"In a time of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

Archive for December, 2010|Monthly archive page

So Young and So Many Pills: Over 25% Of Kids And Teens In The U.S. Take Prescriptions Drugs On A Regular Basis

In Uncategorized on December 29, 2010 at 12:43 pm

Oldspeak:” A vastly expanded and globalized pharmaceutical industry always requires new test subjects- err.. I mean “customers” to sell their “medicine” to. And they’re getting younger and younger. 8 year olds on blood pressure meds. 4 year olds on powerful anti-psychotics. Our children are part of the largest uncontrolled experiment in history. No one really knows the long term health effects of exposing still developing brains to questionably tested drugs that alter brain chemistry. Never mind the psychological effects of socializing the use of pharmaceutical “cures” and unnatural response to illness, rather than dealing with the unseen societal conditions that cause them.”

From Anna Wilde Mathews @ The Wall Street Journal:

Gage Martindale, who is 8 years old, has been taking a blood-pressure drug since he was a toddler. “I want to be healthy, and I don’t want things in my heart to go wrong,” he says.

And, of course, his mom is always there to check Gage’s blood pressure regularly with a home monitor, and to make sure the second-grader doesn’t skip a dose of his once-a-day enalapril.



These days, the medicine cabinet is truly a family affair. More than a quarter of U.S. kids and teens are taking a medication on a chronic basis, according to Medco Health Solutions Inc., the biggest U.S. pharmacy-benefit manager with around 65 million members. Nearly 7% are on two or more such drugs, based on the company’s database figures for 2009.

Doctors and parents warn that prescribing medications to children can be problematic. There is limited research available about many drugs’ effects in kids. And health-care providers and families need to be vigilant to assess the medicines’ impact, both intended and not. Although the effects of some medications, like cholesterol-lowering statins, have been extensively researched in adults, the consequences of using such drugs for the bulk of a patient’s lifespan are little understood.

Many medications kids take on a regular basis are well known, including treatments for asthma and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.

But children and teens are also taking a wide variety of other medications once considered only to be for adults, from statins to diabetes pills and sleep drugs, according to figures provided to The Wall Street Journal by IMS Health, a research firm. Prescriptions for antihypertensives in people age 19 and younger could hit 5.5 million this year if the trend though September continues, according to IMS. That would be up 17% from 2007, the earliest year available.

Researchers attribute the wide usage in part to doctors and parents becoming more aware of drugs as an option for kids. Unhealthy diets and lack of exercise among children, which lead to too much weight gain and obesity, also fuel the use of some treatments, such as those for hypertension. And some conditions are likely caught and treated earlier as screening and diagnosis efforts improve.

Gage, who isn’t overweight, has been on hypertension drugs since he had surgery to fix a heart defect as a toddler, says his mother, Stefanie Martindale, a Conway, Ark., marketing-company manager.

Most medications that could be prescribed to children on a chronic basis haven’t been tested specifically in kids, says Danny Benjamin, a Duke University pediatrics professor. And older drugs rarely get examined, since pharmaceutical firms have little incentive to test medicines once they are no longer under patent protection.

Still, a growing number of studies have been done under a Food and Drug Administration program that rewards drug companies for testing medications in children. In more than a third of these studies, there have been surprising side effects, or results that suggested a smaller or larger dose was needed than had been expected, Dr. Benjamin says. Those findings underscore that children’s reactions to medicines can be very different than those of adults. Long-term effects of drugs in kids are almost never known, since pediatric studies, like those in adults, tend to be relatively short.

“We know we’re making errors in dosing and safety,” says Dr. Benjamin, who is leading a new National Institutes of Health initiative to study drugs in children. He suggests that parents should do as much research as they can to understand the evidence for the medicine, confirm the diagnosis, and identify side effects. Among the places to check: drug labels and other resources on the FDA’s website, published research at www.pubmed.gov, and clinical guidelines from groups like the American Academy of Pediatrics.

When a child psychiatrist diagnosed their then 8-year-old daughter with bipolar disorder four years ago, Ken and Joy Lewis, of Chapel Hill, N.C., sought a second opinion from another child psychiatrist.

They also worked with a psychologist. Dr. Lewis, who leads a company that does early-stage drug studies, reads all the available research on each medication suggested for the girl, now 12, who has taken antipsychotics and other psychiatric medications including Risperdal and Haldol.

“If your child has a chronic problem, then you have to invest the time as a parent,” he says.

Parents and doctors also say nondrug alternatives should be explored where possible. Tom Wells, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences who sees patients at Arkansas Children’s Hospital in Little Rock, frequently pushes diet and exercise changes before drugs for hypertensive kids. “Obesity is really the biggest cause I see for high blood pressure in adolescents,” he says. But only about 10% of families adhere to his diet and exercise recommendations, he says.

Beverly Pizzano, a psychologist who lives in Palm Harbor, Fla., spent years struggling with behavioral therapies for her son Steven, 10, who showed symptoms of ADHD at a young age. She worked with a counselor on a system of rewards for good behavior, and even had a research team watch him and suggest interventions. But she turned to medications after he struggled in kindergarten. “We tried everything before I would get to that,” she says.

After a drug is prescribed, children must be closely monitored, doctors say. They may not recognize or communicate a possible side effect, or whether their symptoms are improving. They also don’t always follow prescription instructions.

Robert Lemanske, a professor at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, says patients at his pediatric asthma clinic are checked regularly for side effects such as slowed rates of growth. He quizzes parents and young patients on details like where they keep their inhalers to make sure they’re taking their prescribed medicine.

Nichole Ramsey, a preschool teacher whose 9-year-old son Antwone is a patient at the clinic, watches her son’s basketball practices so she can head off any wheezing or other symptoms. She also makes sure she’s around when he gets his regular Advair dose. If Antwone stays at a friend’s house overnight, she asks the parents to watch that he takes steps like rinsing out his mouth to avoid a fungal infection that can be a side effect of the inhaled drug.

“You’re still the best monitor of what’s going on with them,” she says of a parent’s role.

Ms. Ramsey is particularly concerned about Advair, which has been tied to rare instances of asthma-related death, but says it works better than a previous drug he was using. Before he started the medications, Antwone was hospitalized several times for asthma attacks.

As children’s bodies change and grow, they often need different drugs or doses, says Greg Kearns, chairman of medical research at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Mo.

Jennifer Flory, a homemaker in Baldwin City, Kan., says that after her daughter Cassandra, now 16, started taking a higher dose of the asthma drug Singulair a few years ago, she became more moody and sad. Ms. Flory didn’t connect the change to the drug, but when she eventually mentioned it to a nurse practitioner at the girl’s asthma clinic, the nurse suggested stopping Singulair, which currently has a precaution in its label about possible psychiatric side effects. Cassandra, who continued taking Advair, became far more cheerful and didn’t have any increase in asthma symptoms, Ms. Flory says.

A spokesman for Merck & Co., which makes Singulair, said in a statement that the company is “confident in the efficacy and safety of Singulair,” which is “an important treatment option for appropriate patients.”

Write to Anna Wilde Mathews at anna.mathews@wsj.com

Over Half a Million U.S. Kids Per Year Suffer Health Reactions From Prescription Drugs

From David Gutierez @ Food Matters:

More than half a million children suffer adverse reactions every year in the United States from prescription drugs, according to a study conducted by researchers from the Children’s Hospital in Boston and published in the journal Pediatrics.

The researchers examined data on emergency room and clinic visits between the years of 1995 and 2005 by children under the age of 18. The average number of children receiving treatment for adverse prescription drug effects each year in that time period was 585,922. The number fluctuated very little from year to year.

Adverse drug events included accidental overdoses, side effects and wrong prescriptions.

Prior research has found that another half million children suffer adverse prescription drug reactions every year while in hospitals, bringing the total annual number of adverse drug effects in children up to more than one million. These numbers do not include negative reactions to over-the-counter drugs.

Researchers in the current study uncovered no reports of deaths caused by adverse drug reactions, but 5 percent of children did require hospitalization. Forty-three percent of the adverse reactions occurred in children under the age of five, with another 23 percent occurring in those between the ages of 15 and 18.

The most common causes of adverse effects in young children were prescription antibiotics. Some of the more common side effects were diarrhea, rash and stomach ache. Birth control pills were a common cause of side effects in teenagers, producing problems such as nausea, vomiting and disrupted menstrual cycles.

Drugs for depression and cancer were also significant causes of negative reactions.

According to lead author Florence Bourgeois, doctors need to inform parents of the possible side effects of any drugs children are given. Parents should watch their children especially carefully when a new drug is taken, she said, because “first-time medication exposures may reveal an allergic reaction.”


Job Market Booming Overseas For Many American Companies

In Uncategorized on December 28, 2010 at 12:53 pm

Oldspeak:”Behold the fruits of globalization. Deskilling of workers and education. Deindustrialization of the U.S. economy. The expansion of slave labor and repression of human rights in countries where labor unions and worker protections don’t exist.  American companies flock to these places. American multinational corporations don’t care abt American workers (or foreign workers for that matter). All they care about is externalizing cost and internalizing profit. The same corporations that built their fortunes here and helped make America great are now facilitating it’s demise.

From Pallavi Gogoi @ The Huffington Post:

Corporate profits are up. Stock prices are up. So why isn’t anyone hiring?

Actually, many American companies are – just maybe not in your town. They’re hiring overseas, where sales are surging and the pipeline of orders is fat.

More than half of the 15,000 people that Caterpillar Inc. has hired this year were outside the U.S. UPS is also hiring at a faster clip overseas. For both companies, sales in international markets are growing at least twice as fast as domestically.

The trend helps explain why unemployment remains high in the United States, edging up to 9.8 percent last month, even though companies are performing well: All but 4 percent of the top 500 U.S. corporations reported profits this year, and the stock market is close to its highest point since the 2008 financial meltdown.

But the jobs are going elsewhere. The Economic Policy Institute, a Washington think tank, says American companies have created 1.4 million jobs overseas this year, compared with less than 1 million in the U.S. The additional 1.4 million jobs would have lowered the U.S. unemployment rate to 8.9 percent, says Robert Scott, the institute’s senior international economist.

“There’s a huge difference between what is good for American companies versus what is good for the American economy,” says Scott.

American jobs have been moving overseas for more than two decades. In recent years, though, those jobs have become more sophisticated – think semiconductors and software, not toys and clothes.

And now many of the products being made overseas aren’t coming back to the United States. Demand has grown dramatically this year in emerging markets like India, China and Brazil.

Meanwhile, consumer demand in the U.S. has been subdued. Despite a strong holiday shopping season, Americans are still spending 3 percent less than before the recession on essential items like clothing and more than 10 percent less on jewelry, furniture, electronics, and big appliances, according to MasterCard’s SpendingPulse.

“Companies will go where there are fast-growing markets and big profits,” says Jeffrey Sachs, globalization expert and economist at Columbia University. “What’s changed is that companies today are getting top talent in emerging economies, and the U.S. has to really watch out.”

With the future looking brighter overseas, companies are building there, too. Caterpillar, maker of the signature yellow bulldozers and tractors, has invested in three new plants in China in just the last two months to design and manufacture equipment. The decision is based on demand: Asia-Pacific sales soared 38 percent in the first nine months of the year, compared with 16 percent in the U.S. Caterpillar stock is up 65 percent this year.

“There is a shift in economic power that’s going on and will continue. China just became the world’s second-largest economy,” says David Wyss, chief economist at Standard & Poor’s, who notes that half of the revenue for companies in the S&P 500 in the last couple of years has come from outside the U.S.

Take the example of DuPont, which wowed the world in 1938 with nylon stockings. Known as one of the most innovative American companies of the 20th century, DuPont now sells less than a third of its products in the U.S. In the first nine months of this year, sales to the Asia-Pacific region grew 50 percent, triple the U.S. rate. Its stock is up 47 percent this year.

DuPont’s work force reflects the shift in its growth: In a presentation on emerging markets, the company said its number of employees in the U.S. shrank by 9 percent between January 2005 and October 2009. In the same period, its work force grew 54 percent in the Asia-Pacific countries.

“We are a global player out to succeed in any geography where we participate in,” says Thomas M. Connelly, chief innovation officer at DuPont. “We want our resources close to where our customers are, to tailor products to their needs.”

While most of DuPont’s research labs are still stateside, Connelly says he’s impressed with the company’s overseas talent. The company opened a large research facility in Hyderabad, India, in 2008.

A key factor behind this runaway international growth is the rise of the middle class in these emerging countries. By 2015, for the first time, the number of consumers in Asia’s middle class will equal those in Europe and North America combined.

“All of the growth over the next 10 years is happening in Asia,” says Homi Kharas, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute and formerly the World Bank’s chief economist for East Asia and the Pacific.

Coca-Cola CEO Muhtar Kent often points out that a billion consumers will enter the middle class during the coming decade, mostly in Africa, China and India. He is aggressively targeting those markets. Of Coke’s 93,000 global employees, less than 13 percent were in the U.S. in 2009, down from 19 percent five years ago.

The company would not say how many new U.S. hires it has made in 2010. But its latest new investments are overseas, including $240 million for three bottling plants in Inner Mongolia as part of a three-year, $2 billion investment in China. The three plants will create 2,000 new jobs in the area. In September, Coca-Cola pledged $1 billion to the Philippines over five years.

The strategy isn’t restricted to just the largest American companies. Entrepreneurs, whether in technology, retail or in manufacturing, today hire globally from the start.

