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Impeach Bush

Democrats Assail Corporate Expatriates
By SIOBHAN McDONOUGH
The Associated Press
Saturday, April 12, 2003; 11:30 AM

WASHINGTON - American corporations shouldn't be able to avoid paying U.S. taxes just because they buy a mailbox in another country, a senior member of the House Ways and Means Committee said Saturday.

In the Democrats' weekly radio address, Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass., attacked corporate expatriates that have relocated their headquarters offshore on paper only in order to claim they are not subject to U.S. taxes.

"This is bad for America and bad for our economy," he said.

One company whose jackhammers carved Mount Rushmore paid $28,000 to rent a mailbox in Bermuda in order to avoid a $40 million tax bill, he said. It later renounced its U.S. citizenship. He did not name the company.

When corporations do this, the federal tax burden they should have shouldered shifts onto individual taxpayers and working families, he said. Corporate expatriates will drain the federal Treasury of about $4 billion over the next decade, he estimated.

Neal, who is also a senior member of the House Budget Committee, said House Republicans slipped a provision in the energy bill to protect all of the corporate expatriates who have already left.

The bill pushed through by the House this week would protect the corporate expatriates who "cheat the American taxpayer and compete with American companies who stay," he said.

Meanwhile, he added, corporate expatriates are lining up for more than $2 billion in lucrative federal contracts with the U.S. government.

Tyco, formerly of New Hampshire, is now located in Bermuda. It avoids paying $400 million a year in taxes through its headquarters offshore, but was awarded $182 million in defense and homeland security contracts in one year, Neal said.

If Tyco had just paid its tax bill, Congress could have easily paid for 400 explosive detection systems which are needed to protect travelers at airports around the nation, he said.

"These are challenging times for all Americans, with war abroad and a struggling economy at home," Neal said. "The last thing the American taxpayer needs to hear is that while costs are going up, fewer will be paying in."

© 2003 The Associated Press

Commentary:
Just when you think the republican party can't get any worse, they surprise us. Not only do they borrow money and give it to the rich, but they also have no problems with companies avoiding all taxes by setting up post office boxes offshore.

Here's an idea. Every American taxpayer should to the same, deprive them of all money needed to run their regime and we'll all be happy.

A company that pays no taxes, then gets money from US taxpayers for homeland defense has got to be the lowest of the low. Hell, slime would be insulted if we called them that word--republican is better.

The flag waving party doesn't give a damn about the good ol' USA. If they did, they'd have done something about this crap a long time ago. Cheney's old company created something like 44 offshore companies so Halliburton wouldn't have to pay US taxes. And Enron paid no taxes for years while their top managers took home well over a trillion dollars. How do you spell 'morally corrupt?' G-O-P!


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US is third highest country to execute citizens
Reuters.com
Stephanie Nebehay
Fri April 11, 2003 10:07 AM ET

GENEVA (Reuters) - At least 1,526 people were executed worldwide last year, with 80 percent of all known executions carried out in China, Iran and the United States, Amnesty International said on Friday.

The London-based human rights group also expressed concern that U.S. military tribunals which will prosecute "terrorist" suspects will have the power to impose death sentences which cannot be appealed.

In a report issued in Geneva, where the United Nations Commission on Human Rights is holding its annual six-week session, Amnesty urged the 53-member body to speak out against the supreme punishment and build pressure for a global moratorium on executions.

Some 111 countries have abolished the death penalty in law or in practice but it is still imposed in 83 countries, it said.

"The death penalty is the most absolute form of a human rights violation," Amnesty's Andrea Huber told a news briefing.

"The top three executioner states were China -- with 1,060 executions in only one year -- Iran with 113 executions and the United States with 71 executions," she added.

While the number of executions worldwide appeared to have halved in 2002 from 3,048 executions in 2001, it was difficult to compare as the true number of people executed in China was believed to be much higher, according to Amnesty.

In addition, at least 3,248 people were sentenced to death in 67 countries in 2002, it said.

