Dec 29

Where We Stand On Gun Violence After Newtown

Kent State: 1970

With the New Year quickly approaching, and following a long hiatus from us here at thirdpartytime.com, I thought it apt to provide a short summary of where we stand as a gun loving republic heading into 2013.

Following another horrific yet utterly predictable school shooting, this time on the East Coast, we are again embroiled in what will almost certainly be a short and unproductive national discourse concerning “gun control.” Immediately following the event, the nation mourned both publicly and privately. Candlelight vigils and prayer services dotted the land. The conversations, disagreements, and arguments mirrored that of the abortion debate, with neither side able to see the logic of the opponent’s point of view. Legislation banning certain assault weapons and high capacity magazines will be introduced, again, and may actually find some traction in Congress. The NRA, the one-time recreational, hunting, and sports shooting advocacy group provided a tone deaf response to the Newtown incident that evidenced finally, and without question, that the organization receives its marching orders not from its hunting and sporting membership, but from firearm manufacturers and sellers. The NRA now receives less than half of its funding from dues paying members.

What can be done to prevent needless firearm deaths in the future? This is a complicated issue that must be attacked on many fronts. First and foremost we must have a uniform system of law that provides for a minimum regulatory regime across all states. All firearms must be registered and all sales must be recorded in a national database, closing the so-called gun show loophole and requiring recordation of each private sale. Once this is accomplished, or before, certain states will almost certainly lead the way in restricting firearm sales and possession further, and these states must stand firm and allocate appropriate resources to fighting the law suits that will almost certainly follow. Next, we must increase significantly the punishment doled out to firearm offenders, enhancing prison terms and building extraordinary deterrents into the criminal justice system. The recent shooting in Upstate New York, during which a gentleman who himself was prohibited from purchasing firearms opened fire on several firefighters and police, had the assault rifle used in the attack purchased for him unlawfully by a female neighbor. The punishment for her crime is a maximum of ten years in prison; however the vast majority of sentences for such an offense receive little or no prison time. Would this neighbor have been willing to accompany the shooter to the sporting goods store if she knew the minimum sentence for doing so was fifteen or twenty years in prison? Would the vast majority of criminals continue to use firearms during the commission of a felony if they knew that they would receive twenty-five to life sentences for doing so? Our relatively lax sentencing guidelines for firearm crimes are starkly at odds with the percentage of violent crimes involving a gun, yet acutely in line with our collective impression of guns. This has to change.

We must also attack the issue of gun violence on the mental health front. This is certainly the most complicated and subjective element of gun violence, but can’t be ignored. Unlike the NRA, the mental health community understands that while depression, anxiety and a host of other disorders are more “closely linked” to criminality, only 5% of all violent crimes are committed by those with a mental disorder. In attempting to ameliorate the number of crimes committed by the mentally ill it is imperative that we as a society expand accessibility to mental health services. We must provide adequate care in our schools and universities. We must shun those who seek to straw-man the autistic and similarly affected.  We must provide mental health services as part of health programs for the poor and elderly, such as Medicaid, Medicare, and municipal health programs. We must require that private health insurers provide access to mental health services in each and every plan, even if it requires a public subsidy. Limiting access to firearms in conjunction with increased mental health services will not eliminate crimes and suicides among the mentally ill, but it make these crimes less frequent and perhaps less horrific.

We must also address this issue as a society, as a collective of people with a common goal in mind. Guns, assault weapons, high-capacity magazines, and access to these items does not tell the entire story. Murder rates have declined in the United States precipitously over the past few decades after reaching its pinnacle in the 1980s, even as raw firearm numbers, and access to more advanced assault weapons and high-capacity magazines has increased. While a national assault weapons ban was in place from 1994-2004, murder rates had already begun to show decline, and have continued to decrease since 2004. Should we ban assault weapons? Almost certainly. However, not because the weapons themselves necessarily lead to higher murder rates, but because these weapons reinforce an ever growing national ideology of violence. Banning these weapons will undoubtedly make crimes such as Columbine and Newtown less common, but the goal is to curtail gun violence nationally, not to stamp out the most abhorrent events while the larger problem propagates out of sight in our inner cities. No matter how horrific the events of Newtown were, the murders represent a tiny fraction of the gun related deaths that take place every day in the United States. Why do we as a society gather in prayer vigils and sign countless petitions when children and young adults are murdered in our schools, yet we do not do the same for the tens of people murdered every single day? Uncovering why we as a society can’t seem to see past the rhetoric and recognize the statistics and science that explain why so many of the claims of gun rights advocates are outright falsehoods is the key that unlocks the door to a brighter future. Failing to do so will doom us to more of the same, no matter what legislation is able to meander its way through the Capitol.

