Tuesday Reads: Reviewing a Momentous Day

Good Morning!!

electoral collegeYesterday “electors” affirmed that Joe Biden is our next president. After the votes in all 50 states, Biden addressed the nation. Fortunately, this time the winner of the popular vote also won in the outdated Electoral College.

Eric Bradner at CNN: Biden after Electoral College affirms win: ‘The rule of law, our Constitution and the will of the people prevailed.’

President-elect Joe Biden declared Monday, hours after the Electoral College made his victory over President Donald Trump official, that “the rule of law, our Constitution and the will of the people prevailed” over Trump’s efforts to undo the results of the election.

“The flame of democracy was lit in this nation a long time ago. And we now know nothing, not even a pandemic or an abuse of power, can extinguish that flame,” Biden said.

In a speech Monday night in Delaware, Biden launched the most direct and detailed defense of his victory yet — and the harshest condemnation of Trump’s flailing efforts to change reality.

He catalogued the failures of Trump’s campaign and his allies in state and federal courts and state legislatures, and recounts that have not substantially changed vote tallies. He called efforts by Trump and his supporters to use the courts to overturn the election result “so extreme we’ve never seen it before.”

“Thankfully, a unanimous Supreme Court immediately and completely rejected this effort,” Biden said.

Biden’s speech came after the Electoral College had cast 306 votes for Biden and 232 for Trump, cementing Biden’s win. The Electoral College votes will now be sent to Congress to be counted formally next month. Though some House Republicans have indicated they will object to the results in key states, they can do little more than delay the process during a joint session of Congress on January 6. Then, Biden will be inaugurated at noon on January 20.

Aaron Rupar at Vox: Biden’s post-Electoral College speech was a stinging rebuke of Trump.

Over the past six weeks since Election Day, President-elect Joe Biden carried about his business while largely ignoring the circus surrounding President Donald Trump’s incessant lies about election fraud and refusal to concede. That changed a bit on Monday.

Speaking hours after the Electoral College officially voted to confirm his victory over Trump, Biden declared victory. He also criticized the president, whom he portrayed as on the wrong side of the struggle for democracy, for refusing to acknowledge the reality of his defeat.

rawImage“In this battle for the soul of America, democracy prevailed,” Biden said. “We the people voted. Faith in our institutions held. The integrity of our elections remains intact. And so now it is time to turn the page. To unite. To heal.”

At another point, Biden took an indirect shot at Trump, saying “the flame of democracy was lit in this nation a long time ago. And we now know that nothing — not even a pandemic, or an abuse of power — can extinguish that flame.”

Biden addressed the flood of failed lawsuits the Trump campaign has filed since the election and the Supreme Court’s refusal last week to take up a flimsy case that could’ve overturned his victory. He also praised state and local officials on both sides of the aisle for overseeing a fair election while refusing to be “bullied” by Trump.

“In America, when questions are raised about the legitimacy of elections, those questions are resolved through the legal processes. And that’s precisely what happened here,” he said. “All the counts were confirmed … none of this has stopped baseless claims.”

Later, Biden noted that “respecting the will of the people is at the heart of our democracy,” adding that when Trump won four years ago, “it was my responsibility to announce the tally of the Electoral College votes to the joint session of Congress … I did my job.” [….]

Biden, who sounded noticeably hoarse throughout, closed by noting that the joy of his win “is tempered by the pain so many of us are feeling today. Our nation [today] passed a grim milestone: 300,000 deaths due to this Covid virus. My heart goes out to each of you during this dark winter of the pandemic.”

Meanwhile, Trump is still filled with self-pity and ignoring the desperate situation in the country he is supposed to be leading. Jonathan Swan at Axios: Scoop: Trump’s frenetic, fanciful, bitter final plea.

Right up to Monday’s Electoral College vote, President Trump held the false hope that Republican-controlled state legislatures would replace electors with allies who’d overturn Joe Biden’s win, two people who discussed the matter with him told Axios.

