Posts tagged Amy Goodman

Patents kill, part III

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Patents kill people.

Patent restrictions, inflicted in the name of intellectual property, are in reality nothing more than government-granted monopolies — granted in a deliberate effort to lock down ideas, which are, by nature, non-rivalrous resources, discoverable and available to all without conflict, deprivation or exclusion. This effort to monopolize access to human knowledge, and to extract monopoly profits for a term of years, can operate only by forbidding anyone else to peacefully produce — to imitate, duplicate, independently develop, or make improvements on the margin, to new technology and potentially life-saving discoveries. It has nothing to do with protecting property, and everything to do with protecting corporate power at the expense of massive invasions on property — on the equal liberty of generic competitors to make use of their own resources, computers, labs, chemicals and plants to produce and to market similar wares. In the industries dominated by patent privilege, incumbent trans-national corporations, like Roche and GlaxoSmithKline, ransom their fattened profits from legally-secured captive markets, and do it ultimately at the expense, not just of would-be competitors, but also at the expense of those who depend on patent-encumbered technologies for their well-being, their health, or their lives. When this is done to relatively privileged people and useful or enjoyable technologies, this is a crude form of protectionism, and an exploitative burden for the benefit of entrenched capitalists. When it is done to the poorest, most marginalized, and most desperate people, it is an obscene and lethal crime. And that’s what’s happened — just what’s happend — with pharmaceutical corporations’ protected monopolies on antiretroviral drugs for HIV in Africa. Patents kill. They killed millions in the last two decades alone, that open competition and lower prices could have saved. And this crime against humanity was inflicted knowingly, deliberately, not just by Big Pharma — they had no power to stop generics; they couldn’t have done it alone — but by the concerted effort of the United States government, the E.U. governments, the World Trade Organization, and WTO-controlled client states throughout the developing world. Due to the TRIPS protocols on international patents and copyrights — negotiated in the Uruguay Round of GATT and enforced through the World Trade Organization — neo-liberal trade agreements became the key mechanism for a deliberate international governmental campaign to protect the industrial structure of corporate capitalism, even though it meant suppressing the production and trade of affordable HIV drugs in the global South, and even though this inevitably meant millions of preventable deaths.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re broadcasting from the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. . . . As we turn now to another film about what some have described as the crime of the century. The new documentary, Fire in the Blood, explores how major pharmaceutical companies, including Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline, as well as the United States, prevented tens of millions of people in the developing world from receiving affordable generic AIDS drugs. Millions died as a result. This is a part of the trailer of Fire in the Blood.

DR. PETER MUGYENYI: Over two million people were reported to have died in that year alone.

YUSUF HAMIED: The whole of Africa was being taken for a ride.

BILL CLINTON: It’s fine for people in rich countries to say this is what it ought to be. They don’t have to live in these little villages and watch people die like flies.

DR. PETER MUGYENYI: Where are the drugs? The drugs are where the disease is not.

DONALD McNEIL: You fight our patent monopolies, we will make sure you die.

NELSON MANDELA: As long as drugs are not available to everybody, he will not take them.

JAMES LOVE: It was just kind of a crisis of humanity. People just weren’t really human for a moment.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s an excerpt of Fire in the Blood, the film tracing how Big Pharma refused to allow countries to break patents and allow for the importation of cheap generic AIDS drugs. The problem continues today, as the World Trade Organization continues to block the importation of generic drugs in many countries because of a trade deal known as the TRIPS Agreement. Fire in the Blood just had its North American premiere here at the Sundance Film Festival.

For more, we’re joined by two guests: Dylan Mohan Gray, director of Fire in the Blood, based in Mumbai, India, and Dr. Peter Mugyenyi, a Ugandan AIDS doctor featured in the film, recognized as one of the world’s foremost specialists and researchers in the field of HIV/AIDS. He played a key role in founding Uganda’s HIV/AIDS Joint Clinical Research Centre, and is author of a new book, Genocide by Denial: How Profiteering from HIV/AIDS Killed Millions.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Dylan, let’s begin with you, why you made this film.

