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Back to Normal

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 30/09/2020 - 4:28pm in

One of the more persuasive arguments in favor of supporting Joe Biden is that things would go back to normal after Donald Trump leaves office. For those of us who remember what normal was, and is, that’s not necessarily appealing.

Lee Camp: How News of a Cure for Cancer Got Lost in Our Nightly Political Theater

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 28/08/2020 - 12:56am in

Donald Trump speeches. Celebrity tweets. Corporate news repetition. Chaos. Vapidity. Manufactured dissent. Graphic fighting sports.

This is what fills our field of vision. It consumes our thoughts, overflows our brains with anti-intellectual mud. Yet most of these things are the bug splatter across the windshield. They are not the actual highway, the path forward, actually deserving of our focus.

Looking beyond these distractions, one can see what really matters. The true stuff of life and death and oppression and justice. Most of it is not “trending” on Twitter. Most of it doesn’t get the meme treatment. None of it is matched with dance numbers, going viral on Tik-Tok. But it’s there. Waiting. Waiting for most of us to care. Waiting for us to evolve.

I believe one of those issues is the fact that scientists just cured cancer… well, not quite. But kinda.

They found a way to detect cancer years before symptoms arise, which generally means when it’s exponentially more treatable. Hypothetically this could save millions upon millions of lives. So why is it not plastered all over our nightly news? Why can I still flip on a cable news show without hearing about this??

The cold hard truth is there’s not enough money in stopping cancer quickly. No, not much money at all. Far better to drag cancer ooouuuuut — keep it goin’ — like a bad relationship. Why get divorced quickly and move on? Better to make each other miserable for a couple years, arguing over who gets stuff neither of us cares about — like that old armchair, cookbooks we’ve never used, torn drapes, the kids, etc.

I’ll get to how scientists can now predict cancer in a moment. But let’s back up. According to the National Cancer Institute, “In 2020, roughly 1.8 million people will be diagnosed with cancer in the United States. And an estimated 606,520 people will die of cancer this year in the U.S.”

Six hundred thousand people. That’s more than watched the Avengers movies! (Not really. Actually way more watched the Avengers. But still, you get the point.) And for now let’s ignore that a lot of that cancer is caused by massive corporations utterly destroying our natural world, dumping oil and toxins in our faces. (I’ll cover that some other time when, you know, it’s a slow news day or I have, like, a Tuesday off for a little “me-cation,” as I call it when I like to paint my toenails.)

In 2017, globally 9.6 million people were estimated to have died from the various forms of cancer. Every sixth death in the world is due to cancer, making it the second leading cause of death…”

Second only to eating White Castle and then listening to a Kanye West presidential campaign speech. Point is cancer kills a lot of people. Many of the most fatal cases are because people don’t realize they have it until it’s too late. Well, Scientific American reports a new experimental blood test detects cancer four years before symptoms emerge. Four full years. They tested “…more than 123,000 healthy individuals in Taizhou, China, which required building a specialized warehouse to store the more than 1.6 million samples they eventually accrued.” (That must be a truly gross warehouse. Samples of what?)

Over the following 10 years, around 1,000 participants got cancer and using the new blood test, the researchers knew up to four years in advance which participants would get it with a 90 percent accuracy. They knew! The researchers looked at the test and said, “This person will get cancer years from now.” I find this utterly incredible and you should too. Having the capability to know who is going to get cancer long before symptoms arise would save millions of lives. So why aren’t we rushing this through? This could save more lives than curing Coronavirus. Why have I only seen one article about it? Why is it not plastered across Brian Williams’ forehead or Sean Hannity’s tits?

Could it be — hypothetically — that there’s not wall-to-wall reporting on this because there’s too much money in treating cancer?

Most people cannot comprehend how much Americans spend on cancer treatment. A 2018 study in the American Journal of Medicine found that 42 percent of new cancer patients spent their whole life savings in just two years after they first got their diagnosis. Furthermore, “…the direct medical costs from cancer exceed $80 billion [per year] in the United States. …more than 50% of cancer patients at some point experience bankruptcy and house repossession…”

Eighty billion fucking dollars.