The big picture: Through the past week, the sources said, the president browbeat GOP legislators in multiple states, launched tirades against Republican Govs. Doug Ducey of Arizona and Brian Kemp of Georgia, vowed to make Fox News “pay” for accurately calling the race, and tested ways to say he didn’t win without acknowledging he had lost.

Behind the scenes: One source who talked to Trump over the weekend said the president continued to insist that there was significant fraud in multiple states, paraphrasing him: “Do you think if the legislatures know this is all true, they would just act to overturn this?'”

246445_rgb_768There’s more at the link, but who cares? Trump is finished and we won’t have to put up with his childish behavior much longer.

Yesterday was also a turning point in the coronavirus pandemic, as the rollout of the Pfizer vaccine began. Peter Baker at The New York Times: A Day That Settled an Election and Brought Hope for Defeating a Pandemic.

When future historians close the books on the misery of 2020, a grueling year of disease, death, racial strife, street violence, economic collapse and political discord the likes of which have not been seen in the United States in generations, they may look back on Monday, Dec. 14, as a pivotal juncture.

It was on that day that Americans began rolling up their sleeves for a vaccine produced in record time to defeat a virus even as the death toll crossed 300,000. And it was on that day that members of the Electoral College gathered in each of the 50 states to ratify the end of the most polarized election in more than a century.

None of that erases the enormous damage of the past 12 months, nor does it mean there will not be pain and protest to come. Many Americans will get sick and die in the months before the vaccine is universally available. Many Americans will remain aggrieved by the result of an election they wish had gone the other way. It is still an era of hardship and division. But after so much uncertainty, after so much doubt, the way forward appears clearer at least in two major respects….

The day played out in a remarkable fashion as television viewers watched images of health care workers receiving lifesaving injections juxtaposed with live shots from state capitals around the country showing electors casting votes formally confirming the victory of President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Vice President-elect Kamala D. Harris.

It was the definitiveness of both developments that stood out after months of political, medical and economic turmoil: At last, Americans can look ahead to the day when they will be immunized from the Covid-19 virus even if takes until spring. And now they know despite all the postelection noise from the White House and its allies who will be president on Jan. 20.

Unfortunately, we learned yesterday that the Trump administration refused to order more vaccines from Pfizer in November. Mediaite: Former FDA Director Scott Gottlieb: Trump Administration Declined More Pfizer Vaccines as Recently as November.

Former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb, now on the board of Pfizer, said that the United States was offered more of the company’s successful coronavirus vaccine as recently as November — but didn’t take the deal.

jd121020dapr“There were multiple conversations with the U.S. government about taking more supply in the second quarter” of 2021, Gottlieb said. “The company wasn’t taken up on the offer as recently as November.”

The New York Times reported last week that Pfizer offered the Trump administration the chance to buy more than the 100 million doses agreed upon over the summer. In a baffling move, the Trump administration never made the deal.

Gottlieb, who was Trump’s FDA chief until April 2019, noted that the U.S. government said that the conversations with Pfizer happened in July, but that there was an offer for more vaccines on the table as recently as last month.

Gottlieb said other countries ended up taking those vaccines after the U.S. passed.

Another vaccine will soon be available from Moderna. The New York Times: Moderna Vaccine Is Highly Protective and Prevents Severe Covid-19, Data Show.

Newly released data confirmed on Tuesday that Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine is highly protective, setting the stage for its emergency authorization this week by federal regulators and the start of its distribution across the country.

The Food and Drug Administration intends to authorize use of the vaccine on Friday, people familiar with the agency’s plans said. The decision would give millions of Americans access to a second coronavirus vaccine beginning as early as Monday.

The review by the F.D.A. confirms Moderna’s earlier assessment that its vaccine had an efficacy rate of 94.1 percent in a trial of 30,000 people. Side effects, including fever, headache and fatigue, were unpleasant but not dangerous, the agency found.

The success of Moderna’s vaccine has become all the more crucial to fighting the pandemic as other vaccine efforts have faltered. The hopeful news arrives at a time of record-breaking numbers of coronavirus cases that are overwhelming hospitals and of an ever-increasing death toll, which reached a bleak milestone of 300,000 on Monday.

