Thursday Reads: Guns and American Culture (and other news)

Morning Paper at Cap Ferrat, by Rebecca Kao Wang

Morning Paper at Cap Ferrat, by Rebecca Kao Wang

Good Morning!!

I live in a state that has very strict gun control laws. A recent study by Boston Children’s Hospital found that states with the toughest gun laws have the lowest rates of gun deaths. And Boston tends to average between one shooting victim every other day to one victim per day. I’ve been thinking about this for the past couple of days since I read this article at WBUR: When Mass. Criminals Want A Gun, They Often Head North

Massachusetts gun laws are widely considered some of the toughest in the country. But with a rash of shooting deaths in Boston this year, some law enforcement officials say it’s obvious that there are ways around the rules. And when Massachusetts criminals want to get their hands on a gun, they frequently head north.

In 2012, more than half of the guns that law enforcement seized in Massachusetts and managed to trace to their origins came from other states, according to federal statistics. The biggest suppliers by far were New Hampshire and Maine, as is the case most years.

According to the article, ATF agents discovered that gun traffickers in Massachusetts were legally buying large numbers of guns from New Hampshire and Maine, where they are much easier and cheaper to buy, and reselling them to people in Massachusetts.

The flow of guns from northern New England to Massachusetts is propelled by key differences among state gun laws. It’s all about private handgun sales, in particular. In Massachusetts every private handgun sale must be recorded and reported to the state within seven days. And the buyer must have a license to carry from local police, which in turn requires a background check. The Massachusetts rules are tight.

Up north, not so much. Buyers at federally licensed gun shops in Maine and New Hampshire are subjected to a federal background check for prior felonies, or a history of severe mental illness. But when it comes to private gun sales — at a gun show, or even a commuter parking lot — no documentation is required — no background check, no record of the transaction.

Darcie McElwee, an assistant U.S. attorney in Maine, says that in her state a private seller doesn’t even have to ask the buyer for a driver’s license.

Now it’s still illegal to sell guns to a convicted felon or for a felon to buy a gun, so if someone is caught doing this, they’ll go to jail for two years minimum. And the rates of gun deaths and injuries are still lower in Massachusetts than in states with less strict gun laws.

Clearly strict state laws are not enough to prevent gun violence. We need federal laws to control gun sales and to encourage gun safety–like the Massachusetts law that requires guns to be unloaded and locked up when not in use. But how can we make that happen? According to the WBUR article, Congress has even made it difficult to keep track of guns that are used in crimes and for academic researchers to access federal government data on gun trafficking.

Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey has introduced a bill to require all guns to be personalized so they can only be fired by the owner or another authorized person. These so-called “smart guns” already exist.

One of California’s largest firearm stores recently added a peculiar new gun to its shelves. It requires an accessory: a black waterproof watch.

The watch’s primary purpose is not to provide accurate time, though it does. The watch makes the gun think. Electronic chips inside the gun and watch communicate with each other. If the watch is within close reach of the gun, a light on the grip turns green. Fire away. No watch means no green light. The gun becomes a paperweight.

A dream of gun control advocates for decades, the Armatix iP1 is the country’s first smart gun. Its introduction is seen as a landmark event in efforts to reduce gun violence, suicides, and accidental shootings….

Of course the NRA will fight this tooth and nail, and it’s not going to get through the Senate, much less the House, in the current environment.

Now check this out. According to a piece at Venture Beat, you can quickly and easily buy guns on Facebook!

Fifteen minutes.

That’s all it takes for children, felons, and people without IDs to buy illegal weapons on Facebook pages dedicated to the sale and celebration of guns.

A VentureBeat investigation has uncovered dozens of pages on Facebook where guns are for sale, including semi-automatic weapons, handguns, and silencers. While the transactions don’t actually happen on Facebook, the social network is a remarkably easy way to find shady people willing to sell you a weapon — no questions asked. The illegal transactions then take place in diners, dark parking lots, and isolated country roads — away from the prying eyes of the feds and local police.

In Kentucky, Greenup County Sheriff Keith Cooper remembers when a call came into dispatch last October saying a 15-year-old student had been arrested on the Greenup County High School campus for carrying an unlicensed and loaded 9mm handgun to school. The boy was arrested and brought to Cooper’s office for an interview.

When Cooper, a former Kentucky State Trooper with a heavy Southern drawl, asked the kid where he got the gun, his reply was shocking: Facebook.

Read it and weep. Oh, and Facebook claims they don’t allow people to sell guns or explosives on their pages, but clearly they’re not enforcing these rules very well.

It’s not news to anyone that America has a love affair with guns. Guns and hunting are part of American culture, going hand-in-hand with the cult of rugged individualism. I’ve always thought it came from the frontier tradition. Most of the country was settled by pioneering who set out from the East coast to begin new lives in the Midwest and West before the arrival of the accoutrements of civilization–like law enforcement, banks, and insurance companies. In my generation at least, kids saw endless movies and TV shows about “cowboys and Indians;” and we played with toy guns–even us girls. And of course, since we were born shortly after World War II, many of us watch movies that glorified war.

Still I’ve never wanted a real gun. It seems to me that the gun culture is much stronger in some ways than in those innocent days of the 1950s and ’60s. But why? The obvious answer is the lobbying and propaganda efforts of the National Rifle Association (NRA). And what about  the recent work of ALEC and the Koch Brothers to get state “stand your ground” laws passed around the country? Dahlia Lithwick has posted a fine piece about this at Slate.

“Stand Your Ground” Nation: America used to value the concept of retreat. Now we just shoot.

Last week, Kriston Charles Belinte Chee, an unarmed man, got into a fight with Cyle Wayne Quadlin at a Walmart in suburban Arizona. Quadlin opened fire midargument and killed CheeOfficers decided not to charge Quadlin because, they concluded, the killing was in self-defense. According to the police spokesman, “Mr. Quadlin was losing the fight and indicated he ‘was in fear for his life.’” Just a week earlier, a jury in Jacksonville, Fla., found Michael Dunn guilty on four counts of attempted murder but did not convict him on the most serious charge of first-degree murder, in the death of 17-year-old Jordan Davis. Dunn shot and killed Davis, also unarmed, because the music coming from his car was too loud. Dunn claimed he saw something like a gun in the vehicle, and that was apparently enough for some members of the jury to conclude that Dunn hadn’t committed first-degree murder.