Apr 27

Is Americans Elect the Real Deal?

Americans ElectIn a very well written post over at The Atlantic, Lawrence Lessig argues that Americans Elect, a self-purported “2nd way” of nominating a Presidential ticket–carefully avoiding even the numerical mention of three or third so as not to not be labeled a third party–is the best hope that the United States has to rid itself of the corrupting influence of money on our political system.

But we who believe with Uygur (who believes that campaign finance reform is the largest issue facing American politics) must recognize that waiting is not costless either. The nature of campaign spending in the two elections since Citizens United has changed American politics fundamentally. After this election, that change will seem normal. The outrage that now courses through this Republic — on the left and at least the silenced right (squashed by four to one spending) — will fade. The idea that 196 Americans — the .0000063 percent — can contribute close to 80 percent of super PAC expenditures will seem ordinary. The tiniest slice of the 1 percent will then gladly accept the role of funding America’s elections, in exchange for the continued acquiescence by the rest of us — acquiescence in its dominant role in American politics, and because that role has been privately, not publicly focused, the continued plundering of our children’s futures.

If we let this issue go unremarked now, we could well pass a point of no return. The new normal is too profitable for those who control our government. Lobbyists can now promise clients triple digit returns on lobbying investments — what rational CEO would invest in a better mousetrap when more lobbyists on Capitol Hill promise more profit? And when the average salary increase for moving from the Hill to K St. is 1,452 percent, what rational congressperson is going to make it her cause to end the corruption that is this system?

We cannot afford this silence now. We can’t afford to wait. We must find a way to put this issue into the center of this presidential campaign. And the only way to do that just now is the most misunderstood movement in this election cycle so far — Americans Elect. (emphasis added, content not in original)

But the right answer here is not easy. And it begins with a recognition that we all must accept: America has lost the capacity to govern. By handing over the funding of elections to the tiniest slice of the 1 percent, we have guaranteed that any important policy choice can be blocked by a fraction of that tiny slice of the 1 percent. There will be no climate change legislation. There will be no simplification of the tax code. Health-care costs will not go down. Wall Street will be bailed out again. You pick your issue. Here is the fact: Our government hasn’t the ability to decide any important question of governance sensibly. And it will remain that way until we find the will to end this pervasive system of corruption.

Americans Elect claims:

Americans Elect is a “2nd way” to nominate a President, not a traditional 3rd party. Our process is open to any qualified candidate and any registered voter—no matter their party. We have no ties to any political group—left, right, or center. We don’t promote any issues, ideology or candidates. None of our funding comes from special interests or lobbyists. Our only goal is to put a directly-nominated ticket on the ballot in 2012.

I am certainly tempted to entertain the notion that because no other third party or so-called “alternative” movement has been able challenge the status-quo in the United States and our two-party system, that I should support Americans Elect on grounds of principle alone. I have in fact registered on the site, completed the questionnaire, and made my opinion clear. I have done the same with the Justice Party. I have not shied away from the possibility that Americans Elect could somehow grow into a serious challenge to the Democratic and Republican machines. However, I share many of the concerns highlighted by the Lessig piece. I also have independent concerns of my own. But all things considered, I support Americans Elect and its efforts to at the very least scare the pants off of the two major parties. Continue reading

Apr 18

Obama attempts to Overcome Institutional Insolence on Oil Prices?

Yesterday President Obama stood at the White House with Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) Chairman Gary Gensler, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, Attorney General Eric Holder, Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Chairman Jon Leibowitz, and proclaimed that he will be putting “more cops on the beat” to investigate Wall Street oil price speculation and potential wrongdoing. I have written on this subject before here, here, and here. While I have little confidence that anything will come of this third call by the President for the Department of Justice, the FBI, and the CFTC to investigate oil futures speculation and other speculation in the commodity derivatives markets, he is at least taking his act public this time.

“We can’t afford a situation where speculators artificially manipulate markets by buying up oil, creating the perception of a shortage, and driving prices higher, only to flip the oil for a quick profit,”

Many argue that the President can not do much at all to influence oil prices. Many simply buy the Wall Street rhetoric hook, line and sinker, and even go so far as to turn sheer conjecture into fancy charts in order to confuse the public. I disagree. First, there is no greater motivator than personal freedom, and under current law Eric Holder can punish those found to have run afoul of the law by sending them to federal prison. Moreover, while the fines currently permitted are small change, the embarrassment that would accompany fines has consequences. I do not have any explanation for the extraordinary impotence and insolence at the Department of Justice under Eric Holder. The entire soap opera could just as easily be an elaborate act wherein the President calls for investigations of this thing or the other thing, and subsequently sends Eric Holder privately on his way with instructions to do nothing.

