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Corporate America Fleeced Us Again!

29 Mar

The coronavirus bill is an orgy of corporate welfare that rivals the 2008 bailout.
BY Moe Tkacik

Boeing’s CEO of Commercial Airplanes Stanley Deal speaks at the annual Aviation Summit in Washington, D.C., on March 5. Boeing, its business floundering after a a series of debacles, was quick to ask for a coronavirus bailout–before the pandemic affected it at all. It’s an audacious power grab by the same bunch of monstrous grifters who’ve spent the past 20 years reverse mortgaging the American economy to finance Third World dictator lifestyles.

The fundamental spirit of the CARES Act, the diabolical plutocrat bailout the Senate just passed, is summed up by the fact that it was inspired by the 60 billion dollar demand of a company whose business had not yet even been impacted by coronavirus.
You read that right. When Boeing made its humble plea for $60 billion in coronavirus relief funds on Saint Patrick’s Day 2020, leading the pack of corporate supplicants, all its assembly lines unrelated to its notorious self-hijacking 737 Max jets, whose production halted in January, were still operating at normal capacity. They were still open in spite of the fact that Seattle public schools had been closed for six days at that point, in spite of the fact that every restaurant and bar in the state had been closed the weekend earlier, and in spite of the fact that the disease was quickly spreading among the factory workers, one of whom, a 27-year veteran of the company, would die within days.
And they were still running in spite of the fact that demand for Boeing planes, thanks to the 737 crashes, is at an all-time low, with the company in January, a month in which its archrival Airbus sold 274 planes, reporting its first month in history without a single order. Which is to say, I can think of a lot of reasons Boeing might need a bailout. In December a space capsule the company designed to transport astronauts to the International Space Station failed to launch into orbit during a test mission because its timer was eleven hours off, a potentially half billion dollar mistake that may cost the company billions more in lost NASA business to Elon Musk’s SpaceX. In January, the company revealed that its attempts to load a software fix onto the 737s was repeatedly crashing the planes’ computers. Not long after that, the company finally admitted that the three-year-delay on its KC-46 aerial refueling tanker was going to be, at minimum, another three years. And then of course there’s the $70 billion the company has squandered over the past decade on stock buybacks and dividend checks.
What all of these problems have in common is that none of them has shit to do with coronavirus. And neither does the $500 billion corporate bailout the Senate appended to an otherwise vitally important relief package. It’s an audacious power grab by the same bunch of monstrous grifters who’ve spent the past 20 years reverse mortgaging the American economy to finance Third World dictator lifestyles. It’s just like the secret multitrillion dollar scramble to throw money at insolvent banks in 2008, only a hundred times more craven, and even though the American public is also considerably less naive than we were when we assumed programs with words like “home affordable relief” might actually, you know, offer some relief to homeowners hit with extortionate mortgage payments, it doesn’t matter. We don’t matter. We don’t matter because we don’t have lobbyists.

 

 

 

 

The airlines have faced an avalanche of criticism for their bailout ask for good reason: They took the spoils of a decade spent gouging passengers with fees for baggage and chips and wifi and ticket changes and four extra inches of legroom, and spent 96% of them on stock buybacks. But the strings attached to the airlines’ bailout are quite possibly the sole redeeming lines in the slush fund section of the bill. Thanks no doubt in large part to lobbying by the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA under the leadership of Sara Nelson, the airline bailout is structured to avoid layoffs, including those of contract employees, who are targeted in a special $3 billion loan program. In exchange for cash, airlines must keep their staff and pay full salaries through September 30.
And in their defense, the airlines can at least claim to have been legitimately done in by the coronavirus. Can the same really be said for the cargo carriers? Just last week, an air cargo travel consultant told Wired the cargo carriers were charging twice the typical per-kilogram fee to transport cargo from China to Chicago—and yet there they are in Section 4003, earmarked for a dedicated loan guarantee program totaling $4 billion.
And what about the provision lowering capital reserves for small banks, who say loosened reserve ratios will free up capital for emergency lending to small businesses (because that’s what they always say) but will invariably end up plowing the funds into real estate speculation (because that’s what they always do, and, also, the CARES Act just made real estate speculation $170 billion more profitable.)
You might have heard about the special provisions for abstinence-only education and for-profit colleges and the Kennedy Center. But in the end it’s probably the general free money programs that haven’t been earmarked yet that threaten to inflict the gravest injustices upon our already grievously unbalanced economy. There are the myriad special crisis era lending programs the Fed has resurrected to halt the stock market selloff, as well as Mnuchin’s $350 billion slush fund to the special Small Business Administration program, which forgives the loans of companies that retain or re-hire employees. Under the CARES Act, any individual Marriott or Hilton or Cheesecake Factory qualifies as a “small business” if it employs fewer than 500 people; the applications otherwise involve “very few borrower requirements,” according to an overview of the legislation prepared by law firm Steptoe & Johnson. But the federal government has demonstrated time and again, most recently with its pathetic student loan forgiveness programs and before that during the foreclosure crisis, that it has no real appetite or aptitude for processing large amounts of loan paperwork on behalf of hundreds of thousands of new applicants, and literally no one thinks the woefully neglected Small Business Administration is remotely up to the task. And so we can only assume the loans will go to he who hires the best lobbyists. Do not be surprised over the coming weeks when genuine small businesses begin getting swallowed by such ersatz small businesses, flush with private equity dry powder and lobbyist-secured government cheddar.
And don’t be surprised when in a few years someone reveals, as TARP watchdog Neil Barofsky did of then-Treasury Secretary Tim Geithnner’s comments about using the fiction of foreclosure relief programs as a ploy to “foam the runway” for the banks, that another corporate welfare orgy was the plan all along.