Six million doses of the Moderna vaccine could begin distribution next week. Read more details at the NYT link.

Two more momentous events happened yesterday. Bill Barr is leaving and news broke of a new Russian hack of multiple U.S. government agencies. 

6QDWQO4ZFZFO7P5PCXNXPYLFWQRuth Marcus on Bill Barr: Barr failed at his job. His bootlicking resignation letter made that clear.

William P. Barr told friends, when he was tapped for attorney general two years ago, that he was returning to the position to help save the Justice Department. Barr failed spectacularly at that task and ruined his reputation in the process.

Nothing made that more clear than the bootlicking letter of resignation he submitted Monday to President Trump.

No aspect of Barr’s departure is normal. Cabinet officials do not leave administrations to spend more time with their loved ones — the president tweeted that Barr wanted to “spend the holidays with his family” — 37 days before the end of a presidency.

Marcus had even sharper words for Barr:

Barr’s letter was larded with nothing but adulation for the man who had been trashing him for weeks. The missive contained 18 uses of the word “you” or “your” to refer to Trump, as in: “Your record is all the more historic because you accomplished it in the face of relentless, implacable resistance.” And, “You have restored American military strength. By brokering historic peace deals in the Mideast you have achieved what most thought impossible.”

Fawning is too mild an adjective to describe this remarkable document. The word lickspittle has been understandably overused during the Trump years, but Barr’s letter demands its redeployment.

If we never see his face in public again, it will be too soon.

On the Russian hack, The Washington Post reports: DHS, State and NIH join list of federal agencies — now five — hacked in major Russian cyberespionage campaign.

The Department of Homeland Security, the State Department and the National Institutes of Health on Monday joined the list of known victims of a months-long, highly sophisticated digital spying operation by Russia whose damage remains uncertain but is presumed to be extensive, experts say.

The list of victims of the cyberespionage, which already included the Treasury and Commerce departments, is expected to grow and to include more federal agencies and numerous private companies, said officials and others familiar with the matter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because it is under investigation.

SolarWinds, the maker of widely used network-management software that the Russians manipulated to enable their intrusions, reported in a federal securities filing Monday that “fewer than 18,000” of its customers may have been affected. That’s a small slice of the company’s more than 300,000 customers worldwide, including the Pentagon and the White House, but still represents a large number of important networks. Russia has denied any role in the intrusions.

SolarWinds, the maker of widely used network-management software that the Russians manipulated to enable their intrusions, reported in a federal securities filing Monday that “fewer than 18,000” of its customers may have been affected. That’s a small slice of the company’s more than 300,000 customers worldwide, including the Pentagon and the White House, but still represents a large number of important networks. Russia has denied any role in the intrusions.

Yes, Monday was a momentous day. There are just 36 more days until the inauguration and we can kick Trump out of the people’s house and into the dustbin of history. I can’t wait for that day to arrive.

Beyond Influence: Buying US Law

  “Corporations are people, my friends.”

Mitt Romney, in a speech today in Iowa

I’ve wanted to write about ALEC for awhile. I tripped across this very succinct explanation in my print copy of Bloomberg Business Week that made me revisit my plans.  Ever wonder why a bunch of weird ass bills suddenly show up simultaneously in a bunch of legislatures that say things that are basically against the positions of modern science, medicine, and economics?  Well, chances are that some huge corporation has written that bill that will become law in no one’s interest but their own, and it was penned by some member of ALEC.

Kim Thatcher, a Republican state representative in Oregon, introduced a sharply worded anti-cap-and-trade bill this year that said, “There has been no credible economic analysis of the costs associated with carbon mandates.” Apparently, that view is widely shared. Legislation with that exact language has been introduced in dozens of states, including Montana, New Hampshire, and New Mexico.

It’s not plagiarism. It’s a strategy. The bills weren’t penned by Thatcher or her fellow legislators in Helena, Concord, and Santa Fe. They were written by a little-known group in Washington with outsize clout, the American Legislative Exchange Council. Corporate benefactors such as Koch Industries and ExxonMobil (XOM) help fund ALEC with membership dues and pay extra for a seat at the legislative drafting table.

