Saturday, April 30, 2011

Canadian Elections

I so often look at Canada as a much kinder and gentler version of the US.

I forget that they too have right wingers and are engaged in senseless wars at great economic cost to their nation.

I was kind of stoked when they issued a no confidence vote on their conservatives. Wish we could recall all the Tea Baggers.

Here's a couple of recent stories related to the elections.

Canada's massive military budget is off the table in federal election

April 26, 2011

Among many substantive issues not discussed during campaign 2011 is the $23 billion Canada now spends on war, a massive investment that all three major federal parties will maintain if elected.

Add in the ongoing costs of the Afghanistan war plus undisclosed funding for Canada's bombardment of Libya (well over 200 aerial bombing runs and aerial "sorties" to date), and the $23 billion figure may run higher.

To put this in perspective, slightly more than $63 million a day is spent on Canada's war machine. That's the daily equivalent of 420 affordable housing units or 3,000 four-year full-tuition grants for university students. Over the course of a month, that's 13,000 affordable housing units and 90,000 students going to university without massive debt load.

It is in this context that politicians preaching fiscal restraint and support for burdened families continue proffering blind allegiance to a well-funded institution whose leadership, past and present, has always been clear: in the words of former General Rick Hillier, their role is to kill people.

While many young people join the military because they believe they're contributing to society (in addition to those who simply need the income or an education), there are other ways for them to live out those aspirations without having to pick up a gun and face the choice of killing or being killed.

But those other choices are not part of the dominant parties' platforms. (By contrast, the Green Party would reduce war spending to the then historically high 2005 levels, the Bloc has criticized high war spending but is not specific in its plans, and the Communist Party would reduce military spending by 75 per cent).

In the case of the NDP, it's likely that many supporters are unaware of their party's willingness to choose guns over butter. After all, the NDP is traditionally seen as the place where anti-war activists park their vote, and the strongest anti-war statements usually come from its MPs, who often speak at peace rallies. But most NDP MPs have long accepted the framework of ever increasing amounts of war funding.

Canada vote dominated by left-leaning third-party surge

Friday, April 29th, 2011

Friday, April 29th, 2011

OTTAWA — A third-party surge has unsettled the status quo as Canada prepares to go to the polls on Monday, with Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper seeking an ever-elusive majority government.

The run-up to Canada's fourth election in seven years has been dominated by speculation over how the surging support in opinion polls for the left-leaning New Democratic Party (NDP) will play out.

Harper and the Tories failed to earn an overall majority in both the 2006 and 2008 elections, leaving themselves prey to opposition parties bringing the government down, as on this occasion, with a vote of no confidence.

The Conservatives lead all three main opposition parties in pre-election surveys but remain shy of the support needed to win a majority of seats in parliament.

"The most reasonable assumption at the moment is that the Conservatives will win another minority government," Jon Pammett, a politics professor at Carleton University in Ottawa, told AFP.

"But it's not clear how long another Harper (minority) government will last because he seems to have ruled out working with the other parties."

Harper himself has warned that a second-place NDP could form a coalition with the Liberals to seize power if the Conservatives fail to win a majority of the 308 seats in parliament.

But analysts are skeptical that the NDP's stunning rise in the polls will translate into a projected tripling of seats from 36 prior to the dissolution of parliament, to leapfrog the Liberals and the separatist Bloc Quebecois.

Ultra Right Wing Republican Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels To Sign Bill Defunding Planned Parenthood Into Law

NDIANAPOLIS -- Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels plans to sign a bill that will restrict abortions and make Indiana the first state to cut off all government funding for Planned Parenthood.

The move is likely to beef up his credentials among social conservatives as he considers a 2012 presidential run.

Daniels said Friday that he's supported the abortion restrictions from the outset and the provision added to defund Planned Parenthood didn't change his mind. Daniels says women's health, family planning and other services will remain available.

The move puts at risk $4 million a year in federal family planning grants likely to be cut off because of the bill. The legislation also would ban would abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy unless there's a substantial threat to the woman's life or health.

Cal Beisner: Tornadoes Are A Taste Of God's Judgment

You just knew you could count on some shit for brains Christo-Nazi to start babbling about how the  tornadoes were God's Punishment for not abusing LGBT/T people enough. 

How come none of them ever link "God's Punishment" to the catastrophe having just wiped out the homes of a bunch of misogynistic, LGBT/T hating, racist bigots and come to a different conclusion?  That is to say that maybe magic invisible Sky Daddy is a liberal who hates racist, misogynistic bigots.

Louisiana Lawmaker Proposes "the Country's Most Extreme Anti-Abortion Measure"

Posted by: Danielle Jackson, Online Outreach Assistant
April 29, 2011

There's been a lot of news this week about various attacks on reproductive health and women who seek abortions at the state level, and we’ve got some news from Louisiana that is among the worst.

Louisiana Republican State Rep. John LaBruzzo – a man who calls himself "unapologetically pro-life" – recently introduced what is being called "the country's most extreme anti-abortion measure": a complete ban on all abortions in Louisiana with no exceptions for cases of rape or incest or when the life of the woman is threatened. He claims to be pro-life, but I guess women's lives don't count. It would charge all women who seek abortions as well as the doctors who provide them with "feticide," which could lead to a 15-year maximum jail sentence with hard labor. LaBruzzo has since claimed that the feticide language in the current draft of the bill wasn't mean to apply to the women who obtain abortions, just the doctors who provide them, and went on to elaborate further, saying:

"That will be amended out before it is heard in committee. That is a mis-draft; that is not acceptable to me. That would make it too difficult to pass, otherwise."

