News Releases

“Pretty Extreme”: CDC Decision to Loosen Universal Masking in Health Care Settings

This week, the CDC issued an update to its masking recommendations. The agency no longer recommends universal masking in health care settings. Epidemiologist Justin Feldman told the Institute for Public Accuracy that the change in guidance is “pretty extreme.” He added: “It’s hard to know exactly what the effect will be.”

JUSTIN FELDMAN; jfeldman@hsph.harvard.edu, @jfeldman_epi
    Feldman is a social epidemiologist and a visiting scientist at the Francois-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard University. 

Feldman said that the CDC’s move is “clearly not going to strengthen public health measures. At best, it will be neutral. It probably will weaken them.” 

A parallel change, Feldman said, was the switch to the CDC’s community level system last February. The community level map dictates that when a community becomes high risk, organizations are supposed to begin mandating masks. But time and again, “we see that when counties have high levels, mask mandates don’t follow––and there is no strong messaging from any level of government about masking. So the question here will be about whether institutional policies come into effect amid high levels.”

Feldman also spoke about how this move can be contextualized within the gradual push by economic elites to “assimilate” Covid into the “dominant model.” He uses Olúfẹ́mi O. Táíwò’s concept of “elite capture” to describe how, after the initial months of unprecedented collective response to the virus, economic elites in all sectors, including civil society and government, “used their influence to undermine public health protections.” By and large, Feldman argues, the Democratic Party, labor unions, news media, and major public health institutions went along with them. They were successful in pushing Covid into the dominant model that the U.S. uses to address most health and social problems. That model: 

  1. prioritizes treatment, not prevention;
  2. treats individuals, rather than the collective;
  3. provides a modest welfare state as a benefit, not as a right;
  4. and targets the most acute, “deserving,” means-tested individuals.

Feldman argues that the Biden administration itself has also worked to assimilate Covid––initially, by using rhetoric that stressed personal responsibility, and later, by stressing personal choice. Feldman warns us that “public health has taken a turn.” Going forward, the sector “will increasingly be seen as a tool of the elite.” 

Patents on 7 Out of 10 Top Drugs Set to Expire This Decade: What Next?

A new report about abuses of the patent system by pharmaceutical companies in the United States includes comprehensive patent data for 10 top-selling drugs. The report was released by I-MAK (the Initiative for Medicines, Access and Knowledge). 

TAHIR AMIN; tahir@i-mak.org, @realtahiramin
    Amin is the founder and executive director of I-MAK, a nonprofit working to address structural inequalities in how medicines are developed and distributed. 

I-MAK’s report, Overpatented, Overpriced, shows that although the patents on 7 out of 10 of the 10 highest selling drugs in the U.S. are set to expire this decade, without urgently needed patent reforms, pharmaceutical companies will be able to delay those expirations––making it nearly impossible for biosimilar generic drugs to come on the market, shutting out competition, and keeping drug prices high. 

Before the expiration date arrives, companies can file hundreds of patents, creating what I-MAK calls “patent thickets.” Companies create thickets by creating a web of barriers for competitors. “As long as these anti-competitive patenting practices remain legal,” the authors write, “the drug pricing crisis will persist.” 

I-MAK found that drugmakers filed more than 140 patent applications on average per drug; two-thirds were filed after the drug had already been approved. Years later, once a primary patent has expired, companies can continue raking in astronomical profits by extending the patent period. This has become the “integral model,” Amin said, “for pharmaceutical companies to delay competition––and to delay having to go back to the drawing board and actually create new therapies. They don’t have to do the real investment of making new drugs.”

Amin told the Institute for Public Accuracy that the report and database tools will help the public to understand the full patent landscape. Amin highlighted the finding from the report that “Europeans have been able to get competing products on the market” for several drugs that are still locked in patents in the United States. For three top-selling drugs, biosimilar and generic drugs came on the market in Europe nearly eight years before they were expected to in the U.S.; the American public, meanwhile, “will spend an estimated $167 billion on branded versions of just these three drugs.”