Given all this, it’s not unreasonable to argue that, in America, you can be shot and killed, without consequences for the shooter, for playing loud musicwearing a hoodie, or shopping at a Walmart. The question is whether the wave of “stand your ground” legislation is to blame.

Is it true? Lithwick quotes doubters who say that neither George Zimmerman invoked “stand your ground,” However juries were told about the “stand your ground” principle, and could have been confused by the growing consensus in Florida that people [at least white males] have the right to shoot an unarmed person if they “feel threatened.” Lithwick writes:

It’s clear that at least some of the jurors in both cases took the principle of “stand your ground” into account to some degree during deliberations. We now know that at leastone juror, and possibly two, in Dunn’s trial took to heart the specific instruction that Dunn “had no duty to retreat and had the right to stand his ground and meet force with force, including deadly force.” Whether or not jurors in Florida are technically instructed to apply the “stand your ground” component of self-defense law, it’s increasingly clear that they are, at minimum, confused about it (understandably) and may even be starting to apply it reflexively. Yes, Dunn’s attorney argued traditional self-defense. But, as former assistant U.S. attorney David Weinstein told the Associated Press, “I think people will say that because some of the language from the stand your ground statute gets embedded into the jury instructions, that stand your ground has an effect.”

I might go further. I might say that whether or not specific jurisdictions define self-defense to include a duty to retreat, and whether or not specific juries are charged to apply it, America is quickly becoming one big “stand your ground” state, as a matter of culture if not the letter of the law.

Please go read the whole thing. It’s frightening but important. Lithwick argues that the new laws are changing the culture itself–and not just in the states with “stand your ground” laws.

Now I’ve gone and written another single-subject post. I just have room for a few headlines before I turn the floor over to you.

Washington Post: Hillary Clinton makes case for ‘full participation’ and equality

Talking Points Memo: Hillary Clinton Defends Obamacare While Backing Changes

BBC News: Ukraine warns Russia against ‘aggression’ in Crimea

NPR: Crimea: 3 Things To Know About Ukraine’s Latest Hot Spot

The Daily Beast: The Spoiled Rotten Kids of the DC Elite

NYT: New F.D.A. Nutrition Labels Would Make ‘Serving Sizes’ Reflect Actual Servings

Dana Millbank: Republicans flip-flop on ‘judicial activism’

I hope Dak will weigh in on this one. Matthew O’Brien: How the Fed Let the World Blow Up in 2008

USA Today: NASA – 715 new planets found, 4 might support life

What stories have caught your interest today? Please share your links in the comment thread, and have a great day!


The Political Plate

A little over a week ago, I emailed bostonboomer that I wanted to do a post about Monsanto.  She was kind enough to share older posts done by Sima about Monsanto.  After reading Sima’s posts I have to admit that I was intimidated by her detailed, informative and brilliant commentaries.  Her knowledge of Monsanto’s business and political dealings, stemming from her experience as an organic farmer, is incredible.  I highly recommend going back and reading or re-reading them.  I’m going to try to bring you up to date on what has been happening since her last post.  I just hope that I can do both Sima and the subject justice.

Once I became involved in the animal rights movement in 1990, a formerly unseen world opened up to me.  It was akin to looking behind the curtain in the Wizard of Oz.  Learning about how the animals we call food are raised, what they are fed and the chemicals that are put into their bodies, was disturbing to say the least.  Since that time, the major media outlets, along with independent filmmakers, have covered issues such as factory farming, the overuse of antibiotics and the rise of antibiotic resistance,  along with other issues that affect the food supply.  A good place to get started is with the film Food Inc. and its website.

Monsanto popped up on my radar around 1993 with the introduction of rBGH, recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone.  Although there was an overabundance of milk on the market, this chemical was being introduced to increase the supply of milk available for consumption.  Why?  One of the reasons was to drop the price of milk.  That would be good for the consumer, right?  Well, corporations are not in the business of making their products more affordable for their customers, as we all know.  The ploy was to drive prices low enough so that family dairy farmers could not afford to stay in business, leaving the business to Monsanto’s real customers, giant dairies who would use their product(s).  With family dairy farms bankrupt, Monsanto could better control the market and prices.  From a study by the Economic Research Service/USDA.

Between 1970 and 2006, the number of farms with dairy cows fell steadily and sharply, from 648,000 operations in 1970 to 75,000 in 2006, or 88 percent (fig. 1). Total dairy cows fell from 12 million in 1970 to 9.1 million in 2006, so the average herd size rose from just 19 cows per farm in 1970 to 120 cows in 2006.1 Moreover, because milk production per cow doubled between 1970 and 2006 (from 9,751 to 19,951 pounds per year), total milk production rose, and average milk production per farm increased twelvefold.

Monsanto has since sold its posilac (rGBH) business to the Big Pharma company, Eli Lilly.  If you still believe that advertising slogan, “Milk, it does a body good”, you might want to read this.

Let me start off with yesterday’s article by Jim Hightower,  although it’s mostly about Dow Chemical, Monsanto gets some space as well.  And there are some great comments.  For more on 2, 4-D check out these links:

http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-504763_162-57423245-10391704/genetically-modified-crops-resistant-to-24-d-spur-debate-calls-for-labeling/ , and

http://npic.orst.edu/factsheets/2,4-DTech.pdf

Monsanto is a multi-tentacled corporation attached to all aspects of our lives.  At their facilities in Dayton, OH during WWII they were involved with the development of the first nuclear bomb.  One of their early successful inventions was Astroturf.  They have manufactured Agent Orange (the defoliant/herbicide used during the Viet Nam war), and PCBs (banned in the U.S. in 1979 but still found in the environment since PCBs don’t break down easily).  For more information, you can download the free E-book, A Small Dose of Toxicology.  In recent years, Monsanto has focused on the world food supply, whether it’s chemicals to kill weeds, like Roundup, or creating genetically modified (GM) seeds for which they hold patents.   Natural News began a July, 2010 post with this unsettling paragraph:

At a biotech industry conference in January 1999, a representative from Arthur Anderson, LLP explained how they had helped Monsanto design their strategic plan. First, his team asked Monsanto executives what their ideal future looked like in 15 to 20 years. The executives described a world with 100 percent of all commercial seeds genetically modified and patented. Anderson consultants then worked backwards from that goal, and developed the strategy and tactics to achieve it. They presented Monsanto with the steps and procedures needed to obtain a place of industry dominance in a world in which natural seeds were virtually extinct.

