Archive for April, 2012
Watch Europe tip left and right as voters rise in fury against the austerity menu that’s been bringing them to utter ruin. In Holland, the right-wing Freedom Party leader Geert Wilders brought down the governing coalition on Monday, bellowing his defiance for the “Diktats from Brussels” and asserting that “We must be master of our own house.” Labour and Christian Democrats, Holland’s major parties, are crumbling.
Almost certainly doomed is France’s Nicolas Sarkozy, with François Hollande poised to win in the second round, but Marine Le Pen’s fiery, anti-banker populism has reaped her deserved rewards. As Ambrose Evans’Pritchard writes in the Daily Telegraph:
“Elected governments have already been swept away – or replaced by EU technocrats without a vote, indeed to prevent a vote – in every eurozone state where unemployment has reached double-digits: Spain (23.6 per cent), Greece (21 per cent), Portugal (15 per cent), Ireland (14.7 per cent) and Slovakia (14 per cent). The political carnage has been striking. Ireland’s Fianna Fail, creator of the Irish free state, has lost every seat in Dublin. Greece’s Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) – torch-bearers of Greek democracy since the Colonels – has fallen to 14 per cent in the polls and faces ruin next month.
“The results are in: the hard-Left and hard-Right are on the rampage across Euroland…. France’s Marine Le Pen presents herself as a latterday Jeanne d’Arc, openly comparing France’s pro-EU camp with the Burgundians who plotted ‘English Annexation’ in the 1430s – or indeed ‘Les Collabos’ who bought peace after 1940. ‘Let us break the chains of the French people. Bring on the French Spring,’ she tells Front National rallies.
“The mood feels different from past episodes of irritation with EU aggrandizement, whether the ‘No’ votes against the European Constitution in 2005 or the Irish ‘No’ to Lisbon and Nice, or the Scandinavian ‘Nej’ votes against the euro. Mme. Le Pen has gone to the heart of the matter, asserting that monetary union cannot be fudged, that it is incompatible with the French nation state. She has won 18 per cent of the vote campaigning to pull France out of the euro and smash the whole project. Unlike her father – who never seriously expected to be president – she has a realistic chance of peeling off enough Gaulliste votes to emerge as paramount leader of the French Right.”
What will German Chancellor Angela Merkel do as the pan-European mutiny against austerity rises? With her ally Sarkozy in all likelihood soon gone, it’s Germany that’s looking isolated. Will François Hollande be up to the task of forcing a change of step for Europe, and Keynesian reflation? I wish I had confidence in the man, but I don’t. He’s nother limp social democrat with the muscle of a three-day old hake. Marine le Pen has the fire, no doubt about that. After her excellent report on the first round elections in France, a reader wrote commending most of Diane Johnstone’s analysis, then complaining:
“I certainly don’t agree with [Diana Johnstone’s] take on Marine Le Pen. The right-wing candidate has not changed her spots and remains as much of a racist as her Algerian-torturer father. It has been bad enough with Sarko; let us not have to suffer another fascistic right-wing government in Europe.”
“Since Hollande seems most likely to win the election, there is no sign of ‘another fascistic right-wing government’ in France – unless Sarkozy achieves an upset by his current effort to win votes from Marine Le Pen’s followers by a more anti-immigrant discourse.
“What do you mean by ‘fascistic’? Historically, ‘fascism’ is both an ideology and a practice, the practice including the use of violent militias to intimidate citizens and win power. There is no sign of that in France. Mere hostility to immigration is rampant in the United States, but this is not usually considered ‘fascism.’
“Torturing Algerians was terrible, but surely no worse than US torture of Iraqis or Afghans – and those who tortured Algerians believed they were defending part of their own country, ‘Algérie Française,’ an excuse which Americans do not have. That particular ‘racism’ is the mental attitude that accompanies a colonial war. The Algerian war is over, and Marine Le Pen has nothing to do with it.”
“Greater Than Expected Death”
Years ago, I wrote a column in the Nation delving through the various estimates of how many had died in Stalin’s 1930s purges. The numbers, awful at any level, had ballooned into total fantasy most zealously promoted by Robert Conquest, a nutty cold warrior and former British intelligence officer. I think I settled on a figure of some five or six million, which seemed dire enough and was swiftly savaged as little better than an epigone of Beria.
