Joe Biden’s Syrian airstrikes were hailed by CNN as a masterstroke of diplomacy, delivered with “a scalpel instead of a sledgehammer.” Strangely enough, it sang the same song when Donald Trump launched his own strikes.
Delivered on Thursday by two F-15 fighter jets, Biden’s airstrikes knocked out several facilities the Pentagon says were used by Iranian-backed militias in Syria. The Pentagon described the strikes as “defensive” in nature, and as a response to rocket attacks on US and coalition troops in Iraq. A militia spokesman said one fighter was killed and several wounded.
CNN was ecstatic. In an article published on Friday evening, analyst Nick Patton Walsh described the attack as “minimally lethal” and “a small signal that the Biden administration is not gun-shy.” Unlike President Donald Trump’s “sledgehammer” diplomacy, the “scalpel”-like strike was a reasonable move in Biden’s efforts to bring Iran back into the 2015 nuclear deal, which Trump pulled out of in 2018.
“In the protracted effort to see who will blink first between Tehran and the Biden administration, Thursday’s strikes on Iranian-backed militia in Syria are but a tiny insect floating into both their gazes,” read a particularly florid paragraph, in an article that went on to praise Biden’s cabinet of Iran “experts” and criticize the “damage the last four years of Trump has done to faith in careful American diplomacy.”
That CNN supports Joe Biden, at least compared to Trump, is no surprise. But the liberal network seemingly has a soft spot for airstrikes as a diplomatic tool. When Trump launched his own strikes on the same militia in Syria in 2019, he received some rare praise from CNN.
Trump’s strikes were “a sensible use of force,” analyst Peter Bergen wrote at the time, in an unusual departure from the network’s usual anti-Trump hyperbole.
Earning the praise of CNN was doubly unusual as Trump’s earlier cruise missile strikes on Syria, against government targets in 2017 and 2018, were lambasted by the network. Though other anti-Trump outlets put their beefs with the former president on hold to heap praise on those strikes, CNN kept up the criticism, condemning his “lack of foresight” and even bringing on Islamic, Jewish, and Christian religious experts to condemn the strikes on moral grounds.
But double standards are nothing new from the mainstream media, and not even from within Biden’s own administration. Vice President Kamala Harris and Press Secretary Jen Psaki both slated Trump’s 2017 and 2018 missile strikes, with Harris adding that Trump should have consulted Congress before the 2018 attack. A year later, when Trump pondered but ultimately decided against a strike on Iran itself, Biden wrote that “Trump’s erratic, impulsive actions” would make “another war in the Middle East” more likely.
Though Washignton and Tehran nearly came to blows when Trump assassinated Iranian General Qassem Soleimani last January, war was ultimately averted. With Biden now in charge of repairing the 2015 nuclear deal, he can count on CNN to back up every step he takes in that direction. The Iranians, however, won’t be as easily convinced.
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CHRIS HUGHES can go from Love Island star to Cheltenham Festival winner with the horse that leaves him ‘shaking’.
Racing-mad Hughes was an ’emotional wreck’ after watching his beloved Annie Mc win at Warwick earlier this month.
The seven-year-old superstar could make it three wins on the spin with the world watching at next month’s meet.
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Annie Mc is as short as 7-1 to win the Mrs Paddy Power Mares’ Chase on Friday, March 19.
And no one will want her to win more than Hughes, who is a co-owner of the Jonjo O’Neill-trained runner through the Coral Champions Club.
In fact, Hughes and Annie Mc are so close that O’Neill joked the horse is the reason Hughes doesn’t have a girlfriend.
Hughes, who came third in the reality TV show, recently posted a photo of himself with the horse captioned: “Well this year, and probs next, this is my Valentine, big ears, one month till we’re on the main stage.”
Speaking after the Warwick win, O’Neill, who has 25 Festival winners, said: “Chris Hughes loves her to bits – I think that’s why he hasn’t got a girlfriend, he’s fallen in love with the mare!
And Hughes tweeted: “I’m gone, emotional wreck. Pure heart. Shaking.
“I love you so much Annie, you’ve my heart forever. Superstar.
“Jumps racing gets you like this. Best sport in the world.”
Annie Mc scooped the £17,832 first-place prize that day.
Greater riches await at Cheltenham, although the purse for the race has not yet been revealed.