Some of the crops grown with Monsanto’s GM seeds include corn, soy, sugar beets, alfalfa and cotton.  Monsanto also produces and sells Stevia and Aspartame.  To preserve their ownership of these patented seeds, farmers using them cannot save seeds produced from the crops they grow.  The farmers must buy new seeds each year for their annual crops.  Monsanto has sued farmers suspected of harvesting seeds along with their crops.

One of the most recent areas Monsanto wants to exploit are public lands.  In November, several groups filed a lawsuit to prevent the planting of GM crops on refuges.

The Center for Food Safety, Beyond Pesticides and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility sued Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and its director, in Federal Court.

Fish and Wildlife signed agreements allowing farmers to plant crops, including genetically modified soybeans and corn, on refuges and wetlands in eight Midwestern states, according to the complaint.

And planting on public lands isn’t just limited to U.S. lands.  World Wildlife Fund (WWF), one of the most respected conservation groups worldwide has ties to many multinational corporations, including Monsanto.  They are helping to promote GM crops in other countries.

On the federal tax front, Monsanto paid an average of 22% in taxes for years 2008 – 2010.  This report lists the 2008 – 2010 period detailing the profits, taxes and rates for 280 of U.S. corporations.

ALEC Exposed has a page dedicated to Monsanto, detailing much of their history and activities.  As with most multinational corporations, Monsanto is heavily invested in lobbying.  Interestingly, the years they spent the least money on lobbying were during the reign of King George II, otherwise known as GW Bush. Monsanto’s highest expenditures were in 1999, 2000 and 2008 – 2011.  Open Secrets has an overview of Monsanto’s lobbying expenditures, the lobbyists, the issues in which their lobbying efforts were focused along with the agencies and the associated bills before Congress.  Open Secrets is quite an informative site, also covering PAC contributions and campaign contributions to specific elected officials.

In our current political climate, campaign contributions and lobbying expenditures aren’t a surprise.  After all, it is how the system is fueled.  Open Secrets has a recent blog post detailing Monsanto’s activities so far this year.  The Monsanto/government connections go even deeper though.  During Clarence Thomas’ confirmation hearing, he worked as a counsel for Monsanto.  When a recent case involving Monsanto came before the Supreme Court, not surprisingly, Thomas did not recuse himself.   The Organic Consumers’ Union’s site, Millions Against Monsanto, has a list of both elected officials and agency appointments of former Monsanto employees from Bush Sr. to Obama.  Sadly, Bill Clinton appointed more than any other president listed.  Unfortunately, they don’t list U.S.  diplomats who also once worked for Monsanto.  What a wonderful way to help promote the products of their former employer in countries all around the world.

Wikileaks posted documents showing connections between Monsanto and U.S. Ambassadors.  Several EU countries have rejected the use of Monsanto’s GM seeds.  Fearing loss of export income, the possibility of pressuring or even retaliating against these countries were discussed in the diplomatic cables Wikileaks obtained.  You can read Sima’s post here:  https://skydancingblog.com/2010/12/28/wikileaks-and-gmogm-food-more-cables-more-fun/

Monsanto’s reach extends around the world.  GM cotton was promoted as a boon to small farmers, but the reality is different.   This story details the results in one village and the collaboration between Monsanto and The Times of India.  Stories from Africa aren’t any better.  The Gates Foundation is investing millions to promote and encourage the use of GM crops.  I find it disturbing with a number of NGOs, researchers and politicians who are working hand in hand with Monsanto and other GM companies seemingly without concerns for the possibilities of the damage to the world food supply, public health and the environment.  Alternet has posted a story about Kenya and the support from The Gates Foundation for Monsanto’s GM crops.  For another opinion on The Gates Foundation/Monsanto/Africa issue, check out this Opinion piece in the Seattle Times  written by Glenn Ashton.

The one beacon of hope has been some EU countries.  The people have loudly spoken out against GM foods.  However, the picture may not be as rosy as it has been portrayed.  Gaia Health digs deeper into the announcement in February, 2012 that both Monsanto and BASF are pulling out of Europe.

Let’s not forget about the stock market either.  Monsanto has signed an exclusive licensing agreement with Marina, a bio-tech company.  I especially liked (not really!) this from the post:

Time and again, the company’s collaborations with agri-business research firms and molecular-bred hybrid technologies have proved effective. Although instances of societal resistance to new technology and poor acceptance of new products by farmers continue to raise anxiety, continuous increase in production led by technology upgradation helps balance such unease.

The personal is the political, and what is more personal than the food you eat and the food that you feed your families?  If you are interested in digging deeper, here is the documentary The World According to Monsanto

You can also get more information about the many issues and areas of concern about food at the Center for Food Safety site.  I hope I didn’t give you too much to “chew” on.


Thursday Reads

Good Morning! It has been dark and dreary here for weeks it seems. I know the sun has come out a few times, but most of the time it has been either raining or about to rain. I think I’m beginning to suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Or maybe it’s just watching the 2012 presidential campaign. Either way, we’re talking dark and depressing.

On Tuesday Newt Gingrich told Larry Kudlow (yeah, I know) of CNBC that Obama is the “food stamp president,” and he (Gingrich) will be running against him as the “candidate of paychecks.”

“We are going to have the candidate of food stamps, the finest food stamp president in the American history in Barack Obama and we are going to have a candidate of paychecks.”

The former House Speaker went on to say Obama represents a hard-left radicalism. He, on the other hand, wants big tax cuts and big cuts in the federal government.

