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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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Jane McAlevey: We Desperately Need a Mass Strike Against the Billionaire Class!

21 Mar

An interview about politics and power. BY MINDY ISSER 

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The Democratic presidential primary is becoming a pitched battle between the interests of workers and billionaires—the type of fight that Jane McAlevey knows well. The author of A Collective Bargain: Unions, Organizing, and the Fight for Democracy, McAlevey has focused her career as a labor organizer, writer and educator on how to build power—and how to win. In light of the current class struggle shaping up inside (and outside) the primary, her thoughts on how to make strategic interventions are a breath of fresh air.

McAlevey’s book argues that workers must once again wield their most powerful tool: the strike. She believes the strike can empower workers not just in the workplace, but could tip the balance of political power back into the hands of the working class.

In These Times spoke with McAlevey in February (before the coronavirus outbreak became a global pandemic) about how the union movement can energize a fight around the 2020 election, prepare itself regardless of the outcome, and seize new opportunities to build power.

Q: How do you think unions should interact with the next administration, in three possible scenarios: Trump, Joe Biden and Bernie?

JM: If it’s Trump, it’s war. Any union left having a residual concern about what it means to strike if Trump becomes the president again needs to be taken out to the woodshed. He’s already taken us back to the 1960s in terms of the progress we’ve made. There’s going to be nothing left of the country if unions don’t unleash the biggest firepower in the history of the universe against a second Trump administration.

If it’s Biden, unions would have to fight like hell to get anything. Not that Biden is an ideological enemy out to kill unions—that’s the good news—but from all the evidence we have from his years as VP, there’s no evidence he would champion union causes. Labor unions under the Obama administration were simply not a priority—specifically, there was no understanding of how important it was to organize the working class. We can assume Biden would make decent appointments to the NLRB, and we can hope they wouldn’t happen at the very end of his term, but that’s the most we would get without a fight. The multiracial working class cannot afford a Democratic administration that doesn’t make it a central priority to relieve the misery among workers, and to expand the union base that can make that happen.

If it’s Sanders, it’s actually much more tricky for the progressive movement. The error in judgment that we make historically, which is what we did with Obama, is to be hands-off. There’s no room for hands-off. Franklin D. Roosevelt won, and more than a million workers went on strike. What I learned from 1199 New England, an SEIU healthcare union, is that the minute the election’s over—if and when our candidate wins—the very first thing we have to do is pick an intentional fight, to teach them that they work for us. I have never lost that lesson.

 

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For example, Sanders just made a commitment to Unite Here that he would not pass a Medicare for All plan that went backward on any of their pre-existing negotiated benefits. But let’s say he walks in and says, “I’m just going to try to do everything all at once.” The truth is, decisions and priorities will need to be made because that’s the nature of policymaking. So the question is, where do you draw the line? Even with a totally terrific elected official, I envision strong disagreements about where compromises get made. I believe the movement should not back down and have the kid gloves or hands-off approach, just because they’re excited about him.

Q: During the 2016 presidential election, voter turnout was at a 20-year low—about 55%. A big reason is that working people feel like voting doesn’t matter, that nothing in their lives will improve. How do you think we can best fight futility and really frame the choice for voters around the 2020 election?

JM: What’s working in Bernie Sanders’ favor right now is the same thing that worked, frankly, in Obama’s favor, which is that Sanders is really different, something the Democratic Party continues to not understand. People ask why Obama voters went to Trump, but it’s really not that complicated: People are desperate. And anyone who seems different from the mainstream bullshit served out by the Democratic National Committee for the last 30 years in this country is someone who workers are going to take a shot at.

If the party doesn’t screw Sanders and screw the country by locking him out at a brokered convention, we won’t be facing the same futility problem. Sanders has credibility. Trust makes people participate and engage—that’s as true in a union election and a strike vote and a march on the boss as it is with the biggest march on the boss ever: getting Trump out of office. If it’s Sanders, which is who it should be if we stand a chance to win, then people will actually participate. The futility challenge is going to be extraordinary if we have a candidate who is not Bernie Sanders.

One major point I’m trying to get across in the new book is that, no matter who wins the presidency, I don’t think there’s any way out of the mess we’re in without a return to mass strikes. What has really separated Sanders from Elizabeth Warren is his consistent articulation that it’s going to take a giant movement in the streets to move any serious agenda. Warren is obsessed with policy; Bernie is obsessed with the movement he wants to build.

Whether or not it’s a President Sanders in this country, let alone a President Trump, it’s going to require an enormous ability for workers to stand up for themselves and strike. The return of the strike weapon is going to be the single most effective thing we can do, period. It rebuilds social solidarity in really radical ways, and we need it to combat the attack on culture and society launched by Silicon Valley. Working-class people are actually challenging the billionaire class by the level and rate of their contributions to the Sanders campaign. For a lot of people, they almost view voting for Sanders as the first act of their mass strike against the billionaire class, but I think it’s going to have to be significantly increased no matter what.

