Shocked and Persuaded


Separating Fact From Fiction

H1N1 One Year (Almost) On

What have we learned from the H1N1 scare?

Well we have learned that fear grips even the most rational of human beings when they are bombarded with scare campaigns not seen since the days following 9-11. I suspect that much of this fear was ginned up by the Pharmaceutical Industrial Complex (PIC). How can I make such a dark accusation? Let us look at the movement of Roche’s share prices before and after H1N1 was discovered. Roche happens to be the predominant maker of H1N1 vaccine commonly called Tamiflu. They are based in Switzerland and trade on the Swiss Exchange. The graph below depicts shares of Roche in current US dollars (i.e. 1 Us Dollar = 0.9437 Swoss Framcs). The perforated lines in the main graph and inset pinpoint the week of April 27th, 2009, which is commonly used as the starting point of the “pandemic”. The inset is simply the aforementioned week to the present blown up to highlight the post-H1N1 trend for Roche’s shareholders.

roche_shares3I am not proclaiming some sort of grand conspiracy, but what I am pointing out is that there clearly was a financial incentive for Roche to perpetuate the global tamiflu campaign given their near monopoly on the vaccine (Note: This is the kind of thing that antitrust advocates have been screaming about for decades).

Roche’s share price had reached lows not seen since November of 2004 in the month prior to the H1N1 outbreak, but curiously enough many investors were prescient in going overweight Roche in the weeks leading up to the outbreak raising the share price from the previously mentioned five year low of $121.81 to 140.04 in the week that preceded the 1,400 suspected cases reported in Mexico (i.e., April 2oth, 2009).  To put it more succinctly shares of Roche have gained 142% between the IPO in May of 2001 and March 5th, 2010 (116 Months). Yet,  they only gained 117% between the IPO and the week prior to the H1N1 outbreak (104 Months). In the  forty-seven weeks since the April 26th, 2009 outbreak shares of Roche have gained 122% rising from $140.04 to 170.52. That is quite a turn of events for a company that seemed to be floundering and it is also quite the investment for those investors I mentioned earlier that went long Roche in the month prior to the “pandemic” as they have accrued an average return of 140%.

There is one more point to dovetail with the apparent windfall profits generated for one business in a time of near global panic and that is the data used to generate said panic.

h1n14The data above describe the total number of H1N1 cases globally as of calendar year 2009-2010. The data represents 28% of the world’s 195 countries, 81 and 94% of the reported Cases and Deaths, 72% of the world’s population, and 58% of the world’s births per annum (h1n1). From this table we see that the phrase “much ado about nothing” – either the Shakespeare comedy or Kenneth Branagh flick – doesn’t do justice to this supposed global scare. The Average-Median Case and Total Death Range was 5,798-52,804 and 132-601, respectively, with totals of 1,326,367 and 16,264. However, the percent of cases that resulted in death globally was 1.10% with an Average-Median range of 2.47-6.83%. I assume this number is one that Roche will take all the credit for and will likewise brush aside the accusation that the panic was at the very least overblown and more likely generated to save a stale and passed-it’s-prime pharmaceutical company.

So some will say and rightly so that I am being completely insensitive to those that lost loved ones during the H1N1 outbreak. I would simply say that I am not insensitive but simply pointing out the fact that a very small sector of the world benefited greatly from your loss (i.e., Roche Shareholders) and that unfortunately people do die, but to say we need to pull out all the stops for such an infinitesimal sector of society is crazy and frankly irresponsible.

Lets look at the data another way so as to put it – and the campaign to eradicate the world of all viruses and sicknesses no matter the cost – in perspective. Globally 0.00026% of the population died from H1N1 and when you consider the world’s exponentially mushrooming population as the balance between births and deaths we see that H1N1 deaths were 0.01258% of births worldwide. These are numbers that border on the non-detectable when compared to pressures such as drought, war, famine, AIDS, malaria, etc. Additionally, it is worth noting the US has lost 4,386 men and women in Iraq since the occupation began, with a similar trend evident in Afghanistan. The former is 0.00143% of the US population, which is a greater than those killed by H1N1 in this country. Just a little perspective as I don’t see any fuss being made over the countless bodies arriving in Delaware every week. As a matter of fact former President Bush/Cheney wouldn’t even let pictures be taken of this type of seen.

