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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 3/11/16

Once Again, I Solve Everything

Message Stephen Pizzo
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by Stephen P. Pizzo
Unaffordable Life-Saving Drugs:
How about creating an " eminent domain " doctrine for life-saving drugs?
It's an idea that's time has come, and for many of the very same reasons that eminent domain laws were passed to allow local and state governments to force the sale of a piece of property needed for important public purposes.
Over the past decade life-saving drugs have been priced out of the reach of many who desperately need them. The more life-threatening the disease, the higher the drug is priced -- a sick twist on the old gag, "Your money or life?"
I could launch into a Sanders-like diatribe about the excesses of free markets and capitalism but, in this case, there's a simple solution, one that can satisfy all sides.
First let's understand an important, and little mentioned, fact about the R&D end of the pharmaceutical business. Drug companies like to complain that they have to spend millions do develop groundbreaking drugs. What they fail to mention is that, even before they get their hands on those formulas, US taxpayers have already dumped tens of millions into their development.
"A new report shows taxpayers often foot the bill to help develop new drugs, but it's private companies that reap the lion's share of profits. In one case, the federal government spent $484 million developing the cancer drug Taxol -- derived from the bark of Pacific yew trees -- and it was marketed under an agreement with Bristol-Myers Squibb starting in 1993. The medical community called it a promising new drug in the fight against ovarian and breast cancer.
Since then, Bristol-Myers Squibb has sold $9 billion worth of Taxol worldwide, according the the General Accounting Office report released today. The National Institutes of Health have received just $35 million in royalties from Bristol-Myers, however.
The Medicare program alone paid nearly $700 million over a five-year period, to buy a drug the government helped develop."(Source)
So the government usually has a lot of skin in the game long before drug companies start to test and market a new drug, something they don't like to talk about. Some of that government funding even goes directly to pharmaceutical company-run laboratories.
Okay, so to the solution; pharmaceutical eminent domain:
Any life-saving drug that is put on the market at a price an independent medical panel deems largely beyond the reach of average patients, would be sent to an arbitration board that would set a fair market price for the purchase by the US Government of that drugs patent(s).
Pharmaceutical companies would be paid a fair price, a price high enough for the patent that it would continue to encourage drug companies development of new drugs.
This would create an entirel new calculation for drug companies. Rather than pricing new life-saving drugs a the highest possible price, they would have to calculate what they could earn selling the patent to the US Government against what they could earn over the years if they priced the drug below the level that would trigger an imminent domain action against that particular drug.
Drugs that become the property of the government through this imminent domain process would be administered and marketed by Medicare, priced on a sliding scale of a patient's ability to pay. (We are, after all, talking about life-saving drugs here.)
Without an pharmaceutical imminent domain option hanging over drug companies, they will always go for the gold when pricing new, life-saving, drugs because, what do they have to lose? Nothing.
What do you have to lose? Your life.
Iraq and Afghanistan
Even though most US troops have been withdrawn from Iraq and Afghanistan, there are still many there and, if some folks in DC have their way, more will follow in the months and years ahead. This is a continuation of what seems to be a shockingly flat learning curve.
There really are not great arguments for remaining militarily engaged in any part of that terminally dysfunctional region. But, when confronted with the many good arguments against such ongoing engagements, proponents of engagement drag out their last weapon: the guilt-trip.
They say that, maybe it was our invasion of Iraq that unleashed this spiral of never-ending violence. And even if it wasn't, the fighting that followed our invasions killed and injured hundreds of thousands of civilians and destroyed what little public and private infrastructure they had. So we can't just pack up and leave now. We need to help them put their Humpty Dumpty back together again.
To which I say, hogwash.
True, citizens of both Iraq and Afghanistan have suffered terribly from the events kicked off by George W. and his sidekick, Dick. But we too have paid a price for it all, and will continue paying it for decades to come. Already the cost of those two wars have been estimated on th low end at at least $2 trillion and, when costs of veteran care and other ongoing costs, it could top $4 trillion -- money that could have, and should have, gone to fill very real and growing public and humanitarian needs here at home.