"For many, Amina Lawal became a symbol of the horrifying truth of the death penalty. She was sentenced to death by stoning in Nigeria for having a baby out of wedlock," Huber said. "Her appeal is still pending."

U.S. DENOUNCED

Amnesty denounced the United States for executing three death row prisoners last year who were convicted for crimes committed when they were under age 18.

"It is a practice that violates international law...There are many, many juvenile offenders on death row," Huber said.

In total, 3,700 prisoners were under sentence of death in the United States as of January 2003, according to the report.

Huber added: "We know that there are many innocent people who are sentenced to death."

More than 100 death row inmates who proved their innocence have been released in the 30 years since U.S. Supreme Court rulings led to resumption of executions, according to Amnesty.

Number 100 was Ray Krone, a former death row prisoner in Arizona, released almost exactly a year ago after DNA testing proved his innocence. He had been convicted by two juries for the murder of a barmaid at a bar where he played darts.

"I am one of the few fortunate ones who had a chance to prove their innocence. It took a lot of work, perseverance and money," he told reporters.

Krone, who spent more than 10 years in prison, including 32 months on death row, had previously served in the U.S. air force.

"I am not proud of our justice system. Nobody who has seen what I have seen or experienced what I have could ever support the death penalty," he said.

"I was naive, ignorant of how the system really worked. I believed that innocence was protection, that truth meant justice would be forthcoming," Krone said. "I am going to do everything that I can to expose the death penalty for what it really is -- a tool used by prosecutors and police to gain career advancement and to put politicians in office."

© Reuters 2003

Commentary:
The last line says it all.


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USS Cole suspects escape
BBC News
Friday, 11 April, 2003, 14:21 GMT 15:21 UK

The 10 chief suspects in the bombing of the USS Cole have escaped from custody in Aden, local officials said.

Security forces mounted a major search operation in the Yemeni port where the 10 had been held since shortly after the attack in October 2000.

Chief suspect Jamal al-Badawi is among the escapees who reportedly got out through a prison window early on Friday.

Seventeen US sailors died and 37 were wounded when two suicide attackers in a bomb-laden dinghy rammed their destroyer in the port in an attack widely blamed on al-Qaeda.

Mr al-Badawi allegedly helped buy the dinghy.

The men broke out of a window around 0500 (0200 GMT) and their absence was not discovered by warders for another hour, local officials told AFP news agency on condition of anonymity.

Photographs of the escapees have been distributed to police and intelligence agents, the Saudi news agency SPA reports, and houses of the escaped men's relatives have been searched.

Yemeni officials said the men may have left Aden and headed for al-Qaeda strongholds in the northern province of Shabwah.

© BBC 2003

Commentary:
A story worth watching. Bin Laden supporters just "happen" to escape while the US is in a silly little war in Iraq. We'll see later what's really going on.


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'Bull Durham' Event Canceled on Robbins War Stance
ABC News Wire/Reuters
April 10, 2003

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Baseball's Hall of Fame has canceled its tribute for the 15th anniversary of the film "Bull Durham" because of the anti-war stance of the movie's stars, Tim Robbins and his longtime partner, Susan Sarandon.

Hall of Fame President Dale Petroskey, a former aide to President Ronald Reagan, canceled an April 26-27 celebration of the film, saying Robbins and Sarandon endangered U.S. troops in Iraq by flashing peace signs to cameras at the Academy Awards ceremony last month and by speaking against the conflict.

Robbins told Reuters in an interview that he was stunned by the decision and charged that Petroskey was playing politics by trying to turn baseball into "a Republican sport."

A spokesman for Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig said professional baseball had nothing to do with the Hall of Fame event and did not make "political statements."

The actor and Sarandon were to participate in a discussion of baseball and the film with writer-director Ron Shelton and actor Robert Wuhl, who also played in the film, at the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.

"WE STAND BEHIND OUR PRESIDENT"

But on Wednesday, Petroskey told Robbins in a letter that he had canceled the event because "as an institution, we stand behind our President and our troops in this conflict."