The fact is that H1N1 and the inertia involved in fighting it’s spread lined the pockets of Roche shareholders. The general public writ large was stirred into a frenzy by a convergence of private and public forces for myriad reasons, but undoubtedly the private concerns centered on going long Roche in the weeks leading up to the outbreak and sustaining that momentum to the present day. The data does not lie!

What is that famous line “The Plural of anecdote is data”? Well it says here that the data paint an entirely different and markedly less dire picture than tha forwarded by popular media and the Madison Avenue wunderkinds.

What’s Worth Losing for Mr. President?

Given the recent announcement by President Obama that he will be upping the ante by 30,000 troops in Afghanistan I was left to ponder for what seemed to me a logical question: Mr. President what in your portfolio of beliefs and objectives is worth losing an election for? Do you not have any ideologies that you feel so passionate about that you are willing to sacrifice all or most of your political capital to steward such beliefs across the finish line? I voted for you sir and I am not sure at this point whether you have any convictions you feel so strongly about that you would put your political neck on the line for. That is quite disheartening to me because when I saw you speak on the steps of the Ira Allen Chapel here in Burlington, Vermont in March of 2006 I was convinced that you were a man with a spine, conscience, and an intellect unsurpassed in modern day politics. I still believe that the latter is true but as for your spine and to a lesser degree your conscience I am left wondering what you stand for and what you will fight for to the very end, whether it means political suicide or not.

Show us some fight sir! Show us that the issues you campaigned on are part of your very fiber and not simply the populist rhetoric you knew would get the vote of people like myself. It is beginning to feel like you are ashamed that the left supported you and your “progressive” agenda. That is not the man I saw speak in 2006. That is not the man I promptly told my friend Dennis Ailor would win the presidency in 2008. And that is most assuredly not the man I thought was capable of thinking through some of the most complex issues ever to face an incoming president. Sure you were handed a mess but are you going to continue to compare your administration to the one that preceded you? I would caution against such comparisons given that the bar could not have been set any lower.

Sir you know that the right would gladly fall on their sword for issues like abortion, the sanctity of marriage, gun rights, and the military industrial complex. That is a given and that for better or worse is one thing I respect about the neoclassical and neoconservative movement. When they give speeches in Portland or Corpus Christi you know what you’re gonna get and they make absolutely no apologies for their beliefs. It is time you get a little neocon in you Mr. Obama and by that I mean pick an issue any issue, whether it be health care, climate change, FISA, bank reform, or torture and go to the wall for it. Own the issue sir. Take back any one of these issues from those in your party that are self-hating Democrats. Just like Iraq and Katrina will define George W Bush (and no one else!!) one of these issues will define you and it would be a shame if you let the spineless wing of your party co-opt your presidency.

I and many like me – and I would hasten to guess those on the right – are anxiously or should I say nervously waiting and wondering if you will ever stand up and be accounted for with respect to some of the aforementioned issues. I would suggest firing Geithner, Summers, et al as a start. The left rightly sees them as an extension of the Greenspan-Rubin virus that has infected the nation’s financial services regulations for far too long now and the right won’t support them because….well who cares they just won’t because you do and that is reason enough for them.

Apologizing for our hegemonic history and bowing to Emperor Akihito shows that you are sensitive to our fragile status as a global power and more importantly the proper way in which you interact with others when on their turf. However, tacitly apologizing for being liberal or in any way concerned with the appalling trend in wealth, health, and education distribution in this country makes those of us on the left wonder if we were sold a bill of goods and those on the right question your leadership capabilities, both from a foreign and domestic perspective.

