Archive for ‘Health’

November 13, 2012

Corruption Watch: Big Pharma

When greed is culturally sanctioned and executives are free to cheat pretty much at will with the only downside being civil fines that are “written off” as a cost of doing business, we can have the remarkable corruption we see in Big Pharma.

From the NY Times back in July:

In the largest settlement involving a pharmaceutical company, the British drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline agreed to plead guilty to criminal charges and pay $3 billion in fines for promoting its best-selling antidepressants for unapproved uses and failing to report safety data about a top diabetes drug, federal prosecutors announced Monday. The agreement also includes civil penalties for improper marketing of a half-dozen other drugs…

No individuals have been charged in any of the cases. Even so, the Justice Department contends the prosecutions are well worth the effort — reaping more than $15 in recoveries for every $1 it spends, by one estimate.

But critics argue that even large fines are not enough to deter drug companies from unlawful behavior. Only when prosecutors single out individual executives for punishment, they say, will practices begin to change.

I do believe the solution is in the paragraph above.

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September 25, 2012

Zeit Guy Links – 9/25/12

Valencia: A Spanish city without medicine  (BBC)

…The sign on the wall tells the story. “Important information. The government of Valencia owe this pharmacy for all the medicine we have dispensed to you in January, February, March, April and May”.

And not just this pharmacy. The government of Valencia – which runs the health system – owes a grand total of half a billion euros to the region’s pharmacies.

Paula guides me into that back room that exists in all pharmacies, where the prescription drugs are kept. The problem is, now, there are not many drugs left.

“Look, this drawer is usually full,” she says, pointing to where the suppositories are kept. Now there are only two packets.”

She opens the fridge. “Look,” she says, “we are down to our last packs of insulin. We just have no money to buy the stock.”

I ask: “What happens if several people come in on the same day for insulin?” She makes two fingers walk along the back of her wrist. “They have to go around the neighbourhood to see if anybody else has it. It is the same with drugs for heart disease, stroke, anti-retrovirals.” …

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Why Do Americans Believe In Muslim Rage?  (The New Yorker)

In “The Roots of Muslim Rage,” an essay published in 1990, the historian Bernard Lewis describes a “surge of hatred” rising from the Islamic world that “becomes a rejection of Western civilization as such.” The thesis became influential. It posited a crisis within a global Islamic community that made conflict with the United States and Europe inevitable. Academics and policymakers expanded on these ideas after September 11th, which brought urgently to the fore questions about how Al Qaeda’s radical ideas should be understood in relation to wider, diverse Muslim thought. (Lewis wrote an essay on the subject for this magazine in the autumn of 2001.) George W. Bush adopted some of the discourse in crafting his Global War on Terrorism. “They hate our freedoms,” the President said.

But the notion that a generalized Muslim anger about Western ideas could explain violence or politics from Indonesia to Bangladesh, from Iran to Senegal, seemed deficient. It was like arguing that authoritarian strains in Christianity could explain apartheid, Argentine juntas, and the rise of Vladimir Putin. Nevertheless, the meme sold, and it still sells. Last week, Newsweek’s cover splashed “Muslim Rage” in large type above a photograph of shouting men. Inside came advice on how to survive “Islamic hate.” Cable news channels—Fox and MSNBC alike—showed similar images, hour after hour. By now, many Americans must find nothing remarkable about the conflation of Muslim faith and contorted faces. …

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New Study Destroys Theory That Tax Cuts Spur Growth  (Business Insider)

…But is the theory true? Do tax cuts really spur growth?

The answer appears to be “no.”

According to a new study by the Congressional Research Service (non-partisan), there’s no evidence that tax cuts spur growth.

In fact, although correlation is not causation, when you compare economic growth in periods with declining tax rates versus periods with high tax rates, there seems to be evidence that tax cuts might hurt growth. But we’ll leave that possibility for another day.

One thing that tax cuts do unequivocally do–at least tax cuts for the highest earners–is increase economic inequality. Given that economic inequality is one of the biggest problems we face in this country right now, this conclusion is very important.

Before we go to the charts, a few observations.

First, this topic has become highly politicized, so it’s impossible to discuss it without people howling that you’re just rooting for a particular political team. Second, no one likes paying taxes. Third, everyone would like a tax cut, including me.

