Drug Prices

by bicyclemark

The lil suitcase is packed for the grand open ended journey through Northern Italy, Slovenia, —– (fill in your own following destination).

Prior to packing for the journey, I was watching a PBS Frontline Special entitled “The Other Drug War”. I believe it’s and old program, last updated (according to their site) in 2003, but the torrent just fell in my lap the other day. (transcript anyone?)

By the other drug war, the title is referring to perscription drugs for seniors in the United States. All those pills that control cholesteral, blood pressure, depression, asthma, etc etc… they cost senior citizens mounds and mounds of cash. And of course, the catch is, because they need many of these drugs to go on living, they are at the mercy of the drug companies.

In the program itself, we see seniors in Maine organizing bus excursions to Canada, where drug prices are fixed by the government in order to keep them affordable for seniors. (and I guess the poor too) During the bus ride, the people talk about how angry they are at companies for being so unreasonable with prices, and with the government for not intervening. Later the program explains that the state of Maine, as well as a few other states have actually passed laws that will control the price of drugs for seniors.. which of course has been met by huge resistance by the corporations, who have taken the states to court.

On the other side, you also hear from the companies themselves. Mostly from a few reps and many many lobbyists, since apparently pharmaceutical lobbies are the biggest and most powerful in Washington, DC. They explain that the government musn’t control prices or else their profits will suffer, and as a result, they won’t be able to invest in new life saving drugs. They claim that the high prices are because research is so expensive, so the pill costs nothing to make but you’re paying towards future drugs. If the prices lower, the expected response from the company will be to cut down on research. There’s even a French CEO of some big US pharma company (Eli Lilly)who explains that in France the government fixes the prices and therefore France lags behind the US and other countries in research and development. (number 5 in the world apparently, at that time)

Hooray for Bird Flu Drugs.

And so I the viewer, with some help from the internet and perhaps life experiences, sit here and evaluate the situation for myself. Whats more important… research and development, or access to the existing drugs.

In the end, everyone will have mixed answers. Put yours in the comments. Here’s a brief version of mine:

With most products in this type of capitalistic system of ours, which does not necessarily believe in fostering competition in many areas thought many claim it does, i can understand setting a high price for the cost of making something or researching it. Technology for instance.. computers.. cars.. you want the cool stuff.. you pay more. But when I look at medicine, I see something more than just a product making business. While it may be a business, it effects lives… more specifically.. it can effect if someone lives or dies. While its surely important for research to be properly funded, I’m not convinced that the healthiest way for a society to do it is to run up the profits for pharmaceuticals while making the seniors pay the price. I think a drug, however great it may be, is useless if people can’t afford it anyway.

I said this earlier today and Richard, who’s just arrived here and has worked for many years in hospitals, says that it is the other way around. That controlling prices limits the work of pharmaceuticals and hurts medical advances.

Your turn.

Oil in my Lamp

by bicyclemark

It is wintertime in Amsterdam. They skipped fall this year, just like they skip spring as well… welcome to the new globally warmed world.

Part of it being wintertime means it gets dark pretty fast in this upper part of continental Europa. Which of course means, more time with the lights on.. and that is where my subject of today came to mind: energy.

It powers your lamp. Or that fan on the powerbook that is now getting very loud cause Ive probably left it on all day. Electricity is obviously vital; so what do you know about where you electricity comes from? By all means, if you know, write it in the comments.

I’m going to take a guess about mine here in the Netherlands. I believe it is nuclear. Nuclear and perhaps parially windpower, since the city is basically surrounded by those beautiful white one-legged animals. Much of central Europe is actually nuclear powered, a side effect of having destroyed themselves in WWI and II, plus the investment dollars from the US of A that were likely earmarked for those big Montgomery Burns style cooling towers.

Of course it provides alot of power to alot of people, all over the world. And I was just reading how the UN’s nuclear agency is going to go on a PR mission to promote building more nuclear plants. Sounds lovely in their words. Clean, efficient, safe, powerful sources of energy.

Iranians with some fun stuff.

But I can’t help but think of the waste. The umm.. nuclear waste. The waste they still don’t know what to do with or how to get rid of it. In fact, they know they can’t get rid of it. In Nevada they built a giant radiation dump under a mountain called Yucca, where they believe they can hide all the nuclear waste and they won’t wake up one day to find their groundwater glows in the dark and they’ve got lots of previously unheard of cancers. In France I think I saw a report about a similar idea for disposal center where they’ll just pile it up in neat little piles for about 1,000 years when it won’t be as deadly.

