Archive | July 25th, 2020

Big Pharma Trade Group Blasted as ‘Morally Bankrupt’ for Suing to Block Minnesota Insulin Affordability Law

The law is named for Alec Smith, an uninsured 26-year-old who died in 2017 after rationing his insulin.

by: Jessica Corbett,

James Holt and Nicole Smith-Holt held a picture of their son Alec—who died in 2017 at age 26 after rationing his insulin—at the Minnesota State Capitol in St. Paul after state representatives passed the Alec Smith Insulin Affordability Act on April 14, 2020. (Photo: John Autey/MediaNews Group/St. Paul Pioneer Press via Getty Images)

James Holt and Nicole Smith-Holt held a picture of their son Alec—who died in 2017 at age 26 after rationing his insulin—at the Minnesota State Capitol in St. Paul after state representatives passed the Alec Smith Insulin Affordability Act on April 14, 2020. (Photo: John Autey/MediaNews Group/St. Paul Pioneer Press via Getty Images)

A Big Pharma trade group is under fire for filing a federal lawsuit late Tuesday against Minnesota’s Alec Smith Insulin Affordability Act mere hours before it took effect.

State Sen. Matt Little, a member of the Minnesota Democratic–Farmer–Labor Party (DFL), decried the move as “morally bankrupt” and “devoid of humanity.” In a Tuesday night tweet, Little also vowed: “I will spend my entire life fighting these soulless companies. No one should get sick or die from an inability to afford life-sustaining insulin.”

The law in question is named for an uninsured 26-year-old diabetic who died in 2017 of complications from rationing his insulin because he couldn’t afford the medicine and related supplies after aging off his mother’s health insurance. After state lawmakers overwhelmingly approved the measure, DFL Gov. Tim Walz signed it into law this April.

As MPR News explains:

Under the law, people with diabetes who can’t afford the essential medicine will be able to get 30-day supplies with no more than a $35 copay. A separate income-based program is established for those with needs that extend beyond that.

Drug makers are required to participate. If they don’t, they would face a series of escalating fines.

The suit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota by Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA). The drug industry group claims the measure is unconstitutional, arguing in the complaint (pdf) that “a state cannot simply commandeer private property to achieve its public policy goals.”

An PhRMA spokesperson told Brian Bakst of MPR News that “we are not seeking an emergency ruling to block the law from going into effect, but we think the law is unconstitutional and that the court should strike it down after it hears our challenge.”

The advocacy group Public Citizen noted the tragic death of the law’s namesake and denounced PhRMA’s suit as “beyond unconscionable.”

David Sirota@davidsirota
what stage of capitalism is this?

Public Citizen@Public_CitizenBREAKING: Pharma is suing to block Minnesota’s new insulin access law. The Alec Smith Insulin Affordability Act was passed in honor of a 26-year-old who died rationing insulin. The law would’ve taken effect today. Pharma’s fighting it during a pandemic. Beyond unconscionable.

Nicole Smith-Holt, Alec Smith’s mother, also took to Twitter to condemn PhRMA’s lawsuit and accuse drug companies of violating human rights.

Nicole Smith-Holt #insulin4all@NSmithholt12
Do you know what I think is unconstitutional? @PhRMA determining the value of my life, of your life of my sons life!! @PhRMA determining who lives and dies, I think that is unconstitutional. These companies are violating our human rights, that is unconstitutional. #insulin4all

Smith-Holt was not the only outraged parent of a diabetic. Saint Paul-based healthcare advocate Lija Greenseid wrote in a series of tweets that she felt “so deflated” and “duped by lawmakers,” calling out GOP state senators who she said “assured advocates that they had worked with the manufacturers to develop their plan.”

Lija Greenseid, PhD @Lija27
Phrma’s lawsuit against Alec’s Law really hurts. As the mom of a kid with Type 1 diabetes, I spent so much of my time for 2 years advocating for affordable insulin. I feel so deflated. We were duped by lawmakers. And people will continue to suffer and die.5:28 AM · Jul 1, 2020

Lija Greenseid, PhD @Lija27
Replying to @GrnMtnBot and @keithellisonGOP senators assured advocates that they had worked with the manufacturers to develop their plan. Advocates wanted a fee on the manufacturers and were told by GOP lawmakers that it would get hung up in court and not help anyone. Well, here we are anyway with their plan.

