The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Issue no. 1057 — May 14 - 28, 2018

Working Poor Face Medicaid Cuts

May 14, 2018

President Trump signed his executive order to add work requirements to all public assistance programs. It was the dog whistle for state politicians to aggressively begin the process of rolling back the recent Medicaid expansion. Their goal? To strip millions of working people off the Medicaid rolls.

The expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act gives some 11 million working class people Medicaid coverage if they are just above the poverty level. It enables them to work and to be able to move between jobs, and still retain coverage for themselves and their families. As limited as it is, it is attacked by Republican politicians who call it “a handout to people who are just too lazy to work.”

They intend to start eliminating coverage for anyone who does not meet complete disability requirements. Taking people off the federal programs means the states won’t have to put in their share of matching funds, and frees up tax money the politicians want to spend elsewhere.

Politicians know that 60 percent of these Medicaid receivers already work. The point is actually not to make them work. It is to eliminate them from the program by creating a bureaucratic nightmare for qualifying and reporting, a nightmare to navigate.

These latest attacks are linked to the politicians’ unrestrained push to cut corporate taxes in every state and at the federal level – cuts that result in the elimination of services and of jobs in the public sector, jobs that have traditionally provided benefits.

Workers are being forced into the only place jobs are being offered: the private sector, where fewer and fewer jobs include health benefits. Part time, temporary, no benefits, bad wages: workers, including teachers, are working two and three jobs, and selling blood plasma to make ends meet. In this environment, Medicaid is what keeps many workers able to continue working in marginal jobs.

Kentucky was the first state to implement the new reforms. Fully one third of the entire population of the state is already on Medicaid due to unemployment and poverty! Now many are facing a loss of health care. Michigan politicians are targeting their cuts against the populations of Detroit and Flint. Arkansas, Arizona, Indiana, Kansas, Maine, Mississippi, New Hampshire, Utah – all are in line for the cutbacks, with more states to follow.

And no election will stop it. No politicians, Democrat nor Republican, will lead a real fight to force Wall Street and the banks to give back what they have stolen; to provide decent pay for full time work, and transportation to get there; to reinstate public jobs and health care and retirement benefits.

Even those with “good jobs” are hanging off the edge of this same cliff – one step from unemployment and Medicaid.

The push-back has to come from us – from the working class and its allies – from those who can – before all of our sick and disadvantaged ones lose even more.

It is time to get mad and united and to fight back on a national level. If the teachers can do it on their limited incomes, and with little experience, imagine what the organized working class could do!

Pages 2-3

Museum Review:
National Museum of African American History and Culture, Part II

May 14, 2018

This is a continuation of a review from the previous issue of the SPARK which dealt with the transAtlantic slave trade.


The museum also shows the horrors of slavery, from the kidnapping, storing, inspecting, branding and transporting to the selling of those who managed to survive to that point (more than half did not survive). It shows what their lives were like once sold into slavery, like a 7-year life expectancy on sugar plantations, for example. And it also shows how enslaved people resisted and fought back.


The museum covers the history of resistance which goes from the time of slavery to Black Lives Matter. The resistance of black people to slavery, and to their continued oppression after slavery, shows many interesting things. For instance, it shows how many of the struggles and fights pulled in other people, particularly poor and working class white people who had every reason to fight alongside.

Many lesser known rebellions are discussed. In 1741, enslaved Africans and poor whites joined forces in a rebellion known as the New York Conspiracy. They plotted to burn New York City and kill wealthy white men and elect a new king and governor. The rebels set fires across the city. More than a hundred people were involved.

An earlier rebellion – Bacon’s Rebellion in 1676 – also involved enslaved black people and poor white workers. It was against the governor of Virginia.

The largest pre-American Revolutionary War uprising was the Stono Rebellion in 1739. Nearly 100 enslaved men and women beat drums and marched in unison under a banner marked “Liberty!” while they chanted the same word in Kongolese: “Lukango!” Deslondes’ Rebellion of 1811 was interesting because not only did it involve more than one hundred enslaved Africans marching on New Orleans, but because Haitians were also among Deslondes’ comrades – Haitians who had lived through a successful slave uprising in 1804.

