November 2nd, 2010
By: Kimberly Kindy
Since the attempted bombing of a U.S. airliner on Christmas Day, former Homeland Security secretary Michael Chertoff has given dozens of media interviews touting the need for the federal government to buy more full-body scanners for airports.
What he has made little mention of is that the Chertoff Group, his security consulting agency, includes a client that manufactures the machines. The relationship drew attention after Chertoff disclosed it on a CNN program Wednesday, in response to a question.
An airport passengers’ rights group on Thursday criticized Chertoff, who left office less than a year ago, for using his former government credentials to advocate for a product that benefits his clients.
“Mr. Chertoff should not be allowed to abuse the trust the public has placed in him as a former public servant to privately gain from the sale of full-body scanners under the pretense that the scanners would have detected this particular type of explosive,” said Kate Hanni, founder of FlyersRights.org, which opposes the use of the scanners.
Chertoff’s advocacy for the technology dates back to his time in the Bush administration. In 2005, Homeland Security ordered the government’s first batch of the scanners — five from California-based Rapiscan Systems.
Today, 40 body scanners are in use at 19 U.S. airports. The number is expected to skyrocket at least in part because of the Christmas Day incident. The Transportation Security Administration this week said it will order 300 more machines.
In the summer, TSA purchased 150 machines from Rapiscan with $25 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds. Rapiscan was the only company that qualified for the contract because it had developed technology that performs the screening using a less-graphic body imaging system, which is also less controversial. (Since then, another company, L-3 Communications, has qualified for future contracts, but no new contracts have been awarded.)
Over the past week, Chertoff has repeatedly talked about the need for expanding the use of the technology in airports, saying it could detect bombs like the one federal authorities say Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a 23-year-old Nigerian, carried onto the Detroit-bound aircraft.
“We could deploy the scanning machines that we currently are beginning to deploy in the U.S. that will give us the ability to see what someone has concealed underneath their clothing,” Chertoff said Wednesday in an interview on CNN. The incident on the Detroit-bound plane provided “a very vivid lesson in the value of that machinery,” he said.
September 10, 2010
By: Jonathan Benson
The National Forestry Commission of Mexico in conjunction with the Swiss government recently held a conference to discuss the possibility of new, centralized climate change legislation. If enacted, the legislation will change the way Latin America governs its forests, and potentially set a precedent for how governments around the world manage their resources. But many at the conference expressed concerns that such legislation will end up benefiting a few wealthy elite while depriving local communities of their natural resources–all in the name of protecting the climate.
The REDD+ legislation–short for “reducing deforestation and forest degradation”–will require industrialized nations to pay developing nations to store carbon in their forests as well as manage them according to sustainable standards. Advocates say REDD+ will greatly benefit developing nations by helping to bring them out of poverty and end forest mismanagement.
Critics, however, say the legislation will do the exact opposite. By centralizing control of forest management, local communities and property owners in forest-rich nations like Brazil will be robbed of their resources, and a select few will have total control of these valuable resources.
The vast majority of Mexico’s 64 million hectares of forest, for instance, are currently owned by rural communities and local landowners who manage them well. Climate change legislation that takes this control away and gives to centralized governments will only devastate these communities and open up the floodgates for corruption.
“Mexico’s long tradition of community forest management provides a strong foundation for local action,” explained Jose Carlos Fernandez Ugalde, head of Mexico’s National Forestry Commission.
So rather than transfer control of Latin American forests and their resources to a select few in the name of protecting the climate, many experts are urging that such control remain in the hands of the people.
“If REDD+ is to succeed, it must not come from central government decrees that undermine rural communities,” stressed Christian Kuchli from Switzerland’s Federal Office for the Environment. “It must have local support and involve increased resource flows to rural areas, with adequate safeguards in a balanced regulatory framework.”
August 23rd, 2010
By: Jonathon Benson
Corruption and fraud in the drug industry is nothing new, but a new report to be presented at the 105th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association reveals that most new pharmaceutical drugs offer practically no benefits and a whole lot of negative side effects.
Donald Light, sociologist, professor of comparative health policy at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey and author of the new study, explains that the drug industry as a whole produces all sorts of “lemon” drugs that do not work, whose efficacy has not been proven and whose manufacturers are protected from responsibility by industry protection laws.
