Death in the Amazon: Brazil accused of protecting trees but not its people
Progress in reducing logging marred by brutal killings of environmental campaigners
Tom Phillips and Gabriel Elizondo in Maraba
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 28 September 2011 16.55 EDT
Death in the Amazon – a deforested area burns near Novo Progresso in the state of Pará, north Brazil. Photograph: Andre Penner/Associated Press Even here, Tuesday is an unusual day to die. At the weekend there is no shortage of bloodletting in this corner of the Amazon. Bar brawls, knife fights, lovers’ tiffs, alcohol-soaked arguments, all with the same predictable coda: a slit throat, a shot to the head, a visit from Maraba’s over-worked head of forensic science, José Augusto Andrade, and a gory crime-scene photograph splashed across the pages of a tabloid.
Tuesdays, though, are normally quiet. But 24 May this year was an exception.
The call came at about 10.30am, and Andrade was soon racing out of town towards the Praia Alta Piranheira settlement, a rural area about 55 miles from his antiseptic-scented morgue.
At the crime scene two bodies lay beside an earth track. Dozens of people crowded around the victims, who were instantly, predictably, recognisable. They were the rainforest activist José Cláudio Ribeiro da Silva, who had foretold his own death six months earlier at an environmental conference in the Amazon, and his wife, Maria do Espírito Santo.
If Tuesday was an unusual day for a double homicide, what Andrade saw was stranger still: Da Silva’s ear had been hacked off, perhaps a trophy taken by the killers as proof their mission had been accomplished. “I’m used to barbarous crimes but not to seeing someone commit a murder, then mutilate a person,” Andrade said. “It is not common.”
Da Silva, also known as Ze Cláudio, and Espírito Santo were the latest in a string of environmentalists to die for their cause in the Brazilian Amazon. After nearly 15 years of campaigning against illegal loggers, as well as charcoal producers and cattle ranchers, they were gunned down not far from their jungle home on the settlement.
“They were moments that I would give everything to never have gone through,” said Espírito Santo’s sister, Laisa Santos Sampaio, a primary school teacher who lived on the settlement alongside the murdered couple.
Tears streaming down her cheeks, she repeated her roadside farewell. “I just remember asking: ‘My sister, why have you left me?’ I didn’t know what to do.”
In recent years the Brazilian government has made significant progress in slowing the destruction of the world’s largest tropical rainforest, reducing the area of forest lost, from 10,500 square miles in 2004 to just 2,300 square miles last year. But a spate of brutal killings have underscored an uncomfortable truth: the authorities can stop the felling of the trees to some extent, but not the cutting down of environmentalists.
“This is the reality of this country,” said Da Silva’s youngest sister, Claudelice Silva dos Santos. “There is so much good stuff in Brazil. The Amazon is so beautiful. It has to be preserved. But this is what happens to those who try to protect it.”
The murders of Da Silva and Espírito Santo were the highest profile environmental killings in Brazil since the murder of Dorothy Stang, 73. The American-born nun, who worked for the Catholic church’s pastoral land commission, was shot in 2005 by two gunmen on a rainforest track in Para state. Among five defendants in the case was a wealthy rancher, Regivaldo Galvão, whose conviction for orchestrating her murder was upheld this month.
Few people believe such deaths will be the last. Many parts of the Brazilian Amazon remain off-limits to environmentalists, while government environmental officials go to certain regions only if escorted by rifle-toting police and helicopter back-up.
“The difference between here and the place where [Da Silva] and Maria were murdered is that this place is more isolated and you don’t find rainforest defenders,” said Marco Vidal, an environmental officer who had known the couple and was deployed in the region days after their execution.
With an assault-rifle slung around his shoulder, Vidal toured an illegal sawmill recently closed down by his forces. It was in a region known as Middle Land, one of the latest frontlines in the government’s battle against deforestation, near the cattle-ranching frontier town of Sao Felix do Xingu.
“The rainforest defenders here were either killed or never made it this far due to the very real threat of being killed,” he explained. “If NGOs such as Greenpeace tried to come here they would definitely be eliminated.”
Da Silva and Espírito Santo had lived on the Praia Alta Piranheira settlement, on the banks of the Tocantins, in the Amazon state of Para. Founded in 1997 as part of a government land reform initiative, the 22,000-hectare (54,000-acre) settlement was split into plots, which were distributed to poor, landless Brazilians. The idea was that settlers would make a sustainable living from the forest, harvesting fruits and nuts.
It did not work out that way. When the settlement was created, about 85% of its land was pristine rainforest. The area has since been eaten away, its forests hacked down to produce charcoal for the region’s pig-iron industry or transformed into huge cattle ranches. Facing financial hardship, many settlers were forced to sell their land or forests to the loggers and charcoal producers.
But Da Silva and Espírito Santo championed sustainability and railed against those people seeking to profit from the forest’s destruction. The consequence was persistent death threats.
In a 2004 letter to Brazil’s environment minister at the time, the rainforest defender Marina Silva, Espírito Santo issued one of many desperate cries for help. “We would like to inform you that we are being threatened with death because we do not agree with what is happening,” she wrote. “Nature’s enemies are working night and day.”
Espírito Santo had described her two‑page letter as “an SOS”, saying: “All we can now do is ask that you help us carry out our mission of preserving the forest … greed and capitalism have always been blind.”
The frequent death threats were also registered with José Batista Gonçalves Afonso, a human rights lawyer and friend, who believes the government could and should have done more to protect the couple. “They were abandoned,” he said. “They were exposed. And unfortunately they became easy targets for the gunmen of those who were interested in eliminating them.”
Over the past 20 years Afonso has seen buried dozens of friends and colleagues – Amazon activists who stood up for the rainforest or the poor.
Nearly four months after Da Silva and Espírito Santo were murdered, police arrested three men in connection with the killings, in a dawn raid on a jungle camp about 32 miles from the Amazon town of Novo Repartimento. One of the men, José Rodrigues Moreira, a small-time cattle rancher, was accused of ordering the murders.
Family members suspect a wider conspiracy. Fearing for their lives, they have not returned to their homes on the settlement. “This is just the tip of the iceberg. There’s much more going on here,” said Claudelice, after police named their three prime suspects.
Sitting next to her on a sofa in the family’s sitting room, Da Silva’s elderly mother, Raimunda, said: “I feel like I have been abandoned in the middle of the world. My son meant everything to me. I love all of my children but he was my firstborn.” With bloodshot eyes, she wept.
• The Crying Forest, an al-Jazeera documentary produced and directed by Tom Phillips and reported by Gabriel Elizondo, will be shown on Al-Jazeera English, starting on 29 September at 8pm and posted in full online at aljazeera.net/english© 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved.
How A Small Red Fruit Performs Taste Miracles For ‘Flavor Trippers’
by ELIZA BARCLAY
Courtesy of Keiko Abe
The miracle fruit from West Africa has a chemical that binds to and boosts sweet taste receptors in the presence of acidic foods.
A tiny crimson berry from West Africa discovered by Westerners almost three centuries ago can turn lemons into lemonade and vinegar into apple cider, at least as far as the tongue is concerned.
The chemical miraculin in “miracle fruit,” as the berry is known, makes sour things eaten immediately afterward taste sweet, and sweet things taste super sweet. And it’s inspired a small counterculture of “flavor trippers” who get together to swirl it (or a tablet containing it) around on their tongues and then sample a parade of foods to showcase its mind-bending qualities.
But how it works, and, more importantly, how it might go from cool party trick to potential weapon against obesity, was little understood, until now.
In a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a group of Japanese chemists explain how exactly miraculin hijacks taste buds.
Keiko Abe, a professor of biological chemistry at the University of Tokyo and the lead author of the paper, says miraculin binds tightly to sweet taste receptors and then pushes them into high gear only if pH in the mouth starts to drop into the acidic range from something sour — like when you’re eating an unripe strawberry or a lime. Miraculin’s bind is so tight that the effect lasts for 1 to 2 hours.
Miraculin’s influence over sweet receptors is so great, it turns out, it can even push other sweet tastes out. “When other sweet substances exist together in the mouth, it is likely that miraculin almost monopolizes the sweet taste receptor,” Abe tells The Salt.
The first time she ate the fruit in 1989, Abe says, she was “surprised and excited” by the fruit’s power — so excited that he dropped what he was working on to investigate miraculin.
But Abe is far from the only one caught in miraculin’s honeyed vise. A number of chefs have also been experimenting with miracle fruit, both to entertain diners and help diabetics and the under-nourished.
In Boston, Chef Eliana Hussain at the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts designed a flavor tripping menu earlier this year forMystery Meet, a group of adventurous diners. Seth Resler, its founder, says the eight-course menu included dishes such as citrus salad with mint and yogurt and a kooky combination of shrimp and strawberries.
“It was unusual,” Resler says. “The strawberries tasted like they were dunked in powdered sugar, while the shrimp didn’t taste different. The best thing to do is try everything before and after, because the flavors can change a lot in just an hour.”
Chicago chef Homaro Cantu, co-host of the Discovery Channel’s Future Food show, has also taken a liking to miracle fruit. He and pastry chef Ben Roche are working on a miracle berry diet book with desserts that contain no sugar, Wired reports, and feature it at their newest restaurant, iNG.
They also say it could be used to fight hunger by making nutritious but unpalatable plants, like grasses, taste good to people who have trouble growing or buying other kinds of food.
Japanese food chemist Abe agrees that miraculin could be put to work outside of the flavor tripping world. It could be a non-calorie sweetener for patients with diabetes, obesity and other metabolic syndromes, she says.
But for all these good intentions, price might be an obstacle.Mberry, one company that’s trying to cash in on the miracle fruit rage, charges $42 for just 10 fresh berries (shipping included). That, sadly, is no miracle.
The Truth-O-Meter Says:
Says Texas wildfires are linked to climate change. Barack Obama on Monday, September 26th, 2011 in a fundraising event in San Jose, Calif. Barack Obama slams Rick Perry on climate change, citing Texas wildfires During a Sept. 26, 2011, speech at a Democratic National Committee fundraising event in San Jose, Calif., President Barack Obama aimed some attack lines at the Republican Party.