Among ALEC’s prominent members are Pfizer (PFE), Wal-Mart (WMT), Bayer (BAYZF), and Visa (V), according to ALEC annual meeting documents provided by an attendee. The organization’s legislative agenda includes limiting the power of unions, fighting environmental regulations, and overturning President Obama’s health-care reform law. ALEC says it gets about 200 state laws passed each year. The corporate influence is hard to trace and can produce a return on investment that would make a hedge fund manager drool.

“This is just another hidden way for corporations to buy their way into the legislative process,” says Bob Edgar, president of Common Cause, which seeks to reduce money in politics. Reagan Weber, an ALEC spokeswoman, says the group simply facilitates the sharing of information and “good conservative policy.”

ALEC was founded in 1973 by two of the conservative movement’s intellectual midwives, both now dead: Representative Henry Hyde of Illinois and activist Paul Weyrich, who also was a founder of the Heritage Foundation. As a tax-exempt organization, ALEC doesn’t disclose its corporate donors or its member lists beyond those who serve as committee chairmen.

In exchange for annual membership dues of as much as $25,000 plus a fee of $3,000 to $10,000 to get on a bill-writing “task force,” Koch and ExxonMobil representatives sat beside elected officials and policy analysts at an ALEC meeting in April 2010, helping them write model energy legislation that would later be introduced in statehouses around the country, according to the documents. The legislators pay $100 for a two-year membership. The task force bills are considered finished only after the legislators and private-sector members vote separately to approve them, giving each side a veto. Once a model bill is complete, it’s up to ALEC’s legislator members to go back to their home states and shepherd it into law.

ALEC is on the radar of many organizations including the American Association for Justice who keeps track of their activities and publishes white papers on this group of bill-writers for profit, greed and the destruction of public resources.

(W)hile the membership appears to be public sector, the bankroll is almost entirely private sector. In fact, public sector membership dues account for only around one percent of ALEC’s annual revenues. ALEC claims to be nonpartisan, but in fact its free-market, pro-business mission is clear.

The result has been a consistent pipeline of special interest legislation being funneled into state capitols. Thanks to ALEC, 826 bills were introduced in the states in 2009 and 115 were enacted into law.

Behind the scenes at ALEC, the nuts and bolts of lobbying and crafting legislation is done by large corporate defense firm Shook, Hardy & Bacon. A law firm with strong ties to the tobacco and pharmaceutical industries, it has long used ALEC’s ability to get a wide swath of state laws enacted to further the interests of its corporate clients.

ALEC’s campaigns and model legislation have run the gamut of issues, but all have either protected or promoted a corporate revenue stream, often at the expense of consumers. For example, ALEC has worked on behalf of:

  • Oil companies to undermine climate change proponents;
  • Pharmaceutical manufacturers, arguing that states should be banned from importing prescription drugs;
  • Telecom firms to block local authorities from offering cheap or free municipally-owned broadband;
  • Insurance companies to prevent state insurance commissioners from requiring insurers to meet strengthened accounting and auditing rules;
  • Big banks, recommending that seniors be forced to give up their homes via reverse mortgages in order to receive Medicaid;
  • The asbestos industry, trying to shut the courthouse door to Americans suffering from mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases; and,
  • Enron to deregulate the utility industries, which eventually caused the U.S. to lose what the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) estimated as $5 trillion in market value.

The Koch brothers and Koch Industries are all over ALEC.  Their Charitable foundations and businesses provide a lot of funding.  ExxonMobile is also a huge source of funds.  There are several companies representing the interests of  Big Pharma.  ALEC looks like a who who of corporate America’s worst corporate citizens.  The Center for Media and Democracy’s PR Watch put out a Special Report on ALEC’s funding last month.

