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At least Sky seems to get it…

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 08/09/2021 - 5:51am in

In Afghanistan, even good news stories raise questions about government failure

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 08/09/2021 - 4:59am in

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Heart-warming stories of people escaping Afghanistan to Australia keep coming. But why are we issuing urgent visas to athletes with no connection to Australia?

Amongst the disastrous and chaotic exit of thousands from Kabul following its fall to the Taliban on Sunday August 15 there are some wonderful stories of lucky escapes.

One such story is of the escape of the Afghanistan women’s soccer team which The Wall Street Journal covered over the weekend.

From an Australian perspective the story is extraordinary for several reasons.

Firstly, it was Foreign Minister Marise Payne, on pushing from the wonderful Craig Foster, who arranged for their exit.

Most of you will remember it was Foster who relentlessly and tirelessly lobbied the Australian government to get Australian resident soccer player Hakeem al-Araibi released from detention in Bangkok, where he faced almost certain extradition to his native Bahrain to face trumped up criminal charges.

Secondly, there were no members of that team who had Australian citizenship, permanent residence or a visa to come to Australia.

I applaud this action of the foreign minister, but it does raise questions. Why did the foreign minister take this action for this small group who apparently had no connections to Australia when there were many Afghans with connections to Australia, including those with visa applications in process or approved, who were seemingly treated differently?

The Wall Street Journal reports that “after a flurry of paperwork, with dozens of visa applications submitted over hours, an Australian government document acknowledging the players’ visa applications landed on” the phone of Khalida Popal, a former captain of the soccer team now living in Copenhagen. It was not a visa, but they hoped it was enough to show at the airport gate.

There were issues for the team in finding the right airport gate and Foster contacted the foreign minister in the middle of the night to ask for her help. She is reported as telling him, “I’ll deal with it.” The long and short of it is what Payne did enabled 86 soccer players, including some of their families, to make it out of Kabul on planes to the UAE.

The Wall Street Journal suggests the UAE is “a staging ground for their uncertain new life in Australia”.

If this is true, how could those with no connection to Australia be suddenly plucked out of Afghanistan and then be sent to Australia when there were possibly hundreds with visa applications which had been in process for months and, in some cases, years?

The Australian government has advised us that from the time Kabul “fell” to the time the emergency excavation ended, it extracted 4100 people which included only 3200 Australians or Afghans with visas. By deduction, these soccer players and their families were part of the balance of 900 without ties to Australia.

Don’t get me wrong, I am delighted these young Afghan women and some of their families made it out of Afghanistan, but this really is an example of the Australian government, through its foreign minister creating policy on the run, rather than through some well thought-out policy. Many, including me, believe the Australian government has had years to work out what it was going to do when the war came to an end, in terms of getting out those Afghans who had worked for us and to whom we owed a duty.

Even if “years” is an exaggeration, there is no doubt from the time President Donald Trump announced the signing of the Doha Agreement on February 29 2020, the end of the war was imminent.

That agreement provided for the withdrawal from Afghanistan of “all military forces of the United States, its allies, and Coalition partners, including all non-diplomatic civilian personnel, private security contractors, trainers, advisors, and supporting services personnel” by May 1 2021 which was in due course extended by President Joe Biden to September 11 and then wound back to August 31 following the fall of Kabul.

If the US and a number of its allies were able remove to safety in third countries those entitled or potentially entitled to visas while their applications were processed, why didn’t Australia do the same? Immigration Minister Alex Hawke made the nonsensical statement on July 16 to SBS News that the government had no plans to evacuate “former staff” because commercial flights were still available in Kabul. This same theme was repeated by Defence Minister Peter Dutton who remarked, “if people can come commercially and that’s available, well that might be the option for them”.

Where were these people going to go without visas?

As I was completing this article on Monday, I became aware of another case of urgent humanitarian visas being granted on August 30 to eight members of Afghanistan’s female national taekwondo team – the youngest of whom was 16 years old. Once again, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade seems to have been closely involved in assisting them with their overland escape to Pakistan.

