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Lynn Hummel column: Beware of side effects

There is a popular medication for folks with asthma. The purpose of the well-advertised prescription is to prevent the two main symptoms of asthma: airway constriction and inflammation. But when you read the small print you are told that possible side effects of the drug include the chance of pneumonia, osteoporosis, glaucoma, cataracts, yeast infections, respiratory infections, throat irritation, hoarseness, sinus infection, bronchitis, cough, headaches, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, musculoskeletal pain, dizziness, fever, ear, nose and throat infections, and finally, nosebleeds. This is not intended as a criticism of the asthma medication -- almost any medication you take can and will have side effects. There are men's drugs, for example, designed to reduce "E.D.," which warn us that they may cause four hour erections. Some side effects can be very beneficial. Aspirin, for example, one of the greatest and simplest of medicines, can stop your headache but it will also thin your blood -- which can be exactly what you need, or just the opposite.

But the main subject today is not medicine -- it's side effects. Almost anything we do as individuals, as a society or in our government, will have side effects -- some good, some not so good, some intended and some not intended at all.

A most obvious example of side effects would be our war in Iraq. Right or wrong, we went there to get rid of Saddam Hussein and take out his weapons of mass destruction. We were going in five years ago with "shock and awe" weapons that were designed to overwhelm Saddam in no time at all and bring the Iraqi people to us with open arms of welcome and thanks. The estimated cost was $60 billion. Remember that?

Saddam ran and hid immediately, and we found him. He's been captured, tried, convicted and hanged. He's gone. There never was any shock and awe. There were no weapons of mass destruction. There never were any open arms of welcome and thanks. The cost was $608 billion and still adding up -- and the medicine didn't work. What we got instead were side effects: hostile insurgents, suicide bombers, 4,000 American service people killed, over 28,000 Americans wounded, over 19,000 Iraqi military people killed, over 70,000 Iraqi civilian deaths (nobody can count them all), 2 million people have left Iraq, another 2 million are displaced. There are widows and orphans in America and widows and orphans in Iraq. Iraq is still not stable. The killing continues, and even the electricity there works only a few hours a day. Mission not accomplished. Beware of side effects.

Foreign trade should be good medicine for the American economy. The more of our goods sold to foreign countries, the more American jobs we create. Right? That was the idea when President Clinton pushed the North American Free Trade Agreement through Congress in 1994. The side effects? We are now importing automobiles, automobile parts and electronics from Mexico and oil and wheat from Canada. But we have more jobs, right? Wrong. General Motors and Ford have laid off thousands and thousands of workers. As of 2006, approximately 880,000 American jobs have been lost.

The Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) of 2005 urged upon us by President Bush, the World Trade Organization of 1995 and the China Trade Agreement have all had the same impact -- American jobs lost, trade deficit increased and 40 percent of American debt is held by China and Japan.

Now we have trade deficits of over $700 billion a year, financed by foreign purchases of our stocks, bonds and real estate. Forty percent of our debt is held by Japan and China. Meanwhile, the dollar is sinking daily against foreign currencies.

Now our Huffy bikes and Radio Flyer wagons are being made in China, Bridgestone/Firestone tires are being made in Japan, Levi jeans, General Electric appliances and Fig Newtons are coming in from Mexico, Nike running shoes are made in Honduras, IBM is assembling computers in India (they laid off 13,000 American workers and hired 12,000 Indians) and Coca-Cola's biggest bottling plant in the world is in India. Ralph Lauren blouses that sell for $88.00 in U.S.A. are being made in foreign sweat shops where the women slave at sewing machines for 23 cents an hour.

Our trade policies have given the advantage to our foreign trading partners, have sent jobs aboard, have devalued the dollar and our tax laws have favored exporting jobs and contributed to our current recession.

So the moral of the story is clear: almost any medicine we take, any war we start, any laws we pass or policies we pursue can have unpleasant side effects. The solution: stop taking the bad medicine. If it's hurting you, spit it out and change course. If you want a different result, take a different course.