Group have conclusively proved that Iraq had no Weapons of Mass Destruction. Ever. It was all a fantasy, a Big Lie used by the Bush administration to justify the war. Saddam never had WMD's, those tens of thousands of Iranian soldiers and inconvenient Kurds died in their sleep of ennui, and our only reason for going to Iraq was to line the pockets of oil companies.

All of which goes to show that significant portions of the media are much less interested in serious journalism than in playing radical politics. And the politics they are playing is that of the Lunatic Fringe, the politics and journalism that avoids and ignores serious and substantive issues in order to push surreal sensationalist propaganda and extremist agendas.

This is nothing new. During the 1990's, a once-serious and renowned magazine, The American Spectator, squandered all claim to objective journalism and drove itself into obscurity by pursuing both bizarre paranoid conspiracy theories and trivial scandals revolving around the Clinton administration. They were the most obvious idiots, but not the only ones. It seemed like a good deal to them at the time. It played well to the black-helicopter crowd. It played well with the people who had a visceral hatred of Bill Clinton and the Democratic Party. It sold magazines. But as a political tactic it was a massive failure, turning the Great Middle of the American political spectrum away from the GOP, eroding the 1994 Republican gains in the House and Senate, and ensruing Bill CLinton's re-election in 1996. It took Clinton's own obvious and personal sins and failings to spike up GOP fortunes again and cost Al Gore what should have been an easy incumbent run at the White House. And when the dust settled, the Spectator went bankrupt, having no Clay God remaining to fight, and having nothing more to say that anyone would believe.

It is a good thing to learn from your own mistakes, but it is a much better thing to learn from your opponent's mistakes. But those on the Left seem to have missed the lesson and appear determined to repeat history. Instead of attacking Bush on issues where he is eminently vulnerable--health care, for example, or the blatant lie of "compassionate conservatism", or the administration's obvious failure to "govern from the middle" as promised--Dems are instead still beating the WMD horse, long dead, and cheerleader liberal papers are helping as best they can by lying about David Kay's report on WMD's.

So let's review what the President actually said, and compare it to the reality. I know that those who are religiously opposed to Bush, those that substitute their own hatred of him for rational thought or even the nitpicking rants of the Spectator variety, those who zealously worship at the altar of the Mindless Blind Demon of Fear and Loathing, those whose fanatical neo-Nazism is of the Noam Chomsky strain, won't bother to read it, ("Don't try to sway me with facts!") but the rest of us can examine the reality.

"Iraq repeatedly made false declarations about the weapons that it had left in its possession after the Gulf War. When UNSCOM would then uncover evidence that gave the lie to those declarations, Iraq would simply amend the reports. For example, Iraq revised its nuclear declarations four times within just 14 months, and it has ubmitted six different biological warfare declarations, each of which has been rejected by UNSCOM. In 1995 Hussein Kamal, Saddam's son-in-law and the chief organizer of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction program, defected to Jordan. He revealed that Iraq was continuing to conceal weapons and missiles and the capacity to build many more. Then and only then did Iraq admit to developing numbers of weapons in significant quantities--and weapons stocks. Previously it had vehemently denied the very thing it just simply admitted once Saddam's son-in-law defected to Jordan and told the truth.

Now listen to this: What did it admit? It admitted, among other things, an offensive biological warfare capability, notably, 5,000 gallons of botulinum, which causes botulism; 2,000 gallons of anthrax; 25 biological-filled Scud warheads; and 157 aerial bombs. And I might say UNSCOM inspectors believe that Iraq has actually greatly understated its production. . . .

Next, throughout this entire process, Iraqi agents have undermined and undercut UNSCOM. They've harassed the inspectors, lied to them, disabled monitoring cameras, literally spirited evidence out of the back doors of suspect facilities as inspectors walked through the front door, and our people were there observing it and had the pictures to prove it. . . .

Over the past few months, as [the weapons inspectors] have come closer and closer to rooting out Iraq's remaining nuclear capacity, Saddam has undertaken yet another gambit to thwart their ambitions by imposing debilitating conditions on the inspectors and declaring key sites which have still not been inspected off limits, including, I might add, one palace in Baghdad more than 2,600 acres large. . . .

