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Since the Evil Empire of Ronald Reagan is no longer a country, maybe we should deal with the evils in our country and how people in power are misusing that power.

There are many people in power and places of power that have a god complex in thinking they know best what should be done to and for the lowly common man and woman.  What is being done is criminal and immoral.

The Evil Empire is now us.  Remember one thing.  It is ALWAYS about he money.   So many different companies and businesses that want to control us and our money.  Big Pharma, big corps., and big gov.

The very ABC agencies that are suppose to protect us are doing anything but.  Remember it is always about the money.   How can these ABC agencies protect us from the companies that the people in these agencies have been in bed with the companies they are suppose to protect us from.  Remember is is always about the money.

Remember this.  It started with a story or short piece here and there about it might be possible for a disease to jump from animal to human.  There wasn't much about this but it did show up ever so often.  Then it started appearing more.  It changed from might happen to a good chance it would happen to it is going to happen.  The question that are raised by watching how this is playing out is what do they know and when did they know it.

There is something in this story that isn't being told.  When you think about it, it really is scary.  If this does happen, IT DIDN"T JUST HAPPEN.  It had help.

I was in a mall the other day and noticed a large group of people and the size was growing.  Mostly older people but you did see some mothers with children.  I went to the area to check what was going on.  There was going to be flu vaccinations given there.  The herd of humans were getting in line waiting for their shots that the government and big pharma pushes.  Now with the so called Bird Flu, just wait for the push on the vaccines for this.  Do your research on vaccines and what are in them.  Everything is not how it seems.

Why drop the disclosure provisions and WHO are our so called representives looking out for???

House softens lobbying measure

WASHINGTON — House Republican leaders have quietly scaled back their plan to limit the political influence of lobbyists, dropping proposed requirements that lobbyists disclose which lawmakers and aides they have contacted and how they have raised money for politicians.

The changes were made public in an amended bill posted on the House Rules Committee website Friday while Congress was wrapping up a two-week recess. Even before the latest move, political ethics experts had called the House plan weaker than a lobbying bill the Senate passed last month.

The legislation is to be considered this week as Congress returns to address a political influence scandal that has gripped Washington. The House bill would leave unchanged current rules that allow members of Congress and their staffs to accept gifts from lobbyists.

In addition, the measure would:

•Freeze junkets paid for by private interests, but only until after the November elections.

•Place no new restrictions on lawmakers and aides who leave Capitol Hill to become lobbyists.

•Leave enforcement of the rules in the hands of a House ethics committee that is paralyzed by partisan tensions.

Ex-lobbyist Jack Abramoff landed in legal trouble for wooing members of Congress with lavish trips, expensive meals and sports and entertainment tickets, and by luring top aides to the lobbying world to try to influence their former bosses.

The House bill, like the Senate version approved last month, relies heavily on disclosure to police ties between lobbyists and policymakers. It would require lobbyists to file reports quarterly, rather than semiannually as they do now.

Kevin Madden, spokesman for House Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, said the bill would make the ties between lobbyists and lawmakers more transparent and “rebuild the trust between Congress and the American public.”

The House bill is “sleight of hand from a Congress that is more concerned with facing the voters than with facing the problem,” said Gary Kalman of the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, a government watchdog organization. Added Chellie Pingree, president of Common Cause: “They are maintaining the status quo and calling it reform.”

Julian Zelizer, a congressional historian at Boston University, said major rule changes usually come only when a scandal hits peak intensity. Congress, he said, is “still clearly hesitating to do anything.”

The revised plan finished Friday dropped requirements that lobbyists specify which lawmakers and aides they have contacted; disclose their sponsorship of lavish parties for lawmakers at political conventions; and report their fundraising for candidates for federal office.




How surprising is this story here?  If you have done much research about Big Pharma Mama  it may not be much of a surprise to you.  Remember Everything is NOT how they want you to think.

Study: Medical manual's authors often tied to drugmakers

A majority of the medical experts who created the “bible” for diagnosing mental illness have undisclosed financial links to drugmakers, says a study out today.

And some panels overseeing disorders that require treatment with prescription drugs, such as schizophrenia and “mood disorders,” were 100% filled with experts financially tied to the pharmaceutical industry, says the study published in the journal Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders (DSM) is the American Psychiatric Association's diagnosis manual. It is also used as the basis for insurance payments for psychiatric treatments, including drugs.

“No blood tests exist for the disorders in the DSM. It relies on judgments from practitioners who rely on the manual,” says lead study author Lisa Cosgrove of the University of Massachusetts Boston.

The researchers looked for research funds, consultancies, patents and other gifts or grants received by members of the 18 separate DSM preparation panels from 1989 to 2004, both before and after their terms.

They found that among the 170 medical experts who created the two most recent editions of the manual, 56% had one or more financial ties to the pharmaceutical industry. In addition to the schizophrenia and mood disorder panels' links, more than 80% of panel members for “anxiety disorders,” “eating disorders,” “medication-induced movement disorders” and “premenstrual dysphonic disorder” had financial ties.

“Psychiatrists rely on the APA (American Psychiatric Association) to police its activities, and we take that responsibility very seriously,” association psychiatrist Darrel Regier says. The next edition, scheduled for release in 2011, will disclose all industry financial ties to panel members, he says, either in the manual or on a website.

“I don't think that's good enough. People don't poke around in the latest issue looking for conflict-of-interest statements,” says physician Peter Lurie of Public Citizen, a consumer advocacy group based in Washington, D.C. Ideally, the DSM would be created by experts without any financial links to drugmakers, he says.

The Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association responded, in a statement by spokesman Ken Johnson, that the health care professionals on these panels “have impeccable integrity and base their decisions on independent judgments and research.”

This month, the journal PLOS Medicine accused the drug industry of “disease-mongering,” inventing diseases from everyday aggravations, such “restless legs syndrome,” and widening definitions to sweep up more patients.

Psychologist David Healy of the United Kingdom's Cardiff University notes that recent revisions to the DSM eliminated a subtype of schizophrenia that responded poorly to drugs. And “melancholia” was eliminated in favor of major depressive disorder, Healy says. “The upshot is that some patients are going to lose out,” he says.

Regier disputes the claims.

Imagine what would happen if a Category 5 viral storm hit every state'

Health officials from all over the world are scrambling to figure out how to ward off a global outbreak of deadly flu. President Bush, fresh from reading a 546-page tome on his vacation about the 1918 “Spanish flu” outbreak, has been consulting with the heads of vaccine companies, and he warns that the military might be used to enforce quarantines. His administration's flu battle plan reportedly predicts that almost 2 million Americans could die in a major outbreak.

The dire projections are prompting new anxiety among Americans already reeling from hurricane disasters. But the experts have been warning for years about a possible flu pandemic. Why suddenly are all the government's alarm bells going off? Are there real reasons to be frightened now? And if there is a flu pandemic, how bad could it be?

Two recent, unrelated events have put the possibility of a flu pandemic into sharp focus:

•An avian flu that had largely been confined to Southeast Asia has spread to Europe and Turkey.

•Two back-to-back hurricanes in the Gulf demonstrated nature's potential for devastation.

Secretary of Health and Human Services Michael Leavitt was visiting hurricane emergency shelters after Katrina and Rita when it hit him just how bad a flu pandemic could be. “What if it weren't just New Orleans” struck by catastrophe, Leavitt recalls thinking. “What if it were Seattle, San Diego, Corpus Christi, Denver, Chicago, New York? Make your own list.”

Unlike a hurricane that's confined to a specific area over a short time, a pandemic flu strikes everywhere and can last a year or more, says Leavitt, who left Saturday on a fact-finding trip to flu-stricken regions of Southeast Asia. Waves of illness would shutter schools and businesses, swamp hospitals and send tens of thousands to overflow medical shelters and early graves.

“The big lesson I learned from Hurricane Katrina is that we have to be thinking about the unthinkable,” Leavitt says, “because sometimes the unthinkable happens.”

The unthinkable has become all too real in Vietnam, Thailand and other Asian countries where an especially deadly flu virus, influenza A/H5N1, has been spreading through millions of birds for the past two years. The virus recently has shown up in birds in Romania, Russia and Turkey.

So far, the virus has infected 117 people, killing 60, a death rate of nearly 50%. Most people have been infected through close contact with infected poultry. In rare cases, the virus is believed to have spread among family members through close contact. If the virus learns to spread readily from person to person through the air, it could cause a pandemic that rivals the worst.

No one can predict when a killer flu will strike, how bad it will be or even whether the virus will sustain its virulence after it begins to spread widely among humans. “It's clear the warning signs are troubling, but there is no certainty,” Leavitt says.

Health experts agree that a pandemic is inevitable sometime, that the best defense is preparedness and that the world isn't ready. Katrina laid bare America's inability to deal with a massive emergency.

“We're not prepared. It's the ugly truth,” says Shelley Hearne, executive director of Trust for America's Health, a non-profit public health advocacy group. “If our emergency response failed so badly for a Category 5 hurricane, imagine what would happen if a Category 5 viral storm hit every state.”

Among other things, she says, there is no human vaccine against the avian flu virus, the U.S. government has stockpiled enough antiviral drugs to treat only 1% of the population, and the hospital system couldn't handle the overload if flu victims flooded emergency rooms.

Health experts such as Hearne have been sounding the alarm about a possible flu pandemic for at least two years, but their cries went largely unheeded until now.

Katrina hit just days after Bush finished John M. Barry's The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History during his August vacation on his ranch, White House spokesman Scott McClellan says.

Apparently motivated by the frightening tale of the 1918 epidemic, which killed an estimated 150,000 people in the USA and 50 million worldwide, Bush said last week that the military might be needed to enforce quarantines.

Michael Stebbins of the Federation of American Scientists and others challenged the suggestion as unworkable. “It shows a fundamental lack of understanding of public health emergencies,” he says. “I would be fascinated to see whether the president has a plan to quarantine a city like Washington, D.C., New York or Boston with so many roads in or out. Is he going to send in tanks and armed men?”

Assistant Secretary of Defense William Winkenwirder declined to comment on the president's statement but said the military is often called upon for logistical and medical support in emergencies.

Scientific reports released on the heels of Bush's statement increased the nation's anxiety. In one, Jeffery Taubenberger of the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology and his team said in the journal Nature that the 1918 pandemic began when the virus leapt from birds to humans, a scenario that mirrors what is happening in Asia today.

In a bid to contain the current epidemic, officials in Southeast Asia have slaughtered 140 million birds. That has not stopped the virus from spreading.

Bush met last week with the chief executives of four vaccine companies to determine how he can help them boost production enough to safeguard the population. The State Department on Friday convened a meeting of health officials from 80 countries to map out plans to arrest the flu's spread.