The most important challenge of our work as organizers in any field is reconstructing the human solidarity that’s being dulled down by the elite. A good union campaign does it like nothing I’ve ever experienced, and a good political campaign can do it, too. When workers come together collectively to do something and they win, it builds extraordinary solidarity, whether it’s to vote against a shitty president or take control from their boss. Every person has to wake up in the morning and write at the top of their daily to do list, how am I building human solidarity today, every day? That’s our work.

 

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Q: Were unions smart to withhold endorsements in the Democratic primary, or did they waste an opportunity? And how did their rank-and-file engagement in the decision compare with 2016?

JM: I would argue that the position holders in the national unions didn’t just wake up and think, “Hey, let’s not be so stupid and endorse Hillary Clinton, or her equivalent, in 2020,” but it was because there was a very serious rank-and-file pushback against the politics of 2016. Many local leaders and workers expressed through their locals how frustrated they were by that top-down decision-making process.

I want to give credit to rank-and-file workers for putting the heat on the position holders in their unions to stave off ill-advised early endorsements. I think no endorsements at the national level is better than early endorsements for a bad candidate. On the other hand, what would impress the hell out of me is if a bunch of unions had woken up today and decided to support Bernie Sanders, and to put the wind in his sails—to have the national unions say, “We’re going to go for it, and actually ride a wave behind the most pro-union candidate in my lifetime, and take a gamble. And the reason why we should take a gamble is because the planet is burning the fuck down.” All organizers know how to create a sense of urgency, but for position holders in the labor movement to currently be standing outside of the political process is a mistake. It’s a travesty, frankly, that most national unions are missing the boat in a profound way.

Internal democracy was marginally better this time, and especially better in the education unions. Thanks to the education workers who have gone on strike and challenged their national position holders, rank-and-file voices are not left out of the decision. Since 2016, rank-and-file members of both the national education unions have pushed for motions at their national conventions that demanded more rank-and-file participation in the political endorsement process. I wish that, in every single union in this country, the rank-and-file were taking control of the endorsement process.

Q: Besides engaging in presidential elections, are there any new avenues opening up for workers to seize power in 2020 and 2021?

JM: If you look at the logistics sector, we’ve got Walmart and Amazon, where just-in-time production is supreme. Walking off the job would drive Jeff Bezos and the Walton family into the ground. I believe good organizing can help people learn how to do this work—there are so many choke points and all of them have basically been ignored by the trade union movement.

Right now, the sort facilities cannot yet use robots for many of the fast delivery services, because consumers are ordering things that are different sizes that aren’t yet containerized—people order an iron and a pack of pens and a roll of toilet paper. What really did damage to the International Longshore and Warehouse Union was containerization, because suddenly a robot machine could lift a container that was filled with lots of different things. Right now, we’re in this sweet spot where the “we deliver your shit the next day” is not containerized. People in the logistics sector could just turn the engine off the Amazon Prime truck, or every driver gets a flat tire on their first turn because Americans learn to do what Latin Americans did, which is take a board, put a bunch of nails in it and let someone run over it. During their strike in 2006, teachers and their supporters in Oaxaca did this. Low-tech tools can stop this shit.

Warehouses, sorting facilities and drivers are the three choke points that—if all of those workers figured out how to build solidarity in key markets—could actually stop Bezos in a real way. Workers in the sorting facilities and in the warehouses in the logistics sector need to become a very important part of the work we’re all doing, along with the education and healthcare sectors. We need the whole community to understand the strategic front is the workplace, and that capitalists don’t care about you unless you stop them from making money.

It is a huge undertaking, but this is where prioritization and strategy come in. I think our movement doesn’t do nearly enough of that because it’s hard to make choices. The one thing I really believe is that, no matter who is in office, anything shy of a continued and really massive increase in the number of workers walking off the job is not enough.

That’s why I keep harping on the need for a serious increase in the use of super-majority strikes in key strategic industries in key strategic labor markets, no matter who walks into the White House, given how pushed back on our heels the working class is in this country.

 

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Mindy Isser works in the labor movement and lives in Philadelphia. She is a frequent contributor to Working In These Times.

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Reject capitalist xenophobia! For international socialist solidarity in the fight against the corona-virus pandemic!

19 Mar

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In yet another display of his ignorance, sociopathic viciousness and fascistic chauvinism, Donald Trump, whose administration’s belated and incompetent response to the pandemic has placed millions of lives at risk, has publicly labeled COVID-19 the “Chinese Virus.”

Trump’s words not only recall the old racist imperialist invocation of a “Yellow Peril” and incite violence against Asian Americans, they undermine critical efforts to develop within the population a scientific and fact-based understanding of the coronavirus and the measures that must be taken to stop the spread of the disease. “There is no blame in this,” said World Health Organization (WHO) spokesperson Dr. Mike Ryan. “This is a time for solidarity, this is a time for facts, this is a time to move forward together.”