Whilst this too is a heart-warming story, it again raises the question of why we have issued visas on an urgent basis to athletes with no connection to Australia but seem to find it difficult to process and issue visas to interpreters and others who served us for years in Afghanistan and whose lives are also clearly in danger. How could the security checks that  Dutton continually talks about as being so important have been done within a matter of hours or days? Or can the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade avoid the grasping reach of Dutton if those seeking refuge have no links to the ADF?

For me the big story from the rescuing of the Afghan soccer players and taekwondo exponents is that the Australian government can move quickly if it wants to, even if those it is saving have little or no connection with Australia. Let’s hope we see more of this sort of action in the future from the foreign minister and hear less from the obdurate Defence Minister Peter Dutton who apparently sees every Afghan as a potential terrorist.

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A premature victory over Covid could be ruinous

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 08/09/2021 - 4:55am in

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With Commonwealth-state politics at play over the vaccine rollout, Scott Morrison will likely face state premiers entering the federal election campaign, pitching their popularity against his record.

The militarised task force spearheading our vaccination efforts has seemed to be rather more concerned with moving forward to face fresh enemies than clearing the battlefield from the earlier, unsuccessful campaigns.

There are still many thousands of elderly and disabled Australians, and even front-line health workers who are still unvaccinated, or only partly vaccinated. Likewise with carers, except that the figures are worse. In many institutions, there are only rudimentary records of the degree of coverage and the gaps in coverage, the excuse being that some were vaccinated out in the community.

These are the people who could still be falling through the cracks after the government declares the job done. The program could pause, occasionally, to catch up on jobs half-done. Instead, government ministers announce new (age) groups of people who can now take a place in the queue – or at least who can now book a date for a place in the queue.

The special vulnerability of Indigenous Australians was well recognised, and doing something about it had able advocates from the start. Before vaccines were available, effective measures were taken to reduce the exposure of people living in traditional communities. But the failure to follow through with effective education programs, to arrange dedicated supplies, and to organise in-the-community vaccination programs was again the fault of the Commonwealth, including, once Lieutenant General John Frewen took over as coordinator-general, the task force he led. It has become a priority in recent weeks only because the virus actually arrived in Aboriginal communities in central and western NSW.

One could be forgiven, indeed, for thinking that the coordinator-general’s task force quickly became consumed by the intense Commonwealth-state vaccination politics. Supplies, at least notionally allocated to priority areas and equitably among and around states, were shuffled from one politically sensitive zone to another, with more regard to the political needs of the prime minister and favoured premiers (particularly Gladys Berejiklian) than to health priorities, including Indigenous programs.

Sometimes, the PM’s own state got the lion’s share of spot purchases on international markets; at other times, NSW seems to have “borrowed” stocks from regional areas of its own state (including Indigenous allocations) to stamp out instant bushfires in Sydney. Frewen cannot be blamed for the partitioning of parts of Sydney, while leaving well-heeled middle-class areas relatively unconstrained. But he appears to have become a fellow slave to a save-Sydney strategy that played havoc with state or national equity. Perhaps he is a simple servant of government policy, were it not for the independence given him by his contract.

The severity of the present outbreak in NSW is generally attributed to the reluctance of the premier to act with hard lockdowns once Covid was out in the community, to delays and weak measures. It took Scott Morrison a while to admit that the hard-lockdown tactics for which he and his Victorian ministers had attacked Andrews were the appropriate responses to flare-ups.

Morrison heavily invested in Berejiklian’s failures

His own eagerness to focus on re-opening the economy gave initial comfort to Berejiklian’s half-hearted approach. His willingness to divert resources to his own state has made other premiers particularly resentful of NSW boasting that it now leads in vaccination statistics. First, it has been supply shortages which have been mostly responsible for the slow progress of mass immunisation programs. In some areas, however, the problem has been exacerbated by diversions of vaccines. These, the premiers would insist, are at Morrison’s door, not the fault of the states and territories. Meanwhile, many areas that ran strong containment programs, such as South Australia, Western Australia, the NT, Queensland and Tasmania have been successful in keeping the disease at bay, even in the face of loud criticism from Morrison.

