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Daily Archives: January 1, 2021
Five things the Legislature can do to make Pennsylvanians’ lives measurably better in 2021 | John L. Micek – Pennsylvania Capital-Star
Posted: January 1, 2021 at 10:03 am
In just a few days, lawmakers in the state House and Senate will be sworn into office, kicking off a two-year legislative session that, if past is prologue (and it almost always is), will be replete with bridge and bypass renamings, votes to declare June the official month of something-or-other, and plenty of partisan sound and fury signifying nothing much at all.
But if 2020, for all its horror, pain, trauma and frustration taught us anything at all, its that government, when it functions at its best, can move swiftly and reasonably efficiently to do the most good for the largest number of people.
As I observed back in April, congressional authorization of the CARES Act was an affirmation that government can move affirmatively to make peoples lives measurably better. And once that door was thrown open, there are fewer excuses not to do it again.
Its also a truism that the Legislature, whose mitts are in almost every sector of life here in the Commonwealth, is best-positioned to improve the lives of nearly 13 million Pennsylvanians as the level of government thats closest to the people.
And, as my friend and colleague Jan Murphy, of PennLive, reported earlier this week, lawmakers did just that, as they enacted a law cracking down on human trafficking, among other measures. As the Capital-Stars Stephen Caruso reported back in July, lawmakers also approved, and Gov. Tom Wolf signed, a suite of police training and hiring reforms that were a first step on a much longer road.
So as the 203 members of the House and 50 members of the Senate get ready to return to work in 2021, here are a few modest suggestions on how they can best channel their energies to do the maximum amount of good right away.
Republicans who control the General Assembly spent much of 2020 squabbling with the Wolf administration over its pandemic management policies. By years end, that squabbling had devolved into a series of pointless and time-wasting veto override votes and mask-less and symbolic rallies that failed to produce measurable change. And given the choice during Novembers budget debate, lawmakers who pleaded for assistance to business owners socked by the pandemics economic ravages, instead opted to spend the states remaining $1.3 billion in CARES Act money to backfill state police, corrections officers and public health employees salaries, the Capital-Stars Stephen Caruso reported at the time.
In December, Democrats in the state Senate rolled out an ambitious, $4 billion, debt-funded relief proposal that would, among other things, provide nearly $2 billion in enhanced unemployment benefits and aid to businesses. A few weeks later, two Democratic lawmakers in the state House proposed a $200 million grant program, funded through the states Rainy Day Fund, for restaurant and bar owners struggling under the weight of indoor dining restrictions and rising case loads.
While its true that Congress has approved, and President Donald Trump has signed, a $900 billion stimulus program, lawmakers should treat that federal action as the beginning, rather than the end, of the good they can do for Pennsylvania.
Republicans have spent much of the past six weeks bleating about non-existent fraud in races that not only saw them safely re-elected, but also resulted in GOP wins in two of the three statewide row offices. Imagine if they put as much energy into solving a problem that actually exists.
Pennsylvania hasnt executed anyone since Philadelphia torture-killer Gary Heidnik went willingly to the death chamber in 1999. A moratorium on executions imposed during the first year of Gov. Tom Wolfs administration brought the states already grinding and expensive machinery of death to a complete halt. And as a new report by the Death Penalty Information Center makes clear, executions nationwide fell to historic lows during the pandemic as public opinion continued to turn against societys ultimate sanction. And policymakers listened. Colorado, for instance, became the 22nd state to abolish capital punishment, this year.
There is no question now that the death penalty is racist and classist, with with almost half the defendants executed in 2020 being people of color, and 76 percent of the executions were for the deaths of white victims. There is also a profound innocence problem, as the DPIC report makes clear: Five people were exonerated from death row in 2020, bringing the number of people exonerated from death row to 172 since 1973. In each of the five cases, prosecutorial misconduct contributed to the wrongful conviction, researchers found.
Last session, the unlikely pair of Rep. Chris Rabb, a Black progressive from Philadelphia, and Frank Ryan, a white conservative from Lebanon County, partnered on an abolition bill. Capital punishment remains the last criminal justice reform blindspot in a General Assembly that has taken some admirable steps to fix a broken system. For all practical purposes, Pennsylvania does not have the death penalty. There should be no issue, save for a lack of political courage, in getting rid of a non-functioning statute.
I mean, cmon, if New Jersey can do it and itll give Lt. Gov. John Fetterman one less thing to tweet about. Senate Republicans could take that, and the roughly $600 million in revenue gleaned from legalization, and declare a win.
Quick can you rattle off the names of the appellate judges you voted for in 2019? Can you even name four members of Pennsylvanias Superior or Commonwealth Courts? Im guessing no which just underlines the inanity of our current system of electing judges, which forces allegedly impartial jurists to raise money and wage nearly information-free campaigns for office, where the real beneficiaries are members of the trial bar and deep-pocketed corporate interests and not the voters.
Now, theres real movement afoot to make a bad system even worse with a GOP-backed effort to amend the state constitution to elect judges by region, rather than statewide. Critics warn that such a change would result in a dangerously politicized court system, WHYY-FM reported this week.
The lack of strict mapping criteria, in the proposal, or any protections for racial and language minorities combined with a total lack of transparency in the mapping process amounts to an open invitation to legislators to engage in partisan gerrymandering in order to increase the likelihood that candidates of their political party will be elected to the courts, Patrick Beaty, of the good government group Fair Districts PA, wrote in a Dec. 6 op-Ed for the Capital-Star.
If lawmakers are going to expend the energy on the rightfully difficult process of amending the states foundational document, their attention would be better directed to a proposal by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairwoman Lisa Baker, R-Luzerne, that would open a two-year window for civil litigation filed by the adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse. The proposed amendment won approval in the House and Senate in this years legislative session. Another round of approval in the 2021 session would put it before the voters as early as next springs primary election.
If the intent is to do the most good for the most people, Bakers proposed amendment, which would impact thousands of people statewide, is the obvious priority over a nakedly political amendment that no one, save partisans and special interests, is crying out to have passed.
Ive always been a huge fan of Hubert Humphreys maxim that the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in shadows of life, the sick, the needy, and the handicapped.
So even as many Pennsylvania school districts struggled to tame rising pension costs and deal with stagnant tax revenues, the state also saddled them with shouldering the rising cost of educating students living with disabilities without giving them the financial assistance to handle it, a new report concludes.
The states 501 school districts boosted their special education spending by $2 billion between 2009 and 2019, but state aid during that same period grew by just $110 million, concludes the Dec. 3 report by the Education Law CenterandPA Schools Work, citing the most recent state data.
The state budget approved in November includes more than $1.1 billion in funding for special education programs. Because of the pandemic, the line item is funded at the same level as it was in the 2019-20 fiscal year.
Advocateshave complained for years that the state is underfunding special education, and have called for the funding formula to be updated to provide a more level playing field for students with special needs.
In 2019, a joint analysis by theEducation Law CenterandResearch for Action, a policy research group in Philadelphia, concluded that the formula does not accurately account for district poverty. As a result, state special education funding does not fulfill its intended purpose of addressing funding disparities resulting from differences in local wealth.
Analysts argued that the state neededannual funding increases of $100 million a year or more to keep pace with rising costs. This is a debate that should be moved to the front of the queue in 2021.
As I also noted in April, merely reopening after the pandemic isnt enough. This new time calls for a reset on everything. The dawning of a new year offers just such an opportunity. The 253 members of the General Assembly should not squander it.
Posted: at 10:03 am
With a challenging year soon to be behind us, we asked community members to share their vision of what they hope becomes of our city post-pandemic.
by C. Davida Ingram
This year has kicked my ass and cracked my heart open. These are not bad things. Its not about me. Its time. Ours. The U.S. has led in COVID deaths because we lead by oppression. Imagine if we could ever think beyond capitalism, misogyny, racism, and rapaciousness. Imagine if we gave ourselves breathing room and a fighting chance.