GOP state Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka expressed disappointment with the suit in a written statement reported by MPR News. “Senate Republicans remain committed to providing emergency insulin for those in crisis no matter what happens with this poorly timed lawsuit,” Gazelka said.

State Attorney General Keith Ellison (DFL) tweeted Wednesday morning in response to PhRMA’s “attack” on the law that “we look forward to defending the people of Minnesota in court against this morally repugnant behavior.”

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Secret Soviet documents found in walls of house in Latvia

Top Secret Documents of the Soviet Space Program, 1961-75

july 2, Public Broadcasting)Baiba Kušķe(Latvijas Radio Ziņu dienesta korespondente)Ģirts Zvirbulis(LTV Ziņu dienesta korespondents)Three large files with documents from the Committee for State Security (KGB) have been found on private property in Vidzeme region, Latvian Radio reported on July 1.

The KGB was the primary security agency for the Soviet Union from 1954 until its collapse in 1991, responsible for enforcement of security regulations, protection of political leaders, the guarding of borders, and clandestine operations abroad. 

The existence of the files was previously unknown. They were found hidden in a wall of a house in Vidzeme under reconstruction. A KGB employee allegedly used to live in the house and likely had hidden the documents at the time, for reasons yet unknown.

Senior expert in the National Archives, Gints Zelmenis, told Latvian Radio: “Two ladies came in to the archive, bringing these documents their relative had found in the wall.”

Upon comparison of file numbers, it was proved the documents were authentic.

The documents concerned the so-called KGB Part 5 line, or ideological counter-intelligence. All of them had to be destroyed in 1990 because the head of the KGB of the USSR, Vladimir Kryuchkov, had ordered the destruction of all operational materials relating to anti-Soviet agitation and political affairs throughout the Soviet Union.

“Obviously, for some reason, one of the KGB employees has not done this and has concealed these documents,” said Gints Zelmenis.

The documents cover a broad period of time. The oldest were dated 1943/1944, when the Red Army began returning to Latvia during World War II following the Nazi occupation with their own. Documents of the 60s and 70s describe the situation in the various village councils of Latvia, mainly Vidzeme, regarding the undesirable persons for the Soviet authorities in each particular municipality.

The most difficult thing to understand at the moment was the third folder, because the materials were chaotic, without any chronology and system. For example, there is material on the Latvian People’s Front in 1989, followed immediately by material about the partisans of the Madona district in 1945.

The latest documents come from the end of 1989: reports on the activities of Helsinki-86 and the People’s Front of Latvia, as well as various dissidents.

All the materials are generally very well preserved.

The staff of the archive are therefore very grateful to the people who brought the materials to the archive immediately after they were found, because exposure might have caused them to degrade quickly.

Right now, the folders will travel to the laboratory for technical processing, then be digitalized. They are scheduled to be available from September in the KGB materials reading room.

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Women Face Rising Risk of Violence During Covid-19

For Immediate Release

Organization Profile: Human Rights Watch (HRW)

Contact: Tel: +1-212-216-1832

NEW YORK – Governments need to do more to monitor and intervene to prevent violence against women during Covid-19 lockdowns, Human Rights Watch said today in a report to the United Nations special rapporteur on violence against women. The problem may be especially acute for women who face both discrimination and marginalization.

Human Rights Watch raised concern that domestic workers, older women, women with disabilities – including those living in institutional settings – and women without access to technology, working remotely from home or facing a precarious housing situation, may find it harder to get urgently needed services during the pandemic. The 17-page report details steps governments should take to ensure that no woman is left out in government responses to increased violence.

“Authorities everywhere should be worried about reports of rising gender-based violence in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic and associated lockdowns,” said Amanda Klasing, acting co-director of women’s rights at Human Rights Watch. “Reports of increases in gender-based violence mask a larger risk that women in the shadows or margins of society will suffer violence without remedy or reprieve if governments don’t act quickly.”

Dubravka Šimonović, the UN special rapporteur, highlighted in her March 27, 2020 statement that efforts to deal with the current health crisis may lead to an increase in domestic violence against women. Human Rights Watch has also raised concerns that crises – and lockdowns – can trigger a greater incidence of domestic violence for reasons including increased stress, cramped and difficult living conditions, and breakdowns in community support systems. Crises can also often further limit women’s ability to escape abuse and see their abusers held to account, and place victims in an environment without appropriate access to services, such as safe shelters.

