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Member since: Sat May 15, 2010, 04:48 PM
Number of posts: 6,028

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The Free-Market Faerie Fails to Deliver . . . Again (Ebola edition)

(This is the text of a comment I posted to a front page article in today's New York Times, which is excerpted and linked below).

Mark Kessinger

This story is a perfect illustration of why free market fundamentalism -- the notion that markets alone can, and will, deliver the best solutions to any problem a society faces -- is sheer folly, and in some instances, such as this one, downright dangerous. Vigorous, hefty public investment in scientific research is absolutely essential if we expect the sciences to be proactive in finding solutions to many of the problems we face, particularly bio-medical ones.

In this case, there was no market -- hence no incentive -- to develop a particular product because the thing the product addressed (Ebola) was not seen as a major problem. The trouble, of course, is that there never would be any such demand until there was a crisis, and by that point (which happens to be now), we would be seriously behind the eight-ball.

To all those, on the other hand, who have been spinning in an irrational panic about Ebola, I respectfully suggest your efforts would be better spent -- and indeed, would be more effective in securing public health -- if you were to demand of your elected leaders that public investment in the kind of bio-medical R&D needed to address things lke Ebola be ramped up significantly.

Here is an excerpt of the article:

Without Lucrative Market, Potential Ebola Vaccine Was Shelved for Years


GALVESTON, Tex. — Almost a decade ago, scientists from Canada and the United States reported that they had created a vaccine that was 100 percent effective in protecting monkeys against the Ebola virus. The results were published in a respected journal, and health officials called them exciting. The researchers said tests in people might start within two years, and a product could potentially be ready for licensing by 2010 or 2011.

It never happened. The vaccine sat on a shelf. Only now is the vaccine undergoing the most basic safety tests in humans — with nearly 5,000 people dead from Ebola and an epidemic raging out of control in West Africa.

< . . . . >

Dr. James E. Crowe Jr., director of a vaccine research center at Vanderbilt University, said that academic researchers who develop a prototype drug or vaccine that works in animals often encountered a “biotech valley of death” in which no drug company would help them cross the finish line.

Up to that point, the research may have cost a few million dollars, but tests in humans and scaling up production can cost hundreds of millions, and bringing a new vaccine all the way to market typically costs $1 billion to $1.5 billion, Dr. Crowe said. “Who’s going to pay for that?” he asked.
Posted by markpkessinger | Thu Oct 23, 2014, 07:05 PM (3 replies)

Maher v. Affleck: One Giant Distraction for Progressives

(Note: This is a status update I just posted this to Facebook.)

I have followed the recent Bill Maher/Sam Harris v. Ben Affleck/Reza Aslan debate over the nature of Islam (a debate that has become something of an internecine war among progressives) fairly closely, and I gotta say that, while I think both sides have made some valid points, I think the entire debate serves as one giant distraction from the debate we should be having -- indeed, a debate we have needed, yet have steadfastly refused, to have since 9-11. That question that we should be discussing is that of the role 70+ years of disastrous U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East has played in fueling the rise of religious extremism and terrorism in the region. As Pulitzer prize-winning Journalist Chris Hedges recently pointed out, nobody simply wakes up one day and decides to become a terrorist; it is something people are driven to out of desperation, when they no longer have any real political agency. The fact is, we have been the author of many of our own troubles in the Middle East. Once we admit that to ourselves, then, perhaps, more of us will come to see the utter folly of thinking that yet another round of military action in the region will accomplish anything that is at all constructive.

