Category: Business

Ebola vaccine sat on the shelf ready to test for a decade

Almost a decade ago, scientists from Canada and the United States reported that they had created a vaccine that was 100 percent effective in protecting monkeys against the Ebola virus. The results were published in a respected journal, and health officials called them exciting. The researchers said tests in people might start within two years, and a product could potentially be ready for licensing by 2010 or 2011.

It never happened. The vaccine sat on a shelf. Only now is it undergoing the most basic safety tests in humans — with nearly 5,000 people dead from Ebola and an epidemic raging out of control in West Africa.

Its development stalled in part because Ebola is rare, and until now, outbreaks had infected only a few hundred people at a time. But experts also acknowledge that the absence of follow-up on such a promising candidate reflects a broader failure to produce medicines and vaccines for diseases that afflict poor countries. Most drug companies have resisted spending the enormous sums needed to develop products useful mostly to countries with little ability to pay…

The NY TIMES doesn’t need to waste space on defending the greed of corporate pharmaceutical giants. That’s what Congress is for.

Now, as the growing epidemic devastates West Africa and is seen as a potential threat to other regions as well, governments and aid groups have begun to open their wallets. A flurry of research to test drugs and vaccines is underway, with studies starting for several candidates, including the vaccine produced nearly a decade ago.

A federal official said in an interview on Thursday that two large studies involving thousands of patients were planned to begin soon in West Africa, and were expected to be described in detail on Friday by the World Health Organization.

With no vaccines or proven drugs available, the stepped-up efforts are a desperate measure to stop a disease that has defied traditional means of containing it.

Kind of like white folks noticing we don’t live in a post-racial society regardless of what Republicans say. The TIMES notices what anyone who cares about public health has always known. If it can make a bunch of money, any illness can receive study and attempts at a cure from the medical-industrial complex. The rest can waste their energy on hope.

Thanks, Mike

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Banned dietary supplements back on the shelves – still adulterated

Many dietary supplements recalled by the FDA for containing banned ingredients find their way back on the shelves, still adulterated, researchers found.

In an analysis of products recalled between Jan. 1, 2009, and Dec. 31, 2012, about two-thirds still contained banned ingredients when analyzed an average of nearly 3 years later, Pieter Cohen…and colleagues reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

“Action by the FDA has not been completely effective in eliminating all potentially dangerous adulterated supplements from the U.S. marketplace,” they wrote. “More aggressive enforcement of the law, changes to the law to increase the FDA’s enforcement powers, or both will be required if sales of these products are to be prevented in the future…”

A total of 274 supplements had been recalled during the 4-year study period, and 27 of these met inclusion criteria and were analyzed. They had been purchased a mean of 34 months after FDA recalls.

Overall, they found that 67% of the recalled supplements still had pharmaceutical adulterants in them. In most cases (63%), it was the same adulterant identified by the FDA, but in some cases (22%) they contained different banned substances…Sometimes the products contained both the banned ingredient identified by FDA and additional adulterants, though the researchers did not give a specific percentage.

Cohen and colleagues also looked at supplements by type, finding that 85% of sports enhancement remained adulterated, along with 67% of weight-loss supplements, and 20% of sexual enhancement supplements…The majority…were made by U.S. manufacturers…

Golly. Think the manufacturers have anything to worry about? Will Congress spend as much time on this dangerous crap as they do on fancier – and useless – policies like examining planes landing from West Africa for Ebola? Since there are no planes landing in the United States directly from West Africa!

The Party of NO, Congressional Republicans care less about the health of Americans than almost anything else. Watching an assembly of hypocrites join and mingle in a dance of meaningless slogans is about as productive as guarding a landfill from scavengers. A healthy society has no need for garbage-pickers.

Meanwhile, the FDA has toothless authority to stop crap from being sold over-the-counter as diet supplements.

How far back do you want your “Heritage” fruits and veggies to go?

Fruits and vegetables have changed a lot since the onset of agriculture 10,000 years ago, as generation after generation of farmers artificially bred crops to select for more desirable traits like size and taste.

But that change can be hard to visualize. So James Kennedy, a chemistry teacher in Australia, created some terrific infographics to show just how drastic the evolution has been. This one, for instance, shows how corn has changed in the last 9,000 years — from a wild grass in the early Americas known as teosinte to the plump ears of corn we know today…

Mind you, not all attempts at selective breeding turn out so well. As Sarah Yager recently wrote at The Atlantic, apple-growers in the United States during the 20th century tried to breed Red Delicious apples to be as bright and shiny as possible and stay on shelves for as long as possible without noticeable bruising. The result? “As genes for beauty were favored over those for taste, the skins grew tough and bitter around mushy, sugar-soaked flesh.” Nowadays, as storage and transport have become more advanced, tastier apple varieties like the Honeycrisp or Gala are surpassing the Red Delicious.

