Thursday, February 27, 2020

Profits before Coronavirus

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar—a former pharmaceutical executive—repeatedly refused during House testimony to guarantee that any coronavirus vaccine or treatment developed with taxpayer money will be affordable for all in the U.S., not just the rich.

During testimony before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Azar was pressed multiple times to vow that vaccines and treatments for the coronavirus will be priced fairly and made affordable for all U.S. households.

"We would want to ensure that we'd work to make it affordable," Azar told Rep. Jan Schakowsky, "but we can't control that price because we need the private sector to invest."

Schakowsky tweeted following the hearing that she gave Azar "THREE chances to assure us that any coronavirus vaccines or treatments developed with U.S. taxpayer dollars will be affordable and accessible to everyone and he flat out refused to do so."

"He's giving Big Pharma a blank check to monopolize them instead," added Schakowsky.

Progressive advocacy group Social Security Works said that "this is what happens when you put a Big Pharma CEO who doubled the price of insulin in charge of regulating Big Pharma," referring to Azar's tenure at Eli Lilly. "Pharma and their friends in the Trump admin don't care how many people die," the group wrote, "as long as they get to make a profit."

London Public meeting (29/2)

“What should socialists do now: Socialist principles and policy”

Saturday 29 February, 2.00 p.m.

Venue: Friends Meeting House, 
20 Nigel Playfair Rd (off King St, at Town Hall), 
London W6 9JF 
(nearest tubes: Hammersmith or Ravenscourt Park)

Migrant Misery = Torture

The trauma Donald Trump’s administration caused to young children and parents separated at the US-Mexico border constitutes torture, according to the group Physicians for Human Rights (PHR). 

Most met the criteria for at least one mental health condition, including post-traumatic stress disorder, major depressive disorder or generalized anxiety disorder “consistent with, and likely linked to, the trauma of family separation”, according to the report. Not only did the brutal family separation policy create trauma, it was intensified by the families’ previous exposure to violence on their journey to the US and in their home countries of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.
The report co-author Dr Ranit Mishori, senior medical adviser at PHR, told the Guardian, “It is beyond shocking that this could happen in the United States, by Americans, at the instruction and direct intention of US government officials.”

Dr Stuart Lustig, a California-based psychiatrist and long-time volunteer said: “Part of the work is simply building trust in humanity again.”

Divide and Rule in India

Hindu-Muslim confrontations have begun to occur with sickening regularity in parts of India where the two communities co-exist. Unrest across India began in December with the passing of a law that makes non-Muslims from some neighbouring nations eligible for fast-tracked citizenship - a move many Muslims say is discriminatory and marks a break from India's secular traditions. Persecuted religious minorities including from Hindu, Sikh, or Christian communities are eligible for citizenship, but those from Islam do not enjoy all the same advantages. 

Modi has pursued a Hindu-first agenda that has emboldened his followers, who account for about 80 percent of the population, and left India's 180 million Muslims reeling. In August, it stripped Kashmir, India's only Muslim-majority state, of its special status, a move which Modi defended as a way of integrating the region with the rest of the country. In November, the Supreme Court handed Hindu groups control of a contested site in the city of Ayodhya that paves the way for a temple to be built on a site where a mosque once stood. 

From being Hindu versus Muslim, they have become Hindu versus Christian, Hindu versus Sikh, upper-caste Hindu versus lower-caste Hindu. It is just about everyone against everybody. The root cause of spreading endemic violence is economic: religious linguistic and ethnic differences provide the excuse and motivation to indulge in it. There is not enough jobs available. There are always economic and social divisions within society to be exploited by those more rich and powerful, particularly when the existing order is threatened. Religious perceptions in any class-divided society are not neutral, but a tool in the hands of the dominant class in its struggle to maintain its control over economic surplus. Religious and all manner of spurious ideological theories are contrived by the ruling class or its representatives in the intellectual community and church organisations to keep the downtrodden perpetually entrapped in the vicious circle of exploitation.

