Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Jim Crow Alabama County Loses in Federal Court

Jim Crow Alive and Well in Alabama
Thomas Riggins

The title says Alabama, but Herr Crow is doing well in many other states as well, it's just that this story is about Shelby County a suburban area of Birmingham. This part of Alabama has been trying to disenfranchise Black people for years but the latest ploy has been shot down by a Federal District Court.

Shelby County officials, ever zealous in trying to protect the Constitution and the rights it grants to American citizens went to court because they feared that the US Congress was trampling the Constitution underfoot by extending the Voting Rights Act of 1965 for 25 years (this was done in 2006).This means it won't be until 2031 that Shelby County can start discriminating against Black voters, and Congress could extend the act again!

The Voting Rights Act applies to areas where a history of discrimination has been manifested-- almost every county in every Southern state, but also, according to the New York Times (9-22-2011) "Alaska, Arizona and isolated towns and counties around the country."

These areas cannot change any of their voting practices without getting permission from a panel of federal judges or the US Department of Justice. Shelby County, and no doubt other areas, feel discriminated against and, as we all know, discrimination is unconstitutional.

The good officials of Shelby county are not about to have their rights stepped on. They maintain that Jim Crow is history and they went to court to argue that "it is no longer constitutionally justifiable for Congress to arbitrarily impose" on them, and others, "disfavored treatment"-- i.e., getting permission before mucking around with their voting procedures. The US Congress, they maintained had no evidence "of intentional discrimination" and, even if it did it seems, it is still a disregard of states rights (I thought that was resolved in 1865).

The federal court, however, found otherwise. At least 14 cases of intentional voter discrimination between 1982 and 2006 had been determined by the courts. The federal judge also noted that the county has openly racist lawmakers and poll workers [preposterous-- what in Alabama?] and that a town in the county had, in 2008, tried to eliminate the only district with a Black majority.

Poor Shelby County-- it looks like it will have to wait until 2031 after all before it can overcome "disfavorment"-- as the federal judge, a Bush Jr. appointee, John D.Bates, concluded: "Bearing in mind both the historical context and the extensive evidence of recent voting discrimination reflected in that unprecedented legislative record [the attempt to eliminate the only Black majority voting district] the court concludes that 'current needs'-- the modern existence of intentional racial discrimination in voting-- do, in fact, justify Congress's 2006 reauthorization imposed on covered jurisdictions."

Maybe the county fathers will have better luck with Jim Beam than with Jim Crow.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

What's the beef?

Agriculture Department Toughens Regulations on Beef
Thomas Riggins

The New York Times reports that the beef industry is upset with the Agriculture Department for its promulgation of new regulations regarding deadly food toxins found in ground beef. (NYT Business Day 9-13-2011).

Millions of pounds of beef (primarily hamburger) have had to be recalled since 1994 when a strain of Escherichia coli was banned in ground beef. This strain of E coli is a deadly bacteria whose home base is the lower intestine of warm blooded animals. Due to that way we raise cattle and process meat (don't ask) the bacteria finds its way into our hamburgers as well as onto fruits and vegetables we buy.

Not all E. coli is dangerous, there are many strains, but E. coli 0157:H7 is deadly and has been the focus of attention by the Agriculture Department. Now, to the dismay of the beef industry, SIX more deadly, but rare, strains of E. coli are also to be banned and won't be going to market-- at least not in raw hamburger and similar products.

Dr. Elizabeth Hagen of the U.S. Department of Agriculture was quoted as saying, "We're doing this to prevent illness and to save lives. This is one of the biggest steps forward in the protection of the beef supply in some time."

It is certainly a noble objective to want to save lives and prevent sickness, but unfortunately it conflicts with an even more noble objective valued by the bourgeoisie-- namely making profits and getting rid of government regulations (bad for business).

Business already has it too good since its perfectly legal to sell food that is full of toxins as it is. Salmonella infested food can be sold to the public with just a warning to cook the food at a suitably high temperature or to wash it throughly. The government doesn't want to overly stress business interests by making them clean up their processing factories to eliminate salmonella contamination. What more do they want?

