July 09, 2012 journal, let them strike on rents and let them occupy until kingdom come. America's poor have been robbed enough by capitalisms criminals especially slumlords. Coming crisis "Major Rent Strike Against Millionaire Slumlord catches fire in Brooklyn. As foreclosures continue to put historic pressure on the nation's rental market, slumlords now have more opportunity than ever to prey on the most vulnerable of tenants. July 6, 2012 Tenant Sara Lopez marches on Thursday The electrical box in the basement of multifamily brownstone on 46th Street in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, looks like a middle-school science fair project gone horribly wrong. The door to the box is ajar and a cheap plastic fan, positioned only inches from the fuses, desperately tries to keep the wiring from catching fire when it sparks and overheats, plunging the building's 51 apartments in to darkness and threatening to set the entire structure ablaze. "Last night was so bad, the lights were going on and off every ten minutes," said 20-year-old Riccey Trelles, a recent college graduate who lives with her family on the first floor. "It was pitch-black; I couldn't see the person across from me." Despite the darkness, Trelles was up until almost two a.m. making posters and banners for the following day's protest to expose her building's slumlord, Orazio Petito, and implore city officials to intervene in a case of housing violations that tenants are now describing as human rights abuses. As foreclos-ures continue to displace millions and put historic pressure on the nation's rental market, slumlords now have more opportunity than ever to prey on the most vulnerable of tenants. The problem is especially bad in an owner's market like New York City, where average rent price increased more in the second quarter of 2012 than in any other city in the country, sending landlords into a frenzy to evict old tenants--especially those with stabilized rent--and jack up the prices for newcomers. But despite a vicious landlord and a city that prefers aiding the housing market's rise than enforcing tenants' rights, Trelles and her neighbors are fighting back: speaking out, occupying an assemblymen's office and launching a rent strike that tenants hope will spread across Brooklyn. "We are people," said Sara Lopez, a retired public employee who was the first to begin withholding rent payments almost two years ago. "We deserve to live with dignity. We pay for our apartments, so we deserve our rights as tenants." After months of door knocking by Lopez and Trelles' mother, Sue, the rent strike now includes 80 families across three of Petito's buildings-and Lopez hopes to spread the movement to his other properties. Petito, for his part, is a classic exploitative building owner. Ranking 51 on city's watch list of worst slumlords, he owns approximately twenty buildings across the boroughs and dozens of small real estate corporations that flit in and out of existence like fireflies and list PO Boxes for addresses. He's frequently fined and issued court dates, which he rarely shows up to, and he seems quick to take out million-dollar mortgages that he never repays. The only time his tenants see him is when rent is due, or-more recently-when he knocks on the doors of striking families and tries to intimidate them into paying. "So many threats, so much abuse," said an elderly resident who asked not to be named. "He said he was going to evict me; he told me that he was going to call immigration on me." As a newer resident, she was paying $1,600 a month for an apartment that rarely has heat, hot water or electricity before she joined the strike despite the barrage of threats. Many of the building's tenants lack residency papers, and Petito is more than willing to wave forged eviction notices in front of tenants who speak little English. Like the historic rent strikes in Lower East Side before WWI or in Harlem during the 1960s, female tenants of color are leading the grassroots organizing at Petito's buildings. Many from Occupy Sunset Park have joined in to support, tying this slumlord's abuse to the broader context of housing injustice, one that includes the current foreclosure crisis but is, in truth, a constant reality in a country where private property is a right but a family's need for shelter is considered a privilege." http://www.alternet.org/story/156192/major_rent_strike_against_millionaire_slumlord_catches_fire_in_brooklyn "For years now, Big Oil, tobacco and HMOs have pretty much held a monopoly in consumer loathing. But no longer: According to a recent Harris Poll, pharmaceutical companies have tied the big bad three as the industry that consumers love to hate the most. In fact, opposition is coming from all sides. Politicians from both major parties regularly denounce the drug makers for their prices, their marketing and for blocking Grandma from buying inexpensive medication from Canada. New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer this summer charged GlaxoSmithKline, the second-largest drug company in the world, with fraud for not revealing the negative results of clinical trials that tested antidepressants on children. Dozens of states have sued or investigated drug companies over their pricing tactics. In the space of just a year and a half, at least six books critical of the industry have been published, with titles like The Truth About the Drug Companies and The Big Fix. "You take Pfizer, you take Merck, you take Bristol-Myers, you take Glaxo-Smith," says Larry Bossidy, former CEO of Honeywell and author of the new book Confronting Reality. "All of them face the same challenges. They're all looking down the same gun barrel." nFrom Indiana to New Jersey to Basel, Switzerland, CEOs of Big Pharma scratch their heads at the outpouring of anger. How did an industry that makes Gleevec as a treatment for cancer, Fosamax for osteoporosis and Lipitor for cholesterol--an industry whose products save people's lives--come to be so reviled? And what, if anything, can they do now to change that negative image? The giant drug makers and small biotechs, as well as consultants, economists and consumer advocates, point to causes that range from lousy PR to nasty battles with manufacturers of low-cost generic drugs to the flawed basic structure of health care in the United States. The biggest single point of protest is prescription drug prices, which have been soaring at far faster rates than the general cost of living. To some degree, the industry's dilemma is the inevitable side effect of being a big, profitable business. But