The article gives watermelon and peaches the same treatment and ends with links to FDA definitions that range from selective breeding to the difference between cisgenesis and transgenesis. I’ll launch into that some other time – once again – trying to explain to the Vegan Left that science doesn’t define DNA as good or evil.

Thanks, Mike

Vatican rents out the Sistine Chapel to Porsche

Sistine Chapel parking

Pope Francis has revealed that the Vatican will rent out the Sistine Chapel for a corporate event for the first time in its 600-year history.

Porsche will hire the revered chapel, which is covered in Michelangelo’s stunning frescoes, and put on a private concert for 40 lucky – and high paying – guests. The concert, which takes place on Saturday, will be one stop on an exclusive tour of Rome organised by the car brand.

The Vatican has not divulged how much it will earn from the event, but the five-day tour of Italy’s capital, arranged by the Porsche Travel Club, costs up to €5,000 a head, meaning an overall intake of €200,000, reported…

The concert will be performed by a choir from the Accademia di Santa Cecilia in Rome, which traces its origins back to the 16th century. Participants will then sit down to a meal in the midst of the Vatican Museum, “surrounded by masterpieces by world-famous artists such as Michelangelo and Raphael”…

Proceeds from the event will go to charities working with the poor and homeless…

The Sistine Chapel’s…primary function is to be the site of the Papal conclave, the process by which a new Pope is selected.

Why not carry the logic a step or two further? Just imagine the annual revenue from the Facebook Chapel?

Thanks, Ursarodinia

FTC expects record claims over AT&T cramming scam

AT&Y scum

Over 359,000 AT&T customers have already filled out an online application to obtain refunds from the company, which padded phone bills with suspect SMS charges.

Since the Federal Trade Commission announced a $105 million settlement with AT&T last week over fake billing charges, 359,000 individuals have already come forward to claim their share of the refund money, and that number is expected to climb.

The claims relate to so-called “cramming” charges in which AT&T customers paid extra fees, usually in the amount of $9.99, for “premium SMS” services that promised to deliver content like horoscopes and celebrity news to cell phones. Such services are a relic of the pre-smartphone days, but people still paid for them, often without authorization, with AT&T receiving a commission on the charges…

The process for making a claim is very straightforward: anyone who was an AT&T customer after January 1, 2009 can simply fill out this online form, which only requires a phone number and address.

Crooked corporation of the day, eh?

The Age of Vulnerability

Two new studies show, once again, the magnitude of the inequality problem plaguing the United States. The first, the US Census Bureau’s annual income and poverty report, shows that, despite the economy’s supposed recovery from the Great Recession, ordinary Americans’ incomes continue to stagnate. Median household income, adjusted for inflation, remains below its level a quarter-century ago.

It used to be thought that America’s greatest strength was not its military power, but an economic system that was the envy of the world. But why would others seek to emulate an economic model by which a large proportion – even a majority – of the population has seen their income stagnate while incomes at the top have soared?

A second study, the United Nations Development Program’s Human Development Report 2014, corroborates these findings. Every year, the UNDP publishes a ranking of countries by their Human Development Index (HDI), which incorporates other dimensions of wellbeing besides income, including health and education.

America ranks fifth according to HDI, below Norway, Australia, Switzerland, and the Netherlands. But when its score is adjusted for inequality, it drops 23 spots – among the largest such declines for any highly developed country. Indeed, the US falls below Greece and Slovakia, countries that people do not typically regard as role models or as competitors with the US at the top of the league tables…

In the US, upward mobility is more myth than reality, whereas downward mobility and vulnerability is a widely shared experience. This is partly because of America’s health-care system, which still leaves poor Americans in a precarious position, despite President Barack Obama’s reforms.

Those at the bottom are only a short step away from bankruptcy with all that that entails. Illness, divorce, or the loss of a job often is enough to push them over the brink…

American politicians continue to reject the words and work of prize-winning economists like Joe Stiglitz for a couple of reasons. First, he won’t keep quiet about endemic illness in our economy. Inequality of opportunity being among the primetime crimes. Second, he doesn’t mind pointing out who benefits from the lousy politics, sleazy economics of the conservatives who have built this inequality into a new testament of American capitalism. Starting with fossil fuel and energy barons and following the money trail into the pants of Congress.

