Sunday, February 17, 2019

A border crisis sized to TV screens

            It's always against our better judgment that my wife and I check in to see what Fox News is reporting.

            I don't even recall why we did it. Was it to see how Fox was reporting the story that Justice Department officials discussed using the 25th Amendment to remove Donald Trump as mentally unfit?

            Was it to see the latest about Paul Manafort's deep involvement with Russians or Roger Stone's dance with Wikileaks?

            Whatever the case, flipping to Fox, we were delivered to – surprise -- a crisis on the border. Trump says it is so, and it must be so.

            The blonde talking head first talked to a Republican someone who affirmed it was so.

            Then we saw pictures that surely affirmed his affirmation: a scene of brown-skinned people in a Mexican border town being unruly.

            Then Fox went split-screen as the talking head parroted Trump's claims about how a wall would stop drugs and dangerous Mexicans.

            To do this, half the split screen was filled with pills. They looked addicting. The other half was filled with one disorderly Latino-looking individual struggling with authorities.

            We were not as troubled by this as some Fox News viewers no doubt are. We guessed that the picture of drugs might be stock footage of allergy medication. We guessed that the disorderly Mexican might be a Puerto Rican riled over a parking violating in New York City.

            Regardless, if so inclined, a viewer of TV – like our president, when doing what he does best -- could find that split screen very alarming. You wouldn't want to fight that angry Latino for that parking space.

            My wife observed that as scary as the scene might be to some, imagine how much more so with a big screen.

            We have a 27-inch screen, plenty big. But imagine the fearful American family hunkered down before an 86-inch TV. By rough division, that's 43 inches of drugs and 43 inches of disorderly Mexican.

            That, of course, is the audience to which our president has been appealing ever since he rode the escalator down from on high: people who scare easily, most also having disposable income for big, beautiful TV screens.

            Most of them live in places that almost never see Mexicans except in vignettes on Fox News. Most never see undocumented workers, for those workers hurry to be unseen at their hotels and motels and busing their tables.

            Trump wants us to fear undocumented individuals, but even he hasn't feared them sufficiently to not hire them to work on his properties in great numbers. A split personality?

            Well, yes – 25th Amendment-style.

            Talk about venting out of two sides of one mouth. In 2014 Trump tweeted that President Obama had acted to "subvert the Constitution for his own benefit" in doing an end run around Congress and creating DACA. Indeed, Trump said it was an impeachable offense.

            Fortunately, multiple courts have affirmed Obama's authority to do want he did. Trump is not going to be so lucky with siphoning billions from budgeted sources for his pet project.

            Thinking about this border-wall thing, I have an idea which relates to another Republican pet initiative: school vouchers -- tax dollars to let people send their kids to private schools.

            I've always wondered why Republicans don't demand that other public services are doled out similarly. Vouchers for fire or police protection, say. Vouchers for street repair.

            Since Trump is intent on this scheme, he could follow the Republican playbook and issue "wall vouchers" to those who demand them. They could build iron slats around their white-flight neighborhoods to make them impermeable to disorderly Mexicans.

            More cost-effectively, if he wants to stoke more fear he could issue emergency vouchers to buy bigger TV screens.

            Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

First, zap those insufferable drug ads

           Snowed in on a brittle February day, I spent it watching a drug commercial.

            OK, the ad didn't last the whole day. It just seemed like it.

            Indeed, all 60 seconds of it still plays out in my mind. Good job, makers of Dupixent.

            Don't look it up. If you do, if will infect your mind and marketers will have gotten more bang for their – your – buck.

            Whatever drug-makers spend comes from you, including well-coiffed explanations about why prices can't possibly be lower.

            Since 2011, one analysis (truecostofhealthcare.org) finds that Big Pharma has spent almost a trillion dollars, $895 billion -- on marketing. That's 60 percent more than the $549 billion spent on research.

            I'm going to challenge that marketing estimate, though. The makers of Dupixent clearly spent close to $1 trillion on this one commercial alone.

            According to the commercial, it's for uncontrolled moderate to severe dyshidrotic eczema. If you've got that, raise your hand.

            No, wait. Don't. Because if you do, as the commercial shows, your hand looks like it's been in a pizza oven. Or you might feel like poison ivy is winding around your ankles. Or at the wash basin it feels like red ants are staging Woodstock on your hands.

            We see all this in effects fit for an Ingmar Bergman film festival.

            If you've got this disease, do you need this? No, you need a doctor to tell you have it and to prescribe something.

            Of course, it advises to "ask your doctor" if this prescription is right for you.

            Not to speak for everyone with uncontrolled moderate to severe dyshidrotic eczema, but that's not your job.

            After hearing about what the drug can do, it's your job to shake the ants off and make note of all the bad things it might cause, like fever, swollen lymph nodes and a "general ill feeling."

            What's the remedy when generally ill from watching these commercials?

            Only two countries on the globe, New Zealand and ours, allow this. All others prohibit direct marketing of drugs to patients. Makes sense, as these drugs require a doctor's prescription. It's not like we can get a dose at the Dairy Queen.

