Quantcast

Nation Topics - Business | The Nation

Topic Page

Articles

News and Features

Industry has been doing all it can to keep an EPA report from being published.

This is not about profits and
patents; it's about poverty and a devastating disease." That
statement did not come from AIDS activists struggling to provide
sub-Saharan Africa's 25 million HIV-positive people with access to
life-extending medications. It came from the executive vice president
of Bristol-Myers Squibb, which recently announced it would slash
prices on its two AIDS drugs and forgo patents on one of them. A week
earlier, Merck & Co. said it would lower prices on its two AIDS
drugs not just in Africa but, pending review, in other heavily
affected countries as well.

What's going on is not a
change of heart on the part of "Big Pharma"--which John le
Carré describes in this issue as a group of
"multibillion-dollar multinational corporations that view the
exploitation of the world's sick and dying as a sacred duty to their
shareholders." Far from being a humanitarian action, the price
reductions represent an attempt to preserve patent rights by
diffusing international pressure for generic manufacturing.
Revealingly, neither BMS nor Merck has withdrawn from a suit against
the South African government brought by thirty-nine pharmaceuticals
seeking to prohibit importation of generic drugs, which they claim
would violate their patents.

The Indian generic
manufacturer Cipla announced in February that it would sell the
entire AIDS triple-therapy combination at $350 per person, per year,
and other generic manufacturers, in Thailand and Brazil, currently
offer AIDS drugs at a fraction of multinational prices. By
comparison, the Wall Street Journal reported that a
combination of AIDS drugs from BMS and Merck would cost between $865
and $965 per person, per year. If those prices were multiplied by the
number of AIDS patients in, say, Zimbabwe, a relatively prosperous
country by African standards, the total would come to about 20
percent of its GDP. And that sum doesn't include the investments in
healthcare infrastructure needed to distribute and monitor the drugs'
use.

But even if poor African countries could somehow find
the money to pay the high patent-protected prices of the drug giants
(the $26.6 billion a year it would cost to provide all Africa with
AIDS drugs is no more than about a third of what Bush's tax plan
would give to America's wealthiest 1 percent), that would not be the
end of their problems. Rather, such a course would lock them into
exclusive trade agreements with multinationals and put them at the
continual mercy of Western foreign aid budgets. As new treatments are
developed, Africa would have to negotiate new price reductions,
country by country, company by company.

If the solutions
lie with generic manufacturing (not just for AIDS medications but for
a slew of vital drugs for malaria and other ills), then circumventing
existing international patent regulations is a necessity. The trial
in South Africa over compulsory licensing is one crucial test of the
viability of this option. Another potential plan would be for the
National Institutes of Health to give patents owned by the US
government on publicly funded AIDS drugs to the World Health
Organization, thereby licensing it to oversee generic manufacturing.
Why not, in fact, let governments underwrite the entire cost of drug
research--rather than, as now, underwriting substantial amounts of
the research, which drug companies then exploit--and do away with
patents altogether?

Whatever the recourse, and despite the
well-publicized gestures by multinational pharmaceutical companies,
the solutions to Africa's AIDS epidemic lie in sustainable
competitive drug production, not momentary self-interested
charity.

The Bush Administration is relying on falsehoods when making its case for opening up Alaska to drilling.

Greed led to miscalculation, which led to brownouts and soaring rates.

For downsized workers in Bloomington, it's time to start thinking globally.

As soon as George W. Bush and Dick Cheney take up the reins of government, they'll give a big boost to waging war in and from space. Under their leadership, right-wing advocates of US global dominance and corporations eager for contracts will join forces with a military eager to make space the battleground of the twenty-first century.

Indeed, Star Wars--"missile defense" in current Newspeak--is emerging as a central goal of the new Bush Administration. It is "an essential part of our strategic system," declared Colin Powell upon being named Secretary of State.

"I wrote the Republican Party's foreign policy platform," claimed Bruce Jackson, vice president of corporate strategy and development at Lockheed Martin, the world's largest weapons manufacturer [see William D. Hartung and Michelle Ciarrocca, "Star Wars II," June 19, 2000], which is deeply involved in space military programs. In a recent interview, Jackson said that although he was "the overall chairman of the Foreign Policy Platform Committee" at the Republican convention, he hasn't led the advocacy for the full development of Star Wars because "that would be an implicit conflict of interest with my day job" at Lockheed Martin.