COVID keeps asking us to care. Its asking on behalf of our elders, children, health care workers, parents and caregivers, educators, essential workers, and our larger society.
We moralized AIDS, the last pandemic. We cant moralize breathing. I guarantee you use your lungs more promiscuously than youll ever use your genitals. We all breathe the same air. The conditions in our Department of Corrections sites, nursing homes, hospitals, farms, and far too many precariously held homes tell us we need new ways. Right now, millions of people are losing their homes, or cant pay rent, or did not have stable housing to begin with. Yet, we are the richest country on the Earth.
The vivid object lesson of COVID is liberation. Period. Thats a beautiful thing.
It leaves us with the provocation of imagining being a real Lover. Im not talking cheap romance but rather a world where everyone is valued. We need true Lovers. People who love people. People who believe we all need space to hone and share our gifts. People who are nurtured and give that same care in return.
Greed, prisons, the breaking of families (of all kinds), violation of dignity, ignorance are so obscene and so clear to see in this pandemic and its display of dehumanizations. Meanwhile, so many different dreamers are awakening, murmuring maybe we can cherish one another instead. I like listening to their song.
C. Davida Ingram is an award-winning artist and civic leader based in Seattle, Washington who believes in liberation, abolition, and mutual aid. Her artwork, curatorial projects, and writing discuss race and gender via lens-based media, social practice, performance art, lyrical essay and installation art. In 2014, Ingram received the 2014 Stranger Genius Award in Visual Arts. In 2016, she became a Kennedy Center Citizen Artist Fellow. In 2018, she was awarded the Jacob Lawrence Legacy Residency at the University of Washington. Seattle Magazine has voted Ingram both one of the 20 most talented people in Seattle (2016) and one of Seattles most influential people (2017). Her art is part of the collections of the City of Seattle, the Tacoma Art Museum, the Frye Art Museum, and private collections. You can find her work @idebelle76 on Twitter and Instagram.
Illustration by Alexa Strabuk
Posted: at 10:02 am
By J. MICHAEL LEVESQUE
No one needs to be convinced that this has been a terrible year.
The doomsday virus that originated in the Peoples Republic of China (otherwise known as COVID-19) has spread death and destruction throughout the globe.
Most of us have personal stories of relatives or friends who have perished as a result of the virus, and all of us have witnessed the devastation of our economy, resulting in people losing their homes, businesses and their livelihoods.
People simply dont know where to turn.
And in the midst of all of this heartache, we had to witness a hyper-partisan election that exacerbated the problem with riots in our cities and attacks on the very fabric of our lives, including the lunacy of the calls for the abolition and defunding of our police departments, at a time when we need them the most.
It is clearly a time that tests our resolve as a community and a nation.
And a time when we need the holidays the most, when people naturally bind together to help those in need.
We need to look no further than the city of Warwick, the home of arguably the start of the American Revolution when Abraham Whipple and the boys burned His Majestys Ship The Gaspee in 1772, to once again see the power of what people can do to help their community.
It is against this backdrop of the pandemic and the calls to abolish and defund the police that Jennifer Rathbun, who is married to Warwick Police Chief Rick Rathbun, formed the Warwick Police Department Family Group to start helping family members of not only Warwick Police officers, but families in the community as well.
She initially contacted the National Police Wives Association and was encouraged to reach out to families of our department knowing that with all the unrest in the community, we really didnt feel connected.
There was a sense of isolation that we felt, according to Rathbun.
She also reached out to the Rhode Island Chapter of the National Police Wives Association, which is comprised of about 400 family members representing departments throughout the state.
Ms. Rathbun also noticed that many law enforcements family peer support groups are geared toward spouses, primarily wives, and thought that the focus in Warwick should be on families, and not just on officers and their spouses.
Family members are in service alongside their officers, but not everyone is married and support systems often include parents, siblings and adult children, she said.
So, with the strong support of her husband she reached out with an inclusive invitation to join together and launched the WPD Family Group this past summer.
The group set up a private social media page, and for people not accustomed to social media, created connections through email.
It didnt take long for the membership to grow to over 40 people and they quickly started to engage with the department and the community.
They reached out to WPD Community Services Division Capt. Michael Lima and started to coordinate with his division, which covers everything from community policing to school resource officers and mental health needs.
They together outlined some upcoming projects to work on, starting with the highly successful Thanksgiving Food Drive at markets throughout the city, where people could stuff a police cruiser parked outside the stores with food for needy families.
It was so successful that according to Capt. Lima, they had to replace the police cruisers with vans.
But on a sad note, they also found it difficult to see the unprecedented need caused by the pandemic. They were told that over 150 people a day stood in line for the donations.
That help was most welcomed by West Bay Community Action.
According to Lima, their shelves were bare. Words couldnt do justice to the joy that was created (with the donations). Things might be good for us, but not for other people.
I brought my kids along to show how people need our help. It teaches all of us a lesson, he said.
Not resting on their laurels, the group then turned their efforts to helping families cope during the Christmas season.
Using the same model to stuff a cruiser to provide needy families with toys and clothes for their children, volunteers gave up many weekends to stand outside several businesses to solicit donations.
In all, hundreds of families were helped in a time when they needed it the most.
A time when many families were put in a position that they never dreamed that they would be in.
But food drives and toy drives are not the only thing that the group does.
It also helps police families in a variety of ways, sometimes with emotional support, and sometimes with the little things that can make all the difference in the world, from sharing mental health resources, or a bit of humor, to providing a safe sounding board for shared concerns. The group also lobbies Rhode Island elected officials with letter writing campaigns in support of pro-law enforcement legislation.
They also turn inward to support the department by participating in efforts such as the National Thank a Police Officer Day in September.
According to Jennifer, many of our officers do things quietly, things that never make the papers. Like the officer who came into contact with a senior citizen who did not have any food in his home and went into a nearby store to buy him some with his own money, or another who saw a family whose children had no warm clothing. So, she went into a store and bought them some, again with her own money.
Jennifer Rathbun sees it this way: Its not really the role of the police department to run food drives and toy drives. But we know that when people are struggling to meet basic needs, that can lead to a sense of desperation. And nothing good comes from hopelessness.
She continued: If we can provide some hope in a way that helps to humanize the badge by being bridge-builders within the community, then thats a good thing for us to support. And the generosity of the public that has been reflected back towards the police departments efforts to help those in need is truly the hallmark of a caring community.
She added: We keep hearing that the holidays are going to be different this year. It turns out that kindness is still the answer, at least in Warwick where the Police Department and their family members behind the scenes take pride in leading with love for their neighbors and thats truly the spirit of Christmas in action!
Cant add much to those eloquent words.
And from the Levesque family to yours our wishes for a very Merry Christmas and a better 2021.
J. Michael Levesque, a Warwick resident, is a former mayor of West Warwick and contributor to these newspapers.
Read the rest here:
Posted: at 10:02 am
Traditional healer and national coordinator of the Traditional Healers Organisation (THO) of South Africa, Phephisile Maseko, treats patients with a mix of cannabis and other herbs.
In June, Artemisia afra was in high demand on the streets of Johannesburg in South Africa. To treat Covid-19 symptoms, the Indigenous herb's silvery leaves were for sale at roadside vendors and in the city's popular traditional markets. Some people even pulled the plant from private gardens. And on the sides of nearby highways, people held signs for "mhlonyane" (A. afraisi the Zulu name) and offered bushels to passing motorists like bouquets. Between February and July, the herb doubled in price.
People in the region have consumed the bitter plant for centuries to treat illnesses from colds to intestinal worms. With deaths rising as South Africa battled its first Covid-19 wave, people have turned to A. afra and other traditional medicines, including cannabis. (They were not the only ones. In April, Madagascar's president, Andry Rajoelina, had launched Covid-Organics, a herbal concoction containing another artemisia species, A. annua, which he claimed without evidence could cure Covid-19.)