Consider Vast.com, which powers the search engines of sites like Yahoo Travel and Aol Autos. The company was founded in 2005 with employees based in San Francisco and Serbia.

Harvard Business School Dean Nitin Nohria worries that the trend could be dangerous. In an article in the November issue of the Harvard Business Review, he says that if U.S. businesses keep prospering while Americans are struggling, business leaders will lose legitimacy in society. He exhorted business leaders to find a way to link growth with job creation at home.

Other economists, like Columbia University’s Sachs, say multinational corporations have no choice, especially now that the quality of the global work force has improved. Sachs points out that the U.S. is falling in most global rankings for higher education while others are rising.

“We are not fulfilling the educational needs of our young people,” says Sachs. “In a globalized world, there are serious consequences to that.”


Social Security’s Future At Risk With New Tax Deal

In Uncategorized on December 24, 2010 at 1:44 pm

Oldspeak:” ‘If once the people become inattentive to the public affairs, you and I, and Congress and Assemblies, Judges and Governors, shall all become wolves. It seems to be the law of our general nature, in spite of individual exceptions.’ -Thomas Jefferson. Governments captured by monied interests, tend to serve monied interests. The Greater Good is secondary.”

From JONATHAN BATTAGLIA AND ROBERT WEINER @ The Palm Beach Post:

Under the radar screen, the new tax deal is threatening the livelihood of America’s present and future seniors – to line the pockets of millionaires.

If made permanent, a new Social Security “payroll tax holiday,” reducing the “match” employers pay from 6 percent to 4 percent of salary, will drop the solvency of the program 14 years, from 2037 to 2023, according to the Congressional Budget Office. At the same time, Congress agreed to increase high-end loopholes in the estate tax, exempting 39,000 estates worth as much as $5 million.

This bill puts in motion two devastating policies: lowering taxes for the rich and destabilizing the financing of Social Security. Without sufficient worker and employer matching money, which has kept Social Security solvent for 75 years and helped millions of Americans live out their senior years in comfort, the program could be doomed. Congress and the White House say they want to “protect Social Security’s solvency,” but this action does just the opposite.

The most dangerous aspect of the payroll tax holiday is that it could become permanent. The new philosophy in Congress seems to be “once a cut, always a cut.” When the payroll tax holiday expires in a year, Republicans will insist on keeping it, just as they did with the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy.

Democrats are falling for the same trap they did nine years ago when they helped pass the Bush tax cuts. Bush communications director Dan Bartlett explained how they used “temporary” cuts to get votes: “We knew that, politically, once you get it into law, it becomes almost impossible to remove it.”

Breaking the promise of Social Security will leave seniors with extra working years and reduced benefits. The White House and Congress can dig themselves out the same way Congress and President Obama just did with Medicare by extending reimbursements for physicians. Failure to do so would have stopped seniors from getting their health care.

Congress should have adopted an amendment to the tax bill proposed by some farsighted lawmakers that would have replaced changes in payroll taxes with a one-year credit to provide tax relief to businesses, while not threatening the solvency of the Social Security trust fund. Instead, Congress broke down the firewall of separate Social Security funding and gave it to general revenue to help business — and the heck with seniors.

We are left with the biggest affront to the solvency of Social Security since George W. Bush threatened to privatize it. The difference is that this attack received bipartisan support. If this is what bipartisanship looks like, Americans should run in the other direction.

The White House and Congress read that payroll tax holidays have recently “worked” in other countries to spur the economy. It’s an amazing statement, with the world’s economies in bad shape. Here, moreover, we have a contract to pay our seniors back with their money, not take it without permission. It’s a separate, paid-for insurance plan, not a social welfare giveaway to business. Social Security funding must be off-limits to Congress, especially when it wants to give the money to millionaires.

The great Florida Congressman Claude Pepper, known as “Mr. Social Security,” was outraged in 1978 at Commerce Secretary Juanita Kreps’ suggestion to increase the retirement age to 68 for full Social Security benefits. Rep. Pepper demanded and got a meeting with Ms. Kreps and House Social Security Chairman James Burke, D-Mass. Rep. Pepper kept saying that he and Rep. Burke would “fight it to our death.” Ms. Kreps asked, “Even (delaying the start) to the year 2000?” Both members vehemently exclaimed, “Yes!” Ms. Kreps finally responded, “Well, I haven’t made the proposal anyway.” That’s the courage we need from somewhere now.

Congress should clean up the mess it just created for seniors, and for all the young and middle- aged who hope to grow old.

Robert Weiner is a former chief of staff of the U.S. House Select Committee on Aging. Jonathan Battaglia is a policy analyst at Robert Weiner Associates.

 

White House Drafts Executive Order For Indefinite Detention

In Uncategorized on December 23, 2010 at 5:49 pm

Oldspeak: “2 years after promising closure, almost a year after  the executive order to close it was signed and public protestations against congressional resistance to moving prisoners to the U.S., Guantanamo Bay is still open. More inmates there are formally facing the prospect of lifelong detention and fewer are facing charges than the day Obama was elected. More extrajudicial power to detain undesirables assumed by the executive branch. No discussion of legality or the conditions created by the U.S. and it’s allies that make it necessary to lock away forever those who choose not assent to their anti-democratic economic and political agendas. And we still don’t know how many ‘black sites’  around the world are being used to detain and torture people not with the program of propagating American Empire.”

From Dafna Linzer @ Pro Publica:

The White House is preparing an Executive Order on indefinite detention that will provide periodic reviews of evidence against dozens of prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay, according to several administration officials.

The draft order, a version of which was first considered nearly 18 months ago, is expected to be signed by President Obama early in the New Year. The order allows for the possibility that detainees from countries like Yemen might be released if circumstances there change.

But the order establishes indefinite detention as a long-term Obama administration policy and makes clear that the White House alone will manage a review process for those it chooses to hold without charge or trial.

Nearly two years after Obama’s pledge to close the prison at Guantanamo, more inmates there are formally facing the prospect of lifelong detention and fewer are facing charges than the day Obama was elected.

That is in part because Congress has made it difficult to move detainees to the United States for trial. But it also stems from the president’s embrace of indefinite detention and his assertion that the congressional authorization for military force, passed after the 2001 terrorist attacks, allows for such detention.

After taking office, the Obama administration reviewed the detainee population at Guantanamo Bay and chose 48 prisoners for indefinite detention. Officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that number will likely increase in coming months as some detainees are moved from a transfer category to a continued detention category.

If signed by President Obama, the new order will provide added review for detainees designated for long-term detention. The order, which is being drafted jointly by White House staff in the National Security council and the White House counsel, will offer detainees in this category a minimal review every six months and then a more lengthy annual review. Detainees will have access to an attorney, to some evidence against them and the ability to challenge their continued detention.

Prisoners who have been deemed “high-value detainees,” including the alleged conspirators of the 2001 attacks, have been designated for prosecution in civilian or military courts.

“It’s been clear for a while that the government would need to put in place some sort of periodic review, and that it would want it to improve on the annual review procedures used during the previous administration,” said Matthew Waxman, a professor at Columbia Law School who worked on detainee issues during the Bush administration.

A White House official, who asked to speak on the condition of anonymity, later confirmed that the draft order has not yet been given to the president. The official had few details but said the order “would set up periodic review of the detention status of those detainees who cannot be tried,” in either military commissions or federal courts.

In 2008, Guantanamo detainees won the right to challenge the lawfulness of their detention in court. The executive order aims to create an executive branch review which would occur separately from the court review and would weigh the necessity of the detention, rather than its lawfulness, officials said.

“Perhaps the dangerousness of the detainee’s country of origin could change, or the group that the detainee is affiliated with could cease to exist,” one official explained.

Some detainees from Yemen may be sent home if security conditions there improve. Currently, there is a moratorium on transfers from Guantanamo to Yemen.

The official described the draft order as “an important piece of the government’s approach to Guantanamo.”

At a speech on Guantanamo in May 2009, Obama said that “a thorough process of periodic review,” was needed to ensure that “any prolonged detention is carefully evaluated and justified.”

The White House first began work on an Executive Order in the spring of 2009 that was the subject of a joint story by ProPublica and the Washington Post in June 2009. An administration official at the time said the order was under consideration but had not yet been completed. Civil rights groups which oppose indefinite detention came out strongly against the possibility of an executive order.

Weeks later, administration officials said the White House had decided to work with Congress on indefinite detention, rather than through Executive Order. But by the end of 2009, the White House had said it would not support legislation.

Then, in 2010, a government task force on Guantanamo completed a year-long review that placed 48 detainees in long-term detention. In its report, task force members said those detainees would be “subject to periodic Executive Branch review.”

Bobby Chesney, a law professor at the University of Texas who worked briefly on the administration’s detention task force, said an executive order would provide detainees which an additional layer of review. He also said it offered a compromise since an executive order can be withdrawn at anytime.

“The order takes on additional restraints and lasts as long as the president wants. The White House gets just what it wants, no more or less. And, unlike with legislation, the order doesn’t have staying power if the next administration doesn’t want it.”

Jameel Jaffer, a national security lawyer at the American Civil Liberties Union, agreed that “more review is better.” But he said that an executive order would only “normalize and institutionalize indefinite detention and other policies,” that were set in place by the Bush administration.



Pentagon’s Christmas Present: The Largest Military Budget Since World War II

In Uncategorized on December 23, 2010 at 11:04 am

Oldspeak: This is what lets me know that all the Politricians screaming about cutting spending and deficit reduction are chock-full-o-shit. While the repeal of DADT got all the corporate press and public debate, the U.S. with a sagging bubble-based economy and on top of $858 billion in debt incurred by the recent “tax cut package”, went $725 Billion dollars further into debt, courtesy of the country’s largest employer; the U.S. Military. The Defense Budget passed unanimously. Just in time for the Prince of Peace’s birthday. Meanwhile, taxes will be raised on the poorest Americans, and 25% of the “tax savings” will go to the richest 1% of Americans. Christian nation indeed. :-|

From Rick Rozoff @ OpEdNews:

On December 22 both houses of the U.S. Congress unanimously passed a bill authorizing $725 billion for next year’s Defense Department budget.

The bill, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2011, was approved by all 100 senators as required and by a voice vote in the House.

The House had approved the bill, now sent to President Barack Obama to sign into law, five days earlier in a 341-48 roll call, but needed to vote on it again after the Senate altered it in the interim.

The proposed figure for the Pentagon’s 2011 war chest includes, in addition to the base budget, $158.7 billion for what are now euphemistically referred to as overseas contingency operations: The military occupation of Iraq and the war in Afghanistan.

The $725 billion figure, although $17 billion more than the White House had requested, is not the final word on the subject, however, as supplements could be demanded as early as the beginning of next year, especially in regard to the Afghan war that will then be in its eleventh calendar year.

Even as it currently is, the amount is the highest in constant dollars (pegged at any given year’s dollar and adjusted for inflation) since 1945, the final year of the Second World War. With recent U.S. census figures at 308 million, next year the Pentagon will spend $2,354 for every citizen of the country at the $725 billion price tag alone.

Last year’s Pentagon budget, by way of comparison, was $680 billion, a base budget of $533.8 billion and the remainder for operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. In July of this year Congress approved the 2010 Supplemental Appropriations Act which contained an additional $37 billion for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Next year’s defense authorization of $725 billion compares to, according to the Center for Defense Information, a Pentagon budget of $444.6 billion in 1946; $460.4 billion in 1968, the highest yearly amount during the Vietnam War; and $443.4 billion in 1988, the highest during the eight years of the Ronald Reagan administration’s massive military buildup. (Numbers in 2004 constant dollars.) [1]

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute estimates American military spending for 2009 to have accounted for 43 percent of the world total. Carl Conetta, co-director of the Project on Defense Alternatives, earlier this year estimated the 2010 U.S. defense budget to constitute 47 percent of total worldwide military expenditures and to amount to 19 percent of all American federal spending.

In addition, Pentagon spending has increased by 100 percent since 1998 and “the Obama budget plans to spend more on the Pentagon over eight years than any administration has since World War II.” [2]

With 2.25 million full-time civilian and military personnel, excluding part-time National Guard and Reserve members, the Defense Department is the U.S.’s largest employer, outstripping Walmart with 1.4 million employees and the U.S Post Office with 599,000. [3]

“Add in what Homeland Security, Veterans Affairs, and the Energy departments spend on defense and total US military spending will reach $861 billion in fiscal 2011, exceeding that of all other nations combined,” according to Todd Harrison, senior fellow for Defense Budget Studies at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. [4]

In April Robert Higgs of The Independent Institute advocated that the budgets – in part or in whole – of the departments of Veterans Affairs, Homeland Security, Energy, State and Treasury and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) should be calculated in the real military budget, which would in 2009 would have increased it to $901.5 billion.

“Adding [the] interest component to the previous all-agency total, the grand total comes to $1,027.8 billion, which is 61.5 percent greater than the Pentagon’s outlays alone.”

His numbers are:

National Security Outlays in Fiscal Year 2009
(billions of dollars)

Department of Defense 636.5

Department of Energy (nuclear weapons and environmental cleanup) 16.7

Department of State (plus international assistance) 36.3

Department of Veterans Affairs 95.5

Department of Homeland Security 51.7

Department of the Treasury (for the Military Retirement Fund) 54.9

National Aeronautics and Space Administration (1/2 of total) 9.6

Net interest attributable to past debt-financed defense outlays 126.3

Total 1,027.5 [5]

The above-cited Carl Conetta stated at the beginning of this year that the 2011 Pentagon budget will mark a milestone in that “the inflation-adjusted rise in spending since 1998 will probably exceed 100% in real terms by the end of the fiscal year.

