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National Mobilization — Saturday, May 18, 12:00 p.m. Venezuelan Embassy in Washington, D.C. 1099 30th St. NW
A lawsuit alleges that more than 100 generic drugs were included in a price-fixing scheme
More than 40 US states have filed a lawsuit accusing pharmaceutical firms of conspiring to artificially inflate the cost of common medicinal drugs.
The lawsuit alleges that as many as 20 companies have been involved in fixing prices for over 100 drugs, including treatments for diabetes and cancer.
One of the firms accused is Teva Pharmaceuticals, the world’s largest producer of generic medicine.
Teva, which has denied any wrongdoing, says it will defend its actions.
The legal action, which follows a five-year investigation, accuses drugs companies of involvement in a scheme to boost prices – in some cases by more than 1,000% – and was filed on Friday by Connecticut Attorney General William Tong.
“We have hard evidence that shows the generic drug industry perpetrated a multi-billion dollar fraud on the American people,” Mr Tong said.
“We have emails, text messages, telephone records and former company insiders that we believe will prove a multi-year conspiracy to fix prices and divide market share for huge numbers of generic drugs.”
A representative of Teva in the US said that the Israeli company “has not engaged in any conduct that would lead to civil or criminal liability”, Reuters news agency reports.
The other 19 firms implicated in the lawsuit have yet to comment on the allegations.
Fifteen individuals were also named as defendants accused of overseeing the price-fixing scheme on a day-to-day basis.
According to the lawsuit, the drugs companies allegedly conspired to manipulate prices on dozens of medicines between July 2013 and January 2015.
It accuses Teva and others of “embarking on one of the most egregious and damaging price-fixing conspiracies in the history of the United States”.
Mr Tong said the investigation had exposed why the cost of healthcare and prescription drugs was so high in the US.
America’s healthcare system has been at the forefront of US politics for years.
President Donald Trump has frequently promised to dismantle the Affordable Care Act (ACA), better known as Obamacare, which was designed to make medical cover affordable for the many Americans who had been priced out of the market.
States have argued that eliminating Obamacare would harm millions of Americans who would struggle to meet the costs of medical care.
Inequality in the United States has reached such levels lately that even members of the “one percent” have started worrying.
- Ray Dalio, founder of Bridgewater Associates hedge fund who is ranked 57th wealthiest person in the world by Forbes magazine, quipped in a recent interview that capitalism is denying “equal opportunity for the American dream”. He said that he was “a byproduct of capitalism when it also gave equal opportunity”, adding “I was very lucky to live the American dream by having the proper care and the proper public school education … A number of things have changed.”
- Former Starbucks CEO and prospective presidential candidate Howard Schultz, who prefers to be called a “person of means” rather than a billionaire (ranked 617th by Forbes), recently observed that “the vast majority of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck” and declared that the next US president must urgently address inequality.
- CEO of JP Morgan Chase Jamie Dimon (ranked 1,717th) also noted earlier this year that: “A big chunk of [Americans] have been left behind […] Forty percent of Americans make less than $15 an hour. Forty percent can’t afford a $400 bill, whether it’s medical or fixing their car. Fifteen percent of Americans make minimum wages, 70,000 die from opioids.”
Indeed, the growing impoverishment and despair that are plaguing our country are hard to miss. The US also has the highest rate of income inequality among Western nations, with the top one percent claiming 40 percent of US wealth in 2016, in contrast to a 25 to 30 percent share in the 1980s. According to the rather conservative estimates of the US Census Bureau, around 14 percent of the population or 45 million live in poverty. According to the UN, 8.5 million of them face extreme poverty and 5.3 million suffer in “Third World conditions of absolute poverty”.
But in reality, many more Americans struggle to secure a dignified life for themselves and their families. A damning report published by the UN in 2018 found that: “High child and youth poverty rates perpetuate the intergenerational transmission of poverty very effectively, and ensure that the American dream is rapidly becoming the American illusion. The equality of opportunity, which is so prized in theory, is in practice a myth, especially for minorities and women, but also for many middle-class White workers.”
Perhaps parts of the American “one percent” are finally ready to admit that socioeconomic inequality has reached unprecedented levels and that the current status quo is unsustainable because just like South African billionaire Johann Rupert, the prospect of the poor masses rebelling is keeping them “awake at night“. They are now saying that capitalism “needs work” and are proposing various “fixes” – mainly “trickle-down philanthropy”. Some have gone as far as suggesting that social provision should be enhanced and that the wealthy should be taxed.