As with most traditional medicine in South Africa a broad category that relies on a variety of herbs, rather than the refined molecules of Western drugs there is no robust, peer-reviewed evidence that A. afra has any utility against any ailment, including Covid-19. Local medical doctors and officials have cautioned the public against using the plant instead of seeking medical attention for Covid-19, and the World Health Organization (WHO) has similarly urged people to avoid using untested medicines to treat the disease. But that has not stopped demand for A. afra and that demand now has some mainstream health advocates calling for greater scrutiny of traditional remedies including submitting them to clinical trials.
Whether this will come to pass is far from clear. Despite South Africa having a large number of practicing traditional healers and millions of mostly Black South Africans who use their medicines, traditional health care practices stand well outside of mainstream health care in the country. Although there have been efforts to regulate traditional healers, their remedies, for the most part, have not been subjected to scientific scrutiny. This is in part due to South Africa's history. While people in the region have used traditional medicines for millennia, in 1957, the racist apartheid regime suppressed traditional healing through the Witchcraft Suppression Act, labeling many of its practices as criminal offenses and forcing it underground. There is also a long history elsewhere in the world of scientists and companies turning Indigenous knowledge into Western medicines, and many stakeholders fear that, once healers divulge their secrets and methods to expose their therapies to the rigor of clinical trials, this will happen again with South African traditional medicine.
Indeed, many herbal remedies are closely guarded secrets, intertwined with a philosophy in which health is inextricably linked with spiritual life. And unlike other ancient health care systems that rely on written texts, African healers share and preserve knowledge largely through oral tradition, so there is little record of how the medicines were made and used hundreds of years ago. This lack of ingredient information and recorded longitudinal safety data make African traditional medicines particularly difficult to test.
If you want to push biodiversity or African traditional medicine, you have to conduct a clinical trial," says Chibale.
Still, the WHO and the Africa Center for Disease Control and Prevention, in collaboration with the Developing Countries Clinical Trial Partnership (EDCTP), have developed guidelines to evaluate the medicines' safety and efficacy against Covid-19. And while some experts lobbying for more scrutiny of traditional medicine noted that South Africa's drug regulators have been historically antagonistic to the idea, the unprecedented Covid-19 pandemic may well be helping to change all that. Indeed, government overseers have established a special unit to evaluate these traditional products, and while answers may come too slowly to address Covid-19, the investigations may have long-lasting implications. "Covid has been a game changer for traditional medicine," said Nceba Gqaleni, a traditional medicines specialist at the Africa Health Research Institute in Durban, adding that the Covid-19 treatments haven't faced some of the same controversies as past traditional medicines especially therapies for HIV/AIDS.
A. afra is one of a number of herbs that the government is investigating against Covid-19. In July, officials set up the African Medicines Covid-19 Research Team, which includes scientists and traditional healers, and diverted about R15-million (at the time equaling about $880,500) from existing Indigenous knowledge projects to fund the collaboration.
The project could lead to other research outside of Covid-19, since the country is home to 10 percent of the world's plant species and remains a largely untapped pharmaceutical resource. Nox Makunga, a medicinal botanist at Stellenbosch University, says that since the abolition of apartheid, the South African government has been expressed eagerness to investigate and develop effective herbal medicines. "They see it as 'green gold,'" she said. But that hasn't yet come to fruition. In 2008, the government published a draft policy for traditional medicines, which was subsequently shelved, and while South Africa's 2013 Bioeconomy Strategy laid out ambitious plans to investigate herbal cures, the country has not yet managed to formally evaluate traditional medicines or discover any new drugs based on their constituents.
The Covid-19 pandemic may be providing new impetus for such efforts, but experts say it won't happen without compromises.
Plants used in traditional medicine are sold at popular markets, like the Faraday Muti Market in downtown Johannesburg.
Modern medicine, of course, hinges on the ability to show that any particular compound be it from nature or synthetically-derived is effective and safe at an established dose. Such demonstrations are generally obtained through clinical trials, and while the process is not without shortcomings, it has generally yielded tried, tested, and importantly reproducible results. "Clinical trials are the best and safest way" to evaluate medicines, said Francois Venter, deputy executive director of the Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute at the University of the Witwatersrand. The drugs are tested for safety in animals and humans, and this way of testing is widely accepted, he added. "But there are no shortcuts, they are expensive."
This standardized approach, however, is at odds with the opaque and complex belief system that underpins African traditional medicines. "We are responsible for the body, the mind, and the soul," said practicing healer Phephisile Maseko. "We are the only healing system that looks into all three, unlike Western medicine which just focuses on applying bandages."
"There is this idea that something natural is good for you, but heroin is natural," Venter said. "I'd rather take a highly synthetic compound than chew a leaf that is going to give me heart failure."
In this system, ancestral worship is intertwined with people's health, and is just as important as the plant formulations a healer dispenses. When a patient comes to Maseko, she says she asks questions about not only people's ailments, but also their histories: "'What happened to your mother? Why is there no connection between your mother and the family of your father? What happened when you were born?'"
Similarly, when Hlupheka Chabalala, head of Indigenous knowledge-based technology innovation in South Africa's Department of Science and Innovation, refers to traditional medicines, it is typically a mixture of various whole-plant extracts, rather than single, isolated compounds. The different plants in the medicine work together, he suggests: One may act as the primary medicine, while another promotes the body's absorption of the drug, or the bioavailability, and another might curb the side effects of the other plants.
The importance of family history and the benefits of complementary drug interactions are, of course, not foreign to Western medicine. The problem is that formulations and ingredients in traditional cures vary widely, making most assertions of efficacy exceedingly difficult to prove and leaving many experts dubious. "Most things are not safe if you get them from nature," said Kelly Chibale, an organic chemist who heads a drug discovery group at the University of Cape Town. "They're actually very toxic."
But testing such custom-made, non-standard preparations can prove advantageous. "If you want to push biodiversity or African traditional medicine, you have to conduct a clinical trial, a clinical study, because that's the only way scientifically you can prove something works," said Chibale. He pointed to sweet wormwood (Artemisia annua), the cousin of A. afra used in Covid Organics and an important plant in Chinese traditional medicine: "For more than 2,000 years, the Chinese have been using that drug in a concoction, as part of traditional Chinese medicine." It wasn't until the 1970s, however, that Chinese scientists derived molecules from the feathery green A. annua, called artemisinins, that now form the cornerstone of malaria therapies around the world. Artemisinin-based combination therapies have more than halved annual malaria deaths globally.
That accomplishment required modern tactics. Scientists needed to understand the chemical structure of sweet wormwood in order to identify its active pharmaceutical ingredient, Chibale explained and along the way they discovered it was poorly soluble and not absorbed well. Scientists were then able to chemically modify artemisinin to produce better-performing derivatives. In that sense, the traditional medicine served as the pathfinder for a drug that would save millions of lives but modern science was needed to bring that about. "Everything is just a starting point," Chibale said.
That notion, however, does not sit well with many traditional medicine proponents, including Chabalala, who says they should be considered an end to themselves, and not individually dissected to identify one active compound. "We use everything as nature intended it to be, even if mixing herbs," he said. "If you isolate compounds, that's when you start having problems with side effects."
Venter, a proponent of evaluating traditional medicines via clinical trials, dismisses this as unscientific. "There is this idea that something natural is good for you, but heroin is natural," he said. "I'd rather take a highly synthetic compound than chew a leaf that is going to give me heart failure."
(While A. afra does not contain artemisinin, it has also been proposed as a treatment for malaria. According to the WHO, however, chemical compounds found in the plant can vary widely and concerns about damage to the brain and heart have been reported.)