Initial reporting from police complaints and hotline data from countries around the world suggests that the fears of the special rapporteur and Human Rights Watch are well-founded. Accordingly, it is critically important for the authorities to consider domestic violence services essential during lockdowns and to ensure that no new barriers to accessing services are created, Human Rights Watch said.

Human Rights Watch provides details of how governments can do more to reach women marginalized because of their employment, age, disability, limited access to the internet, working from home, or precarious housing situations. Not all women have been hit equally by the Covid-19 pandemic and associated economic crisis. In many countries, women from already marginalized communities find themselves on the front line as essential workers, with a more precarious financial situation as informal workers, or facing unaddressed institutional racism and health disparities. All of this makes accessing services for gender-based violence more difficult.

Government policies related to violence against women and family violence should be inclusive of, and accessible for, women with disabilities and older women, Human Rights Watch said. As many older women are also at heightened risk of complications related to contracting Covid-19, they are in a particularly precarious situation, depending on support from others for activities like going to the grocery store or bank.

Many women living in residential institutions face risk of neglect, abuse, and inadequate health care, but also restrictions on their legal capacity, which take away their rights to make decisions for themselves. As recent Human Rights Watch research in Mexico demonstrates, women with disabilities may also face abuse when they live with family members – particularly women who need intensive forms of support for daily tasks and basic needs, such as housing, food, and hygiene. Governments should collect comprehensive data on violence against older women and women with disabilities, particularly as the pandemic crisis continues.

The internet can facilitate access to survivor support groups, counseling, health information – including about sexual and reproductive health – and other online resources that can be critical lifelines to women experiencing gender-based violence. However, the global digital divide can also be a barrier to accessing services in the context of the pandemic and lockdown, Human Rights Watch said.

In low and middle-income countries, over 300 million fewer women than men are using the mobile internet. And women from marginalized communities, including older women and women with disabilities, in all countries may experience disproportionate exclusion from access to the internet.

In one example, service providers who respond to gender-based violence in the United Kingdom told Human Rights Watch that as resources go digital, the Covid-19 crisis has exacerbated a lack of access to services for migrant and Black, Asian, and minority ethnic women. Governments should ensure that, as more services move online to reach women during Covid-19 lockdowns, women without access to safe, private internet or mobile resources can continue to access services.

Women who work in homes, including domestic workers who live with their employers or women now telecommuting from home, may face particular risks of abuse without being readily visible to policymakers or service providers. Employers should be made aware of the role they can play in facilitating access to support services and taking steps to prevent abuse that results in job loss, Human Rights Watch said. The groundbreaking 2019 International Labour Organization Violence and Harassment Convention specifically obliges governments to recognize and mitigate the impacts of domestic violence on work, and governments should move toward ratification and implementation of the convention.

“The public health and economic impact of the pandemic continues, but governments have a clearer picture of additional risks and damage caused by lockdowns,” Klasing said. “They need to step in quickly and address the rising risks of violence. Any response will be incomplete unless governments ensure that their efforts specifically target women already largely forgotten by authorities, even before the crisis.”

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The Democrat’s Hawkish, Dead-End Foreign Policy Is Also Very Bad Politics

Is the party finally willing to recognize the failures—both morally and politically—of its pro-war stance?

by: Stephen Miles

Among some of the most powerful Democrats in the House, Rep. Eliot Engel (NY-16) (far left) was just defeated in a primary; Rep. Steny Hoyer (MD-5) (center), the House Majority Leader; and Rep. Adam Schiff (CA-28) (right), chair of the House Intelligence Committee, all have received massive support from the weapons industry and pro-war lobbyists. (Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Among some of the most powerful Democrats in the House, Rep. Eliot Engel (NY-16) (far left) was just defeated in a primary; Rep. Steny Hoyer (MD-5) (center), the House Majority Leader; and Rep. Adam Schiff (CA-28) (right), chair of the House Intelligence Committee, all have received massive support from the weapons industry and pro-war lobbyists. (Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

For three years, my organization, Win Without War, and others helped pro-diplomacy activists make their voices heard in Congress in support of President Obama’s diplomatic efforts with Iran. Hundreds of thousands of them had done just that — signing petitions, writing emails, making phone calls, and meeting face-to-face with their representatives and senators in Washington and their hometowns. At every step of the way, congressional offices told us that pro-diplomacy voices had outweighed those opposed by ten-to-one. But then something strange happened. Suddenly, the calls for and against the Iran nuclear deal were coming in at an equal rate. 