According to ALEC’s IRS filings, over the past three years it has raised $21,615,465 from corporations, foundations, and other sources, and just over $250,000 in dues paid by state legislators, amounting to slightly more than 1 percent of its income. The gigantic gap between what legislators pay and what ALEC spends is the direct result of the reality that legislators pay a mere $50 a year to be a member, while a corporation can pay up to $25,000 a year or more to be a member of ALEC plus additional fees to be on a task force where corporations get the same right to vote as legislators. They just pay hundreds of times more for that vote.

For example, the foundations controlled by the billionaire Koch brothers gave ALEC over $200,000 in 2009. (The Claude R. Lambe Foundation, which Charles Koch, his wife and kids help run, donated $125,000 to ALEC. His own Charles G. Koch foundation kicked in an additional $75,000.) That $200k is before whatever is the undisclosed amount of membership “dues” paid by Koch Industries, which is run by Charles and David Koch. There is no public disclosure of annual gifts the company gives to take part in the one-stop shopping ALEC conventions provide to meet with legislators from every state about their wish list…

Other right-wing foundations have also supported ALEC, far beyond the “dues” paid by any legislator. For example, the Castle Rock Foundation, which is run by right-wing beer heir Peter Coors, gave $50,000 last year and in prior years. The right-wing John M. Olin foundation has also been a donor to ALEC. Another of the big right-wing foundations, the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, has been a funder and, for example, gave ALEC $50,000 in 2009 to fund “budget reform” work. Similarly, right-winger Richard Scaife has given ALEC over half a million dollars the past decade or so, through his Allegheny Foundation. Some of the organizations that support ALEC, like Scaife’s, are also deeply invested in the profits of corporations that sit on ALEC’s board. The Allegheny Foundation has held over $11 million of ALEC board member Altria‘s stock, along with major stock holdings in other ALEC corporate board members like Kraft, Coca Cola, AT&T, GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson, and Exxon.

ALEC is a major voice for climate change denial, responsible  for the recent spate of voter disenfranchisment laws, and continually pushes for extreme tort reform. There’s a really good primary on ALEC at People for the American Way. ALEC is the well-funded voice of corporate special interests.  Here are two recent examples of state legislature originating from ALEC.

ALEC was influential in crafting and passing a Texas law, dubbed the “Successor Asbestos-Related Liability Fairness Act, that shielded Crown Cork and Seal, a business that in 1966 acquired a company that used asbestos in its products, from lawsuits from the company’s workers. Even though Crown agreed to pay the company’s liabilities, it wanted immunity from paying damages to workers facing asbestos-related diseases. Crown Cork and Seal turned to ALEC to help shape the Texas law, which put an extremely low cap on liability for companies like Crown who acquired companies which committed wrongdoing, known as a “successor immunity” law.” Mark Behrens, an attorney for Shook Hardy, worked as a lobbyist for both ALEC and Crown to encourage allied lawmakers to introduce and pass the bill. The American Association for Justice writes that “this so-called ‘successor immunity’ has all the hallmarks of an ALEC special interest bill. It is plainly designed not with public policy in mind, but rather a specific industry (or in this case, a specific company).” The Texas Supreme Court ultimately found the cap to be an unconstitutional retroactive protection for Crown that inhibited the rights of people to rightfully sue corporations for damages, but similar ALEC-derived laws are still on the books in other states.

In Arizona, an investigative report by NPRfound that ALEC significantly helped one of its clients, the Corrections Corporations of America (CCA), influence the state’s new immigration law. The CCA is a for-profit prison company whose “executives believe immigrant detention is their next big market,” and thought that a law which “could send hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants” to prison would “mean hundreds of millions of dollars in profits to private prison companies responsible for housing them.” As a dues-paying member of ALEC, the CCA was able to write, present and lobby Arizona policymakers for a draconian immigration bill at an ALEC-hosted conference. “Four months later, that model legislation became, almost word for word, Arizona’s immigration law,” and many of the bill’s cosponsors later received significant campaign contributions from the CCA.  ALEC also helped the CCA by pushing “truth in sentencing” laws that restrict parole eligibility for felons, and consequently increase the number of prisoners.