Much of the argument, I remember, revolved around the demographic concept of “greater than expected death.” The available census figures in the Soviet Union in the 1930s were not particularly sturdy, in presumed contrast to the reports these days of the US Bureau of the Census, So I remain completely astounded by the fact that half a million more Americans than usual on current demographic trends can die and there’s no public commotion or curiosity.
I’m referring to the story by Ron Unz in CounterPunch last week, comparing drug scandals: Melamine in China and Vioxx the United States.
To remind readers:
In September 2004, Merck, one of America’s largest pharmaceutical companies, issued a sudden recall of Vioxx, its anti-pain medication widely used to treat arthritis-related ailments.
There was a fair amount of news coverage after the recall, but pretty slim considering the alleged 55,000 death toll. A big class-action lawsuit dragged its way through the courts for years, eventually being settled for $4.85 billion in 2007.
Senior FDA officials apologized for their lack of effective oversight and promised to do better in the future. The Vioxx scandal began to sink into the vast marsh of semi-forgotten international pharmaceutical scandals.
The year after Vioxx was pulled from the market, the New York Times and other media outlets ran minor news items, usually down column, noting that American death rates had undergone a striking and completely unexpected decline.
Typical was the headline on a short article that ran in the 19 April 2005 edition of USA Today: ‘USA Records Largest Drop in Annual Deaths in at Least 60 Years.’ During that one year, American deaths fell by 50,000 despite the growth in both the size and the age of the nation’s population. Government health experts were quoted as being greatly “surprised” and “scratching [their] heads” over this strange anomaly, which was led by a sharp drop in fatal heart attacks.
For his Melamine/Vioxx comparison, Unz went back to those 2005 stories. Quick scrutiny of the most recent 15 years worth of national mortality data provided on the US Government’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website offered Unz some useful clues.
“We find the largest rise in American mortality rates occurred in 1999, the year Vioxx was introduced, while the largest drop occurred in 2004, the year it was withdrawn,” says Unz. “Vioxx was almost entirely marketed to the elderly, and these substantial changes in the national death-rate were completely concentrated within the 65-plus population.
“The FDA studies had proven that use of Vioxx led to deaths from cardiovascular diseases such as heart attacks and strokes, and these were exactly the factors driving the changes in national mortality rates.”
“Patterns of cause and effect cannot easily be proven,” Unz continues. “But if we hypothesize a direct connection between the recall of a class of very popular drugs proven to cause fatal heart attacks and other deadly illnesses with an immediate drop in the national rate of fatal heart attacks and other deadly illnesses, then the statistical implications are quite serious.”
Unz makes the point that the users of Vioxx were almost all elderly, and it was not possible to determine whether a particular victim’s heart attack had been caused by Vioxx or other factors. But he concludes: “Perhaps 500,000 or more premature American deaths may have resulted from Vioxx, a figure substantially larger than the 3,468 deaths of named individuals acknowledged by Merck during the settlement of its lawsuit. And almost no one among our political or media elites seems to know or care about this possibility.”
I remarked to Unz that it seemed truly incredible that a greater than expected death rate of this dimension should scarcely have caused a ripple.
“I’m just as astonished,” he said. “One might conjecture that the mainstream media and the government officials were all bribed or intimidated by Merck’s lawyers, lobbyists, and advertising budget into averting their eyes or holding their tongues. But from 2004 onwards, huge numbers of America’s toughest trial lawyers were suing Merck for billions based on Vioxx casualties. Didn’t they notice the dramatic drop in the national death rate?
“The inescapable conclusion is that in today’s world and in the opinion of our own media, American lives are quite cheap, unlike those in China.”
“Besides,” says Unz, laughing, “it shows the stupidity of our political leaders that they didn’t seize upon this great opportunity. They should have just renamed Vioxx the ‘Save Social Security Drug,’ and distributed it free in very large doses to everyone, starting on their 65th birthday. Maybe they should have even made it mandatory, three times per day. At sufficiently large levels of national consumption, Vioxx could have almost singlehandedly eliminated all our serious budget deficit problems. ‘Vioxx—The Miracle Anti-Deficit Drug.’”