“Some of you here may be folks who actually used to be Republican but are puzzled by what’s happened to that party….” Obama said in comments that, according to the White House’s transcript, were punctuated by laughter. “I mean, has anybody been watching the debates lately? You’ve got a governor whose state is on fire denying climate change. No, no, it’s true. You’ve got audiences cheering at the prospect of somebody dying because they don’t have health care, and booing a service member in Iraq because they’re gay. That’s not reflective of who we are. We’ve had differences in the past, but at some level we’ve always believed, you know what, that we’re not defined by our differences. We’re bound together.”
After several readers brought it to our attention, we zeroed in on Obama’s comment that “you’ve got a governor whose state is on fire denying climate change.”
The governor in question is Rick Perry of Texas — one of the leading candidates in the Republican presidential primary and therefore a potential challenger to Obama in his bid for a second term next year.
As for the fires Obama mentioned, Texas has been experiencing one of its most severe wildfire seasons in history. According to the Texas Forest Service, 3.8 million acres burned and 2,742 homes were destroyed by wildfires between Nov. 15, 2010 and Sept. 26, 2011.
A spokesman for Perry, Mark Miner, thought Obama’s comment was unfair, telling ABC News, “It’s outrageous President Obama would use … the worst fires in state history as a political attack.”
Asked about Obama’s comments during a Sept. 26 press availability, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters on Air Force One that the president’s “point was simply that you have severe weather in that state, and the leader of that state questioned whether something that’s been well established as a scientific fact is in fact a fact. … (Obama’s) point is that the link between climate and the severe weather that we’ve been experiencing is something that’s studied by scientists all the time, and to simply dismiss it is, he believes, not responsible leadership.”
Despite our readers’ urgings, we gave serious thought to not rating Obama’s comment on the Truth-O-Meter. Obama clearly intended it to be a lighthearted comment, and the audience took it that way, as evidenced by applause noted in the transcript. In addition, the line was a rhetorical aside, not part of a substantive policy address about climate change.
But Obama’s comment fit our main qualification for choosing items to fact-check — would people wonder whether the comment is true? Is it possible to draw a link between a specific weather event, such as the drought in Texas and the wildfires, and global climate change?
As it turns out, this question has an interesting answer.
First, some background on climate change.
Perry is on record expressing skepticism that human actions are causing climate change. During aRepublican debate on Sept. 7, 2011, he said that “the science is not settled (on climate change). The idea that we would put Americans’ economy at jeopardy based on scientific theory that’s not settled yet to me is just nonsense.” We also fact-checked a separate comment by Perry “questioning the original idea that man-made global warming is what is causing the climate to change. … (It is) more and more being put into question.”
We ruled Perry’s statements False. As we noted, one of the most oft-cited reports on climate change comes from the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which is widely considered the leading international organization on climate science. It includes the scientific consensus of thousands of researchers from 194 countries. “Most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in (human-created) greenhouse gas concentrations,” the most recent report states.
In the United States, the U.S. Global Change Research Program coordinates and integrates federal research on climate. Its 2009 report mirrored the IPCC’s conclusions, and the report directly addressed the question of how climate change could affect weather.
“Water is an issue in every region, but the nature of the potential impacts varies,” it said in a summary. “Drought, related to reduced precipitation, increased evaporation and increased water loss from plants, is an important issue in many regions, especially in the West. Floods and water quality problems are likely to be amplified by climate change in most regions. Declines in mountain snowpack are important in the West and Alaska where snowpack provides vital natural water storage.”
However, climate-change experts have also long urged caution in assuming that particular weather events are caused or influenced by climate change.
Consider a June 2011 paper published by the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, an independent research organization. In the paper — titled “Extreme Weather and Climate Change Understanding the Link, Managing the Risk” — co-authors Daniel G. Huber and Jay Gulledge write that “when we ask whether climate change ‘caused’ a particular event, we pose a fundamentally unanswerable question.” In fact, they say it is “nonsense” to debate a direct climatological link between a single event and the long-term rise in the global average surface temperature.
The reason, Huber and Gulledge write, is the distinction between “climate” — a long-term pattern that averages many weather events over the years — and a particular weather event.
By definition, Huber and Gulledge write, “an isolated event lacks useful information about climate trends. Consider a hypothetical example: Prior to any change in the climate, there was one category 5 hurricane per year, but after the climate warmed for some decades, there were two category 5 hurricanes per year. In a given year, which of the two hurricanes was caused by climate change? Since the two events are indistinguishable, this question is nonsense. It is not the occurrence of either of the two events that matters. The two events together – or more accurately, the average of two events per year – define the change in the climate.”
What makes the Texas situation an imperfect fit for this general rule is that what’s happening isn’t one wildfire, or even a spate of wildfires. It’s a months-long season of specific weather-related events — wildfires — whose roots stem from broader climatic conditions.
“It is a combination of unprecedented heat this summer, completely obliterating the previous record; exceptional drought conditions; exceptional soil moisture decreases, which exacerbate the temperature extremes; and, on top of that, extensive wild fires,” said Gavin Schmidt, a climate specialist at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies. “These elements cannot be separated. … Extreme heat becomes more common under climate change, and that has consequences, depending on location — more drought, and more susceptibility to wildfires.”
Even Gulledge, the co-author of the Pew paper that cautioned against blaming weather events on climate change, said the Texas case may constitute an exception to the rule he laid out.
“There is a well-documented link between the earlier start of spring, higher summer temperatures, and drier conditions during summer and fall — that is, climate change — and a dramatic increase in wildfire activity in the western U.S. since the late 1980s,” he said. “These observations reveal an increase in fire risk due to climate change.”
Gulledge found it noteworthy that in a recent blog post, John Nielsen-Gammon — the Texas state climatologist and a professor of atmospheric sciences at Texas A&M University — suggested a connection between the wildfires and climate change, even if it came with caveats and limitations.
On the one hand, Nielsen-Gammon said the low rainfall levels since October 2010 do not appear to have been made “more likely” by global warming. In turn, this rainfall deficit, he estimated, explains most of the excess heat that set the stage for the wildfires. On the other hand, his modeling suggested that global warming did provide an additional contributing factor to the unusually high temperatures. “The impacts of the drought,” he concluded, “were enhanced by global warming.”
What makes this topic so difficult to analyze is that the way the atmosphere works is extremely complicated. Gulledge compared the atmosphere to a car.
“Both the atmosphere and a car are complex systems, but one is fundamentally predictable, while the other is fundamentally unpredictable,” he said. “A given force applied to the atmosphere has many different potential outcomes, not a single calculable outcome. That’s different from an automobile, which can be predicted very precisely. If I step on the gas, it will speed up; if I turn the wheel, the car will turn. Consequently, weather forecasters give percentage chances of rain instead of performing a single calculation that predicts a single amount of rain in a given place on a given day.”
A related complication is that this boils down to a question of probabilities rather than certainties.
“The right question to ask is, ‘Has global warming increased the likelihood of an event like the Texas drought occurring’ And the answer to that question is yes,” said Brian Soden, a professor of meteorology and physical oceanography at the University of Miami. “While droughts occur in a climate unaffected by human activities, a warming climate increases the likelihood that they will occur.”
He offers an analogy that he credits to a colleague, Tony Broccoli of Rutgers University. “Consider a baseball player who goes through a rigorous off-season training program, which results in greater strength and faster bat speed,” Soden said. “On his first at bat of the season, he hits a home run. Would you say that the home run was a result of his off season training? No one can answer that question. But would you say that the off-season training increased the likelihood of it occurring? Yes.”
Rob Jackson, the director of the Duke Center on Global Change, acknowledges this backdrop of uncertainty. “Can anyone say with certainty that this is climate-change related? Absolutely not,” he said. But Jackson — who went to college and taught in Texas and continues to visit frequently to see family — suggested that the scale of the Texas wildfires is starting to change the minds of some scientists who have traditionally been hesitant to blame specific weather events on climate change.
“The heat and drought I saw in August is almost enough to make me say that climate change is playing a role, amplifying other factors,” Jackson said. “I’ve never said that before about any weather event.”
Historically, scientists have drawn a clear distinction between specific weather events and longer-range changes in climate, and that sentiment persists. Normally, we would be extremely skeptical of claims linking specific weather events to climate change. However, the situation in Texas that Obama was referring to could be described as something broader than a specific weather event, and there is peer-reviewed evidence linking broader climate change in the American southwest with the incidence of wildfires in the region.
The Texas state climatologist recently wrote that he believes climate change has had an effect in encouraging the current wildfires, but only as a modest contributing factor. This caution, combined with the difficulty of determining cause and effect in a system as complex as the earth’s atmosphere, leads us to rate Obama’s claim Half True.
40 Reasons To Be Proud Of Obama’s Presidency Written by Nicole Hardesty on September 28, 2011 11:22 am
President Obama’s approval rating is at an all-time low as concerns for his re-election grow. With a bad economy and an even worse job market, morale in the “Yes We Can” believers has taken a big hit in the past three years.
Even though there are now more women serving on the Supreme Court than at any point in its history, August’s unemployment rate is at 9.1 percent. Osama Bin Laden may be captured and deceased but the U.S credit rating has been downgraded from its AAA status for the first time since it was first issued in 1917. And even though Obama just announced a new initiative to get veterans back to work, foreclosures are still on a wild roller-coaster ride placing families into unimaginable situations.
While there are probably 40 more reasons why Obama shouldn’t be re-elected, here are 40 more why he should.Obama’s top 40 accomplishments during his presidency:
2. Authorized a $789 billion economic stimulus plan – 1/3 in tax cuts for working-class families; 1/3 to states for infrastructure projects; 1/3 to states to prevent the layoffs of police officers, teachers, etc., at risk of losing their jobs because of state budget shortfalls.
3. Instituted a new rule allowing the public to meet with federal housing insurers to refinance (in as quickly as one day) a mortgage if they are having trouble paying.
4. Authorized the “Cash for Clunkers” program that stimulated auto sales and removed old, inefficient, polluting cars from the road.
5. Convened a “jobs summit” to bring experts together to develop ideas for creating jobs.
6.Authorized the federal government to make more loans available to small businesses and ordered lower rates for federal loans to small businesses.
7. In November 2009, Obama extended unemployment benefits for one million workers.
8. Signed historic Wall Street reform bill – Designed to re-regulate and end abusive practices and promote consumer protections.
