On May 5th we published something quite surprising. A news release from the New Hampshire Historical Marker Program said, “Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, a well-known labor, women’s rights and civil liberties activist,” had finally been honored by an historic marker “in downtown Concord, near the site of her birthplace.”
Less surprisingly, now it’s gone. It was removed on Monday, in a dubious and irregular procedure, after a panic attack among Republicans in high places. Why? Because:
“One gets a sense of the energy and fire of some of those turn-of-the-century radicals,” Howard Zinn wrote in A People’s History of the United States, “by looking at the police record of Elizabeth Gurley Flynn.”
Flynn’s friend and fellow radical, the writer Mary Heaton Vorse, provided detail, writing in 1926, “She began this amazing record by getting arrested on a street corner when she was fifteen. Her father was arrested with her. He never has been arrested since. It was only the beginning for her. The judge inquired, ‘Do you expect to convert people to socialism by talking on Broadway?’ She looked up at him and replied gravely, ‘Indeed I do.’ The judge sighed deeply in pity. ‘Dismissed,’ he said.”
Flynn joined the year-old Industrial Workers of the World [I.W.W.] in 1906, and was a full-time “Wobblie” organizer by the age of 17. She has long been said to have been the inspiration for the Wobblie song, “The Rebel Girl.”
It’s been suggested others might deserve that honor, but the evidence seems clear-cut. “The Rebel Girl” was written in 1915 by itinerant Swedish-American miner and I.W.W. songwriter Joe Hill. It was one of his later works; in November of that year, after a highly controversial murder trial, Hill was executed by a Utah firing squad. Evidence discovered a century later makes it all but certain Hill was innocent. On the night before his execution, Hill wrote a note to Flynn. Written with a pencil, in an unwavering hand, it ended, “I would like to kiss you good-bye, Gurley, not because you are a girl, but because you are the original Rebel Girl.”
Installation of the new historical marker seems to have drawn less attention than the fairly predictable reaction to it. In the May 5th Boston Globe, Steven Porter reported that two members of the Executive Council “said at a meeting this month they are livid” over the sign.
Councilor Joseph Kenney seemed particularly incensed. Porter wrote that Kenney called Flynn “anti-American,” adding, “Kenney said honoring Flynn is especially offensive to veterans like him and his father who served in the U.S. military and ‘fought against people like her.’ He said the sign has no historical value in New Hampshire.*
“I think it’s an embarrassment that we have a program that allows us to put communists on historical markers and then say, ‘Oh, that’s part of our history,’ he said. ‘It’s not part of my history.’”
The panic attack among right wing political bigwigs included an interlude when State and City officials mimicked Abbott and Costello in their “Who’s on First” routine. Once it was determined that the land was the State’s, the marker was removed in short order. Its current whereabouts are unknown to us. Barring evidence to the contrary, we must assume it went down Orwell’s “Memory Hole.”
It could have been worse. The Rebel Girl marker stood for a week or so. In April of 2001, State Senator Burt Cohen managed to get a bronze plaque honoring New Hampshire members of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade mounted on a wall in the State House. It was removed after just a few hours.
Councilor Kenney is wrong about communism not being part of “our history.” Communism has been part of this state’s history for about a century. We have in mind a few certain and specific details—hard evidence of open and unabashed Communist activity—that would likely blow the minds of Councilor Kenney and his fellow Commie-phobe colleague David Wheeler.
We find ourselves in an odd position, though. Our normal role—and it’s one we relish—is to merrily blab about such things so that everyone else might enjoy along with us the unrelenting weirdness of this world.
To pinpoint these home-grown New Hampshire relics now, though, would be reckless. Beautiful, irreplaceable, and mysterious, they are like rare, old-growth trees deep in a forest. Their location, we believe, is better left unsaid. If Kenney, or Wheeler, in their official capacity, did not try to remove them, some other vigilante might take action on his own.
Arnie Arnesen summed up this frenzied commotion perfectly. On Monday she tweeted: “even today they fear the Rebel Girl.”
It’s been quite an impressive performance for a woman who’s been dead for nearly 60 years.
As usual, when looking back at history, the U.S. of A. keeps its left eye shut. We’ll happily wallow in the Revolution. That’s easy, because we won—otherwise our heroes would have been hanged as traitors. We’re even enamored of our bloody Civil War. Why else would we still be fighting the damned thing? Yet mentioning the struggle that brought us most of what makes life in this country livable—the eight-hour day, child labor laws, the right to collective bargaining, and the weekend, for example—is verboten.
