Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Mengele in America

My students often ask me why they need to take science. My answer is pretty simple: scientific thought is the most effective method for understanding natural phenomena and making accurate predictions about it. When used correctly, the scientific method can also be useful in understanding some social phenomena. However, the scientific method is sometimes misused and abused, even by scientists themselves.

There are “innocent” examples of this, such as poorly designed experiment with too many uncontrolled variables, or when there are inadvertent biases.

However, there have also been numerous examples of deliberate or malicious attempts to subvert the scientific process for private gain. The tobacco companies, for example, have hired their own scientists to do research that “proved” cigarettes or second hand smoke were safe or, when this was no longer a tenable position to argue, to provide evidence that sowed doubt about the dangers. Oil companies have done likewise to sow doubt about climate change. (See Merchants of Doubt, numerous articles by Robert Procter, The Republican War on Science, among other sources).

Then there are the cases where scientists have done dangerous, terrible and unethical things to specific classes of human beings because they were deemed “undesirable” or “subhuman,” or because they thought they could get away with it. The most infamous examples are the experiments conducted by Josef Mengele on concentration camp prisoners. However, an American researcher, Dr. John Cutler, was doing heinous experiments on Guatemalans in 1946, at the same time that the Nuremberg trials were going on and Mengele’s work was being exposed to the world. The following details of these experiments are from a Democracy Now on 8/31/2011.

Cutler and his colleagues, with the complicity of the Guatemalan and U.S. governments, intentionally infected over 1,300 Guatemalan sex workers, prisoners, soldiers, orphans and mental patients with sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)—without their permission—in order to study the effects of penicillin. In some cases, when victims failed to contract an STD through unprotected sex, they were inoculated with STD bacteria through wounds made on the penis or face, or injected into the urethra, rectum or spine. Many of the victims were never provided any treatment. Others were provided inadequate or incomplete treatment and, as a result, infected their family members.

But Those Were Different Times, Not
It has been argued that those were different times, with laxer ethical values and a weaker understanding of the ramifications of such experiments. However, Cutler knew full well that what he was doing was unethical, dangerous and cruel, which is why he went to Guatemala to do it. According a New York Times report, Cutler’s reports made it up the chain of command to the U.S. Surgeon General, Thomas Parran Jr. In a letter to Cutler, one of his colleagues said, "The surgeon general says, 'Well, we couldn't do this in the United States,’" which is not only an acknowledgment of what was going on, but an admission that it was ethically wrong.

Cutler had already attempted similar research on prisoners in Indiana. While he supposedly acquired informed consent from the inmates, he deliberately misled them about the nature and dangers of the research in order to increase the number of participants. The fact that he went to prisoners in the first place was an attempt to circumvent safety and ethical norms, as prisoners were believed to be more willing to consent to dangerous research because they had less education or believed that compliance would help them get released earlier.
Tuskegee syphilis research victims
Tuskegee blood draw, 1953
 Tuskegee syphilis experiments
Not surprisingly, Cutler went on to be a major player in the Tuskegee experiments (1932-1972) in which more than 600 African American men were deliberately denied treatment for syphilis in order to study its progression. The men were never even told they had syphilis and were denied treatment, even after the advent of penicillin. Over 100 of the participants died of the disease or complications from syphilis, while many of their wives and children contracted the disease from them. Cutler was never apologetic for his role in the research and continued to insist that the work was valuable and appropriate.

Those Radical Nurses: Make Wall Street Pay!

Wall Street Speculators, We're Coming For You (Image by Barbara Bessa)
Nurses from across the U.S. are planning to call on Congress members on September 1 to support a tax on Wall Street financial speculation. The OB Rag and the Left Labor Reporter say that nurses will be joined by other groups who are planning soup kitchens to help feed the hungry and homeless, community speak outs and street theater to draw attention to the growing wealth gap. Events are planned in large cities like Boston, Chicago, San Francisco and Orlando, as well as smaller cities like Corpus Christi, Texas, Marquette, Mich., Bakersfield, Calif., Dayton, Ohio, and Worcester, Mass.
Nurses Marching (On Wall Street???) Image by timefornurses
 Sponsored by National Nurses United (NNU), the RNs will be calling on Congress members to support a Wall Street transaction tax and make it “pay for the devastation it has caused on Main Street.”

In a recent piece in the New York Times, Nancy Folbre, an economist at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, wrote that a 0.5% tax on trades of stocks, bonds, derivatives, currencies, credit default swaps, future options, and other exotic speculative transactions could bring in $175 billion annually. Contrary to the crocodile tears of Wall Street speculators, economist Mark Thoma says that only short-term trades will be affected by the tax, and these are based on speculation that has little social value.

Mark Thoma is being too generous. There is no social value whatsoever, only profits for a few rich people. And the nurses are being too generous, as well, asking for only a pittance from people who can afford far more. What about marginal tax rates, corporate tax rates, capital gains taxes and inheritance taxes, each of which is at record or near record lows? If the rich had to pay taxes at the rates they were paying under their hero Reagan, which were higher than today, the government might bring in hundreds of billions or even a trillion each year. And if they paid the 80% marginal tax rate of the post-WWII years, it would easily over a trillion annually.

According to the Left Labor Reporter, the NNU’s September 1 action is part of the union’s ongoing campaign to “Heal America; Make Wall Street Pay,” whose goal is to get Americans back to work, provide health care to all, and help the working class regain some of the ground we’ve lost over the last 30 years.