Now that the Inflation Reduction Act has become law, Amin suggests that the next step is to address patenting abuse. There are several key reforms that I-MAK is pushing for:

  • Raise the bar for what it means to get a patent. “It shouldn’t be this easy,” Amin said, “to get all these patents.”
  • Greater public participation. “Right now, the system serves private client interests,” said Amin. 
  • Make it easier to challenge patents. Amin noted that this process has gotten prohibitively expensive.   
  • Reduce the number of times a patent application can be filed. By filing different applications (some that simply build on past ones), companies can slow down competition, because each patent is litigated separately.

The CIA Just Invested in Woolly Mammoth Resurrection Technology

DANIEL BOGUSLAW, daniel.boguslaw@theintercept.com, @DRBoguslaw
Boguslaw is an investigative reporter at The Intercept. He wrote the just-published piece “The CIA Just Invested in Woolly Mammoth Resurrection Technology.”

He writes: “As a rapidly advancing climate emergency turns the planet ever hotter, the Dallas-based biotechnology company Colossal Biosciences has a vision: ‘To see the Woolly Mammoth thunder upon the tundra once again.’ Founders George Church and Ben Lamm have already racked up an impressive list of high-profile funders and investors, including Peter Thiel, Tony Robbins, Paris Hilton, Winklevoss Capital — and, according to the public portfolio its venture capital arm released this month, the CIA. …

“In-Q-Tel, its new investor, is registered as a nonprofit venture capital firm funded by the CIA. On its surface, the group funds technology startups with the potential to safeguard national security. In addition to its long-standing pursuit of intelligence and weapons technologies, the CIA outfit has lately displayed an increased interest in biotechnology and particularly DNA sequencing. …

“Colossal uses CRISPR gene editing, a method of genetic engineering based on a naturally occurring type of DNA sequence. …

“The embrace of this technology, according to In-Q-Tel’s blog post, will help allow U.S. government agencies to read, write, and edit genetic material, and, importantly, to steer global biological phenomena that impact ‘nation-to-nation competition’ while enabling the United States ‘to help set the ethical, as well as the technological, standards’ for its use. …

“President Joe Biden’s administration signaled its prioritization of related advances earlier this month, when Biden signed an executive order on biotechnology and biomanufacturing.”

See past IPA news releases on CRISPR.

Explosions Cause Major Damage to Both Nord Stream Pipelines

On Jan. 27 of this year, Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland stated: “If Russia invades Ukraine,

one way or another, Nord Stream 2 will not move forward.” See video. (In January 2021, IPA published the news release: “Biden Nominating Victoria ‘F*ck the EU’ Nuland.”)

On Feb. 22, Biden said: “And because of Russia’s actions, we’ve worked with Germany to ensure Nord Stream 2 will not — as I promised — will not move forward.”

DAVE DeCAMP, davedecamp@protonmail.com, @DecampDave
DeCamp is news editor for Antiwar.com and host of “Antiwar News With Dave DeCamp.” He just wrote the piece “Explosions Cause Major Damage to Both Nord Stream Pipelines,” which states: “European officials on Tues
day said massive leaks in the Nord Stream natural gas pipelines that were caused by explosions were likely the result of sabotage, raising questions on who the culprit might be.

“The Nord Stream pipelines connect Russia to Germany via the Baltic Sea. Russia recently stopped shipping gas through Nord Stream 1 indefinitely, and the construction of Nord Stream 2 has been completed, but the pipeline has never been fully operational as Berlin suspended the project after Russia invaded Ukraine.

“Two leaks were discovered in Nord Stream 1, and one leak was discovered in Nord Stream 2 after the operator reported a sudden drop in pressure overnight Monday. While neither pipeline has been delivering to Europe, both contain gas under pressure.

“Two underwater explosions were recorded earlier on Monday near the Danish island of Bornholm in the Baltic Sea, which is where the leaks occurred. Nord Stream AG, the operator of the pipelines, said it was not possible to estimate when the damage could be fixed.

“EU, Swedish, Norwegian, and Danish officials all said the damage was likely caused by a deliberate attack. Over in Moscow, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that sabotage could not be ruled out.

“Radek Sikorski, a former Polish foreign minister and current Member of European Parliament, suggested on Twitter that Washington was behind the attack. He posted a picture on Twitter of the disturbance in the water caused by the leaks and wrote, ‘Thank you, USA.’

