Doctors and Pharmaceutical Reps and me

I think I'll stick with the theme of self-reflective posts.  I was reading the recent Post article detailing the increasingly cozy relationships between doctors and pharmaceutical representatives:

Despite efforts to curb drug companies' avid courting of doctors,
the industry is working harder than ever to influence what medicines
they prescribe, sending out sales representatives with greater
frequency and plying physicians with gifts, meals and consulting fees,
according to several new papers.

One study published in the New
England Journal of Medicine last week found that 94 percent of doctors
have some type of relationship with the drug industry — most commonly
accepting free food or drug samples, which about 80 percent of
physicians did. More than one-third of the 1,662 physicians who
responded to a survey conducted from November 2003 to June 2004
reported being reimbursed by the drug industry for costs of going to
professional meetings or continuing medical education, and 28 percent
said they had been paid for consulting, giving lectures or signing up
patients for clinical trials…

“We now know that virtually every doctor in the United States has some
form of relationship with the pharmaceutical industry,” said Eric G.
Campbell

As I was feeling all judgmental about this, I thought about the fact that I had lunch bought for me this week by three different representatives of college textbook publishers.  Its really the same principle, but on a much smaller scale and with much lower stakes. I'd like to think that my good relationship with several publisher's representatives has nothing to do with the books I choose, but if the studies of doctors tell us anything, I'm probably wrong about that.  I choose the books that I think make the most sense for my courses and for my students that are offered at a reasonable price.  Usually, its not at all hard to make a choice.   When it comes to Introduction to American Government, though, there are probably dozens of good and acceptable books on the market (though I really am quite partial to New American Democracy, Alternate Edition).  The books I end up closely considering, if not choosing, for this course largely depend upon my relationships with their publishers.  Hmmm, I guess it would be nice if I got some free trips to Hawaii, etc., like the doctors instead of just free lunches.  Then again, I suspect companies make just a little bit more off of Viagra and Lipitor than say New American Democracy and We the People

Time to watch what I say?

So, I was giving a phone interview to a reporter for the Daily Tarheel (Chapel Hill's largest circulation daily!) the other day about Giuliani.  Interestingly, if I had to guess, I'd say I'd been interviewed by the Daily Tarheel more than any other paper.  Anyway, the reporter and I had a fun conversation for about 10 minutes about Giuliani's prospects in the South and presidential primaries in general.  After such a lengthy and wide-ranging conversation, I am often curious just which of my many nuggets of wisdom a reporter will choose for the story.  Often I am glib in conversation (I don't know how to be any other way), but come out looking just fine in print.  This time, I'm not so sure:

Greene said Giuliani needs more Southern support if he wants to have a chance in the general election.

“Rudy Giuliani loves gay people and their aborted fetuses, and his poll numbers are going to take a fall for that,” he said.

I stand by the main point of what I was saying, but I don't think that sounds so pretty to read in print.  I think I may try and be a little more careful in the future. 

Are you sure your dog loves you?

Time to start watching your dog's tail wagging a little more closely.  The New York Times reports this week:

There is another, newly discovered, feature of dog body language
that may surprise attentive pet owners and experts in canine behavior.
When dogs feel fundamentally positive about something or someone, their
tails wag more to the right side of their rumps. When they have
negative feelings, their tail wagging is biased to the left.A
study describing the phenomenon, ?Asymmetric tail-wagging responses by
dogs to different emotive stimuli,? appeared in the March 20 issue of
Current Biology.

As for me, I have do doubt that Lira's tail has a very strong rightward bias.
   

How Democrats restored Republican integrity

I was reading yesterday about how an increasing number of Republican Senators are coming out pretty strongly against Alberto Gonzalez

Several Senate Republicans spoke out against Gonzales for the first
time, voicing deep concerns about his performance before the Judiciary Committee last week. “I think there's a huge credibility issue at the Justice Department,” said Sen. Norm Coleman (Minn.). “I continue, even after his testimony, to have grave doubts.”

“I think the attorney general is on a tightrope, and he and the president need to make a decision before very long,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander (Tenn.).

