[A2k] Huffington Post: The 2010 Elections, reflections, lessons and taking stock
thiru at keionline.org
Thu Nov 4 05:01:29 PDT 2010
November 4, 2010
Director, Knowledge Ecology International
Posted: November 4, 2010 07:08 AM
The 2010 Elections, reflections, lessons and taking stock
The 2008 election of Barack Obama was moving, not only for me and
others who voted for Obama, but also for many who didn't support his
candidacy. At one point everyone appreciated the historic barriers
that had been crossed, and were grateful for the new more inclusive
political landscape. We were also sobered by the grave risks to the
world as a consequence of a financial crisis brought about by
widespread fraud, the exploitation of uninformed investors, lax
regulation, and greed.
Now, two years later, a new election has resulted in a loss of 60
democratic seats in the House of Representatives, and 7 to 9 seats in
the U.S. Senate.
For the first time in the Obama Administration, the Republicans will
have control of congressional committees, and the power to issue
subpoenas and investigate the government, or anything else of
interest. We haven't seen Republican investigations of a Democratic
Administration since the Clinton Administration. Now we will see lots.
The Republicans will claim a mandate to cut federal taxes, spending
and budget deficits. Two of three of these objectives might be
feasible. Three of three highly unlikely.
With most of our money going to the military, social security and
paying the federal debt, and tax cuts for high income persons, and
Republicans promising permanent tax cuts for wealthy and corporate
taxpayers, it will be a rough go for anyone seeking to protect or
expand federal spending on domestic social programs, or foreign aid
unrelated to military adventures.
This election was partly a statement about the direction of the
country, and the lack of a convincing story emulating from the White
House about how the country will get back on the right track. Why did
Democrats appear tone deaf during this economic crisis? For one thing,
political leaders from both parties have first and foremost appealed
to potential campaign contributors, and in particular, corporations
with durable interests and deep pockets.
Some say $4 billion was spent on the election. This includes corporate
money newly liberated by the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United
decision. This may have been a tit for tat or a deliberate escalation,
in addition to spectacularly poor judgement. The Supreme Court
arguably broke precedent as a consequence of Obama's breaking of the
public financing system in 2008. Conservatives on the Supreme Court
were concerned that the current rules could benefit the Democrats more
than the Republicans in the 2012 election.
Money for campaigns isn't given without expectations of influence, and
politicians in both parties understand what donors want.
It's hard to develop a public narrative and a legislative record as a
champion of the underdog when you spend so much time pandering to
giant corporate interests.
It's not that the Democrats in the White House and the Congress have
not done many good things - they have accomplished quite a bit. The
economy would be much worse than it is today. Some helpful changes
will be made in student loans, and the health care reform bill, while
flawed for not dealing with cost controls, does make it easier for
persons with prior conditions to buy insurance. In countless areas the
Obama Administration has made the government more effective and better
prepared to deal with the challenges of protecting the environment and
worker, consumer or civil rights. But there are also very visible
areas where they have compromised, delivered very little, or made
things worse. (More here).
In the areas where I work, which includes policies regarding
intellectual property rights and innovation, I have made a few notes
of some of the positive and negative surprises we have seen over the
past two years. This is not exhaustive -- I don't have the time for
that. But it does illustrate the frustrations that many feel following
the change we voted for (and expected) in 2008. In short, I was:
• Surprised, shocked and disappointed to learn that almost
immediately after his inauguration, President Obama held secret
meetings with the CEOs of Pfizer, Abbott, Merck and PhRMA, and made
non-transparent deals to abandon his campaign promises to rein-in high
drug prices. More here and here.
• Surprised and disappointed when the White House declared that
international negotiations over a new controversial anti-consumer
agreement on copyright, trademark and patent policy would be conducted
in secrecy, as a matter of national security. Cynically named the
"anti-counterfeiting" trade agreement (ACTA), but dealing with civil
and criminal enforcement of all routine infringements of intellectual
property rights, for more than a year, the Obama Administration fought
the inclusion in the agreement of basic safeguards of consumer rights,
and exceptions in areas of public interest, such as the enforcement of
patent infringement cases against medical professionals, drug
companies that fail to disclose relevant patents on biologic drugs, or
uses of "orphaned" copyrighted works by libraries, archives or
educational institutions. When the European Parliament vote 633 to 13
to demand that new safeguards be added for consumers, and the
negotiators make the text public, President Obama personally endorsed
the ACTA negotiations in a speech the next day. To the very end of
this year, the United States was the only country of 38 that opposed
transparency of the negotiations. More here, here, here and here.
