Jim Hightower

Who's Making Our Medicine?


Let’s talk pills. To treat everything from allergies to heart problems, half of Americans take a prescription medicine every day, and nearly all of us reach for the pill bottle on occasion.

It’s perfectly safe, though, because the Food and Drug Administration regulates the ingredients, right? Yes­-assuming they’re produced in the U.S.

Uh, aren’t they?

Mostly, no. Take antibiotics. The New York Times reports that ingredients for the majority of these bacteria fighters are “now made almost exclusively in China and India,” as are the components of dozens of other major drugs. Unbeknownst to most Americans (and to our doctors), China has become the world’s pre-eminent supplier of medicines. As one major drug company puts it: “If tomorrow China stopped supplying pharmaceutical ingredients, the worldwide pharmaceutical industry would collapse.”

What’s at work here is mindless globalization and deregulation. Our politicians threw open the U.S. market to drug imports, while also letting foreign manufacturers go uninspected and unregulated. So companies in China can cut corners and undercut our own regulated pill makers. America’s last producer of penicillin’s ingredients, for example, shut down in 2004, leaving us dependent on China.

The FDA-our supposed watchdog-doesn’t even know where a drug’s ingredients come from. Why? Because drug companies say they don’t like to reveal their sources. The Times found that one federal database lists the existence of about 3,000 foreign drug plants that ship to the U.S., while another lists 6,800. No one knows which is correct, if either.

This is ridiculous. For the sake of America’s health, security and economy, let’s regulate all pill makers and rebuild our own industry.

Reactivating The CCC For National Recovery

The report cards have come out, and I’m afraid we’re just not making the grade.

I’m talking about the “Infrastructure Report Card,” issued every four years by the American Society of Civil Engineers. The engineers analyze 15 categories of our country’s crucial infrastructure-including roads, drinking water, parks, schools, and levees. The latest report scores us a big fat D.

Our actual performance is even worse than this poor grade indicates, for America was rated a D+ in 2001, meaning our officials have let these public assets deteriorate further in the past eight years. The engineering group says our leaders ignore essential upkeep on our national house, relying on what the group calls “patch and pray” fixes. The group reports that it’ll take a concerted national effort costing $2.2 trillion over the next five years to lift America to a grade of A, where we belong.

That’s 18 times the size of the infrastructure funding in President Obama’s recovery plan, but at least his plan makes a significant start. Meanwhile, there’s another plan that the Obamacans are said to be considering that has special merit. It’s a grassroots proposal to reactivate the enormously successful Civilian Conservation Corps that Roosevelt launched in the Great Depression.

The revitalized CCC would enlist thousands of young Americans in all 50 states, putting them to work on the huge backlog of reconstruction projects so urgently needed on 700 million acres of urban and rural public lands.

Let’s put Americans to work on jobs that really need to be done, building national assets for future generations. For information on the CCC idea, and to sign a petition in support, go to www.wecantakeit.org.

Blackwater Metamorphosed

Blackwater USA, the infamous outfit of corporate mercenaries that became a worldwide symbol of George W’s imperious war in Iraq, is gone. Not merely gone from Iraq, but entirely gone. Kaput. Blackwater itself is no more.

Unfortunately, it’s gone in name only. Blackwater’s privatized army that mired itself in scandal after scandal still exists, but it has “rebranded” itself with a new moniker. Henceforth, the corporation formerly known as Blackwater is to be called Xe. That’s spelled x-e, but is pronounced “z,” which rhymes with “whee,” as in, “”Whee, we got rid of that contaminated name, so maybe no one will remember the stuff we did!”

Good luck with that. By whatever name, the company remains the target of four grand jury investigations. It stands accused of tax fraud, improper use of force, arms trafficking, and overbilling taxpayers. It was fired from its security job with the State Department in January, and Iraq’s government has since booted it out of that country entirely. It seems there is still a bit of resentment by Iraqis over that 2007 incident in which Blackwater guards gunned down 17 unarmed civilians.

Nonetheless, the corporation’s executives hope that the tiny, exotic name of Xe will be big enough to hide its notorious past. However, without a change in its corporate culture of anything goes, I’m guessing the world will be able to see through the rebranding ploy. After all, it’ll still be a for-hire army with profit as its motivating ethic.

By the way, I looked up Xe in the dictionary. It’s a chemical symbol for xenon, which is defined as “a heavy, colorless, chemically inactive, monatomic gaseous element present in the atmosphere … used to fill luminescent tubes.” So Blackwater is born again as a gaseous element.

For more information on Jim Hightower’s work-and to subscribe to his award-winning monthly newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown-visit www.jimhightower.com. His latest book, with Susan DeMarco, is Swim Against the Current: Even a Dead Fish Can Go With the Flow.