The administration is putting the finishing touches on its long-awaited pandemic plan to be released after Leavitt returns from his trip. A draft version, dated Sept. 30 and leaked to The New York Times, reportedly predicts a major outbreak might kill up to 1.9 million people and make half the country sick.

Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, says he learned of the administration's prediction on Sept. 28 in a top-secret meeting in a secure room in the Capitol. He and a few other senators met with Leavitt; Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases; and Julie Gerberding, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The administration, Harkin says, predicts U.S. deaths from pandemic flu could range from 100,000 to 2 million, and as many as 10 million might be hospitalized. Up to 100 million might become sick. Seasonal flu epidemics kill about 36,000 people each year in the USA.

The briefing prompted Harkin to push for $4 billion in supplemental funds. “We saw what happened when you're not prepared,” he says. The money will bolster surveillance, increase stockpiles of antivirals, increase the vaccine supply, and help state and local health officials prepare for epidemics.

Fauci says the scary statistics resonate at the White House: “The president has taken a strong personal interest in getting this country prepared for pandemic flu.”

Soon after he gets back from Asia on Oct. 18, Leavitt will unveil the administration's pandemic plan. He offered few details, but he sketched out the administration's aims:

Improving the global network to detect disease outbreaks. The United States is working with China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia and others to strengthen surveillance.

Heightening vigilance at home. Among other things, CDC is sending avian flu test kits to a network of labs.

Stockpiling antiviral medications. Leavitt has entered into negotiations with companies that make antivirals, seeking enough to treat 20 million people.

Increasing vaccine capacity. The United States wants to rebuild the vaccine market to give drug makers appropriate incentives to end shortages.

“A major part of our domestic plan needs to be domestic capacity, because in a pandemic, the emergency will be managed across the globe,” Leavitt says. “Anyone with a supply produced in their country will want to keep it there.”

Vaccines are less profitable than drugs, and drug makers worry about liability issues, such as those that arose when swine flu vaccine, produced in 1976 to avert an epidemic that never materialized, caused a nerve disease. The administration seeks to solve both problems by providing vaccine makers with a stable market and protection against lawsuits.

Hearne says health officials hope the administration's plan will be enough to deal with a flu pandemic. “The reality is that if a pandemic hits, it's not just a health emergency,” she says. “It's the big one. It requires big thinking to make sure all those dots are connected. Katrina was a wake-up call.”

A scary bird flu scenario

A strain three times more lethal than the 1968-69 “Hong Kong flu” could kill more than half a million people in the USA and send 2 million to the hospital. These estimates do not reflect the latest government calculations, which have not been released. Projected numbers of dead, hospitalized and cases:

State Dead In hospitals No. of cases
Ala. 8,886 38,591 1,079,789
Alaska 886 4,558 152,328
Ariz. 9,223 39,675 1,138,742
Ark. 5,350 22,660 630,705
Calif. 60,875 273,090 8,067,075
Colo. 7,192 32,978 973,161
Conn. 7,054 29,932 817,465
Del. 1,507 6,560 182,895
D.C. 1,155 4,974 132,241
Fla. 35,737 142,386 3,663,486
Ga. 13,655 62,912 1,871,561
Hawaii 2,446 10,571 296,651
Idaho 2,279 10,157 302,558
Ill. 23,720 103,738 2,973,962
Ind. 11,817 51,711 1,466,027
Iowa 6,233 26,090 713,106
Kan. 5,373 22,946 654,335
Ky. 7,930 34,748 977,031
La. 8,334 37,148 1,087,942
Maine 2,651 11,333 310,513
Md. 9,958 44,500 1,273,572
Mass. 13,136 56,038 1,529,313
Mich. 19,622 86,005 2,443,473
Minn. 9,304 40,786 1,171,387
Miss. 5,362 23,531 682,625
Mo. 11,274 48,240 1,350,515
State Dead In hospitals No. of cases
Mont. 1,804 7,787 219,703
Neb. 3,441 14,697 414,218
Nev. 3,243 14,455 419,202
N.H. 2,333 10,301 293,177
N.J. 16,980 72,791 2,013,212
N.M. 3,244 14,504 432,438
N.Y. 37,701 162,490 4,534,307
N.C. 14,987 65,637 1,856,296
N.D. 1,371 5,795 160,221
Ohio 23,197 99,979 2,796,583
Okla. 6,833 29,376 829,273
Ore. 6,724 29,047 810,872
Pa. 27,185 112,658 3,004,915
R.I. 2,234 9,263 246,857
S.C. 7,474 32,983 940,045
S.D. 1,559 6,599 184,493
Tenn. 10,875 47,678 1,342,050
Texas 35,124 160,648 4,859,834
Utah 3,393 15,906 514,787
Vt. 1,185 5,213 147,245
Va. 13,104 58,872 1,683,499
Wash. 10,910 48,610 1,402,591
W.Va. 4,049 17,014 453,947
Wis. 10,620 45,842 1,292,419
Wyo. 915 4,086 119,936



Study: Avian flu can spread silently

Mutations in the often deadly avian flu virus have made it less deadly to ducks. But it is capable of hiding in healthy-looking ducks and infecting other birds and humans, researchers find. A study in this week's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences says the H5N1 virus could kill some ducks after causing only mild symptoms — which means it could lurk, undetected, in flocks while spreading silently. Also: Another avian flu study, in this week's Journal of Infectious Disease, finds that the antiviral medication Tamiflu suppresses the flu strain H5N1. The strain has killed 51 people in Asia since 2003, and experts fear it could kill millions in a global outbreak.