 

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‘This Is a Massive Scandal’: Trump FDA Grants Drug Company Exclusive Claim on Promising Corona-virus Drug!

25 Mar

“It is insane and unacceptable,” said Bernie Sanders. “We will not tolerate profiteering. Any treatment or vaccine must be made free for all.” by published on Tuesday, March 24, 2020

 

“It is insane and unacceptable that the Trump administration has given the Gilead pharmaceutical corporation a seven-year monopoly on a potential coronavirus treatment. We will not tolerate profiteering. Any treatment or vaccine must be made free for all.” —Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)

As healthcare providers across the U.S. desperately attempt to treat a rapidly growing number of patients with the coronavirus, a pharmaceutical company with ties to the Trump administration has been granted exclusive status for a drug it is developing to treat the illness—a potential windfall for the company that could put the medication out of reach for many Americans.

As The Intercept reported Monday, the Food and Drug Administration granted Gilead Sciences “orphan” drug status for remdesivir, one of several drugs being tested as potential treatments for the coronavirus, officially known as COVID-19. The designation is generally reserved for drugs that treat rare illnesses affecting fewer than 200,000 Americans—but companies can be eligible if the designation, as in this case of a rapidly spreading virus, is made before a disease spreads beyond that limit.

About 40,000 Americans had contracted COVID-19 when the orphan status was granted to remdesivir Monday, and the disease is spreading faster in the U.S. than in other countries. By Tuesday afternoon, more than 51,000 Americans had confirmed cases.

Having secured orphan drug status, Gilead Sciences can now profit exclusively off the drug for seven years and could block manufacturers from developing generic versions of the drug which might be more accessible to many patients. The company can set price controls on the drug as well as benefiting from grants and tax credits.

As The Intercept reported, the designation was given to a company where Joe Grogan, a member of President Donald Trump’s “coronavirus task force,” worked as a lobbyist from 2011 to 2017, often working on issues regarding drug pricing.

“This is a massive scandal,” tweeted Ryan Grim, Washington, D.C. bureau chief for The Intercept.

 

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The Orphan Drug Act of 1983 was passed to ensure medications for rare diseases can be developed, and was meant to benefit companies which may not recoup their research costs after their drugs are put on the market.

But as Sharon Lerner and Lee Fang reported at The Intercept, the “orphan” status is expected to create a massive windfall for Gilead.

“The special orphan designation,” they wrote, “was given to remdesivir despite hefty support by the government for the development of the drug. Gilead Sciences’ remdesivir was developed with at least $79 million in U.S. government funding.”

“The Trump Administration just gave the Gilead pharma corporation a seven-year monopoly, so they can charge patients outrageous prices for the medication we’ve already paid for,” Social Security Works tweeted.

Gilead’s rush to profit off a potentially life-saving drug in the midst of a public health and economic crisis could prove “deeply harmful” to the American people, many more of whom are expected to contract the coronavirus, said government watchdog Public Citizen.

