Politics

Error message

Deprecated function: The each() function is deprecated. This message will be suppressed on further calls in _menu_load_objects() (line 579 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/menu.inc).

SuperCal….

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 24/10/2020 - 7:17am in

After my previous post I tend to think that this is appropriate: Apologies if you don’t… But as a post-script Johnson’s own council in his constituency – Conservative run Hillingdon – is now offering free school holiday meals.... Read more

Saturday’s good reading and listening for the weekend

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 24/10/2020 - 6:20am in

Tags 

Politics

What people in other forums are saying about public policy The budget Uninspired, unimaginative and unworthy At his National Press Club Address on 14 October, commenting on Frydenberg’s budget and on the Coalition’s economic policies more generally, Labor’s shadow treasurer … Continue reading →

Trump Sets Up Pharma Billionaires for Coronavirus Payday

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 24/10/2020 - 3:26am in

Tags 

Politics

The development of the antibody cocktail used to treat President Donald Trump for Covid-19 — which he heralded as a cure for the disease — was funded largely by the U.S. government, yet the Trump administration has apparently failed to set any guarantees that the treatment would be affordable. The biopharmaceutical company Regeneron, led by the two highest paid executives in the industry, received hundreds of millions in public funds during the research and development of the antibody therapy, and now stands to make a killing from its potentially lifesaving treatment.

Leonard Schleifer and George Yancopoulos founded Regeneron in 1988 to focus on neurological problems and rare disorders, but the company’s early years were rocky. One of its first products, envisioned as a treatment for Lou Gehrig’s disease, proved a high profile failure in 1997 when data showed it was ineffective against the fatal neurological disorder.

   

The company’s fortunes turned in part because of its work on monoclonal antibodies, proteins that are produced in a lab but mimic antibodies made by the body’s immune system. Regeneron has developed versions of the antibodies to fight severe eczema, high cholesterol, a type of skin cancer, and, with a product approved by the FDA just last week, Ebola.

In January, as the new coronavirus began spreading in the U.S., Regeneron struck an agreement with a division of Department of Health and Human Services known as the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, or BARDA, to receive up to $81 million for work on antibodies that would prevent Covid-19 from infecting cells by attaching to the spikes on its surface. The two antibodies Regeneron chose were developed using cell lines that were derived from the kidney tissue of an aborted fetus.

Shadowy Agreements

The January contract, of which only a heavily redacted version has been been made public, expanded upon an existing $284 million agreement Regeneron had with BARDA to research and develop antibodies for a variety of pathogens. According to the company’s filings with the Security and Exchange Commission, the January agreement committed the government to pay for 80 percent of the cost of developing antibodies to combat Covid-19. But as The Intercept previously reported, neither the January extension nor the original arrangement appear to include intellectual property protections and safeguards to ensure the affordability of the treatments Regeneron produced with the funding. Both agreements lack a standard clause that ensures interventions developed with government funding are available to the public “on reasonable terms.”

With two bandages on his hand, President Donald Trump gestures while speaking from the Blue Room Balcony of the White House to a crowd of supporters, Saturday, Oct. 10, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

With two bandages on his hand, President Donald Trump gestures while speaking from the Blue Room Balcony of the White House to a crowd of supporters, on Oct. 10, 2020, in Washington, D.C.

Photo: Alex Brandon/AP

Since then, Regeneron has entered into yet another shadowy agreement with the federal government that lacks the standard oversight to which federal contracts are usually subjected. According to its July filings with the SEC, Regeneron has a contract worth up to $450.2 million “to manufacture and deliver to the U.S. Government the Company’s novel investigational dual antibody ‘cocktail’ treatment.”

While the July agreement was made “on behalf of” the Department of Defense and an entity called the Medical CBRN Defense Consortium, according to the SEC filing, it was done through a third party called Advanced Technologies International, Inc. Because it is a nongovernmental entity, Advanced Technologies International is not subject to public records laws, which will make it difficult or impossible for the public to review the contract or its terms. Advanced Technologies International has awarded more than $6 billion in contracts to companies through the administration’s vaccine mobilization program Operation Warp Speed, including Novavax, Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson, as NPR recently reported.

Both Public Citizen and Knowledge Ecology International are suing the Department of Health and Human Services seeking the unredacted contracts with pharmaceutical corporations for coronavirus-related products through Operation Warp Speed.

In an emailed statement, Regeneron said that its July agreement for the antibody cocktail went through Advanced Technologies International because “this was the preferred contract structure of the U.S. Government.”

Advanced Technologies International and the Medical CBRN Defense Consortium did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

In an email, a spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services wrote, “We are diligently working with our interagency colleagues to gather, review, and appropriately release relevant contracts without revealing protected information, such as information that is proprietary or trade secret, or impacts any ongoing negotiations. We remain committed to continued accommodation of both General Accountability Office review and congressional oversight of Operation Warp Speed.”