“Taking the 2011 budget into account, the Defense Department has been given about $7.2 trillion since 1998, when the post-Cold War decline in defense spending ended. Approximately $2.5 trillion of this total is due to spending above the annual level set in 1998. This added amount constitutes the post-1998 spending surge.”

Based on constant 2010 dollars, Conetta further details that the Ronald Reagan administration spent $4.1 trillion on the Defense Department, the Georgia W. Bush administration spent $4.65 trillion and “Barack Obama plans to spend more than $5 trillion.”

He also compares the two previous largest post-World War Two surges in U.S. military spending to the current one:

From 1958-1968: 43 percent

From: 1975-1985 57 percent

In regards to which he said, “the 1998-2011 surge is as large as these two predecessors combined.”

His calculations also include a growth in Pentagon contract employees of 40 percent since 1989, thereby freeing up uniformed service members for more direct combat roles.

The U.S. share of global military spending grew from 28 percent during the Cold War to 41 percent by 2006 and that of NATO member states, including the U.S., from 49 percent to 70 percent in the same period.

Contrariwise, the “group of potential adversary and competitor states has gone from claiming a 42 % share to just 16 % in 2006.

“Had Ronald Reagan -” who is generally regarded a hawkish president -” wanted to achieve in the 1980s the ratio between US and adversary spending that existed in 2006, he would have had to quadruple his defense budgets.

“And, of course, since 2006, the US defense budget has not receded, but instead grown by another 20% in real terms.

“By 2011, the United States will probably account for more than half of all global military spending calculated in terms of ‘purchasing power parity’ (which corrects for differences between national economies).” [6]

The defense authorization bill passed on December 22, despite its monumental and unprecedented size, has been routinely described in the American press as stripped-down, scaled-down and pared-down because an arms manufacturer or two, their lobbyists and obedient congresspersons didn’t get every new defense contract and weapons project they desired three days before Christmas.

The December 22 vote in the House was, as Associated Press accurately described it, conducted without debate or discussion – and “without major restrictions on the conduct of operations” – particularly in regards to the $158.7 billion for the military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, $75 million to train and equip the armed forces of Yemen for the counterinsurgency campaign in that country and $205 million more to fund Israel’s Iron Dome missile shield.

Regarding the first vote on December 17: “This year’s bill is mostly noteworthy for its broad bipartisan support during wartime….Unlike during the height of the Iraq War when anti-war Democrats tried to use the legislation to force troops home, the House passed the defense bill Friday with almost no debate on Afghanistan.” [7]

Aside from voting for the repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy as a stand-alone measure, excising an amendment to allow abortions to be performed on military bases, and refusing reparations to victims of the World War Two Japanese occupation of the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam (apparently $100 million for the purpose was considered excessive in the $725 billion authorization), there was no meaningful dissent in either house of Congress.

Increasing the U.S. war budget to the highest level it’s been since the largest and deadliest war in history while no nation or group of nations poses a serious threat to the country, and to a degree where it effectively exceeds the defense spending of the rest of the world combined, is all in the proper order of things for the world’s sole military superpower.
1) Center for Defense Information
http://www.cdi.org/news/mrp/us-military-spending.pdf
2) Christian Science Monitor, March 29, 2010
http://www.csmonitor.com/Commentary/David-R.-Francis/2010/0329/Defense-budget-After-Afghanistan-and-Iraq-withdrawal-a-peace-dividend
3) Christian Science Monitor, June 28, 2010
http://www.csmonitor.com/Commentary/David-R.-Francis/2010/0628/Cuts-to-US-defense-budget-look-inevitable
4) Ibid
5) Robert Higgs, Defense Spending Is Much Greater than You Think
The Independent Institute, April 17, 2010
http://www.independent.org/blog/index.php?p=5827
6) Carl Conetta, Trillions to Burn? A Quick Guide to the Surge in Pentagon
Spending
Project on Defense Alternatives, February 5 2010
http://www.comw.org/pda/1002BudgetSurge.html
7) Associated Press, December 17, 2010


Big Brother Comes To Main Street

In Uncategorized on December 21, 2010 at 4:08 pm

Oldspeak: Since 9/11, under the guise of “national security” the U.S. surveillance state has expanded exponentially. No one really knows how much money it costs, how many people it employs or how many programs exist within it. Good news for the  Military Industrial Complex; it’s selling surveillance  technology to state and local law enforcement to monitor thousands of average Americans, who 9 times out of 10 have not been accused of wrongdoing. Coupled with overcriminalization, arrests are up, which is good news for the profit driven Prison Industrial Complex, always in need of new slave laborers to fill jail cells and increase profit margins. Profit Is Paramount.”

From Dana Priest & Willam H. Arkin @ The Washington Post:

Nine years after the terrorist attacks of 2001, the United States is assembling a vast domestic intelligence apparatus to collect information about Americans, using the FBI, local police, state homeland security offices and military criminal investigators.

The system, by far the largest and most technologically sophisticated in the nation’s history, collects, stores and analyzes information about thousands of U.S. citizens and residents, many of whom have not been accused of any wrongdoing.

The government’s goal is to have every state and local law enforcement agency in the country feed information to Washington to buttress the work of the FBI, which is in charge of terrorism investigations in the United States.

Other democracies – Britain and Israel, to name two – are well acquainted with such domestic security measures. But for the United States, the sum of these new activities represents a new level of governmental scrutiny.

This localized intelligence apparatus is part of a larger Top Secret America created since the attacks. In July, The Washington Post described an alternative geography of the United States, one that has grown so large, unwieldy and secretive that no one knows how much money it costs, how many people it employs or how many programs exist within it.

Today’s story, along with related material on The Post’s Web site, examines how Top Secret America plays out at the local level. It describes a web of 4,058 federal, state and local organizations, each with its own counterterrorism responsibilities and jurisdictions. At least 935 of these organizations have been created since the 2001 attacks or became involved in counterterrorism for the first time after 9/11.

(Search our database for your state to find a detailed profile of counterterrorism efforts in your community.)

The months-long investigation, based on nearly 100 interviews and 1,000 documents, found that:

* Technologies and techniques honed for use on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan have migrated into the hands of law enforcement agencies in America.

* The FBI is building a database with the names and certain personal information, such as employment history, of thousands of U.S. citizens and residents whom a local police officer or a fellow citizen believed to be acting suspiciously. It is accessible to an increasing number of local law enforcement and military criminal investigators, increasing concerns that it could somehow end up in the public domain.

* Seeking to learn more about Islam and terrorism, some law enforcement agencies have hired as trainers self-described experts whose extremist views on Islam and terrorism are considered inaccurate and counterproductive by the FBI and U.S. intelligence agencies.

* The Department of Homeland Security sends its state and local partners intelligence reports with little meaningful guidance, and state reports have sometimes inappropriately reported on lawful meetings.

 

 

The need to identify U.S.-born or naturalized citizens who are planning violent attacks is more urgent than ever, U.S. intelligence officials say. This month’s FBI sting operation involving a Baltimore construction worker who allegedly planned to bomb a Maryland military recruiting station is the latest example. It followed a similar arrest of a Somali-born naturalized U.S. citizen allegedly seeking to detonate a bomb near a Christmas tree lighting ceremony in Portland, Ore. There have been nearly two dozen other cases just this year.

“The old view that ‘if we fight the terrorists abroad, we won’t have to fight them here’ is just that – the old view,” Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told police and firefighters recently.

The Obama administration heralds this local approach as a much-needed evolution in the way the country confronts terrorism.

 

 

However, just as at the federal level, the effectiveness of these programs, as well as their cost, is difficult to determine. The Department of Homeland Security, for example, does not know how much money it spends each year on what are known as state fusion centers, which bring together and analyze information from various agencies within a state.

The total cost of the localized system is also hard to gauge. The DHS has given $31 billion in grants since 2003 to state and local governments for homeland security and to improve their ability to find and protect against terrorists, including $3.8 billion in 2010. At least four other federal departments also contribute to local efforts. But the bulk of the spending every year comes from state and local budgets that are too disparately recorded to aggregate into an overall total.

 

The Post findings paint a picture of a country at a crossroads, where long-standing privacy principles are under challenge by these new efforts to keep the nation safe.

The public face of this pivotal effort is Napolitano, the former governor of Arizona, which years ago built one of the strongest state intelligence organizations outside of New York to try to stop illegal immigration and drug importation.

Napolitano has taken her “See Something, Say Something” campaign far beyond the traffic signs that ask drivers coming into the nation’s capital for “Terror Tips” and to “Report Suspicious Activity.”

She recently enlisted the help of Wal-Mart, Amtrak, major sports leagues, hotel chains and metro riders. In her speeches, she compares the undertaking to the Cold War fight against communists.

“This represents a shift for our country,” she told New York City police officers and firefighters on the eve of the 9/11 anniversary this fall. “In a sense, this harkens back to when we drew on the tradition of civil defense and preparedness that predated today’s concerns.”

—-

From Afghanistan to Tennessee

On a recent night in Memphis, a patrol car rolled slowly through a parking lot in a run-down section of town. The military-grade infrared camera on its hood moved robotically from left to right, snapping digital images of one license plate after another and analyzing each almost instantly.

Suddenly, a red light flashed on the car’s screen along with the word “warrant.”

“Got a live one! Let’s do it,” an officer called out.

The streets of Memphis are a world away from the streets of Kabul, yet these days, the same types of technologies and techniques are being used in both places to identify and collect information about suspected criminals and terrorists.

The examples go far beyond Memphis.

* Hand-held, wireless fingerprint scanners were carried by U.S. troops during the insurgency in Iraq to register residents of entire neighborhoods. L-1 Identity Solutions is selling the same type of equipment to police departments to check motorists’ identities.

* In Arizona, the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Facial Recognition Unit, using a type of equipment prevalent in war zones, records 9,000 biometric digital mug shots a month.

* U.S. Customs and Border Protection flies General Atomics’ Predator drones along the Mexican and Canadian borders – the same kind of aircraft, equipped with real-time, full-motion video cameras, that has been used in wars in Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan to track the enemy.

The special operations units deployed overseas to kill the al-Qaeda leadership drove technological advances that are now expanding in use across the United States. On the front lines, those advances allowed the rapid fusing of biometric identification, captured computer records and cellphone numbers so troops could launch the next surprise raid.

Here at home, it’s the DHS that is enamored with collecting photos, video images and other personal information about U.S. residents in the hopes of teasing out terrorists.

The DHS helped Memphis buy surveillance cameras that monitor residents near high-crime housing projects, problematic street corners, and bridges and other critical infrastructure. It helped pay for license plate readers and defrayed some of the cost of setting up Memphis’s crime-analysis center. All together it has given Memphis $11 million since 2003 in homeland security grants, most of which the city has used to fight crime.

 

“We have got things now we didn’t have before,” said Memphis Police Department Director Larry Godwin, who has produced record numbers of arrests using all this new analysis and technology. “Some of them we can talk about. Some of them we can’t.”

One of the biggest advocates of Memphis’s data revolution is John Harvey, the police department’s technology specialist, whose computer systems are the civilian equivalent of the fancier special ops equipment used by the military.

Harvey collects any information he can pry out of government and industry. When officers were wasting time knocking on the wrong doors to serve warrants, he persuaded the local utility company to give him a daily update of the names and addresses of customers.

When he wanted more information about phones captured at crime scenes, he programmed a way to store all emergency 911 calls, which often include names and addresses to associate with phone numbers. He created another program to upload new crime reports every five minutes and mine them for the phone numbers of victims, suspects, witnesses and anyone else listed on them.

Now, instead of having to decide which license plate numbers to type into a computer console in the patrol car, an officer can simply drive around, and the automatic license plate reader on his hood captures the numbers on every vehicle nearby. If the officer pulls over a driver, instead of having to wait 20 minutes for someone back at the office to manually check records, he can use a hand-held device to instantly call up a mug shot, a Social Security number, the status of the driver’s license and any outstanding warrants.

The computer in the cruiser can tell an officer even more about who owns the vehicle, the owner’s name and address and criminal history, and who else with a criminal history might live at the same address.

Take a recent case of two officers with the hood-mounted camera equipment who stopped a man driving on a suspended license. One handcuffed him, and the other checked his own PDA. Based on the information that came up, the man was ordered downtown to pay a fine and released as the officers drove off to stop another car.

That wasn’t the end of it, though.

A record of that stop – and the details of every other arrest made that night, and every summons written – was automatically transferred to the Memphis Real Time Crime Center, a command center with three walls of streaming surveillance video and analysis capabilities that rival those of an Army command center.

There, the information would be geocoded on a map to produce a visual rendering of crime patterns. This information would help the crime intelligence analysts predict trends so the department could figure out what neighborhoods to swarm with officers and surveillance cameras.

But that was still not the end of it, because the fingerprints from the crime records would also go to the FBI’s data campus in Clarksburg, W.Va. There, fingerprints from across the United States are stored, along with others collected by American authorities from prisoners in Saudi Arabia and Yemen, Iraq and Afghanistan.