You may be wondering at this point why we don’t have your back on some of these crucial issues? Well all is not lost and believe me if we see fight emanating from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue we will most assuredly get in the ring with you but until then you’ll have to rely on the likes of the Blue Dog Democrats. BTW how’s that working out so far?

Do you really want to starve the beast?

I for one do not? Does that make me an advocate of Big Brother type big government advocate? Nope. I don’t want government to be looking in our bedrooms or bookshelves or email or tapping our phones. Rather I want them to do with our precious tax dollars what they should be doing…..fixing stuff, supporting those in need, and fueling innovation. You may ask what does it mean to starve the beast? (bartlett_starve-the-beast)

Well “starving the beast” is a term originally coined in a WSJ article by Paul Blustein ( and adamantly preached by the neoconservative wunderkind. This theory reduces taxes on the upper 2% via reduced capital gains, estate, and income taxes, primarily by allowing the elite to declare income as capital gains, which reduces taxable income from 34-38% to 15%. A classic example of this is Warren Buffet noting his personal assistant coughs up a greater percentage of her annual income in taxes than he does, because most of his income is declared as capital gains.

The starve the beast argument foments outright hatred of government by conflating taxes with socialism and the near and dear gun rights of this nations many cowboys. Of course this plays to the underlying fears of an already petrified nation. The last thing this country needs is another thing to be afraid of as we now have climate change, Iran, the Taliban, North Korea, China, Russia, lawyers, unemployment, diabetes, etc. Yet, given all this neocons feel the best remedy is adding to rather than ameliorating these fears. What a bunch of great folks? They must be true patriots.

However, I ask of those interested in an anorexic beast: Do you drive a car or better yet do you like smooth drivable roads? You do? Of course you do we all enjoy our asphalt alleys winding their way through urban centers and rural outposts alike. Well there is a price associated with that privilege and it is a privilege when compared to developed and undeveloped nations alike. Congress has been forced to bailout the fund that pays for the various interstate transportation projects this country takes on every year. Don’t worry its just $7 billion which pales in comparison to things like defense spending (

Starving the beast is a convenient and short-term method of consolidating wealth, is completely counter intuitive, and a theory that we should hope is entering the twilight of its relevance.

Let Them Drink Vodka and Eat Sushi

In reading the latest global census data one thing popped in my head: Is it possible that per capita global CO2 footprints may decline in the coming year(s)?

The answer is essentially yes and we have countries like Japan and Russia to thank. For example, Russia’s population of 140.7 million is projected to decline by 0.49% annually and when considering The Reds 10.5 tons of CO2 per capita per year it turns out Russian per capita emissions could potentially decline by 7.28 Million Metric Tons in the next year.

Additionally, Japan is expected to lose 0.10% of it’s 127.3 million people (, which when combined with their per capita footprint of 9.8 tons of CO2 per year we see a potential net decline of 1.25 MMT annually. Furthermore, the eastern european/former Soviet Union states will experience an average net population decline of 0.68% annually resulting in a decline of 790 thousand tons of CO2 from this region in the next year. Russia’s near-abroad neighbor will lessen it’s footprint by 2.57 MMT in the next year given it’s annual population decline of 0.80%

Is this fact? Of course not but it is quite probable, because Russians and Japanese, two significant contributors to atmospheric CO2, are getting older fast and in the case of the latter incapable of staying away from their beloved national spirit. Conversely, our footprint here in the US will increase by 55.83 MMT, Canada and Mexico 5.31 each,  Argentina 1.60, Brazil, 4.24, Venezuela 2.60,  France and the UK 1.65-1.90. Interestingly BBC (Big Bad China) will increase by 32.12 MMT. However, the overwhelming good news is that our global per capita Co2 emissions will increase marginally (+0.023%) in the next year, a trend indeed deserving of attention but not plaudits. The estimates above for China may actually be conservative given that they have gone from producing 1 coal fired power plant a day to 1 per week, which itself is a 14.3% change in energy strategy. Couple this with the fact that China had originally planned to have only 5,000 megawatts (MW) of wind online by the end of next year, but now project 30,000 MW, which essentially replaces the need for forty-eight 625 MW coal plants. This 30,000 figure is 118% of the current US wind power generating fleet (25,400 MW) (reliability_factsheet1).