"We believe your very public criticism of President Bush at this important -- and sensitive -- time in our nation's history helps undermine the U.S. position, which ultimately could put our troops in more danger," Petroskey wrote.

At the Academy Awards, the couple flashed peace signs as they walked the red carpet to the Kodak Theater in Los Angeles. Both Robbins and Sarandon are vocal opponents of the war.

In a letter to Petroskey, Robbins said he was dismayed. "As an American who believes that vigorous debate is necessary for the survival of a democracy I reject your suggestion that one must be silent in times of war.

"I wish you had ... saved me the rhetoric and talked honestly about your ties to the Bush and Reagan administrations. You are using what power you have to infringe upon my rights to free speech..."

Robbins, 44, said Petroskey apparently faxed his letter to the media at the same time he mailed it to Robbins "to make it a story, the message of which is, if you oppose this administration, you can be punished."

Robbins and Sarandon were banned from the Academy Awards in 1993 after they used their appearances as presenters to call attention to a group of Haitians AIDS sufferers interned in Guantanamo Bay.

"We were banned ... until we were nominated and then they had to invite us," Robbins said. "I guess I'll have to become a pretty good baseball player pretty quickly to get back in the Hall of Fame."

He also found disturbing the cancellation last month of a United Way event featuring Sarandon, as well as the backlash against the country western group the Dixie Chicks for speaking against the war and Bush.

Shelton, the film's director, said: "I can't believe that this country has come to the point where people of disparate political opinions can't gather together to celebrate something we can all agree on -- baseball and films."

Actor Kevin Costner, a Republican who played a lead role in "Bull Durham, said in a statement: "I think Tim and Susan's courage is the type of courage that makes our democracy work. Pulling back this 'invite' is against the whole principle about what we fight for and profess to be about."

Copyright 2003 Reuters News Service. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Commentary:
These Bush supporters make Saddam blush with Pride. Saddam taught republicans the value of limited "free speech and press."

You can always tell when the other side has a weak hand. Their arguments fall apart when exposed to free thought and open debate as their propagandized beliefs are exposed to truth.


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North Korea says Iraq invasion shows need for strong military
Canda Press
CHRISTOPHER TORCHIA
April 10, 2003

SEOUL (AP) - On the day that its withdrawal from the global nuclear arms control treaty officially took effect, North Korea said Thursday that the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq proved the need for it to maintain a strong military deterrent.

The North's comments came a day after UN Security Council members said they were worried by North Korea's standoff with Washington, but refused to condemn it for pulling out of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty. China and Russia had opposed condemning Pyongyang.

Drawing parallels with the U.S. showdown with Iraq, North Korea said that bowing to demands to abandon its suspected nuclear weapons development would lead to inspections and disarmament, setting the stage for a U.S. invasion.

"The Iraqi war launched by the U.S. pre-emptive attack clearly proves that a war can be prevented and the security of the country and the nation can be ensured only when one has physical deterrent force," said KCNA, the North's state-run news agency. It did not specifically refer to nuclear weapons as a deterrent.

The withdrawal from the nuclear arms control treaty officially took effect Thursday, three months after the North announced it was pulling out. In a similar standoff a decade ago, North Korea announced its withdrawal from the treaty but suspended its decision just before the 90-day notice period lapsed.

Pyongyang and Washington negotiated an energy deal that ended the earlier crisis, though a solution to the current standoff could be more difficult because U.S. officials have taken a harder line this time.

They have refused North Korean appeals for direct talks, saying other countries must be involved in any solution.

North Korea, which is demanding Washington agree to a non-aggression treaty, has said it would ignore any censure by the United Nations. Economic sanctions, a measure that the Security Council could eventually consider, would be considered a declaration of war, Pyongyan has said.

"The UN Security Council discussion of the nuclear issue on the Korean Peninsula itself is a prelude to war," said North Korea's Pyongyang Radio.

The radio, monitored by South Korea's Yonhap news agency, called U.S. efforts to discuss the nuclear dispute at the council "a serious provocation, rupturing efforts for dialogue and spiking tension on the Korean Peninsula."

