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“Drugmakers Add Insult To Injury”: They Know How To Make Government Work For Them

It’s one thing for Pfizer to renounce its U.S. citizenship, moving its official residence to Dublin, Ireland, as a tax dodge — all the while continuing to run the business in the United States. That disgusting tactic happens to be disgustingly legal, thanks to our indolent Congress and its failure to fix the corporate tax laws.

It’s quite another to insult the public with blatant phoniness that avoiding billions in U.S. taxes gives the company “the strength to research, discover and deliver more medicines and therapies to more people around the world.” Those are the words of Pfizer’s chief executive, Ian Read, an accountant by training.

The Pfizer deal involves a merger with a much smaller Allergan, an Ireland-based company that happens to do its business in New Jersey. Wall Street analysts scoffed at the notion that the deal had any purpose other than to let the company avoid billions in U.S. taxes — billions that other American taxpayers will have to replace.

Since Read took the helm in 2010, Pfizer has slashed its research and development budget.

We assume the company will expect the United States to continue subsidizing research through the taxpayer-supported National Institutes of Health. We assume it wants the U.S. government to continue defending its intellectual property rights.

Pfizer made headlines more than a decade ago when it persuaded the city of New London, Connecticut, to use eminent domain to seize a working-class neighborhood around its shiny new headquarters — and replace it with an upscale shopping, hotel and office complex more to the company’s liking. Actually, it was a condition of its move to the city, according to The Day in New London.

The Supreme Court gave the controversial plan a green light in 2005. Four years later, Pfizer abandoned New London.

Yes, the drugmakers know how to make government work for them. Their lobbying group, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, leads efforts to ensure that Americans pay far more for their products than citizens of other countries.

The drugmakers’ crowning achievement was getting a Republican-controlled Congress to write a Medicare drug benefit law to their specifications. While funneling billions in taxpayer subsidies toward helping the elderly buy drugs, it forbade the U.S. government to negotiate the prices on behalf of said taxpayers.

No other Western country lets drug companies charge whatever they think they can get away with. This is why the government of Norway pays about $460 for an injection of the asthma drug Xolair and our Medicare pays about $860.

(Pfizer also lobbied against proposals to let Americans buy their drugs from other countries at these lower prices.)

These conversations always circle back to the drugmakers’ argument that Americans must pay their price to cover the high expense of developing wonderful life-enhancing products.

We can close that circle by asking: To the extent that high U.S. drug prices support research and development benefiting the world, why are Americans the only ones footing the bills?

The drugmakers don’t talk much about that publicly for a very simple reason. It is not in the interests of their executives and investors to stop Americans from playing the chump. If they can get the job done by writing checks to obedient U.S. politicians and the chumps keep re-electing them, why make trouble for themselves?

In a recent annual report, Read told shareholders of Pfizer’s desire to earn “greater respect from the public,” which entails “acting as a respectable corporate citizen.”

Read may have reason to take the American public for easily deceived children. Basic decency, however, demands that he limit such thoughts to private dinner parties.

 

By: Froma Harrop, The National Memo, December 3, 2015

December 4, 2015 Posted by | Big Pharma, Congress, Corporate Mergers, Pfizer | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Forcible Isolation”: Are Mandatory Ebola Quarantines Legal?

The coercive mandatory quarantine of Kaci Hickox, the nurse placed in what amounts to Ebola jail after returning to the United States from West Africa, raises troubling questions about the power that state and federal governments have to forcibly isolate individuals.

Hickox, who told CNN that her “basic human rights have been violated,” was only released Monday, two days after testing negative for Ebola. While quarantined, she was seemingly powerless to challenge her banishment to a tent in Newark.

The nurse’s treatment, as well as the quarantine policies of New York and New Jersey, have been roundly criticized as heavy-handed. A top National Institutes of Health official called the quarantines “draconian.” And former Ebola patient Rick Sacra, a doctor infected in Liberia, likened the mandatory quarantine for returning health-care workers in New York and New Jersey to a “police state approach.”

So is it legal for the government to quarantine individuals or groups of people?

State and federal officials do have the power to quarantine or isolate individuals suspected of having an infectious disease, according to a dizzying patchwork of laws. But beyond the general authority, there are many questions about how quarantines should be implemented.

At the federal level, much remains undefined defined: What would be the basis for quarantining individuals? Where would they be quarantined? What recourse would they have to prove that they should be eligible for release? What access to communications would they be given during quarantine?

“I’ve long been concerned about the quarantine authority because it is so broad, not easily subject to challenge, and exceedingly absolute,” Scott Gottlieb, a physician and a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, told The Daily Beast.