RTFA for details of the latest Stiglitz essay on a nation with leaders who really don’t care about the lives of ordinary people. Just stay in line and don’t ask too many questions.

Pig farms are recovering from virus — meat prices may drop — so they say


What a clean pig farm can look like

A virus that killed millions of baby pigs in the last year and led to higher pork prices has waned thanks to warmer weather and farmers’ efforts to sterilize their operations. And as pigs’ numbers increase, sticker shock on things like bacon should ease.

Already, hog supplies are on the rise, with 5.46 million baby pigs born between June and August in Iowa, the nation’s leading producer — the highest quarterly total in 20 years and a record 10.7 surviving pigs per litter, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture report.

It’s a significant turnaround from a year ago when the porcine epidemic diarrhea virus was wiping out entire litters. Since the virus first showed up, the federal government rushed to give conditional approval for a vaccine and those in the industry began taking precautions, such as disinfecting trucks, equipment and clothing…

It’s clear the industry is managing the virus, but it’s far from eradicated. Two new cases were confirmed by South Dakota veterinary officials in the past week, bringing the state’s total to 38 farms. And there’s reason to be cautiously optimistic, Lear said, as the virus thrives in colder, wetter environments like those found in fall and winter…

Also – too bad it took the death of 10% of the young hogs in the United States to nudge a bit of activity by farmers and the USDA alike to invoke more sanitary conditions for the pigs they raise for food. Anyone wonder why so many nations keep a weather eye out for meat from the United States – how it may endanger their own consumers?

It takes about six months to raise a pig to market weight, so the increased supply could mean a slight drop in consumer prices this winter and a more noticeable decline in the spring…Many in the industry are optimistic that the worst of the PED virus is behind them, but there is still concern among producers.

Dale Norton — a livestock farmer in Bronson, Michigan, and president of the National Pork Board — lost 1,500 piglets over 2½ weeks in March, but said his barns are now free of the virus.

There may be additional outbreaks, Norton said, but he doubts they’ll be as severe, since hog farmers have learned more about the virus and how it spreads and have taken precautions.

This clown show – producers and regulators alike – are still astounded that cleaner living conditions make a difference. Scary as ever.

Thanks, Mike

New Mexico is Ground Zero for methane contaminating our air

One small “hot spot” in the U.S. Southwest is responsible for producing the largest concentration of the greenhouse gas methane seen over the United States – more than triple the standard ground-based estimate — according to a new study of satellite data by scientists at NASA and the University of Michigan…

In each of the seven years studied from 2003-2009, the area released about 0.59 million metric tons of methane into the atmosphere. This is almost 3.5 times the estimate for the same area in the European Union’s widely used Emissions Database for Global Atmospheric Research.

…Researchers used observations made by the European Space Agency’s…SCIAMACHY instrument. SCIAMACHY measured greenhouse gases from 2002 to 2012. The atmospheric hot spot persisted throughout the study period. A ground station…operated by…Los Alamos National Laboratory, provided independent validation of the measurement…

Research scientist Christian Frankenberg of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, first noticed the Four Corners signal years ago in SCIAMACHY data…

The study’s lead author, Eric Kort of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, noted the study period predates the widespread use of hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking, near the hot spot. This indicates the methane emissions should not be attributed to fracking but instead to leaks in natural gas production and processing equipment in New Mexico’s San Juan Basin, which is the most active coalbed methane production area in the country.

“The results are indicative that emissions from established fossil fuel harvesting techniques are greater than inventoried,” Kort said. “There’s been so much attention on high-volume hydraulic fracturing, but we need to consider the industry as a whole…”

Phew! Where do we start?

The study includes time spent with Governor Bill the Democrat and Governor Susana the Republican. Both played kissy-kissy with our oil and gas industry. Sure, different levels of public blather; but, when push comes to shove, neither did a damned thing about oversight or regulation.

We shouldn’t be waiting for a Euro satellite or the coneheads up on the Hill to be telling us the air we breathe is being polluted. Everyone in the Four Corners knows it. Polluters, whether from the PNM power plants to gas and oil producers know it. They don’t care. And We The People – haven’t much of any elected officials really interested in acting on our behalf.