It was unlikely that the success of having achieved a historic diplomatic nuclear agreement with Iran, or the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action as its formally known, had suddenly made the U.S. public swing against diplomacy. Yet as paid TV ads attacking the JCPOA started popping up and the anti-diplomacy phone calls came pouring in, a dangerous mindset started to spread throughout the halls of Congress: It was going to be bad politics for Democrats to stand with the president and against a small cohort of powerful, deep pocketed special interests.

This was going to be a fight. Determined to defend diplomacy, progressives went all in, but so did anti-diplomacy forces. We now know, for example, that one organization alone, an AIPAC front group called Citizens United for a Nuclear Free Iran, spent $8.3 million on paid phone calls, most likely the very calls causing Congress to suddenly think the public’s opinion was mixed. Millions more were spent on television ads offering a dire preview of what would await any member of Congress who voted to support diplomacy. 

And in the heat of the long, hot summer, Rep. Elliot Engel, then the highest ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, announced he was breaking with President Obama, and would oppose the JCPOA. At the time, Congressman Engel no doubt thought he was making a safe political choice. His allies flooding the airwaves and phone lines against the deal would surely be there if he ever needed them in an election. Yet this past week, five years later, it’s likely that that decision — and what it said about Engel’s preference for conflict over diplomacy — cost him re-election. 

Much has already been written about Engel’s stunning primary loss to first time candidate Jamaal Bowman, a former middle school principal in the Bronx. Pundits argue that Bowman’s high profile endorsements from Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocascio-Cortez, Engel’s absence from his New York district at the height of the spring’s pandemic, and Engel’s embarrassing hot mic moment  (which helped send Bowman’s fundraising into overdrive) propelled Bowman’s victory over Engel. And there’s no doubt these factors played significant roles in the historic upset. But had it not been for Engel’s deep discord with his own party on foreign policy, there may never have been a primary challenge to capitalize on those moments and endorsements in the first place. 

It says something about House Democrats that they would let their most senior foreign policy position be filled by someone who, like Engel, was so at odds with the Democratic caucus on numerous foreign policy issues. But that is fundamentally what happened when Engel took over the gavel of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

He was one of only two dozen House Democrats out of 188 who ultimately voted against the Iran deal. Just one year later he would join with an even smaller group of Democrats to give the Republicans a narrow majority and defeat an effort to stop selling Saudi Arabia cluster bombs, bombs they were then dropping on civilians in Yemen. And of course this all followed his enthusiastic support for the Iraq War. Bowman made all of these issues central to his campaign and attacked Engel directly on this record. 

Others have laid out the full history of Engel’s awful record, so there’s no need to recount it all here. But what stands out is that on these issues, the biggest foreign policy questions of the day, the chosen Democratic foreign policy leader was, in some cases quite dramatically, at odds with the majority of his party. For years, the conventional wisdom was that such heresy simply didn’t matter if it was confined to foreign policy. The Democratic primary voters of New York’s 16th Congressional District just helpfully reminded everyone just how wrong that particular conventional wisdom was. 

The truth is that this is hardly the first, and likely won’t be the last time that voters send a Democratic member of Congress home for being hawkish. For instance, members of Congress who voted for the Iraq war were, over time, more likely to have been given the boot by their voters than those who opposed it. Meanwhile, despite the fever dreams of many political prognosticators in the summer of 2015 as attack ads about the Iran deal hit the air, no incumbent Democrats lost an election because of their support for the JCPOA. It turns out that being on the same page as the overwhelming number of Democratic voters is actually good politics. 

And now that the voters have spoken, House Democrats will face their own decision. Shortly following the November elections, the incoming Democratic caucus of the 117th Congress will gather in Washington to select its new leadership. Of course, like with all elections, the jockeying and campaigning doesn’t wait until the final vote and indeed is already well under way. Though the question before Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, and others is clear, will they once again allow their highest ranking foreign policy position to be filled by someone at odds with their own caucus and their voters, or will they heed the calls of change? 

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What Do Russian Analysts Make of the Charge Moscow Offered Taliban Bounties on US Troops?