“In another tweet, Sikorski, who is married to American journalist Anne Applebaum, described his view that the U.S. was responsible as a ‘hypothesis.’ He also celebrated the attack, saying that ‘$20 billion of scrap metal lies at the bottom of the sea, another cost to Russia of its criminal decision to invade Ukraine.'” The New York TimesWashington Post and Guardian all ran stories indicating Russia was responsible, all of which ignored Sikorski’s comments.

DeCamp continued: “According to a report from Germany’s Der Spiegel, the U.S. had foreknowledge of a possible attack on the pipelines. Citing unnamed sources, Spiegel reported that the German government received a tip over the summer from the CIA that Nord Stream could be attacked, and Berlin assumed both pipelines could be targeted.

“The Nord Stream pipeline has long been in the crosshairs of Washington and the U.S. had tried to stop its construction by imposing sanctions. Before Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, President Biden [on Feb. 7] said the U.S. would ‘bring an end’ to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline.”

Pres. Biden: “If Russia invades…then there will be no longer a Nord Stream 2. We will bring an end to it.”

Reporter: “But how will you do that, exactly, since…the project is in Germany’s control?”
Biden: “I promise you, we will be able to do it.” See video.

DeCamp also noted: “Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday commented on the attacks on the pipelines, saying the damage was in nobody’s interest. ‘There are initial reports indicating that this may be the result of an attack or some kind of sabotage, but these are initial reports and we haven’t confirmed that yet,’ he said. ‘But if it is confirmed, that’s clearly in no one’s interest.’

“Ukraine accused Russia of being behind the incident, but Moscow has little reason to attack the pipelines. Earlier this month, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that if Europe wanted gas, it could open Nord Stream 2. ‘The bottom line is, if you have an urge, if it’s so hard for you, just lift the sanctions on Nord Stream 2, which is 55 billion cubic meters of gas per year, just push the button and everything will get going,’ he said.

“The attacks on Nord Stream coincided with the inauguration of the Baltic Pipe, another natural gas pipeline that will carry gas from Norway through Denmark to Poland. ‘The era of Russian domination of gas is coming to an end, an era marked by blackmail, threats and coercion,’ Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said at a ceremony for the pipeline, which the EU says should start transporting gas on Oct. 1.”

For more information, contact at the Institute for Public Accuracy:
Sam Husseini, David Zupan

September 28, 2022

 

CIA Spying on Assange Extended to Legal Team, Other Journalists, Activists

CHIP GIBBONS, chip@RightsAndDissent.org, @ChipGibbons89

Policy director for Defending Rights & Dissent, Gibbons has a new piece in Jacobin examining the allegations that company UC Global was co-opted by the CIA resulting in violations of civil liberties, human rights, and international law. Based on examination of legal proceedings in three countries, international reporting, and his own original interviews, he concludes that there is good reason to believe the CIA continuously spied on Assange and his visitors, and plotted t

o kill or kidnap the WikiLeaks publisher. While the covert operation initially targeted Assange, it ensnared his legal team and other visitors.

Gibbons writes: “The allegations against UC Global and the CIA constitute a major spying scandal with an international scope. In addition to violating the rights of a political, the story involves breaches of an embassy’s sovereignty and the surveillance of a range of journalists, human rights defenders, and politicians. Whether they were intentional targets or collateral damage in the CIA’s war on WikiLeaks, their surveillance, like that of Assange, remains an outrageous deprivation of human rights.”

For more information, contact at the Institute for Public Accuracy:
Sam Husseini, David Zupan,

September 26, 2022

Researchers Find Medical Debt Worsens Health Vulnerability

A new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association chronicles the prevalence and risk factors that contribute to medical debt in the United States. The authors, who surveyed a representative population between 2017 and 2019, found medical debt among 18 percent of householders; a higher risk of acquiring medical debt fell to those without insurance as well as those with high deductible private insurance or Medicare Advantage. The survey also found that medical debt worsened social determinants of health––causing more food insecurity, inability to pay for housing and utilities, and eviction or foreclosure. 

DAVID HIMMELSTEIN and STEFFIE WOOLHANDLER; himmelhandler@comcast.net 
    Himmelstein and Woolhandler are professors in the CUNY School of Public Health at Hunter College.

