Ethical Drugs?

It used to be – still is, at least in the dictionary – that ethical drugs were those that required a doctor’s prescription.

Today? The term “ethical drugs” is devolving into an oxymoron.

Three years ago, the Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis paid $443 million to settle charges it bribed doctors with entertainment, travel, consultancies, and speaking engagements to get them to prescribe its drugs. Novartis promised never to do it again.

Last week, the company was sued by New York state for doing all that and worse – like giving kickbacks to pharmacies — to promote an immune suppressant called Myfortic and a few other drugs.

And last year, as the New York Times reported in an editorial, GlaxoSmith-Klein paid a $3 billion fine for health fraud, and two other companies paid $1.5 billion or more.

The Times thinks stronger remedies are needed – like excluding certain drugs or their makers from selling to Medicare or Medicaid after a criminal settlement.

The rest of us are left to wonder – where is all this money coming from?

You get a prescription and buy a drug (or you don’t – it hardly matters because you’re going to pay for it anyway). What, exactly, are you financing?

First, you’re paying for the actual drug – including the costs of developing and marketing it.

That includes the millions spent on TV ads and on glorious packaging.

And the illegal bribes and other goodies for a few judas-goat prescribing doctors.

And kickbacks for a few conniving pharmacies.

And the armies of lobbyists they pay to get these crimes declared legal.

And the New York law firms the drug company hires if it gets caught.

And the huge fines they have to pay – that’s your money they’re using.

And the inflated healthcare insurance premiums the HMOs have to charge because drugs are getting so expensive.

And rising Medicare premiums – same reason.

And the higher taxes we’ll all pay to keep Medicare solvent.

That’s ten times you’ve paid for a drug you aren’t even using.

But if you get really lucky and contract the very disease this drug was designed to cure – why, just think! Naah. By that time, you won’t have any money left to pay for it.

Money Dippers

JP Morgan Chase has joined the stampede — as the New York Times reported in a front page article last Sunday – into the “fast growing and highly profitable business” of wealth management.

The phrase struck me because I once studied arithmetic. If managing a client’s wealth is highly profitable, the high profits have to come out of the client’s portfolio – – subtracting from its gains or adding to its losses.

Hedge funds get away with that because of their reputation (lately not well deserved) of producing spectacular growth in their clients’ portfolios. They charge a basic, almost reasonable fee but then add a much higher percentage fee charged against actual gains in the account. No gains? No added fee.

All right. If you make $20,000 for me but keep $6,000 of it, I still have a $14,000 profit. I may be irritated, possibly dumbfounded, but it’s no time for apoplexy.

“Wealth management” charges lower but still substantial fees whether the client gains, loses, or treads water.

If the managers were honey dippers, we wouldn’t mind if they kept a large percentage of what they manage. But if they’re money dippers, and that’s our money they’re hauling away, well that’s another matter.

It’s a zero-sum game, after all. In the stock or bond markets, for every buyer there’s a seller. They can’t both be right. You win some, lose some, and when everyone’s fortunes are lumped together, there’s no average gain unless the market as a whole has moved higher.

In the past five or six years, the stock market has gone exactly nowhere – though of course there have been some almighty gyrations along the way. If you’re the average investor, you figure to be back where you were in 2007. Or are you?

Subtract from that the commissions and fees you’ve paid for going nowhere.

Largely because of Internet competition, commissions on stock trades are much cheaper than they used to be. But wealth management fees? They can be “highly profitable,” remember? Which is why JP Morgan Chase, among others, is shedding employees and shrinking their brokerage business – and reducing staff by 4,000 in community banking, which is highly regulated — but aggressively expanding their more lucrative, less regulated wealth management operations.

Their product — called Chase Private Client (and do they ever) — has grown from 262 locations to 1,218 locations just in the past year, the Times reports.

Management fees aren’t the only motivation. Intensive training programs push JPM wealth management representatives into selling their clients JPM products, like their own mutual funds, which adds another layer of less visible fees.

Remember “the magic of compounding”?

Back when you could get 5% or 6% interest on your savings, the difference between 5% and 6% over ten years was not 1%. It was 16%. At 6% your balance grew by 79% in ten years, vs. a 63% gain if you were getting 5% a year. Your 6% becomes 79% over time because every year’s interest is being computed on the original balance plus all the interest it has accrued from the beginning.

