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Top 10 Letters

Decoding Gephardt, doubting Blair, doing drugs, and more.

12:00 AM, Aug 4, 2003
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THE DAILY STANDARD welcomes letters to the editor. Letters will be edited for length and clarity and must include the writer's name, city, and state.

*1*

William Kristol is a smart guy, but he appears to be making a silly mistake in Gephardt's 16 Words. Like other conservatives he is missing important nuances in the speech of a sophisticated thinker. Let me explicate Gephardt's statement a little so Kristol and the rest of the "I-see-in-terms-of-good-and-evil" crowd can see the subtext:

George Bush has left us [Democratic officials] less safe and less secure [in our taxpayer funded jobs] than we were four years ago.

--Mitch Porcius

*2*

My mother took me, almost 7 years old, to the execution by hanging of some SS generals back in Riga, Latvia, in spring 1946 (Stephen F. Hayes, Proof of Death. I clearly remember how a soldier "helped" to put the noose on the convict's neck with a thrust to the back of the head. The crowd cheered and cried when the execution was over.

Could a similar event have happen now in Europe or the United States? It is unimaginable that I might have taken my grandson to an execution. But does this make us wiser than our parents who survived the war?

Besides some operational considerations, the Iraqi people and the world need material evidence of the death of this contemporary national socialist regime. The embodiments of the regime must appear in humiliation, in chains, or dead.

--Izak B. Dimenstein

*3*

In Night and Day Katherine Mangu-Ward writes, "President Bush's list [of presidential Medal of Freedom recipients] is uniformly excellent, and incredibly revealing when compared to some of Bill Clinton's picks for the nation's highest civilian honor. . . . A glance over a full list of Clinton's choices hints at the political machinations at work beneath the surface. Bush's choices speak for themselves."

So what, exactly, do the two presidents' choices for the Medal of Freedom say?

A categorical analysis of Clinton's 87 honorees and Bush's 21 selections reveals some trends. The large plurality of Clinton's choices (41.4 percent) were private activists of one sort or another, ranging from Rosa Parks to the former head of the Girl Scouts of America. Politicians and public servants come in second (25.3 percent). And almost 1 in 10 Clinton Medal of Freedom recipients (9.2 percent) was a prominent Republican. Just 8.1 percent of Clinton's choices came from the world of sports, entertainment, and the media. The rest of Clinton's choices fit no clear pattern, with smatterings of awards to philanthropists, jurists, foreign leaders, soldiers, scholars, religious leaders, and the like.

Bush, however, has given an absolute majority (52.3 percent) of his Medals of Freedom to athletes, entertainers, and members of the press. Bush has honored no prominent Democrats (to Clinton's two Republicans at the same point in his first term). Almost 1 in 5 of Bush's picks (19.1 percent) are scholars of one sort or another. Bush has so far honored no soldiers or religious leaders with a Medal of Freedom.

The two presidents, Clinton and Bush, have presented us with contrasting selections for the presidential Medal of Freedom. Clinton mainly honored private activists and public servants; Bush mainly honors entertainers. Bush more consistently honors scholars. Both give a reasonable number of Medals of Freedom to friends and political allies. Clinton honored prominent members of the other party; Bush has not.

--R. Scott Rogers

*4*

I disagree with Fred Barnes's claim that governmental research "plays a minor role" in the astonishing record of drug development by the American pharmaceutical industry (Just Say No). The research and development performed by the pharmaceutical industry is the last step of a drug discovery process that typically takes decades and begins with advances in basic biology and disease mechanisms. The U.S. government spends billions of dollars each year on biomedical research, often focusing on basic science that may not be immediately profitable. In addition to training the scientists who work in the private sector, discoveries in government-sponsored laboratories play a major, critical role in drug development.

--Joshua Silverman

*5*

An additional problem associated with reimportation that Fred Barnes does not mention is that it helps fuel the drug diversion trade. Drug diversion occurs when pharmaceuticals are taken out of the normal distribution chain and put through a series of complex and often illegal transactions prior to being dispensed. Drug diversion allows for adulterated, counterfeit, and improperly handled pharmaceuticals to enter the market, endangering patient health and providing a black market supply for drug abuse.

The Center for Regulatory Effectiveness (CRE)has just released a white paper discussing the drug diversion trade, including how to combat it through improved regulatory policy. We have posted the paper, Dirty Deals: The Drug Diversion Trade, How it Victimizes the Vulnerable and How to Stop It.

--Bruce Levinson, Director, Pharmaceutical Policy Project, The Center for Regulatory Effectiveness

*6*

Larry Miller thinks Tony Blair is "quite a guy" (A Very Special Relationship). Too bad Miller didn't look past the superficialities of Blair's recent speech--"freedom," "courage," "destiny"--to its real point: That "terrorism will not be defeated without peace in the Middle East between Israel and Palestine. Here it is that the poison is incubated."