“Remdesivir is one of relatively few medicines that may prove effective in treating COVID-19 this year,” said Peter Maybarduk, director of the group’s Access to Medicines program. “The government should be urgently concerned with its affordability for citizens. Instead, the FDA has handed Gilead, one of the most profitable pharmaceutical corporations on earth, a long and entirely undeserved seven-year monopoly and, with it, the ability to charge outrageous prices to consumers.”

“Gilead has gamed the system by rushing through its ‘rare disease’ orphan drug application,” Maybarduk added. “Its action is disingenuous and outrageous.”

The grassroots group ACT UP, which has fought for decades for equitable access to HIV-AIDS drugs and to healthcare, also expressed outrage on social media.

 

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Disaster capitalism: This is the glaring culprit behind Italy’s Covid-19 catastrophe!

19 Mar

 

Canadian author and activist Naomi Klein worries that the Coron-avirus pandemic will provide another opportunity for neo-liberal elites to impose more of their right wing agenda on a citizenry scared and confused by this mysterious and dangerous disease. Klein of course is expanding on her award winning Shock Doctrine Naomi The Shock Doctrine. Klein showed how corporate elites worldwide have repeatedly and brutally used “the public’s disorientation following a collective shock — wars, coups, terrorist attacks, market crashes or natural disasters — to push through radical pro-corporate measures.”

Klein is surely correct to be concerned. President Trump proposed temporary cuts in the payroll tax as afiscal stimulus. This act would in effect partially defund Social Security, forcing Democrats to choose between a tax increase or reductions in or means testing the program. Turning Social Security into a means tested program would undermine its popularity and probably destroy it, a long time goal of conservative epublicans and neolibereal Democrats. Fortunately enough politicians smelled the rat and this idea does not seem to have gone far. If elites do not always get what they want, it is also the case that crisis does provide opportunities for progressive activism. Social Security itself was born out of the economic and political turmoil of the thirties. In the context of the Covid19 epidemic Medicare for All has become more widely discussed than at any point in its development. Articulating the positive contribution to everyone’s health and fending off some of its more devious opponents is especially important now.

America’s patchwork, profit oriented healthcare has already played a destructive role in the unfolding of this crisis. One of the most important factors in limiting the spread of the disease is knowledge of who is being infected and where they are infected. When patients can’t come to the doctor they can’t be treated; they are more likely to spread the disease; and the physician is deprived of valuable information about the spread of the disease, information that improves possible interventions.

Although we do not yet know the full story of the CDC’s botched rollout of the Covid19 test kits, the Washington Post, never a fan of Senator Sanders or single payer, reported:”Unlike the United States… the single-payer countries have been especially nimble at making free, or low-cost, virus screening widely available for patients with coughs and fevers.” The benefits go beyond speed. Where public programs are well respected and well funded, that respect can also be reflected in the quality of the men and women who staff them. Jorgen Kurtzhals, the head of the University of Copenhagen medical school, told the Post that the strength of Denmark’s single-payer system is that it has “a lot of really highly educated and well-trained staff, and given some quite un-detailed instructions, they can actually develop plans for an extremely rapid response.”

No one claims that any of the single payer systems is perfect. Most importantly a system that is humane, egalitarian, and efficient cannot work as well if it is underfunded. Common Dreams notes: “Britain’s National Health Service (NHS), following years of austerity imposed by Conservative governments, is facing staff and supply shortages as hospitals are being overwhelmed with patients. Canada, like the U.K., is struggling with a shortage of ventilators.”

 

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In Italy Giacomo Gabbuti and Lorenzo Zamponi report: “The problem isn’t that this system is public and universal, but that it should be more so. Sadly, over time we have allowed the various Italian equivalents of Donald Trump and Joe Biden to make it a bit more like the American system.”(Jacobin)

This is part of the political dilemma single payer advocates face. Their systems are widely popular. Italy’s health system is so well regarded that even parties of the right and far right would not dare call for its elimination. But conservatives understand that if fiscal constraints—real or imagined–necessitate cuts in funding, the system will not perform as well. Its inadequacies can then be cited in defense of privatization and eventual dismantling of the entire system.

Italians have the fifth longest longevity in the world (the United States is a distant 35th) and their public healthcare makes a great contribution to that end. If one is looking for a culprit to blame for continuing deficiencies, start by looking at the Eurozone’s fiscal iron cage—to borrow former Greek Minister of Finance Yanis Varoufakis’s perfect phrase– limiting what democracies can spend on behalf of their people.

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