There were those, of course, who, in the wake of 9-11, did attempt to make this very point. It was the point former ethnic studies professor Ward Churchill, then of the University of Colorado Boulder, was trying to make, how ever inartfully, when he stated that "there were no innocent victims on 9-11" -- a comment that eventually had the effect of ending Churchill's academic career. It is the point President Obama's former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, was trying to make in his "God damn America" sermon, which was seized upon by conservatives as proof that Wright, and by extension, President Obama, hated America, and which, in an act of utter political cowardice, was ultimately renounced by President Obama. That sermon stood in the highest and best tradition of prophetic preaching of the African American church, but most Americans were too caught up in the political horse race to be bothered with considering its substance. There were others as well who attempted to get America to take an honest look at itself, but to a person, each was met with some variant of the obtuse, "Why do you hate America," or were otherwise shouted down. And thirteen years later, we still wonder why we can't seem to get it right.
Posted by markpkessinger | Fri Oct 17, 2014, 06:16 PM (6 replies)

NY Magazine: U.S. Troops Were Injured by Old WMDs in Iraq, Which Doesn’t Mean Bush Was Right

New York magazine was quick on the draw with this article, which they published in response to the wave of conservatives jumping on the "This Vindicates Bush" bandwagon in the wake of the NY Times article on abandoned chemical weapons that were found in Iraq (and which injured soldiers who handled them unawares). In addition to the points made in the article (an excerpt of which appears further down in this message), I also added the following comment (which I also posted to the original New York Times article):


There is yet another reason why none of this serves to vindicate the Bush administration's claims of WMD. Think back to that unfortunate speech Colin Powell gave before the United Nations making the case for invading Iraq. Chemical weapons were mentioned, sure, but the salient point of that speech -- the thing that ultimately 'closed the deal,' if you will -- was the belief that Saddam Hussein either had, or was in the process of developing, a nuclear weapon. Remember all the talk about "aluminum tubes" and "yellow cake uranium?" All of that was about making the case that if the U.S. didn't stop Saddam Hussein, like yesterday,the next thing anybody knew he would have a nuclear weapon, and then Who Knew What Would Happen? Likewise, Condoleeza Rice's infamous comment, to wit, "We don't want to wait until a smoking gun becomes a mushroom cloud," was ALL about scaring the public, both here and abroad, of a nuclear-armed Saddam Hussein. Chemical weapons were mentioned, but were decidedly secondary in the case the Bush administration made.

In addition, Conservatives can hardly claim vindication for Bush when the Pentagon, for five years under Bush and two under Obama, repeatedly denied the very existence of these weapons, even as U.S. soldiers were being injured by them after they had been instructed to destroy them and having been kept in the dar as to the nature of what they were handling. There is simply no way the Bush administration comes out of this looking any less guilty of war crimes than it has already looked.

Here's the New York magazine article excerpt:

U.S. Troops Were Injured by Old WMDs in Iraq,
Which Doesn’t Mean Bush Was Right

By Margaret Hartmann

In a bombshell report on Tuesday night, the New York Times' C. J. Chivers revealed the existence of a "largely secret chapter" in the Iraq War. Between 2004 and 2011, American troops and Iraqi police officers repeatedly found chemical weapons produced by Saddam Hussein's regime before 1991, and at least 17 U.S. service members were wounded by deteriorating shells filled with nerve or mustard agents. The men suffered burns, severe blisters, respiratory problems, and other long-lasting health problems, but the U.S. government prevented the troops from receiving medical care and refused to recognize that they had been wounded in the line of duty. And to make matters worse, ISIS now controls the area where most of the weapons were found.

There's a lot of infuriating information in the 10,000-word report and accompanying documentary. But conservatives quickly pounced on one point that isn't even true: U.S. troops found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, so President George W. Bush was right to invade.

It's well known that Saddam Hussein produced chemical weapons in the 1980s during the Iran-Iraq war, and by 2003 the shells and rockets were so old and damaged that they could not be used as designed. The Times report makes it abundantly clear that these were not the WMDs the Bush administration was referring to in the lead-up to the war. This is the tenth paragraph:

The United States had gone to war declaring it must destroy an active weapons of mass destruction program. Instead, American troops gradually found and ultimately suffered from the remnants of long-abandoned programs, built in close collaboration with the West.

< . . . . >
Posted by markpkessinger | Wed Oct 15, 2014, 05:13 PM (2 replies)

Indeed . . .