One of these presidential sites is about the size of Washington, D.C. . . .

It is obvious that there is an attempt here, based on the whole history of this operation since 1991, to protect whatever remains of his capacity to produce weapons of mass destruction, the missiles to deliver them, and the feed stocks necessary to produce them. The UNSCOM inspectors believe that Iraq still has stockpiles of chemical and biological munitions, a small force of Scud-type missiles, and the capacity to restart quickly its production program and build many, many more weapons.

Now, let's imagine the future. What if he fails to comply and we fail to act, or we take some ambiguous third route, which gives him yet more opportunities to develop this program of weapons of mass destruction and continue to press for the release of the sanctions and continue to ignore the solemn commitments that he made? Well, he will conclude that the international community has lost its will. He will then conclude that he can go right on and do more to rebuild an arsenal of devastating destruction.

And some day, some way, I guarantee you he'll use the arsenal. . . . In the next century, the community of nations may see more and more of the very kind of threat Iraq poses now--a rogue state with weapons of mass destruction, ready to use them or provide them to terrorists, drug traffickers, or organized criminals who travel the world among us unnoticed.

If we fail to respond today, Saddam, and all those who would follow in his footsteps, will be emboldened tomorrow by the knowledge that they can act with impunity, even in the face of a clear message from the United Nations Security Council, and clear evidence of a weapons of mass destruction program."

By the way, that wasn't George W. Bush. The President who said that was Bill Clinton, in December 1998.

What we know today is that the ISG found significant evidence of ongoing programs, and significant evidence of Iraqi attempts to conceal those programs before, furing, and even after the invasion. What we know is that the ISG has to date inspected only 10 of 130 known munitions storage areas, some of them as big as 50 square miles in size. What we know is that Saddam often had WMD munitions stored unmarked, right in with large stores of conventional arms, in order to fool inspectors. And we know that it may be quite a while before all those known areas are examined, and that the relatively small size of what we're looking for may make that search very difficult, and that the munitions, if not destroyed, may have been removed to locations we don't yet know about.

There were substantial arguments to be made about not going to war with Iraq, to instead pursue other, less confrontational and violent paths. And they were made, and that is not the path Bush followed, and that decision is certainly open to debate and criticism. But what is readily apparent is that the President's words were true then, and they are true now. As an option inaction led only to more dangerous options and greater danger to both the world and our nation, and lesser actions risked the same. By going the denial and conspiracy route, the Democrats actively alienate the Great Middle, and guarantee that next year Dubya won't have to work all that hard to get re-elected. He won't have to act like a centrist or moderate. All he has to do is let the Democrats keep sounding like Elvis-sighting alien-probed black-helicopter-chasing X-Filers.

You want to hate Dubya? I'm sure you can find plenty of good reasons. You don't need to make them up.

October 08, 2003


Running Man Conan brings Judgement Day playing Predator over True Lies

With record turnout, Californians have flocked to the polls to oust Gray Davis and replace him with Arnold Schwarzenegger. The race wasn't even close. It's one of the biggest landslides in American history. Exit polls and early returns indicate that the vote to oust Davis is a winner by 10%, and on the replacement ballot Arnold Schwarenegger is not just winning, but winning by nearly 20% after the "next best" in the field, Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, and he bodes well to win with not just a plurality, but almost a clear majority.

When the GOP national party appeared to be pulling out the stops to insure that anti-choice, anti-gay rights mid to far right Bill Simon won the primary, instead of backing moderate Richard Riordan, some people wondered if it was the far right of the party that was pushing a sure loser onto the ballot over a maybe winner, solely for the sake of extreme ideology. I didn't think so at the time, and I don't think so now. I believe that they, the moderates especially, backed a sure loser because he was going to lose. The tragedy that is the California economy was obvious even then, and there was simply no good reason to shove a Republican into the governor's mansion to be the whipping boy for decades of Democratic mismanagement of state finances, especially the Davis excesses of the last five years.

Seriously. No matter who won the California governor's election last year, the winner would be facing a collapsing economy buried under massive tax increases and a seriously bloated state budget, with nothing but inevitable misery waiting. What sane president in troubled times, elected in controversy, would want the spectacle of a Republican California governor being buried under bad news, casting a shadow over the entire Republican Party? So bury Riordan quick and push Simon to lose, and let Davis and the Democrats take the abuse they'd earned.