            Once again, we hear many explanations about why prescription drugs are so expensive. R&D. Testing. Patent protection. All valid. Marketing? Explain its purpose. It has none except to drive consumer demand for something a consumer can't easily buy.

            This kind of marketing should be banned. If not, at least the pharmaceutical industry should be flogged and exposed for the ridiculous amounts spent on it.

            If not banned, the FDA should remove the absurd requirement that any and all drug advertisement list every benefit and potential adverse side effect. If you want to know these, as the commercial says, "Ask your doctor."

            The only beneficiaries of this kind of information are the TV stations that sell longer ads. And they can be assured that ads from ambulance-chasing attorneys will fill the void.

            Washington has never been so divided. However, both parties have been talking about lowering drug prices.

            The Trump administration proposes to cease rebates that substitute for actual discounts -- a good idea that just tinkers around the edges of a monstrosity.

            Democrats want to do much more, such as enabling the export of drugs from other countries. We're told that's a bad idea because of safety issues. That sounds like the claim from the ban-abortion crowd that its chief concern is women's health.

            The FDA can approve medicines imported from afar just as easily as it can approve those made here. What a ridiculous dodge. Seriously, we get avocados from Mexico. We don't keel over in the guacamole.

            Sen. Elizabeth Warren has said that the government should be making generic variations of drugs that keep people alive, like insulin and EpiPens. Some say that's a matter of free enterprise and consumer choice. The people using these products have no choice.

            Drug companies have a choice -- to minimize unnecessary costs – and ridiculous TV commercials should be at the top of the list.

            Go ahead. Ask your doctor.

            Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.

 

Monday, February 4, 2019

Third-party math is Trump's fondest calculation

            Donald Trump was having a horrible month. Then Howard Schultz gave him a chance to flex his inner Biff.

            Trump hopes, hopes, hopes Schultz runs for president.

            And so President Biff did what his role model, the ruling oaf in "Back to the Future," did to Marty McFly: called him chicken.

            Schultz, the former CEO of Starbucks, "doesn't have the guts to run for president," he tweeted.

            That should do it, Biff.

            Judging by Trump's horrible approval ratings -- cumulatively now in the 30s -- the only way he could be re-elected would be to have a semi-legit candidate siphon off a sliver of votes in what might otherwise go to the Democrat in key swing states.

            A viable independent candidate? The last one to get so much as a single electoral vote was George Wallace in 1968 with four southern states' worth of 46.

            Ross Perot? Zero. John Anderson. Zero. Ralph Nader. Zero. Jill Stein. Zero. Gary Johnson. Zero.

            What did each accomplish? Well, Nader voters in 2000 helped George Bush, a man antithetical to everything they were about.

            Howard Schultz, a lifelong Democrat, doesn't like the apparent leftward-ness of the Dem field.

            Why doesn't he offer himself in that field as an alternative to the lefties? Democrats support candidates with a range of beliefs.

            Instead, he contemplates holding himself up as the hope of squishy centrists or flighty progressives, a means of flushing away their votes while a minority of voters returns Biff to office.

            Schultz reportedly is aghast at the blowback relative to his burst of idealism backed by billions. Good. He is absolutely entitled to dispose of all those billions in a nationwide campaign that will net him nothing, but he needs to know that third-party math is Biff's best hope.

            Michael Bloomberg, who also pondered a third-party candidacy but now is considering offering his centrism as a Democratic candidate, pointedly asserted that a third-party victory is beyond possibility, if no reason other than the Electoral College. Of this there is no doubt whatsoever.

            But let's face it. This is about voters, not Howard Schultz. Someone else, like Stein, will offer himself or herself as a nonviable alternative to the only two we know to be viable

            So, I'd like to ask Howard Schultz, the voter -- not the maybe candidate -- this one question: Considering which of two candidates you and we all know will win in 2020, the Democrat or Donald Trump, which do you want populating the Supreme Court?

            Ask that of anyone who considers voting "third party," or lodging a "protest vote," or opting to "vote for nobody" due to the fact that none of the two viable candidacies meets the desired definition of ideological purity.

            Which side do you want populating any of our federal courts? Where you stand on reproductive rights? What about LGBTQ rights? What about corporations flexing their muscle and lording it over workers (and lawmakers)? What about unchecked gun violence? What about merciless immigration policies?

            All come before the courts, particularly the Supreme Court.

            Conservatives have shown that they will hold their noses and dwell in the latrine tank long enough to vote for a person who is certifiably corrupt and is bereft of a moral compass if that person will appoint the judges they crave.

            Some think of Trump voters as dumb, but voting with an eye on the courts is smart.

            It's the way every progressive or centrist voter should look at the "choice between two evils." What philosophy do you wish the courts to reflect?

            I tire of the spiels, "There's not a lick of difference between them," and "They're both corrupt."

            There was a time when the two parties were similarly business-driven and it was basically an anti-Red contest of "Who can top this?"

            No more. Never in the last half century have the two parties been so different.

            As for Biff, if you're alarmed by him, know that he wants you to flush away your disgust in 2020.

            Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.