Such advocacy, he said, has fallen to Stephen Hadley, George W. Bush's pick for deputy director of the National Security Council. Hadley, Bush Senior's assistant secretary of defense for international security policy and a member of his National Security Council, is a proud member of the Vulcans, an eight-person foreign policy team formed during the Bush campaign that includes future National Security Council director Condoleezza Rice and Reagan Administration superhawk Richard Perle. The Vulcans named themselves after the Roman god of fire and metallurgy, and for a statue in Rice's hometown, Birmingham, Alabama, commemorating its steelmaking history.

Besides being a Vulcan, Hadley is a partner in Shea & Gardner, the Washington law firm representing Lockheed Martin. Hadley has also worked closely with Bruce Jackson on the Committee to Expand NATO--based in the offices of the right-wing American Enterprise Institute--Jackson as president, Hadley as secretary. The committee sought to enlist Eastern European countries in NATO--which would, of course, build the client base for Lockheed Martin weapons.

"Space is going to be important. It has a great future in the military," Hadley told the Air Force Association Convention in a September 11 speech. Introduced as an "adviser to Governor George W. Bush," Hadley said that Bush's "concern has been that the [Clinton] Administration...doesn't reflect a real commitment to missile defense.... This is an Administration that has delayed on that issue and is not moving as fast as he thinks we could."

To remedy that, Bush has named as Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, whom the Washington Post calls the "leading proponent not only of national missile defenses, but also of U.S. efforts to take control of outer space" [see Michael T. Klare, page 14]. In 1998 Rumsfeld's commission reversed a 1995 finding by the nation's intelligence agencies that the country was not in imminent danger from ballistic missiles acquired by new powers, declaring that "rogue states" did pose such a threat. The answer? Missile defense. Trusted adviser to and financial supporter of the right-wing Center for Security Policy, Rumsfeld has been awarded its Keeper of the Flame prize. On the center's advisory board are such Star Wars promoters as Edward Teller--and Lockheed Martin executives, including Bruce Jackson.

"This so-called election was a victory for putting weapons in space, at enormous cost to world stability and to US taxpayers," declares Bruce Gagnon of the Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space (www.space4peace.org). He points to Bush campaign statements about deploying "quantum leap weapons" and about Los Alamos and Sandia National Laboratories playing a major role in the development of "weapons that will allow America to redefine how wars are fought." Both labs have been deeply involved in space-based lasers, an integral part of Star Wars. In 1998 the Defense Department signed a multimillion-dollar contract for a "Space-Based Laser Readiness Demonstrator" and this past November solicited final comments on development of the program, estimated to cost $20-$30 billion. Lockheed Martin, TRW and Boeing are the contractors. (Lynne Cheney has just resigned from the board of Lockheed Martin. Dick Cheney has been on the board of TRW.)

The military's would-be space warriors, meanwhile, are bullish. The US Space Command's top general, Ralph "Ed" Eberhart, exhorts the Air Force to "be the space warfighters our nation needs today...and will need even more tomorrow." The Air Force command's Almanac 2000 touts "defending America through the control and exploitation of space." The Air Force in the twenty-first century must be "globally dominant--Tomorrow's Air Force will likely dominate the air and space around the world."

The Vulcans, Keepers of the Flame and Lockheed Martin et al. will be cheering them on.

After three years of diplomatic fatigue, the United States put delegates from 170 countries out of their misery at the latest round of climate talks at The Hague in November by scuttling the negotiations and, in the process, thumbing its nose at nature as well as at the rest of the world. The good news is that the collapse of the global warming talks may set the stage for a truly transformative initiative to pacify the inflamed climate and, at the same time, dramatically expand the global economy.

