Category Archives: Health

35 States Set to Vote on 160+ Initiatives on Pot, Universal Healthcare, Minimum Wage, Death Penalty

As voters in the United States go to the polls, Amy Goodman is joined by Justine Sarver, executive director of the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center, and Sarah Anderson, director of the Global Economy Project at the Institute for Policy Studies, for a look at some of the most important decisions they will make—not for president, governor, Senate or congressional races, but on more than 160 ballot initiatives in 35 states, more than in any election in the last decade. Marijuana legalization is on the ballot in nine states, and income inequality and economic insecurity are at the heart of many other measures, along with initiatives on guns, public education, the death penalty and Colorado’s Amendment 69, a citizen-initiated constitutional amendment which would finance universal healthcare. (Democracy Now!)

Will Donald Trump Appoint White Supremacists If He Gets Elected?

Thom talks about an open white supremacist associated with the Donald Trump campaign and asks whether these are the types of people the Republican nominee will appoint if he wins the election. (Thom Hartmann Show)

We Never Voted for Corporate Rule

David Korten writes for YES! Magazine:

Corporate-Rule-Korten.gifLast week, Bayer, a transnational drug and pesticide company, secured funding for its $66 billion offer to acquire Monsanto, the world’s largest producer of agricultural seeds. This follows the announced $130 billion merger of chemical giants Dow and DuPont, and ChemChina’s proposed $43 billion purchase of the seed and pesticide firm Syngenta.

Bayer, DuPont, Dow, Monsanto, and Syngenta are five of the world’s six biggest pesticide and seed corporations. There are claims, which I find credible, that the “Big 6” and their products bear major responsibility for pesticide-resistant weeds and insects, and are implicated in impoverishment of small farmers, collapse of honeybee colonies, water pollution, and loss of biodiversity and soil fertility—all serious attacks on the common good. And similar consolidation continues in most every sector of the economy.

As individual corporations grow in size, global reach, and political power, we see a corresponding shift in the primary function of national governments—from serving the interests of their citizens to assuring the security of corporate property and profits. They apply police and military powers to this end, subsidize corporate operations, and facilitate corporate tax evasion. They let corporations off the hook with slap-on-the-wrist fines for criminal actions. Rarely, if ever, do they punish top executives.

We the People never voted to yield our sovereignty to transnational corporations. Nor was the corporate takeover a response to public need.

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Neoliberalism Is Creating Loneliness, That’s What’s Wrenching Society Apart

George Monbiot writes for The Guardian:

What greater indictment of a system could there be than an epidemic of mental illness? Yet plagues of anxiety, stress, depression, social phobia, eating disorders, self-harm and loneliness now strike people down all over the world. The latest, catastrophic figures for children’s mental health in England reflect a global crisis.

There are plenty of secondary reasons for this distress, but it seems to me that the underlying cause is everywhere the same: human beings, the ultrasocial mammals, whose brains are wired to respond to other people, are being peeled apart. Economic and technological change play a major role, but so does ideology. Though our wellbeing is inextricably linked to the lives of others, everywhere we are told that we will prosper through competitive self-interest and extreme individualism.

In Britain, men who have spent their entire lives in quadrangles – at school, at college, at the bar, in parliament – instruct us to stand on our own two feet. The education system becomes more brutally competitive by the year. Employment is a fight to the near-death with a multitude of other desperate people chasing ever fewer jobs. The modern overseers of the poor ascribe individual blame to economic circumstance. Endless competitions on television feed impossible aspirations as real opportunities contract.

Consumerism fills the social void. But far from curing the disease of isolation, it intensifies social comparison to the point at which, having consumed all else, we start to prey upon ourselves. Social media brings us together and drives us apart, allowing us precisely to quantify our social standing, and to see that other people have more friends and followers than we do.

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Is the Bayer-Monsanto Merger Too Big To Succeed?

David Francis writes for Foreign Policy:

Image resultIt took $66 billion — the largest all-cash transaction in history – for German biotech giant Bayer to win control over Monsanto, the global seed market leader. The takeover creates a very unique — and to some, very unsettling — kind of corporate beast, one tasked with feeding billions as temperatures rise and farmlands shrink.

If the merger goes through — and that’s a very big if, given that both EU and American regulators are likely to carefully scrutinize the deal — the new firm would corner more than a quarter of the world market for seeds and pesticides. In the United States, it would control some 58 percent of cottonseed sales. According to Vox, the new company would be the largest agribusiness in the world, selling 29 percent of the world’s seeds and 24 percent of its pesticides.