Gottlieb, who served in the Food and Drug Administration under President George W. Bush, had a hand in a previous effort to set out clearer parameters for quarantine policy.

New quarantine regulations were proposed in 2005, amid fears of the pandemic flu and bioterrorism.

Those rules compelled airlines to keep records that would allow health officials to keep track of passengers. They also introduced the concept of a “provisional quarantine” that would have allowed the federal government to detain individuals for up to three days, with no method for appeal, if the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention believed that a person was infected with certain illnesses.

“It didn’t work because once you start to debate these things, people were so uncomfortable about the answers to these questions they decided not to answer them,” Gottlieb said.

The rules were withdrawn in 2010 by the Obama administration, after civil-liberties organizations protested and airlines complained about compliance costs.

Today governments have the right to put individuals in quarantine before they have the right to argue that they shouldn’t be placed there. Suspicion of exposure to Ebola, for example, is sufficient to justify mandatory isolation.

“That is lawful due to the sheer nature of public-health powers,” said James Hodge, a professor of public-health law at Arizona State University. “You don’t have to let them off the plane, circulate around… and then proceed to a courthouse… You can isolate now and provide due process after.”

The federal government is responsible for quarantining individuals traveling from outside the United States or between states, while state and local governments have control over individuals who are traveling only locally.

The nurse who had traveled to West Africa to fight Ebola became caught up in the quarantine policies issues by the state of New Jersey. She was held in a presumptive quarantine that rounded up an entire class of people—in this case health-care workers who battled the infectious disease in a hot zone—and forcibly segregated.

Overreaction is still a concern that worries public-health experts. For Gottlieb, the disaster scenario is an outbreak of an infectious disease in a major city that overwhelms local health authorities, who then quarantine dozens or even hundreds of people in crowded facilities.

“That’s not far-fetched,” Gottlieb said. “In that kind of scenario, they will over-quarantine people.”

There are still legal limits to how far quarantines could extend. Entire towns or neighborhoods could not be targeted for quarantine, Hodge said.

“Courts have been very reticent to let health authorities at any level to simply rope off a community,” he told The Daily Beast, adding that exposure does not mean simply proximity to infected individuals. “Just because you’re in the vicinity of someone who was infected doesn’t mean you’re exposed.”

Quarantining passengers who have been exposed to a dangerous infectious disease on a plane or a group of children who have been in the same classroom with an infected patient, for example, would be situations with stronger legal standing.

In order to maintain constitutional compliance, Hodge explained, the quarantine or forced isolation needs to be limited to those who were infected or known to be exposed to Ebola; the quarantined individuals need to have access to due process; and the government needs to justify the restrictions placed on these individuals.

Legal challenges to quarantine also could be based on these standards. The recently released Hickox is considering suing over her mandatory quarantine, her lawyer’s office told The Daily Beast on Monday. If she files a lawsuit, the New Jersey state government would have to defend its actions and perhaps, in the process, come up with improved quarantine protocols.

 

By: Tim Mak, The Daily Beast, October 28, 2014

November 1, 2014 Posted by | Ebola, Mandatory Quarantine, Public Health | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Paging Dr. Christie, Dr Cuomo”: When Did Chris Christie And Andrew Cuomo Go To Medical School?

Just when you thought the Republican slime-ballers had run out of muck, you discover, no, they have more mud to throw at honorable people. And they are not just smearing Barack Obama. This time, they are disparaging the doctors and scientists at the National Institutes of Health and depicting them as weak-willed tools of the Democratic Party. If Americans fall for this, they may get the government they deserve—stripped of honest science and trustworthy decisions.

Republicans are not stupid, but they are shameless. They know people are rattled by the stealthy emergence of Ebola and that media hype has reflexively pumped up the danger and public confusion. NIH experts calmly explained what has to be done to defeat the disease and assured nervous citizens that healthcare teams are on the case. The GOP saw opportunity in unfolding tragedy and rushed to exploit it.

A political hack named Ed Rogers, corporate lobbyist and White House insider under Republican presidents, chortled gleefully over the political twist. His op-ed in The Washington Post hailed the brave governors of New York and New Jersey—Democrat Cuomo and Republican Christie—for intervening with a common-sense response. Any doctor or nurse who had gone to West Africa to treat Ebola victims should be automatically locked up in quarantine when they return home.

Rogers boasted, “If there is a Republican wave in the elections next Tuesday, pundits may well claim that it fully formed when Christie and Cuomo decided to go their own way with an Ebola strategy, despite objections from the White House.” People will be reassured by their common-sense intervention, he said, because “voters don’t trust the president to do the right thing and they are less likely to vote for those who echo the president’s blasé response.”