LOL! Obama is the furthest thing from a radical, and I doubt if he gives a damn about food stamps. I don’t know how Gingrich gets away with this stuff. Oh yeah, the media sucks. He spewed more lies too:

Gingrich also reiterated his claim that he is not a lobbyist. While he’s been steadily rising in the polls, he’s also been under scrutiny for his consulting work with mortgage giant Freddie Mac.

“I do no lobbying; I’ve never done any lobbying. It’s written in our contracts that we do not do any lobbying of any kind. I offer strategic advice,” he said. “The advice I offered Freddie Mac was, in fact, aimed at how do you help people get into housing.”

Gingrich also referred to himself in the third person in talking about the sad ending of his career as Speaker of the House.

“The job of the Democrats was to get Newt Gingrich. They couldn’t beat any of our ideas so they decided to try to beat the messenger,” he said. “I think it actually will help people understand what happened in that period and how much of it was partisan.”

Poor Newt. He’s filthy rich, but he can’t stop obsessing about the paltry help poor and unemployed people get from food stamps. Last week he claimed that food stamp use has increased dramatically under Obama and that recipients use their food stamp money to take vacations in Hawaii. According to Politifact as reported in USA Today:

PolitiFact, a fact-checking project of the Tampa Bay Times, noted in May that Bush made “more aggressive efforts to get eligible Americans to apply for benefits,” and new rules took effect to broaden eligibility for the assistance. At the time, PolitiFact said:

Gingrich oversimplifies when he suggests that Obama should be considered “the most successful food stamp president in American history,” because much — though probably not all — of the reason for the increase was a combination of the economic problems Obama inherited and a longstanding upward trend from policy changes. On balance, we rate Gingrich’s statement Half True.

As for Gingrich’s claim that food stamps can be used to go to Hawaii, the federal government has clear rules about the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (or SNAP). Basically, you can buy groceries or the seeds and plants from which you can grow your own food.

Right now Gingrich is the clear front runner for the Republican nomination. According to a new CNN poll, he has double-digit leads in three of the first four primaries, Iowa, South Carolina, and Florida. And he is catching up with Romney in New Hampshire. According to the poll, much of Gingrich’s support is coming from tea party types.

I wonder if these folks realize that when back in the day, when Newt was one of the most powerful people in DC, his fellow Conservatives worked hard to get rid of him? And some of them still don’t want him back in power.

As former House Speaker Newt Gingrich trumpets his leadership skills in his quest for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, a different picture of his stewardship emerges from some GOP lawmakers who served with him during a failed 1997 coup attempt against the controversial speaker.

Twenty disgruntled Republicans in the House of Representatives squeezed into then-Rep. Lindsey Graham’s office in July 1997 and rebelliously vented about Gingrich. They were tired of his chaotic management style, worried that he was caving in to then-President Bill Clinton, and sick of constantly having to defend him publicly on questions about his ethics or his latest bombastic statement.

“Newt Gingrich was a disaster as speaker,” said Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y.

As Gingrich seeks to gain the world’s most powerful office, it’s worth recalling that when he once held great power in Washington, his own conservative Republican lieutenants rebelled against his rule less than four years after he led them to House majority status for the first time in 40 years. And their disaffection evidently helped persuade him to step down as speaker the next year and leave office.

King, for one, still believes that Gingrich’s widely disparaged egotistical complaining about the poor treatment he perceived from then-President Clinton on an Air Force One flight in 1995 is why Republicans suffered blame for federal government shutdowns later that year.

“Everything was self-centered. There was a lack of intellectual discipline,” King said

Karl Rove has an op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal in which he blasts Gingrich’s pathetic campaign organization.

In the short run, Mr. Gingrich must temper runaway expectations. For example, his lead in the RealClearPolitics average in Iowa is 12 points. But what happens on Jan. 3 if he doesn’t win Iowa, or comes in first with a smaller margin than people expect?

That could happen in part because Mr. Gingrich has little or no campaign organization in Iowa and most other states. He didn’t file a complete slate of New Hampshire delegates and alternates. He is the only candidate who didn’t qualify for the Missouri primary, and on Wednesday he failed to present enough signatures to get on the ballot in Ohio. Redistricting squabbles may lead the legislature to move the primary to a later date and re-open filing, but it’s still embarrassing to be so poorly organized.

That’s because Gingrich had no expectation of doing this well. He just entered the race so he could sell his books and his wife’s films. But it turns out Gingrich will be on the ballot in Ohio after all. As for Missouri, Gingrich claims he didn’t want to be on the ballot there because the primary is non-binding.

In a press conference in New York City today, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich declared that he never intended to qualify for the ballot in Missouri and that failing to meet the deadline was “a conscious decision, not an oversight.”

The primary is non-binding; it is followed a month later by caucuses where Missourians pick their convention delegates. But every other major candidate is participating in the primary, which gives the public an idea of where Show Me State voters stand.

“We have never participated in beauty contests,” Gingrich said when asked about his failure to qualify for the ballot. “We didnt participate in Ames [the Iowa straw poll], we didnt participate in P5 [a Florida straw poll].” ….

But failing to qualify for the ballot was widely seen as a sign of Gingrich’s lack of campaign organization.

Another sign is the papers he filed in New Hampshire. His papers were sloppily written in pen and he fell 13 short of the required 40 delegates.

It’s going to be interesting to see what happens. I think Romney should still win New Hampshire, but the question is how many Southern states he can carry. Of course I’d be enjoying watching the Republican primary mess a lot more if there were a liberal Democratic candidate to vote for.

Oh, Romney did come in first in one poll: the one that counted the number of jokes told about the Republican candidates on late night TV.

OK, I’ll let go of my obsession with Republican nomination campaign for now and give you some other things to read.

Last Friday, Eric Boehlert of Media Matters may have been the intended victim of a right wing James O’Keefe-type scam designed to make him look like hypocrite for writing in support of the Occupy movement.

It was the middle of the day on Friday, and Eric Boehlert heard a knock on the door. A senior fellow at Media Matters, a nonprofit watchdog that challenges conservative news outlets, Boehlert works from his Montclair, N.J., home.