Spent every year by Americans trying to survive cancer.

For the people making money from this, getting rich from this, buying gourmet steaks for their pure-bred dog that wins contests that shouldn’t exist — for those people, letting go of that money is not on the agenda. And they know it would look bad to run around chanting, “Don’t cure cancer! I have three mortgages and yacht payments! What do we want? CANCER! When do we want it? NOW!” They know that looks bad. So instead big pharma and big insurance and the big Wall Street players — they quietly avoid funding the kind of research that would help end cancer as opposed to treating cancer. And this is not a conspiracy theory. We have the proof. The leaked Goldman Sachs memo to top investors telling them not to invest in cures because curing illnesses is bad for business.

And cancer doesn’t only destroy people without health insurance. Back to the study in the American Journal of Medicine, “Even for those with health insurance,” the researchers wrote, “Deductibles and co-payments for treatment, supportive care, and nonmedical or indirect costs (e.g., travel, caregiver time, and lost productivity) may be financially devastating even with health care coverage.’“

Furthermore, this is not the only advancement in cancer research we don’t hear about in America. For example, Cuba has a lung cancer vaccine that Americans can’t get. One of the few mainstream articles about it gave the example of an American named George Keays. USA Today reported, “Keays has stage 4 lung cancer. As his treatment options appeared to be dwindling this fall, he went to Cuba for a vaccine treatment despite a federal law that prohibits Americans from going there for health care.”

This caught me off guard. I knew our federal government behaved like a psychopath who loves his mom so the neighbors assume he’s a nice guy. But I didn’t know we had a federal law prohibiting Americans from getting healthcare. I can only assume that was passed the same day they passed that law requiring daycares send children to play with the used needles under the wharf by the condemned asbestos plant.

Where does the “Don’t Get Healthcare Law” fit on our freedom matrix? Shouldn’t we have the freedom to get whatever healthcare treatment we want? Shouldn’t even Republicans support that? If someone thinks they’ll fix the arm they lost in a wheat thresher accident by shoving a magic crystal up their ass, shouldn’t they have the freedom to do it? I mean, it’s not for me, but I’m not going to stop you (assuming you scrub down the crystal afterwards). Point is — we aren’t free. We aren’t even free to get good healthcare.

So when it comes to incredible advancements in cancer science, where is Congress? Congress will stop everything to make sure more money gets unceremoniously dumped into our Military Industrial Complex each year. They’ll come back from vacation, skip their daughter’s graduation, and miss out on their father’s funeral just to pour more cash into fighter jets or to pass bills designed to destroy the people of Venezuela and Syria. They’ll come sprinting back to Congress — leaving their toddler sitting on the swing-set, lightly blowing in the wind — just to make sure people in other countries die from our economic brutality. But they can’t be bothered to speed up approval of blood tests that prevent cancer. Neither can our corporate media. Because they don’t serve us. They serve corporate state interests. And curing cancer is not in the interest of the corporate state.

Feature photo | The Fox News building in New York City clad in scaffolding, June 8, 2020. John Nacion | STAR MAX via IPx

Lee Camp is the host of the hit comedy news show “Redacted Tonight.” His new book Bullet Points and Punch Lines is available at LeeCampBook.com and his stand-up comedy special can be streamed for free at LeeCampAmerican.com.

This article was published with special permission from the author. It originally appeared at Consortium News.

The post Lee Camp: How News of a Cure for Cancer Got Lost in Our Nightly Political Theater appeared first on MintPress News.

Understanding the Fear of Vaccines

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 21/07/2020 - 9:00pm in

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Healthcare

Since the COVID-19 pandemic has upended our lives, there is eager anticipation for a vaccine that will allow us to...

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Economists versus epidemiologists

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 20/07/2020 - 11:25pm in

This Paul Krugman column helped crystallize the weirdness of the ongoing economists versus epidemiologists spat, perhaps more accurately described as the ‘some economists, especially those with libertarian politics, versus epidemiologists spat.’ Different theories, in turn below the fold.