Strictly speaking Morrison is not running for office against Daniel Andrews, Annastacia Palaszczuk or Mark McGowan. He is running against Anthony Albanese, who, while having a general critique of Morrison’s failures in relation to the pandemic has not taken a strong position on border closures or the re-opening of the economy. But the enduring resentments make it certain that the premiers will enter the federal election campaign, pitching their pandemic popularity against the Morrison record, to some effect. How much more difficult in that Victoria, Queensland and WA are the likely key states.

It looked at one stage as if Morrison was considering going early, say in late October or November, and wanted to position himself as the saviour of Australia, the man who revived the economy, and the champion now of “freedom”, as represented by opening the states and the nation to renewed air flights. Time is not on his side. Perhaps he will no longer have vaccine supply problems by October, and perhaps he can expect that all in the population who want vaccination will have had it by Christmas, including people down to the age of 12. With whatever overall rate of vaccination – 70%, or as now looks likely 80% – of those aged 12 or more, it is unlikely to be completed by the first week of December.

Morrison, and business, are busy in seeking to create constituencies for a re-opening as soon as possible. There is suddenly a deep concern about the real impact on mental health of the shutdowns. There’s an impression of deep weariness of lockdowns, and an attempt to persuade that the continuing sacrifices are no longer worth it. This was something of which News Corp satisfied itself 15 months ago, along with state politicians of the time. They thought they were surfing a popular wave. The astonishing thing was how out of touch with real public opinion they were. Berejiklian may have exhausted popular credit, but the yearning is more to be rid of her than her sham toughness.

An election set for March or April may be with a more open economy, but, as likely as not, against a backdrop of continuing lockdowns in parts of Sydney, NSW and Melbourne. Just as dangerous, from Morrison’s point of view, will be the scope that the “liberation” – if liberation it is – will give for revived debates about climate change, about incredible profligacy and incompetence by Josh Frydenberg in massive handouts to business without any conditions, and about the integrity of government. One must never underestimate the capacity of Labor to blow it – look at the last election – but I haven’t seen many eagles soaring for Morrison.

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Australia’s government scares me more than the Saudi government

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 08/09/2021 - 4:54am in

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I left Saudi Arabia, one of the world’s most oppressive regimes. But the Australian government’s recent draconian rules remind me so much of home.

When I was a child, I was told that the Saudi government was protecting us from ever-present threats. I was told that the government has ears everywhere through a network of citizen informants. Anyone around us could be an informant. The imam, the school teacher, the work colleague, even my own family and friends – anyone.

The threats were varied. The threat of Western ideas was one. The threat of impure thoughts was another. As a woman, I was told every day that the biggest threat to moral purity was actually me. Because I was a woman.

When you live under a dictatorship, there is no such thing as “due process”. Those with power (or connections to power) make the rules, in the moment, and as it suits them. This is what is meant by “unchecked power”.

Last week, the Australian government created its own latest version of unchecked power, only this time it’s facilitated by technology, when it passed a law called the the Surveillance Legislation Amendment (Identify and Disrupt) Bill 2020.

You probably haven’t heard of it. They didn’t want you to. The media was suspiciously quiet.

This law now allows the Australian Federal Police (and others) to access any online account you have. They can see, modify, even delete your emails, your social media, and any online account if it’s considered a “threat”. They can post on your account pretending to be you. But it’s not just you – everything your kids do online is now at their fingertips. Every private exchange with your therapist, every private message, everything that lives on your digital devices is at their fingertips.

You’ll never know if they access that. And if you try to prevent them (or the companies hosting the platforms of your online accounts try to prevent them) they can face up to 10 years in jail.

Are you shocked? You should be.

Getting the law through parliament required amendments to 10 other Acts, including the Human Rights Act and the Privacy Act. Let that sink in for a minute. When a government needs to amend what makes a “human right” or “privacy right” in order for it to achieve its  goals, we should be very, very concerned.

And if you think: “But I have nothing to hide. I’ve done nothing illegal. Why should I worry?”

Well for a start, we all make mistakes, especially when we’re young. Looked up things online that we later regretted seeing, said stupid things, held different opinions. Now the “mistakes of youth” are part of your child’s permanent record with the government.

And besides – are you sure you’ve never done anything illegal? This year we’ve seen the government legislate that visiting your family is illegal. “It’s a pandemic,” they said. “Of course we should have control over where you go and who you see.” Co-operation during a pandemic is one thing. Creating lasting powers that give government control over who you can and can’t see is a scary step that is harsher than what I even saw in Saudi Arabia.