DYLAN MOHAN GRAY: Well, basically, I think the story sort of came to me by accident, to be honest. I was working on a film in Sri Lanka in 2004, and I had a day off and just happened to read an article in The Economist, of all things, which—it struck me as very interesting, because it was about one of the characters in our film, Dr. Yusuf Hamied, who’s an Indian generic drug maker, and it was talking about how he was bringing in low-cost antiretroviral medications to Africa. Yet it seemed something interesting was going on beneath the surface. It seemed like this was obviously, you know, to my mind, a very good thing that he was doing, but they were going out of their way, I felt, to attack him, but it wasn’t clear why. So, it piqued my interest. And, you know, not long later, I had the opportunity to meet Dr. Hamied. And through him, I met several of the other people that became contributors to the film.

And I used to be in the academic world, and, you know, the historian in me was just completely shocked and scandalized that, A, I didn’t know more about the story, and, B, that there was so little written about it or, you know, there were no comprehensive accounts of what had happened—you know, something that had killed 10, 12 million people, and it seemed to have happened almost without a record. So, you know, the impetus to make the film, primarily, was actually to create a record, a memorial and a chronicle of what happened. And as you say, I mean, we consider this to be the crime of the century.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Mugyenyi is featured in the film. And it’s an honor to have you here with us—

DR. PETER MUGYENYI: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: —before you head back home to Uganda, where you had been imprisoned, jailed, as you tried to bring generic drugs into Uganda, to get these drugs at a cheaper amount. Explain what Dr. Hamied did, this—I mean, what Cipla, the head of Cipla did, this drug company, how he challenged the rest of the world in saying he would cut the prices of AIDS drugs from—what was it? The amount that people would have to pay for the triple cocktail, before and after Hamied?

DR. PETER MUGYENYI: Well, there was a misinformation, worldwide misinformation, that AIDS drugs were too expensive to manufacture. The second misinformation that was there was that Africans would not be able to use these drugs, that it was impossible to use these drugs in the African condition. Dr. Hamied called the bluff of all of those who were propagating this false information that cost so many lives of people.

AMY GOODMAN: How?

DR. PETER MUGYENYI: Well, he just literally announced that it is not true that these drugs can only be manufactured at such an exorbitant cost. He demonstrated that they could be demonstrated at relatively affordable cost, which would save millions of lives because of affordability. So it was the issue of affordability and access where Hamied came in and acted.

AMY GOODMAN: So before him, drug companies were charging like $15,000 for a year for one patient to get a triple cocktail for the year. And he cut that price to less than a dollar a day? $15,000 to $350 for the year?

DR. PETER MUGYENYI: Yes, and that action was incredible. For the first time, millions of people who were dying stopped dying in Africa, because they started accessing life-saving drugs.

AMY GOODMAN: Why did you end up in jail in Uganda?

DR. PETER MUGYENYI: Well, it was—I was arrested, but I was rescued because Uganda government was concerned about the plight of the citizens who were dying in such a big number. So an emergency meeting that rescued me from arrest took place in front of the government ministers, and at that meeting I made it clear: I said to the meeting that, Look, your relatives are dying of AIDS. Your citizens are dying of AIDS. I’m a doctor working among the AIDS patients, and I have no tools to save my patients’ lives. All I have done is to import affordable drugs, which will increase access. These drugs are at the airport. They are under your care. You can block them from coming in, but as far as I’m concerned, I have done my job of bringing life-saving drugs to Uganda. And I think they understood. And every one of them had relatives who were suffering from AIDS, or at least a friend whom they knew who had died from AIDS. And so, this was—it was not very difficult to convince them that this action was necessary, and I needed to be out saving lives with drugs instead of being arrested.