You name the spurious law, and ALEC is likely behind it.  They write laws that push private school vouchers, strip workers of their right to organize,  make it more difficult to generate revenues to fill budget shortfalls in states, and  undercut healthcare reform efforts.

After the passage of health care reform, ALEC’s top priority has been to challenge the law by encouraging members to introduce bills that would prohibit the law’s insurance mandate. ALEC’s Health and Human Services task force is led by representatives of PhRMA and Johnson & Johnson, and representatives of Bayer and GlaxoSmithKlein sit on ALEC’s board. The group’s model bill, the “Freedom of Choice in Health Care Act,” has been introduced in forty-four states, and ALEC even released a “State Legislators Guide to Repealing ObamaCare” discussing a variety of model legislation including bills to partially privatize Medicaid and SCHIP. The legislative guide utilizes ideas and information from pro-corporate groups like the Heritage Foundation, the Goldwater Institute, the James Madison Institute, the Cato Institute, the National Center for Policy Analysis and the National Federation of Independent Business.

Expanding the disproportionate power of corporations in the legislative process is central to ALEC’s goals. ALEC is responsible for some of the worst outcomes in government we’ve seen in decades.  It is pure influence peddling. Any legislator that relies on ALEC for services should be subject to immediate recall. ALEC represents what’s wrong with this country today.  It is at the heart of single issue, special interest politics that are not in the public’s interest.  They are a perversion of the democratic political process.

Mitt Romney is wrong.  Corporations are not people.  The profit motive is the sole determinant of corporate behavior.  No household or family would put profits before everything else nor should any government that purports to represent its people. I suggest finding out as much about how ALEC influences your state legislature as soon as possible.  A good place to start is with The Nation‘s series ‘ALEC Exposed’. The first in this series shows the role of the Koch’s in ALEC’s model bills.  I’ve pumped this thread up with a lot of juicy links. Please take some time to visit the research of all the nonprofits that have carefully researched this shadowy organization.

Wikileaks on Big Pharma

Wikileaks has been the source of a lot of important whistle blower information which is why there seems to be a crusade against the organization’s most visible representative, Julian Assange. Wikileaks was founded in 2006 as a place where–among others–Chinese dissidents would be allowed to get important information to the public.  Wikileaks’ stated purpose is to give assistance to all peoples that seek to “reveal unethical behaviour in their governments and corporations”.

Its first released documents dealt with government plots to assassinate people.  It also has exposed bizarre documents from the Church of Scientology.  During the financial crisis, Wikileaks released a report about a serious nuclear accident in Iran, problems at banks like the Kaupthing Bank of Iceland and Barclay’s, and a toxic dumping incident in the Ivory Coast.   They have dumped data on corrupt governments and corrupt corporations so there is absolutely no shock that the powers that be all over the world are trying anything they can to discredit Wikileaks and every one associated with it. Wikileaks is bigger than one man and his foibles.

I’ve been finding more and more horrible things about Big Pharma and their experimentation on poor and helpless people in developing nations.  This cover up trail–as with some others associated with horrible drug testing practices–leads to Wikileaks.  Wikileaks has acted as our pharma watch dogs and released documents that provide more information on an ongoing story that exposed fatal drug tests on Nigerian children.  Here is a summary of the situation from Democracy Now. You can watch Amy Goodman’s story in video at the same link.  WAPO actually did a lot of the original investigative journalism back at the time this came to light in the late 1990s.

Diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks show the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer hired investigators to find evidence of corruption against the Nigerian attorney general to pressure him to drop a $6 billion lawsuit over fraudulent drug tests on Nigerian children. Researchers did not obtain signed consent forms, and medical personnel said Pfizer did not tell parents their children were getting the experimental drug. Eleven children died, and others suffered disabling injuries including deafness, muteness, paralysis, brain damage, loss of sight, slurred speech. We speak to Washington Post reporter Joe Stephens, who helped break the story in 2000, and Musikilu Mojeed, a Nigerian journalist who has worked on this story for the NEXT newspaper in Lagos.

