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Bits 'n pieces from east, west and beyond

by LORRAINE H. MARIE
| January 4, 2022 7:00 AM

East, west or beyond, sooner or later events elsewhere may have a local impact. A recent sampling:

A Congressional Oversight Committee report says Big Pharma has price gouged for years, with some drugs nearly 250 times more expensive. Taxpayers are left to foot the bill — around $5 billion annually — when Medicare is prevented from negotiating drug prices. Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.) said the excuse for price hikes — that they offset funds for research and development — is a “myth.”

Preliminary data from Scotland shows the omicron variant puts fewer people in the hospital as compared to the delta variant. But Imperial College London said it is 10 times more infectious.

The U.K. Health Security Agency said booster protection against the omicron variant can drop up to 25 percent within 10 weeks. A Pfizer shot with a Pfizer booster can see a drop from 70 to 45 percent within 10 weeks. Business Insider reported that a small pool of people who had two Pfizer shots and a Moderna booster maintained 70 to 75 percent protection for nine weeks.

The FDA has now approved a second drug, molnupiravir, developed by Merck, for treating COVID-19. The previous day the FDA approved Pfizer’s COVID-19 treatment, Paxlovid.

Bloomberg and The Wall Street Journal seem to agree about the state of the nation’s economy: Overall economic growth in the U.S. for 2021 was 6 percent as compared to 4 percent for China and 2 percent for the eurozone. Bloomberg noted that “America’s economy improved more in Joe Biden’s first 12 months than any president during the past 50 years.” U.S. wages rose, the American Rescue Plan cut child poverty by half and 4.6 million more people were eligible for the Affordable Care Act.

U.S. companies are showing a 15 percent higher profit margin. Reduced debt for companies has resulted in a stronger stock market.

Nonetheless, a CNN/SSRS poll showed 54 percent don’t approve of Biden’s handling of the economy, citing inflation as one reason. Inflation has occurred all over the planet, but gas prices have actually declined (according to GasBuddy, a tech company) and supply disruptions have not matched dire predictions. The Wall Street Journal said the supply bottleneck is largely because of American consumer demand.

Why the public’s low assessment of the economy? Only 19 percent polled said they have heard or read good things about the economy.

The pause in student loan debt payments has been extended to May 1, NPR reported.

Despite delays in passing Build Back Better (Republicans and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W. Va.) blocked its passage) the plan has not been abandoned. BBB is composed of measures to expand health and social care and combat the climate crisis. In an opinion piece in The Washington Post, Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) urged Biden to further BBB goals with executive action. Manchin, who has extensive ties to the coal industry, objects to funding for fighting climate change and oppposes extending child tax credits. But Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) points out that “We were elected to address these many needs and we will not stop fighting until we do.” Failure to pass BBB led Goldman Sachs to lower their GDP forecast for the nation. Moody’s Analytics’ chief economist joined Goldman in that forecast.

Jan. 6 House Select Committee update, from various news articles: Members are trying to determine if former President Donald Trump was derelict in his duties regarding criminal obstruction of Congress, why he took three hours to respond to pleas for help from members of Congress to stop the violence and why the National Guard had been told to only protect pro-Trump people. They also want to view videos Trump recorded for the rioters, of which only one was released. And phone records are sought wherein Trump is said to have consulted with insurrection allies when the vice president would not cooperate with stopping the election certification.

Trump has sued to block release of records from the National Archives and Records Administration. That has not worked in Trump’s favor in lower courts so he is now turning to the Supreme Court. Section 3 of the 14th Amendment prohibits a person who has violated their oath of office from running for office, if they engaged in an insurrection or aided in a rebellion. The House committee is planning a series of public meetings in 2022 to share the information they have gathered.

In December, one man, age 34, was sentenced to 33 months in prison for threatening to kill six members of Congress if they did not challenge Biden’s election. Another man, age 37, was sentenced to 19 months for urging the “slaughter” of representatives and senators after Jan. 6, The Week reported.

University of California Riverside thinks they’ve discovered a new way to determine who is at risk for Alzheimer’s disease: those who have both amyloid plaques as well as neurofibrillary tangles. A UCR chemistry professor says 20 percent of those with plaques have no sign of dementia, indicating “the plaques themselves are not the cause.”

Part of the problem: clearing defective proteins from cells (autophagy) slows down after age 65. But that problem, the researchers said, can be reduced with exercising and fasting as well as drug therapies. The study has been published in the Journal of Proteome Research.

Blast from the past: “In politics absurdity is not a handicap,” said Napoleon Bonaparte, French general and emperor, 1769-1821.