Big Pharma: Gouges, Casualties, and the Congressional Remedy!

The Congress can overturn the abuses of Big Pharma and its “pay or die,” subsidized business model for its drugs.

Big Pharma’s trail of greed, power, and cruelty gets worse every year. Its products and practices take hundreds of thousands of lives in the U.S. from over-prescriptions, lethal combinations of prescriptions, ineffective or contaminated drugs, and dangerous side-effects.

The biggest drug dealers in the U.S. operate legally. Their names are emblazoned in ads and promotions everywhere. Who hasn’t heard of Eli Lilly, Merck, Pfizer, and Novartis? Big Pharma revenues and profits have skyrocketed. In 2017, the U.S. consumers spent $333.4 billion on prescription drugs.

There are no price controls on drugs in the U.S. as there are in most countries in the world. Senator Bernie Sanders just took a bus tour to a Canadian pharmacy where insulin cost patients one tenth of what it costs them in the U.S. Yet, remarkably, drug companies, charted and operating in the U.S., charge Americans the highest prices in the world. This is despite the freebies our business-indentured government lavishes on Big Pharma. The FDA weakly regulates drugs, which are supposed to be both safe and effective, before they can be sold. Who funds this FDA effort? The drug industry itself— required by a law it has learned to love.

The Big Pharma lobby doesn’t always get what it craves. In the nineteen seventies, Dr. Sidney Wolfe, director of Public Citizen’s Health Research Group, produced two paperbacks for a wide television audience (e.g. he appeared on the Phil Donahue Show). They were titled, Pills That Don’t Work and Over-the-Counter Pills that Don’t Work. Because of Dr. Wolfe’s tireless efforts, hundreds of different pills were removed from the market, saving consumers billions of dollars and sparing them the side-effects.

Big Pharma’s greatest strength is its hold over Congress. That is where it gets its huge bundle of subsidies and monopolistic privileges. During the first term of George W. Bush, the drug companies got the Republicans and some spineless Democrats to forbid Medicare from negotiating volume discounts with the drug companies, as the Pentagon and VA have done for years. Big Pharma had over 1,200 lobbyists swarming over Capitol Hill to get these handcuffs on Uncle Sam. Lobbyists combined with campaign cash donated by Pharma industry players sealed the deal.

Your Congressional representatives gave the drug giants much in return: Lucrative tax credits to pay Big Pharma to do what they should do anyway—engage in research and development. Drug companies are profitable recipients of taxpayer-funded government research on developing new drugs – and then given monopolies that enable them to impose sky-high prices, even when the purchaser is the very government that funded the invention of the new drugs in the first place.

The drug industry has also made sure there are no price controls on their drugs—whether gifted to them by NIH or developed by drug companies internally. The absence of price controls accounts for new “blockbuster drugs” going for $100,000, or higher, per patient per year. Many drug prices generally increase faster than inflation.

Greed is infinite for Big Pharma. In addition to tax credits, free drug R&D (compliments of the federal government), and no price restraints, the drug companies have moved much production to China and India. No antibiotics are manufactured in the U.S.—a clear national security risk to which the Pentagon and Trump should pay heed. Two new books, China Rx and Bottle of Poison, document the safety risks of poorly inspected labs in those countries exuding pills into your bodies without your minds being told of “country of origin” on the label.

The great hands-on humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders, operating in 70 countries often under dangerous armed conflicts, lists “Six Things Big Pharma Doesn’t Want You to Know,” in its recent alert letter.

They are:

  1. Costs of developing new medicines are exaggerated tenfold or more.
  2. You’re paying twice for your medicines—first as taxpayers and second as consumers or through your government programs.
  3. Drug companies are not that good at innovation. About two thirds of new drugs (called “me-too drugs”) are no better, and may be riskier, than the ones already in pharmacies. But they are advertised as special.
  4. Monopoly patents are extended by clever lawyers to block more affordable generic versions. This maneuver is called “ever greening.”
  5. Pharma bullies low and middle income countries like South Africa, Thailand, Brazil, Colombia, and Malaysia that try to curb its rapaciousness. These drug companies use trade rules and the U.S. government towards their brutal goals.
    In the nineteen nineties, a small group of consumer advocates led by Jamie Love, Bill Haddad, and Robert Weissman persuaded Cipla, an Indian drug firm, and Ministries of Public Health to lower the price of AIDS medicines from $10,000 per patient per year price down to $300 (now under $100). The U.S. drug companies were quite willing to let millions die because they couldn’t pay.
  6. Big Pharma always says they have to have large profits to pay for R&D and innovation. Really? Why then do they spend far more on stock buybacks (one of the metrics for executive compensation), on marketing and advertising than on R&D? Dr. Wolfe exposed this malarkey years ago.

Yet exposure has not stopped the worsening behavior of Big Pharma. Good books by Katharine Greider (The Big Fix) and Dr. Marcia Angell (The Truth About the Drug Companies) are devastating critiques of Big Pharma’s practices. Despite this, the books reach small audiences and are brushed off by the drug giants. Big Pharma is able to ignore these books because it controls most of Congress—candidates rely heavily on the industry for campaign budgets.

But the American people outnumber the drug companies and only the people can actually vote come election time.  Focused voters mean more to politicians than campaign money. The August recess for Congress means your lawmakers are back home having personal meetings. Visit them and make known your demands against the “pay or die” industry. Tell them your own stories.

Or better yet, make them come to your town meetings. Remember: “It’s your Congress, people!”

One galvanizing move by an enlightened billionaire could establish a 20 person advocacy group on drug pricing, focusing on Congress and mobilizing citizens back home. Its effect would be decisive for taming the drug industry’s gouging. Any takers: if so contact Public Citizen at [email protected].

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Trump’s Effective Intimidation of the Powerful Federal Reserve

The Federal Reserve (the Fed) – the United States’ version of a Central Bank – is a strange duck. It is the U.S. government’s most powerful regulatory agency. It, after all, regulates money and interest rates. Yet, its budget comes entirely from the banking industry and relationships with the financial industry. So Congress, which appropriates money for all other federal agencies, has little leverage over the Fed’s operations.

