- Associated Press - Saturday, October 11, 2014

The Nashua (N.H.) Telegraph, Oct. 10, 2014

Anybody who was outraged by a report on “60 Minutes” about the cost of cancer drugs in the U.S. has a right to be.

The report highlighted, among other things, the fact that current federal law prevents our Medicare system from negotiating drug prices with pharmaceutical companies. The result is that Americans end up paying a lot more for drugs than consumers in other countries. It’s what happens when the seller has all the leverage.

The drug companies would have you believe that they’re not to blame. In their telling, they are paragons of virtue who are practically giving their products away, when you factor in the value to patients and the research and development costs they incur to bring drugs to market. It’s the insurance companies that are the real villains, they say.

The insurance companies just point the finger back at the drug companies.

The truth is this: According to the Center for Responsive Politics (OpenSecrets.org), the pharmaceutical industry spent more money to influence our government last year than any other industry, and not by just a little.

Representatives of drug companies and the health products industry spent $226,344,456 - nearly a quarter of a billion dollars - to lobby your representatives and senators and influence the laws they pass.

So it’s no accident that the law prevents Medicare from negotiating drug prices. It’s an arrangement that benefits the drug companies, and they have the political muscle - bought and paid for - to keep it that way.

The second-highest amount was spent by the insurance industry. Representatives of that sector shelled out $154,665,759 in 2013 to influence the political process. In third place, in case anyone was curious, were the oil and gas industries.

All of those industries, you may have noticed, are fabulously profitable.

The crazy thing is, consumers pay for the lobbying - in the form of higher drug prices, insurance premiums and energy prices, among other things.

There is legislation pending in Congress that would change the drug system in ways that might lower prices and make some drugs more accessible. One such bill is the “Medicare Prescription Drug Price Negotiation Act,” which would allow the government to negotiate drug prices with drug manufacturers - as is done in most other industrialized countries, where prices are often a fraction of what U.S. consumers pay.

Don’t get your hopes up. It’s hardly a level playing field.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen was asked during an editorial board meeting at The Telegraph whether she agreed with the premise of Harvard Professor Lawrence Lessig that the country’s campaign-finance system fosters corruption in Washington.

“The current system is unfairly weighted for people who have influence and money, who can afford lobbyists, who can afford millions of dollars, and I think average citizens understand that,” Shaheen said. She went on to say the system is “not working the way it should.”

On one level, that’s an honest assessment of the Washington dynamic when it comes to money. But it was also telling, we think, what the senator did not say. While she stopped short of calling the system corrupt - a word Lessig is fond of - she also passed on the opportunity to say that it wasn’t.

With good reason, we think.

You can make a strong case that the current system has led to a polarization that is not serving the country particularly well. But there is a much stronger case to be made that the system is working exactly the way it was intended by those entities that have purchased control of the levers of government and are using it to their profit.

The Times Record of Brunswick (Maine), Oct. 10, 2014

There are now 30 states where same-sex marriages are legal, and the Supreme Court has said it will not review any court decision that made them so.

About time, we say.

Eleven more are beginning the process or are considering changing their laws to deal with what has become an unstoppable tide of equality rolling across the nation at breakneck speed, judicially speaking.

How did gay marriage go from a minority issue to a majority right in a single decade? Essentially, it hinged on three important Supreme Court decisions, one of which applied only to married women, but was broadly interpreted to relate to privacy in the bedroom.

That decision, Griswold v. Connecticut, in 1965, asserted that the criminalization of the use of contraceptives violated a married couple’s right to privacy. It was the first time the “right to privacy” was asserted by the Supreme Court, and it would not be the last.

In 1967, the Loving v. Virginia case was decided, in favor of Mildred and Richard Loving, an interracial couple who had been arrested for the crime of being married in a state where interracial marriage was illegal.

And in 2003, Lawrence v. Texas struck down the last of the sodomy laws in the United States, using the privacy argument under Griswold and Loving as precedent.

The only reason gay marriage wasn’t addressed in the Loving decision was that sodomy was still illegal in some 23 states, although the laws were enforced only against same-sex couples in most cases. Once same-sex behavior was no longer illegal, the obvious remedy would have been to apply Loving to couples who wished to marry. Massachusetts became the first state to legalize same-sex marriage, and hundreds of people got married. Then the nation waited. In the summer of 2008, gay couples in California were briefly given the right to marry. That right was cruelly stripped from them by a citizen-led initiative financed by Christian organizations, the Mormons, and right wing groups. The married couples filed suit, and won … on 14th Amendment grounds, stating that their right to marriage, granted under Loving, was being unconstitutionally kept from them. The 14th Amendment guarantees equal protection under the law.

But since then, state after state has enacted gay marriage laws, or courts have vacated gay marriage bans. In many cases, the states refused to appeal. In others, the appeal went as high as the Appellate Courts … and stopped.

The Supreme Court wouldn’t hear the cases.

This follows the pattern of what happened in the Loving decision, too. By the time Loving was decided, once and for all, 47 states had done away with interracial marriage bans, either by lower court order or Legislative action. Two of those states were not states when the Lovings got married.

Perhaps, when these 30 states and perhaps another 11 have a year or two of same-sex marriage in their states, and they discover that it has no effect on traditional marriages, the people of the remaining states will shrug their shoulders and join the modern age.

Shortly before her death, Mildred Loving said the decision that bears hers and her husband’s name should apply to everyone. “I support the freedom to marry for all. That’s what Loving, and loving, are all about,” she said.

We agree.

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