That puts one firm in a pole position to influence, and potentially control, how the world feeds itself. Regulators are likely to investigate whether the merged company will be too big and able to squeeze farmers and shoppers at the price register. And it comes as the rest of the agribusiness industry is also consolidating, in part to counteract slumping commodity prices due to the economic slowdown in China, which trickles down and forces farmers to spend less on supplies.

The specter of greater market power for firms that make the seeds that many poor farmers need to buy each spring before planting is sparking panic in the developing world.

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Heroin, Nazis, and Agent Orange: Inside the $66 Billion Merger of the Year

Lydia Mulvany reports for Bloomberg:

Image result for monsanto bayer historyTwo giants of the farming and chemical industries agreed to merge Wednesday in a $66 billion deal: the U.S.’s Monsanto and Germany’s Bayer, the original maker of aspirin. It’s the year’s biggest deal and will create the world’s largest supplier of seeds and farm chemicals, with $26 billion in combined annual revenue from agriculture. If the merger goes through, it will combine two companies with a long and storied history that shaped what we eat, the drugs we take and how we grow our food.

Bayer: Then & Now

Two friends making dyes from coal-tar started Bayer in 1863, and it developed into a chemical and drug company famous for introducing heroin as a cough remedy in 1896, then aspirin in 1899. The company was a Nazi contractor during World War II and used forced labor. Today, the firm based in Leverkusen, Germany, makes drugs and has a crop science unit, which makes weed and bug killers. Its goal is to dominate the chemical and drug markets for people, plants and animals.

Monsanto: Then & Now

Monsanto, founded in 1901, originally made food additives like saccharin before expanding into industrial chemicals, pharmaceuticals and agriculture products. It’s famous for making some controversial and highly toxic chemicals like polychlorinated biphenyls, now banned and commonly known as PCBs, and the herbicide Agent Orange, which was used by the U.S. military in Vietnam. It commercialized Roundup herbicide in the 1970s and began developing genetically modified corn and soybean seeds in the 1980s. In 2000, a new Monsanto emerged from a series of corporate mergers.

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The Shady History of Big Sugar

David Singerman writes for The New York Times:

On Monday, an article in JAMA Internal Medicine reported that in the 1960s, the sugar industry paid Harvard scientists to publish a study blaming fat and cholesterol for coronary heart disease while largely exculpating sugar. This study, published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine in 1967, helped set the agenda for decades of public health policy designed to steer Americans into low-fat foods, which increased carbohydrate consumption and exacerbated our obesity epidemic.

This revelation rightly reminds us to view industry-funded nutrition science with skepticism and to continue to demand transparency in scientific research. But ending Big Sugar’s hold on the American diet will require a broader understanding of the various ways in which the industry, for 150 years, has shaped government policy in order to fuel our sugar addiction.

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Harvard’s Sugar Daddy

Michael Cook reports for Bio Edge:

Harvard nutrition researchers in the 1960s were suborned by the sugar industry to deflect the attention of the public away from its baneful role in chronic disease, claim hard-hitting articles in JAMA released this week.

Based on studies of the archives of the Sugar Research Foundation (SRF), researchers found that in the early 1960s three Harvard scientists were paid US$6,500 (about $50,000 in today’s dollars) to write a review of research into the role of sugar and fat in heart disease. The sugar industry selected the papers and the resulting two-part review, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, minimized the role of sugar and painted saturated fat as the villain. Its conclusion was that “there was ‘no doubt’ that the only dietary intervention required to prevent CHD was to reduce dietary cholesterol and substitute polyunsaturated fat for saturated fat in the American diet.” The SRF’s intimate involvement in the study was not disclosed.

The links of the scientists to the sugar industry were scandalously close. Dr. Fredrick J. Stare, the chairman of Harvard’s nutrition department at the time, and the senior author of the 1967 research review, was an ad hoc member of the sugar industry’s scientific advisory board.

This lack of transparency and conflict of interest may have had far-reaching effects. For the next 50 years, nutritionists focused on fighting fat while underestimating the role of sugar in coronary heart disease. For years they warned of the dangers of fat, leading people to eat low-fat, high-sugar foods which have contributed to America’s obesity epidemic.

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Former EPA Head Admits She Was Wrong to Tell New Yorkers Post-9/11 Air Was Safe

Joanna Walters reports for The Guardian:

Image result for EPA 9/11Christine Todd Whitman, who as head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under George W Bush at the time of the 9/11 attacks told the public the air around Ground Zero in New York was safe to breathe, has admitted for the first time she was wrong.

Among those who were exposed to toxins released when the World Trade Center collapsed, the toll of illness and death continues to rise.