This independence – except from the big banks – is by design, when the Fed was devised by President Woodrow Wilson over one hundred years ago. The Fed, a secretive, private government inside a public government presents problems for a democratic society. The alternative was deemed worse by its boosters, allowing “politics” to determine the Fed’s Board of Governors decisions.

It is as if the Federal Reserve/banking complex does not deal with political power by its own definition. The Fed entrenches the power of the banks without accountability inside Washington. Ask Republicans in Congress whether they generally oppose government regulation of a business and most will say “yes.” Ask whether they want to deregulate the Federal Reserve and they will say “Of course not.” Somebody has to assure monetary stability.

But the Fed’s announced quarter of a percent cut in interest rates, which were already low by historical standards at 2.25 to 2.50 levels, will affect people, beyond abstract monetary theories. Tens of millions of Americans who rely on income from their savings accounts and money market accounts will receive less money. Some will jump into the high flying stock market, presumably to get more income and introduce real risk to their principal.

The $2.9 trillion Social Security trust fund will receive less income from lower yielding Treasury Bonds. That’s not good for seniors. It is also really bad for pension funds, not to mention the returns on certain life insurance policies.

The Fed mumbled something about the trade war and a recent small decline in manufacturing indices as reasons to head off trouble.

But companies are piling up idle capital without knowing what to do with it other than to spend trillions of dollars on unproductive stock buybacks. There is no shortage of capital. Lowering the interest rate will just encourage more unnecessary corporate debt, with its deductible interest payments, instead of corporations using their available equity.

Venerable business columnist Allan Sloan does not think that a quarter-point cut by the Fed “will generate job-creating investments in the United States by companies that are uncertain about the future because of trade wars, threatened trade wars, interrupted supply chains and other actual and potential instabilities”(See Allan Sloan’s article here).

Sloan gave other cogent reasons against a Fed interest rate cut, while conceding that it might help borrowers. That assumes gouging lenders (pay day loans, auto loans, credit card charges) pass the savings along.

Conventional critics of the Fed’s cut this week point to already low interest rates and what they call a hefty economy, modest inflation, and a low unemployment rate.

Some former Fed governors called out the Fed for not clearly and specifically explaining its decision to cut rates. As former Fed Governor and Deputy Secretary of the Treasury, Sarah Bloom Raskin, said: “The Fed has really had a bit of a communications blunder… If Americans don’t understand exactly what is happening and why, they may think that Chairman Jerome Powell is caving into presidential bullying.”

No kidding. Trump has been pounding the Fed and threatening to take away Chairman Powell’s Chair for months. He is demanding sharp reductions in interest rates. He renewed his denunciation after the Fed’s quarter of a percent cut this week, tweeting that it was nowhere near enough!

Presidents almost never do this publicly to the Fed. But Trump, the failed gambling czar knows better. Intimidation through the mass media again and again works for Trump.

Although the Fed wanted to resist his pressure, hey, why take greater chances with crazy Donald? Instead, they threw him a bone.

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Nader Outlines Criteria for Next FAA Administrator

On July 10, 2019 the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee voted 14-12 in favor of Mr. Dickson’s nomination.  The nomination will now go to the full Senate for a vote.

On July 11, 2019, Ralph Nader sent a letter to President Donald Trump regarding Stephen Dickson, his nominee to be the next Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Administrator. See the letter below.


July 11, 2019

President Donald J. Trump
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW
Washington, D.C. 20500

The Senate Commerce, Science & Transportation Committee today voted to advance the nomination of Stephen Dickson to become the Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

Concerns about Mr. Dickson’s appreciation of and support for whistleblowers have come to light. Recently, whistleblowers have exposed significant problems with the Boeing 737 MAX before and after the crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia. Unfortunately, the FAA’s attention and response to whistleblower disclosures are seriously lacking. These tragic crashes have also revealed significant problems with the FAA’s regulatory oversight of aircraft manufacturing that jeopardize public safety. Given the importance of regulating airline carriers and aircraft manufacturers, the FAA Administrator should be receptive to issues related to air safety and passenger rights. Whistleblowers from within the FAA and the airline industry play crucial roles in alerting the public, Congress and the media to potential air safety matters.

Evidence of regulatory lapses regarding the 737 MAX has eroded public trust and confidence in the FAA. In addition, the lack of candor by Boeing has created a situation where a plane was allowed to fly without proper safety oversight and without the benefit of proper pilot training.

The Statement of Captain Chesley B. “Sully” Sullenberger III before the Subcommittee on Aviation of The United States House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure (June 19, 2019) is clear and compelling and should be required reading for the next FAA Administrator.  Attached please find a summary of some of the things Captain Sullenberger has said about the 737 MAX.

Several air safety leaders have recommended additional mandatory simulator training regarding the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) scenarios as part of routine recurrent training. Pilots have said that without proper simulator training, pilots are not prepared to respond to MCAS malfunctions.

In his June 19, 2019 testimony before the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, Daniel Carey, a 35-year career captain with American Airlines and president of the Allied Pilots Association (APA) said:

  1. The 737 MAX was designed to provide the same aircraft feel to the pilots as the 737. This was intended to minimize the operating cost to Boeing’s customers by allowing the MAX to be certified by the FAA as a 737. The point was to provide Boeing’s customers with a new advanced aircraft while minimizing the training cost associated with a different aircraft certification. This led Boeing’s engineers to add the MCAS system. Many mistakes were subsequently made by Boeing engineers as MCAS was designed as a “federated” not “integrated” system. As a single-point-of-failure design, this meant that any redundancy to the system, if it failed, was completely dependent on the Captain and First Officer of the aircraft.
  2. The huge error of omission is that Boeing failed to disclose the existence of MCAS to the pilot community.
  3. The final fatal mistake was, therefore, the absence of robust pilot training in the event that the MCAS failed.

It is imperative that the next FAA Administrator resist industry and political pressure to unground the 737 MAX without a full, top to bottom, certification and review of this aircraft. Moreover, the certification must have comprehensive and independent oversight by properly trained FAA officials.

Victims’ families, consumer advocates, flight attendant representatives, pilot representatives, mechanics, aircraft controllers and other stakeholders should be represented on the FAA panel that oversees full recertification of the 737 MAX. The process should be transparent and thorough. There should be opportunities for public comment and input. Boeing and airlines – not the public via taxes and fees – should shoulder all costs associated with assessing the MAX and compensating the victims’ families.