Excessive fees are the dark side of compounding. Now the same multiplier effect is working against you.

We’re not talking about illegalities here, nor even ethical lapses necessarily. Reasonable fees are entirely appropriate and, depending on the knowledge, judgment, and attention you’re getting from an advisor, can be worth far more than what you’re paying.

Aside from the quality of service and advice, it’s simply a matter of pricing, and of transparency. When you read that auto companies make much better margins on vans and SUVs than on sedans, you might think, hey, that’s my money in that margin – and you start wondering if you really need a van or an SUV.

JP Morgan Chase is as good at growing assets as any firm on the planet. Just look at their bonuses. The investor’s question is, whose assets will they be growing?

Bankers Go To Sleep Counting Sheep

A sheep rancher expects a certain amount of wool per head. If a sheep doesn’t produce – or if wool prices droop – the rancher can sell the animal for mutton and its hide for sheepskin gloves (diplomas having shifted to mere paper).

That’s the model big bankers have adopted with respect to depositors. Or with lack of respect.

If you don’t leave enough money in a no-interest checking account or a next-to-no-interest savings account or CD, you just aren’t doing your share. You’ll have to make it up some way or other, paying fees for everything you do or don’t do through your bank or credit card.

For a time, the banks feasted on debit card swipe fees (charging you for using your own money) and outrageously expensive overdraft fees.

Some banks even jimmied the sequence of your transactions to create the greatest number of overdrafts. If you were slightly overdrawn because you made six small payments and one large one, they would enter the big one first – even if it actually happened last – so that you would wind up with four or five $30 or $40 overdraft charges on the small payments.

Public outrage and some new regulations put a stop to the worst of those abuses starting about three years ago.

So now the bankers are busy creating ninja stealth fees they hope customers and regulators won’t notice.

Activity fees. Inactivity fees. Fees for too few transactions or too many phone calls to customer service. Fees for using a teller instead of an ATM. Fees for using an ATM. Fees to replace a lost debit card. Fees to have cash wired to your account, fees to deposit money with a mobile phone

Think about those last two examples for a moment. Each puts money into your account. The bank will earn interest on that money while it’s there, but they won’t pay any of that interest to you. Instead, they’ll make you pay them just to accept your money. Nice work if you can get it.

They’re sheep herders. They know how much money they want, and it’s up to the herd of customers to provide it, by hook or by shepherd’s crook.

“Pay up, you deadbeat – we need our fat bonuses!”

And the fees keep coming. A $2.99 or $10 or $12 monthly charge just to have a basic checking account – never mind that each of your deposits is actually an interest-free loan to the bank.

Credit card customers may soon be charged for getting paper statements, charged $1 to $5 for customer service calls beyond a certain limit, fees of $5 to $15 for not using their cards often enough, usurious cash advance fees raised to 5% of a transaction instead of the former 1% or 2%, interest rates that jump to more than 30% — more usury — if one or two credit card payments are late.

Last year a Pew Charitable Trust study found that bank customers could incur 49 different fees on a typical checking account.

My bank used to send my cancelled checks along with the monthly statement. These sometimes came in handy – when a merchant or a tax collector claimed I hadn’t paid something.

To save money (not for me; for themselves), the bankers stopped sending the checks. They sent, instead, a sheet of check images – the fronts of the checks, not the backs, which would have told me where and when the check had been cashed and deposited. Then they started to clear checks electronically with some big merchants and other banks, so those checks aren’t shown at all. And the final insult — they started to charge a “check imaging fee” every month for this self-serving mockery of customer service

Your satisfaction plummets as your expenses soar, because that’s what customers are for.

Bankers’ feelings are so hurt when the president or a consumer advocate, or a normally kindly, fun loving blog writer (ahem) complains about their tactics. But the big banks loom even larger now than they did before they helped to cause the financial crisis and then had to be bailed out with our money. The 12 biggest banks have 70% of all federally insured deposits; the 5,500 community banks have 12%. And the big bankers’ salaries and bonuses range from the millions into the dozens of millions.

Too big to fail.
Too big to feel.
Too big to jail.
Never too big to fee.

They may one day be sorry for treating us customers like ruminant animals, there to be shorn. The more we ruminate, the madder we get

Too Big to Steal?