(1) The theory that economists actually are superior. This is the implicit or explicit argument offered by many of the economists who are criticizing epidemiologists, and who seem to believe that epidemiologists (on average) are far less quantitatively capable than economists (on average), and that therefore their models and arguments should not be taken very seriously. This is obviously the explanation of the dispute that is most flattering to economists. The problem with this explanation, as I see it, is that this estimation of the relative worth of the two disciplines is not shared by statisticians and statistical physicists, who may reasonably be considered to be quantitatively sophisticated too, but who don’t have a dog in this fight. It is likely that my reading is biased, but my best estimation is that the specific animus against epidemiologists is associated with economics in particular, rather than other quantitatively oriented disciplines in general.

Certainly, epidemiologists’ workhorse models have had mixed predictive success – the question is whether other modeling strategies preferred by economists would systematically do better at capturing the dynamics of a highly complex social contagion process, with grossly imperfect data. At best this is an unproven case (economists tend to reduce away these kinds of complexity through a variety of simplifying assumptions, which may possibly be helpful, but also possibly be actively unhelpful), and at worst, again, there’s the contrary argument from Kevin Hassett.

(2) The theory that economists’ superiority is a sociological construct that economists desire to maintain. This could start from a gross simplification of Marion Fourcade et al., boiling down down their argument about how economists “see themselves at or near the top of the disciplinary hierarchy” into a much cruder claim about status maintenance. In a world where economists have been used to policy makers and elite commentators going to them first for quantitative advice about public policy, they might feel disgruntled when policy makers and elite commentators turn to epidemiologists instead. Their resentment could easily be transformed into the desire to reassert the previous status hierarchy, through the systematic disparagement of epidemiology.

This is obviously the explanation that is least flattering to economists. Notably, it could take either a sociological flavor (Bourdieu, Merleau-Ponty and strategies emerging from the interaction of field and shifting self-understanding) or a public choice flavor (deliberate efforts by economists to protect the economic rents accruing to them from an existing set of institutions). However, there is a whole lot that it doesn’t explain – most notably the high degree of variation among economists, not all of whom appear to feel threatened by epidemiologists.

(3) The theory that economists and epidemiologists have different motivations or values. Some of the criticisms I’ve seen expressed boil down to the claim that epidemiologists don’t pay enough attention to the economy. That is, that they advocate solutions that minimize the spread of contagion, without paying attention to the possibly dire economic consequences that these solutions might have. Hence, much of the dispute is actually a dispute between professions over the values that society ought to prefer. This is, plausibly, a real dispute. It seems to me pretty uncontroversial that epidemiologists are more likely to care about public health, and economists about markets and the economy, in both cases through a combination of training and selection effects. However, it doesn’t seem to me to be obvious that economists’ take is innately superior to epidemiologists; rather, both disciplines have likely systematic biases towards one notion of the broader welfare rather than another.

(4) The theory that epidemiology challenges the basic ideological presuppositions of (some) economists. This is what Paul’s column points toward. If you start from a naïve-Hayekian understanding of spontaneous order, or from a naïve-Coaseian account of markets and externalities, you will assume that the best solutions are necessarily the solutions that arise spontaneously from the interactions of individuals, rather than the imposition of order by the state or some other actor. This will lead you to oppose the arguments made by epidemiologists that the coercive power of the state should be deployed e.g. to enforce lockdowns, and perhaps to look for reasons why the people suggesting these kinds of measures are incompetent to make them (of course, there are more sophisticated versions of Coase too, some of them offered by Coase himself, depending on whether the wind was blowing nor-north-west).

The problem with these notions of course is that the course of the pandemic suggests that spontaneous order and private contracting are grossly insufficient to address the problem in the absence of concerted state action (and for that matter, many of the predictions about spontaneous market adaptation – e.g. wage premiums emerging spontaneously for workers who could show that they had survived coronavirus – don’t seem to have much empirical traction). The externalities of people’s actions during coronavirus are extremely high, and the prospect of decentralized solutions for those externalities extremely low.