Speaking to the Guardian for a report on the growing health crisis to be published on Sunday, the 15th anniversary of the attacks, Whitman made an unprecedented apology to those affected but denied she had ever lied about the air quality or known at the time it was dangerous.

“Whatever we got wrong, we should acknowledge and people should be helped,” she said, adding that she still “feels awful” about the tragedy and its aftermath.

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9/11’s Second Wave: Cancer and Other Diseases Linked to the 2001 Attacks Are Surging

Leah McGrath Goodman reports for Newsweek:

Image result for 9/11’s Second Wave: Cancer and Other Diseases Linked to the 2001 Attacks Are Surging[…] Placido Perez is one of the thousands fighting deadly diseases as a result of exposure to Ground Zero. Doctors with the World Trade Center Health Program, which the federal government created in the aftermath of the attacks, have linked nearly 70 types of cancer to Ground Zero. Many people have fallen victim to cancers their doctors say are rare, aggressive and particularly hard to treat. “The diseases stemming from the World Trade Center attacks include almost all lung diseases, almost all cancers—such as issues of the upper airways, gastroesophageal acid reflux disease, post-traumatic stress, anxiety, panic and adjustment disorders,” says Dr. David Prezant, co-director for the Fire Department of the City of New York’s World Trade Center Medical Monitoring Program.

With the exception of the Civil War battle of Antietam, more American lives were lost on September 11, 2001, than on any other day in U.S. history: 2,996 people were killed—265 on the four hijacked planes, 125 at the Pentagon and 2,606 at the World Trade Center and surrounding area. More than 411 emergency workers died on 9/11, and the total number of rescue and recovery workers who have died has more than doubled since the attacks, to 1,064 as of July, according to data obtained exclusively by Newsweek from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

The wider population is also suffering: As many as 400,000 people are estimated to be affected by diseases, such as cancers, and mental illnesses linked to September 11. This figure includes those who lived and worked within a mile and a half of Ground Zero in Manhattan and Brooklyn, the vast majority of whom still don’t know they’re at risk. Mark Farfel, director of the World Trade Center Health Registry, which tracks the health of more than 71,000 rescue workers and survivors, says, “Many people don’t connect the symptoms they have today to September 11.”

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Bayer Bids $65b for Monsanto, One of the Most Hated Companies in the World

Angelo Young writes for Salon:

There are many companies whose very names have become synonymous with the evils of their industries, if not blatant examples of general corporate turpitude: Halliburton (Iraq war profiteering), Goldman Sachs (“The Vampire Squid“) and McDonald’s (a super-sized contributor to the obesity epidemic) to name but a few.

Naturally, the bioengineering sector has its own Voldemort-like villain: Monsanto Co. If liberal HBO talk-show host Bill Maher, Occupy Monsanto activists and monoculture opponents are to be believed, the St. Louis-based agricultural giant is poisoning the planet with mutant crops and herbicides and threatening the world’s food safety and security.

But if German pharmaceuticals and chemicals maker Bayer AG is to be believed, Monsanto is a moneymaking prize like no other. On Tuesday, Bayer came one step closer to becoming the new bad boy of GM crops, upping its bid to acquire Monsanto to more than $65 billion. In response, Monsanto has agreed to allow Bayer to review its books as part of a due-diligence check, a signal that the companies are closing in on on a friendly (rather than hostile) acquisition.

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Full Metal Racket

Ryan Bradley reports for New Republic:

[…] Today, the Department of Veterans Affairs ranks hearing loss as the number one disability among vets. At least 60 percent of those returning from Iraq and Afghanistan—some 600,000 vets—suffer permanent hearing loss or tinnitus, a chronic ringing in the ears. It’s also the fastest-growing of all postwar disabilities, more than doubling over the past decade, and among the most costly in terms of lost productivity. Lose your hearing and you’re more likely to lose your job, suffer from high stress, or experience social anxiety, depression, and early-onset dementia. And though it can be treated, there is no cure.

Soldiers are suffering from hearing loss for a simple reason: War is loud, and getting louder. The F-35 fighter jet, which was declared operational in 2015, is among the most deafening flying machines ever created—four times louder than the F-16. It’s so loud that aircraft carriers need to be specially outfitted with extra sound-dampeners to protect the ears of sailors, even below deck. In Vermont, where the F-35 is scheduled to be deployed in 2019, an initial Air Force evaluation found that the jet’s decibel level during takeoff and landing would render 1,366 homes in the area “unsuitable for residential living.”