Back in the 1960s, the Reader’s Digest asked the Treasury if the Mint could sell them 200 million new pennies. The Digest wanted to send a subscription mailing to every household in America, each with two shiny pennies taped to the top.

The answer was yes, the San Francisco Mint could make the pennies. Next, promoters at the Digest wondered how to guard a shipment worth $2 million (roughly $12 million in today’s dollars) from San Francisco to New York. Mint officials laughed. “We just ship them on flatbed rail cars,” they said. “How is anybody going to steal a 625-ton load of coins?”

When banks are too big to fail, are they too big to steal? Hardly. Just look at all their sneaky fees. But they’re definitely too big to be stolen, as are other large, valuable things. Pittsburgh used to employ a number of bridge watchers, which was widely regarded as nothing more than political patronage. Still, not a bridge was stolen in 200 years.

Then there’s the Global Strategic Maple Syrup Reserve in Quebec.

Honestly, there is, and talk about safe and secure — how is anybody going to make off with 52 million pounds of syrup? Nobody has. But they did manage to steal 6 million pounds of it, worth about $18 million.

Not that it was easy. The Strategic Reserve belongs to the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup producers – a trade association, you might say a cartel — through which hundreds of small producers market their product. In years when there’s a bumper crop, the Federation withholds some of it from the market, like OPEC, to prop up the prices. In lean years, they tap the reserves.

When they ran short of warehouse space, the Federation leased part of a second warehouse near Quebec City. The thieves quietly leased an adjacent part of the same complex, so they had legitimate reason to bring in their trucks. When no one was around, they emptied out barrels of syrup, refilling the barrels with water so they wouldn’t have a hollow ring in case of an audit.

Meantime, the robbers had set up a dummy wholesaling company in neighboring New Brunswick, and from there they sold the stolen syrup at full market prices. Some of it is going to be hard to recover.

“Maple syrup doesn’t come with a bar code,” a police official noted. “How do you prove it’s stolen property?”

Three of the thieves have been arrested, and Quebec police are looking for five others. The syrup was insured, but still it’s been a shock.

It’s as if you awakened tomorrow to find that someone had stolen your piano and your tree.

Beggar-Thy-Neighbor Billionaires

It’s like Mitt Romney said. There are makers, and there are takers. Problem was, he didn’t know which was which.

As a chronic taker, Mitt has lived the life of entitlement. He and his cronies think we should all chip in and do without necessities in order to support their lavish lifestyles. They’re dependent on handouts from government – favoring them with subsidies and exemptions from regulations and taxes – and dependent on hard-pressed working people who actually produce and deliver the goods without which their mighty kingdoms would blow away like fly-ash.

Normally the favors they ask are routinely granted by the puppet legislators they control, but once in a great while the beggarly bigshots actually have to beg.

As the battle lines formed on the edge of the so-called fiscal cliff, the billionaire beggars formed a petitioning group disguised as a noblesse oblige band of chivalrous knights riding to the rescue. They dubbed their group the “Fix the Debt Commission” and ran TV commercials under the slogan, “Just fix it.”

What they actually mean is, “We want our entitlements, but send the bill to somebody else.”

Organized by billionaire Pete Peterson, along with a few right wing think tanks and CEO’s of corporate welfare recipients, Fix the Debt set out to cut the deficit by slashing Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Oh, yes, and cutting taxes on themselves, which would actually balloon the deficit, but you can’t expect a ragtag troupe of underemployed panhandlers to think of everything.

As Paul Krugman has pointed out, “Fix the Debt seems much more concerned with cutting Social Security and Medicare than with fighting deficits in general – and it’s not nearly as non-partisan as it pretends to be.”

As for raising revenues (without raising their taxes) the group calls for closing loopholes — but can’t seem to name a single one.

Why are we not surprised? Because some of its member companies and their bosses have gotten fabulously wealthy on loopholes, bailouts, specialized tax breaks, and generous incentives for doing what they would have been doing anyway.

Others have gorged on trillions of dollars in defense contracts –those sinkholes of gigantic cost overruns at taxpayers’ expense – and they’d like to keep it that way.

Fix the Debt has vowed to spend $30 million (a drop in their beggar’s bowl) on this self-dealing crusade. Among other things, they’re pushing for a “territorial tax system” that would exempt them completely from paying federal taxes on foreign earnings.