You are also entitled to privacy rights. When we lose privacy, we lose part of ourselves that is in the making. We become so scared to look up our unpopular opinions and views, even privately. Losing privacy means self-censoring out of fear of “who is listening”.

Using a crisis as an excuse to increase powers is a standard tactic in the playbook of dictators. Most come to hold limitless power under the guise of “protecting society” – from foreign invaders, from terrorists, or from viruses. The crisis makes the increase in powers acceptable, even welcome. So welcome, that we don’t even realise what we’ve lost.

A friend once asked me what it’s like to live under a dictatorship. The truth is, we didn’t realise we were oppressed. We just accepted that the government protected us, and anyone who disagreed was ungrateful. It wasn’t until I first visited the EU that I realised what was missing.

And now I see Australians sitting idly by while their government increases their unchecked powers, not realising what’s being taken away.

I see crowds of police preventing more than two people from gathering – and especially preventing and beating protesters that challenge government powers.

I see the military on the streets to enforce these pandemic rules.

I see people not even allowed to leave the country without permission.

And it scares me, I feel I have transferred back to the country that I have left.

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Heather Bresch, Joe Manchin's Daughter, Played Direct Part in EpiPen Price Inflation Scandal

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 08/09/2021 - 2:48am in

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Politics

Heather Bresch, the former president and CEO of the drugmaker Mylan, worked directly with the CEO of Pfizer to keep prices of the company’s EpiPen product artificially high, according to new documents released as part of an ongoing lawsuit.

The documents also show Bresch approving a scheme to force customers, captured by the company’s monopoly, to purchase two EpiPens at once, regardless of medical need. The EpiPen is an auto-injectable device that injects epinephrine into the body and can be the difference between life or death for a person suffering a severe allergic reaction.

The documents were released as part of an ongoing antitrust suit in federal court. In June, Judge Daniel Crabtree issued a summary judgment partially siding with Mylan and partially siding with the plaintiffs, meaning the case goes on. Late last week, the judge unsealed some of the documents underlying the plaintiffs’ case.

Among the documents is an email sent on behalf of Bresch, who is the daughter of Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., to her counterpart at Pfizer, then-CEO Ian Read. In the email, sent in January 2011, Bresch confirms a previous discussion with Read in which she says that the two agreed that as part of a deal, Pfizer would disinvest from its EpiPen competitor, Adrenaclick. Eliminating its main competitor would then allow Mylan to continue raising its prices.

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Email on behalf of Heather Bresch.

Image: Federal Courts

In 2007, when Mylan acquired rights to market the drug from Merck (by buying its specialty pharmaceuticals subsidiary Dey), a two-pack cost less than $100, a tiny fraction of what it costs today. The result of the deal with Merck was that Mylan manufactured part of the EpiPen delivery system, but not the medication itself, while owning the brand name and the right to distribute the whole product. The drug itself was produced by King Pharmaceuticals, which manufactured it exclusively for Mylan.

King in 2010 announced it would be purchased by Pfizer, which was licensed to sell Adrenaclick, an EpiPen competitor, the previous year. The deal between Pfizer and Mylan led the former to withdraw its competitor from the market and partner with Mylan on Epipen, locking down a monopoly. Following the deal with Pfizer, Mylan drove the price above $600 within five years. Meanwhile, Gayle Manchin, Bresch’s mother, lobbied states to require schools to stock epinephrine as the head of the National Association of State Boards of Education. Gayle Manchin was recently confirmed to serve as co-chair of the federal Appalachian Regional Commission, a government agency tasked with promoting economic development across the region’s 13 states.

Cutting a deal with Pfizer to divest from its competitor may be brazen enough, but to memorialize the agreement in an email produces a startling window into the ways in which corporate executives are able to manipulate markets.

The email, sent on behalf of Bresch by her assistant, includes the subject line “Our discussion.”

I’m sending you this email as a reminder that you were to send me confirmation relative to our discussion regarding EpiPen. In that discussion, you indicated that you would be divesting your Adrenaclick product once the Pfizer/King deal closes. I understand your tender offer is closing today, so I would appreciate receiving your response as soon as possible.