North Korea has never said that it is developing nuclear weapons, though the United States says it already has one or two atomic bombs.

Washington says it has no plans to invade North Korea and seeks a peaceful solution to the nuclear problem, but has not ruled out a military option

Washington wants the problem to be addressed in a multilateral forum including Russia, China, Japan and South Korea.

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov held talks on the nuclear issue Thursday with South Korean officials in Seoul. Moscow was once a close ally of North Korea, though the friendship faded after the end of the Cold War.

South Korea's Defence Ministry said Ivanov "shared our view that the two countries should closely co-operate to find a peaceful solution" to the crisis.

Ivanov said the two sides agreed the crisis should not be worsened by making "hostile and extreme expressions," and he warned against driving North Korea "into a situation where a solution is impossible."

He did not elaborate.

The standoff flared last fall amid increasingly chilly relations with the Bush administration, which described North Korea as part of an "axis of evil" along with Iraq and Iran. Washington claims the right to pre-emptive military strikes against such "rogue states."

In October, U.S. officials said North Korea admitted it had a clandestine nuclear program in violation of a 1994 agreement. Washington and its allies suspended fuel shipments promised under the 1994 deal.

Pyongyang, which denies making any such admission, accused Washington of having already failed to live up to its side of the bargain. It retaliated by expelling UN monitors, taking steps to restart frozen facilities capable of making nuclear bombs and withdrawing from the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty.

Reconciliation efforts between the two Koreas have suffered because of the nuclear standoff. Cabinet-level talks between the two sides did not take place as scheduled this week, and other joint projects have been postponed.

On Thursday, North Korea described the South Korean National Assembly as a "group of warmongers," in part because of its decision to approve the dispatch of non-combat troops to support the U.S.-led campaign in Iraq.

© Copyright  2003 The Canadian Press

Commentary:
If you think Bush's silly little war in Iraq made the world or the US a safer place...guess again. Now we get to watch as every two-bit country in the world goes nuclear as soon as possible.

One VERY bright spot. It takes years if not decades to go nuclear and Bush won't be around for a second term, much less decades, so maybe the next president can fix what this smasmall-minded idiot has done.


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Political Donations buy $3 billion in airline aid
USA TODAY
By Kathy Kiely
April 08, 2003

WASHINGTON — Congress is moving toward approving a $3 billion aid package for the nation's airlines, including 26 extra weeks of unemployment benefits for workers, despite White House opposition.

Ignoring the advice of President Bush's budget director, Mitch Daniels, the House on Tuesday endorsed a measure granting an extra 26 weeks of unemployment to laid-off airline workers. The extra unemployment benefits will cost $275 million.

The 265-150 House vote greatly increases the chances that the additional benefits will be included in a war spending bill that congressional leaders hope to send President Bush later this week. The Senate version of the bill already includes a provision extending the unemployment benefits.

Though the two bills differ on specifics, both the House and Senate approved airline aid packages worth more than $3 billion. The White House has called the amount "excessive," but the administration does not appear willing to pick a fight with the top Republican and Democratic leaders in Congress, all of whom support the funding.

"They'll accept whatever Congress finally comes up with," House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, said Tuesday.

The airline aid package is widely regarded as almost veto-proof because it's part of an $80 billion war spending bill that includes money the military needs for operations in Iraq.

More than 100,000 airline workers have lost their jobs since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and 70,000 more jobs could be lost, according to the Air Transport Association.

The plan to extend workers' unemployment benefits has won wide bipartisan support despite the administration's opposition.

In a letter to congressional leaders, Daniels noted that Bush already has extended the regular, 26-week unemployment benefit package by 13 weeks nationwide and by 26 weeks in states with the highest unemployment rates.

Adding a further extension for only one industry is "unusual" and "unfair," Daniels wrote.

Union leaders said their members already have sacrificed enough in the form of wage and other contract concessions to help the airline industry out of its tailspin.