Fix the Debt? That would add $134 billion to the debt and fatten their wallets by the same amount.

It would also give the corporate welfare cheaters another incentive to do what they most love to do – use their government handouts to create new jobs overseas rather than in their own country.

And what government expenditures do they offer to cut? “Entitlement programs.” Not their entitlement programs. Just yours.

Defang (Defund) the Gun Lobby

Who is the biggest customer for the companies who make assault rifles?

Presumably, you are – your tax money via the U.S. Department of Defense.

And where does the money go? To firearms companies and, from there, an undisclosed amount of it goes to help pay million dollar salaries to Wayne LaPierre and Kayne Robinson of the NRA, plus mega-millions to the NRA’s $300 million war chest for the “education” (intimidation) of candidates and public officials.

Did you sign up for that? I didn’t.

Neither did the majority of NRA members. They’re families who want their children, spouses, brothers and sisters to be safe in schools, theaters, and shopping malls; and polling shows that most NRA members favor background checks and sensible controls of weapons designed to kill people in military combat.

Maybe it’s time for the Pentagon to review its procurement practices on small arms and assault weapons. Why should that business go to companies who push military weapons into the civilian community, where they’re used to slaughter our children and other innocents and to outgun our law enforcement officers?

The mission of the U.S. Department of Defense is to keep Americans safe.

Is there any other basis for spending $680 billion a year of our money on a defense budget?

As a first step, Pentagon procurement could encourage firearms companies to have buy-back programs allowing gun owners to sell their assault weapons and high-capacity clips. Possibly each military contract for assault weapons could ask or require that a specified percentage of the order consist of these reclaimed weapons.

Who would pay for that? Nobody.

The firearms companies reimburse the gun owners, the Pentagon reimburses the companies, and the Army, Navy, and Marines would have been spending that money to buy the same or similar guns anyway. The used guns that don’t fit into current military operations could be offered to state and municipal police departments.

I, for one, would like to see my tax dollars used to buy repatriated assault weapons rather than new ones.

Could the gun companies get together and refuse?

Conceivably – though each would have to be careful to avoid decertification as a federal contractor or even prosecution if their activities began to look like collusion or bid–rigging. If that sort of complication threatened to cause delays, the Army, Navy, and Marines could go ahead and conduct their own buy-backs as a cost-saving program to acquire weapons at something less than defense contractor prices.

There are other steps. Military purchasing, though it sometimes gets too cozy, is otherwise quite sophisticated. It allows vendors to include in their pricing reasonable overhead costs but need not allow unreasonable costs – such as that of electioneering to defeat candidates who aren’t in the gun industry’s pocket.

This would be just one small initiative in the larger effort to remove some of the deadliest weapons from our midst. At the same time, it would wring out some of the excess profits with which the gun lobby uses taxpayer dollars to control legislators.

After which, who needs the likes of Wayne LaPierre?

Rumors of Chinese Forests

Back in the days of Khrushchev’s USSR, the story was told of a regional agricultural official who made a surprise inspection of one of his collective farms. He wanted to know if the farm would meet its quota for the potato harvest.

“Commissar,” the farm boss told him, “if we were to pile up all of our potatoes, they would reach to the feet of god.”

“Comrade,” the official glowered, “you know there is no god.”

“Certainly not, Commissar. And there are no potatoes, either.”

*

This story came to mind a year or so ago when I was touted on a hot stock, Sino-Forest, a company based in Canada with vast timber holdings in China.

Its share price rose smartly, reaching a market capitalization in the billions (none of them mine). Then a short-selling firm named Muddy Waters issued a lengthy report questioning whether Sino-Forest really had such large holdings – or any – and the stock took a nosedive.

Interesting question:

Whom do you believe – a shadowy Chinese timber company, or a short seller with a vested interest in seeing a stock’s price fall?

*

Muddy Waters has occasionally done some good research, but short sellers as a class are notorious for taking a short position, then circulating ugly rumors and covering the short at a big profit after the stock price plummets.

It’s called a bear raid.

Investors hearing these reports were reassured to note that the Sino-Forest stock offering had been audited by the Canadian affiliate of Ernst & Young, one of the major accounting firms, and its bonds were rated close to investment grade by S&P and Moody’s (those guys again – fresh from their tour de force giving triple-A ratings to subprime mortgages).