It is also important that an independent advisory board with members from the consumer and airline safety communities be involved in reviewing the FAA’s oversight of the airline industry.

The attached recommendations (some old and some new) from oversight bodies, airline safety organizations and airline professionals regarding the FAA should be presented to Mr. Dickson for his review. The public deserves to know if Mr. Dickson possesses the requisite determination and independence to think broadly about the FAA’s deficiencies and take immediate corrective actions. More importantly, we need to know if Mr. Dickson will act boldly to start the process of making the FAA a more effective watchdog rather than an industry lapdog.

Passenger and crew safety equals public trust equals the future of the airline industry.

Sincerely,
Ralph Nader

P.O. Box 19312
Washington, DC 20036

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An Unsurpassable Sterling Record of Stamina!

I’ve always been fascinated by stamina. Lou Gehrig was my boyhood hero, and not just because of his batting average, clutch hitting, and dignified comportment. From 1925 to 1939 he played 2,130 ballgames in a row, not missing one, despite injuries and illnesses. (It was the record until eclipsed by the Baltimore Oriole’s formidable Cal Ripken in 1987).

Stamina by underdogs over great odds in various areas of lawful human endeavor is engrossing because of all the elements in its making. Focus, determination, resilience, skill, self-renewal, strategy and, at its best, reflective idealism.

Who isn’t fascinated by bee hives, ant colonies, birds and squirrels dutifully building nests, and the sheer alert stamina required of mammals raising their young during constant peril?

This background provides context for contemplating the end of radio’s John Sterling’s record announcing 5,060 straight New York Yankees baseball games without missing one. Since 1989, whether ill or injured, Sterling showed up every day in city after city to command the airwaves and perform his duties. He was undaunted by fatigue or repetition.

As an unreconstructed Yankee fan (from the days of Gehrig, DiMaggio and Mantle), I did not know about Sterling’s dedication. In between articles on contract negotiations, player trades injuries and modest misbehaviors, the New York Times finally reported this stunning streak of stamina.

It took a bout of exhaustion and his physician’s advice to convince Sterling to take some days off, sleep a lot, eat a little more to recover weight, and drink a gallon of water every day. “I’m just run down,” he said. “There’s nothing wrong with me,” the 81 year old radio marathoner  told the Times.

Sterling’s record could be more unbreakable than Joe DiMaggio’s still standing 56 game hitting streak.

For five years in the nineteen eighties, the amazing Sterling broadcast both the Atlanta Braves baseball games and the Atlanta Hawks basketball games.

For a game with so many tedious intervals between pitches and innings, Sterling and his co-anchor Suzyn Waldman, make baseball more interesting with their banter, humor, and player vignettes. Sterling has been a unique voice in baseball, calling home runs with rhyming ditties on the hitters’ names and, of course, his breathless game-ending call when “Theeeeeeeeeee Yankeeees Wiin.” For her part, Suzyn keeps tediously reporting the pitch counts and pitch speeds, over batting averages.

The Times wrote that Sterling was going to use his time-off to catch up with a pile of mail, too long ignored. I can resonate with that chore. Neither John nor Suzyn chose to respond to my letter in 2012 regarding the non-stop, irritating, in-play advertising that takes the spirit out of exciting plays. I expressed my sympathy for their having to read these blizzards of ads that interrupt their peak narrative. Such as “Judge’s homerun is brought to you by Kia,” or “this consultation at the mound brought to you” by some law firm. Yeah, sure.

There was no in-play commercial corrosion when their famous predecessor, Mel Allen, used to call the Yankee games on radio. Ballantine Ale, a major sponsor, was promoted only between innings.

In my letter to the heads of the Yankees and Major League Baseball, including former Yankee manager, Joe Torre, I included a detailed listing of these interruptive in-play ads for one whole ball game. Maddening. Why would advertisers want to turn off so many fans?

None of my letters were accorded a response, or even a courteous acknowledgement. (The Times did briefly write up this story).

The Yankee baseball corporation, a corporate welfare king by virtue of its stadium and other tax breaks has been, alas, both censorious and very sensitive to criticism. Recently, John and Suzyn interviewed New York Times sports reporter Bob Klapisch during a ball game. Klapisch is the author of the recently released book Inside the Empire: The True Power Behind the New York Yankees. It seemed to be a friendly narrative.

All three were gushing about the genius of long-time Yankee manager Brian Cashman for his brilliant trades that have led to the Yankee’s first place standing in their Division, despite a dozen or more injuries to their starters. Unmentioned were the disastrous and very expensive trades over many years that turned out to be bad deals – getting over-the-hill stars, for instance, by trading away their talented young farm team players plus gobs of cash from Cashman.

For over a decade, Cashman wrecked the celebrated Yankee minor league farm teams that had brought forth the great players like Yogi Berra and Derek Jeter, who won more World Series than any other team. Year after year, under Cashman, the Yankees’ registered failure after failure, despite their superior cash hoard, due mostly to “bad deals” Brian. The one silver lining is that he has proven to both fans and major league baseball that the biggest treasury no longer gets the biggest victories. That was always the “knock” on the Yankees of yore from historic rivals like the Boston Red Sox, still smarting over the sale in 1920 of the great young pitcher – hitter, Babe Ruth to build the dreaded “Bronx Bombers.”

Friends often  joke about my rooting for the New York Yankee imperialists–  especially during the long period of corporate ownership by loud George Steinbrenner, a jolting, edgy personality whom Donald J. Trump must have studied carefully.

My response: there are some loyalties absorbed by four year old boys that never go away.

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Congressional Interns and Congress Redirections—A Meeting

On a beautiful, breezy day last week, I spoke to a roomful of Congressional summer interns working in the House of Representatives. The subject was “Corporate Power, Congress and You.” (“You” referred to the interns as the citizenry).

I noted that they were a special group because they were willing to spend an hour listening to a talk about corporate power. I told them about how small groups of ordinary citizens became leaders in the nuclear arms control movements, the anti-tobacco drives, and consumer rights movement. I also talked about the expansion of equal rights and opportunities for people with disabilities. I took note that many of them in the room – women and people of color— would not be there if not for their predecessors’ tireless efforts to advance civil rights.

