Why Not Gary Johnson?

Many of the friends I worked with back in my Republican days have recoiled, understandably, from the candidacy of Donald Trump. Some of them will vote for Hillary Clinton, but others are longtime GOP activists who–despite being heartsick about the current state of the party–cannot bring themselves to pull a Democratic lever.

I do sympathize. When you’ve spent your adult life working for a particular political agenda, it can seem like blasphemy to defect to the other side. (On the other hand, several newspapers have endorsed a Democrat for the first time, and numerous high-ranking Republicans have done so, recognizing that Trump’s GOP is no longer the party they originally joined.)

Several of them plan to vote for Gary Johnson, the libertarian, despite the fact that a vote for a third-party candidate is still a vote for Trump, albeit an indirect one.

I wonder if they really understand what Johnson (“what’s Aleppo?” “I can’t name any foreign leaders”) really stands for. Perhaps they don’t care, since there is no way a third-party candidate will win, but it’s interesting to look beyond the Libertarian’s popular support for legalizing marijuana, to other positions that are a bit less attractive.

A recent article catalogs them.Here are just a few of his more…interesting… positions.

  • No gun control. At all. Johnson says Americans would be safer if everyone was armed.
  • No minimum wage. At all. In July, he told the Washington Examiner that, if given the chance, “I would sign legislation to abolish it.” (In 1999, during his first term as New Mexico governor, Johnson did veto a bill that would have raised his state’s minimum wage from $4.25 an hour to $5.65.)
  • He opposes laws requiring equal pay for men and women doing the same job.
  • He opposes collective bargaining for public employees, and in New Mexico, vetoed the renewal of that state’s collective bargaining law.
  • He advocates cuts to Social Security
  • He wants to remove the federal government’s role in Medicare and Medicaid.
  • He supports privatized prisons.
  • He supports privatizing public education.

These are positions that my friends who are voting Libertarian for President are endorsing.

At least Johnson isn’t running around calling women “fat pigs” and whining that he lost a debate because they gave him a bad mic….I guess that’s something. So several people I know are determined to cast a protest vote for him, or for Jill Stein, to “send a message.”

It’s not the message they think they’re sending, however. As Clay Shirkey recently wrote in the Huffington Post

But it doesn’t matter what message you think you are sending, because no one will receive it. No one is listening. The system is set up so that every choice other than “R” or “D” boils down to “I defer to the judgement of my fellow citizens.” It’s easy to argue that our system shouldn’t work like that. It’s impossible to argue it doesn’t work like that….

Throwing away your vote on a message no one will hear, and which will change no outcome, is sometimes presented as “voting your conscience,” but that’s got it exactly backwards; your conscience is what keeps you from doing things that feel good to you but hurt other people. Citizens who vote for third-party candidates, write-in candidates, or nobody aren’t voting their conscience, they are voting their ego, unable to accept that a system they find personally disheartening actually applies to them.

Yep.

 

 

About That Opioid Epidemic

Credit where credit is due: Medical science and pharmacology have been nothing short of miraculous over the past century. People live longer and healthier lives as a result of breakthroughs in our understanding of how the body works, and how it responds to medications.

But we are also beginning to see some troubling consequences of our reliance on “miracle” drugs. Scientists warn of an emerging resistance to penicillin and other antibiotics, and blame their overuse. And then there is the opioid epidemic, which is yet another example of the problems that emerge when drug use and policy are dictated by the profit motive rather than by medical science and the Hippocratic Oath’s dictum “First, Do No Harm.”

AP and the Center for Public Integrity recently released a study detailing the effects of Big Pharma lobbying on opioid use and abuse. It should give us pause.

Key findings from the reporting:

 Drug companies and allied advocates spent more than $880 million on lobbying and political contributions at the state and federal level over the past decade; by comparison, a handful of groups advocating for opioid limits spent $4 million. The money covered a range of political activities important to the drug industry, including legislation and regulations related to opioids.

The opioid industry and its allies contributed to roughly 7,100 candidates for state-level offices, with the largest amounts going to governors and the lawmakers who control legislative agendas, such as house speakers, senate presidents and health committee chairs.

The drug companies and allied groups have an army of lobbyists averaging 1,350 per year, covering all 50 state capitals.

The opioid lobby’s political spending adds up to more than eight times what the formidable gun lobby recorded for political activities during the same period.

There’s much more.