There may be other possible explanations of this dispute than those I’ve listed, and different assessments of their respective merits, given limited and ambiguous evidence. Personally, I’d emphasize the importance of (3) and (4), with a smidgen of (2). What the third and fourth explanation potentially explain that the second does not is the apparent ideological variation within the economics community. Casual observation would suggest that vehement criticism of epidemiologists is associated with right leaning and libertarian political beliefs. This is plausibly explained if those economists who are most likely to criticize epidemiologists are also those who are most committed to markets and most skeptical of state coercion.

My rank ordering may or may not be right. The broader point however, is that unless (1) is correct – that is, unless economists are indeed greatly intellectually superior to epidemiologists so that the latter need to be put in their place – the spat obscures more than it enlightens. It turns possibly substantive disagreements into a dispute over relative status, which appeals to our primate curiosity for gossip about troop hierarchy and intrigue, rather than practical problem solving. A better discussion of (3) would involve more structured disagreement about the relative importance of public health, the economy, and other highly important desiderata. A better discussion of (4) would focus on the interaction between state action and public norms in affecting social behavior and contagion. In both cases, focusing on the actual disagreements, rather than the relative disciplinary status questions entangled with them, would likely lead to better debate.

Should Governments Have Access to Our Data?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 20/07/2020 - 9:00pm in

In a time of emergency, how much access should governments have to our data? As COVID-19 cases surge across the...

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Joe Biden Articulates His Plan for the Coronavirus

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 20/07/2020 - 4:20pm in

Aside from not being Donald Trump, Joe Biden has a plan to combat the coronavirus: not be Donald Trump.

Lee Camp: The Life-Saving COVID-19 Drugs You’ve Never Heard Of (and Why)

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 17/07/2020 - 12:44am in

The American profit-based healthcare system impacts us in more ways than just our gargantuan bill at the excretion end of an emergency room visit. Right now, our lovable idiotic inhumane healthcare system is acting as a hurdle to the manufacture and procurement of the right drugs to treat Covid-19.

One of the drugs currently trumpeted as our savior is Remdesivir. Despite sounding like the name of a Hobbit in Middle Earth, some reports from the corporate media make it sound like the drug will thrust us face-first into a fresh world of happiness — water parks and restaurants and random no-holds-barred make-outs with strangers. A world where when someone sneezes, we don’t dive under our desk with an adult diaper strapped on our face as a makeshift mask.

There’s only one problem. The big pharma company that owns Remdesivir, Gilead, has already made clear their plans to profiteer from this pandemic. As The LA Times put it –

Drugmaker Gillead says it’s doing you a favor by setting the price for its pending COVID-19 treatment, Remdesivir, at more than $2,000 for government agencies and over $3,000 for private insurers.”

How does the CEO of Gilead, Daniel O’Day, justify this disgusting price point? He claims they’re under-pricing Remdesivir. He said, “In normal circumstances, we would price a medicine according to the value it provides. …Earlier hospital discharge would result in hospital savings of approximately $12,000 per patient.”

The value it provides?? So, if a doctor saves someone’s life with heart surgery, then that guy owes the doctor the entire worth of the rest of his life? Millions of dollars? Maybe he should become the surgeon’s butler or wet nurse.

Saying something should cost even close to the value it provides ranks up there as one of the stupidest arguments ever spoken. (Second only to when the people at Mountain Dew argued that human beings would love a Doritos-flavored soft drink named “Dewitos.”) So, for a dude taking Viagra who can now get it up, he owes the makers of Viagra – what? – sex with his wife? Or does he just owe them 300 orgasms? Or perhaps he owes them the child he’s able to produce while taking the pills. (“Dear Cialis Folks, I’m emailing to ask for a mailing address to send you my 2-year-old, Robbie. Fair is fair. I want to give you the value of your goods. Just be careful – he bites a lot. And he’s already totally racist. Not sure how he picked that up so young.”)

But there’s another catch to Gilead’s price-gouging shenanigans. They didn’t create Remdesivir. We did. You and me.