Can I just note that it wasn't a "mis-draft" for being a ridiculous and over-reaching provision on abortion services that would endanger women's lives and health, but because it would make his bill too difficult to pass? You might wonder exactly how LaBruzzo expects this bill to pass – after all, even after he addresses the "mis-draft," his bill would still call for jail time for doctors who provide a constitutionally protected medical service.

Donald Trump Was a Horrific Spoiled Schoolyard Bully

April 29, 2011

After I reported on the ex-Trump employee Julian Long’s account of extensive on-the-job harassment suffered under the extraordinarily abusive Donald Trump, the editor-in-chief of one of the world’s premiere yachting magazines read my article and said “I saw an extreme example of this in person at one of our events. He wasn’t even trying to be discreet. This is likely just the tip of the iceberg.”

What are the origins of Donald Trump’s sociopathic behavior? Cursory internet research reveals that Trump as an early teen had “troubles” at the private Kew Forest School in Queens, New York. Trump publicity materials would have you believe the young Donald got switched to the New York Military Academy merely because his parents wanted to give good direction to his “energy and assertiveness.”

Yet the truth apparently is that young Donald Trump was a bullying menace. The attitude and behavior that feed his adult bullying and harassment of employees and others were already visible when Trump was 13.

Trump does not want the public to know the specifics of his bullying at the Kew Forest School. One can imagine that school officials would fear retaliation from him, were they ever to put a reporter in contact with people who witnessed Trump’s despicable behavior when he was there. After all, when the New York Times’s Gail Collins published things about Trump that Trump did not want published, he sent her the newspaper with her picture and wrote “The Face of a Dog!“on it. I e-mailed Trump’s longtime secretary and PR contact Rhona Graff-Riccio, telling her I was on deadline for this article and wanted to know specifics of how Donald Trump as a Kew Forest School student had given the school community such nightmares. It would be interesting to know, additionally, whether Trump feels any remorse over what he inflicted on his victims. Graff did not give me the courtesy of a reply.

Maybe Bad-comb-over Donald the Douche Nozzle should be required to turn over both his tax statements and school record before we let him run for anything.

Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence RI urges Assembly to reject civil unions

So much for the ultra right wing Christo-Fascist lie about how LGBT/T folks can have civil unions just so long as they don't have equal rights or call it marriage...

By Katherine Gregg
Journal State House Bureau
April 30, 2011

PROVIDENCE — After playing a major role in the defeat of same-sex marriage, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence is now urging state lawmakers to reject the compromise that House Speaker Gordon D. Fox is backing: civil unions.

In an unsigned editorial in this week’s Rhode Island Catholic, the Diocese says:

“We hope that those members of the Rhode Island General Assembly who have consistently supported traditional marriage will stay steadfast in their opposition to the legal recognition of same-sex relationships as either marriage or civil unions.

“Government sanctioned civil unions cannot be supported by those who truly understand the unique nature and status afforded a man and a woman in marriage. We call upon the members of the Rhode Island House and Senate to cast aside such compromises and rather work to strengthen marriage in our state by passing a Defense of Marriage Bill that clearly defines marriage as between one man and one woman.

“Only then will the attempts by radical activists to redefine marriage and undermine family life in Rhode Island finally be stopped. Civil Unions are not the answer,” the editorial says.

And “far from settling the issue, the passage of civil union legislation only advances the drive to same-sex marriage by framing the perception of same-sex relationships as ‘separate but equal.’ Such a course of events have taken place in recent years in Maine, Vermont, Connecticut and New Hampshire with civil unions ultimately becoming the stepping stone to the legal recognition of same-sex relationships as marriage,” the editorial says.

A Taste of the Dead

Marijuana Prohibition Turns 100 Today. What Is There to Celebrate?

Fri., Apr. 29 2011

Alcohol prohibition did little to stop Americans from guzzling booze, though it helped make gangsters rich, cops and courts busy, and encouraged foreign imports of "medicinal whiskey" (sound familiar?)

That experiment was short-lived -- ratified in 1920, the 18th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution was repealed in 1933 -- and particularly short-lived in comparison to the country's experiment with outlawing marijuana -- which turns 100 years old today.

In stark contrast to fermented grapes and grain, the intoxicating qualities of the cannabis sativa plant were unknown to Americans outside of a few Southwest border towns in 1911, according to Dale Gieringer of California NORML. Gieringer spent the better part of 10 years trying to find evidence of marijuana use among 19th-century American writers (local boy Jack London experimented with hash, but he is an exception).