Yet all of them are quick to outright reject “socialist policies”. In a recent interview for NBC, Melinda Gates, cochair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and wife of the second richest man in the world, echoed the thoughts of many of the super-rich, saying that: “What I know to be true is I would far rather live in a capitalistic society than a socialist society.”
But Gates is wrong. The current system in place in the US is not capitalism, but rather“socialism for the rich” which favours the “one percent” by granting it ever-increasing subsidies, exorbitant tax breaks, deregulation and executive bonuses. The rest of the population lives in an unfair system of inequality and segregation, struggling to make ends meet under severe austerity and erosion of labour rights. It is a system of “survival of the fittest”, which privileges some over the others based on race and gender.
Economic growth now only “uplifts” the rich, who are able to control the distribution of wealth by influencing the government and making sure it serves their interests and maintain their power. Through the US system of legalised corruption, the wealthy funnel billions of dollars in donations to election campaigns.
Unsurprisingly, the stop-gap fixes that people like Gates, Dimon, Schultz and Dalio are proposing are unlikely to work because they are designed to maintain the current system in place so they can continue to accumulate wealth unrestrained. The only viable solution that would prevent a major socioeconomic disaster in the US and subsequent social upheaval would be to overhaul the system.
Solutions to economic inequality and the excesses of American capitalism are necessary to save capitalism from itself, or better yet, to save people from capitalism.
There is an increasing number of dramatic proposals for economic justice that look promising. These include Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal, which envisions a national mobilisation to eliminate carbon emissions and transform the US economy, boosting economic growth and job creation, while seeking economic and racial justice for vulnerable communities. Ocasio-Cortez has also called for a 70 percent marginal tax rate on earnings above $10m.
Congresswoman Elizabeth Warren has a plan to wipe out $1.5 trillion in student loan debt by levying a surtax on the ultra-rich, while Congressman Bernie Sanders has put forward a proposal for universal healthcare. The idea of reparations for slavery, which could help alleviate some of the racial inequality in the country, is also gaining ground.
Although conservatives attack proposals promoting economic justice and equity as dangerous because they could lead to a totalitarian socialist system, such policies have long been a part of the US system. After all, the Green New Deal is named after the New Deal, which was introduced during the Great Depression to protect the poor, strengthen labour rights and impose strict regulation on the financial system.
At the same time, Americans are increasingly in favour of a major overhaul of the system, due to the problematic and corruptive nature of the current one. Existing and proposed government programmes of economic redistribution and equity are popular. Socialism is also gaining popularity, even surpassing capitalism among Democrats, particularly millennials. Such policies, which translate into more democratic ownership and control over the government and greater public accountability, most certainly frighten the wealthy for their effectiveness and political popularity.
If members of the “one percent” truly care about the widening wealth gap, they should not resist the implementation of these policies. An overhaul of the system might make them less wealthy, but ultimately will not be to their detriment. A profit can still be made if workers are paid dignified salaries, provided proper healthcare, and granted social and labour rights.
Indeed the choice of the “one percent” is reduced to either living in a more equal and just society or facing the wrath of angry impoverished masses.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.
A teenager died in a shooting at a Colorado high school – days before his graduation – while charging one of the attackers, his classmates say.
Eighteen-year-old Kendrick Castillo was the only fatality in Tuesday’s assault allegedly by two students near Denver.
Eight other pupils were injured before the assailants were arrested.
The attack took place just 8km (5 miles) from Columbine High School, the site of one of the country’s most notorious shootings 20 years ago.
America’s latest school shooting unfolded at the STEM – science, technology, engineering and math – School Highlands Ranch in an affluent suburb of Denver.
‘I wish he had gone and hid’
Classmate Nui Giasolli told US media she was in her British literature class when one of the suspects turned up late and pulled out a gun.
Kendrick lunged at the gunman, “giving us all enough time to get underneath our desks to get ourselves safe, to run across the room to escape”, she said.
John Castillo, Kendrick’s father, described him as “the best kid in the world”, in an interview with the Denver Post.
He said it was not surprising to him that Kendrick was said to have charged one of the shooters as they entered a classroom.
“I wish he had gone and hid,” said Mr Castillo, “but that’s not his character.
“His character is about protecting people, helping people.”
Kendrick was an only child. Mr Castillo said he and his wife are “in a haze”.
The 18-year-old was passionate about science and robotics.
He was going to study at a local college in the autumn, planning to major in engineering, his father said.
Another STEM senior, Brendan Bialy, is also being praised as a hero for helping subdue one of the gunmen.
Brendan is a recruit for the US Marine Corps but was not trained specifically on active shooter protocols.