"We've been propping this industry up, and we're just looking for a little help," says Patricia Friend, president of the Association of Flight Attendants.

© Copyright 2003 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.

Commentary:
Republicans used to be opposed to business bailouts. That was until they figured out they can use YOUR money to buy more power. From 1999-2000, republicans received 60% of airline political donations and by 2001, it was up to 65%. If you want to know why republicans favor bailouts today, it's because of MONEY!

Democrats seem to support business bailouts for other reasons...sometimes to help unions and other times to help an important industry, regardless of whom they give money to. Dems should learn from republicans and vote to help ONLY those who give them money too.


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Russia and China block US at UN--N. Korea
Independent (UK)
By David Usborne in New York
April 11, 2003

North Korea signalled yesterday that it has no plans to back down in its confrontation with the United States over nuclear weapons.

Pyongyang's move came a day after talks at the United Nations Security Council failed to produce an agreed statement condemning North Korea for resuming its nuclear activity. Both Russia and China blocking American efforts to adopt a common statement.

Washington has denied it has any plans to strike North Korea, but state radio in Pyongyang said the fact that the issue had even been discussed at the UN amounted to "a prelude to war". North Korea insists it may be the next target and it is not therefore about to reduce its defence efforts. The state-run news agency said: "The Iraqi war launched by the US pre-emptive attack clearly proves that a war can be prevented and the security of the country and the nation can be ensured only when one has physical deterrent force." It did not refer specifically to nuclear weapons.

On a visit yesterday to South Korea, Russia's Defence Minister, Sergei Ivanov, warned that North Korea was stiffening its resolve in the light of the US-led assault on Iraq. He said Pyongyang would be encouraged to ignore the UN because it had been weakened by Washington's decision to invade Iraq without Security Council backing.

"I do not rule out that if any decision whatsoever is taken by the United Nations on this question it will be ignored by Pyongyang, which will refer to other precedents," Mr Ivanov said after talks with Cho Young Kil, South Korea's Defence Minister. "The turn of events, including the war in Iraq, confirmed that prognosis."

The latest exchanges came on the day that North Korea officially abandoned its obligations under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. There was a 90-day waiting period after Pyongyang renounced the pact in January.

In a separate development, America and the European Union were expected last night formally to accuse the North Korean regime of torture and other abuses at a meeting of the UN Commission on Human Rights in Geneva.

2003 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd,

Commentary:
Now it begins---the political fallout for going against the UN Security Council. Both China and Russia want a nuclear free peninsula, but are willing to let N. Korea go (for now anyway) to prove to Bush and the world they he (Bush) needs them. Bush is all but begging China and Russia to join him on N. Korea and they're saying no. With each passing day, week, and month the situation in N. Korea is becoming impossible to fix. They will get nukes no matter what and the reason is GWB.

The world is a lot less safer because of Bush's first strike doctrine. The morons who came up with it failed to see how the world would react. Not since Hitler has a man done more damage to world peace than GWB. Watch!

Bush will be paying a huge political price for his little war in Iraq until he leaves office, and the damage to US international relations will most likely last years if not decades.


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N Korea quits nuclear non-proliferation treaty
Financial Times
By Andrew Ward in Seoul
Published: April 10 2003 18:40 | Last Updated: April 10 2003 18:40

North Korea became the first country to withdraw from the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT) on Thursday, but the international community appeared no closer to agreeing a united response to the communist state's suspected nuclear weapons programme.

The withdrawal, which followed a 90-day notice period since Pyongyang announced its intention to quit in January, dealt a blow to the 187-nation arms-control pact and posed a challenge to US president George W. Bush's drive to stop "rogue" states acquiring weapons of mass destruction.

Washington wanted the UN Security Council to issue a statement condemning North Korea's withdrawal from the NPT, but the move was blocked by China and Russia at a Council meeting in New York on Wednesday.

The disagreement dashed hopes that the Council could heal its bitter divisions over Iraq by forging a united approach towards North Korea.

