Category Archives: Health

Obama leads global drive to gut the commons


Nations participating in the Trade in Services Agreement. Via Wikipedia.

Nations participating in the Trade in Services Agreement. Via Wikipedia.

Barack Obama isn’t a liberal, isn’t a liberal politician like Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who called for the creation of public institutions to help lift the nation out of economic misery.

No Barack Obama is a neoliberal, an heir to the tradition embraced as national policy by Bill Clinton, who pushed ruthlessly for elimination of public assistance programs created under Roosevelt and replacing them with privately owned counterparts.

And now the Obama administration is pushing for the end of a host of public institutions on a global scale, with everything from post offices [and the postal banks embraced in some nations], hospitals, and more up for privatization.

And with either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton in the White House, that agenda is certain to roll forward.

What proof do we offer for our claims?

Consider the Trade in Services Agreement [TiSA], now in final stages of negotiations by representatives of 23 nations, including the European Union.

From Vice News:

WikiLeaks has released a thousands of documents that critics of free trade said shows how officials negotiating the Trade in Services Agreement, or TiSA, could force privatization on public institutions around the world.

The most surprising revelations in the WikiLeaks documents released this week involve state-owned enterprises, or SOEs — government-owned corporations that often operate like private businesses but pursue public goals, experts said.

The United States Postal Service might be considered a SOE. The service has a monopoly on snail mail. But it also competes against private companies by selling money orders, retail merchandise and express deliveries. When the postal service needs more money, it raises the price of stamps and other products or, when times are desperate, goes hat in hand to Congress.

WikiLeaks and others claim that negotiators from the United States and 22 other countries want to erode SOEs to clear the way for multinational corporations to take over their functions. TiSA would seek to lower trade barriers for finance, telecommunications and other service industries. It would cover around 75 percent of the world’s $44 trillion services market, according to the Office of the US Trade Representative.

Here’s the Wikileaks announcement, and the link to the documents:

WikiLeaks releases new secret documents from the huge Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA) which is being negotiated by the US, EU and 22 other countries that account for 2/3rds of global GDP.

This release includes a previously unknown annex to the TiSA core chapter on “State Owned Enterprises” (SOEs), which imposes unprecedented restrictions on SOEs and will force majority owned SOEs to operate like private sector businesses. This corporatisation of public services – to nearly the same extent as demanded by the recently signed TPP – is a next step to privatisation of SOEs on the neoliberal agenda behind the “Big Three” (TTIP,TiSA,TPP).

Other documents in todays release cover updated versions of annexes to TiSA core chapters that were published by WikiLeaks in previous releases; these updates show the advances in the confidential negotiations between the TiSA parties on the issues of Domestic Regulation, New Provisions, Transparency, Electronic Commerce, Financial Services, Telecommunication Services, Professional Services and the Movement of Natural Persons. WikiLeaks is also publishing expert analyses on some of these documents.

The annexes on Domestic Regulation, Transparency and New Provisions have further advanced towards the “deregulation” objectives of big corporations entering overseas markets. Local regulations like store size restrictions or hours of operations are considered an obstacle to achieve “operating efficiencies” of large-scale retailing, disregarding their public benefit that foster livable neighbors and reasonable hours of work for employees. The TiSA provisions in their current form will establish a wide range of new grounds for domestic regulations to be challenged by corporations – even those without a local presence in that country.

Wikileaks offers a sobering analysis

Along with the documents Wikileaks posted are analyses of each of the documents. Professor Jane Kelsey, of University of Auckland’s Faculty of Law provided the analysis on State Owned Enterprises [SOEs] provisions, and the document is sobering:

On 6 October 2015 the US proposed an Annex on SOEs for the Trade in Services Agreement (TISA) – two days after the 12 parties to the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA), including the US, concluded their negotiations. The TPPA contains a unique Chapter 17 that imposes unprecedented restrictions on SOEs and gives the parties to the TPPA rights to demand information on other parties’ SOEs and to challenge aspects of their operations.