9. Instituted enforcements for equal pay for women (Lilly Ledbetter Bill).
10.Signed the Improper Payments Elimination and Recovery Act (2010) - To curb wasteful spending.
11. Signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act which provides small tax cuts for 95% of “working families” - The tax cuts were not as big as was suggested during the 2008 campaign.
12. Reduced taxes for some small businesses to stimulate the economic recovery.
13. Extended the Home Buyers Credit for first-time home buyers.
14. Overturned the Bush-era practice of not listing certain federal programs in the federal budget –Bush did this (so did Reagan) in an effort to hide programs and make the budget look smaller; such “off budget” items are now included in the annual budget.
16.Working to increase pay and benefits for military personnel.
17. Fulfilled campaign promise to have combat troops (90,000) out of Iraq by August 31, 2010.
18. Appointed Sonia Sotomayor, the first Latina, to the Supreme Court.
19. Appointed a diverse Cabinet and diverse White House staff.
20. Spoke at the annual dinner of the Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights organization.
21. Signed the first major piece of federal gay rights legislation that includes acts of violence against gays under the list of federal hate crimes.
22. Allowed the State Department of offer same-sex benefits for employees.
23. After eight years of neglect, the Justice Department and EEOC are again enforcing employment discrimination laws.
25.Programs to assist Spanish speakers with the US Census.
26. Increased funding available for student loans.
27. Expanded the national youth service program.
28. Initiated a “Race to the Top” competitive federal grant program for states who develop innovative policies.
29. Proposed that the Pentagon repeal the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy; placed a “freeze” on current efforts to remove alleged homosexuals from the military.
31. Ordered a review of hurricane and natural disaster preparedness.
32. FEMA once again reports directly to the president – Bush removed FEMA (prior to the Hurricane Katrina disaster) from this status.
33. Visited more countries and met with more world leaders than any president in his first six months in office.
34. Health insurance plans must cover birth control as preventive care for women, with no copays.
35. Reversed some of the Bush-era restrictions that prevented Medicare from negotiating with pharmaceutical firms for cheaper drugs, allowing government to again competitively bid.
36. Individuals living at or below the poverty line were eligible for healthcare under Medicaid, but by 2014 individuals/families living slightly above (making up to $14,404/$29,327) the poverty line will also be eligible for benefits.
37.Individuals/families making less than $43,320/$88,200 per year will qualify for government subsidies to help purchase health insurance.
38. Families can keep their children in college on their healthcare plans through age 26.
39. Childhood Obesity Act (spearheaded by Michelle Obama) – purposed to subsidize free meals in low-income areas to ensure that children receive well-balanced and nutritious school meals; and also to provide free or reduced-price meals to nearly 31 million low-income children; and ultimately reduce childhood obesity.
40. Obama proposes Jobs Bill to help put Americans back to work.
5 things you need to know about MRSA, the superbug By Lisa Ko May 24, 2011
Last week, a report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention disclosed that out of nearly 300 raw meat samples purchased from 30 Detroit supermarkets, six samples tested positive for the bacterium MRSA.
This isn’t the first time MRSA has been found in the meat we eat, not to mention in gyms, hospitals and on commuter trains. Resistant to antibiotics and growing tougher by the year, MRSA has been touted as a superbug for our end times, responsible for 19,000 deaths each year in the U.S. Are its rising rates a true public health calamity or an overblown cause for alarm? Here’s what you should know.
1. It’s not necessarily flesh eating.
MRSA is a strain of the Staphylococcus aureus bacteria, otherwise known as S. aureus, that’s resistant to methicillin antibiotics used against infections. Regular S. aureus is actually common – healthy people can have it on their skin or inside their noses. It’s when MRSA gets into a cut, catheter, or open wound and enters your bloodstream that an infection can get serious. Gone unchecked, it attacks the immune system and can lead to complications such as blood poisoning, pneumonia, organ failure and even death.
Though characterized as a flesh-eating superbug, MRSA infections can start off as simple as a boil or pimple and can become an abscess, blister or sore. See a list of symptoms.
2. The sick are getting sicker.
MRSA infections are occurring with rising frequency in hospitals, where staph bacteria wreak havoc on patients who are already weakened. Hospital-acquired infections are blamed for more than 98,000 deaths in the U.S. each year. Sixty-three percent of staph infections were caused by MRSA in 2004, in contrast with only 22 percent in 1995 and 2 percent in 1974.
MRSA germs can live for hours on the surfaces of blood-pressure cuffs or other medical equipment, and are transmitted easily between patients and health care workers. Screening patients for MRSA, or even requiring health care workers to wash their hands more often, would help stem infections, but cost is often cited as an issue. Treating a MRSA infection is even more pricey: one study found that the average cost is $47,000.
3. Not your grandmother’s MRSA.
Today’s newer, stronger strain of MRSA isn’t just threatening the old and the infirm. These so-called community-associated MRSA infections are occurring in healthier and younger individuals who haven’t been hospitalized. Gym equipment, tattoo parlors and shared towels or razor blades are some common ways of spreading infections. Outbreaks are more likely to occur where people are in close proximity to one another, such as in schools, gyms and prisons.
Another culprit may be the prevalence of antibiotic use, which has produced more virulent strains of bacteria that are harder to wipe out. Community-associated MRSA is one such strain, and as it gets stronger, it’s getting more difficult to treat.
4. Blame the animal farm.
In 2004, a MRSA link was found between pigs and humans in the Netherlands, when several family members, workers and pigs on one hog farm all tested positive for the bacteria. Pig farmers in the Netherlands were reported to be 760 times more likely to have MRSA than the general population. In the U.S., 45 percent of pig farmers and 49 percent of pigs tested were also found to have MRSA (carriers don’t necessarily have symptoms).
What’s the connection? Industrial livestock farming, which houses animals in very close quarters, necessitates feeding these animals antibiotics so they don’t become infected by unsanitary living conditions. One 2001 study concluded that healthy livestock consumes 70 percent of all antibiotics in the U.S. The result is that the animals grow faster, but they’re also more likely to become resistant to antibiotics. MRSA bacteria can then be passed on to humans who handle the animals or drink groundwater that’s been polluted from hog farms.
5. The future is murky.
MRSA in your meats isn’t a death sentence. The strain of MRSA discovered in the Detroit grocery stores was a human strain, possibly passed on by food handlers or in processing plants. The infection could be passed on to consumers if they handled raw meat while having open cuts on their hands, for instance (wear gloves for protection if this is the case). Cooking your meat thoroughly and washing any kitchen utensils it touches can get rid of the bacteria.
But as it evolves, MRSA may cease to be treatable. And it won’t be the only antibiotic-resistant bacteria in town: new bacterial strains likeAcinetobacter baumannii are proving to be even more challenging to treat. As the Infectious Diseases Society of America claims, growing antibiotic resistance is “an emerging crisis” and “considered a substantial threat to U.S. public health and national security.”
By Paul Thompson Last updated at 10:14 AM on 26th September 2011
Clinging on for dear life to the side of a vertical cliff, the tiny lion cub cries out pitifully for help.
His mother arrives at the edge of the precipice with three other lionesses and a male. The females start to clamber down together but turn back daunted by the sheer drop.
Eventually one single factor determines which of them will risk her life to save the youngster – motherly love.
The drama begins: The mother arrives at the edge of the cliff as her son cries out for rescue after being trapped when he slipped
On the brink: Four lionesses look over the edge before aborting their rescue mission because of the sheer drop
Slowly, agonisingly, the big cat edges her way down towards her terrified son, using her powerful claws to grip the crumbling cliff side.
One slip from her and both animals could end up dead at the bottom of the ravine.
Just as the exhausted cub seems about to fall, his mother circles beneath him and he is snatched up in her jaws.
She then begins the equally perilous journey back to the top. Minutes later, they arrive and she gives the frightened creature a consoling lick on the head.
The dramatic rescue, captured by wildlife photographer Jean-Francois Largot, was played out in Kenya’s Masai Mara game reserve.
Despite the presence of wardens to deter poachers, day-to-day life for the lions is not without its dangers … as the cub learned the hard way.
Rescue mission: The mother inches her way down the cliff face to rescue the terrified cub before locking him in her jaws and making her way back up the cliff face
Motherly love: The mother gives her son a lick to say that all is well in the pride following the drama
Published by Associated Newspapers Ltd
Part of the Daily Mail, The Mail on Sunday & Metro Media Group
© Associated Newspapers Ltd
Underemployment: Retail Workers Struggle For Hours In Weak Recovery
First Posted: 9/26/11 02:59 PM ET Updated: 9/26/11 05:43 PM ET React
WASHINGTON — A little over two years ago, Floyd Kelly, then an associate at Walmart, transferred from one company store in Washington State to another. Although Kelly had worked full-time for years, he says that after the switch his hours dropped to part-time.
Ever since then, he’s been trying desperately to claw his way back to a 40-hour week.
“I’ve been trying to transfer into other full-time positions for over two years now,” says Kelly, who now works at Sam’s Club, which is owned by Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. “But everywhere I’ve contacted, they told me all they have is part-time.”
For Kelly and other retail workers like him, the difference between full-time and part-time in this economy is the difference between eking by and slowly going under. In Kelly’s case, the reduced workweek means a paycheck that’s about two-thirds of what it used to be. It means a less reliable schedule, no sick days and no vacation days. And it means keeping roommates at age 50, just so he can cover rent.
“If you give up full-time, you might never get it back,” says Kelly, who’s been working at Walmart and Sam’s Club for more than seven years. (Despite Kelly’s situation, a spokesperson for the company says that a majority of its workers enjoy full-time status.)
Despite a string of mostly dismal jobs reports, the retail sector has managed to add 146,000 jobs over the past year. But many of those jobs don’t come with the hours that workers need in order to get by, nor do they come with the benefits or week-to-week stability of a quality job.
The average workweek in retail was 30.3 hours last month, fewer than the 33.5 hours for the average private-sector job, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Over the past year, those figures have not improved at all for either the retail industry or the private sector as a whole, and they’ve even managed to drop in recent months — a fact that doesn’t bode well for workers in need of more work.
“This hours problem is a big one,” says Heidi Shierholz, an economist at the Economic Policy Institute. “We’re not seeing employment growth, and we still have all these workers who haven’t had their hours restored. The first thing [employers] will do when they see demand is restore those hours. That means employment growth is even farther off.”
