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Volume 7, Issue 18: May 2, 2005

  1. Bringing the Consumer Revolution to the FDA
  2. Death Penalty on Trial -- Transcript Now Available
  3. U.S. Worsens Nuclear Proliferation
  4. The Independent Institute Awarded 4-Star Rating by Charity Navigator

1) Bringing the Consumer Revolution to the FDA

When Robert Bucholz complained recently about the removal of Vioxx from the market, he wasn't making an uninformed rant. Dr. Bucholz is a respected orthopedic surgeon who believes that doctors and their patients are far better equipped to weigh the tradeoffs inherent in health care than is the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). "All life is a series of risks, and you've got to measure the risks versus the benefits," said the doctor, who prefers to take Vioxx, with its risks, than aspirin, which irritates his stomach.

Too often, the FDA's paternalistic model has supplanted doctor/patient choices to the detriment of the patient's health. But that problem could be eliminated if the agency were to follow what Independent Institute Research Director Alexander Tabarrok calls a "Consumer Reports model," named after the magazine that specializes in reviewing a wide range of consumer products.

"CONSUMER REPORTS doesn't try to replace consumer choice," writes Tabarrok in a new op-ed. "Instead, by carefully evaluating and testing new products and providing this information to readers, CONSUMER REPORTS helps consumers to make better choices. Similarly, a less paternalistic FDA would provide more information to patients and doctors, but it would also leave more choices in their hands because only patients and their doctors have the particular knowledge that allows each patient to be treated as an individual."

Tabarrok explains that an FDA reformed on the Consumer Reports model would test drugs in head-to-head comparisons and evaluate new uses for them. Also, it would be more independent of the pharmaceutical industry than the FDA is currently, because the agency now receives some funding from drug makers. In addition, "the FDA [currently] relies on the pharmaceutical manufacturers to test their own products -- an inherent conflict of interest."

"Throughout the field of health care, consumers have become empowered to take greater responsibility for their own well-being. Rather than succumb to a paternalistic status quo that reduces our health, it’s time for the consumer revolution to breach the walls of the FDA," Tabarrok concludes.

See "Bringing the Consumer Revolution to the FDA," by Alexander Tabarrok (4/25/05)

Also see, "An Opportunity Or a Threat: How to Have Safer, Less Expensive Drugs," by Paul Rubin (12/7/04)

For more on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, see

AMERICAN HEALTH CARE: Government, Market Processes, and the Public Interest, ed. by Roger D. Feldman


2) Death Penalty on Trial -- Transcript Now Available

Are wrongly convicted prisoners sitting on death row? As disturbing as it may be, such an injustice is highly probable, according to television personality Bill Kurtis, host of "American Justice" and "Cold Case Files."

At the recent Independent Policy Forum named after his new book, THE DEATH PENALTY ON TRIAL, Kurtis described the sobering case of Ray Krone, a mailman and Air Force veteran who served ten years on death row before he was exonerated and released following the matching of a DNA sample on the victim's shirt with that of a sexual predator who lived near the crime scene. Kurtis then described a case that led to a death sentence for Ernest Willis. Although Willis was exonerated and released, another person -- Todd Willingham -- convicted using the same forensic procedures deemed faulty in the Willis case was executed in February of 2005.

Kurtis listed eight main reasons why innocent people have been given the death sentence. These include overzealous and dishonest prosecutors, corrupt policemen, unreliable witnesses and expert witnesses, incompetent defense attorneys, biased judges, and jailhouse informants. A prosecutor in Arizona, Kenneth Peasley, was disbarred recently "because it was found that he falsified evidence in a murder trial," Kurtis said.

Following Kurtis's presentation, UC Berkeley Boalt Hall Law School professor Franklin Zimring, author of THE CONTRADICTIONS OF AMERICAN CAPITAL, described what he called the mysteries of the death penalty -- ranging from the rarity of executions in California (despite the Golden State having 650 inmates on death row), to Illinois Gov. Ryan commuting the sentences of about 160 condemned prisoners but not ordering a review of all criminal cases, to the non-action that followed a blue-ribbon commission on capital punishment in Massachusetts. The answer to these mysteries, Zimring suggested, is that political elites sense that a large segment of the public is coming to see the death penalty as unnecessary and unjust, just as many Europeans did a generation ago.