Two reports sound the alarm on animal-borne diseases
Panel urges ‘high-level' effort to protect public

Even as animal-borne diseases that can kill humans and wreak economic havoc pose increasing threats to the USA, there's a growing shortage of veterinary experts to meet the challenge and a muddle of agencies responsible for protecting the public, say two reports released today by the National Academies' National Research Council.

“In 2003, we woke up one morning and found out we had monkey-pox, West Nile virus and SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) in the United States, three diseases which had never existed here before,” says Lonnie King, dean of the college of veterinary medicine at Michigan State University in East Lansing and chair of the panel that wrote the report, “Animal Health at the Crossroads.”

“Three-quarters of the new human emerging disease in the past two to three decades have been animal-borne.”

And the future probably will contain more such outbreaks given the increasing encroachment of humans into wildlife habitats, the globalization of food and agricultural production, changing climate patterns, the threat of bioterrorism and tens of thousands of planes and ships carrying potential infection in every direction, the report says.

To deal with the threat, the USA needs a “high-level, authoritative mechanism” to coordinate the private, local, state and federal agencies that deal with animal-borne illnesses, the report says.

One recommendation is for the Agriculture Department and the Homeland Security Department to work together to support the rapid development of tests and tools to detect, diagnose and prevent animal-borne diseases.

This would require that the USA's animal health laboratory network be expanded and that federal agencies begin working to jointly finance research programs on zoonotic, or animal-to-human, disease, the report says.

Equally troubling is that as these problems have grown, the numbers of veterinarians, veterinary pathologists and researchers to deal with them is shrinking, says the second report, “Critical Needs for Research in Veterinary Science.”

“A lot of veterinarians average $80,000 in debt when they finish their degrees, so it's very difficult to entice them to spend three more years in school getting their Ph.D” in veterinary pathology, says Jim Womack, the professor of veterinary pathobiology at Texas A&M University who chaired the panel that wrote the report.

There also is a shortage of money and facilities to conduct that research. For example, Womack says, there's only one Level 4 (the highest level) biocontainment laboratory in the USA that can deal with livestock.

Agriculture Department spokeswoman Hallie Pickhardt says the agency is prepared to respond with its federal and state partners to an animal health emergency but appreciates the additional guidance the reports give.

She adds that the USDA's Animal Plant Health Inspection Service, which monitors animal health in the USA, already has begun several programs to encourage veterinarians to work in the field of zoonotic disease and public health.

Flu vaccine maker Chiron gets second dose of bad news

Though the German-made vaccine was never intended for the U.S. market, the problems raise concerns about whether the company will be able to resolve its problems in time to provide vaccine for the coming flu season.

Chiron, which is headquartered in Emeryville, Calif., first reported problems on Friday, when it issued a statement saying quality tests had identified sterility problems in the production of Begrivac flu vaccine, which is sold in Germany and the United Kingdom.

The company said it had cut its expected production of 12 million doses back to 4 million; on Wednesday, it said it would not be able to supply any Begrivac vaccine for the coming season.

Last October, Chiron was unable to deliver an expected 48 million flu shots to the USA, about half the nation's expected supply, because British regulators found contaminated vaccine at the company's Liverpool plant and suspended its license. Wednesday's news could further erode confidence in the company.

“When will the bleeding stop?” Merrill Lynch analyst Eric Ende asked in an investor note, reported by Reuters. “We believe that there is still a risk that Chiron may not be able to sell any vaccine to the U.S. market in the 2005-2006 season.”

Doctors are worried, too.

“This does make one nervous,” says William Schaffner of Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville, a specialist in infectious diseases. “We'll just have to wait and see. It's not a great vote of confidence.''

British regulators restored Chiron's license in March after the company resolved its manufacturing problems. U.S. Food and Drug Administration scientists are there now conducting an inspection that will determine whether Chiron will be allowed to sell its flu vaccine in the USA this fall.

The FDA's decision is expected within weeks.

“We're still in this uncertain period,” says Lance Rodewald of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But he adds that he expects that Chiron will win the FDA's approval. “We haven't seen any red flags that are showstoppers, but they have hurdles to overcome, and we won't know whether they've overcome them until the inspection is done.”

The CDC has devised plans for prioritizing vaccine based on the amount available. So far, only Sanofi Pasteur, which expects to make 50 million to 60 million doses, and MedImmune, which may produce 3 million, are licensed to sell flu vaccine in the USA. GlaxoSmithKline is awaiting word from the FDA on its application, which could add 10 million more doses.

Chiron has said that, if approved, it can supply 18 million to 26 million doses to the USA.

Energy beam weapon may lower Iraq civilian deaths
Seen as way to avoid checkpoint shootings

Radiation similar to some forms of radar fired by the Active Denial System (ADS) penetrates just below the skin's surface to cause an excruciating burning sensation until it is turned off. Extensive testing has shown no lasting damage, the military said.

The weapon will be demonstrated in public this summer and in Iraq within months. It is the first in what could become a catalog of energy beams that aim to ease one of the war's toughest problems.

Troops guarding checkpoints, bases and convoys regularly face oncoming people or vehicles of uncertain intent. Troops open fire rather than risk a bomb attack.

Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari complained about mistaken shootings to U.S. officials, and the U.S. command in Iraq asked the Pentagon this spring to speed shipment of the non-lethal beam weapons.