• Surprised when the Obama Administration was successfully lobbied by
big pharma to oppose work at the World Health Organization on a
medical R&D treaty.
• Surprised that the Obama Administration placed drug company
lobbyists inside of the UN's World Intellectual Property Organization
to deal with public health issues.
• Surprised that the Obama Administration gave grants to
pharmaceutical industry funded groups to advise developing countries
on pharmaceutical patent issues. More here.
• Surprised that the Obama Administration blocked an effort to have
regional discussions on the transparency of the pharmaceutical sector.
• Surprised that the Department of Justice allowed Ticketmaster to
merge with LiveNation, creating more monopoly power in the booking of
live performances of artists. The merger was opposed by Bruce
Springsteen and other performers, but DOJ refused to block it. More
• Disappointed when the Department of Justice allowed Oracle to
acquire the assets of MySQL, putting together in one company the
leading free software platform and the leading commercial platform for
database services. Not surprisingly, Oracle has introduced sharp fee
hikes to support MySQL, killed off low-priced support options, and
more than doubled what it charges for the commercial versions of the
database. More here and here.
• Disappointed the Obama Administration has continued the Bush
Administration policies of pressuring Thailand, India and other
developing countries on drug patents.
• Pleased the NIH agreed to license a minor patent on an AIDS drug,
but waiting for stronger action on patents that are more useful. More
• Disappointed the Obama Administration has yet to grant a hearing to
patients suffering from Fabry's disease who are asking for a license
to use a patent on a government funded invention, in order to overcome
a shortage in the United States of a life saving drug. More here.
• Disappointed that the Obama Administration has played a cynical
game in blocking progress on a new copyright treaty for persons who
are blind or have other disabilities, and taken the side of mostly
foreign owned publishers backing complex and unworkable alternatives.
At least the Obama Administration is no longer officially opposed to
the treaty. Now they are "open" to the treaty. Unfortunately, all of
the backroom diplomacy is designed to kill rather than advance the
treaty, or to create such a mess that a new intentional legal norms
will make things worse rather than better for persons with
disabilities. (Following in the tradition of failed negotiations for
Paragraph 6 of the Doha Declaration or the 1971 Appendix to the Berne
Convention). Groups critical of the Administration position are just
frozen out by the White House. More here.
• Pleased that the Department of Justice has recently filed a brief
opposing patents on genes, and hoping the Patent Office stops granting
these patents. More here.
• Disappointed when Howard Dean was hired by BIO to lobby against
rules to allow more competition of biologic medicines. More here and
• Shocked when a proposal by Representative Henry Waxman to make it
easier to register generic (biosimiliar) versions of expensive
biologic drugs was rejected by a 11 to 47 vote, in the committee he
chaired, undermining one of the few efforts to control the costs of
new medicines in the health care reform legislation. More here.
What are the lessons from all of this?
First, one thing that can't be repeated enough is that the public
continues to underestimate the corrosive impact of our system of
financing elections, which is basically legal bribery. This has pretty
much destroyed the Democratic party as a defender of consumers and
workers. Not every elected official, or every vote of every official
has been corrupted by campaign contributions. But the pressing need to
raise more and more money has a huge impact on the overall state of
affairs, and it is just getting worse.
Second, it is possible to push for useful reforms, if they are easy
enough for the public to understand, and there is a real effort by
some political leaders with enough fame, power and/or charisma to make
people pay attention. That's what we though we were getting with
Obama. But so far, that type of communication seemed to have
disappeared after the 2008 election. Maybe now that Obama will be
running scared for the 2012 election we might see more of this -- if
he doesn't spend all his time trying to raise a billion or so in fat
Knowledge Ecology International (KEI)
thiru at keionline.org
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