The drug addicts who control Lansing

How about this idea to help out Michigan's sputtering economy? We grant all the big drug companies total immunity from being sued if their products, say, just happen to kill you or make your baby daughter grow a beard.

As long as the stuff they sell has been cleared by the federal Food and Drug Administration, which as you know never makes a mistake (snigger, snigger), we will protect Big Pharma from you.

Sound like freedom and democracy at work? Or does that sound flat-out, bat-shit nuts? Well, guess what. That's the law, comrades, and has been for years. No other state has anything as insane and consumer-predatory as that.

Yet that's the law in Michigan, pushed through by John Engler and a Republican Legislature back in 1996, when the newspaper strike was still sputtering and nobody was paying much attention.

And how has Big Pharma rewarded Our Michigan for this slavish devotion? Last month, Pfizer, the multinational drug firm that swallowed up our Upjohn four years ago, made a stunning announcement. It was closing its research labs in Ann Arbor, throwing 2,100 people, many highly trained scientists, out of work. About 300 more got the ax in Kalamazoo and Plymouth.

Enter state Rep. Mike Simpson, a newly elected Democrat from Jackson. He has the odd idea that the Constitution of the United States should still mean something, possibly because he is not a lawyer. And so he is introducing legislation that would allow you to sue drug companies when they screw up.

Gov. Jennifer Granholm and the Democratic leadership are totally behind Simpson's bill to end this immunity nonsense, which really is fascism in the purest and most original sense of the term.

And, no, he is not a lefty or even anti-business. He is, in fact, a small restaurant owner. Simpson just happens to think that pharmaceutical companies are not gods, and that citizens ought to be able to sue them, just as they could sue General Motors or the president, if they have grounds.

"It's only fair that consumers can hold these companies, like any other companies, accountable," he said. Simpson knows a little bit about trying to hold businesses responsible. After his daughter Gina died from bone cancer at age 16, his insurance company decided it didn't want to pay for her medical bills.

That nearly bankrupted his family and made him determined to work for affordable health care for all citizens. This is, of course, seen as a terrible idea by the Michigan Chamber of Commerce and the Republican Party.

How dare someone try to put people first ahead of large corporations! The star chamber is running newspaper and radio ads calling his bill a potential "job-killer," something that is a bit baffling, seeing as their friends at Pfizer seem to have nailed that down that title for the foreseeable future.

Vaguely sensing that won't wash, the chamber pots are also arguing that the change will spark — gasp — frivolous lawsuits! Why, it will benefit only those horrible personal injury trial lawyers (cut to an image of Geoffrey Fieger as Dracula) who will flood court dockets on behalf of ungrateful peasants who are upset because their Viagra made their peckers fall off or something.

This, they argue, could cause drug companies to flee the state ... well, forget that ... it could make the price of medicine skyrocket! Yes, that's it.

If you are convinced that Big Pharma only has your best interests at heart and is doing all it can to keep drug prices low, well, have a nice life out there on Saturn. But if you have an IQ higher than today's temperature, here's what you need to do. Write, call, scream at or otherwise put pressure on your friendly homegrown state senator — especially Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop, a Republican from Rochester. Here's why: Naturally, Bishop is going to oppose any bill that puts people ahead of corporations.

That's what Republicans do. Yet what all politicians most value are their own hides and their own re-elections. If this bill comes up before the state Senate, it may be possible to pressure two of the 21 Republicans into doing the right thing. (That is, if the 17 Democrats all support repealing drug immunity.)

What the Republican leadership will try to do is to bury this bill in committee and prevent it from ever coming up for a vote. Big Pharma has plenty of lobbyists who are working hard to help them do this, by the way.

The good guys have only you. So call, write, holler. By the way, a large majority — 54 percent — of the voters last fall wanted Democrats to control the state Senate. It's only thanks to outrageously political gerrymandering, that Republicans still have control of the upper chamber. But all politicians are, at bottom, exactly like flatworms in a petri dish. They move away from a hot wire stuck in the general direction of their private parts. You get the picture.

Need I say more?


Prison blues: Michigan is experiencing one boom — in its prison population, which now stands at 51,570, and growing by a couple thousand a year. It costs more than $30,000 a year to keep someone locked up, and with the state running a massive deficit, the governor sensibly wants to reduce the load.

Having earlier announced that she'd let old Dr. Death out of the slam June. 1, her new goal is to release about 5,000 more on parole over the next fiscal year. At first blush, that makes a lot of sense, so long as none of them is named Patrick Selepak, or are otherwise violent.

Russ Marlan, spokesman for the Corrections Department, told me it costs a mere $2,000 a year to keep someone on a tether. But here's the question nobody has an answer for: What do they do when we let them out? We have the highest unemployment rate in the nation. Tens of thousands of autoworkers are being let go. Who, pray tell, is going to employ thousands of convicts?

What will become of them? Are they likely to remain hopeful law-abiding citizens? Do we have some program or some hope to offer them?

Is anybody thinking about this?


The truth about Anna Nicole Smith: All of the fans I share with Britney Spears were greatly upset because my column was not in keeping with last week's "lust" theme. I thought I made it clear that I have the hots for a progressive state income tax, and don't care who knows it.

However, that is evidently not good enough, and so I have decided that I should, to show I am human, dip my little toe into the trash tabloid culture that is ruining our media and, incidentally, our nation. So I have decided to address the one rumor not sweeping the nation, namely, that Hillary Clinton had Anna Nicole killed before she could reveal that Bill was the father of her baby.

I feel that I am the only journalist who has the guts to go out on a limb and say, no comment. However, I would like to state for the record that I am almost completely sure that, unlike every other man in America, I am not the baby's father. This is highly emotional for me, and now please leave me alone.

Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]
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