Not that it’s about money for Hughes.
He said: “She fills our hearts with happiness, win, lose or draw and she’s just such a special, genuine mare to be involved with.
“She’s one in a lifetime and all of us connected are so proud. Heart of a lion. Onto Cheltenham we go!”
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A new ebook, Born in Lockdown, features 277 authors who all shared one profound experience – they became mothers during the pandemic
New motherhood is usually associated with pain, exhaustion and an overwhelming sense of responsibility. And while this is often the case, it can also be a catalyst for creativity – according to novelist Emylia Hall, founder of Mothership Writers, a creative writing programme for new mums.
“So much for Cyril Connolly and his pram in the hall’,” she said, referring to Connolly’s famous quote about children inhibiting a creative life. “We use new motherhood as a catalyst for creativity, and it’s amazing to see at first-hand the transformational effects.”
Mothership Writers was founded two years ago, before the emergence of Covid-19. The pandemic added poignancy to the project and in 2020 Hall decided to gather accounts of what it was like to become a mother during lockdown. Mums were asked to write in short fragments: thoughts scribbled during the haze of night feeds or captured via voice notes while out pounding the pavements with unsettled newborns.
Hall hoped around 20 mothers would contribute, but word of the project spread and the resulting ebook – Born in Lockdown – which launched this week, features 277 new mums. Their words are published verbatim and unedited.
The ebook is free to download with voluntary donations being accepted for the charity Sands, which supports those affected by the death of a baby. Within 24 hours of its launch on Tuesday, it had been downloaded 2,000 times and had raised £2,700.
“As the fragments started arriving in my inbox a feeling of excitement was building inside me,” said Hall. “Here were urgent dispatches from the frontline of mothering during a pandemic; pitch-perfect articulations of personal experience; 50-word pieces that captured moments and emotions that were so raw, affecting, and inspiring, my tears streamed as I saved each one.
“That was when I knew we were making something good. Really good.”
She describes the collection as “an extraordinary record of this time in history, full of unflinchingly honest accounts, pain and hardship, but above all, beaming through, such love and hope”.
Recurring themes include that of the missing ‘village’ of support, of isolation and uncertainty, and the extra pressures on mental health. But there are silver linings, new connections and incredible gifts too. “Despite the pain and hardship – such love and hope shine through,” said Hall.
She often sees childbirth awakening in people a real desire for self-expression. “Patriarchal society so often expects us to see it as ‘ordinary’, but it’s anything but. Mothership helps provide that space and encouragement for new mums to feel like they have a voice – and to feel good about using it.”
Despite the pain and hardship – such love and hope shine through
One of her favourite lines in the book is: ‘The very thing keeping you apart right now will one day bond you together.’
“Born in Lockdown was made in exactly that spirit,” she added. “My heartfelt thanks go to all of the 277 new mothers who were willing to trust me with their stories, and to unite – across distance, through lockdown – to make something so special. And to remind us, ultimately, that we’re all in this together.”
‘An unprecedented experience’: the Born in Lockdown mums
Three mothers explain why they took part in the Born in Lockdown project:
Roxy Afzal is 37 and lives in Manchester. Her son was born in May 2020
“Becoming a mother for the first time in 2020 was the most bizarre and unexpected experience! I’ll never forget having to wear a mask throughout my emergency c-section and walking out of the hospital to security guards and barriers.
Being isolated as a new parent had been my worst nightmare, so it was tough for it to have come true. With the added stress of our baby being readmitted to hospital for surgery at seven weeks old, and later, my Dad dying from Covid-19, I developed postnatal depression. I think, as a Neonatal Nurse, people just expected me to know what to do, regardless – and I probably expected it of myself, too!
I feel lucky that a Health Visitor at the SureStart centre drew my attention to the Born in Lockdown project. Everyone has been facing their own unique challenges during the pandemic, so I felt the pressure to put on a ‘brave face’. The Born in Lockdown project gave me the chance to express myself more honestly and to feel that bit more connected to other mums in a situation where the ‘normal’ places to get together have been taken away from us.”
Jade Gilks is 29 and lives in the south-east. Her son, Ethan, was born in August 2020
“For me 2020 was also an unprecedented year emotionally. Being pregnant, raising a toddler and then giving birth, amongst news stories stating how the pandemic was disproportionately affecting black communities and black mothers, added an extra layer of complexity and emotional strain I didn’t think was possible.
