News Release Archive - Science/Health/Tech

Global Billionaires See $5.5 Trillion Pandemic Wealth Surge

A one-off 99 percent levy on billionaires’ wealth gains during the pandemic “could pay for everyone on Earth to be vaccinated against COVID-19 and provide a $20,000 cash grant to all unemployed workers,” according to new analysis released today by Oxfam, the Fight Inequality Alliance, the Institute for Policy Studies and the Patriotic Millionaires. The organizations are calling on governments to tax the ultra wealthy who profited from the pandemic crisis to help offset its costs.

CHUCK COLLINS, NJOKI NJEHU, MORRIS PEARL, via Olivia Alperstein, olivia@ips-dc.org
Pearl, a former managing director at Blackrock and chair of the Patriotic Millionaires, said: “The surge in global billionaire wealth as millions of people have lost their lives and livelihoods is a sickness that countries can no longer bear.”

Njehu, Pan Africa Coordinator of the Fight Inequality Alliance, said: “We need to tax the rich for us to stand any chance of reversing the inequality crisis we’re in.”

Collins is the director of the Program on Inequality and the Common Good at the Institute for Policy Studies, where he co-edits Inequality.org.

He just wrote the piece “Global Billionaires See $5.5 Trillion Pandemic Wealth Surge,” which states: “The world’s billionaires have seen their wealth surge by over $5.5 trillion since the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020, a gain of over 68 percent. The world’s 2,690 global billionaires saw their combined wealth rise from $8 trillion on March 18, 2020 to $13.5 trillion as of July 31, 2021, drawing on data from Forbes. …

“The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed over 200 million people into poverty, according to estimates by World Bank researchers.

“United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged governments to ‘consider a solidarity or wealth tax on those who have profited during the pandemic, to reduce extreme inequalities.’ The IMF and the World Bank have also called for wealth taxes to help cover the costs of COVID-19.

“Argentina has collected 223 billion pesos (around $2.4 billion) from its one-off pandemic wealth tax.”

New Climate Report Stresses Methane

DAPHNE WYSHAM, Stephen Kent, skent@kentcom.com, @methaneaction
Wysham is CEO of Methane Action which just released a statement: “New IPCC report includes methane removal as part of the path to containing climate change.”

The group says: “Scientists whose work on methane is cited in the new Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report on climate change welcome the report’s recognition of methane as a key driver of climate change, and its acknowledgement that emerging methods of removing methane from the atmosphere may be necessary to limit global warming.”

“Methane has emerged as the critical greenhouse gas to be tackled this decade, and [Monday’s] IPCC report affirms that,” said Wysham, CEO of the NGO Methane Action, which is working to identify solutions that can rapidly reduce atmospheric methane concentrations.

This year dozens of leading climate scientists and atmospheric chemists signed a letter spearheaded by Methane Action “recogniz[ing] the need to reduce concentrations of climate forcing agents already in the atmosphere, including methane.” See the group’s latest statement, which includes analysis by associated scientists, available for interviews.

Exxon CEO Free, Environmental Activist Charged with “Terrorism”

The Des Moines Register recently published the piece: “Jessica Reznicek is no terrorist. But the longtime activist is going to serve time as one.

Reznicek is scheduled to start her prison sentence on Wednesday.

Common Dreams reported recently in “As Big Oil Execs Roam Free, Climate Activist Gets 8 Years in Prison,” that “Environmentalists in recent days expressed outrage over the eight-year prison sentence handed to Jessica Reznicek — a nonviolent water protector who pleaded guilty to damaging equipment at the Dakota Access Pipeline in Iowa — while calling the fossil fuel companies who knowingly caused the climate emergency the real criminals who should be held to account.

“United States District Court Judge Rebecca Goodgame Ebinger last week sentenced Jessica Reznicek to eight years behind bars, $3,198,512.70 in restitution, and three years’ post-prison supervised release after the 39-year-old activist pleaded guilty to a single count of damaging an energy facility. In September 2019 Reznicek and 31-year-old Ruby Montoya were each indicted on nine federal charges including damaging an energy facility, use of fire in the commission of a felony, and malicious use of fire. Each of the women faced up to 110 years in prison. Montoya has yet to be sentenced.”

“How many years do you think ANY fossil fuel CEO will serve for knowingly destroying our planet’s climate?” tweeted 350 Tacoma in response to Reznicek’s sentencing.

ALEX COHEN, freejessicareznicek@gmail.com@freejessrez
    Cohen is part of the SupportJessicaReznicek.com coalition, which just released a petition signed by dozens of groups, including Extinction Rebellion New Orleans, Des Moines Catholic Worker, Sunflower Alliance and Veterans For Peace.