"There is no record of any public concern over marijuana at this time," Gieringer told SF Weekly. "Only after cannabis was prohibited did it come into widespread popularity." Pot got plenty of attention in 1911 -- and thereafter when Massachusetts passed a law to ban "hypnotic drugs" such as opiates. "Marihuana" or "Indian hemp" was added to that list, despite its widespread anonymity as well as a clause in the Massachusetts ban that allowed drug stores to sell medicinal pot. That included the widely available tinctures used to alleviate migraines and menstrual cramps, according to Gieringer. Ironically, these anti-marijuana laws fostered a new mystique around the drug, which began seeping into the mainstream in the 1920s; it was popularized by jazz musicians and other hip folk.
Since then, the record has been established: An international compact in 1961 supported the banning of cannabis, which the federal government did outright with the Controlled Substances Act in 1970. Pot use and arrests have increased steadily since; marijuana arrests in the United States have nearly tripled since 1990.

Friday, April 29, 2011

What Does the Religious Right Stand For?

By Wayne Besen

When I first started fighting for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender equality in 1989, the mission seemed quite clear. We were working to educate and change the minds of traditionalists who had virtually no experience with LGBT people or issues. These individuals had grown up with stereotypes and misconceptions that could be proven false by the coming out of friends, co-workers, neighbors, or family members.

Today, defining our opponents is not so easy, and sometimes vexing, because their values are so vacant and vacuous. Back in the day, a true conservative was defined by how one lived -- not necessarily how one voted. But today's soulless, corporate conservatism has nothing to do with the way one lives and everything to do with lazy political labels and one-size-fits-all prefab positions.

Conservatism has now become a country club that offers membership to those who support a handful of policy issues. To join, one has to repudiate (or refudiate) abortion, marriage equality for same-sex couples, and the idea that global warming is man made. One also has to irrationally hate Barack Obama and favor tax cuts for millionaires.

If you deviate from the "conservatively correct" prefab platform -- you are out. However, if you pass the standard "issue test" you are in -- no matter how libertine your actual lifestyle is. This creed of "it's about what you say, not how you live" is becoming rather evident as the GOP presidential nomination process heats up.

Florida House passes anti-abortion legislation

By Kathleen Haughney, Orlando SentinelApril 29, 2011
Reporting from Tallahassee—
After hours of emotionally fraught debate, the Florida House overwhelmingly approved a range of new abortion measures that would restrict health-insurance coverage of the procedure, ban most abortions after a fetus is "viable," and require women seeking an abortion to first review an ultrasound in hopes that they would reverse their decision after seeing the images.

The focus of the debate was the "ultrasound" bill, passed last year but vetoed by then-Gov. Charlie Crist. Rep. James Grant revealed that his parents were told that he was going to be born severely disabled, and he said they decided to go through with the pregnancy because "they believed in life." There was no reason, he said, for women not to understand the status of the fetus when they seek an abortion.

The measure requires that women who seek to end a pregnancy first receive an ultrasound, though they could decline in writing to view it. Women who are victims of sexual abuse or have a medical reason can opt out of the exam, but they must provide a copy of a restraining order, police report, medical record or other court documentation.

The House also passed five other abortion bills Wednesday. Most are pending in the Senate; they are expected to pass, and then be signed by Gov. Rick Scott.

Agriculture tied to gulf 'dead zone'

Science News:
April 28, 2011

CHAMPAIGN, Ill., April 28 (UPI) -- The spring rains drenching the U.S. Midwest may lead to an eventual environmental problem of oxygen "dead zones" in the Gulf of Mexico, researchers say.

Researchers at the University of Illinois and Cornell University warn that phosphorus and nitrate pollution in the Mississippi River from agricultural runoff is causing a growing hypoxic zone in the Gulf of Mexico that threatens marine life and wildlife habitats.

The hypoxic zone, which forms every spring or summer in the gulf, measured 7,000 square miles last summer and with high flow in the Mississippi from heavy spring rains, the zone may be large again this summer, a UI release said Wednesday.

Researchers said the farm fields in the Corn Belt -- spanning Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Ohio and southwest Minnesota -- and in southeastern Missouri and northeastern Arkansas, are the largest contributors of nitrate and phosphorus pollution to rivers, lakes and streams that empty into the Mississippi River and, ultimately, the Gulf of Mexico.

UK cops arrest professor for planning ‘zombie wedding,’ mock execution during royal ceremony

Friday, April 29th, 2011

Over a dozen British police officers engaged in a "pre-crime" arrest of a university professor and a street theater group yesterday, in what activists called a "Minority Report"-style crackdown ahead of the royal wedding.

Professor Chris Knight, 68, a former anthropology lecturer at the University of East London, had planned to engage in a bit of street theater with a group of activists that were dressed in medieval garb. According to reports, the group had constructed a fake guillotine and planned to stage a mock execution of Prince Andrew Edward, the queen's second oldest son.

A member of the group who was not arrested told The Guardian that the other two activists police roped in were Camilla Power and Patrick Macroidan.

The police apparently learned of the activists' plans through surveillance methods, then staged the arrest outside Knight's home in south east London last night, before the wedding got underway.

A police spokesman told The Guardian they were arrested on the charge of "suspicion of conspiracy to cause public nuisance and breach of the peace."

The group, Meltdown UK, had been planning a "Zombie Wedding" to mark the royals' festivities.