North Korea, named by the US alongside Iraq as part of an "axis of evil", warned in advance that it would consider Security Council action a "prelude to war".

Washington attempted to play down its differences with Beijing and Moscow, insisting there was international "unanimity" behind the goal of keeping the Korean peninsula free from nuclear weapons.

However, divisions within the US government about policy towards North Korea have been exposed this week by the contrasting statements of different US officials.

While John Negroponte, US ambassador to the UN, said Washington sought a "peaceful and diplomatic" solution to its dispute with Pyongyang, John Bolton, under-secretary of state for arms control, urged North Korea and other countries seeking weapons of mass destruction to "draw the appropriate lesson from Iraq".

Mr Bolton's comment seemed likely to deepen North Korea's fear that it could be the next target of US military action.

Earlier this week, North Korea said that Iraq's experience showed that the only way to protect against attack by the US was to develop a powerful military deterrent.

"Everyone is waiting to see what conclusion North Korea draws from war in Iraq," said Paik Jin-hyun, professor of international relations at Seoul National university.

"Will they decide they must accelerate their nuclear programme to make it too dangerous for the US to attack? Or will they decide it is safer to compromise with Washington?"

© Copyright The Financial Times Ltd 2003. "FT" and "Financial Times" are trademarks of the Financial Times

Commentary:
Never forget Bush's "first strike" doctrine forced N. Korea to go nuclear, and never forget, it's because of his shortsightedness that the world will be a far more dangerous place for the foreseeable future. Every nationsthat opposes the US, or vise versa will get nukes. I wouldn't be surprised to see to Domesday clock moved closer to midnight again (a second time under Bush).


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Prescription drugs from Canada may be crime
USA TODAY
March 12, 2003 9:35 PM
By Julie Appleby

Storefront pharmacies, insurers or others who "aid" Americans in purchasing lower-priced prescription drugs from Canada could be criminally liable, the Food and Drug Administration says.

That opinion, coming in response to a law firm inquiry, angered consumer groups and some lawmakers Wednesday.

"It is an outrage that the FDA would be siding with the pharmaceutical industry, one that charges the American people the highest prices in the world," says Rep. Bernard Sanders, I-Vt.

Debate over cross-border prescription sales has grown heated in recent months, as an estimated 1 million Americans are buying lower-priced drugs in Canada, often through Internet sites. A few Canadian pharmacies have opened storefront services in the USA to help customers place Internet orders.

Earlier this year, GlaxoSmithKline became the first drug company to cut off Canadian wholesalers who do business with pharmacies that sell to customers in the USA.

Now comes the Feb. 12 legal opinion from the FDA, written in response to an inquiry from a law firm. The firm, saying it represents "employer-sponsored health plans," wanted the FDA's opinion on whether such plans could help members buy drugs from Canada.

Such an effort would save the health plan money, although the patient would likely still pay the same co-pay amount as he or she would inside the United States.

But an FDA official says health plans should not recommend that its members use foreign pharmacies for all their medication.

The letter is aimed at insurers and storefront operations, not at individual consumers, such as those who buy over the Internet or take bus trips across the border.

The sales concern drug companies and the FDA, which raise questions about the safety and purity of the products shipped.

Glaxo spokeswoman Nancy Pekarek says the industry welcomes the FDA's legal opinion: "We should not send seniors across the border as the solution to a problem of cost and access. The solution is passage of a Medicare drug benefit."

© Copyright 2003 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.

Commentary:
It's gets better. Read the next article for commentary.


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FDA threatens stores that sell Canadian drugs to U.S. residents
USA TODAY
April 09, 2003 08:57 AM ET
By Julie Appleby

New drugstores popping up in neighborhoods around the country don't stock drugs or shampoo or anything else. But they offer something many Americans consider more valuable: a portal to Canada's cheaper prescription drugs.

Instead of merchandise, the stores contain a few fax machines, phones and computers. Dozens have opened in the past six months, catering to customers eager to buy lower-cost prescription drugs from pharmacies outside the United States, but unable or unwilling to use their own computers to order through the Internet.

