James Ridgeway

James Ridgeway

In 1965, James Ridgeway helped launch the modern muckraking era by revealing that General Motors had hired private eyes to spy on an obscure consumer advocate named Ralph Nader. He worked for many years at the Village Voice, has written 16 books, and has codirected Blood in the Face, a film about the far right. In 2012, he was named a Soros Justice Media Fellow.

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Viva Big Pharma

| Thu Sep. 10, 2009 4:31 PM EDT

Regardless of what happens from here on out, the current health care reform clearly will offer no significant challenge to Big Pharma, which year after year rates among the top two or three most profitable industries in the world. This leaves the drug manufacturers free to carry out their vital, life-saving work. One example of that work appears today on John Mack’s highly informative Pharma Marketing Blog:

A Long Island man infringed on Pfizer’s trademark by towing a 20-foot replica missile with ‘Viva Viagra’ painted on its side through midtown Manhattan, eventually parking it in front of the drugmaker’s 42nd Street headquarters, a federal judge ruled.

This story dates back to last year, when a couple of guys from the Island came up with the rather kooky idea of using decommissioned military ordinance as an advertising medium. According to their web site, their company, Jet Angel, “takes the target marketing capabilities of mobile billboards and adds an experience for consumers to achieve the ultimate viewer captivation”—in other words, everyone is guaranteed to look at a giant missile being towed through the streets.
 
Apparently seeking to prove this claim, they emblazoned a missile with the slogan from Pfizer’s grotesque “Viva Viagra” ads, drove it around Manhattan, and hung out for a while in front of the drugmaker’s corporate headquarters. They followed up with an email to Pfizer:

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Good Speech, Muddled Politics

| Wed Sep. 9, 2009 9:54 PM EDT

Many people in Washington sadly have come to the conclusion that the moment for health care reform has come and gone. In short, that Obama’s inspiring speech was too little and too late.

What’s left is a dim possibility of limited reform. And many critics believe Obama can’t even get that.

However, it may just be that Obama, using the Democratic majority as a hammer, can achieve some limited change for the better. If so, that most likely will come from a base set forth by the Baucus plan announced yesterday, embellished and compromised during the joint House-Senate conference that will settle the issue.

What to Look for in Obama's Speech Tonight

| Wed Sep. 9, 2009 11:26 AM EDT

First, nothing specific. Here’s how the BBC reports it this morning:

When asked if Americans will find out in his speech whether or not he is willing to sign a healthcare reform bill without a public scheme, he said: “Well, I think the country is going to know exactly what I think will solve our healthcare crisis.”
Mr Obama said the speech will be directed at the American people, as well as members of Congress…

"The intent of the speech is to, A, make sure that the American people are clear exactly what it is that we are proposing," Mr Obama said. "And B, to make sure that Democrats and Republicans understand that I’m open to new ideas, that we’re not being rigid and ideological about this thing, but we do intend to get something done this year."

Dog Days Turn Deadly in America's Prisons

| Tue Sep. 1, 2009 7:27 AM EDT

The summer of 2009 hadn't even begun when Marcia Powell, a 48-year old inmate at Arizona’s Perryville Prison, was baked to death. Powell, whom court records show had a history of schizophrenia, substance abuse, and mild mental retardation, was serving a 27-month sentence for prostitution. At about 11 a.m. on May 19, a day when the Arizona sun had driven the temperature to 108 degrees, she was parked outdoors in an unroofed, wire-fenced holding cell while awaiting transfer to another part of the prison. A deputy warden and two guards had been stationed in a control center 20 yards away, but nearly four hours had passed when she was found collapsed on the floor of the human cage. Doctors at a local hospital pronounced Powell comatose from heat stroke, and she died later that night after being taken off life support. Two local churches stepped in to provide a proper funeral and burial.
 
