's strange neocon bedfellow

How did Thailand's effort to ensure cheap AIDS drugs become a supposed outsourcing scandal?

Published April 25, 2007 10:43PM (EDT)

Why is co-founder Bob Fertik endorsing arch neo-con Ken "Iraq will be a cakewalk" Adelman's campaign to protect the profits of transnational pharmaceutical companies?

"Stop the Outsourcing of U.S. Jobs to Thailand" screamed the "Activist Alert" message sent out Wednesday, and signed by Fertik. "Thailand has been taken over by a military regime hostile to good American jobs in our science industries."


Beneath Fertik's name, the message continued with a screed from the Washington-based lobbying organization USA for Innovation:

The military has stolen money from Americans through the imposition of capital controls, has passed new discriminatory business laws against Americans working in Thailand, and is now stealing American medical innovations -- a direct attack on hundreds of thousands of American scientists, doctors, teachers and researchers....

USA for Innovation is a non-profit advocacy group whose primary purpose is to lobby for maximum strength intellectual property protection for American corporations. Its founder and executive director is Ken Adelman, a current member of the Defense Policy Board and long time Don Rumsfeld crony.

USA for Innovation's beef has to do with the decision by Thailand's Ministry of Health to issue compulsory licenses breaking the patents on a couple of AIDS drugs made by multinational pharmaceutical companies, including Merck's Efavirenz and Abbott Laboratories' Kaletra. The showdown has nothing at all to do with the outsourcing of jobs; it is, instead, ground zero in a globally intensifying struggle over making state-of-the-art drugs affordable for sick people in developing countries. Abbott Laboratories was initially so enraged by Thailand's effrontery that the company has threatened to stop introducing any of its new drugs in Thailand, but it has since backed down and offered to sell Kaletra at a greatly reduced price.

A good argument can be had over exactly what kind of intellectual property protections are necessary to ensure that research and innovation in the pharmaceutical industry continues forward, while at the same time ensuring that poor sick people in the developing world can afford the medicines they need to stay alive. One can also be rightfully leery of what direction Thailand's military junta is taking the country. But that doesn't make it any less bizarre to see jumping on the Adelman bandwagon, and aligning itself with the reactionary views of the Wall Street Journal's editorial page. Indeed, is setting itself against the Democratic Party's most recently unveiled trade platform, which includes a plank advocating fairly priced drugs for developing nations. And to give this whole incongruous spectacle a final scoop of irony on top, consider this: the democratically elected government of Premier Thaksin Shinawatra was the pro-globalization regime anxious to sign exactly the kind of free-trade deal with the U.S. that Democrats are traditionally uncomfortable with, and spent a good part of the last election cycle successfully bashing Republicans for pushing.

The most charitable explanation one could make for Fertik's endorsement of Adelman's corporate front group propaganda is that he just wasn't paying attention, and bought into the bogus framing of the issue as a "outsourcing" outrage. If so, he might want to think about sending out a follow up. Whose side does he want the Democratic Party on? Doctors without Borders, and poor people suffering from AIDS, or Ken Adelman, Big Pharma, and the Wall Street Journal's editorial page writers?

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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