Wednesday, November 17, 2004

November 16, 2044

Double Standard Watch
The FDA is not exactly known as a Johnny-on-the-spot agency. “Slow” and “Careful” are its middle name. Slow to approve generic drugs that might cut into the profits of large pharmaceutical companies, and careful not to do or say anything that could hurt the sales of those company’s hot sellers. The bodies have to really pile up before the FDA pulls the plug on a popular drug.

Which is what made yesterday’s FDA announcement so unusual. The death of one woman last January prompted the FDA to issue a warning notice on the so-called abortion, or morning after, pill RU-486. The woman did not die as a direct cause of the medication but rather a secondary infection that set in afterward. It was only the second such case reported after using RU-486.

Compare that FDA response to its handling of Merck’s hot selling arthritis pill, Vioxx. Warnings on that pill have been flooding in from around the world for over two years, warnings the FDA ignored. The pill worked fine alleviating pain; especially for the estimated 27,000 users it killed. It seems Vioxx had some nasty side affects – heart attacks and strokes.

Why did it take so long for the FDA to pull the plug on Vioxx, even though it had hard proof the drug was killing thousands of people every year? And, conversely, why was it so quick to issue a warning on RU-486 based on two deaths not even directly connected to the drug?

Would money surprise you? Merck was a big contributor to GOP coffers, and they made sure they hired lobbyists with strong ties to the Bush camp. Meanwhile, RU-486 contributed nothing. The company that produces it is not even Am
erican. That company has been the target of anti-choice forces since the day RU-486 first hit the market. The anti-choice Christian right has had some limited success in curtailing the drug’s availability, even for medical research into the drug's other possible applications. Anti-choicers were temporarily successful in blocking the drug in the U.S., gaining a Food and Drug Administration order banned the import of RU 486 from 1989 until 1993. Opponents have also launched boycotts against Roussel-Uclaf, the drug-maker’s German parent company, Hoechst A.G., as well as their American affiliates, and have threatened to boycott any other pharmaceutical company that makes RU 486 available.

But, RU-486 is so safe and effective its use in the US has grown steadily. Then came George W. Bush’s reelection on the backs of the Christian Right and two weeks later the FDA issues its warning on RU-486.

Now, let’s see how the science works out on this. George always says he wants to see “the good science” before making tough decisions on such matters. So, let’s see.

  • Data Point One: Merck was pulling in around $2.5 billion a year from Vioxx sales.
  • Data Point Two: Merck shared some of this killer drug booty with the Bush campaign and other GOP candidates up for reelection. (In all drug companies pumped $13 million into various campaign coffers, two thirds of it going to Republicans.)
  • Data Point Three: The FDA knew for two years that there was hard data showing that Vioxx was killing some of its users, but did nothing.
  • Data Point Four. Once the body count reached 27,000 and became impossible to hide or deny any longer, the FDA ordered Merck to pull Vioxx off the market.
  • Data Point Five: The company that produces RU-486 is foreign and therefore not allowed by federal law to contribute to American campaigns.
  • Data Point Six: The Bush campaign and GOP has not, and never will, get a dime from RU-486 sales.
  • Data Point Seven: Unlike Vioxx, RU-486 is remarkably safe – safer than Vioxx, for sure and a lot safer than illegal abortions. Deaths following RU0486 use were 1 in every 200,000 compared to 1 in every 3000 illegal abortions.
You see what’s happening here? The FDA’s warning on RU-486 was a no-cost way of showing the religious right that their vote for Bush was not wasted. He is on their side.

He is one of them.

And he has only just begun to payoff for them.

More Ekkkkonomy
If the economy were a ship at sea the bilge pumps would be going full steam, and still be losing ground. Yesterday I talked about the skittish bond market and the plunging dollar. Today it’s the decrepit federal pension insurance system. An audit reveals that the Federal Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp hasn’t got enough money to guarantee a double latte at Starbucks. The fund, which is an insurance company backed by taxpayers, is a bit short -- $23.3 billion short to be precise.

The agency, created by Congress to guarantee that workers will receive their promised pensions even if the company backing them goes out of business, is out of business itself. The PBGC has lost over $10 billion a year for the last three years running. The agency has enough money in the bank to keep operating for about three more years; just about the time the Baby Boomers retire. Then what? Remember the S&L crisis? That one cost you $167 billion. This one should add close to another $100 billion to the national credit card debt.

Meanwhile, the first signs of inflation are creeping up on us. A huge jump in wholesale prices pushed stocks lower today as investors began to worry that the recent spate of high oil prices was here to stay and beginning to chip away at what was already a hollow shell of a recovery. The Producer Price Index (PPI) jumped 1.7 percent in October, the largest since January 1990.

Energy prices were blamed for the jump in the PPI. But just wait until the deficit forces interest rates up. That’s when the “fun” really begins.

When will that happen? One year. Write it down.

Bush Plus
If you liked the first Bush administration you should love the second one… and visa versa. All indications are that Bush insiders saw the November 2 vote as a green light to be themselves. No more namby-pamby moderate window-dressing like Colin Powell.
Condi Rice will move into Powell’s chair. Her No.2, Stephen Hadley will take her spot as National Security Advisor. This would keep in place the National Security apparatus that got us into Iraq. No one gets fired for making mistakes in government. A government job is the ultimate in affirmative action – and no, that’s not a racial crack. White, black, purple.. try to think of one government official fired by this administration for screwing up.

Right-wing nut, Richard Perle was pushing to have Wolfowitz take over Rice’s job. You remember, Wolfowitz was the guy that assured Congress before the war that Iraq’s oil would more than pay for the cost of the war and rebuilding. $200 billion US dollars later we are still waiting for that. Nevertheless, he did not get Rice’s job. The White House wants to save The Wolf to replace Rumsfeld when he leaves. That should come in a year or so. Rummy is waiting. He does not want to leave with the rabble. Rummy is like De Gaulle, he prefers grand entrances and grand exits.

During the election two thirds of GOP voters polled said they wanted to see big changes in a second Bush term. Pundits interpreted that to mean they wanted to see the compassionate conservative promised, but not delivered, during the first Bush term.

Well, the White House heard they wanted change all right -- just not the kind of change they thought they wanted.

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