There are 96 million sets of fingerprints in Clarksburg, a volume that government officials view not as daunting but as an opportunity.

This year for the first time, the FBI, the DHS and the Defense Department are able to search each other’s fingerprint databases, said Myra Gray, head of the Defense Department’s Biometrics Identity Management Agency, speaking to an industry group recently. “Hopefully in the not-too-distant future,” she said, “our relationship with these federal agencies – along with state and local agencies – will be completely symbiotic.”

—-

The FBI’s ‘suspicious’ files

At the same time that the FBI is expanding its West Virginia database, it is building a vast repository controlled by people who work in a top-secret vault on the fourth floor of the J. Edgar Hoover FBI Building in Washington. This one stores the profiles of tens of thousands of Americans and legal residents who are not accused of any crime. What they have done is appear to be acting suspiciously to a town sheriff, a traffic cop or even a neighbor.

If the new Nationwide Suspicious Activity Reporting Initiative, or SAR, works as intended, the Guardian database may someday hold files forwarded by all police departments across the country in America’s continuing search for terrorists within its borders.

The effectiveness of this database depends, in fact, on collecting the identities of people who are not known criminals or terrorists – and on being able to quickly compile in-depth profiles of them.

 

“If we want to get to the point where we connect the dots, the dots have to be there,” said Richard A. McFeely, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Baltimore office.

In response to concerns that information in the database could be improperly used or released, FBI officials say anyone with access has been trained in privacy rules and the penalties for breaking them.

But not everyone is convinced. “It opens a door for all kinds of abuses,” said Michael German, a former FBI agent who now leads the American Civil Liberties Union’s campaign on national security and privacy matters. “How do we know there are enough controls?”

The government defines a suspicious activity as “observed behavior reasonably indicative of pre-operational planning related to terrorism or other criminal activity” related to terrorism.

State intelligence analysts and FBI investigators use the reports to determine whether a person is buying fertilizer to make a bomb or to plant tomatoes; whether she is plotting to poison a city’s drinking water or studying for a metallurgy test; whether, as happened on a Sunday morning in late September, the man snapping a picture of a ferry in the Newport Beach harbor in Southern California simply liked the way it looked or was plotting to blow it up.

Suspicious Activity Report N03821 says a local law enforcement officer observed “a suspicious subject . . . taking photographs of the Orange County Sheriff Department Fire Boat and the Balboa Ferry with a cellular phone camera.” The confidential report, marked “For Official Use Only,” noted that the subject next made a phone call, walked to his car and returned five minutes later to take more pictures. He was then met by another person, both of whom stood and “observed the boat traffic in the harbor.” Next another adult with two small children joined them, and then they all boarded the ferry and crossed the channel.

All of this information was forwarded to the Los Angeles fusion center for further investigation after the local officer ran information about the vehicle and its owner through several crime databases and found nothing.

Authorities would not say what happened to it from there, but there are several paths a suspicious activity report can take:

At the fusion center, an officer would decide to either dismiss the suspicious activity as harmless or forward the report to the nearest FBI terrorism unit for further investigation.

At that unit, it would immediately be entered into the Guardian database, at which point one of three things could happen:

The FBI could collect more information, find no connection to terrorism and mark the file closed, though leaving it in the database.

It could find a possible connection and turn it into a full-fledged case.

Or, as most often happens, it could make no specific determination, which would mean that Suspicious Activity Report N03821 would sit in limbo for as long as five years, during which time many other pieces of information about the man photographing a boat on a Sunday morning could be added to his file: employment, financial and residential histories; multiple phone numbers; audio files; video from the dashboard-mounted camera in the police cruiser at the harbor where he took pictures; and anything else in government or commercial databases “that adds value,” as the FBI agent in charge of the database described it.

That could soon include biometric data, if it existed; the FBI is working on a way to attach such information to files. Meanwhile, the bureau will also soon have software that allows local agencies to map all suspicious incidents in their jurisdiction.

The Defense Department is also interested in the database. It recently transferred 100 reports of suspicious behavior into the Guardian system, and over time it expects to add thousands more as it connects 8,000 military law enforcement personnel to an FBI portal that will allow them to send and review reports about people suspected of casing U.S. bases or targeting American personnel.

And the DHS has created a separate way for state and local authorities, private citizens, and businesses to submit suspicious activity reports to the FBI and to the department for analysis.

As of December, there were 161,948 suspicious activity files in the classified Guardian database, mostly leads from FBI headquarters and state field offices. Two years ago, the bureau set up an unclassified section of the database so state and local agencies could send in suspicious incident reports and review those submitted by their counterparts in other states. Some 890 state and local agencies have sent in 7,197 reports so far.

 

Of those, 103 have become full investigations that have resulted in at least five arrests, the FBI said. There have been no convictions yet. An additional 365 reports have added information to ongoing cases.

But most remain in the uncertain middle, which is why within the FBI and other intelligence agencies there is much debate about the effectiveness of the bottom-up SAR approach, as well as concern over the privacy implications of retaining so much information on U.S. citizens and residents who have not been charged with anything.

The vast majority of terrorism leads in the United States originate from confidential FBI sources and from the bureau’s collaboration with federal intelligence agencies, which mainly work overseas. Occasionally a stop by a local police officer has sparked an investigation. Evidence comes from targeted FBI surveillance and undercover operations, not from information and analysis generated by state fusion centers about people acting suspiciously.

“It’s really resource-inefficient,” said Philip Mudd, a 20-year CIA counterterrorism expert and a top FBI national security official until he retired nine months ago. “If I were to have a dialogue with the country about this . . . it would be about not only how we chase the unknowns, but do you want to do suspicious activity reports across the country? . . . Anyone who is not at least suspected of doing something criminal should not be in a database.”

Charles Allen, a longtime senior CIA official who then led the DHS’s intelligence office until 2009, said some senior people in the intelligence community are skeptical that SARs are an effective way to find terrorists. “It’s more likely that other kinds of more focused efforts by local police will gain you the information that you need about extremist activities,” he said.

The DHS can point to some successes: Last year the Colorado fusion center turned up information on Najibullah Zazi, an Afghan-born U.S. resident planning to bomb the New York subway system. In 2007, a Florida fusion center provided the vehicle ownership history used to identify and arrest an Egyptian student who later pleaded guilty to providing material support to terrorism, in this case transporting explosives.

“Ninety-nine percent doesn’t pan out or lead to anything” said Richard Lambert Jr., the special agent in charge of the FBI’s Knoxville office. “But we’re happy to wade through these things.”

—-

Expert training?

Ramon Montijo has taught classes on terrorism and Islam to law enforcement officers all over the country.

“Alabama, Colorado, Vermont,” said Montijo, a former Army Special Forces sergeant and Los Angeles Police Department investigator who is now a private security consultant. “California, Texas and Missouri,” he continued.

What he tells them is always the same, he said: Most Muslims in the United States want to impose sharia law here.

“They want to make this world Islamic. The Islamic flag will fly over the White House – not on my watch!” he said. “My job is to wake up the public, and first, the first responders.”

With so many local agencies around the country being asked to help catch terrorists, it often falls to sheriffs or state troopers to try to understand the world of terrorism. They aren’t FBI agents, who have years of on-the-job and classroom training.

Instead, they are often people like Lacy Craig, who was a police dispatcher before she became an intelligence analyst at Idaho’s fusion center, or the detectives in Minnesota, Michigan and Arkansas who can talk at length about the lineage of gangs or the signs of a crystal meth addict.

Now each of them is a go-to person on terrorism as well.

“The CIA used to train analysts forever before they graduated to be a real analyst,” said Allen, the former top CIA and DHS official. “Today we take former law enforcement officers and we call them intelligence officers, and that’s not right, because they have not received any training on intelligence analysis.”

 

State fusion center officials say their analysts are getting better with time. “There was a time when law enforcement didn’t know much about drugs. This is no different,” said Steven W. Hewitt, who runs the Tennessee fusion center, considered one of the best in the country. “Are we experts at the level of [the National Counterterrorism Center]? No. Are we developing an expertise? Absolutely.”

But how they do that is usually left up to the local police departments themselves. In their desire to learn more about terrorism, many departments are hiring their own trainers. Some are self-described experts whose extremist views are considered inaccurate and harmful by the FBI and others in the intelligence community

Like Montijo, Walid Shoebat, a onetime Muslim who converted to Christianity, also lectures to local police. He too believes that most Muslims seek to impose sharia law in the United States. To prevent this, he said in an interview, he warns officers that “you need to look at the entire pool of Muslims in a community.”

When Shoebat spoke to the first annual South Dakota Fusion Center Conference in Sioux Falls this June, he told them to monitor Muslim student groups and local mosques and, if possible, tap their phones. “You can find out a lot of information that way,” he said.

A book expanding on what Shoebat and Montijo believe has just been published by the Center for Security Policy, a Washington-based neoconservative think tank. “Shariah: The Threat to America” describes what its authors call a “stealth jihad” that must be thwarted before it’s too late.

The book’s co-authors include such notables as former CIA director R. James Woolsey and former deputy undersecretary of defense for intelligence Lt. Gen. William G. Boykin, along with the center’s director, a longtime activist. They write that most mosques in the United States already have been radicalized, that most Muslim social organizations are fronts for violent jihadists and that Muslims who practice sharia law seek to impose it in this country.

Frank Gaffney Jr., director of the center, said his team has spoken widely, including to many law enforcement forums.

“Members of our team have been involved in training programs for several years now, many of which have been focused on local law enforcement intelligence, homeland security, state police, National Guard units and the like,” Gaffney said. “We’re seeing a considerable ramping-up of interest in getting this kind of training.”

Government terrorism experts call the views expressed in the center’s book inaccurate and counterproductive. They say the DHS should increase its training of local police, using teachers who have evidence-based viewpoints.

DHS spokeswoman Amy Kudwa said the department does not maintain a list of terrorism experts but is working on guidelines for local authorities wrestling with the topic.

So far, the department has trained 1,391 local law enforcement officers in analyzing public information and 400 in analytic thinking and writing skills. Kudwa said the department also offers counterterrorism training through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which this year enrolled 94 people in a course called “Advanced Criminal Intelligence Analysis to Prevent Terrorism.”

—-

A lack of useful information

The DHS also provides local agencies a daily flow of information bulletins.

These reports are meant to inform agencies about possible terror threats. But some officials say they deliver a never-ending stream of information that is vague, alarmist and often useless. “It’s like a garage in your house you keep throwing junk into until you can’t park your car in it,” says Michael Downing, deputy chief of counterterrorism and special operations for the Los Angeles Police Department.

A review of nearly 1,000 DHS reports dating back to 2003 and labeled “For Official Use Only” underscores Downing’s description. Typical is one from May 24, 2010, titled “Infrastructure Protection Note: Evolving Threats to the Homeland.”

 

It tells officials to operate “under the premise that other operatives are in the country and could advance plotting with little or no warning.” Its list of vulnerable facilities seems to include just about everything: “Commercial Facilities, Government Facilities, Banking and Financial and Transportation . . .”

Bart R. Johnson, who heads the DHS’s intelligence and analysis office, defended such reports, saying that threat reporting has “grown and matured and become more focused.” The bulletins can’t be more specific, he said, because they must be written at the unclassified level.

Recently, the International Association of Chiefs of Police agreed that the information they were receiving had become “more timely and relevant” over the past year.

Downing, however, said the reports would be more helpful if they at least assessed threats within a specific state’s boundaries.

States have tried to do that on their own, but with mixed, and at times problematic, results.

In 2009, for instance, after the DHS and the FBI sent out several ambiguous reports about threats to mass-transit systems and sports and entertainment venues, the New Jersey Regional Operations Intelligence Center’s Threat Analysis Program added its own information. “New Jersey has a large mass-transit infrastructure,” its report warned, and “an NFL stadium and NHL/NBA arenas, a soccer stadium, and several concert venues that attract large crowds.”

In Virginia, the state’s fusion center published a terrorism threat assessment in 2009 naming historically black colleges as potential hubs for terrorism.

From 2005 to 2007, the Maryland State Police went even further, infiltrating and labeling as terrorists local groups devoted to human rights, antiwar causes and bike lanes.

And in Pennsylvania this year, a local contractor hired to write intelligence bulletins filled them with information about lawful meetings as varied as Pennsylvania Tea Party Patriots Coalition gatherings, antiwar protests and an event at which environmental activists dressed up as Santa Claus and handed out coal-filled stockings.

—-

‘We have our own terrorists’

Even if the information were better, it might not make a difference for the simplest of reasons: In many cities and towns across the country, there is just not enough terrorism-related work to do.

In Utah on one recent day, one of five intelligence analysts in the state’s fusion center was writing a report about the rise in teenage overdoses of an over-the-counter drug. Another was making sure the visiting president of Senegal had a safe trip. Another had just helped a small town track down two people who were selling magazine subscriptions and pocketing the money themselves.

In the Colorado Information Analysis Center, some investigators were following terrorism leads. Others were looking into illegal Craigslist postings and online “World of Warcraft” gamers.

The vast majority of fusion centers across the country have transformed themselves into analytical hubs for all crimes and are using federal grants, handed out in the name of homeland security, to combat everyday offenses.

This is happening because, after 9/11, local law enforcement groups did what every agency and private company did in Top Secret America: They followed the money.