It occurred to me that without the Democratic majority, these Republican Senators who have rediscovered their integrity and seemingly believe in Congressional oversight and competence at the top levels of our bureaucracy would have simply sat silently by.  Now with Democrats in the majority able to conduct proper hearings and hold Gonzalez's corruption and incompetence to the light of day, Republicans with integrity have no choice but to call for his resignation.  Sadly, had Republicans still been in charge of Congress there is absolutely no doubt they would be letting Gonzalez continue on with nary a peep. 

What planet is he on?

No, it is not any revelation that President Bush is not sharing the real world with the rest of us (or even his staff), but his comments today supporting Alberto Gonzalez are so out of touch as to be truly bizarre (from the New York Times):

President Bush strongly reiterated his support for Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales today, declaring that Mr. Gonzales?s performance on Capitol Hill last week had increased his confidence in him.

?The attorney general went up and gave a very candid assessment, and
answered every question he could possibly answer, honestly answer, in a
way that increased my confidence in his ability to do the job,? Mr.
Bush said.

The president?s comments, reinforced later by remarks from a White House spokeswoman, came a day after Senator Arlen Specter
of Pennsylvania, the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary
Committee, said that Mr. Gonzales?s failure to step down was ?no doubt,
bad for the Justice Department.?

Bush appears to be increasingly alone in his isolation.  According to CNN reports last week, even his own staffers are seriously jumping ship on Gonzalez (from ThinkProgress):

CNN?s Suzanne Malveaux:

[White House officials] believe Gonzales is in trouble. ? Two
senior White House aides here describing the situation, Gonzales?
testimony, as ?going down in flames.? That he was ?not doing himself
any favors.? One prominent Republican describing watching his testimony
as ?clubbing a baby seal.?

You know, if I were a public figure, I'm not sure I'd want President “heckuva job Brownie” stating his confidence in me. 

Duke Lacrosse

I should have gotten around to posting some final thoughts on Duke Lacrosse ealier, but here they are a little late.  First, I am very pleased that NC Attorney General Roy Cooper took the unusual, but very appropriate step of actually declaring the players innocent.  This past Sunday's 60 Minutes had a pretty thorough overview of the case along with comments from the players and Cooper (you can still listen to the podcast).  The real tragedy of this is that time and time again Mike Nifong willfully ignored the clear evidence right in front of him and kept pushing this case.  Sadly, the glaring weaknesses in this case were obvious even before the players were indicted.  This should just have never happened.  The Raleigh News & Observer ran a great five-part series, “Rush to Judgment,” about just how wrong Nifong was on all of this.  Among the most interesting commentary I have read is Dahlia Lithwick's column comparing Nifong's malfeasance to the DoJ scandal.  At the heart of each is the incredible and largely unchecked power of prosecutors…

Cooper didn't mince words today. “Rogue prosecutor” can't really be parsed in a gentle way.

That's
a thought worth holding onto as we reflect on the U.S. attorney purge
that's taken over the front pages of our newspapers.

It's
easy to be distracted, even slightly amused, by the banal office
shenanigans that make up the day-to-day coverage of the scandal.
Increasingly, the Justice Department is revealed in all its wacky Dunder Mifflin glory. Alberto Gonzales is unmasked as The Office's Michael Scott?in so far over his head that he has no idea what his youthful employees are up to. With our daily focus on who was e-mailing whom and who was spending what on their fancy investitures,
it's tempting to dismiss senior Justice Department staff ranking U.S.
attorneys for their “loyalty” to the president as sophomoric. The Duke
case is a useful reminder that the little plastic game cards being
shuffled around and swapped by Kyle Sampson and Monica Goodling were,
in fact, loaded weapons.