Marine Capt Michael Maggitti said in a statement that Brendan’s admirable courage “resulted in the safety and protection of his teachers and fellow classmates”.
Kendrick and Brendan are not the only examples of student heroism recently during a shooting.
Last month at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, a 21-year-old student, Riley Howell, died while tackling a gunman, buying classmates crucial moments to escape, said police.
How did the Colorado shooting unfold?
Douglas County Sheriff Tony Spurlock said the attack happened just before 14:00 local time (20:00 GMT) on Tuesday.
He told reporters the two attackers came in through an entrance that did not have a metal detector and attacked students in two locations.
Both suspects were pupils at the charter school.
There were around 1,800 students on campus at the time of the attack, Sheriff Spurlock said.
Officers arrived on scene within minutes.
“We did struggle with the suspects to take them into custody,” the sheriff said.
Vote comes just hours after President Donald Trump invoked executive privilege over Mueller’s Russia report.
Washington, DC – Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee voted on Wednesday to recommend a contempt citation against US Attorney General William Barr, setting the stage for a constitutional confrontation with the White House over Special Counsel Robert Mueller‘s full Russia report.
The 24-16 vote by the key Judiciary Committee came along party lines with all Democrats voting in favour, and all Republicans present opposed. One Republican was absent.
“This was very great and momentous step that we were forced to take today to move a contempt citation against the attorney general of the United States. We did not relish doing this but we have no choice,” Representative Jerrold Nadler, the Democrat chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, told reporters after the vote.
Barr had “proved himself to be the personal attorney of President Trump rather than the attorney general of the United States, by misleading the public as to the contents of the Mueller report, twice, by not being truthful with Congress”, Nadler said.
The approval of the contempt resolution, which now goes to the full House for a vote, will likely prompt a court battle that may result in fines or jail time for Barr.
The vote came after weeks of talks between the lawyers for the committee and the attorney general failed to yield an agreement over access to Mueller’s full, unredacted report.
“Democrats are angry Mueller did not provide a roadmap for impeachment,” said Representative Doug Collins, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee.
By “moving to this contempt citation at lightning speed”, the committee Democrats were pursuing “craven and insincere politics that seem to be yielding no benefits for the American people,” Collins said.
Trump invokes executive privilege
Federal courts have recognised a limited right by presidents to keep executive branch materials confidential.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said the privilege claim was in response to Nadler’s “blatant abuse of power” and “at the attorney general’s request”.
House Democrats argued that Trump has already waived any right to executive privilege by allowing aides to provide information to the special counsel.
The Department of Justice said on Wednesday that “it’s not true the president waived executive privilege by sharing materials with the special counsel’s office”, according to Reuters news agency, quoting an unnamed department official.
The department also accused Democrats of engaging in “inappropriate political theatrics”.
Nadler called Trump’s executive privilege decision a “nonsense claim”.
“We will win these court fights because the law is one sided. And when the president or Attorney General Barr or anybody else cites executive privilege in these cases, they are not being honest, because there is no real claim at all,” he said.
Wednesday’s developments come as a battle between House Democrats and the Trump administration intensifies. Trump has sought to block aides and former staffers from cooperating with a number of congressional investigations looking into the president’s behaviour and finances.
‘If we don’t put the breaks, we won’t have a democracy’
The Judiciary Committee is seeking to have Mueller testify at a hearing later this month, perhaps as soon as May 15, and has asked former White House Counsel Don McGahn to appear on May 21.
White House lawyers are attempting to block McGahn from testifying. Reversing his earlier stance, Trump indicated in a series of tweets he is now opposed to Mueller testifying.
“The president keeps saying there is not going to be a ‘do over’. And he has talked about a number of people have said we should just be finished. That is the worst thing we could do,” Representative Elijah Cummings, the Democrat chairman of the House Oversight Committee, told Al Jazeera.
“If we do not put brakes on what is happening in our country, we will no longer have a democracy,” Cummings said. “We are being blocked every which way from getting information. We also being blocked from having access to members of the administration.”
Representative David Cicilline, a Democrat, told reporters in the US Capitol that sentiment among Democrats was hardening against Trump’s refusal to cooperate with the House review of the Mueller probe.
“Everyone recognises that the administration is attempting to stonewall and prevent progress because they want to run out the clock. We recognize that,” Cicilline said.
Republicans discounted the Judiciary Committee vote to hold Barr in contempt as a partisan exercise.
“It’s a political contempt vote and we fully expected it,” said Representative Mark Meadows, a Republican who chairs the conservative Freedom Caucus in the House in advance of the vote.
