Tuesday, July 28, 2009

From the fiery pits of health care hell...

The Actually Existing Health Care System

Why Doesn't Obama Tell It Like It Is?


There is nothing inherently wrong with spending 17 per cent of GDP on health care if the result is a really healthy population. Just like there is nothing wrong with a "big" budget deficit if the money goes to making good jobs for working people, cleaning up their cities and environment and bettering schools instead of making rich financiers richer.  But given the fact that countless pregnant women go without sonograms, diabetes is near epidemic proportions, dialysis patients on average die within five years (in Japan they live 20) and, most significantly, the number of primary care doctors remains very low -- taking preventive care off the agenda for most -- the US health care system is a travesty.

Medicare is the point only if you let private health care off the hook.  We know that President Obama did exactly that when he invited in insurers earlier this spring and announced their voluntary commitment to cost containment (only to have them repudiate his interpretation of their comments within days) and you go before the nation in a news conference, July 22, and devote the presentation to existing government programs. 

American health care is reeling because it is a profit center where gouging is the norm.  For-profit clinics and hospitals print money, paying out hefty dividends and huge salaries to management.  Not-for-profits operate along similar lines.   Ask Michelle Obama, who pulled down a reported $400,000 a year at a Chicago hospital doing non-medical work.  But that's just a small piece of the action. 

There is so much gouging, so much greed and gross profiteering, that you have to wonder why Bernie Madoff didn't go that route and save himself a lifetime in prison.  Among the worst abuses was the conversion of non-profit insurance companies to for-profit institutions over the last decade.  The CEOs of numerous insurers walked away with hundreds of millions of dollars, each.  United Healthcare's boss got close to a billion bucks for handing over the reins... until an outcry by consumer groups led to a reduction-- to $800,000,000.  That's a lot of money not going to underserved children. The sale of one Preferred Provider Network, Multiplan -- nothing more than a sophisticated referral system -- to private equity firm, Carlyle Group, a few years back netted the owner close to a billion bucks.   The top HMO chiefs have pulled down hundreds of millions of dollars year after year -- again, nothing directly to do with getting people medical care.  If you start adding up the fees, options, salaries and other bounty extracted from the health care system by the top one hundred individuals associated with it over the last decade, some good portion of the $1 trillion now cited as needed by President Obama would be tallied.   To add insult to injury, a new Harvard study reports that the majority of people going bankrupt from medical costs are, in fact, insured.  What makes them go bust is that their insurance policies are "an umbrella full of holes". 


William Shatner Reads Sarah Palin Farewell Speech

Granny Get Your Gun

Is America on the Verge of a Geriatric Crime Wave?

By Nathan Comp

Crime is generally a young person's game, but that hasn't stopped an ever-growing number of older Americans from breaking the law. Following a decline through most of the '90s, over the past 10 years arrest rates for those over 50 have shot up 85 percent, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Experts predict that these numbers will continue to climb well into the next decade, as 35 million baby boomers expand America's graying population from 16 to nearly 25 percent.

Is America on the precipice of a geriatric crime wave?

"The numbers are definitely going to keep going up, no doubt about it," says Ronald Akers, a criminology professor at the University of Florida. "People are healthier and living longer, which may make crime an attractive option for some older people."

Geriatric crime isn't a new phenomenon, nor is it unique to America. Several countries, including the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Hong Kong and South Korea, have reported substantial increases in the number of elderly arrests, blaming the rises on rapidly growing—and marginalized—elderly populations. But none have seen problems on the scale of Japan, which saw arrest rates of residents over 70 triple from 9,478 to 28,892 between 2000 and 2006.

Most elderly, in America and abroad, are arrested for petty crimes such as shoplifting and drunk driving. But murder among the over-50 crowd climbed more than 15 percent in the last decade. (Music producer Phil Spector was 64 when he killed Lana Clarkson in 2003.) Drug arrests among the elderly tripled during this same period. In April, two sisters, ages 65 and 70, were busted in Stroudsburg, Penn., for selling heroin.