Himmelstein and Woolhandler comment on Health Justice Monitor: “A raft of previous studies have established that each year millions of Americans suffer catastrophic financial harm from medical debt, and it’s no surprise that people needing hospitalization, the uninsured, and those with disabilities are at highest risk.” But two findings from the study stand out, the authors say. First, “individuals with Medicare Advantage coverage are, like the uninsured, at high risk of running up medical debts.” Second, “incurring medical debts causes housing and food insecurity––key social determinants of health.” 

Himmelstein and Woolhandler argue that the “health care system itself is a big contributor to housing problems and food insecurity. As we note in this article, ‘Unaffordable medical bills… contribute to a downward spiral of ill-health and financial precarity.’”

Ukraine War: Is Media Misreporting Facilitating Escalation?

JOHN “PAT” WILLERTON, jpw@email.arizona.edu
Willerton is a professor of political science in the School of Government and Public Policy at the University of Arizona focusing on Russia. See his TEDx Talk, “The Russian Soul” from 2013.

Much media coverage is filled with claims of overwhelming Russian defeat, seeming to justify further NATO intervention. But Willerton states: “While the Kharkov advance by Ukrainian forces, following the withdrawal of the breakaway regions’ militias, with relatively few Russian troops in the area, was a big psychological boost for Kiev, it did not signify an important military change. The Russians simultaneously completely repelled a big Kiev-Ukraine push in the south, in Kherson, while in the third and most important battle front, the Donbas, the Russians continued to make grinding but significant gains. The Western media description is completely misleading, exaggerating the significance of Kharkov region advances, while ignoring Ukrainian setbacks in Kherson and Donbas. Also, Western media completely ignore the profound casualties inflicted on Ukrainian forces, when the Russian allies suffered relatively few losses. On all of these fronts, Ukraine may have suffered 35,000 killed and wounded, while Russia and allies perhaps suffered 5,000 killed and wounded.”

Willerton has argued that there are severe biases at play in Biden administration policies, including a “profound Russophobia that has yielded bad policy choices.”

He also points to inaccurate depictions geopolitically: “The Samarkand Summit bolstered Russia’s position significantly, important deals were cut with various states, and China and India have appeared to give the nod for Russia to move forward to complete this conflict.”

Willerton warns that the refusal to pursue a negotiated settlement may well lead to further escalation: “Everything was altered as Russia announced a partial mobilization with 300,000 troops, and the holding of referenda in a number of eastern regions for these regions to join Russia. When the referenda are completed, the eastern Ukrainians have voted to join Russia (these are overwhelmingly pro-Russian regions, long evident since post-Soviet independent Ukraine emerged in 1992), the Russian parliament approves bringing these regions into the Russian Federation, and President Putin signs the formal documents, the logic of the fighting in those regions will profoundly change.”

Scrutinizing AFRICOM as Neocolonial Instrument

The death of Queen Elizebeth of Britain caused some examination of colonialism as a legacy, but some point to continuing neocolonial policies like AFRICOM, the U.S. Africa Command. (See “Colonialism is an Everyday Story” by IPA communications director Sam Husseini.)
The UN General Assembly is meeting in New York, see livestream. Wednesday is the International Day of Peace.

ROSE BREWER, rosebrewer001@gmail.com, @rose_brewer
Brewer is an activist scholar who specializes in political economy, social movements, and studies in Africa and the African diaspora. She is a member of the Black Alliance for Peace’s Africa team and a professor of African American and African Studies at the University of Minnesota.

The Black Alliance for Peace is launching an educational campaign about AFRICOM. The group states: “Despite its rhetoric, the purpose of AFRICOM is to use U.S. military power to impose U.S. control on African land, resources and labor to service the needs of U.S. multinational corporations and the wealthy in the United States. It also serves as a major boon to ‘defense’ contractors.

“AFRICOM is a direct product of NATO via the U.S. European Command (EUCOM), which originally took responsibility for 42 African states. In 2003, NATO started expanding; four years later, in 2007, EUCOM commander James L. Jones, who was also NATO commander of operational forces, proposed the creation of AFRICOM.