Another interesting pattern emerges as you go through the museum. After each war (U.S. history can also be seen as a history of wars), black soldiers returned and protested their oppression. “We can carry a gun for Uncle Sam, but we have no rights here.” Black people didn’t just fight during the modern Civil Rights movement. They fought all along the way.

The museum pays special attention to how the brutal murder of Emmett Till, and his mother’s bravery in letting the whole world see what happened to her son, reverberates in the modern Civil Rights movement.

Still More to See

If after going through three floors and 600 years of history, if there is still any time left, go to the 3rd and 4th floors above ground and take a peek at the sports section and the arts (music, dance, film, TV, paintings) respectively. Of course, hours could be spent on these two floors as well.

The museum is powerful, interesting and thought-provoking, showing how the transAtlantic slave trade changed the world and how the U.S. began in that context. It shows how ordinary people changed history. This museum is for everyone. James Baldwin put it this way in a quote on one of the museum’s walls: “The great force of history comes from the fact that we carry it within us, are unconsciously controlled by it. History is literally present in all that we do.”

“Bloody Gina” Didn’t Invent U.S. Torture

May 14, 2018

Senate hearings over Trump’s nomination of Gina Haspel for Director of the CIA have been front and center in the news. Haspel was part of the CIA’s secret torture program for at least part of its existence. Under her command, people supposedly linked to terrorism were flown to “black sites” in other countries for torture.

Haspel’s nomination is consistent with the position Trump ran on during his campaign, when he said “torture works” and endorsed even stronger methods than waterboarding.

In her testimony before the Senate, Haspel was pressed to appear to support the ending of the torture program she directed and to agree to defy any direct order by the president to reintroduce it.

Yet when pressed by senators currently claiming to oppose the use of torture whether she thought it was immoral, Haspel evaded the question. She said she supports the “higher moral standard we have decided to hold ourselves to,” and concluded that the “CIA must undertake activities ... consistent with American values.” Therein lies the rub. In fact, torture is as American as apple pie.

Historically, U.S. intelligence agencies and the military have carried out torture and at other times recruited others to do it for them in places like Vietnam, Iran, Greece, Chile and Guatemala. They became known for training of torture methods long ago, and in the 1960s, the CIA and U.S. military published torture manuals for their own use and the use of foreign dictators. Every administration, whether Republican or Democrat, has sanctioned torture, whether openly or secretly. They do so to serve the interests of the wealthy class, the banks and the corporations in extracting raw materials and cheap labor from around the world and to enforce the interests of the U.S. bourgeois class everywhere.

So torture was hardly something new following the 9/11 attacks, but Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld found lawyers willing to declare torture legal and they found psychologists willing to endorse their use as “humane.” Under their tutelage, guards at Guantanamo Bay beat detainees severely, shackled them in painful “stress positions,” deprived them of sleep by blaring loud music, exposed them to extreme temperatures and simulated drownings.

And while former President Obama promised to close Guantanamo during his campaign, he failed to do so during eight years in office.

It remains to be seen whether the Senate will approve Haspel’s nomination. While some Republicans have declared themselves opposed to her nomination, enough Democrats appear ready to vote with the rest to give Trump the support his nominee needs.

In the end the debate is simply over whether to install a CIA director who blatantly supports U.S. imperialism’s torture program or one who is a bit more discreet about its use. The working class has no interest in supporting either.

U.S. and Iran:
Oil Is Behind the Talk of Nuclear Weapons

May 14, 2018

On May 8th, Trump announced that he was pulling the U.S. out of the Iran nuclear deal that Obama had signed in 2015. The news media made the whole story about Trump. Depending on who you listened to, he is either crazily threatening world peace, or he is a brilliant negotiator meeting a campaign promise. In fact, U.S. imperialism’s interests in maintaining control over the entire Middle East region is behind both the original deal and this pullout.

The whole question of Iranian nuclear weapons is an excuse, used to justify the twists and turns of U.S. policy. Relations with Iran touch some of the fundamental interests of U.S. imperialism – particularly, domination of the Middle East and its oil. But in its relations with Iran, the U.S. has multiple interests and faces contradictory pressures.