Which raises another interesting question – how do auditors audit timber holdings in China?

*

Floyd Norris in the Times tells of an e-mail exchange in which one audit staffer asked another, “How can we be sure the trees we’re being shown are actually owned by the company?”

The answer was, they couldn’t — partly because Chinese authorities will not permit their own inspectors to share their working papers with outside auditors. That’s been a constant problem in attempting due diligence on Chinese companies, and in this case the elusive timberlands were Sino-Forest’s only asset.

If a tree falls in the forest and the forest is in China, you won’t hear a thing.

Ultimately, Ernst & Young paid $109 million to settle a lawsuit filed by shareholders of Sino-Forest Corporation.

It seems the trees were never there. And there were no potatoes, either.

Supply-Side, Explained

The two-minute course: Principles of Supply-Side Economics:

1.

As shown by the Laffer curve (a large frown in a square):

When you cut taxes, revenues don’t go down, as you would expect. They go up. And deficits don’t go up; they go down. It’s magic.

That’s the theory. In practice, it never works. It always backfires.

Reagan tried it first, and deficits soared. George W tried it and turned a huge budget surplus he inherited from Clinton into ruinous deficits.

Yet Supply-Side is still the holy ghost of Republican economics.

2.

Government spending doesn’t create jobs.

Keynes was wrong. Krugman is wrong.

Only the private sector can create jobs – like Boeing and Northrop Grumman. But cuts in the defense budget would put thousands of people out of work.

All those jobs that government spending on defense could not possibly create? They’d be lost.

3.

Rich people running rich corporations are the job creators.

Stop regulating them. Cut their taxes. Their bulging wealth will trickle down and create millions of good, high-paying jobs.

Bush/Cheney cut their taxes, ditched some of the annoying regulations, and stopped enforcing what regulations were left.

In eight years, pathetically few jobs were created – an all-time low for an economic recovery. Wages stagnated completely – except for the rich.

Then the unregulated markets blew up and decimated American jobs, homes, hopes, and families.

4.

Romney/Ryan said, “Let’s do it again!”

America said no.

We’re slow, but we’re not hopeless. Except in certain states.

_______________
1-1/2 Minute Footnote:
Why is it called “Supply-Side”? This part is serious, albeit oversimplified. All schools of economics have to deal with the hydraulics of supply and demand. Most serious economists see capitalism as driven by demand – nobody can make money producing things nobody needs or wants or has money to buy. So Keynesians (New Deal, “pump priming,” Paul Krugman), even monetarists (Milton Friedman) see government fiscal and monetary policy as a way to get money into the hands of consumers when times are bad, to stimulate demand, or to tighten money or raise taxes when times are good, to cool demand as inflation looms.

Supply-Siders came along in the late 1970s and insisted that, instead of these actions, government policy should cater to the wants and needs of producers – deregulate, eliminate their taxes – to stimulate production. The assumption is that the more you produce, the more people will buy –- supply creates demand — whether you’ve let the consumers keep their jobs and houses and earn any money or not.

It’s goofy, except politically (voters love a tax cut and can’t easily tell if it will ultimately destroy civilization). So, in reality, Supply-Side “economics” is nothing but far-right ideology cloaked in economic jargon. If it were real economics, then its underlying statement would be that capitalism is driven not from the demand side but from the supply side.

We’ve Been Extruded!

Toothpaste. It’s all in the squeeze.

A few years ago, our dentist recommended Prevident, a prescription gel with four times the fluoride in regular toothpastes, so it protects your teeth and any exposed roots.

To spare patients the trouble – who wants to make an extra trip to fill a toothpaste prescription? — the dentist kept some in stock and sold it at his cost — $7, later $9 a tube.

On the tube, it simply said, Prevident. But one day it added a bright red “Colgate” above the Prevident. Then this new, improved name was further festooned to become COLGATE PREVIDENT 5000 PLUS.

We should have known – here comes the squeeze.

First, the dentist was squeezed out of the supply chain. Now we had to get a paper prescription from him and take it to the drugstore.

Cost efficiency, right? Eliminate the middleman and save the patient money?

Ha!

At the pharmacy, the same tube of Prevident now costs $45. The co-payment alone is more expensive than the whole tube used to be. The insurance company pays the rest, and then your insurance rates go up.

That’s how it works. Before a person can squeeze the tube, the system squeezes the person.