I know I’m beating a dead horse (what, no medical interventions for the horse?), but there are economic arenas where markets work beautifully, and there are arenas where they don’t. Health care falls in the latter category. “Buying” health care is not equivalent to buying a car or a stove or other consumer good. The parties to the transaction do not possess equivalent information, and the “buyer” needing immediate care is rarely in any shape to go comparison shopping in any event.

The opioid epidemic is just one more example (in a very long list) of what happens when we insist on maintaining markets and encouraging the profit motive in a sector where informational and power asymmetries make genuine competition impossible.

Perhaps–if this election gives us a sane President and legislature–we can begin to correct the situation, by revisiting both the prohibition on government’s ability to negotiate drug prices, and the inclusion of a public option in the Affordable Care Act.

And someday–no doubt after I’m long dead–we might stop letting lobbyists make health policy, get Medicare for All or its equivalent, and join the majority of countries that have recognized that access to health care and lifesaving drugs should not be treated as  profit-generating consumer commodities.

If Facts Matter….

I’m one of those people who has pretty much “checked out” of the day-to-day hysteria of the Presidential campaign. (I’m old, and there’s only so much I can take….). So I decided not to watch the first debate, reasoning–I think correctly–that my impressions would be irrelevant anyway.

What ultimately matters is the ensuing “conventional wisdom.”

The consensus from all the sources I’ve seen is that Hillary won pretty convincingly. I’m sure the twitter feeds of the white supremacists, and the Facebook feeds of the “deplorables” say otherwise, but reports from credible media, the prediction markets, and  TV news anchors have been pretty consistent.

One news segment was particularly telling. Frank Luntz is a longtime GOP “message mavin.” We have him to thank for the (mis)use of political language: “death tax” rather than estate tax, for example. He is also known for the focus groups he assembles; somehow, in these polarized times, he finds voters who are undecided, has them watch campaign events, and then questions them on their reactions.

The group he’d gathered for the debate was asked, on camera, who won. Five people said Trump; sixteen said Clinton. Luntz said the margin was the largest of any group he’d previously assembled.

For those of us who actually care about substance, there were a number of sites doing fact-checking. Anyone who wasn’t previously aware that Trump occasionally lies (but only when he’s talking) could scroll through the real-time corrections and compare the consistent challenges to Trump’s statements with the virtual absence of corrections to Clinton’s.

For us ordinary people who always, dutifully, did our homework, probably the most confounding element of the 90 minutes was Trump’s obvious lack of preparation–a lack that received a great deal of comment. The Orange One evidently couldn’t be bothered to study, to actually educate himself about the complexities of governance. He apparently believed he could “wing it.” Evidently, he believes Presidents can just “wing it,” too.

The real question, of course, won’t be answered until election day, and that is: how many Americans will base their votes on the best interests of the country, and how many will support an angry, delusional and demonstrably ignorant bigot who defends and deepens their resentment of a  world they find unfair and their conviction that those “others” are to blame?

 

Startlingly Pertinent

Last night was the first debate in a Presidential campaign that–whatever else you might say about it–offers a stark contrast between a governing philosophy and a will to power.

This semester, I am teaching a course that I “invented” a few years back, titled “Individual Rights and the Common Good.” Students begin by reading political philosophers–Aristotle, Locke, Mill, Rawls–and observers like De Tocqueville, before considering present-day issues. The question we examine is, essentially, government legitimacy: when does government’s obligation to protect the common good justify constraining the liberties of the individual?

In preparation for our class on Mill, I reread the Introduction to “On Liberty.” It had been some time since I’d read it, and I was struck with how relevant it remains.

Mill begins by noting the age-old struggle between Authority and Liberty, and he traces the evolution of “authority” from a “governing tribe or caste” deriving its authority from “inheritance or conquest” to “tenants or delegates” of the people, and “revocable at their pleasure.” He writes that constraints on the first category were seen as necessary to protect those subject to the whims of the rulers; he then says

By degrees, this new demand for elective and temporary rulers became the prominent object of the exertions of the popular party, wherever any such party existed; and superseded, to a considerable extent, the previous efforts to limit the power of rulers. As the struggle proceeded for making the ruling power emanate from the periodical choice of the ruled, some persons began to think that too much importance had been attached to the limitation of the power itself. That (it might seem) was a resource against rulers whose interests were habitually opposed to those of the people. What was now wanted was, that the rulers should be identified with the people; that their interest and will should be the interest and will of the nation. The nation did not need to be protected against its own will. There was no fear of its tyrannizing over itself.