After WWII, Iran was a loyal ally of the U.S., until a powerful popular revolution overthrew the U.S.-backed dictator in 1979. During the revolution, all the imperialist countries and their Iranian allies tried to find a way for the Ayatollah Khomeini and his mullahs to take the situation in hand. And the imperialist powers got their wish: after the revolution, a new dictatorship took control. But then imperialism had to deal with the new Islamic fundamentalist government.

Iran has huge oil and gas reserves, an interesting market for the capitalists of the whole world; and it is a country where, according to one French boss, “the workers are well-trained and they cost much less than in Eastern Europe.” But above all, the dictatorship of the mullahs seems like a pole of stability in a region ravaged by civil wars.

This is why Obama pushed to reintegrate Iran into the imperialist camp, which led to the 2015 deal. Iran accepted control of its nuclear installations, guaranteed that it would not try to make nuclear bombs, and promised to promote peace – the peace of the graveyard – throughout the region. In exchange, the U.S. lifted the embargo on trade and investment in Iran.

But the U.S. has other allies seeking to play the role of regional policeman. Israel and Saudi Arabia, for different reasons, tried to block Iran from coming back on the scene. Obama attempted to play both sides, but for now, Trump has sided with Israel and Saudi Arabia against Iran.

Because the U.S. has no major commercial relations with Iran, it can effectively block all commerce in dollars with this country. In this way, the most powerful imperialist country, the United States, can make the capitalists of the small countries pay a big price if they have the nerve to go against its orders. For instance, the U.S. embargo could cost the big French bank BNP eight billion dollars.

Behind Israeli prime minister Netanyahu’s spy-novel declarations, French president Macron’s diplomatic bows, and Trump’s noxious tweets, hide the interests of the big powers and U.S. imperialism’s will to perpetuate its domination of this whole region.

Pages 4-5

Women’s Oppression:
From the #MeToo Movement to Teachers’ Strikes and Beyond

May 14, 2018

The following article was excerpted from a presentation made at the April 2018 Spark Public Meeting in Detroit, Michigan.

In the fight of workers for a better society, the fight for women’s rights is as fundamental as the backbone is fundamental to the human body. The fight of women and the fight of workers is fought on the same battleground – a society run by all kinds of predators!

The #MeToo Movement – where women speak up about harassment and sexual violence – caught fire in 2017. The expression “MeToo!” was coined by black community activist Tarana Burke. Tarana coined the phrase in 2006 to help her in her work with black teens in Alabama. She found that if young women felt able to speak up about the sexual violence happening in their lives, it was a good first step toward doing something about it.

Hollywood women found and picked up the expression when they began to speak about harassment and rape in their industry. Tarana is at peace with giving her expression to the world. When the hashtag “MeToo” was put on Twitter, asking for women’s stories, 12 million women – around the world – responded. These results shocked “official society” but they did not shock most women.

Every woman has faced sexual harassment at some point in life, whether as a child or as an adult. It happens on the job, in the streets, and elsewhere.

Every woman has heard of a boss who offers a better job in return for sexual favors. It is a vicious situation to be in. Today, women have begun to speak out. But for many working class women, speaking out can mean losing their jobs. You can read all about the viciousness that can happen in the front page article in today’s Detroit Free Press. In this article, brave women speak out about sexual harassment by bosses at the State of Michigan Department of Corrections. One woman, who ended up fired from her guard job at a Michigan prison, explains how she was retaliated against. A female parole officer tells her harrowing story.

It was in fields of work where the man’s “public reputation” matters that the #MeToo campaign first spread. A few disgusting and powerful men have been forced to resign. While these men were publicly forced to “walk the plank,” the ship of exploitation continues to sail!

Women Are NOT Property with a Price Tag Attached

One man has gone to jail – Larry Nassar – the Michigan State University and U.S. Olympic Gymnast Team doctor. Before he went to jail, he had to listen to some of his more than 300 victims tell their stories as part of his punishment. One woman testified that her sexual abuse began at age 6, in the basement of Nassar’s home. A mother told about how the sexual assault of her daughter by Nassar occurred at age 12, stating, “It all started with him.” This mom was testifying because her daughter had taken her own life.