Actually, this know-nothing attack was launched by two well-known cynics of politics, both of whom lust after presidential ambitions. What Ed Rogers left out of the slime ball aimed at Obama is that it actually smeared some of the most experienced, knowledgeable and principled employees of the federal government. The real question at stake is whether the GOP demagoguery will succeed in destroying yet another citadel of advanced science and public values.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, who played a significant role in the successful war against AIDS/HIV, has explained patiently and repeatedly why rigid quarantines of healthcare workers would actually increase the dangers. “The best way to protect the US is to stop the epidemic in Africa and we need those healthcare workers so we do not want to put them in a position where it makes it very, very uncomfortable for them to even volunteer.”

If political pollsters were more devoted to the public interest than their political clients, they would ask people this question: Whom do you most trust to handle the battle against Ebola—Dr. Fauci, the longtime leader of the national Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, or Chris Christie, the author of political vendettas against Jersey mayors who failed to support him? Or do people think Andrew Cuomo knows more than Anthony Fauci about how to organize the global counterattack against this dread disease?

The questions sound ludicrous, but they need to be asked. Once these guys finish with New York and New Jersey, they want to run the country. Let me restate the question in a harsher way people can understand: Who do you think will manage to kill more people with Ebola—Dr. Fauci or Governors Cuomo and Christie, the political twins?

Senator Elizabeth Warren, as she often does, is pushing back hard against the irresponsible politicians. On CBS This Morning, she said Christie “should bring out his scientists who are advising him on that because we know that we want to be led by the science. That’s what’s going to keep people safe—science, not politics.”

She went further and suggested the Republican party may have blood on its hands because it has pushed hard to cut NIH spending and thus research on the Ebola virus. “So now we’re in a position where instead of making those investments upfront, we wait until people die and now we’re going to spend billions of dollars and some real risk to our country.”

Good question. Why don’t reporters ask Dr. Christie and Dr Cuomo?

 

By: William Greider, The Nation, October 29, 2014

October 31, 2014 Posted by | Andrew Cuomo, Chris Christie, Ebola | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Cut, Cut, And Cut Some More”: Republican’s ‘Blame Ebola On Obama’ Ploy Backfires

The instant the Ebola crisis hit American shores, the inevitable happened. The GOP blamed President Obama for it. First, it was the lame brained borderline racist charge that Obama either deliberately or through sheer incompetence did nothing to seal the borders to keep the virus at bay. The only slightly more intelligible attack was that Obama did nothing to command the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to take panic measures to insure no incidence of the disease would turn up in the country. Then the GOP campaign strategists stepped in and had some of its top candidates suddenly parroting the kooky line that Obama was to blame for a supposedly porous and negligent CDC and border security lapse. Obama’s appointment of an “Ebola Czar” provided even more grist for the GOP hit mill on Obama. It was variously blown off as too little, too late or ridiculed as a desperate appointment of a supposedly medically unqualified political crony.

This is political gamesmanship of the lowest order, playing on media and public fears over a legitimate and terrifying health crisis, to again belittle Obama. And with the stakes sky high in the 2014 midterm elections, the dirty political pool by the GOP was totally predictable.

But the twist in the Ebola saga is that the dirty hit job has backfired. The attack opened the GOP wide open to media and public scrutiny of the galling fact that the GOP has systematically whittled away vital funding for dozens of health programs since 2010. The CDC, much the whipping agency for the supposed Obama health dereliction, was stripped of nearly $600 million; millions that could have gone to ramp up monitoring, screening, and education programs, as well as research on vaccines to deal with infectious and communicable diseases. The names of the more than two dozen Republicans who poleaxed the CDC budget have been published. And to no surprise the bulk of them are either directly affiliated with or have been in part bankrolled by tea party factions. In September, there were initial reports that House Republicans would cut almost half of the nearly $100 million that the White House wanted earmarked to fight Ebola. It didn’t happen not because of any sudden epiphany by the GOP House members to provide all the funding that the White House asked for the program, but because word had quickly leaked out about the defunding possibility, and that would have been a PR nightmare that even the most rabid anti-Obama House Republicans knew was fraught with deep peril.

GOP leaders have hit back hard on the charge that they are somehow to blame for any laxity in the fight against Ebola by claiming that Obama and the Democrats have also made cuts in the NIH budget and that those cuts are the reason for any shortfall in the CDC’s funding for programs. That’s true as far as it goes. But what the GOP conveniently omits is that the cuts to the NIH budget and indeed all other health and education and domestic spending program cuts were agreed to by Obama with the GOP jamming a virtual political gun to his head demanding he sign off on cuts as the draconian price for ending gridlock over the deficit war.