Federal prosecutors, like state
district attorneys, have tremendous power and almost limitless
discretion to launch investigations, to subpoena, to file charges, to
question witnesses, and to drop charges when the facts don't bear them
out. And if the Duke case reminds us of anything, it's that the
innocent targets of such investigations and indictments have only one
power: to wait it all out and hope for the best…

Both the Duke case and the U.S. attorney purge confirm that there is no
such thing as law without politics or politics without law. But both
stories ought to remind us that “prosecutorial independence” isn't just
some meaningless ethical jargon or a gauzy law-school ideal. Former
Attorney General and Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson gave a speech in 1940
in which he warned that “[t]he prosecutor has more control over life,
liberty, and reputation than any other person in America. His
discretion is tremendous. He can have citizens investigated and, if he
is that kind of person, he can have this done to the tune of public
statements and veiled or unveiled intimations.” Jackson added that “the
citizen's safety lies in the prosecutor who tempers zeal with human
kindness, who seeks truth and not victims, who serves the law and not
factional purposes. …”

The politics of gun control

Well, it seems that after waiting a day or two out of respect, everybody is weighing in on the gun issue now.  I have always found gun control a very useful topic in explaining how politics works because it shows how an impassioned minority trumps an largely apathetic majority every time.  When it comes to pro-gun forces, there are many additional advantages they have, which Jacob Weisberg sums up quite nicely in a recent Slate article discussing both guns and abortion:

On guns, the pro-restriction numbers are even higher. In another recent Gallup poll,
49 percent of Americans said gun-control laws should be made stricter,
only 14 percent said they should be less so, and 35 percent said they
should stay the same. Given those numbers, it should in theory
be easier for liberals to require handgun registration than for
conservatives to constrain abortion. In practice, the opposite is true…

Republicans also have a leg up on both abortion and guns because rural
America, where their positions are most popular, has disproportionate
power under the Constitution. Thinly populated Western states, where
guns are loved, have the same two votes in the Senate as big Northern
states, where guns are more often feared. Within states, cities are
similarly disadvantaged by bicameral legislatures. The
anti-majoritarian features of our republican system give conservatives
strength beyond their numbers and insulate them from long-standing declines in both rural population and gun ownership.

The final point is about passion. Gun-owning in America is a way of
life. Gun control is just a political opinion. This accounts for an
enormous disparity in zeal between the two sides. There are
single-issue voters on both sides of the abortion divide for whom the
issue trumps everything else. But when it comes to guns, the issue is a
litmus test only for those militant about the right to bear arms. A
huge constituency considers this right sacred, cares about it
exclusively, and needs little prompting to disgorge torrents of letters
and e-mail messages to congressmen and editors. Gun controllers, by
contrast, tend to be less excitable, see the issue as one of many, and
struggle to motivate those inclined to agree with them.

The massacre in Blacksburg might change all that, but I doubt it.

In short, an anti-democratic institutional structure plus a committed minority means do not expect gun laws to change any time soon. 

Any way to prevent another VT?

The Washington Post had an interesting forum yesterday in which they asked think-tank scholars to weigh in on what policy changes we might make in the wake of the Virginia Tech massacre.  Sadly, I have to agree with this pessimistic analysis from Brian Jenkins at Rand.  His sobering conclusion, “not every tragedy has a solution”

As shock gives way to blame, litigation and legislation are never
far behind. The refrain is familiar: This must never happen again. But
we too easily presume that we can prevent it.

We
have no X-rays for a person's soul. We may never know what propelled
Cho Seung Hui into a homicidal rampage at Virginia Tech. Perceived
betrayal in a fantasy relationship, bullied in childhood, a brain
tumor, some deep undiagnosed psychopathology, depression, despair,
delusion? The clues are obvious, but only in retrospect.

A university campus is a public space inhabited by thousands of
students who move through its classrooms, corridors and dormitories at
all hours. Airport-style searches at the university perimeter would
require surrounding walls. Metal detectors at hundreds of building
entrances would make it impossible to change classes every 10 minutes.
And would students and professors want their campuses transformed into
neo-Medieval fortresses? …

As we mourn the victims at Virginia Tech, it's important to remember
that university campuses are safer than the streets that surround them.
Statistically, a student is far more likely to die in a car accident
driving to school than to be gunned down in class. Sadly, we are forced
to confront the fact that not every tragedy has a solution.