One after the other, women testified that this man is a monster, not a doctor. How did all this happen? Why did it go on for so long? Because the safety of children, the safety of women, is not the priority in this society. Profit is the priority in this society. The reputation of authority figures is the priority in this society. Women and children – especially if from the lower classes – are NOT to disrupt “business as usual.” In this society, sexual abuse and sexual violence is explained away as being the problem of just a few bad actors.

Business as usual in this society means capitalist society. In capitalist society, private property and profit are protected by law. A legal system built to defend the rich, built to defend private property, built on a foundation of mistreating so many people – a system like that is only kept in place with violence.

The violence that this society depends on to survive is not supposed to be talked about! So speaking up is an important first step. “Hush money” – where the wealthy use the legal system to pay someone off to “buy their silence” – is an everyday thing. We see it in the Stormy Daniels case. We see it in the case of John Engler, who is in charge at Michigan State University, offering a quarter of a million dollars in hush money to a sexual assault victim and her mother. She spoke up about it at an MSU Board of Trustees meeting. That meeting, packed with survivors, boiled over in anger.

Hush money happens because the powers-that-be don’t want all of their disgusting behavior and their violence talked about! Money for “damages” is about all the current legal system, set up to protect property, is able to provide. Every person is treated as if we are property and have a price tag on us!

Women Are More than Half the Work Force

Women who work in isolation – in fields and farms, in mines, in factories, in hotels, in restaurants and in offices – describe frequent sexual harassment. For as long as rulers have been lording over workers, for as long as “class society” has existed, women have decided to feed their families and keep quiet. But their abusers are just as wrong.

How can we call this a “modern” society – a “civilized” society – when any low level boss, in any walk of life, can get away with demanding sexual favors in exchange for women keeping a job or getting the schedule that they need? Wouldn’t a “civilized” society have as many laws as it takes to protect women and children? In our society, “laws” exist primarily to protect wealth, to protect private property.

Preying on women sexually has deep roots. If it feels to working women like it will take a revolution to topple this deeply rooted oppression, that is the truth. At a minimum, it will take a lot of organizing in workplaces before women feel safe even to speak up.

And today, women are in the workforce at much higher rates than in the past. In 2016, women were 57 percent (more than half) of the work force. Of special note, for women whose children are under 17 years old, the figure is that 72 percent are working! Where there are big numbers, there is the potential for big power. That is, if those big numbers are organized and come to be aware of what the real enemy is. In other words, organized in a class-conscious way.

Every day on the job, militant working class women have learned to stand up to their harasser. Whether the woman gets fired or not has a lot to do with having a network of support and respect organized around her. The reaction of co-workers matters. Tolerating harassment strengthens the boss. It is one more leg of the wealthy’s divide-and-conquer strategy.

One Fight Can Lead to Many

We never know, when people begin to fight, where that fight can end up. Look at the fight of West Virginia school employees. This mostly female workforce of teachers, bus drivers, and support personnel were reluctant to strike at first. But new attacks on their healthcare, combined with puny raises, was the straw that broke the camel’s back. When teachers in three counties did an early walk-out, the governor called teachers “dumb bunnies.” So they put on their bunny ears and laughed at the governor! The idea of a larger strike caught fire.

Not long after, votes of school workers – union and non-union – were organized in all 55 counties of West Virginia. The votes showed that workers were ready to strike. School employees looked for ways to make it easy for other public employees in West Virginia to want to support them and join them. They demanded raises for all public employees since all were underpaid. They reached out in their communities to churches and community groups so that in this state with a high rate of child poverty, children would have access to food and child care while school employees were on strike. They reached out to parents as allies in the fight.

And once they started to fight, 55 counties strong, shutting down every public school in the state, it turned out that their strong fight was so inspiring, they ended up with allies they never expected to have. It turned out that politicians in the state legislature had so underfunded education on a statewide level that many local school boards, principals and superintendents quietly did what they could to support the strikers.

During all nine days of the strike, all 55 counties made sure they sent their school representatives to the state capitol. Those representatives were able to speak for their respective school districts. Each day of the strike, the numbers at the capitol kept growing, and getting louder. Authorities were getting nervous about the growing crowds.