. . . I gotta say, I really didn't think there was anything more that could come out of the mess in Iraq that would have the ability to shock me, but THIS -- a willful betrayal of soldiers by the very government they serve, withholding needed information to enable them to get proper medical treatment -- that is a real stunner, even after everything else that has been written.
Posted by markpkessinger | Tue Oct 14, 2014, 10:15 PM (0 replies)

WOW - NY Times Investigative Report: The Secret U.S. Casualties of Iraq’s Abandoned Chemical Weapon

I have no words for this . . .

The Secret U.S. Casualties of Iraq’s Abandoned Chemical Weapons


< . . . . >

The United States had gone to war declaring it must destroy an active weapons of mass destruction program. Instead, American troops gradually found and ultimately suffered from the remnants of long-abandoned programs, built in close collaboration with the West.

The New York Times found 17 American service members and seven Iraqi police officers who were exposed to nerve or mustard agents after 2003. American officials said that the actual tally of exposed troops was slightly higher, but that the government’s official count was classified.

The secrecy fit a pattern. Since the outset of the war, the scale of the United States’ encounters with chemical weapons in Iraq was neither publicly shared nor widely circulated within the military. These encounters carry worrisome implications now that the Islamic State, a Qaeda splinter group, controls much of the territory where the weapons were found.

The American government withheld word about its discoveries even from troops it sent into harm’s way and from military doctors. The government’s secrecy, victims and participants said, prevented troops in some of the war’s most dangerous jobs from receiving proper medical care and official recognition of their wounds.

< . . . . >
Posted by markpkessinger | Tue Oct 14, 2014, 10:03 PM (5 replies)

Democrats ditch Kentucky, leaving Grimes on her own vs. McConnell (WTF???)`

Shades of both the last NJ governors race, and the race in 2010 for Ted Kennedy's seat (which put Scott Brown in the Senate). WTF is the DSCC's problem? Fucking insanity, or incompetence, or both!

Democrats ditch Kentucky, leaving
Grimes on her own vs. McConnell

In a sign national Democrats no longer believe Alison Lundergran Grimes can defeat Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in Kentucky, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is going off the air.

“The DSCC has now spent more than $2 million in Kentucky and continues to make targeted investments in the ground game while monitoring the race for future investments, but is currently not on the air in the state,” CQ Roll Call quoted a DSCC official as saying.

Grimes has kept the race competitive by selling herself to voters as an energetic independent, but she has trailed in most public surveys against McConnell, who leads by an average of 3 points, according to RealClearPolitics.

< . . . . >

A Democratic strategist in Kentucky who has worked on the race told msnbc the DSCC’s decision was shocking, pointing to a recent internal poll showing Grimes leading the race by 2 points, in line with a public poll this month by SurveyUSA. The internal survey was conducted by Mark Mellman, a Democratic pollster best known for accurately forecasting Harry Reid’s comfortable win over Sharron Angle in 2010 despite polls showing her with a lead in the final stretch.

< . . . . >
Posted by markpkessinger | Tue Oct 14, 2014, 06:54 PM (102 replies)

Libertarians are SO confused!

LOL! A friend of mine told me about an exchange with a friend of his (whom I don't know) who identifies himself as a Libertarian. His Libertarian friend has apparently decided that Iceland, with its very strong economic recovery now in place, would be the perfect place to live. Apparently, he is unfamiliar with precisely how Iceland accomplished its impressive feat. Hint: it started with a government take-over of Iceland's banks and re-regulation of its financial sector, which had been deregulated in 2000 -- yet these are precisely the kinds of government interventions that Libertarians are always railing against. This reinforces my belief that most Americans who call themselves "Libertarians" have a rather confused understanding of what Libertarian political philosophy actually entails!
Posted by markpkessinger | Fri Oct 3, 2014, 08:11 PM (49 replies)

NY Times Editorial (and my comment): "The Fundmantal Horror of ISIS"

Here is a comment I just posted to the editorial in The New York Times titled, "The Fundamental Horror of ISIS" (an excerpt of the editorial follows after my comment below):