More firepower also means more noise. The crack of the military’s standard-issue pistol, the M9, is nearly as loud as the F-35. And the Mach 7 boom of the Navy’s new rail guns and other “kinetic weapons systems” are eight times louder than traditional artillery systems.

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Diagnoses of 9/11-linked cancers have tripled in less than 3 years

Susan Edelman reports for the New York Post:

More than 5,400 Ground Zero responders and others who lived, worked or went to school near the fallen Twin Towers have come down with 9/11-linked cancers, a grim tally that has tripled in the past 2¹/₂ years.

As of June 30, 5,441 people enrolled in the WTC Health Program have been diagnosed with 6,378 separate cancers, with some struck by more than one type, officials said.

That’s up from 1,822 victims in January 2014.

“You see an alarming increase,” said Dr. Michael Crane, medical director of the WTC Health Program at Mount Sinai Hospital.

“It’s been steady for at least the last year and a half — we’re seeing new people here being certified for cancer 10 to 15 times week. That’s every week. ” Crane told The Post.

The program now monitors more than 48,000 cops, hardhats, volunteer firefighters, utility workers and others who toiled at Ground Zero. The FDNY has its own 9/11 health program with 16,000 members.

In all, at least 1,140 have died, officials said.

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Diversity, Disability and Eugenics: An Interview with Rob Sparrow

Xavier Symons writes for Bio Edge:

Australian bioethicist Rob Sparrow has written extensively on topics ranging from political philosophy and minority rights to the ethics of war, robot ethics and even the ethics of nanotechnology. Yet he is arguably best known for his work in bioethics. While in one sense part of a mainstream bioethics academy, Professor Sparrow often provides a refreshingly unique perspective and challenges establishment opinions in the field. As Richard R. Sharp has noted, “Sparrow’s scholarship exemplifies the value of the intellectual gadfly – even when that work ruffles a few feathers among the bioethical elite.”

In the following interview Professor Sparrow and BioEdge’s Xavier Symons discuss current controversies in bioethics and, in particular, questions surrounding genetic diversity, the elimination of disability, and the so-called new eugenics.

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Study showing decline in dog fertility may have human implications

Tim Radford reports for The Guardian:

[…] Richard Lea, of Nottingham University’s school of veterinary medicine and science, and colleagues collected samples of semen from a carefully monitored population of labradors, border collies, German shepherds and golden retrievers used as stud to breed dogs intended to help the disabled. They tested 1,925 samples of ejaculate from a total of 232 different dogs at the rate of between 42 and 97 dogs every year.

And they found a drop in sperm motility – the ability to swim in a straight line – of 2.4% per year from 1988 to 1998. Even once some dogs were excluded from the study because their fertility was in some way in question, from 2002 to 2014 the scientists still measured a decline of 1.2% per year.

They also confirmed the presence of environmental chemicals known as PCBs and phthalates in the canine semen, and in testicles of dogs castrated by veterinary surgeons in the course of routine neutering treatment. These chemicals are ubiquitous, and have been linked to both fertility issues and birth defects.

At the heart of the research is not the dog, but the question of male human fertility. Repeated tests over more than 70 years have shown a downward trend in male fertility, but there has always been argument about the consistency and accuracy of the findings.

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Plastic manufacturing chemical BPS harms egg cells, study suggests

Science Daily reports:

Bisphenol S, a chemical used to manufacture polycarbonate water bottles and many other products such as epoxy glues and cash receipts, is an increasingly common replacement for bisphenol A, the of which was discontinued because of concerns about its harmful effects on the reproductive system. In a new study, UCLA researchers have found that BPS is just as harmful to the reproductive system as the chemical it replaced. BPS damages a woman’s eggs and at lower doses than BPA.

While looking for replacements to toxic chemicals, manufacturers tend to choose substitute chemicals that, while technically different, often share similar physical properties. Due to increasing consumer pressure, companies have replaced BPA with other related compounds now found in many “BPA-free” products. However we do not know how safe these substitutes are. These uncertainties led the researchers to ask whether BPS could impart detrimental effects on reproduction similar to BPA’s.

The researchers exposed a common laboratory model, the roundworm, to several concentrations of BPA and/or BPS that approximate the levels of BPA and/or BPS found in humans. They followed the worms through the duration of their reproductive periods and measured their fertility.