The department of Health and Human Services spokesperson did not respond to a question about why it chose to route the agreements through a nongovernmental third party. But Joshua Frey, a press officer for the Pentagon, did offer an explanation for the choice:

“The threat posed to national security by the COVID-19 pandemic makes it imperative that a vaccine be discovered and manufactured as quickly as possible. The large pharmaceutical companies capable of the research and development activities necessary to create such vaccines and then transition to production of these products at the rates necessary to meet the stated intent of the U.S. Government are not traditional defense contractors. The use of the other transaction authority in general, and the MCDC OTA in particular, allows the Government to utilize streamlined competitive processes for evaluation and selection of companies for award of prototype projects.”

But some close watchers of federal contracting dismiss the idea that the government used Advanced Technologies International because of the need for expedience during the pandemic.

“I think that’s bogus,” said Kathryn Ardizzone, an attorney for Knowledge Ecology International. Ardizzone pointed to an agreement between BARDA and Moderna for that company’s work on a coronavirus vaccine as evidence that the government can contract quickly while maintaining protections for the public. Ardizzone suggested that the real reason for using a third-party contractor was likely to evade oversight and transparency. “When there’s not a good reason, you wonder if there’s a bad reason,” she said.

Asked whether the Department of Defense is using Advanced Technologies International to avoid oversight, Frey responded “absolutely not.” But the Pentagon official declined to provide a copy of the agreement or comment on whether it contains any language pertaining to the affordability of the antibody cocktail.

It’s Called Regeneron

In September, Regeneron released results of a trial of 275 nonhospitalized Covid-19 patients treated with its combination of antibodies. The findings were encouraging, showing that the treatment reduced both patients’ viral load and their symptoms. A press release the company issued at the time said the antibodies “showed positive trends in reducing medical visits” and described the results as “having positive implications.”

But in a video he tweeted just over a week later, after becoming one of just 10 people to get the experimental treatment through the company’s compassionate use program, Trump was far less measured. “They gave me Regeneron. It’s called Regeneron,” the president said of the treatment, which is actually called REGN-COV2. “They gave me Regeneron. And it was like unbelievable. I felt good immediately.”

“We have things happening that look like they’re miracles coming down from God,” a heavily made-up Trump went on to say during almost five minutes of rambling remarks he made on the White House lawn. “They call them therapeutic. But to me, it wasn’t therapeutic, it made me better. OK?” he said. “I call that a cure!”

It is not clear whether the antibodies actually contributed to Trump’s recovery. The president was also reportedly given the widely available steroid dexamethasone and remdesivir, an antiviral drug that has been shown to reduce the time patients are hospitalized with Covid-19 but is not yet widely available to the public. Still the frenzied endorsement proved profitable for Regeneron.

Just the news that Trump had been given the antibody treatment had already caused the company’s stock price to soar even before he was released from the hospital; his bizarre testimonial sent it climbing further. And in the hours afterward, a Regeneron executive and a member of the company’s board of directors cashed in on the steep increase, selling stock for a profit of more than $1 million. The sales came after Regeneron’s executives and board members had already sold nearly $700 million in stock in the months immediately following the announcement that the company received BARDA funding to work on a Covid-19 treatment. Schleifer, Regeneron’s chief officer, sold $178 million worth of stock in a single day, according to the New York Times.

In the emailed statement, a spokesperson for Regeneron wrote that “a significant portion of these transactions — including Dr. Schleifer’s — involved stock options that were about to reach their ten year expiration, so would have been forfeited if not exercised.” The spokesperson also noted that “Regeneron’s stock has performed well this year on the basis of many major business events,” and that “when the stock and company are performing well, it’s not unusual to see people exercising long-held options or selling long-held shares.”

According to Regeneron’s statement, “It is important to note that the bulk of these transactions by our directors and executives were conducted pursuant to pre-established trading plans, known as 10b5-1 plans (including specifically the October transactions you reference). These plans are pre-established at a time when the executive/director is not aware of any material, non-public information about Regeneron and automatically trigger when the stock hits a certain price, without the plan holder’s involvement. In addition, it is Regeneron’s practice to require at least a 30 day ‘waiting period’ before a plan becomes effective.”

Schleifer, who has an estimated net worth of $2.4 billion, was the highest paid pharmaceutical executive in the U.S. during 2018 and 2019, and the vast majority of that compensation came in the form of stock. Schleifer, whom Trump reportedly calls “Lenny,” has been known to golf with the president at his private Westchester club in New York.

Regeneron co-founder and chief scientific officer Yancopoulis was the second most highly paid pharmaceutical executive in those years. And in 2017, when Regeneron received its first federal funding for antibody treatments, Schleifer ranked second to Yancopoulis, who received $268 million in direct compensation — more than triple the pay any pharmaceutical company executive received that year and the most any pharmaceutical executive has made before or since.

 Michael Nagle/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc. signage is displayed outside their headquarters in Tarrytown, N.Y., on June 12, 2020.

Photo: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg/Getty Images

Shortages Expected

Hours after the president tweeted the video, in which he said that emergency use authorization for the antibody cocktail was “all set,” Regeneron applied for the fast tracking, which would make the treatment available before it has been thoroughly vetted. But the Food and Drug Administration has yet to grant the authorization.