The story is 14 years old, but the Wikileaks information is new.  In 1995, Pfzier was trying to get a new antibiotic–Trovan— to market.  You may know this drug as Zithromax. It was supposed to be a big drug breakthrough and they wanted to test the drug on children. This is a complex and difficult undertaking in the US so they headed to Nigeria for their Clinical Trials.  This is Amy Goodman’s explanation from a transcript of the show.

AMY GOODMAN: In 1996, Pfizer’s researchers selected 200 children at an epidemic hospital in Nigeria for an experimental drug trial. About a hundred of the kids were given an untested oral version of the antibiotic Trovan. Researchers did not obtain signed consent forms, and medical personnel said Pfizer did not tell their parents their children were getting the experimental drug. Eleven children died. Others suffered disabling injuries including deafness, muteness, paralysis, brain damage, loss of sight, slurred speech.

The details of the case were first exposed in 2000 in an investigative series in the Washington Post. In 2007, Nigerian officials brought criminal and civil charges against Pfizer in a multi-billion-dollar lawsuit.

Wikileaks has exposed an important link between Pfizer and the Nigerian law suit.

JUAN GONZALEZ: A State Department cable from 2009 details a meeting between Pfizer’s country manager, Enrico Liggeri, and U.S. officials in Abuja. The cable reads, “According to Liggeri, Pfizer had hired investigators to uncover corruption links to Federal Attorney General Michael Aondoakaa to expose him and put pressure on him to drop the federal cases.” A few months later, Nigeria settled with Pfizer for just $75 million.

Nigerian journalists consider Assange and Wikileaks to be heroes for exposing this connection. Here’s something just written by PMNews Nigeria outlining the importance of this information.  You see an article there written by a Nigerian lawyer that explains the importance of the Wikileaks.  The author has disabled the option to quote his work so I’ll respect this and just give you the link.

Additional information on Pfizer has come to light through the documents released by WikiLeaks.  A lot of this information is being reported by Democracy Now–an advertising free media outlet–that has followed this story extensively. Pfizer extensively lobbied against a New Zealand Free trade agreement because New Zealand has drug buying rules similar to Canada. Big Pharma just hates it when countries negotiate prices.

In other WikiLeaks news, newly released cables have shed more light on the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer. Last week on Democracy Now! we reported how Pfizer hired investigators to find evidence of corruption against the Nigerian attorney general to pressure him to drop legal action over fatal drug tests on Nigerian children. Now Pfizer’s actions in New Zealand have been exposed by WikiLeaks. Newly released cables show the pharmaceutical company lobbied against New Zealand getting a free trade agreement with the United States because it objected to New Zealand’s restrictive drug buying rules. In addition, cables show drug companies tried to get rid of New Zealand’s former health minister.

Democracy NOW also reports that the Big Pharma has become the biggest defrauder of the Federal Government. They are bigger than even the military industrial complex with its giants like GE.

A new study by the watchdog group Public Citizen has found that the pharmaceutical drug industry has become the biggest defrauder of the federal government, surpassing the defense industry. Public Citizen found that the drug industry paid out nearly $20 billion in penalties over the past two decades for violations of the False Claim Act. More than half of the industry’s fines were paid by just four companies: GlaxoSmithKline, Pfizer, Eli Lilly and Schering-Plough.

If you read the show’s transcript, you’ll see further evidence and concerns about clinical trials happening on poor people in poor countries.  The person I will quote is guest  “Dr. Sidney Wolfe, the Director of Public Citizen’s Health Research Group and co-author of the new report, Rapidly Increasing Criminal and Civil Monetary Penalties Against the Pharmaceutical Industry: 1991 to 2010.”

I’d just like to add something to what James Steele said, which is, we call this industry the human experimentation corporations. The biggest human experimentation corporation is right here in the United States. It’s called Quintiles. They do experiments for drug companies as quickly as they possibly can all over the world. We found an ad from Quintiles that sells to the drug industry: “We help you recruit drug-naive subjects in many developing countries.” So this industry, in terms of exporting human experiments—and it really is a business—in terms of criminal violations—off-label marketing, illegal—in terms of False Claims Act, is really at the forefront. They parade themselves—and they do some good things; they do develop some good drugs. Is it really necessary for them to engage in criminal behavior, in civil violations and in very unethical human experimentations around the world? We think the answer is no.