Akers speculates that many elderly arrestees are career criminals who maintain the stamina and strength that crime typically requires. "Late-onset criminality is very rare, and typically financial in nature," he says.

Author and geriatric expert Michael Brogden says late-onset criminality can flourish under some conditions, namely boredom. "With more able-bodied persons no longer gainfully employed, older people may be less inhibited in erring into crime," Brogden wrote in his book, Crime, Abuse and the Elderly. "Older people, freed from past conventions, are now able to indulge as novitiates in crime."


Teen pregnancy and disease rates rose sharply during Bush years, agency finds

• Aids cases in adolescent boys have nearly doubled
• Fall in gonorrhea infection rate reversed

Teenage pregnancies and syphilis have risen sharply among a generation of American school girls who were urged to avoid sex before marriage under George Bush's evangelically-driven education policy, according to a new report by the US's major public health body.

In a report that will surprise few of Bush's critics on the issue, the Centres for Disease Control says years of falling rates of teenage pregnancies and sexually transmitted disease infections under previous administrations were reversed or stalled in the Bush years. According to the CDC, birth rates among teenagers aged 15 or older had been in decline since 1991 but are up sharply in more than half of American states since 2005. The study also revealed that the number of teenage females with syphilis has risen by nearly half after a significant decrease while a two-decade fall in the gonorrhea infection rate is being reversed. The number of Aids cases in adolescent boys has nearly doubled.

The CDC says that southern states, where there is often the greatest emphasis on abstinence and religion, tend to have the highest rates of teenage pregnancy and STDs.

In addition, about 16,000 pregnancies were reported among 10- to 14-year-old girls in 2004 and a similar number of young people in the age group reported having a sexually transmitted disease.

"It is disheartening that after years of improvement with respect to teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, we now see signs that progress is stalling and many of these trends are going in the wrong direction," said Janet Collins, a CDC director.


Addicts may get flu drug first

JUNKIES may get the swine flu vaccine first under plans being studied by the Government.

Heroin addicts who have registered for methadone could be among those considered vulnerable, because their immune systems are weak.

The official in charge of the government's response to the looming crisis delivered the shock news to a parliamentary committee.

Professor Linsey Davies - director of Pandemic Influenza Preparedness - was asked about what priority would be given to junkies by the Lords science and technology committee.

He said: "We are encouraging, through the guidance, every local NHS organisation to look carefully at these vulnerable people - and all those with long-term conditions come into that.

"The Cabinet Office has recently produced guidance on vulnerable people in emergencies generally, but we are working on something more specific for people with health issues."

A department of health spokesman insisted the "vulnerable" list had not yet been decided on.

Meanwhile the world's top flu expert has warned against the dangers of fast-tracking vaccines without proper checks.


Vaccine May Be More Dangerous Than Swine Flu


An outbreak of swine flu occurred in Mexico this spring that eventually affected 4,910 Mexican citizens and resulted in 85 deaths. By the time it spread to the United States, the virus caused only mild cases of flu-like illness.

Thanks to air travel and the failure of public health officials to control travel from Mexico, the virus spread worldwide. Despite predictions of massive numbers of deaths and the arrival of doomsday, the virus has remained a relatively mild disease, something we know happens each year with flu epidemics.

Worldwide, there have only been 311 deaths out of 70,893 cases of swine flu. In the United States, 27,717 cases have resulted in 127 deaths. Every death is a tragedy, but such a low death rate should not be the basis of a draconian government policy.

It is helpful to recall that the Centers for Disease Control with the collusion of the media, constantly tell us that 36,000 people die from the flu each year, a figure that has been shown to be a lie. In this case, we are talking about 300 plus deaths for the entire world.