I find it extraordinarily difficult to believe that if Eric Holder made the decision to call in the FBI and begin interviewing the big Wall Street players in the commodity futures derivatives markets and put a few of them in prison, that the oil prices wouldn’t drop in an instant. I envision FBI agents and federal regulators walking through hallways at Goldman Sachs, owner of the Goldman Sachs Gold Index, and other large firms carrying lawfully issued subpoenas and search warrants. I have a hunch that some of the more egregious activities would stop immediately if people realized they might actually be sent to prison. Exxon Mobil, the Saudi Oil Minister, among others, are on record as believing that the current price of oil has no basis in the realities of supply and demand nor the potential disruption in delivery that could ensue following a conflict with Iran. Holder’s behavior with regard to oil futures speculation is not dissimilar from his approach to both the larger mortgage and financial instrument fraud which caused the recession, and his utter infecundity with regard to prosecuting those responsible for the BP oil spill. It is as if the entire Department of Justice loathes prosecuting anyone, for anything, at any time.

What is particularly troublesome about Obama’s footing on oil prices is that it is not Republicans who are obfuscating efforts to initiate investigations, make arrests, and prosecute those responsible. It is his own administration and administration officials who stand in his way. It is cerytainly true that Republicans, Mitch McConnell in particular that are placing the blame at Obama’s feet, but the President has the tools to demonstrate through concrete actions that he takes Wall Street fraud and price manipulation seriously. One man, let alone the President of the United States, can alone control the world price of oil, but one man can use the tools available to him to take action. Some time ago CBS’s 60 Minutes ran a piece in which it interviewed the chief prosecutor at the Department of Justice concerning the lack of criminal prosecutions stemming from the financial collapse. His response was a contemptuous “just wait.” Well, the American people have been patiently waiting for nearly four years for the administration to show that it will prosecute wrongdoing perpetrated by the golden boys of Wall Street. My guess is that the wait will continue.

Ian Masters interviewed Michael Greenberger, the former Director of Trading and Markets at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, on this subject yesterday. It’s worth a listen.

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Apr 09

Conservatism is Easy

Keep RightFresh on the heels of a recent study from Brock University in Ontario, Canada that found that conservative beliefs and racism tend to occur in individuals with lower intelligence and cognitive ability, a research abstract released on March 16, 2012 by Scott Eidelman and his research team at the University of Arkansas found that low effort thinking leads to conservative beliefs. The British Psychological Society summarized the findings, which included among other things, that the less time or mental effort a person puts into thinking about an issue, the more likely they are to espouse a politically conservative perspective.

Across four studies, the researchers examined the effects on political attitudes of four different ways of reducing mental effort. This included: surveying drinkers at varying degrees of intoxication at a local bar; allocating some participants to a dual-task condition where they had to keep track of auditory tones at the same time as registering their political attitudes; allocating some participants to a time-pressured situation, in which they had to rate their agreement with different political statements at fast as possible; and finally, giving some participants the simple instruction to respond to political statements without thinking too hard.

The results were consistent across the studies – being more drunk, being distracted by a secondary task, answering under time pressure and answering without thinking, all led participants to agree more strongly with politically conservative beliefs, such as “A first consideration of any society is the protection of property rights” and “Production and trade should be free of government interference.” Agreement with liberal beliefs were either reduced or unaffected by the measures. The researchers checked and the effects they observed were not due to differences in the complexity of the statements used to measure political conservatism and liberalism, nor were they due to changes in mood or frustration associated with the interventions.

The finding that reduced mental effort encourages more conservative beliefs fits with prior research suggesting that attributions of personal responsibility (versus recognising the influence of situational factors), acceptance of hierarchy and preference for the status quo – all of which may be considered hallmarks of conservative belief – come naturally and automatically to most people, at least in western societies.

“Our findings suggest that conservative ways of thinking are basic, normal, and perhaps natural,” the researchers concluded. “Motivational factors are crucial determinants of ideology, aiding or correcting initial responses depending on one’s goals, beliefs, and values. Our perspective suggests that these initial and uncorrected responses lean conservative.”