To create a good slave you must first kill his pride, his self-respect, his notion of himself as an ordinary equal human being. The slave's body is needed - the man's for labour, the woman's for labour and abuse; but to control the body the inner spark which ignites anger must be crushed. There are many weapons in the arsenal, both psychological and physical  but the chief one is dramatically simple: hunger. Oppress by destitution. Keep a people on the permanent edge of want. And the last stage of hunger - despair. There is no hope left. 

The real trick is to destroy the confidence of a people: make them believe the caricatures you have created about them. The strength of the hoax lies, of course, in the fact that it is constructed on a malicious distortion of reality to give it a facade of believability. 

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

UK Inequality

The gap between the best and worst paid people in Britain is greater than previously thought, according to revised government figures for income inequality levels across the country. The new figures dispel arguments made by the Conservatives that the gap between rich and poor – on official measurements of income inequality – has narrowed since the party entered power in 2010. Surveys do not always fully capture the incomes of the richest families, particularly those among the top 1%.

The   Office for National Statistics said the UK’s Gini coefficient – the most common international measurement of inequality which uses a score of 0-100%, whereby 100% would indicate one person controlling everything – should have been 34.5% in the financial year ending in 2018, rather than 32.5% as official records show.

It said the score would have been around 1.9 percentage points higher on average in the years between 2002 and 2018 if the latest revisions had been taken into account. Britain has one of the highest Gini scores for income inequality in the western world, after the divide between rich and poor ballooned in the late 1970s and early 1980s. It has remained relatively unchanged with a score in the mid-30s since the early 1990s.
According to the fresh analysis, income inequality rose sharply in the years up to the financial crisis, fell during the economic collapse, and has been broadly flat since.

It said the average income of the top 10% rose by 28.5% between 2001-02 and 2007-08. As the banking collapse damaged the earnings of the highest paid, incomes for the group which is likely to include bankers and highly paid professionals fell by 20.8% by the end of 2012-13. Before the revisions, official figures had shown little change over the period.

Coronavirus exposes the divide between China's rich and poor

The coronavirus crisis has come to clearly demonstrate the impact of these inequalities on public health and access to services. Experts warn low- and middle-income Chinese will suffer the most as the epidemic continues.

"Income disparity certainly makes a lot of difference in crisis-stricken China, and Hubei in particular," Kent Deng, a professor of economic history at the London School of Economics and Political Science, told DW.

The cost of food, medicines and supplies have peaked since the outbreak, but "those with a deep pocket will be able to maintain their lifestyle regardless," Deng said, adding that lower and middle classes "will become impoverished this time next year" once their savings have dried up.

According to the economist, China's "well-to-do class" counts for around 50 million in a total population of 1.4 billion. "The vast majority living hand to mouth cannot possibly afford the outbreak of the new virus," he warned.
Professor Steve Tsang, director of the SOAS China Institute in London, said that the "rich in Wuhan enjoy much better conditions with the lockdown in place."

For those who can afford it, there is home delivery available of meals, groceries, and certain medicines in quarantined cities like Wuhan. Delivery drivers wearing face masks deliver anything imaginable to people's homes — from face masks to margaritas. Alongside doctors and nurses, delivery workers have also been hailed as "heroes" by many in China for their hard work. They are also praised for risking their own health to keep the virus from spreading by helping others stay at home.

However, food delivery drivers or small shop workers cannot stop working because they lack savings or social support. Many delivery drivers are also stigmatized as potential carriers of the coronavirus. White-collar professionals can afford to stay home and often have sufficient savings that allow them to halt work for a period of time. Many white-collar jobs can also be done remotely.

"Many workers are employed informally, which makes it impossible to receive social security protection such as unemployment insurance … it's difficult for them to be out of work and they are more vulnerable to catching the virus," said Christina Maags, a lecturer in Chinese politics at London's SOAS China Institute.

She added that China's underdeveloped welfare state exacerbates inequalities as low-income workers are not protected by a social safety net.

