Murderous Fraud

As we Americans haplessly continue to search for a way to bring human decency — a.k.a. public non-profit “single-payer” universal coverage, a.k.a. actual insurance — to health insurance, we remain miles from raising the next obvious topic: the extreme underlying conflict between money-making and medical practice.

The latest evidence of this un-discussed elephant-in-the-room lies in today’s New York Times, and involves our old friend, Vytorin:

When the Food and Drug Administration approved a new type of cholesterol-lowering medicine in 2002, it did so on the basis of a handful of clinical trials covering a total of 3,900 patients. None of the patients took the medicine for more than 12 weeks, and the trials offered no evidence that it had reduced heart attacks or cardiovascular disease, the goal of any cholesterol drug.

The lack of evidence has not stopped doctors from heavily prescribing that drug, whether in a stand-alone form sold as Zetia or as a combination medicine called Vytorin. Aided by extensive consumer advertising, sales of the medicines reached $5.2 billion last year, making them among the best-selling drugs in the world. More than three million people worldwide take either drug every day.

But there is still no proof that the drugs help patients live longer or avoid heart attacks. This year Vytorin has failed two clinical trials meant to show its benefits. Worse, scientists are debating whether there is a link between the drugs and cancer.

Researchers reported last month that patients in three clinical trials had a 40 percent higher chance of dying from cancer if they took Vytorin instead of a sugar pill or another medicine, although the leader of that study says the finding might be due to chance.

Now some prominent cardiologists say that the evidence has swung so decisively against the drugs that they should not be sold. “The only place people should be taking it is in a clinical trial,” Dr. Allen J. Taylor of the Walter Reed Army Medical Center said of Zetia. (Vytorin is a single pill that combines Zetia with a statin, an older form of cholesterol-lowering medicine whose effectiveness and safety are not in question.)

Merck and Schering-Plough, which jointly make Vytorin and Zetia, strongly defend their medicines. The companies say that ezetimibe, the generic name for Zetia, showed no cancer risk in animal trials and argue that the cancer finding is probably a result of chance.

Just a few issues there, no?

The response? None. The market simply cannot be interfered with. The people need their only-possibly cancer-causing worse-than-placebos. Clearly, public enterprise could never achieve such superb results!

Another Country Heard From

Interesting how quickly somebody from pg.com commented on the last post.  The comment?  “Interesting perspective.”  On the very tiny chance the whole thing isn’t just a web-bot branch of Procter & Gamble’s “intelligence”-gathering/critic-suppression operation, my reply is:  Yes, the truth must seem like merely an “interesting perspective” to you professional liars.

Now, let’s see if this post draws the same robotic reply…

The Rock Touches the Hard Place

Last week, the great Jared Diamond, whose Pulitzer-winning book, Guns, Germs, and Steel, is the greatest thing since Baran and Sweezy’s Monopoly Capital, published an op-ed in The New York Times. Titled “What’s Your Consumption Factor?”, the piece hits one of two very big political nails right on the head:

[W]hether we get there willingly or not, we [residents of the USA] shall soon have lower consumption rates, because our present rates are unsustainable.

Real sacrifice wouldn’t be required, however, because living standards are not tightly coupled to consumption rates. Much American consumption is wasteful and contributes little or nothing to quality of life. For example, per capita oil consumption in Western Europe is about half of ours, yet Western Europe’s standard of living is higher by any reasonable criterion, including life expectancy, health, infant mortality, access to medical care, financial security after retirement, vacation time, quality of public schools and support for the arts. Ask yourself whether Americans’ wasteful use of gasoline contributes positively to any of those measures.

This is all very true, as far as it goes. But it only goes half-way.

What Diamond is basically saying is that, if we were to use our democracy to end the criminally insane and egregiously outdated reign of the automobile over transportation (and life in general) in the US, we could have a higher quality of life and also finally get serious about genuinely helping the world’s other people live better.

The big problem, however, is the fact that our extremely well-entrenched economic overclass is quite literally and intractably addicted to perpetuating autos-ueber-alles in America. Without the auto-industrial complex’s trillion-plus-dollars-a-year “stimulation” of a huge array of business opportunities, corporate capitalism would quickly implode into an intractable economic depression.

Meanwhile, as Diamond argues, replacing our cars with world-class railroads and towns reconstructed around rails, bikes, and human feet is not only possible and desirable. Thanks to Peak Oil, it is, as Diamond almost says directly, simply the only imaginable way forward to a decent future.

And here’s exactly where Diamond’s rock meets the still-unmentionable hard place: Both because it is certain to be managed as an urgent, profits-NOT-first public project, and because it would put an end to the vast, self-renewing flows of capitalist-friendly economic waste (and investor profit) that inhere in our existing cars-first arrangement, ending autos-ueber-alles is simply verboten as a subject of public consideration. Modern railroads and cities that favor human-muscle-powered locomotion, you see, are exactly as bad for long-term profit-making as they are healthy and vital for the welfare of ordinary Earthlings.

Hence, until we commoners learn to see the light and put our collective foot down, our economic and political overlords will continue to shove the issue of decent survival raised by Diamond down the “un-American” hole. The reason is simple and classic:

“Après moi, le déluge!” [“After me, the flood!”] is the watchword of every capitalist and every capitalist nation. Capital is reckless of the health or length of life of the laborer, unless under compulsion from society. To outcries about physical and mental degradation, premature death, the torture of overwork, it answers: “Ought these to trouble us, since they increase our profits?”

Hence, if we are to do what Jared Diamond rightly says we must, we will have to conduct one hell of a fight just to get the human future onto the public agenda. History’s richest (and, thanks to the “market” structure of capitalism itself, most deniable) ruling class, armed as it is with history’s greatest mass-sedative (TV), is simply not going to permit the choice Diamond highlights to reach the public mind.

It will only do so through our own conscious and militant insistence upon it. Of necessity, a big part of this consciousness will have to be (hold onto your hats!) class consciousness. If we don’t begin to acknowledge, emphasize, publicize, and combat corporate capitalism’s addiction to selling cars, the jaws of historic defeat will finish snapping closed.

This coming struggle is not just a fight for the world’s children and grandchildren, it is, as Diamond says, a literally necessary one. Hence, as somebody on a crashing airplane once famously said, “Let’s roll!”

Passport to Carmageddon

to where?

The Honda Motor Corporation entered this monstrosity in yesterday’s Pasadena Rose Parade. The float, called “Passport to the Future,” is an obvious attempt to reach young minds with the message that SUVs (as well as cars) have a future.

The kids that saw this thing will almost certainly have to explain to their own kids how such amazing forms of distraction were rolled out even as the world crossed the pinnacle of Peak Oil.

Four Questions for the Sick

I sometimes teach a college course on the topic of race. One of the assignments I give students is to go home and discuss our readings with family and friends. Very often, the white students report back that, in response, they encounter immediate and heated tirades from white friends or relatives. “I am so sick and tired of hearing about race!,” comes the retort. “Why don’t people stop trying to force this junk on us?”

When this happens, I suggest to my students that they note how very remarkable this extremely common reaction really is. Until the last few decades, very few white people had ever entertained the notion that race was anything but what white supremacists have always claimed it is — a simple observation of deep, biological, intellectual differences between rankable human appearance groups. Now, in the first or second post-Jim Crow generation of whites, many white folks are convinced they are “sick of hearing about race!”

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