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Diagnosing the Urge to Run for Office

Scott Lilienfeld and Ashley Watts wrote for Politico Magazine late last year:

Psych_sidebarlead2.jpg[…] Research going back as far as 1998 suggests that modern politicians are more narcissistic than people in other professions. But in fact, politicians—at least those in positions of high power—might also be more narcissistic than ever. In a 2013 study published in Psychological Science, we and several colleagues examined a trait called grandiose narcissism, which comprises immodesty, boastfulness and interpersonal dominance (a certain presidential candidate in a gold-plated tower in Manhattan comes to mind). For every president up to and including George W. Bush, we asked eminent biographers and experts to complete extensive personality ratings for the five years before each president took office. The ratings revealed an intriguing trend: Grandiose narcissism levels are higher in more recent presidents than in earlier ones. Despite some caveats to this result, we also found that levels of several other traits, such as those linked to interpersonal oddity, were not higher in more recent presidents. Ultimately, our findings raise the possibility that the mounting pressures on candidates to be telegenic and adept at self-presentation may be selecting for heightened self-centeredness.

Rising narcissism levels in our politicians might be cause for concern. But today’s grueling campaigns might also select for such adaptive traits as emotional resilience, stick-to-itiveness and impulse control. Of course, even if a presidential candidate is driven partly by ambition, this does not mean he or she is not also driven by love of country. Even egomaniacs can be animated by a higher calling.

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Pope attacks culture of ‘perfect people’

Michael Cook reports for BioEdge:

Pope Francis has made a stinging, if familiar, attack on the bioethics of a consumer society in an address in Rome. He decried the tendency to search for the perfect body and to warehouse the disabled out of sight to avoid offending the sensibilities of the “privileged few”.

In an age when care for one’s body has become an obsession and a big business, anything imperfect has to be hidden away, since it threatens the happiness and serenity of the privileged few and endangers the dominant model.

Such persons should best be kept apart, in some “enclosure” – even a gilded one – or in “islands” of pietism or social welfare, so that they do not hold back the pace of a false well-being. In some cases, we are even told that it is better to eliminate them as soon as possible, because they become an unacceptable economic burden in time of crisis.

Yet what an illusion it is when people today shut their eyes in the face of sickness and disability! They fail to understand the real meaning of life, which also has to do with accepting suffering and limitations.

The world does not become better because only apparently “perfect” people live there – I say “perfect” rather than “false” – but when human solidarity, mutual acceptance and respect increase.

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Are We All Becoming Pavlov’s Dogs?

Larry Rosen Ph.D. writes for Psychology Today:

MIT Press[…] I do a lot of people watching and I have noticed that we are now spending more time with our faces staring at our phone than we spend with our faces looking around the world or looking directly at another person.

In a recent study colleagues and I asked 216 undergraduate students to use an app called Instant Quantified Self that tallied the number of times the student unlocked his/her phone during the day and how many minutes it remained unlocked. Strikingly, the average student (and our students are typically older, averaging about 25 years old instead of the usual 20-year-old college student) unlocked his/her phone roughly 60 times a day for about 4 minutes each time. In all, the phone was in use 4 hours! And this does not count time spent on a laptop, tablet, or any other device.

What are they doing on their phones? Mostly accessing social connections including text messaging, reading or posting on social media, dealing with email or any app that involves connecting with another human being.

Pavlov paired food with a bell; we seem to be pairing our human connection with our phone. We may not salivate but our brain is certainly responding to those internal and external alerts.

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The Happiness Industry: How Corporations Are Obsessed With Making Us ‘Happy’

An excerpt of The Happiness Industry: How the Government and Big Business Sold Us Well-Being by William Davies recently appeared at Alternet:

Since the World Economic Forum (WEF) was founded in 1971, its annual meeting in Davos has served as a useful indicator of the global economic zeitgeist. These conferences, which last a few days in late January, bring together corporate executives, senior politicians, representatives of NGOs and a sprinkling of concerned celebrities to address the main issues confronting the global economy and the decision-makers tasked with looking after it.

In the 1970s, when the WEF was still known as the ‘European Management Forum’, its main concern was slumping productivity growth in Europe. In the 1980s, it became preoccupied with market deregulation. In the 1990s, innovation and the internet came to the fore, and by the early 2000s, with the global economy humming, it began to admit a range of more ‘social’ concerns, alongside the obvious post-9/11 security anxiety. For the five years after the banking meltdown of 2008, Davos meetings were primarily concerned with how to get the old show back on the road.

At the 2014 meeting, rubbing shoulders with the billionaires, pop stars and presidents was a less likely attendee: a Buddhist monk. Every morning, before the conference proceedings began, delegates had the opportunity to meditate with the monk and learn relaxation techniques. ‘You are not the slave of your thoughts’, the man in red and yellow robes, clutching an iPad, informed his audience. ‘One way is to just gaze at them . . . like a shepherd sitting above a meadow watching the sheep’. A few hundred thoughts of stock portfolios and illicit gifts for secretaries back home most likely meandered their way across the mental pastures of his audience.