Facing stubbornly weak consumer demand, retailers have needed to keep a close watch on the amount of work they’re doling out in the down economy. But labor advocates say the skimping on hours and the scheduling fluctuations have put workers in a financial bind and created logistical headaches for them. When this week might offer 35 daytime hours and next week 22 nighttime hours, it can become difficult to arrange for daycare, to set doctor’s appointments, or, for many people, to take that much-needed second part-time job. The shortage of hours also limits workers’ mobility, as the employees who do enjoy full-time status are careful to hunker down and keep it.
Carrie Gleason, director of the Retail Action Project, an advocacy group for rank-and-file workers in the industry, says some employees’ desperation has led to a situation in which they bend to the employers’ needs, only to find that the flexibility and good will isn’t reciprocated.
“Managers are getting tighter and tighter budgets, tied closer to labor costs,” Gleason says. “Labor is a cost they can control. If they can use the labor pool more efficiently, it’s a way to improve profitability.”
The result, she says, is employees getting called in on short notice or having their schedules cut back because of last week’s disappointing sales figures. She says that instead of working hard to get a raise or a year-end bonus, many work hard in mere hopes of getting more hours and a more regular schedule.
“Hours are the new bonus,” Gleason says. Many employers “don’t look at the cost of declining quality in customer service, or what the unpredictable scheduling does to a worker’s mentality. It’s really a divestment of the workforce through scheduling.”
One 20-something who works at a Burlington Coat Factory in the New York City area says that since 2008 she’s been stuck on a series of fluctuating part-time schedules in retail. Recently, she’s been getting 20 hours per week, at around $8 per hour. She asked that her name not be used, since she doesn’t want to carp on her employer publicly.
“I’ve never lived comfortably,” the young woman said. “No benefits, no sick days or vacation. Does that stuff even exist? All the time, I’m wondering if I can get ahead.”
The hours will return once consumer demand returns, says Casey Chroust, executive vice president at the Retail Industry Leaders Association, a trade and lobbying group representing retailers. According to Chroust, the belt-tightening has hit inventory and supply-chain spending in addition to labor. He says businesses have had to deal with a pullback on consumer spending as well as “unusual” shopping patterns, including spikes near the first of the month and bi-weekly paydays, when shoppers suddenly come into cash.
“You can’t build your full-time staff around spikes,” says Chroust. “If you talked to retailers back in the first quarter and in the spring, they were very optimistic, with plans to expand and grow. That momentum has dried up this summer.”
But, he adds, “Without a doubt, as the economy recovers and as consumer demand picks up, retailers are going to increase their staffing levels, with more hours and more employees. That’s a fact.”
The scheduling issue has figured prominently in a high-profile unionization push at Target by the United Food and Commercial Workers. Like other big-box retailers, Target stores rely on massive rosters of part-time workers. The large, flexible workforce lets Target adjust its labor costs according to changing sales. But workers say that there simply aren’t enough hours to go around, that they often get shut out of benefits because of their part-time status, and that their paychecks can change week to week depending on the number of hours a manager has to work with.
A reduced schedule can turn the store manager into the bearer of bad news. Nadir Romo, 28, says he worked at Target stores in California and New York, most recently as a manager leading cashiers and customer service reps in a Brooklyn location. Although he enjoyed the work, Romo says one of the worst parts of the job was informing his staffers that their hours were being trimmed on the next schedule. He said such cuts would be made when the store failed to hit its sales forecasts.
“A lot of part-time people were younger and lived with their parents, and it really didn’t matter how many hours they had,” says Romo, a graduate student at the New School who left his Target job in June. “But there were people who were the sole breadwinner, and to go from 35 hours to 20, that was a real problem … and it’s based on something they can’t control.”
Romo says that his employees often had to switch from working days to nights, and that many of them would be afraid to turn down hours, for fear that the offer wouldn’t come again if they did. The imperative, he says, was “keep your week wide open.”
“A lot of employees [asked] how do I change my status from part-time to full-time so I could get guaranteed hours and get benefits,” Romo says. “The answer was always, there isn’t [a way].”
In an emailed statement, a Target spokesperson said schedules are tailored to individual workers’ availability. “All team members looking for more hours are continually encouraged to consider opening their availability or cross-training in other areas,” she wrote.
The Target workers pushing for a union should be envious of Macy’s employees in New York City. In June, workers with the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) ratified a contract with the clothing retailer that, in addition to assuring a $3 raise for over five years, stipulates that both full- and part-time workers would not lose their hours over the course of the contract. It also allows workers to choose a designated day off during the week and pick which nights they will work.
Ken Bordieri, a union official who was involved in the negotiations, says members had growing concerns about the way “full-time” work had been shrinking in retail. He was very satisfied with the contract, which pertains to 4,000 employees, mostly at the flagship store in New York City, and glad that his members will face less uncertainty than many other workers in the industry.
Bordieri compares the present situation to times during the Great Depression, when workers would show up outside factory gates looking for a day’s work, and then the boss would pick a few through the fence and tell the rest to go home.
“I’ll take you and you and you — but the rest of you, I’m sorry,” says Bordieri. “It’s the same thing, only it’s brought up to date with computers. It’s a very sinister thing when you think about it. There’s no commitment to anyone to help them do all the middle-class things that the retail industry was good at doing before.”
Kelly, the Sam’s Club worker, says those middle-class amenities feel far off at the moment. He most recently transferred into the bakery department, where he’s getting around 30 hours per week. It’s the most time he’s seen in a while, he says, but it still doesn’t get him the money and stability he needs.
“It becomes quite stressful,” Kelly says. “But I work with a great group of people. And a lot of times that’s compensated for [not] having a full paycheck and being able to pay my bills.”
Class Warfare My Ass Saturday 24 September 2011by: William Rivers Pitt, Truthout | Op-Ed
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a Republican presidential candidate, speaks at the Florida P5 Faith and Freedom Coalition Kick-Off event at the Rosen Centre Hotel in Orlando, Florida, September 22, 2011. (Chip Litherland / The New York Times)
I have to live for others and not for myself: that’s middle-class morality.
- George Bernard Shaw
I have been saying this for years upon years, but it bears repeating: the most awesome, fearsome, and effective weapon in the arsenal of the modern Republican Party is their total, utter and complete lack of shame.
That weapon - the ability to say or do anything, literally anything, even as it flies in the face of on-the-record comments made just the day before, or contradicts thousands of votes cast in congresses past - is the equivalent of a battlefield-deployed tactical nuclear weapon. It clears the field, but good, and if everything is ashes in the aftermath, so be it. So long as effective spin makes the news cycle, it’s a victory for them, and screw the people who get hurt.
The GOP wins when that is the contest, and that is all they care about…and the awful irony comes when the very people getting screwed are up on their feet cheering after the deal goes down, because “their team” won the day.
Watching these recent GOP debates has cracked me up for any number of reasons, but nothing can top watching those millionaires square off in an attempt to prove who among them is the most “folksy,” the most in tune with the working stiff. Mitt Romney, whose personal fortune roars deep into nine figures on the left of the decimal, actually claimed he was a middle class guy during a recent campaign appearance.
Ah, yes, the irony again…just think, if people banking nine figures of personal wealth were actually considered middle class, all of our problems would be solved, right?
Which brings us to the subject of “class warfare.” The term has been a favorite broadside of the right-bent rich-people-first set going on forty years now, and in times past has always reaped them rich rhetorical benefits. We’re a classless society here in America, don’tcha know, so accusations of “class warfare” have all too often sent lily-livered liberal-leaning politicians scuttling for the exits, for the apology, for the eventual retreat.
Oh no, it isn’t class warfare, this is only fair…which earned, invariably, a reply of “CLASS WARFARE SOCIALISM WHAAARGARBLE”…which, in turn, earned another hasty retreat instead of a proper and just reply.
Which is, should have always been, and should now be: kiss my ass, you leech, you bloodsucker, you greedy whore, you war profiteering glutton, you disgrace, you betrayer of America.
Oh, I know the argument. I know it as well as the spit I leave on the sidewalk when there is a bad taste in my mouth. The rich are better than us, they are the ones making the jobs, they have earned their esteemed position through a Randian process of natural economic selection, etc…except for the sneaky fact that a large number of these “business titans” inherited their wealth, and today increase their wealth not through hard work, but through favorable interest rates and even more favorable tax rates on money that is already in the bank.
The top-earning businesses in America today, across the board, are wallowing in record profits, and yet somehow hiring is stagnated. Why is that?
Could it be that these titans are holding off on hiring in order to affect the number of jobless Americans, so as to influence public opinion as we head into an election season? God almighty, to have such astonishing reach…to be able to keep millions out of work in order to put one black guy out of a job…now that’s real power.
Class warfare, indeed.
Poverty has increased locally and nationally across the board, joblessness is reaching Great Depression-era levels, and millions have lost houses to those whose own homes resemble castles, to those who are secure in both funding and foundation. Money does not disappear. It has to go somewhere; what is lost is always found. Most all of us have spent the last several years losing money hand over fist, while Forbes tells us that the richest among us have increased their wealth by vast amounts in one year.
Try to contain your shock.
There is work available for the doing, on infrastructure and new technology fields and any number of other areas, but the GOP majority in the House of Representatives won’t have any of it, because their marching orders are to screw the American economy in as many orifices as are available to try and unseat the sitting president. Period, end of file, and if you still think that isn’t their intention, I have a big red bridge over San Francisco Bay to sell you.
Class warfare? These cretins have the unmitigated gall to accuse other people of class warfare?
It is a wonder of American politics, this absolute and astonishing lack of shame on the part of the modern GOP. They have spent the last thirty years stifling a minimum-wage increase, they blocked legislation to help 9/11 responders pay for very present health concerns, and spent the latter part of this last week trying to screw disaster relief funding for people who lose homes to tornadoes, floods, wildfires and earthquakes. They hate Social Security and Medicare down to their gold-plated bones. Now they are deliberately and intentionally stifling the very economy they themselves tore up, for no other reason than to win the next election.
How are they doing it? Money and power, power and money, and be damned to those who suffer for their desires.