The first prototype, developed for the Marines, sits atop a Humvee that has a hybrid gasoline-electric drive train. The propulsion batteries double as a power source for the gun, which looks like a satellite dish and is aimed with a joystick.

“It is not a silver bullet, but it will help our Marines and soldiers from having to go lethal before it's necessary,” said Sue Payton, deputy undersecretary of Defense for advanced systems and concepts.

The ADS is one of several directed-energy weapons, some dating to President Reagan's space-based missile defense research program. Already being tested in the field are low-power lasers that would temporarily blind opponents.

The ADS follows more than a decade and $50 million of research into millimeter-wave radiation weapons. The Army plans a version for its Stryker vehicles, and the Air Force is developing an airborne variant.

One major concern is public acceptance of the weapon.

“We have tested this thing every way from Sunday” to make sure it's safe, Payton said, adding that she had insisted scientists fire the gun on a raw egg to make sure the 95-gigahertz beam wouldn't cook it like a microwave oven does.

“Initially, it felt like someone had opened an oven door, and you felt a rush of heat,” said Rich Garcia, a spokesman for the Air Force Research Labs who was one of hundreds of test subjects. “Within milliseconds, it became intolerable.”


Once again, a trade debate ignores the real problem
Trade deficit flashes danger signal, but trashing CAFTA won't help.

Listening to the fierce debate over the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), one might get the impression that its success or failure will determine the very future of the U.S. economy. Its proponents say it's necessary to expand export markets for U.S. goods and services. Its opponents see it as the latest scheme to export American jobs so corporations can make ever-fatter profits.

As the House of Representatives prepares to vote on the measure this week, however, a few facts might put the debate in a little perspective. The six countries involved — Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic:

•Have a collective economy that is about 1/160th that of the USA.

•Have a population less than 4% of China's and seven of India's provinces.

•Engage in significant trade with the USA that would be unaffected by CAFTA.

On balance, CAFTA is a positive step. The pact would reward six fledgling democracies with greater access to the U.S. markets while providing a modest increase in U.S. exports markets, particularly for agriculture. These positives outweigh its unduly generous protections of drugmakers, the sugar industry and other special interests.

Even so, as a practical matter CAFTA pales in comparison with much more powerful economic forces. If the debate is illustrative of anything, it is how politicians and activist groups like to confuse rather than inform, and to engage in histrionic fights over secondary matters while important issues go unresolved.

Faced with an increasingly competitive global economy, the United States is running a record trade deficit of more than $600 billion annually. These trends cause anxiety among many workers and some economists.

Parts of the problem are beyond U.S. control. The emergence of China and India, for instance. But issues that could be addressed are ignored for lack of political will.

The trade deficit is driven primarily by our own behavior as a nation. We consume too much and invest too little. Consumers demonstrate this in the nation's low savings rate, while the government plays its part through its perpetually unbalanced budgets.

This living beyond our means puts the future of the U.S. economy in the hands of foreigners, who own ever-larger amounts of dollars and ever larger shares of U.S. companies. To date, they have indulged American's voracious consumption by reinvesting their money in the United States. If they lose confidence in the U.S. economy, though, they could send the economy into a tail spin.

That could happen soon, or not for a decade. Nonetheless, it is inevitable if the trend is not reversed.

Fixing these problems involves greater fiscal responsibility in Washington, including new tax policies that would encourage investment rather than consumption.

More broadly, it requires shared sacrifice and a long-term focus — alien concepts in Washington these days.

Beating up on countries like Honduras and El Salvador instead — and passing this off as some kind of significant event — only ensures that the United States' true challenges won't get the attention they deserve.

The debate over CAFTA only demonstrates that the nation hasn't figured out what is truly important.

Brain cancer linked to nerve agent
'91 Gulf War vets possibly exposed

About 100,000 of the 350,000 Army soldiers in the Persian Gulf could have been exposed to sarin after soldiers blew up two large ammunition caches in Khamisiyah, Iraq, in March 1991, according to a study commissioned by the military and performed by the Institute of Medicine. The institute advises the government on health policy.

At the time, the military didn't know that the destroyed Iraqi rockets contained sarin, says Michael Kilpatrick, deputy director for the Deployment Health Support Directorate in the Department of Defense. Soldiers showed no signs of exposure to chemical warfare.

Later, however, United Nations inspectors found that some of the weapons contained sarin, which can cause convulsions and death. The military has since contacted about 300,000 veterans who were in or near areas that might have been affected. The potential “hazard area,” where shifting winds could have carried traces of chemicals, extended at times as far as Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.

According to the study, soldiers inside the hazard area were about twice as likely as those outside it to die from brain cancer. Because the actual number of brain-cancer cases was small, the overall mortality rate was the same for veterans in the hazard area and outside the area, according to the study, published in the American Journal of Public Health.

Among unexposed soldiers, researchers found a brain-cancer death rate of 12 per 100,000 from 1991 to 2000, says William Page, director of the study. During the same period, researchers found 25 brain-cancer deaths per 100,000 veterans who were exposed.

It's a doubling of risk, but it's still a pretty small risk,” says Page, a senior program officer at the Institute of Medicine.

The study did not address “Gulf War syndrome,” as some have called the collection of ailments experienced by returning veterans. It examined whether soldiers possibly exposed to the destruction of Iraqi weapons were more likely to die for any reason. The study also singled out specific diseases: breathing problems, infections, circulatory problems, digestive ailments, accidents and suicides, as well as four types of cancer.