The DHS helped the Memphis Police Department, for example, purchase 90 surveillance cameras, including 13 that monitor bridges and a causeway. It helped buy the fancy screens on the walls of the Real Time Crime Center, as well as radios, robotic surveillance equipment, a mobile command center and three bomb-sniffing dogs. All came in the name of port security and protection to critical infrastructure.

Since there hasn’t been a solid terrorism case in Memphis yet, the equipment’s greatest value has been to help drive down city crime. Where the mobile surveillance cameras are set up, criminals scatter, said Lt. Mark Rewalt, who, on a recent Saturday night, scanned the city from an altitude of 1,000 feet.

Flying in a police helicopter, Rewalt pointed out some of the cameras the DHS has funded. They are all over the city, in mall parking lots, in housing projects, at popular street hang-outs. “Cameras are what’s happening now,” he marveled.

Meanwhile, another post-9/11 unit in Tennessee has had even less terrorism-related work to do.

The Tennessee National Guard 45th Weapons of Mass Destruction Civil Support Team, one of at least 50 such units around the country, was created to respond to what officials still believe is the inevitable release of chemical, biological or radiological material by terrorists.

The unit’s 22 hazardous-materials personnel have the best emergency equipment in the state. A fleet of navy-blue vehicles – command, response, detection and tactical operations trucks – is kept polished and ready to roll in a garage at the armory in Smyrna.

 

The unit practices WMD scenarios constantly. But in real life, the crew uses the equipment very little: twice a year at NASCAR races in nearby Bristol to patrol for suspicious packages. Other than that, said Capt. Matt Hayes, several times a year they respond to hoaxes.

The fact that there has not been much terrorism to worry about is not evident on the Tennessee fusion center’s Web site. Click on the incident map, and the state appears to be under attack.

Red icons of explosions dot Tennessee, along with blinking exclamation marks and flashing skulls. The map is labeled: “Terrorism Events and Other Suspicious Activity.

But if you roll over the icons, the explanations that pop up have nothing to do with major terrorist plots: “Johnson City police are investigating three ‘bottle bombs’ found at homes over the past three days,” one description read recently. “. . . The explosives were made from plastic bottles with something inside that reacted chemically and caused the bottles to burst.”

Another told a similar story: “The Scott County Courthouse is currently under evacuation after a bomb threat was called in Friday morning. Update: Authorities completed their sweep . . . and have called off the evacuation.”

Nine years after 9/11, this map is part of the alternative geography that is Top Secret America, where millions of people are assigned to help stop terrorism. Memphis Police Director Godwin is one of them, and he has his own version of what that means in a city where there have been 86 murders so far this year.

“We have our own terrorists, and they are taking lives every day,” Godwin said. “No, we don’t have suicide bombers – not yet. But you need to remain vigilant and realize how vulnerable you can be if you let up.”

Staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this story.


Deadly Medicine

In Uncategorized on December 20, 2010 at 11:27 am

Oldspeak: “The fruits of privatized, profit-driven medicine: Prescription drugs kill 300% more Americans than illegal drugs. Hundreds of thousands of dead Americans a year. Exported human experimentation on sick Russians, homeless Poles, slum-dwelling Chinese and desperately poor Africans, usually without their consent and lax industry created safety protocols, where the FDA has no ability to regulate. Big Pharma has become the biggest defrauder of the U.S. Gov’t. But pot is illegal. Why are prescription and far more deadly drugs subsidized, while natural ones are stigmatized, criminalized and banned?

From Donald J. Barlett & James B. Steele @ Vanity Fair:


You wouldn’t think the cities had much in common. Iaşi, with a population of 320,000, lies in the Moldavian region of Romania. Mégrine is a town of 24,000 in northern Tunisia, on the Mediterranean Sea. Tartu, Estonia, with a population of 100,000, is the oldest city in the Baltic States; it is sometimes called “the Athens on the Emajõgi.” Shenyang, in northeastern China, is a major industrial center and transportation hub with a population of 7.2 million.

These places are not on anyone’s Top 10 list of travel destinations. But the advance scouts of the pharmaceutical industry have visited all of them, and scores of similar cities and towns, large and small, in far-flung corners of the planet. They have gone there to find people willing to undergo clinical trials for new drugs, and thereby help persuade the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to declare the drugs safe and effective for Americans. It’s the next big step in globalization, and there’s good reason to wish that it weren’t.

Once upon a time, the drugs Americans took to treat chronic diseases, clear up infections, improve their state of mind, and enhance their sexual vitality were tested primarily either in the United States (the vast majority of cases) or in Europe. No longer. As recently as 1990, according to the inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services, a mere 271 trials were being conducted in foreign countries of drugs intended for American use. By 2008, the number had risen to 6,485—an increase of more than 2,000 percent. A database being compiled by the National Institutes of Health has identified 58,788 such trials in 173 countries outside the United States since 2000. In 2008 alone, according to the inspector general’s report, 80 percent of the applications submitted to the F.D.A. for new drugs contained data from foreign clinical trials. Increasingly, companies are doing 100 percent of their testing offshore. The inspector general found that the 20 largest U.S.-based pharmaceutical companies now conducted “one-third of their clinical trials exclusively at foreign sites.” All of this is taking place when more drugs than ever—some 2,900 different drugs for some 4,600 different conditions—are undergoing clinical testing and vying to come to market.

Some medical researchers question whether the results of clinical trials conducted in certain other countries are relevant to Americans in the first place. They point out that people in impoverished parts of the world, for a variety of reasons, may metabolize drugs differently from the way Americans do. They note that the prevailing diseases in other countries, such as malaria and tuberculosis, can skew the outcome of clinical trials. But from the point of view of the drug companies, it’s easy to see why moving clinical trials overseas is so appealing. For one thing, it’s cheaper to run trials in places where the local population survives on only a few dollars a day. It’s also easier to recruit patients, who often believe they are being treated for a disease rather than, as may be the case, just getting a placebo as part of an experiment. And it’s easier to find what the industry calls “drug-naïve” patients: people who are not being treated for any disease and are not currently taking any drugs, and indeed may never have taken any—the sort of people who will almost certainly yield better test results. (For some subjects overseas, participation in a clinical trial may be their first significant exposure to a doctor.) Regulations in many foreign countries are also less stringent, if there are any regulations at all. The risk of litigation is negligible, in some places nonexistent. Ethical concerns are a figure of speech. Finally—a significant plus for the drug companies—the F.D.A. does so little monitoring that the companies can pretty much do and say what they want.

Consent by Thumbprint

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.

While Americans may be unfamiliar with the names of foreign cities where clinical trials have been conducted, many of the drugs being tested are staples of their medicine cabinets. One example is Celebrex, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug that has been aggressively promoted in television commercials for a decade. Its manufacturer, Pfizer, the world’s largest drug company, has spent more than a billion dollars promoting its use as a pain remedy for arthritis and other conditions, including menstrual cramps. The National Institutes of Health maintains a record of most—but by no means all—drug trials inside and outside the United States. The database counts 290 studies involving Celebrex. Companies are not required to report—and do not report—all studies conducted overseas. According to the database, of the 290 trials for Celebrex, 183 took place in the United States, meaning, one would assume, that 107 took place in other countries. But an informal, country-by-country accounting by VANITY FAIR turned up no fewer than 207 Celebrex trials in at least 36 other countries. They ranged from 1 each in Estonia, Croatia, and Lithuania to 6 each in Costa Rica, Colombia, and Russia, to 8 in Mexico, 9 in China, and 10 in Brazil. But even these numbers understate the extent of the foreign trials. For example, the database lists five Celebrex trials in Ukraine, but just “one” of those trials involved studies in 11 different Ukrainian cities.

The Celebrex story does not have a happy ending. First, it was disclosed that patients taking the drug were more likely to suffer heart attacks and strokes than those who took older and cheaper painkillers. Then it was alleged that Pfizer had suppressed a study calling attention to these very problems. (The company denied that the study was undisclosed and insisted that it “acted responsibly in sharing this information in a timely manner with the F.D.A.”) Soon afterward the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine reported an array of additional negative findings. Meanwhile, Pfizer was promoting Celebrex for use with Alzheimer’s patients, holding out the possibility that the drug would slow the progression of dementia. It didn’t. Sales of Celebrex reached $3.3 billion in 2004, and then began to quickly drop.

“Rescue Countries”

One big factor in the shift of clinical trials to foreign countries is a loophole in F.D.A. regulations: if studies in the United States suggest that a drug has no benefit, trials from abroad can often be used in their stead to secure F.D.A. approval. There’s even a term for countries that have shown themselves to be especially amenable when drug companies need positive data fast: they’re called “rescue countries.” Rescue countries came to the aid of Ketek, the first of a new generation of widely heralded antibiotics to treat respiratory-tract infections. Ketek was developed in the 1990s by Aventis Pharmaceuticals, now Sanofi-Aventis. In 2004—on April Fools’ Day, as it happens—the F.D.A. certified Ketek as safe and effective. The F.D.A.’s decision was based heavily on the results of studies in Hungary, Morocco, Tunisia, and Turkey.

The approval came less than one month after a researcher in the United States was sentenced to 57 months in prison for falsifying her own Ketek data. Dr. Anne Kirkman-Campbell, of Gadsden, Alabama, seemingly never met a person she couldn’t sign up to participate in a drug trial. She enrolled more than 400 volunteers, about 1 percent of the town’s adult population, including her entire office staff. In return, she collected $400 a head from Sanofi-Aventis. It later came to light that the data from at least 91 percent of her patients was falsified. (Kirkman-Campbell was not the only troublesome Aventis researcher. Another physician, in charge of the third-largest Ketek trial site, was addicted to cocaine. The same month his data was submitted to the F.D.A. he was arrested while holding his wife hostage at gunpoint.) Nonetheless, on the basis of overseas trials, Ketek won approval.

As the months ticked by, and the number of people taking the drug climbed steadily, the F.D.A. began to get reports of adverse reactions, including serious liver damage that sometimes led to death. The F.D.A.’s leadership remained steadfast in its support of the drug, but criticism by the agency’s own researchers eventually leaked out (a very rare occurrence in this close-knit, buttoned-up world). The critics were especially concerned about an ongoing trial in which 4,000 infants and children, some as young as six months, were recruited in more than a dozen countries for an experiment to assess Ketek’s effectiveness in treating ear infections and tonsillitis. The trial had been sanctioned over the objections of the F.D.A.’s own reviewers. One of them argued that the trial never should have been allowed to take place—that it was “inappropriate and unethical because it exposed children to harm without evidence of benefits.” In 2006, after inquiries from Congress, the F.D.A. asked Sanofi-Aventis to halt the trial. Less than a year later, one day before the start of a congressional hearing on the F.D.A.’s approval of the drug, the agency suddenly slapped a so-called black-box warning on the label of Ketek, restricting its use. (A black-box warning is the most serious step the F.D.A. can take short of removing a drug from the market.) By then the F.D.A. had received 93 reports of severe adverse reactions to Ketek, resulting in 12 deaths.

During the congressional hearings, lawmakers heard from former F.D.A. scientists who had criticized their agency’s oversight of the Ketek trials and the drug-approval process. One was Dr. David Ross, who had been the F.D.A.’s chief reviewer of new drugs for 10 years, and was now the national director of clinical public-health programs for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. When he explained his objections, he offered a litany of reasons that could be applied to any number of other drugs: “Because F.D.A. broke its own rules and allowed Ketek on the market. Because dozens of patients have died or suffered needlessly. Because F.D.A. allowed Ketek’s maker to experiment with it on children over reviewers’ protests. Because F.D.A. ignored warnings about fraud. And because F.D.A. used data it knew were false to reassure the public about Ketek’s safety.”

Trials and Error

To have an effective regulatory system you need a clear chain of command—you need to know who is responsible to whom, all the way up and down the line. There is no effective chain of command in modern American drug testing. Around the time that drugmakers began shifting clinical trials abroad, in the 1990s, they also began to contract out all phases of development and testing, putting them in the hands of for-profit companies. It used to be that clinical trials were done mostly by academic researchers in universities and teaching hospitals, a system that, however imperfect, generally entailed certain minimum standards. The free market has changed all that. Today it is mainly independent contractors who recruit potential patients both in the U.S. and—increasingly—overseas. They devise the rules for the clinical trials, conduct the trials themselves, prepare reports on the results, ghostwrite technical articles for medical journals, and create promotional campaigns. The people doing the work on the front lines are not independent scientists. They are wage-earning technicians who are paid to gather a certain number of human beings; sometimes sequester and feed them; administer certain chemical inputs; and collect samples of urine and blood at regular intervals. The work looks like agribusiness, not research.

What began as a mom-and-pop operation has grown into a vast army of formal “contract-research organizations” that generate annual revenue of $20 billion. They can be found conducting trials in every part of the world. By far the largest is Quintiles Transnational, based in Durham, North Carolina. It offers the services of 23,000 employees in 60 countries, and claims that it has “helped develop or commercialize all of the top 30 best-selling drugs.”