So when the opportunity came to document what it was like to be a mum in lockdown, I jumped at the chance. I saw this as an opportunity to begin to verbalise the different emotions I was experiencing as well as understanding the experiences of other mothers too. It was a chance to reflect not just on hard times but the many blessings I had encountered during this time.”
Tessa Wills is 43 and lives in Somerset. Her baby, Juniper Star, was born in October 2020
“I’m an older, single, queer, parent by choice who got involved with Mothership Writers after the birth of my first child back in 2018. Those regular meetups provided a structure through which to document the intensity of that time which otherwise felt too vast to channel through something as focussed as the nib of a pen. Those fragments will journey with us through my firstborn’s life, and I’m so grateful to the Mothership for getting us there.
As that course culminated, I had gotten pregnant with my second and was getting to grips with that as a life choice and finding faith in the decisions I’d made as a person with a precarious life and a lot of responsibility. I wrote Alarm Bells Sound then (included in the Mothership Writers anthology Dispatches from New Motherhood). In this next project, Born in Lockdown, I gave birth to my second in surprising circumstances and enjoyed feeling part of a collective voice in this time of isolation. Mothership helped us document this journey.”
Illustrations: Esther Curtis
On the bright side, when it comes to vaccines, so far Canada is actually doing better than Australia.
That country bet big on a thriving domestic bio-sciences sector. It was making good progress on a made-in-Australia vaccine until December, when it had to scrap its vaccine program because while the candidate vaccine did well against COVID-19, it also produced weirdly high levels of false positives on HIV tests.
Australia didn’t approve Pfizer’s vaccine until January. The country’s prime minister became the first Australian to receive a vaccine dose — yesterday.
So a domestic pharma industry is no guarantee of success against any given specific bug. Indeed, global dominance isn’t even a guarantee. Three of the biggest vaccine makers in the world, GlaxoSmithKline, Merck and Sanofi, have seen their COVID-19 programs scrapped or badly delayed. There are no guarantees in pharma. The work is too complex, too close to the cutting edge of science and manufacturing. It’s one reason winning pays so well: because losing costs a lot.
So it may be that even if Canada had a thriving pharma sector, it would still be scrambling to line up vaccine doses today amid a hotly competitive international feeding frenzy. And some of the attempts to explain the weakness of pharma in Canada approach Avro Arrow levels of quaint nostalgia, such as the notion that Brian Mulroney locked Canada into a generation of serfdom by privatizing a government lab the year Patrick Swayze starred in Ghost. As though subsequent governments had no ability to act.
What I do know is that late last summer, as the Trudeau government scrambled to lock down agreements with manufacturers of several vaccine candidates, people in the Canadian pharmaceuticals industry were amazed, and grimly bemused, to find their phones ringing off the hook. Because for years before COVID-19, their attempts to interest Justin Trudeau’s government and Stephen Harper’s government before it, in building a robust pharmaceuticals sector for Canada had met consistent bland indifference.
In the early days of the Trudeau government, it seemed that things might go better. If only for a while.
In his 2017 budget, then-finance minister Bill Morneau introduced an Innovation and Skills Plan, “an ambitious effort to make Canada a world-leading centre for innovation.” Morneau was following the advice of an Advisory Council on Economic Growth led by one of the Trudeau Liberals’ favourite people, McKinsey managing director Dominic Barton. Barton’s final report told the feds to “unleash growth in six to eight high potential sectors” like renewable energy, advanced manufacturing, and health care and life sciences. The approach in each sector should be “aspirational” and “collaborative.”
The aspirational part came easily enough. Morneau said Canada should “double the number of high-growth companies in Canada, particularly in the digital, clean technology and health technology sectors, from 14,000 to 28,000 by 2025.” Collaboration seemed, at first, to get off on the right foot as well. The government created a half-dozen Economic Strategy Tables, including one in the health and biosciences sector. That group of 16 industry leaders tabled its final report in the fall of 2018.
Canada’s health and biosciences sector was on track to reach $17 billion in exports by 2025, the report said. But they said that wasn’t good enough. By more than doubling growth in the sector, Canada could reach $26 billion in exports, from twice as many fast-growing firms, by 2025—by adopting “bold measures that eliminate barriers and drive growth.”