Policing Pregnancy

April 21, 2011

Utah prosecutors and conservative politicians are determined to lock up the young woman known in court filings as J.M.S. for the crime of trying to end her pregnancy. Her grim journey through the legal system began in 2009, when she was 17 and pregnant by a convicted felon named Brandon Gale, who is currently facing charges of using her and another underage girl to make pornography. J.M.S. lived in a house without electricity or running water in a remote part of Utah. Even if she could have obtained the required parental consent and scraped together money for an abortion and a couple of nights in a hotel to comply with Utah’s twenty-four-hour waiting period, simply getting to the nearest clinic posed an enormous challenge. Salt Lake City is more than a three-hour drive from her town, twice that in bad weather, when snow makes the mountain passes treacherous. There is no public transportation, and she didn’t have a driver’s license.

And so, according to prosecutors, in May 2009, in her third trimester and desperate, J.M.S. paid a stranger $150 to beat her in the hope of inducing a miscarriage. The assault failed to end her pregnancy, but that didn’t stop police from charging her with criminal solicitation of murder. The juvenile court judge who heard her case, however, tossed it out on the grounds that her actions were legal under the state’s definition of abortion.

Local abortion opponents were outraged that J.M.S. had been freed. “It revealed an extreme weakness in the law, that a pregnant woman could do anything she wanted to do—it did not matter how grotesque or brutal—all the way up until the date of birth to kill her unborn child,” said Carl Wimmer, a state representative. He led a successful campaign to amend Utah’s abortion law so that as of last year, women who end their pregnancies outside the medical system can be prosecuted as killers. “We will be the only state in the nation that will do what we’re attempting to do here: hold a woman accountable for killing her unborn child,” Wimmer told the Salt Lake Tribune.

He’s wrong. In recent years, women in several states have faced arrest and imprisonment for the crime of ending their pregnancies, or merely attempting to do so. For decades now, feminists have warned about a post–Roe v. Wade world in which women are locked up for having abortions. Antiabortion activists dismiss such fears as propaganda. “The pro-life position has always been that women are victimized by abortion,” says the Priests for Life website, which has a page of sample letters to the editor meant to refute claims that abortion bans could lead to women being prosecuted. “In fact, we have repeatedly rejected the suggestion that women should be put in jail, much less executed.” But as abortion rights weaken and fetuses are endowed with a separate legal identity, women are being put in jail.

Until Death Us Do Part: Wedded to Wealth We Don’t Have

Published on Wednesday, April 27, 2011 by

Perhaps it’s the media fever over the Royal wedding in Great Britain or perhaps it’s my own disgust about hearing that Exxon Mobil makes $100M a day in profits, but either way I am pretty certain many Americans would rather go to their deaths believing in fairy tales than fighting reality.

Most of us will never celebrate weddings like that of William and Kate and most of us will never make $1,000 a day in profits much less a million or 10 million or $100M. I think we all get that somehow – even if we watch and wonder and even sometimes plan how we would spend our millions.

But I also know a significant number of people who really believe they are somehow closer to having those millions and being among the ultra-wealthy. And many who believe and even convince themselves to identify with the ultra-rich actually live paycheck-to-paycheck or worse. It’s an interesting cultural phenomenon that is an extremely effective way for those who actually have the money and power to control those of us who do not. Sometimes the control is quite direct when owners and bosses hold power over our jobs, and other times the control is more subtle as corporations, advertisers and the news media create images and imaginings of what it means to be a success in America in 2011.

It is mind control and action control on steroids that makes millions and millions of Americans trust their lives to those who value them so little.

U.S. Department of Labor Policy on Equal Employment Opportunity

Secretary of Labor
Washington, D.C. 20210

As the Secretary of Labor, I am expressing my personal commitment to ensuring that DOL is a workplace free from unlawful discrimination and harassment; fostering a work environment that fully utilizes the capabilities of every employee; and achieving and maintaining a high quality, diverse workforce at all organizational levels throughout the Department.

It is the policy of this Department to provide equal employment opportunity for all employees and applicants for DOL employment regardless of race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy and gender identity), national origin, age, disability, genetic information, parental status, and sexual orientation; to promote the full realization of equal employment opportunity through a continuing affirmative program where all employees have the freedom to compete on a fair and level playing field; and to maintain a workplace free of discriminatory practices and policies. In addition, it is the Department’s policy to safeguard all employees’ exercise of their rights under civil rights statutes. Accordingly, DOL prohibits all of its managers, supervisors, and employees from retaliating against any person because that person has opposed a practice made unlawful by or participated in any stage of administrative or judicial proceedings under relevant employment discrimination laws.

I am equally committed to ensuring that the Department, as the Government’s lead organization for disability employment policy, meets or exceeds the government-wide goal regarding the employment of individuals with disabilities, including our Nation’s wounded soldiers and other disabled Veterans. In support of this pledge, the Department must provide effective reasonable accommodations that will enable qualified employees with disabilities to perform the essential functions of their jobs and enjoy benefits and privileges of employment that are equal to those enjoyed by other DOL employees.

To ensure that the Department’s actual practices adhere to the requirements articulated in this policy, the Civil Rights Center (CRC), Office of the Assistant Secretary for Administration and Management, will oversee compliance with this policy and with the affirmative employment and nondiscrimination provisions of all applicable laws, statutes, regulations, and executive orders. In addition, each DOL agency shall conduct periodic self-assessments to identify potential barriers to equal opportunity; include EEO-related goals, including specific actions to address any barriers identified in its annual report to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission; enhance accountability by including an EEO element in the performance standards of every DOL manager and supervisor; ensure that its managers and employees comply with EEO training requirements established by CRC; widely publicize this policy and the procedures available for filing complaints that allege violations of this policy; take swift and appropriate action to remedy any violation of this policy, including discipline of any DOL manager, supervisor, or employee found to have violated this policy; and provide full support to DOL’s internal programs related to nondiscrimination, equal opportunity, and diversity.