    The petition criticizes the “dangerous legal precedent” of applying “domestic terrorism enhancement” to Reznicek case. “The terrorism enhancement doubled Jessica’s sentence and unless changed could have frightening consequences for anyone seeking to protect the environment from corporate destruction.”

Has the Infrastructure Deal Become the #ExxonPlan?

BASAV SEN, basav@ips-dc.org@BasavIPS
Sen is director of the Climate Policy Project at the Institute for Policy Studies. He just wrote the piece “Biden should reject the infrastructure plan written by Exxon and invest in saving the climate instead” for MarketWatch, which states: “Recently, Exxon Mobil [XOM, -1.18%] lobbyists were caught on video bragging about stripping renewable energy from the infrastructure proposal and turning the package into a ‘highway bill’ — with $109 billion for the highway infrastructure that perpetuates the captive market for Exxon’s products.

    “The lobbyists revealed that they specifically targeted 11 senators for lobbying — including several Democrats who signed on to the bipartisan deal.

“They backed that lobbying with plenty of campaign cash — a total of $333,000 from Exxon and its hired guns over the last decade to just the six Democrats that Exxon targeted. So it was for a very good reason that the bipartisan deal has been ridiculed on social media as the #ExxonPlan.”

Is Big Pharma’s Dominance Through Bayh-Dole Act Finally Getting Scrutiny from Biden?

STAT News in “Biden’s executive order would pause a Trump rule forbidding march-in rights to lower drug costs” reports: “In a little-noticed move, the Biden administration has hit the pause button on a rule that would prevent the federal government from using a controversial legal provision for combating the high prices of products developed with taxpayer dollars.”

(Last week, STAT News reported: “Major pharmaceutical companies and trade groups helped fund the campaigns of more than 2,400 state legislators nationwide in the 2020 election.” STAT News focuses on health issues and is produced by Boston Globe Media.)

JAMES LOVE, james.love@keionline.org, @jamie_love
    Love is director Knowledge Ecology International, a not-for-profit non-governmental organization that “searches for better outcomes, including new solutions, to the management of knowledge resources.” KEI is focused on “social justice, particularly for the most vulnerable populations, including low-income persons and marginalized groups.”

    He said today: “The Bayh-Dole Act, passed in 1980, created a uniform policy for the management of patents on federally funded R&D. Among the provisions are some that can be used to increase competition and address abuses, such as excessive pricing. In the early 1990s, Congress pressed the federal government to curb high prices on federally funded drugs for HIV, cancer and rare diseases. In 1995, President Clinton announced he would no longer enforce reasonable pricing conditions in contracts. Since then, the NIH has rejected a number of petitions to use its rights to ‘march-in’ on patent rights, and grant licenses to generic manufacturers, when prices are excessive.

    “Universities and drug companies have lobbied aggressively and successfully for more than 20 years to prevent this from happening. There is a petition outstanding today by three prostate cancer patients for the government to grant a march-in request on Xtandi, a drug that costs $150k+ per year in the United States, and far less everywhere else. On Jan 5, 2021, NIST [National Institute of Standards and Technology] proposed a regulation to eliminate pricing as a grounds for a march-in request. The executive order put a hold on that provision, and now the Biden administration will have to rule on the Xtandi petition, which is before DoD. The precedent will be important for many other products.”

Is Big Pharma’s Intellectual Property More Important than Lives?

The Hindu reports: “U.S. President Joe Biden said on Tuesday that he had not made a decision on whether the U.S. would support an Indian and South African initiative at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to waive Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) to facilitate the production of COVID-19 related vaccines and therapeutics around the world.”

JAMES LOVE, james.love@keionline.org, @jamie_love
Love is director Knowledge Ecology International, a not-for-profit non-governmental organization that “searches for better outcomes, including new solutions, to the management of knowledge resources.” KEI is focused on “social justice, particularly for the most vulnerable populations, including low-income persons and marginalized groups.”

