Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Public’s Quiet Savior From Harmful Medicines

She is unlikely to be mentioned at any 50th-birthday parties this year, but she is the reason many of those celebrations will take place.

Dr. Frances Oldham Kelsey is 96 now, nearly deaf and barely mobile, as modest as her faded house in this Washington suburb. And though her story is nearly forgotten, she was once America's most admired civil servant — celebrated for her dual role in saving thousands of newborns from the perils of the drug thalidomide and in serving as midwife to modern pharmaceutical regulation.

On Wednesday, Dr. Margaret Hamburg, commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, will honor Dr. Kelsey with the first Kelsey award. It will be given to a F.D.A. staff member annually. The award will come 50 years after Dr. Kelsey, then a new medical officer at the agency, first sat down to consider an application from the William S. Merrell Company of Cincinnati to sell a sedative named Kevadon, which was widely prescribed in Europe for morning sickness in pregnancy.

As it turned out, the drug (better known by its generic name, thalidomide) would cause thousands of children in Europe to be born limbless or with flipperlike arms and legs. With her probing analysis of Merrell's application and her insistence on scientific rigor, Dr. Kelsey ensured that the effects in the United States were far more limited.

The thalidomide disaster led Congress to pass legislation giving the F.D.A. authority to demand that drug makers prove their products safe and effective. Moreover, Dr. Kelsey helped write the rules that now govern nearly every clinical trial in the industrialized world, and was the first official to oversee them.

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Mobile Phones as Personal Tracking Devices

From What Your Cell Phone Could Be Telling the Government by Adam Cohen, TIME:

It is not hard to imagine that the government could also one day use cell-phone data to stifle dissent. Cell-phone records could tell them who attended an antigovernment rally. It could also tell them who is going into the opposition party's headquarters or into the home of someone they have questions about. Cell-phone data may be the most efficient way ever invented for a government to spy on its people — since people are planting the devices on themselves and even paying the monthly bills. The KGB never had anything like it.

And, indeed, the U.S. government already appears to be sweeping up a lot of data from completely innocent people. The ACLU recently told Congress of a case in which, while looking for data on a suspect, the FBI apparently used a dragnet approach and took data on another 180 people. The FBI has said that if it does happen to gather data on innocent people in the course of conducting an investigation, it keeps that information for as long as 20 years.

Last week, the Philadelphia-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit pushed back. A federal magistrate judge, in a good and strong decision, had ruled that the government must always get a warrant if it wants cell-phone data. The appeals court scaled that back a bit, ruling that magistrate judges have the power to require the government to get a warrant, depending on the facts of the particular case.

The fight over cell-phone tracking is similar to one now going on in the courts over GPS devices — specifically, whether the government needs a warrant to place a GPS device on someone's car. (The courts are sharply divided on the question.) Cell-phone tracking is of far bigger consequence, however, because there is a limit to how many GPS devices police are going to put on cars. Nine out of 10 of us have cell phones that will do the tracking for the government.

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Bombshell from London

By Eric S. Margolis

The London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), is the world's leading think tank for military affairs. It represents the top echelon of defence experts, retired officers and senior military men, spanning the globe from the United States and Britain to China, Russia and India.

I've been an IISS member for over 20 years. IISS's reports are always authoritative but usually cautious and diplomatic, sometimes dull. However, two weeks ago the IISS issued an explosive report on Afghanistan that is shaking Washington and its Nato allies.

The report, presided over by the former deputy director of Britain's foreign intelligence agency, MI-6, says the threat from al-Qaeda and Taliban has been "exaggerated" by the western powers. The US-led mission in Afghanistan has "ballooned" out of all proportion from its original aim of disrupting and defeating al-Qaeda. The US-led war in Afghanistan, says IISS, using uncharacteristically blunt language, is "a long-drawn-out disaster".

Just recently, CIA chief Leon Panetta admitted there were no more than 50 members of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. Yet US President Barack Obama has tripled the number of US soldiers there to 120,000 to fight Al Qaeda.

The IISS report goes on to acknowledge the presence of western troops in Afghanistan is actually fuelling national resistance. I saw the same phenomena during the 1980's Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.

Interestingly, the portion of the report overseen by the former MI-6 Secret Intelligence Service deputy chief, Nigel Inskster, finds little Al Qaeda threat elsewhere, notably in Somalia and Yemen. Yet Washington is beefing up its attacks on both turbulent nations.

Abandoning its usual discretion, IISS said it was issuing these warnings because the deepening war in Afghanistan was threatening the west's security interests by distracting its leaders from the world financial crisis and Iran, and burning through scarce funds needed elsewhere.

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Could the 'Law of Attraction' usher in a new social era?

