July 29, 2010
Drinking alcohol can not only ease the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis it appears to reduce disease severity too, research suggests. Scientists at the University of Sheffield asked two groups of patients with and without the disease to provide details of their drinking habits. They found that patients who had drunk alcohol most frequently experienced less joint pain and swelling.Experts say this should not be taken as a green light for drinking more.
In the study, 873 patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) were compared to 1,004 people who did not have it. Both groups were asked how often they had drunk alcohol in the month running up to the start of the study.
It’s possible that the anti-inflammatory and analgesic effects of alcohol may play a role in reducing the severity of symptoms”
End Quote Dr James Maxwell Consultant rheumatologist
Patients completed a detailed questionnaire, had X-rays and blood tests, and a nurse examined their joints. ’Less damage’
Dr James Maxwell, consultant rheumatologist and lead author of the study, explained the findings.
“We found that patients who had drunk alcohol most frequently had symptoms that were less severe than those who had never drunk alcohol or only drank it infrequently.”
X-rays showed there was less damage to their joints, blood tests showed lower levels of inflammation, and there was less joint pain, swelling and disability in those patients, the researchers found.
They say they do not yet understand why drinking alcohol should reduce the severity of RA, and people’s susceptibility to developing it.
Dr Maxwell said: “There is some evidence to show that alcohol suppresses the activity of the immune system, and that this may influence the pathways by which RA develops.
“Once someone has developed RA, it’s possible that the anti-inflammatory and analgesic effects of alcohol may play a role in reducing the severity of symptoms,” he added.
The authors say that further research is needed to confirm the results of the study and to investigate how and why alcohol has an effect on rheumatoid arthritis.
Risk and rewardsPrevious studies have shown that alcohol may reduce the risk of developing the disease in the first place.
Similarly, in the current study non-drinkers were four times more likely to develop RA than people who drank alcohol on more than 10 days a month.
A spokeswoman for Arthritis Research UK, which co-funded the research, said: “We would not want people with RA to take this research to mean that they should go out and start drinking alcohol frequently and in large amounts as this could be detrimental to their health.”
She said some RA treatments, like the immunosuppressant drug methotrexate, could damage the liver when taken with large amounts of alcohol.
The patients in the study did not drink more than the recommended limit of 10 units of alcohol a week.
July 29, 2010
By: Jonathan Benson
Many people try to treat their depression by taking drugs and burrowing away by themselves, says Dr. Steve Ilardi, a clinical psychologist. But he believes this is the wrong approach. Ilardi suggests that people ditch the drugs and change their lifestyles, instead.
According to the U.K. Guardian, roughly 20 percent of the British population suffers from depression. In the U.S., that number is around ten percent. But rather than remain in isolation until it “goes away”, which is what most people with depression naturally try to do, Illardi recommends that people get more human contact and engage in more physical and mental activity.
Illardi has a six-step approach to treating depression that involves engaging in meaningful activity, exercising regularly, eating foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, getting plenty of sunlight and getting good quality sleep. If people follow these steps, they will lead much happier and more productive lives than if they take anti-depression drugs and remain in solitude, he says.
His plan also intentionally eliminates anti-depression drugs because, according to him, they do not work.
“Meds have only around a 50 percent success rate. Moreover, of the people who do improve, half experience a relapse. This lowers the recovery rate to only 25 percent. To make matters worse, the side effects often include emotional numbing, sexual dysfunction and weight gain,” he explains.
A clinical trial of Illardi’s program currently taking place at the University of Kansas is already confirming that Illardi’s lifestyle plan does, indeed, work as he claims. And since there are no drugs involved, there are no negative side effects. A person’s overall health can only improve by making these changes.
“For clinical depression, all you need to do is get outstanding nutrition by avoiding processed foods, get plenty of phytonutrients in your body, consume healthy oils on a regular basis and get lots of sunlight,” explains Mike Adams, the Health Ranger, in his book The Seven Laws of Nutrition.
