Saturday, February 19, 2005

Standing Out From the Crowd

Hillary Clinton seeks to align herself with the tide of history, a move which distinguishes her from most of her colleagues in the Democratic Party:

Sen. Hillary Clinton said that much of Iraq was "functioning quite well" and that the rash of suicide attacks was a sign that the insurgency was failing.

Clinton, a New York Democrat, said insurgents intent on destabilizing the country had failed to disrupt Iraq's landmark Jan. 30 elections.

"The concerted effort to disrupt the elections was an abject failure. Not one polling place was shut down or overrun," Clinton told reporters.

"The fact that you have these suicide bombers now, wreaking such hatred and violence while people pray, is to me, an indication of their failure," Clinton said.

Senator Clinton has seen the future and knows that the success of our efforts in Iraq will destroy the political aspirations of those on the Left who adamantly opposed them and who have offered nothing but carping and cavil since OIF began. Her words are a thumb in the eye of the Kerry/Kennedy faction of her party which has been relentlessly negative and morose about our efforts in the Middle East.

Clinton realizes that the majority of Americans want a positive message, not Kerry-style gloom and doom, and that the way to an American's heart is by making him feel good about what his country is doing. She also sees something that most on the Left either can't see or are too churlish to admit: American policy in Iraq is, as a matter of fact, succeeding.

Bullish on the Economy

David Malpass, an economist with Bear, Stearns, is bullish on the American economy:

Some economy watchers have been looking for a slowdown, but a speed-up is more likely. Right now the U.S. is in the early to middle stages of a long, durable, and relatively fast expansion - one that has positive implications for U.S. and foreign equities (but not for bonds). The growth engines include the dollar's exit from deflationary territory in 2002, low interest rates, the 2003 tax cuts, and the increasing level of U.S. employment.

Except for the third quarter of 2003 when GDP grew at 7.5 percent, annualized quarterly growth has been between 3.3 percent and 4.5 percent for each quarter since the second quarter of 2003. In all likelihood, growth for the fourth quarter of 2004 (soon to be revised) and the first quarter of 2005 will fall within that range.

When the U.S. breaks out of that range, it is more likely to be toward the high side than the low side. The U.S. economy will probably register a 5 percent growth quarter before it turns in a 2.5 percent quarter.

Read Malpass' analysis at National Review Online to discover the reasons for his optimism.

Letting the Consumer Decide

Here's some good news in the battle against pain:

Withdrawn arthritis drug Vioxx may make a comeback on the market after advisers to the Food and Drug Administration narrowly voted it was safe enough to be sold despite an increased risk of heart attack and stroke. The FDA panel concluded Friday that popular painkillers Vioxx, Celebrex and Bextra pose an increased risk for heart problems but should remain on the market because the benefits outweigh the dangers.

The panel strongly favored keeping Celebrex on the market, split over Bextra and favored Vioxx - which is currently not on sale - by a vote of just 17-15. Vioxx is substantially worse than the others, panel chairman Alistair J.J. Wood of Vanderbilt University School of Medicine said. "The data is very compelling," Wood said.

Vioxx is manufactured by Merck and Co. while Celebrex and Bextra are manufactured by Pfizer Inc....It was a stunning turnaround for Vioxx, which was withdrawn in September by Merck after a study showed Vioxx doubled heart attack and stroke risk compared to a placebo.

"Merck has appreciated the opportunity to present data at this advisory committee meeting," the company said in a statement. "We look forward to discussions with the FDA." The FDA usually follows advice from its panels. Officials have said the agency will make final decisions on Celebrex and other pain relievers in a matter of weeks. All three drugs are part of a class called Cox-2 inhibitors.

The panelists suggested restrictions on the drugs such as placing a severe "black box" warning on them, including more patient information with the drugs, restricting which patients could get the drugs and possibly banning direct-to-consumer advertising for the products. The panelists were unanimous in saying the drugs, known as Cox-2 inhibitors, pose risks of heart trouble. Studies of Bextra were limited, but showed a greater risk than Celebrex, the committee noted.

Wood of Vanderbilt University Medical School said it is important to find some way to help the public better understand the nature of risk. "People worry about crime and then drive drunk," he said, indicating they don't really understand relative risks.

Dr. Steven Nissen, medical director of the heart center at the Cleveland Clinic, said "What we really want is to make sure it's available for patients that need it and is unavailable to patients who whom it's inappropriate."

The committees were asked to assess the drugs after Merck pulled Vioxx from the market last fall because of health concerns. Since then questions have been raised about Bextra and Celebrex. The excess risk from Celebrex varied in different studies and the panel didn't seek to determine just how much more hazard a user faces than someone on another drug.