While Regeneron initially estimated that it would have between 70,000 and 300,000 doses “as early as end of summer and completed this fall,” Schleifer admitted on CBS News’ “Face the Nation” that, as of October 11, it had only produced 50,000 doses, which is fewer than the number of coronavirus infections diagnosed on a single day in the U.S. last week.

And although Regeneron has committed to selling some of the antibodies to the government, which in turn is obligated to distribute them “to the American people at no cost,” according to the government’s July 6 agreement, that deal applies only to “a fixed number of bulk lots.” After that, the pricing is up to the company — a prospect that frightens some economists.

“Executives have an interest in getting the stock price up and price gouging customers is one way they can do this,” said William Lazonick, professor emeritus of economics at University of Massachusetts and co-founder of the Academic-Industry Research Network. While many drug companies argue that they use their vast profits to fund ongoing pharmaceutical innovation, Lazonick said, “we’ve shown that most of these companies don’t do that.” Instead, the soaring prices fuel soaring stock prices and executive pay, which is often based largely on that price.

The pharmaceutical industry has a long history of opposing efforts to rein in drug prices, including the “affordable pricing” clause. Regeneron was fighting that measure, which obligates companies that develop drugs with public money to sell them at reasonable prices, as far back as 1994.

Monoclonal antibodies are already among the most expensive pharmaceutical products available. The treatments on the market for conditions other than Covid-19 cost an average of $96,731 per year. When used to treat cancer, the antibodies went for a median price of $142,833, according to a 2018 study in the American Journal of Managed Care.

A Looming Nightmare

While Trump promised that the government would provide the antibody cocktail to Americans for free, drug pricing efforts say that many people probably won’t have access to the treatment at all, let alone at an affordable price.

“This is a looming nightmare,” said Zain Rizvi, a drug pricing expert who works at Public Citizen. “If the drug is safe and effective, the shortages will be rampant and will exacerbate the insidious inequality that’s already part of our healthcare system. The privileged few may get at the head of the line and the people who need it most may not have the same opportunities.”

While Rizvi said that a lack of regulation plagues the entire U.S. pharmaceutical system, he said the maker of the antibody cocktail epitomizes the administration’s failure to hold companies accountable during the pandemic. “The story of Regeneron’s monoclonal antibody treatment is the story of president Trump’s billionaire buddy who received massive taxpayer subsidies to work on a coronavirus treatment with no strings attached,” said Rizvi, who pointed out that Regeneron will be able to both set high prices for the tax-payer funded treatment and market it exclusively. “You have massive public investment, but the knowledge that comes out of it is being privatized. It doesn’t benefit public health.”

Already the pandemic has showcased a brutal disparity in health care. Unlike Trump, who was given two cutting-edge treatments that are inaccessible to the general public a few days after being diagnosed, patients have often had to wait for medical care when hospitals were stretched to capacity — delays that sometimes proved deadly. Although the administration has set up a fund to help cover the costs of some coronavirus treatments, many patients do not qualify. Some survivors of the disease have been hit with staggering medical bills for their treatments. And a lack of insurance is believed to have contributed to the astronomical toll of the pandemic, which has already claimed more than 223,000 lives.

For his part, Trump announced he was feeling “like perfect” after taking the Regeneron cocktail and hurried back to the White House. Once there, he helped fast-track the confirmation process of Amy Coney Barrett, his Supreme Court nominee who is widely expected to vote to strip tens of millions of Americans of their health care coverage and to outlaw the kind of research that produced the very treatment that he claims cured him.

Meanwhile, as the virus continues to surge across the country, Regeneron has said that it is continuing to produce its monoclonal antibodies and will do its best to make the treatment available to everyone.

“We are committed to ensuring that REGN-COV2 will be affordable for patients in need,” Regeneron said in its emailed statement. “We know our medicines only help if people can access them, and, as such, we are working hard to develop and scale-up a completely novel treatment for COVID-19 that is accessible to the people who need it.”

For Rizvi, the reassurance rings hollow. “The corporate executives will control the price and the supply,” he said. “What could go wrong?”

The post Trump Sets Up Pharma Billionaires for Coronavirus Payday appeared first on The Intercept.

Beggar thy neighbour politics

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 24/10/2020 - 3:18am in

The saga of English children’s free holiday meals vote demonstrates so much of what is wrong with UK politics. First we know that we have about 2.5million children in the UK in food insecurity and 4.2 million in relative poverty and almost three quarters of them are in working households. So this already indicates that... Read more

Japan’s Joe Biden Problem

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 24/10/2020 - 12:57am in

Published in Japan Forward 22/10/2020

How long before Japan looks back on the Trump presidency with nostalgia?  It may be sooner than you think.

If Joe Biden wins the U.S. presidential election, as polls currently indicate, the focus of his policies will be overwhelmingly domestic.