The study's authors note that sarin has never been shown to cause cancer. Page suggests that researchers follow veterans to see whether the risk of brain cancer, which is believed to develop over 10 to 20 years, changes over time. Page also notes that the study doesn't prove that being in the hazard area caused brain cancer.

Melissa Bondy, a professor of epidemiology at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, questions why only one or two days of exposure would increase brain-cancer mortality. Other experts note that the study could shed light on the causes of brain tumors, about which doctors know little.

“It's a very solid study,” says Faith Davis, a professor at the University of Illinois-Chicago. “It needs to be taken seriously.”


Nation unready for germ attacks
Bioterror defense lags despite 4 years, $20B

 The nation is woefully unprepared to respond to a bioterrorism attack despite a $20 billion government investment in bioterrorism preparedness since 2001, according to top government and public health officials and members of Congress.

“We're almost four years after 9/11, and we've made maybe six months' worth of progress,” says Irwin Redlener of Columbia University's National Center for Disaster Preparedness. Redlener says the programs could be run more effectively. “We're wasting billions and billions of dollars,” he says.

Former Homeland Security secretary Tom Ridge says a biological attack with a contagious agent is his greatest fear. With respect to preparedness, “we're not where we want to be,” he says.

Michael Chertoff, the current secretary, named a new chief medical officer last month and said he intends to put more emphasis on potentially catastrophic attacks. But bioterrorism preparedness rests largely with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which is responsible for stocking lifesaving antidotes, sharing information among labs and hospitals and helping communities deliver aid in an emergency.

“This challenge is larger than almost anything we've ever faced,” says William Raub, who runs HHS' public health emergency preparedness. The government may be years away from being adequately prepared, he says, but “I don't think anyone here has anything to apologize for.” Among the problems:

•The government has created a national stockpile of medical equipment and supplies and can move the supplies to any city within 12 hours of an attack, but local officials aren't prepared to deliver the material to citizens in time to save lives. “Not a single city in America is prepared,” says Richard Falkenrath, a former top White House aide on homeland security.

•A $5.6 billion, 10-year government program to spur pharmaceutical firms to develop vaccines and antidotes has yet to produce the drugs. President Bush announced Project BioShield in 2003. The funding is for encouraging firms to invest in research to produce antidotes. The government would buy much of the new drugs if they met certain standards.

But major pharmaceutical companies have ignored the program in part out of liability concerns. “Millions and millions of lives are at stake,” says Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn.

•The nation's 5,000 hospitals couldn't handle a surge of patients. “Hospital preparedness is an exercise in fantasy,” says former HHS preparedness chief Jerome Hauer, who developed the nation's first bioterrorism response plan for New York City. “Most people think having 100 beds is surge capacity. But most cities, if they were to have 10,000-15,000 patients, would be brought to their knees.”


Mad cow cases met with shrug instead of safeguards
Agencies fail to remedy inadequate testing, oversight of cattle.

When bovine spongiform encephalopathy, also known as mad cow disease, first surfaced in the United States in 2003, cattle ranchers and government officials shrugged it off as a cow infected in Canada before being imported here.

When a native-born cow tested positive this June, they explained it away once again, saying the animal was infected before cattle feed restrictions were put in place in 1997.

And when a third possible domestic case surfaced last week, they hastened to note that the 12-year-old cow hadn't entered the food chain.

The story is always the same. Consumers are urged not to worry about the chance of a major outbreak of the disease, like the one that occurred in Europe a decade ago. They are assured they will be protected by the practices of the cattle industry and the policies of responsible government agencies.

In fact, those practices and policies are considered so ineffective that 64 nations have total or partial bans on U.S. beef products. And the two agencies charged with ensuring a safe beef supply, the Agriculture Department (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), have become as much a part of the industry's public relations team as they are public health watchdogs. Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns' response to each episode seems to be to tell everyone he's going to have beef for dinner.

This inadequate oversight, resulting from short-sighted cattle industry pressure, forces American consumers to buy the beef that others will not. It's also counterproductive for the industry itself, which would like diners worldwide to think of its products as top of the line.

As the Agriculture Department investigates the latest possible case of the disease results are expected this week — it has reaffirmed how lackadaisical and insufficient its testing practices are. The FDA, meanwhile, oversees cattle feed policies so riddled with loopholes they would be laughable if they weren't so nauseating.

Mad cow disease is spread when cows, which are herbivores by nature, are fed parts of cattle and other ruminant (cud-chewing) animals. It can be prevented from spreading to humans by careful monitoring of what cattle eat and by effective, timely testing.

At the moment, American consumers have neither protection:

Feed loopholes. In 1997, the FDA imposed a so-called ban on the feeding of ruminant protein to cows. But that policy has two enormous exemptions. Weaning calves may drink cattle blood as a milk substitute. And feed may include the waste from chicken coop floors as a protein supplement. This waste poses a risk not because of its many unsavory elements, including feces and feathers, but because FDA officials estimate that up to 30% of it can be uneaten chicken feed — which routinely contains beef.

Keystone Kops” testing. The brain tissue of the cow that is currently being tested was first collected in April. The investigation was delayed because the veterinarian forgot to send the sample to the laboratory. The sample that tested positive in June had originally been cleared by USDA last year. Subsequent tests were ordered by a suspicious internal investigator, showing how inadequate the department's testing is.

The industry is right to argue that the chances of anyone contracting the human form of the disease are quite low. But the issue isn't the overall risk, but whether the government and industry are taking reasonable steps to ensure it is as low as it can be.