Despite the South African government's stated interest in developing drugs based on traditional cures, many people involved in traditional medicine, including Gqaleni, say South Africa's Medicines Control Council (MCC) was historically reluctant. "They thought they were lowering their standards to approve traditional medicines," Gqaleni said. But legislation to replace the MCC with the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (Sahpra) was passed in 2015, and amid the pressures to find new ways to treat Covid-19, the agency has recently come to the table with traditional medicine advocates. Sahpra has "begun considering appropriate mechanisms of regulating proprietary African traditional medicines," spokesperson Yuven Gounden told Undark.
Historically, traditional medicines research had not been scientifically rigorous, says Salim Abdool Karim, an infectious disease epidemiologist and the chair of South Africa's Ministerial Advisory Committee on Covid-19. "So it has given traditional medicines research a bad name. But we shouldn't let a few lapses in scientific quality put us off a fundamentally important issue."
Scientists, public officials, and traditional healers all seem to agree that traditional medicines must be shown to be safe and effective. The sticking point is how this should happen. And despite a newfound willingness to engage with traditional medicines, Sahpra's evaluation unit will face practical difficulties in evaluating African traditional medicines including the lack of written records.
In China, some medical scripts date back centuries, says medical botanist Makunga. "They formalized their own traditional medicines: x amount of this plant, x amount of that plant, x amount of that plant is good for treating disease y," she said. South Africa's traditional medicine system in which dosages are based on individual handfuls and plants may be included because in a dream ancestors told a traditional healer, or an inyanga, to add them is playing catch up with these more formalized systems.
"We are responsible for the body, the mind, and the soul," explains Maseko. "We are the only health system that looks into all three, unlike Western medicine which just focuses on applying bandages."
Meanwhile, disagreement over just how traditional remedies ought to be scrutinized under Western protocols has already surfaced. In September, a regional expert committee on traditional medicine, set up by the WHO, the Africa Center for Disease Control and Prevention, and the African Union Commission for Social Affairs, endorsed protocols for traditional medicine clinical trials, although the traditional medicine regional adviser for WHO Africa, Ossy Kasilo, told Undark in an email that the protocols were currently being finalized. The guidelines, Kasilo wrote, include a "standard protocol for a multi-center, randomized, double-blind clinical trial to evaluate the safety and efficacy of herbal medicine compared to the standard of care for the treatment of hospitalized patients with mild to moderate cases" of Covid-19.
In standard clinical trials, after researchers show that their drug is safe in animals, there are four phases. The first includes a small number of healthy people to test for safety and dosage over a few months; in the second, up to several hundred people with the health condition being treated are given the drug for up to two years to gauge efficacy and side effects. The third phase involves giving the drug to between 300 and 3,000 people who have the disease, and can last for a few years, while the fourth phase continues once the drug has been made available to the public. Pharmaceutical companies have to jump through these hoops, says Venter, so other industries, such as supplements and traditional medicines, should have to as well. "The important thing is that the traditional medicine industry and it is an industry doesn't get a free ride," he said. "It has to subscribe to the same scientific methodologies."
Not everyone feels that this elaborate and painstaking system is necessary for traditional medicines. While the medicines need to be subjected to scientific rigor, they should not be treated as new chemical entities since they have been in use for centuries, argues Motlalepula Matsabisa, a pharmacologist at the University of the Free State in South Africa who chairs the WHO expert committee. The duration of phases one through three should be shorter and should include the minimum number of people, he says, and phase four should not be necessary since the therapies have already been subject to long-term use.
"People want to know: One, it will not kill me and, two, it will relieve my health problems," said Matsabisa. He later added: "There is science in African traditional medicines, and let's prove the science through the methods everyone believes in and understands."
Others go even further, suggesting no version of a modern clinical trial is appropriate. The Traditional Healers' Organization, a voluntary national nonprofit headquartered in Johannesburg, is advocating for self-regulation, rather than the imposition of an external value system. The group's perspective is that only healers should be able to evaluate traditional medicines and practices, says Maseko, who is also a spokesperson for the organization. "We can't be Western medicine," she added. "And we can't aspire to be."
Venter calls self-regulation a shocking idea. "Ask them," he said, "how they would feel if the pharmaceutical industry self-regulated."
For many experts, Covid-19 is a stark reminder that humanity is continuously confronted with new diseases. Traditional healers adapt their medicines to this changing world; their formulations and applications have changed as new diseases become more prevalent and others disappear, and they are also used in conjunction with Western drugs something that did not occur in past centuries.
Indigenous knowledge evolves too, says Makunga. As an example, she relates the story of what happened when she accompanied a healer on a walk in the Eastern Cape province. In the forest, the flowers of Bulbine plants stand out like tiny yellow stars. Traditionally, people have used the plant to treat a range of ailments from cracked lips to parasitic worms but Makunga was surprised to be told it was also good for erectile dysfunction.
"This one is really potent," Makunga recalls the healer saying. "We give it to guys and it makes you come on." Bulbine plants were particularly important for men who were "full of sugar," the healer told her, in isiXhosa, the local language. An inability to get or maintain an erection is common among men with diabetes. Diabetes prevalence has more than doubled in the last two decades, with 4.5 million people in the country suffering from the condition. "Twenty-five years ago, this was not something I was treating all the time," Makunga remembers the healer saying.
Still, there is no peer-reviewed scientific evidence that the plants are an effective treatment for erectile dysfunction in humans, nor has there been any examination of how these plants are used in traditional healing, in what dose, and in conjunction with what other plants. Indeed, the slippery nature of traditional medicine and the context in which it exists presents many challenges for anyone hoping to evaluate its safety and efficacy.
Few studies have been done, for example, on how traditional medicines interact with pharmaceuticals even though millions of South Africans likely use both on a regular basis. Makunga gives the example of pregnant women who are rushed to hospital. Sometimes they drink a traditional tonic to induce labor, but the contractions become "too intense," Makunga said. "In the hospital, the doctors didn't know what they've taken."
Despite these risks, traditional healers often have justified concerns that outsiders will steal knowledge about plants for commercial use without recognizing the community from which the knowledge originates. They can point to Hoodia gordonii , a succulent that rises out of the deserts of southern African like fat thorny fingers, as one example. For millennia, hunter-gatherers in the region in particular, the San people have chewed its watery flesh to suppress their thirst and appetites on long hunts.
South Africa's Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), tipped off by ethnographic reports of the plant's use, began investigating the plant in 1963. By the mid-1990s, they had isolated its active pharmaceutical ingredient, P57, in the hopes of developing an appetite suppressant and, without the knowledge of the San, were granted an international patent for the ingredient. In 1998, CSIR entered into a licensing agreement with U.K.-based company Phytopharm. Following international attention and accusations of biopiracy, the CSIR entered into a benefit sharing agreement with the San people in 2003.In 2010, Phytopharm returned all development and commercialization rights to the CSIR.
Member of the San community of South Africa sample a cactus plant traditionally eaten to eliminate hunger and thirst while on long hunts. Western attempts to market the drug as a weight-loss supplement helped to sow mistrust.
Despite the furor around H. gordonii's appropriation, to date no blockbuster weight-loss drugs have emerged from it and in trials there were a number of side effects, although the plant alone is still widely used. "There is a lot of mistrust of scientists, the belief that scientists steal the information and then make a lot of money," said Vinesh Maharaj, a plant chemist at the University of Pretoria who was at the CSIR when it brokered the H. gordonii benefit-sharing agreement. Based on how little progress has been made in identifying novel drugs in traditional medicines, the idea that scientists are making money "isn't true," he said.
Still, scientists do sometimes publish traditional healers' knowledge in academic papers without consent, and the history of traditional knowledge theft looms large for many traditional practitioners. Maseko pointed by way of example to the highly-protected, proprietary formula for Coca-Cola. "That's the thing that makes it Coca Cola," she said. "If we expose our secrets to the vultures, healing is gone."