Blair's point, in other words, is that Islamic fanaticism around the world is really all about Israel. A plea by one friend to sell out another may warrant an enthusiastic response--but it isn't applause.

--Steven Zak

*7*

Irwin M. Stelzer omits the most significant reason why the bond market crashed after Greenspan's address to Congress (It's Bond; Falling Bond). The key for bondholders at these levels has been the "assurance" that the Fed would remain open to "unconventional methods" of avoiding deflation--namely the purchase of long-dated Treasuries. Why would traders purchase 10-year notes with yields of 3.2 percent? Because "unconventional methods" involving the purchase of 10-years also came with the possibility of "fixing" long-term rates around 2.9 percent. When Greenspan suggested that he didn't see any need for "unconventional methods" and, instead, suggested that the current Fed funds rate manipulation would suffice, the only reason for buying 10-year notes with 3.2 coupons was gone. And so were the bulls in the Treasury market.

--David Penn

*8*

I agree with Fred Barnes that the drug reimportation bill is a bad idea, but for different reasons than he gives. Most conservatives espouse the importance and sanctity of the free market, and it is tough to describe the pharmaceutical market as truly competitive. The figure Barnes cites about 57 out of 64 anti-AIDS drugs being the product of private research alone is at odds with my understanding of most drug design and research. Funding from the NIH does not play a minor role; it is the primary force leading to drug development. The tens of billions of taxpayer dollars spent by the NIH to support close to 40,000 grants each year are the giant shoulders of scientific context on which drug companies stand. A 2002 review in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that about 85 percent of the research performed to design the top 40 or so blockbuster drugs was conducted in public academic centers with public research dollars. A true conservative would not pay for the same drugs twice.

As for free trade and the free market, I cannot think of another industry with more influence over legislation to isolate itself from competition. Each congressional session seems to have a new item tucked into a larger bill that clobbers generics with patent-extending smoke and mirrors.

The drug industry itself admits spending more on marketing than research and development. The development half of R&D usually includes rebates (read: kickbacks) made to physicians for prescribing a specific drug, cruises for specialists and their families, conferences doubling as coercive sales pitches, television advertisements, and payments to the private companies set up with the sole purpose of conducting supposedly objective clinical trials of the newest drug off the line. All of this spending is still in addition to the obscene profits the drug giants have posted in the past two decades. How many other industries had 10-percent-plus profit margins from 2000 through 2002?

--Aaron Shur

*9*

Fred Barnes is wrong on this one. I'm a retired surgeon who buys expensive drugs from Canadian pharmacies. When I was in practice, I encouraged patients to buy some expensive drugs in Mexico. The R&D argument for high drug prices is partly a myth. In 1973 when tamoxifen was discovered to be useful in breast cancer, it was already in wide use as a veterinary drug at a low price. Once it was found useful for humans, the price tripled. Most new drugs are copycat versions of other companies' successes. I am in favor of research, but much pharmaceutical research has been compromised by company financial incentives. Ever heard of "orphan" drugs? They are lifesaving drugs that treat rare diseases. Drug companies show small interest in them but marginal drugs--like anti-depressants that are way over-prescribed--are sought with intensity.

--Michael Kennedy

*10*

I wonder if there isn't a silver lining to the importation of drugs from overseas.

Fred Barnes is right: things would get worse if we throw in the towel and allow consumers to import from Canada or wherever else. Fine, let them get worse. When we pay higher drug prices we are subsidizing healthcare research for Europe and Canada. Those countries know they can rely on us to pay the high prices necessary to create the drugs they want. They also know that that cozy relationship relies on us never having government price controls. Heck, as long as the rest of the world signs on to more socialized healthcare, the more Americans end up subsidizing cheap drugs for the Quebecois through higher costs here.

If we could suddenly purchase all our drugs from overseas, the drug companies would have to demand higher prices from those countries, or they would just have to stop shipping the drugs to those countries to protect their prices in the United States. France can't force Pfizer to sell them their goods.

A couple things could happen:

(1) Foreign countries could see prices skyrocket to American levels. This would put some great political pressure on the promise of nationalized healthcare in those countries.

(2) Foreign countries could see the writing on the wall, and not allow the export of drugs to America. I love it. This would lay it out fairly clearly to American voters that we can't buy their cheap drugs because France and Canada want us to subsidize their systems. That's a trade battle worth having.

Well their are many other possibilities of course, but they all come back to the need for foreign countries to have us subsidize their drug development. This uneven relationship is corrupting international trade deals and intellectual property protection for U.S. companies. Let's throw a wrench in the works. Bring on the cheap imports!

--Douglas Johnson