A top lawyer at the FDA has recently said, “The only way we’re going to stop this industry from violating these laws, endangering people, is to start putting people in jail.” No one has ever gone to jail from one of these drug companies for these criminal violations. The size of the penalties is miniscule compared with the profits. Two companies, as mentioned—Glaxo and Pfizer alone—have paid $7 billion or $8 billion in the last 20 years. In one year, those two companies make about $15 billion or $16 billion in profits. So, until they are adequately assessed penalties that compare with the amount of money they’ve made off of these various drugs, until people are put in jail, if appropriate, this industry is going to keep running away.

And one other thing that was alluded to by James Steele is, this industry directly finances the FDA through cash payments. This year, between $700 million and $800 million in cash goes directly from the drug industry to the FDA. It pays for about two-thirds of all the review of drugs. So, in addition to the lobbying, the $200 million that James Steele talked about, there are direct cash payments, under a 1992 law that the Congress unwisely passed. So we have lots of problems with this industry. It does a lot of good things, but it is increasingly a menace in this country and abroad. As part of globalization, we’ve globalized human experimentation, and it’s a pretty nasty business.

There are several things that are becoming abundantly clear to me as I continue my search for Big Pharma’s role in the deathes of many people–babies and children included–through reckless experimentation and profit-seeking.  The first is the importance of Wikileaks and the realization that the sideshow going on right now over Assange’s behavior in Sweden detracts from the essential role that Wikleaks plays in releasing important information.  The second is how the majority of real data that I find comes from either sources not aligned with advertising interests or over seas media.

Democracy NOW and public interest groups like WikiLeaks rely on small donations and are not held hostage by government bullies and corporate revenues.  Without media and free press outlets like Wikileaks and Democracy NOW and these investigative reports done by Public Interest Groups, we would NEVER get this information.   We should be actively funding their ventures and supporting their right to expose the corruption and immoral behaviors of all governments and huge corporations.

The rich and powerful are banding together to prevent this information from coming to the surface.  JUST a few minutes ago, this came to my attention: Apple Explains Why They Banned The Wikileaks App.  MasterCard, Bank of America, and Pay Pal have moved to stop the flow of money to Wikileaks. BOA is said to be one of the next data drops from Wikileaks so I hardly find that move surprising.  As corporate and western European/American government interests move to strangle this outlet of free speech, we’re beginning to see more people–people with questionable intellect and morals–distracted by the Assange Rape Accusation Side Show. Isn’t a little bit odd that all this is taking place in light of more and more whistle blowing documents showing up  in places where there is only accountability to free speech and not to the profit motive and geopolitical power?

Against this backdrop, Julian Assange, the 39-year-old globetrotting Australian who is the driving force behind WikiLeaks, is battling extradition from England to Sweden for questioning about rape allegations. He was released on bail in London on Thursday.

Speaking Saturday outside a supporter’s mansion in eastern England, Assange called the case in Sweden a “travesty.” He also claimed he and others working for WikiLeaks face significant risks.

“There is a threat to my life. There is a threat to my staff. There are significant risks facing us,” he said, without offering details of the purported threats.

In an interview with CNBC on Friday, Assange said his organization plans to soon release information about banks, and he told Forbes magazine last month that the data would show “unethical practices.”

Assange told Computerworld magazine in 2009 that his organization had a trove of files on Bank of America. “At the moment, for example, we are sitting on 5GB from Bank of America, one of the executive’s hard drives. Now how do we present that? It’s a difficult problem,” he was quoted as telling the magazine.

Stay tuned.  There will be more. The more you dig into stuff, the more twisted it gets.   My guess is that Karl Rove is over on a mission there in Sweden to stop something that must either endanger Cheney, Bush, or himself.  Why is Karl Rove helping to persecute Julian Assange?  But, my friends, that is another story.

update The BBC News has a Transcript of The Assange interview on its site.