Public Citizen revealed that Gilead raked in over $70 million from taxpayers. Plus, federal scientists ran the team that found out Remdesivir also worked against Coronaviruses. And, “The National Institutes of Health ran the trial that led to Remdesivir’s emergency use authorization, and public funding is supporting clinical trials around the world today.”

You and I paid for the creation and research behind Remdesivir. There is absolutely no reason we should fill the pockets of Gilead’s preposterously rich CEO and its board. Most countries realize this. Most countries don’t behave this way. Most countries have some tiny modicum of respect for the lives of their citizens. …America is not most countries.

Back to the LA Times, “Nearly all other developed countries limit how much pharmaceutical companies can charge for prescription meds. …The U.S. doesn’t operate like that. We allow drug companies to charge as much as they please…”

Perhaps prescription meds that cost the same as landing a man on Mars (in a pair of Jimmy Choo heels) are the reason 42 percent of new cancer patients have their entire life savings wiped out within two years. The average amount drained from a patient is nearly $100,000, and the entire medical costs for U.S. cancer patients per year is $80 billion. Why ever change a system that piles such bulbous mountains of cash in the vaults of those running the show?

Apparently most other national governments don’t want to ruin the lives of every cancer survivor. As to why not, one can only guess.

But this story gets crazier. Not only is Remdesivir way over-priced, we’re not even sure it does much. Some studies show it achieves almost nothing. Meanwhile, according to the Intercept

[A]nother Covid-19 treatment has quietly been shown to be more effective. …A three-drug regimen offered a greater reduction in the time it took patients to recover than Remdesivir did. …People who took the combination of interferon beta-1b, lopinavir-ritonavir, and ribavirin got better in seven days as opposed to 12 days for those who didn’t take it.”

However, I have yet to hear of a mad rush to hoard those drugs. Why is that? Probably because those drugs don’t have colossal marketing campaigns that would make Coca-Cola blush. In fact there appears to be no marketing campaign whatsoever for the more effective drugs. To figure out why that is, one simply must follow the money.

[E]ach of the three drugs in the new combination is generic, or no longer under patent, which means that no company stands to profit significantly from its use.”

Must cut-throat late-stage capitalism always be so predictable?

Only the ridiculously profitable drugs are worth hyping. Only the money makers deserve 80,000 commercials telling every consumer to irrationally demand them. The cheap drugs that simply – save lives – those are garbage. What’s the point of saving a life if you can’t make a bundle from it? I’ve always said, “A life saved without extracting a shitload of money from it, is a life lost.”

I don’t know that this last part needs saying, but I’m going to do it anyway. When a society has a system built on profit, run by sociopaths, based on the manipulation of lizard-brain impulses, then it will always end up in a race to the bottom. With unfettered capitalism we inevitably find ourselves with the worst drugs, priced at the highest amounts, hoarded by those who need them the least.

… Unless we’re talking about recreational illegal drugs. Those are cheaper than ever.

If you feel this column is important, please share it.

Feature photo | A lab technician works at the Eva Pharma facility in Cairo, Egypt, July 12, 2020, where Remdesivir is being produced. Nariman El-Mofty | AP

Lee Camp is the host of the hit comedy news show “Redacted Tonight.” His new book “Bullet Points and Punch Lines” is available at LeeCampBook.com and his standup comedy special can be streamed for free at LeeCampAmerican.com.

This article was published with special permission from the author. It originally appeared at Consortium News.

The post Lee Camp: The Life-Saving COVID-19 Drugs You’ve Never Heard Of (and Why) appeared first on MintPress News.

Black Americans Can’t Breathe: How Environmental Racism Has Intersected with COVID-19

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 08/07/2020 - 2:36am in

By mid-May, COVID-19 had killed more Americans than the Vietnam War, Gulf War, Afghanistan War, and Iraq War combined. The magnitude of this pandemic—and its disproportionately deadly assault on Black communities—is astounding. In Mississippi, Black Americans account for 38 percent of the population and 66 percent of COVID-19 related deaths. In Michigan, those figures are 12 percent and 47 percent, and in Louisiana, 32 percent and 65 percent. 