So I think we can all agree that everyone would prefer that tax cuts actually did spur economic growth.

Alas…

Okay, first let’s look at the top marginal tax rates for the past 60 years or so. These are not effective or average tax rates–they’re just the top marginal rates. As you can see, they’ve trended steadily down:

See post at Business Insider for the analysis and supporting data.

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Can Debt Spark a Revolution?  (David Graeber in The Nation)

Graeber thinks and works out on the margins of conventional sensibility where clues to the future are sometimes found. In looking to the future, say 10 years or so, my guess is that it’s better to overestimate than underestimate what he says here.

The idea of the “99 percent” managed to do something that no one has done in the United States since the Great Depression: revive the concept of social class as a political issue. What made this possible was a subtle change in the very nature of class power in this country, which, I have come to realize, has everything to do with debt.

As a member of the team that came up with the slogan “We Are the 99 Percent,” I can attest that we weren’t thinking of inequality or even simply class but specifically of class power. It’s now clear that the 1 percent are the creditors: those who are able to turn their wealth into political influence and their political influence back into wealth again. The overriding imperative of government policy is to do whatever it takes, using all available tools—fiscal, monetary, political, even military—to keep stock prices from falling. The most powerful empire on earth seems to exist first and foremost to guarantee the stream of wealth flowing into the hands of that tiny proportion of its population who hold financial assets. This allows an ever-increasing amount of wealth to flow back into the system of legalized bribery that American politics has effectively become. …

Most revolutions, revolts and insurrections in world history have revolved, at least to some degree, around debt, from the uprisings that created the Greek democracies to the American Revolution—or pretty much any other anticolonial revolt. We may be standing on the brink of a similar juncture. Yet history shows it’s notoriously difficult to assemble debtors into a coherent movement; indebtedness is isolating by nature, and the very feelings of anxiety and humiliation it sparks have made it a potent ideological tool. But history also reveals that when such movements do form, the results tend to be explosive.

What are the prospects for Occupy if it evolves into an explicit movement of debt resistance? If that happens, the battle will not be won by proposing policy changes. The power of Occupy was always that of delegitimation: an appeal to the profound feeling, shared by so many Americans, that our political class is so corrupted that it’s no longer capable of addressing the problems faced by ordinary citizens, let alone the world. To create a genuinely democratic system could only mean starting over entirely. …

September 23, 2012

Zeit Guy Links – 9/23/12

“The Drugs Don’t Work”: How the Medical-Industrial Complex Systematically Suppresses Negative Studies  (Yves Smith)

We’ve written a lot about the scientism of mainstream economics, both here and in ECONNED, and how these trappings have let the discipline continue to have a special seat at the policy table despite ample evidence of its failure. As bad as this is, it pales in comparison to the overt corruption of science at work in the drug arena. Although this issue comes to light from time to time, often in the context of litigation, the lay public is largely ignorant of how systematic and pervasive the efforts are to undermine good research practice in order to foist more, expensive, and sometimes dangerous drugs onto patients.

Ben Goldacre, a British doctor and science writer, provides a short overview of one of the worst scams practiced by Big Pharma: that of suppressing negative research, in a new piece at the Guardian (hat tip John l). This is the overview:

Drugs are tested by the people who manufacture them, in poorly designed trials, on hopelessly small numbers of weird, unrepresentative patients, and analysed using techniques that are flawed by design, in such a way that they exaggerate the benefits of treatments. Unsurprisingly, these trials tend to produce results that favour the manufacturer. When trials throw up results that companies don’t like, they are perfectly entitled to hide them from doctors and patients, so we only ever see a distorted picture of any drug’s true effects. Regulators see most of the trial data, but only from early on in a drug’s life, and even then they don’t give this data to doctors or patients, or even to other parts of government. This distorted evidence is then communicated and applied in a distorted fashion.