A short, bearded man stood outside, holding a clipboard and wearing a Verizon uniform. He asked Boehlert if he’d be willing to take a customer survey. Verizon had, perhaps coincidentally, been at the house a week earlier to handle a downed wire. Boehlert quickly agreed and noted that a Verizon worker had actually failed to show up when he said he would.

But the interview questions got weird and then weirder. The man kept talking about Boehlert being rich and being able to work at home, Boehlert began to smell a ratf*ck.

“After he mentioned my salary and that I work from home, all the bells went off, and this is not who this guy says he is. Therefore, I kind of lost track of the exact wording of the question, but it definitely was like very accusatory of me and I’m a hypocrite and how do I have this supposedly cushy job while I’m writing about real workers and the people of the 99 percent,” said Boehlert.

“So there was this pause, and I said, ‘You work for Verizon?’ And he just sort of looks back at me and [says], ‘Will you answer the question? Will you answer the question?’ And I said, ‘Can I see your Verizon ID?’ And he wouldn’t produce any Verizon ID, and I think he asked me another time to answer the question. And basically I just said, ‘I’m done so you can leave now.'” ….

By now he [Boehlert] had realized that the man was likely pulling a political stunt, and James O’Keefe’s notorious “To Catch a Journalist” project came to mind as a possibility.

“The only sort of comical part was he forget which way he was supposed to run in case I started following. He ended up sort of in the road, and he sort of turned left and then right,” said Boehlert. “The last I saw him he was in a full sprint down my street running away from my house.”

In the Massachusetts Senate race, Elizabeth Warren is ahead of Scott Brown 49% to 42%, her biggest lead so far. But some people are *very concerned* because at a recent candidate’s event Warren was asked if she knew in which recent years the Red Sox had won the World Series, and she answered 2004 and 2008 instead of 2004 and 2007. Horrors! Paul Waldman has a very funny piece about it in The American Prospect.

In today’s election news, a candidate for the World’s Most Deliberative Body is facing an earth-shattering scandal because she said “2008” when she should have said “2007,” demonstrating to all that she is utterly incapable of representing the interests of ordinary people. As the normally even-tempered Taegan Goddard indignantly described it, “Elizabeth Warren (D) and the rest of the Democratic field for U.S. Senate in Massachusetts couldn’t answer a simple question about the Boston Red Sox at a forum yesterday. Apparently, they learned nothing from Martha Coakley’s (D) defeat two years ago…”

Here’s what Waldman had to say about this nonsense:

I don’t think anyone in Massachusetts could in good conscience vote for someone who is unable to identify both the state’s fourth-largest city and its third most commonly spoken language. I mean, what are we supposed to do, send someone to the Senate who doesn’t have a command of all master of state-related trivia? The answer is clearly to amend the Constitution so 12-year-old winners of the state geography bee can become senators.

Reporters, I beg you: If you’re going to discuss this “gaffe” and others like it, do your audience a service and explain why this is supposed to matter. And I don’t mean just by saying, “This reminds people of when Martha Coakley called Curt Schilling a Yankee fan, damaging her candidacy.” I mean explain specifically what exactly misremembering the Sox series victories as 2004 and 2008 instead of 2004 and 2007 tells us about the kind of senator Elizabeth Warren would be. Does it mean that despite all the other evidence to the contrary, she really doesn’t care about ordinary people and will upon taking office immediately introduce legislation to make the purchase of brandy snifters and riding crops tax-deductible? Then what?

Yesterday a got an e-mail from Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) about an attempted Republican takeover of the Detroit city government. Bloomberg had a piece about it yesterday.

Detroit has the highest concentration of blacks among U.S. cities with more than 100,000 residents, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. It will exhaust its cash by April and may run up a deficit topping $200 million by June.

Last week, Governor Rick Snyder, a white Republican, ordered a review that may lead to appointment of an emergency manager, rekindling rancor in a city scarred by race riots in 1967. Detroit lost one-quarter of its population since 2000 — much of it to largely white suburbs.

Four Michigan cities are controlled by emergency managers. All have populations that are mostly black. If Detroit joins them, 49.7 percent of the state’s black residents would live under city governments in which they have little say.

Michigan’s emergency managers have sweeping authority to nullify union contracts, sell assets and fire workers. Snyder has said he doesn’t want one for Detroit, though he called the city’s financial condition severe enough to warrant help.

Michigan citizens are currently collecting signatures to put repeal of the law on the ballot in 2012.

A maintenance man Ryan Brunn, 20,has been charged with the brutal sexual assault and murder of 7-year-old Jorleys Rivera, who disappeared on Friday in Canton, GA.

Keenan said Brunn, who has no known criminal record, had keys to both the empty apartment and the trash compactor bin where Rivera’s body was placed.

“We are confident that Brunn is the killer and that is why he is in custody,” Keenan said, declining to detail what evidence investigators have against him….

Keenan said investigators focused on Brunn after receiving information from the public. Brunn had been under police surveillance since Tuesday night. Keenan said the investigation will continue for several months.

“This is a mammoth case,” Keenan told reporters at a news conference in Canton. “We believe that this horrendous crime was planned and calculated, and we’ve recovered a lot of evidence.”

At least he was caught quickly. But another innocent young child is gone.

Yesterday the Obama administration overruled the decision of the FDA to make Plan B available without a prescription to women of all ages.

