Headline of the day II: Pharma Bro takes a stand


From the Independent:

Martin Shkreli supports Donald Trump: ‘Most-hated man in the world’ announces his support for Republican nominee

Shkreli is best known for hiking the price of an AIDS drug by more than 5,000 per cent

Hollande cracks down on striking French workers


France’s neoliberal SINO [socialist in name only] president continued his crackdown on striking workers who had called nationwide actions to protest “reforms” rammed through by his government in the interests of corporateers and banksters.

From Agence France-Presse:

The French government fought back Friday in a bitter labour dispute with unions, sweeping away blockades at fuel depots after President Francois Hollande vowed to “stand firm” over the reform that sparked the industrial action.

A defiant Hollande said he would not give in to the unions’ demands to withdraw the measures that the Socialist government hope will free up France’s famously rigid labour market.

“I will stand firm because I think it is a good reform,” the president told reporters

>snip<

Police cleared all 15 blockades around the country, leaving only one depot still shut by a strike.

Chart of the day: Social media news monoculture


From News Use Across Social Media Platforms 2016 [PDF], a new report from the Pew Research Center:

BLOG News

Don’t believe the IMF; it’s as neoliberal as ever


Yep, all that recent rhetoric about a “new and improved” IMF, an institution more congenial to people rather than banksters and neoliberal doctrine, is just a load of hogwash.

That’s the finding of a new study from University of Cambridge researchers who dove beneath the superficial rhetoric to find the same old beast lurking in the shallows.

From the University of Cambridge:

A new study, the largest of its kind, has systematically examined International Monetary Fund (IMF) policies over the past three decades. It found that – despite claims to have reformed their practices following the global financial crisis – the IMF has in fact ramped up the number of conditions imposed on borrower nations to pre-crisis levels.

The crisis revived a flagging IMF in 2009, and the organisation has since approved some of its largest loans to countries in economic trouble. At the same time, IMF rhetoric changed dramatically. The ‘structural adjustment programs’ of austerity and privatisation were seemingly replaced with talk of the perils of inequality and the importance of social protection.

Researchers from the University of Cambridge’s Department of Sociology collected archival material on the IMF’s lending operations and identified all policy conditions in loan agreements between 1985 and 2014 – extracting 55,465 conditions across 131 countries in total.

They found that structural adjustment conditions increased by 61% between 2008 and 2014, and reached a level similar to the pre-crisis period.

The authors of the study, which used newly-available data and is published today [open access] in the Review of International Political Economy, say their findings show that the IMF has surreptitiously returned to the practices it claims it has abandoned: encroaching on the policy space of elected governments by enforcing free market reforms as conditions of lending. This is despite the IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde rejecting concerns over the return of structural adjustment: “We do not do that anymore”*.

“The IMF has publicly acknowledged their objectives to include creating breathing space for borrowing countries, and economic stability combined with social protection,” said lead author Alexander Kentikelenis. “Yet, we show the IMF has in fact increased its push for market-oriented reforms in recent years – reforms that can be detrimental to vital public services in borrowing countries.”

Although the IMF claims its programs can “create policy space” for governments, structural adjustment conditions can reduce this space as they are often aimed at an economy’s underlying structure: privatising state-owned enterprises and deregulating labour markets, for example.

There’s more, after the jump. . .

Continue reading

Headline of the day: Crying foul at UC Berkeley


From the Guardian:

‘Honey bear’: Berkeley student details alleged sexual advances by professor

Exclusive: Nicole Hemenway describes how repeated harassment by her thesis adviser derailed her studies – and how the school system failed to protect her

Zika worries lead docs to ask Brazil Olympics halt


First, from United Press International:

A group of 150 health experts released a letter calling for the summer Olympic games to be postponed or moved from Rio de Janeiro over fears of Zika virus exposure.

The scientists, doctors and medical ethicists said, in a letter directed to World Health Organization Director Dr. Margaret Chan, the new findings about Zika’s link to birth defects and Guillain-Barre syndrome should be the catalyst to move or postpone the games to safeguard everyone involved. The group said it is not asking for the games, scheduled to begin in August, to be canceled.
Signatories include leading health specialists from around the globe.

