Exploring Human Potential

“Revolving Door” Doesn’t Quite Describe It. It’s Lou Lasagna’s “Integrated Career Ladder.”

Posted on | July 28, 2022 | 2 Comments

Mike Magee

Last week, the New York Times shinned a light on the FDA’s top science regulator of the tobacco industry, Matt Holman, who announced his retirement after 20 years to join Phillip Morris. As they noted, “To critics, Dr. Holman’s move is a particularly concerning example of the ‘revolving door’ between federal officials and the industries they regulate…”

As a Medical Historian, I’ve never been a fan of the casual “revolving door” metaphor because it doesn’t quite capture the highly structured and deliberate attempts of a variety of academic medical scientists over a number of decades in the 2nd half of the 20th century to establish and reward an “integrated career ladder” that connected academic medicine, industry and the government. 

As I noted this week, Harvard’s Dr. Henry K. Beecher, raised a red flag in 1966 in a NEJM article, “Ethics and Clinical Research”, where he wrote, “Medical schools and university hospitals are increasingly dominated by investigators. Every young man knows that he will never be promoted to a tenure post, to a professorship in a major medical school, unless he has proved himself as an investigator. If the ready availability of money for conducting research is added to this fact, one can see how great the pressures are on ambitious young physicians.”

In CODE BLUE: The Birth of the Medical-Industrial Complex, I recount the vertical integration strategies of deception that were Arthur Sackler. But the role model for the “young physicians” of his day was not Sackler, but rather the physician and pharmacologist Louis Lasagna who had trained at Johns Hopkins. In 1956, he lobbied the FDA to develop a separate metric beyond “safety” to assess the effectiveness of new drugs coming to market. 

As a contrarian, he was an equal-opportunity offender, often sought after for media commentary. He had challenged the pharmaceutical industry’s over-the-top marketing claims, outrageous prices, and deceptive relationships with doctors nationwide in the 1950’s, but also was not shy about criticizing his fellow physicians’ dismal state of expertise in all things pharmacologic.

In 1962, Lasagna’s knowledge and outspokenness led to an invitation to join the government team evaluating FDA policy. When he appeared before Estes Kefauver’s congressional committee, he made headlines in Arthur Sackler’s hometown by lamenting the fact that money was corrupting doctors’ professional decision-making choices, or as he put it, “Madison Avenue” had discovered “Medicine Avenue.” He also labeled the science involving the “equivalency” of generic products “abysmally ignorant” and the standards for quality “inadequate.” 

The committee to which Lasagna said all these things went on to craft the Kefauver-Harris Amendment, or the Drug Efficacy Amendment, to the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. Adopted in 1962, the amendment introduced a requirement for drug manufacturers to provide proof of the effectiveness and safety of their drugs before approval, required drug advertising to disclose accurate information about side effects, and prevented cheap generic drugs from being marketed under new trade names as “breakthrough” medications.These requirements were retroactive, meaning that more than 4,000 drugs that had appeared on the market between 1938 and 1962 needed to be critically evaluated. 

To determine these drugs’ effectiveness, the government created the Drug Efficacy Study (DES), which involved multiple panels of experts drawn from the National Academy of Science and the National Research Council. The lead voice on the DES was the outspoken Louis Lasagna. He had acknowledged industry support of his fellowship programs in clinical pharmacology at Johns Hopkins, and, with the support of the American Enterprise Institute, he had endorsed collaboration between “universities and the pharmaceutical industry . . . to join forces in providing reasonable advice to government . . . to prevent unwise participation of the government in drug development.” If Lasagna occasionally slammed the drug industry as well, that was just Lou being Lou. 

Not shy in promoting himself or his ideas, Lasagna had a knack for deleting embarrassing details from his ever-expanding professional narrative. Few knew that he had unsuccessfully pressured the FDA to approve thalidomide on behalf of its US manufacturer, RichardsonMerrell. Fewer still remembered his publicly quoted remark following the barbiturate-overdose death of Marilyn Monroe in 1962: “If Marilyn Monroe’s physician had been able to prescribe that drug (thalidomide) instead of barbiturates she might still be alive.” 