On top of that, over 6,800 US service members and over 6,900 contractors have died in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And an unusually high percentage of young veterans have died since returning home, many as a result of drug overdoses, vehicle crashes, or suicide.
So, as the song goes, "You gotta know when to hold-em, and know when to fold-em." And it high time to fold-em...both of them, Afghanistan and Iraq. And throw Syria into that mix as well, since there seems to be a growing itch to jump into that Middle East tarpit as well.
As long as the combatants and politicians in those troubled countries think they can sucker the US into sending money, arms and troops to play their sectarian games, they have no incentive whatsoever to seek other solutions. (I shudder to think how many Swiss bank accounts are brimming over with US aide money, but I would wager it would reach well into the hundreds of billions of dollars. Wanna bet?)
So, out now. All the way out. And then stay out. Everyone has paid a terrible price for this "bring democracy to the Middle East" folly. Time to call and end to it and let them figure out exactly what is they want, and are willing to live with.
Israel & Palestine
Here's another bit on never-ending trouble we need to clean our skirts of once and for all. If you're looking for either pure victims or pure heroes, look elsewhere, you won't find ANY here.
On one side we have a bunch of largely Europeans, packing 5000 year-old Biblical title reports that show they once owned the entire area from the sea to the borders of Jordan and Syria. And they are now here to reclaim it..all of it.
On the other side are the Palestinians... a group that, as it has been said, and proven many times , "never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity." Time and again, when some kind of agreement appeared at hand, the Palestinians' leadership (a term I use loosely) sabotaged the deals.
Here again we see American interventions produce more, not less trouble. ("Hi, I'm from America, and I'm here to help." Run!) And, like the wars we just discussed, our involvement with this never-ending pissing match has cost us dearly.
U.S. military aid to Israel was $2.775 billion in 2010, $3 billion in 2011, $3.07 billion in 2012 (and $3.15 billion per year from 2013-2018.) Washington also provides aid to Palestine totaling, on average, $875 million annually. (Imagine what that money could pay for here at home. And you will have to imagine that, since it didn't provide squat here at home.)
The Israel lobby wheels out a battery of arguments in favor of arming and funding Israel, including the assertion that a step back from such aid for Israel would signify a "retreat" into "isolationism." But would the United States, a global hegemon busily engaged in nearly every aspect world affairs, be "isolated" if it ceased giving lavish military aid to Israel? Was the United States "isolated" before 1967 when it expanded that aid in a major way? These questions answer themselves.
"If it weren't for US support for Israel, this conflict would have been resolved a long time ago," says Josh Ruebner.(national advocacy director for the US Campaign to End the Occupation and author of Shattered Hopes: Obama's Failure to Broker Israeli-Palestinian Peace)(Source)
Israel has become so accustomed to the US caving to their demands, it now lobbies our Congress directly, like a de facto US state, encouraging opposition forces in Congress to reject the policies of a sitting US President. Imagine that. Oh,wait, you don't have to imagine it, do you:
So, the solution agaun is clear: Walkaway. Stay away.
What would happen, you ask? Well, on the Palestinian side what would happen is they would realize that no one was going to come to their rescue the next time they dig their heels in and refuse to accept anything less than the entire loaf. And that they themselves will have to rein in their Hamas factions before those nuts get the entire Palestinian population embroiled in another bloody war with Israel...which would likely be the last one.
For Israel our total disengagement would also send a message: Game Over. So, you don't want to get out of the West Bank? Fine. It's yours. In which case Israel's ever thinning democratic veneer would be stripped away. Once stuck with all those Palestinians -- who are outbreeding Israelis by a long shot -- then officially part of Israel, they would have to decide... do we let them vote? If they do let them vote, Palestinians will out-vote white Israelis and would like rally much support form Israeli Arabs as well. Don't let them vote and Israel would become a full-fledged apartheid regime....and good luck with that.
By announcing we're out of ideas and out of patience with both sides, both sides will be tossed hot potatoes they will have to juggle themselves. Then let self-interests shape their decisions, unencumbered by hopes some outside force will charge to their rescue.

(Article changed on March 11, 2016 at 12:05)

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Stephen Pizzo has been published everywhere from The New York Times to Mother Jones magazine. His book, Inside Job: The Looting of America's Savings and Loans, was nominated for a Pulitzer.

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