According to Fei Yan, an associate professor at Beijing's Tsinghua University, lower-income Chinese living in cities are also vulnerable to overcrowding and lack of healthcare options. For example, in smaller houses and apartments, it is more difficult to separate sick and healthy family members. 
"Social status is highly relevant to health, as well as access to information and network support," said Yan, adding that it is important for China to establish a more comprehensive social welfare system to serve the country's "underprivileged social groups."
Travel has also become a right of the rich in China. Since the outbreak, travel restrictions have been imposed that will keep the average person from moving. But those who know the right people can sometimes still get around.
"When people have received approval to travel abroad, or were able to buy plane tickets, this is commonly not only the result of being able to pay, but also of knowing the right people," said Maags, adding that China's wealthy were more likely to have political connections which "enable them to circumvent restrictions others face, especially during a health crisis."
Personalized networks of power in China are known as "Guanxi," and in China money and connections go hand in hand.
"Cases in which high-income people have managed to escape abroad demonstrate the pervasiveness of corruption in China, where your 'guanxi' networks are equally as important as the money you have," said Maags.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Life Expectancy Declines

Life expectancy among women living in the poorest communities in England has declined since 2011, says a report warning of growing health inequalities by Prof Sir Michael Marmot, one of the country's leading experts on health inequalities. It comes 10 years after he first published data on the growing gap between rich and poor, and between north and south, in England. 
Overall, life expectancy growth has stalled over the past decade - for the first time in 100 years. This report is concerned with England, but in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland the damage to health and wellbeing is similarly unprecedented. Prof Marmot said, "If health has stopped improving, that means society has stopped improving."

Real cuts to people’s incomes are damaging the nation’s health for the long term. Benefit cuts that push single mothers into poorly-paid, part-time jobs – in which they have to juggle families and work– may take their toll. Not only are lifespans stalling, but people are living for more years in poor health. Austerity has taken its toll over the last 10 years in all of these areas, says Marmot in a foreword to the report. “From rising child poverty and the closure of children’s centres, to declines in education funding, an increase in precarious work and zero hours contracts, to a housing affordability crisis and a rise in homelessness, to people with insufficient money to lead a healthy life and resorting to food banks in large numbers, to ignored communities with poor conditions and little reason for hope…Austerity will cast a long shadow over the lives of the children born and growing up under its effects.”
The largest decreases were seen in the most deprived areas of north-east England, while the biggest increases were in the richest parts of London. Similar trends can be seen right across the UK.
The report highlights:
  • stalling life expectancy for men and women in England since 2010
  • the more deprived the area, the shorter the life expectancy
  • among women in the poorest 10% of areas, life expectancy fell between 2010-12 and 2016-18
  • people in poorer areas spend more of their lives in ill health than those in affluent areas
  • the amount of time people spend in poor health has gone up across England since 2010
  • cuts in funding in deprived areas and areas outside London were larger and affected those areas more
The report, from the Institute of Health Equity, maintains the widening health inequalities and deteriorating health which have marked the last decade cannot just be put down to very cold winters, flu, or problems with the NHS or social care. Instead, it points the finger at "social and economic conditions, many of which have shown increased inequalities".
Prof Marmot said similar trends can be seen right across the UK, where the slow-down in life expectancy is more obvious than in most European and other high-income countries, apart from the US. The government must tackle health inequalities "as a matter of urgency" and bring the level of deprived areas in the north up to the level of good health enjoyed by people living in London and the south, the report says. “You talk to local authority after local authority around the country, and they say, ‘We can’t do any more.’ We are closing youth centres, we’re closing Sure Start children’s centres and we are closing libraries, and parks and recreation centres. We can scarcely do what we have to do to fulfil our statutory duty,” said Marmot.

The president of the Royal College of Physicians, Prof Andrew Goddard, said the review painted “a stark picture”.

Food Insecurity in Venezuela

One of every three people in Venezuela is struggling to put enough food on the table to meet minimum nutrition requirements.

A total of 9.3 million people – roughly a third of the population – are moderately or severely food insecure, said the study, which was conducted at the invitation of the Venezuelan government. Food insecurity is defined as an individual being unable to meet basic dietary needs.