There are other reasons for secrecy. Chabalala, for example, would not reveal which herbs, aside from A. afra and cannabis, that the government is investigating to treat Covid-19. "The minute we say we're working on it, everyone will hit the forest to unsustainably start harvesting them," he said. "People will start harvesting them and preparing them not in the way healers use them. People will start researching without benefit sharing and thinking of the wisdom keepers."
On the streets of Johannesburg and on its outskirts, there are still people claiming to sell A. afra, he said. But they are not healers and there is no certainty that they are actually what they say. Patients could die, Chabalala warns. "Then people will say, 'You see'," that's what happens when you take traditional medicines.'"
Even advocates for greater scientific scrutiny of traditional remedies say that outsiders need to understand the complex system of healing of which they are only a part. Healers are not only doctors, but also counselors and spiritual guides, Makunga noted. "There is an incredible amount of power in somebody just going to a healer, before you've started to give a herbal remedy," she said.
"You would describe a feeling," she added, "and they start burning imphepho" a musky sweet Indigenous herb that is used to commune with spirits "bringing the ancestors, speaking to parts of our feelings aside from the physical."
But as both a scientist who investigates medicinal plants and as someone who understands their spiritual significance, says she knows the value of evidence. When someone tells her they use a plant to treat a specific illness, she says she wants to see the research showing that "it works 99.9 percent of the time."
The statistics are necessary, she said, "because that is my training and line of thinking."
Posted: at 10:02 am
For the past five years, Truthout has looked back at the queer and trans news you mightve missed because corporate news outlets decided not to cover it. This year, almost all of us were tangled up with the biggest news stories queer and trans people felt the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic; the feuds between the rich and powerful in Washington; the anti-racist uprisings; and the global warming-fueled hurricanes, tornadoes and wildfires.
This year has reaffirmed what many of us have known for years: Queer and trans liberation is inextricable from the liberation of all marginalized people. More than ever, we cant separate the queer and trans issues from the oppression of anyone who is marginalized. In 2020, we continue the tradition of recounting the true stories of queer and trans liberation struggles that corporate media ignored.
As protests in the summer raged against police-perpetrated executions of people like Tony McDade, a Black trans man from Tallahassee, Florida, Pride agency directors had to suck it up and say a few words about Prides anti-police roots. The director of the nonprofit that runs Los Angeles Pride announced a protest to show solidarity with the Black community against systemic racism and joining the fight for meaningful and long-lasting reform of the police. The protest was canceled when activists pointed out hypocrisies such as L.A. Prides lack of outreach to Black trans/queer people, and its letter to the Los Angeles Police Department affirming its 50 year-long strong and unified partnership with law enforcement as it planned the event.
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COVID-19 pushed most Prides onto platforms like Zoom, where it was easy for executive boards to make verbal statements in support of Black trans and queer lives; some historically pro-police Pride boards, such as San Diegos, pledged that future events would be free of uniformed officers. However, Pride boards have generally broken promises when it comes to the Black, Latinx, Indigenous, disabled and/or low-income queer and trans people who are most often targeted by the police. In the past couple of years, some of the bigger corporate Pride events in the country Columbus, Ohio, and Minneapolis, Minnesota, for example revoked public stances against the police once they decided that pro-cop, #BlueLivesMatter values were no longer a public relations liability.
President Bill Clinton proclaimed June as Pride Month back in 1999, and since then, the federal government has often dropped some concession to LGBT people (gay marriage and trans military inclusion came in June 2015 and 2017, respectively). This year, the Supreme Courts decision that LGBT people should be free from discrimination at work got a lot of applause from corporate media outlets and nonprofits, but as trans lawyer Gabriel Arkles told Truthout, Just because discrimination is illegal does not mean it wont happen Discrimination based on race, religion, national origin and disability still happens every day.
Proving discrimination is hard at least as hard as getting an employment lawyer to pay attention to your case without connections or money. With an economic depression setting in, the Biden administrations current cabinet roster should spark no false hopes that the U.S. will stop spending trillions on domestic and foreign wars, bailing out the biggest businesses, or catering to billionaire donors, while labor protections wither and people who havent hoarded money will have to get by on the charity of the richest Americans.
Realistically, none of us will know anyone who gets any concrete benefit from the Supreme Court decision, as much as it may have given liberals good feelings about the Court and reinforced beliefs that its an institution concerned about fairness. Particularly, queer people working in the underground economy, like sex workers, got nothing, and a new rule from President Trumps Labor Department gives government contractors who discriminate more reason to keep on discriminating.
Murders of trans people especially low-income, Black, Latinx and Indigenous trans women and femmes sets new records every year. This may be due to there being more attention on trans deaths and more data points to pull from, but whatever the reason, were not moving on what matters. We might be paying more attention to the problem of killings of trans people, but as many trans people point out, how many dead trans sisters names do we have to speak until more people actually care about the trans people who are breathing today?
Left out of the data: The 50 states didnt come close to the relative numbers of murders of trans women in U.S.-occupied Puerto Rico, where most weeks there are one or two preventable deaths of trans people, according to Aleksander V. Johnsen with Colectiva Solidaridad, one of the trans/queer-led organizations partnering with mutual aid programs like Brinca Charco to direct attention and protective gear to trans and nonbinary people surviving on the island right now.
The political class has mostly ignored the everyday suffering that exploded after Hurricane Marias devastation; hurricane season this year barely made news on the mainland despite the destruction and deaths it brought. Puerto Rican Gov. Ricardo Rossell resigned in 2019 after million-person-strong protests. (The major catalyst for the protests came from homophobic and misogynist texts involving jokes about cadavers from 2017s Hurricane Maria, exposing politicians enthusiasm for privatizing the islands power grid, and a deceptive, self-serving local and social media strategy.)
But people organizing against U.S. colonialism are in survival mode, working against the influence of corporate and Democratic and Republican profiteers of the shock doctrine.
People in the U.S. have less faith in the government than in any of the big corporate interests that we have reason to distrust: Pharmaceutical companies, social media platforms and corporate news conglomerates all rate as more trustworthy.
And yet there are still so many LGBTQ career politicians who want to become one with the countrys most loathed institution. After the November election, a 20-year-old foundation that exists to elect LGBTQ bureaucrats, the LGBTQ Victory Fund, gifted journalists with a press release in which the organization congratulates itself on helping elect more out candidates than in any other U.S. election. The fund and its associated politician training camp, the Victory Institute, claim to be nonpartisan and without any political agenda, in the same vein of celebrities participating in get-out-the-vote campaigns who dont want to alienate fans and patrons: It doesnt matter who you vote for as long as you vote!
Every election sucks up more resources than the last, and the Center for Responsive Politics reports most members of the House are millionaires. Obviously, most queer and non-queer people are not rich. Victory and other gay nonprofits that pivoted to electing gay politicians after gay people could legally get married and join the military attempt to avoid the intersectionality issue especially around poverty.
The foundations social media recently celebrated the elections of TWO new lesbian sheriffs!! [sic], and in one of the few races between two openly LGBTQ candidates, it endorsed a gay, white, status-quo lawyer funded by real estate over an Indigenous and Latinx queer socialist. The fund partners on campaigns with GOPAC (essentially a mirror of the Victory Fund brought to us by right-wing politicians like Newt Gingrich and Michael Steele), which exclusively supports conservative candidates.
The Victory Fund also endorsed Pete Buttigieg, who will become the first gay person to lead the U.S. Department of Transportation in January. The gay magazine Out (by no means a leftist news source) surveyed its readers on Democratic primary candidates. Mayor Pete came in as their fourth choice. Major fundraisers for Buttigieg in Chicago and other cities were interrupted by queer and trans activists who acted independently, though a few came to form loose organizations. The group Queers Against Pete put out a statement listing Buttigiegs opposition to reinstating free tuition at public universities (and canceling student debt) and his anti-universal health care/Medicare for All stance as a couple of his many positions that uphold systems that antagonize non-rich queer people. While mayor of South Bend, Indiana, he helped developers gentrify and demolish low-income neighborhoods, and refused to release tapes related to the murder of Eric Logan, a Black person killed by cops. Another multi-city effort, Queers Not Here for Mayor Pete, collected some of the writing by queers against the politician.