Of course Wall Street should pay through the teeth, but this will not heal America. In fact, regaining the ground we’ve lost over the last 30 years, will only take us back to a time when the wealth gap was huge rather than monstrous. The world will still be dominated by a tiny minority of people who will still possess the vast majority of the wealth and for whom the rest of us will still be forced to toil. There will still be poverty, as there was 30 years ago. There will continue to be people who lack health care, decent housing, adequate food, free time, or control over their own wellbeing and destiny.

Taxing the rich is a bandage and perhaps a decent first step. But if we really want to heal America, then we need to be fighting for an end to the wage system and bosses and for a system in which everyone has access to the good things in life.

Today in Labor History—August 31

August 31, 1919 – The Communist Labor Party of America was formed in Chicago by John Reed and others. The party evolved into the American Communist Party. (From the Daily Bleed)

August 31, 1929 – The Trade Union Unity League was founded by 690 delegates from 18 states fleeing the conservative American Federation of Labor. The League, a wing of the Communist Party, pushed for organizing workers along industrial lines, rather than by craft, like the AFL, with all workers in a given industry together in one big union. At its peak, the League had 125,000 members and, in 1930, led a protest of nearly a million jobless workers in a dozen cities to demand relief and unemployment insurance. The league fell apart in the late 1930s due to competition from the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), which had launched a wave of successful organizing drives. (From the Daily Bleed)

August 31, 1933 – Italian American labor organizer, Giovanni Pippan was murdered during his campaign to organize the Italian bread wagon drivers of Chicago.
(From the Daily Bleed)

August 31, 1939 – Nearly all 430 workers at the California Sanitary Canning Company participated in a massive walkout. The majority of the workers were Mexican-American women. They were demand union recognition for their affiliation with the United Cannery, Agricultural, Packing, & Allied Workers of America (UCAPAWA). They eventually won a union contract and wage increase. (From the Daily Bleed)

August 31, 1968 -- Canadian elementary school students near Montreal occupied their school, demanding reforms. (From the Daily Bleed)

August 31, 1980 – Solidarnosc forced the Polish dictatorship to sign a 21 point bill of rights allowing workers to organize in independent unions. The agreement came after two months of crippling strikes that began at the shipyards of Gdansk. (From the Daily Bleed)

August 31, 1983 – Polish police used tear gas and water cannons on 10,000 Solidarity demonstrators. (From the Daily Bleed)

August 31, 1991 – The second Solidarity Day demonstration occurred in Washington, D.C., with over 350,000 union members demanding workplace fairness and health care reform. The first Solidarity Day took place 10 years earlier in the wake of the PATCO firings. (From Workday Minnesota)

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

What A Way to Start the School Year--2 Oakland Schools Locked Down

Welcome to Class Students and Here is Your Bathroom (image by Editor B)
I’ve written about numerous school lockdowns in LAUSD (see here, here and here), many of which were gratuitous overkill. This week, Oakland unified began their school year with lockdowns at Castlemont High and East Oakland Pride Elementary, in response to a carjacking in West Oakland. According to a report by the Bay Citizen, it seems the response by school officials may have been warranted, at least initially.

The police chased the stolen car into East Oakland and then chased the suspect by foot, ending with an exchange of gun fire. Under these circumstances it certain makes sense to keep children secure in their classrooms. However, children at the elementary school were locked down in their classrooms from noon until 2:30 pm, while the high schoolers were still locked down as of 3:15 pm.

It is highly improbable that the risk to students lasted a full two and half hours. But even if it did, how could they justify letting the K-5 kids go home, while the teenagers were still under lockdown? If it was safe enough for the younger children to go home, then it was most likely safe enough for the teenagers to leave their classrooms and use the restrooms, get drinks of water and attend their final classes of the day.

California Passes Rectal Injection Bill For Teachers

If the headline doesn’t make it perfectly clear, crazy California has passed perhaps the looniest piece of legislation ever. SB161, which asks teachers to rectally inject diastat (valium) into students who are having epileptic seizures, just passed the state assembly on a vote of 47-16, with 17 abstentions.

Fortunately, teachers and other staff may volunteer to give the injections, but are not required to. I say fortunately, because the instructions say that only personnel trained by medical professionals should administer the medication. The instructions require the medicine to be injected rectally while the patient is in the midst of a seizure, something that would be difficult even for trained personnel and that could easily result in mistakes that harm the student.

Click here for a demonstration video on how to administer Diastat

Refuse and Resist
All teachers should refuse to volunteer. They should refuse because this is a job for trained medical personnel like nurses, who the state should be adequately funding at every school site. They should refuse because it sets them up for liability should they make a mistake. They should refuse because it is not in their job description or training to strip students publicly, stick things into their rectums, and have to maintain the order and discipline of their remaining 30-35 students while they do so. And they should refuse out of solidarity with their nurse colleagues who have been pushed out of the schools as a result of budget cuts.

The nurses unions oppose the legislation, not only because it encourages the downsizing of nursing staffs (if teachers can administer medicine, then why do we need nurses?), but also because it is dangerous for students. Sandre Swanson (Dem., Oakland) implored his colleagues to vote no, saying they should “work immediately to fund nurses at schools,” according to the Sacramento Bee. Unfortunately, his Democratic colleagues ignored his pleas and voted for the bill.

Today in Labor History—August 30

August 30, 1834 - Union delegates from New York, Boston, Philadelphia and other East Coast cities met to form the National Trades Union, which united craft unions to oppose the wealth of a tiny minority. Although they were active for just a few years, the NTU paved the way for more than 60 new unions. (From Workday Minnesota)

August 30, 1971 – Ten empty school buses were blown up in Pontiac, Michigan to prevent the daily bussing of 8,700 children to achieve racial balance in the city's schools. (From the Daily Bleed)