Monday, September 29, 2003

Another Doctor In Jail

Pain specialist Dr. William Hurwitz was arrested Wednesday morning and sits in jail pending a Monday bail hearing. He was arrested after being indicted on federal charges related to his prescribing of opioid pain relievers in the course of his medical practice. Dr Hurwitz, a Jew, was presumably arrested on this particular Wednesday in order to keep him in jail over the Rosh Hashana holiday. Prosecutor Paul J. McNulty may have a different reason for choosing this particular day to arrest Dr. Hurwitz after an investigation covering several years but, if so, he isn't saying. The investigation of Dr. Hurwitz was begun prior to October of 1996, when the zealous prosecutors first showed their hand. The good doctor shut his office for the last time last year.

This is just the latest move in a campaign by the U.S. government against doctors who prescribe large doses of opiate pain relievers to patients in intractable pain. While the doses prescribed are in most cases well within the standards of medical practice, prosecutors use drug war rhetoric and horror stories to sway juries. This is enough to garner a fair few guilty pleas, as some doctors choose retirement rather than subjecting themselves to the possible jeopardy of stiff prison terms, but the prosecutions' success rate at trial is dismally low. Yet, the prosecutions go on.

As the Association of American Physicians & Surgeons press release has it:
As promised, the Bush Administration seized Dr. Hurwitz's assets under drug forfeiture laws, reserved for kingpins such as the Columbia cartel -- all without any finding of guilt. Then, in front of his two young children, about twenty armed agents seized the good doctor himself and imprisoned him without bail on the eve of Rosh Hashanah.

This is a national disgrace -- doctors throughout the country are being targeted by egregious law enforcement for helping patients manage crippling pain with controlled, legal drugs.

"Physicians are being threatened, impoverished, delicensed, and imprisoned for prescribing in good faith with the intention of relieving pain," says Kathryn Serkes of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS), explaining why AAPS has decided to support Dr. Hurwitz, as well as other doctors such as Cecil Knox, currently on trial in Roanoke, VA.

The "war on drugs" has turned into a war on doctors -- and lawful drugs and the patients who take them. Prosecutors make careers out of high-publicity cases involving the hot "drug du jour" such as OxyContin. But this war is causing enormous collateral damage and deaths from "friendly fire." Physicians have been drummed out of practice, sent to jail, and even been driven to suicide in the face of these 21st century witch hunts.

The public wants prosecution of terrorists, not doctors who relieve pain. Instead, the Department of Justice is using its inflated powers to encroach on state jurisdiction and terrorize unarmed, honest professionals. If this continues, not one doctor will be willing to prescribe the drugs that patients so desperately need.
I wonder, just who is the constituency for these prosecutions? Do the Bushes and the Clintons of the world really believe that this type of activity will garner them additional votes at election time? That is one question that will not receive much media coverage when G.W.Bush fails to achieve re-election. But mine is one vote that Mr. Bush lost last Wednesday. I don't care who takes his place, I just can't vote for a man who allows his subordinates to arrest a heroic man like Dr. Hurwitz, who continued to practice in the face of an impending prosecution. He finally retired when he did in order to allow his remaining patients to find alternative practitioners who would give them what they needed. It is a chilling fact that some of these pain patients, when they find themselves unable to secure sufficient pain medication, choose suicide rather than endure the pain that they are in. Yet the prosecutions go on.