The history of outside forces helping wage war within Afghanistan—including the U.S. establishment of the mujahideen forces to fight the Russians in the 1980s—is a bloody history indeeed.

by: Nikola Mikovic

U.S. Soldiers navigate a stream during a security patrol in Chabar, Afghanistan, Dec. 3, 2009. The Soldiers are from Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 17th Infantry Regiment, 5th Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division. (Photo: DoD/Tech. Sgt. Francisco V. Govea II, U.S. Air Force)

U.S. Soldiers navigate a stream during a security patrol in Chabar, Afghanistan, Dec. 3, 2009. The Soldiers are from Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 17th Infantry Regiment, 5th Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division. (Photo: DoD/Tech. Sgt. Francisco V. Govea II, U.S. Air Force)

Russian officials deny the New York times claims that Moscow offered bounties to members of the Taliban movement for killing US soldiers, while the Kremlin-friendly analysts believe that the such “fake news” were fabricated in order to weaken the US President Donald Trump, as well as to serve as a pretext for more anti-Russia sanctions. From the Russian perspective, the US media are accusing Moscow of what the United States did during the Afghan war against the USSR.

Was the Taliban really funded and instructed by the Kremlin to kill the US troops? According to both, Moscow and the Taliban leaders, such claims are “ridiculous”.

The US establishment funded the Afghan Mujahideen who fought against Soviet invasion of the central Asian country in 1979. Some 14,000 – 15,000 Soviet soldiers were killed during the 10-years long war which aimed to prop up pro-Soviet Communist government. The conflict ravaged the country, killing an estimated one million Afghans and destroying the Afghanistan’s infrastructure.

After the Taliban movement took over the country in 1996, however, Russia established contacts with its leadership. Ever since, the Kremlin took a very pragmatic position. Moscow has never rejected any talks with representatives of the Taliban, as the radical movement is the reality of today’s Afghanistan. Even though in 2003 the Russian Supreme Court declared the Taliban a terrorist organization, a delegation of the Afghan movement held talks with Russian officials in Moscow after the US negotiations with the Afghan insurgents collapsed.

“These kinds of deals with the Russian intelligence agency are baseless — our target killings and assassinations were ongoing in years before, and we did it on our own resources,” Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban, told the New York Times.

The Kremlin, traditionally, denies its involvement in any subversive activities aboard, while some Russian pro-government media indirectly tend to portray the whole story in the context of the Trump’s alleged fight against the so called deep state. In an article published by state-controlled RIA Novosti, author Ivan Danilov accuses The New York Times and other American media of demonizing and dehumanizing American police, as well as conservatives and Trump supporters.

“Apparently, the years of the “Russiagate” and absolutely fake accusations and fake files with anti-Russian compromising materials did their job: a significant segment of American society no longer believes its own media and its own power structures, and politicians can afford not only to directly blame the most authoritative media and their sources of lies, but also to act accordingly”, wrote Danilov, noting how President Trump accused The New York Times of being fake news, and how Richard Grenell, former diplomat and an ex-Director of National Intelligence, wrote on Twitter that “leaks of partial information to reporters from anonymous sources is dangerous”.

Some Russian authors suggest that the US media accusations against Moscow are based on an internal political struggle in Washington. According to Komsomolskaya Pravda daily newspaper, Donald Trump, who promised “a hundred times” to withdraw the US troops from Afghanistan, recently nearly fired Defense Secretary Mark Esper and the DIA director Robert Ashley as they “spent millions of dollars to resolve the situation in the Central Asian country, but there were no results”.

“This greatly affected the authority of Trump, who aims to be reelected in November. And who is to blame? The Russians, of course! They fuel the Taliban’s fighting activity with money”, sarcastically wrote Russian military expert Viktor Baranets.

Even though the Kremlin denies any involvement in this particular case, Russia is actively seeking to become an important player in conflict resolution in Afghanistan, where the interests of various regional and world powers come together. Besides Russia, China has also been stepping up its involvement in Afghanistan both militarily and economically. Beijing constantly voices worries that militants from Afghanistan could sneak into its restive Muslim-majority Xinjiang region.

Russia has similar concerns. Neutralizing potential threats from the side of terrorist groups from the south has been Moscow’s main interest for a long time. According to the Kremlin officials, Russia is worried about the increased terrorism activity in Afghanistan’s northern provinces, close to the borders of former Soviet republics such as Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. On the other hand, some Western analysts argue that Moscow is actually using this threat in order to increase its military presence in Central Asia.

In any case, Russia certainly has its own interests in and around Afghanistan, but whether the Russian military intelligence agency GRU offered bounties to the Taliban for killing American soldiers or not, the US will likely use this accusation as an additional instrument against Moscow. In the coming months, certainly before the US election, Russia – which many influential circles in Washington traditionally try to portray as a boogeyman – is expected to get another portion of sanctions.

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