Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Big Pharma Will Kill Millions--If We Let It Happen


Big Pharma Will Kill Millions--If We Let It Happen

PLUS: No on Neera; UBER Workers In Europe; Medicare Part D Waste; Myanmar Coup Update

Jonathan TasiniFeb 24CommentShare

This will not shock you: Big Pharma doesn’t care much about peoples’ lives. It’s all about the Benjamins. And that will potentially cause a lot more COVID-19 suffering around the world: death, sickness and economic deprivation.

However, we can take on Big Pharma and save lots of lives as soon as NEXT WEEK…

Here’s the story: The whole raft of vile so-called “free trade” deals that have been forced upon the people, by Democrats and Republicans (the modern-day template for this garbage came to you courtesy of Bill Clinton’s NAFTA), give corporations enormous protections.

Under the World Trade Organization rules, Big Pharma gets *lengthy* monopoly protections for medicines, tests and the technologies used to produce the medicines and tests. That’s one reason people have opposed these bad trade rules for years—these trade deals, which were sold to us using the marketing phrase “free trade” have nothing to do with the theory of “free trade”.

It’s the exact opposite: it’s not free trade. It’s very much controlled trade—controlled for the profits of big corporations like Big Pharma. These deals set up massive lists of rules that allow corporations to control money, capital and, in this case, patents to make piles of money at our expense. The specific rules under the WTO are called “Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rights” (TRIPS).

What does this mean? Poor countries can’t afford the prices under these patented vaccine protections so, while millions of people in richer countries might get vaccinated this year, it’s likely that tens of millions of people in poorer countries won’t get access to a COVID vaccine until as late as 2024.


What will that mean?:

(a) lots more death and sickness;

(b) further spreading of variants globally because the more the virus spreads uncontrolled, the more it will mutate and;

(c) trillions of dollars more in economic damage.

Let’s say you don’t care that millions of people around the world will die and get sick unneccessarily because of the greed of Big Pharma. Be my guest—Take the complete self-interested, narcissistic Republican Trump-like view: this is really bad economics because on-going infections throughout the world mean the variants will end up spreading here, other economies can’t open up, and the global recovery will take much longer.

As a frame of reference, here’s a number I just saw in a recent January issue of The Economist—the cost of the COVID-19 pandemic last year and this coming year will probably total $10 trillion in goods and services that were not produced because of the pandemic. That’s a lot of lost futures, lots of broken dreams and misery for millions.

But, that cost will rise exponentially if Big Pharma keeps control over the vaccines—so if you are the Chamber of Commerce, or any other multi-national corporation with long supply chains across the planet, as a simple business proposition you *want* everyone to be vaccinated…as in, tomorrow.

There is, however, a bright spot. Over 100 countries have called for a temporary waiver of the TRIPS on the technologies needed to produce more COVID-19 vaccines and medications. That waiver, surprise, was blocked by the Trump administration, one of the very few governments to block this emergency waiver.


Next week, however, Joe Biden can direct the U.S. to allow the waiver at the WTO, and if the U.S. supports the waiver, it will almost certainly happen. Big PHARMA will be furious—which means campaign donors from Big Pharma will be unhappy. Fuck ‘em.

You can watch my conversation posted today about all this with Rep. Jan Schakowsky and Lori Wallach, the director of Global Trade Watch, who are working each day to get Biden to agree to support the waiver—and our discussion tells you what YOU can do to help (so, please share!):


  • You might see this as a contradiction (life, right?) but I come here to defend Neera Tanden from a certain flavor of attacks against her nomination to be the director of the Office of Management and Budget—and to say why her nomination should be soundly defeated, or, what seems more likely now that there is blood in the water, why her nomination should be withdrawn.

    One strain of attacks against her focuses on her many tweets attacking a whole range of people, from Mitch McConnell to Bernie Sanders. The rap goes: those tweets don’t auger well for “bi-partisanship”.

    Well, as I’ve said before, fuck “bi-partisanship” which has been a cancer in politics because it means accepting some very putrid ideas that end up making things worse, and, in many cases, killing people. So, when Fifth Columnist Joe Manchin is leading the whining about Tanden’s tweets, give me a break: be a grown-up, politics isn’t bean bag and we shouldn’t care too much that people now have a forum to say some rough stuff (yes, there is a line), and certainly tweets should not keep good public servants from getting a job.