AMY GOODMAN: Another of the heroes in the fight to bring life-saving drugs to HIV/AIDS patients is Zackie Achmat of South Africa’s Treatment Action Campaign. In 1999, Achmat, who is HIV-positive, went on a treatment strike in solidarity with others who couldn’t afford medication. He’s featured in Fire in the Blood.

ZAKIE ACHMAT: If my sisters or brothers or cousins had HIV or had AIDS and needed medicines, they wouldn’t have been able to get it. And I grew up in a house where your mom would say, If all the kids can’t have chocolate, one is not going to have it.

NARRATOR: Having made up his mind, Zackie Achmat announced that he would boycott antiretrovirals until the South African government made them available to everyone.

AMY GOODMAN: Dylan Mohan Gray, talk about the significance of Zackie Achmat and what the whole issue of patents is about in these U.S. companies.

DYLAN MOHAN GRAY: Well, Zackie Achmat, as you said, is one of the great heroes of this story. And I think the boycott that he undertook, very much with a sort of a Gandhian impetus in mind, you know, it was a very deliberate action that he took. And as he says in the film, you know, he grew up in a family where his mother said, if one child couldn’t have chocolate, then none of the children were going to get it. And that’s a very simple way of looking at it, but that’s something I think we can all identify with. He grew up, you know, struggling against apartheid in South Africa, a very strong sense of solidarity with his fellow man. And, you know, he could easily have accessed the drugs, because he was an internationally known activist, but he said, No, I’m not going to do it. And he came very close to death by taking that decision. And I think, you know, it had a very, very big impact on waking people, especially in the Western world, up to the reality of the situation in sub-Saharan Africa. So, you know, the gamble paid off, so to speak.

AMY GOODMAN: Say that last part.

DYLAN MOHAN GRAY: I said the gamble paid off. I feel like his gamble that he took—I mean, he risked his life—but in a sense, the gamble paid off, because the impact of what he did, you know, had repercussions throughout the world and woke a lot of people up to the situation of access to medicine in Africa.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain how the patents work.

DYLAN MOHAN GRAY: A patent is a government-granted monopoly or a grant of exclusivity which is given to companies, generally, or individuals, with the idea that by giving a period of the exclusivity, one would incentivize investment. So, what typically happens with pharmaceutical companies is they will purchase technology from others, whether it be universities or small biotech companies or other small innovative outfits, and they will then commercialize these products. And because they will have a monopoly for a period of time, usually a minimum of 20 years, they will be able to set the price at any level they wish. And we have the former vice president of Pfizer in our film, who says very openly the concept is to maximize revenue. It has nothing to do with the cost of research and development.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Mugyenyi, what needs to happen right now, in these last 30 seconds?

DR. PETER MUGYENYI: Well, what needs to happen is the realization that an inequitable, unethical situation exists with the related TRIPS Agreement, and that lives, millions of lives, are at stake unless this TRIPS Agreement and patents issue are addressed—not to hurt business, but to make sure that they do not hurt patients and result in a bloodbath, that we have seen in the case of HIV/AIDS.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you both very much for being with us, Dr. Peter Mugyenyi from Uganda and Dylan Mohan Gray, director of the new film that has just premiered here at the Sundance Film Festival, Fire in the Blood.

I’m glad this movie has come out — it’s important, and it’s important that people are talking about this. My one reservation is that, when I watched this clip, it took some serious jaw-clenching not to scream out loud when the filmmakers brought William Jefferson Clinton, political philanthropist and ex-President of the United States, on screen to moralize and to lecture us about the HIV crisis in Africa. Of course the crisis is appalling, and the result of policies which are deeply immoral. But whose policies? Just who do they think negotiated and signed TRIPS? The AIDS crisis is a crime inflicted on Africa by governments, and at the head of the most powerful government inflicting it were President Clinton, his administration, and his successors. He and they have blood on their hands.