As he proceeds to point out, however, this is fanciful:

It was now perceived that such phrases as “self-government,” and “the power of the people over themselves,” do not express the true state of the case. The “people” who exercise the power, are not always the same people with those over whom it is exercised, and the “self-government” spoken of, is not the government of each by himself, but of each by all the rest. The will of the people, moreover, practically means, the will of the most numerous or the most active part of the people; the majority, or those who succeed in making themselves accepted as the majority; the people, consequently, may desire to oppress a part of their number; and precautions are as much needed against this, as against any other abuse of power. The limitation, therefore, of the power of government over individuals, loses none of its importance when the holders of power are regularly accountable to the community, that is, to the strongest party therein. This view of things, recommending itself equally to the intelligence of thinkers and to the inclination of those important classes in European society to whose real or supposed interests democracy is adverse, has had no difficulty in establishing itself; and in political speculations “the tyranny of the majority” is now generally included among the evils against which society requires to be on its guard.

Mill points out that the tyranny of the majority is exercised not just through the law, but through “prevailing opinion and feeling” (something I rather suspect a certain kneeling football player has recently experienced). He then sets out the dilemma which forms the focus of my class:

There is a limit to the legitimate interference of collective opinion with individual independence; and to find that limit, and maintain it against encroachment, is as indispensable to a good condition of human affairs, as protection against political despotism.

But though this proposition is not likely to be contested in general terms, the practical question, where to place the limit — how to make the fitting adjustment between individual independence and social control — is a subject on which nearly everything remains to be done. All that makes existence valuable to any one, depends on the enforcement of restraints upon the actions of other people. Some rules of conduct, therefore, must be imposed, by law in the first place, and by opinion on many things which are not fit subjects for the operation of law. What these rules should be, is the principal question in human affairs; but if we except a few of the most obvious cases, it is one of those which least progress has been made in resolving. No two ages, and scarcely any two countries, have decided it alike; and the decision of one age or country is a wonder to another. Yet the people of any given age and country no more suspect any difficulty in it, than if it were a subject on which mankind had always been agreed. The rules which obtain among themselves appear to them self-evident and self-justifying. This all but universal illusion is one of the examples of the magical influence of custom, which is not only, as the proverb says a second nature, but is continually mistaken for the first.

Some rules of conduct must be imposed. True. And arguments over the nature of those rules and the justifications for them will probably continue for as long as “we the people” continue.

A Different Drug War

A recent post at Daily Kos considered a different and less recognized “drug war.”

Let’s talk about the other drug war: The one being waged against the American consumer by the pharmaceutical companies who benefit from our tax dollars that fund basic scientific research and make up the difference in the tax relief they receive for their own research and development.

The post was prompted by the recent steep increase in the price of the Epi-Pen. Among other disclosures, it turns out that the company that manufactures the pen had moved its headquarters to the Netherlands in 2014, a move that allowed its tax rate to fall from 14 percent to its current 7 percent.

The fact that the company and its well-connected management are making out like bandits by stiffing those who need the devices is bad enough, but as the post points out, it isn’t even recovering its own costs of research and development.

The mechanical device in the EpiPen to deliver epinephrine was developed in the 1970s by a NASA engineer. It was designed for the rapid self-injection of antidotes to chemical warfare agents in battle, and in 1987 it was approved by the FDA for use with epinephrine. Epinephrine itself is a human hormone, first isolated by Japanese scientists in 1901. So the drug couldn’t be patented, although the device itself, the same one created by a government employee, was. The logical assumption, of course, is that a technology developed by a NASA engineer would be owned by all Americans. But it is not.

This is an excellent example of the Achilles heel of arguments advanced by drug companies defending exorbitant prices.

Big Pharma makes the case–correct as far as it goes–that the development of new therapies is expensive. Many promising avenues of research fail to pan out; testing and the regulatory process for vetting drugs is expensive and time consuming. If companies are to continue to sink money into the development of life-saving drugs, they need a financial incentive to do so–a promise that they will recoup their costs and make a reasonable profit.

What they don’t mention is that significant percentages of drug development costs are paid for by government grants–by the many millions of taxpayer dollars that support medical research. (They also don’t mention that, by some calculations, Big Pharma spends more on those interminable television ads than on research. Purple pill, anyone?)

It is especially galling that American consumers are charged more for drugs developed with substantial taxpayer support than consumers of those same drugs in other countries. It would be one thing if our tax dollars subsidized the cost of medications across the board, but it is really unconscionable that the same people whose taxes helped pay for the development of medications are also being charged more for those medications.

Lobbyists for the drug companies have managed to get laws passed that prohibit U.S. government agencies from negotiating drug prices as other countries do. At a bare minimum, those laws need to be repealed.