In the early years following the thalidomide disaster, the American people and their government were willing to accept the new rules and the delays in drug development they fostered. However, they became less tolerant a decade later when a deep recession, accompanied by high interest rates and extraordinarily thin pipelines for new discoveries, stubbornly resisted corrective steps.

Lasagna was all about free enterprise and eliminating what he viewed as excessive government regulation. That worldview was well capsulized in remarks he made in 1976. Quoting Rochester Chancellor Wallis, Lasagna said, “‘The remedy . . . is obvious and simple, but implausible. Return the power to the people.” In 1970, Lasagna became chairman of the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology at the University of Rochester’s School of Medicine, where he founded the Center for the Study of Drug Development (CSDD), a common meeting ground for free market–minded academics, government, and corporate leaders. By 1976, he had moved his center to Boston’s Tufts University. He was now a renegade scholar, a successful entrepreneur, and a lightning rod for controversy. But within the business community, he was a much-sought-after speaker, much like California’s Ronald Reagan had become. 

From the start, Lasagna’s CSDD was a multifaceted and highly productive platform, providing professional development courses in clinical pharmacology, drug development, research processes, and pharmaceutical regulations. It generated influential white papers and reports on everything from clinical research design to the growing trend of outsourcing work to contract (or clinical) research organizations (CROs). It also provided customized reports helping individual clients design their government-relations strategies in pursuit of favorable policies. 

Throughout the 1970s, the pharmaceutical-industry-funded CSDD under Lasagna laid the statistical groundwork to “prove” that the pharmaceutical industry was “high risk/high gain,” that government-induced delays eroded patent life and profitability, and that inadequate protection of intellectual property rights discouraged investment, discovery, and innovation. New drug launches in the US had dropped to around 40 per year, and for nearly all of these, the drug’s appearance in Europe preceded its US debut by approximately two years. Lou labeled the delay a “drug lag,” and pegged the cost of bringing a new drug to market at $800 million and the losses associated with a one-month delay in a product review by the FDA at $10 million for the sponsoring company.

When Reagan came to power in 1980, it was Lasagna who led the way in wholesale deregulation of the Medical-Industrial Complex including special channels for rapid drug approval and forfeiture of NIH patents (Bayh-Dole Act) that financially super-charged the “integrated career path” as a scaffolding for the MIC for the following four decades.

The Core Problem That Led To Tuskegee Has Never Been Addressed.

Posted on | July 26, 2022 | 4 Comments

Mike Magee

Today is the date that all AP Science journalists know by heart. As the AP banner headline broadcast this morning: “On July 25, 1972, Jean Heller, a reporter on The Associated Press investigative team, then called the Special Assignment Team, broke news that rocked the nation. Based on documents leaked by Peter Buxtun, a whistleblower at the U.S. Public Health Service, the then 29-year-old journalist and the only woman on the team, reported that the federal government let hundreds of Black men in rural Alabama go untreated for syphilis for 40 years in order to study the impact of the disease on the human body. Most of the men were denied access to penicillin, even when it became widely available as a cure. A public outcry ensued, and nearly four months later, the “Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male” came to an end.”

Eight years earlier, a young physician from Detroit, Irwin Schatz, came across a study in a medical journal titled “The Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis: 30 Years of Observation.” Incredulous, he shot off a letter to the editor: “I am utterly astounded by the fact that physicians allow patients with a potentially fatal disease to remain untreated when effective therapy is available.” It was later revealed that Dr. Schatz’s message was read by Anne R. Yobs, one of the US Public Health Service employees who designed the Tuskegee Study, and who wrote to her superior, “This is the first letter of this type we have received. I do not plan to answer this letter.” 

On June 16, 1966, the New England Journal of Medicine published an article titled “Ethics and Clinical Research.” Written by a highly respected Harvard physician, Henry K. Beecher, the head of anesthesiology at Massachusetts General Hospital, the article referred to “troubling charges” that had grown out of “troubling practices” at “leading medical schools, university hospitals, private hospitals, governmental military departments (the Army, the Navy and the Air Force), governmental institutes (the National Institutes of Health), Veterans Administration hospitals and industry.”