Psssst…it is class warfare: full-throated, no-bullshit class warfare, and the rich ones whining about it are the ones who are winning. Be on your own side for a change of pace. They got the guns, as a man once said, but we got the numbers.
It is class warfare, and has been for a generation. We’ve been losing, badly.
This work by Truthout is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License.
SEP 19 2011, 12:00 PM ET
The Death Penalty: Why We Fight for Equal Justice
The Buck and Davis cases are a reminder of how far we’ve come, and how far we have to go, toward fair and accurate capital punishment in America
Last week, Texas officials refused to halt the execution of Duane Edward Buck even though his 1997 capital murder trial was concernedly tainted by unconstitutional racial testimony from an expert witness. The Supreme Court, which temporarily blocked the execution, will review Buck’s case later this month. Meanwhile, on Wednesday, Georgia officials plan to execute convicted murderer Troy Davis, whose guilt is much more in doubt today than it was two decades ago when he was sentenced to die. Despite the public protests over Davis’s fate, the justices in Washington will likely have to intervene there, too, if his life is to be spared while the “new” evidence is meaningfully re-examined.
“Nearly 40 years after the Supreme Court first took away the death penalty, we may be closer than many people think to another turning point on capital punishment.”
At a Republican presidential debate earlier this month, just the mere mention of Rick Perry’s record execution rate — he’s overseen more executions than any governor in modern history — generated a primal war-whoop from the partisan crowd. And as to the solemnity of the act itself, of the lethal injection execution protocol whereby the government prematurely ends a natural life in the name of the people? Evidently it has become so routine in the Lone Star State that the governor qua presidential candidate wasfundraising in Jefferson County, Iowa on the night Buck was scheduled to die. I can’t imagine a more solemn or important function for an elected official than presiding over an execution. But for Gov. Perry, it was just another day out of state on the campaign trail. He was available by cellphone.
The roiling uncertainty surrounding the Buck and Davis cases is a sad but timely reminder that the center has not held on capital punishment in America. The legal compact demanded by the United States Supreme Court when it reinstituted capital punishment as a sentencing option in 1976 has been broken, repeatedly, not by convicts, but by hundreds of overzealous administrators of the nation’s justice systems. In Texas,Georgia, Florida, and in the other states which continue to push capital punishment, the “law” in capital cases now is mostly used as a weapon — not as a shield for the individual against the might of government. It is not justice under law. And it is certainly not equal justice under the law. It is instead far too often a perversion of justice — and of the Court’s well-meant precedent.
In the modern era of capital punishment — since the Supreme Court’s decision in Gregg v. Georgia — three main camps have emerged. First, there are those who are for the death penalty all the way; the ones who lament the time and money it takes from trial to execution. Then, there are those who are against capital punishment all the way; the ones who believe that the state should never be in the business of killing its own citizens. And between the two solitudes, there is a vast middle; those who believe that there is a place for the death penalty, but only if it can be administered fairly and accurately, free from the sort of arbitrary and capricious decision-making that pushed the justices to do away with it in the first place in 1972 in Furman v. Georgia.
With the Buck case coming back around later this month, with the Davis case right before us this week, with a leading presidential candidate making his capital punishment record a point of political pride, and with the Tea Party crowd cheering execution statistics, now seems as good a time as any to dig around a little at this strange legal confluence we’ve come to on the death penalty. Nearly 40 years after the Supreme Court first took away the death penalty, we may be closer than many people think to another turning point on capital punishment. We may be reaching the Icarus point — and don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Hobbes v. Locke
When the Supreme Court reinstituted the death penalty in 1976 in a brief per curiam opinion, it congenially (and conveniently) assumed an awful lot of unapparent virtue and goodness in the present and future participants of the criminal justice system. Justice Byron White, the Kennedy appointee who turned out to a staunchly conservative vote, endorsed Georgia’s new death penalty statutes, writing that the law:
not only guides the jury in its exercise of discretion as to whether or not it will impose the death penalty for first-degree murder, but also gives the Georgia Supreme Court the power and imposes the obligation to decide whether in fact the death penalty was being administered for any given class of crime in a discriminatory, standardless, or rare fashion. If that court properly performs the taskassigned to it under the Georgia statutes, death sentences imposed for discriminatory reasons or wantonly or freakishly for any given category of crime will be set aside (my emphasis).
The Pollyanna-ish idea behind Gregg v. Georgia was that: 1) juries would be judicious and free from the heat of prejudice and bias; 2) state court judges would be free from the pressures of majoritarian influence; 3) prosecutors would put law over politics and reasonably control the agenda of victims’ rights groups, and; 4) legislators would courageously protect the rights of capital defendants by ensuring meaningful access to procedural guarantees in appellate court. None of these assumptions were practical. In the real world, every one of those constituencies is vociferously aligned against capital defendants, who of course have no constituencies beyond their lawyers and (sometimes) immediate families.
Millions of words have been written about the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against “cruel and unusual punishment” as it relates to capital punishment. Thousands of hours of debate have ensued over whether the death penalty is moral or ethical or lawful. But it was the Justice William O. Douglas, in Furman v. Georgia, the case which briefly ended America’s long experiment with the death penalty, who perhaps said it best. Looking backward on the cases before him, and presciently looking forward toward today, Douglas wrote:
The generality of a law inflicting capital punishment is one thing. What may be said of the validity of a law on the books and what may be done with the law in its application do, or may, lead to quite different conclusions. It would seem to be incontestable that the death penalty inflicted on one defendant is “unusual” if it discriminates against him by reason of his race, religion, wealth, social position, or class, or if it is imposed under a procedure that gives room for the play of such prejudices…
As the Buck and Davis cases show — as hundreds of other dubious capital cases have shown over the past 35 years — Justice Douglas was right. When it comes to capital punishment rules and regulations, when it comes to the law in its application, it would have been much more prudent for the Court in Gregg to have hoped for the best and expressly guarded against the worst. “Death is different,” is the mantra of the murder case and, indeed, on both a micro- and macro-level it is. So different, in fact, that it often makes people forget about the due process and equal protection clauses of the Constitution.
An Eye For An Eye
“In the state of Texas, we believe in our form of justice, we think it’s appropriate.”
— Rick Perry, campaigning in Iowa, Friday, September 16th
Last week, when Duane Buck’s case was on America’s docket, the most-asked questions (of me, anyway) were (to paraphrase): Why should I care about the procedural technicalities of this guy’s sentencing case when his guilt is not in doubt? Since he’s guilty of murder, how fair does his legal treatment really need to be? People of all political stripes asked the same questions. For them, Buck’s guilt evidently vitiated any need for an honest evaluation of the manner in which he was sentenced to death. Texas in 2000 conceded that Buck’s trial was impermissibly unfair? The other men similarly situated got their new trials? Who cares. The guy did it. He is getting more justice than he gave to his victims.
That last part is true. Of course, defendants like Duane Buck get more justice than their victims. That’s the whole point of our criminal justice system — and of the rule of law. That’s why we outlaw lynching, why angry mobs can’t storm jailhouses, and why we have judges. It’s why we have a Constitution. In America, we aim to give the guilty more justice than they deserve. We do so because of how that reflects upon us, not upon how it reflects upon the guilty. And when we fail to do so it says more about us than it does about the condemned. Although Let’s look just at Texas, again, for a moment.
When Gov. Perry says he believes in “our form of justice” what he is really saying is a significant majority of Texans are comfortable with a death penalty regime that has, in virtually every way, undercut the premise of Justice White’s formula in Gregg. For example, Texas is only one of seven states to have its state court judges elected via popular vote after partisan elections. The result is a patently unfair process that pretends that judges have superhuman power to separate their campaign promises with their subsequent (or their past) work on the bench. “Killing for Votes” is an apt headline, used years ago by the Death Penalty Information Center. Plenty of “room for the play of prejudices,” to use Justice Douglas’ memorable line, also would work as a headline.
A campaign promise to “be tough on crime” or to “enforce the death penalty” should disqualify a judge, Justice John Paul Stevens famously told the American Bar Association in 1996. But have you ever seen a television campaign ad in a judicial election in Texas? If so, you are probably not surprised to learn that when an earnest local judge tried to hold a meaningful hearing on capital punishment in Texas late last year, the political furor was so great it was almost immediately shut down by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. That court, not incidentally (and in the grand tradition of southern justice), has established itself as a local bulwark against defendants, many of them black, whose rights have been violated by trial judges, juries, prosecutors, and witnesses. “Our form of justice,” says the governor.
The way Texas elects and retains its state judges is fundamentally inconsistent with the assumptions ofGregg and its progeny. So what about the executive branch? Before Gov. Perry set his ongoing record on executions, there was Gov. George W. Bush, who handled the clemency process with the same cronyism and negligence that marked the worst moments of his presidency. And in both administrations there was the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, which is an oxymoron, to put it mildly, since it virtually never recommends the commutation of death penalty cases. In the fantasy world of Gregg, the executive branch would rectify the mistakes made by the judicial branch in capital cases. In the real world, it just doesn’t happen. Just ask the folks on Texas’ “forensic panel” who were until recently working on the Cameron Todd Willingham case.
What about the legislative branch? It’s done some smart things. In 2005, for example, it gave jurors a “life without parole” sentencing option in capital cases, eliminating the “life with parole after 40 years” option that had sent so many jurors scrambling to vote for death. And this year Austin passed a new DNA measure which is designed to ensure more accuracy in capital cases by giving defendants more access to testing. But lawmakers still haven’t fully responded to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2002 ruling in Atkins v. Virginia, which outlawed the execution of mentally retarded defendants. And the legislature has been slow to clarify jury instructions at the sentencing phase of capital cases— the ambiguities, of course, favor the state— while not pressuring prosecutors to adopt “open-file” discovery policies which also would make capital cases more fair.
Since 1976, it’s not unfair to say Texas has gone out of its way to negate, eliminate, or simply leave uninstalled the institutional safeguards and double-checks that should reasonably exist in any fair death penalty regime. The legislature and state constitution have neutered the judicial and executive branches — even if Gov. Perry wanted to commute Buck’s sentence now, he couldn’t. The state trial judges whose capital decisions are tainted by campaigns have their cases reviewed by appellate judges who slyly declare in affirming convictions that the condemned may seek relief from the Boad of Pardons and Paroles. And the federal courts are only so much help, thanks to Congress. Somewhere, somehow, in that great conference room in the sky, Justice Douglas is saying to Justice White: “I told you so, Whizzer.”