Then the recall drive came, and someone had to run. When you approach it that way, Arnold actually makes sense for the Republicans. Pro choice, pro gay rights, a political novice with "Terminator" and "outsider" images, and a Hollywood boy. Just his box office power could discourage the less rabid Democrat money in Hollywood. You don't piss off (or on!) the man who can make you rich, or destroy you. After all, business is business. Best of all, as an outsider and almost a joke "celebrity" candidate, his screwups would be deniable and disclamable by the national GOP, with Arnold still being controllable. The best of both worlds!

The spin over the next few days and weeks will be amusing. Despite the best efforts of the heaviest guns in the Democratic Party, this was a thorough blowout. They got hammered, and their favored son got his ass handed to him on a golden platter with a generous side of "Do you want fries with that?" Despite having elected Gray Davis a mere 11 months previously, the voters turned out in record numbers to dump him and replace him with an Austrian body-building action movie star. Now the Dems have to explain how this could happen, without actually admitting they earned every bit of it. This from a party that has spent over a decade firmly establishing that no trick is too dirty, no smear too low, no tactic too sleazy for them to employ as long as it could get them elected. This election was no exception, but this time the voters rejected their tactics. And already I have heard Dems lumping Arnold in with the far right and exercising the same bitter adolescent hate-tantrums over him, somewhat ironic after watching him deliver his acceptance speech on a platform crowded with Hollywood glitterati and Kennedys.

Their only path is to try to portray this election as an isolated incident, a strictly local phenomenon, or to play it up as part of an anti-incumbent wave that will overtake Bush--or both. But the truth is the reaction has been building for years, and headed for the boiling point in the last several months in the heat over the Iraq war. The increasingly desperate, shrill, and even bizarre behavior of Democrats running to the far left in the last few years is turning people off, and today the voters went to the polls and sent a message through one of the worst offendors. It may well be that the election is an isolated incident, a local blip, and not an indicator of a wider repudiation of Democrat politics. It may be that, having delivered up their angst on the altar of California, the moderate middle from both parties and the independents will go back to being swing voters.

Or maybe not. Unless the Democrats learn from this experience, the same factors that led to the California blowout could affect next year's races. And the next. And the next. As long as they persist in being the party with no platform other than hatred of the opposition, as long as their only campaign weapons seem to be either selling out to special interests or demonizing the competitor, all the Republicans have to do to win is not sink to the same level and not make any serious errors that piss off the Great Middle.

For all the vitriol poured on Bill Clinton by the Right, one thing he wasn't was politically stupid. Foolish maybe, short-sighted even, but not stupid. He knew quite well that to be re-elected he would have to run to the middle, co-opting Republican issues and distancing himself from the fringe elements of the Democratic Party. As Bush would have to do with the fringe elements of the GOP next year, if the Dems could ever manage to find a candidate that doesn't totally alienate the independents as well as the moderates of both parties. Don't hold your breath.

October 07, 2003

The Governator!

My call--Davis out, Arnold by a landslide. Props 53 and 54 down in flames. [UPDATE: Recall YES by 9%, Arnold with 48%. Bustamante 32%, McClintock 13%, still waiting on word about Mary Carey...Props 53 & 54 losers almost 2-1.]

After over a decade of increasingly dirty tricks and over-the-top ridiculous smear tactics, the electorate seems to be taking last-minute smears as endorsements. Too bad their weren't any decent candidates this time around. The networks are going to "officially" call the election in about 20 minutes, but the word is already out.

And Terry McAuliffe is already trying to gain traction out of the loss, saying that the voters will do the same to Bush that they did to Davis. The obvious--the Dems will call California an isolated incidient, a strictly local phenomenon--and at the same time try to paint it as an anti-incumbent trend that will hurt Bush.

And Dems all over the country will whine, whine, whine in the most bitter fashion, never believing that their continuing whining played a large part in the defeat.