    BUT: Tanden should never sniff the inside of the OMB or any other government position where she exercises power based on HER POLICY AND IDEOLOGY. She has been, for a number of years, a dutiful denizen of the Clintonite wing of the Democratic Party. Indeed, her organization, the Center for American Progress, was really a parking place for a whole gang of operatives, functionaries and just general leeches who were simply biding their time until they got the call to serve in a new Clinton Administration—the tears in November 2016 flowed most generously from the CAP cubbyholes of people who had to shred newly updated resumes and pitch letters.

    On our main topic today of the WTO, I caught just one snippet from a CAP policy declaration that encapsulates the Tanden world: “This is not to say a new WTO director general should embrace protectionism or isolationism.” That nonsense is EXACTLY what progressives have fought to dismember for many years—opposing so-called “free trade” has nothing to do with being “protectionist” or “isolationist” (as if, by the way, “protectionism” is a bad thing—it’s not…a topic for another time). But, CAP would defend the WTO’s mandate—which is deadly and poisonous for tens of millions of people.

    I could add on Tanden’s views on corporations (her board is well-stocked with billionaires and CAP is awash in corporate donor money), social safety nets (she is part of that idiotic “deficit crisis” crowd—there never has been a deficit crisis—which was behind the Obama-era Commission that would have cut Social Security and Medicare) and on and on. Having her run the OMB would be a portal through which bad ideas like deregulation would flow—OMB doesn’t just ride herd over budgets; it reviews regulations of virtually every agency and has been infected with the idiocy of killing government that has its roots in conservative Reaganism AND the Clinton-Gore obsession with '“the era of big government is over”.

    Botton line: progressives should defend her from the Manchin-like criticism that somehow she threatens “bi-partisan” bullshit—and push for her to be defeated.


  • UBER workers got some good news. The British Supreme Court ruled that UBER workers are are entitled to the same benefits as other workers, like minimum wage pay and vacation. This is very big for the so-called “gig economy” workers. And it goes against some bad developments here, mainly the passage in the recent general election of a California ballot initiative that kept Uber and Lyft drivers (and other “gig” workers) consigned to independent contractor status; $200 million of corporate money poured in to support that awful measure, which reversed a state law that had given employee rights to “gig” workers. This broader fight has just started.

  • And another shorter installment of Big Pharma greed…Why the hell do seniors pay way-to-high drug prices as part of Medicare Part D? At Bernie Sanders’ request, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) looked at this and found that, per Sanders, “for a sample of 176 top-selling brand name drugs, the average net price for a 30-day supply of medicine was $118 in Medicaid, compared to $343 in Medicare Part D. For a subset of specialty drugs, which typically treat chronic, complex, or rare conditions, the average price was $1,889 in Medicaid, compared to $4,293 in Medicare Part D…The study also noted that Medicare Part D pays roughly 25 percent more than the Department of Defense’s TRICARE program for the same drugs in retail settings; when compared to the prices the agencies pay to directly purchase brand-name drugs, Medicare Part D pays nearly twice as much as TRICARE and the Department of Veterans Affairs.”

    As Sander says rightly: ““There is no rational reason why Medicare pays nearly three times more than Medicaid and about twice as much as the VA for the same exact medicine. Negotiating directly with pharmaceutical companies will substantially reduce the price of prescription drugs, and it is a national embarrassment that the Secretary of Health and Human Services is prohibited from doing that on behalf of the more than 40 million Americans who get their prescription drug coverage from Medicare Part D. It is time for Congress to take on the greed of the pharmaceutical industry and require Medicare to negotiate lower drug prices." Which he sought to do in 2019 with the Prescription Drug Price Relief Act (S. 102) which will almost certainly come up again once the dust settles on the stimulus package.

  • Last one: a couple of weeks ago, I did a podcast segment on the Myanmar coup and how the military was targeting unions. I follow that up today with another podcast segment on the issue, this time with Khaing Zar, Treasurer of the Confederation of Trade Unions Myanmar (CTUM) and the President of the Industrial Workers Federation of Myanmar, the manufacturing and garment worker affiliate of the CTUM and the largest garment worker union in Myanmar.

    See it here and SUBSCRIBE TO THE SHOW!

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© 2021 Jonathan Tasini