Tag Archives: social justice

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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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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