Like Gay Pride, the tech industry conference named Lesbians Who Tech and Allies moved online in 2020. This years program featured public relations emissaries from corporations innovating new forms of surveillance, drone bombs and ending labor protections. Multiple Black Lives Matter panels and celebrity appearances by Kamala Harris, Nancy Pelosi, soccer player Megan Rapinoe and Melinda Gates distracted from the ugliness of the industry that spends more on lobbying than any other sector. BlackRock, Goldman Sachs, Nextdoor.com and the CIA were among the sponsors behind the yearly event, which gives corporate public relations emissaries the chance to paint their overlords as socially progressive, giving panels like Life at Amazon: Inclusive Hiring Process and The Integration of Technology and Finance.
In 2016, the Obama administration officially dubbed the Stonewall Inn the first LGBT national monument, but gentrification threatened that bar, the site of an infamous 1969 anti-police riot, and its owners say theyre relying on GoFundMe to keep the place open.
In 2018 and 2019, San Francisco officially designated neighborhoods of the city as the Transgender District, the Leather District (leather as in the fetish) and the LGBTQ District. Funded mostly through taxes, the city created small bureaucracies around the districts, with tax money going to staff and, for example, the symbolic metal plaques that describe leather culture, or the painting and maintenance of lampposts in the Transgender District now decorated with the baby blue, baby pink and white of the original trans flag.
Most of the areas leather bars never reopened after Marchs statewide shutdown, including the citys longest continuously operating queer bar, the collectively-owned Stud, and the Eagle bar, whose owners worked with developers on a plan to construct hundreds of luxury apartments adjacent to where the Eagle was, which rent for up to $5,800 per month. The community got some plaques and a flag pole, intended to fly a giant flag representing leather culture. But now it is just a flagless pole.
Housing aid for trans people exists in many major U.S. cities, but most of these programs are temporary, like rent vouchers. Money for these programs could be cut with a politicians pen, and ultimately just ends up in the bank accounts of landlords and/or real estate investment trusts that operate as mega-landlords, owning tens and sometimes hundreds of thousands of apartments and flats across the country.
Homelessness has always affected queer and trans people more than most. Some queer and trans groups worked on preventing an exacerbation of the homelessness crisis that has already begun, despite a federal moratorium on evictions through January 31, 2021. GLITS (short for Gays and Lesbians In a Transgender Society) is a trans sex worker-led organization that bought a 12-unit building to house low-income trans people in New York. House of Tulip is working on a similar project in New Orleans. In Minneapolis, Share-a-ton was the brief but inspiring squat housing 200 homeless people who worked with volunteers to turn a vacant hotel into shelter that the local governments austerity policies wouldnt provide. And the anarchist organizers of Seattles anti-cop Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone (CHAZ) organized and camped out to end police violence against people of color, including all people of marginalized, intersectional identities. However, police broke the citys own ban on chemical weapons by dispersing the zone in clouds of teargas.
Mutual aid between queers happens every time a queer person sleeps on another persons couch, or helps to cook meals for Food Not Bombs deliveries, or cleans a community fridge at the end of the day. When officials and institutions with power dont help people during rough times, people come up with ways to get what they need.
Artist and activist Tourmaline beautifully describes the power of mutual aid in a piece on freedom dreaming: Freedom dreams are born when we face harsh conditions not with despair, but with the deep knowledge that these conditions will change that a world filled with softness and beauty and care is not only possible, but inevitable.
Following the Freedom Schools of civil rights battles in the South in the 1960s, Tourmaline writes that freedom dreaming isnt just about the big things the huge world changes that we are manifesting in our movements, like police and prison abolition, free universal healthcare, and gender self-determination for all. Its about those things, but also small acts:
When I take a walk down my block, and slow down to touch and smell the blooming flowers, bursting with vitality, Im freedom dreaming. I am allowing myself to live in a world where nature is a teacher and friend.
When I Venmo my friend $25 with a heart emoji, so that they can safely take a cab home from a protest or a date or a doctors appointment, Im freedom dreaming. I am creating a world in which we can all move around safely, without fear of harassment.
When I stay in bed all day, luxuriating in rest, moving in and out of cat naps, Im freedom dreaming. I am living in the knowledge that I dont have to be productive in the ways capitalism demands of us in order to deserve relaxation and recuperation.
Truthout contributor Dean Spade wrote a fantastic, read-it-in-a-day primer on mutual aid that lays out, for those of us lacking inspiration or imagination, how people in community with each other have always performed mutual aid and how it can help us live through crises and their aftershocks.
Disabled people make up the majority of people locked up and terrorized by law enforcement, and calling 911 is a terrible option for people who cops are more likely to harm than help. The case for prison abolition rather than the reform of a rotten system is even clearer thanks to events like the Portland Disability Justice Collectives November conference that connected mutual aid, race and poverty. Meanwhile, two books out this year from Truthout staff and contributors describe how reforms to the criminal legal system usually cause more terror for marginalized queers, and/or low-income, disabled people and substance users: Prison By Any Other Name and The Feminist and the Sex Offender.
The Oakland and Sacramento chapters of the Anti-Police Terror Project (APTP) created alternatives to calling 911 during a psychiatric emergency. This tool launched in several cities, formed mostly by queer and trans people. A call, a text or a direct message on social media goes to volunteers who respond to people experiencing mental health crises to APTPs Mental Health First project.
Meanwhile, Visual AIDS launched Strip AIDS, a comic series about the ongoing plague that covers issues like HIV criminalization, and how detention centers, jails and prisons are the worst place to be during a pandemic, with miserable outcomes for people inside and out of the system.
The San Francisco direct action collective Gay Shame created Abolition is the Floor Not the Ceiling, a project imagining a world where reparations for Black people is more than just a check. Gay Shame followed this with anti-gentrification actions like a Halloween night street takeover called Night of the Living Next Door, which tied surveillance partnerships between Big Tech and government agencies to increased deaths and jailing of homeless people, and housing unaffordability for trans/queer tenants who face the threat of eviction as landlords get richer.
Some of these projects might not exist this time next year, but as long as police-perpetrated violence and inequality continue, radical trans and queer people will keep freedom dreaming.
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Posted: at 9:59 am
For the last several years, debate over the proper role of antitrust has not been limited to academics, economists, lawyers, and judges, but routinely includes politicians, journalists, and increasingly the general public. Critics of modern antitrust enforcement are raising concerns about increasing concentrations of economic power, especially in high-profile sectors such as internet search, social networking, and e-commerce. Some refer to these critics as antitrust populists, and label a growing group of such critics the New Brandeis School.
Many antitrust populists question whether the consumer welfare standard, with its focus on prices, output, and product quality, is capable of addressing harmful concentrations of economic power in the modern economy. Others argue that antitrust has a broader role to play in U.S. society; rather than focusing, as it now does, on anticompetitive conduct, these populists argue that antitrust should address a broad range of social ills, including wealth and income inequality, the influence of money in American politics, the erosion of privacy, and systemic threats posed by firms that are too big to fail. Some proposals would address these social ills by having antitrust enforcement agencies and courts directly consider them when reviewing conduct. But most proposals would use antitrust enforcement to attack these problems indirectly, through policies that their proponents argue would more aggressively promote open markets and competition.
Originally published in Antitrust Law Journal - December 2020.
Please see full Article below for more information.
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Posted: at 9:59 am
WASHINGTON, Dec. 28, 2020 /PRNewswire/ --As Donald Trump's erratic behavior intensifies evidenced by a deluge of anti-democratic, authoritarian, dystopian, malicious actions and statements many observers struggle to grasp his objectives. Some are perplexed by his affinity for self-defeating and humiliating conduct. Others seek a rational or strategic purpose. Many resort to generalized explanations, such as his mental instability, his inability to accept that he lost the election, or his self-created alternate reality based on alternative facts (a.k.a., lies).
