Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Please Support CounterPunch’s Annual Fund Drive
We don’t run corporate ads. We don’t shake our readers down for money every month or every quarter like some other sites out there. We only ask you once a year, but when we ask we mean it. So, please, help as much as you can. We provide our site for free to all, but the bandwidth we pay to do so doesn’t come cheap. All contributions are tax-deductible.
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Anthrax Chronicles

The U.S. Congress headed for the hills on Wednesday after it was reported that the anthrax sample received at Senator Tom Daschle’s office on Monday may have gotten into the ventilation system of the Senate’s Hart Office Building. By mid-morning Wednesday some 29 Daschle staffers had already tested positive for exposure to anthrax, and hundreds of others Capitol Hill staffers were standing in line to get nasal swabs. House Speaker Dennis Hastert announced that House offices would close until at least next Tuesday, and the Senate was expected to follow suit. Congress is effectively closed until the middle of next week. Around mid-day came word that spores had also been found in offices of New York Governor George Pataki.

 

Despite the innumerable official-sounding speculations, no one knows where the anthrax originated or what it may bode for the future. The Daschle mailing, like the letter sent to NBC’s Tom Brokaw, was postmarked in Trenton, New Jersey. But if official accounts are to be believed, the spores contained in the Daschle letter were enormously more potent than any of the other anthrax samples seen to date. Televised CNN reports made ambiguous reference to the possibility that the Florida and D.C. anthrax mailings came from “different groupings,” but it wasn’t clear whether that meant they represented different strains of the bacteria, or just that they had been processed at separate facilities by different means. In either case it underlined the relative ease of acquiring and transporting anthrax bacteria. Processing the spores into “weapons-grade” packages containing spores of 1 to 10 microns in size may be a sophisticated procedure, but acquiring the raw materials was simple as could be until very recently-and there’s no telling how long the perpetrators have possessed it or how they got it.

These matters aside, there’s no denying that the use of the U.S. Postal Service was a stroke of brilliance on the part of the perpetrators. It’s a virtually untraceable delivery system (investigators pursuing the Trenton connection admitted on Tuesday that the mailing to Daschle’s office might have come from any of 46 different postal branches, and probably did not come from a resident of Trenton) that maximizes the element of fear and paralysis and makes the most of what may-or may not-be limited supplies of the bacilli. It likewise circumvents the problem of coordination and possible detection associated with a more public release of anthrax spores. The perpetrators have succeeded in creating the impression they can go anywhere: The sites infiltrated in the past few days include two major media networks, a titan of American capitalism-the Microsoft offices in Reno, Nevada-and two prominent state and federal government facilities.

Cipro: Public health vs. corporate patents

Meanwhile the patent lawyers fiddle as Rome smolders. Bayer AG, the German pharmaceutical company that holds the patent on Cipro, the antibiotic of choice in treating anthrax exposure, is working round the clock to stave off international calls for the violation of its copyright in the interest of public health. On Tuesday New York Senator Charles “Boomer” Schumer joined the chorus calling for the broad-scale licensing of generic manufacturing of Cipro clones to combat the prospective rise in anthrax exposure. Bayer responded by promising to ramp up its production of Cipro from 15 to 60 million tablets per month. Even at that level, the stores of Cipro would be sufficient to treat only half a million exposures-and scares-around the world, since the preventative course of Cipro involves two tablets daily for 60 days. This is not to mention the cost factor: Under patent protections, Cipro presently costs $350 a month in the United States, but according to the New York Times, the same formula from “reputable suppliers” costs only $10 a month in India.

But set aside the cost and consider the broader ramifications. Capacity for treating half a million may seem a lot, but it’s a paltry sum from a public health standpoint given the rapidly escalating number of anthrax threats in the U.S. alone. The Schumer proposal is entirely sensible and prudent, and his office notes that at least three other drug manufacturers could be flooding the market with generic Cipro substitutes within two to three months if given the go-ahead. But the Bush administration’s Department of Health and Human Services is so far on the side of corporate patents. Said HHS flak Kevin Keane on Tuesday: “We’ll certainly take a look at the senator’s proposal, but we don’t see the need right now. Right now we have enough Cipro and other antibiotics for the contingencies before the American public. If we have an emergency, the manufacturers can turn this around quickly. We have to be careful about patent protections-there’s a balance there.”