Wednesday, the Department of Health and Human Services upheld their decision to dispense Plan B One-Step—a one-pill emergency contraceptive—to young women only with a doctor’s prescription, overruling an FDA request to make the drug available over the counter to women of all ages. The restriction only applies to women under the age of 17. In a statement on the HHS website, Secretary Kathleen Sebelius outlined the administration’s reasoning: The FDA’s conclusion that the drug is safe, she says, did not contain sufficient data to show that people of all ages “can understand the label and use the product appropriately.” The outliers, she says, are the 10 percent of girls who are physically capable of child-bearing at 11.1 years old, and “have significant cognitive and behavioral differences.” HHS makes no mention of women older than 11 and younger than 17—statistically, those far more likely to be having sex, according to the Guttmacher Institute.
Wednesday, the Department of Health and Human Services upheld their decision to dispense Plan B One-Step—a one-pill emergency contraceptive—to young women only with a doctor’s prescription, overruling an FDA request to make the drug available over the counter to women of all ages. The restriction only applies to women under the age of 17. In a statement on the HHS website, Secretary Kathleen Sebelius outlined the administration’s reasoning: The FDA’s conclusion that the drug is safe, she says, did not contain sufficient data to show that people of all ages “can understand the label and use the product appropriately.” The outliers, she says, are the 10 percent of girls who are physically capable of child-bearing at 11.1 years old, and “have significant cognitive and behavioral differences.” HHS makes no mention of women older than 11 and younger than 17—statistically, those far more likely to be having sex, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

So if you’re under 17 and you’re raped, you’re going to have to figure out how to see a doctor and get a prescription. Isn’t that just ducky?

I’ll end with some better news for women. The FBI has decided to expand the definition of rape.

An October vote by the Advisory Policy Board’s UCR subcommittee recommended the board at-large change the definition of “rape” to “penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.”

Activists said the new definition was needed because the current one does not recognize that men can be raped, women can rape women, inanimate objects can be used to commit rape or that rapes can occur while the victim is unconscious.

Many local law enforcement agencies use a much broader definition of “rape” than the FBI, causing thousands of sex crimes to go unreported in federal statistics.

The FBI had been under pressure by the Feminist Majority Foundation, which launched an email drive urging the agency to update the definition.

Now let’s start doing more to protect women and children from rapists.

That’s all I’ve got. What are you reading and blogging about today?


Prescribing Death for Profits

The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, for The Call by John Sloan

An article in this month’s Vanity Fair called “Deadly Medicine” made me realize how much of the movement of various parts of corporate business functions were not only to chase the lowest wage, but to also chase the least amount of regulation. The result of this movement has been the death of many poor people in many poor countries.  Yet, we hear very little of this news in this country.  You can only image how much this has to do with the huge connections between Corporate Big Media and its Corporate Advertisers.  I’ve had to rely on many a foreign source and watch dog blog to sniff out some of the  information in this post.

You may have read a link I put in down thread to a fire in a Bangladeshi factory that killed many young women that sounded hauntingly familiar to the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory tragedy in this country in 1911. I know a lot about the Bangladeshi economy because that is where my major professor was born. Much of the country’s growth has come from the textile business. It employs young women in situations similar to what workers endured in 18th and 19 century America. We have the laws and the Ladies Garment Workers’ Union to watch for these kinds of abuses. The young women of Bangladesh have neither. This fire happened five days ago. Many of the fire exits were locked as was the case with the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire.  The workers were subject to appalling conditions. At least 27 died and around 100 were seriously injured. Workers jumped to their death to avoid the flames. Bangladesh has another cottage industry that kills too. It serves as a guinea pig country for Big Pharma and the results of this relationship are frequently tragic.

Similar sad stories unfolds in parts of the old USSR, South America, and Asia as a result of the greed of Big Pharma. This industry looks for countries where it can avoid and cripple FDA regulation of their industry. I was appalled that I had not read much of this until I picked up the Vanity Fare article. After Googling the topic, I found that the media coverage at the time was limited mostly to foreign outlets.   It figures. Let me give you a taste of what I’m going to write about in several installments because there is so much to tell you and it will make you weep.

Many of these clinical trials have gone to places where people give their consent with a finger print or a poorly scribbled  “X”.  Surely, this is questionable ‘consent’. Some of the victims of these experiments are not even capable of granting consent.  My first case study for you is the example of 49 babies who died in India while undergoing experimental drug trials.  In some instances,  pediatricians were actually paid up to $350 a head to come up with subjects for the trials. As I share the investigative reporting on this subject, one of the things to keep in mind is that there are now companies that broker clinical trial sites and victims for Big Pharma. It’s a growth industry. These brokers act as agents who procure countries with dysfunctional laws and judicial systems and poor, desperate people for drug experimentation. There is evidently big money in prescribing death to people in the poorest nations of the word.

In August, 2008, The Sunday Times reported this story.

Forty-nine babies have died in drug tests at one of India’s top hospitals, raising concerns that ethical standards are being compromised as the country becomes the world’s leading destination for clinical trials.

The deaths occurred over a period of 30 months at the Delhi-based All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), an elite medical college and public hospital renowned for providing low-cost treatment to the poor. The victims were among the 4,142 infants who were used in a total of 42 clinical trials — one of the final stages of developing a new drug — at AIIMS since January 2006, many for Western companies. Of the children used in the trials, 2,728 were aged under a year old.

The mortality rate among the babies, many of whom were seriously ill before they became part of the clinical trials, was 1.2 per cent — significantly below the 4 per cent for all patients treated at the hospital. However the age of those selected for testing has shocked many in India and there are fears that the increasingly lucrative drug-testing industry may be cutting corners because of a shortfall of staff trained in medical ethics and best practice.

Manish Tiwari, a spokesperson for the Congress party, which heads India’s coalition Government, said: “The practice of using infants like guinea-pigs for drug testing must end.”

In 2006, a science Reporter for the Times asked this salient question in a headline:  ‘Poor, sick, desperate. What more could Big Pharma ask in Indian drug trials?’ The article outlines steps taken by the big drugmakers to move risky trials over seans to avoid lawsuits like those resulting from products like Vioxx –a Merck product–and from Paraxel made by TeGenero. The rush to find the most vulnerable countries and people has gone largely unnoticed in this country.

And so Big Pharma has begun outsourcing its trials to India, a move that, according to bioethicists, could create a “new imperialism”. India has huge numbers of sick people glad to test drugs in return for minimal, if any, recompense. The patients rarely mind — to them, experimental healthcare is better than none at all — and they rarely complain. India also has a homegrown supply of highly educated, English-speaking doctors, who cost a fraction of their Western counterparts.

AstraZeneca has opened a drug-testing facility in Bangalore; Pfizer has done the same in Bombay. At the moment one in a hundred global clinical trials is conducted in India, but Oxygen Healthcare, a British consultancy, estimates that in five years’ time that figure will have risen to one in ten.