The storefronts can be just down the street from U.S. pharmacies, but their prices are miles apart. Anti-cholesterol drug Lipitor costs about $268 for 90 pills in the USA. From a Canadian pharmacy, 90 pills cost about $169.

But the stores' very popularity is stoking a controversy that pits senior citizens who need lower-cost medications against federal and state regulators trying to slow an increasing tide of foreign prescriptions, which they say endangers public health.

"To some extent, we're caught in the middle of a problem that is not our responsibility, which is drug prices. Our responsibility is safety," says William Hubbard, associate commissioner of policy and planning for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which last month issued its first warning letter to a storefront pharmacy, saying its practice violates federal law.

With no certainty that Congress will add a prescription drug benefit to Medicare, the debate is not likely to end soon.

Many U.S. residents say they struggle to afford prescription medications, turning in recent years to buying from pharmacies in Canada and Mexico.

About 1 million U.S. residents buy drugs each year from Canada, according to estimates from Canadian pharmacies. That represents about $1 billion in sales, a small slice of total U.S. drug sales, which topped $192 billion in 2002.

A nurse, who says she sees many patients suffer because they can't afford their prescriptions, manages the Panama City American Drug Club. "Now I can provide customers with an opportunity to get medication that's been prescribed to them at a 30% to 80% savings," says Dawn Aycock, whose store opened in Panama City, Fla., last week. "My conscience says we're not doing anything illegal."

The FDA steps in

But the FDA sees it differently, writing in a recent legal opinion that those who "aid" U.S. residents in purchasing drugs from other countries are violating federal law.

Critics of the FDA say the agency's move against storefronts is being pushed by the pharmaceutical industry, which fears that cross-border sales could eventually cut into profits. The sales also highlight how much more U.S. residents pay for drugs, potentially fueling calls for price controls in the USA similar to those in Canada and much of the rest of the world.

But supporters say the FDA has legitimate concerns about whether the drugs pouring into the USA from all over the world are safe. Some may be counterfeit or from countries with regulatory standards that fall short of U.S. or Canadian rules. And they say the sheer volume of packages at some international mail facilities threatens to overwhelm inspectors, whose main focus since Sept. 11 has been to watch for terrorist shipments.

"They allege these are Canadian versions of drugs approved in the United States, but we don't know what they are because there is no regulatory oversight of these drugs," Hubbard says.

Storefront owners scoff at the FDA's concerns about safety, saying the drugs come from licensed Canadian pharmacies. Many will provide the name and license number of the pharmacy, although a few refuse to disclose their affiliation.

Most are owned by entrepreneurs who see a business opportunity: a commission for every prescription filled. A few charge customers an annual membership fee. Owners say they are performing a public service in a country where prescription drug costs are the highest in the world.

"We believe we're morally and ethically right," says Carl Moore, whose Rx Depot stores are the first to be challenged by the FDA on allegations that they violate federal law. He is not swayed by the warning letter he received from the FDA last month or an injunction filed by the Oklahoma state Board of Pharmacy. He's opened four more stores since then.

"We're going to fight like a wild animal," Moore says.

Anne Hinson, who last week took her 81-year-old mother-in-law, Gladys, to the opening of the storefront in Panama City, agrees that there needs to be more oversight, mainly to ensure that pharmacies the storefronts deal with in Canada are licensed and in good standing. But, she says, the FDA should not stop people from buying lower-cost drugs from other countries.

"Yes, it is against the law, but the FDA has chosen to turn its head," she says. "They need to keep turning their head until we get prices that these older people can afford."

Hinson has already helped her mother purchase prescription medication from Canada, buying heart pills at half the usual cost.

"My mother had flat refused to buy the heart medicine (at U.S. prices) because it costs more than she gets in a month," says Hinson, who has also found savings by using the discount cards offered by some drug manufacturers.

Patients not FDA's targets

The FDA says it will not go after customers of the storefronts, just as it has not generally prosecuted those who use the Internet or travel across borders to purchase prescription drugs for their own use.