As the Wednesday New York Times feature makes clear, there are provisions in U.S. law that allow the government to ignore any drug patent with impunity and allow competitors to make a generic equivalent. But so far the Bush administration is loath to do so. For one they are worried that any invocation of a national emergency to violate the Bayer patent on Cipro would set a dangerous precedent for the release of patented AIDS drugs in Africa. Many of the drugs in question are of course patented by American drug companies. National crises come and go, but business is business. CP

Steve Perry writes frequently for CounterPunch and is a contributor to the excellent cursor.org website, which offers incisive coverage of the current crisis. He lives in Minneapolis, MN.

More articles by:
October 15, 2018
Rob Urie
Climate Crisis is Upon Us
Conn Hallinan
Syria’s Chessboard
Patrick Cockburn
The Saudi Atrocities in Yemen are a Worse Story Than the Disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi
Sheldon Richman
Trump’s Middle East Delusions Persist
Justin T. McPhee
Uberrima Fides? Witness K, East Timor and the Economy of Espionage
Tom Gill
Spain’s Left Turn?
Jeff Cohen
Few Democrats Offer Alternatives to War-Weary Voters
Dean Baker
Corporate Debt Scares
Gary Leupp
The Khashoggi Affair and and the Anti-Iran Axis
Russell Mokhiber
Sarah Chayes Calls on West Virginians to Write In No More Manchins
Clark T. Scott
Acclimated Behaviorisms
Kary Love
Evolution of Religion
Colin Todhunter
From GM Potatoes to Glyphosate: Regulatory Delinquency and Toxic Agriculture
Binoy Kampmark
Evacuating Nauru: Médecins Sans Frontières and Australia’s Refugee Dilemma
Marvin Kitman
The Kitman Plan for Peace in the Middle East: Two Proposals
Weekend Edition
October 12, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Becky Grant
My History with Alexander Cockburn and The Financial Future of CounterPunch
Paul Street
For Popular Sovereignty, Beyond Absurdity
Nick Pemberton
The Colonial Pantsuit: What We Didn’t Want to Know About Africa
Jeffrey St. Clair
The Summer of No Return
Jeff Halper
Choices Made: From Zionist Settler Colonialism to Decolonization
Gary Leupp
The Khashoggi Incident: Trump’s Special Relationship With the Saudi Monarchy
Andrew Levine
Democrats: Boost, Knock, Enthuse
Barbara Kantz
The Deportation Crisis: Report From Long Island
Doug Johnson
Nate Silver and 538’s Measurable 3.5% Democratic Bias and the 2018 House Race
Gwen Carr
This Stops Today: Seeking Justice for My Son Eric Garner
Robert Hunziker
Peak Carbon Emissions By 2020, or Else!
Arshad Khan
Is There Hope on a World Warming at 1.5 Degrees Celsius?
David Rosen
Packing the Supreme Court in the 21stCentury
Brian Cloughley
Trump’s Threats of Death and Destruction
Joel A. Harrison
The Case for a Non-Profit Single-Payer Healthcare System
Ramzy Baroud
That Single Line of Blood: Nassir al-Mosabeh and Mohammed al-Durrah
Zhivko Illeieff
Addiction and Microtargeting: How “Social” Networks Expose us to Manipulation
ADRIAN KUZMINSKI
What is Truth?
Michael Doliner
Were the Constitution and the Bill of Rights a Mistake?
Victor Grossman
Cassandra Calls
Ralph E. Shaffer
Could Kavanaugh’s Confirmation Hearing Ended Differently?
Vanessa Cid
Our Everyday Family Separations
Walaa Al Ghussein
The Risks of Being a Journalist in Gaza
Ron Jacobs
Betrayal and Treachery—The Extremism of Moderates
James Munson
Identity Politics and the Ruling Class
P. Sainath
The Floods of Kerala: the Bank That Went Under…Almost
Ariel Dorfman
How We Roasted Donald Duck, Disney’s Agent of Imperialism
Joe Emersberger
Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno’s Assault on Human Rights and Judicial Independence
Ed Meek
White Victimhood: Brett Kavanaugh and the New GOP Brand
Andrew McLean, MD
A Call for “Open Space”
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail