Econowrap: Greece, strikes, killer IP, and more


Much to report today, starting with the latest form Greece and ending with more bad news for Californians.

Greece, where austerity can kill you

We being with an alarming story from Greece, where a new killer bug is striking in hospitals at the very moment massive cuts to the nation’s health program are devastating health care services.

From Naomi Kresge and Jason Gale of Bloomberg:

Greek doctors are fighting a new invisible foe every day at their hospitals: a pneumonia-causing superbug that most existing antibiotics can’t kill.

The culprit is spreading through health centers already weighed down by a shortage of nurses. The hospital-acquired germ killed as many as half of people with blood cancers infected at Laiko General Hospital, a 500-bed facility in central Athens.

The drug-resistant K. pneumoniae bacteria have a genetic mutation that allows them to evade such powerful drugs as AstraZeneca Plc (AZN)’s Merrem and Johnson & Johnson’s Doribax. A 2010 survey found 49 percent of K. pneumoniae samples in Greece aren’t killed by the antibiotics of last resort, known as carbapenems, according to the European Antimicrobial Resistance Surveillance Network. Many doctors have even tried colistin, a 50-year-old drug so potent that it can damage kidneys.

“We’re not used to seeing people die of an untreatable infection,” said John Rex, vice president for clinical infection at London-based AstraZeneca, which is developing a new generation of antibiotics. “That’s like something in a novel of 200 years ago.”

The superbug is one among many challenges facing the home of the Hippocratic oath, to “do no harm.” The government, confronting a 14.5 billion-euro ($19.3 billion) bond payment on March 20, is trying to arrange financing to avert a collapse of the economy. Partly as a result, the health system is in crisis, with some life-saving drugs in short supply and hospitals struggling to pay their bills.

Read the rest.

Meanwhile, politicians rush to hammer out the deal

With thousands of Greek taking to the streets to protest the bankster-mandated austerity regime that deals a brutal blow to a nation already reeling with the impacts of economic collapse, politicians hasve been meeting today to settle on a package of “reforms” that will satisfy Merkozy, the European Union, the IMF, and the speculators who made bad bets on Greek bonds.

From euronews:

The Greek parliament is debating the latest slice of EU-imposed austerity ahead of tomorrow’s vote which, if approved, will open the taps on a 130 billion euro bailout, Greece’s second since 2010.

But there is more pain on the way, as after the vote a further 325 million euros are expected to be slashed from spending, on top of the pension and wages cuts that are proving so unpopular.

Prime Minister Papademos has already lost some members of his coalition government, with two Socialists resigning, and the four far-right LAOS party ministers also slamming the door. But if party discipline holds he can still expect a comfortable majority come Sunday.

However trades unions are stepping up their pressure with a 48-hour general strike paralysing public transport, and the biggest police union says it will issue arrest warrants for Greece’s biggest international lenders for “subverting democracy”.

The bill before parliament will cut the minimum wage by 22 percent, slash pensions by 300 million euros, cut health and defence spending, and privatise more state-owned companies.

Read the rest.

More from The Guardian’s Damien Pearse :

The Greek government has told rebellious MPs to back a deeply unpopular euro rescue package or send the nation down “an unknown, dangerous path” to default and international economic isolation.

The deputy finance minister, Filippos Sachinidis, said the consequences of failing to accept the bailout terms were “incalculable” for the country.

“Let’s just ask ourselves what it would mean for the country to lose its banking system, to be cut off from imports of raw materials, pharmaceuticals, fuel, basic foodstuffs and technology,” he said.

The warning came as a 48-hour protest strike went into its second day.

Read the rest.

A statement from an occupation

As the 48-hour general strike continues, From the Greek Streets provides a bulletin issued by mental health workers now staging an occupation of the Health Ministry.

We offer it in full as an example of the demands raised by people directly impacted by the so-called austerity regime:

WE CONTINUE THE OCCUPATION AT THE MINISTRY OF HEALTH – WE NEED EVERYONE’S SUPPORT

We continue the occupation at the ministry of health

We need everyone’s support

The workers and those sacked from Mental Health and Special Support participated in the 48-hour General Strike and decided to continue the occupation of the Ministry of Health until Sunday 12/2 at noon, which is when we will hold another assembly to decide on the continuation of our mobilisations.

We demand:

  • Immediate funding of the structures for the coverage of current needs (wages, insurance funds, running costs etc)
  • The cancelling out of the decision to reduce the budget by 55% (40 instead of 85 million) for 2012, which practically means the collapse of the services and the Psychiatric Restructuring
  • Obstacle-free, regular funding of Psychiatric Health and Special Support from the state budget
  • No to lay-offs, mergers, the flexibilisation/ intensification of labour and the reduction in wages which by default lead to a shrinking of the services and the devaluation of their quality
  • Holistic design for a Mental Health that will be public and free, to cover the ever-increasing needs of the society for support and help. Only with the participation of the workers and the recipients through our won structures shall proposals emerge for a true solving of the pending issues.
  • Setting out of a common legal framework for Special Support
  • No to the alteration of pensions and benefits of patients for the coverage of permanent running costs of the structures
  • Re-employment of all who have been sacked, because none of us is consumable
  • We call all unions and workers attacked by the memorandum’s politics of impoverishment and trashing of the social net to support practically our occupation and to take similar incentives in their own workplaces

This is the largest mobilisation ever in our workplace and an unprecedented opportunity to co-ordinate our actions, with this occupation being a starting and reference point!

All together we can make it; the occupation needs everyone’s support!

We will meet on Sunday 12/02 at noon at the Assembly to decide the continuation of our mobilisations, and at 6pm at Syntagma.

Occupiers take over a landmark cinema

Also via From the Greek Streets, a video of the occupation staged today of the historic Olympion Theater in the center of Thessaloniki.

Form the blog:

Thessaloniki, Feb 11 2012. After the end of today’s demonstration, people from the autonomous, grassroots unions occupied Olympion, the historic cinema in the centre of the city (Aristotelous Ave) in order to use it as a co-ordination centre for the struggle in the days ahead.

Firemen battle police in Brussels

Footage from RT:

Here’s something you don’t see everyday, a battle between police and firefighters, involving hoses and tear gas.

The confrontation took place outside the cabinet building in the Belgian capital, where ministers were debating a place to raise the retirement age for firefighters.

Port workers strike on the Suez canal

While Egypt is reeling under the impact of a general strike called to protest the military regime’s refusal to hand over power to the elected government, workers in a critical Suez canal port have called a strike of their own, this one a more traditional walkout by organized labor.

From Bassem Abo Alabass of Al Ahram:

Egypt’s Ain Sokhna port workers announced a general strike after the port’s operator, Dubai-based DP World, failed to meet demands, despite employees staging a 1200 strong sit-in since Thursday.

According to Hamada Kamal, the head of the Sokhna port’s workers syndicate, workers’ demands include hardship allowances of at least 30 per cent of their full wages, wage restructuring and a stake in the company’s profits for the years 2008, 2009 and 2010.

The workers announced a sit-in on 9 February as they believe the Manpower and Immigration Minister Fathy Fekry breached his promise: “he was supposed to reply the demands by this mentioned date,” Kamal commented.

“We are not taking part in [11 Saturday national] civil disobedience, so our general strike will be on Sunday,” Kamal told Ahram Online.

He added that if the strike is not effective, the port’s employees will ban the foreign operator and nationalise the port’s operations.

In September, DP World shut down its Ain Sokhna port in Egypt following previous labour strikes which cost the company about LE30 million ($5.02 million) in lost revenue.

Sokhna, near the southern end of the Suez Canal, is Cairo’s main port for cargo from the Far East.

Read the rest.

When corporate greed kills

Corporateers have embarked on a brutal campaign to surround the world with an intellectual property [IP] regime which adopts a universal set of laws and treaties designed to ensure maximum profits.

What’s seldom said is that the corporate push has real life and death consequences.

From Paul Vallely of The Independent:

The cheap supply of antiretroviral drugs to people with Aids across the world could be choked by an “intellectual property” deal, which the European Union will today demand at a high-level international summit, Aids campaigners say.

More than 80 per cent of those on HIV treatment in developing countries are on generic medicines made in India. But those drugs are under threat from an agreement being negotiated at the 12th EU-India summit in New Delhi between the President of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, and the Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh. The EU has long been seizing supplies of the drugs as they transit through Europe on their way from India to Africa. Now, under a new EU-India Free Trade Agreement, it wants the country nicknamed “the pharmacy of the developing world” to impose lengthy delays in the production of affordable generic versions of vital medicines.

It also wants to hamper the export of these medicines to the developing world, according to the Stop Aids Campaign, a coalition of more than 60 lobby groups including Oxfam, Médecins Sans Frontières and the Elton John Aids Foundation.

The EU trade commissioner, Karel De Gucht, has denied this, saying “any agreement will have no impact on the right or the capacity of India to produce generic medicines”. But while a number of damaging demands have been taken off the negotiating table, other measures relating to enforcement and investment remain. Enforcement provisions are required, said Mr De Gucht, to control fake medicines – though there have been no significant reports of fake medicines at large in anti-Aids treatment. One European lobby group, Act Up-Paris, says leaked text from the negotiations reveal that one EU demand would give European multinational companies the right to challenge the Indian government for any health policies it undertakes, such as price controls or tobacco warnings on cigarette packets, if they are deemed negatively to affect foreign investments. Anna Marriot, head of development finance at Oxfam, said: “Similar terms to those Europe is trying to impose on India have already been imposed on other developing countries. The results have been more expensive medicines, less availability and worse health outcomes. If Europe succeeds, the health of millions of Indians and millions more across the developing world will be put at risk

Read the rest.