Alberto merits two posts today

Things did not go well for Alberto Gonzales with his testimony today.  It would have been pretty hard for that to happen, but what was amazing was the way in which even most of the Republican Senators jumped on him for his lies and/or incompetence.  Andrew Cohen has an absolutely devastating critique at Washingtonpost.com:

If there was one single moment in this morning's testimony by Attorney
General Alberto R. Gonzales before the Senate Judiciary Committee that
encapsulates the sheer gall and shamelessness of the man in the hot
seat, it occurred at about 10:52 when he said that questions about
“partisan politics” within the Justice Department actually are an
insult to (and criticism of) the career attorneys who bring
controversial cases. For that cruelly cynical statement alone–
pretending that legitimate criticism of his own failed leadership as
Attorney General actually is instead unfair criticism of some of the
victims within the Justice Department– Gonzales deserves to be fired.
Not in a month. Not in a week. Today…

So for Gonzales to try to defend himself and his lackeys from attack
before the Committee by playing the “career professionals” card is not
only disingenuous it is downright appalling. It demonstrates once and
for all that Gonzales isn't merely a hapless hack in over his head and
a lethargic lapdog for the White House. It demonstrates that he is
willing to say or do anything to protect himself and his allies at the
expense of the people he purports to lead. It demonstrates that he is
still unable or unwilling to accept responsibility for his own lack of
leadership that has led directly to this controversy. And it proves
conclusively that he is a big part of the problem and certainly not the
solution at the Department.

Over and over again this morning, Gonzales was asked why he wouldn't
simply resign for the good of the Department and the country. Over and
over again he told Committee members that he still believes that he can
do a good job over at Justice. It is precisely this sort of flawed
judgment that has made him the object of scorn and ridicule within the
world of the law; precisely this sort of faulty rationale and muddled
sense of responsibility that has brought shame upon an institution that
has for a century held a special place in the life of the nation. Even
if you ignore all the parts of his testimony that made no sense this
morning or that otherwise contradict the formal record in this
investigation, and even if you believe the Justice Department has been
well-run during his tenure, surely you have to concede that the good,
earnest, honest, unbiased people who toil at the Department deserve
better than what they are getting (and hearing from their boss. And we
all deserve better, too. Much much better.

It is hard to imagine any other president not forcing Gonzalez's resignation by now.  Bush's tragic dedication at any cost to decisions he's already made, be they in Iraq or who he has appointed to an important cabinet office, just keep harming the country. 

Gonzalez testimony

As I was listening to a decent bit of Alberto Gonzalez's desperate and hopeless effort to redeem himself today, the thought that occurred to me was, “stop lying and evading the truth.  And face up to your own extraordinarily obvious incompetence damnit.”  Anyway, lie and obscure as Gonzalez might, the truth does not set him free, but rather damns him.  I've been looking for a while for a nice piece that succinctly sums up the facts and problems in this scandal.  Smart and reliable Jonathan Chait at The New Republic has done the job

[The Wall Street] Journal conceded that, in theory,
it “would be genuine grounds for outrage … if a U.S. attorney were
dismissed to interfere with a specific prosecution, or to protect some
crony.” However, the editorial continued, while Clinton had done this,
“there is no such evidence involving any of the eight Bush attorneys.”

No such evidence? How bizarre. There was no evidence that Clinton had done anything like this, unless you consider the Journal's
preternatural suspicion of everything Clinton did to be “evidence.”
With Bush, on the other hand, there's an enormous amount of evidence.
So far, we know that New Mexico Republicans called prosecutor David
Iglesias before last November's elections to urge him to indict
Democrats on charges of voter fraud. When he refused, the chairman of
the New Mexico GOP complained to Karl Rove. Rove, in turn, complained
to the Justice Department about Iglesias. And, shortly after that,
Iglesias was added to the list of prosecutors to be fired.

On top of that, you have lots of
suspicious behavior lurking in the background. There is an e-mail from
Gonzales's chief of staff explicitly judging prosecutors on the basis
of whether they are “loyal Bushies.” You have the Justice Department's
shifting stories as to exactly why it had fired the prosecutors. And
Rove's and Harriet Miers's
insistence that their testimony on the matter be given in
private–without
taking an oath or a transcript, and with a promise of no further
follow-up testimony if contradictions arise–is not the sort of
behavior you'd expect from people who have nothing to hide.

