Ralph spends the whole hour with Jennifer Vanderbes, author of “Wonder Drug: The Secret History Of Thalidomide In America And Its Hidden Victims.” Thalidomide was never “commercially available” in the U.S., but American doctors handed out samples to patients even though no one could prove the drug was safe. Or could definitively say what the drug did. And by the time thalidomide landed at the FDA for approval, whistleblowers, journalists, doctors, and patients in Germany, Australia, and the UK were sounding the alarm about its shocking side effects.
Jennifer Vanderbes is an award-winning novelist, journalist and screenwriter. Her latest book is Wonder Drug: The Secret History Of Thalidomide In America And Its Hidden Victims.
It did not shock me researching this story that the pharmaceutical firms operated with a focus on profit, and that allowed for cutting corners. What really did shock me in my research was realizing that the doctors uniformly gaslit these patients. And it was stunning to me that you didn’t have any of these physicians who had given the drug to pregnant women who realized.
I was very surprised to be looking through materials that were so at odds with what had been reported. And in many ways this became, to me, a story about what can happen when the media accepts at face value a certain spin on the story. The FDA was very dependent initially on what the drug firms were telling it, and then the press was depending on what the FDA was telling it, and then everybody sort of moved on. It was also a happy story that people wanted to believe: “we were the one wonderful country that had stopped this drug.“
Their number one tactic is to just not even argue the merits of [thalidomide cases], but get them dismissed on the basis that, “All these people should have known.” And I would say six years of my life—and this book— is really an examination of how incredibly reasonable and understandable it is that these individuals did not know. They were not given the information, and the government was quite complicit.
The best investigative reporters in America didn’t uncover this story, until [Jennifer Vanderbes] put it together in a book. Because it took unbelievable energy, curiosity, travel, interviewing the survivors, going to their homes, and the most recent development— which was really incredible that it didn’t get national TV and radio coverage— was the gathering, for the first time, of thalidomide victims in San Diego.
In Case You Haven’t Heard with Francesco DeSantis
1. On July 25th, The Teamsters reported that UPS caved to their demands, narrowly avoiding a massive strike. The wins in the new contract include higher wages, more jobs, ending the two-tier wage system, air conditioning in UPS trucks, part-time Rewards, and drivers getting Martin Luther King Day off. The union has triumphantly declared “We’ve Changed the Game” If these negotiations had fallen through, 340,000 UPS Teamsters would have gone on strike. Other employers, such as the Hollywood AMPTP, should take notes.
2. The Intercept reports that the Sanders-led Senate HELP Committee has passed an amendment to the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act allocating $3 million to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine to explore new options to pay for developing pharmaceuticals, specifically through public funding or “innovation prizes.” These drugs would then enter the public domain so they could be sold as generic medications. Sanders has made the cost of prescription drugs a high priority during his chairmanship on the committee, and hopefully this effort will bear fruit.
3. Following months of protest, CNN reports that Israel has rammed through their controversial judicial reform legislation. This law will limit the independence of the Israeli judiciary, which has been a bulwark against the most extreme Right-wing factions in the country. This measure has sparked a new round of scrutiny regarding the $3.8 billion in military aid the US provides to Israel annually.
4. Progressive Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson has requested $15 million for a plan to help decarbonize 200 to 350 homes by modernizing heating and insulation for low-income Chicagoans, Gregory Pratt of the Tribune reports. One hopes to see more progressives pushing for these localized and tailored climate change plans.
5. Anchor Brewing, a San Francisco institution, has been on a roller-coaster for several years. The workers organized the plant, then it was sold to Sapporo, and now Sapporo is attempting to sell the company for parts. In response, the union is attempting to raise funds to purchase Anchor Brewing and run it as a worker-owned cooperative. More information is available at Vinepair.com.
6. In other alcohol related news, the American Prospect reports that Total Wine, the company founded by Rep. David Trone of Maryland – who is currently seeking the open Senate seat in that state – is fighting an FTC antitrust investigation. The agency is investigating the chain for “price discrimination and exclusive dealing arrangements in alcohol markets as part of a broader crackdown that’s also charging Pepsi and Coke for similar anti-competitive conduct.” Total Wine has reportedly sought to impede this investigation at every turn, and have succeeded in slowing it down even as the Biden administration seeks to crack down on anti-competitive behavior. It remains to be seen whether this will become an issue in the Senate campaign.
7. Following Rep. Jamaal Bowman’s boycott of Israeli President Isaac Herzog’s address to Congress, Jewish Insider reports that AIPAC – among the most powerful Washington lobbies – is pushing for Westchester County executive George Latimer to run a primary challenge against Bowman. Historically, AIPAC has been instrumental in keeping progressive voices, and their criticism of Israel, out of the halls of Congress.
8. The German news service DW reports that Ukraine has imposed a “ban on Russian-language culture…such as books, music, plays and concerts.” Whatever one’s opinions are on the war in Ukraine, this ban approaches dangerous territory of limiting expression for minority groups in the country and could presage more militarized crackdowns on the Russian minority in Ukraine similar to Japanese-Americans during WWII. All parties must come to the table to negotiate an immediate ceasefire and engage in high-level diplomacy; only that can prevent this war spinning into graver and graver circumstances.
9. Finally, on July 20th a super-majority of workers at Grindr, the LGBTQ dating app, voted to unionize with the Communications Workers of America, per Kim Kelly. This came as a response, in part, to revelations showing Grindr’s new CEO had previously voiced support for anti-LGBTQ politicians on Twitter and via political donations. Bring on “Hot Labor Summer.”