Rather than describe the contents, here’s the letter itself, posted at Rio Olympics Later [where you’ll also find the complete list of signatories]:

Open Letter to Dr. Margaret Chan, Director-General, World Health Organization [WHO]

We are writing to express our concern about the upcoming Olympic and Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. WHO’s declaration of Zika as a “Public Health Emergency of International Concern,” coupled with new scientific findings that underscore the seriousness of that problem, call for the Rio 2016 Games to be postponed and/or moved to another location—but not cancelled—in the name of public health.

We make this call despite the widespread fatalism that the Rio 2016 Games are inevitable or “too big to fail”. History teaches this is wrong: the 1916, 1940, and 1944 Olympic Games were not just postponed, but cancelled, and other sporting events were moved because of disease, as Major League Baseball did for Zika, and the Africa Cup of Nations did for Ebola.

Currently, many athletes, delegations, and journalists are struggling with the decision of whether to participate in the Rio 2016 Games. We agree with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control recommendation that workers should “Consider delaying travel to areas with active Zika virus transmission”. If that advice were followed uniformly, no athlete would have to choose between risking disease and participating in a competition that many have trained for their whole lives.

Our greater concern is for global health. The Brazilian strain of Zika virus harms health in ways that science has not observed before. An unnecessary risk is posed when 500,000 foreign tourists from all countries attend the Games, potentially acquire that strain, and return home to places where it can become endemic. Should that happen to poor, as-yet unaffected places (e.g., most of South Asia and Africa) the suffering can be great. It is unethical to run the risk, just for Games that could proceed anyway, if postponed and/or moved.

In our view, several new scientific findings require WHO to reconsider its advice on the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games. For example:

  • That the Brazilian viral strain causes microcephaly and probably Guillain-Barré syndrome. Further, because human, animal and in vitro studies demonstrate that the virus is neurotrophic and causes cell death, it is biologically plausible that there are other as yet undiscovered neurological injuries, as exist for similar viruses (e.g. dengue).
  • That while Zika’s risk to any single individual is low, the risk to a population is undeniably high. Currently, Brazil’s government reports 120,000 probable Zika cases, 8 and 1,300 confirmed cases of microcephaly (with another 3,300 under investigation), which is above the historical level of microcephaly.
  • That Rio de Janeiro is highly affected by Zika. Brazil’s government reports Rio de Janeiro state has the second-highest number of probable Zika cases in the country (32,000) and the fourth-highest incidence rate (195 per 100,000), demonstrating active transmission.
  • That despite Rio’s new mosquito-killing program, the transmission of mosquito-borne disease has gone up rather than down. While Zika is a new epidemic and lacks historical data, using dengue fever as a proxy, cases in Rio from January thru April 2016 are up 320% and 1150% over the same periods in 2015 and 2014, respectively. In the specific neighborhood of the Olympic Park (Barra da Tijuca) there have been more dengue cases in just the first quarter of 2016 than in all of 2015.
  • That Rio’s health system is so severely weakened as to make a last-minute push against Zika impossible. Recently Rio’s state government declared a health sector emergency, and Rio’s city government cut funding against mosquito-borne disease by 20%.13 While the virus is the infectious agent of Zika, its real cause is Rio’s poor social conditions and sanitation—factors that lack a quick fix, and that are not helped when shrinking health resources are diverted to the Games.
  • That it is possible to eradicate the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which transmits Zika, from Rio. Actually that mosquito was totally eradicated from Brazil in the 1950s, but came back after control efforts lapsed. Thus holding the Games, in the presence of Zika-carrying mosquitoes, is a choice and not necessary.
  • That one cannot count on nature for defence. While lower mosquito activity during Rio’s winter months reduces the individual risk to travelers of infection, that is partly offset when travelers who became infected return home during the northern hemisphere’s summer months and peak mosquito activity, which increases the public health risk that local mosquitos acquire and spread the virus—meaning that both seasons are relevant to the epidemic’s course. Also, infection can spread through blood donations and transfusions, particularly in poor countries that lack screening for Zika.

The rest, after the jump. . . Continue reading

Mr. Fish: Currency Exchange


From Clowncrack, his blog of pecuniary peregrinations:

BLOG Fish