What did Canada need to overcome to reach this goal? The report included a handy “What We Need To Overcome” section. Among the obstacles: “Complex regulatory, reimbursement and procurement processes impede the adoption of innovations”—which meant that the makers of new drugs, processes and technologies had a hard time getting their solutions approved, a long wait to get paid, and a long line to stand in if they wanted public health-care systems to buy their stuff. Canada’s federal system added its own complexities: a product accepted for use in one province might not be available in the rest. That made it hard enough to sell new products into the Canadian market from outside. But it also made Canada a shaky base for anyone who might want to launch a new product into the global market, because the first question any country’s regulators ask is, “Is this new product approved in its country of origin?”
The panel also noted the feds’ plan to reform the Patented Medicines Price Review Board (PMPRB), which was founded 35 years ago with a mandate to cap the prices on new drugs. Great, the panel said, but make sure that “proposed drug pricing changes are not a barrier to growth.” Setting prices low would save the government—and taxpayers—money. But it could be a false economy. At some point, manufacturers would become less interested in selling to Canada. And they sure wouldn’t want Canada setting prices for the global market.
So the Trudeau government’s handpicked growth guy told them to work with industry on reaching ambitious goals. Morneau set the goals. The handpicked industry panel told him to reform procurement and be careful about pricing. Progress on both those fronts has been shaky at best. Last April, after the COVID-19 pandemic had shut down much of the world economy, Health Canada said it was working on speeding up drug approvals—and hoped to see results in 2021. That’s halfway through the timeline Morneau laid out when he called in 2017 for reforms that would bear fruit by 2025.
One report—commissioned by Innovative Medicines Canada and using data from 2018—said Canada takes a lot longer than peer countries to reimburse companies launching new medicines. From first global approval to reimbursement takes 252 days in the United States, 317 days in the United Kingdom, and 926 days in Canada.
“That doesn’t create an environment that attracts business,” says Pamela Fralick, CEO of Innovative Medicines Canada, the industry association for pharmaceuticals companies in Canada. (Some full disclosure is in order: I sometimes deliver paid speeches to various organizations. In 2018 I gave one speech to Fralick’s group.)
But if the process of bringing new medicines to market in Canada is glacial, at least the money promises to be bad. The government released its proposed changes to the PRPMB pricing regime, which determines how much pharma firms get paid for their products, last year. The answer was, they’d be paid less than before. For starters, the U.S. and Switzerland would be removed from an international basket of comparator countries that are used to determine prices for Canada, because both countries tend to pay drug manufacturers a lot of money. Since there’s a global health crisis on, Health Canada has delayed implementation of the regulations twice; they’re now due to come into force on July 1 of this year.
But if the process is slow and the money isn’t great, at least the spirit of collaboration Dominic Barton called for was, until COVID-19 hit, in tatters.
“It’s definitely been an arms-length interaction with the government,” Cole Pinnow, the CEO of Pfizer Canada, said in an interview. “I would say that we’ve always had a solid relationship with the regulatory part of Health Canada. But we certainly have not had a genuine engagement with the rest of Health Canada, despite several outreach attempts. And we’ve had what I would call cursory engagement with Minister Bains [Trudeau’s minister of industry, who resigned from cabinet in January], who seemed to be the most open to discussing a meaningful solution. But even that fell off his agenda late in 2019. There has been nothing but, frankly, draconian policy coming out of this government until the pandemic hit.”
Draconian’s a big word. What does Pinnow mean by it? “There’s not a willingness to collaborate or compromise or find a new path forward. It’s really, ‘This is our problem, this is how we want to solve this problem.’ They welcome feedback, but that feedback is never iterated upon. It’s merely, ‘Thank you for your feedback, we will now proceed.’”
The chilly relationship doesn’t date from Trudeau’s election, Pinnow said. Stephen Harper’s Conservative government was also reluctant to seem too close to an industry whose products are produced by multinational firms and sell for high prices. The political benefit of siding with generic drug manufacturers, whose products are usually cheap and easily available but which aren’t renowned for developing new products for new circumstances, is obvious.
“We’re in a situation in Canada that is a result of decades of a poor relationship between government and this industry,” Fralick of Innovative Medicines Canada said. “And we’re kind of paying the price for that now.”