Follow-up research will apparently include a study to determine the best way for Mr.Eidelman and his team to escape Arkansas safely once word of the research findings is made public.

Apr 06

Avoiding the Cause of Oil Spike

The fight over oil prices among the top two presidential candidates is afoot. The Obama campaign has just released a new campaign add in which he touts his administration’s accomplishments in increasing domestic oil supply and raised fuel efficiency standards for automobiles. Romney has been fighting back, claiming that Obama and his henchman, including the Secretary of Energy, have colluded with tree huggers and failed alternative energy manufacturers like Solyndra to purposefully drive up the price of oil.

This spectacle would be politically entertaining if it were not for one glaring omission: derivative futures speculators on Wall Street account for a plurality of the recent spike in the price of oil. This didn’t come from some left wing progressive algae farmer, it came from the fucking Federal Reserve. If Obama were to even intimate that CFTC and DOJ investigations of illegal futures trading were coming down the pike, the price of oil would decline quickly as speculators take profits in hopes of avoiding regulatory action. Romney has also failed to go after Wall Street on this matter. One can be left only to conclude that neither party has an interest in having the backs of hard working Americans as they struggle to purchase gasoline and heating oil and find enough left over for food and other necessities.

Apr 06

No More Time

With unemployment benefits being curtained as the economy “improves,” many people are being left to live within their means without any means to speak of. While congress and the president did step in and extend unemployment insurance during the worst of the recent recession, no widespread worker retraining , vocational, or higher education programs have been offered up by either side. What is particularly sad in this whole mess is that we know which professions, trades, and jobs are in demand. The United States has worker shortages in manufacturing for example, along with truck drivers, plumbers, and tradesmen and women of all sorts. We also have a shortage of physicians and nurses, as well as other medical support staff. We also know that several career areas are in fact well short of filling all of the available positions. It wouldn’t put each and every American back to work who desires a job, but a concrete effort to match the unemployed with training and jobs is desperately needed. Moreover, this effort is in the public interest. Greater numbers of employed people means greater tax revenues, fewer cuts in public services, and smaller budget deficits over the long term. That should make Republicans and Democrats both happy.

If the two major political parties are looking for a blueprint, look no further than Germany and its dual-system.

Apr 05

The Longest Debate in History

LiesA recent study conducted by Shaul Shalvi, a psychologist at the University of Amsterdam, uncovered that the more time permitted to pass between an event or question and the response, the less likely a subject is to lie. The subjects were instructed to roll a die and report the outcome. The greater the number, the more money the subject would be paid.

The researchers had no way of knowing what numbers participants actually rolled, of course. But they knew, statistically, that the average roll, if people reported honestly, should have been 3.5. This gave them a baseline from which to calculate participants’ honesty. Those forced to enter their results within 20 seconds, the researchers found, reported a mean roll of 4.6. Those who were not under any time pressure reported a mean roll of 3.9. Both groups lied, then. But those who had had more time for reflection lied less.

A second experiment confirmed this result. A different bunch of volunteers were asked to roll the die just once. Again, half were put under time pressure and, since there were no additional rolls to make, the restriction was changed from 20 seconds to eight. The others were allowed to consider the matter for as long as they wished.

In this case the first half reported an average roll of 4.4. Those given no time limit reported an average of 3.4. The second lot, in other words, actually told the truth.

I could not help but query if the American view that quick decisiveness is a sign of strength to be admired ultimately leads to more societal deceit. Could our incessant desire for lightening fast feedback actually be contributing to a steady decline in overall truthfulness. Are we learning to lie more effectively as a result? I certainly welcome further experimentation comparing the United States to cultures with an alternate view.

I wonder what would come of a presidential debate, for example, wherein the candidates were forced to contemplate their response to each question for a minimum period of time. Would human psychology affect their ability to mislead us intentionally? Would their level of discomfort in telling lies be apparent? I do know it would be awfully fun to watch.

Apr 05

Robert Shiller Weighs in on Home Prices

The most recent S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Index was released on March 27, 2012 showing that home prices have continued to dip and are currently sitting at 2003 levels. While this comes as no surprise to me, as I suspect that home prices have to fall back to 2002 levels, pricing in the fraudulent boom, as well as an amount to compensate for the recession, unemployment, and continued wage stagnation.