In the end, an immediate five percent raise for all school employees and all state workers in West Virginia was won by the strike. Certainly, these workers deserve much more. But the power workers have – 30,000 strong, going out on strike together – is shown by the fact that West Virginia school employees got something they had been told was impossible.

It Will Take a Revolution

In this society, for the working class to turn the balance of forces around in our favor, it is not enough for all the school employees in one state to go out on strike. It takes an even bigger fight. But we can see from what has happened since West Virginia that a fight which starts in one place can spread widely to many others.

In Oklahoma, with another largely female workforce, teachers took up the baton and just completed a two-week strike. Teachers will get their first raise in 10 years. Other school workers will get a raise, too. There will be a small funding increase for schools. Seeing what happened in West Virginia and reading the handwriting on the wall, Oklahoma politicians quickly passed a pay raise for teachers to try and prevent a strike. Teachers went on strike anyway. By going on strike, teachers gained important experience.

Other states have followed the West Virginia example of going out on strike in big numbers. In Kentucky, a sneak attack on teacher pensions that will hit current teachers somewhat but will hit future state employees a lot, has caused a state-wide strike, and closed schools, during three different one-day actions. On April 2, all schools in all 120 counties of Kentucky were closed.

Another state inspired by West Virginia was Arizona. There, the governor said he would never budge on raises. Now he “promises” a 20 percent raise over two years – but only for teachers and not for all school employees. The teachers want a raise for all who work in the school system. On April 19 – in a state-wide vote – 57,000 school employees, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, teacher aides and teachers submitted ballots. The result was that 78 percent said yes to a strike on April 26.

In all four of these fights, teachers have demanded that more money for education be paid for by taxes on corporations. The way these largely female workforces are raising their demands raises a larger question. What kind of a society are we going to live in? Is society as a whole going to be responsible for children? Or is society only in existence to promote ever-increasing corporate profits, and kids, women and workers be damned?

The fights that are happening now will need to go further. These fights will need to spread to more and more workplaces, beyond just schools.

What is impressive about West Virginia and all of these strikes is how we see people breaking the bonds that tie them down. “Proper channels” get teachers nowhere. Teachers were told strikes are “illegal” but they went on strike anyway. They showed that when workers begin massively to fight, all kinds of things we are told are not possible suddenly become possible.

When more and more workplaces begin to fight, in more and more states, the power of workers in motion is what will change the situation for children, the situation for schools, the situation for women, the situation for the whole society.

The oppression of women is based on the social relationships that have developed over centuries of exploitative class relationships. That will take a revolution to overturn.

Many a social movement, many a strike wave, many a revolution (like the Russian Revolution) reached its tipping point and began the long road to victory when women decided they were fed up. Courageous acts by individuals as well as masses of women demanding food for their families have often been the spark to light the powder keg of revolt. In the end, for working-class women to throw off the harassment of the petty boss requires the same solution as for workers in general to throw off the harassment of the petty boss. Organize and fight! A better future depends on it!

Pages 6-7

Police Rampage in Chicago

May 14, 2018

An ATF (Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms) agent was shot in the face in Chicago’s mostly Latino Back of the Yards neighborhood on May 4th. Though the agent lived and will make a full recovery, the cops went on a rampage looking for the shooter.

The Chicago police sent hundreds of cops to the area, and announced that the entire neighborhood was on “lockdown.” They intimidated, harassed, and mistreated people, going into homes without warrants, pushing a kid to the floor, and forcing people off the streets, according to more than two dozen local residents who protested. People throughout the neighborhood were scared – of the cops, much more than of the shooter.

To people in Back of the Yards, and many other neighborhoods in Chicago and around the country, the police act like an occupying army.

70-Hour Weeks at UPS

May 14, 2018

In their new contract negotiations, UPS proposed that they be allowed to force drivers to work 70 hours a week “to avoid service disruptions.” Whether UPS can get away with forcing these hours depends on a lot more than the contract: Will drivers do it? But it’s a sign of where the companies want to be able to go.

Workers fought for the 40-hour work week for decades. They finally won it as standard about 75 years ago. But today, how many workers live decently on 40 hours a week? It’s time to revive those fights!