This virus continues to be an enigma for virologists. In the April 30, 2009 issue of Nature, a virologist was quoted as saying,"Where the hell it got all these genes from we don't know." Extensive analysis of the virus found that it contained the original 1918 H1N1 flu virus, the avian flu virus (bird flu), and two new H3N2 virus genes from Eurasia. Debate continues over the possibility that swine flu is a genetically engineered virus.

Naturally, vaccine manufacturers have been in a competitive battle to produce the first vaccine. The main contenders have been Baxter Pharmaceuticals and Novartis Pharmaceuticals, the latter of which recently acquired the scandal-ridden Chiron vaccine company. Both of these companies have had agreements with the World Health Organization to produce a pandemic vaccine.

The Baxter vaccine, called Celvapan, has had fast track approval. It uses a new vero cell technology, which utilizes cultured cells from the African green monkey. This same animal tissue transmits a number of vaccine-contaminating viruses, including the HIV virus.

The Baxter company has been associated with two deadly scandals. The first event occurred in 2006 when hemophiliac components were contaminated with HIV virus and injected in tens of thousands of people, including thousands of children. Baxter continued to release the HIV contaminated vaccine even after the contamination was known.

The second event occurred recently when it was discovered that Baxter had released a seasonal flu vaccine containing the bird flu virus, which would have produced a real world pandemic, to 18 countries. Fortunately, astute lab workers in the Czech Republic discovered the deadly combination and blew the whistle before a worldwide disaster was unleashed.

Despite these two deadly events, WHO maintains an agreement with Baxter Pharmaceuticals to produce the world's pandemic vaccine.


Cannabis use avoids hard drug addiction in orphans

New findings hint that the active ingredient of cannabis could have beneficial effects for opiate addicts

By Leila Sattary

Separating rats from their mothers at an early age specifically leads to an addiction to opiate substances like heroin and morphine. A new study by researchers in Paris shows that injections of THC, the active principle of cannabis, eliminate dependence on opiates in rats deprived of their mothers at birth. These findings could lead to therapeutic alternatives for human drug addicts.

The study was carried out by Valérie Daugé and her team at the Laboratory for Physiopathology of Diseases of the Central Nervous System. By depriving baby rats of their mothers for several hours a day they caused early stress and often the rats suffered lasting brain dysfunction.

Previously, Daugé and her team showed that rats deprived of their mothers became quickly dependent on opiates if they were exposed to them. The new study shows that if tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is also introduced then the rats no longer developed typical morphine-dependent behaviour. The stressed rats received increasing high doses of THC (5 or 10mg/kg) during their equivalent adolescence (between 35 and 48 days after birth). In the striatum, a region of the brain involved in drug dependence, the production of endogenous enkephalins was returned to normal under THC, whereas it diminished for deprived rats which had not received THC.

These findings may be used to develop new treatments to suppress drug dependence in humans.


‘Pirated’ Youtube Clip Boosts Band’s Album Sales

by Ernesto

If the major record labels are to believed, they lose millions of dollars due to YouTube pirates. But is this really the case? While anti-piracy outfits try to have all infringing music taken offline or have the audio on pirated YouTube clips disabled, the band Barcelona responded with a video thanking a video uploader for using their song.

Every day hundreds of thousands of clips are uploaded to YouTube, some of which use copyrighted music. Of course the major record labels argue that these illegal uploads are killing their profits as people buy less music when YouTube users add a track to a home made video.

Not everyone in the music business agrees with this assessment though. When the indie rock band Barcelona saw one of its latest tracks featured in a viral video with nearly a million views, they responded quite differently. They claim that the clip below actually boosted their album sales and concert visits.

Kuroshio Sea featuring the Barcelona track

So, instead of demanding that YouTube pull the video, the band posted a response to the 'Kuroshio Sea' video on the site, thanking their new found fans and the uploader who posted the original video.

"We're so flattered to learn that it features one of our songs called Please Don't Go," Barcelona's lead singer Brian Fennell says in the video response.