What could we have done? What can we do, now? How about a Green Party that actually tries to build political power instead of trotting out Ralph Nader every four years to tell us we’re screwed? Anyone concerned about quality of life already knows that. The rest of the population wallows in ignorance and ain’t reading Mother Jones. Most of our elected officials only respond to money and vested interests forking it over.

It’s time to stop the electoral posturing, put an end to political masturbation. That only perpetuates the absolute failure of any Green Party in the GOUSA. Our sister and brothers around the world enjoy our dissertations – and chuckle at how useless American environmentalists are at getting things done.

Aside from the Walt Disney theory of history which relies on electing a hero at the top – proven false most recently by the flop named Obama – reliance on the purportedly liberal wing of the two political parties we think is all we’re allowed is the broader example of being co-opted. Democrats respond to enviro fervor by saying, “Right on, y’all — vote for us and we’ll carry your banner to victory!” And then do nothing. Today’s Republicans do nothing by definition.

Nope. With continued polarization in this country – even if it’s based on the ignorance of perception – small victories, grassroots strength where possible, can provide the political power to make an independent difference. A Progressive swing vote in a gridlocked state legislature means a helluva lot more than buying TV time for this year’s self-chosen mellowed-out 60’s radical.

There are any number of city councils, state legislatures and eventually the bowels of Congress where program-based electoral campaigns can win the small victories which enable ecology gadflies to ally with other minorities to make a difference in how this state and this nation are run. And that includes the basic responsibility for oversight and regulation that restores our environment for future generations.

Worried about electromagnetic pollution? Should you be reading this on your iPad?

Hundreds of EMF-blocking garments and devices are marketed to reduce a person’s exposure to radiation, but the science says not to fret.

When Ameer Rosic went to jail for the last time six years ago, the stars aligned…He spent his time behind bars searching for answers about the type of person he wanted to be and what he wanted to do with his life.

When he got out, Rosic was obsessed with health, and he began working with businesspeople and entrepreneurs on a holistic approach…But for some of his clients, optimal health still seemed just out of reach, and Rosic concluded that the reason was because of their ongoing exposure to electromagnetic radiation from their cell phones, laptops, nearby cell towers, and so forth. So…he decided to launch a clothing company to reduce a person’s exposure.

Riparo, which in November will launch an Indiegogo campaign for its EMF-blocking briefs to “protect your balls” from what some like to call EMF “pollution,” joins an already established market of apparel aimed at minimizing how much radiation penetrates our bodies. This includes every type of garment imaginable, from shirts and underwear to hats and pregnancy bellybands.

The vast majority of scientists across many fields around the world say we don’t need to worry about what amounts to very small radiation exposure from our electronics. The World Health Organization, which launched an initiative to look into the topic in 1997 and has reviewed more than 25,000 studies, has concluded that “current evidence does not confirm the existence of any health consequences from exposure to low level electromagnetic fields.”

But considering long-term exposure is still being studied, is it better to invest in radiation-blocking clothing to “play it safe,” as Rosic says, or is this just a bunch of hocus pocus marketed to the most gullible among us…?

The answer depends, of course, on whom you ask…and I would ask – or read studies from – someone with qualified experience and study.

In fact, the most common explanation for the symptoms some describe, such as headaches, anxiety, and insomnia, is that it is the stress people feel about EMF exposure that causes the ill effects. In one instance, a number of people claimed that a new cell tower in their neighborhood was adversely affecting their health — before it had even been turned on.

Lots more fact and study in the article. A worthwhile read. Like anything with a realistic scientific bent, cautions are automatically included. The fact remains that regardless of how confident you can be about answers to a question there are advances in measurement and experimentation every day and it’s always worth revisiting a question. Up to the point of absurdity.

I live next to one of those communities where neighbors sue each other over wifi networks they are certain are giving them bad dreams. A community where in fact the city was sued for a cell tower that caused inestimable harm – even though it hadn’t yet been turned on.

To my mind, an outsized portion of the “problem” rests with a culture that rarely reads beyond headlines or listens to more than talking heads. Folks don’t even get to the place where they should be asking for qualifications.

How Medical-Industrial dollar$ reach your doctors

Drug Company money

In recent years, drug companies have started releasing details of the payments they make to doctors and other health professionals for promotional talks, research and consulting. As of 2013, 17 companies published the information, most because of legal settlements. Use this tool to search for payments. Read more about the data

Sure. Some of this is innocent. Probably a real aid to struggling young, idealistic doctors. I actually have known a few. Especially back in the days of the Medical Committee for Human Rights.

That’s not the target market for the Medical-Industrial Complex. They want the whole deal under their control.