Pluralistic: 19 Apr 2020

matt taibbi,finance,taxscam,bailouts,stimulus,mitch mcconnell,trickle down,pharma, guillotine watch,david sirota,kei,centrism kills,Remdesivir,shared microbial destiny,debt,graeber,singapore,imf,world bank

80% of the stimulus tax break will go to 43,000 people; Gilead, the remdesivir welfare queens; Poor countries denied covid aid

Pluralistic: 19 Apr 2020


Today's links

80% of the stimulus tax break will go to 43,000 people (permalink)

Remember when the stimulus was first proposed, and there was a lot of concern that the GOP would us it as an excuse to put billions more into the pockets of, you know, billionaires?

You'll never guess what happened next.

Unsurprisingly, Mitch McConnell's version of the CARES Act included swingeing tax-breaks for the richest people in America, eliminating the Tax Scam's modest limits to how much individuals earning $250K or more could claim.

All told, the Joint Committee on Taxation calculated that this change will cost $195B over ten years: more, even, than the US is showering on the airlines who so unwisely incinerated their cash reserves in an orgy of stock-buybacks, leaving them to beg for corporate welfare.

It's hard to overstate much much money this will give to the richest people in America. Eighty percent of the 195 billion dollars will go to 43,000 people.

These are literally the richest people in the country.

As Matt Taibbi explains so masterfully, this is a trickle-down bailout, with seemingly unlimited budgets to lift asset prices, but a mere $1200 to help low-waged workers survive for ten weeks (Treasury Secretary Mnuchin calls this a "liquidity bridge").

The Fed is stepping in with billions for junk bonds issued by "fallen angel" companies whose credit ratings have fallen through the floor. They're buying from banks like Citibank, who buy bonds them at steep discounts, then sell them at full face value to Uncle Sucker.

(Image: Rich Brooks, CC BY, modified)

Gilead, the remdesivir welfare queens (permalink)

To read Bret Stevens in the New York Times ("there should be no big-pharma haters in pandemics"), you'd think that remdesivir, the promising covid treatment, was the result of Big Pharma's big R&D; budgets. You'd be wrong. Remdesivir was publicly funded.

The ​U.S. Army, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health/National Institute Allergies and Infectious Diseases subsidized the preclinical and clinical development of remdesivir – helped along by public universities.

Actual pharma R&D; spend goes to things like figuring out how to repatent an old heart med as a boner pill (Viagra), or how to reformulate a public domain opioid and repatent it (Oxycontin).

The risky spending that saves lives? That comes from the government.

Why would the private sector spend money that it could divert to shareholder buybacks and executive salary on high-risk ventures to improve patients' lives, when the can just appropriate publicly funded research, patent it, and charge unlimited sums for access to it?

It didn't used to be this way. In 1989, the Bush NIH adopted a rule limiting how much pharma companies could charge Americans for products derived from publicly funded research. In 1995, Bill Clinton struck down the rule.

Centrism literally kills.

What's more, as David Sirota notes, the Clinton HHS czar who oversaw the change, Donna Shalala, was just appointed to oversee trillions in stimulus funds by Nancy Pelosi.

If remdesivir turns out to be an effective covid treatment, it will be a huge, publicly subsidized windfall for Gilead, the pharma company that gouged the public on Hepatitis C treatments, tripled the cost of publicly funded HIV meds, dodged tax by offshoring its profits.

Gilead is also the company that secured "orphan drug" status for remdesivir, giving it 7 years' worth of extra exclusive rights to it (this status is for drugs that treat rare diseases that no one else is addressing).

It only backed off after public shaming.

The right has fretted for decades about the "moral hazard" of government handouts, warning that giving poor people enough money to house and feed themselves will tempt them to be lazy and greedy.

But the only welfare queens driving Cadillacs and getting fat on government pork are the donor class in exclusive ZIP codes, not people living in Section 8 housing and risking their lives working for Doordash.

