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Looking Back on Twenty Years

Excerpts from some of our favorites


In our Holiday 2003 issue, Jessica Curry interviewed Dr. Quentin Young. She asked him if passing universal health care would impede research and breakthroughs in medicine.

"This is a scurrilous argument," Dr. Young replied. "First of all, the bulk of the advances in medication, not to mention other biomedical issues, is based on government-funded research through the National Institutes of Health -- undoubtedly the most successful way of distributing precious research dollars in a competitive, honorable way. It is, therefore, the basis for America's prominence in biomedical issues. The discoveries, financed through government grants, are picked up by pharmaceutical companies for a minimal license fee. For $100,000, they get the patent life protection of 17 years. I might add, they've discovered many imaginative ways to extend the 17 years. For example, if they claim there's a new use for a drug whose patent is about to run out, they can immediately get another six months while the issue's being debated. They do this, and a six-or 12-month extension for the drugs we're talking about is literally hundreds of millions of dollars. While drug companies do conduct research, it's worth noting that, according to their reports, marketing expenditures now exceed research in dollars spent."

Jane Ammeson interviewed Sen. Ted Kennedy for our Winter 2004 issue. "By nature of disposition, people are made of good and evil," Kennedy said, reflecting back to both the gospels and philosophers. "What was always special about the United States is that our national leaders -- from the early days of the Republic, during the long course of American history -- made an appeal to the nobler instincts and aspects of the American character. Americans responded, and our nation moved forward. Both happiness and self-value were enhanced. There have been other times when national leaders have appealed to the more selfish aspects of ourselves, and I think we're going through such a period, where the national appeal has been for selfish achievements and selfish rewards. There's the common good and the individual good. And now, I think the appeal is to the individual good, which translates to the ?let's get ours while we can' and ?we're not really our brother's keeper.' I think that has been a dominant factor and force in recent political history, and I think that's certainly true in health care.

"I've introduced legislation to assure that drugs can be imported safely from Canada. We also need to give the government the authority to negotiate with drug companies to get good prices for the Medicare program," Kennedy said.

In our Fall 2004 issue, Jessica Curry interviewed Sen.Barack Obama. Obama was asked about his opposition to the Iraq war, political polarity in the United States and about the labels his opponents might use to describe him.

"My Republican opponents try to label me as liberal," Obama said. "There's been so much invested in tearing down that word and making it seem as if you're some nut. And the truth is, if you look at my legislative record and my public pronouncements, you know I don't claim to some particular orthodoxy.

"Everybody talks about how divided the country is," he went on to say, "but I don't think the country is as divided in terms of its core values as people make it out [to be]. I think people share a lot of common values, but I think that in order to score political points, the two parties and party leaders try to magnify those differences. Most people don't want huge bureaucratic government or oppressive taxes, but they want services that provide a safety net and ensure that we're investing in our future. Most people think that America should be militarily strong and be able to defend itself and take out aggressors who are seeking us harm. But most people also think that [peaceful] persuasion is more effective than invasions as a strategy to achieve our national interests."

In 1991 Ralph Nader told Jane Ammeson and photographer Will Crockett what he was going to be fighting for in the next decade.

"Businesses are playing parent," Nader said. "Children are exposed to everything from over-medication, war toys, cosmetics for girls at age eight, infant formula for breast feeding, junk food -- all of this from the average 25-hours a week of violent programming on TV the kids watch. These shows convey the wrong values -- that violence is the way to solve problems in life. And the addictive industries -- drugs, tobacco and alcohol -- are moving in. Besides that, there's the narcissism that's promoted by these clothing manufacturers in terms of shoes and styles -- where kids are beginning to fight and kill each other over their shoes and jackets. These commercial values that are going into the products -- everything from music to TV -- are heralding violence, low grade sensuality and addiction values, which is pretty anti-intellectual.

"Parents let their kids watch TV for 25-hours a week, turning them into Pavlovian specimens, and then we turn toward the schools and expect the schools to develop their kids' intellect," he said. All this bad nutrition and commercialism breeds low attention span and poor mental health." He said that in Europe "they call it electronic child molestation."

"Worst of all, we don't crack down on the tobacco industry's absolutely malicious attempt to hook our youngsters. The industry loses 5,000 customers a day -- about 1,000 die from tobacco-connection diseases and 4,000 stop smoking. That's why they try to hook the younger generation," Nader said.

We asked him what was priceless. "There's nothing more rewarding than contributing to a just outcome and being able to see it all around you," he said. By 1994 Rev. Jesse Jackson had run for president twice and was holding the position of senator from Washington, D.C. -- an office that didn't allow him to vote in the Senate but held political prestige. Photographer Will Crockett and writer, Jane Ammeson, met with Jackson in Washington, D.C., at the National Rainbow Coalition to discuss race and violence.

"For me, I'm going to focus on the black-on-black part -- most blacks kill other blacks, most whites kill other whites....poor people kill other poor people because most of the violence is passion killings; people kill who they're closest to, who they become angry with. Therefore having all these guns in the houses does not equip people to defend themselves against some person from another race, it makes shooting their children, their wives, their husbands, their cousins, their friends, their estranged lovers, easy."

"Rise up and fight cynicism," Jackson said. "Cynicism becomes the root enemy of progress. Rise up and use the powers that you have. Even the poorest of people, the black, the brown, the women, have the power. But often when they're dispirited they don't vote, which worsens their political condition."

Jackson's world-wide reputation helped him in 1990 to be the first American to bring hostages out of Kuwait and Iraq. "I got an appointment with Saddam Hussein and he gave me a rigorous debate," recalled Jackson, "and I tried to make a case to him for the people. And I went back and forth between Iraq and Kuwait, and finally he sent them out and let them go. So I said the difference between me and the president is that I tried. I mean, [George H.W.] Bush was prepared to bomb and I was prepared to try to negotiate, because I believe, often you must use mind and morality over money and missiles to solve conflict. I believe that, and it works."

Jane Ammeson interviewed the late Sen. Paul Simon in 1995. "I recognize we have a Republican Congress now so we're not going to pass a universal health care bill, he said at the time...I think it's unfortunate that we're not as sensitive to those who struggle in our society as we should be. We have 23 percent of our children living in poverty. No other Western industrialized nation has anything close to that figure. This is not an act of God -- there's not divine intervention that says American children have to live in poverty whilechildren in Italy and Japan and Denmark and Sweden don't. I am for an activist government that is willing to stand up for the people and not simply pander to the whims and wishes of the wealthy and the powerful. But I recognize that the pendulum is temporarily moved in the other direction. But it will swing back. It may be next year, it may be five years from now, maybe ten years from now, but it will swing back. In the meantime, an awful lot of people are going to get hurt."

Simon described how he learned to fight for principles when he was 13. His family had just returned after doing missionary work in China. "I can remember my father in February of 1942, when FDR said to all 120,000 Japanese Americans; ?You have three days to sell all your property, put everything you own into one suitcase and then you're going to be moved off to camps,'" recalled Simon. "And my father stood up and said, ?This is wrong.' And I can remember the phone calls and the abuse that he took. I would love to tell you I stood up and defended my father because some of my friends made fun and gave me a rough time. But I was embarrassed, wishing my father hadn't done it. But now as I look back on it, it's one of the things I'm proudest of him for, and the lesson is if you believe in something, stand up for it. I think that's one of the things that has been both my strength and my weakness -- taking unpopular positions."

Published: December 01, 2004
Issue: Holiday 2004