This makes financial sense but others are clearly worried that poor, illiterate patients are being exploited. There is certainly doubt over whether they are giving informed consent. The Indian Journal of Medical Ethics reports that patients are often unable to distinguish between trials that might benefit them and those that won’t. Another study pointed out that, of the country’s 14,000 general hospitals, fewer than 200 are equipped to carry out drug trials adequately.

Indian patients are often used to test medicines that, once marketed, they will not be able to afford.

The editors of the American Journal of Bioethics say in their blog that “pharma trials in India should be the focus of a huge amount of attention in the world of research ethics”. Even more forthright was a recent opinion piece in The Scientist. “If Gandhi were alive today, he would lead protesters to the doors of a clinical research trials facility, where the oppression of the Indian poor dwarfs that of the 1930s.” This is a reference to Gandhi’s march against the British salt tax, which made it illegal to obtain salt from anyone other than the British Government, even though it could be collected along the coast. Gandhi and his supporters marched 240 miles from western India to coastal Gujarat, gathering the mineral on the way. The march ended in a bloody confrontation at a salt factory.

The Indian Government now stands accused of colluding in this new oppression. In 2004 it stipulated that drugs tested in India should first be proved safe in their country of origin; in 2005 the law was revoked.

Believe me, I’ve been Googling up a storm on these trials in India and other places for reports in US Newspapers.  I have yet to really find one.  I have found one blog called PharmaGossip that discusses some of these issue and the Vanity Fare article in particular. It simply shares the article that begins with this short introduction giving you a flavor the extent and the tragedy of cases found by its authors.

Prescription drugs kill some 200,000 Americans every year. Will that number go up, now that most clinical trials are conducted overseas—on sick Russians, homeless Poles, and slum-dwelling Chinese—in places where regulation is virtually nonexistent, the F.D.A. doesn’t reach, and “mistakes” can end up in pauper’s graves? The authors investigate the globalization of the pharmaceutical industry, and the U.S. Government’s failure to rein in a lethal profit machine.

By Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele

The article includes examples–including the one from India above–from hamlets all over the world with exotic-sounding  names.  All of these countries have citizens that have died so that Big Pharma can bring wrinkle creams, erectile dysfunction drugs, and tiny twists on existing drugs to the U.S. Market.  Many of these drugs are not as efficacious and have deleterious side effects compared to existing, older drugs.

If you go to the home page on PharmaGossip you’ll see more news on AstraZeneca which is one of the companies that comes up in many of these horror stories.  Here’s a link to another blog called Corporate Crime Daily that tells the story of Seroquel from 2009.  The article is called: AstraZeneca: Tales of a Deadly Drug Pusher. Seroquel is an anti-psychotic drug.  Because the drug came to market and caused damages to U.S. citizens and wound up in court, you can find coverage by the NYT.  AstraZeneca was also found guilty of defrauding Medicare in 2008. The reason I’m adding this is that when it hits our citizens and our courts, it becomes a media issue.  When the trials kill Indian babies and poor Poles, the US press is mum.

The number and type of clinical trials held in Western Europe, Canada, or the United States have been reduced significantly because their judicial systems are a way to check unethical and deadly business behaviors. [Restated to avoid confusion.  Yes some trials are held here but they are fewer and some types are not done here much any more.] **   As long as the FDA will approve drugs based on experimentation in vulnerable countries, we will have the blood of many on our hands.   Here are some numbers from the Vanity Fare article.

Many of today’s trials still take place in developed countries, such as Britain, Italy, and Japan. But thousands are taking place in countries with large concentrations of poor, often illiterate people, who in some cases sign consent forms with a thumbprint, or scratch an “X.” Bangladesh has been home to 76 clinical trials. There have been clinical trials in Malawi (61), the Russian Federation (1,513), Romania (876), Thailand (786), Ukraine (589), Kazakhstan (15), Peru (494), Iran (292), Turkey (716), and Uganda (132). Throw a dart at a world map and you are unlikely to hit a spot that has escaped the attention of those who scout out locations for the pharmaceutical industry.The two destinations that one day will eclipse all the others, including Europe and the United States, are China (with 1,861 trials) and India (with 1,457). A few years ago, India was home to more American drug trials than China was, thanks in part to its large English-speaking population. But that has changed. English is now mandatory in China’s elementary schools, and, owing to its population edge, China now has more people who speak English than India does.

Read the rest of this entry »


Wednesday Reads

Good Morning!! We had a big news day yesterday; I wonder what today holds in store?

Right now I’d say the top story is that millions of Americans are going to lose their unemployment benefits, because Congress failed to extend them.

Without a new program, by the end of the year about two million long-term unemployed will lose weekly benefits that are 100% federally funded. About 4.7 million people currently receive these special federal payments, and without an extension, all of these beneficiaries will eventually lose payments in coming months.

While Democrats have been pushing to provide additional benefits through emergency spending, Republicans have criticized widening the deficit.

Lawmakers may consider a new proposal from Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, of Montana, to extend eligibility for federal benefits for one year. However, Republicans are expected to vote against that proposal.

You’d think the President would have been on every network and cable channel today excoriating Republicans about this outrage, but instead President Obama met first with Republican and then with Democratic Congressional leaders, and then he set up another committee. Their job will be to work out a “compromise” on extending the Bush tax cuts–and as a side note, he said maybe they could do something about the unemployment issue too.

President Obama suggested Tuesday that a group of congressional leaders he has asked to work out a compromise on expiring tax cuts will also try to work out a compromise on expiring unemployment benefits.

“We discussed working together to keep the government running this year — and running in a fiscally responsible way,” Obama said. “And we discussed unemployment insurance, which expires today. I’ve asked that Congress act to extend this emergency relief without delay to folks who are facing tough times by no fault of their own.”

Obama first asked lawmakers to reauthorize extended unemployment benefits at the beginning of October, but Congress has failed to prevent the benefits from lapsing at least temporarily. Now it looks as though a deal crafted by the four members of Congress tasked with compromising on tax cuts may be the only way to save the jobless aid.