Patents kill people. They mean that the pharmaceutical cartel can call up the armed bully-boys of almost every government in the world in order to enforce artificially high prices for their top money-makers; and that means that State violence is being used to prevent affordable, life-saving drugs from reaching the desparate and the poor. The multilateral so-called free trade agreements of the past couple decades — NAFTA, CAFTA, the WTO — are slowly cutting back on traditional industrial protectionism while dramatically expanding the scale, scope, and deadly reach of intellectual protectionism.

To hell with that. Intellectual property is not about incentivizing or encouraging or opportunities. It’s about force: invading other people’s property to force them to render long-term rents to corporate monopolists, long after they have stopped putting any particular work into what they are claiming to be theirs. A necessary corollary is that it also means invading those who offer innovations based on the work that they control, unless those innovations comply with a very narrow set of guidelines for authorized use. They have no right to do that, and they sure don’t have the right to do it at the expense of innocent people’s lives. A free society needs a free culture, free knowledge and free technology. Patents kill and freedom saves people’s lives. This is as dead simple as it gets. To hell with state monopolies; to hell with state capitalism.

Also.

The statist “We don’t”

When rioting St. Paul cops arrested Amy Goodman, CREDO Mobile published the video and issued an action alert with the odd declarative title This is America. We don’t arrest journalists here..

The first problem is the false subject. We don’t arrest journalists, or anyone else. Government cops arrest people. I don’t, and neither do you.

So, let’s rephrase: This is America. Police don’t arrest journalists here.

But what’s the don’t supposed to mean here? If it’s supposed to be a simple declarative statement, then it’s obviously false. Police evidently do arrest journalists here; I know because I saw it happen in the video CREDO linked to.

Obviously, even though the statement seems to be declarative, it’s actually intended to do something other than state a fact. The statement is being made in the context of an outraged action alert, so it seems fair to interpret it as a normative claim instead of a descriptive claim. If I say You just don’t treat people that way, what I’m saying is that you shouldn’t treat people like that. So let’s rephrase: This is America. Police shouldn’t arrest journalists here.

That’s certainly true. Police shouldn’t arrest journalists. But then what’s the purpose of the This is America and the here? It’s true that police shouldn’t arrest journalists in America; but that’s no less true in Egypt or China. Police shouldn’t arrest journalists anywhere. So what did CREDO really mean?

There’s another voice in which people sometimes use this kind of talk — a voice different from the statement of fact, and a voice different from the expression of a moral judgment. It is the voice of authority laying down an expectation for others to follow. (We don’t use that kind of language in this household; Catholics do not use birth control; etc.) And I think here we have a clear understanding of what it was CREDO meant to say, and what purpose the This is America is supposed to serve. Not content with simply pointing out the fact that it’s wrong for police to arrest journalists — that this kind of conduct is violent, repressive, tyrannical, and indeed evil — what they wanted to do was to cite an authority on their side. The authority is supposedly wrapped up in the idea of America (meaning the U.S.A.) — U.S. norms, U.S. political culture, and the U.S. Constitution.

But what good does it do to try to assume the voice of authority here? What justifies the claim? What purpose does it serve? In St. Paul, several different police agencies, ramrodded by the Ramsey County Sheriff’s department, staged massive pre-emptive raids against houses where activists were staying and against the RNC Welcoming Committee’s convergence space. Many of the imprisoned protesters were held for days without charges. Many were abused by their jailers, including a woman being knocked to the ground and dragged by her hair, several protesters being denied prescription or over-the-counter medications for serious medical conditions, and a 19-year-old activist named Elliot Hughes, who was beaten and tortured for over an hour because, according to the Ramsey County Sheriff’s department, he was being verbally disruptive.

There is little or no evidence that any legal authority, either executive or judicial, will ever hold any of these cops or jailers accountable for what they did. Nobody in a position of authority disapproves. Nobody in a position of authority cares. Whatever source of authority CREDO hopes to invoke here is a dead letter; the very people that it gave the power to interpret it and enforce it have decided that there’s nothing to forbid police to harass and terrorize journalists like this. If those authorities are right, then CREDO’s attempt to speak in the voice of authority is fraudulent: the authority that they are trying to invoke has nothing to say for them. If those authorities are wrong, then CREDO’s attempt to speak in the voice of authority is idle: the same system that they hope to call to their aid is constructed so that CREDO can do nothing about it.