When the TPPA negotiations began in 2010 the US made it clear that it required a chapter on SOEs. The goal was always to create precedent-setting rules that could target China, although the US also had other countries’ SOEs in its sights – the state-managed Vietnamese economy, various countries’ sovereign wealth funds, and once Japan joined, Japan Post’s banking, insurance and delivery services. All the other countries were reluctant to concede the need for such a chapter and the talks went around in circles for several years. Eventually the US had its way.

The US proposal for TISA adopts and adapts key parts of the TPPA chapter that force majority owned SOEs to operate like private sector businesses. The most extreme, complicated and potentially unworkable provisions in the TPPA relating to state support are not included – yet. But there is an extraordinary power for a single TISA party to require the development of those rules if another TISA country, or a country seeking to join TISA, has too many large SOEs. China is the real target of the US’s ‘disciplines’ on SOEs in both TISA and the TPPA, along with any other countries that have a strong presence of state companies in their economy. As President Obama said of the TPPA in October 2015, these agreements are about the US making the rules for the global economy in the 21st century, not China, in ways that ‘reflect America’s values.’

Included in the analysis was this summary:

A snapshot of the TISA annex

  • The TISA Annex is modelled on the US-driven chapter on State-owned Enterprises (SOEs) in the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA), concluded on 4 October 2015.
  • An SOE must operate like a private business, using purely commercial considerations when it buys and sells services or when it buys goods if it is a services SOE.
  • The SOE doesn’t have to apply purely commercial considerations where it has a public mandate to deliver a service, but it still can’t give preferences to local services and suppliers.
  • Any administrative body that regulates an SOE must exercise its regulatory discretion impartially in relation to all the entities it regulates.
  • If one TISA party thinks that 30 of the largest 100 companies in another TISA member is an SOE, or its SOEs contribute 30% of that country’s overall GDP, it can demand the TISA parties develop further rules that ‘aim to ensure’ it does not provide ‘non-commercial assistance’ (financial support or through goods and services) that cause ‘adverse effects’ to ‘another Party’s interests’. That rule would not apply to domestic services supplied by an SOE, but would apply to its activities that provide services across the border, which are commonly intertwined.
  • The same obligation would be triggered if a country with that proportion of SOEs (such as China or India) wanted to join TISA.
  • In addition to the general transparency obligations in TISA a government must provide specific information requested about a SOE (although this does not go as far as the requirements in TPPA).

Cui bono? Who are the beneficiaries?

Hint: It’s ain’t the workers and it isn’t the poor.

Among the avid supporters of TiSA is an outfit called the Coalition of Service Industries [CSI]. Here’s how they describe TiSA:

The Trade in Services Agreement (TISA) is the most promising opportunity in two decades to improve and expand trade in services. Initiated by the United States and Australia, the TISA is currently being negotiated in Geneva, Switzerland with 50 participants that represent 70 percent of the world’s trade in services.

As of July 2015, participants in the TISA include Australia, Canada, Chile, Chinese Taipei (Taiwan), Colombia, Costa Rica, the European Union*, Hong Kong, Iceland, Israel, Japan, Liechtenstein, Mauritius, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Pakistan, Panama, Peru, Republic of Korea, Switzerland, Turkey, and the United States.

The last major services agreement, the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) was established by the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1995. Since then, the world has evolved dramatically from the result of technological advances, changing business practices, and deeper global integration. The TISA can establish new market access commitments and universal rules that reflect 21st century trade.

And what is the Coalition of Service Industries?

Click on their Members page and here’s what you discover:

BLOG CSI

Study links cell phones to brain, heart cancers


Yep, a very extensive study has demonstrated a link between cell phone radiation at levels to which folks like three and we are regulatory exposed, and two forms of cancer — glioma, a deadly tumor of the brain’s nerve signal conduit cells, and a cancer of the heart.

The results are for lab rats, and found only in the males. Oddly, rats exposed to cell phone radiation live longer, at least the ones not killed by cancer.