It is not that I don’t like having power for my fridge or to charge my batteries, i recognize the necessity. But the choice of nuclear, and the continued investment in making more plants, that I cannot understand. For a world that still has not resolved IF there is even a way to handle the hazardous waste that comes from making this energy, it seems rather short sighted to push ahead with making more.

My suggestion, besides not investing in more nuclear, is to seek other sources. I’m not a scientist, I just play one on the blogosphere; but I know we have a never ending list of intellegent and innovative minds that could surely find another solution. Hell, maybe every city should surround itself in pretty wind generators. Or let them persue something more powerful… but please… let it be sustainable and beneficial to future generations, not some crazy burst of energy that leaves a deadly mess which cannot be cleaned.

A New Jersey Company Town

by bicyclemark

Yesterday afternoon, as part of our two- day exploration of south jersey, NoCoins, Leah and myself set off in search of a village called Whitesbog, where cranberries and blueberries were historically (and presently) grown.

For those who haven’t been taught much about this fair state where I was born, the South of New Jersey has a large area of Pine Barrens, where there are a plethora of state parks. The Whitesbog village is located in Lebanon State Forest, strangely renamed the Brendan T. Byrne state forest, but Im just going to keep calling it Lebanon because I think its a more beautiful name.

So I had a general idea where to drive to, and after an hour or so of riding in circles through narrow roads between the pine forests, we suddenly came upon the little sign for Whitesbog Village. From there, a very skinny and bumpy road, which passed several fields of what I assume were blueberries, eventually came to a clearing and a whole series of houses which looked very 1800’s. Even stranger was the fact that no one was around; each house was closed up and perfectly silent, as if everyone had fled the town and left it for accidental tourists like us to discover.

We managed to find a map on a rickety bulletin board, and decided to walk the village in search of strange buildings and eventually – blueberry fields. Apparently it is Maine that produces the most blueberries in north america, 25% of all blueberries to be exact. In Europe it is France and Austria that grow the most. New Jersey, meanwhile, comes in just behind Maine, along with a few other states, as a major producer of high-bush blueberries.

As lovely as it was, to walk around what seemed to be a ghost town and among the wild blueberry bushes, it was also extremely erie. NoCoins talked about how it was mostly Italian workers, who were hired from South Philly as seasonal workers, who lived in these little bungalows in the middle of nowhere. He talked about how they would be paid with credit and then use this credit to purchase food and goods from the company store, a pseudo slavery, in many ways.

I kept thinking of those Italian workers, as we snapped photo after photo. What happened to them. How terrible or wonderful was their time in this village? And what of their children and children’s children?

Seemed like alot of sacrafices were required, so that people could have their berries.

Global Mayors Campaign

by bicyclemark

Dear longtime or recently new readers of the Communique:

Welcome! That’s the most important point I want to start with. Although my blog is very old (4 year anniversary just passed a few weeks ago), and you may notice alot of names in the comments, I want to make sure you understand this is one very open place, where you can comment and pick apart my sometimes not fully thought out ideas. You could insult too, but that’s fairly pointless if it isn’t backed by a real arguement. Still, I’m glad you stopped in and hope you’ll subscribe via RSS or at least bookmark me.

With that out of the way, I’d like to announce a new series I will be working on for my podcast. Throughout the remainder of 2006, I will be embarqing on a series of podcasts focusing on global mayors.

Why mayors? Because I’ve observed how all over the world, national governments rarely accurately represent their citizens. While I’ve also come to realize that the world’s cities are often led by very unique and wacky officials, who sometimes embody wonderfully creative and progressive ideals, or in other cases, do the exact opposite.

Therefore I will be focusing in on the personalities, who they are, and what policies they are implementing, all over the world. I will of course do my own research and presentations, but I also intend to find representatives from those cities to appear as guests on my program.

These programs should begin next week, as I already have a long list of some of the more well known cities and their famous mayors. But if you have a mayor that has either done very interesting or very terrible things for your city, and you’re willing to appear or recommend someone as a guest, please get in touch, either via comments or by emailing me: bicyclemark at gmail…

My purpose, by doing these programs, is for me personally, to learn about what is going on in different corners of the planet within urban centers, and more generally, I hope those following these interviews might learn something new as well, and perhaps we will notice some patterns regarding mayors and their policies.

So stay tuned.