Illardi also believes that a primary cause of depression is actually not doing many of the things in his program to begin with. People just do not get enough exercise, they do not eat right and they do not engage enough with other people. He believes these are some of the reasons why the depression rate has doubled in the U.K. over the past 30 years.
July 29, 2010
By: Ethan A. Huff
Qliance Medical Management, a three-year-old, Seattle-based health care startup company, now has a new funding contributor onboard. Drew Carey, the host of The Price is Right, recently contributed a sizable amount of money to the company, whose aim is to replace the costly, inefficient health insurance paradigm with direct, affordable care.
The way it works is Qliance charges its patients a small monthly fee to cover regular primary care services. Rather than operate like an insurance company with excessive paperwork, co-pays and other red tape, Qliance simply provides health care services at a consistent, low price.
It is really quite simple. The money paid each month by patients goes directly to the clinics that provide the services. So instead of having to spend all their time filling out insurance paperwork, medical practitioners can spend that time serving patients instead.
According to Norm Wu, CEO of Qliance, roughly 40 percent of primary care costs in the insurance-based paradigm go towards processing insurance claims. When you cut that cost out of the equation, the amount of money saved is tremendous.
According to the company, about 70 employers in Washington have switched from insurance-based health plans to Qliance for their employees. When coupled with supplemental insurance for emergency situations that require surgery or other costly procedures, companies who provide Qliance for their employees still save an average of 20 to 50 percent in health care costs.
The beauty of Qliance is in the simplicity of its model. Customers pay a price for health services without having to get tangled up in a bloated, bureaucratic nightmare. It also shows that you do not need the government to get involved in order to provide quality health care at an affordable price.
It is precisely this type of model that maximizes health care quality and increases affordability. And since it is a private endeavor, it is not controlled by a centralized authority like it would be under universal, government-run care.
And as far as health freedom is concerned, private initiatives like those of Qliance leave room for alternative treatment options, while the government option will allow only what the FDA approves.
July 29, 2010
By: David Gutierrez
Researchers have discovered that vitamin D plays a crucial role in activating the immune system’s ability to recognize and fight pathogens.
While scientists have long known that vitamin D plays a critical role in bone health, recent research has begun to suggest that it also serves to regulate the immune system, helping prevent infection, cancer and autoimmune disorders. Until now, the mechanism by which the vitamin acts on the immune system has been unknown.
In a study published in the journal Nature Immunology, researchers from the University of Copenhagen found that when a variety of white blood cells known as a T-cell comes across a pathogen in the bloodstream, it extends a receptor in search of vitamin D. If it encounters the vitamin, the T cell becomes “activated.” If there is not enough vitamin D in the blood, the cell remains passive and no immune response occurs.
The body produces vitamin D upon exposure to sunlight. It can also be found in eggs, fatty fish, fortified milk and in supplement form.
Once activated, a T-cell transforms into one of two kinds of cells. One type seeks out and destroys all traces of the infectious agent, while the other records information about the pathogen and transmits it to other parts of the immune system. These latter (“helper”) cells help the immune system respond quickly should infection with a similar pathogen occur at a later date.
In addition to providing new information about the importance of vitamin D, the study provides hope for better understanding — and perhaps prevention — of the unhelpful immune responses that result in autoimmune disorders like allergies or Type 1 diabetes, as well as those that cause the body to reject transplanted organs. The researchers were able to determine what chemical steps occur to transform a T-cell from active to inactive, suggesting the possibility that doctors may eventually be able to initiate or block this process, depending on the patient’s need.
July 29, 2010
By: S. L. Baker
About 20 percent of babies and toddlers have the condition known as eczema which causes red, swollen and intensely itchy skin. It usually develops on the forehead, cheeks, and scalp, but it can spread to the arms, legs, chest and other parts of the body. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), 65 percent of eczema cases develop in the first year of life and 90 percent develop symptoms before the age of five.