The latest research, conducted by the National Toxicology Program, an interagency program of the Department of Health and Human Services, has been posted online here as a PDF.

From Scientific American:

Federal scientists released partial findings Friday from a $25-million animal study that tested the possibility of links between cancer and chronic exposure to the type of radiation emitted from cell phones and wireless devices. The findings, which chronicle an unprecedented number of rodents subjected to a lifetime of electromagnetic radiation starting in utero, present some of the strongest evidence to date that such exposure is associated with the formation of rare cancers in at least two cell types in the brains and hearts of rats. The results, which were posted on a prepublication Web site run by Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, are poised to reignite controversy about how such everyday exposure might affect human health.

Researchers at the National Toxicology Program (NTP), a federal interagency group under the National Institutes of Health, led the study. They chronically exposed rodents to carefully calibrated radio-frequency (RF) radiation levels designed to roughly emulate what humans with heavy cell phone use or exposure could theoretically experience in their daily lives. The animals were placed in specially built chambers that dosed their whole bodies with varying amounts and types of this radiation for approximately nine hours per day throughout their two-year life spans. “This is by far—far and away—the most carefully done cell phone bioassay, a biological assessment. This is a classic study that is done for trying to understand cancers in humans,” says Christopher Portier, a retired head of the NTP who helped launch the study and still sometimes works for the federal government as a consultant scientist. “There will have to be a lot of work after this to assess if it causes problems in humans, but the fact that you can do it in rats will be a big issue. It actually has me concerned, and I’m an expert.”

More than 90 percent of American adults use cell phones. Relatively little is known about their safety, however, because current exposure guidelines are based largely on knowledge about acute injury from thermal effects, not long-term, low-level exposure. The International Agency for Research on Cancer in 2011 classified RF radiation as a possible human carcinogen. But data from human studies has been “inconsistent,” the NTP has said on its website. Such studies are also hampered by the realities of testing in humans, such as recall bias—meaning cancer patients have to try to remember their cell phone use from years before, and how they held their handsets. Those data gaps prompted the NTP to engage in planning these new animal studies back in 2009.

More from the Wall Street Journal:

“Where people were saying there’s no risk, I think this ends that kind of statement,” said Ron Melnick, who ran the NTP project until retiring in 2009 and recently reviewed the study’s results.

Since mobile phones were launched commercially in the 1980s, the only widely agreed upon physical impact from cellphone radio-frequency energy is that it can heat human tissue at high enough levels. Cellphones are designed well below this thermal level.

The U.S. government’s official position is that the weight of scientific evidence hasn’t indicated health risks. In 2011, the World Health Organization said cellphone radiation was a group 2B possible carcinogen. Illustrating the ambiguity of the designation is the fact that certain pickled vegetables and coffee are also considered possibly carcinogenic.

There also are many studies showing no harmful health effects. Just this month, a survey of brain cancer rates in Australia found no increase since the introduction of mobile phones there almost three decades ago, a finding also seen in other countries.

And to conclude, this from Mother Jones:

The study was expensive in part because it required the construction of special exposure chambers that allowed thousands of mice and rats to receive standardized dozes of radiation. For about nine hours per day, for periods ranging from two months to the lifetime of the animal, the rodents were exposed to the RF radiation frequencies used by second generation (2G) phones—the standard at the time the study was initiated.

Only the test results for rats have been released so far. Female rats didn’t experience significantly higher than normal cancer rates. However, among male rats that received the highest radiation exposures, 2 percent to 3 percent contracted gliomas and 6 percent to 7 percent percent developed schwannoma tumors in their hearts, depending on the type of radiation used. None of the male rats in the control groups developed those cancers.

Potentially confounding the results, the rats exposed to radiation on average lived longer than those that weren’t. Some outside reviewers argued that the study’s authors should have given more weight to that caveat. Reviewers were also puzzled that the unexposed control rats didn’t exhibit the usual number of brain tumors. “I am unable to accept the authors’ conclusions,” wrote Michael Lauer, the deputy director of the National Institute of Health’s office of extramural research.

