BTS 10/19/09: Looking on the Bright Side; Letting Pharma Off the Hook; The Invention of the Jewish People

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Barbara Ehrenreich joins us to talk about her new book:  Bright Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking has Undermined America. Millions of Americans are losing their jobs and their homes, and they are undeniably angry. Yet they are told to look on the bright side – as if visualizing happiness will chase away cancer, money will fall from the sky and foreclosures won’t happen. Pursuing happiness is one of our inalienable rights, but Ehrenreich shows how it has been turned into a “cult of cheerfulness,” that requires Americans to “think positively” rather than to take positive action for change.  There’s no excuse for failure, we’re told, optimism is the key to material success -- as if concentrating on the good makes the bad cease to exist.  If we lose our jobs and our homes, it must be our own fault, we didn’t focus enough on the good, right? ‘Be sure to tune in for Ehrenreich’s sensible, savage, and hilarious critique of the positive thinking movement’s pseudo-science and pseudo-intellectual foundation.

Melody Petersen, author of Our Daily Meds, covered the pharmaceutical industry for the New York Times from 1999 to 2003. She recently wrote in the LA Times that allowing the government to use its substantial buying power to negotiate lower prices for medicine is one remedy missing from the legislation being written on health insurance reform.  That’s because drug companies, with the help of hundreds of hired lobbyists, have succeeded in keeping this proposal off the table, even though studies indicate it would save billions of dollars a year. Melody Petersen shows in her book on the pharmaceutical industry how the most profitable business sector in America (from 1995-2002) with nearly 65% of the population on physician-prescribed medicine, has lost its way. Rather than plowing their profits back into life-saving drugs, the drug makers have used the money to influence the science of medicine with their cash, making drugs that are profitable but not always an advance. In too many, cases, whether a medicine helps or harms a patient has become secondary to how much it will bring shareholders in profits.

Plus: We talk to Israeli historian (University of Tel Aviv) Shlomo Sand whose book on nationalism and Jewish identity, The Invention of the Jewish People, (Verso) spent 19 weeks on the bestseller list in Israel and won the coveted Aujourd’hui award in France.  It also sparked considerable debate and scandal – Sand’s scholarly study demolishes myths and taboos that surround Jewish and Israeli history.  Was there really a forced exile in the first century at the hands of the Romans? Sand evaluates the national myth of the Jewish exile from the promised land and finds the Israeli national myth has its origins in the nineteenth century, rather than in biblical times — when Jewish historians, like scholars in many other cultures, reconstituted an imagined people in order to model a future nation. Sand forensically dissects the official story --  and the evidence shows that that there was a Jewish religion, but not a Jewish people, and the exile never happened. Jews actually descend from converts whose native lands were scattered far across the Middle East and Eastern Europe. Bertell Ollman of NYU says “This may be the most important and surprising book on Zionism, Israel and Judaism written in the last fifty years. Nothing in the Middle East looks the same after reading it.” 

Read More for info on tonight's guests:

1. Barbara Ehrenreich: author, essayist, social activist for economic justice, women’s rights, health care, peace, and more. New book: Bright Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking has Undermined America – about how “the cult of cheerfulness,” requires Americans to “think positively” rather than to take positive action for change. She is also the author of: Nickel and Dimed, Bait and Switch: The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream, Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy, and Blood Rites: Origins and History of the Passions of War.

2. Melody Petersen, is the author of Our Daily Meds. She covered the pharmaceutical industry for the New York Times from 1999 to 2003. She won a Gerald Loeb Award in 1997, one of the highest awards for business journalism.

3. Shlomo Sand is Professor of History at Tel Aviv University in Israel. His main areas of teaching are Cinema and History, French Intellectual History, and Nation and Nationalism.