By that standard, consumers are right to have a beef. The feed loopholes need to be closed. Quicker, more accurate testing processes need to be fast-tracked.

Only then will Americans be able to enjoy their summer barbecues without having to worry that eating a hamburger might lead to a fatal brain-wasting disease.


More kids get multiple psychiatric drugs
Safety concerns cited in study

U.S. children diagnosed with behavior and psychiatric problems increasingly receive more than one medication despite very little proof that many of the drugs are safe or effective for kids, suggests a research review out Monday.

“We don't know how these drugs may interact with each other, and we don't even have safety studies in children for many of the drugs on their own,” says child psychiatrist Joseph Penn of Brown University Medical School and Bradley Hospital in Providence, R.I.

He and co-author Henrietta Leonard searched the Pub Med database, covering published scientific research, for all studies on children's psychiatric “polypharmacy” use between 1994 and 2004. Their report is in the journal Psychiatry 2005.

They found only six studies. Updates over time showed soaring use of multiple medicines with kids.

For example, a survey of primary care doctors giving children stimulants, commonly prescribed for attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), found multiple psychiatric medicines prescribed in about 5% of office visits during 1993-94. That surged to 25% of visits in 1997-98. Another study on privately insured kids found that 3% given psychiatric drugs got more than one in 1987. It was up to 23% in 1996.

Doctors are using more medications for several reasons, says Penn:

•Drug companies are marketing their products more aggressively to consumers and doctors. “Many parents come in and want that ‘quick fix.' ”

•One drug often causes side effects; since more medications than ever are available, kids get another drug to deal with these side effects. For example, stimulants may cause insomnia, which leads to prescribing sleeping pills.

•Insurers often are more willing to pay for pills than for therapy.

“Doctors are doing this polypharmacy stuff all the time with kids,” says Penn, “but when you look for the research, there is none.”

A newer class of medicines called “atypical antipsychotics” are increasingly combined with other drugs, he says. They're used for kids with bipolar disorder (manic-depression) or severe temper problems. These drugs — Abilify, Seroquel and Risperdal — are approved for adult psychosis, “and we just don't know if they're safe for kids,” Penn says.

However, there is “lots of shared anecdotal experience between doctors saying it's OK to use more than one drug with children and adolescents,” says Lawrence Diller, a Walnut Creek, Calif., behavioral pediatrician.

And “sometimes you have to have different treatments to stabilize a child,” adds Boris Birmaher, a University of Pittsburgh psychiatrist who specializes in childhood bipolar disorder. “We wish one medication would take away their symptoms, but it doesn't always happen.”

Many kids with ADHD have other problems, such as depression, and they may need multiple medicines, he says.

There's not much profit incentive for drug companies to do research on multiple psychiatric medicines with kids, so more studies are unlikely, Diller believes. “Every doctor weighs the degree of symptoms against possible side effects of drugs. But in the absence of science, we're all guessers.”


Are our products our enemy?
Chemicals in everyday goods disrupt hormones

Since what they still call “the disaster” in geneticist Pat Hunt's lab, more scientists have come to suspect that, even in tiny amounts, some of the chemicals that keep our food fresh, our hair stylish, our floors shiny and our fabrics stain-free might be confusing our hormone systems and derailing fetal development.

Hunt says she's not the only researcher who has come to study these chemicals — called endocrine disruptors — because she got “smacked in the face” by an unexpected result. “Almost everybody in this field was drafted into this, but we feel we can't leave this area, because if this stuff is dangerous, then we need to know a whole lot more about it.”

Here's what happened seven years ago at Hunt's lab at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland:

While researching why women miscarry because of chromosomal abnormalities in the fetus, Hunt found that the eggs of the mice she was studying were inexplicably developing serious chromosomal problems.

It took months for Hunt to realize that the problem was caused by a temporary employee's error. “He had two bottles of detergent, one for the floor and one for the cages, and he picked up the wrong one.”

The harsh alkaline floor detergent caused the plastic in the cages to begin to disintegrate, which leached a chemical called bisphenol A into the animals' food and water. Suddenly, 40% of the eggs had chromosomal abnormalities.

The question this posed for scientists: If plastic can do this to mice, what dangers do people face?

You can't see them. There's no way to tell from a product label whether they've been used. And they don't appear in every variation of the same kind of product. Scientists are not always sure how they are transmitted from product to person.

These man-made chemicals are endocrine mimics. By sheer chance, their molecules are perfectly shaped to form keys that open the hormonal locks that control the proper development and function of our bodies.

They may do little harm to adults, but evidence mounts that they can wreak havoc in the development of fetuses and children:

•Ana Soto, a professor of cell biology at Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston, found that exposure to bisphenol A, a common ingredient in plastics such as reusable water bottles and the housing of laptop computers and in resins that line some food cans and dental sealants, can change the course of fetal development. Fetal mice developed tissue associated with higher rates of breast cancer later in life. Soto's findings were presented in San Diego this summer at the yearly meeting of the Endocrine Society, the largest professional organization of endocrinologists.

•Exposure to phthalates (pronounced THAL-ates) comes from direct contact with products that contain them, such as vinyl flooring, detergents, automotive plastics, soap, shampoo, deodorants, fragrances, hair spray, nail polish, plastic bags, food packaging, garden hoses, inflatable toys, blood-storage bags and intravenous medical tubing, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Research published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives by epidemiologist Shanna Swan at the University of Rochester in New York found an association between higher phthalate levels in pregnant women and changes in the genitals in their infant sons that suggest lower concentrations of male hormones and can lead to incomplete testicular descent.