“Sometimes drug companies hide or downplay information about serious side effects of new drugs and overstate the drugs’ benefits,” he said in a press release. “Then, they spend two or three times more on marketing than on research to persuade doctors to prescribe these new drugs. Doctors may get misleading information and then misinform patients about the risks of a new drug.”
According to an independent review, only about 15 percent of new drugs even work as stated, and most new drugs — whether they offer a benefit or not — come with serious side effects that are now a significant cause of death in the U.S.
The report explains that drug companies deliberately expose large amounts of people to ineffective, harmful drugs in trials, but skew them to make it look as if the drugs are effective. They then submit hosts of incomplete, inaccurate data to the FDA for approval, followed by large marketing campaigns designed to convince doctors to prescribe the newly approved drugs for both approved and unapproved uses.
According to the report, an analysis of 111 final drug applications revealed that 42 percent were missing adequate randomized trials, 40 percent had inaccurate dosage testing, 39 percent failed to show drug efficacy, and roughly half revealed the drugs to have serious adverse side effects.
Light also emphasized that, because drug companies control both the scientific testing process and the selection of which tests get submitted to the FDA or get published, the entire process is biased and flawed.
June 30, 2010
By David Gutierrez
(NaturalNews) A new study shows that the increasingly popular practice of “preventive mastectomy” in non-cancerous breasts provides no benefit to the vast majority of women.
“It’s important for women to understand that, except for one subset of breast cancer patients, they don’t need to do this,” said lead author Isabelle Bedrosian of University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. “Hopefully, it’ll reassure patients wondering if they should.”
Approximately 40,000 women die from breast cancer in the United States each year, and another 200,000 cases are diagnosed. Because cancer in one breast is known to increase the risk of cancer recurrence in the other breast, doctors are increasingly recommending that cancer survivors opt to have both breasts removed as a “preventive” measure. And women are opting for it in huge numbers, seeking the peace of mind that it is said to offer.
May 4, 2010
by Robert P. Murphy
Social Security needs fixing, most analysts agree, but supposedly we had a few more years to work out the details. Now the crisis is upon us. This year, Social Security will pay out more in benefits than it collects in employer and employee contributions, but the problems don’t stop there.
If the economy suffers a “double dip” — meaning the current recovery soon turns into recession — Social Security may never return to the black. Worse still, the “trust fund” is an accounting gimmick and doesn’t represent a genuine pool of savings. On top of all the other bleak news, Americans need to accept that Social Security is already broke.
Analysts have been warning that the annual surpluses — the difference between how much the government collects for the Social Security component of FICA versus the total benefits paid out in any given year — would gradually shrink to zero. It was inevitable that Social Security would eventually slide into deficit, because of the underlying demographics and because it was a Ponzi scheme from the beginning.
The first Social Security retirees collected benefits far in excess of what they paid in during their last working years. Over the decades, the chain-letter process continued: Current workers would pay for current retirees, and the only way to keep the system going was to hope that a new crop of young workers would arise to fund the next batch of retirees as they in turn started collecting checks.
Relatively fewer workers now support the population of retirees. The officially estimated year at which the system would go permanently into the red has bounced around, but the depth of the current recession took analysts by surprise. Because of high unemployment and early retirement, this year the system is already in deficit.
The Congressional Budget Office now estimates that Social Security will briefly return to the black in 2014 and 2015, before plunging — permanently — back into the red. Yet even this projection assumes that we will avoid another downturn.
Defenders of the current system argue that Social Security is still solvent, because of the $2.5 trillion “trust fund.” They argue that there is no emergency, because the system can draw down these savings to fund the annual deficits between payout and pay-in, allowing the system to stay afloat until 2037. Yet this is an illusion.
In past years, the Social Security system typically took in more revenues than it paid out. If the trustees had used those annual surpluses to buy, say, shares of mutual funds or bonds issued by foreign governments, then the accumulated $2.5 trillion in the trust fund would indeed provide a large cushion during which the system could be reformed.