“When you play politics with somebody who has been as honest and forthright as Attorney General Barr has been, I think the American people will see it for what it is. It’s political,” Meadows told Al Jazeera.
‘In favour of prosecution’
Barr has come under criticism for his handling of Mueller’s 22-month investigation. More than 500 former Justice Department officials have signed an open letter calling Trump’s actions described in the Mueller report criminal.
“We believe strongly that … the overwhelming weight of professional judgment would come down in favour of prosecution for the conduct outlined in the Mueller report,” the letter said.
The redacted version of the Mueller report did not establish that the Trump campaign conspired with Russian operatives.
The investigation did, however, examine “multiple acts by the president that were capable of exerting undue influence over law enforcement investigations”.
Mueller did not conclude that Trump committed obstruction of justice, but did not exonerate him either. Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein subsequently concluded that Trump did not break the law.
The Justice Department has made a less-redacted version available for House and Senate leaders and some committee heads, but the Democrats have said that is not enough and have so far declined to read it.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has criticised Barr for mischaracterising the Mueller report said last week she believed Barr lied to Congress when he told House and Senate hearings he did not know of any concerns among Mueller’s team about his actions.
Mueller had written a letter to Barr in March that said the attorney general’s summary of the investigation had failed to adequately characterise the substance of the investigation.
|US Attorney General William Barr testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on ‘The Justice Department’s Investigation of Russian Interference with the 2016 Presidential Election’ [Nicholas Kamm/AFP]|
Barr was grilled by Democrat senators in a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on May 1.
Meanwhile, Senate Republicans are seeking to bring an end to the controversy over the Mueller report. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham has said he does not intend to call Mueller to testify. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell gave a speech in the Senate on Tuesday arguing the matter should be closed.
Congressional Democrats will vote on whether Attorney General William Barr will be held in contempt
Democrats in the US House of Representatives have decided to launch contempt proceedings against Attorney General William Barr.
They took action after he failed to comply with a House Judiciary Committee subpoena to submit an unredacted version of the Mueller report.
The Department of Justice had previously called the request “premature and unnecessary”.
The Democratic-led committee said the vote would be held on Wednesday.
The attorney general, who was appointed by the president, also missed a deadline last week to release an uncensored version of the report.
What did committee members say?
Jerrold Nadler, the Democratic chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said in a statement on Monday: “Congress must see the full report and underlying evidence to determine how to best move forward with oversight, legislation, and other constitutional responsibilities.
“The Attorney General’s failure to comply with our subpoena, after extensive accommodation efforts, leaves us no choice but to initiate contempt proceedings.”
But Doug Collins, the top Republican on the committee, dismissed the Democratic move as “illogical and disingenuous”.
“Democrats have launched a proxy war smearing the attorney general when their anger actually lies with the president and the special counsel,” the Georgia congressman said.
Six committees in the Democratic-controlled House are demanding the release of the full Mueller report as part of ongoing investigations into US President Donald Trump.
What does a contempt vote mean?
A contempt vote alone may serve merely as a symbolic rebuke of the attorney general.
For Mr Barr to actually face criminal charges, the entire House – including Republicans – would first have to approve it.
Such a move against an attorney general is not unprecedented, however.
Eric Holder, who served under President Barack Obama, was held in contempt by the then-Republican-controlled House for a botched attempt to track illegal guns.
Mr Holder became the first sitting attorney general held in contempt of Congress after he failed to hand over files related to the operation.
But as expected, the justice department did not pursue charges against Mr Holder.
What has President Trump said?
Mr Trump said on Twitter on Sunday that the special counsel must not testify to lawmakers, as Democrats desire.
The Republican president had previously said he would not block Mr Mueller from giving evidence to Congress, and leave a final decision to Mr Barr.
The 448-page Mueller report found no collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 election campaign, but did not reach a conclusion on obstruction.
Democrats hope Mr Mueller’s testimony may offer insights into parts of the report currently shrouded by redactions.
“Why would the Democrats in Congress now need Robert Mueller to testify,” Mr Trump tweeted on Sunday.
“There was no crime, except on the other side (incredibly not covered in the report), and no collusion.”
It emerged last week that Mr Mueller had written Mr Barr and expressed frustration that the attorney general’s summary did not capture the full context of the special counsel’s findings.
Tension between Mr Barr and congressional Democrats is already high.
Earlier this month, the attorney general refused to testify to the Democratic-led House Judiciary Committee after Democrats insisted he be questioned by a staff lawyer. He did, however, testify last week for five hours to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Senior Democrats have called on him to resign, accusing him of lying, while Republicans have argued that Mr Barr is being targeted for political gain.