No more than one percent of Americans – sometimes far less – made the many advances in peace and justice take hold, backed by a growing public opinion.

In the 15,000 or 20,000 days these young people have, it will be their responsibility to stop the following omnicidal threats to humanity and the natural world:

  1. Climate crisis or climate disruption, which is already wreaking havoc. A student asked me about the ‘Green New Deal’, which urges dramatic action. I recommend that they make the strong case that we must plan ahead for the sake of the planet. It will cost trillions to solarize our economy and otherwise reduce greenhouse gases, but that pales in comparison to the trillions of dollars that will have to be spent on mitigating the effects of climate catastrophe, which would fundamentally damage our fragile planet. In fact, International Renewable Energy Agency research found that transitioning to renewable energy will save between “$65 trillion and $160 trillion [between now and] 2050.”  These costs would include spending to save coastal cities from ocean over-runs and all the other violent weather patterns and convulsions in habitat coming on this fragile planet Earth.
  2. A runaway nuclear arms race between countries, which threatens to cause untold destruction. A nuclear arms race can increase the risk of nuclear weaponry being used on innocents, whether intentionally or by accidental computerized launch. Donald J. Trump seems to think that ending our treaties with Russia (without Senate approval) regarding reduction of nuclear war heads will “make America great again.”
  3. Global pandemics caused by mutations of viruses and bacteria are a lethal threat. Malaria, dengue fever, and transmittable deadly avian flu are just a few of the diseases that have the potential to spread further because of habitat disruption, tourism, and travel. The U.S. is spending far too little money to protect its people from such invisible disease vectors. Less than a fourth each year of what one redundant aircraft carrier (largely obsolete except for purposes of Empire force projection) costs. While Americans today might not think much of this threat, millions of Americans died in the 1919-1920 flu pandemic.
  4. Endemic poverty and grave inequalities afflict billions of human beings. Roughly one in four children in the world suffers from chronic malnutrition, if not semi-starvation. Most will wither in pain and resignation. Some will be searching for vengeance using physical violence against the institutionalized violence of global corporations and corrupt governments taking their favors.
  5. The emerging corporate fascistic states are dispossessing the citizenry of their rights, remedies, and facilities to organize and express their voices. The U.S. is now a maturing corporate state. Wall Street owns more of Washington and turns our government against its own people while feeding privileges, immunities and gigantic freebies and tax escapes to demanding global companies. When commercial values are allowed supremacy over citizen values, societies decline relentlessly.

I continued my remarks about how corporations have been given by the Federal Courts the same rights as human beings. Even though, neither the words “corporation” or “company” ever appear in our Constitution. Add this corporate “personhood” to the expanding privileges and immunities of corporate power, in these times of corporate crime waves, and equal justice under law between U.S. citizens and Exxon/Mobil or Pfizer or Wells Fargo is a cruel mockery.

I told the students to look at the fine print contracts they sign or click on that have taken away their precious freedom of contract and sometimes their historic right to pursue wrongdoers in court.

What is worse, youngsters grow up ‘corporate’ rather than grow up ‘civic’ – think of all the corporate ads they are subjected to that are not contradicted. Young people don’t even realize what has been stripped away from their rightful protections.

Interns are spending the summer with Congress – the smallest yet most powerful branch of government in the Constitution – where some 1,500 corporations have undermined the peoples’ delegated power. These corporations rent or own a majority of the Senators and Representatives and tell them how to vote on many serious matters.

Yet, as Patti Smith sings, the people do have the power, if they wish to exercise it. People have formidable democratic tools – they are the sovereign power, they have the vote. They own the greatest wealth in the country (vast public lands, public airwaves, and trillions of dollars in pension and mutual funds, which own the stocks of large corporations).  The peoples’ tax dollars have led to government-sponsored research and development that have spawned the major industries of our times.

Led by one percent of active citizens in their communities the people – left and right – can achieve a living wage economy, full health insurance, law and order for corporations, a fair tax system, and organizing rights for workers, consumers, and small taxpayers. We can develop solar energy capabilities quicker. Our public budgets can be redirected to critical domestic public works infrastructure and away from costly Empire building abroad.

Students informed me of their focus on electoral reforms, the use of manipulative euphemisms, and opportunities for work in civic engagement. I was encouraged.

Most picked up our materials, including the card on how to reform Congress (see ratsreformcongress.org). They left the room, I hope, with higher civic expectations for themselves.

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It is Time to Rediscover Print Newspapers

Friends often ask me why I spend so much time reading print versions of newspapers. I respond with the usual general reasons about learning what is happening, worsening or improving, in the world. I also point out that I send people helpful clippings.

Unfortunately, my responses do not get many people to expand their print newspaper reading time. Some recent topics that caught my attention might encourage you to revisit the printed version of your newspapers:

  1. It’s the middle of the night. Do you know who your iPhone is talking to?” The Washington Post’s Geoffrey A. Fowler says this is not true. With his screen off, he showed 5,400 hidden app trackers guzzled his data in a single week. Shame Apple and CEO Tim Cook. You lied.
  2. Take a Page From Kids Who Care” – The Washington Post’s Christina Barron starts with the now famous Greta Thunberg’s weekly protests on climate disruption before the Swedish Parliament and goes on to reference eight new books “in which kids engage, in ways big and small, to better the world.”
  3. Why I’m Swearing off Trump’s Nicknames,” by Karen Tumulty of The Washington Post. About time a writer did this. When will reporters stop being Trump’s bullhorn for his scornful, ugly nicknames, without printing rebuttals or nicknames coined by Trump critics– like “Draft-dodging Donald,” or “Lying Donald,” or “Corrupt Donald,” for example.
  4. MacKenzie Bezos Pledges to Give Half of her $36 billion Fortune to Charity,” by Washington Post’s Rachel Siegel. One very rich couple’s divorce may mean better lives and saving lives for many people if Ms. Bezos spends money to promote justice and we might need less charity. Her Foundation is coming.
  5. The Shadow Banks are back with another Big Bad Credit Bubble,” by The Washington Post’s incomparable Steve Pearlstein. With weak or no regulation of these speculators/lenders, there may be a replay of the 2008 financial crisis.
  6. Many teens sleep with their phones, survey finds—just like their parents” by The Washington Post’s Craig Timberg. This practice undermines “cognitive function and mental health while increasing obesity rates” and causing household conflicts.
  7. Joshua A. Douglas is out with a key book, Vote for US: How to Take Back Our Elections and Change the Future of Voting. Reclaiming the electoral process is crucial for our democracy and –to improve the quality of life in our country.
  8. Why We May all Have to Give Up Pork”—letter to the editor of The Washington Post by Patricia E. Perry. She cites documented infectious diseases and Trump’s move to sideline federal inspectors and allow even more self-inspection by the meat packers wanting to speed up the slaughter-processing assembly lines. Ugh!
  9. Hogan Will Not Challenge Trump, Leaving Trump’s GOP Critics with Limited Options,” by The Washington Post’s Robert Costa. Like Maryland governor Larry Hogan, other fearful, viable challengers like Senator Mitt Romney, former Ohio governor John Kasich, Arizona ex-Senator Jeff Flake, and former U.S. trade representative Carla Hills aren’t going to challenge Trump. Trump is clearing the Republican primary field with foul mouthed intimidation. No matter these Republican politicians really believe Trump is a clear and present danger to our Republic and to the future of the Republican Party. Only the laid back former governor, William Weld, has his hat in the ring.
  10. The NFL Has Finally Been Consumed by the Concussion Issue. Why Hasn’t the NHL?” by The New York Times’ John Branch. Consumed, that is, after years of cover-ups. The Hockey bosses literally stage fights between players kept on the team just to fight for the boisterous crowds. Head injuries have taken the lives and diminished the brain functions of scores of players over their shortened lives. This is criminal and sets a bad example for youthful amateur sports where concussions are not taken seriously enough. See our Leagueoffans.org.
  11. Art Festival is Welcome, But Not the Huge Crowds,” by The New York Times’Helene Stapinski. The 13th annual free “Figment Arts Festival” on Roosevelt Island is overwhelmed by 30,000 visitors. “Huge crowds forced the tram to shut down and the bridge to close, overwhelming the subway platform.” Makes you wonder why civic conferences, open free to the public, dealing with the most precious matters of livelihood, peace, and justice beg to fill the empty seats.
  12. If Trump Doesn’t Warrant Impeachment, Who Does?” by The Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson. It’s useful to have Robinson list many of Trump’s impeachable offenses in one place. He still left out several serious acts such as blatantly, openly dismantling the enforcement of health and safety laws in violation of his constitutional oath to faithfully execute the law and conducting illegal wars without Congressional declarations and appropriations.
  13. The Cybersecurity 202: Democratic Base Fired Up by Effort to Ban Internet-Connected Voting Machines.” By Joseph Marks of The Washington Post. Why not an easy solution? While we are at it, why not adopt the Canadian system of paper ballots fully counted by 11pm on election day in that vast country with no proprietary software and corrupt procurement of voting machines.
  14. When will the Republican Silence on Trump End?” An op-ed by William S. Cohen, former Senator from Maine and Secretary of Defense. Hmm, when will Mr. Cohen decide to practice what he preaches and run against Trump in the Republican primaries?
  15. Why are so many doctors burning out? Tons of real and electronic paperwork,” by Daniel Marchalik in The Washington Post. Physicians are quitting because they have too little time to practice medicine. Not so in Canada where they have Medicare for all and almost no billing nightmares for themselves and their patients.

Newspaper publishers want readers to discover that print versions of newspapers can expose you to content that you don’t already agree with or like online. You aren’t likely to go searching for an article saying “You can’t stop Robocalls, You Shouldn’t Have to.” The New York Times put Brian Chen’s article on this topic on a page for you. By reading the print edition of a newspaper, you might just see something that your online news alerts or search engine algorithms don’t automatically present.

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FAA’s Boeing-biased Officials: Recuse Yourselves or Resign

The Boeing-driven FAA is rushing to unground the notorious prone-to-stall Boeing 737 MAX (that killed 346 innocents in two crashes) before several official investigations are completed. Troubling revelations might keep these planes grounded worldwide.

The FAA has a clearly established pro-Boeing bias and will likely allow Boeing to unground the 737 MAX. We must demand that the two top FAA officials resign or recuse themselves from taking any more steps that might endanger the flying public. The two Boeing-indentured men are Acting FAA Administrator Daniel Elwell and Associate FAA Administrator for Aviation Safety Ali Bahrami.

Immediately after the crashes, Elwell resisted grounding and echoed Boeing claims that the Boeing 737 MAX was a safe plane despite the deadly crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia.

Ali Bahrami is known for aggressively pushing the FAA through 2018 to further abdicate its regulatory duties by delegating more safety inspections to Boeing. Bahrami’s actions benefit Boeing and are supported by the company’s toadies in the Congress. Elwell and Bahrami have both acquired much experience by going through the well-known revolving door between the industry and the FAA. They are likely to leave the FAA once again for lucrative positions in the aerospace lobbying or business world. With such prospects, they do not have much ‘skin in the game’ for their pending decision.

The FAA has long been known for its non-regulatory, waiver-driven, de-regulatory traditions. It has a hard time saying NO to the aircraft manufacturers and the airlines. After the aircraft hijackings directing flights to Cuba in the 1960s and 1970s, the FAA let the airlines say NO to installing hardened cockpit doors and stronger latches in their planes. These security measures would have prevented the hijackers from invading the cockpits of the aircrafts on September 11, 2001. The airlines did not want to spend the $3000 per plane. Absent the 9/11 hijackings, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney might not have gone to war in Afghanistan.

The FAA’s historic “tombstone” mentality (slowly reacting after the crashes) is well known. For example, in the 1990s the FAA had a delayed reaction to numerous fatal crashes caused by antiquated de-icing rules. The FAA was also slow to act on ground-proximity warning requirements for commuter airlines and flammability reduction rules for aircraft cabin materials.

