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.

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.

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

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. 

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