The cumulative affects of the aforementioned population declines will be a decrease of 12.25 MMT in Russia, Japan, and the Eastern European block. This is equivalent to 48.3% and 21.2% of Canadian and Australian emissions, respectively, or put another way would cancel the annual emissions from the state of Vermont and our nation’s capital combined. Not bad but again just a start. Now get out there and buy some vodka to wash down your nightly serving of sushi! The planet thanks you and your children will thank you as well!

Outlier! Who me?

I am reading Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers: The Story of Success” and couldn’t help but recall that the U.S. itself is an outlier. Below I have wrapped up where it is we sit on the outlier gradient across a variety of not so complimentary indices relative to other G8 or G20 nations.

1. 20 sq. ft. of retail space per person Vs 13 for Canadians, 6.5 for Australia, 3 in Sweden (

2. 9 of 10 people own a cell phone Vs 4 of 10 in China

3. 19.4 tons of CO2 per person Vs 11.8 in Russia, 8.6 in EU, 5.1 in China, and 1.8 in India

4. 5% of the world’s population and 25% of the world’s prisoners not to mention along with 3% of the world’s resources while consuming 25% of the world’s  $69.70 trillion in GDP.

5. US debt will be 78% of GDP by the end of 2009 Vs 67% in France, 63% in Germany and Canada, 52% in Norway, 38% in Spain, 20% in Mexico, 16% in China, 7% in Russia (

6. $6,102 spent on Health Care per person in 2004 Vs $3,165 in Canada, 3,150 in France, 3,043 in Germany, and 2,508 in Russia.

7. #29 for infant mortality Vs #3 for Japan, 4 for Sweden, #7 Spain, #9 France, #11 Germany and Italy, # 27 Cuba. Furthermore, we have fallen from #12 in 1960.

So there you have it. We are the global outlier on many fronts and will only be allowed to regain the head of the table a/o be taken seriously by the BRIC nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China) when we accept our faults, heavily modify them, and emerge stronger and more cooperative.

Legalize It!

Well I just finished reading a couple of disturbing articles on the drug industry in this country (ie The illegal portion!) (; It got me thinking about the age old question (at least here in Burlington and on Phish tour!!) about whether to legalize marijuana and I thought it would be good to do some quick back of the envelopes as to what else could be done with the money used to enforce the War on Marijuana!

It turns out of the 2.31 million in prison here in the US – a number 4-6 times the world average depending on state – 485,306 are in for various drug related crimes. Of those approximately 47.4% (230,036) could be estimated as Marijuana related. Before I go further it is worth noting, according the National Council on Crime and Delinquency (NCCD) (2006nov_factsheet_incarceration), the “US has less than 5% of the world’s population but over 23% of the world’s incarcerated people.” Why is this notable? Well this 5:1 ratio is the same one attributed to our use of the world’s 83.4 million barrels of oil daily and it also happens to be our consumption:production of goods ratio. What is it with 5:1 and the US? According to the NCCD if the rest of the world followed our lead the global prison population would jump from 9.2 to 47.6 million people. According to Mauer (2003; inc_comparative_intl) the 3-fold increase in our prison population from 1980-1996 was largely (88%) a function of changes in sentencing policy , with changes in crime explaining on 12%. This is scary because like regressive taxation the minorities and women are paying a disproportionate toll. Blumstein and Beck (1999; demonstrated that incarceration rose 364% for women between 1980 and 1996, 184 and 235 for African Americans and Hispanics, respectively, while male incarceration rose 195% and that of whites grew 164%. Overlay the increasing privatization of our prison system ( and all the negatives associated with that and you have a trend that needs immediate reversal. Otherwise we will have Wall Street’s “best and brightest” sticking their noses where they don’t belong, unless of course we were to prosecute them for the myriad offenses they have perpetrated in the past 20 years.