As noted by James Crabtree, associate professor at the Lee Kuang Yew School  of Public Policy, the four priority areas Biden stressed at the Democratic convention were green energy, racial justice, health care and affordable housing. Foreign policy didn’t get a look-in.

As he tackles these and other complicated issues, the last thing Biden will want is a high-risk confrontation on the other side of the Pacific. This could provide an ideal opportunity for China to advance long-held strategic ambitions, just as it did in the South China Sea during the similarly domestically-focussed Obama administration, in which Biden held the position of vice-president.

In all likelihood, North Korea will be on the backburner too, giving Kim Jong-Un full rein to expand his activities. Japan may find itself dealing with any regional flare-ups alone or in co-operation with other friendly powers, while the new president offers only comforting words and gestures.

Kimlaughs2

Biden is committed to restoring the multilateralism and democratic alliances that President Donald Trump junked. He would sign up to the Paris climate agreement and mend relations with key NATO allies such as Germany.

Regardless of the merits of such an approach, it will by definition involve a downgrading of relations with Japan, which had become the U.S.’s paramount partner under Trump.

One thorny issue that is likely to come up is Japan’s relations with South Korea. Trump distrusted the South Korean approach, intensified under President Moon, of triangulating between China and the United States while being protected from its aggressive northern neighbour by the American military.

Hence Trump’s demand for a quintupling of the payments that South Korea contributes to the expenses of U.S. forces in Korea and the hard line on trade. Japan, by contrast, was treated gently, despite Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric on the campaign trail in 2016.

Under Biden, we may well see a reversion to equal treatment of Japan and South Korea and attempts to bring them together by “knocking heads.”

Biden himself is a moderate, but his party, and particularly the intellectuals and media organizations close to it, are highly sensitized to “culture war” issues.  For them, historical disputes over the comfort women, forced labour and other matters dating back to the colonial era mean that Japan will always be the guilty party and therefore the one that must make concessions.

A trivial but telling example of virtue-signalling drowning out realpolitik occurred early in Obama’s second term. American Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy tweeted her “deep concern” about the annual dolphin cull at a small Japanese fishing town. Such “inhumaneness”, she said, was opposed by the U.S. Government.

Japanese twitterati  exploded in indignation over her remarks, and the Japanese government’s blunt riposte came from none other than Yoshihide Suga, the current prime minister.

While this was happening, China was busily stepping up the island-building programme that would soon give it effective control of the South China Sea. There were no tweets about that.

It is a cliché that US-Japan relations are stronger under Republican rather than Democrat administrations, but one that has substance.  The “Ron-Yasu” relationship between Ronald Reagan and Yasuhiro Nakasone in the 1980s provided the template.

"Ron and Yasu" at Camp David in 1986 “Ron and Yasu” at Camp David in 1986

In the early years of this century, Junichiro Koizumi developed a good relationship with George W. Bush, unforgettably marked by Koizumi’s Elvis Presley performance at Graceland. Likewise, Shinzo Abe, breaking protocol, visited Donald Trump just days after his election victory in 2016, and was the only world leader to develop a constructive relationship with him.

Not coincidentally, these are the three most successful Japanese prime ministers of the last fifty years. Meanwhile, no such relationships were created with Democrat presidents Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.

During the Cold War years, the rationale was clear. The Republicans were more hawkish on national security and viewed American bases in Japan as an indispensable bulwark against communism on the Soviet Union’s eastern flank. At the same time, their attachment to free market ideology made them less troubled by trade friction and job losses.

For the Democrats, who had a vast blue collar constituency, it was the other way round. That is why in the 1980s the blood-curdling protectionist  rhetoric came from Democrat politicians like Richard Gephardt, Ernest Hollings and Tip O’ Neill.

In the post-Cold War world, the situation is more complex. Under George W. Bush, who was fighting several wars simultaneously in the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks, Japan was valuable for its political support and status as the linchpin of U.S. power in East Asia.

Under Obama, who was keen to steer clear of foreign entanglements, that was much less the case. At times he seemed to flirt with a “G2” approach in which the U.S. and China would co-operate on global issues such as climate change.

President Donald Trump overturned the free market / free trade orthodoxy of the Republican Party, yet  the confrontation with China that developed under his presidency once more raised the value of the alliance with Japan – militarily, but also in terms of high technology and finance. Cold Wars tend to benefit Japan.

Where does Biden fit in? As an old-school Democrat with appeal to blue collar workers, he is no free trader. In an April article for Foreign Affairs magazine, he stated “I will not enter into any new trade agreements until we have invested in Americans and equipped them to succeed in the global economy.”

That would seem to scotch any immediate prospect of the U.S. joining the Trans Pacific Partnership, which is now led by Japan and known as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Much of Biden’s article is idealistic in a somewhat retro way, but also cautious as he promises to “elevate diplomacy as the United States’ principal tool of foreign policy.” Worryingly, he affords Vladimir Putin’s Russia, which has a GDP the size of Italy’s, equal billing with China. Given the emphasis he puts on repairing relations with NATO allies, the impression is of a much more “Atlanticist” approach.