Iowa Law Attacks Right to Abortion

May 14, 2018

Iowa legislators just passed the most restrictive anti-abortion law in the U.S., preventing abortion after a fetal heart beat is detected. That usually means at six weeks, or before some women know they are pregnant. Iowa had already passed a 20-week law, banning abortions after five months. In addition, state legislators had refused federal funding, which closed four Planned Parenthood clinics providing 15,000 women with health services.

As an ACLU official in Iowa, announcing the organization’s legal challenge to the law on Friday, after the governor signed the bill, put it, “This is simply an attack on women, and an attack on poor women, rural women, women with the fewest choices and the fewest options.”

Those opposing the right to an abortion have talked for decades of the lives they have “saved.” In reality, denying abortions means no support, help, or compassion to women who are forced into completing unwanted pregnancies. Anti-abortion activists have helped to force women all over the U.S. into having children they don’t feel able to raise. They have helped create an atmosphere of covert and overt violence against women and against clinic personnel where abortions are performed.

As one abortion supporter put it, “We know that abortion bans don’t end abortion. This just ends safe abortion.”

Separating Immigrant Families

May 14, 2018

The Trump administration is trumpeting its policy of separating the families of immigrants who try to enter the U.S. without papers. More than 700 immigrant children have already been taken from their parents since October, including more than 100 under age four.

Trump’s chief of staff, John Kelly, said that separating families “could be a tough deterrent.” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said, “If you are smuggling a child, then we will prosecute you, and that child may be separated from you as required by law.” As if parents fleeing a desperate situation are “smuggling” their own children!

The Democrats act outraged. But under the Obama administration, the U.S. carried out a series of policies that separated parents from their children. Deporting felons often meant deporting parents. And the Obama administration deported thousands of men far from where they were captured crossing the border. A man detained at the California border would be flown to Texas and deported 1,200 miles away, while the rest of his family was held in a detention center or deported from California, unaware of where he was.

Trump and the Republicans trumpet their anti-immigrant brutality. They want to blame immigrants for the economic problems facing their supporters. Obama and the Democrats downplay their anti-immigrant policies, playing to their own base. But under both, the U.S. separates immigrant families. That’s because both parties serve the same ruling class, with the same brutal interest in keeping immigrants in fear, willing to accept the worst conditions and wages.

Exide Pollution:
Health and Homes Affected

May 14, 2018

Decades of pollution from Exide Technology’s battery recycling plant has deposited lead, arsenic and other dangerous contaminants across an area spanning 10,000 homes, in Vernon, southeast L.A. County. The state of California says tests show more than 7,500 homes in this working class town exceed California’s lead safety levels for residential soil.

Lead is a toxic material and a very potent neurotoxin. It can damage kidneys, the blood, and the nervous system, which can progress to coma, convulsions and death, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There is no safe level of lead exposure. Even tiny amounts of lead poisoning can cause permanent developmental and behavioral problems, including learning disabilities and lower IQs. Infants and young children are the most affected by lead exposure because their growing bodies are more prone to harm. And, children’s bodies also absorb lead more easily than adults’ bodies.

A California health department analysis found nearly 300 children younger than 6, living near Exide’s plant, who had elevated blood lead levels in 2012.

The state plans to clean 2,500 homes that are most polluted. But it does not have any plans to clean the remaining 5,000 homes.

California allocated close to 180 million dollars in taxpayer funds for this clean-up. But, three years after Exide shut down the Vernon plant, just 270 homes have been cleaned. Most of the allocated money was not spent. The money is there, but the state simply did not carry out the cleaning.

Page 8

Trump Plan Thrills Drug Companies

May 14, 2018

Like all the other politicians in Washington, whether Republican or Democrat, Trump knows people worry about paying high drug costs. In 2016, U.S. consumers and health institutions spent more than 300 billion dollars on drugs.

President Trump just announced a “plan,” of which no details were given, this past week that he says will bring down drug prices.

But neither he, nor his head of Health and Human Services, nor the long line of those preceding him in office, have ever proposed measures that actually bring down drug prices. In fact, administration after administration, going back to when Medicare began in 1965, have refused to play by their own beloved capitalist playbook: they don’t allow real competition. Congress has passed rule after rule to allow pharmaceutical manufacturers to extend the life of their drugs with fake “tweaks” and tiny “changes,” like different dosages or packaging. These maneuvers prevent generic competitors from offering cheaper alternatives.

