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HeadlinesMarch 16, 2001

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Senate Overhauls Bankruptcy Laws, Making It Harder for People to Erase Debt

Mar 16, 2001

The Senate voted overwhelmingly yesterday to overhaul the nation’s bankruptcy laws and make it harder for people to erase their debts. The lopsided vote, 83 to 15, makes it far more likely that the federal bankruptcy code will be rewritten this year. The House has passed a similar bill, and President Bush has signaled that he will sign whatever compromise is reached by House and Senate negotiators. Support for the overhaul was largely bipartisan, with 36 Democrats joining 47 Republicans. The bill’s quick resurrection after President Bush’s inauguration was seen as evidence of the generous campaign contributions made to each party by the credit industry. It also reflected the growing power of lobbyists in a government in which the White House and Congress are run by business-friendly Republicans. For many of the more than 1 million Americans whose financial troubles are expected to force them into bankruptcy next year, the bill would end their ability to use the bankruptcy system to wipe out credit card bills and other loans that are not secured by homes or other assets.

WTO and WHO to Study How Poorer Countries Can Get Better Supplies of Cheap Medicines

Mar 16, 2001

The global trade and health bodies WTO and World Health Organization today announced a meeting of experts from North and South next month to study how poorer countries can get better supplies of cheap medicines. The two bodies will hold a workshop on differential pricing and financing of essential drugs in the Norwegian town of Hosbjor from April 8 to 11. The gathering will be attended by representatives of companies making both proprietary and generic drugs, of governments and of nongovernmental organizations concerned with international health and consumer rights. Academics and consultants who are expert in drugs, financing, pricing and trade policy would also attend the meeting, which is closed-door.

AIDS Activists Welcome Cost Cuts for HIV Drugs in Africa, Though Effective Treatment Remains Out of Reach

Mar 16, 2001

AIDS activists and workers across Africa yesterday welcomed the sudden wave of cost cuts in HIV drugs for Africa but said that even at drug companies’ newly promised prices, at or below cost for some key drugs, effective treatment against AIDS will remain far out of reach for Africans hardest hit by it. Bristol Myers Squibb announced on Wednesday it will sell two AIDS medications below cost to countries in Africa. The announcement came on the heels of similar deals by leading pharmaceutical companies, including Merck & Co. But AIDS workers said that AIDS drugs have to be used in a cocktail, and some drugs are now cheaper, but some remain unaffordable. Furthermore, the limited number of drugs being offered at reduced cost would leave Africa’s health workers with a reduced packet of ammunition against AIDS, which risks development of more drug-resistant versions of the virus that could worsen Africa’s AIDS problem. However, AIDS activists pointed to another announcement by Bristol Myers as a true breakthrough: the company’s statement that it would waive its patent rights for one of its AIDS drugs in South Africa.

José Bové Sentenced for Destruction of Genetically Modified Plants

Mar 16, 2001

French anti-globalization campaigner José Bové has been sentenced for the destruction of genetically modified plants. A court in the southern French town of Montpellier gave the radical farmer a 10-month suspended sentence and put him on two years’ probation. Bové and two colleagues destroyed 3,000 genetically modified rice plants at a research institute in June of 1999.

Mexico Congress Torn over Whether to Let Zapatistas Address Its Chambers in Favor of Indian Bill of Rights

Mar 16, 2001

Mexico’s Congress opened a new session yesterday, torn over whether to let mass Zapatista rebels address its chambers in favor of an Indian Bill of Rights. Earlier this week, Subcomandante Marcos had rejected a plan for a 20-strong commission of deputies and senators to meet Zapatista commanders in the upper house of Congress, calling it humiliating, undignified and ridiculous. He said that the rebels should be allowed to address both houses from the congressional podium. Marcos also accused congressional hard-liners of pressuring the peace commission in an attempt to sabotage negotiations, and Congressmember Alberto Anaya, whose small Labor Party is one of several supporting the bill, President Vicente Fox of doublespeak for promoting the bill publicly while failing to force his own party to support it. The bill would let Indian communities make laws and elect officials using traditional practices such as village meetings rather than balloting. It also demands radio stations in Indian languages, bilingual schools and proportional representation for Indians in legislatures. Meanwhile, President Fox has proposed to begin taxing food and many medicines, while lowering the corporate tax rate and slashing the personal income tax by 20%. Many have accused the former Coca-Cola executive of trying to tax the poor while giving the rich a break in the name of a struggling economy.

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