The Biden China policy consists of building “a united front of US allies and partners to confront China’s abusive behaviours and human rights violations, even as we seek to cooperate with Beijing on issues where our interests converge, such as climate change, nonproliferation, and global health security.”  Which sounds fine until it collides with the concrete reality of Chinese intransigence and the differing national interests of allies.

Joe Biden’s approach may be excellent for the U.S., yet pose serious risks for Asian allies. Instead of staking its security on the twists and turns of American politics, the time is ripe for Japan to amend its pacifist constitution, beef up its defence capability and organize its own network of alliances.

Book Review: Polarized and Demobilized: Legacies of Authoritarianism in Palestine by Dana El Kurd

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 23/10/2020 - 10:01pm in

In Polarized and Demobilized: Legacies of Authoritarianism in PalestineDana El Kurd examines how the increased involvement of international powers in Palestinian politics has insulated Palestinian elites from the public and strengthened their ability to engage in authoritarian practices, leading to polarisation and the weakening of the capacity for collective action. Combining theoretical sophistication with a seamless narrative, this is one of the most astute empirical analyses of authoritarianism in the region, writes Hesham Shafick

Polarized and Demobilized: Legacies of Authoritarianism in Palestine. Dana El Kurd. Hurst. 2020.

One of the rare moments of optimism in the Palestinian struggle was the signing of the Oslo Accords in September 1993, which contracted arrangements of unprecedented self-governance to the Palestinian people. A Palestinian Authority (PA), constituted from leading members of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, was confirmed to assume most governing responsibilities in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with the exception of border control. Israel and the United States also pledged to financially support these endeavours, through direct tax-money transfers from the former and monetary aid packages from the latter (the European Union also supported the Accords, but without direct financial commitments).

However, almost three decades later, nothing testifies to an improvement in the life conditions of Palestinians that matches the initial optimism. The only significant change in Palestinian politics is the waning of the discourse of resistance with the parallel normalisation of the Israeli occupation. It is now commonly established, therefore, that the Oslo Accords practically failed to achieve its promise of Palestinian self-governance.

In Polarized and Demobilized, Dana El Kurd, a Palestinian researcher at the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies, critiques the dominant ‘failure’ thesis for wrongly presuming the positive intentions of the Accords in the first place. She rather affirms that the negative repercussions of the Accords were, in fact, its intended strategic agenda. Nominal self-governance, she argues, aimed to polarise and demobilise the Palestinian resistance, so as to confine, rather than facilitate, the Palestinian liberation project. From this perspective, the Accords successfully intensified Israeli repression through indigenous ‘outsourcing’ (5).

So, what brought us to this point? ‘How did the PA demobilize [Palestinian] society, when years of Israeli occupation had failed to do the same thing?’ (3). Acting as a ‘subcontractor for the occupation’ (143), El Kurd argues, the PA was capable of repressing resistance with much more effectiveness than the Israeli occupation itself. The fact that it is conceived of as an indigenous ruler, a semi-sovereign, rather than an occupying state, gave the PA carte blanche to violate civil and human rights and evade international accountability. More significantly, its limited yet strategic legitimacy as an indigenous ruler made the PA more capable of garnering domestic support for its authoritarian measures, be this violent repression or clientelist cooptation. Moreover, the contentions around these measures have polarised Palestinian civil society, complicating the conditions for collective action through civil society organisations and grassroots activism. As such, not only did the PA rule extend the conditions of occupation, but it also subtracted from resistance to this condition.

This dynamic is by no means specific to Palestine. It is rather characteristic of clientelist postcolonial states. Polarized and Demobilized argues that the ‘principal-agent’ model of authoritarian rule it proposes can be generalised across the Middle East region and beyond (28-33). In this model, international powers replace the population that the regime purportedly represents as the source of political legitimacy and financial rent, and hence act as the ‘principal’ that grants and revokes authority and holds it accountable to its mandate. The book presents in detail how this dynamic has worked in the case of the PA, but also comparatively demonstrates that it can be applied to other cases in the region, like Iraqi Kurdistan and Bahrain.

I cannot help but compare it as well to the current Syrian regime. The latter is not under occupation (at least not strictly so), but it firmly abides to the brand of clientelist authoritarianism El Kurd describes. This brand is characterised by the intransigent appeal to ‘indigenity’ as a source of undoubted legitimacy, while being practically accountable to the very international forces it sets its domestic legitimacy on countering. The book shows that this obvious contradiction is more than an exposed hypocrisy. It is rather an intended and indeed effectual mode of colonial governance by outsourcing.

Drawing on a rich multi-method approach that includes interviews, historical analysis and quantitative data analysis, the book outlines the causal mechanisms of how this outsourcing effectively represses anti-colonial resistance. An attempt to summarise this mechanism is difficult in a short review due to the richness of the book’s analysis, but four overlapping steps in this mechanism can be singled out, which I briefly outline below.