Weapons of Math Destruction

The Left is hailing David Kay's report as proof the WMD claims were a lie...but that isn't what it says at all. Rather than plagiarize and repeat, I urge you to check out John Podhoretz's column, and [added update] Jeff Jacoby's column. The text of Kay's testimony to Cogress can be found via the third link.

Podhoretz--Size Problem

Jacoby--The media ignored the real WMD news

Text of Iraq weapons inspector David Kay's report

In a nutshell, Kay's team found that Saddam's regime had WMD technology including botulinum strains, continued to develop WMD technology and banned delivery systems (missiles), was continually trying to develop and acquire new weapons and long-range delivery systems, and actively concealed same from the U.N. inspectors and U.S. forces before, during, and after the invasion. What hasn't yet been found is ready-to-deploy battlefield munitions, but the team has inspected less than 10% of the known munitions storage areas, some of which cover as much as 50 square miles, searching for a sum total of material that could fit in a two-car garage.

Not that you'd know any of this from reading the headlines, which loudly proclaim that Iraq had no WMD's, and that Kay's team came up dry.

Left Coast Political Street Theater

As the candidates whore their way to the countdown, some final thoughts.

The voters of California have essentially four choices. Keep Gray Davis, or elect one of the three front-runners. And frankly, none of the choices look all that appealing. Nor does it seem likely that the result will make all that much difference in the way the state is governed, or put much of a dent in the deficit, or tighten the reins of the runaway special interests. Oh, there's a wee bit of a choice in which special interests will have the ear of the governor, but odds are excellent that the results will do little to solve California's massive financial problems, which have a lot more to do with a deeply-entrenched and thoroughly corrupt legislature than with the governor's office.

First, Gray Davis, who sucked the Enron teat for years. In fact, Good Ol' Gray sucked at about every special interest teat he could find, including the unions, the casinos, the energy companies, the developers, the illegal immigrants, and on and on. It probably won't save him. As titular head of the state, he's the fall guy for all the sins, even those he's not responsible for, and desperate taxpayers will almost certainly hand him his walking papers. Even the LA Times, his own private propaganda organ, can't save him now. He'll just have to learn to beat up his female office staff on his own dime now. (Notice how the Arnold accusations make headlines without confirmation, but the verified Davis assaults on women get almost no press at all.)

Then we have his Lt Guv, Good Ol' Cruz, as dishonest and corrupt as the day is long. With Tom and Arnold splitting the right side of the ticket, Cruz may well slip into a promotion. After all, he did get an extra $4 million from the Indian gaming lobby, and while he was supposed to hand it back he actually just shuffled it to a safer place to spend on electing himself. Same campaign people, different organization, call it "legal" and business as usual goes on. If Cruz gets the nod, it'll just be Davis redux with more slot machines and a boost in non-citizen voting. A victory for the Democrat party in California, perhaps, but not for California itself.

Then there's Arnold, who has been loudly proclaiming he's not taking any money from special interests. I guess it all depends on what you define a special interest as--Arnold has taken millions from big business and California real estate developers. Another big honking empty ego, complete with Good Ol' Boy money and GOP party handlers. There's probably some truth to the butt-grabbing allegations (he is after all a Hollywood boy now) but the large proportion of accusers with heavy state Dem party ties and the rather convenient timing argues more for trivial and contrived than substantive. The Nazi accusations are even flimsier, especially in light of Arnold's youthful propensity to hunt down and beat up neo-Nazis and skinheads, and his million-plus in donations to the Weisenthal Center. But hey, he DOES have an Austrian accent, just like Adolf....

Finally, there's Tommy-boy McClintock, whom many have hailed as the Great Conserative Hope of the election. And McClintock's record in the state legislature is certainly mainstream conservative. His staunch opposition to bankrupting the taxpayers in order to subsidize illegals has made him a darling of the right and brought the expected accusations of racism. But his record of campaign donations shows he's not discriminatory at all--he'll take money from anyone. Indian gaming, public unions, big business, developers--all have chipped in heavily to McClintock's coffers. Gray Davis Lite, with an Operation Rescue bumper sticker.

My favorite? Well, if I lived in California I'd have a tough time deciding between my perennial favorite, None of the Above, and Mary Carey the porn star candidate. After all, if you're gonna get screwed anyway, it might as well be by a professional, and you might as well enjoy it.