That’s the tradition that Elwell and Bahrami inherited and have worsened. They did not even wait for Boeing to deliver its reworked software before announcing in April that simulator training would not be necessary for the pilots. This judgment was contrary to the experience of seasoned pilots such as Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger. Simulator training would delay ungrounding and cost the profitable airlines money.

Boeing has about 5,000 orders for the 737 MAX. It has delivered less than 400 to the world’s airlines. From its CEO, Dennis Muilenburg to its swarms of Washington lobbyists, law firms, and public relations outfits, Boeing is used to getting its way. Its grip on Congress – where 300 members take campaign cash from Boeing – is legendary. Boeing pays little in federal and Washington state taxes. It fumbles contracts with NASA and the Department of Defense but remains the federal government’s big vendor for lack of competitive alternatives in a highly concentrated industry.

Right now, the Boeing/FAA strategy is to make sure Elwell and his FAA quickly decide that the MAX is safe for takeoff by delaying or stonewalling Congressional and other investigations.

The compliant Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, under Senator Roger Wicker (R-MS), strangely has not scheduled anymore hearings. The Senate confirmation of Stephen Dickson to replace acting chief Elwell is also on a slow track. A new boss at the FAA might wish to take some time to review the whole process.

Time is not on the side of the 737 MAX 8. A comprehensive review of the 737 MAX’s problems is a non-starter for Boeing. Boeing’s flawed software and instructions that have kept pilots and airlines in the dark have already been exposed. New whistleblowers and more revelations will emerge. More time may also result in the Justice Department’s operating grand jury issuing some indictments. More time would let the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, led by Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-OR) dig into the failure of accountability and serial criminal negligence of Boeing and its FAA accomplices. Chairman DeFazio knows the history of the FAA’s regulatory capture.

Not surprising on June 4, 2019, DeFazio sent a stinging letter to FAA’s Elwell and his corporatist superior, Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao, about the FAA’s intolerable delays in sending requested documents to the Committee. DeFazio’s letter says: “To say we are disappointed and a bit bewildered at the ongoing delays to appropriately respond to our records requests would be an understatement.”

The FAA and its Boeing pals are using the “trade secret” claims to censor records sought by the House Committee. When it comes to investigating life or death airline hazards and crashes, Congress is capable of handling so-called trade secrets. This is all the more reason why the terminally prejudiced Elwell and Bahrami should step aside and let their successors take a fresh look at the Boeing investigations. That effort would include opening up the certification process for the entire Boeing MAX as a “new plane.”

The Boeing-biased Elwell and Bahrami have refused to even raise in public proceedings the question: “After eight or more Boeing 737 iterations, at what point does the Boeing MAX 8 become a new plane?” Many, including Cong. David Price (D-NC), chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee, which oversees the FAA’s budget, have already questioned the limited certification process.

Heavier engines on the old 737 fuselage changed the MAX’s aerodynamics and made it prone-to-stall. It is time for the FAA’s leadership to change before the 737 MAX flies with vulnerable, glitch-prone software “fixes”.

Notwithstanding the previous Boeing 737 series’ record of safety in the U.S. during the past decade – (one fatality), Boeing’s bosses, have now disregarded warnings by its own engineers. Boeing executives do not get one, two, three or anymore crashes attributed to their ignoring long-known aerodynamic engineering practices.

The Boeing 737 MAX must never be allowed to fly again, given the structural design defects built deeply into its system.

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Society Is In Decay – When the Worst is First and the Best is Last

Plutocrats like to control the range of permissible public dialogue. Plutocrats also like to shape what society values. If you want to see where a country’s priorities lie, look at how it allocates its money. While teachers and nurses earn comparatively little for performing critical jobs, corporate bosses including those who pollute our planet and bankrupt defenseless families, make millions more. Wells Fargo executives are cases in point. The vastly overpaid CEO of General Electric left his teetering company in shambles. In 2019, Boeing’s CEO got a bonus (despite the Lion Air Flight 610 737 Max 8 crash in 2018). Just days before a second deadly 737 Max 8 crash in Ethiopia.

This disparity is on full display in my profession. Public interest lawyers and public defenders, who fight daily for a more just and lawful society, are paid modest salaries. On the other hand, the most well compensated lawyers are corporate lawyers who regularly aid and abet corporate crime, fraud, and abuse. Many corporate lawyers line their pockets by shielding the powerful violators from accountability under the rule of law.

Physicians who minister to the needy poor and go to the risky regions, where Ebola or other deadly infectious diseases are prevalent, are paid far less than cosmetic surgeons catering to human vanities. Does any rational observer believe that the best movies and books are also the most rewarded? Too often the opposite is true. Stunningly gripping documentaries earn less than 1 percent of what is garnered by the violent, pornographic, and crude movies at the top of the ratings each week.

On my weekly radio show, I interview some of the most dedicated authors who accurately document perils to health and safety. The authors on my program expose pernicious actions and inactions that jeopardize people’s daily lives. These guests offer brilliant, practical solutions for our widespread woes (see ralphnaderradiohour.com). Their important books, usually go unnoticed by the mass media, barely sell a few thousand copies, while the best-seller lists are dominated by celebrity biographies. Ask yourself, when preventable and foreseeable disasters occur, which books are more useful to society?

The monetary imbalance is especially jarring when it comes to hawks who beat the drums of war. For example, people who push for our government to start illegal wars (eg. John Bolton pushing for the war in Iraq) are rewarded with top appointments. Former government officials also get very rich when they take jobs in the defense industry. Do you remember anyone who opposed the catastrophic Iraq War getting such lucrative rewards?

The unknown and unrecognized people who harvest our food are on the lowest rung of the income ladder despite the critical role they play in our lives. Near the top of the income ladder are people who gamble on the prices of food via the commodities market and those who drain the nutrients out of natural foods and sell the junk food that remains, with a dose of harmful additives. Agribusiness tycoons profit from this plunder.

Those getting away with major billing fraud grow rich. While those people trying to get our government to do something about $350 billion dollars in health care billing fraud this year – like Harvard Professor Malcolm K. Sparrow – live on a college professor’s salary.

Hospital executives, who each make millions of dollars a year, preside over an industry where about 5,000 patients die every week from preventable problems in U.S. hospitals, according to physicians at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. The watchdogs who call out this deadly hazard live on a fraction of that amount as they try to save lives.