to a larger degree, the wounds are self-inflicted. "What the public is telling us is, 'We love the innovation that you come up with, but we can't afford it,'" says Sidney Taurel, chairman, president and CEO of Eli Lilly. From the other side of the divide, Dee Mahan, senior policy analyst at the Washington-based consumer group Families USA, puts it this way: "It's not like buying a Lexus--it's not something where you have a choice. People get angry because this is something that is critical that they need, and companies are raising the prices so much." Most people date the current problems to the early 1990s, when President Bill Clinton's health care reform plan rode a tide of public concern about rising costs. At first, HMOs bore the brunt, but after they loosened their coverage rules, the angry eye turned to drug companies. Some of that is convenience. These companies were obvious targets because they were big, they comprised one of the nation's most profitable industries, and they were powerful players in Washington. And just around that time, a flurry of breakthrough drugs came to market, like Mevacor for elevated cholesterol and Prozac for depression, and new drugs are always pricier than older ones with generic competition. "It's politically easier to point a finger at the small number of big pharmaceutical companies than at hospitals and doctors," complains Ben Hohn, a New York-based consultant at The Monitor Group, who specializes in biopharmaceuticals. "People have a personal relationship with the doctor, and they tend to associate the doctor with the hospital." Daniel Vasella, CEO of the Swiss drug giant Novartis, notes that "it became pretty obvious in the late '90s that the industry had a problem." A decade earlier, he recalls, people reacted with sympathy when he told them he worked for a drug company. "Today, the reaction is generally cold." Vasella and other industry defenders say a knowledge gap among consumers is partially to blame for their troubles. The economics of drug pricing and the relative benefits, they say, are intrinsically difficult to explain to the general public. "People don't realize the tremendous risks," says Kenneth I. Moch, president and CEO of Alteon, a New Jersey biotech company that specializes in cardiovascular disease, diabetes and aging. "The only way to attract investors and capital is to have high rewards." Based largely on controversial studies by Tufts University's Center for the Study of Drug Development, the industry claims it costs over $800 million and takes at least 12 years, on average, to come up with a new drug. Shot in the Foot Still, the pharmaceutical makers can hardly claim to be innocent victims. Even some industry stalwarts cringe at the record: * They filed multiple lawsuits, sought questionable patent extensions and made outright payoffs to generic companies in order to maintain their monopolies on expensive blockbuster drugs like Astra-Zeneca's Prilosec for heartburn and Bristol-Myers Squibb's Glucophage for diabetes. * They plied doctors with fancy dinners, Super Bowl tickets and exotic vacations to persuade them to prescribe particular drugs--sometimes going so far that they broke the law. * As AIDS and HIV spread across poverty-stricken Africa, they refused to lower the prices of their expensive medications, claiming they didn't want to set a precedent by ceding any intellectual property rights. When the companies finally gave in to public pressure, they did it in baby steps and had to be tugged again and again. "The HIV story is not a pleasant one," Roy Vagelos, the former CEO of Merck, said in a 2002 interview. "Not coming up with a [discount or donation] program earlier was very damaging to [Merck's] reputation." After the Food and Drug Administration opened the door to pharmaceutical advertising on TV in 1997, the ad dollars poured in. The industry now spends some $3.8 billion on direct-to-consumer advertising that is almost indistinguishable from commercials for Diet Coke or Tide. The companies defend this as educating the public. But Mahan of Families USA says, "There is just too much. People ask, 'This is where the R & D money is going to?'" James Love, director of the Consumer Project on Technology, another advocacy group in Washington, points to another problem with TV commercials: "[The companies] lose the aura of the scientific organization. They come across as selling soap." On top of all that, baby boomers were starting to hit their 50s in the late 1990s, an age when prescription use rises dramatically. And boomers are a lot less likely than their parents to meekly swallow their doctors' advice--or expensive medicine. As the bad headlines and bad feelings piled up, says Ira S. Loss, executive vice president of the stock-market research firm Washington Analysis, "I think the leadership was very slow to recognize the severity of the problem." For an industry famous for its political clout--it usually has more Washington lobbyists than there are members of Congress--Big Pharma was politically tone-deaf to the PR disaster it was incurring by opposing a prescription drug benefit in Medicare for many years and blocking the purchase of low-cost drugs from Canada. "We were concerned more with explaining our point of view to opinion leaders and politicians than to the general public," Lilly's Taurel concedes. "That may have helped worsen our image." Self-Analysis: A Good Start C Boyd Clarke, a former marketing executive at Merck and now CEO of Neose Technologies, a Philadelphia-area biotech firm, muses: "I sometimes wonder whether Pharma has not gotten itself in a bad position by being so identified with the Republican Party that there is a great deal of difficulty in getting its message out in a nonpartisan context." Now the drug makers have started to catch on and have attempted to introduce change. Executives like Taurel, Vagelos and Pfizer CEO Henry McKinnell have been speaking out about some of the issues behind the industry's lousy image. The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the major trade group, in 2002 adopted tighter restrictions on marketing to doctors (though arguably these are still often ignored). After Spitzer's lawsuit, Glaxo, Lilly and Merek announced they would make more of their trial results publicly available. Many people also praise Bristol-Myers Squibb for its public service ads featuring cyclist and cancer survivor Lance Armstrong talking about the importance of pharmaceutical R & D. And this fall Pfizer launched an innovative program to sell drugs at deep discounts to the uninsured and working poor."