He said today: “Critics of the TRIPS waiver have used a barrage of misleading and inaccurate arguments. The notion that the WTO TRIPS agreement already has sufficient flexibility is true up to a point, but ignores the toxic impacts of Articles 31.f and 31bis on exports, and Article 39 on access to manufacturing know-how and trial data. The claim that weaker patent rights will have no impact on vaccine production does not explain why removing legal barriers to making vaccines isn’t helpful, and why drug companies have hired more than 100 registered lobbyists to protect those patents. It is true that patents are not the only barrier to scaling generic or biosimilar vaccine production. Access to cell lines and manufacturing know-how, as well as vaccine inputs, are a challenge for some vaccine platforms, and the regulatory barriers to approval are important too. IP [intellectual property] is not the only issue, but the argument that IP is not an issue is wrong. Indeed, over time, IP becomes the most important barrier to entry. The benefits of weaker IP rules will depend in part on how long the COVID-19 pandemic persists, and no one really knows the answer to that. Governments need to do more than lift the most toxic WTO TRIPS rules, they should play a more constructive role in opening up access to know-how, and making vaccine technologies global public goods. The transfer of manufacturing know-how can be required, or even purchased. The WHO [World Health Organization] COVID-19 Technology Access Pool (C-TAP) and the proposed mRNA technology hubs should be supported, and the proposed WHO pandemic treaty should include provisions to internationalize public rights in publicly funded know-how, inventions and data.” 

See related statements and documents from KEI including: “KEI submission to Canada Standing Committee on International Trade and Investment Policy: Concerning COVID-19,” “COVID-19 Vaccine Manufacturing Capacity,” “Buying Know-How to Scale Vaccine Manufacturing” and “KEI Statement at WTO COVID-19 Vaccine Equity Event.”

Love was recently on the accuracy.org news release: “How Bill Gates Makes Intellectual Property More Important than Public Health.”

How Bill Gates Makes Intellectual Property More Important than Public Health

JAMIE LOVE, james.love@keionline.org
Love is director Knowledge Ecology International, and has been arguing that the Gates Foundation, with its sprawling financial ties, allowed it to assert influence early in the pandemic.

He is quoted in a just-published piece in The New Republic: “Few have observed Bill Gates’s devotion to monopoly medicine more closely than James Love, founder and director of Knowledge Ecology International, a Washington, D.C.–based group that studies the broad nexus of federal policy, the pharmaceutical industry, and intellectual property. Love entered the world of global public health policy around the same time Gates did, and for two decades has watched him scale its heights while reinforcing the system responsible for the very problems he claims to be trying to solve. The through-line for Gates has been his unwavering commitment to drug companies’ right to exclusive control over medical science and the markets for its products.

“‘Things could have gone either way,’ says Love, ‘but Gates wanted exclusive rights maintained. He acted fast to stop the push for sharing the knowledge needed to make the products — the know-how, the data, the cell lines, the tech transfer, the transparency that is critically important in a dozen ways. The pooling approach represented by C-TAP [WHO Covid-19 Technology Access Pool] included all of that. Instead of backing those early discussions, he raced ahead and signaled support for business-as-usual on intellectual property by announcing the ACT-Accelerator [Access to COVID-19 Tools] in March.’ …

“Technically housed within the WHO, the ACT-Accelerator is a Gates operation, top to bottom. It is designed, managed, and staffed largely by Gates organization employees. It embodies Gates’s philanthropic approach to widely anticipated problems posed by intellectual property–hoarding companies able to constrain global production by prioritizing rich countries and inhibiting licensing. Companies partnering with COVAX are allowed to set their own tiered prices. They are subject to almost no transparency requirements and to toothless contractual nods to ‘equitable access’ that have never been enforced. Crucially, the companies retain exclusive rights to their intellectual property. If they stray from the Gates Foundation line on exclusive rights, they are quickly brought to heel. When the director of Oxford’s Jenner Institute had funny ideas about placing the rights to its COVAX-supported vaccine candidate in the public domain, Gates intervened. As reported by Kaiser Health News, ‘A few weeks later, Oxford — urged on by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation — reversed course [and] signed an exclusive vaccine deal with AstraZeneca that gave the pharmaceutical giant sole rights and no guarantee of low prices.’ …

“Gates can hardly disguise his contempt for the growing interest in intellectual property barriers. In recent months, as the debate has shifted from the WHO to the WTO, reporters have drawn testy responses from Gates that harken back to his prickly performances before congressional antitrust hearings a quarter-century ago. When a Fast Company reporter raised the issue in February, she described Gates ‘raising his voice slightly and laughing in frustration,’ before snapping, ‘It’s irritating that this issue comes up here. This isn’t about IP.’

“In interview after interview, Gates has dismissed his critics on the issue — who represent the poor majority of the global population — as spoiled children demanding ice cream before dinner. ‘It’s the classic situation in global health, where the advocates all of a sudden want [the vaccine] for zero dollars and right away,’ he told Reuters in late January. Gates has larded the insults with comments that equate state-protected and publicly funded monopolies with the ‘free market.’ ‘North Korea doesn’t have that many vaccines, as far as we can tell,’ he told The New York Times in November. (It is curious that he chose North Korea as an example and not Cuba, a socialist country with an innovative and world-class vaccine development program with multiple Covid-19 vaccine candidates in various stages of testing.)”