The world's glaciers are melting, the oceans are heating up, tropical diseases are migrating north and the weather is becoming increasingly destructive. All that is the result of a l-degree increase in temperature over the past century. By contrast, the world will warm by up to 11 degrees this century, according to the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The United States killed the Hague negotiations by insisting on meeting its Kyoto goal (reductions of greenhouse gas emissions, primarily coal and oil, to 7 percent below 1990 levels) simply by planting trees and buying cheap emissions credits from poor countries. But the escalating pace of climate change makes it clear that a reliance on carbon-trading and tree-planting is nothing more than an expression of institutional denial of the magnitude of the problem. The EU, frustrated by US foot-dragging, refused to cave, demanding that Washington meet at least half its obligation through real domestic reductions in oil and coal burning. The result was a diplomatic meltdown.

Abandoning the minimalist goals of the Kyoto Protocol, many European nations are now taking their cues from science: The climate crisis requires 70 percent cuts in a very short time if civilization is to avoid the catastrophic effects of global warming. Britain, which in November suffered its worst flooding in centuries, will cut emissions 60 percent in the next fifty years. Holland, faced with a devastating sea-level rise, will cut emissions 80 percent over the next forty years. Germany is contemplating 50 percent cuts.

The US obstructionism also ignores a recent sea change in attitudes among Congressional Republicans, corporate leaders and multinational oil companies. Three years ago, Nebraska's Senator Chuck Hagel co-sponsored a resolution not to ratify the Kyoto Protocol. Today Hagel concedes the science of global warming. Last year, Indiana's Richard Lugar and James Woolsey, former head of the CIA, called for the United States to begin reducing coal and oil use by substituting energy from agricultural wastes.

Oil companies, with the exception of ExxonMobil, are similarly moving to confront the crisis. Shell has created a new, $500 million core company for renewable energy. Its director was recently appointed to head a new G-8 task force on clean energy. Texaco is putting serious resources into renewables. British Petroleum, with major solar investments, now advertises that BP stands for "Beyond Petroleum." In the auto industry, William Clay Ford recently declared an end to "the 100-year reign of the internal combustion engine." That declaration follows Ford's participation in a $1 billion joint venture with Daimler-Chrysler and Mazda to bring fuel-cell-powered cars to market in three years. (These initiatives are partly "greenwashing," aimed at pacifying environmentalists, but they also reflect preparations by oil and auto companies to maintain their role as prominent players in a new energy economy.) Most striking, at the World Economic Forum in Davos at the end of January, the CEOs of the 1,000 largest corporations voted climate change the most urgent issue facing humanity today.

What growing numbers of corporate leaders understand is that a global transition to clean energy would create millions of jobs, especially in poor countries. It would transform dependent, impoverished countries into robust trade partners, substantially expanding global markets. It would make the renewable industry a central engine of economic growth.

Ironically, the corporate powers behind the Bush administration may prove more alert to the wealth-creation potential of an energy transition than Gore. While Christie Whitman, expected to be the new EPA administrator, didn't know the difference between ozone depletion and global warming (and questioned the science behind both), Paul O'Neill, the new Treasury Secretary, has expressed serious concerns about the climate--and even, at one point, pushed for a carbon tax on oil to reduce emissions.

In May, when the parties to the climate talks reconvene, they should consider three interactive strategies:

§ Subsidy switches. The United States currently spends around $20 billion a year in direct subsidies of fossil fuels. If that money were put into renewable technologies (as well as into retraining displaced coal miners) it would provide incentives for the big oil companies to aggressively develop and market fuel cells, wind farms and solar systems.

§ A progressive fossil fuel efficiency standard. The parties should scrap international "emissions trading" and instead adopt a standard under which every country would begin at its current baseline to improve its fossil fuel efficiency by a specified amount every year until the 70 percent reduction is attained. By drawing progressively more of their energy from noncarbon sources, countries would create mass markets that would make these sources as cheap as coal and oil.

§ Creation of a large technology-transfer fund. The nations of the world should consider a tax on international currency transactions to fund the transfer of clean energy to developing countries. A tax of a quarter-penny per dollar on those transactions--which total $1.5 trillion per day--would help stabilize capital flows as well as net about $300 billion a year for wind farms in India, fuel-cell factories in South Africa and solar assemblies in El Salvador.