Bresch did not respond to a request for comment, but Mylan has consistently said that it has done nothing wrong in how it sets the price of its EpiPens. In 2016, Bresch testified before Congress about the price increases and expressed some limited regret that some customers had paid the full list price, while noting that many others paid less due to agreements with insurance companies and pharmacy benefit managers. “Looking back, I wish we had better anticipated the magnitude and acceleration of the rising financial issues for a growing minority of patients who may have ended up paying the full price or more,” Bresch said. “We never intended this.”

Amid news of the King acquisition, Mylan, according to market analyst reports at the time, was worried that Pfizer would push ahead with its generic version and also cut Mylan out of the market. In 2010, EpiPen was dominant, controlling 91 percent of the worldwide market and 96 percent of the U.S. market, according to its filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, but Adrenaclick was climbing quickly in market share.

A Mylan deal with Pfizer would enrich both companies: By divesting from Adrenaclick and continuing to allow Mylan to sell the EpiPen at inflated prices, both firms would split the profits from the more expensive version, allowing Pfizer to earn more than if it drove down prices with its cheaper version.

The two schemes were separate but mutually reinforcing.

With the monopoly locked down, Mylan made its next move, a plan to eliminate its single-pack EpiPen in the United States and instead require customers to purchase two pens at once. The monopoly had created space for the new scheme, and the new scheme created extra revenue that Mylan split with Pfizer — thus entrenching the monopoly and warding off generics — and also set aside to dole out as rebates to third parties who might complain, according to the internal correspondence. The two schemes were separate but mutually reinforcing.

The idea to eliminate the single pack was batted around internally in late 2010 and early 2011, according to emails produced as part of the suit. Mylan executive Bruce Foster proposed the idea as a way to “double revenue” and create a “strong potential generic defense.” By January 2011, it had become dubbed “Project X2” or “Project Times Two,” and executives spent the next several months executing it.

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PowerPoint slide explaining Project X2.

Image: Federal Courts

The company’s executives cited no medical justification as the purpose for the change at the outset of the project and later sought to generate one.

Ivona Kopanja, an associate project manager in Mylan’s marketing and sales operations division, wrote to two other employees in March 2011: “Senior management is having a meeting with Heather April 1 and wanted to provide her with an update on Project X2. I know that you were working on creating a ‘medical’ rationale for Project X2? I’m pulling a slide deck together that will be used. Would you be able to forward me the information I should include for the rationale (and the way it should be worded)?”

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Email seeking medical rationale for Project X2.

Image: Federal Courts

In May, the company’s medical professionals raised concerns that the plan did not align with medical guidance, according to an email COO Lloyd Sanders sent to Bresch. But after Bresch “learned that the co-pay that ‘most’ patients pay is the same for a single as it is for a two-pack, she became VERY motivated to pull the singles,” according to an email from Sanders that was not released publicly but quoted by the judge in the recent opinion.

The company also conducted market research and concluded that since it was a matter of life and death, customers would suck it up and buy two pens if that was the only choice. Marketing material disclosed as part of the lawsuit includes a number of quotes from caregivers, physicians, and others making that point.

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Excerpted from marketing research, a quote from a caregiver.

Image: Federal Courts

By May, the emails indicate, Mylan had begun pitching Pfizer on the project, suggesting that it could become a billion-dollar brand if done right. Bresch continued pushing the idea through June, and in July, the two companies met. “The team met with Pfizer,” wrote Sanders, “they are completely on board.”

Mylan executives told Pfizer that the scheme would likely succeed because EpiPen revenue was “‘below the radar’ for most managed care organizations,” according to an email released as part of the judge’s recent order. The judge’s order also quotes from Bresch’s deposition, in which she said Mylan didn’t “persuade … Pfizer on anything,” and called the latter company a “partner in the product.”

In August 2011, the EpiPen single pack was eliminated in the U.S., as the executives watched for public blowback. Mylan concluded there was no “need to call/write FDA,” as “it’s not necessary and will raise more questions than we have answers,” according to an email quoted in the order.

