LEAVE IT TO THE PROS
Dang! You guys missed the point again! If this electoral brouhaha proved
anything, it is this: Electing the President of the United States is too
important to entrust to the people. We can't read a simple ballot. We can't
poke a sharp object through a piece of paper. Heck, half of us didn't even
show up to vote. Clearly, we need to turn this over to professionals.
So, here's what we do. First, every four years, the Democratic and Republican
parties each nominate a candidate for President by means known only to
themselves and their... sponsors. This puts the nomination process squarely
and publicly in the hands of professional kingmakers, who know what's best
for us. We all agree that only the Democrats and the Republicans are
competent to lead the nation, so we only need the two candidates.
Next, we commission two presidential opinion polls, one by each party. This
gives the evaluation process to the professional opinion-makers, who know
what's best for us. This is elegant for two reasons. First, there will be no
more bumbling over confusing ballots or struggling with recalcitrant punches.
Second, the sampling will represent 100 percent of the population! We need
exactly two polls. That way, the two parties will keep each other honest, as
they have for the past century, without making the process too confusing.
Surely, we will not elect a President by opinion poll, I hear you think. You
are correct! The opinion polls will only be guidelines for the state
legislatures, which will elect the representatives to the Electoral College.
So we will have professional lawmakers, who know what is best for us,
selecting our electors.
That brings us to the Electoral College. That hoary institution is in serious
need of reform. Take, for example, the thousands of disfranchised felons. I
propose that we count 60 percent of them for purposes of allocating electoral
votes. I also propose 60 percent for legal aliens and, say, 40 percent for
illegal aliens. But the important thing is a process that makes sense. We can
work out the details later.
ROBERT L. BLAU
'THE EXCEPTION TO THE RULERS'
I had the pleasure and privilege of working with Amy Goodman as guest producer for a few days some months ago ["For Democracy Now!" Nov. 13]. I come from years of working with mainstream radio, and the Democracy Now! team and show felt like an oxygen tent. The attention paid to issues that never make it to the front pages, the use of critical and dissenting voices, and, more important, voices from the grassroots, make the program both compelling and indispensable. It was an exhilarating experience when Thomas Pickering's direct line was jammed by calls following DN!'s exposure of how FBI agents let a Peruvian torturer leave the United States scot-free. Similarly, the office was inundated by calls after DN! gave prominent coverage to another example of police brutality in New York. For me, this was further proof that issues like this are of interest to listeners and that the airwaves can be an effective means of mobilization. I had understood this was part of Pacifica's mandate and that DN!'s slogan, "The exception to the rulers," was based on a common Pacifica vision. The DN! show is what journalism should be about--for, with and of the people. It would be a shame to let the management get away with destroying it.
Free Speech Radio News Contributor
$KY-HIGH PRE$CRIPTION DRUG PRICES
I appreciated William Greider's November 13 editorial, "If Politics Got Real...," challenging the rationale sustaining this country's laissez-faire attitude toward inflated prescription drug prices. As the author of legislation (The Affordable Prescription Drugs Act) that would codify the compulsory licensing approach mentioned in the piece, I am quite familiar with the "lower prices imperil medical advancement" threat used by the drug industry to protect its current pricing practices.
This well-worn threat implies that drug companies are the only source of funding for research and development. As Greider pointed out, pharmaceutical manufacturers fund only a portion of the R&D conducted in the United States today, and if they continue to abuse their power in the marketplace, the public may see to it that their role in R&D is diminished even further. It also implies that inflated drug prices are the only way to generate R&D dollars.
High prices are an expedient way to make money, but not the only way. Sales volume matters, too. Lower prices, which make the number of purchasers and the volume of purchases more important, might be just the incentive the industry needs to diversify and expand its R&D investment beyond a handful of blockbuster and copycat drugs. In 1983, the drug industry was confronted with legislation paving the way for a robust generic-drug industry. At that time, brand-name drug manufacturers claimed that generic competition and lower prices would have a significant dampening effect on R&D. Still, the Hatch-Waxman Act was signed into law, and the generic-drug industry now manufactures nearly 50 percent of all drugs dispensed in the United States. By the drug industry's own estimates, R&D skyrocketed. Annual R&D outlays increased 600 percent, from $3 billion in 1983 to $21 billion in 1998.