How could that be? Top medical officials have offered little guidance, blaming preexisting conditions faced by Black people without further inquiry or consideration. What’s being overlooked, or even ignored, is the fact that health outcomes are often influenced by levers of systemic racism. 

These disparate effects don’t just happen; they are tied to policy. Poor air quality, which has been linked to more severe COVID-19 symptoms and is also disproportionately imposed on Black people in the US, offers a compelling example of racist policy leading to racist health outcomes. 

A new study from Harvard public health experts reveals two important findings: First, exposure to toxic air pollution (PM 2.5) increases vulnerability to death and the most severe symptoms of the novel virus. Researchers considered data from 3,000 counties, accounting for 98 percent of the population, and found that long-term exposure to air pollution increases vulnerability to the most severe COVID-19 outcomes; an increase of 1 microgram per cubic meter of long-term PM2.5 exposure is associated with an 8 to 15 percent increase in the COVID-19 mortality rate.

This is supported by similar analysis of hard-hit European countries that have already turned the corner. In Spain, Italy, France, and Germany, 78 percent of deaths occurred in only five regions, which are also the most polluted, according to German researchers who studied the effects of nitrogen dioxide. 

The second key finding is a 45 percent increase in COVID-19 mortality rate associated with a 1 standard deviation increase in percent Black residents. This trend is supported by research from Johns Hopkins University and the American Community Survey that shows that the infection rate in predominantly Black counties is more than three times that of white counties. The death rate in Black counties is six times that of white counties. 

Harvard researchers do not draw explicit links between these two key findings, but another recent study finds that Black Americans endure 56 percent more toxic air pollution than they create in the US, while white people are exposed to 17 percent less pollution than they create. The compounded lifetime effect of this exposure is elevated levels of asthma, high blood pressure, and cancer—the same conditions that now predict how severely individuals are affected by COVID-19. 

Taken together, this research suggests that Black people’s disproportionate death rates from COVID-19—a virus that attacks the lungs—could be associated with the lifetime exposure to toxic air pollution they disproportionately endure. The potential link deserves further inquiry, especially as we head into a second wave of COVID-19 cases that will endanger even more Black Americans. 

Top health officials should be scrambling for answers. But they’re not. They have largely brushed off the fact that Black people are dying at alarming rates and use sanitizing language like “underlying conditions” and “comorbidities” to explain the drastic disparity Black people are facing. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has said this disparity in death rates is due to preexisting conditions that Black people are more likely to have. His solution: “It’s very sad. There’s nothing we can do about it right now, except to try and give them the best possible care to avoid those complications.” 

As Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar, a former pharmaceutical lobbyist, said, “Unfortunately the American population is very diverse . . . It is a population with significant unhealthy comorbidities that do make many individuals in our communities, in particular African American, minority communities, particularly at risk here because of significant underlying disease health disparities and disease comorbidities.” 

These careless and callous statements do not address the root of the problem, and they effectively absolve policymakers of the choices they’ve made—and in many cases, their inaction—that led to the racialized effects of COVID-19. In this case, naming and investigating the environmental determinants of COVID-19 death, such as air pollution, underscores the already dire need to implement Black-centered climate policies as we combat the climate crisis. 

Ultimately, enacting environmental justice policies that aim to reduce pollution endured by Black communities would be essential not only to mitigating climate change and improving health overall but also to preventing unequal effects of major public health crises like COVID-19.

The post Black Americans Can’t Breathe: How Environmental Racism Has Intersected with COVID-19 appeared first on Roosevelt Institute.

Why Racial Justice is Climate Justice

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 30/06/2020 - 11:28pm in

Even under the cover of the pandemic, environmental rollbacks and pipeline plans continue to threaten the health of people of color. Continue reading

The post Why Racial Justice is Climate Justice appeared first on BillMoyers.com.

Who Would Kick Americans Off Their Health Insurance in the Midst of a Global Pandemic?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 27/06/2020 - 3:18am in

President Donald Trump and Attorney General William Barr, February 14, 2019 (Photo Credit: United States Department of Justice/Wikimedia Commons) Just...

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