“Since World War II,” Beecher continued, “the annual expenditure for research . . . in the Massachusetts General Hospital has increased a remarkable 17-fold. At the National Institutes of Health, the increase has been a gigantic 624-fold. This ‘national’ rate of increase is over 36 times that of the Massachusetts General Hospital. . . . Taking into account the sound and increasing emphasis of recent years that experimentation in man must precede general application of new procedures in therapy, plus the great sums of money available, there is reason to fear that these requirements and these resources may be greater than the supply of responsible investigators. All this heightens the problems under discussion. . . . Medical schools and university hospitals are increasingly dominated by investigators. Every young man knows that he will never be promoted to a tenure post, to a professorship in a major medical school, unless he has proved himself as an investigator. If the ready availability of money for conducting research is added to this fact, one can see how great the pressures are on ambitious young physicians.”

After Irwin Schatz first raised the issue, the AMA still endorsed continuation of the Tuskegee  study. Not until 1972, when the glare of publicity reached what was known as the “Tuskegee Experiment,” was the study finally shut down. It led to a $10 million out-of-court settlement to cover the lifetime health needs and burial expenses of participants. 

Tuskegee also led to the 1974 National Research Act, which finally incorporated some of the protections recommended at the Nuremberg Trials. Voluntary consent was now required for all participants in US medical research funded by federal dollars. A study’s design had to be reviewed and pre-approved on ethical grounds by an institutional review board, a body of local professionals who would critique each proposed study and attest that it met ethical standards. Finally, the act established the National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical Research, which was charged with identifying “the basic ethical principles which should underlie the conduct of biomedical and behavioral research involving human subjects.”

Even so, the official apology for the violations of the Nuremberg Code (also known as crimes against humanity) at Tuskegee would have to wait another quarter century, when President Bill Clinton at last acknowledged, “The United States government did something that was wrong—deeply, profoundly, morally wrong.” 

But in the spirit of  “Gone, but not forgotten”, I recommend for tonight’s summer viewing “The Dropout” streaming on Hulu. It documents the felonious activities of Elizabeth Holmes and her disgraced biotechnology company Theranos. 

Why? Because Dr. Beecher had it right. While the various different patient protections provide some improvement at the margins, the core of the problem (as I lay out in CODE BLUE: Inside The Medical-Industrial Complex), is a profit seeking Medical-Industrial Complex built on an integrated career ladder (Academic Medicine to Industry to Government), and absent appropriate checks and balances. What can be done about it? See page 315-324 in CODE BLUE for my suggestions.

The Constitutional Right to Health Care: An Historical Perspective in 5 Parts.

Posted on | July 19, 2022 | Comments Off on The Constitutional Right to Health Care: An Historical Perspective in 5 Parts.

Mike Magee

Several weeks ago, I raised a red flag that assaults on women’s right to control their own health decisions threatened their autonomy, as well as the professional rights of physicians.

Last week, I suggested that recent changes at the interface of economics and education in the American electorate had created a “polarity reversal” in swing voters. This created on the one hand, an extremist climate that over-turned Roe v. Wade, and on the other hand expanded the possibility that Medicare for All (M4A) might become a reality in the future.

Health care and human rights are inseparable. In this follow-up 5-part series, I review the Constitutional basis for claiming the “right to health care” for all American citizens in an effort to provide much needed historical context to guide future debate.

Part I: The Argument – Who Controls Your Rights?

Part II: Common Sense vs. Power Plays: “Let the end be legitimate.”

Part III: The Right to Privacy and Health.

Part IV. The Need for Reform: “Necessitous men are not free men.”

Part V. Addressing “The Tyranny of the Minority.” M4A- an entry point.

Why “Medicare for All” Could Appeal to White Swing Voters.

Posted on | July 12, 2022 | Comments Off on Why “Medicare for All” Could Appeal to White Swing Voters.

Mike Magee

“There’s common ground there—not the warm belonging of full creedal agreement, perhaps, but a place, even a welcoming place, where we can stand together.”    Ian Marcus Corbin, Research Fellow, Harvard Medical School

Most Americans would love to believe this statement. But political reality intervenes. A March, 2022 Pew Research Center analysis found our two major parties to be “farther apart ideologically today than at any time in the past 50 years.” 

Take, for example, Presidential hopefuls, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). They see political pay dirt on the jagged peaks of America’s culture wars with the governor taking on Disney for defending LGBTQ employees by introducing the his “Stop W.O.K.E. Act, while Rubio goes one step further with his “No Tax Breaks for Radical Corporate Activism Act”.