From Power Lines - What's behind Rhonda Byrne's spiritual empire? by Kelefa Sanneh:

In fact, for much of its history, New Thought was viewed as a progressive project—a way to help ordinary citizens seize control of their fate. The historian Beryl Satter has argued that New Thought was, in large part, a women's movement, and one that reflected a pattern of shifting expectations. “Until the turn of the century, women's New Thought texts only ambiguously praised desire and wealth,” Satter writes. “They could not be too overt, because late Victorians linked desire and wealth with manliness.” By the early years of the twentieth century, books and magazines had sprung up around the movement, with an increasingly practical bent. When New Thought writings shifted in emphasis from mastering desires to fulfilling them, they were presaging a feminist revolution.

And perhaps a more general one. Byrne's cherished precursor Wallace Wattles was no apologist for the existing social order. The son of a Midwestern farmer, he was heavily influenced by the “social gospel” preacher George D. Herron, and in the years before he published “The Science of Getting Rich” he twice ran unsuccessfully for public office, in Indiana, as a candidate of the Socialist Party. “The Science of Getting Rich” is a self-help book, but it is also a political manifesto: it urges its readers to acknowledge not only the importance of wealth but also the arbitrary nature of its distribution. “Studying the people who have got rich,” Wattles writes, “we find that they are an average lot in all respects, having no greater talents and abilities than other men.” He portrays the economic élite as a parasitic class, the demise of which is a matter of historical inevitability: “The multi-millionaires are like the monster reptiles of the prehistoric eras; they play a necessary part in the evolutionary process, but the same Power which produced them will dispose of them.” Indeed, “Rockefeller, Carnegie, Morgan, et al. . . . will soon be succeeded by the agents of the multitude, who will organize the machinery of distribution.” In one of the book's more startling passages, he suggests that the proletariat use the law of attraction to attract a new era of communism:

If the workers of America chose to do so, they could follow the example of their brothers in Belgium and other countries, and establish . . . co-operative industries; they could elect men of their own class to office, and pass laws favoring the development of such co-operative industries; and in a few years they could take peaceable possession of the industrial field.

By such means, he believed, “the working class may become the master class.”

A century later, Byrne betrays little interest in workers' coöperatives; Wattles's radical influence appears in “The Secret” only in inverted form. Early in the book, a success coach named Bob Proctor poses a conspiratorial-sounding question: “Why do you think that one per cent of the population earns around ninety-six per cent of all the money that's being earned?” He doesn't quite have an answer (“It's designed that way,” he says, ominously), and neither does Byrne. Where Wattles was convinced that the “plutocrats” were abusing their mental power, Byrne is more likely to conclude that they must be doing something right. Confronted with the injustice of the world, she can only promise, like many religious figures before her, that deliverance is almost at hand:

An epidemic worse than any plague that humankind has ever seen has been raging for centuries. It is the “don't want” epidemic. People keep this epidemic alive when they predominantly think, speak, act, and focus on what they “don't want.” But this is the generation that will change history, because we are receiving the knowledge that can free us of this epidemic!

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Mozambique: Food Prices Spark Deadly Riots



The UN has called an urgent meeting on rising global food prices in an attempt to head off a repeat of the 2008 crisis that sparked riots around the world. Seven people, including two children, were killed in Mozambique this past week during three days of protests triggered by a rise in the cost of bread.



Mozambique's reputation as an African success story was badly tarnished at the beginning of this month when riots left more than a dozen people dead, and several hundreds injured.

They were triggered by the government raising the price of bread, water and electricity.

Al Jazeera's Barnaby Phillips reports from the capital Maputo.

'Real' IRA Threatens Britain's Banks



Dissident republicans in Northern Ireland have issued a threat to banks and bankers in the UK.

The so-called Real IRA told The Guardian newspaper that it would strike targets in England.

In past attacks, the group has killed more than 20 people.

The group, which wants an end to British rule in Northern Ireland, formed in 1997 when the Provisional IRA declared a ceasefire and joined the peace process.

Al Jazeera's Jonah Hull reports on this latest threat.

Musical Innerlube: Dead Kennedys - Police Truck

U.S. holding 324 metric tons of bomb-grade uranium, report says

The Energy Department is holding 324 metric tons of bomb-grade uranium at the same time the Obama administration is urging nations to reduce or eliminate their stores of the material, according to a report to be released Tuesday by the nuclear watchdog group Project on Government Oversight.

The Washington-based group wants the administration to declare a portion of the U.S. inventory of highly enriched uranium as surplus and increase the amount that is blended down each year into commercial reactor fuel.

The inventory began to swell years ago after the U.S. agreed to a series of nuclear arms accords resulting in the decommissioning of thousands of nuclear warheads. The U.S. stopped making highly enriched uranium after the end of the Cold War.

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