Death Be Not Proud
When Duane Buck’s execution was stayed Thursday night, after he already had eaten his last meal, there was a great deal of muted satisfaction on the part of death penalty foes. Some were happy for political reasons that Gov. Perry had been proved wrong, at least for now. Some were happy that a condemned black man in Texas — twice deprived of his equal protection rights — would get to have his case reviewed by the justices. Some see such stays of execution as vindication in their quest to outlaw outright capital punishment. No one dared to say, however, that they were happy for Buck himself, the murderer, who was said to be praying in his cell when Texas officials came in to tell him that he wouldn’t be dying by lethal injection that night.
Here we have a fundamental disconnect between the pro- and anti-death penalty sides. Contrary to what you might otherwise hear, it is both possible and intellectually consistent to be glad that a court has stayed the execution of a condemned man without necessarily being sympathetic to the man himself or disrespectful to his victims. It is possible to see the vindication of rights — or at least a good-faith effort by judges to vindicate rights — as a victory in and of itself in our nation’s constant struggle for justice under the law. It ispossible to separate the sins of the condemned from the subsequent sins of the justice system, and to demand more of the latter than of the former. Indeed, this goes to the very heart of the age-old notion of bringing a measure of dispassionate justice to high and low alike.
I don’t want to meet Duane Buck. I don’t consider him any sort of a victim on a par with the victims whose lives he took and altered in 1995. And I certainly don’t want him released from prison. But that doesn’t mean I have to happily accept the fact that Texas now has screwed him over, not once, but twice. If we are to continue to pride ourselves on being a nation of laws, if the individual guarantees of the Bill of Rights are to continue to mean anything against the tyranny of the majority, even men like Buck have to be sentenced fairly in capital cases, without the ancient specter of racism further inflaming a southern jury’s work. We don’t just owe Buck that. We owe that to ourselves.
The unseemliness of this dichotomy — not so much that any man’s death diminishes us but rather that we all lose when we allow our justice system to be perverted by passions, prejudice, and politics — is what I believe has soured so many Supreme Court justices to the idea of capital punishment. It’s part of what Justice Harry Blackmun meant in 1994 in Callins v. Collins, a case about the death penalty in Texas, when he declared that he would “no longer tinker with the machinery of death.” The rest of that sentence is instructive as well:
From this day forward, I no longer shall tinker with the machinery of death. For more than 20 years I have endeavored…to develop…rules that would lend more than the mere appearance of fairness to the death penalty endeavor…Rather than continue to coddle the court’s delusion that the desired level of fairness has been achieved…I feel…obligated simply to concede that the death penalty experiment has failed. It is virtually self-evident to me now that no combination of procedural rules or substantive regulations ever can save the death penalty from its inherent constitutional deficiencies…
And it’s not just Blackmun who turned. So did Justice Lewis Powell, the so-called great “centrist” of the Court who died in 1998. He told his biographer, understandably since it’s a black mark on his career, that he regretted his vote in 1987 in McClesky v. Kemp in which the Supreme Court allowed a capital conviction in Georgia to stand despite empirical evidence that showed harsh racial disparities in the way the state administered capital punishment cases. Too little, too late, for Justice Powell. He might have altered the course of capital penalty jurisprudence. There are no such regrets for Justice John Paul Stevens, another Republican appointee to the High Court, who turned late in his long and distinguished career on the bench against the “machinery of death.”
After retiring from the bench in 2009, moreover, Justice Stevens wrote a powerful essay in The New York Review of Books in which he chronicled some of the substantive and procedural inequalities that have cropped up in death penalty jurisprudence since Gregg. “The dynamic supporting a broader application of the death penalty,” Justice Stevens wrote just recently, ”is revealed in cases involving victim-impact statements, felony-murder, controversy over attitudes toward the death penalty in jury selection, and race-based prosecutorial decisions.” It has to say something profound, does it not, that each of these men, none the least shrill zealots in their judicial views, would feel such remorse and regret over their roles in bringing the death penalty back to America. To me, it says they didn’t get from the states what they thought they were bargaining for.
Nor, evidently, have others. In Ohio earlier this month, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Ohio, Maureen O’Connor, asked aloud and in pointed fashion a question that is being muttered more often these days by participants in, and observers of, our criminal justice system. Calling for a statewide review of Ohio’s death penalty regime, Justice O’Connor, a former prosecutor, asked: “Is this system the best we can do?” This is the essence of the question posed to the U.S. Supreme Court before Furman, it is the question Justice White hoped he had answered in Gregg, and it is the question even this most conservative of Supreme Courts will be asking of itself in the coming years.
Have states like Texas, in their zeal to execute even on the margins, overplayed their hand and generated some of the very same “cruel and unusual” evidence that ultimately convinced the Court in Furman to stop capital punishment in America? Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg thinks so. Asked last week in San Francisco what she would like to accomplish during her remaining years on the bench, she replied: “I would probably go back to the day when the Supreme Court said the death penalty could not be administered with an even hand, but that’s not likely to be an opportunity for me.”
The Ever-Doubting Middle
Although you probably by now think otherwise, I reside in the middle of this debate. I believe that capital punishment has a role in the American criminal justice system. When I covered the Oklahoma City bombing trial, for example, I became convinced that the death penalty was an appropriate punishment for Timothy McVeigh, who cold-bloodedly killed 168 people at the Alfred P. Murrah federal building on April 19, 1995. Nor will I mourn if and when Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Ramzi Binalshibh are tried, convicted and sentenced to death for their roles in the terror attacks of September 11, 2001. Sometimes, I believe, a murderer deserves the ultimate punishment.
But the McVeigh trial was nearly 15 years ago. Almost a generation. And I’ve come a long way since then. I have covered maybe a hundred capital cases (maybe more, I’ve lost count). In Texas alone, off the top of my head and just scratching the surface, there was the story of Charles Dean Hood, who was convicted and sentenced to death in a case where the judge and prosecutor had an affair and kept it quiet through the trial. And the story of Sharon Keller, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Judge who blew off a last-minute appealfrom a condemned man named Michael Richards because she had to meet a handy-man at her home. And the story of Cameron Todd Willingham, so ably told by David Grann, which rolls on to this day.
Then there was the story of a Texas case styled Miller-El v. Dretke, in which the 5th Circuit deliberately disobeyed the mandate of the Rehnquist Supreme Court. And the ongoing story of Hank Skinner, who still cannot get DNA testing that he says could exonerate him even though Texas lawmakers earlier this year passed a statute that makes such testing more available to criminal defendants. And the story of James Jackson, who in the sentencing phase of his capital trial was refused the right to call as witnesses his family and friends. And the story of Anthony Graves. And, of course, who could forget the “sleeping defense lawyer”case of Calvin Burdine.
Beyond Texas, there’s been the story of the California case of Stanley “Tookie” Williams, whose execution was marred by the failure of the lethal injection team to find an intravenous line. “Shit happens,” a member of the state’s ”execution team” reportedly said at the time. In Ohio, there was the grisly botched execution of Romell Broom. In Florida, it was the grim execution of Angel Diaz. No wonder Ilinois ended its failed experiment with the death penalty and so many other states are contemplating such a move. Indeed, despite Gov. Perry’s boast earlier this month, the fact is that capital punishment in America is trending downward, slouching toward a mostly regional punishment that harkens back to the ugly days of Jim Crow.
Each of these legal stories begs the same essential question: What are members of the criminal justice system so afraid of when they go so far out of their way to deprive condemned prisoners of their rights? For example, what does Texas think is going to happen if it relents, makes good on John Cornyn’s old promise, and gives Duane Buck a new trial? The worst that could happen, from the state’s perspective, is that Buck’s new sentencing jurors would recommend a sentence of life in prison without parole. And what about that result, after a fair trial, represents such a defeat for the Texas justice system that officials there would rather contort both law and fact to avoid it? Here’s where states like Texas lose me. And lose millions of others.
The same goes for Troy Davis. Whether the trial witnesses against him were lying then or are lying now, by fighting against his requested relief Georgia is saying that its interest in the finality of its capital judgments is more important than the accuracy of its capital verdicts. You can certainly find concern for such chilling sentiment in the gloomy language of Furman. But you sure can’t find it in the puffy language of Gregg. In their zeal to make good on cynical campaign promises to be “tough on crime,” in their pursuit of vengeance on behalf of grieving families, in their reckless disregard for the racial realities of capital punishment, elected or appointed proponents of the death penalty are in the process of ruining the mandate the Supreme Court gave them 35 years ago.
Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. I’ll continue to cover these death penalty stories, sure I will, but I promise I’ll no longer coddle what Justice Brennan called the “delusions” of opportunists like Rick Perry when they look into a camera and tell us that they’ve ”never struggled” over death penalty cases. It’s crazy talk like that, truly “wanton and freakish,” to use Justice White’s words in Gregg, which gave us Furman to begin with and which, I believe, will ultimately bring it round again.
There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody.
You built a factory out there? Good for you. But I want to be clear: you moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for; you hired workers the rest of us paid to educate; you were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory, and hire someone to protect against this, because of the work the rest of us did.
Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea? God bless. Keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.” —Elizabeth Warren at Political Animal - ‘The underlying social contract’ (via machinery)
In India, Illicit Pharmaceuticals Ravage Communities and Lives
SEP 19 2011, 7:00 AM ET
For Indians too poor to buy heroin, neighborhood pharmacists are willing dealers, further entrenching a cycle of addiction, infection, and death
An injecting drug user (IDU) fills a syringe with buprenorphine on a roadside in Chandigarh / Reuters
NEW DELHI, India — Dharminder was just 17 years old when his half-naked body was found one morning in an alley near Jahangirpuri station, the northern terminus of the New Delhi Metro’s yellow line. The teen’s body was slung onto a vegetable cart and covered with a blanket that left his bare toes exposed as he was wheeled down the main road leading from the Metro station to the morgue.
Dharminder’s official autopsy from Babu Jagjivan Ram Memorial Hospital describes various external injuries to his ribs, chest, abdomen, and shoulders, caused by a “blunt” implement. On arrival, he was wearing “pants only, soiled with fecal matter.” The document guesses his age incorrectly at 18 or 19, but it doesn’t matter. Dharminder was a junkie, and the locals disparage junkies — they steal, they carry disease; they’re untouchable beyond caste.