While many babies with eczema get better before they are two, others have cases of eczema that persist into adulthood. Evidence has accumulated over the past decade that this common skin problem is connected to something going on in the gut — and that probiotics, beneficial microorganisms similar to the “friendly” bacteria found naturally in the body’s digestive system, can help.
For example, a review of 21 studies, published last year in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, concluded probiotics were most useful in preventing atopic dermatitis, the most common type of eczema, from developing in the first place. And a groundbreaking new study, just published in the British Journal of Dermatology, found that when moms drank a probiotic supplement during their pregnancy and after their babies were born, the rate of eczema in their offspring was slashed by about half.
This research, conducted by researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), is especially convincing because it was a randomized, double-blind study comparing mothers who drank one glass of probiotic milk daily to women who drank milk containing a placebo. The research subjects drank the probiotic or placebo-laced milk beginning at week 36 in their pregnancy and continued consuming the drinks for three months after giving birth. The results were dramatic: the women who received the probiotic drink reduced the incidence of eczema by 40 percent in their offspring.
“The taste of both products was similar, and the milk was delivered in unmarked milk cartons. This means that neither the participants in the study nor the researchers knew who had received probiotic milk or placebo milk,” NTNU scientist Torbjorn Oien said in a statement to the press. “We can therefore say with great certainty that it was the probiotic bacteria alone that caused the difference in the incidence of eczema between the two groups.”
In fact, although earlier studies have provided evidence that ingestion of some probiotics by children may prevent eczema, this is the first study to show that probiotics given to mothers during pregnancy and breast-feeding prevents eczema. As NaturalNews has previously reported, probiotics in dietary supplements or in food such as yogurt, have also been found to be useful and safe in treating antibiotic-associated diarrhea children (http://www.naturalnews.com/026037_C…).
July 29, 2010
By: Mike Adams
The President’s Cancer Panel (PCP) recently released its yearly report to the President outlining the status of cancer in America. This year’s report focuses primarily on environmental factors that contribute to cancer risk. According to the report, pharmaceutical drugs are a serious environmental pollutant, particularly in the way they continue to contaminate waterways across the country (and the world).
Many reports have recently appeared about pharmaceutical contamination of water supplies, rivers, lakes and other waterways, but spokespersons from the drug and chemical industries have denied that this pollution poses any risk whatsoever to the environment. But this report, issued directly from PCP, provides a stunning indictment of the dangers associated with pharmaceutical pollution.
The executive summary of the PCP report includes the following statements:
“[P]harmaceuticals have become a considerable source of environmental contamination. Drugs of all types enter the water supply when they are excreted or improperly disposed of; the health impact of long-term exposure to varying mixtures of these compounds is unknown.”
It’s important to note that PCP is required by law to assess the National Cancer Program and offer a truthful evaluation of the various things it finds to be responsible for causing cancer. The panel is a division of the National Cancer Institute itself, so its findings hold fairly considerable weight in the scientific world (or they should, if the reaction wasn’t so politicized).
The report itself is quite extensive, evaluating everything from the environmental and health impacts of drug and pesticide pollution to cell phone radiation and nuclear testing residue. But the section on pharmaceutical drugs is especially interesting when considering the fact that numerous reports have shown that drugs and drug residue that ends up in water supplies typically isn’t filtered out by municipal treatment plants.
No laws exist to protect the public from pharmaceuticals
Many chemicals are highly regulated because they are known to negatively affect human and environmental health. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is tasked with regulating exposure to these chemicals, but pharmaceuticals are not included in its regulatory scheme. Despite years of prodding by environmental scientists, the EPA has given very little attention to the dangers posed by widespread pharmaceutical contamination.
According to a U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) study conducted back in 2002, antidepressants, blood pressure and diabetes medications, anticonvulsants, oral contraceptives, hormone replacement therapy drugs, chemotherapy drugs, antibiotics, heart medications and even codeine are all showing up in the water supplies of American cities. This study was the first national-scale evaluation of pharmaceutical drug contamination in streams, and roughly 80 percent of the streams tested were found to be contaminated as well.