However, the panel was told that no cardiovascular problems were seen at the normal prescription dose of 200 milligrams. Heart trouble began to appear in colon polyp study patients who took 400 milligrams. (emphasis ours)

Earlier in the meeting, Wood said the safety problems reported in connection with Cox-2 inhibitors exceed those of products that have been withdrawn from the market. However, since the side effect involving heart attacks, irregular heartbeat and stroke is a relatively common problem, that makes it harder to pin it to the drugs than if it were a rare side effect.

Dr. Peter S. Kim, president of Merck Research Laboratories, had told the FDA committees earlier that new studies indicated the side effects aren't unique to its product."There are unique benefits to Vioxx," he said. "The science has progressed and we need to take that science into consideration."

While the committees heard evidence that all drugs in the group can increase the risk of heart attacks, irregular heart beat and strokes, it noted that Vioxx seemed to have more such reports than the other drugs. On the other hand, Kim said, Vioxx is the only one of the drugs approved for people with certain allergies and did better at preventing the stomach and intestinal problems often caused by over-the-counter painkillers.

The FDA's decision seems to us to be the right one. Inform consumers of the risks, and then let them decide whether they wish to place themselves at increased hazard or to live in pain.

Peculiar Choice

Does it not strike you as odd that the navy is commissioning an attack submarine named for former president Jimmy Carter, known around the world as something of a pacifist? It does this cartoonist.

It's almost like naming a destroyer after an Amishman. We understand there are plans afoot, by the way, to name the next aircraft carrier the U.S.S. Mother Teresa.

Don't Fix It, End It

Ask yourself one simple question. Why does our government insist on total control of our well being when it comes to the issue of Social Security? Where, in the Constitution of the United States, is it mandated that the Federal Government insure our retirement years? And if, by some stretch of imagination, one could make the claim that it does exist, then our government has failed miserably with regard to their charge.

President Bush speaks of an "ownership society" and at the same time is trying to control and direct that "ownership". It is a fact that conflicting messages from parents can make a child schizophrenic. The mixed message here is "I advocate an 'ownership society'. One where Americans take 'ownership' of their Social Security accounts by privatizing them, but we will control those private accounts." Ok. Just give me another shot of thorazine and I'll be fine...honest.

Presently, employees pay 6.5% of their wages into Social Security up to a cap of $90,000. The standard operating procedure of our government when faced with a failed system like Social Security is to raise the cap so they collect more dollars, raise the age at which individuals are able to collect their benefits so they pay out fewer dollars, and decrease the amount of benefits the individual eventually receives...if they live long enough. That's not my idea of a "fix".

The fact of the matter is that over the years our government has broken many promises to the American people and Social Security is just one of them. Raising the age at which one is eligible to collect what they have paid into all their lives, raising the cap and paying out a lesser amount in benefits are perhaps the most recent examples.

You can be sure you will be hearing more about these "solutions" as our government attempts to "fix" Social Security".

In addition, the Social Security reform plan anticipates the need to borrow $2 Trillion dollars to keep Social Security solvent. Ask yourself who is actually expected to pay off that "loan"? The interest alone could probably go a long way to keeping the plan solvent but the interest doesn't go into the Social Security system. So where does it go? And who pays it?

And given the government's proclivity to conservative estimates when it comes to spending, the cost is likely to go much higher. The "estimate" to fix Medicare was $400 billon dollars. Now, before prescription one has been written under the new, improved, "fixed" Medicare plan, the cost is now estimated at $700 billion to $1 trillion dollars.

I submit that the best way to fix Social Security is to discontinue payments into the system...immediately.

Those who are 65 get full benefits. Those who are 64 get 98% of the benefits, 63 get 96%, etc. Those who are 16 pay nothing into the system and get nothing from it. They have their entire working lives to provide for their own well being when they retire. Responsibility for one's own well being. Now there's a concept.

How can this work? Simple. Instead of individuals paying 6.5% of there wages into the plan each year they get to allocate their new found savings into their own retirement plans. That's "ownership".

In addition, presently, employee Social Security tax contributions must be matched by their employers. Eliminating those contributions would mean a 6.5% windfall to corporate America that goes right to the bottom line. Businesses will be better able to compete in the global economy, thus, more likely to create more jobs hiring more Americans who will be able to contribute to the economy in the form of increased purchasing power as well as increasing revenues of the government through income taxes. Businesses would also have a new-found ability to raise matching contributions to employee IRAs.

Currently, self employed individuals have to pay 13% into Social Security. That savings would also surely be used to fund their personal retirement plans and perhaps stimulate the economy as well.

Once again we see that when government butts out of private individuals lives, things have a much better chance of working just fine.

For more reading on the subject of Social Security, see here, here, and here.

Lastly, my proposal for Social Security just might not be viable. If, as has been alleged, the Social Security fund has been looted by our government and replaced with I.O.U.s in the form of bonds (loans), then there is no money in the system at the present time to pay anyone. You be the judge.