Each and every one of us must do our part to protect and advance the principles of equal employment opportunity at the Department by following this EEO policy. Working together in this endeavor, we will cultivate an environment that is diverse, inclusive, and free of discrimination, and that maximizes our ability to advance the Department’s mission.

Hilda L. Solis
Secretary of Labor
April 2011

The Republican Threat to Voting

April 26, 2011

Less than a year before the 2012 presidential voting begins, Republican legislatures and governors across the country are rewriting voting laws to make it much harder for the young, the poor and African-Americans — groups that typically vote Democratic — to cast a ballot.

Spreading fear of a nonexistent flood of voter fraud, they are demanding that citizens be required to show a government-issued identification before they are allowed to vote. Republicans have been pushing these changes for years, but now more than two-thirds of the states have adopted or are considering such laws. The Advancement Project, an advocacy group of civil rights lawyers, correctly describes the push as “the largest legislative effort to scale back voting rights in a century.”

Anyone who has stood on the long lines at a motor vehicle office knows that it isn’t easy to get such documents. For working people, it could mean giving up a day’s wages.

A survey by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law found that 11 percent of citizens, 21 million people, do not have a current photo ID. That fraction increases to 15 percent of low-income voting-age citizens, 18 percent of young eligible voters and 25 percent of black eligible voters. Those demographic groups tend to vote Democratic, and Republicans are imposing requirements that they know many will be unable to meet.

Kansas’ new law was drafted by its secretary of state, Kris Kobach, who also wrote Arizona’s anti-immigrant law. Voters will be required to show a photo ID at the polls. Before they can register, Kansans will have to produce a proof of citizenship, such as a birth certificate.

Tough luck if you don’t happen to have one in your pocket when you’re at the county fair and you pass the voter registration booth. Or when the League of Women Voters brings its High School Registration Project to your school cafeteria. Or when you show up at your dorm at the University of Kansas without your birth certificate. Sorry, you won’t be voting in Lawrence, and probably not at all.

Racist Republican Sally Kern: Minorities Earn Less Because They Don't Work As Hard

And people think I'm rude when I call them Republi-Nazis....

I'd like to sentence her to a year working at one of those infamous chicken processing plants, plucking and gutting chickens for less than a living wage. Then she might be force to rethink her Kochsucking rich elitist/racist pig ideology.

First Posted: 04/28/11

Oklahoma state Rep. Sally Kern, a Republican, made questionable remarks in the wake of a measure seeking to ban affirmative action programs advancing in the state, Tulsa World reports.

According to the local outlet:
Rep. Sally Kern, R-Oklahoma City, said minorities earn less than white people because they don’t work as hard and have less initiative.“We have a high percentage of blacks in prison, and that’s tragic, but are they in prison just because they are black or because they don’t want to study as hard in school? I’ve taught school, and I saw a lot of people of color who didn’t study hard because they said the government would take care of them.”
In light of the proposed constitutional amendment in question clearing the state House of Representatives on Wednesday evening, the GOP lawmaker also suggested women earn less than their male counterparts because they generally spend more time in the home.

The AP recently reported on the legislation:
The measure [will] put on the 2012 election ballot a provision that the state may not grant preferential treatment to any individual or group on the basis of race, color, sex, ethnicity or national origin. The ban would apply to public employment, education and contracting.Opponents say the proposal targets a non-existent problem. Several Democrats contend the bill is an attempt to use race to generate fear and draw conservative white voters to the polls.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Johnson & Johnson Turns Its Back on AIDS Patients

Pharma Giant’s Refusal to Participate in Patent Pool Undermines Access to Key AIDS Drugs

New York, NY, April 25, 2011—Pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson is putting the lives of people living with HIV at stake by refusing to participate in the Medicines Patent Pool, a mechanism designed to lower prices of HIV medicines and increase access to them for people in the developing world, said the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) today.

Letter to Johnson & Johnson CEO Regarding the Company's Failure to Put Urgently Needed AIDS Drugs in the Medicines Patent Pool

Download Letter [115 KB]

 Johnson & Johnson, which holds patents on three key new HIV drugs desperately needed throughout the developing world, has so far refused to license these patents to the Medicines Patent Pool. The Pool has been set up to increase access to more affordable versions of HIV drugs, including fixed-dose combinations that include multiple medicines in one pill, and to develop much-needed pediatric HIV drugs.The Pool would license patents on HIV drugs to other manufacturers and the resulting competition would dramatically reduce prices, making them much more affordable in the developing world. However, since the Pool is voluntary it will only work if patent holders like Johnson & Johnson choose to participate.

“High prices mean patients in poor countries continue to be relegated to second-class care, with no choice but to take older, more toxic drugs we would no longer use in the U.S., and with almost no treatment options when the virus becomes resistant to the limited number of drugs available,” said Sophie Delaunay, executive director of MSF-USA. “By putting its HIV drug patents in the pool, Johnson & Johnson has a unique opportunity to transform this situation and save lives worldwide. Instead, it has chosen to turn its back on these patients.”