In academic circles, you increasingly find references to “what’s the matter with…debates.” The phrase derives from a 2004 book “What’s the Matter with Kansas?”  written by historian Thomas Frank, which spent 18 weeks on the New York Times Bestseller List. 

In the book, Frank detailed the transformation of Kansas from a “hotbed of left-wing populism” to a center of “anti-elitist conservatism in the United States” and exposed the state’s remarkable capacity to vote against its own economic self-interests. 

The title itself originated in an August 15, 1896 editorial in the the Kansas Emporia Gazette. It was written by a political leader, William Allen White, who charged that the state’s slippage into economic stagnation (compared to neighboring states) was the result of overly aggressive progressive policies which unduly restricted small business. William McKinley, in his 1896 run for the Presidency, picked up on the theme, distributing hundreds of thousands of copies of the editorial as part of his campaign.

In modern times, selected academics argue that working-class social conservatives have abandoned the Democratic New Deal political coalition and landed on the rocky knolls of Republican shores mired in conservative ideology and buffeted by religion laced cultural gale-force winds.

Others, like Vanderbilt political scientist Larry Bartels, challenged these assumptions. As he summarized in 2005: “Has the white working class abandoned the Democratic Party? No. White voters in the bottom third of the income distribution have actually become more reliably Democratic in presidential elections over the past half-century, while middle- and upper-income white voters have trended Republican.”

A recent publication by two political scientists – Herbert P. Kitschelt from Duke and Philipp Rehm from Ohio State – says no one should be surprised by what happened in 2016, because it was a long time in the making. 

What makes white Americans vote the way they do, they say, lies at the cross-roads of economics and education. Using a four quadrant analysis graph, they tracked white voters presidential preferences from 1952 to 2016 in four groups – I. Low Education/Low Income, II. Low Education/High Income, III. High Education/Low Income, IV. High Education/High Income.

Primary Source

Using a version of this graph, they concluded that that there has been a “polarity reversal…the New Deal core constituencies of the two main US parties—low-education/low-income voters for the Democrats and high-education/high-income voters for the Republicans—have become swing groups; the former swing groups are the parties’ new core constituencies (high-education/low-income voters for the Democrats and low-education/high-income voters for the Republicans).”

Specifically they believe that:

  1. The Democratic Party is being abandoned by lower education/higher income white voters. (Think small business men/local Chambers of Commerce), while higher education/higher income are slowly moving to neutral “swing” status.
  2. Lower income workers are also segregating based on education. Those white voters with little income or education are moving away from Democrats to neutrality – “drifting into right-wing politics” and exploring militarizing “social governance, racism and xenophobia.” In contrast, low income, high education whites are securely now in Democratic territory.

What does all this mean? It appears that, as we have transformed from an industrial society to a knowledge society, the traditional New Deal core groups (Dem- LE/LI; Rep- HE/HI) that anchored the two parties have become swing groups filled with divided, volatile “independents” up for grabs.

How do you reach these new swing voters? Is there anything programmatic that might enjoy the support of large numbers of swing voters? 

How about those Big Education/High Income individuals. In 2020, 68% of the S&P 1500 CEO’s were Republicans in a National Bureau of Economic Research study. What might the government offer the workers that labor in their charge?

How about those Low Education/Low Income individuals. Many manage to rise to intermediate incomes, only to fall back when faced with predatory debt often associated with a family illness or tragedy.

Programmatic solutions that would unite us need to appeal on multiple levels to members of swing quadrants. One concrete example would be “Medicare for All.” It would free the HE/HI CEO’s of managing employee health care while trying to run their companies. It would also assist LE/LI strivers by reinforcing health and productivity, avoiding crippling medical debt, and creating new job opportunities.

So, in fact, as Dr. Corbin suggests, “There’s common ground…a welcoming place, where we can stand together.” Programs and services that create jobs, reinforce community linkages, and equitably promote compassion, understanding and opportunity are political pay dirt. Democrats and Republicans would help themselves, and help America, by seeking “common ground” under the banner of  “Medicare-for-All.”

Mike Magee’s Advice To The AMA On Reversal of Roe v. Wade.