The first step is admitting that you have a problem. We live in a state where the highest authorities consider this repressive violence perfectly acceptable behavior in the name of Law and Order. And it is long past time to give up on the delusion that the Authorities and the Law will get our back against this kind of abuse of power.

They haven’t.

They aren’t.

They won’t.

It is long past time to give up on the voice of authority and its false promises. To be willing to make our demands in the voice of morality, to speak up for our rights as human rights, not as the easily-revoked privileges of a paper constitution. America, if that means the political entity that rules over this territory, is not our friend, or our ally. It will do nothing for us. When we protest, it will turn those very cops on us. We are in no position to lay down expectations or give orders to our occupiers. We have no authority that they will ever recognize. What we have to do is to speak to the justice of our cause, and the righteousness of our resistance against acts that are unjust and tyrannical, no matter where they may be committed. Peace, freedom, and justice are good enough to stand on their own, just as they are, whether in America, or Egypt, or China, or anywhere else in the world.

Happy International Ignore the Constitution Day, fellow citizens.

See also:

Free the St. Paul 8 and all political prisoners!

These are video segments from a press conference hosted by members of the RNC Welcoming Committee and the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign. Several police agencies, ramrodded by the Ramsey County Sheriff’s department, staged massive pre-emptive raids against houses where activists were staying and against the RNC Welcoming Committee’s convergence space. Many of the imprisoned protesters continue to be held without charges. Many have been abused by their jailers, including a woman being knocked to the ground and dragged by her hair, several protesters being denied prescription or over-the-counter medications for serious medical conditions, and a 19-year-old activist named Elliot Hughes, who was beaten and tortured for over an hour because, according to the Ramsey County Sheriff’s department, he was being verbally disruptive.

Ramsey County prosecutors have formally charged eight members of the Welcoming Committee with conspiracy to riot in furtherance of terrorism. If convicted, the St. Paul 8 face up to 7 1/2 years in prison. Affadavits filed by police informants who infiltrated the Welcoming Committee allege that members of the group sought to kidnap delegates to the RNC, attack police officers with firebombs and explosives, and sabotage airports in St. Paul. These allegations have not been corroborated by any physical evidence or any other evidence independent of the testimony of police infiltrators. Members of the RNC Welcoming Committee held a press conference together with the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign in order to respond to these charges and to discuss violence against imprisoned protesters by police and jailers.

In related news, William Gillis is my fucking hero.

See also:

This is what a police state looks like (part 1 of ???)

Show me what a police state looks like…

This is what a police state looks like.

Local events have been keeping me away from blogging about the raids, round-ups, and paramilitary assaults on protesters in St. Paul. I’ll be posting more and saying some more about this soon. In the meantime, though, you need to see these videos. Remember that so-called electoral democracy — in fact, nothing more than an imperial elective oligarchy — never means that we (meaning you and I and our neighbors) are respected as sovereign individuals or left alone to manage our own affairs. What it means is that a highly organized, heavily armed elite insists on the privilege of representing us, ruling over us, and ordering us around, on the excuse that, once every several years, we are given some minimal opportunity to select which of two tightly regimented political parties will take control of the ruling apparatus. It is, in other words, not freedom, but rather a Party State, in which we are given only the choice of which of two bureaucratic political parties might control our lives and livelihoods, with their authority supposedly justified by the ritual of elections and the mandate of popular sovereignty. And if the people (again, meaning you and I and our neighbors) should dare to think that we might challenge the authority of the regime supposedly representing us, you’ll find that it’s the people that go out the window, not the rigged electoral system or the parties’ grasp on the authority supposedly derived from those people.

More to come.