It’s not as though there were no consultations on the patent-drug price regulations. The review board held hearings across the country and accepted written submissions; a summary report says they received 123 of those. But Fralick and Pinnow described a sensation familiar to many people who’ve shown up to government consultations in recent years: it was clear that they were free to speak, but less clear that anyone was listening.
Fralick said an international group of more than two dozen CEOs from big pharma wrote to Trudeau four times asking for a meeting. The first letter was sent in February 2018, the second in May 2018, the third in April 2019, and the fourth in February 2020. The letters “were very high level in nature, respectful in tone, expressing an interest in working more collaboratively with Canada, and referencing concerns with the changes being considered for the regulatory regime,” Fralick said. The first letter received an unsigned response from Health Canada’s strategic policy branch. The others received no answer. Pharma bosses do occasionally meet leaders in other countries, she said, including French president Emmanuel Macron and British prime minister Boris Johnson. And Trudeau’s dance card does include the occasional CEO in other sectors, such as Mary Barra from General Motors, Satyah Nadella from Microsoft, and former GE Canada CEO Elyse Allan. Global pharma had much less luck getting a look-in.
Pinnow insists that long-term chilly relationship hasn’t affected the COVID-19 vaccine emergency procurement effort. “A government that has not wanted to interact in a sincere and meaningful way” has “quickly realized that we now have a common desire to work together on a hot topic,” he said. “I want to make it perfectly clear: we have never talked about the policies and the vaccines at the same time.” In fact, he said Canada’s procurement effort will soon be seen as “world-class compared to everyone else out there.” By late summer, when the Belgian factory retooling effort that slowed Pfizer’s deliveries is well in the past, and vaccine candidates that weren’t yet approved in February join Pfizer and Moderna, “Canada’s going to be swimming in vaccine.”
Fralick agrees. “No company that I’ve spoken with, no member company of IMC, is in any way connecting the dots between the regulatory environment and the supply of vaccine,” she said. “But the bottom line is, where you have more anchor companies, where you have more activity, where you have a relationship with industry, it’s probably going to have an impact on where you sit in the pecking order.”
(I should also note that the weary note sounded by Pinnow and Fralick isn’t the only one I heard. Patricia Gauthier, CEO of Moderna for Canada, was more upbeat in an interview. “My experience has been extremely positive,” she said. It’s also brief: she became Moderna’s first employee in Canada at the end of 2020. “It’s hard for me to comment on the past,” she said when I asked about pharma policy before the current crisis.)
For Gauthier’s colleagues, complaining about long-term trends during a pandemic is a delicate rhetorical path to tread: the Harper and Trudeau governments put up successively larger DON’T BOTHER signs to the local representatives of a fabulously lucrative global industry, but bygones became bygones just as soon as everyone found themselves in a global crisis where big pharma was suddenly needed. If that’s so, what lasting harm was done?
Maybe only this. Canada remains, for this sector as for others, a place where the status quo is timidity, snail’s-pace progress and a weird disconnect from the action in the rest of the world. Canada has no effect on moderating global drug prices, but is usually pretty good at ensuring new medicines don’t get here first. It brags about its intentions to change all of the above, then doesn’t follow through. The crises aren’t the main problem. It’s what happens between crises: not much.
Looks from Stolen Girlfriends Club’s LOVE GAMES collection. Images supplied.
Defined by film noir classics Bladerunner and The Breakfast Club, the 80s and 90s proffer alternative wardrobes and arcade hangouts for geeks with cool kid insouciance. This in mind, Stolen Girlfriends Club brings LOVE GAMES: a collection of popular pieces for the unpopular.
For men and women, LOVE GAMES traverses sportswear, technical outerwear and accessories, and grunge-inspired classics. Inspiring the anti-workout is the Street Fighter Short, featuring skulls embroidered across each leg and ‘STOLEN’ proudly stamped on. The athleisure story is complete with half-zip crews, denim dye tanks, and ribbed tops with a form to fit.
The offbeat aesthetic would be incomplete without graphic prints and bold typography: a shrine to all things ‘arcade-noir’. Hero-ing the collection are acid greens, blacks, and electric purples and blues that come together in the Android Dreams print – a nod to 80s game graphics and sci-fi. Paired with the Galactic Bucket Hat, the slip dress is propelled into the utilitarian future. Vegan leather coats, dyed hoodies, and quilted bombers round out the collection.
LOVE GAMES is available instore and online now.