Map of the day: Zika’s progress in the Americas


From the World Health Organization’s latest Zika Situation Report [PDF], a map of the America’s showing in which countries Zika virus is now carried by mosquitoes, with the march of the virus’s progress indicated by shading [the darkest countries are the most recent additions]:

BLOG Zika

Zika worries lead docs to ask Brazil Olympics halt


First, from United Press International:

A group of 150 health experts released a letter calling for the summer Olympic games to be postponed or moved from Rio de Janeiro over fears of Zika virus exposure.

The scientists, doctors and medical ethicists said, in a letter directed to World Health Organization Director Dr. Margaret Chan, the new findings about Zika’s link to birth defects and Guillain-Barre syndrome should be the catalyst to move or postpone the games to safeguard everyone involved. The group said it is not asking for the games, scheduled to begin in August, to be canceled.
Signatories include leading health specialists from around the globe.

Rather than describe the contents, here’s the letter itself, posted at Rio Olympics Later [where you’ll also find the complete list of signatories]:

Open Letter to Dr. Margaret Chan, Director-General, World Health Organization [WHO]

We are writing to express our concern about the upcoming Olympic and Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. WHO’s declaration of Zika as a “Public Health Emergency of International Concern,” coupled with new scientific findings that underscore the seriousness of that problem, call for the Rio 2016 Games to be postponed and/or moved to another location—but not cancelled—in the name of public health.

We make this call despite the widespread fatalism that the Rio 2016 Games are inevitable or “too big to fail”. History teaches this is wrong: the 1916, 1940, and 1944 Olympic Games were not just postponed, but cancelled, and other sporting events were moved because of disease, as Major League Baseball did for Zika, and the Africa Cup of Nations did for Ebola.

Currently, many athletes, delegations, and journalists are struggling with the decision of whether to participate in the Rio 2016 Games. We agree with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control recommendation that workers should “Consider delaying travel to areas with active Zika virus transmission”. If that advice were followed uniformly, no athlete would have to choose between risking disease and participating in a competition that many have trained for their whole lives.

Our greater concern is for global health. The Brazilian strain of Zika virus harms health in ways that science has not observed before. An unnecessary risk is posed when 500,000 foreign tourists from all countries attend the Games, potentially acquire that strain, and return home to places where it can become endemic. Should that happen to poor, as-yet unaffected places (e.g., most of South Asia and Africa) the suffering can be great. It is unethical to run the risk, just for Games that could proceed anyway, if postponed and/or moved.

In our view, several new scientific findings require WHO to reconsider its advice on the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games. For example:

  • That the Brazilian viral strain causes microcephaly and probably Guillain-Barré syndrome. Further, because human, animal and in vitro studies demonstrate that the virus is neurotrophic and causes cell death, it is biologically plausible that there are other as yet undiscovered neurological injuries, as exist for similar viruses (e.g. dengue).
  • That while Zika’s risk to any single individual is low, the risk to a population is undeniably high. Currently, Brazil’s government reports 120,000 probable Zika cases, 8 and 1,300 confirmed cases of microcephaly (with another 3,300 under investigation), which is above the historical level of microcephaly.
  • That Rio de Janeiro is highly affected by Zika. Brazil’s government reports Rio de Janeiro state has the second-highest number of probable Zika cases in the country (32,000) and the fourth-highest incidence rate (195 per 100,000), demonstrating active transmission.
  • That despite Rio’s new mosquito-killing program, the transmission of mosquito-borne disease has gone up rather than down. While Zika is a new epidemic and lacks historical data, using dengue fever as a proxy, cases in Rio from January thru April 2016 are up 320% and 1150% over the same periods in 2015 and 2014, respectively. In the specific neighborhood of the Olympic Park (Barra da Tijuca) there have been more dengue cases in just the first quarter of 2016 than in all of 2015.
  • That Rio’s health system is so severely weakened as to make a last-minute push against Zika impossible. Recently Rio’s state government declared a health sector emergency, and Rio’s city government cut funding against mosquito-borne disease by 20%.13 While the virus is the infectious agent of Zika, its real cause is Rio’s poor social conditions and sanitation—factors that lack a quick fix, and that are not helped when shrinking health resources are diverted to the Games.
  • That it is possible to eradicate the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which transmits Zika, from Rio. Actually that mosquito was totally eradicated from Brazil in the 1950s, but came back after control efforts lapsed. Thus holding the Games, in the presence of Zika-carrying mosquitoes, is a choice and not necessary.
  • That one cannot count on nature for defence. While lower mosquito activity during Rio’s winter months reduces the individual risk to travelers of infection, that is partly offset when travelers who became infected return home during the northern hemisphere’s summer months and peak mosquito activity, which increases the public health risk that local mosquitos acquire and spread the virus—meaning that both seasons are relevant to the epidemic’s course. Also, infection can spread through blood donations and transfusions, particularly in poor countries that lack screening for Zika.