Well, whoop-de-doo. A little leadership would help, but we don’t have a leader–just this spineless wimp the progs stuck us with.

I love this article from the Boston Globe on Senator Scott Brown’s (R-MA) “feisty speech” on the Senate floor.

imploring his colleagues to put greater emphasis on the economy and chiding Democrats for what he considers to be unwarranted diversions.

“We spent seven days on food safety!” the Massachusetts Republican said, referring to a bill approved earlier in the day. “Listen, I love to eat like the next guy, but give me a break! We should have spent seven days working on the one thing that the people in November sent a very powerful message — and that is getting our economy moving again. Focusing on jobs, jobs, jobs.”

So far so good. Brown continued,

“I have complete and total sympathy and understanding, and I want to help,” Brown said of those whose unemployment benefits could expire. “More than anybody here, I want to help. But to just keep throwing money that’s not paid for at a problem…makes no sense to me.”

“Are we going to do it from the bank account, or are we going to put it on the credit card?” he added. “I know what I want to do. I’ll use the bank account. Let’s use money that’s already in the system and put it to good use immediately, by 12 o’clock tonight. Let’s do it!”

But Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) punctured Brown’s balloon with a bit of reality:

“My colleague from Massachusetts has made a rather vigorous and passionate statement,” Reed said. “What I sense, though, is that he’s quite willing to put $700 billion of tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans on the credit card, but not extend unemployment benefits — as we have done decade after decade — without offsets.”

Brown supports extending tax cuts for everyone – and without including a method of payment for them – while Democrats want the tax cuts to continue only for those who make less than $250,000.

And so Congress continues to bicker while real people struggle to survive.

What about that food safety bill? I hope Sima will weigh in on this one. The Senate passed the bill today, and the Washington Post has a brief summary of the major parts of the bill. It:

l Would require farmers and food manufacturers to put in place controls to prevent bacteria and other pathogens from contaminating food.

l Would require the Food and Drug Administration to regularly inspect all food facilities, with more frequent inspections in higher risk facilities.

l Would allow the FDA to order a mandatory recall of any product it suspects may harm public health.

l Would improve disease surveillance, so that outbreaks of food poisoning can be discovered more quickly.

l Would require farmers and food-makers to maintain distribution records so that the FDA can more quickly trace an outbreak to its source.

l Would require foreign food suppliers to meet the same safety standards as domestic food-makers.

l Would exempt small farmers and food processors.

l Would add 17,800 new FDA inspectors by 2014.

But Les Blumenthal of McClatchy says the bill doesn’t deal with issues related to meat and egg safety.

…the measure does nothing to sort out the overlapping jurisdictions among the FDA and other federal agencies that regulate food safety. The new bill doesn’t cover meat, poultry and eggs because the Department of Agriculture regulates them.

The Senate bill would give the FDA new powers to recall tainted food, increase inspections of food processors and impose tougher food-safety standards on producers. The action came after contaminated eggs, peanuts and produce sickened hundreds of people this year, and more than 550 million eggs suspected of salmonella contamination were recalled.

But the measure requires the FDA to inspect what it defines as “high risk” producers only once every three years. The bill also exempts small farms from the new requirements.

That doesn’t sound so good.

At CNN, Elizabeth Landau says food safety advocates argue that the bill has “no teeth.”

This bill “clearly gives the FDA authority to prevent foodborne illnesses and not just react to them,” [ Sandra] Eskin (director of food safety campaign at the Pew Charitable Trusts) said.

But the FDA cannot file criminal charges against producers who knowingly put contaminated food into the market. That’s something Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of the Center for Food Safety in Washington, sees as a failing of this bill: that the FDA doesn’t get the “teeth” to regulate strongly enough.

A food producer who deliberately allows food to make people sick and even die is “as criminal as it gets,” he said.

It’s also hard to know exactly what kind of funding will end up going to toward these efforts. Greater appropriations are needed to accomplish the food safety goals outlined in the bill, but it’s unclear what dollar amount would support it, Kimbrell said.

An unfunded mandate without sufficient punishments to deter wrongdoing? That doesn’t sound so good either. Again, I hope Sima and others weigh in, because I know nothing about this bill.

The FCC is investigating Comcast based on a charge from

Level 3 Communications that Comcast had unfairly erected a toll booth that “threatens the open Internet.”

Level 3’s claims raise the specter of network neutrality, which the F.C.C. is preparing to take action on.

[….]

Level 3, which provides connectivity for Web sites like Netflix, made the charges in a statement on Monday, days after Comcast allegedly demanded a recurring fee to “transmit Internet online movies and other content to Comcast’s customers who request such content.” Comcast denied that the fee threatened the open Internet, chalking it up to a “simple commercial dispute.”

The dispute comes at a sensitive time. Mr. Genachowski [FCC Chairman] is gearing up for a debate about net neutrality, which posits that Internet traffic should be free of any interference from network operators like Comcast. The issue is thought to be on the December agenda of the F.C.C., which has a meeting scheduled for Dec. 21.

At the Daily Beast, Casey Schwartz has a post about an electostimulation device called the Fisher Wallace Stimulator that is supposed to relieve depression, insomnia, and other problems right in your own home.

The device, which is about the size of a Game Boy, is available with a prescription, which anyone with a license in electrotherapies, whether a doctor or a masseuse, can provide. Its fans include the singer Carly Simon, who has said it helps her stave off depression and mania.

[….]

An enthusiastic convert to the device, Dr. Richard Brown, a psychiatrist at Columbia University, characterizes the effect on brain waves as being similar to that of meditation.

Brown claims to be seeing an 80 percent success rate among the patients to whom he prescribes it, many of whom suffer from major depression that has not responded to any other form of treatment. If Brown’s experience is representative, the Fisher Wallace device has a big future. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor drugs, or SSRIs, today’s go-to for treating depression, show a success rate of roughly 50 percent.

Research suggests that the electrical current from the Fisher Wallace device targets the limbic system, which contains brain structures linked to the experiencing of emotions, and that it stimulates the release of the feel-good neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin.

No word in the article on how much the device costs.

I guess that’s about it for me. What are you reading this morning?