Quintiles is privately owned—its investors include two of the U.S.’s top private-equity firms. Other private contractors are public companies, their stock traded on Wall Street. Pharmaceutical Product Development (P.P.D.), a full-service medical contractor based in Wilmington, North Carolina, is a public company with 10,500 employees. It, too, has conducted clinical trials all around the world. In fact, it was involved in the clinical trials for Ketek—a P.P.D. research associate, Ann Marie Cisneros, had been assigned to monitor Dr. Anne Kirkman-Campbell’s testing in Alabama. Cisneros later told the congressional investigating committee that Kirkman-Campbell had indeed engaged in fraud. “But what the court that sentenced her did not know,” Cisneros said, was that “Aventis was not a victim of this fraud.” Cisneros said she had reported her findings of fraud to her employer, P.P.D., and also to Aventis. She told the congressional committee, “What brings me here today is my disbelief at Aventis’s statements that it did not know that fraud was being committed. Mr. Chairman, I knew it, P.P.D. knew it, and Aventis knew it.” Following her testimony the company released a statement saying it regretted the violations that occurred during the study but was not aware of the fraud until after the data was submitted to the F.D.A.

The F.D.A., the federal agency charged with oversight of the food and drugs that Americans consume, is rife with conflicts of interest. Doctors who insist the drug you take is perfectly safe may be collecting hundreds of thousands of dollars from the company selling the drug. (ProPublica, an independent, nonprofit news organization that is compiling an ongoing catalogue of pharmaceutical-company payments to physicians, has identified 17,000 doctors who have collected speaking and consulting fees, including nearly 400 who have received $100,000 or more since 2009.) Quite often, the F.D.A. never bothers to check for interlocking financial interests. In one study, the agency failed to document the financial interests of applicants in 31 percent of applications for new-drug approval. Even when the agency or the company knew of a potential conflict of interest, neither acted to guard against bias in the test results.

Because of the deference shown to drug companies by the F.D.A.—and also by Congress, which has failed to impose any meaningful regulation—there is no mandatory public record of the results of drug trials conducted in foreign countries. Nor is there any mandatory public oversight of ongoing trials. If one company were to test an experimental drug that killed more patients than it helped, and kept the results secret, another company might unknowingly repeat the same experiment years later, with the same results. Data is made available to the public on a purely voluntary basis. Its accuracy is unknown. The oversight that does exist often is shot through with the kinds of ethical conflicts that Wall Street would admire. The economic incentives for doctors in poor countries to heed the wishes of the drug companies are immense. An executive at a contract-research organization told the anthropologist Adriana Petryna, author of the book When Experiments Travel: “In Russia, a doctor makes two hundred dollars a month, and he is going to make five thousand dollars per Alzheimer’s patient” that he signs up. Even when the most flagrant conflicts are disclosed, penalties are minimal. In truth, the same situation exists in the United States. There’s just more of a chance here, though not a very large one, that adverse outcomes and tainted data will become public. When the pharmaceutical industry insists that its drugs have been tested overseas in accordance with F.D.A. standards, this may be true—but should provide little assurance.

The F.D.A. gets its information on foreign trials almost entirely from the companies themselves. It conducts little or no independent research. The investigators contracted by the pharmaceutical companies to manage clinical trials are left pretty much on their own. In 2008 the F.D.A. inspected just 1.9 percent of trial sites inside the United States to ensure that they were complying with basic standards. Outside the country, it inspected even fewer trial sites—seven-tenths of 1 percent. In 2008, the F.D.A. visited only 45 of the 6,485 locations where foreign drug trials were being conducted.

The pharmaceutical industry dismisses concerns about the reliability of clinical trials conducted in developing countries, but the potential dangers were driven home to Canadian researchers in 2007. While reviewing data from a clinical trial in Iran for a new heart drug, they discovered that many of the results were fraudulent. “It was bad, so bad we thought the data was not salvageable,” Dr. Gordon Guyatt, part of the research group at McMaster University in Hamilton, told Canada’s National Post.

In addition to monitoring trials abroad, which it does not really do, the F.D.A. is responsible for inspecting drug-manufacturing plants in other countries, which it also does not really do. In 2007 and 2008, hundreds of patients taking the blood thinner heparin, which among other purposes is used to prevent blood clots during surgery and dialysis, developed serious allergic reactions as a result of a contaminant introduced at a Chinese manufacturing facility. It took months for the F.D.A., its Chinese counterpart, and Baxter International, the pharmaceutical company that distributed the drug, to track the source of contamination to Changzhou, a city of 3.5 million on the Yangtze River.

The delay was perhaps understandable, given the manufacturing process. The raw material for Baxter’s heparin comes from China’s many small pig farms. To be precise, it’s derived from the mucous membranes of the intestines of slaughtered pigs; the membranes are mixed together and cooked, often in unregulated family workplaces. By the time the source of the contaminant was pinpointed, many more patients in the United States had experienced severe reactions, and as many as 200 had died. It later turned out that the F.D.A. had indeed inspected a Chinese plant—but it was the wrong one. The federal regulators had confused the names.

The good news was that, in this instance, the F.D.A. at least knew which country the heparin had come from. The bad news is that it does not always know where clinical trials are being conducted, or even the names or types of drugs being tested, or the purpose for which they will be prescribed once approved. Companies may withhold the foreign test data until they actually submit the application to the F.D.A. for approval. By then the agency has lost the ability to see whether the trials were managed according to acceptable standards, and whether the data collected was manipulated or fabricated.

$350 per Child

If the globalization of clinical trials for adult medications has drawn little attention, foreign trials for children’s drugs have attracted even less. The Argentinean province of Santiago del Estero, with a population of nearly a million, is one of the country’s poorest. In 2008 seven babies participating in drug testing in the province suffered what the U.S. clinical-trials community refers to as “an adverse event”: they died. The deaths occurred as the children took part in a medical trial to test the safety of a new vaccine, Synflorix, to prevent pneumonia, ear infections, and other pneumococcal diseases. Developed by GlaxoSmithKline, the world’s fourth-largest pharmaceutical company in terms of global prescription-drug sales, the new vaccine was intended to compete against an existing vaccine. In all, at least 14 infants enrolled in clinical trials for the drug died during the testing. Their parents, some illiterate, had their children signed up without understanding that they were taking part in an experiment. Local doctors who persuaded parents to enroll their babies in the trial reportedly received $350 per child. The two lead investigators contracted by Glaxo were fined by the Argentinean government. So was Glaxo, though the company maintained that the mortality rate of the children “did not exceed the rate in the regions and countries participating in the study.” No independent group conducted an investigation or performed autopsies. As it happens, the brother of the lead investigator in Santiago del Estero was the Argentinean provincial health minister.

In New Delhi, 49 babies died at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences while taking part in clinical trials over a 30-month period. They were given a variety of new drugs to treat everything from high blood pressure to chronic focal encephalitis, a brain inflammation that causes epileptic seizures and other neurological problems. The blood-pressure drugs had never before been given to anyone under 18. The editor of an Indian medical journal said it was obvious that the trials were intended to extend patent life in Western countries “with no consequence or benefit for India, using Indian children as guinea pigs.” In all, 4,142 children were enrolled in the studies, two-thirds of them less than one year old. But the head of the pediatrics department at the All India Institute maintained that “none of the deaths was due to the medication or interventions used in clinical trials.”

For years, American physicians gave anti-psychotic medicines to children “off label,” meaning that they wrote prescriptions based on testing for adults, sometimes even for different conditions. That didn’t work out so well for the children, who, when it comes to medicine, really are not just little adults. To provide the pharmaceutical industry with an incentive to conduct clinical trials on children’s versions of adult drugs, Congress in 1997 enacted legislation, known as the Pediatric Exclusivity Provision, extending the patent life of certain drugs by six months. It worked so well that the industry has, in the ensuing years, been able to put younger and younger children on more and more drugs, pocketing an extra $14 billion. Between 1999 and 2007, for instance, the use of anti-psychotic medications on children between the ages of two and five more than doubled.

A study of 174 trials under the Pediatric Exclusivity Provision found that 9 percent of them did not report the location or number of sites of the clinical trials. Of those that did, two-thirds had been conducted in at least one country outside the United States, and 11 percent were conducted entirely outside the United States. Of the 79 trials with more than 100 subjects participating, 87 percent enrolled patients outside the United States. As is the case with adult studies, many children’s trials conducted abroad are neither reported nor catalogued on any publicly accessible government database. There is no public record of their existence or their results.

In the mid-90s, Glaxo conducted clinical trials on the antidepressant Paxil in the United States, Europe, and South America. Paxil is a member of a class of drugs called selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors. The class includes Zoloft, Prozac, and Lexapro. In the United Kingdom, Paxil is sold as Seroxat. The clinical trials showed that the drug had no beneficial effect on adolescents; some of the trials indicated that the placebo was more effective than the drug itself. But Glaxo neglected to share this information with consumers; annual sales of the drug had reached $5 billion in 2003. In an internal document obtained by the Canadian Medical Association Journal, the company emphasized how important it was to “effectively manage the dissemination of these data in order to minimize any potential negative commercial impact.” The memo went on to warn that “it would be commercially unacceptable to include a statement that efficacy had not been demonstrated.” After the document was released a Glaxo spokesperson said that the “memo draws an inappropriate conclusion and is not consistent with the facts.”

“Smoke and Mirrors”

It may be just a coincidence, but as controversy swirls around new drugs, and as the F.D.A. continues to slap medicines with new warning labels—especially the black-box warnings that indicate the most serious potential reactions—most of the problematic drugs have all undergone testing outside the United States. Clinical-trial representatives working for GlaxoSmithKline went to Iaşi, Romania, to test Avandia, a diabetes drug, on the local population. Glaxo representatives also showed up in other cities in Romania—Bucureşti, Cluj-Napoca, Craiova, and Timişoara—as well as multiple cities in Latvia, Ukraine, Slovakia, the Russian Federation, Poland, Hungary, Lithuania, Estonia, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, France, and the United Kingdom. That was for the largest of the Avandia clinical trials. But there have been scores of others, all seeking to prove that the drug is safe and effective. Some took place before the drug was approved by the F.D.A. Others were “post-marketing” studies, done after the fact, as the company cast about for ways to come up with more positive results so it could expand Avandia’s use for other treatments. Based on the initial evaluations, Avandia was expected to—and did—become another Glaxo multi-billion-dollar best-seller.

While sales soared, so, too, did reports of adverse reactions—everything from macular edema to liver injury, from bone fractures to congestive heart failure. In 2009 the Institute for Safe Medication Practices, a Pennsylvania-based nonprofit group that monitors the prescription-drug field, linked the deaths of 1,354 people to Avandia, based on reports filed with the F.D.A. Studies also concluded that people taking the drug had an increased risk of developing heart disease, one of the very conditions that doctors treating diabetics hope to forestall. The risk was so high that worried doctors inside and outside the F.D.A. sought to have the drug removed from the market, an incredibly difficult task no matter how problematic the medicine. As always, the F.D.A. was late to the party. In 2008 the American Diabetes Association and the European Association for the Study of Diabetes had warned against using Avandia. The Saudi Arabian drug-regulatory agency yanked it from the market, and the Indian government asked Glaxo to halt 19 of its Avandia trials in that country. In September 2010 the European Medicines Agency pulled Avandia from the shelves all across Europe. The F.D.A. still could not bring itself to take decisive action. This even though the F.D.A. knew that Glaxo had withheld critical safety information concerning the increased risk of heart attacks, and the F.D.A. itself had estimated that the drug had caused more than 83,000 heart attacks between 1999 and 2007. The agency settled for imposing new restrictions on the availability of the drug in the United States. Glaxo released a statement saying that it “continues to believe that Avandia is an important treatment for patients with type 2 diabetes,” but that it would “voluntarily cease promotion of Avandia in all the countries in which it operates.”

The Avandia case and others like it have prompted the U.S. Justice Department to mount an investigation under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. While it is legal for doctors in this country to accept money from drug companies for acting as consultants, this is not the case abroad, where doctors often are government employees, and such payments can be considered bribes. There are other legal issues. So far, Glaxo has paid out more than $1 billion to settle lawsuits arising from claims against Avandia and other drugs. The Senate Finance Committee calculates that, since May 2004, seven drug companies have paid out more than $7 billion in fines and penalties stemming from unlawful drug dealings. Pfizer paid the largest such fine in history—$2.3 billion for promoting off-label uses of the arthritis drug Bextra.

In theory, pharmaceutical companies are barred from selling a drug for any purpose other than the one that the F.D.A. has approved on the basis of clinical testing. But the reality is different. The minute a drug receives the green light from the F.D.A. for a specific treatment, the sponsoring company and its allies begin campaigns to make it available for other purposes or for other types of patients. The antidepressant Paxil was tested on adults but sold off-label to treat children. Seroquel, an anti-psychotic, was marketed as a treatment for depression. Physicians, often on retainer from pharmaceutical companies, are free to prescribe a drug for any reason if they entertain a belief that it will work. This practice turns the population at large into unwitting guinea pigs whose adverse reactions may go unreported or even unrecognized.

To secure the F.D.A.’s approval for Seroquel, which ultimately would go to treat schizophrenia, bipolar disorders, and manic episodes associated with bipolar disorder, AstraZeneca, the fifth-largest pharmaceutical company, conducted clinical trials across Asia, Europe, and the United States. Among the sites: Shenyang and more than a dozen other cities in China, and multiple cities in Bulgaria, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Croatia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Poland, the Russian Federation, Serbia, Ukraine, and Taiwan. The F.D.A. initially approved the drug for the treatment of schizophrenia. But while schizophrenia may have opened the door, off-label sales opened the cash register. Money poured in by the billions as AstraZeneca promoted the drug for the treatment of any number of other conditions. It was prescribed for children with autism-spectrum disorders and retardation as well as for elderly Alzheimer’s patients in nursing homes. The company touted the drug for treatment of aggression, anxiety, anger-management issues, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, dementia, and sleeplessness. Up to 70 percent of the prescriptions for Seroquel were written for a purpose other than the one for which it had been approved, and sales rose to more than $4 billion a year.

