Monday, March 13, 2006

The Rumsfeld - Tamiflu meme

Let me start with a disclaimer. I think Donald Rumsfeld is a scumbag. If I had to scrape his remains off the bottom of my shoe I'd wear gloves and put a clothespin on my nose. He is a world-class liar, probably pathologically so, and a war criminal. So when I say the insinuation that he and is rotten ilk have engineered a bird flu threat so he could make bucks off his investment in the antiviral drug Tamiflu is ridiculous, it isn't because I think they aren't capable of it. They've shown themselves capable of far worse.

At issue here is a story in The Independent over the weekend that Rumsfeld mde a bundle in 2004 when he sold stock in Gilead Sciences, the biotech firm that developed and licensed the influenza antiviral Tamiflu, now being frantically bought up and stockpiled by countries all over the world.
Mr Rumsfeld was on the board of Gilead from 1988 to 2001, and was its chairman from 1997. He then left to join the Bush administration, but retained a huge shareholding .

The firm made a loss in 2003, the year before concern about bird flu started. Then revenues from Tamiflu almost quadrupled, to $44.6m, helping put the company well into the black. Sales almost quadrupled again, to $161.6m last year. During this time the share price trebled.

Mr Rumsfeld sold some of his Gilead shares in 2004 reaping - according to the financial disclosure report he is required to make each year - capital gains of more than $5m. The report showed that he still had up to $25m-worth of shares at the end of 2004, and at least one analyst believes his stake has grown well beyond that figure, as the share price has soared. Further details are not likely to become known, however, until Mr Rumsfeld makes his next disclosure in May.

The 2005 report showed that, in all, he owned shares worth up to $95.9m, from which he got an income of up to $13m, owned land worth up to $17m, and made $1m from renting it out. (The Independent)
When queried, the company made the usual disclaimers that Rumsfeld had recused himself from any decisions involving the drug, etc., etc. Since Rumsfeld is a liar there is no prima facie reason to believe this, except for the fact that the government in which Rumsfeld was a decision maker had turned a blind eye to the looming threat of bird flu until the problem was so huge they couldn't ignore it, and even then, have done too little. They were also late to get in line for the limited production output of Tamiflu, so today we still have little in our stockpile. If he was supposed to be helping the company from within, he was sure doing a piss poor job of it.

In fact he was doing a piss poor job of everything, including paying attention to the real threat to national security, emerging infectious disease. If he had acted illegally on behalf of his investment we would probably be better off. But he is both too stupid (yes, stupid; listen to the guy. He's a moron) and too crooked to worry about penny ante stuff that any rich, white male Republican asshole can do with his eyes shut (make a killing in the stock market). He had bigger fish to fry. Fucking up the world.

If you read the whole Independent article, it never says he manufactured the bird flu threat. But it does imply it by its juxtaposition of facts. This is a bad meme. It goes along with a companion that says Tamiflu is worthless. We don't know at this point what its value will be when the time comes. Data show it is effective prophylactically and may help on the margin therapeutically if given in a timely fashion. What our experience will be in a pandemic situation no one knows and shouldn't be prejudged. It is not a panacea and probably won't turn out to be very important overall but may be very useful for certain special situations (prophylaxis of health care workers, family members and others with known or high risk of exposure). Maybe.

And maybe tagging Rumsfeld with deliberate bird flu profiteering is good politics. I don't know. But we have some responsibility not to mislead, even when misleading serves what seems a politically useful purpose. It is always hard to think clearly in a crisis. Let's not make it harder.

That's what it means to be part of a Reality Based Community.