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What Is Fentanyl? The Drug That Killed Prince Has Killed Thousands of Others

Alex Johnson reports for NBC News:

[…] Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid — its chemical name is the tongue-twisting N-phenyl-N-[1-(2 phenylethyl)-4-piperidinyl] monohydrochloride — that was first formulated during the 1950s as a safer and more effective alternative to the painkillers morphine and meperidine.

Its creators at the Belgian drug company Janssen Pharmaceutica got the “more effective” part right.

Fentanyl is the strongest opioid approved for medical use in the United States, rated as 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine and 30 to 50 times more potent than heroin, according to the National Institute for Drug Abuse.

It’s the go-to drug to dull the crippling, otherwise-untouchable pain experienced by many patients with advanced cancer.

The safety part of the equation is another matter.

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The Awful Diseases on the Way

Annie Sparrow writes in her review of Pandemic by Sonia Shah for The New York Review of Books:

Pandemics—the uncontrolled spread of highly contagious diseases across countries and continents—are a modern phenomenon. The word itself, a neologism from Greek words for “all” and “people,” has been used only since the mid-nineteenth century. Epidemics—localized outbreaks of diseases—have always been part of human history, but pandemics require a minimum density of population and an effective means of transport. Since “Spanish” flu burst from the trenches of World War I in 1918, infecting 20 percent of the world’s population and killing upward of 50 million people, fears of a similar pandemic have preoccupied public health practitioners, politicians, and philanthropists. World War II, in which the German army deliberately caused malaria epidemics and the Japanese experimented with anthrax and plague as biological weapons, created new fears.

In response, the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC), founded in 1946 to control malaria domestically, launched its Epidemic Intelligence Service in 1951 to defend against possible biological warfare, an odd emphasis given the uncontrolled polio epidemics raging in the 1940s and 1950s in the United States and Europe. But in the world of public health, the latest threat often takes precedence over the most prevalent.

According to the doctor, writer, and philanthropist Larry Brilliant, “outbreaks are inevitable, pandemics are optional.” Brilliant, a well-known expert on global health, ought to know, since he has had much to do with smallpox eradication. Smallpox, arguably the worst disease in human history, caused half a billion deaths during the twentieth century alone. The strain called Variola major—the most lethal cause—killed one third of all infected and permanently scarred all survivors. In 1975, Rahima Banu, a two-year-old Bangladeshi girl, became the last case of V. major smallpox. Two years later, Ali, a twenty-three-year-old hospital cook in Somalia, became the last case of V. minor. Rahima and Ali survived. Smallpox did not.

Forty years later, smallpox is still the only disease affecting humans ever to have been eradicated. (Rinderpest, a virus affecting cows—literally “cattle plague”—was eradicated in 2011.) There is optimism that polio and guinea worm may soon follow. Meanwhile, dozens of new infectious diseases have emerged, including the pathogens behind the twenty-first-century “pan-epidemics”—a term coined by Dr. Daniel Lucey to describe SARS, avian flu, swine flu, MERS, Ebola, and now Zika.

The fear, fascination, and financial incentives that these new diseases create divert attention and resources from ancient diseases like cholera, malaria, and tuberculosis, which infect and kill far more people. Ebola has caused relatively few deaths, while TBinfects 9.6 million people each year and kills 1.5 million, and malaria infects more than 200 million, killing nearly half a million. (Ali, smallpox’s last survivor, later succumbed to malaria.)

Zika virus was first discovered in 1947 in Uganda in monkeys bitten by forest mosquitoes. In recent years, monkeys have sought food outside the forests, and Zika virus has diversified: its carriers now include Aedes aegypti, a tough mosquito with a preference for human blood and urban environments, and it has spread to the Americas.A. aegypti also carries dengue, yellow fever, and West Nile virus, but it is the evolving pan-epidemic of catastrophic birth defects that makes Zika particularly terrifying. In Brazil there have been 1,271 confirmed cases of microcephaly—babies born with severely stunted brains, blindness, and other congenital defects. Cases identified in Colombia, French Polynesia, Panama, Martinique, and Cabo Verde provide advance notice of the likely scale of the damage being wreaked.