The study describes food insecurity as a nationwide concern but even in more prosperous regions one in five people are estimated to be food insecure.
74% of families have adopted “food-related coping strategies”, such as reducing the variety and quality of food they eat. Sixty percent of households reported cutting portion sizes in meals, 33% said they had accepted food as payment for work and 20% reported selling family assets to cover basic needs.

The issue appears to be one that is less about the availability of food and more about the difficulty in obtaining it. Seven in 10 reported that food could always be found but said it is difficult to purchase because of high prices. Thirty-seven percent reported they had lost their job or business as a result of Venezuela’s severe economic contraction.

The survey also looked at interruptions in access to electricity and water, finding that four in 10 households experience daily power cuts. Four in 10 also reported recurrent interruptions in water service, further complicating daily life.

Noting that the survey was carried out between July and September, Carolina Fernández, a Venezuelan rights advocate, said she believed the situation had deteriorated even more. While it was once possible for many families to survive off remittances sent by relatives abroad, she said, that has become more difficult as much of the economy is dollarized and prices rise.

Fernández said food insecurity is likely to have an enduring impact on a generation of young Venezuelans going hungry during formative years.

“We’re talking about children who are going to have long-term problems because they’re not eating adequately,” she said.

Monday, February 24, 2020

India and the US - The Armament Deal

Trump and Modi announced the two countries were finalizing a $3 billion arms deal. 

"I believe the United States should be India's premier defense partner," said Trump, "and that's the way it's working out."

Trump spoke during an event at Sardar Patel Stadium in Gujarat state's Ahmedabad city  to a crowd of Modi loyalists estimated at around 100,000, telling the attendees that the military partnership between the U.S. and India was strong and that his administration "looks forward to providing India with some of the best and most feared military equipment on the planet."

"We make the greatest weapons ever made," said Trump. "Airplanes. Missiles. Rockets. Ships. We make the best and we're dealing now with India. But this includes advanced air-defense systems and armed and unarmed aerial vehicles."

Altruism begins young

Psychologist Rodolfo Cortes Barragan of the University of Washington, explains, 'We adults help each other when we see another in need and we do this even if there is a cost to the self. So we tested the roots of this in infants.' 
The researchers conducted a test to see if children would help unknown adults by handing over a tasty-looking piece of fruit, even if they were hungry.
Even hungry babies will share food with strangers in need, it seems, as psychologists discover that the 'spirit of giving' starts in infants as young as around 19 months old. They found that more than half the children would ordinarily give up the food, with that number only falling to 37 per cent when the kids were hungry themselves.
'We think altruism is important to study because it is one of the most distinctive aspects of being human. It is an important part of the moral fabric of society,' Barragan pointed out.

The Eastern Med Rivalry

The alliance between Turkey and the UN-recognised government of Libya changes the balance of power in the eastern Mediterranean and across the Middle East. 

 On November 27, Turkey and Libya signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) that commits Turkey to providing military assistance to Libya’s Government of National Accord (GNA). The MoU also redraws Turkey’s maritime boundaries in a way that dramatically impacts the transport of gas from the East Mediterranean to Europe. Particularly worrying is that this new deal will undermine  plans for a 1,900-kilometer EastMed pipeline connecting the Israeli Leviathan  and the Cypriot Aphrodite gas fields to the EU.  

The deal undermines their ability to transport natural gas from the East Mediterranean to Europe without crossing Turkish waters. In any event, the Turkey-Libya agreement has set the stage for a broader conflict that will unavoidably involve Egypt, Israel, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Europe, Russia and the United States.

Turkey’s policy makes it more likely that its rivals will increase their support for the Libyan other government led by Haftar who’s forces currently control more than 70% of the Libyan territory while almost 60% of the population is under the control of the GNA led by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj. 

According to Turkish news: “More than half of Haftar’s troops are mercenaries from Russia and Sudan, who are mainly paid by the Gulf states.” 

Now adding to the civil war are Turkish-supplied and equipped Syrian mercenaries.