Anyway getting back my point if we assume it costs about $23,876 per year to house these dangerous criminals than we are spending $5.49 trillion annually to keep these vermin locked up. Now what if instead of locking up petty marijuana users and distributors we put that money towards something worthwhile…something like Oh I don’t know healthcare? Well the Medical Industrial Complex (MIC) currently accounts for 15.2% of GDP or $2.10 trillion and is projected to rise to 20.9% by 2020 an astounding $3.35 trillion right? Well actually wrong if we used this “marijuana war” money we would still conservatively have a surplus of 3.39 currently or 2.14 in 2020 to do other stuff. Like what? Well this surplus as it were would pay for about 4% of all college student transportation or book and supply costs presumably lowering student loan amounts by a similar amount. Oh yeah or we could say sayonara to China and their $1.2 trillion in foreign exchange AND their 25% ownership of our national debt. Sounds like a plan to me.

Okay so your not into protectionism, nationalism, recidivism, any other -ism, or education? That is totally cool. How about the electricity you use to turn on your lights, watch your flatscreen, or make a milkshake? Ah I see I got your attention now.

Was it the flatscreen or the milkshake?

Makes no difference if we take the surplus “marijuana war” cash and invest it in alternative energy, lets use for example wind as it is one of my favorites (I hear the cows love it as well!) we could buy outright or subsidize the purchase of 790,310 2 Mega Watt (MW) turbines, which translates to, now hold onto your hat……….. 1,580,621 MW! Alright so what does this mean in terms of capacity? Well the DOE estimates there are 330,000 MW along the Mid-Atlantic Bight, the region of coastline stretching from Massachusetts to North Carolina. Now if that doesn’t get your mouth watering more than the thought of that milkshake how bout the fact that the DOE estimates there are 900,000 MW of wind capacity nationwide, which roughly translates to $2.34 trillion in revenue annually. So, we would have about 680,621 MW worth of spare turbines to dump into the global market.

Is that such a bad thing? I think not and it would all flow from the decriminalization of a weed that gives people the munchies and causes them to have a prediliction for really long songs!

Thank You Senator Grassley!

While we spend so much time focusing on the negative in DC it is worth noting that Senatory Chuck Grassley of Iowa (R) has been spending the past couple of years engaging in a singularly noble effort to open the curtain and reveal the machinations of the medical-, religous-, and academic-industrial complex. While folks may not agree with the senator on other issues the list of achievements below is a credit to his independent nature and ability in the face of mounting pressure from neocons to acknowledge what makes sense and what is just.

For that Senator Grassley deserves recognition and is a prime example of why the Republican party sans moderates will most definetely implode. I know this is not the belief of Rush, Chairman Steele and up & comer Pat Toomey (;, but it is the belief of folks like Lindsay Graham an otherwise pretty conservative chap from South Carolina who stated upon hearing of Arlen Specter’s defection “If we pursue a party that has no place for someone who agrees with me 70 percent of the time, that is based on an ideological purity test rather than a coalition test, then we are going to keep losing.” Senator Graham went on to say “Do you really believe that we lost 18-to-34-year-olds by 19 percent, or we lost Hispanic voters, because we are not conservative enough? No. This is a ridiculous line of thought. The truth is we lost young people because our Republican brand is tainted.” Senator Grassley has not let his core values color his belief that the job of congress is primarily one of making and enforcing laws that protect us against the whims and deviant philosophies of those that can’t resist praying on fears and misguided perceptions. Here are seven examples:

1. He has busted open the case of Wyeth and it’s hiring of DesignWrite to publish journal articles that painted Prempro, a hormone replacement therapy, in a favorable light ( These publications have zero authenticity or credibility and Senator Grassley simply discussing them in DC has brought significant, albeit undesired, attention to a practice of ghostwriting that has come to pervade the now opaque boundary between research and industry with respect to drugs and device makers here in the US. The article in The Times cited past ghostwriting disasters like Merck’s painkiller Vioxx and Wyeth’s diet pills Redux (Ironic!) and Pondimin. In responding to evidence that she was herself a ghostwriter Dr. Lila E. Nachtigall the director of NYU’s Women’s Wellness Center said “It kind of makes me laugh that with what goes on in the Senate, the senator’s worried that something’s ghostwritten. I mean, give me a break.” HOW BOUT you give us a break Dr. Nightingale and realize that if you did do what the evidence suggests you did than that is a crime and you definetely don’t deserve to associate yourself with a Women’s Wellness Center. Oh yeah and what is more important than medical transparency? Exactly!

2. Most recently the senior Senator from Iowa has announced an investigation of Dr. Timothy R. Kuklo (the Dr. used loosely here!) who falsified a study on a bone-growth product called Infuse, made by Medtronic, in studies of war vets at Walter Reed that “…had suffered sever lower leg injuries in Iraq.” Additionally, this fantastic character forged the the names of four co-authors, with the publishing journal retracting the paper in question immediately. Kuklo is now teaching at Washington University in St. Louis. When asked about the issue Col. Norvell V, Coots the head of the Walter Reed Health Care System stated “My guess is we will probably find something more here,” I would hope so and I think with Senator’s Grassley’ propensity to push such issues we will see results and open repudiation in the medical field (;,%20Army%20Says%20&st=cse).

3. He was indirectly instrumental in convincing the Cleveland Clinic to fully disclose it’s doctors’ and researchers’ ties to drug and device makers a huge step for one of the leading medicial institutions in the US if not worldwide.

4. overly prescribed antipsychotic drugs such as risperidon to children, while simultaneously taking money from the companies that make such medications (,%20Papers%20Say%20&st=cse; The researcher in question Dr. Joseph Biederman (again the Dr. used loosely) presented a Powerpoint slide to the makers of an antipsychotic drug that stated trials “…will support the safety and effectiveness of risperidone in this this age group.

5. Additionally, Mr. Grassley has recently aligned himself with the ever so slightly left of center congressman from Vermont Peter Welch to crack down on the unsustainable and irresponsible increases in college tuitions nationwide, with mixed results as of yet, but shining the light on university presidents has revealed the underbelly of the beast that is education for profit and it ain’t very pretty (trends-in-college-pricing-20081; trends-in-student-aid-20081). In pressing college presidents to release what they actually do with their tax-free endowments Senator Grassley cited a report stating that “…universities earned an average return of 17.2 percent on their assets but spent only 4.6 percent.” (

6. The good Senator has most likely risked within party political capital by seizing on the predatory tendencies of certain ministry that rely on what is referred to as “prosperity gospel”, which “…assures followers that the more they give, including in the form of tithes to the church, the more they will receive from God. Some prosperity gospel preachers live lavishly, as proof of the abundance God can bring.” ( These “Houses of God” turn around and continue to flout their tax exempt status even though what they are preaching and asking of their flock is by no means Holy and could be easily interpreted as criminal.

7. Defending utility of whistle-blowers in the face of intense pressure from within his own party. Senators Grassley and Leahy (D) of Vermont recently came to the defense of Sibel Edmonds and former FBI translator who called out systemic failures in the Bureau related to “…sale of nuclear secrets, shielding of terrorist suspects, illegal arms transfers, narcotics trafficking, money laundering, espionage. She may be a first-rate fabulist, but Ms. Edmonds’ account is full of dates, places and names.” ( Ms. Edmonds was instead of being heralded for attempting to open dialogue immediately marginalized by then Attorny General John Ashcroft (