A third premise underlying the R&D threat is that drug industry revenues depend on whether US consumers pay more than consumers in other industrialized nations for the same drugs. Again, it is convenient for drug manufacturers to charge the United States more to compensate for discounts negotiated with other countries--it certainly takes some pressure off those negotiations--but it is not necessary. Other industrialized countries and the drug industry are benefiting from our laissez-faire attitude toward prescription drug prices.
Greider's editorial cuts through drug industry rhetoric to get to the basic point: If the drug industry won't voluntarily price in a manner that reflects the essential nature of prescription drugs, the United States is going to have to take matters into its own hands. The question is: How bad does the situation have to get before political expediency gives way to the public interest?
Thank you for helping to educate the public and provoke their interest in this issue.
AFRICA FALLS OFF THE MAP
New York City; Washington, D.C.
It is disappointing to find a writer in The Nation echoing George W. Bush's view that Africa does not make it onto the list of US foreign policy priorities. Sherle R. Schwenninger ["America and the World: The End of Easy Dominance," Nov. 20] deals at length with George W. Bush's list of priorities--Europe, East Asia, the Middle East and Latin America. But Africa and such global issues vital to Africa as debt cancellation, structural adjustment policies and UN peacekeeping win at best passing mentions. The global health crisis, including the AIDS pandemic devastating Africa, is entirely off Schwenninger's map of world issues.
Leaving Africa (and South Asia as well) as "invisible continents" in an article titled "America and the World" is the no doubt unintended reflection of the current world order of global apartheid. Africa, with more than one-eighth of the world's population, is also at the heart of today's "global" issues, such as the universal right to health and democratic accountability of global institutions.
In foreign policy, just as on the domestic front, there can be no plausible progressive alternative without confronting the hard realities of race. Schwenninger speaks of popular support for a US posture based on partnership rather than dominance. But moves in that direction will be abortive as long as pundits on the left join those on the right in keeping Africa invisible.
Africa Policy Information Center
New York City
I agree almost entirely with Salih Booker and William Minter about the importance of the issues they identify. But the focus of my article was not on what US foreign policy priorities should be; it was on the end of America's easy dominance. As important as the problems they cite are, none of them go to the heart of the easy dominance the United States enjoyed over the past decade, or to the forces that are bringing that easy dominance to an end.
SHERLE R. SCHWENNINGER
LAWMAKERS, NOT LAWYERS
The Nation editorial advocating a civil-suit remedy for the Ford/Firestone debacle ["Firestonewalling," Oct. 2] makes the same error that many otherwise intelligent liberals have made for years, arguing that because no one will pursue criminal charges (a premise that turns out to be incorrect, thanks to the surprising legislation put forward by Senator John McCain), the only recourse for justice is massive litigation. Nothing could be further from the truth. Lawsuit "justice," backed by Association of Trial Lawyers of America money and rhetoric, targets the innocent, overlooks the guilty and rewards the undeserving. If a successful suit is brought against Firestone, the following are certain:
§ The settlement will be paid by consumers and innocent, low-end Firestone employees. No one believes payment will come from top executives' salaries, nor would a firm that has just inherited a shaky public image further endanger its stock price by paying damages out of profits. If corporate history is any guide, Firestone will pay the settlement by enacting a combination of price hikes and cuts in labor and benefits.
§ Guilty executives will go free. Not only will executives pay no part of the damages, those who had to know that Firestone was selling demonstrably lethal tires will, in all likelihood, retain their jobs. In the extreme case, guilty executives asked to resign can safely glide in their golden parachutes to other pastures.
§ Lawyers who never have owned a Ford or Firestone will become fabulously wealthy (or more so). However hard they work on the case, the attorneys enjoy a lottery-type windfall that far exceeds any justifiable compensation for their "services." Again, this booty comes not from the guilty but from innocent bystanders.
However rare criminal prosecution of corporate misdeeds may be, civil litigation proliferation is no substitute. Tough, clearly written, well-enforced regulation--including criminal prosecution--is the only answer to corporate crime.