These measures would be far easier to negotiate, monitor and enforce. More important, they would represent a scale of response appropriate to the magnitude of the climate crisis that threatens the continuity of our organized civilization.

Bill Gates for President--next time. Now that we've gotten used to
millionaires running for the presidency, why not a billionaire and a
self-made one at that? At least Gates is aware that the biggest problem
in the world is not how to make some Americans even wealthier but how to
deal with the abysmal poverty that defines the condition of two-thirds of
God's people.

Odd as it may seem, it took the richest man in the world in a dramatic
speech last week to remind us that no man is an island, and that when
most of the world's population lives on the edge of extinction, it mocks
the rosy predictions for our common future on a wired planet.

Gates shocked a conference of computer industry wizards with the news
that the billions of people who subsist on a dollar a day are not in a
position to benefit from the Information Age. He charged that the hoopla
over the digital revolution, which he pioneered, is now a dangerous
distraction from the urgent need to deal seriously with the festering
problem of world poverty. Gates, who has donated an enormous amount to
charity, also made the case that private donations alone will not solve
the problem, and that massive government intervention is needed.

"Do people have a clear idea of what it is to live on $1 a day?" Gates
asked the conferees. "There's no electricity in that house. None. You're
just buying food, you're trying to stay alive."

The "Creating Digital Dividends" conference he addressed was one of
those occasions in which the computer industry indulges the hope that as
it earns enormous profits, it is solving the major problems facing
humanity. The premise of the conference was that "market drivers" could
be used "to bring the benefits of connectivity and participation in the
e-economy to all the world's 6 billion people."

As reported by Sam Howe Verhovek in the New York Times, Gates, who was
the conference's closing speaker, doused that hope by denying that the
poor would become part of the wired world any time soon. In a follow-up
interview, Gates amplified his view of what occurs when computers are
suddenly donated to the poor: "The mothers are going to walk right up to
that computer and say, 'My children are dying, what can you do?' They're
not going to sit there and like, browse eBay."

Gates, who has long extolled the power of computers to solve the
world's problems, criticized himself for having been "naïve--very naïve."
He has shifted the focus of the $21 billion Bill and Melinda Gates
Foundation from that of donating Information Age technology to meeting
the health needs of the poorest, beginning with the widespread
distribution of vaccines.

The New York Times reported that Gates "has lost much of the faith he
once had that global capitalism would prove capable of solving the most
immediate catastrophes facing the world's poorest people, especially the
40,000 deaths a day from preventable diseases. He added that more
philanthropy and more government aid--especially a greater contribution
to foreign health programs by American taxpayers--are needed for that."

Given that Gates is presumably the biggest of those taxpayers, that is
the most provocative challenge to the complacency of the
"free-markets-and-trade-will-solve-everything" ideology that dominates
the thinking of both major parties. US foreign aid to the poor
represents a pathetic fraction of our budget, while we devote ever larger
sums to building a sophisticated military without a sophisticated enemy
in sight. Yet those misplaced priorities went totally unchallenged by the
presidential candidates of both major parties.

Poverty is the major security problem both within and without our
country. These days the have-nots have many windows to the haves, and
resentment is inevitable. It is the breeding ground of disorder and
terror, and it is absurd to think that a stable new world order can be
built on such an uneven foundation.

One of the ironies of the wired world is that those terrorists in
their remote mountain camps are wired into the Internet, which has
facilitated the coordination of their evil plans. The terrorists have all
the laptops and cellular phones they want, but they depend for their
effectiveness on recruiting from the ranks of the alienated poor who
don't have medicines, food or a safe source of water.

If you are the parent of a newborn, beware. Fourteen to eighteen months from now your child will be programmed to nag for a new toy or snack every four hours, "branded for life" as a Cheerios eater or a Coca-Cola guzzler and placed in the loving care of a market researcher at the local daycare center.

That, at least, was the view of early childhood development presented by the 400 children's-market honchos at the third annual Advertising & Promoting to Kids Conference, held in New York City on September 13-14. Conference-goers attended sessions on topics like Building Brand Recognition, Marketing in the Classroom and The Fine Art of Nagging ("40% of sales of jeans, burgers and other products occur because a child asks for the product"). They cheered winners of the Golden Marble Awards for best breakfast-food and video-game commercials.