"We want to let you know that it's been affirming in the last week to watch in the iTunes store a correlation with the sales of our record 'Absolutes', growing in the rock charts as a result of having the song placed in the video," drummer Rhett Stonelake added.

Barcelona's response

Aside from the boost in record sales, the band says that they've also met some new fans who came to their concerts after seeing the video on YouTube. It is a great way of promoting music online, especially when it's coupled to a great video.

Unfortunately for most artists, anti-piracy outfits such as the RIAA, BPI and IFPI are increasingly policing YouTube to get all copyrighted music taken off the site. One such artist to suffer recently is the unfortunate Calvin Harris, who clashed with the music industry lobby group BPI.

"IT'S MY FUCKING SONG YOU ABSOLUTE BASTARDS," Harris wrote on Twitter when he found out that YouTube had removed a clip he uploaded himself, following a copyright complaint from the BPI.


US Patent Office rejects US company's patent protection for bean commonly grown by Latin American farmers

Controversial Court patent case for simple yellow legume has become rallying point for "biopiracy" concerns

The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) today rejected all of the patent claims for a common yellow bean that has been a familiar staple in Latin American diets for more than a century.

The bean was erroneously granted patent protection in 1999, as US Patent Number 5,894,079, in a move that raised profound concerns about biopiracy and the potential abuse of intellectual property (IP) claims on plant materials that originate in the developing world and remain as important dietary staples, particularly among the poor.

A research center, the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (known by its Spanish acronym, CIAT), which is supported by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), led the legal challenge to the patent through the USPTO's reexamination process.

"We are happy that the patent office has reached a final decision in this case but remain concerned that the ex partes patent reexamination procedure meant that these patent claims remained in force for such a long time," said Geoffrey Hawtin, Director General of CIAT, which has been fighting the patent since 2001. "For several years now, farmers in Mexico, the USA and elsewhere have unnecessarily endured legal threats and intimidation for simply planting, selling or exporting a bean that they have been growing for generations."

At issue is a hearty and nutritious yellow bean-similar to the pinto bean-that is known to plant breeders as Phaseolus vulgaris but is commonly called azufrado or Mayocoba bean by Latin American farmers and consumers. In the 1990s, a Colorado man, Larry Proctor, bought some beans in a market in Mexico and after a few years of plantings, claimed he had developed what he called "a new field bean variety that produces distinctly colored yellow seed which remains relatively unchanged by season." He dubbed it the "Enola bean," filed a patent application and obtained a 20-year patent that covered any beans and hybrids derived from crosses with even one of his seeds.


Jamba Juice accused of stealing "Get Your War On" artist's work - Update: Jamba responds, GYWO calls for boycott

"No Justice, No Juice" is the rallying cry of those joining the fight to support the popular webcomic "Get Your War On," after an aparrent ripoff in an ad campaign for the American juice franchise Jamba Juice.

BB guestblogger Carrie McLaren blogged about the controversy here last week. More about the uh, creative similarities on GYWO artist David Rees' website here.

Jamba Juice has issued a response, but it's pathetic:

Jamba Juice would like to expressly communicate that the Summer Bliss promotion was not intended to imply any affiliation with Mr. Rees, Mr. Rees' endorsement of Jamba Juice and its products, or Jamba Juice's endorsement of Mr. Rees' work."

Jambattorneys, if you're reading, here's why that's pathetic: what's at issue isn't that people think Rees "endorses Jamba Juice and its products" (he says he "prefers wine") but that to my non-lawyer eyes, Jamba Juice appears to have ripped of Rees' well-established body of work.

I don't know if what Jamba did is illegal or not, I just know it seems unfair and uncool.

Snip from Rees' step-by-step analysis of the Jamba campaign (a sample ad is inset, below):

blogjamba.gif # The clip art is public domain, of course, anyone can do anything with it ... but check out the word balloons! JAMBA JUICE TOTALLY BIT MY GYWO WORD BALLOON STYLE! Rounded-edge text box with single line pointing to mouth? I developed that in 2001 using Quark XPress 4!!! THAT'S MY SHIT!!! Jamba Juice, you're a bunch of BALLOON-BITERS.