Posted on | June 27, 2022 | 10 Comments

Mike Magee

Stable, civic societies are built upon human trust and confidence. If you were forced to rebuild a society, leveled by warfare and devastation, where would you begin? This is the question the U.S. Army faced at the close of WW II, specifically when it came to rebuilding Germany and Japan, hopefully into stable democracies. The Marshall Plan answered the question above, and its success in choosing health services as a starting point was well documented by many in the years to come, including the RAND Corporation. Their summary in 2007 said in part, “Nation-building efforts cannot be successful unless adequate attention is paid to the health of the population.” 

They began with services for women and children, the very location that a splinter of politicians and Supreme Court Justices has targeted, replacing entrusted doctors with partisan bureaucrats in an approach so obviously flawed that it forced a course correction a half century ago in the form of Roe v. Wade.

The practice of Medicine is complex. Ideally it requires knowledge, skills, supportive infrastructure, proximity and presence. But most of all, it requires trust, especially in moments of urgency, with lives at stake, when an individual, and family, and community are all on high alert. When time is of the essence, and especially if one or more people are trying to make the right decision for two, rather than one life, decisions are impossibly personal and complex.

This was widely recognized by most physicians, including those most devout and conservative nationwide in the troubling years leading up to Roe v. Wade. As recently as 1968, the membership of the Christian Medical Society refused to endorse a proclamation that labeled abortion as sinful.  In 1971, America’s leading conservative religious organization, the Southern Baptist Convention, went on record as encouraging its members “to work for legislation that would allow the possibility of abortion under such conditions as rape, incest, clear evidence of severe fetal deformity, and carefully ascertained evidence of the likelihood of damage to the emotional, mental, and physical health of the mother.” In 1973, both the Southern Baptist Convention and the Christian Medical Society chose not to actively oppose the Supreme Court ruling against a Texas law prohibiting abortion known as Roe v. Wade, and reaffirmed that position in 1974 and 1976.

What they recognized was that the nation’s social capital, its political stability and security, relied heavily on the compassion, understanding and partnership engendered in the patient-physician relationship. As most doctors saw it, what possible good could come from putting politicians in the middle of such complicated, emotion-ridden, and highly personal decisions?

The American Medical Association’s prepared reaction to the June 24, 2022, reversal to Roe v. Wade was direct and immediate. They labeled the decision “an egregious allowance of government intrusion into the medical examination room, a direct attack on the practice of medicine and the patient-physician relationship…” Their president, Jack Resneck Jr. M.D. went further to say, “…the AMA condemns the high court’s interpretation in this case. We will always have physicians’ backs and defend the practice of medicine, we will fight to protect the patient-physician relationship..” But what exactly does that mean?

Approaching 75, and a lifelong member of the American Medical Association, I expect I know the AMA, its history as well as its strengths and weaknesses, about as well as anyone. Aside from having deep personal relationships with many of the Board of Trustees over the years (some of whom quietly continue to contact me for advice), I have studied the evolution of the patient-physician relationship in six countries over a span of forty years.

Those who know me well, and who have pushed back against my critique of the organization, know that my intentions are honorable, and that the alarms that I sound reflect my belief that, for our profession to survive as noble, self-governing, and committed above all to the patients who allow us to care for them, we must have a national organization with reach into every American town and city, and official representation in every state, and every specialty.

My concern today, despite the strong messaging from Chicago, is that the AMA and its membership have not fully absorbed that this is a “mission-critical” moment in the organization’s history. It is also an opportunity to purposefully flex its muscles, expand its membership, and reinforce its priorities. The strong words, without actions to back them up, I believe, will permanently seal the AMA’s fate, and challenge Medicine’s status as a “profession.”

Here are five actions that I believe the AMA should take immediately to make it clear that physicians stand united with our patients, in partnership with nurses and other health professionals, and that the actions of last week can not and will not stand.