The marketing confab was held as the government released a report documenting the growing commercialization of public schools and also as the Federal Trade Commission blasted media companies and the advertising industry for deliberately marketing violent films and products to children. Although kids have been targets of marketing for decades, the sheer amount of advertising they are exposed to today is "staggering and emotionally harmful," says Susan Linn, a Harvard Medical School psychologist who studies media at the Judge Baker Children's Center in Boston. Linn and other child psychologists, educators and healthcare professionals led a protest outside the Golden Marble Awards to draw attention to the effects of the $12-billion-a-year kid-ad industry, including the epidemic of obesity in children and increasing violence in schools. "It's appalling that creativity is being rewarded in the service of manipulating children," Linn says. "We hope this is the beginning of a national movement to challenge this."

In fact, this fall has been a good one for grassroots opponents of corporate commercialism. The Madison, Wisconsin, school board voted in August to terminate its exclusive beverage contract with Coca-Cola, making it the first school district in the country to cancel an existing marketing deal [see Manning, "Students for Sale: How Corporations Are Buying Their Way Into America's Classrooms," September 27, 1999]. The board cited "overwhelming public opposition" as the reason for its decision. That action came hard on the heels of successful campaigns to stop proposed school-marketing deals in Oakland and Sacramento, California; Philadelphia; and the state of Michigan, where a cola contract involving 110 school districts was shot down. In October the American Dental Association passed a resolution urging its members to oppose the marketing of soft drinks and junk food in schools, and the American Psychological Association, under pressure from many of its members, agreed to form a task force to examine whether it is unethical for psychologists to advise companies that market to children. Meanwhile, ZapMe!, the in-school marketing company, abandoned its educational business after failing to convince enough schools to accept its offer of free computers in exchange for delivering student eyeballs to advertisers.

"We're seeing a dramatic increase in local resistance to all forms of corporate marketing to kids," says Andrew Hagelshaw, executive director of the Center for Commercial-Free Public Education, in Oakland. "The issue has finally hit critical mass with the public." Hillary Rodham Clinton has jumped on the bandwagon. Citing a "barrage of materialistic marketing" aimed at young children, the Democratic candidate for senator from New York wants the government to ban commercials aimed at preschool children and to prohibit advertising inside public elementary schools. Anticorporate activists welcomed Clinton's proposals but said they don't go far enough. Opponents of a New York City school board plan to finance free laptop computers for students through in-school advertising say her proposals won't protect millions of high school students. Nor would the proposals apparently affect the commercial in-school TV program Channel One, whose market is primarily middle school students.

Corporate lobbyists are already putting the heat on members of Congress who might support legislation reining in children's advertising. Hagelshaw believes the real battles will take place in local school boards and state legislatures, which may be more receptive to anticommercial arguments. There's never been a better, or more important, time for local activists to step up the pressure on corporate exploiters of children.

Blogs

Following rallies in fifteen cities yesterday demanding the reinstatement of fired activists, workers plan a second Black Friday strike.

September 6, 2013

A new report reveals that America’s highest-paid CEOs often do their jobs badly, leaving taxpayers to clean up the mess.

August 28, 2013

Nine fired workers and one current one were arrested at the end of a rally at which they gave Walmart a deadline to raise wages and reinstate fired workers.

August 22, 2013

As labor and civil rights groups demonstrate, watchdog groups seek federal and state inquiries.

August 8, 2013

In the wake of the news that Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos bought The Washington Post, William Greider looks back on the paper’s glory days.

August 7, 2013

Port truckers in New Jersey and California are working with the Teamsters to organize—and they’re winning.

July 25, 2013

As the chances of Larry Summers being named Obama’s next chairman of the Federal Reserve increase, the media needs to question his previous statements—and women need to mobilize against the man who once said that men are smarter than they are.

July 24, 2013

Workers allege serious safety issues, and retaliation for exposing them.

July 24, 2013

Just give free-market ideology a few seconds of your time and you, too, can join the 1 percent!

July 16, 2013

As Google and other tech giants gain weight in Washington, the gap between values and political value seems to be widening.

July 12, 2013