And, on top of that, you have a lot of pretty suggestive
facts. You have the fact that, since the Bush administration came to
power, U.S. attorneys have investigated or indicted just 67
Republicans, compared with 298 Democrats. You have a spurious
preelection conviction of a Democratic governor's appointee in
Wisconsin that, after the election, was quickly and unanimously
overturned by a three-judge panel featuring two
Republican appointees. (The “evidence
is beyond thin,” declared one judge.) Then there was the fact that the
U.S.
attorney investigating Jack Abramoff's shady dealings with Guam was
demoted the day after issuing his subpoena, thus halting the
investigation. None of this is proof, but surely it's evidence.

Gonzalez has testified today as if this evidence does not exist.  But it does and it surely puts him and his boss in a very negative light. 

Hard-working men

A recent study has found that when you consider all forms of work, i.e., work outside or inside the home for pay and work in the home (e.g., childrearing, etc.), men across a study of 25 countries work just as much as women. 

The 24 hours we all have each day can be divided into four broad
activities: “market work” that is, work for pay, typically outside the
house; “homework,” including housework and child care; “tertiary time,”
including sleep, eating, and other biological necessities that people
can do only for themselves; and the time left over, which is leisure.
Leisure is not essential to survival, but we like it.

Throughout
the world, men spend more time on market work, while women spend more
time on homework. In the United States and other rich countries, men
average 5.2 hours of market work a day and 2.7 hours of homework each
day, while women average 3.4 hours of market work and 4.5 hours of
homework per day. Adding these up, men work an average of 7.9 hours per
day, while women work an average of?drum roll, please?7.9 hours per
day. This is the first major finding of the new study. Whatever you may
have heard on The View, when these economists accounted for
market work and homework, men and women spent about the same amount of
time each day working.

Of course, it is entirely possible that men are more likely to lie about how much work they do.  One interesting difference, what men and women do with their leisure time:

Although men in many rich countries do not work less than women, they
do enjoy about 20 to 30 minutes more leisure per day (over an hour more
in Italy) because they spend less time on sleep and other biological
necessities. Men spend almost all of this additional leisure time
watching television.

Ditch the Electoral College

Honestly, it seems awfully pointless and lame to whine about the electoral college when VT is so much on my mind, but I've been meaning to do so for a while.  We just had a speaker on campus yesterday (Rob Richie, director of Fairvote.org) who argued quite compellingly for abolishing the Electoral College.  I've long been ardently opposed to the Electoral College.  It is hugely anti-democratic (small “d” mind you).  I lived in Ohio in 1996 and my vote was desperately sought by both parties.  Four years later, I did not even see a single ad for president while living in Texas.  Are the votes of Ohioans or Floridians intrinsically more valuable than the votes of Texans, or New Yorkers, or Californians?  Of course not, to suggest so is ludicrous, but that is exactly what the electoral college ends up giving us.  Richie was quite optimistic about future prospects for the National Popular Vote legislation which bypasses the Constitution to end the electoral college on a state by state basis.  EJ Dionne had a column on it last week:

The American way of electing presidents is antiquated, impractical
and dangerous. It is odd indeed that in 2000, a nation devoted to
spreading democracy throughout the world gave power to a man who
received 543,895 fewer votes than his opponent. Under our system,
George W. Bush's disputed 537-vote margin in Florida was deemed more
important than Al Gore's half-million-ballot advantage nationwide.

And
please, dear Republican friends, don't shout “Get over it!” Think back
to 2004, when Bush defeated John Kerry by 3 million votes nationally.
If just 59,300 people in Ohio had voted for Kerry instead of Bush,
Kerry would have won the electoral college and become president. You
can write the scripts for the Fox News commentaries about Kerry
stealing the White House.

It does not have to be this way. As
someone who lives in Maryland, I am proud that my state may pioneer a
process that could lead to popular election of the president. The state
Senate passed a bill last Wednesday that would commit Maryland's 10
electors to voting for the winner of the nationwide popular vote. The
bill is expected to pass in the House of Delegates this week, and Gov.
Martin O'Malley has said he would sign it.

The law would not take
effect unless states representing a 270-vote electoral college majority
pass similar laws. The idea is to create a compact among states
genuinely committed to popular rule…

Here's hoping Maryland sets off a quiet revolution that brings our
nation's electoral practice into line with our democratic rhetoric.
Individual citizens should have the right to elect their president –
directly.

Here's hoping National Popular Vote legislation is coming to a state near you. 

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