It turned out, however, that AstraZeneca had been less than candid about the drug’s side effects. One of the most troubling: patients often gained weight and developed diabetes. This meant a new round of drugs to treat conditions caused by Seroquel. In an internal e-mail from 1997 discussing a study comparing Seroquel with an older anti-psychotic drug, Haldol, a company executive praised the work of the project physician, saying she had done a great “smoke-and-mirrors job,” which “should minimize (and dare I venture to suggest) could put a positive spin (in terms of safety) on this cursed study.” After the e-mail was disclosed, in February 2009, the company said that the document cannot “obscure the fact that AstraZeneca acted responsibly and appropriately as it developed and marketed” the drug. In April, AstraZeneca reached a half-billion-dollar settlement with the federal government over its marketing of Seroquel. The U.S. attorney in Philadelphia, where the settlement was filed, declared that the company had “turned patients into guinea pigs in an unsupervised drug test.” Meanwhile, the company was facing more than 25,000 product-liability lawsuits filed by people who contended the drug had caused their diabetes.

Death Toll

The only people who seem to care about the surge of clinical trials in foreign countries are the medical ethicists—not historically a powerhouse when it comes to battling the drug companies. A team of physician-researchers from Duke University, writing last year in the New England Journal of Medicine, observed that “this phenomenon raises important questions about the economics and ethics of clinical research and the translation of trial results to clinical practice: Who benefits from the globalization of clinical trials? What is the potential for exploitation of research subjects? Are trial results accurate and valid, and can they be extrapolated to other settings?” The Duke team noted that, in some places, “financial compensation for research participation may exceed participants’ annual wages, and participation in a clinical trial may provide the only access to care” for those taking part in the trial. In 2007, residents of a homeless shelter in Grudziadz, Poland, received as little as $2 to take part in a flu-vaccine experiment. The subjects thought they were getting a regular flu shot. They were not. At least 20 of them died. The same distorting economic pressures exist for local hospitals or doctors, who may collect hundreds of dollars for every patient they enroll. In theory, a federal institutional review board is supposed to assess every clinical trial, with special concern for the welfare of the human subjects, but this work, too, has now been outsourced to private companies and is often useless. In 2009 the Government Accountability Office conducted a sting operation, winning approval for a clinical trial involving human subjects; the institutional review board failed to discover (if it even tried) that it was dealing with “a bogus company with falsified credentials” and a fake medical device. This was in Los Angeles. If that is oversight in the U.S., imagine what it’s like in Kazakhstan or Uganda. Susan Reverby, the Wellesley historian who uncovered the U.S. government’s syphilis experiments in Guatemala during the 1940s, was asked in a recent interview to cite any ongoing experimental practices that gave her pause. “Frankly,” she said, “I am mostly worried about the drug trials that get done elsewhere now, which we have little control over.”

The pharmaceutical industry, needless to say, has a different view. It argues that people participating in a clinical trial may be getting the highest quality of medical care they have ever received. That may be true in the short term. But, unfortunately, the care lasts only until the trial is completed. Many U.S. medical investigators who manage drug trials abroad say they prefer to work overseas, where regulations are lax and “conflict of interest” is a synonym for “business as usual.” Inside the United States, doctors who oversee trials are required to fill out forms showing any income they have received from drug companies so as to guard against financial biases in trials. This explains in part why the number of clinical-trial investigators registered with the F.D.A. fell 5.2 percent in the U.S. between 2004 and 2007 while increasing 16 percent in Eastern Europe, 12 percent in Asia, and 10 percent in Latin America. In a recent survey, 70 percent of the eligible U.S. and Western European clinical investigators interviewed said they were discouraged by the current regulatory environment, partly because they are compelled to disclose financial ties to the pharmaceutical industry. In trials conducted outside the United States, few people care.

In 2009, according to the Institute for Safe Medication Practices, 19,551 people died in the United States as a direct result of the prescription drugs they took. That’s just the reported number. It’s decidedly low, because it is estimated that only about 10 percent of such deaths are reported. Conservatively, then, the annual American death toll from prescription drugs considered “safe” can be put at around 200,000. That is three times the number of people who die every year from diabetes, four times the number who die from kidney disease. Overall, deaths from F.D.A.-approved prescription drugs dwarf the number of people who die from street drugs such as cocaine and heroin. They dwarf the number who die every year in automobile accidents. So far, these deaths have triggered no medical crusades, no tough new regulations. After a dozen or so deaths linked to runaway Toyotas, Japanese executives were summoned to appear before lawmakers in Washington and were subjected to an onslaught of humiliating publicity. When the pharmaceutical industry meets with lawmakers, it is mainly to provide campaign contributions.

And with more and more of its activities moving overseas, the industry’s behavior will become more impenetrable, and more dangerous, than ever.

Your Apps Are Watching You

In Uncategorized on December 18, 2010 at 4:10 pm

Oldspeak: “The Matrix is everywhere. It is all around us. Even now, in this very room…. Yes your most beloved possession is a tracking device, transmitting your private data to parties unknown who use it to flesh out detailed dossiers on you, while marketers are using it in an attempt to sell you shit you don’t need. A WSJ Investigation finds that iPhone and Android apps are breaching the privacy of smartphone users”

From  SCOTT THURM and YUKARI IWATANI KANE @ The Wall Street Journal:

Few devices know more personal details about people than the smartphones in their pockets: phone numbers, current location, often the owner’s real name—even a unique ID number that can never be changed or turned off.

These phones don’t keep secrets. They are sharing this personal data widely and regularly, a Wall Street Journal investigation has found.

An examination of 101 popular smartphone “apps”—games and other software applications for iPhone and Android phones—showed that 56 transmitted the phone’s unique device ID to other companies without users’ awareness or consent. Forty-seven apps transmitted the phone’s location in some way. Five sent age, gender and other personal details to outsiders.

The findings reveal the intrusive effort by online-tracking companies to gather personal data about people in order to flesh out detailed dossiers on them.

WSJ’s Julia Angwin explains to Simon Constable how smartphone apps collect and broadcast data about your habits. Many don’t have privacy policies and there isn’t much you can do about it.

Among the apps tested, the iPhone apps transmitted more data than the apps on phones using Google Inc.’s Android operating system. Because of the test’s size, it’s not known if the pattern holds among the hundreds of thousands of apps available.

Apps sharing the most information included TextPlus 4, a popular iPhone app for text messaging. It sent the phone’s unique ID number to eight ad companies and the phone’s zip code, along with the user’s age and gender, to two of them.

Both the Android and iPhone versions of Pandora, a popular music app, sent age, gender, location and phone identifiers to various ad networks. iPhone and Android versions of a game called Paper Toss—players try to throw paper wads into a trash can—each sent the phone’s ID number to at least five ad companies. Grindr, an iPhone app for meeting gay men, sent gender, location and phone ID to three ad companies.

“In the world of mobile, there is no anonymity,” says Michael Becker of the Mobile Marketing Association, an industry trade group. A cellphone is “always with us. It’s always on.”

The Journal’s Cellphone Testing Methodology

The Wall Street Journal analyzed 50 popular applications, or “apps,” on each of the iPhone and Android operating systems to see what information about the phones, their users and their locations the apps send to themselves and to outsiders. More >

iPhone maker Apple Inc. says it reviews each app before offering it to users. Both Apple and Google say they protect users by requiring apps to obtain permission before revealing certain kinds of information, such as location.

“We have created strong privacy protections for our customers, especially regarding location-based data,” says Apple spokesman Tom Neumayr. “Privacy and trust are vitally important.”

The Journal found that these rules can be skirted. One iPhone app, Pumpkin Maker (a pumpkin-carving game), transmits location to an ad network without asking permission. Apple declines to comment on whether the app violated its rules.

Smartphone users are all but powerless to limit the tracking. With few exceptions, app users can’t “opt out” of phone tracking, as is possible, in limited form, on regular computers. On computers it is also possible to block or delete “cookies,” which are tiny tracking files. These techniques generally don’t work on cellphone apps.

The makers of TextPlus 4, Pandora and Grindr say the data they pass on to outside firms isn’t linked to an individual’s name. Personal details such as age and gender are volunteered by users, they say. The maker of Pumpkin Maker says he didn’t know Apple required apps to seek user approval before transmitting location. The maker of Paper Toss didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Many apps don’t offer even a basic form of consumer protection: written privacy policies. Forty-five of the 101 apps didn’t provide privacy policies on their websites or inside the apps at the time of testing. Neither Apple nor Google requires app privacy policies.

To expose the information being shared by smartphone apps, the Journal designed a system to intercept and record the data they transmit, then decoded the data stream. The research covered 50 iPhone apps and 50 on phones using Google’s Android operating system. (Methodology at WSJ.com/WTK.)

The Journal also tested its own iPhone app; it didn’t send information to outsiders. The Journal doesn’t have an Android phone app.

Among all apps tested, the most widely shared detail was the unique ID number assigned to every phone. It is effectively a “supercookie,” says Vishal Gurbuxani, co-founder of Mobclix Inc., an exchange for mobile advertisers.

On iPhones, this number is the “UDID,” or Unique Device Identifier. Android IDs go by other names. These IDs are set by phone makers, carriers or makers of the operating system, and typically can’t be blocked or deleted.

“The great thing about mobile is you can’t clear a UDID like you can a cookie,” says Meghan O’Holleran of Traffic Marketplace, an Internet ad network that is expanding into mobile apps. “That’s how we track everything.”

Ms. O’Holleran says Traffic Marketplace, a unit of Epic Media Group, monitors smartphone users whenever it can. “We watch what apps you download, how frequently you use them, how much time you spend on them, how deep into the app you go,” she says. She says the data is aggregated and not linked to an individual.

The main companies setting ground rules for app data-gathering have big stakes in the ad business. The two most popular platforms for new U.S. smartphones are Apple’s iPhone and Google’s Android. Google and Apple also run the two biggest services, by revenue, for putting ads on mobile phones.

Apple and Google ad networks let advertisers target groups of users. Both companies say they don’t track individuals based on the way they use apps.

Apple limits what can be installed on an iPhone by requiring iPhone apps to be offered exclusively through its App Store. Apple reviews those apps for function, offensiveness and other criteria.

Apple says iPhone apps “cannot transmit data about a user without obtaining the user’s prior permission and providing the user with access to information about how and where the data will be used.” Many apps tested by the Journal appeared to violate that rule, by sending a user’s location to ad networks, without informing users. Apple declines to discuss how it interprets or enforces the policy.

Phones running Google’s Android operating system are made by companies including Motorola Inc. and Samsung Electronics Co. Google doesn’t review the apps, which can be downloaded from many vendors. Google says app makers “bear the responsibility for how they handle user information.”

Google requires Android apps to notify users, before they download the app, of the data sources the app intends to access. Possible sources include the phone’s camera, memory, contact list, and more than 100 others. If users don’t like what a particular app wants to access, they can choose not to install the app, Google says.

“Our focus is making sure that users have control over what apps they install, and notice of what information the app accesses,” a Google spokesman says.

Neither Apple nor Google requires apps to ask permission to access some forms of the device ID, or to send it to outsiders. When smartphone users let an app see their location, apps generally don’t disclose if they will pass the location to ad companies.

Lack of standard practices means different companies treat the same information differently. For example, Apple says that, internally, it treats the iPhone’s UDID as “personally identifiable information.” That’s because, Apple says, it can be combined with other personal details about people—such as names or email addresses—that Apple has via the App Store or its iTunes music services. By contrast, Google and most app makers don’t consider device IDs to be identifying information.

A growing industry is assembling this data into profiles of cellphone users. Mobclix, the ad exchange, matches more than 25 ad networks with some 15,000 apps seeking advertisers. The Palo Alto, Calif., company collects phone IDs, encodes them (to obscure the number), and assigns them to interest categories based on what apps people download and how much time they spend using an app, among other factors.

By tracking a phone’s location, Mobclix also makes a “best guess” of where a person lives, says Mr. Gurbuxani, the Mobclix executive. Mobclix then matches that location with spending and demographic data from Nielsen Co.

In roughly a quarter-second, Mobclix can place a user in one of 150 “segments” it offers to advertisers, from “green enthusiasts” to “soccer moms.” For example, “die hard gamers” are 15-to-25-year-old males with more than 20 apps on their phones who use an app for more than 20 minutes at a time.

Mobclix says its system is powerful, but that its categories are broad enough to not identify individuals. “It’s about how you track people better,” Mr. Gurbuxani says.

Some app makers have made changes in response to the findings. At least four app makers posted privacy policies after being contacted by the Journal, including Rovio Mobile Ltd., the Finnish company behind the popular game Angry Birds (in which birds battle egg-snatching pigs). A spokesman says Rovio had been working on the policy, and the Journal inquiry made it a good time to unveil it.

Free and paid versions of Angry Birds were tested on an iPhone. The apps sent the phone’s UDID and location to the Chillingo unit of Electronic Arts Inc., which markets the games. Chillingo says it doesn’t use the information for advertising and doesn’t share it with outsiders.

Apps have been around for years, but burst into prominence when Apple opened its App Store in July 2008. Today, the App Store boasts more than 300,000 programs.