On August 20, 2011, Pfizer announced it was discontinuing its EpiPen competitor. A note from a Needham & Company analyst announcing the news observed that Adrenaclick “recently hit a peak share of 10 percent of the epinephrine market,” cutting into EpiPen’s dominance from a year earlier, when all competitors had been at just 4 percent. Pfizer executives forwarded the note with the subject line “One Less Risk to Worry About; EpiPen Wannbe [sic] from Greenstone Discontinued,” referring to the division of Pfizer that owned Adrenaclick. The email was sent around by Joanne Van Deusen, director of business operations for Pfizer, according to correspondence unsealed as part of the suit.

James Cannon, vice president for generic business alliances for Greenstone, asked an assistant to send the note on to “Dennis.” The assistant forwarded it to Dennis O’Brien. O’Brien had previously been president of King Pharmaceuticals Canada and was by then serving as Meridian Medical Technologies, the division of Pfizer that partnered with Mylan to produce the EpiPen. O’Brien subsequently forwarded the news to Tom Handel, senior vice president for commercial pharmaceuticals at Meridian.

By October, Mylan moved to raise prices. “Harry, Ron, Joe, Mike, and I are recommending a price increase now for EpiPen. The original plan was to increase in Dec or Jan assuming there was no backlash from Project X2 at payers. Project X2 implementation has been w/o ANY issues. Last price increase was May 2011. No push back on that either,” Sanders, the COO, wrote to Bresch. “The incremental sales … would be $5.5M – $6.0M and it all drops to the bottom line.” The price surged steadily in the years that followed.

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Email recommending price hike.

Image: Federal Courts

Pfizer, while denying wrongdoing, has since settled a class-action suit for price fixing and will pay $345 million over the company’s practices related to the EpiPen market. A suit against Mylan, which also denies wrongdoing, is ongoing, and Bresch has faced scrutiny in the past for the company’s pricing of the lifesaving drug. In 2019, Mylan officially merged with Pfizer’s Upjohn unit to form a new company, Viatris, and Bresch began the process of stepping down, taking with her a $37.6 million exit package. She retired from Mylan in December 2020.

Bresch had been named chief operating officer of Mylan in October 2007, a promotion that immediately sparked a scandal when the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that her claim of having a master’s degree in business administration from West Virginia University was false. Bresch’s father Manchin was the state’s governor at the time, and the school soon corrected the paper, saying that she had indeed obtained the degree. A subsequent investigation concluded that the initial answer had been right: Bresch had been far short of a degree, and university administrators fabricated grades to get her over the line, leading to multiple resignations from the university’s senior leadership. Manchin was elected to the Senate in 2012.

Manchin last week urged Democrats to take a “strategic pause” in consideration of the party’s $3.5 trillion reconciliation package, the centerpiece of the Biden agenda. A key component of the bill would lower drug prices by allowing Medicare to negotiate directly with pharmaceutical companies. That market power would save the government and patients billions over the next decade, but perhaps even more importantly, it would give the government greater insight into how pharmaceutical executives set prices. The change could reveal the type of collusion that keeps those rates high, exposing companies to risk of regulation or prosecution.

The post Heather Bresch, Joe Manchin’s Daughter, Played Direct Part in EpiPen Price Inflation Scandal appeared first on The Intercept.

Handing Power Back to the Vigilantes

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 07/09/2021 - 10:00pm in

Photo credit: Rena Schild / Shutterstock.com _____ The new anti-abortion law in Texas is not just about abortion; it is...

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The government has borrowed £26 billion less this financial year than it forecast in March. So what is the £10 billion NIC increase all about?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 07/09/2021 - 8:08pm in

Government 'borrowing' (or money creation as I would prefer to think of it) from April to July this year amounted to £78 billion against an estimate published in March 0f £104 billion, as this chart from the Office for National Statistics shows:

Thye planned £104 billion was apparently sustainable. That's hardly surprising: the deficit was covered by the Bank of England quantitative easing programme and did not really increase national debt at all in that case.

The actual borrowing is £26 billion less than that.

But we apparently require £10 billion if the NHS is going to have the funding it needs.

As is readily apparent, there is no need for that £10 billion tax increase. It is simply, not required. The cost of the NHS funding can be absorbed within existing budgets without detriment arising.

So what is this all about?