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Feast of Fools: How American Democracy Became the Property of a Commercial Oligarchy  (Lewis Lapham)

All power corrupts but some must govern. — John le Carré

The ritual performance of the legend of democracy in the autumn of 2012 promises the conspicuous consumption of $5.8 billion, enough money, thank God, to prove that our flag is still there. Forbidden the use of words apt to depress a Q Score or disturb a Gallup poll, the candidates stand as product placements meant to be seen instead of heard, their quality to be inferred from the cost of their manufacture. The sponsors of the event, generous to a fault but careful to remain anonymous, dress it up with the bursting in air of star-spangled photo ops, abundant assortments of multiflavored sound bites, and the candidates so well-contrived that they can be played for jokes, presented as game-show contestants, or posed as noble knights-at-arms setting forth on vision quests, enduring the trials by klieg light, until on election night they come to judgment before the throne of cameras by whom and for whom they were produced.

Best of all, at least from the point of view of the commercial oligarchy paying for both the politicians and the press coverage, the issue is never about the why of who owes what to whom, only about the how much and when, or if, the check is in the mail. No loose talk about what is meant by the word democracy or in what ways it refers to the cherished hope of liberty embodied in the history of a courageous people

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C.E.O.’s and the Pay-’Em-or-Lose-’Em Myth  (NY Times)

CORPORATIONS are forever defending big executive paydays. If we don’t pay up, the argument goes, our sharpest minds will jump to our rivals.

Now, there are good reasons for rewarding top executives. The decisions they make are so crucial to their companies that the priority should be to hire competent people rather than scrimp on pay.

But a study released last week pretty much drives a stake through that old “pay ’em or lose ’em” line — what you might call the brain-drain defense. It also debunks the idea that companies must keep up with the Joneses by constantly comparing their executives’ compensation with that of similar companies.

This peer-group benchmark — how executive pay at one company stacks up against pay at another — is a big driver of ever-rising compensation. Boards say it helps them set pay based on what the market will bear.

Well, maybe not.

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Obama That I Used To Know – Gotye Parody

Occupy tents have folded, but the concerns that generated the encampments remain. Below is a video parody of Goyte’s “Somebody That I Used To Know.”  The parody nicely captures the disappointment many young people (and some older folks) feel about the President. So far, about 1,400,000 views.

September 12, 2012

Zeit Guy Links – 9/12/12

Southern whites troubled by Romney’s wealth, religion (Reuters)

Sheryl Harris, a voluble 52-year-old with a Virginia drawl, voted twice for George W. Bush. Raised Baptist, she is convinced — despite all evidence to the contrary — that President Barack Obama, a practicing Christian, is Muslim.

So in this year’s presidential election, will she support Mitt Romney? Not a chance.

“Romney’s going to help the upper class,” said Harris, who earns $28,000 a year as activities director of a Lynchburg senior center. “He doesn’t know everyday people, except maybe the person who cleans his house.”

She’ll vote for Obama, she said: “At least he wasn’t brought up filthy rich.”

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11 Heartbreaking Facts About Poverty In America (Business Insider)

Nearly one-in-six Americans remain below the poverty line as the country grapples with low growth and moderate jobs growth, new data from the Census Bureau shows.

To qualify for poverty a family of four must earn less than $22,811.

In its report released today, the Census Bureau painted a detailed picture of the difficulty many Americans are facing, including declining household earnings.

See article for the list of “heartbreaking facts.”

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Neocon Gambits (David Remnick inThe New Yorker)

It is hard to overestimate the risks that Benjamin Netanyahu poses to the future of his own country. As Prime Minister, he has done more than any other political figure to embolden and elevate the reactionary forces in Israel, to eliminate the dwindling possibility of a just settlement with the Palestinians, and to isolate his country on the world diplomatic stage. Now Netanyahu seems determined, more than ever, to alienate the President of the United States and, as an ally of Mitt Romney’s campaign, to make himself a factor in the 2012 election—one no less pivotal than the most super Super PAC. “Who are you trying to replace?” the opposition leader, Shaul Mofaz, asked of Netanyahu in the Knesset on Wednesday. “The Administration in Washington or that in Tehran?”

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Really? Using a Computer Before Bed Can Disrupt Sleep (NY Times)

In today’s gadget-obsessed world, sleep experts often say that for a better night’s rest, Americans should click the “off” buttons on their smartphones and tablets before tucking in for the night. Electronic devices stimulate brain activity, they say, disrupting your ability to drift off to sleep. But according to the National Sleep Foundation, more than 90 percent of Americans regularly use a computer or electronic device of some kind in the hour before bed.