No one is exactly sure how he expired, but 23-year-old Nikhil Kumar, who works in a nearby metal-cutting shop, believes Dharminder was beaten to death by three other junkies the night before his body was discovered. Whether it was for the drugs or money he may have been hoarding, no one willing to talk knows for certain.
This area in northwest Delhi is best known for the Azadpur Fruit and Vegetable Market, but across National Highway 1, Jahangirpuri is home to another roaring industry: hawking products with longer sell-by dates than the tons of bananas and tomatoes that come through Azadpur: illicit pharmaceuticals. This is not the only neighbourhood in Delhi with a drug problem — areas like Yamuna Bazar and Silampur are also notorious for the numbers of addicts trawling their streets. What makes Jahangirpuri so dangerous is that, here, the chemists are the drug dealers. This would be easy enough to hide — if the Jahangirpuri chemists who sell prescription pharmaceutical drugs over the counter actually felt the need for discretion. But they don’t. It’s as easy to obtain and shoot pharmaceuticals here as it is to get a free meal at the nearby Sikh temple and save money for another hit.
For Dharminder, like many before him and many others sure to follow, Jahangirpuri truly was the end of the line.
• • • • •
“Young people get old here very quickly,” says Rajiv, a 47-year-old ex-user with a pronounced limp in his left leg, as he roots around in a hidden compartment inside his blue track pants for a match to keep his beedigoing. He lights the undecided ember into a glow under his push-broom moustache and exhales. “Here, in every house you have a junkie.”
Rajiv would know. After years of drug abuse, he has been staying at a centre in Saket, in South Delhi, run by Sahara, an NGO that treats and houses injecting drug users. Sahara opened a treatment centre in Jahangirpuri in 2001, and in 2006 received expanded funding as part of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime’s (UNODC) Project H13, intended to curb the spread of HIV/AIDS in South Asian countries. But it didn’t last long — as Mike Marshall, the former director of projects at Sahara, tells me, “All UNODC projects in India lost their funding and had to close due to the global recession.”
There has been no recession, however, for those who cater to the addictions of India’s abject. Chemists here know what users need, and they have conveniently bundled the requisite gear into a kind of Japanese bentobox: one two-milliliter ampule of diazepam, a tranquillizer better known as Valium, also used to stop seizures and aid in alcohol withdrawal; one two-millimeter ampule of buprenorphine, a synthetic opioid like methadone used to treat addiction to opiates; and one two-milliliter bottle of Avil, an antihistamine meant to be injected intramuscularly (though many users prefer a 10-milliliter bottle so they can use the larger receptacle to mix all three drugs); one syringe; and two detachable needles. Users say the antihistamine is good for preventing rash, but it’s mostly to increase the volume of a shot. One Jahangirpuri chemist, to attract new customers, has begun to throw in a digestif of a Netrovet-10 tablet, a strong sedative. A set costs 50 to 60 rupees, about one dollar.
Before Sahara shut its doors here, this is where Rajiv spent most of his reclaimed time after his withdrawal period, doing the legwork he and other independent aid workers describe as crucial: knocking on doors and talking to families who have no idea how to stop this surge of over-the-counter pharmaceuticals from stealing away their loved ones.
Rajiv, like the independent aid workers who have effectively, albeit unofficially, replaced Sahara and H13, says that the door-to-door canvassing is the only thing they see making a real difference.
“Dharminder’s case is very common,” an aid worker whom I’ll call Sita later tells me. “We find dead kids on the sides of the road here all the time.”
Dharminder left the town of Harpalpur in Uttar Pradesh when he was 12, already sniffing away his pick-pocketing profits in glue and solvents. In Jahangirpuri, he scavenged for scrap metal and took advantage of the tight-packed transience in the sprawling Azadpur market to reappropriate carelessly placed wallets. Before he died, Dharminder told me he made 50 to 100 rupees, about one to two U.S. dollars, a day.
Rajiv takes shelter from the afternoon sun near the alley where Dharminder’s body was found. National Highway 1 and its last run of elevated Metro line are a few hundred feet away, just after a stretch of houses that look as if something has bitten their fronts off; just past where the truckers park and bring local, often casual, prostitutes to assuage the loneliness of the road. A little further east are the various recyclers who buy the materials from scavengers, who often then circle back to an alley adjacent to Mahendra Park to shoot up. Then it’s back across the road to scour Azadpur for enough money to complete the circuit again.
Before long, an elderly woman nearby recognizes Rajiv and hurries over with a frantic tale, pointing to her son, who is rocking on his haunches in front of a nearby door. Rajiv explains something quietly to the child — he can’t be more than 13 or 14 tops — who plants his forehead on his knee-hugging arms and begins to cry. Laying out the consequences that await users, Rajiv proffers himself as an example, pointing to his leg with the limp.
Neju, a junkie from an older generation, scampers over and squats, opening the buttons of his grease-sheened shirt to show Rajiv how his shoulder has healed. Most of the cap’s muscle, where an abscess had been successfully removed, looks like an old shark bite. Sita tells me that abscess management is a big part of their work — much more than detoxification. According to a UNODC report from April 2009, Sahara treated abscesses in up to 30 people per month in Jahangirpuri. This cauterized circuitry is Neju’s good news to share. As he shows off his healed shoulder, a long knife falls from the left pocket of his pants.
“Put that away,” Rajiv scolds him.
“It’s for cutting fruit,” replies Neju, who credits his longevity to his moderate pharmaceutical intake. He files the blade back into his pocket.
“Probably true,” whispers Rajiv. “For real fights, they keep a surgical blade that’ll cut you to the bone hidden in their mouths.”
The woman thanks Rajiv for his counsel and takes his card as she leads her son away. This boy is one of the more fortunate addicts. He has a home: access to regular meals means his rate of decay will be slower than those who sleep on these streets. For him, there’s no competition with fellow scavengers at the end of a hard day’s work to divvy up the remains of a pharma cocktail and be tempted to take that little bit more than he should. Maybe that’s what killed Dharminder.
A look at any survey by either a government or non-government agency shows that HIV/AIDS transmission in India involves three primary cohorts: sex workers, truckers, and injecting drug users (IDUs). Jahangirpuri’s concentration of all three high-risk groups makes it a locus of India’s HIV problem. The truckers who may contract the disease here will soon be on the road to all corners of the country, while many Jahangirpuri-area prostitutes — by one count, almost 600 have tested HIV-positive — will return home to their families, and be back in Azadpur market the next day for the night shift, and the next round of truckers.
A Project H13 survey from 2008 and 2009 found that 98 percent of all IDUs in Jahangirpuri were men, who by virtue of proximity to Azadpur and its free flow of drugs have had easy access to heroin, a party favor for many in the 1980s. It was the chemists providing pharmaceuticals over the counter to men with expensive heroin addictions that created the IDU epidemic in the mid-1990s. Rajiv, along with every recovering addict in Sita’s care, tells a similar story. They’d drink with friends, then someone would suggest they smoke some heroin, which would soon become regular beyond the point of weekend recreation. That would get too expensive, and so pharmaceuticals were the next logical step. Even after business hours, a couple of pharmacists would sell the drugs from their homes, providing 24-hour access. Some still do.
Rajiv tells me that the only time you’ll see dealers on the streets is when there’s a shortage in the pharmacies. That hasn’t happened “in quite a while”, says Urdip, a 45-year-old autorickshaw driver, as he sits in Sita’s centre with one leg tucked under the other, leaning against the wall, his shoulders in line with the ring of accumulated filth that demarcates the sitting area. “It feels good to get away from drugs,” he leans in to tell me, though he knows that at this stage, just going out on the street would be too great a temptation to shoot up again.
According to the World Health Organization, an IDU’s full physical recovery can take up to three years. But “the craving never dies in the mind”, Rajiv admits, squinting one eye from the smoke of another beedi.
“These people come from the lowest castes,” Rajiv explains, “so the women don’t have the social freedom to go to the wine shop or to the chemist like the men. A lot of them still have to stay inside with their heads covered. … The husband doesn’t give a fuck about the house, kids, but a woman will be more sensitive to the needs of the children, to taking care of the children. She may whore to make money, but she won’t inject.”
Either way, HIV/AIDS is here, whether it comes from the area’s drug use or prostitution or whether it’s transferred from one partner to another as a result of the drug use or prostitution. I accompany Sita to the nearby hospital, Babu Jagjivan Ram, to pick up the results of her HIV test. She’s negative, but most women in the area, she tells me, have to sneak away to avail themselves of the free HIV testing at the hospital. Should they test positive, Sita says, they are rarely able to undergo the continued treatment required because they keep the results hidden from their families. Locals and aid workers say street junkies are not welcome at the hospital, unless, of course, it’s to the separate building at the back where their corpses are incinerated.
The National AIDS Control Organization estimates the number of HIV-positive IDUs in India at eight percent of the population, but most involved feel the number in Delhi, especially in Jahangirpuri, will turn out to be much higher. As the first group to gather specific numbers, Sahara, in conjunction with other groups, has begun a two-year research project in five Delhi neighbourhoods suffering from endemic drug use, but until they’re done, there are still no hard figures on how many IDUs there are in Jahangirpuri, or how many are HIV positive.
When I return to Sita’s new centre, three more addicts, along with Urdip, have sought her out. They all sit against the concrete, their varying shoulder heights contributing to the wall’s dark stripe. Like the boy whose mother approached Rajiv, these men now detoxing had the advantage of a home and relative nutrition, but they’re getting old. They look dejected. They look ill. Their stories vary, but they overlap more. These men want to get clean for their families. They want to start working again.
• • • • •
Moti, one of the homeless addicts, squats under one of the pillars of the Metro line that runs down the middle of National Highway 1, wearing a once-black-and-white shirt, now all grey, once-grey pants now mostly black. He scratches at his left shoulder with a bloated right hand. No veins are visible, just a rough, scaly surface, like a series of closed scabs. He wobbles to his feet and crosses the southbound lanes into an alley adjacent to Mahendra Park. From a distance, the scene is typical of urban India, rubbish collected into little multicolored ghats between the pavement and the brick walls on either side, but here, among the candy wrappers and empty pouches of PassPass, are an equal number of plastic syringe wrappers, more empty bottles with syringe-friendly caps, and even more broken glass ampules. Clumps of human turds bake in the sun and the ammonia smell of piss is overpowering. There are no syringes, however, Moti determines. He’s been rustling around trying to find one hidden in the detritus to use for his afternoon fix.