Yet, there are more specific explanations, rooted in Trump's psychological impairments. As Bradford Kane wrote in Pitchfork Populism: Ten Political Forces That Shaped an Election and Continue to Change America, Trump "inundates every American with insight into his character, motivations, objectives, needs, and temperament. He chose to rip away the veneer and expose his impulses. Rather than hide his psychological fabric, he has placed it in the public record." As the author details on pages 99-100 of the book, the five principal drivers of Trump's behavior are (summarily stated):
Trump's motives are among the many aspects of his and his administration's conduct that Kane exposed in Pitchfork Populism. The author's analysis and answers written when others were perplexed, confused or confounded have gained broad acceptance. Kane assessed a vast array of Trump's domestic and foreign policies, legislative efforts, executive orders, and public statements, identifying the forces that spawned Trump's pattern of malevolence, ignorance, incompetence, corruption, and cruelty. In the waning days of the Trump administration, rather than abating, these flaws are multiplying.
Fortunately, however, the political forces discussed in Pitchfork Populism that enabled the degradation of our political climate over the past four years can be harnessed to catalyze constructive, unifying progress. Under President-elect Joe Biden's leadership, these forces can be leveraged for a return to policy and actions based on long-held, widely-cherished American values, Constitutional principles, and norms of democracy that serve both parties' interests. The Biden-Harris administration's focus on unity, empathy, justice, and equity will elevate the prospect of bipartisan collaboration to aid, support, and benefit all Americans. The incoming administration's rational, stable, and fair approach to governing will reassert the best of our national character, and reclaim our global stature and leadership. While the outcome of Georgia's senate races will impact the extent of bipartisanship, most Republicans will value Biden's approach, recognizing it as an opportunity for meaningful, responsible progress on many issues.
Bradford Kane presents acute insights into the forces that led to the present situation, and assesses the path forward in the coming years for the country and world.
To schedule an interview with Brad Kane, or request a hardcover or eBook review copy, please contact:Mike Dougherty, Dougherty and Associates828-622-3285; [emailprotected]
SOURCE Bradford Kane
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View from the EU: Britain ‘taken over by gamblers, liars, clowns and their cheerleaders’ – The Guardian
Posted: at 9:59 am
Britain faces an uncertain future as it finally pulls clear of the EUs orbit, continental commentators have predicted, its reputation for pragmatism and probity shredded by a Brexit process most see as profoundly populist and dangerously dishonest.
For us, the UK has always been seen as like-minded: economically progressive, politically stable, respect for the rule of law a beacon of western liberal democracy, said Rem Korteweg, of the Clingendael Institute thinktank in the Netherlands.
Im afraid thats been seriously hit by the past four years. The Dutch have seen a country in a deep identity crisis; its been like watching a close friend go through a really, really difficult time. Brexit is an exercise in emotion, not rationality; in choosing your own facts. And its not clear how it will end.
Britains long-polished pragmatic image had been seriously tarnished, agreed Nicolai von Ondarza, of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs. But trust in the UK, too, had taken a heavy battering on the Brexit rollercoaster.
Thats particularly been the case over the past year, Von Ondarza said. Boris Johnson has always been seen as a bit of a gambler, displaying a certain flexibility with the truth. But observing him him as prime minister has only made that worse.
Germans tended to view international politics very much through the prism of international law, Von Ondarza said, so Johnsons willingness to ignore it in the form, particularly, of the internal market bill was deeply shocking.
The idea that youd willingly violate an international treaty that youd negotiated and signed barely eight months previously Thats just not something you do among allies, he said. That whole episode really damaged Britains credibility.
Others were more brutal still. In Der Spiegel, Nikolaus Blome said there was absolutely nothing good about Brexit which would never have happened had Conservative politicians not, to a quite unprecedented degree, deceived and lied to their people.
Much of the British media, Blome said, were complicit, constantly trampling on fairness and facts, leaving Britain captured by gambling liars, frivolous clowns and their paid cheerleaders. They have destroyed my Europe, to which the UK belonged as much as France or Germany.
But Johnsons lies were the biggest of all, he said: Take back control, Johnson lied to his citizens. But all the British government will finally have achieved is to have taken back control of a little shovel and a little sand castle.
The sovereignty in whose name Brexit was done remained, essentially, a myth, said Jean-Dominique Giuliani, of the Robert Schuman Foundation in France. It is history, geography, culture, language and traditions that make up the identity of a people, Giuliani said, not their political organisation.
It is wrong to believe peoples and states can permanently free themselves from each other, or take decisions without considering the consequences for their citizens and partners. Take back control is a nationalist, populist slogan that ignores the reality of an interdependent world Our maritime neighbour will be much weakened.
The German historian Helene von Bismarck doubted Brexit would end what she described as a very British brand of populism. British populism is a political method, not an ideology, and it does not become redundant with Brexit, she said.
Von Bismarck identified two key elements in this method: an emotionalisation and over-simplification of highly complex issues, such as Brexit, the Covid pandemic or migration, and a reliance on bogeymen or enemies at home and abroad.
Populists depend on enemies, real or imagined, to legitimise their actions and deflect from their own shortcomings, she said. If the EU has been the enemy abroad since 2016, it will steadily be replaced by enemies within: MPs, civil servants, judges, lawyers, experts, the BBC.
Individuals and institutions who dare to limit the power of the executive, even if it is just by asking questions, are at constant risk of being denounced as activists by the Johnson government, Von Bismarck said. Everyone has political motives except for the government, which seeks to define neutrality.
Brexit itself is being framed as the grand departure, the moment the UK is finally free and sovereign, when all problems can be solved with common sense and optimism justifying a more pragmatic approach to rules, constitutional conventions and institutions that actually amounts to a worrying disregard for the rule of law.
British populism would continue, she said, especially when the real, hard consequences of the pandemic and Brexit started to bite.
It is naive to expect a political style which ridicules complexity, presents people with bogeymen to despise, and prides itself on doing what it necessary even if elites and institutions get in the way, to lose its appeal in times of hardship, she said.
Elvire Fabry, of Frances Institut Jacques Delors, said the past four years had shown Europeans and Britons just how little we really knew each other. They had also revealed, she said, the fragility of a parliamentary system seen by many on the continent as a point of reference.
Its been difficult for us to anticipate, at times even to interpret, whats happened in the UK, Fabry said. The direction Johnson has taken the Conservative party in we didnt see that coming. The course hes setting for the country. The polarisation. And the way MPs have been bypassed since he became prime minister .
Most striking of all, she said, was how the politics prevailing in Britain had become detached from geopolitical reality from the way the world is developing. Its a political vision turned towards yesterdays world. Ideological. The way the trade deal focused on goods at the expense of services Its not the way the worlds going.
Painful as the Brexit process may have been for Europeans, however, it had at least demonstrated the reality and value of the single market, its rules and norms, and of the EUs basis in law, Fabry said. Those are at the heart of the European identity and defending them has given the union a new political maturity.
It had also, concluded Korteweg, served as a warning. I think its taught us all just how vulnerable our political processes are, he said. Just eight years ago, leaving the EU was a seriously fringe proposition in British politics, and now look where you are. So weve seen how fragile it all is, what weve built and how worth defending.
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With the worst possible PM at the worst possible time, Britain’s got no chance of a happy new year – Sydney Morning Herald
Posted: at 9:59 am
Back in the mid-90s, when Tony Blair and I were picking Paul Keatings considerable political brain ahead of the 1997 election campaign, among the many wise, colourful observations made by the then Australian prime minister was his view that "you cant polish a turd". Boris Johnson seems determined to prove him wrong.