The Trump administration, accentuating its nationalistic focus, has urged a German biotechnology firm developing a coronavirus vaccine to relocate to the United States, raising the prospect that “any inoculation would be available first, and perhaps exclusively, in the United States,” as the New York Times reported.

The invocation of nationalism confuses, undermines and serves as a barrier to the fight against the disease. Trump’s statement is only the most grotesque expression of efforts to impart to the fight against the pandemic a false and disorienting nationalist agenda. Utilizing as a cover measures that are necessary to block the spread of the pandemic, governments are seeking to promote nationalism and political reaction.

The global pandemic is impervious to national borders. The coronavirus does not distinguish between ethnicities, nationalities or genders.

For years, scientists have warned of the mounting threat of global pandemics as cities grew and the global population became more interconnected. In 2018, the World Health Organization warned of an unknown “Disease X” that would result “from a virus originating in animals and would emerge somewhere on the planet where economic development drives people and wildlife together,” recalled disease ecologist Peter Daszak.

 

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“Exploiting networks of human travel and trade, it would reach multiple countries and thwart containment. Disease X would have a mortality rate higher than a seasonal flu but would spread as easily as the flu. It would shake financial markets even before it achieved pandemic status.”

Throughout Western Europe and the United States, governments have refused to provide adequate testing and medical care, instead adopting, whether explicitly or implicitly, the position of the UK government that it would be “desirable” for a substantial portion of their population to be infected. This is a death sentence for millions of people.

Even as the United States and Western Europe have failed to provide adequate testing and medical care—by far the most effective way to combat the virus—they have locked down millions of people and imposed draconian travel restrictions.

On March 17, the European Union closed its external borders and, one after another, its member states have sealed off their own borders. On Wednesday, the United States and Canada said they would close their land border and the United States announced that it would prevent all migrants and refugees from entering the country.

The WHO has repeatedly and vocally criticized these priorities. While quarantines and travel restrictions are necessary, they are inadequate. The WHO has made clear over and over that the expansion of the resources allocated to testing for the disease, tracking those in danger, and caring for the ill is the only way to contain the pandemic.

As Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director-general of the WHO, stated, “We have seen a rapid escalation in social distancing measures, like closing schools and cancelling events and other gatherings. BUT we haven’t seen enough escalation in testing, isolation and contact tracing, which is the backbone of the COVID-19 response.”

Dr. Michael Ryan added, “Countries who rely on travel measures as a way of blocking the virus are just not going to succeed.”

Workers must demand a massive program of testing and treatment, with appropriate facilities to humanely house all of those who have been diagnosed while they are recovering.

Fighting the pandemic is impossible on a national basis. The response to the disease requires the mobilization of all the medical, scientific and social resources of humanity on the basis of shared human solidarity.

Scientists from all over the world must be allowed to share their research and technology, unencumbered by the “national interests” and geopolitical conflicts that serve only to delay the development of effective countermeasures to contain, treat and ultimately eradicate the coronavirus.

The development of vaccines, therapeutics and best practices for combatting the pandemic cannot be encumbered by national borders. Chinese medical workers, who heroically tamed the pandemic in their country, must be brought to other countries to share their knowledge and experience.

 

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There must be international cooperation in the production of face masks, respirators and ventilators, and their allocation based on social need.

A successful effort to combat the pandemic is incompatible with imperialist geopolitics and all forms of national conflicts. Regardless of its initial point of origin, the outbreak of a pandemic in any country is a global event. The fact that the strategists of American imperialism have been chortling over the impact of COVID-19 in Iran testifies not only to their inhumanity but also their appalling ignorance of the global potential of human-to-human viral transmission.

It is essential that all trade war measures and economic sanctions, such as those imposed on Iran be immediately lifted. Also, hospitals, properly staffed and equipped with all essential instruments necessary to treat patients, must be constructed to treat refugees and migrants. No human being should be denied urgently needed medical treatment.

Among the many tragic elements of the pandemic is the impotent role of the United Nations’ World Health Organization itself, whose dedicated scientists, doctors and public health experts—many of them veterans of the fight to eradicate Ebola—have pleaded with governments to take a rational and humane approach to the crisis.

The WHO, vastly under-funded even before the pandemic, has been starved of resources, leading to what internal audits call an “unacceptable” level of hazard to the organization. It has been forced to beg for scraps from governments, raising less than $30 million of its $675 million goal so far—even as governments hand out trillions to the banks.

If millions of lives are to be saved, workers must fight for socialist internationalism—that is, international unity based on the common interests and solidarity of all workers. It is this international solidarity that will sustain medical workers, scientists and all progressive elements in society in their fight against the pandemic.

In the struggle against the pandemic, the working people of the world must view all manifestations of national chauvinism as no less a threat to humanity than the corona-virus itself.

Andre Damon and David North

 

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