The first is the insulation of the political class from the public they govern. This not only makes them immune to public accountability, but also, and more significantly, disengaged from the lived reality of the public and positioned in existential opposition with their demands and aspirations. This is quite obvious in the lavish lifestyles of the PA and their reliance on occupational remittances to lead these lives. The ‘target funding’ (62) co-administered by Israel and their indigenous clients has conditioned both the personal prosperity of state officials and the economic capability to finance state institutions to the satisfaction of the occupier.

The second is making state autonomy, a public aspiration, conditional on a certain form of rule and particular political leaders. This was evident in the Israeli annexation of Palestinian territories in the West Bank and its war on Gaza in 2008-2009 after the victory of Hamas, the Islamist opposition party, in the 2006 legislative elections. It was also shown in the broader international refusal to recognise the Hamas-led government (although the elections had been called for by the US, it is one of a number of states that consider Hamas a terrorist organisation (55)). The message was clear: either accept – or ‘elect’ – a political class that openly concedes to Israeli policy or lose political representation altogether and risk direct intervention.

The third is the polarisation of civil society through a dual mechanism of cooptation and repression – the carrot and the stick. By selectively coopting segments of society and repressing others, the PA has divided Palestinian society into regime loyalists and regime dissidents, each accusing the other of enhancing the occupation in one way or another. For the regime loyalists, dissidents enact the conditions for occupation by disempowering the indigenous authority. For dissidents, this authority itself is an instrument of occupation. Through these divisions, the national front is dismantled.

The fourth is the demobilisation that ensues from all of the above. Primarily, social polarisation complicates the possibility of collective action. Moreover, the association of state independence with the ruling regime discredits resistance and justifies repression. Furthermore, the insulation of the political class enables the de-politicised policing of civil society, in which the security apparatus, rather than politicians, takes the lead in dealing with dissent. With a full third of the state budget spent on the security apparatus, it is used not only as a coercive force, but also as a massive and high-paying agency of employment through which the PA rewards its loyalists. These conditions coalesce into a gigantic ‘police state’ (‘one security officer for every forty-eight Palestinians’, 14) that closely monitors civil society and disbands any potential for collective mobilisation.

Polarized and Demobilized provides such a sophisticated account that any sort of summary or short review would fail to do it justice. Not only is it one of the most astute empirical analyses of authoritarianism in the region, but it is also an invaluable contribution to international political theory on authoritarianism, (post)colonialism and the social spaces in which the two intersect. The book is also useful as an analytic historical sociology of post-Oslo Palestine. Over and above, it is a truly enjoyable read: one of the very few academic works that combines theoretical sophistication with a smooth, seamless and beautifully articulated narrative.

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics.

Image Credit: Ronan Shenhav (CC BY NC 2.0).

 


‘I’ Newspaper: Wales Getting Ready to Nationalise Railways

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 23/10/2020 - 9:12pm in

Today’s I for 23rd October 2020 has an article by Adam Hale, ‘Railways set to be nationalised’, reporting that the Welsh government is about to nationalise the railways in the principality because of falling passenger numbers due to the Coronavirus crisis. The article runs

The Welsh Government has decided to nationalise its railways following a significant drop in passenger numbers because of coronavirus.

The country’s transport minister Ken Skates said bringing day-to-day rail services for its Wales and Borders franchise under public control would help secure the future of passenger services and protect jobs.

Private firm KeolisAmey has run the franchise in Wales for just two years after taking it over from Arriva Trains Wales.

Mr Skates added that: “The Welsh Government has had to step in with significant support to stabilise the network and keep it running.”

It’s excellent that this is being done. The railways should never have been nationalised. Indeed, in Britain, sections of the rail network have had to be handed back to the state to manage almost as regularly as clockwork. Unfortunately, they’ve always then been given to another private operator because of the dogma that private enterprise is always better and more efficient than the state. Even when it glaringly isn’t, as the past four decades of dismal failure by the privatised utilities companies has abundantly shown.

There is a very strong movement for the railways across Britain to be renationalised, as shown by previous press reports about criticisms of private railway companies and the franchising system. So far, however, many of the recommendations for the system’s reform simply demand alterations to the franchising system. It’ high time this was all stopped, and the rail companies renationalised across Britain.

I’ve no doubt that the Welsh renationalisation will be successful, but it will be uncomfortable for the Tories and New Labour because of their insistence on the absolute primacy of private enterprise. If it is successful, then you can expect articles by some Tories across the border here in England recommending their nationalisation. I think Lady Olga Maitland wrote one for the Tory papers the other year. But there will also be attempts by the Tories to rubbish it, and the Welsh ministers responsible in order to put the voting public off it over here.

Because if the railways are successfully nationalised, who knows where it would stop! The state could start taking over electricity, water, gas and even healthcare. Shocking!

They also might consider it better to feed hungry schoolchildren rather than send them to school starving while wasting money on fat contracts for firms run by Tory ministers and their friends.