In 2008, an AP investigation found that at least 46 million Americans are drinking water contaminated with trace amounts of pharmaceuticals. Even though every city tested has its water treated and “purified” prior to being delivered to the public, trace amounts of pharmaceutical drugs are making their way through to the tap. (Since not all major metropolitan areas were tested, the number of people affected is likely far higher than what was reported by AP.)
In spite of all this, water quality reports don’t disclose the levels of pharmaceuticals found in tap water. Since the EPA and FDA have failed to establish any proper guidelines for drug contamination in water, most people have no idea that their water contains a dangerous cocktail of prescription medications.
Hospitals, consumers and drug companies are all responsible
None of this is surprising if you consider that unused and expired drugs cannot be legally returned to the pharmacies where they were purchased. Many people just flush them down the toilet because the drug labels actually encourage patients to dispose of them this way (and they probably don’t know what else to do with them).
People who take prescription and over-the-counter drugs will excrete them as well, contributing to the drug overload being found at wastewater treatment plants. (Drugs are not necessarily “broken down” by your digestive system.)
It is also regular protocol for hospitals to flush millions of pounds of unused medications every year, a practice that contributes significantly to water contamination.
And let’s not forget the drug companies that dump large amounts of their own pharmaceuticals into water supplies. The same AP investigation found that more than 270 million pounds of pharmaceutical compound residue is dumped every year into waterways nationwide, many of which serve as drinking water for millions of people.
The U.S. isn’t the only place where Big Pharma is dumping its waste, either. In 2009, researchers found that India’s rivers are full of dangerous pharmaceuticals, too.
One Indian river where 90 different pharmaceutical companies dump their waste tested positive for over 21 active drug ingredients. In one river alone, there was enough ciprofloxacin (a strong antibiotic) being dumped every day by drug companies to treat 90,000 people! (And scientists detected this in water that was supposedly purified by the drug companies before being released into the environment).
The drug contamination levels found in India’s rivers were 150 times the detected levels found in the U.S. These findings prove that drug companies couldn’t care less how much drug residue they dump in water as long as they can get away with it. They don’t even believe that pharmaceutical contamination is a threat to the environment.
“Based on what we now know, I would say we find there’s little or no risk from pharmaceuticals in the environment to human health,” explained microbiologist Thomas White, a consultant for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, in a Dallas Morning News article about the AP investigation. This is similar to BP’s CEO saying, after the Deepwater Horizon explosion, that the amount of oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico was “tiny” compared to how big the ocean is.
Studies show drug residue cocktails actually do cause harm
Though the chemical and drug industries deny any danger from exposure to drug residue in the water, science (and common sense) says otherwise.
A 2006 study conducted by researchers from the University of Insubria in Italy simulated drug-tainted water by creating a low-level mixture of various drug residues and testing it on embryonic cells. They discovered that, even at low doses, the drug residues actually stopped cells from reproducing.
Even though current water contamination levels are measured in parts per million or parts per billion, there is no way to know just how much exposure people are actually experiencing. People drink contaminated water, shower in contaminated water and cook with contaminated water, so it’s illogical to suggest that there’s no harm being caused by widespread exposure, even at “low” doses, especially when the exposure is a combination of dozens of different drugs that have never been tested in combination.
People are not the only beings that are affected by pharmaceutical contamination, either. The world’s aquatic ecosystems (and the plants and animals that belong to them) are all being negatively impacted.
Drugs are being found in fish
According to an MSNBC report back in 2009, all kinds of drugs are being found in the bodies of fish near major U.S. cities. Researchers found drugs for high cholesterol, allergies, high blood pressure, bipolar disorder and depression in the livers and tissue of fish.