However, I did find it interesting that Mr. Shiller noted that he is being asked routinely if the market has hit bottom. He remarked that the questions seem to be coming from a perspective holding fast to a notion that as soon as a bottom is reached, home prices will begin to rise quickly again. This is extraordinarily indicative of predictable foolish American “market” thinking that another housing boom must be forthcoming to retrace some of the gains of the past decade, rather than acknowledging that home prices need to return to historical levels of appreciation in order to have a sound and stable market. At that point, home prices can begin to rise just above the inflation rate as has always been the case absent some regional or national artificial boom.

Shiller went on at some length during an interview with Motley Fool:

Well, our numbers are still going down, but our numbers we just released January, in the first few months of this year, there are positive signs, notably the National Association of Homebuilders Housing Market Index — which is based on a survey of builders — shows that builders are seeing signs of optimism. Although, the very latest number in February was just flat, so it’s not formally good. Things seem to be weakening a little bit in the latest month or so. But I find it very difficult to predict home prices right now.

Home building is rather different, by the way. Homebuilders are not bothered by the fact that in certain regions, homes are below construction costs. They just don’t build there. All they need are some places where homes are selling for above construction costs. That’s really not the same market.

Will this market pick up? I tend to take a different perspective. I keep getting asked by reporters, “Is this the bottom? Is this the turning point?” And I’m wondering what they’re asking about. It sounds implicit in their question that they think that there’s going to be a day soon and then it’s going to zoom up again.

We as a people have to move away from a mentality that there will always be one get-rich-quick scheme afoot at any moment. Further, we must reform our fundamental outlook on single-family homes as an investment, to a more realistic and practical understanding that homes should and are a stable means of saving for retirement and beyond, expecting meager returns in return for that stability.

Neither the Democratic or Republican party has put forth a real plan to assist homeowners climb out of the chasm left by the housing bubble. The Republican plan is ultimately to do nothing, while the Democratic administration has fumbled from one ineffectual policy to the next avoiding forcing the large banks to provide any significant help to homeowners and those improperly foreclosed upon. The most recent foreclosure fraud settlement forced down our throats by the Obama administration does nothing more than free the banks to restart the foreclose process guns blazing, now free from the possibility of prosecution from the DOJ or the state attorney generals. There will not be any large-scale write downs of mortgage principal for homeowners who find themselves underwater as a result of the banks’ fraudulent conduct. However, because the recent settlement will assist in clearing forecloses from the banks’ books, the “bottom” desired by Republicans has been ironically hastened by this Democratic administration. Lastly, in one more ill-conceived medieval half-measure by the president, Fannie and Freddie have been prodded into selling off huge swaths of homes to bankers and investors so that the bundled homes may be rented back to the homeowners or others in an effort to unclog the market. The very same homes that were dumped upon Fannie and Freddie and the American people by the banks. I don’t see a way for that program perform well for the public.

So, we’ve still got a ways to go to get to a place where the home market is normalized, but it will happen in due time, with those who caused the mess emerging the big winners, again.

Apr 04

German Dual-System Model Solution for U.S. Unemployment?

Currently Spain and Greece are suffering from a greater than 50% unemployment rate for youth ages 18-25, while Germany’s youth are unemployed at a tiny fraction of that rate, 7.8%. Germany employs a dual-system in which those with the grades and the desire to pursue formal higher education are able to do so, while those with lesser grades or a desire to enter the trades or seek specialized technical training are encouraged and subsidized to enroll in technical schools and apprenticeship programs.

Read a report on the program here.

The United States as well as the rest of the world is suffering from a massive shortage of skilled tradespeople. The United States should be building the groundwork for a system similar to that of Germany, and it should do so soon.

Apr 02

80% of America Can’t be Wrong

While even uttering the words “third party” is widely considered poison to any movement or independent candidate, it appears that this conventional wisdom may need to change.  The term so frightens those interested in challenging the two party system that it is standard practice for any movement or candidate to loudly make clear to anyone and everyone that he or she is not running as, or attempting to grow, a third party. For example, the “nonpartisan” nominating website Americans Elect 2012 goes to great lengths on its pages to reassure readers that it is not a third party movement, but rather a “2nd way” of nominating candidates for the presidency of the United States. The statement itself is laughable, as no serious candidate of the major two parties would forgo party resources or challenge the party apparatus if unsuccessful in the presidential primaries. Unless your name is Joe Lieberman, you would suffer significant retaliation for making life difficult for the two party machine. Your fate would more likely mirror that suffered by Arlen Spector. However, recent polling data suggests that the American public may be ready for a third party challenge to the establishment.