Links Between Sen. Dan Sullivan and Pebble Mine Are Deeper Than Previously Known

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 23/10/2020 - 9:00pm in

Tags 

Politics

One of the powerhouse lobbying firms advocating on behalf of Alaska’s controversial Pebble Mine project has close ties to the company RPM International, which is partially owned by Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan, and run by Sullivan’s brother, Frank Sullivan.

The close relationship complicates the politics of an unfolding scandal for Sullivan, which rocked the state’s Senate race after audio emerged of Pebble Mine executives confidently claiming that Sullivan was privately supportive of the project but staying mum publicly until the election. Sullivan responded by declaring his opposition to the proposal to create the largest mine in North America. The mine, which is staunchly opposed by environmental groups, would sit smack dab in the middle of the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery.

One of the top lobbying firms for Pebble Mine, Squire Patton Boggs, has close ties to Sullivan’s family business. Squire Patton Boggs has received at least $980,000 in lobbying payments since 2018 from Pebble Limited Partnership to advocate for permitting of the mine. Fred Nance, a top executive at Squire Patton Boggs, is an independent director on the board of Sullivan’s family company, meaning he has supervisory powers over Sullivan’s brother Frank, who is the company’s CEO. By hiring Squire Patton Boggs, the Pebble Mine’s owners have entangled themselves not just inside the complexities of Alaska politics, but inside the business interests of the Sullivan family.

Judd Legum’s newsletter Popular Information has previously reported that executives from the mine partnership and their lobbyists had contributed $34,000 to the senator’s campaigns. In addition to that, Nance and two other Squire Patton Boggs employees have delivered $15,500 for Sullivan’s campaigns — $10,300 of that since the mine hired the lobbying firm in 2018. As a senator, Sullivan remains enmeshed in his family’s company as a substantial shareholder; federal financial disclosures show that he owns between $1 and $5 million in stock, and the family and the company have donated over $90,000 to his campaign and PAC since he won his first election in 2014.

Sullivan, Nance, RPM, and Squire Patton Boggs did not respond to requests for comment.

Sullivan’s connections to the mine have dogged him in the last leg of the Senate race. Sullivan had opposed the Obama EPA’s efforts to shelve the project and, until the recordings were released, had declined to oppose it. Sullivan’s opponent, independent Al Gross, is making his opposition to the mine a marquee issue in the race, blanketing the state with ads. FEC disclosures show that Gross has outraised Sullivan over 6-1 in the most recent quarter.

In September, the Environmental Investigation Agency published secretly recorded calls where the now-former CEO of the mine partnership said that they were hoping Sullivan would be able to “ride out the election” and stay mostly silent on the mine. This was followed by Sullivan distancing himself from the project at a Zoom debate on October 13; Sullivan said, “The Pebble Mine is dead, and I’m going to keep it that way.”

The Pebble Partnership exploration camp pictured on September 4, 2019, marks the site of the proposed Pebble Mine at the headwaters of Bristol Bay in southwest Alaska, home to the world's largest sockeye salmon run. According to Canadian owners Northern Dynasty Minerals, the deposit area contains 80.6 billion pounds of copper, 107.4 million ounces of gold and 5.6 billion pounds of molybdenum with an estimated value of $400 billion. (Photo by Alex Milan Tracy/Sipa USA)(Sipa via AP Images)

The Pebble Partnership exploration camp pictured on Sept. 4, 2019, marks the proposed Pebble Mine site at the headwaters of Bristol Bay in southwest Alaska.

Photo: Alex Milan Tracy/Sipa/AP

Pebble Mine would be the largest in North America, with substantial copper and gold deposits, as well as rhenium, a rare earth mineral that is a critical component of jet engines. The environmental group Earthworks has reported that Phase 1 of the mining project, if approved, would eliminate at least 80 miles of streams and 3,500 acres of wetlands, necessitate a toxic pit lake filled with 61 billion gallons of mine water, and lead to the construction of a natural gas pipeline over Iliamna Lake, which is the largest freshwater lake in Alaska.

Squire Patton Boggs has been working for Pebble since 2018, lobbying the EPA, the House, the Senate, and the White House. Other firms lobbying on behalf of the mine include Ballard Partners, the lobbying firm closest to the Trump administration, and former aides to Sen. Lisa Murkowski through their respective lobbying firms Windward Strategies and Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney.

On July 24, the Army Corps of Engineers released an Environmental Impact Statement that declared that there would be little to no impact on the environment from the megaproject, a report the Natural Resources Defense Council said was an “abomination.” A month later, the Army Corps of Engineers said that it would not be permitting the project in the present form, and gave the mine’s partnership 90 days to assemble a proposal that would address “unavoidable adverse impacts” on the Bristol Bay ecosystem.The secret recording by environmental advocates showed that executives planned to press on regardless.

The parent company of the Pebble Limited Partnership, Northern Dynasty Minerals, saw its stock soar in the aftermath of the Army Corps’ environmental impact statement. After the Corps paused the permitting, the stock went down but is still trading at about two times above the pre-statement price, indicating Wall Street’s confidence in the mine’s prospects.