Spain slashes severance pay

The conservative Spanish government is fulfilling its own austerity promises, this time cutting severance pay for downsized workers at the very time unemployment rates are at the highest in decades

From Agence France-Presse:

Spain’s right-leaning government slashed employees’ maximum severance pay in a sweeping labour reform unveiled Friday to confront a near 23-percent unemployment rate.

Severance pay falls to a maximum of 33 days’ salary for each year of employment from the previous level of 45 days, Employment Minister Fatima Banez told a news conference after ministers agreed a draft decree.

“The government’s goal is to fight joblessness and stem unemployment,” she said.

The previous Socialist government, ousted in November 20 elections by the Popular Party, had introduced a new contract with a 33-day-a-year maximum severance and just 20 days for financially-motivated layoffs.

But the new contract, introduced in July 2010, was rarely used and the traditional contract offering 45 days a year in compensation for lay offs remained the norm.

“The goal is to make it easier to hire new workers in our country, especially the young and long-term unemployed,” Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria told the news conference.

Read the rest.

After gutting Greece, Germany to give Portugal a deal

If there’s any doubt that Germany’s in the driver’s seat in demanding harsh “reforms” from other European, here’s a zstory that should lay it to rest.

From Valentina Pop of euobserver:

German finance minister Wolfgang Schauble on Thursday was caught on tape promising Portugal an adjustment to its programme after a deal with Greece is sealed, the first time an EU minister has publicly spoken of such plans.

The footage was caught by Portugal’s TVi24 cameraman during the ‘roundtable’ shots at the beginning of a eurozone ministers’ meeting on Thursday (9 February).

Schauble, unaware of the rolling camera, is seen telling his Portuguese counterpart Vitor Gaspar that after the Greek deal is done, Berlin will approve a loosening of the conditions attached to Portugal’s €78 billion bail-out programme.

“If at the end we need to make an adjustment to the programme, having taken large decisions about Greece … This is essential. But then, if necessary, an adjustment of the Portuguese programme, will be prepared,” he says.

The Portuguese minister is grateful saying: “Thank you very much.”

“No problem,” Schauble replies. “It is that members of the German parliament and public opinion in Germany does not believe that our decisions are serious, because they don’t believe in our decisions about Greece.”

Read the rest.

Some really bad news for California’s libraries

The bottom line: All state funding for public libraries has closed, throwing the burdfen back onto cities and counties.

From Holly McDede of KALW of Public Radio in San Francisco:

The bad news is that state funding for California libraries has been completely eliminated. There’s not really any good news about that except that it was expected. This past July, state library funding was sliced in half, and there was a trigger amendment attached to the budget that would eliminate state funding for public libraries at midyear if the state’s revenue projections were not met. Needless to say, they weren’t.

Now libraries in the Bay Area, as in the rest of the state, will lose funding for literacy programs, InterLibrary Loans, and miscellaneous expenses such as librarian training programs and books. Libraries in rural areas will be hit the hardest because they receive more state funding than libraries in larger cities with larger budgets.

These cuts are not new. State funding for libraries has been dwindling for the past decade. The Public Library Fund, which provides direct state aid to public libraries for basic service, has never received its full appropriation from the Legislature since it began in 1983 (which was also the end of Jerry Brown’s first stint as governor). State funding lasted a little over twenty years.

>snip<

In the 1999/2000 fiscal year, libraries received $56.8 million from the state. That was a good year. By the 2008/2009 year, libraries were only getting $12.9 million. That was a bad year, but, in retrospect, still pretty good. Libraries now get nothing.

Read the rest.

And more bad news for Californians

Seems that Governor Jerry Brown’s budget predictions were wrong, and that even more cuts will be coming to state programs including public schools and state colleges and universities, given that Brown’s budget was based on the unrealistic projections.

From Nicholas Riccardi of the Los Angeles Times:

California’s tax revenues continue to pour into the state’s coffers well below what Gov. Jerry Brown forecast in his budget, a worrisome sign amid indications of an economic upturn.

State Controller John Chiang issued a report Friday showing that tax receipts in January were $528 million lower than the governor assumed in the budget he released a few weeks ago. That budget already assumed a $9 billion deficit.

“January’s revenues were disappointing on almost every front,” Chiang said in a statement.

The good news — or what passes for good news in the land of California budgeting — is that Chiang said the state is no longer in danger of entirely running out of cash next month. The Department of Finance will shift funds around and take out short-term loans to avoid falling as much as $3 billion in the red.

But the continuing lagging tax receipts are another dose of cold water on some who are hoping for an easier budget year.

Read the rest.

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