Increasingly, researchers are finding that artificial light from some devices at night may tinker with brain chemicals that promote sleep. Researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute showed that exposure to light from computer tablets significantly lowered levels of the hormone melatonin, which regulates our internal clocks and plays a role in the sleep cycle.

January 12, 2009

Poise and Grace in Motion

Breathtaking. Two short (under 2 minutes) videos of the same performance from different views. I suggest watching the top one first. Thanks to Fred Mitouer for recommending it.

June 30, 2008

The Side Effects Zone

It’s a pharmaceutical Twilight Zone — you’re not sure what’s there, and what is there may not be a pleasant surprise. This clip from a commercial for Abilify is about as good (or as bad) as it gets. Alternative treatment modalities anyone?

November 18, 2007

A Primer on Growing Older in America

What does growing older have in store? There is much literature on the subject. In researching through some of it I ran across 60 on Up by Lillian Rubin. It’s the best basic primer I’ve found on aging in this culture, aging as it is without the happy talk hype that characterizes much of what is written.

60 on Up is a clear-eyed, grounded account on what it is to grow older in America today. Not that some of this might not change as the great Boomer cohort passes through the “golden years,” but if the status of being older, of being old, of being long in years is to change, it is good to know from where we start. If you’re 50 on up, I encourage you to check out 60 on Up.

To check it out at Amazon, click here.
The author’s website is www.lillianrubin.com.
You can listen to her interviewed by Michael Krasny on KQED’s Forum by following the link on this page.

September 24, 2007

Turn, Turn, Turn: When the Season is Grief

Below is a summary of some research on grief that was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. It modifies Elizabeth Kübler-Ross’s famous five-step model of how we cope with loss. I’ve found it useful. The summary is from the The Atlantic magazine.

Researchers have long suspected that grief advances in stages, and Elizabeth Kübler-Ross’s famous five-step model of how people react to a terminal illness—denial followed by anger, bargaining, depression, and finally acceptance—is generally seen as the best way to understand the grieving process. Now a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association offers empirical data showing that a grieving person goes through a modified version of Kübler-Ross’s sequence: disbelief followed by yearning, anger, depression, and acceptance. The authors interviewed more than 200 adults in Connecticut who’d recently lost a loved one to natural causes, then followed them over two years. The participants were asked to report, at regular intervals, the frequency with which they felt each of the five emotions the researchers described. The results showed a surprisingly high, and steadily increasing, degree of acceptance throughout the grieving process; they also showed that yearning was the most commonly reported psychological response to bereavement. The five grief indicators tended to peak in the order predicted by the researchers, and to take an average of about six months all told to do so, suggesting that people who suffer a longer bereavement may want to seek help in recovering.
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—“An Empirical Examination of the Stage Theory of Grief,” Paul K. Maciejewski et al., Journal of the American Medical Association

April 9, 2007

Environmental factors in the Development of Parkinson’s Disease

Another reason to pay attention to what we put into our bodies. Research shows that some pesticides can play a role as risk factors for Parkinson’s. Slowly and surely the intuition that industrial chemicals contribute meaningfully to the rise of degenerative diseases becomes scientific fact.

Click here for the press release from the The Parkinson’s Institute.

March 26, 2007

On the Way to Universal Health Care

We’ll be the last wealthy country to provide at least basic health care to its citizens, but the day will come. My guess is 2011 when the next president (if a Democrat) is looking to be re-elected in 2012. What form it will take is unclear, but the push for single payer gets stronger with articles like this much emailed one from the New York Times, “Aged, Frail and Denied Care by Their Insurers.” The “money quote”:

“The bottom line is that insurance companies make money when they don’t pay claims,” said Mary Beth Senkewicz, who resigned last year as a senior executive at the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. “They’ll do anything to avoid paying, because if they wait long enough, they know the policyholders will die.”

This isn’t what The Who were singing about with “Hope I die before I get old.” But the line may come to mean this for a lot of boomers if the health care system doesn’t become more effective, i.e., efficient and humane.

Click here for the full article.