Researchers are in agreement that aquatic species of all types are being harmed by continuous exposure to water contaminated with pharmaceuticals. Even though wastewater is treated in the U.S. before entering waterways, most treatment facilities do not have the proper filtering technology to remove dangerous drug residues from wastewater before it gets dumped.
Many fish are experiencing reproductive problems as a result of exposure, as is explained in the following report:
Beyond having their sperm damaged, some fish are actually changing sexes. Males are becoming females and females are becoming males as a result of drug exposure in the water. Other water creatures are experiencing things like organ failure and the inability to grow. It makes a reasonable person ask “How long until these effects start to hit humans?”
Or have they already?
“We have no reason to think that this is a unique situation. We find pretty much anywhere we look, these compounds are ubiquitous,” explained Erik Orsak, an environmental contaminants specialist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, in response to the findings.
And it’s not just near American cities where fish are turning up with all kinds of drugs in their bodies. As of 2008, more than 100 different pharmaceutical compounds have been detected around the world, affecting fish and wildlife everywhere. These are chemicals that simply do not belong in our environment. And yet they are there, dumped into our waters by the pharmaceutical industry and its hospitals, pharmacies and consumers.
Why we need more research on the toxicity of pharmaceutical contaminants
Many animal studies have been or are being conducted on pharmaceutical exposure, and they are indicating that these drugs are causing widespread harm. But very few official human trials have been conducted, prompting many to push for increased efforts.
If drug residue is building up in animals and wildlife, then of course it’s building up in humans as well, posing the risk of significant harm. Reproductive failure, thyroid dysfunction, cancer, osteoporosis — all of these diseases and more may be caused, at least in part, by prolonged exposure to low levels of all sorts of drugs in the water supply.
Many states pushing for drug waste legislation
Because the truth about drug contamination in water is no longer a secret, many states have begun enacting legislation to regulate drug disposal. Last August, Illinois passed the Safe Pharmaceuticals Disposal Act, which restricts hospitals from flushing drugs down the drain.
California has a similar law in place, and New York is working on one as well, according to a recent report:
The same report indicates that there have been five bills introduced to regulate drugs at the federal level.
While this addresses the hospital waste problem, there’s still the human and drug company waste problems. No matter how you look at it, pharmaceutical drugs are going to continue making their way into the water supplies because they will pass through the bodies of consumers first!
Drug companies must be held responsible for their wastewater
Since it’s already been revealed that drug companies are failing to properly treat their wastewater before dumping it into rivers (even though they claim to be treating it), U.S. regulatory agencies need to step up and correct the problem. Regular monitoring of wastewater contaminant levels is the only way to halt the chemical contamination of waterways.
And if U.S. companies are polluting water supplies in other countries (such as India), they should be held accountable for their actions. There’s no excuse for U.S. companies to pollute anywhere in the world just because they’re operating outside domestic borders.
Wastewater treatment plants should be retrofitted
State and local legislators would do well to put forth their own legislation to upgrade wastewater treatment facilities so they can properly filter out pharmaceuticals (and dispose of them safely). Since there’s no way to stop human elimination of pharmaceuticals (apart from slowly educating the masses to stop swallowing dangerous pharmaceuticals), municipalities need to do their part to prevent these dangerous toxins from getting into water supplies in the first place.
Together, these measures would help to drastically reduce the amount of pharmaceutical waste entering our environment.
It’s the environment, stupid!
The careless disposal of toxic pharmaceuticals is proving to be highly destructive, despite reassurances by some that it’s not that big of a deal. The health of the planet and all of its amazing biodiversity is now threatened by the steady poisoning of toxic chemical pharmaceuticals.
And it’s not just pharmaceuticals, either. Chemical byproducts and waste from many different industries are polluting our environment at unprecedented rates. Mercury (from dental fillings), fluoride (dripped into the public water supply on purpose, if you can believe that!), and all sorts of other chemicals and heavy metals are showing up in food, water and the global environment.
Haven’t we poisoned our planet enough already?
