aTypical Joe: a gay New Yorker living in the rural South
Monday, January 30, 2006
The $1,000 popcorn maker
Michael BÃƒÂ©rubÃƒÂ©’s academic freedom speech included a passing reference to “the thousand dollar popcorn makers that have now replaced $700 hammers as the symbols of waste and fraud in the Pentagon’s purchasing system.”
Here’s his source:
A retired Army Reserve officer complained to the Pentagon’s fraud hot line last year that the Defense Department had overpaid for kitchen appliances, paying $1,000 for popcorn makers and toasters and $5,500 for a deep-fat fryer that cost other government agencies $1,919.
Although he provided a four-page spreadsheet showing 135 cases of higher prices, the Defense Department dismissed his tip without checking with him. [...]
At issue is a multibillion-dollar Pentagon purchasing program that uses middlemen who set their own prices, instead of buying directly from manufacturers or going out for competitive bids.
Called the prime vendor program, it was the object of a Knight Ridder investigation that found that the Pentagon had paid prime vendors higher prices for 102 of 122 pieces of food equipment than the government did to contractors outside the system. For example, Knight Ridder found that the Pentagon had paid $20 apiece for ice cube trays that retail for less than a dollar.
60 Minutes reported last night on the development of a treatment for radiation sickness. The company developed the drug assuming a huge marked, based in part on meetings with the Pentagon and the fear of a nuclear attack on a major American city.
But when the Health & Human Services Department announced that it would buy the drug from whatever company had the best product, it made a commitment to purchase only 100,000 doses. Bob Marsella, the vice president of Hollis-Eden which developed an effective drug, Neumune, makes this important point:
“They’re supposed to create a market, not a starting point,” says Marsella. “If they were going to buy tanks for the military would they just buy one tank, or would they buy 100 tanks? And I think that the contractor would have a hard time spending all the money and research and not have a guarantee that they’re going to buy more than one tank.”
I was struck because the military analogy is such a good one. We know we have threats here, new threats from the new kind of war we’re waging. We hear scenarios of mass casualties from Bird Flu or nuclear attack or environmental catastrophe. But the military remains the only area where we are willing to commit the kind of money that any of these threats demand.
Pain & the police state II
Paey is serving a 25 year jail sentence for drug trafficking when no evidence was presented that he ever sold his pain medications to anyone and the doctor Paey says gave him undated prescriptions changed his story. Prosecutors say Paey couldn’t possibly have used the drugs himself. Pain experts disagree:
[Dr. Russell] Portnoy, among the most eminent pain specialists in the country, says that Paey’s behavior - wanting to ensure a steady stream of pain killers - is not unusual among patients in severe pain.
“It really sounds like society used a mallet to try to handle a problem that required a much more subtle approach,” says Portnoy. “If they had taken this man who had engaged in behaviors that were unacceptable and treated it as a medical issue, it seems like this patient would have had better pain control and a functional life instead of being in prison.”
Ironically, Richard Paey now gets all the drugs he needs. The state of Florida pays for a morphine pump which delivers a constant stream of medication directly to his spine, providing him with pain relief at doses more powerful than the drugs he was taking when he was arrested.
To contact Richard Paey or to learn more about his appeal, contact the Pain Relief Network.
Is it too much too ask that we err on the side of pain killers as medicinal relief from suffering rather than arresting sufferers as criminal narcotics traffickers?
[U]nder Florida law, the possession of just one bottle of illegally obtained painkillers - just 28 grams - is considered drug trafficking, which carries a higher penalty than trafficking in much larger amounts of cocaine.
The daddy state
Another excerpt from Michael BÃƒÂ©rubÃƒÂ©’s excellent talk, Recent Attacks on Academic Freedom: What’s Going On:
What animates the radical right, in other words, is not so much a specific liberal belief about stem-cell research here or gay civil unions there; on an abstract level, it’s not about any specific liberal issues at all. Rather, it’s about the very existence of areas of political and intellectual independence that do not answer directly and favorably to the state. So, for example (and this is my final example, chosen especially for you librarians out there), when in April 2005 Alabama state representative Gerald Allen proposed a bill that would have prevented Alabama’s public libraries from buying books by gay authors or involving gay characters, he wasn’t actually acting as a conservative. Real “conservatives” don’t do that. He was behaving like a member of the radical right. Indeed, his original intent was to strip libraries of all such works, from Shakespeare to Alice Walker; and as he put it, “I don’t look at it as censorship. I look at it as protecting the hearts and souls and minds of our children.”
It used to be that conservatives objected to the coddling of the liberal mommy state; what their time in power has demonstrated - including, significantly, the reign of King George - is that the radical right wants a stern daddy state. Can those few real conservatives who are left take back their movement?
The video via Mediasite is available for another 25 days.
NSA data miners
Robert X. Cringely details what he thinks is most likely going on with the NSA and FISA from a guy who used to work for the NSA. I suggest you read the articulation - “they’re using social network analysis...to identify people of interest...[before applying] for a FISA warrant and start actually intercepting” - this is his conclusion:
So what we have the NSA doing is probably data mining, calling records in order to identify the people they want to order intercepts on. They are doing it without warrants because they like being sneaky, don’t think they could get past the FISA court a warrant for 100 million calling records, and because the FISA law from 1978 probably doesn’t distinguish between a pen-trap and an intercept.
If that’s really the case, this doesn’t sound quite as bad as we’ve feared. I feel better thinking that they are culling calling records rather than listening-in to my conversations. And it makes a lot more sense, from a pure technical capability standpoint.
So why couldn’t they just tell us? Why couldn’t they have simply amended the FISA law to take such activities into account? Because they like to be sneaky, tend to distrust even the people who pay them (that’s us), and because they for some reason think that the bad guys won’t figure this out for themselves.
For the record, I absolutely, positively, 100% completely want my government to do data mining. I don’t want 20th century law enforcement in a 21st century world. How it is regulated/administered/overseen (Cringely’s “tell us...amend the FISA law") is what matters to me.
Bonus quote, Jobs and Disney: “It’s the start of a grand amalgamation based around a combination of content, technology, and networking, and I wouldn’t at all be surprised to see it end as a single huge company five years from now with Jobs at the helm.”