Sunak’s NIC rise is not just a disaster for most people, it’s a disaster for the whole idea of devolved government as well

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 07/09/2021 - 4:31pm in

Unless the government briefing machine has gone very wrong we are going to see the announcement of 1.25% increases in both employer’s and employee’s national insurance contributions across the whole of the UK today. The funds are to be used to pay for increased spending by Westminster on the NHS, with the plan being focussed entirely on need in England. As yet no indication has been given as to how the devolved governments will get their fair share of these funds. I presume something will be done.

However, what I suggest is that whatever that ‘something that will be done’ might be it will not be enough to overcome the failings in this aspect of the decision being made. It is simply unacceptable that a decision made by England to address a crisis in a service that is managed and funded differently in each of the countries of the UK be imposed on the devolved countries.

Either those countries have devolved health care and associated budget responsibility, or they do not. If they do, that requires that they have tax autonomy. If they actually don’t now have that responsibility, as this decision implies, despite the legal representation that they do then the time for this type of devolved government has come to an end because it is no longer working.

Sunak’s wish to undertake class warfare against those on low pay when there is literally no need at this moment to fund an increase in NHS spending, let alone do so in just about the worst possible way, only very slightly disguises the naked aggression towards Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland that is also an integral part of the modern Tory psyche.

Unfortunately for Sunak, his time has come at a moment when decades of deceit as to the intent of Tory politics has come to an end. Tory politics has not changed since the 80s. It has always been about English elite exceptionalism, contempt for most people and a desire to shift wealth ever upwards within society. However, from 1990 until the Cameron era there was an attempt to disguise that. But then the gloves came off, and now the bare-knuckles are apparent.

What is now happening is that the reality of Tory contempt is becoming apparent. It’s not that they do not care. It’s what they care about comes at considerable cost to most people in this country. And the consequences of that are clear. People will literally pay an unnecessary price in terms of additional tax just as they are being punished in so many other ways by the government and its failed policies. And in politics the compromises that have made the cooperation that underpins devolved government are being exposed, with the result that those systems will begin to fail.

For people in England one has to hope the ballot box will provide a chance to remove this government.

In Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland the choice is going to be even more significant. Why they should wish to be treated as the last English colonies for any longer is hard to understand. The reasons for independence are growing.

I am aware that the only reason that we are getting an increase in national insurance is that this tax increase was the one that worked with focus groups. Let’s not pretend that at some levels there was any more analysis behind this decision than that. But the fact that having got this result the alarm bells did not go off in the supposedly politically astute minds of the ministers responsible is what is really telling. Their DNA is now so indifferent to the lot of those on normal earnings, and so contemptuous of devolved government and the nations that they represent, that nothing told those ministers they were about to make a major mistake that could be profoundly politically costly. Just as they no longer want Covid testing data because it might indicate a problem, so they seemingly disconnected their political alarm bells on this one to satisfy the expediency of the moment. Their indifference has been exposed.

I have no idea if what is planned today will be the tipping point that reveals Tory thinking as the facade for abuse that it really is, but it might be. And that is the only silver lining I can find in all this. Because what is happening is disastrous at every possible level.

The Two Satans of Afghanistan – And Jimmy Carter’s Lips Are Sealed

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 07/09/2021 - 3:41pm in

How the Carter Administration nudged the USSR into its Afghanistan mire.

New Details Emerge About Coronavirus Research at Chinese Lab

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 07/09/2021 - 11:06am in

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Newly released documents provide details of U.S.-funded research on several types of coronaviruses at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China. The Intercept has obtained more than 900 pages of documents detailing the work of EcoHealth Alliance, a U.S.-based health organization that used federal money to fund bat coronavirus research at the Chinese laboratory. The trove of documents includes two previously unpublished grant proposals that were funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, as well as project updates relating to EcoHealth Alliance’s research, which has been scrutinized amid increased interest in the origins of the pandemic.

The documents were released in connection with ongoing Freedom of Information Act litigation by The Intercept against the National Institutes of Health. The Intercept is making the full documents available to the public.

“This is a road map to the high-risk research that could have led to the current pandemic,” said Gary Ruskin, executive director of U.S. Right To Know, a group that has been investigating the origins of Covid-19.