Arizona Department of Corrections director Charles Ryan said the guards had been suspended pending a criminal investigation. But just yesterday, the Maricopa County Medical Examiner ruled the death an accident, caused by "complications of hyperthermia due to environmental heat exposure." This despite the fact that Powell had blistering and first and second degree "thermal injuries" on face, arms, and upper body. 
 
Ryan also expressed “condolences to Ms. Powell’s family and loved ones”–a strange statement, considering Ryan had made the decision to quickly pull the plug on his comatose prisoner because, he said, no next of kin could be found. In fact, as Stephen Lemons of the Phoenix New Times has reported, Powell was judged an “incapacitated adult” and placed under public guardianship–but her guardians were not consulted before the ADC elected to let her die. Lemons also noted some unsavory chapters in Ryan’s recent career:

Ryan’s own bio on the ADC Web site touts that he was “assistant program manager for the Department of Justice overseeing the Iraqi Prison System for almost four years.” Ryan was contracted by the DOJ to help rebuild Iraqi prisons, one of those being the notorious Abu Ghraib.

Following Powell’s death, Ryan banned most uses of unshaded outdoor holding cells in Arizona, except in “extraordinary circumstances.” Most Southern states already restrict their use. But baking in the sun is only one of many ways to die in America’s prisons in the summertime. Recent years have seen scattered reports of heat-related prison deaths in California and Texas, among others. The prevalence of mental illness among the victims may be linked to anti-psychotic drugs, which raise the body temperature and cause dehydration, and at the same time have a tranquilizing effect that may mask thirst.
 
In 2006, 21-year-old Timothy Souders, another mentally ill prisoner, died of heat exhaustion and dehydration at a Jackson, Michigan prison during an August heat wave. For the four days prior to his death, Souders had been shackled to a cement slab in solitary confinement because he had been acting up. That entire period was captured on surveillance videotapes, which according to news reports clearly showed his mental and physical deterioration.

Obama Talked Big on Katrina, Did Little

| Fri Aug. 28, 2009 1:31 PM EDT

During the campaign Obama pledged to make the Gulf Coast recovery a paramount goal.
In February, 2008, he declared, "The broken promises did not start when a storm hit, and they did not end there … I promise you that when I’m in the White House I will commit myself every day to keeping up Washington’s end of this trust. This will be a priority of my presidency."

But a new study [PDF] by the Institute of Southern Studies reports that 50 community leaders from areas affected by the hurricane ranked Obama only slightly better than Bush in reconstruction. In a range of different categories, Obama came out with a D+ to Bush’s D.

According to the report, "A diverse group of more than 50 community leaders were asked in August 2009 to grade the Obama administration’s efforts for Gulf Coast recovery in eight key areas. The respondents came from Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas, and represented a wide range of constituencies, including faith, community and environmental organizations."

The demographics assembled by the Institute in themselves reflect how little has been done to restore life along the coast:

  • Estimated number of U.S. residents displaced by Hurricane Katrina: 1 million
  • Rank of Katrina’s among all diasporas in U.S. history: 1
  • Estimated number of people displaced by Katrina still living in Houston today: 100,000
  • Percent of New Orleans’ pre-Katrina addresses that are actively receiving mail today: 76.4
  • Percent receiving mail in the largely African-American and working-class Lower 9th Ward: Less than 49
  • Percent of households with children in New Orleans before Katrina: 30
  • Percent shortly after the storm: 18
  • Percent two years later: 20
  • Percent of New Orleans’ pre-Katrina population that was African-American: 67
  • Percent three years later: 61
  • Number of abandoned residential addresses in New Orleans today: 65,888
  • Proportion of all residential addresses in the city that number represents: 1/3
  • Rank of New Orleans among all U.S. cities for the rate of abandoned residences: 1
  • Number of 2010 federal census questionnaires slated to be hand-delivered to homes in south Louisiana in an effort to ensure an accurate count: 300,000
  • Average amount of federal funds states receive over a decade for each person counted in the census: $12,000
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