This Just In †
“Don’t Like the Rules? Change Them!”
In a story datelined Monday, May 15th, the Concord Monitor reported that the Flynn marker had been removed that same day. Conveniently, it would seem, State guidelines on historical markers had been revised just days before to make that removal possible.
“On Friday,” Jamie L. Costa wrote, “the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources changed their guidelines and policies to align with the removal of the marker, which previously stated a marker could only be removed if it contained errors, is in a state of disrepair or required refurbishment.
“Now, the policy reads that ‘markers proposed for revisions beyond the correction of errors shall identify elements that include, but are not limited to, existing inaccuracies, lack of historical context or references that could be seen as inappropriate.’”
“Inappropriate.” And who, one might ask, shall be the judge of that?
According to Costa, Governor Chris Sununu emailed the paper, saying, “All policies and guidelines were followed in removing this controversial marker.” Well, sure—it’s easy to follow the rules, if you have the power to make them.
In preparing the ground to throw Elizabeth Gurley Flynn down the Memory Hole, though, the forces of reaction may have missed a relevant detail. On Wednesday morning, NHPR’s Rick Ganley reported that the State Historical Resources Council had not been consulted prior to the removal of the Flynn marker. Historical Resource Council member James L. Garvin said in a sound bite, “I think that this… was done in haste, and did, in fact, not follow the procedures that were adopted in January.”
The Monitor’s report of the 15th noted that Arnie Alpert and Mary Lee Sargent, whose petition got the marker installed in the first place, are “looking into whether they have any legal recourse to move forward with a lawsuit.”
We know nothing about administrative law, but the procedural deficiency noted by Garvin would seem to give Alpert and Sargent some grounds for such a suit.
As Yogi Berra said, “It ain’t over till it’s over.” Elizabeth Gurley Flynn may not be done with the State of New Hampshire just yet.
* This newspaper’s readership, we are proud to report, includes quite a few veterans who were literally fighting Communists half a century ago. Their consensus, as we understand it, is that the war was a mistake at best, and probably a crime.
† Our general policy is not to chase late-breaking news. We make an exception in this case because… well, because we felt like it. Readers are advised not to expect this sort of service all the time.
Pharma’s ‘Rampant Corporate Lawlessness’ Cost $40 Billion in 2019: Report
by Jake Johnson
The U.S. pharmaceutical industry’s aggressive and often unlawful efforts to prevent competition and keep drug prices elevated cost American patients, insurers, and federal health programs more than $40 billion in 2019 alone, according to a report released Tuesday.
The new report—put out by the American Economic Liberties Project (AELP) and the Initiative for Medicines, Access, and Knowledge (I-MAK)—focuses specifically on pharmaceutical companies’ antitrust law violations, which the groups say are a key reason why U.S. drug prices are astonishingly high compared to those of other rich nations.
Examining the 100 top-selling drug products in Medicare Part D—which covers prescription medicines—and Medicaid, the report estimates that Big Pharma’s antitrust violations “increased Part D gross spending by 14.15 percent, or $14.82 billion, and increased Medicaid gross drug spending by 9.05 percent, or $3.15 billion, in 2019 for the top 100 drugs in each.”
Assuming that pharmaceutical companies’ antitrust violations similarly affected retail brand drug spending, the report estimates that “U.S. patients and payers spent an additional $40.07 billion on pharmaceuticals in 2019.”
“American families are paying far too much for prescription drugs, in large part due to rampant corporate lawlessness,” said Erik Peinert, research manager and editor at AELP.
The report highlights 10 illegal anticompetitive schemes that U.S. pharmaceutical companies deploy to juice their profits and keep prices high, including horizontal collusion, patent fraud, no-generics agreements, and sham citizen petitions aimed at delaying approval of potential competitor drugs.
“This report documents the many ways Big Pharma is manipulating and breaking the law to expand corporate profits at the expense of patients and taxpayers,” said Peinert. “The Federal Trade Commission has begun fighting back, but it needs more assistance from Congress and other agencies to crack down on these illegal practices… .”
The researchers behind the report offer several specific examples of how large pharmaceutical companies have used their power and dominance of certain markets to push up prices.
The nation’s insulin market, they argue, “has been distorted by multiple overlapping anticompetitive schemes in recent years,” including the “illegal listing” of products and “collusion” among top manufacturers in violation of RICO law, as well as “exclusionary rebates to drive patients toward brand products and away from substantially cheaper authorized generic versions.”