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Corporate Beer Overlords Will Soon Own 1 Out of 3 Beers Made on Earth

Tom Philpott reports for Mother Jones:

Nothing says America like an ice-cold can of lavishly marketed, insipidly flavored beer. That’s the calculation of AB InBev, the Belgium-based conglomerate that owns Budweiser, the brand that once towered over the US beer landscape like a giant beer-can balloon at a fraternity tailgate party. Earlier this month, AB InBev replaced “Budweiser” with “America” on the front of its 12-ounce cans and bottles sold in the United States, while also adorning the label with quotes from the Pledge of Allegiance, “The Star Spangled Banner,” and “America the Beautiful.” You’ll be able to pop open an icy America until the November election, after which Bud packaging will revert to normal.

Yet the gimmick, lampooned by John Oliver and celebrated by Donald Trump, is unlikely to lift Budweiser’s longsagging US sales. And Bud Light, still America’s favorite beer and InBev’s crown jewel, is also fading in popularity. That’s why AB InBev is pursuing a megamerger with South African and UK rival SAB Miller. The $100 billion deal, which won approval by antitrust authorities in the European Union Tuesday, would give the combined company about 30 percent of the global beer market by volume, analysts say, making it the source of about one of every three beers consumed on Earth. Brands include Bud (or, um, “America”), Stella Artois, Beck’s, Corona, and Leffe.

But the buyout isn’t about Europe or the United States at all—AB InBev’s bold Bud rebrand aside. Indeed, to pass antitrust muster in Europe, the combined company had to agree to “sell almost the whole of SABMiller’s beer business in Europe,” Reuters reports. The United States and Europe are “mature”—i.e., slow-growing—beer markets. The real action right now is elsewhere. As Reuters puts it, AB InBev is “looking to boost its presence in Africa and Latin American countries to offset weaker markets such as the United States, where drinkers are shunning mainstream lagers in favor of craft brews and cocktails.”

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The Toxic Toll of Indonesia’s Gold Mines

Richard C. Paddock reports for National Geographic:

[…] Millions of people in 70 countries across Asia, Africa, and South America have been exposed to high levels of mercury as small-scale mining has proliferated over the past decade. The United Nations Environment Programme estimates that at least 10 million miners, including at least four million women and children, are working in small “artisanal” gold mines, which produce as much as 15 percent of the world’s gold.

More than a million miners scratch out an illegal living digging for gold in at least 850 hot spots, says Yuyun Ismawati, a 2009 winner of the Goldman Environmental Prize who has conducted extensive research on small-scale mining. Many of them fall prey to corrupt authorities who take a share of the gold rather than enforcing a law that bans mercury use.

Indonesia, an archipelago of 17,500 islands with the world’s fourth largest population, has one of the worst mercury problems, according to Stephan Bose-O’Reilly, a children’s health expert who volunteers at the Indonesian environmental group BaliFokus Foundation.

“Indonesia is a real global hot spot,” Bose-O’Reilly said during a recent trip to Indonesia examine miners in the gold fields. “I haven’t seen anything worse than here.”

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Dear “Skeptics”: Bash Homeopathy and Bigfoot Less, Mammograms and War More

John Horgan is a science journalist who recently spoke at the Northeast Conference on Science and Skepticism (NECSS) from May 12-15 in New York City. His speech has been republished in Scientific American:

I hate preaching to the converted. If you were Buddhists, I’d bash Buddhism. But you’re skeptics, so I have to bash skepticism.

I’m a science journalist. I don’t celebrate science, I criticize it, because science needs critics more than cheerleaders. I point out gaps between scientific hype and reality. That keeps me busy, because, as you know, most peer-reviewed scientific claims are wrong.

So I’m a skeptic, but with a small S, not capital S. I don’t belong to skeptical societies. I don’t hang out with people who self-identify as capital-S Skeptics. Or Atheists. Or Rationalists.

When people like this get together, they become tribal. They pat each other on the back and tell each other how smart they are compared to those outside the tribe. But belonging to a tribe often makes you dumber.

Here’s an example involving two idols of Capital-S Skepticism: biologist Richard Dawkins and physicist Lawrence Krauss. Krauss recently wrote a book, A Universe from Nothing. He claims that physics is answering the old question, Why is there something rather than nothing?

Krauss’s book doesn’t come close to fulfilling the promise of its title, but Dawkins loved it. He writes in the book’s afterword: “If On the Origin of Species was biology’s deadliest blow to supernaturalism, we may come to see A Universe From Nothing as the equivalent from cosmology.”

Just to be clear: Dawkins is comparing Lawrence Krauss to Charles Darwin. Why would Dawkins say something so foolish? Because he hates religion so much that it impairs his scientific judgment. He succumbs to what you might call “The Science Delusion.”