Mark Kessinger

From the article: "But no Islamist group before, no other offshoot of Al Qaeda or Hamas or Hezbollah, has so nakedly adopted a cult of sadism, not only as a weapon in its stated goal of establishing an Islamic caliphate but as the very reason for its existence." The beheadings, ex-post facto crucifixions, rapes, etc. seem to us to be -- and no doubt are -- heinous, depraved acts of inhumanity. But to discuss the "fundamental horror of ISIS" while at the same time ignoring the very real, fundamental horror of U.S. policy in the Middle East since at least the 1950s is to perpetuate the very collective self-delusion among Americans that has lain at the heart of a disastrous U.S. foreign policy for over a half century, and which drives us in the present moment to respond to yet another crisis in the Middle East by doing still more of what has never worked for us in that region (and is no more likely to work this time around).0

As brutal and barbaric as beheadings certainly are, do we really imagine that the deaths of innocent civilians that inevitably result from U.S. drone strikes are any less brutal and barbaric? To a farmer whose family is counted among the "collateral damage" from such a strike, that is a distinction without a difference.

And while we clutch our collective pearls over ISIS' beheadings, should we not remind ourselves that is the government of Saudi Arabia, our staunch (so we're told) ally, that has popularized the practice in the first place?

Here is an excerpt of the editorial:

The Fundamental Horror of ISIS


The mind rebels at the reports of cruelty by the Islamic State, the beheadings, crucifixions, tortures, rapes and slaughter of captives, children, women, Christians, Shiites. The evidence is there on YouTube, in gruesome images and the cries of witnesses too numerous to deny or doubt. Even in a part of the world where terror has been perversely enshrined as a legitimate weapon by Islamist zealots, the Islamic State — led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi — stands alone in its deliberate, systematic and public savagery.

The grievances, resentments and frustrations that drive young Muslims to violence and extremism have been analyzed and debated, and the Islamic State, also called ISIS, is a link in a long chain of Arab and Muslim terrorist organizations. But no Islamist group before, no other offshoot of Al Qaeda or Hamas or Hezbollah, has so nakedly adopted a cult of sadism, not only as a weapon in its stated goal of establishing an Islamic caliphate but as the very reason for its existence.

Even Al Qaeda, an extremist movement responsible for the horrors of 9/11 and innumerable other acts of terror, was compelled to disown the Islamic State’s brand of savagery. Yet far from repelling potential recruits, the recorded beheadings and crucifixions have attracted hundreds of willing followers — yes, also from Europe and America. The masked man or men who beheaded the American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff apparently came from Britain, yet seemed to revel in taking a knife to the throats of innocent men.

To claim that this savagery is rooted in a certain people or a certain religion is to forget that the great atrocities of our age have been perpetrated on different continents by people professing different ideologies and different religions. Before the Islamic State there was Rwanda, and the Lord’s Resistance Army and the killing fields of Cambodia, and before that, in Europe, the Holocaust.

< . . . . >

Posted by markpkessinger | Fri Oct 3, 2014, 04:02 AM (6 replies)


At the risk of being labeled a paranoid conspiracy theory monger, I will offer a few thoughts about the current round of "Oh-my-God-the-terra'ists-are-closing-in-on-Peoria" war drum beating that our august leaders -- of BOTH parties -- are engaging in.

First, a little refresher in recent history. Does anybody remember what the big news was last summer? You know, when the original neoconservative cheerleading squad for invading Iraq, along with a coterie of war profitee... -- er, sorry, defense contractors -- was suddenly demanding that the President intervene in Syria's civil war and to overthrow Assad, and the President appeared ready to go along with the idea? Of course, after some pretty intense public outcry, the President decided to consult Congress (even though he continued to assert he didn't legally need to do so). And then, as quickly as the whole 'crisis' arose, it simply disappeared. Congress never did actually vote on it. We did send some arms to the anti-Assad forces, but otherwise the matter was quietly dropped -- or so we thought.

