• Why the FDA is in tatters

    This is Matthew Holt from The Health Care Blog getting in a piece that I meant to publish while I was guesting last week: It's time to dip into the murky waters of the FDA once more. This is a classic tale of politics intruding into an agency that should have science as its prime motivator. Here's the story summarized so far. The FDA has barely had a full time official commissioner since the start of the Bush Administration. Mark McClellan was officially head for a brief while in 2003, but he barely had time to look embarrassed on 60 Minutes when asked why Canadian drugs weren't safe enough for Americans before he nipped off to the rather more rarefied atmosphere of CMS -- where he's much better suited. Meanwhile before, after (and basically during) McClellan's time at FDA, the acting commissioner has been Lester Crawford. Some cynics have noticed that there are a few clouds over Crawford. He was involved in some pretty close to the wind activities when he was in charge of Food Safety...
  • The (Republican) Nationals

    I find this fairly scary. America is supposed to work differently.
  • The Carpenters Find a Fold

    Looks like the Carpenters have joined the breakaway unions (more officially known as the Change to Win Coalition). Jonathan Tasini has an excellent analysis up at Working Life , and I'll have more to say on all this later. Bottom line, though, is that I'm happy to see Labor shook to the core. It's become trite to say that we can't have progressive politics without a strong labor movement, but it's rarely asked whether the conditions for such a movement even exist, or what the end result would look like. Today's economy is much more transient than yesterday's, and that's true for both employers and employees. The current split strikes me as the last attempt to make a new labor constituency using the old labor perspective. If it fails? Then we can figure out the next step. But we can't go there until this project has run its course, and that can't happen until some hungry unions try to replicate last century's successes in this century's economy. The AFL-CIO is too intent on preserving...
  • Firestorm

    What a fitting epitaph to the Social Security fight: "I had hoped there would be, after four months, a firestorm of support for accounts, especially among young people," said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa). "It's not there. I'm very disappointed." Back in March, I argued that the Republican reliance on the young was a stupid mistake. My demographic doesn't care about Social Security. If you don't give a damn, private accounts sound fine, but you're not going to lay down in traffic, or even get up from the couch, in support of them. Not to mention that young folks were the only age groups easily carried by Senator Kerry. If we'd had our way, there'd be no Bush offering Social Security change, instead, there'd be a Democrat changing our health care system. If right wing luminaries like Grassley really were counting on a firestorm of twenty-something support, privatization was dead from the start.
  • More Machines

    Tova Wang's got an interesting piece on voter suppression in The Century Foundation's Taking Note. According to her, it wasn't high tech hackers doing the work, but old school class discrimination: Elections officials, whether through incompetence or intentional efforts to suppress the vote, did more damage than any particular technology might have done by failing to supply sufficient numbers of voting machines. And as the House Judiciary Democratic Committee investigation found in Ohio, "There was a wide discrepancy between the availability of voting machines in more minority, Democratic and urban areas as compared to more Republican, suburban and exurban areas." Right after the election the Washington Post reported that, "local political activists seeking a recount analyzed how Franklin County officials distributed voting machines. They found that 27 of the 30 wards with the most machines per registered voter showed majorities for Bush. At the other end of the spectrum, six of the...
  • The Survivor

    CJR's got a good interview with John Harris, author of the Clinton assessment The Survivor . I'm on page 340 of the book and it's a fun read; not much new if you've studied the era before, but about as good an introduction as you're likely to find. Harris's insights, though, are more interesting for what they say about him than the Administration he's discussing. Harris was the Washington Post's lead reporter on Clinton during the President's second term, and the book reflects that. It's more thoughtful and considered, sure, but Harris's focus is the same now as then: process, personalities, and politics all come before policy. No one reading the book could count themselves uninformed on how the administration's internal debates played out, but the flip side is that no one reading could call themselves experts on the policies that drove those debates. Health care gets ten pages, and the plan itself only a few paragraphs. Welfare reform gets similar treatment. And even on these policy-...
  • Onward Blogging Soldier

    Phil Carter, of Intel Dump, has been moved from the ready reserves and into the 101st Airborn, with orders to deploy in three weeks. Wow. Around the blogs, much is made of the 101st Fighting Keyboardists, and some of us are quite fond of demanding that war supporters enlist (a line of logic I find to be garbage, for all the reasons stated here , here , here , and here ). Phil Carter has been a thoughtful, often critical, supporter of the war, a position, given his vulnerable status in the reserves, that took no small measure of bravery. He also, along with Paul Glastris, penned a much discussed piece advocating a universal draft (at least if America wanted to continue as a superpower), that I criticized at length. Shortly thereafter, Phil wrote me a considered response and suggested we get lunch when I moved to LA. I regret never making the date. But that's okay. When he returns, I'll buy. Good luck Phil. And be careful. There's a meal in it for you.
  • Batman Begins

    Like good people everywhere, I spent last night in a dark room watching Christian Bale kick unbelievable amounts of ass. The verdict? Batman Returns is undeniably the best Batman film ever made, and is probably one of the best action flicks I've ever seen. First, I'm a comic geek. Not so much anymore, but for years, young Ezra received his allowance entirely in comic books, five a week. When I was in Vermont working for Dean, the mosquito-infested flop house I lived in was 150 feet from a Borders -- an air-conditioned, open-till-11 Borders where I read every graphic novel in the store. And so, for me, the last few years have been good. Franchises have been hitting the screen in peak form. The X-Men movies were great, Spiderman was fun, LOTR (not originally a comic, I know), was superb, etc. But Batman's the toughie, few powers but heaps of psychological trickery. And my did they ever get it right. Bale is a fantastic Dark Knight. His storyline -- and this is a shocker -- actually...
  • Unocal in Red

    I'm not particularly concerned by the Chinese government's bid (through CNOOC Ltd., which they control 70% of) to buy Unocal. If they offer a better deal than Chevron, why not? Worries that Chinese ownership somehow compromises our national security strike me as way overblown. If we and China ever get to a point where we threaten each other, who owns Unocal and its relatively minor energy assets will be the least of our problems. Moreover, in wartime, business ownership is something less than an inviolable fact of nature. Stateside Unocal assets would be nationalized by America, not allowed to continue production for the hostile Chinese under some bizarre fetishization of property rights. Further -- and this is really an important point -- we're not going to war with China. They do not threaten our national security. They are not our enemy. Purchases they want to make should not be subjected to a extra level of scrutiny as they are not a hostile, or even threatening, power. America...
  • Corn For Plastic

    The nice thing about high oil prices is that they make new technologies more cost-effective. Take Cargill, a company that has figured out how to replace petroleum in manufacturing tasks with corns and biomass, and is suddenly able to do it on the cheap: When Cargill launched its factory in 2002, its pellets were far more expensive than equivalent material made from oil. Wild Oats Markets, an early customer, paid 50% more for takeout containers made from the bio-plastic. But over the last two years, the Cargill plant has gotten more efficient — and oil prices have soared. The result: The "corn-tainers" in the deli now cost Wild Oats 5% less than traditional plastic, Wild Oats spokeswoman Sonja Tuitele said. Huh. Maybe all our presidential candidates can promise to powercharge this process, thus paying tribute to Iowa's farmers in a non-useless manner. Huzzah!