  1. The AMA should pull all financial support for all Republican candidates through the 2022 elections.
  2. The AMA should actively encourage physician “civil disobedience” where appropriate to protect the health and well being of all women, regardless of age, race, sexual identity, religion, or economic status.
  3. The AMA should convene, under the auspices of its’ General Counsel, Andra K. Heller, a formal strategy meeting with the legal counsels of all state and specialty medical societies to formulate an aggressive legal approach to minimize the damage of the recent Supreme Court action.
  4. The AMA should actively promote AMA volunteers to help provide a full range of women’s health care services at federal institutions and on federal land, and stand up information sites that coordinate travel and expenses should inter-state travel be required for care access.
  5. The AMA should immediately make clear that any restriction of prescribing authority of medications in support of women’s health care, including contraceptive medications and devices, and Plan B treatments will result in a coordinated nationwide disruption of health services.

Why, After 200 Years, Is Haiti This Impoverished?

Posted on | June 23, 2022 | 2 Comments

Mike Magee

This Spring, at the President’s College at the University of Hartford, I taught a timely course titled, “The History of Epidemics in America.” By way of introduction, I stated that “Epidemics are social, political, philosophical, medical and above all ecological. They are also narratives – with a beginning, middle and end, and a range of heroes and villains, both human and microbial.”

One of the narratives, which sadly has had no end, is the French colonization of Saint-Dominque (now Haiti), western neighbor of the then Spanish controlled Dominican Republic, which together comprised the island of Hispaniola.

Columbus arrived on the island in 1492. Documents suggest he was greeted peacefully by the native Taino tribe which numbered some 60,000. By 1548, the numbers had plummeted with less than 500 of the indigenous tribe surviving. What had happened? The arrival of Columbus and others, and their subsequent movement back and forth between the Old World and the New World led to an unprecedented exchange of plants, manufactured goods and raw materials, tools and technologies, ideas, and microbes.

In the pursuit of wealth, traders and merchants, with financial inducements by their governments, clear cut and developed large plantation farming of cash crops like sugar, tobacco and wheat for export. These crops demand huge workforces for planting and harvesting under brutal and dangerous conditions.

The explorer’s plan was to enslave the natives they encountered as indentured servants and maintain a system of forced labor. To assist the effort, they also imported large numbers of domesticated animals from Europe including horses, cows, pigs, goats and sheep. At the time, the only domestic animals on the island were llamas and alpaca. But the animals carried with them a wide range of infectious diseases including smallpox, chickenpox, measles, mumps and typhus.

Over hundreds of years, the Europeans had developed immunities to these diseases. But the native Americans were immunologically naïve. By some estimates, 90% of the indigenous population in South and North America perished. Beyond the human tragedy, their demise created an enormous shortage of labor on the plantations. The solution chosen by the English, Spanish, Portuguese and French conquerors was to begin large scale importation of African slaves.

Between 1785 and 1790, nearly 40 percent of human cargo of African slaves crossing the Atlantic listed Saint-Dominque as their destination. The French by then possessed eight thousand plantations producing sugar, coffee, cotton, tobacco, indigo and cacao. These were established by clear-cutting forests under the most brutal conditions, explaining why the average lifespan of the enslaved population was just 5 years.

As Yale historian Frank Snowden recently described: “It was said that an acre of land on a Saint-Domingue plantation yielded more wealth than an acre anywhere else on earth. At the same time, the same area enclosed what many regarded the highest concentration of human misery…Men and women who had recently arrived in chains did not regard slavery as natural or permanent.” Those in control however were deeply committed to the status quo for a region whose capital city was called the “Paris of the Antilles.”

What the slaves lacked in freedom, they partially made up in determined defiance and natural immunity as the labored in insect infested fields. One was a mosquito that is the vector of choice for the Flavivirus that causes Yellow Fever. A competitor, the Anopheles mosquito, transmits the protozoa, Plasmodium, that causes malaria. African slaves who had survived these endemic diseases in their homelands often arrived as carriers with the Flavivirus and Plasmodium in their blood, protected from the diseases deadly effects by natural immunity.

By the end of the 18th century, revolution was in full swing in the future Haiti led by the dynamic Toussant Louverture, known popularly as “The Black Sparticus.” Out of the ashes of the French Revolution and the guillotining of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette in 1794, Napoleon had risen to power in a military takeover of the country. While waging war and skirmishes on his own continent, he watched the colonies closely, both as a source of fabulous wealth, but also with significant holdings in North America which included 828,000 squares miles, containing what would become the middle third of the United States.