Fast forward to this summer, and suddenly there's this group that had barely been mentioned -- ISIS, ISIL or just IS. They kill a couple of journalists and a British aid worker in a manner that offends our delicate imperialist sensibilities (after all, our murder-by-drone policy is infinitely more civilized, don't you think?), and suddenly it is imperative that we start a round of airstrikes in Iraq in order to save a subculture of Iraq's Kurds known as Yazidis to escape their mountaintop holdout, where they will surely die if we don't begin bombing -- oh, I'm sorry, I meant striking from the air (really not much more than a feather-dusting when you think about it).

Suddenly, lo and behold, our "no-boots-on-the-ground-limited-airstrikes-on-ISIS-in-Iraq has morphed into a "years-long" (as one top general has said) war against ISIS and Khorasan in where else but -- you guessed it -- SYRIA! Oh, but wait . . . . Korha-who? Suddenly, there's a new terra'ist group none of us has ever heard of before that we're also at war against. Oh, and they had an IMMINENT plan to attack the U.S.! So why have we never heard of this group that was surely about to hit Peoria next week? Because, the administration tells us, we didn't want to tip them off that we were hot on their trail. (Funny how that never stopped anybody from talkinb about Al Qaeda.) Oh, and Khorasan has an added benefit: if the administration can claim that they pose an 'imminent threat,' then it buys the President some time before he needs to seek authorization from Congress. That is, of course, if such authorization were needed, which, of course, it isn't, because by some novel legal contortions, the President is authorized to act under the original Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF) passed 13 years ago in the wake of 9-11, which authorized the then-President to go after those responsible for 9-11.

So, let me see if I've got this straight: the President is authorized under a 13-year-old AUMF intended to permit the then-President to go after those responsible for 9-11 to intervene in a civil war of a country that had nothing to do with that event, and against a group that did not then exist. But hey, just in case that doesn't pan out legally, we have this handy-dandy imminent threat from still ANOTHER group that didn't exist 13 years ago. WHAT A COUNTRY!

Sorry, folks, but I ain't buyin'! We have been 'neo-CONNED' yet again. And most of us, it seems,are the neocons' willing dupes.

Polls are showing that something like 94% of Americans support airstrikes in Syria, thus once again proving the truth of that famous quote penned by H.L. Mencken: "No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public."
Posted by markpkessinger | Wed Sep 24, 2014, 01:05 PM (65 replies)

NY Times Editorial - Wrong Turn on Syria: No Convincing Plan

Wrong Turn on Syria: No Convincing Plan

President Obama has put America at the center of a widening war by expanding into Syria airstrikes against the Islamic State, the Sunni extremist group known as ISIS and ISIL. He has done this without allowing the public debate that needs to take place before this nation enters another costly and potentially lengthy conflict in the Middle East.

< . . . .>

The military action early Tuesday was quite different from what Mr. Obama explained in a televised speech on Sept. 10. For months the administration has focused on the ISIS threat, yet these strikes also targeted Khorasan, a group the government says is linked to Al Qaeda and engaged in “active plotting that posed an imminent threat to the United States and potentially our allies.”

It is puzzling that Mr. Obama would address the nation on a terrorist threat and not mention the group that officials now say poses an imminent threat to the United States, which ISIS does not. They say they kept details about Khorasan secret so the group would not know it was being tracked. But past threats, including Osama bin Laden, were discussed openly even as they were tracked.

These incongruities — two enemies now, instead of one — call into question whatever sense of purpose and planning the administration hopes to project. Mr. Obama has said airstrikes alone are not enough, and native ground troops in both Iraq and Syria will be relied on after the bombings. But it will be months before Americans can turn the mainstream opposition into a fighting force; in Iraq, after six weeks of American airstrikes, Iraqi Army troops have scarcely budged ISIS from its strongholds.

< . . . . >

Posted by markpkessinger | Wed Sep 24, 2014, 06:37 AM (12 replies)
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