The Case Against Fukushima Releasing Over One Million Metric Tons of Radioactive Wastewater

CINDY FOLKERS, cindy@beyondnuclear.org
KEVIN KAMPS, kevin@beyondnuclear.org
Folkers is radiation and health hazard specialist with Beyond Nuclear. Kamps is the radioactive waste specialist for the group.

Folkers stated: “On Tuesday, the government of Japan announced its decision to intentionally discharge, directly into the Pacific Ocean, 1.25 million metric tons (330 million U.S. gallons) of radioactively contaminated wastewater, enough volume to fill 500 Olympic-sized swimming pools. The contaminated wastewater has accumulated over the past decade at the triple-reactor meltdown site of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. It is currently contained in more than a thousand giant storage tanks onsite. The dumping will begin in a couple of years, and continue for decades.

“Tokyo Electric Power Company’s (TEPCO) data show that even twice-through filtration leaves the water 13.7 times more concentrated with hazardous tritium — radioactive hydrogen — than Japan’s allowable standard for ocean dumping, and about one million times higher than the concentration of natural tritium in Earth’s surface waters.

“TEPCO wants us to believe that the radioactive contamination in this water will be diluted in the ocean waters. But some of the radioactive isotopes will concentrate up the food chain in ocean life. And some of the contamination may not travel out to sea and can double back on itself. Dilution doesn’t work for radioactive isotopes, particularly tritium, which research shows can travel upstream.

“Tritium has a persistent hazardous life of about 123 to 246 years. Organically-bound tritium, can bio-accumulate in food, including seafood, and reside in our bodies for a decade, causing cancer, genetic damage, birth defects, and reproductive harm. Radioactive carbon-14, also present in the wastewater to be dumped, remains hazardous for 55,000 to 110,000 years. Women, children, and fetuses are significantly more susceptible to the hazards of radioactivity than are men.” See Folkers’ factsheet: “Tritium: a universal health threat released by every nuclear reactor.” See Folkers’ full press statement, as well as a list of relevant Beyond Nuclear and other backgrounders.

Kamps said today: “Tokyo Electric Power Company’s (TEPCO), the Japanese government, and the UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) are trying to justify the oceanic releases as being of ‘allowable’ or ‘permissible’ radioactive concentrations, that will then further dilute in the Pacific. But ‘allowable’ or ‘permissible’ does not mean ‘safe.’ The U.S. National Academy of Sciences have long held that any exposure to ionizing radioactivity carries a health risk, no matter how small the dose, and that such harm accumulates over a lifetime of exposure. Thus, ‘dilution is not the solution to radioactive pollution,’ as Dr. Rosalie Bertell of the International Institute of Concern for Public Health warned decades ago. Dilution is a delusion, when bio-accumulation, concentration, and magnification in the seafood supply is taken into consideration. Humans are at the top of that food chain, at risk of the most concentrated, hazardous internal exposures to ingested ionizing radiation.

“American spokesmen — such as former U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission chairman Dale Klein, and former U.S. Department of Energy official Lake Barrett — tapped by TEPCO to advocate for this tritiated wastewater ocean dumping, should be ashamed of themselves. So too should the Biden administration State Department, which has expressed support for this ocean dumping scheme in order to advance its own irresponsible pro-nuclear power agenda, which it shares in common with the Japanese government and the IAEA.

“The claim is made that there is no more room for storing ever accumulating quantities of radioactive wastewater. So arbitrary property lines are taking precedence over what is an ongoing radioactive emergency? The nuclear power plant host towns of Futaba and Okuma are already largely uninhabitable due to extensive radioactive contamination, and in fact are being used to store very large quantities of bagged radioactively contaminated soil, leaves, and other materials gathered from across a broad region. The radioactive wastewater should be stored in robust containers on solid ground for as long as it remains hazardous, even if this means beyond the arbitrary confines of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant property line.” See Kamps’s full press statement, as well as additional factual background information.