“The Science Delusion” is common among Capital-S Skeptics. You don’t apply your skepticism equally. You are extremely critical of belief in God, ghosts, heaven, ESP, astrology, homeopathy and Bigfoot. You also attackdisbelief in global warming, vaccines and genetically modified food.

These beliefs and disbeliefs deserve criticism, but they are what I call “soft targets.” That’s because, for the most part, you’re bashing people outside your tribe, who ignore you. You end up preaching to the converted.

Meanwhile, you neglect what I call hard targets. These are dubious and even harmful claims promoted by major scientists and institutions. In the rest of this talk, I’ll give you examples of hard targets from physics, medicine and biology. I’ll wrap up with a rant about war, the hardest target of all.

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Leaked TTIP Documents Cast Doubt on EU-US Trade Deal

Arthur Neslen reports for The Guardian:

Talks for a free trade deal between Europe and the US face a serious impasse with “irreconcilable” differences in some areas, according to leaked negotiating texts.

The two sides are also at odds over US demands that would require the EU to break promises it has made on environmental protection.

President Obama said last week he was confident a deal could be reached. But the leaked negotiating drafts and internal positions, which were obtained by Greenpeace and seen by the Guardian, paint a very different picture.

“Discussions on cosmetics remain very difficult and the scope of common objectives fairly limited,” says one internal note by EU trade negotiators. Because of a European ban on animal testing, “the EU and US approaches remain irreconcilable and EU market access problems will therefore remain,” the note says.

Talks on engineering were also “characterised by continuous reluctance on the part of the US to engage in this sector,” the confidential briefing says.

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Chernobyl Nuclear Plant Will Remain a Threat for 3,000 Years

Matthew Schofield reports for McClachty:

Twenty years after the disaster, Yuri Andreyev, a former senior engineer at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, pointed to the destroyed Reactor No. 4 in a photo made a few hours after the April 26, 1986, explosion. // Efrem Lukatsky / AP Before the fire, the vomiting, the deaths and the vanishing home, it was the promise of bumper cars that captured the imagination of the boys.

It was 30 years ago that Pripyat and the nearby Chernobyl nuclear plant became synonymous with nuclear disaster, that the word Chernobyl came to mean more than just a little village in rural Ukraine, and this place became more than just another spot in the shadowy Soviet Union.

Even 30 years later – 25 years after the country that built it ceased to exist – the full damage of that day is still argued.

Death toll estimates run from hundreds to millions. The area near the reactor is both a teeming wildlife refuge and an irradiated ghost-scape. Much of eastern and central Europe continues to deal with fallout aftermath. The infamous Reactor Number 4 remains a problem that is neither solved nor solvable.

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CIA’s Venture Capital Arm Is Funding Skin Care Products That Collect DNA

Lee Fang reports for The Intercept:

clearista-1Skincential Sciences, a company with an innovative line of cosmetic products marketed as a way to erase blemishes and soften skin, has caught the attention of beauty bloggers on YouTube, Oprah’s lifestyle magazine, and celebrity skin care professionals. Documents obtained by The Intercept reveal that the firm has also attracted interest and funding from In-Q-Tel, the venture capital arm of the Central Intelligence Agency.

The previously undisclosed relationship with the CIA might come as some surprise to a visitor to the website of Clearista, the main product line of Skincential Sciences, which boasts of a “formula so you can feel confident and beautiful in your skin’s most natural state.”

Though the public-facing side of the company touts a range of skin care products, Skincential Sciences developed a patented technology that removes a thin outer layer of the skin, revealing unique biomarkers that can be used for a variety of diagnostic tests, including DNA collection.

Skincential Science’s noninvasive procedure, described on the Clearista website as “painless,” is said to require only water, a special detergent, and a few brushes against the skin, making it a convenient option for restoring the glow of a youthful complexion — and a novel technique for gathering information about a person’s biochemistry.

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Leaked Report Reveals Unsanitary Conditions At UN Bases During Haitian Cholera Epidemic: Interview with Brian Concannon

Jessica Desvarieux talks to Brian Concannon, Executive Director of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, who says the United States is actively discouraging countries from holding the UN accountable for bringing cholera to Haiti. (The Real News)

U.S. Radioactive Weapons Fueling Birth Defects in Iraq: Interview with Barbara Koeppel

Jessica Desvarieux talks to investigative journalist Barbara Koeppel who is the author of a recent article in the Washington Spectator which examines how the U.S. is getting away with using radioactive weapons that are causing spikes in birth defects and cancer in both Iraqi citizens and U.S. veterans. (The Real News)