Blair learned his lessons well from Bush, didn’t he? $16 billion in U.K. tax fraud from lack of oversight

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The head of Britain’s Work and Pensions department charges that fraud in the country’s tax-credit system has cost taxpayers more than $16.2 billion.

Ian Duncan Smith said a system of tax credits targeting lower-paid Britons is open to abuse because of the inadequate number of checks on those who receive the assistance, The Daily Telegraph reported Sunday.

In an article published in the newspaper, Smith wrote that Britain’s welfare bill rose 60 percent between 2003 and 2010, with nearly $278 billion disbursed during that period…

The tax credits are based on a person’s estimate of salary for the coming year. At the end of that year, tax collectors are supposed to compare the person’s actual earnings against the estimate and reclaim any overpayments.

Smith said the revenue department conducted only about 34,000 checks a year on individuals who received what were considered “high risk awards.”

Even those found to have been overpaid often have not repaid the money, he said.

Blair followed Bush’s best practices all the way from war to poverty. No oversight. No responsibility. Nothing achieved beyond death, destruction and deficit.

The best NASA images from 2012

2012 saw a number of significant milestones in star gazing and space exploration. NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity touched down on the Red Planet in spectacular fashion, super-Earth’s were discovered, the Moon pounded and Voyager 1 edged ever closer towards interstellar space and we saw more of the universe around us than ever before.

As the calendar rolls over, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center has put together an album of its top images for 2012. We’ve also picked our NASA favorites, highlighting some of the fascinating discoveries and incredible imagery captured in the skies above during the last twelve months.

Head to our gallery to see the full selection.

Lovely views, wonderful collection of humans exploring and learning.

Pharma patent troll finds new profits for drug – at $28,000 a Vial

The doctor was dumbfounded: a drug that used to cost $50 was now selling for $28,000 for a 5-milliliter vial.

The physician, Dr. Ladislas Lazaro IV, remembered occasionally prescribing this anti-inflammatory, named H.P. Acthar Gel, for gout back in the early 1990s. Then the drug seemed to fade from view. Dr. Lazaro had all but forgotten about it, until a sales representative from a company called Questcor Pharmaceuticals appeared at his office and suggested that he try it for various rheumatologic conditions.

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” Dr. Lazaro, a rheumatologist in Lafayette, La., says of the price increase.

How the price of this drug rose so far, so fast is a story for these troubled times in American health care — a tale of aggressive marketing, questionable medicine and, not least, out-of-control costs. At the center of it is Questcor, which turned the once-obscure Acthar into a hugely profitable wonder drug and itself into one of Wall Street’s highest fliers.

That Acthar is even a potential blockbuster is a remarkable turn of events, considering that the drug was developed in the 1950s by a division of Armour & Company, the meatpacking company that once ruled the Union Stock Yards of Chicago. As in the 1950s, Acthar is still extracted from the pituitary glands of slaughtered pigs — essentially a byproduct of the meatpacking industry.

The most important use of Acthar has been to treat infantile spasms, also known as West syndrome, a rare, sometimes fatal epileptic disorder that generally strikes before the age of 1.

For several years, Questcor, which is based in Anaheim, lost money on Acthar because the drug’s market was so small. In 2007, it raised the price overnight, to more than $23,000 a vial, from $1,650, bringing the cost of a typical course of treatment for infantile spasms to above $100,000. It said it needed the high price to keep the drug on the market…

But Questcor did almost no research or development to bring Acthar to market, merely buying the rights to the drug from its previous owner for $100,000 in 2001. And while the manufacturing of Acthar is complex, it accounts for only about 1 cent of every dollar that Questcor charges for the drug.

…Before long, Questcor began marketing the drug for multiple sclerosis, nephrotic syndrome and rheumatologic conditions, even though there is little evidence that Acthar is more effective for those other conditions than alternatives that are far cheaper. And the company did so without being required to prove that the drug actually works. That is because Acthar was approved for use in 1952, before the Food and Drug Administration required clinical trials to show a drug is effective for a particular disease. Acthar is essentially grandfathered in.

It never ends does it? RTFA for the rest of this delightful twisted tale. Shareholders and profits take a higher priority than medical usefulness. The FDA does nothing because of old precedents – and Congress does nothing to change those rules.

Beancounters complain about the cost of healthcare without considering those who profit the most from absurd pricing, their greed, their responsibility.

More Afghan police are dying from “green on green” killings than “green on blue”


Talk about being nervous at graduation time…

A wave of betrayal has left at least 17 Afghan policemen dead in the past 10 days — all killed in their sleep, at the hands of those close to them.

Early Thursday morning, an Afghan policeman unlocked the door of the check post where he was stationed in Oruzgan Province and let in his friends from the Taliban, who helped him attack his sleeping colleagues with knives and guns, eventually killing four and wounding eight.

Last Sunday, a local police commander in a remote northern province, Jawzjan, shot to death, in their beds, five men under his command and fled to join the Taliban.

And on Dec. 18, a teenager, apparently being kept for sexual purposes by an Afghan border police commander in southern Kandahar Province, drugged the commander and the other 10 policemen at the post to put them to sleep, and then shot them all; eight died…

In the crisis that has risen in the past year over insider killings, in which Afghan security forces turn on their allies, the toll has been even heavier for the Afghans themselves — at least 86 in a count by The New York Times this year, and the full toll is likely to be higher — than it has been for American and other NATO forces, which have lost at least 62 so far, the latest in Kabul on Monday.

Unlike most insider attacks against foreign forces, known as “green on blue” killings, most of the attacks between Afghans, “green on green,” have been clear cases of either infiltration by Taliban insurgents or turncoat attacks. As with the three recent attacks, they have fallen most heavily on police units, and they have followed a familiar pattern: the Taliban either infiltrate someone into a unit, or win over someone already in a unit, who then kills his comrades in their sleep. Frequently, the victims are first poisoned or drugged at dinner.

Yes, some of this is non-political. RTFA for the portion of these murders that can be put to retaliation against the corruption that is frequent in Afghan culture.