"Can we ever really make it a system in which ten guilty men are going to go free before one innocent man is convicted?" Zimring asked rhetorically. "No, we'll have to change the nature of the country, not just the nature of the system, before that happens -- and it probably won't happen."

For a transcript of "The Death Penalty on Trial," featuring Bill Kurtis and Franklin E. Zimring (1/27/05), see

Also see, "The Causes of Wrongful Conviction," by Paul Craig Roberts (THE INDEPENDENT REVIEW, Spring 2003)

To purchase CHANGING THE GUARD: Private Prisons and the Control of Crime, ed. by Alexander Tabarrok, see

TO SERVE AND PROTECT: Privatization and Community in Criminal Justice, by Bruce L. Benson, see


3) U.S. Worsens Nuclear Proliferation

The Bush administration is likely to miss an important opportunity to make the world safer as the international review of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) gets underway this week, according to Ivan Eland, senior fellow and director of the Independent Institute's Center on Peace & Liberty.

Rather than advance the disarmament aims of the thirty-five year old NPT, which is reviewed by its signatories every five years, "the United States is preparing to echo its hard-line rhetoric," which has contributed to the acceleration of nuclear-weapons proliferation, Eland argues. Veiled threats to North Korea, for example, have probably hastened that brutal dictatorship's nuclear weapons program.

More troublesome than tough rhetoric, however, are the actions of the United States over the years -- namely, its military actions directed at numerous countries that did not possess nuclear weapons. "The perception is that nuclear arms are the only weapons powerful enough to deter a potent superpower attack," writes Eland.

Eland also argues that the U.S. government has no intention of fulfilling its nuclear disarmament commitment under the NPT because doing so would prevent it from developing such weapons as deep-burrowing "bunker busters."

"The United States should scrap such research and make progress toward its commitment by genuinely and significantly reducing its excess nuclear arsenal," writes Eland. "Also, instead of threatening Iran and North Korea, implicitly or explicitly, with military strikes that would be unlikely to eliminate their nuclear programs, the United States needs to accelerate negotiations with these nations. U.S. threats against these two nations will only accelerate other countries’ quests for atomic weapons. Conversely, negotiated settlements with Iran and North Korea, which may require non-aggression pledges by the United States, would send a positive signal to other prospective nuclear states and might at least reduce their perceived need to develop atomic weapons to deter a potential attack from the superpower."

See "Bush Administration Bluster Exacerbates Nuclear Proliferation," by Ivan Eland (5/2/05)

To purchase THE EMPIRE HAS NO CLOTHES: U.S. Foreign Policy Exposed, by Ivan Eland, see

To purchase PUTTING "DEFENSE" BACK IN U.S. DEFENSE POLICY, by Ivan Eland, see

"The Way Out of Iraq: Decentralizing the Iraqi Government," by Ivan Eland

Center on Peace & Liberty


4) The Independent Institute Awarded 4-Star Rating by Charity Navigator

Of 222 leading policy organizations in the United States regularly examined by Charity Navigator, the premier evaluator of public charities, the Independent Institute ranks in the top 10 percent with a highest 4-Star Rating -- a rating that soars above virtually all other think tanks.

The rating is based on a weighted assessment of organizational efficiency (fundraising efficiency, fundraising expenses, program expenses, and administration expenses) and capacity (average annual growth of primary revenue, average annual growth of program expenses, and working capital ratio).

Large and growing numbers of individuals look to the Independent Institute to provide objective, principled analysis and to redirect public debate toward alternatives less susceptible to the problems of government failure. Charity Navigator's findings, we are happy to report, confirm for them that their dollars go a long way toward advancing enlightening ideas for public policy.

For more information, see

For membership information, see


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