Now in the backdrop of a potential catastrophic health nightmare, the cuts have suddenly become as big a political campaign tug of war as the blame game about Ebola. But it’s one that the GOP can’t win. Because it, not Obama and the Democrats, have been firmly identified in the public eye as the ones that have consistently sledge hammered the Obama administration and Congress to cut, cut, and cut some more spending. No matter how much the right wing gnashes its teeth, shouts and moans and attempts to turn the table and finger-point Obama for the funding fall off in the Ebola fight, it won’t change that naked reality. The hit ads that Democrats took out lambasting the GOP for the funding cuts are believable not because of any numbers accuracy or inaccuracy but in part because of public belief that when it comes to pound saving, the GOP will go to any length to save a dollar at the expense of vital programs.

The ads are believable in greater part because the GOP has left no stone unturned in its ruthless and relentless drive to use any and every crisis real or manufactured to paint Obama as a weak, ineffectual and failed president and presidency. It has banked on, and stoked, the frozen political divide in the country knowing that a wide segment of the public has open, unabashed contempt for his policies and his administration. The GOP banks that it can swivel this divisiveness into sustained opposition to those policies, and that it can further boost its numbers in the House and especially the Senate in the 2014 midterm elections. The ultimate aim is to translate the incessant hit attacks on Obama into a White House win in 2016.

The Ebola scare gave the GOP another seemingly readymade opportunity to blame Obama for yet another crisis. But this time the signs are good that the ploy has backfired.

 

By: Earl Ofari Hutchinson, The Huffington Post Blog, October 18, 2014

October 20, 2014 Posted by | Austerity, Ebola, Republicans | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Rand Paul’s Recklessness Spins Out Of Control”: To Assume Paul Has More Credibility Than Legitimate Medical Experts Is A Mistake

A couple of weeks ago, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) started making appearances on far-right radio, questioning Ebola assessments from the actual experts, blaming “political correctness,” and raising threats that seemed plainly at odds with the facts.

Soon after, Dr. Anthony Fauci, who directs the Allergy and Infectious Diseases Institutes at NIH, appeared on CBS and was presented with the Republican senator’s assessment. “I don’t think that there’s data to tell us that that’s a correct statement, with all due respect,” the doctor said.

At the risk of putting too fine a point on this, it’s no longer clear just how much respect Rand Paul is due. My msnbc colleague Benjy Sarlin reported yesterday from New Hampshire, where the senator appeared eager to move the public conversation backwards.

Rand Paul had a message for students at Plymouth State University who had gathered for a pizza party with the Kentucky senator on Thursday: Ebola is coming for us all and the government is hiding the truth about the deadly disease. […]

“This thing is incredibly contagious,” Paul said. “People are getting it, fully gowned, masked, and must be getting a very tiny inoculum and they’re still getting it. And then you lose more confidence because they’re telling you stuff that may not be exactly valid and they’re downplaying it so much that it doesn’t appear that they’re really being honest about it.”

On CNN, Paul added, “If someone has Ebola at a cocktail party they’re contagious and you can catch it from them. [The administration] should be honest about that…. You start to wonder about a basic level of competence.”

Yes, if there’s one person who has standing to whine about “a basic level of competence,” it’s the often confused junior senator from Kentucky – the one who’s deliberately contradicting medical experts, confusing the public at a difficult time.

To reiterate a point from our previous coverage, because Rand Paul has a medical background, some may be more inclined to take his concerns seriously on matters of science and public health.

With this in mind, let’s not forget that the senator, prior to starting a career in public office four years ago, was a self-accredited ophthalmologist before making the leap to Capitol Hill.

To assume Paul knows what he’s talking about, and that he has more credibility that legitimate medical experts, is a mistake.

Stepping back, though, there’s a larger context to consider, especially as the senator prepares for a national campaign. When the pressure is high and conditions get tense, the public can learn a lot about a potential leader. Do they maintain grace under fire or do they start to crack? Can they remain calm and responsible in the face of fear or do they run wild-eyed in misguided directions? Do they maintain their composure and keep a level head or do they encourage panic and anxiety?

The past couple of weeks have told us something important about Rand Paul, but none of what we’re learning casts the senator in a positive light.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, October 17, 2014

October 18, 2014 Posted by | Ebola, Public Health, Rand Paul | , , , , | Leave a comment

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