"There's a distinction between what the patient is doing and what storefront operators are doing," Hubbard says. "The storefronts are luring people, facilitating the purchase of unapproved drugs, which is clearly a violation of our (Food, Drug & Cosmetic) act. And it poses a safety concern."

But whether the FDA can stop the practice remains uncertain.

Preventing U.S. residents from buying cheaper products from other countries may prove difficult, short of seizing all packages containing prescription drugs at the border. The FDA last year sought approval to turn back shipments of prescription drugs without the time-consuming need to notify recipients, but that recommendation has not been approved by the Department of Health and Human Services.
Politically, the Bush administration and its regulatory agencies are in a tough spot. The pharmaceutical industry — a powerful lobby — wants regulators to halt the cross-border sales. But senior citizens — also key because they vote — don't want the sales stopped. They say they need access to lower-cost drugs in the absence of a prescription benefit in Medicare.
Drugmakers are in a public relations bind. Efforts to cut off the supply of drugs from Canada have met with resistance. Consumer groups have already organized boycotts of GlaxoSmithKline over that company's move to stop shipping its drugs to Canadian wholesalers who sell to U.S. customers.
Legally, the FDA's arguments against storefront businesses are untested, although the agency has had success in prosecuting Internet drug sales, especially in cases where customers are sold products without valid prescriptions.
Storefront owners are expected to fight the FDA by saying they are not violating the law because they do not dispense drugs but merely assist customers with paperwork.

"Thousands of people order medication on the Internet already," Moore says. "The only difference with us is that we assist people. People are able to do this at home on computer, and it doesn't seem to be an issue, but if someone needs help, it's an issue."

Lawyers familiar with food and drug law say the FDA could seek an injunction against the stores, seize any products they may have or try to file criminal charges.

"The FDA is not completely out of bounds on this, but I don't think it will be the easiest case to make, either," says Jim Czaban, an attorney who specializes in food and drug issues for the firm Heller Ehrman in Washington, D.C. The FDA will have to show that the storefronts are "in effect, misbranding drugs" by helping customers bring in medications approved only for sale in Canada, he says.

Years of looking the other way

The FDA action comes after years when the agency mostly looked the other way as U.S. residents brought prescription drugs home from Canada or Mexico.

The agency said it is a misinterpretation of the law to assume that importing small amounts of prescription drugs for personal use is legal. The policy of allowing small amounts for personal consumption was aimed at allowing seriously ill patients to seek drugs not available in the USA.

But as U.S. spending on prescriptions has risen dramatically in recent years, the practice of importing small amounts of prescriptions has grown well beyond what was originally intended.

Hubbard at the FDA says that stopping cross-border pharmaceutical sales would probably require legislation allowing the FDA to simply send back shipments without the time-consuming need to notify addressees. Such legislation is unlikely at a time when Congress is hearing from residents angry over high drug prices.

"Lawmakers are trying to be responsive to citizens complaining about high prices," Hubbard says. "At what point does the risk outweigh the benefit? All we're saying is the FDA doesn't have the means to assure the safety (of drugs brought in from) other countries."

© Copyright 2003 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.

Commentary:
The whole debate comes down to this challenge from the FDA and the defense from storefront's:

FDA: "They allege these are Canadian versions of drugs approved in the United States, but we don't know what they are because there is no regulatory oversight of these drugs," Hubbard says. [so why doesn't the FDA request oversight--whine, whine?]

Storefronts: Storefront owners scoff at the FDA's concerns about safety, saying the drugs come from licensed Canadian pharmacies. Many will provide the name and license number of the pharmacy, although a few refuse to disclose their affiliation. [a licensed pharmacy in Canada isn't good enough because.....?]

Here's what's really happening. Republicans say they favor choice in healthcare, as long as that choice is limited to those who give them money. But when choice also means we can buy 'where' we want, well...that's un-American and against the law. Choice, to conservatives is about defending the profits that buy their political power.

The conservative is then forced to defend his party by saying "it all depends on the meaning of the word choice."


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