Johnson and his team had two big challenges in 2020. One, Brexit, was "planned" in that he led and won the European Union referendum campaign in 2016, helped knock out two prime ministers to get the job himself, and then won a good majority on the promise to "get Brexit done".
The second, COVID-19, was anything but planned, and I do not blame the government that it has come to dominate our lives. But I do blame it for the absolute mess it has made of both challenges,
Illustration: Simon LetchCredit:
and the damage done to lives, livelihoods and national reputation as a result. The thread that links them is a Prime Minister who prefers slogans to facts, promises of good times ahead to dealing with bad times now, cheery optimism to hard-headed analysis; who speaks of the world as he wants it to be, not as it is. That is Trumpian populism, and what is happening to our country now, on Brexit and on COVID-19, is what right-wing populism, and populists like Johnson, do.
His turd-polishing on COVID-19, presenting one of the worlds worst death rates and worst recessionary impacts as some great triumph, helped set him up for a huge turd-polishing operation on the Brexit deal, helped by the opposition announcing it would support the deal before it had seen it (provoking a rebellion not among Johnsons ranks but Labour leader Keir Starmers), the limit of a single day of parliamentary scrutiny for a 1246-page document covering huge swathes of our lives, and by several national newspapers which would not look out of place on North Korean news-stands, covering the Great Triumphs of Kim Il-bojo.
At every stage of the COVID-19 process from his boasting of shaking hands in hospitals, giving the go-ahead to huge sporting events like the Cheltenham races, telling us COVID-19 would be gone in 12 weeks, then back to normal by the northern summer, telling the world one country had to stand up against the virus without shutting down, and let it be us, telling us we would be free to meet and mingle, and travel countrywide for Christmas he has told us what he wants to believe, and what he thinks we want to hear.
And then, as happened again over Christmas, when a surge in new cases put paid to his plans for "five days of freedom", he has been brought crashing down to earth by those awful old things called facts.
Both as journalist and politician, Johnson has never much bothered with facts. Theyre inconvenient. They get in the way of the fun. The game. Which to Johnson is what politics has always been about. As a journalist, making up stories about "Brussels" banning bent bananas, insisting on one-size-fits-all condoms (based on Italian penis length) and, more seriously, being hellbent on building an EU super-state. As a politician, being the populist jester.
Ill give him this: he is good at snappy slogans, whether "take back control" from the referendum, "oven-ready deal" (sic), from the 2019 election, "well send the virus packing"(which he has spectacularly failed to do) or "levelling up", his fraudulent claim that Brexit is about helping communities left behind, not rewarding the low-tax, low-regulation offshore philosophy favoured by those whose financial and political support made it happen.
He and his supporters are banging out the post-deal slogans now. Not just the best Christmas present, but "Blast-off Britain". When even by their own assessment this deal will take 4 per cent from the value of our economy, and when tariff-free, quota-free trade arrangements will depend on us not diverging too rapidly, or risk losing even more trade, and creating more bureaucracy, Blast-off Britain, even by his standards, seems over optimistic in the extreme.
As a Trumpian populist, he is great at slogans, terrible at governing; the worst possible Prime Minister, at the worst possible time, with a cabinet, every member appointed purely on the basis of loyalty to him and to Brexit, surely the least able collection of ministers the country has ever had.
The Americans, thank God, have got rid of their populist leader, and corrected their error of 2016. We now have to live with Johnson for some time yet, and the 2016 error for a whole lot longer. Happy New Year? No chance.
Alastair Campbell is a British journalist and political aide. He was former prime minister Tony Blairs spokesman, press secretary and director of communications and strategy.
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Alastair Campbell is a British journalist and political aide. He was former prime minister Tony Blairs spokesman, press secretary and director of communications and strategy.
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Posted: at 9:59 am
Now that Donald Trump has signed the COVID-19 relief bill, resolving the crisis he instigated by denouncing it as a "disgrace" and insisting it be expanded to include much larger payouts to individuals, it's possible to assess just how the battle lines of partisan combat in Washington have shifted since the waning days of the Obama administration.
The answer is: hardly at all.
Ever since Trump defied expectations in 2016 by winning his party's nomination with a highly unorthodox message, a wide range of prognosticators, along with some of the party's elected officials, have suggested that the Republican future involves transforming the GOP into a "workers party." Such a party would mix standard Republican positions on taxes, judges, and abortion with defenses of key aspects of the welfare state that benefit the working class, including increased access to affordable medical care.
In sum: The entrepreneurial party of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, which sought to "reform entitlements" (read: gut Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid), would be replaced by a party that actively seeks to offer a helping hand to struggling American workers.
Trump's instincts do seem to point in precisely this direction. But he has proven to be such an atrocious negotiator, so incurious about the details of public policy, and so incapable of learning how to use the levers of power in Washington (beyond tweet-based rabblerousing) that he's accomplished less than nothing during the four years of his presidency. Instead of dragging his party to embrace an agenda less skewed toward the rich, he has ended up revealing that those who favor a more worker-friendly approach are vastly outnumbered and incredibly weak in the GOP.
That's unfortunate for Republicans and for the country as a whole.
America's two major parties are locked in a struggle over which of them will come to be seen as the party of the working class. In this battle, Democrats have a number of advantages rooted in their history going back nearly a century to the New Deal. But over the past decade or so, the party has drifted away from that legacy, doing better and better among those who live in economically flourishing cities and inner-ring suburbs, and shifting sharply to the left on cultural issues (race, gender, crime, and immigration).
These trends have alienated voters in exurban and rural areas (especially in the post-industrial Midwest). That has created an opening for Republicans to make inroads with an economically populist and culturally conservative message. That, in a nutshell, is Trumpism and it is potentially very potent at the ballot box. If Trump had taken a strong stand over the summer that the next COVID relief bill needed to include $2,000 checks for every American, and if he had repeated that line through the fall and combined it with his attacks on crime, urban unrest, and the threat of "socialism," he likely would have prevailed in the election.
Instead, the president said very little about the economy (beyond bragging about its pre-pandemic greatness) and next to nothing about the relief bill wending its way through Congress. That allowed Joe Biden to portray himself and his party as defenders of working people. When that familiar Democratic stance was combined with the Biden campaign's deft refusal to be baited into offering defenses of the culturally toxic behavior of rioters or endorsements for politically asinine slogans ("Defund the Police"), the result was a winning message.
Trump's last-minute acting out about the relief bill confirmed that his political instincts remain sound, even as he continues to be incapable of acting on them in a politically productive way. That's not only because of Trump's personal ineptitude. It's also a function of the ideological alignment of the parties, which hasn't changed much at all in the past four years. It was Nancy Pelosi, the head of the Democratic Party in the House, who jumped at the prospect of increasing the size of relief checks from $600 to $2,000 and Republicans in the same chamber who rejected it. Which is exactly what would have happened in 2014, 2004, 1994, or 1984.
Four years after Trump seized control of the GOP, Republicans are happy to playact cultural populism, lashing out against the "woke left" in order to burnish the party's working-class bona fides. But economic populism remains a bridge too far.
Which means, once again, that Washington's battle lines have moved very little over the past four years.
From here on out, the most sensible path forward for both parties is clear. Democrats will continue to portray themselves as a party of working people on economic issues and keep trying to placate the cultural left while also working to steer clear of its most extreme excesses. Republicans, meanwhile, will keep attacking the cultural left and using that red meat to portray themselves as aligned with ordinary Americans while also favoring economic policies that primarily benefit the wealthy and often leave working-class communities in ruins.
The details may have shifted somewhat through the decades, but the general shape of things has changed very little since the Obama administration and even since the Reagan administration. Trumpism pointed, haltingly, at another possibility. But as its namesake prepares to leave office in a spasm of election-fraud conspiracism and impotent acting out against his own party's plutocratic priorities, the much-discussed re-alignment of the parties appears to be stillborn, with the entrenched positions of both parties as fixed as ever.