Greetings from France

The first round of the French elections saw 80 percent of the eligible voters turn out, the highest percentage since 1965. Since 2002, every person turning 18 years old is automatically registered to vote. Amazing.

With right-wing Nicolas Sarkozy heading into the second and last round with about 30 percent of the vote, and Ségolène Royal, a right-of-center Socialist, being his opponent, progressive people in France are very worried about, for example, their world-class health system. Sarkozy has said he will privatize it and Royal is mostly silent on the matter.

The left will be supporting Royal. The 11 percent of the voters who cast ballots for the far-right Jean-Marie Le Pen will largely be supporting Sarkozy.

Another right-wing candidate, Francois Bayrou, who got about 18 percent, is holding out on any endorsement of either finalist. Some fear that Royal may move further to the right to win support from Bayrou’s constituency.

Parliamentary elections are slated for June, and municipal elections will take place in 2008. Bayrou reportedly wants to build his base in those elections and then run for president again in 2012.

One theory for why the election between Sarkozy and Royal has narrowed to an almost draw is that Bayrou would sooner see Royal win than Sarkozy, on the theory that Royal would be easier to beat. This reasoning would suggest that Bayrou’s votes would largely go to Royal.

On the far-right, fascist side, the thinking is that Le Pen’s 11 percent may not vote for Sarkozy, since the far-right voters who were willing to compromise by voting have already done so.

These fascist elements might cast a “white ballot,” a blank ballot in protest of both candidates. That might also happen with some left voters who are angry that Royal might end up just like Mitterand.

The left’s vote totaled about 12 percent. When combined with Royal’s vote tally, her campaign can count on at most 40 percent of the voters going into the May 6 runoff.

The French Communist Party and all other left groups were meeting this week to plan actions and strategies to defeat Sarkozy. The FCP presidential candidate got about 2 percent of the vote in the first round, its lowest ever.

Sarkozy is an open admirer of Bush and is opposed to raising the minimum wage. He is against the 35 hour work week. He wants to severely cut back the right to strike.

Royal supports the 35-hour workweek, the current health system and lifting the minimum wage, but the pressure from the right will be great.

Mike Tolochko
Via e-mail

Allow Medicare to negotiate lower prices

Ohio Sen. George Voinovich has done a great disservice to seniors.

So charged Senior Voice!, a coalition of 60 senior organizations, senior service agencies, union retiree groups and other advocates for senior issues in northeast Ohio. Voinovich and 40 other senators blocked debate and voted against a bill that would allow the federal government (secretary of health and human services) to negotiate lower prices with drug companies under Medicare Part D.

Unlike the bill passed earlier by the House, which mandates the government to negotiate for lower drug prices, the Senate version merely allows Medicare to negotiate. The Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act of 2003 actually prohibits Medicare from offering a drug benefit directly and negotiating for the lowest prices possible for seniors. Sen. Voinovich voted to “stay the course” and keep prices high.

The Veterans Administration successfully negotiates lower drug prices for veterans. Medicare, with a much larger population, could easily get lower priced drugs for Medicare recipients. According to a January report by Families USA, for many commonly prescribed drugs, VA prices are half as much or less than the prices available under Part D plans.

The report adds, “Drug prices set by private Part D plans significantly affect premiums and how much beneficiaries end up paying out of pocket overall. These drug prices also have a direct effect on the burden borne by taxpayers, who pay approximately three-fourths of the costs of the Part D program.”

In a more recent report, the Medicare Rights Center reported that the VA actually has more drugs (4,778) on its formulary than are potentially covered under Medicare Part D (4,300). Furthermore, not all private plans cover all these drugs.

What we are asking of Sen. Voinovich is for him to support the seniors he claims to understand and care about. He prides himself as being “fiscally responsible.” This was a clear opportunity to prove it. But he failed.

Senior Voice! supports the efforts of Congress to mandate negotiations for less expensive prescription drugs. To meet the needs of seniors, today and in the future, Medicare as a whole and Part D need significant changes. But, allowing Medicare to negotiate for lower prices is an important first step.

John Gallo
Cleveland OH

Responses to our weekly e-mail blasts

Re April 28 headlines: May Day greetings! And I grew up right by the steel mill that began it all!

Donna Wojcik
Via e-mail

Re May Day editorial (4/28-May 4): Well said. Best wishes in your life and your work

Peter Hall-Jones
Via e-mail

Electronic Marx

Re letter writer Erskine Finlayson’s two questions (PWW 4/21-27) about a quotation and an online source for the writings of Marx, Engels and Lenin: I believe that the ultimate source of the quote “Communism replaces dreams with science” is Frederick Engels who wrote in a book entitled “Socialism: Utopian and Scientific” that with Karl Marx’s discoveries of historical materialism and surplus value “socialism became a science.”

The collected works of Marx, Engels and Lenin are available online through the Marxists Internet Archive at Beware of the pro-Trotskyist slant of the web site.

Michael Wood
Minneapolis MN