Other phone makers, including BlackBerry maker Research in Motion Ltd. and Nokia Corp., quickly built their own app stores. Google’s Android Market, which opened later in 2008, has more than 100,000 apps. Market researcher Gartner Inc. estimates that world-wide app sales this year will total $6.7 billion.

Many developers offer apps for free, hoping to profit by selling ads inside the app. Noah Elkin of market researcher eMarketer says some people “are willing to tolerate advertising in apps to get something for free.” Of the 101 apps tested, the paid apps generally sent less data to outsiders.

Ad sales on phones account for less than 5% of the $23 billion in annual Internet advertising. But spending on mobile ads is growing faster than the market overall.

Central to this growth: the ad networks whose business is connecting advertisers with apps. Many ad networks offer software “kits” that automatically insert ads into an app. The kits also track where users spend time inside the app.

Some developers feel pressure to release more data about people. Max Binshtok, creator of the DailyHoroscope Android app, says ad-network executives encouraged him to transmit users’ locations.

Mr. Binshtok says he declined because of privacy concerns. But ads targeted by location bring in two to five times as much money as untargeted ads, Mr. Binshtok says. “We are losing a lot of revenue.”

Other apps transmitted more data. The Android app for social-network site MySpace sent age and gender, along with a device ID, to Millennial Media, a big ad network.

In its software-kit instructions, Millennial Media lists 11 types of information about people that developers may transmit to “help Millennial provide more relevant ads.” They include age, gender, income, ethnicity, sexual orientation and political views. In a re-test with a more complete profile, MySpace also sent a user’s income, ethnicity and parental status.

A spokesman says MySpace discloses in its privacy policy that it will share details from user profiles to help advertisers provide “more relevant ads.” My Space is a unit of News Corp., which publishes the Journal. Millennial did not respond to requests for comment on its software kit.

App makers transmitting data say it is anonymous to the outside firms that receive it. “There is no real-life I.D. here,” says Joel Simkhai, CEO of Nearby Buddy Finder LLC, the maker of the Grindr app for gay men. “Because we are not tying [the information] to a name, I don’t see an area of concern.”

Scott Lahman, CEO of TextPlus 4 developer Gogii Inc., says his company “is dedicated to the privacy of our users. We do not share personally identifiable information or message content.” A Pandora spokeswoman says, “We use listener data in accordance with our privacy policy,” which discusses the app’s data use, to deliver relevant advertising. When a user registers for the first time, the app asks for email address, gender, birth year and ZIP code.

Google was the biggest data recipient in the tests. Its AdMob, AdSense, Analytics and DoubleClick units collectively heard from 38 of the 101 apps. Google, whose ad units operate on both iPhones and Android phones, says it doesn’t mix data received by these units.

Google’s main mobile-ad network is AdMob, which it bought this year for $750 million. AdMob lets advertisers target phone users by location, type of device and “demographic data,” including gender or age group.

A Google spokesman says AdMob targets ads based on what it knows about the types of people who use an app, phone location, and profile information a user has submitted to the app. “No profile of the user, their device, where they’ve been or what apps they’ve downloaded, is created or stored,” he says.

Apple operates its iAd network only on the iPhone. Eighteen of the 51 iPhone apps sent information to Apple.

Apple targets ads to phone users based largely on what it knows about them through its App Store and iTunes music service. The targeting criteria can include the types of songs, videos and apps a person downloads, according to an Apple ad presentation reviewed by the Journal. The presentation named 103 targeting categories, including: karaoke, Christian/gospel music, anime, business news, health apps, games and horror movies.

People familiar with iAd say Apple doesn’t track what users do inside apps and offers advertisers broad categories of people, not specific individuals.

Apple has signaled that it has ideas for targeting people more closely. In a patent application filed this past May, Apple outlined a system for placing and pricing ads based on a person’s “web history or search history” and “the contents of a media library.” For example, home-improvement advertisers might pay more to reach a person who downloaded do-it-yourself TV shows, the document says.

The patent application also lists another possible way to target people with ads: the contents of a friend’s media library.

How would Apple learn who a cellphone user’s friends are, and what kinds of media they prefer? The patent says Apple could tap “known connections on one or more social-networking websites” or “publicly available information or private databases describing purchasing decisions, brand preferences,” and other data. In September, Apple introduced a social-networking service within iTunes, called Ping, that lets users share music preferences with friends. Apple declined to comment.

Tech companies file patents on blue-sky concepts all the time, and it isn’t clear whether Apple will follow through on these ideas. If it did, it would be an evolution for Chief Executive Steve Jobs, who has spoken out against intrusive tracking. At a tech conference in June, he complained about apps “that want to take a lot of your personal data and suck it up.”

—Tom McGinty and Jennifer Valentino-DeVries contributed to this report.

 

Why The ‘Lazy Jobless’ Myth Persists

In Uncategorized on December 17, 2010 at 4:08 pm

Oldspeak: “Brilliant explication of the cultural neuroses, and  inherent structural flaws in the economic system and counter productive public policy (the most recent example being the “tax cut package” that will further in debt the U.S.) that drive the lazy jobless myth. Blaming the “Other”. As American as apple pie. :-|

From David Sirota @ Truthout:

During the recent fight over extending unemployment benefits, conservatives trotted out the shibboleth that says the program fosters sloth. Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., for instance, said added unemployment benefits mean people are “encouraged not to go look for work.” Columnist Pat Buchanan said expanding these benefits means “more people will hold off going back looking for a job.” And Fox News’ Charles Payne applauded the effort to deny future unemployment checks because he said it would compel layabouts “to get off the sofa.”

The thesis undergirding all the rhetoric was summed up by conservative commentator Ben Stein, who insisted that “the people who have been laid off and cannot find work are generally people with poor work habits and poor personalities.”

The idea is that unemployment has nothing to do with structural economic forces or rigged public policies and everything to do with individual motivation. Yes, we’re asked to believe that the 15 million jobless Americans are all George Costanzas—parasitic loafers occasionally pretending to seek work as latex salesmen, but really just aiming to decompress on a refrigerator-equipped recliner during a lifelong Summer of George.

Of course, this story line makes no sense. From liberal Paul Krugman to archconservative Alan Greenspan, economists agree that joblessness is not caused by unemployment benefits. With five applicants for every job opening, the overarching problem is a lack of available positions—not a dearth of personal initiative.

Why, then, is the myth so resonant that polls now show more than a third of America opposes extending unemployment benefits? Part of it is the sheer ignorance that naturally festers in a country of cable-TV junkies. But three more subtle forces are also at work.

First, there’s what psychologists call the Just-World Fallacy—the tendency to believe the world is inherently fair. This delusion is embedded in our pervasive up-by-the-bootstraps, everyone-can-be-a-millionaire catechism. The myth of the lazy unemployed can seem to make sense because it connects those ancient fables to current news, effectively alleging that today’s jobless deserve their plight.

Narcissism is also a factor. In a nation that typically dehumanizes the destitute Other with epithets like “welfare queen” and “white trash,” our self-centered culture leads the slightly less destitute to ascribe their own relative success exclusively to superhuman greatness. The myth of the lazy unemployed plays to that conceit, helping the still-employed experience potentially scary unemployment news as a booster shot of self-aggrandizement. You remain in a job, says the myth, because you are better than the jobless.

Finally, there’s raw fear—arguably more powerful than even arrogance. With the labor-market news downright frightening, the still-employed are understandably pining for a defense mechanism to cope with persistent layoff anxieties. The myth of the lazy unemployed provides exactly that—a calming sensation of control. If, as the myth suggests, the jobless are really out of work because they “are generally people with poor work habits and poor personalities,” then it stands to reason that the employed can avoid catastrophe by simply choosing better behavior.

The trouble, though, is that the whole narrative averts our focus from the job-killing trade, tax-cut and budget policies that are really responsible for destroying the economy. And this narrative, mind you, is not some run-of-the-mill distraction. The myth of the lazy unemployed is what duck-and-cover exercises and backyard nuclear shelters were to a past era—an alluring palliative that manufactures false comfort in the face of unthinkable disaster. Only now, our fate isn’t being dictated to us by faraway Soviets—we could actually prevent a future apocalypse if more of us just accepted reality and demanded the right kind of change here at home.

David Sirota is the author of the best-selling books “Hostile Takeover” and “The Uprising.” He hosts the morning show on AM760 in Colorado and blogs at OpenLeft.com. E-mail him at ds@davidsirota.com or follow him on Twitter @davidsirota.

 

The Empire Strikes Back

In Uncategorized on December 13, 2010 at 2:10 pm

Oldspeak: ” Whisleblowing is nothing new, but establishment reactions to it have become increasingly Gestapo-like over time.  ‘One of the biggest lessons for us all comes in the form of a wake-up call on the enormous vulnerability of our prime means of communication to swift government-instigated, summary shutdown.’ Could this Wikileaks crackdown signal the beginning of the end of net neutrality? It’s been happen incrementally, with Google, Verizon and Facebook battling behind the scenes for control of internet traffic. More an more of the cyber commons is being privatized, commodified and policed to eliminate content that allegedly violates copyrights, ‘threatens national security’ or deemed undesirable to parties unknown in other ways.  No due process, just seized and shutdown.

From Alexander Cockburn @ Truthout:

The WikiLeaks sites have vanished — though more than 1,400 mirror sites still carry the disclosures. Amazon, Visa, MasterCard, PayPal and the organization’s Swiss bank have shut it down, either on their own initiative or after a threat from the U.S. government or its poodles in London and Geneva. Julian Assange is in a British prison, facing a hearing on trumped-up Swedish allegations zealously posted by Interpol. The U.S. government is warning potential employees not to read the Wiki materials anywhere on the Web, and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is cooking up a stew of new gag stipulations and fierce statutory penalties against any site carrying material the government deems compromising to state security. Commercial outfits like Amazon are falling over themselves to connive at the shutdowns, actual or threatened.

One of the biggest lessons for us all comes in the form of a wake-up call on the enormous vulnerability of our prime means of communication to swift government-instigated, summary shutdown.

Forty-three years ago, Ramparts magazine published its disclosures of the CIA’s capture of the National Student Association as a front organization. The magazine became the target of furious denunciation by the Liebermans and McConnells of the day. Even before publication, the CIA’s Desmond FitzGerald authorized a dirty-tricks operation against Ramparts. But at no time did the government muster the nerve to flout the First Amendment and try to shut the magazine down on grounds that it was compromising “national security” and guilty of espionage. A courtroom challenge by Ramparts’ lawyers would have been inevitable.

While visiting Britain in the early 1970s, former CIA case officer Philip Agee had a brief meeting with Tony Godwin, editor-in-chief of Penguin Books, a friend of mine. Godwin agreed to publish Agee’s expose, including the names of active CIA officers and details of their operations. Agee managed to write the book in Paris, though I warned him that the CIA certainly knew of his plans and would probably try to kill him. They bugged his typewriter and later floated disobliging rumors about his sex life and drinking habits, but no one tried to shove him into the Seine or even put him in a French prison.

Today? At the least, all of Ramparts’ electronic business operations would be closed down. Pressured by the U.S. government, Amazon would deny Penguin all access or ability to sell books. Just look at what has happened to WikiLeaks.

Britain has had its left leaker heroes. In 1963, “Spies for Peace” — a group of direct-action British anarchists and kindred radicals associated with the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and Bertrand Russell’s Committee of 100 — broke into a secret government bunker, Regional Seat of Government Number 6 (RSG-6) at Warren Row, near Reading, where they photographed and copied documents showing secret government preparations for rule after a nuclear war. They distributed a pamphlet, along with copies of relevant documents, to the press, stigmatizing the “small group of people who have accepted thermonuclear war as a probability, and are consciously and carefully planning for it. … They are quietly waiting for the day the bomb drops, for that will be the day they take over.”

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There was a big uproar, and then the Conservative government of the day issued a D-notice forbidding any further coverage in the press. The cops and intelligence services hunted long and hard for the Spies for Peace, and caught nary a one.

These days, would the press have been so initially swift to reprint the pamphlet? Would any website reprinting its contents have survived for 24 hours?

So far as the Internet is concerned, First Amendment protections here in the U.S. — certainly better than protections in the U.K. — appear to have no purchase or even acknowledged standing. Even before the WikiLeaks hysteria took hold, the situation was very serious. As Davey D recently reported on his Hip Hop Corner website, over the Thanksgiving holiday, Homeland Security — along with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Justice Department and the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center — seized more than eighty websites, including popular hip-hop sites RapGodFathers.com, dajaz1.com and Onsmash.com. These sites were accused of copyright violations. No hearing. Alive one minute, dead the next.

So here we have a public “commons” — the Internet — subject to arbitrary onslaught by the state and powerful commercial interests, and not even the shadow of constitutional protections. The situation is getting worse. The net itself is going private. As I write, Google and Facebook are locked in a struggle over which company will control the bulk of the world’s Internet traffic. Millions could find that the e-mail addresses they try to communicate with, the sites they want to visit and the ads they may want to run are all under Google’s or Facebook’s supervision and can be closed off without explanation or redress at any time.

Here in the U.S., certainly, we need a big push on First Amendment protections for the Internet: one more battlefield where the left and the libertarians can join forces. But we must do more than buttress the First Amendment. We must also challenge the corporations’ power to determine the structure of the Internet and decide who is permitted to use it.

 

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