He saw in Louverture a direct competitor, and also a potential massive regional destabilizer. If slavery went down in Saint-Domingue, France’s slave colonies in Guadeloupe, Martinique, Reunion, and Guiana would also likely collapse. With British and U.S. endorsement, Napoleon took action in 1801, deploying  an armada of 65 ships to the region led by his brother-in-law, General Charles Leclerc.

The arrival in February was met, at the direction of Louverture, by surprising non-engagement. The “Black Sparticus” was aware that his African former slaves were largely immune to Malaria and Yellow Fever, and that the Europeans were not. He therefore decided to wait for the summer insect infestation to decimate the French troops. The epidemic that engulfed them eventually killed over 50,000 soldiers (90% from Yellow Fever), including Leclerc on November 2, 1802.

In the wake of the defeat, Saint-Dominque formally declared its independence in 1804, a half-century before the Civil War and decades before slavery was outlawed in Britain. As for Napoleon, the loss of Saint-Domingue eliminated his forward base for staging additional North American conquests. In his eyes, these far away lands were now “indefensible liabilities.” In 1803, he sold it all – all 828,000 square miles – for $15 million dollars or 4 cents an acre. That land, which would eventually be segmented into 15 new states, was largely the property of native Americans.

This story should have a happy ending. But it does not. The reasons why have been shrouded by the American and French governments for over two centuries, and only recently exposed in a 2022 landmark investigative study published recently in the New York Times.

What happened to Haiti to account for its impoverished state and an economy only 1/6 the size of its mirror neighbor, the Dominican Republic? To uncover the truth, Times reporters spent several years combing thru dusty archives in three nations to reveal the deeply hidden truth for Haiti’s current impoverished reality.

The story picks up 21 years after its independence, when a new armada of French ships packing 500 cannons appeared off the coast of Haiti on July 3, 1825 with an ultimatum.  American lawmakers, between 1804 and 1825,  had refused to acknowledge the freed slaves nationhood for obvious reasons. Georgia Senator John Berrien at the time said that official recognition would “introduce a moral contagion.”

The ultimatum of newly installed French ruler, Charles X, was clear – pay a ransom of 150 million francs as reparation for the losses of former French slave holders on the island or your ports and trade with France and America will be blockaded as “an enemy of France.” By scale, the financial demand was enormous, twice what Napoleon had been paid for the Louisiana Purchase, but only 1/77 its size in square miles. This then was  Haiti’s “double debt.” As one local leader described, “The slaves fought for our independence. To make them pay for that independence again, it was setting up another form of slavery.”

The price for peace was now clear, to be delivered in 5 payments. But as the New York Times uncovered, to cover just the first payment, it had to empty its national treasury and travel to Paris to secure a bank loan. The bank collective, which included the Rothschilds and was fronted by Credit Industriel et Commercial (the financier of the Eiffel Tower) were more than happy to advance 30 million francs, while pocketing a 6 million transaction fee, leaving Saint-Dominque in the red to the tune of 156 million plus interest. Between 1825 and 1957, international debt consumed approximately 1/5 of the suffering nation’s annual revenue. During the same time the Eiffel Tower’s bankers grew into one of Europe’s largest financial conglomerates.

It took another half-century for Haiti to pay the debt down to 12 million francs, funded by taxes raised from coffee producers. In the meantime, the impoverished nation and its population descended  into what one observer called “the most foul smelling, dirty, and consequently fever-stricken city in the world.” 

The U.S. military takeover, beginning in 1915 and extending to 1934, was by all accounts devastating.  Secretary of State Robert Lansing justified our nation’s actions in 1918 stating,  “The African race are devoid of any capacity for political organization.” The list of offenses was long including “a puppet government, dissolved parliament at gunpoint, entrenched segregation, forced Haitians to build roads for no pay, killed protesters and rewrote the nation’s Constitution, enabling foreigners to own property for the first time since independence.”

During this period, the Haitian people were once again asked to pick up the bill. But this time , the payments went to U.S. bankers, most notably the National City Bank of New York, the predecessor of Citigroup, draining 1/4 of their annual revenue for  over ten years.