Plants, animals and even humans can only take so much of this. That’s why we need to keep fighting against the corporations that are causing this harm and force them to stop destroying the world in which we hope to raise our children.
After all, if we keep poisoning the planet at this rate, there won’t be much left to offer future generations except a toxic stew of patent-protected chemicals that all the corporations pretend pose no problem at all.
July 29, 2010
Los Angeles Times
By: Shari Roan
Almost 5 million California adults say they could use help with a mental or emotional problem, according to a survey released Wednesday by researchers at UCLA. About 1 million of them meet the criteria for “serious psychological distress.”
However, only one in three people who perceive a need for mental health services or are in serious distress have seen a professional for treatment, the survey found.
The survey was conducted among more than 44,000 adults as part of the 2005 California Health Interview Survey, administered through the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research. Since the survey was conducted, the recession probably has contributed to worsening mental health for even more people, said the lead author of the study, David Grant.
The survey showed that lack of health insurance coverage was a major reason why people didn’t seek help — a situation that may be rectified somewhat by state and national mental health parity laws now in effect that require insurers to cover mental health conditions similarly to they way they cover physical conditions. (The final phase of the federal law went into effect on July 1.) However, stigma continues to be a barrier to mental health services. The survey found that men, people 65 and older, Latinos and Asians were less likely to seek help because of the stigma associated with mental or emotional problems. But being poor is the biggest barrier to care.
According to the survey:
- Women were nearly twice as likely as men to say they needed help because they felt sad, anxious or nervous (22.7% compared to 14.3%).
- Adults under age 65 were twice as likely to perceive the need for help (20.2% compared to 9.2%).
- The poorest adults were more than five times as likely to report symptoms of serious psychological distress compared to those living well above the federal poverty level.
“The findings also demonstrate a crucial need for continued efforts to expand mental-health services and to meet threats to such services caused by the ongoing state budget crisis in Sacramento; reduced state funding for local mental health programs and public insurance programs could be devastating to hundreds of thousands of Californians with mental health needs,” the authors wrote.
Mental health services always seems to be a big target when it comes to trimming state and local budgets. Lawmakers can get away with it, of course, because the stigma surrounding mental illness prevents people from protesting such cuts. Given the number of people in pain, according to this survey, it may be time for Californians to overcome the perceived stigma and demand expanded public funding and insurance coverage of mental health care.
July 29, 2010
Shortly after 12 men and women were sent off to deliberate the fate of Rod Blagojevich, the former governor addressed the media in the lobby of the Dirksen Federal Building about where he thinks the chips will fall.
“[The jurors] are the ones who will decide and make the decision,” Blagojevich said. ”Patti and I have great confidence and faith in their judgment, common sense and decency. And ultimately in the final analysis Patti and I always have a deep and abiding faith in God … and ultimately it’s in God’s hands.”
The governor said that during the trial, he was sustained by those who showed up to support him.
“Let me also say from a personal point of view, having been the governor, how gratifying it is to hear the the different people who have come up to me during this trial who’ve thanked me. A young mother came up to me and expressed gratitude for the ‘all kid’s program and health care for her child.
“The number of senior citizens who have come up and flashed their senior bus rides cards; that’s very meaningful and it gives me perspective to know that while I was governor real good things happened for the people of Illinois while I was governor. That has sustained me during this trial.”
Blagojevich and his wife then left the podium without taking questions.
“Now we wait,” he said before leaving.
His lawyer Sam Adam predicted that wait would be about a week, and that the jury would return a verdicts of not-guilty on all 24 counts.
July 29, 2010
The Washington Post
By: Julie Hirschfeld Davis
Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the senior Republican on the Judiciary Committee, warned senators in unusually dire terms against voting for President Barack Obama‘s choice, saying, “Be careful about it, because I’m afraid that we have a dangerous, progressive, political-type nominee.”
Sessions’ words of caution – he said they were primarily directed toward Democrats – came just hours after Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine became the fourth Republican to say she would break with her party to vote for Kagan, who’s in line to succeed retired Justice John Paul Stevens.