(Image: Ivan Radic, CC BY)

Poor countries denied covid aid (permalink)

The world's poorest countries (ahem, "emerging markets") need at least $2.5 trillion to weather the pandemic. The world's richest countries (the G20) have offered them $150 billion.

The thing is, only treating part of the population in a pandemic is like only banning pissing in one end of the swimming pool. We have a shared, species-wide microbial destiny.

That's a lesson Singapore learned in the hardest way possible.

You may recall that early in the pandemic, Singapore boasted of a near-miraculous control over the spread of infection. Now, it's gripped by an out of control second wave that's burning through the city-state.

That second wave came from Singapore's much-abused underclass.

Singapore's political authoritarianism has its origins in the subjugation of ethnic minorities and the systematic denial of political agency to a permanent class of gastarbeiters who live in cramped dorms and earn peppercorn wages.

In other words, Singapore is exactly like America, or Saudi Arabia, or Qatar, or any other country that relies on a brutally exploited underclass to maintain its quality of life.

It's also a microcosm for the world.

And while America – and other sovereign currency issuers – can conjure up unlimited funds by adding zeroes to the spreadsheets in the national bank's computers, poor countries cannot.

Their debts are denominated in foreign currencies. Minting more Haitian gourdes will not help the country pay its dollar- and euro-denominated debts. Nor can the Haitian state procure the resources it needs to fight covid by spending gourdes domestically.

Haiti's centuries of debt-slavery – whereby it had to divert the lion's share of its productive output to pay for its freedom from France, which had already enslaved and looted the country before "freeing" it – has made it impossible to develop domestic production capacity.

Haiti, too, is a microcosm for the world, whose poor countries have been forced at debt-point to privatize and sell off their state industries to foreign looters who left them to crumble, and whose domestic production priorities were sidelined to serve export markets.

Exports generated foreign currency that could be used to service debt to foreign creditors – but also, orienting poor countries' economies around exportable commodities made it impossible to sustain themselves, creating endless new debts.

Now, the World Bank and the IMF – the arm-breakers who oversaw this whole process in the name of "development" – are wringing their hands because the rich countries they served aren't even coughing up 5% of what these debtor nations need to survive pandemic.

But the joke's on the G20. We're all in the same swimming pool, but we've denied the people in the deep end any right to get out and use the toilets. Our pool will have a pissing-end and a non-pissing end, and we're all gonna be swimming in it for a long time to come.

This day in history (permalink)

#15yrsago India rejects software patents

#10yrsago HOWTO sneak Hitler onto YouTube

#10yrsago Students remake Goofy Movie's title sequence

#10yrsago Ireland High Court gives entertainment giants the power to disconnect whole families from the net

#5yrsago Helen Keller, feminist, radical socialist, anti-racist activist and civil libertarian

#1yrago Noam Chomsky takes ten minutes to explain everything you need to know about the Republican Party in 2019

Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources: Naked Capitalism (

Currently writing: My next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel about truth and reconciliation. Friday's progress: 539 words (5299 total).

Currently reading: I'm getting really into Anna Weiner's memoir about tech, "Uncanny Valley" and Jo Walton's forthcoming novel "Or What You Will."

Latest podcast: Podcast swap: Wil Wheaton on Little Brother
Upcoming appearances:

Upcoming books: "Poesy the Monster Slayer" (Jul 2020), a picture book about monsters, bedtime, gender, and kicking ass. Pre-order here:

(we're having a launch for it in Burbank on July 11 at Dark Delicacies and you can get me AND Poesy to sign it and Dark Del will ship it to the monster kids in your life in time for the release date).

"Attack Surface": The third Little Brother book, Oct 20, 2020.

"Little Brother/Homeland": A reissue omnibus edition with a new introduction by Edward Snowden:

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When life gives you SARS, you make sarsaparilla -Joey "Accordion Guy" DeVilla

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