What followed was mass corruption, dictatorships, graft, resources diverted to the military, environmental degradation, and social turmoil. The 1998 World Bank report catalogued the misery. “The staggering level of poverty in Haiti is… shocking. Life expectancy is only 57 years compared to the Latin American average of 69. Less than half of the population is literate. Only about one child in five of secondary-school age actually attends secondary school. Health conditions are similarly poor; vaccination coverage for children, for example, is only about 25 percent. Only about one-fourth of the population has access to safe water. In short, the overwhelming majority of the Haitian population are living in deplorable conditions of extreme poverty.”

According to the Times investigators, the U.S. and France are still pulling the strings. On February 29,2004, the U.S. orchestrated a forced exile of Haiti President Jean-Bertrand Aristide who was engaged in a public “restitution campaign.”. A former Catholic priest, he had loudly lobbied for France’s repayment of the 1825 ransom which he valued at over $15 billion (confirmed by New York Times financial consultants).

From his exile, Aristide circled the loop and raised up Saint-Dominque’s “Black Spartacus” from the dead. Quoting Toussaint Louverture, who himself had been abducted by French soldiers in 1802 at the signing of a peace agreement, he said, “In overthrowing me, you have done no more than cut down the trunk of the tree of Black liberty in Saint-Domingue. It will spring back from the roots, for they are numerous and deep.”

As for the question that has troubled many of us: “Why after 200 years, is Haiti this impoverished?”

His response: “We were condemned to live in poverty — not just poverty, but misery. An abject misery tied to 1825.”

June 9, 1954 – The Day America Slayed The Dragon.

Posted on | June 21, 2022 | Comments Off on June 9, 1954 – The Day America Slayed The Dragon.


Mike Magee

If you plan on tuning in to the 4th session of the January 6 Congressional hearings at 1 PM EST today, do yourself an enormous favor. Commit five minutes this morning to view a 5 minute online video of a Congressional  hearing which is a Master class in “How to slay a dragon.”

The clip does not feature John Dean and his reading of a 245-page prepared summary on June 25, 1973 where he recounts advising Nixon of “a cancer on the presidency.” Nor is it a cameo of surprise witness, Alexander Butterfield, on July 16, 1973, revealing that the President maintained a taping system in the Oval Office.

No. This is from an earlier time. The date is June 9, 1954. This was over a year after Wisconsin Republican Senator Joseph R. McCarthy had assumed the chairmanship of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. The history shows that he had  “rocketed to public attention in 1950 with his allegations that hundreds of Communists had infiltrated the State Department and other federal agencies.” Clearly a psychopath, he escaped control of moderating voices, biting off ever larger targets, including now the U.S. Army.

“Judge, jury, prosecutor, castigator, and press agent, all in one”, was how Harvard law dean Ervin Griswold described him. In 1954, McCarthy accused the army of “lax security at its top-secret army facilities” which he claimed were infiltrated by communists. The army responded by hiring veteran Boston lawyer Joseph Welch to defend itself.

As documentarians reported, “Mothers who never watched TV during the day were glued to watching the Army-McCarthy hearings.” McCarthy’s right-hand chief council that day was none other than Trump’s most favored personal bro-lawyer Roy Marcus Cohn. Pragmatic, ruthless, and evil to the core, Cohn’s career was launched by McCarthy, and his tainted touch destroyed lives and weakened the U.S. government for three more decades, straight up to the moment of his death from HIV/AIDS in 1986.

In this 5-minute summation of the televised events of June 9, 1954, you are allowed to witness an historic takedown of McCarthy by Welch (with Cohn as witness) – the “slaying of the dragon” that finally destroyed McCarthy once and for all. Cohn had reached an agreement with Welch that McCarthy would avoid attacking one particular Army service man as a communist if Welch remained civil. But Welch had laid a trap, and purposefully needled McCarthy into loosing his temper, and on camera, violating the agreement and “attacking the good lad”, who an outraged Welch tearfully defended in his historic and well-prepared retort.

As historian Thomas Doherty recalls, “It was as if the entire country had been waiting for somebody to finally say this line, ‘Have you no sense of decency.’” To which Jelani Cobb adds, “At the end of it, all the illusions, the comfortable illusions that McCarthy had cultivated about himself, had effectively been dispelled.”

Watch Welch pounce on his victim. Watch Cohn wince as his dragon is slain. Liz Cheney has likely viewed these 5 minutes more than once.

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