Democrats already have more than enough votes to confirm her.
In a statement, Snowe said Kagan had met her standard for a justice, “with the strong intellect, respect for the rule of law, and understanding of the important but limited role of the Supreme Court that I believe is required.” She said endorsements from leading lawyers, including prominent conservatives, had persuaded her that Kagan had the judicial temperament for the job.
Sessions, however, quoted Obama allies describing Kagan as someone who shares his political views, and argued she would be a liberal rubber stamp for Obama’s policies.
“I don’t think the American people are going to hold harmless those who vote to impose a legal progressive, activist legislator from the bench upon them,” Sessions said.
Republicans are expected to oppose Kagan, but they have shown no inclination to mount a filibuster to block her confirmation vote. That leaves opponents with little recourse, other than to try to pressure Democrats from conservative states to oppose her based on her stances on cultural issues that motivate their constituents.
For instance, the National Rifle Association is opposing Kagan, calling her hostile to gun rights and telling senators it will punish them in its candidate ratings for supporting her.
There’s no evidence that the tactic is working, however. Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, who has an “A” rating from the NRA and hails from a state where voters cherish gun rights, said the group’s rating is “part of the equation” but that he would make his own judgment on Kagan.
Begich, who said he hasn’t decided how to vote, said this week that Kagan acknowledges recent Supreme Court rulings recognizing a personal right to own a gun as “precedent-setting, and that’s important to me.”
Snowe also said it was “critical” that Kagan during her confirmation hearings called the gun rulings “settled law” to be applied in the future.
Kagan, the 50-year-old former Harvard Law School dean, has served as Obama’s solicitor general. Snowe is one of seven Republicans who backed her last year for that post. Three of them – Sens. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, Orrin Hatch of Utah and Jon Kyl of Arizona – have said they will oppose her for the Supreme Court, while another three – Maine Sens. Snowe and Susan Collins and Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar – have announced plans to back her.
The last of the seven, retiring Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, has yet to announce his plans.
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina has also said he will support Kagan. All four GOP senators who have said they will back Kagan so far also voted for Obama’s first Supreme Court nominee, Justice Sonia Sotomayor.
July 29, 2010
By: Dunstan Prial
So much for transparency.
Under a little-noticed provision of the recently passed financial-reform legislation, the Securities and Exchange Commission no longer has to comply with virtually all requests for information releases from the public, including those filed under the Freedom of Information Act.
The law, signed last week by President Obama, exempts the SEC from disclosing records or information derived from “surveillance, risk assessments, or other regulatory and oversight activities.” Given that the SEC is a regulatory body, the provision covers almost every action by the agency, lawyers say. Congress and federal agencies can request information, but the public cannot.
That argument comes despite the President saying that one of the cornerstones of the sweeping new legislation was more transparent financial markets. Indeed, in touting the new law, Obama specifically said it would “increase transparency in financial dealings.”
The SEC cited the new law Tuesday in a FOIA action brought by FOX Business Network. Steven Mintz, founding partner of law firm Mintz & Gold LLC in New York, lamented what he described as “the backroom deal that was cut between Congress and the SEC to keep the SEC’s failures secret. The only losers here are the American public.”
If the SEC’s interpretation stands, Mintz, who represents FOX Business Network, predicted “the next time there is a Bernie Madoff failure the American public will not be able to obtain the SEC documents that describe the failure,” referring to the shamed broker whose Ponzi scheme cost investors billions.
“The new provision applies to information obtained through examinations or derived from that information,” said SEC spokesman John Nester. “We are expanding our examination program’s surveillance and risk assessment efforts in order to provide more sophisticated and effective Wall Street oversight. The success of these efforts depends on our ability to obtain documents and other information from brokers, investment advisers and other registrants. The new legislation makes certain that we can obtain documents from registrants for risk assessment and surveillance under similar conditions that already exist by law for our examinations. Because registrants insist on confidential treatment of their documents, this new provision also removes an opportunity for brokers, investment advisers and other registrants to refuse to cooperate with our examination document requests.”