Jim Pirkle, deputy director for science at the CDC's Environmental Health Laboratory, says that while more research must be done to replicate Swan's findings, “The big concern of the phthalates is that they have anti-androgen activity. They get rid of things that are in the testosterone line, the things that make a man a man.”

•In a separate study, Harvard and CDC researchers found that boys in neonatal intensive care units had phthalate levels about 25 times higher than the general population. This is two years after the Food and Drug Administration warned hospitals that phthalate leaching out of plastics used in medical devices carries such a health risk to baby boys that those devices shouldn't be used on babies or on pregnant women carrying male fetuses.

•Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) is a building block of chemicals used to make stain-, grease- and water-resistant coatings such as Teflon and Gore-Tex. An Environmental Protection Agency scientific advisory panel recently concluded PFOA is a likely carcinogen with liver, breast, pancreatic and testicular cancer of specific concern. The EPA has not yet adopted the finding and has not set acceptable limits.

• A study released last month by the U.S. Geological Survey and the City of Austin found that runoff from parking lot sealant, used to protect and beautify asphalt, is a source of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons known to be a likely carcinogen and a possible reproductive toxicant.

•Research published by Michael Skinner, director of the Center for Reproductive Biology at Washington State University, showed that exposure of rodents to an insecticide called methoxychlor and a fungicide called vinclozolin, both endocrine disruptors, caused changes in mice that affected not just the offspring exposed to the chemical in utero but all males born for at least four subsequent generations.

“If an environmental toxin can cause a transgenerational effect and affect your grandchild, this is a much more major hazard we need to consider in environmental toxins,” Skinner says.

Although these chemicals have been widely used since the 1960s, it has been only in the past five or so years that scientists have had tests sensitive enough to measure the extremely low doses present in the environment and our bodies. And they have found that phthalates and PFOA are ubiquitous.

In random sampling of participants in a national health survey, the CDC has found trace amounts of phthalates in all urine tested. In January, the Environmental Protection Agency reported that adults tested in three human biomonitoring studies had trace amounts of PFOA in their bloodstream.

“Certainly, we're concerned about what's happening to adults, but we're especially concerned about developmental exposure of the fetus and young child,” Retha Newbold, a developmental endocrinologist at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, told the Endocrine Society.

“Protective mechanisms that are available to the adult, such as DNA repair, the immune system, detoxification enzymes, liver metabolism and the blood/brain barrier, are not fully functional in the fetus or newborn,” Newbold says. “Exposures to endocrine-disrupting chemicals during critical states of development may have permanent consequences, some of which may not be expressed or detected until later in life.”

But chemical producers say researchers aren't coming up with “smoking guns,” in the words of Sarah Brozena, assistant general counsel to the American Chemistry Council, an industry group. “The International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry did this pretty comprehensive review and decided there was no evidence of humans being adversely impacted by environmental exposures to endocrine-active substances,” she says.

The past three years have seen significant advances in “epidemiological evidence and the development of animal models” to help understand how endocrine disruptors work, says Kenneth Korach, director of the Environmental Disease and Medicine Program at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

The means of exposure to endocrine disruptors can be difficult to determine. “It's not like smoking was,” says Swan, who did the phthalates research. “They're all around us, in food, in household dust and in products, but they're invisible.

“People don't know when they're exposed. Our old epidemiological tools — interviews, looking at medical records and questionnaires — are useless. We have to look at the body. But it's expensive and hard to get people to give blood.”

And if figuring out what a tiny amount of one chemical does is hard, researchers say they have almost no idea what happens when many chemicals interact. “Nobody's exposed to one thing,” Korach says. “The problem is we haven't done enough yet to look at combinations.”

Of course, each of these studies is only one small piece in a much larger puzzle that still must be filled out, says Earl Gray, a senior research biologist with EPA's endocrinology branch. “There are things that we know for sure,” he says. “It's obvious and has been for a long time that there are effects in wildlife due to endocrine-disrupting chemicals.”

In humans, the evidence isn't clear-cut: “A single study doesn't create a disaster; it's a hypothesis that needs to be replicated.”

Others wonder why compounds are turning up harmful in some studies, while “every test we've ever done in the past says they're inactive,” says James Lamb of scientific and engineering consulting firm Blasland, Bouck & Lee Inc.

“These things raise questions that need to be addressed by industry and government,” Lamb says. “I'd hate for people to come away feeling like they're in danger if they use these products.”

Environmental groups and researchers maintain that it's possible to have modern conveniences without all the health risks.

They note that the government has been able to eradicate other chemical dangers. “We've seen lead levels dramatically decline in kids, PCB (polychlorinated biphenyl) levels decline, all because of direct government intervention that gets these out of the environment,” says Jane Houlihan, a scientist with the Environmental Working Group.

The EPA says it's working on that.

The agency's Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics has been exploring “green chemistry” options — a fundamental approach to pollution prevention on a molecular level — for 10 years now.

If the chemicals that make plastics soft are endocrine disruptors, chemists now have the ability to design them without that side effect. It just takes convincing industry that the result is going to be cheaper in the long run, says Mary Ellen Weber, director of the EPA's pollutions and toxics research group. “When you can replace a known toxic chemical with sugar or cornstarch or sunlight, you know you've got an environmentally preferable product.”


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