Well, for one, they want the new regulations against the six new strains of E. coli to go away. Here is what the American Meat Institute says: "Imposing this new regulatory program on ground beef will cost tens of millions of federal and industry dollars-- costs that likely will be borne by taxpayers and consumers. It is neither likely to yield a significant public health benefit nor is it good public policy."

Well it may cost tax payers money-- we have to pay for some things besides war after all, and the industry will certainly try to pass along the cost of cleaning up their processing plants to their customers; but what is the alternative? The Times reports that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates these six additional strains of E. coli sicken 133,000 people yearly and a third of them get sick from contaminated beef.

Nevertheless, the American Meat Institute not only says it is not good public policy to regulate against this contamination, it also concludes the need for regulation is "just not supported by the science." It is at least reassuring that the industry is aware that there is something out there called "science" that should be taken into account even if its use by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Department of Agriculture is misguided.

Anyway, waste not want not, the tainted meat can still be sold to the public-- it just can't be sold as fresh meat. E. coli 157 and the six new strains under regulation will be heated to 160 degrees F and sold to us in all those nice meat dishes that are labeled pre-cooked and all we have to do is warm and serve. The millions of little dead E. coli cells can then be happily consumed without, we are told, any ill effects. Yum, yum.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Drugs, Ads, and the FDA

Drug Ads, the FDA, and People's Health
Thomas Riggins

I think we all know that under our capitalist system big corporations, given the choice between making profits or obeying the law, mostly go for profits. This capitalist penchant can be fatal to some consumers who rely upon the safety of the products they use. This law breaking behavior by the corporate world is especially dangerous when it comes to the selling of prescription drugs that are advertised as safe but are really not.

A recent study by the Mount Sinai School of Medicine and reported in ScienceDaily of 8-18-2011 ("Majority of Pharmaceutical Ads Do Not Adhere to FDA Guidelines, New Study Finds") has disclosed that 82% of the ads placed by Drug companies in medical journals violate the Food and Drug Administration's regulations on truthfulness and risk disclosure and more than 50% failed to mention that death was a serious possibility from using the drug.

These ads are not directed at the public but at doctors and other health professionals who will be using these drugs to treat people in the future. Dr. Deborah Korenstein, the main author of the report was quoted by SD as saying, "Marketing research has consistently shown that journal advertising is the most profitable form of drug marketing, with an estimated return on investment of five dollars for every dollar spent." An irresistible temptation to hype your product and cover up its defects it seems.

Dr. Korenstein also remarked that "Our study, the first in nearly 20 years to provide a systematic assessment of the adherence of US advertisements to FDA guidance,
shows that the current system is not in the best interest of the health of the public."

Well of course it is not in the best interests of public health for the drug manufacturers to be engaged in massive fraudulent promotions of their products. But what about the FDA? Its job is to enforce the regulations and, as some other agencies do, it seems to be looking the other way with regard to these violations.

It is up to the executive branch to make sure the FDA is doing its job. Congress too is to blame. The drug lobbyists have more influence with our elected representatives than do the people who elect them. That means it is ultimately up to us, as voters, to see to it that everyone does their job. Next year will be a crucial election year and it is up to all progressives to go all out to convince the American people of the dangers that the current Republican agenda holds for democracy itself if it should get its adherents elected or re-elected.

If the Right gains more power in 2012 two things won't happen with respect to the FDA: its resources to police the drug industry will not be increased and stiffer regulations against drug industry fraud will not be forth coming. These are two crucial factors which must come about to keep dangerous drugs from being touted as safe.

Dr Korenstein explains: "The limited resources of the FDA's Division of Drug Marketing and Advertising are a major barrier to successful regulation of the pharmaceutical industry's multi-billion dollar marketing budget. We are hopeful that an update in FDA regulations, with increased emphasis on the transparent presentation of basic safety and efficacy information, might improve the quality of information provided in physician-directed pharmaceutical advertisements."

The science challenged crop of right wing ideologues who will be vying for power in next year's elections have no solutions to this, or any other, problem facing the American people. Let's make sure the folks who are going to vote know that and that those who think voting a waste of time know they may have to swallow a bitter pill if they don't vote.