The rest, after the jump. . . Continue reading

Headline of the day: Definitely not good news


From Reuters:

U.S. sees first case of bacteria resistant to all antibiotics

U.S. health officials on Thursday reported the first case in the country of a patient with an infection resistant to all known antibiotics, and expressed grave concern that the superbug could pose serious danger for routine infections if it spreads.

Carcinogenic endocrine disruptor in most rivers


We posted a lot about triclosan [previously], a chemical capable of killing bacteria and fungi that’s a primary active ingredient in those “healthy” antibacterial hand soaps, as well as a host of other products.

Besides helping microorganisms evolve to become even more dangerous, the chemical has also been linked to liver cancer, malformation or heart and skeletal musculature, and its a powerful endocrine disruptor.

And now it’s been found in the waters of most of the streams in the United States, leaving scientists to worry about just what long-term effects the ubiquitous chemical might be having, and if it might be working its way into our food through those stream waters used to irrigate crops.

From the American Society of Agronomy:

Most U.S. homes are full of familiar household products with an ingredient that fights bacteria: triclosan. Triclosan seems to be everywhere. When we wash our hands, brush our teeth, or do our laundry, we are likely putting triclosan into our water sources.

Triclosan is in antibacterial soaps, detergents, carpets, paints, toys, and toothpaste. These products can feel comforting to germ-wary consumers. However, these products are only slightly better at removing bacteria than regular soap and water. And in antibacterial soaps, triclosan may not add any benefit to removing bacteria compared to regular soap and water.

The problem with triclosan is that it kills both good and bad bacteria. Studies also show that it contributes to medically necessary antibiotics becoming less effective. Triclosan is also toxic to algae and disrupts hormones in animals. This can hamper normal animal development. The FDA is currently investigating its impact on humans.

Most of the triclosan is removed in waste water treatment plants. However, a U.S. Geological Survey found the antibacterial in nearly 58% of freshwater streams.

“What you use has an impact even though you’re probably not thinking about it,” says Monica Mendez. Mendez is an associate professor in the Department of Biology and Chemistry at Texas A&M International University. She is interested in triclosan-contaminated streams and rivers. These streams often serve as the water source for crops.

“If a river happens to be a source of irrigation, could triclosan possibly get into our food?” Mendez wonders.

Mendez and her colleagues wanted to understand what happens to soils and plants watered with triclosan-contaminated water. They intentionally watered onions, tomatoes, and bare soils with triclosan-contaminated water in a long-term study.

There’s more, after the jump. . . Continue reading

Chart of the day II: Infant mortality in Americas


And note that Cuba does better than the U.S.

From World Health Statistics 2016, the World Health Organization’s just-released compendium of the latest data from countries around the world:

Under-five mortality (green bar) and neonatal mortality (grey line) rates per 1000 live births, 2015

Under-five mortality (green bar) and neonatal mortality (grey line) rates per 1000 live births, 2015