U.S. Military Poisoning Nationally and Globally with Toxic Chemicals

The Guardian recently published the piece “The U.S. military is poisoning communities across the U.S. with toxic chemicals” by David Bond, a professor at Bennington College in Vermont, which states: “From Portsmouth, New Hampshire to Colorado Springs, Colorado, the last decade has witnessed communities near military bases waking up to a nightmare of PFAS contamination in their water, their soil and their blood.” Professor Bond highlighted the military origins of toxic PFAS chemicals that were incinerated in Cohoes, New York. Bond writes there is no evidence that incineration actually destroys these synthetic chemicals.
PAT ELDER, pelder@militarypoisons.org
Elder is the founder of MilitaryPoisons.org and has written extensively on the issue of the military’s reckless use of PFAS. Elder initially broke the story on the military’s shipment of PFAS materials to be incinerated at Norlite’s facility in Cohoes, New York.
Elder said today: “The military is poisoning people and the environment in the U.S. and worldwide through its careless use of PFAS in firefighting foams and in other military applications. Recent events in Vermont provide insight into the military’s intransigence.

“Vermont’s Senate recently passed a bill that would ban the use of PFAS in firefighting foams and other consumer products. PFAS are per-and-poly fluoroalkyl substances that are linked to a host of cancers, fetal abnormalities, and childhood diseases. The substances leach into surface water and drinking water from military installations — even those that were closed 30 years ago. The legislature reached out to the Vermont Air National Guard regarding the measure and were told the Guard no longer uses firefighting foam containing toxic PFAS. The Senate moved ahead with the measure with the knowledge that the bill would not affect the Guard.

“PFAS foams are used and stored at Guard bases across the country. Historically, the foams have contained PFOS and PFOA, two particularly deadly varieties of PFAS. The DOD has replaced these foams with other toxic variants of PFAS.

“In published reports the Air Force claims the legacy PFAS used at the burn pit on the Burlington Air National Guard base has been ‘removed and properly disposed of’ but the deadly chemicals continue to slowly leach off the Burlington base and into the Winooski River where PFAS levels have been found above 700 parts per trillion. The Air National Guard has not removed the chemicals and there is no known method for properly disposing of these toxins known as ‘forever chemicals.'”

Last year, Elder tested seawater, rockfish, crabs, and oysters at his home in Southern Maryland near the Chesapeake Bay and found the levels to be a threat to human health. See piece on his work in the Baltimore Sun: “Maryland to begin testing drinking water, Chesapeake Bay oysters for harmful ‘forever chemicals’ known as PFAS.”

Elder’s articles include a three-part series on contamination at the Burlington base, as well as a report on the contamination of rivers and fish near U.S. bases in Germany and an article on contamination in Okinawa, Japan.

He added: “PFAS is used on U.S. military installations worldwide, with widespread contamination reported in Belgium, South Korea, Guam and other locations. Drinking water, rivers and aquatic life have been poisoned.”

Biden Should Halt Trump Privatization of Medicare Moves

DIANE ARCHER, via Linda Benesch, lbenesch@socialsecurityworks.org
Archer is president of Just Care USA, an independent digital hub “covering health and financial issues facing boomers and their families and promoting policy solutions.” She is the past board chair of Consumer Reports and serves on the Brown University School of Public Health Advisory Board. Benesch is communications director of Social Security Works.

Archer just wrote the piece “The Ghost of the Trump Administration Is Haunting Medicare,” which states: “In the last quarter of 2020, the Trump administration’s Department of Health and Human Services launched an experiment, euphemistically called, ‘direct contracting,’ that could fully turn Medicare over to private health insurers. The Biden administration needs to halt this experiment before millions of older and disabled Americans lose their right to choose traditional Medicare.

“Traditional Medicare — public insurance administered by the federal government — has been a hallmark of Medicare since the program was first enacted in 1965. Under traditional Medicare, the government sets rates for doctors and hospitals, sets the conditions for coverage, and pays providers directly. Public insurance is cost-effective, reliable, transparent and publicly accountable.

“Most important, traditional Medicare guarantees people access to care from the doctors and hospitals they choose anywhere in the country. It is designed to meet the needs of healthy older adults and people with disabilities as well as those with complex medical conditions. No corporate health insurer profits from denying care or second-guessing treating physicians.

“Nonetheless, the Trump administration has outsourced Medicare to insurance companies and other for-profit middlemen, placing them between Americans and their doctors. The experiment could assign millions of people who elected traditional Medicare to a corporate health plan that works like Medicare Advantage, the Medicare private health insurance choice, with fewer consumer protections. …

“Allowing for-profit insurers to restrict access to care in traditional Medicare is a dangerous social experiment with the health and lives of the most vulnerable older and disabled Americans. It’s bad policy, a government giveaway to Wall Street, and a betrayal of the most basic principles of Medicare. Congress has given every older and disabled American the right to choose traditional Medicare. The Biden administration should immediately kill this toxic legacy of the former president.”