The largest buyer of all drugs in the U.S. is Medicare, yet Medicare is FORBIDDEN by Congress from negotiating with drug makers for better prices. Last year, the 10 largest drug makers had 84 billion dollars in profits, and that is after all the fake expenses they are allowed to claim.

No wonder drug stock prices went up as soon as Trump made his announcement.

Medicine or Cash Cow

May 14, 2018

The off-label use of the drug Seroquel is linked to thousands of deaths. Seroquel is a powerful antipsychotic used to treat schizophrenia. However, doctors have been prescribing this drug for insomnia, post-traumatic stress disorder and agitation in patients with dementia. Twelve years ago the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) accused the drug company AstraZeneca of “false and misleading” information about health risks in the marketing material for Seroquel, which was increasingly prescribed “off-label” for insomnia.

A Washington Post analysis of more than four years of the most recent data found about 20,000 cases where Seroquel or its generic equivalent, quetiapine, was listed as the primary or secondary suspect in an adverse event. That included more than 4,000 deaths. Overall, 93 percent of these events were apparently the result of off-label prescribing.

Medical experts say that Seroquel can cause diabetes, heart arrhythmias, irreversible movement disorders and death. “The range of problems it causes in terms of deteriorating quality of life makes it not worth it,” said David Healy, a psychiatrist. Healy says he only prescribes Seroquel as a last resort, to his most seriously ill schizophrenic patients in order “to be able to function.” Using Seroquel to treat insomnia is like using a nuclear reactor to boil water for tea.

In order to make their billions, AstraZeneca artificially increased their market from just people suffering from schizophrenia, broadening out to include people suffering from insomnia and other complaints. The company targeted doctors with no experience in handling these powerful drugs. Paying out a billion dollars in lawsuit settlements is just a slap on the wrist for them. They continue to put their profits ahead of the health and safety of patients who use the drug they are peddling.

Making a Killing

May 14, 2018

A person dies every 10 minutes in this country from overdosing on prescription painkiller opioids like OxyContin. Five times as many people die of opioid overdose as in the 1990s.

For years, opioids were only given to cancer patients with severe pain. Like the heroin from which they are made, opioids slow down breathing – slow enough to kill – and they become more and more addictive as doses go up.

But pharmaceutical companies exist to make profit. To increase sales in 1996, Perdue Pharma and its competitors began aggressively urging doctors to prescribe opioids to more patients, such as cancer-free people with moderate pain, and to prescribe higher dosages and prescriptions for longer periods of time. The companies flooded doctors’ offices with all kinds of freebies. The number of prescriptions shot way up, four times as many as before.

Recently, opioids were being prescribed eight times every second, an average of one prescription per year for every adult in the country. Predictably, many more patients become addicted, overdose, and die. Those switching to cheaper but illegal heroin or super-strong fentanyl die in even higher numbers.

But pharmaceutical companies keep raking in profits from billions of dollars of opioid sales each year.

Wall Street:
Traders and Billionaires

May 14, 2018

In 2017, the traders on the New York Stock Exchange got 31.4 billion dollars in bonuses, almost as much as the record in 2006, right before the banking crisis hit. There are 177,000 traders, so they got $185,000 in bonuses on average per person. But this includes those little workers who barely got a free lunch, along with the stars of Goldman Sachs, who got bonuses of more than 20 million.

These traders are the little hands of speculation, who help the big bourgeoisie to pocket hundreds of billions off the backs of the workers of the whole world. For the biggest of the big, 31.4 billion in bonuses is not a big thing, just a way to say: good work, boys, keep an eye on the money!

The Rich Get Even Richer

May 14, 2018

Through the end of April, the big U.S. companies are on track to give their investors one TRILLION dollars through dividends and stock buybacks. That is the most they have ever given, in any year.

The investors getting all this money did literally nothing to earn it. They aren’t getting paid for managing the companies. And they certainly aren’t getting paid for working. No, they’re getting a cool trillion just for owning stocks.

Workers produced all that wealth, every penny. And for us, the economy is obviously not getting better. But it’s no wonder rich people think the economy is great. For them, it is!