RPM International, a Cleveland-based manufacturing company that makes sealants, coatings, and building materials, has also had its share of legal trouble since Frank Sullivan took over as chair and CEO in 2002. In 2013, the firm paid $61 million to settle allegations that the firm had fraudulently billed the federal government for roofing contracts, also beginning in 2002. The investigation came out after a former RPM executive became a whistleblower.

The federal contracting violations spawned a separate federal investigation in September 2016, wherein the SEC charged the firm and its vice president and general counsel Edward Moore with misleading investors — by not disclosing facts surrounding the federal contracting investigation in a timely manner to investors, in contravention to federal securities law. Litigation between the SEC and RPM is ongoing. (Moore and his wife have also donated to Sullivan’s campaigns.)

Cindy Schipani, a professor of business law at the University of Michigan, said that the arrangement raises questions about Nance’s independence as a director of RPM. “The way the courts look at independence is whether the director can make objective decisions,” about the company whose board they sit on, Schipani said.

“When there’s money at stake in their pockets, often objectivity is impaired. Human self-interest is to be profiting themselves. It’s those conflicts of interest that we worry about. We want to make sure they can come into it objectively, otherwise they shouldn’t be classified as independent. We want independent directors as a watchdog. It only works if they’re not self interested,” she said.

The post Links Between Sen. Dan Sullivan and Pebble Mine Are Deeper Than Previously Known appeared first on The Intercept.

Is the recovery over?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 23/10/2020 - 6:08pm in

I have never believed we were going to have anything even remotely like a V-shaped economic recovery. That's not to say that I did not think that we would improve on the position of the UK economy reported in May this year. Given the way that the ONS reported GDP in the first few months of the downturn it was inevitable that there would be some degree of bounceback as soon as schools returned, and that happened.

However, some, including Andy Haldane at the Bank of England, have continued to insist that a V-shaped recovery is likely. Latest data from the ONS, as reported by the Financial Times, suggests otherwise. Take this chart as an example:

As the FT notes:

Business turnover ... started to deteriorate in October, according to a survey run by the Office for National Statistics across nearly 6,000 businesses and published on Thursday. It found that the share of businesses reporting decreased turnover rose in the two weeks to October 4, for the first time, after a steady decline since May.

And as they add:

The deterioration in business turnover could forebode further declines in GDP, which are published with a longer time lag, as “turnover estimates . . . broadly reflect the published UK monthly gross domestic product estimates”, the ONS said.

That there is a link is hardly rocket science. If business suffers as badly as it is at present then it is inevitable that there will be an impact on GDP. The real question is whether or not this is likely to continue. And the evidence is that it will. As the same report in the FT notes, consumer confidence is falling again. This is hardly surprising in the face of a second wave of coronavirus. It is also unsurprising as lockdowns begin. And it is a frank recognition of the meanness of the government's response to the developing situation. All these things, inevitably, create an environment where a downturn is likely, with the failure of the government being one of the biggest contributors to that situation.

It is too early to say for certain whether the recovery has ended. But it is not too early to say that I think that likely. The government's continued message that it was going to withdraw support to people and businesses at the end of this month has cut through: people realise that they are on their own now. That will have a massive behavioural consequence, one of which is that the paradox of thrift will kick in. This paradox is that at just the moment when we need everyone to spend to kickstart recovery the rational individual response to the situation that people face is to save. Only government action can overcome that rational response. But, we have a government that wants to reinforce it.

No wonder that we are going to be in deep economic trouble.

Robert Peston’s claim that Johnson and Sunak are socialists has to be one of the most stupid claims of this crisis

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 23/10/2020 - 5:48pm in

Robert Peston posted this on Twitter yesterday:

I despaired.

Peston is meant to be a political commentator.

One has to presume that he has some intelligence.

And yet he thinks that ideology can be deduced from actions. And that because Johnson and Sunak have been dragged, kicking and screaming, and with a reluctance that is all too readily apparent, to support the people of this country in a way that will, to a degree (and a patchy degree at that) from some of the worst economic consequences of coronavirus they are now socialist.

No, they are not.

These are blue in tooth and claw arch-neoliberals who are hating every penny that they spend and who cannot wait for the day when they can, or at least will try to, shrink the state again.

All they're doing now is using the undoubted power of the state - which with every breath they try to dent exists - to buy off an electorate who would otherwise riot, and who might do so anyone, so people and so unfair is the distribution of that buy off.

Of course the buy off sets precedents. Never again can it be said that the state cannot act. Never again can the claim that there is no magic money tree be sustained. Never again will the decision not to feed children be seen as anything but callous politics.

But to suggest that this means these people are socialist has to be one of the most stupid of all the many stupid comments made during this crisis.

Socialism is about a state of mind. It is about a priority for people over capital. It is about the intention to deliver full employment. It is about recognising that markets work within state-created rules and within boundaries set by democratic processes. It is about accountability. It is about fairness. It is about justice. And these things are all alien to Johnson and Sunak.

And despite not knowing this Peston is employed as a political commentator.

Pages