# First person to sue Jamba Juice on my behalf CAN KEEP ALL THE MONEY. All I care about is destroying Jamba Juice and their overpriced dumb-ass juices. EAT A PIECE OF FRUIT, you morons, you're missing most of the fiber.

Look, IANAL, but it doesn't take a lawyer to smell something fishy in the wheatgrass. There's even a Get Your War On book, for cryin' out loud. Lazy ad agencies, if you're gonna copy someone's work without credit, at least pick on lesser-known, web-only artists whose work hasn't been online for 8 years. They're easier targets.

Getting together for a beer at the White House

Don't Let Google Close the Book on Reader Privacy

Google is poised to radically expand its book service, monitoring the digital books you search, the pages you read, how long you spend on various pages, and even what you write down in the margins. Google could then combine your reading habits with other information it has about you from other Google services, creating a massive "digital dossier" about you, your interests, and your concerns. With numerous reports of government efforts to compel online and offline booksellers to turn over records about readers, the time is now for Google to pledge to protect reader privacy.

You shouldn't be forced to pay for digital books with your privacy. Tell Google it needs to develop a robust privacy policy that gives you at least as much privacy in books online as you have in your neighborhood library or bookstore. Google must:

  • Protect your reading records from government and third party fishing expeditions by responding only to properly-issued warrants and court orders, and by letting you know if someone has demanded access to information Google has collected about you.
  • Make sure that you can still browse and read anonymously by not forcing you to register or give personal information and by deleting any logging information for all services after a maximum of 30 days.
  • Separate data related to Google Book Search from any other information the company collects about you, unless you give it express permission.
  • Give you the ability to edit and delete any information collected about you, transfer books from one account to another without tracking, and hide your "bookshelves" or other reading lists from others with access to your computer.
  • Keep Google Book Search information private from third parties like credit card processors, book publishers, and advertisers.

Email Google CEO Eric Schmidt today and demand that the new Google Book Search service protect your privacy rights. Tell him that you won't pay for digital books with your privacy and that Google Book Search must include these basic safeguards to protect readers!

More info:

Washington Post Attacks Ron Paul, Bernie Sanders, and Their Bills to Audit the Fed

This merely confirms that the Post is just another puppet of the foul powers-that-be in D. C. If you squint your eyes, you can see the strings. Just another big reason why the bastards and pirates at the Fed need to be outed. There are too many official secrets in this suffering nation.

Washington Post Attacks Ron Paul, Bernie Sanders, and Their Bills to Audit the Fed

Friday, July 24, 2009 Washington Post

Focus on the Fed

Transparency at the central bank is a serious question. It deserves a serious answer.

THE FEDERAL Reserve Board's independence is a bit like the judiciary's independence. Absolutely vital for the institution's proper functioning, it nevertheless depends on Congress and the president to respect decisions with which they disagree. In such cases, the best protection for either the Supreme Court or the Fed is to stay strictly within its legally prescribed authority and to act according to principled criteria: legal ones for the justices, technical economic ones for the central bank.

Which brings us to the proposed Federal Reserve Transparency Act, sponsored by anti-Fed crusader Ron Paul (R-Tex.) in the House and socialist Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.) in the Senate. In the name of open government, it would subject the Fed's decisions to a full-blown audit by the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress. Though the bill has attracted 276 co-sponsors in the House and 17 in the Senate, it is wrongheaded in the extreme. By opening up the Fed's most sensitive interest rate and credit policies to public second-guessing, the bill would create a risk — real and perceived — of monetary policy bent to suit congressional overseers. This would destroy financial markets' faith in the Fed and, by extension, the value of the U.S. dollar, just as surely as a political "audit" of the Supreme Court's deliberations would undercut public faith in the justice system.


Sign of the times