Criticism of the provision has been swift. “It allows the SEC to block the public’s access to virtually all SEC records,” said Gary Aguirre, a former SEC staff attorney-turned-whistleblower who had accused the agency of thwarting an investigation into hedge fund Pequot Asset Management in 2005. “It permits the SEC to promulgate its own rules and regulations regarding the disclosure of records without getting the approval of the Office of Management and Budget, which typically applies to all federal agencies.”
Aguirre used FOIA requests in his own lawsuit against the SEC, which the SEC settled this year by paying him $755,000. Aguirre, who was fired in September 2005, argued that supervisors at the SEC stymied an investigation of Pequot – a charge that prompted an investigation by the Senate Judiciary and Finance committees.
The SEC closed the case in 2006, but would re-open it three years later. This year, Pequot and its founder, Arthur Samberg, were forced to pay $28 million to settle insider-trading charges related to shares of Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT). The settlement with Aguirre came shortly later.
“From November 2008 through January 2009, I relied heavily on records obtained from the SEC through FOIA in communications to the FBI, Senate investigators, and the SEC in arguing the SEC had botched its initial investigation of Pequot’s trading in Microsoft securities and thus the SEC should reopen it, which it did,” Aguirre said. “The new legislation closes access to such records, even when the investigation is closed.
“It is hard to imagine how the bill could be more counterproductive,” Aguirre added.
FOX Business Network sued the SEC in March 2009 over its failure to produce documents related to its failed investigations into alleged investment frauds being perpetrated by Madoff and R. Allen Stanford. Following the Madoff and Stanford arrests it, was revealed that the SEC conducted investigations into both men prior to their arrests but failed to uncover their alleged frauds.
FOX Business made its initial request to the SEC in February 2009 seeking any information related to the agency’s response to complaints, tips and inquiries or any potential violations of the securities law or wrongdoing by Stanford.
FOX Business has also filed lawsuits against the Treasury Department and Federal Reserve over their failure to respond to FOIA requests regarding use of the bailout funds and the Fed’s extended loan facilities. In February, the Federal Court in New York sided with FOX Business and ordered the Treasury to comply with its requests.
Last year, the network won a legal victory to force the release of documents related to New York University’s lawsuit against Madoff feeder Ezra Merkin.
FOX Business’ FOIA requests have so far led the SEC to release several important and damaging documents:
•FOX Business used the FOIA to obtain a 2005 survey that the SEC in Fort Worth was sending to Stanford investors. The survey showed that the SEC had suspicions about Stanford several years prior to the collapse of his $7 billion empire.
•FOX Business used the FOIA to obtain copies of emails between Federal Reserve lawyers, AIG and staff at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York in which it was revealed the Fed staffers knew that bailing out AIG would result in bonuses being paid.
Recently, TARP Congressional Oversight Panel chair Elizabeth Warren told FOX Business that the network’s Freedom of Information Act efforts played a “very important part” of the panel’s investigation into AIG.
Warren told the network the government “crossed a line” with the AIG bailout.
“FOX News and the congressional oversight panel has pushed, pushed, pushed, for transparency, give us the documents, let us look at everything. Your Freedom of Information Act suit, which ultimately produced 250,000 pages of documentation, was a very important part of our report. We were able to rely on the documents that you pried out for a significant part of our being able to put this report together,” Warren said.
The SEC first made its intention to block further FOIA requests known on Tuesday. FOX Business was preparing for another round of “skirmishes” with the SEC, according to Mintz, when the agency called and said it intended to use Section 929I of the 2000-page legislation to refuse FBN’s ongoing requests for information.
Mintz said the network will challenge the SEC’s interpretation of the law.
“I believe this is subject to challenge,” he said. “The contours will have to be figured out by a court.”