Instead, the federal government raided the surplus and took that extra money and spent it. Of course, Uncle Sam is “good for it”; the Social Security trustees have $2.5 trillion worth of IOUs issued by the Treasury, and they will cover their annual deficits (at first) by selling off these assets.
Yet from the point of view of the taxpayer, the Social Security trust fund is an accounting gimmick. If an intern accidentally dropped the entire contents of the trust fund into a paper shredder, the taxpayer would be unaffected. Either way, taxpayers are on the hook for paying all the Social Security benefits.
In 2010, the crisis is upon us and we are still in search of a solution. Ultimately, the only way to fix the actuarial insolvency of Social Security will be to increase taxes, cut benefits or both.
April 29, 2010
by David Gutierrez
Court documents unsealed as part of a lawsuit against drug giant Pfizer reveal how drug companies used deception and fear to manipulate women into taking dangerous hormone replacement therapy (HRT) drugs.
“The information coming out in litigation helps us understand how a belief in a ‘protective benefit’ of estrogens on the heart was able to spread like wildfire through the medical community,” said Jerome L. Avorn of Harvard Medical School.
Pfizer, which purchased Wyeth in October 2009, is being sued by more than 13,000 people who claim that they developed cancer and other health problems after taking HRT drugs. The plaintiffs claim that Wyeth knew of these risks all along, and downplayed them even as it exaggerated the drugs’ benefits.
The saga began with the 1966 book Feminine Forever, in which a male gynecologist argued that menopause should be viewed as a degenerative disease and not a natural life phase. Rather than becoming “flabby,” “dull-minded” and “desexed” through “the horror of this living decay,” wrote Robert A. Wilson, women should be treated with hormones.
HRT drugs became popular until the FDA concluded in 1975 that they might cause cancer of the uterus. They were reintroduced in the mid-1990s, billed as newer and safer. Court documents show that at this point, Wyeth began a campaign to promote the drugs for effects that had never been proven, such as the prevention of heart disease and Alzheimer’s. The company used tactics such as ghostwriting journal articles, paying doctors to function as spokespeople, and sponsoring company-written “continuing education” for doctors.
“My doctor said if you don’t replace estrogen that you lose at menopause, your risk for certain age-related diseases could increase,” said model Lauren Hutton in one Wyeth commercial. A narrator then told viewers that researchers were investigating the connection between menopause and memory loss, sight loss and cardiovascular disease.
HRT drugs were only ever approved for treating symptoms of menopause, such as hot flashes and mood swings. Studies eventually linked them to an increased risk of breast cancer, heart disease and dementia.
December 9, 2009
By Ben Hirschler
Governments around the world have mobilized Tamiflu stockpiles to fight swine flu but an updated review of past clinical trial results found there was insufficient data to know if the medicine cut complications in otherwise healthy people.
Roche contested the finding and said it stood behind the robustness and integrity of previous data showing a benefit.
Sales of the antiviral drug, also known by the generic name oseltamivir, have soared since the start of the current H1N1 flu pandemic in April due to massive government orders.
That has provided a windfall for the Swiss drugmaker, which said in October it expected Tamiflu revenue to reach 2.7 billion Swiss francs ($2.65 billion) this year.
The latest analysis, which updates an earlier 2006 review, was published online by the British Medical Journal, whose editor-in-chief, Fiona Godlee, said it left important questions about Tamiflu’s effectiveness unresolved.
“Governments around the world have spent billions of pounds on a drug that the scientific community now finds itself unable to judge,” she said.
The BMJ report was also the subject of a Channel 4 News story on British television.
At issue is whether or not certain previously published trials on Tamiflu should be included or excluded when analyzing the drug’s effectiveness.
For the latest review, a team led by Chris Del Mar from Bond University in Australia looked at 20 trials — but they decided to drop eight that were included in the earlier review because they were unable to independently verify the results.
As a result they concluded that while Tamiflu reduced flu symptoms by about a day they had no confidence in previous claims that it cut the risk of flu complications.
David Reddy, Roche’s pandemic taskforce leader, said the expert group was wrong to exclude the data from the eight studies.
He told reporters that Roche would have supplied full data on the contested studies if the investigators had signed confidentiality agreements, which were drawn up to protect patients.