The magic ingredient in Prevident is sodium fluoride, so I Googled the prices charged by sodium fluoride suppliers. They clustered between $700 and $900 a ton, minimum order of 10 tons. That quashed any thoughts I might have had of mixing fluoride with mint jelly and tapioca pudding in the Cuisinart to make artisan toothpaste, which was too bad because Colgate had inadvertently given me the recipe.

Their package specifies 1.8 oz of Prevident gel, containing 1.1% sodium fluoride, which works out to a dose of .02 oz per package; so a ton of sodium fluoride should be enough for 1,600,000 tubes of toothpaste.

At $700 to $900 a ton, each tube of Prevident has about a 20th of a cent’s worth of sodium fluoride – 20 tubes for a penny.

No doubt Colgate Palmolive’s marketers have their reasons why that 20th of a cent’s worth of chemicals costs $45 by the time it gets to you – I mean, they do have to build a 10-ton bin for the fluoride, and they have to mix it with other stuff and color it green and somehow get it into a tube. That can’t be easy. On the other hand, it can’t be any harder than it was when the tube cost you $7 instead of $45.

Never mind — this is the unfettered free-market capitalism that makes our country great and gives you, the consumer, the power to make the ultimate choice:

Either you lose your money, or you lose your teeth.

Cutthroat Capitalism

As noted below (in Nicholas Kristof’s segment of “Notes on the Marginal”), the wealth gap in the U.S. has reached extremes not seen since the Robber Baron era of J. Pierpont Morgan, Jay Gould, and Henry Clay Frick a century ago — and possibly not even then.

Working Americans have been stuck in the mud. They’ve had no gains in income for a dozen years and meager gains for the last three decades, while their costs for healthcare, tuition, food, gasoline, and other necessities have kept rising.

Meantime, incomes of the affluent have soared.

But instead of igniting a Bull Moose movement like Teddy Roosevelt’s to bust up the trusts, today’s victimization of poor and middle class families has merely spawned a litany of excuses:

It’s globalization, the story goes, forcing Americans to compete with cheap labor in Asia.

It’s technology, we’re told — automating manufacturing, facilitating outsourcing, eliminating good jobs. What can anybody do about such vast forces?

Why, then, has this scourge grown far worse in the U.S. than in any other advanced economy?

Every nation, after all, struggles with the forces of globalization and rapid technical change. As Eduardo Porter noted in Wednesday’s Times:

“We have charted a unique course through the turbulent global waters, building a more cutthroat form of capitalism than most other industrial nations.”

The result? Porter cites some specifics, drawn from reports by the 34-nation OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development):

> Our income inequality is the most extreme of any advanced economy.

> More of our children die before reaching age 19 than in any other rich country.

> More live in poverty.

.> American girls are much more likely than anywhere else to have babies as teenagers.

> Our pre-school enrolments are among the lowest because our public spending on early childhood is the most meager in the developed world.

> Our prison enrolments are the highest – by far – 743 of every 100,000 Americans in jail. Rwanda is second with 595. Lacking an adequate social safety net, desperate people do desperate things. Racism feeds illegitimate arrests, and the same politicians who chintz on funding for social services also mandate harsher prison sentences than those of any other “advanced” society.

*

Appallingly, even after engineering this screw-the-poor, to-hell-with-the-children environment, business-backed Republican legislatures can’t wait to slash already disgraceful levels of funding even further — and to skimp on Medicaid and the shrinking budgets for school lunches, women’s health services, food stamps, and welfare.

But there’s no shortage of funds for corporate welfare:

Multi-billion-dollar loopholes, tax incentives for doing what companies always do anyway, special tax treatments for hedge funds and private equity firms like Bain, ridiculously low-cost drilling leases in offshore waters and national parks (and even those token fees were not being collected during the Bush years), and generous tax cuts, shelters, deductions, and exemptions for the richest people in the country.

That’s cutthroat capitalism.

It can’t go on much longer. And the usual system of checks and balances is out of order. In a stunningly partisan turn to the right, the Supreme Court has made matters worse with the Citizens United ruling that gives the cutthroat capitalists license to use their wealth to bulldoze their own cronies into office at all levels of government.

Unless the political pendulum can swing the other way fairly soon, history tells us the ultimate reversal could be exceedingly ugly.