One of the grants, titled “Understanding the Risk of Bat Coronavirus Emergence,” outlines an ambitious effort led by EcoHealth Alliance President Peter Daszak to screen thousands of bat samples for novel coronaviruses. The research also involved screening people who work with live animals. The documents contain several critical details about the research in Wuhan, including the fact that key experimental work with humanized mice was conducted at a biosafety level 3 lab at Wuhan University Center for Animal Experiment — and not at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, as was previously assumed. The documents raise additional questions about the theory that the pandemic may have begun in a lab accident, an idea that Daszak has aggressively dismissed.

The bat coronavirus grant provided EcoHealth Alliance with a total of $3.1 million, including $599,000 that the Wuhan Institute of Virology used in part to identify and alter bat coronaviruses likely to infect humans. Even before the pandemic, many scientists were concerned about the potential dangers associated with such experiments. The grant proposal acknowledges some of those dangers: “Fieldwork involves the highest risk of exposure to SARS or other CoVs, while working in caves with high bat density overhead and the potential for fecal dust to be inhaled.”

Alina Chan, a molecular biologist at the Broad Institute, said the documents show that EcoHealth Alliance has reason to take the lab-leak theory seriously. “In this proposal, they actually point out that they know how risky this work is. They keep talking about people potentially getting bitten — and they kept records of everyone who got bitten,” Chan said. “Does EcoHealth have those records? And if not, how can they possibly rule out a research-related accident?”

According to Richard Ebright, a molecular biologist at Rutgers University, the documents contain critical information about the research done in Wuhan, including about the creation of novel viruses. “The viruses they constructed were tested for their ability to infect mice that were engineered to display human type receptors on their cell,” Ebright wrote to The Intercept after reviewing the documents. Ebright also said the documents make it clear that two different types of novel coronaviruses were able to infect humanized mice. “While they were working on SARS-related coronavirus, they were carrying out a parallel project at the same time on MERS-related coronavirus,” Ebright said, referring to the virus that causes Middle East Respiratory Syndrome.

Asked about the grant materials, Robert Kessler, communications manager at EcoHealth Alliance, said, “We applied for grants to conduct research. The relevant agencies deemed that to be important research, and thus funded it. So I don’t know that there’s a whole lot to say.”

The grant was initially awarded for a five-year period — from 2014 to 2019. Funding was renewed in 2019 but suspended by the Trump administration in April 2020.

The closest relative of SARS-CoV-2, which causes Covid-19, is a virus found in bats, making the animals a focal point for efforts to understand the origins of the pandemic. Exactly how the virus jumped to humans is the subject of heated debate. Many scientists believe that it was a natural spillover, meaning that the virus passed to humans in a setting such as a wet market or rural area where humans and animals are in close contact. Biosafety experts and internet sleuths who suspect a lab origin, meanwhile, have spent more than a year poring over publicly available information and obscure scientific publications looking for answers. In the past few months, leading scientists have also called for a deeper investigation of the pandemic’s origins, as has President Joe Biden, who in May ordered the intelligence community to study the issue. On August 27, Biden announced that the intelligence inquiry was inconclusive.

Biden blamed China for failing to release critical data, but the U.S. government has also been slow to release information. The Intercept initially requested the proposals in September 2020.

“I wish that this document had been released in early 2020,” said Chan, who has called for an investigation of the lab-leak origin theory. “It would have changed things massively, just to have all of the information in one place, immediately transparent, in a credible document that was submitted by EcoHealth Alliance.”

The second grant, “Understanding Risk of Zoonotic Virus Emergence in Emerging Infectious Disease Hotspots of Southeast Asia,” was awarded in August 2020 and extends through 2025. The proposal, written in 2019, often seems prescient, focusing on scaling up and deploying resources in Asia in case of an outbreak of an “emergent infectious disease” and referring to Asia as “this hottest of the EID hotspots.”

Documents published with this article:

Understanding the Risk of Bat Coronavirus Emergence

Understanding Risk of Zoonotic Virus Emergence in Emerging Infectious Disease Hotspots of Southeast Asia

The post New Details Emerge About Coronavirus Research at Chinese Lab appeared first on The Intercept.

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