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The Rumble from the People Can Work

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If only the people who engage in “road rage” would engage in “corporate rage” when they are harmed by cover-ups or hazardous products and gouging services, aloof CEOs would start getting serious about safety and fair play. With press report after press report documenting how big business stiffs millions of its consumers and workers, why is it that more of these victims do not externalize some of their inner agonies by channeling them into civic outrage?

It has happened on occasion and with good results. After Candy Lightner lost her daughter to a drunk driver, she founded Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) in 1980 as the only way she could deal with her intense grief. Asked what her principal motivation was in building a national movement to put homicide-producing drunk drivers behind bars, she replied: “Revenge.”

Medical malpractice victims or their next of kin have started special lobbying associations to stop the attempt by the insurance companies and physician lobbies to weaken the rights of patients to have their full day in court against their negligent harm doers. They also inform the public about the need to discipline bad doctors and careless hospitals so as to reduce some of the 100,000 fatalities a year (according to the Harvard School of Public Health) from malpractice.

Jean Rexford started such a group—the Connecticut Center for Patient Safety—in 2005 to press for quality health care through the media and before the state legislature.

Joanne Doroshow, a public interest lawyer, has gathered people injured by defective products as well as negligent medical procedures to testify and lobby a callous Congress often on the verge of usurping the state courts and these vulnerable victims’ access to justice.

For the most part, however, Americans swallow their grievances and try to muddle through their disrupted lives with subdued anger. A major reason for this external passivity is that the plutocrats and oligarchs have signaled that it is futile to even try to make a challenge or a ruckus. The “you can’t fight the Big Boys” feeling starts in the schools where youngsters are given no instruction and no experience (such as learning how to use small claims courts) in pursuing their remedies when defrauded or wrongfully injured. They are scarcely educated about our courts of law and the duty and role of civil juries—rooted in the Seventh Amendment to our Constitution—in judging the facts about wrongs.

Let’s refer to some recent examples. You may have read news stories about drug companies suddenly spiking the cost of specialized drugs 100 fold or more, or “price gouging of old drugs,” in the words of Johns Hopkins’ Dr. Martin A. Makary. The era of the $1,000 pill per day has arrived.

Picture the scene – companies that have monopoly patent ownership of drugs (many based on taxpayer funded research and development) are essentially telling their customers with life-threatening diseases that they have to “pay or die” for unique drugs that are priced at more than $100,000 per patient per year, unless they have an insurance company to pay the tab. Already, those insurance companies that do pay, along with Medicaid and Medicare, are staggering under the sharp surge in costs during the past two years. A casual Congress is just starting to notice its responsibilities here.

On December 22, 2015, the New York Times reported that Fred Kellerman, a retired car salesman from Los Angeles, was receiving a drug for free for his rare neuromuscular disease. The drug improved his life dramatically.

Then he learned that a pending FDA approval, with a seven year patent monopoly, could raise the price to $100,000 per patient. There are thousands of terrified patients and families in the same situation as Mr. Kellerman. Fright needs to motivate organization. They would receive media and Congressional attention with their heartfelt stories and expressed sense of injustice.

Gilead Sciences, Inc. bought a company that had a drug to cure Hepatitis C with a 12 week regime. It started selling it for $1,000 a pill a day in 2013 or $84,000 for the full treatment. In one year, Gilead took in more than $10 billion from the drug, Sovaldi.

But in Egypt, where there are nine million people suffering from Hepatitis C, Gilead agreed with the government of that poor country to sell it for $10 a pill which is then dispensed free by the Health Ministry to ailing Egyptians.

“Do you Americans love Egyptians more than yourselves?” asked Hany Tawfil, one of the first Egyptians to take Sofosbuvir (Sovaldi), according to the New York Times, adding, “Why aren’t you putting pressure on Gilead to sell to you at a reasonable price, too?”

Good question. And why aren’t more students and recent college graduates organizing to rebel against their gouging student loans – an exploitation unheard of in other western countries? Why aren’t consumers who are being sued unlawfully by aggressive debt collectors or being crammed on their telephone bills charged for so-called services they never requested?

Short of organizing into a demanding group, why can’t more people just shout out via telephone, letter, e-mail, text message, to anyone who could do something or at least spread the word. Just a growing rumble from the people has gotten elected officials moving, including President Richard Nixon who signed wonderful bills into law that he never wanted. But he feared the rising RUMBLE FROM THE PEOPLE. Who can stop you from rumbling?

Happy New Year!

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Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer and author of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us! 

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