Even in sports, where people think the best athletes make the most money, the reverse is more often true. Just ask a red-faced Brian Cashman, the Yankees GM, who, over twenty years, has spent massive sums on athletes who failed miserably to produce compared to far lesser-paid baseball players. Look at today’s top ranked Yankees – whose fifteen “stars” are injured, while their replacements are playing spectacularly for much smaller compensation than their high priced teammates.

A major reason why our society’s best are so often last while our worst are first is the media’s infatuation with publicizing the worst and ignoring the best. Warmongers get press. The worst politicians are most frequently on the Sunday morning TV shows – not the good politicians or civic leaders with proven records bettering our society.

Ever see Congressman Pascrell (Dem. N.J.) on the Sunday morning news shows? Probably not. He’s a leader who is trying to reform Congress so that it is open, honest, capable and represents you the people. Surely you have heard of Senator Lindsey Graham (Rep. S.C.) who is making ugly excuses for Donald Trump, always pushing for war and bloated military budgets, often hating Muslims and Arabs and championing the lawless American Empire. He is always in the news, having his say.

Take the 162 people who participated in our Superbowl of Civic Action at Constitution Hall in Washington D.C. in May and September 2016. These people have and are changing America. They are working to make food, cars, drugs, air, water, medical devices, and drinking water safer. Abuses by corporations against consumers, workers and small taxpayers would be worse without them. Our knowledge of solutions and ways to treat people fairly and abolish poverty and advance public services is greater because of their courageous hard work. (see breakingthroughpower.org).

The eight days of this Civic Superbowl got far less coverage than did Tiger Woods losing another tournament that year or the dismissive nicknames given by the foul-mouth Trump to his mostly wealthy Republican opponents on just one debate stage.

All societies need play, entertainment, and frivolity. But a media obsessed with giving 100 times the TV and radio time, using our public airwaves for free, to those activities than to serious matters crucial to the most basic functioning of our society is assuring that the worst is first and the best is last. Just look at your weekly TV Guide.

If the whole rotted-out edifice comes crashing down, there won’t be enough coerced taxpayer dollars anymore to save the Plutocrats, with their limitless greed and power. Maybe then the best can have a chance to be first.

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Trump: Importing Dangerous Medicines and Food and Keeping Consumers in the Dark

Conservatives favor consumer choice. Consumer information is vital to make that choice meaningful. Corporatists, masquerading as conservatives, do not care about informed consumer choice. Donald Trump is a corporatist, as are the vast majority of Republicans in his Cabinet and in Congress. Corporatists do not even want you to know where products are made. Today, producers and retail sellers do not have to tell you the “country of origin” for meat and pork products. Before 2015, when Congress bowed to the dictates of the World Trade Organization (WTO), Congress had enacted a law that required country of origin labels on meat products.

People wanted to know whether the beef and pork sold in their local stores was from the U.S., or Canada, Brazil, China, Mexico, or South Africa, among other importers. But after the WTO judges in Geneva, Switzerland decided, bizarrely, that “country of origin” labeling was an impermissible non-tariff trade barrier, Congress meekly passed a bill that repealed the labeling law and President Obama signed this legislation into law.

While Donald Trump claims to reject “free trade” treaties, he has been silent on country of origin regulations. State Cattlemen’s Associations want laws mandating country of origin labels, believing that consumers are more trusting of the U.S. meat industry than the meat industries in most other countries. These associations know that the U.S.D.A. Food Safety and Inspection Service has a much less rigorous inspection process for imported meats. Unfortunately, the rest of the meat industry likes to import meat, without labeling, and mix it up with the U.S. products. Trump – a prodigious meat eater has yet to tweet in favor of the American cattle industry, even though many people in this part of the U.S. meat industry voted for him in 2016.

Even worse, we cannot tell where our drugs are being manufactured. Rosemary Gibson, author of China Rx: Exposing the Risks of America’s Dependence on China for Medicine thinks American patients are endangered by imported medicines. Gibson is about to testify before Congress on her very disturbing findings regarding importation of medicines from China. I’ve been trying to get the attention of Donald Trump, his Secretary of Health and Human Services, Alex Azar, and the Secretary of Agriculture, Sunny Perdue, regarding risks with importation of food and drugs. Letters, emails, and calls have been met with silence. By not responding, they’re telling us who they primarily support—corporate profiteering interests. That is one reason why Trump has broken his promise to the American people to bring down staggeringly high drug prices.

It will be harder for the Trump administration to ignore journalist Katherine Eban . Eban provides us with a terrifying glimpse of her new book, Bottle of Lies: The Inside Story of the Generic Drug Boom, in a New York Times article published on Sunday May 11, 2019. The article, “Americans Need Generic Drugs, But Can They Trust Them?” exposes the widespread unsafe conditions in many Indian and Chinese labs and plants that manufacture generic drugs for the U.S. market (generics amount to 90 percent of the U.S. supply of drugs). One of her sources was an intrepid Food and Drug Administration (FDA) inspector, Peter Baker (he has since left the agency).

Baker was a bold and honest auditor. He refused to announce lab inspections in advance, as is FDA’s lackadaisical practice. From 2012 to 2018, Baker discovered “fraud or deceptive practices in almost four-fifths of the drug plants he inspected” in India and China. Indian and Chinese manufacturers engaged in data manipulation that could prove deadly.

At one firm, the Wockhardt plant in India, Baker caught the company knowingly releasing insulin vials containing metallic fragments from a defective sterilizing machine into Indian and foreign markets. Eban reports that “[Baker] learned that the company had been using the same defective equipment to make a sterile injectable cardiac drug for the American market.” Two months later, the FDA banned imports from that plant.

Eban continues, shockingly: “In some instances, deceptions and other practices have contributed to generic drugs with toxic impurities, unapproved ingredients and dangerous particulates reaching American patients.” This is nothing new. In 2008, at least 81 American patients died in hospitals after being given heparin, a blood thinner that contained a contaminated ingredient from China.

You’d think that the FDA would demand from Trump more inspectors abroad and the U.S. Department of Agriculture would ask the White House for more U.S.D.A. Food and Safety inspectors, along with tougher laws and penalties on unsafe imports to transmit to Congress. After all, the sheer scope of U.S. drug companies going to China and India to produce drugs cheaply, so as to swell their already swollen profits, is simply stunning.

Another chilling statistic from Eban is that “Nearly forty percent of all our generic drugs are made in India. Eighty percent of active ingredients for both our brand and generic drugs come from abroad, the majority from India and China… America makes almost none of its own antibiotics anymore” (My emphasis). The outsourcing of the production of drugs to foreign countries presents vast challenges for health and safety regulators.

One would think this surrender to imports, whose sole purpose is to fatten U.S. drug companies’ profits, would be considered both a consumer safety threat and a national security matter. Why isn’t Trump doing anything to keep Americans safe from dangerous foreign products, as he crows about tariffs?

Of course the FDA responds with their usual phony assurances about its reliable inspections, putting out a statement that reads: “The F.D.A. inspects all brand-name and generic manufacturing facilities around the world which manufacture product for the U.S. market.”

Is that why the FDA, which has largely conducted unannounced inspections of U.S. plants, still allows pre-announcement of the vast majority of its foreign inspections? Eban reports, the FDA investigators are treated as “the company’s guests and agree on an inspection date in advance…Plant officials have served as hosts and helped to arrange local travel.”

Messrs. Trump, Azar, and Perdue better wake up before innocent Americans lose their lives due to corporate indentured government officials failing to properly do their jobs. Do they want a major disaster to land on their derelict desks?

They are on full public notice.

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The Contented Classes – When Will They Rebel?

For all the rhetoric and all the charities regarding America’s children, the U.S. stands at the very bottom of western nations and some other countries as well, in terms of youth well-being. The U.S.’s exceptionalism is clearest in its cruelty to children. The U.S. has the highest infant mortality rate of comparable OECD countries. Not only that, but 2.5 million American children are homeless and 16.2 million children “lack the means to get enough nutritious food on a regular basis.”

The shamelessness continues as the youngsters increase in age. The Trump regime is cutting the SNAP food program for poor kids. In 2018, fewer children were enrolled in Medicaid and CHIP than in 2017. To see just how bad Trump’s war on poor American children is getting, go to the web sites of the Children’s Defense Fund (https://www.childrensdefense.org/) and the Children’s Advocacy Center (http://www.caichildlaw.org/).

Trump brags about a robust economy—still, however, rooted in exploitation of the poor and reckless Wall Street speculation with people’s savings.

Trump’s pompous promises during his presidential campaign have proved to be a cowardly distraction. He claimed he would take on the drug companies and their price gouging. The hyper-profiteering pharmaceutical goliaths are quietly laughing at him. Worse, Trump continues their tax credits  and allows them to use new drugs developed with taxpayer money through the National Institute of Health free of charge—no royalties. Even though he talks tough, Trump lets these companies sell imported medicines manufactured in China and India with inadequate FDA inspections of foreign plants.

Torrents of Trump tweets somehow overlooked H.P. Acthar Gel, a drug produced by Mallinckrodt to treat a rare infant seizure disorder, which increased in price from $40 per vial to $39,000 per vial! Other drug prices are booming cruelly upward, while Trump blusters, but fails to deliver on his campaign promises.

For years our country’s political and corporate rulers have saddled college students with breathtaking debt and interest rates. Student debt is now at $1.5 trillion. Both corporations and the federal government are profiting off of America’s young. In no other western country is this allowed, with most nations offering tuition-free higher education.

On May 2, 2019, The New York Times featured an article titled, “Tuition or Dinner? Nearly Half of College Students Surveyed in a New Report Are Going Hungry.”

When you read the stories of impoverished students, squeezed in all directions, you’d think they came out of third-world favelas. At the City University of New York (CUNY), forty eight percent of students had been food insecure in the past 30 days.

Kassandra Montes, a senior at Lehman College, lives in a Harlem homeless shelter. Montes  “works two part-time jobs and budgets only $15 per week for food… [She] usually skips breakfast in order to make sure that her 4-year-old son is eating regularly.” Montes said: “I feel like I’m slowly sinking as I’m trying to grow.”

When you don’t have a living wage, have to pay high tuition, are mired in debt, and live in rent-gouging cities, where do you go? Increasingly, you go to the community college or college food pantry. In a nation whose president and Congress in one year give tens of billions of dollars to the Pentagon more than the generals asked for, it is unconscionable that students must rely on leftover food from dining halls and catered events, SNAP benefits, and whatever food pantries can assemble.

The CUNY pantries are such a fixture in these desperate times that they are now a stop on freshman orientation tours.

As long as we’re speaking of shame, what about those millions of middle and upper middle class informed, concerned bystanders. They’re all over America trading “tsk tsks” over coffee or other social encounters. They express dismay, disgust, and denunciations at each outrage from giant corporations’ abuses, to the White House and the Congress’ failings. They are particularly numerous in University towns. They know but they do not do. They are unorganized, know it, keep grumbling, and still fail to start the mobilization in Congressional Districts of likeminded citizens to hold their Senators and Representatives accountable.

For Congress, the smallest yet most powerful branch of government, whose members names we know, can turn poverty and other injustices around and help provide a better life for so many Americans. These informed, concerned people easily number over 1 percent of the population. They can galvanize a supporting majority of voters on key, long-overdue redirections for justice. Redirections that were mostly established in Western Europe decades ago (For more details, see my paperback, Breaking Through Power: It’s Easier than We Think).

These informed, concerned people—who don’t have to worry about a living wage, not having health insurance, being gouged by payday loans, and having no savings—were called “the contented classes” in The Culture of Contentment, a book by the late progressive Harvard economist John Kenneth Gailbraith. His main point—until the contented classes wake up and organize for change, history has shown, our country will continue to slide in the wrong direction. He said all this before climate disruption, massive money-corrupting politics, and the corporate crime wave had reached anywhere near their present destructive levels.

The question to be asked: Who among the contented classes will unfurl the flag of rebellion against the plutocrats and the autocrats? It can be launched almost anywhere they please. A revolution can start the moment they decide to prioritize the most marginalized people in this country over their comfort.

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