A recent Reason-Rupe poll discussed in detail in an article at reason.com found that:

80% of Americans say they would or might consider voting for an Independent or third-party presidential candidate in the 2012 election. Specifically, 60% said they would consider voting for an independent or third-party candidate, 20% said they might consider, 17% said they would not consider, and 3% said they did not know whether they would consider voting for an Independent or third-party presidential candidate.

Trust in the two-party system is at a historical low, with “neither” party leading the way at 35%, Democrats at 31%, and Republicans at 23% when subjects were asked which party they trust most to govern. It certainly looks as if a true third party challenge could be on the horizon, with neither party in a hurry to serve the needs of the vast majority of Americans. Republicans specifically seem hell bent on creating a situation where the wealthy reap a larger piece of the pie than their actual contribution would dictate, and both parties are content to allow Wall Street to run amok. The public’s breaking point may be near. If nothing else, Americans Elect and the freshly minted Justice Party serve as evidence that “third parties” will no longer simply be places for the fringes of society to reside, the movement may have to be taken seriously going forward. While Rocky Anderson’s 2012 Justice Party has shown growing pains, a better funded, better staffed, more sophisticated effort is likely to emerge sooner than many might believe.

Mar 29

Privacy Damages: Pshaw!

While many of you were going about your routine business on Wednesday, the Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision authored by Justice Alito, handed down an important ruling concerning what you will be able to recover in the case that the United States government decides to make any of that business public.

Essentially, if the government improperly leaks your private information, whether by mistake, or in some misguided effort to embarrass or intimidate you, the measure of damages recoverable in court will be limited to your out-of-pocket expenses. In the past–since the post-Watergate era–plaintiffs were able to recover damages for emotional distress. So, if you spend $10 to take a cab to your psychiatrists office, the $10 is recoverable, but your actual damages are not. This will not only make it less likely that plaintiffs will bring privacy cases, but more importantly it removes any impediment the government may have had not to act in nefarious ways with regard to your private information.

Mar 29

You’re Hot: You’re Hired

You may be one the of millions of Americans who periodically sit down to clear your mind and blow an hour or two watching some ridiculous reality show wherein contestants are eliminated one by one until only one narcissistic candidate remains. The next time you do so, pay attention to the “professions” of the competitors. Undoubtedly there will be more than one ridiculously attractive young man or young woman who lists their career as medical or pharmaceutical sales. Why do the drug and medical equipment manufactures recruit these young hotties? It is simple, because doctors are a cash cow, cash cows that are more easily milked by gorgeous farmhands.

The unsavory ties between manufacturers and doctors have existed for decades, but have been exacerbated by the proliferation of HMOs. If a company is able to secure a contrat with say, Kaiser Permanente, to carry it’s statin rather than a competitor’s statin, the rewards are enormous. If an equipment manufacturer can convince doctors to employ its devices, the revenues can run into the several billions of dollars. Moreover, nearly each of the medical specialties has formed a “society” wherein its members routinely gather in large conference rooms and convention facilities to hear lectures and panels on the most cutting edge treatments and procedures. Never absent from these gatherings are the medical and pharmaceutical sales teams. Sales teams set up elaborate booths and displays, sometimes running into the tens of thousands of square feet each. They will even leave you a gift on your nightstand, approved by a payment to the society’s coffers. While still other sales staff are sent to meet with doctors individually at their offices. No stone is left un-turned. There is great reward for the sales staff, many making six figure salaries and commissions.

While some universities and hospitals have banned their physicians from accepting promotional materials or speaking on behalf of specific drugs or equipment, the medical societies of the specialties have not. Surprisingly, the societies themselves sell the manufacturers direct access to their members, at a stiff cost. In some cases, more than half of a society’s revenues come directly from drug manufactures and equipment makers.

The effects of this financial influence on doctors comes at the expense of the patient. Patients may not have discounted access to a particular drug–even if the drug is more effective–under their medical plan if the plan has contracted with another manufacturer of a similar drug. Patients are prescribed drugs that they don’t need and asked to buy or are provided with equipment that they don’t require. One study from the Journal of the American Medical Association found that more than one in five patients who received cardiac defibrillators did not meet the medical criteria for receiving them. Large drug makers and equipment makers have paid millions in settlements in civil cases involving allegations of improper kickbacks to doctors and medical societies.

At this time little attention is being shown to the drug manufacturers’ and equipment makers’ magnificent minions trolling your doctor’s offices and grifting the groups he or she is a member of. It is time that more effort is spent on lobbying representatives to pass legislation ending this obvious conflict of interest for the sake of patients. No relationship is more critical than that of the doctor and patient, and there can be no space permitted for cash over competent care.