“NATO has become a huge global axle in the wheel of the military industrial complex, which includes more than 800 U.S. military bases around the world as well as  joint bases or relationships with almost all African countries. These are all controlled by the U.S. empire for realizing the U.S. policy of Full Spectrum Dominance, which is driven by the ferocious appetite of international finance capital.”

The group argues AFRICOM is an instrument of neocolonialism and that the “hypocrisy explains why 17 African nations abstained from the March 2 United Nations resolution condemning Russia. One African state, Eritrea, even voted no. Their experiences with NATO and AFRICOM ensure skepticism of self-proclaimed noble motives.”

For more information, contact at the Institute for Public Accuracy:
Sam Husseini, David Zupan,

September 21, 2022

The Consequences of Biden’s Claim “the Pandemic Is Over”

Some public health experts expressed outrage this week after President Biden repeatedly asserted on CBS’s 60 Minutes that “the pandemic is over.” 

JOSH BAROCAS, MD; joshua.barocas@cuanschutz.edu, @jabarocas
    Barocas is an infectious disease doctor and the director of the Social Determinants of Health and Disparities Modeling Unit at the University of Colorado’s Anschutz School of Medicine. 

On Tuesday, Barocas wrote: “In the last few days it has been incredibly difficult to remain quiet. Biden’s declaration was extremely harmful on multiple levels.” Barocas said that he “understands that most Americans aren’t wearing masks” and that “most Americans are tired of the pandemic.” But from a “global perspective,” Barocas warns, “this was the wrong thing to say. Trump was criticized for being an isolationist––and rightfully so––but Biden’s declaration was the ultimate in isolationism. By declaring that the pandemic is ‘over,’ Biden signaled to global partners that the [U.S.] would no longer be involved in responses to a global pandemic. He disregarded the words of the WHO [World Health Organization].”

On Wednesday, Barocas told the Institute for Public Accuracy: “It appears that the Biden Administration is treating an infectious pandemic like a war. Infectious disease pandemics do not operate like global conflicts: A President does not have the authority to declare a global pandemic “over.” The virus simply doesn’t care what the President declares. Moreover, the President’s words have implications for how other countries respond and for the response within our own country.

“By essentially suggesting that ‘[the U.S. is] doing alright,’ the unstated part of that sentence is ‘and I’m sorry if your under-resourced country isn’t, but we’re stepping out of this.'”

EPA Protesters: Years After BP Spill, Toxic Effects Continue

The new group SAFE — Scientists, Activists, and Families for Cancer-Free Environments — is holding a protest at EPA headquarters in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday, beginning at 9 a.m. at Freedom Plaza.

LESLEY PACEY, lesleypacey@yahoo.com
Pacey’s daughter Sarah was stricken with leukemia in 2004 at age four.

She said: “I have been tracking childhood cancer in Baldwin County for over 15 years. Back then, we had a confirmed childhood cancer cluster that involved our daughter Sarah. Today, years after the BP oil spill, we are still seeing childhood cancer elevations of significance, according to National Cancer Institute statistics for 2013 to 2017. A recent search revealed elevations exceeding state and national averages at three coastal Louisiana parishes as well. The law firm I am working for is heading up a subclass of children facing chronic health effects — everything from asthma to cancer — as the youngest victims were certainly unaware of the dangers of the oil and Corexit that we now know was toxic.”

Also available for interviews is:

SUSAN WIND, susan@parentsknowmore.com
Wind is the lead organizer for the new grassroots group SAFE. See recent IPA news release: “Activist Moms Confront EPA’s ‘Criminal Negligence’ on Sept. 20.”

See the group’s demands, including: “Address the problems posed by landfills in our communities. Hazardous wastes cannot be disposed of at landfills that were not designed to handle hazardous wastes. For example, oil and chemical dispersant-laden wastes from cleanup in the Gulf Coast were disposed of in many non-hazardous waste landfills. These landfills are located in and near communities, often lower-income communities and communities of color. These wastes should be removed from these landfills that are not equipped to handle them and properly disposed of. Inactive landfills, such as those dumps or ponds used for coal ash, fly ash, and other mining and energy wastes, need to be monitored and closed. The past decades have shown that these dumpsites pose a serious risk to the water and air of the surrounding communities and ecosystems.”

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