He is joined almost immediately, as if telepathically, by Rajinder, another homeless man in his mid-40s. Rajinder is wearing only plastic sandals and beige trousers, barely held up by his pelvis, the skin of his stomach sagging like an old shirt on the hanger of his hip bones. He has also been scavenging through the macaroons of shit and the tumbleweeds of garbage, and confirms that there are no syringes lying around. Rajinder reaches into the secret compartment inside his trousers, pulls out a few moist 10-rupee notes and disappears.
Moti describes himself as a ragpicker and says he needs a shot in the morning to be able to do the work, then this lunchtime dose before the next round of scavenging — the nimble digits required for pick-pocketing in Azadpur long swollen and atrophied — and then another shot in the evening to complete his circuit. It’s a short one.
Rajinder returns from the chemist, sits down, breaks open an ampule of buprenorphine and extracts the liquid with his acquired syringe. He pushes the needle through the opening in the cap of the Avil bottle and the two drugs are mixed.
For a new addict, the arms are the usual starting point; then it’s on to the legs, the buttocks, the neck. Rajinder, who has mostly destroyed his circulation in these areas, loosens his pants and pulls them down to the hilt of his penis, leans against the wall and sticks the needle into his groin. The skin resists a little before snapping around the needle’s tip. As the out-flowing blood fills the syringe salmon pink, his breathing slows and he becomes visibly relaxed the instant his thumb can’t push any further on the plunger.
Moti has no choice now, unable to find a shootable vein anywhere after years of abuse, but to go intramuscular. And yet, the two addicts have been relatively smart. They’re not using the oil-based diazepam, which quickly causes abscesses. Moti’s already got a nasty one on his leg. But going intramuscular is very risky. “You know when you go to the doctor,” says Rajiv, “and he puts a needle in your upper butt, your hip or your bicep? That’s because those muscles are always in use. Shooting into a secondary muscle like the triceps could easily cause another abscess.”
Rajinder takes a few pokes and prods into Moti’s upheld triceps before finding satisfactory purchase and injecting him.
When I speak later with Dr. Rajat Ray, chief of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences’ National Drug Dependence Treatment Centre, he tells me that Moti’s is a severe case. The way in which Moti has been shooting up all this time is what burns out the veins to the point of sepsis: the repeated, unskilled and unsanitary injections that render advanced-stage users’ limbs vascularly barren.
The two addicts sit for a few minutes, before getting up and stumbling out of the alley, back across the road and into the shade under the Metro line. They say it’s more comfortable there, with the passing cars and trucks for their air-conditioning.
Left in the alley, Rajiv begins to pick up some of the drug packaging, some of which appears to have travelled from as far as the truckers who pass through the area — Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Maharashtra. One receptacle is from fairly close to home: an empty bottle of Avil, made by Paksons Pharmaceuticals in Haryana.
Founded over 20 years ago by Sushil Aggarwal, Paksons produces just about every kind of prescription drug outside of those employed in cancer treatment. The company’s injectable drugs plant is in Bahadurgarh, a 30-km drive west of Delhi, and Aggarwal is willing to provide a guided tour. Behind the gates painted with Hindu swastikas and past the garlanded images of Hindu gods, a series of rooms runs clockwise around the ground floor of the building, where the drugs are produced, tested, sterilely packaged, and shipped.
Aggarwal points out that the factory is constantly being visited by incognito representatives of government ministries. “They come every month, sometimes every two weeks, to inspect,” he says. “They come so often I don’t know which ministries they are from anymore.”
Aggarwal says he has little control over his drugs ending up in the veins of junkies. For producers like him, there’s another problem, one that he tells me has kept him in court for seven years.
“One day in 2003,” he begins, standing in the quality control room, raising his voice over the tingling of ampules like thousands of tiny wind-blown chandeliers, “my distributor called me and asked why I was selling a certain drug in a market in Uttar Pradesh. I told him I didn’t sell to that market, and that the drug was not even being produced anymore.”
Aggarwal says he went to Bareilly, a city of just under a million people, to investigate. With the local police, he found the seller using the Paksons name to sell knock-offs of his drugs. The man was arrested and a copyright infringement case was filed. It is still pending.
“Why does it take seven years?” he asks, lifting his hands off the steering wheel and opening them to the ceiling, as if asking Krishna to intervene on the drive back to Delhi. “Because I don’t pay money,” he answers himself. “But police, they take money. … It’s a big problem.”
• • • • •
Rajiv looks out across the roofs of passing buildings as the Metro’s yellow line recedes from the end of its route, back south towards another Delhi — Azadpur market on one side, Mahendra Park on the other, Moti and Rajinder underneath.
Rajiv seems all the more fragile once the train reaches busier stops and people crowd in around him, not aware of how easily he could be injured. “I can’t walk around for too long,” he says, crossing his left leg over his right. “All the blood goes to my foot and my leg doesn’t really have a way to bring it back up. I’ll have to lay down for a while when I get back to the centre.”
As a manager in a garment company, Rajiv had gotten into heroin during his late 20s and early 30s, smoking “brown sugar” with friends at parties. To save money, he downgraded to morphine and eventually to the same vein-sizzling sets sold in Jahangirpuri. He was forced to stop after he spiked his femoral artery on his inner-left thigh and ruptured it — short-circuiting the blood flow to his left leg. “Before the CT Scan at LNJP Hospital, the nurses had to call the senior doctor in because they couldn’t find a vein,” says Rajiv calmly. “He eventually found one in my neck.”
He pulls up his left pant leg and exposes dry scales and whorls of would-be abscesses that he has to monitor carefully. “If I get a cut, it won’t heal. There’s no blood flow. If I break a bone, I’ll have to amputate it.”
• • • • •
You’d think that chemists selling illicit substances directly over the counter to obvious addicts would be cagey and nervous in their work. Not so for 50-year-old Vijay Ramesh, the owner of Dumpak Medicals, a nearby chemist’s. (Both his name and that of his shop have been changed.) He arrives in Mahendra Park, adjacent to Moti and Rajinder’s squalid alley, accompanied by Birendra, who does not want to give his real name because he works in Delhi’s municipal corporation. From a distance, Birendra looks like any average Delhiite — moustache, side-parted hair, slacks — but as he gets closer, the telltale signs of light scar tissue inside his forearm and a bloated hand give it away. He’s an addict, too.
The pair sits in the shade of a tree, their backs to the highway. “The addicts who live on the street buy from me,” Ramesh, the chemist shop owner, tells me. “The area is such that I sell more IDU drugs than I do cough medicine.” He takes off his shades and twirls one of the arms between his thumb and index finger. “Sure, addiction to anything is bad, but it’s a business.”
Ramesh, who resembles a subcontinental Steve Buscemi, says he operates with total confidence. Chemists are required by law to keep records of all their sales of controlled substances, but Ramesh says nobody does. Even if licensed drugs were accounted for, there are many grades of suppliers to round out the stock. “Suppliers make drugs in their homes, you don’t know if it’s legitimate. People make it in huts, the demand is so high.”
At the Mahendra Park Police Station, Kaptaan Singh, the investigating officer in 17-year-old Dharminder’s case, admits that drugs are being sold to junkies by the area’s chemists. “Obviously,” he says. “Where else can they buy them?”
Rajiv could have told you that, but to prove it, he sits behind a chemist in one of the local shops and observes, “99.9 percent of the customers are junkies.”
Ramesh says he makes monthly payments to the police that go “all the way up. No cop has the guts to [raid] my shop. They all get their money.”
Ramesh says there was a bit of a clampdown three years ago, but he hasn’t had any trouble from the police since then. And he can afford the monthly kickbacks. “I charge 50 rupees for a set, and I sell between 100 and 300 sets a day,” he says.
Officer Kaptaan Singh claims it’s not his job to bust the dealers and pins the responsibility on government drug inspectors. It is not clear if they’re from the same departments that pay frequent visits to Paksons, and Dr. Surinder Singh, the Drugs Controller General of India, declined to respond to multiple emails and phone calls. His joint and deputy commissioners were equally unwilling to talk.
• • • • •
Outside Mahendra Park, as cars and trucks pass noisily and Metro trains slice by overhead, a boy of about 12 or 13 spots Vijay Ramesh. The boy is disheveled to the point of falling apart. There are lattices of slash marks on his arms, and a stream of snot drips from his nose, over his mouth to his chin. He’s carrying an empty can of Godfather beer, and it is in the manner of a mafia don that Ramesh accepts the boy’s supplications. “Uncle, uncle,” the urchin pleads, touching his feet, “I haven’t had anything since morning.”
Ramesh pats him on the head. “Go wait over there, I’ll bring you something.”
The boy’s loyalty is important in a business where many long-term users, 40- to 50-year-olds like Rajinder and Moti, are dying, and men like Urdip are trying to get clean.
Ramesh waves at another passing local as he turns into the lane to Dumpak Medicals, with Birendra, the drug-addicted municipal employee, following close behind. The boy, meanwhile, fidgets in the dust on the side of the road, scratching at various parts of his body, waiting for Ramesh to get him through the afternoon.
“See?” Ramesh says, his black shades back on, hiding his eyes. “Old people are dying, but young people are coming.”
Aside from Rajiv, names of all Jahangirpuri locals have been changed
Texas Gov. Rick Perry, answering to charges from fellow GOP presidential candidate Michele Bachmann that he once tried to mandate HPV vaccinations for girls to curry favor with drugmaker Merck, which produces the vaccine and donated to his gubernatorial campaigns.
But according to the Washington Post, Merck gave Perry far more than $5,000—more like $30,000, not including the $380,000 it gave to the Republican Governors Association since 2006.
- Social Security
- Children’s health insurance
- All federal education programs
- All federal antipoverty programs
- Federal disaster relief
- Federal food safety inspections
- Child labor laws
- The minimum wage
- Overtime and other labor protections
- Federal civil rights laws
- The union