Johnson & Johnson holds patents on HIV medicines rilpivirine, darunavir, and etravirine. Rilpivirine is a promising antiretroviral (ARV) under development for use in first-line treatment regimens. Darunavir and etravirine are important for patients who have developed resistance to their existing treatment.

Even at Johnson & Johnson’s so-called reduced “access” pricing, the cost of these drugs is prohibitive; darunavir is priced at $1,095 per patient per year, and etravirine at $913 per patient per year in the world’s least-developed countries, most of which are in sub-Saharan Africa. Many developing countries have to pay even higher prices.

In December 2010, the National Institutes of Health, which holds the intellectual property rights for a manufacturing process for darunavir, put its patent for the AIDS drug in the patent pool. Johnson & Johnson holds the drug’s remaining patents, and is effectively blocking other companies from manufacturing and making darunavir available at prices affordable for patients in the developing world.

There are now more than six million people receiving lifesaving ARV treatment worldwide. This would have been impossible without competition from generic companies that helped bring prices down from $10,000 per patient per year for the most commonly used first line regimen, to less than $100 per patient per year. Today, mechanisms in international law and additional voluntary initiatives such as the Medicines Patent Pool will be crucial to ensuring that patients have access to newer, less toxic medicines to keep them alive. Several drug companies have already begun negotiating with the pool.

MSF now provides treatment to more than 170,000 people living with HIV worldwide, and is beginning to witness the inevitable, natural phenomenon of treatment failure, in which patients everywhere develop resistance to treatment and need to graduate to newer regimens. This is happening now in MSF’s longest running HIV projects, in South Africa, Mozambique, Kenya, and Cameroon.

“We have patients who have no other treatment options other than Johnson & Johnson’s darunavir, which is so expensive that the South African government cannot afford it,” said Dr. Gilles van Cutsem, medical coordinator for MSF programs in South Africa and Lesotho. “MSF is now paying for these drugs, but this is just the beginning of the problem. Ten years after we put the first patients on antiretroviral treatment, we now have patients in our clinics who have become resistant to drugs available at affordable prices. We’ll soon be back in a situation where we’ll have to say there are drugs in the private sector, or in rich countries, that could treat you, but we cannot afford them.”

Supreme Court rules that companies can block class-action lawsuits

Time to impeach some Supreme Court Judges for conflict of interest. Thomas for one and Scalia for another. You can't take money from the corporations and be unbiased.

Time to end Corporate Personhood.

Thursday, April 28th, 2011 -- 9:19 am

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday handed businesses such as AT&T Inc a major victory by upholding the use of arbitration for customer disputes rather than allowing claims to be brought together as a group.

By a 5-4 vote, the high court ruled that an AT&T unit could enforce a provision in its customer contracts requiring individual arbitration and preventing the pooling together of claims into a class-action lawsuit or class-wide arbitration.

The plaintiffs, Vincent and Liza Concepcion, filed their class-action lawsuit in 2006, claiming they were improperly charged about $30 in sales taxes on cellphones that the AT&T Mobility wireless unit had advertised as free.

AT&T, the No. 2 U.S. mobile service, was backed in the case by a number of other companies and by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce business group, while consumer and civil rights groups supported the California couple.

Companies generally prefer arbitration as a less expensive way of settling consumer disputes, as opposed to costly class actions, which allow customers to band together and can result in large monetary awards.

Customer arbitration agreements are widely used by cellphone carriers, cable providers, credit card companies, stock brokerage firms and other businesses.

Vanderbilt University law professor Brian Fitzpatrick said it may be the most important class action case ever decided by the Supreme Court.

"Because companies can ask all of their consumers, employees, and perhaps even shareholders to sign arbitration agreements, this decision has the potential to permit companies to escape class action liability in almost all of their activities," he said.

GOP reps run from voters on Social Security, Medicare

April 28 2011

Facing constituents angry about GOP plans to kill Medicare and slash Social Security, Republican lawmakers across the country are screening questions ahead of time at town hall meetings, holding "invitation only" gatherings, or deciding not to meet with voters at all.

Following an embarrassing meeting with constituents that was televised nationally, House budget chair Paul Ryan had to face angry voters at a second town hall in his Kenosha, Wis., district this week.

As he entered he had to make his way through a crowd of protesters chanting, "Ryan stop lying!" and then people in the capacity crowd interrupted him as he tried to defend his budget plan.

"If you're yelling, I just want you to leave," Ryan told his constituents. "We've got media here. Let's prove to them that Wisconsinites can be cordial to one another."

Reporters were unable to interview Ryan after the meeting because he slipped out a different door than the one where he had entered and drove away in a vehicle different from the one in which he had arrived.

Similar scenes are taking place at other Republican town halls, including in key states like Pennsylvania and Florida.

GOP freshman Rep. Daniel Webster's town hall meeting in Orlando, Fla., April 26 was a case in point. Webster tried to use charts and graphs to explain the Republican budget he voted for, but he could barely be heard over angry shouts about the GOP Medicare-gutting proposal.

