[Ip-health] Huffington Post: The 2010 Elections, reflections, lessons and taking stock

Thiru Balasubramaniam thiru at keionline.org
Thu Nov 4 05:01:29 PDT 2010


November 4, 2010

James Love
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.  
More here.
	• 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  
cat contributions.


Thiru Balasubramaniam
Geneva Representative
Knowledge Ecology International (KEI)
thiru at keionline.org

Tel: +41 22 791 6727
Mobile: +41 76 508 0997

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