Saturday, September 20, 2003

Another One Gone

Another fine writer has fled the scene. Toren Smith has ended blogging at The Safety Valve. As he puts it:
Frankly, I'm tired of getting all bent out of shape about the stupidities of the world, which seem to be getting worse and worse as time goes by. The last few months it seems every day brings worse news about the corruption of science, the destruction of society by PC-think, the complete and utter end of rational political discourse, and the hydra-like expansion of government powers. International politics has gone insane. California is heading into the socialist shit pit, and most of the US seems poised to follow sooner or later.
I can really relate to his sentiment. My own posting has become pretty sparse lately, as the society sinks further and further into a very coarse dialog, and it doesn't seem to make a lot of sense to shout against the wind anymore. Just tonight a very good friend of mine called, and unloaded a pile of his New York liberal venom on me. This is an intelligent fellow, yet the poison he believes boggles the mind at times. What is the point of telling the truth if the lowest common denominator of demagogic drivel carries the day? Our politics has gone straight to hell. And our jurisprudence? Also tonight, on Cops, a sheriffs department sting arrested 15 black men on the charge of "attempted possesion" of nickel bags of ersatz marijuana. It is not just that all of the "perps" were black and almost all of the cops were white, it was the futility of using the time and talents of a dozen police officers in the pursuit of what is arguably the most trivial "crime" ever conceived by the twisted mind of mankind. Then John Ashcroft and Bill O'Reilly will take to the airwaves and deny that this type of police action exists at all, that the "War on (some) Drugs" is involved solely in the pursuit of drug "kingpins" and, here's the latest, drug dealers must be stopped because the drug trade supports terrorism.

Bah Humbug! I understand why Toren has not the stomach anymore to shout against the wind. I wish that I could summon the balls to quit myself. Until I do, I will soldier on, pointing out the ridiculous aspects of our public reality and discourse.

Thursday, September 11, 2003

Intellectual Property

Today's debate over file sharing over the internet, p2p (peer to peer), and the "Napster" phenomenon has evoked much strident debate. Law professors can be found claiming that song recordings have the same value as Disneyland, so the owner has the same right to demand admission payment whether his attraction is an edifice that requires maintenance, employees, and the payment of property taxes or is a recording that may have been the result of ten minutes of labor two hundred years ago. Law Professors. Musicians have sued their fans. The recording industry trade association has actually sued almost a thousand college students who have shared their property over the internet.

This debate has gone way too far. Congress, always ready to support the buttered side of their bread, has extended the time limits on copyright many times, such that works that the Disney Corporation took for free from the public domain before I was born are now protected until well after I will have died. And, since Disney and the recording industry have much more money to spend (and clout) than we consumers do, this bowlderization of the constitutional provisions relating to copyright can be expected to continue. And continue it has. Today, a 12 year old girl settled with the RIAA for $1,200.00 for the "crime" of trading songs online. College students have settled for between 12,000.00 and $17,500.00. Their "crime"? making songs that they legally own available to others, who make songs that they own available to them.

Now, we can't kill everyone who wants to continue a comfortable sinecure. But we can question whether they have the right to such continuance. I can certainly lend, or even rent or sell, any CD that I own. But somehow, if I transmit this music over the internet, rather than sneakernet, I become a criminal. This may be the best example or the poisonous effect of money in politics. Ane, surprise surprise, no proposal of "campaign finance reform" even begins to address the effect of lobbyist cash on the promulgation of legislation. The Digital Millenium Copyright Act is an anticonstitutional travesty, and it is the basis of all this trouble I point out here.

What would be wrong if the system was changed to a form that agrees with our constitution, which demands that copyrights have a reasonable temporal limit? Who says that artists have the right to profit from their work, and then their children have the same right, and their grandchildren retain the same right to profit into the next century? Why, the U.S. Congress, that's who! And the president signed this bill, making it law, and the Supreme Court has confirmed is as well.

Nobody says that an artist has no right to profit from his work. What I and others propose is that more reasonable limits be placed upon this, and our (consumers) right to fair use of recordings we have bought be expanded just a little bit from what they have been whittled down to. Record companies have built up a stranglehold on an enormous profit center, but it is the essence of capitalism and entreneurship that capital will flow in different ways as society progresses, and no sinecure is forever. The record companies are terrified that new technologies will make their profit center less profitable. Rather than using technology to succeed, they will use the Congress and the courts to extend their success, as long as they can. Meanwhile, many artists are using technology that the record companies have used to maintain their stranglehold over the emergence of new acts to promote themselves, with some small success. I for one will do what I can to encourage them in this endeavor. I personally believe that anyone who buys the art of an artist who has sued it's fans (think Metallica) is a fool.