Ron Paul: End Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid

I wouldn't vote for Ron Paul for anything. Aside from the fact that Ron Paul is an insane Galt-hole there is the matter of his homophobia and misogyny.

Let’s Admit the Truth About American Royals

Only six percent of the American people give a shit about the wedding of two over privilege welfare brats from the UK. Yet the supermarket tabloids and mags are all front cover peddling the spectacle of this wedding. Why? Because corporate advertisers paid big buck for advertising to run during the coverage that the media corporations paid big bucks to cover.

Wake up folks. It is junk food for the mind. Crap to divert your attention from the rich right wing elite who are ass fucking you.

I was appalled when Stephanie Miller came on the Ed Schultz show the other night and desperately pleaded with people to care and watch.

I tell you what I would pay to watch, French Revolution of 1789 redux with modern real life cast of the royals and the rich in a reality show, where each week the elite scum vote which one of their class faces the firing squad.

Published on Thursday, April 28, 2011 by GRITtv

According to polls, only about 6 percent of Americans are following with any close attention the royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton. But that's not stopping the media fascination on both sides of the Atlantic with American's supposed fascination with Britain's royals.

“Royal wedding reminds us why we tossed Brits,” ran one letter to a local paper recently. That exorbitant $80 million spent on a medieval style ritual in time of 21st century austerity. It's shameful. It's old world. It's just what Americans fought a revolutionary war to throw off.

And then there are the folks like Rupert Cornwall at the UK Independent who argue hat people in the US love British royals precisely because they don't have their own real thing. Gary Younge at the Nation noted that even his liberal friends wanted to know what he, a British citizen, thought of the prince marrying a "commoner." Oh please.

The only serious and in fact actually quite insidious part about this is that it re-inscribes the notion that the US has no class.

Really? When the top one percent of wealthiest Americans own 34 percent of the country's wealth and enjoyed 80 percent of the total increase in wealth here between 1980 and 2005? No class?

As for ruling class? In the UK the commoners keep their royals on welfare. Here we do the same with our corporations. Billions in tax dollars keep them afloat and keep CEOs in mansions. Why not just give them palaces? At least we could keep them open for tours.

Since the Supreme Court has given corporations free speech rights and personhood -- how about marriage equality next?

Prop H8 Supporters Contest Ruling On Grounds Judge Has Same-Sex Partner

They ask, "How can a gay man act impartially upon a law denying him equality?"

The answer: "With every bit as much impartiality as a straight person who wishes to deny a minority group equality."

In truth a minority groups equal rights should never be put to the vote. Particularly if that minority group is as the late Thurgood Marshall put it, "Despised, discriminated against and dispossessed."

Jillian Rayfield
April 26, 2011

Supporters of Proposition 8, California's ballot-approved ban on same-sex marriage, filed a motion this week contesting Judge Vaughn Walker's ruling that the ban is unconstitutional, because he's gay man who may have wished to marry his partner.

In August of last year, Judge Walker, now retired, ruled that the 2008 voter initiative banning gay marriage is unconstitutional, because Prop 8 "fails to advance any rational basis in singling out gay men and lesbians for denial of a marriage license."

In a filing with the District Court on Monday, the "Yes On 8" campaign argued that Walker should have recused himself from presiding over the case because he has a longtime same-sex partner -- whom he may someday wish to marry. This, the filing says, means that Walker went against "the judiciary's strict fidelity to the ancient maxim that 'no man can be a judge in his own case and no man is permitted to try cases where he has an interest in the outcome.'"

"Given that Chief Judge Walker was in a committed, long-term, same-sex relationship
throughout this case (and for many years before the case commenced)," the filing said, "it is clear that his 'impartiality might reasonably [have been] questioned' from the outset'."

The "Yes On 8" campaign also emphasized that it's not that they'd object to every gay or lesbian judge from presiding over the case -- only those that may want to get married one day.

How Wall Street Thieves, Led by Goldman Sachs, Took Down the Global Economy -- Their Outsized Influence Must be Stopped

If we don't bust up Big Finance, there soon will be another financial crisis that will destroy what's left of our middle-class way of life.

April 25, 2011

For all the damning evidence you’ll ever need about Wall Street corruption, take a look at the recent report from the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, “Wall Street and the Financial Crisis: An Anatomy of a Financial Collapse” (PDF). The 650-page indictment reveals the myriad of ways Wall Street lies, cheats, steals and defrauds on a routine basis. Arguably the report is as revealing as the Nixon tapes or the Pentagon Papers. Unfortunately, it’s too technical to get widely read. So here are the Cliff Notes.

This study, broken into four case studies, forms a biblical tale of how toxic mortgages were born, nurtured and spread like the plague throughout the land, making money for the financial philistines every step of the way.

The first case study focuses on Washington Mutual (WaMu), the nation’s largest savings bank, and its overt strategic decision to go big into selling high risk, high profit mortgages. Here you will find a detailed description of every type of dangerous mortgage foisted onto the public. Your blood pressure also will climb when you read how the bank used focus groups to help its mortgage brokers find better ways to sucker customers into risky mortgages even though the applicants had qualified for and wanted safer fixed-rate mortgages.

The report also details outright fraud committed by brokers – forging documents, making phony loans, stealing money – who then got rewarded again and again by the bank for their high sales records, even after they were caught! Nobody cared because the loans quickly were sold to Wall Street – the riskier the loan, the higher the interest rates and the more Wall Street would pay.