The groups estimate that Medicare Part D and Medicaid “would have spent approximately 50 percent less on three of the four major insulin brands (Levemir, Novolog, Lantus) in 2019 but for the anticompetitive strategies used by the major insulin manufacturers.”
The report also accuses AbbVie and Allergan—which the former acquired in 2020—of engaging in a “sustained, consistent pattern of illegally blocking generic and biosimilar competition in violation of the antitrust laws.”
In the case of Bystolic, a blood pressure medicine, “Allergan entered illegal pay-for-delay agreements to prevent and delay generic competition” for the drug before 2019.
The groups estimate that Part D and Medicaid would have spent 90 percent less on Bystolic and its generic equivalents in 2019 had Allergan not entered the pay-for-delay agreement, which the FTC says cost U.S. consumers and taxpayers $3.5 billion a year in the form of higher drug prices.
The report also points to a whistleblower lawsuit alleging that Janssen Pharmaceuticals—which is owned by Johnson & Johnson—committed patent fraud to prolong its monopoly on Zytiga, a prostate cancer drug.
“The patent system is at the root of enabling many of the antitrust violations we identified and which are leading to higher drug prices,” said Tahir Amin, an executive director of I-MAK.
To combat the pharmaceutical industry’s abuses and lower costs for patients, the American Economic Liberties Project and I-MAK recommended that lawmakers and regulators act to completely ban pay-for-delay agreements, modify patent laws to “ensure that drug companies cannot use bad-faith patent strategies to perpetually extend monopolies,” and ramp up penalties for antitrust violations, among other changes.
“Until Congress and the United States Patent and Trademark Office ensure stricter standards that would prevent the granting of many of the types of patents that are leading to these violations in the first place,” Amin said, “Americans can expect to see their drug prices continue to rise.”
Jake Johnson is a staff writer for Common Dreams. This work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
What’s a Luddite?
The term “Luddite” emerged in early 1800s England. At the time there was a thriving textile industry that depended on manual knitting frames and a skilled workforce to create cloth and garments out of cotton and wool. But as the Industrial Revolution gathered momentum, steam-powered mills threatened the livelihood of thousands of artisanal textile workers.
Faced with an industrialized future that threatened their jobs and their professional identity, a growing number of textile workers turned to direct action. Galvanized by their leader, Ned Ludd, they began to smash the machines that they saw as robbing them of their source of income.
It’s not clear whether Ned Ludd was a real person, or simply a figment of folklore invented during a period of upheaval. But his name became synonymous with rejecting disruptive new technologies—an association that lasts to this day.
Contrary to popular belief, the original Luddites were not anti-technology, nor were they technologically incompetent. Rather, they were skilled adopters and users of the artisanal textile technologies of the time. Their argument was not with technology, per se, but with the ways that wealthy industrialists were robbing them of their way of life.
Today, this distinction is sometimes lost.
In December 2015, Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk and Bill Gates were jointly nominated for a “Luddite Award.” Their sin? Raising concerns over the potential dangers of artificial intelligence.
The irony of three prominent scientists and entrepreneurs being labeled as Luddites underlines the disconnect between the term’s original meaning and its more modern use as an epithet for anyone who doesn’t wholeheartedly and unquestioningly embrace technological progress.
Yet technologists like Musk and Gates aren’t rejecting technology or innovation. Instead, they’re rejecting a worldview that all technological advances are ultimately good for society. This worldview optimistically assumes that the faster humans innovate, the better the future will be.
This “move fast and break things” approach toward technological innovation has come under increasing scrutiny in recent years—especially with growing awareness that unfettered innovation can lead to deeply harmful consequences that a degree of responsibility and forethought could help avoid.
Why Luddism matters
In an age of ChatGPT, gene editing and other transformative technologies, perhaps we all need to channel the spirit of Ned Ludd as we grapple with how to ensure that future technologies do more good than harm.
In fact, “Neo-Luddites” or “New Luddites” is a term that emerged at the end of the 20th century.
In 1990, the psychologist Chellis Glendinning published an essay titled “Notes toward a Neo-Luddite Manifesto.”
In it, she recognized the nature of the early Luddite movement and related it to a growing disconnect between societal values and technological innovation in the late 20th century. As Glendinning writes, “Like the early Luddites, we too are a desperate people seeking to protect the livelihoods, communities, and families we love, which lie on the verge of destruction.”