The second case recounts the pathetic tale of the Office of Thrift Supervision, the regulatory agency that was supposed to halt WaMu’s shoddy and corrupt practices. The report shows that OTS knew of these deceptive practices in great detail for five full years and still failed to stop the pillaging. Why? Because OTS’s top regulators didn’t believe in regulations. Banks should regulate themselves. OTS only wanted to help. And one way it helped was by deliberately impeding other regulators like the FDIC from enforcing stronger regulations on WaMu. The OTS, which mercifully has been eliminated, believed it was partners with the banks it supposedly regulated --- a textbook example of regulatory capture combined with financial Stockholm syndrome.

The third case study which focuses on the two largest rating agencies (Moody’s and Standard and Poor’s) is a story of prostitution. Here we learn how the rating agencies turned trick after trick for the big Wall Street banks, doling out favors (AAA ratings) to thousands of “innovative” securities based on the junk mortgages that WaMu and others originated and packaged. Then when it became obvious to everyone that the crap was still crap, the whores went virtuous by drastically downgrading thousands of toxic assets overnight. This forced pension funds and insurance companies, who by law could only hold investment grade securities, to dump their downgraded assets all at once. The result was a rapid and deep collapse of all financial markets. (You read this section of the report and you have to wonder how anyone in their right mind could take seriously S&P’s recent “negative outlook” rating on the U.S. Who are they shilling for now?)

The last case study is the most pornographic as it strips bare two investment banks, Deutsche Bank and Goldman Sachs. The report accuses them of packaging and selling toxic securities while, at the same time, betting that those securities would fail. Furthermore, the report argues forcefully, that “Investment banks were the driving force behind the structured finance products that provided a steady stream of funding for lenders originating high risk, poor quality loans and that magnified risk throughout the U.S. financial system. The investment banks that engineered, sold, traded, and profited from mortgage related structured finance products were a major cause of the financial crisis.” (pg 19)

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Oklahoma lawmakers approve life sentence for cooking hashish

Tuesday, April 26th, 2011

A bill that mandates a sentence of up to life in prison for converting marijuana or marijuana oil into hashish is heading to Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin's (R) desk after being passed by the state Legislature on Monday.

House Bill 1798 makes the conviction of a first time offense of manufacturing hashish a felony with a prison mandatory minimum sentence of two years and a maximum sentence of life in prison.

Hashish is made by compressing and heating glandular hairs from marijuana plants known as "kief." Chemical solvents can also be used to extract the psychoactive components of the marijuana plant, resulting in hash oil.

Under a second offense, sentences would be doubled and those convicted would be unable to receive a suspended sentence or probation.

Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs spokesman Mark Woodward told The Associated Press that the bill is meant to "send a message" that illegal drugs won't be tolerated in the state.

The Oklahoma Senate approved the legislation in a 44 to 2 vote and the state House approved the legislation 75 to 18.

Oklahoma Republicans Try To Keep Planned Parenthood From Feeding Babies

April 27, 2011

In a shocking story out of Oklahoma, a Republican state representative amended a senior nutrition bill to slash funding for the Women Infants and Children (WIC) health program, by refusing to allow nine independent contractors to distribute federally funded nutrition and food vouchers to low-income mothers. One of these contractors is Planned Parenthood. Observers said that Planned Parenthood was the clear target in amending the legislation, which shifts responsibility for providing the vouchers to various government sites, mostly county health departments.

Although over the past few months, "pro-life" Republicans in the national Congress have made strong attempts to paint Planned Parenthood as primarily an abortion provider, the Tulsa Planned Parenthood does not, ironically, provide abortion services. What it does do is provide essential care for more than 3,535 women, infants and children. On their website, Planned Parenthood says that this adds up to a yearly average of 42,420 visits by over 9,3000 individual clients.

State Department wants passport applicants to reveal lifetime employment history

Monday, April 25th, 2011

The U.S. Department of State has proposed a new questionnaire that would make it almost impossible for some people to get a passport.

The new document (PDF) would require that certain applicants submit a list of every residence and every job they've ever had since birth.

In February, the department published a request in the Federal Register allowing 60 days for comment before the new rules go into effect.

"The Biographical Questionnaire for a U.S. Passport, form DS-5513, is used to supplement an application for a U.S. passport when the applicant submits citizenship or identity evidence that is insufficient or of questionable authenticity," according to a supporting statement (PDF) issued along with the request for comment.

"This form is used prior to passport issuance and solicits information relating to the respondent’s family, birth circumstances, residences, schooling, and employment," the statement added.

"In addition to this primary use of the data, the DS-5513 may also be used as evidence in the prosecution of any individual who makes a false statement on the application and for other uses as set forth in the Prefatory Statement and the Passport System of Records Notice (State-26)."

The document also requires some applicants to submit information about the mother's pre-natal and post-natal care, the mother's residence one year before and after the birth, the persons in attendance at the birth and religious or institutional recordings of the birth.
"The State Department estimated that the average respondent would be able to compile all this information in just 45 minutes, which is obviously absurd given the amount of research that is likely to be required to even attempt to complete the form," Consumer Traveler's Edward Hasbrouck noted.