Category Archives: Public service

Not Sweet: Big Sugar & Big Science Collude

A dentist with a strong sense of compassion and the skills of an investigative UC San Francisco post-doctoral fellow Crista Kearns has devoted herself to exposing the pernicious interface between three powerful institutions, government, the sugar industry, and academia.

What triggered her curiosity was the failure of federal guidelines to include cautions about sugar guidelines for the education of diabetic patients in healthy food choices. This led her to the discovery of a potent nexus of corruption, where fear of the loss of corporate clout and funds has intimidated legislators to set recommended daily maximums for sugar intake, recruited academic scientists to produce distorted research findings, and launched public relations campaigns to hide the real nature of our sweet addiction.

Kearns has written extensively about the politics and health consequences of Big Sugar’s products, and in this presentation to the 5th Annual UCSF Global Oral Health Symposium, she outlines some of her findings.

From UCTV:

Sugar Industry Manipulation of Research: Implications for Oral Health

Program notes:

The UCSF School of Dentistry hosted the 5th Annual UCSF Global Oral Health Symposium, featuring presentations related to nutrition, sugar, and oral health worldwide. This presentation by Dr. Cristin Kearns, from the UCSF School of Medicine is one of a series of three presentations that address the science connecting the diet, nutrition, and oral health, as well as the challenges in setting guidelines and policy to reduce sugar consumption and improve nutrition worldwide. Recorded on 05.05.2015.

What make Kearns even more unique is her skill as an investigative journalist [as in these two articles for Mother Jones] as well as as an academic [as in this peer-reviewed research in PLOS Medicine].

Writing for Mother Jones, she described the critical turning point in her life, after she became frustrated with the failure of those federal diabetes education guidelines:

I already had a demanding schedule managing dental operations for Kaiser Permanente’s Dental Care Program, so I gave up TV and spent my evenings staring at Google search results instead. It took a while to hone my searches, but I eventually found enough evidence to convince me there was a story to be had. I quit my day job and dug deeper, getting away from the internet and into the musty paper archives of university libraries.

Fifteen months later, near the end of my financial rope, I tried not to get overexcited when I came across a promising reference in a library catalog of files from a bankrupt sugar company. The librarian who had archived the files wasn’t sure they contained what I was looking for; the bulk of the collection consisted of photos kept around to document the impact of the beet sugar industry on farm labor.

There in the library reading room, standing over a cardboard storage carton, I opened a folder and caught a glimpse of the first document. I sunk down in my chair and whispered “thank you” to nobody in particular. For there, below the blue letterhead of the Sugar Association, the trade group that would become the focus of our story, “Sweet Little Lies,” the word “CONFIDENTIAL” leapt off the page. I didn’t yet know what I had, but I knew I was on the right path.

Kerans also has her own blog, Sugar Politics.

Big Tobacco: The real dangerous drug peddlers

John Oliver does another deft takedown of a giant corporate cabal, this time Big Tobacco, and its relentless drive to bludgeon national governments into submission — a move increasingly reliant on using the power of vastly expensive litigation and hordes of Wall Street lawyers and high-priced lobbhyists .

From Last Week Tonight with John Oliver:

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Tobacco

Program notes:

Thanks to tobacco industry regulations and marketing restrictions in the US, smoking rates have dropped dramatically. John Oliver explains how tobacco companies are keeping their business strong overseas.

One point Oliver fails to complete has to do with that trade court action Australia is currently confronting.

What’s happening there is merely an early warning indicator of more litigation to come as the Obama administration relentlessly pushing both trans-Pacific and trans-Atlantic deals in which corporations and banksters will acquire vastly greater power to quash citizen protections put in place by national governments, thanks to the secret trade tribunals incorporated in the agreements.

Under that legal regime, cases are heard in secret, no transcripts are ever provided to the public, and the only announcement of the binding decisions comes in a terse announcement devoid of background and other details — just as already exists for NAFTA.

And who partakes in drafting these noxious “free trade” agreements?

Consider the case of one such agreement now in negotiation, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership [TTIP], and this from Corporate Europe Observatory:

BLOG Eurolobby

And who does those lobbyists represent?

Again from Corporate Europe Observatory:

BLOG Eurolobby 2

UPDATE: Those Aussie plain cigaret packs really do work.

From the Guardian:

Plain cigarette packaging can deter the take-up of smoking, studies suggest

  • Researchers say that standardised packaging – first introduced in Australia – would likely reduce smoking and can prevent people from taking up the habit

Studies on the health impact of “plain” or standardised cigarette packs suggest they can deter non-smokers from taking up the habit and may cut the number of cigarettes smokers get through, scientists said on Tuesday.

In a collection of scientific papers in the journal Addiction, researchers said that while standardised packs were still too new to provide substantial evidence, studies so far showed they were likely to reduce smoking rates.

Britain plans before May to become the second country in the world to introduce non-branded, standardised packaging for cigarettes, after the government promised last month to pass legislation that would come into effect in 2016.

MexicoWatch: Calls, requests, hubris, & crime

First, from teleSUR, a call for action:

Mexican Rights Groups Call for UN Official on Disappearances

  • Human rights organizations representing families of the 43 missing Ayotzinapa students requested the implementation of a UN disappearances commissioner.

Human rights groups accompanying the families of the disappeared 43 Ayotzinapa students requested that the United Nation’s Commission Against Enforced Disappearances assign a special commissioner to investigate enforced disappearances in Mexico.

“We asked the committee to appoint or deliberate over the appointment of a commissioner for the country, that is someone for Mexico that will diagnose and attend to the situation of enforced disappearances in our country on a full-time basis,” Denise Gonzalez of the Pro Human Rights Center told a press conference Tuesday on the issue of enforced disappearances.

On Monday, Mexico’s Foreign Affairs Sub-secretary, Juan Manuel Gomez Robledo, admitted that the 43 missing students were victims of enforced disappearance.

teleSUR English covers another call:

Mexico: Activists demand Germany suspend police training, arms deals

Program notes:

Social organizations in Mexico turned in thousands of signatures on petitions to demand that Germany suspend bilateral police training and arms agreements with Mexico. Activists said the Mexican government was incapable of tackling the country’s chronic corruption and violence and that any arms sent to Mexico would end up in the hands of organized crime. They also called on the UN Committee on Enforced Disappearances to appoint a commissioner to provide follow-up to its recommendations on Mexico. Clayton Conn reports from Mexico Citry.

And from teleSUR, after more than 100,000 of them, Mexico takes a long-delayed move:

Mexico to Implement a Law on Forced Disappearances by June

  • Mexico’s track record regarding forced disappearances has been in the international spotlight as a result of the case of the missing 43 students.

Mexican government authorities announced Wednesday that the government is committed to drafting and approving a law specific to forced disappearances. Mexico currently does not have such a law, despite the fact that the country has seen a surge in forced disappearances as a result of the war on drug cartels launched by the Mexican state in 2006.

“The Forced Disappearance General Law is an immediate goal,” said Juan Manuel Gomez Robledo, the head of the Mexican government delegation that traveled this week to Geneva to participate in meetings with the United Nations Committee on Enforced Disappearances.

The Committee on Enforced Disappearances criticized the Mexican government for failing to have reliable numbers on the numbers of disappearances, a fact a member of the Mexican delegation admitted is an issue and that the government would work to correct.

From the Guardian, hubris blowback:

Mexico’s president mocked following complaint that reporters didn’t applaud

  • Hashtag #YaSeQueNoAplauden spawned in response to Enrique Peña Nieto’s jokey complaint that reporters greeted an announcement with silence

Mexico’s president Enrique Peña Nieto has become the butt of a wave of social media ridicule following a jokey complaint about the silence with which reporters greeted his announcement of a government probe into allegations of corruption by his family and the finance minister.

Turning away from the microphone at the end of the announcement on Tuesday, Peña Nieto remarked “Ya se que no aplauden” or “I already knew they don’t clap.”

Within hours, #YaSeQueNoAplauden had become the top trending topic on Twitter in Mexico.

A video report for Al Jazeera’s AJ+:

Enrique Peña Nieto Gets No Applause Or Love At Latest Press Conference

Program notes:

President of Mexico Enrique Peña Nieto called a press conference to announce the creation of a government watchdog agency to look into his own corruption, but what everyone really remembers is what he said when he left the podium. Ya Se Que No Aplauden.

More from Latin Correspondent:

#YaSéQueNoAplauden, the latest mistake for Mexico’s embattled President Peña Nieto

Many watching wondered why Peña Nieto expected a round of applause — after all, press conferences are typically given to cynical members of the media, not adoring political supporters. Though Andrade has been appointed to head up an investigation into corruption allegations and potential conflicts of interest in awarding of government contracts, few in Mexico seem to believe that anything substantial will come of the probe.

This newest gaffe comes in the midst of a very difficult few months for Peña Nieto, who has faced accusations of corruption and rising calls for his resignation since the disappearance of the 43 students in September 2014. Things only got worse with the revelation of millions of dollars worth of contracts awarded and close ties with various construction companies, including the one that built a $7 million house belonging to Peña Nieto’s wife, television star Angélica Rivera, and another home belonging to the country’s finance secretary.

Predictably, Twitter and other social media channels in Mexico seized on the moment, just as they did with #YaMeCansé, which became a rallying cry for anti-government protesters in the wake of the student disappearances. Some used #YaSéQueNoAplauden to question exactly why the Mexican government seems to have such an issue understanding the concept of a live microphone or to mock the president’s concern about applause in the midst of such national turbulence, while others simply took advantage of the moment to show off some meme art.

One example, via Erik @Popochafuz, translates as “You, applaud me!” “Yes, boss”:


Finally, an excerpt from a Texas Monthly report on the impact of ongoing mayhem in one community:

Death and Twitter

A mysterious murder silences citizen journalists in Reynosa.   

Chuy, who tweets under the handle @MrCruzStar, meets us at a mall a few miles up Boulevard Hidalgo, and the three of us make our way by taxi to his house. In the cab, it’s all small talk. His Twitter activities, after all, are secret. But once we arrive safely at his home, we discuss how he helps coordinate a network of three thousand or so Twitter users who report disturbances throughout the city using the hashtag #ReynosaFollow. On any given day or night, #ReynosaFollow collects dozens of posts warning of a shootout or a blockade or a column of armored vehicles. It’s essentially a 24-hour neighborhood watch for a city of nearly one million people, enabling citizens to know where they can—and can’t—travel safely. “If we didn’t have that information, the fear would make you stay at home,” Chuy says.

But just two months before, early on the morning of October 16, #ReynosaFollow became a vehicle for spreading fear rather than assuaging it. At 3:04 a.m., a tweet was posted from the account of a much-followed user known as Felina. “Friends and family, my name is María del Rosario Fuentes Rubio, I am a doctor, today my life has come to an end,” it read, in Spanish. Two more tweets arrived over the next five minutes: “I have nothing else to say but do not make the same mistake as I did. You do not win anything. To the contrary I now realize that I found death in exchange for nothing. They are closer than you think.” The final tweet came at 3:11 a.m.: “Close your accounts, do not risk your families as I did with mine. I ask for forgiveness.” Embedded in that tweet were two photographs, one of a woman, presumably Fuentes, staring impassively into a camera, another of the same woman faceup on the ground, blood trickling from her nose, apparently executed.

In a matter of hours, Chuy noticed that accounts were disappearing by the dozen. “We lost reliable sources who self-censored out of fear,” he says. “Now, if something happens, we won’t have the same panorama we had before. We’ll be missing those eyes.”

How about some real Hope™ and Change™?

If that’s what you’re looking for that, better move to Croatia.

From the Independent:

Croatia wipes out the debts of thousands of its poorest citizens in ‘fresh start’ scheme

Starting Monday, thousands of Croatia’s poorest citizens will benefit from an unusual gift: They will have their debts wiped out. Named “fresh start,” the government scheme aims to help some of the 317,000 Croatians whose bank accounts have been blocked due to their debts.

Given that Croatia is a relatively small Mediterranean country of only 4.4 million inhabitants, the number of indebted citizens is significant and has become a major economic burden for the country. After six years of recession, growth predictions for Croatia’s economy remain low for this year.

“We assess that this measure will be applicable to some 60,000 citizens,” Deputy Prime Minister Milanka Opacic was quoted as saying by Reuters. “Thus they will be given a chance for a new start without a burden of debt,” Opacic said earlier this month.

EbolaWatch: Numbers, false alarms, mixed reports

First the latest numbers for the three hardest-hit countries from today’s Situation Summary from the World Health Organization:

BLOG Ebola

Next, via the Guardian, a vote of confidence:

CDC director confident that Ebola cases in west Africa can be reduced to zero

  • Dr Tom Frieden warns: ‘We are by no means out of the woods’
  • Ebola has killed at least 8,371 people in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea

The director of the US Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention said on Tuesday he was “confident” that the Ebola outbreak ravaging west Africa can be brought under control but that “we are by no means out of the woods”.

Speaking at a breakfast meeting in Washington with public health officials and lawmakers, Dr Tom Frieden said it is vital that every case of the disease is eliminated.

“I remain very confident we can get to zero cases in this epidemic if we continue the way we’re going and nothing unexpected happens,” Frieden said.

“The largest, biggest risk is that it continues to fester and continues to spread at a low rate, which means it could flare up at any time,” he added. “We have to get to zero and then stay at zero and that’s going to require monitoring, surveillance.”

From Outbreak News Today, more good news:

Ebola outbreak: ‘Realistic possibility’ epidemic in Liberia will be over this summer

The Ebola epidemic in Liberia could likely be eliminated by June 2015 if the current high rate of hospitalization and vigilance can be maintained, according to a new model developed by ecologists at the University of Georgia and Pennsylvania State University.

The model includes such factors as the location of infection and treatment, the development of hospital capacity and the adoption of safe burial practices and is “probably the first to include all those elements,” said John Drake, an associate professor in the UGA Odum School of Ecology who led the project. The study appears in the open access journal PLOS Biology Jan. 13.

Drake said that the UGA model should be useful to public health officials as they continue to combat the Ebola epidemic because it offers both general insights and realistic forecasts, something few models are able to do.

During the fall of 2014, the authors ran the model for five different hospital capacity scenarios. For the worst case, with no further increase in hospital beds, the median projection was for 130,000 total cases through the end of 2014; for the best case—an increase of 1,400 more beds, for roughly 1,700 total or an 85 percent hospitalization rate—the median projection was 50,000 cases. After the authors updated it with more recent information collected through Dec. 1, the model projected that, if an 85 percent hospitalization rate can be achieved, the epidemic should be largely contained by June.

From United Press International, the first in a threesome of American false alarms:

Dead Fort Hood soldier to be tested for Ebola

A soldier found dead on his doorstep Tuesday will be tested for Ebola, though health officials don’t believe he was infected on a recent deployment to West Africa.

The soldier, whose name wasn’t reported, was part of a group of 87 soldiers who returned to the United States on Sunday after helping to prevent the spread of the Ebola virus in Liberia.

“The soldier had recently returned on emergency leave and was under established guidelines to self-monitor himself twice-a-day and report his status to medical officials,” a statement from Fort Hood military base said. “At this point, there is no indication of the Ebola virus disease, but medical tests are underway to ensure there is no threat to the community.”

An update from USA Today:

Initial tests show dead soldier has no Ebola

A soldier found dead on his doorstep who recently returned from Liberia initially has tested negative for the virus, Fort Hood officials said Tuesday.

The soldier, who returned to the USA earlier this month after being deployed to help fight the Ebola outbreak, died from unknown causes, said Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman. Further medical tests are being conducted to determine why he died.

The soldier, a 24-year-old man whose name was not released pending notification of family, died at his apartment off base and had been monitoring his temperature and other potential symptoms, reporting his status to medical officials, a Fort Hood statement said. That’s standard procedure for 21 days after any troops leave a zone where Ebola outbreaks have occurred.

The second false alarm, via Reuters:

Colorado patient tests negative for Ebola – state health officials

A patient being monitored at a Denver hospital after traveling to countries with a history of Ebola has tested negative for the disease, Colorado health officials said on Monday.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment had said the test at a state lab was ordered out of “an abundance of caution.”

And, apparently, a third from the Associated Press:

Omaha hospital: Health care worker hasn’t developed Ebola

Officials at an Omaha hospital say an American health care worker who was exposed to Ebola in Sierra Leone has not developed the virus.

The patient arrived in Omaha on Jan. 4 for treatment in the biocontainment unit at Nebraska Medical Center. The hospital said in a news release Monday that the patient will remain in the unit throughout the virus’s 21-day incubation period, which began before he or she arrived at the hospital. A discharge date was not released.

The hospital says the patient doesn’t want to be publicly identified but authorized the condition update.

On to Africa and a community campaign via Voice of America’s TV2Africa:

I Survived Ebola

Program notes:

A campaign dubbed “I Survived Ebola” is generating a lot of buzz on social media. Last week VOA’s On the Line Show featured the creators of the campaign, Sierra Leone’s Ambassador to the United States and others on the front lines of the fight against Ebola. VOA’s Paul Ndiho has our report.

FrontPageAfrica metes out responsibility:

WHO, International Community Cannot Escape Ebola Blame

Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone Messed up, but the world bodies’ slow response helped spike outbreak, deaths

A report by the World Health Organization released this week is laying the blame for mishandling of the deadly Ebola crisis squarely on the governments of the three West African nations badly affected by the outbreak.

As a result, the international agency is seeking more power to tackle health emergencies in the future, according to documents published by the international agency and reported by Reuters on Monday.

The WHO report offers numerous openings for criticisms and some room for suspect. No international agency, including the WHO can escape blame for allowing this deadly outbreak to spin out of control.

While we agree that governments in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea took their eyes off the ball when the outbreak first started, the WHO and other international agencies too, wasted too much time to step in and intervene.

This is why much of the criticism involving the international community has been directed to the WHO which has been heavily criticized for the slow response to the outbreak that has so far killed at least 8,371 people out of more than 21,000 cases in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.

The Associated Press covers Chinese front line fighters on the way:

China sending large Ebola relief team to West Africa

China is ramping up its assistance in the fight against Ebola by dispatching an additional 232 army medical workers to West Africa, state media reported Tuesday.

The latest contingent to be sent to afflicted nations will depart Tuesday evening, with 154 of them headed to Liberia and 78 to Sierra Leone, according to the China Daily newspaper.

They will join 43 army doctors and 35 specialists from the Chinese Center for Disease Control already working in Sierra Leone, where they have treated 61 patients and trained 1,600 local medical workers.

While StarAfrica covers foreign financial aid:

Ebola-hit countries express to gratitude to Saudi King for donation

The ambassadors of the Ebola-hit countries; Mali, Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, accredited in the Senegalese capital, Dakar, on Monday hailed the financial support offered by the Saudi King to re-open the schools earlier shutdown because of the Ebola outbreak.

King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud has donated $35 million to these countries struggling with the deadly virus through the Islamic Development Bank (IDB).

The donation will help the concerned countries establish health facilities dedicated to fighting the Ebola virus.

The donation will also enable the acquisition of thermal sensors and screening gears in the identification of the people suspected with the deadly virus.

After the jump, US health experts turn the Ebola focus onto Guinea and a look on one Guinean community, then on to Liberia and an upbeat assessment, students demand free schooling to help recover from the crisis, the health minister sounds a note of caution, hints of deeper structural problems, and an intense community temperature-checking program commences, then on to Sierra Leone and a very grim scene at a cemetery, plus a cry of despair. . . Continue reading

EbolaWatch: Numbers, hope, and a new hospital

We begin with some good news in the form of the latest Ebola curve from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, with the weekly new case counts clearly on the decline:

BLOG Ebola curve

Next, the New York Times covers one downside to the good news:

In Africa, a Decline in New Ebola Cases Complicates Vaccine Development

As authorities and drug companies hurriedly prepare to begin testing Ebola vaccines in West Africa, they are starting to contemplate a new challenge: whether an ebbing of the outbreak could make it more difficult to determine if the experimental vaccines are effective.

“For this reason, it’s very urgent that we get into the field very quickly to do these clinical trials, because if there are very, very, very few cases of Ebola, as I’m sure you understand, it’s going to be difficult to test whether the vaccines work or not,” Dr. Helen Rees, an adviser to the World Health Organization, said during a news conference on Friday at the organization’s headquarters in Geneva.

Dr. Rees, a professor and viral disease expert at the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa, led a meeting on Thursday of public health officials, pharmaceutical executives and others to discuss the plans for testing vaccines in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.

On to Liberia with the New Dawn and a small sum for a large problem:

US$6m for Health Sector

The Government of Liberia, through the Ministry of Health, has disclosed that Six Million United States Dollars will be used to restore Public health facilities across the country. Some will also go to private health facilities.

Deputy Health Minister Saye D. Baawo said following the restoration basis health services at all public hospitals,

He noted that since the outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus in Liberia, many health facilities that shut down needed to be restored, indicating health facilities in five counties severely hit by the Ebola virus will initially be considered. They include Montserrado, Margibi, Bomi, Lofa and Nimba.

4,000 health care workers have already been trained to work in both Ebola Treatment Units and ETUs and health facilities.

Upon the restoration of the various health centers, according to the Assistant Health Minister, questions will be asked about sicknesses and temperatures taken at entrances of health facilities to ensure that there is no sign of Ebola before entry.

From the World Health Organization, a front line fighter in Liberia:

WHO: Austin A. Jallah shares his experience fighting Ebola in Liberia

Program notes:

“When the outbreak first started in March and we heard about this deadly virus Ebola, I was in Kakata,” says Austin S. Jallah, a student nurse of Kakata University, in Margibi County, Liberia and working as a WHO expert patient trainer.

“People really doubted the fact that Ebola was real, until we heard about the first case in the hospital. I wasn’t one of those who doubted though.”

Sierra Leone next, with a notable accomplishment, via the Observer:

Sierra Leone declares first Ebola-free district

  • Pujehun, in the south east, has had no cases for 42 days after early decision to clamp down on public gatherings

A district in Sierra Leone has been declared Ebola-free, the first to be given the all-clear after 42 days with zero recorded cases of the virus.

Pujehun, in the south-east of the country, was hit by Ebola in August and suffered 24 deaths from 31 cases – but it has not had a recorded case since 26 November. This means it has achieved the World Health Organisation’s benchmark for Ebola-free status.

District council chairman Sadiq Silla credited an early decision to close markets, and ban social activities and worship in churches and mosques. He put the emergency measures in place before Sierra Leone’s president took action, and suffered strong local opposition and death threats as a result.

“My house was physically attacked and I have to thank the police who protected me from the mobs,” he said.

Reuters covers a much-needed development:

Medical charity MSF opens Ebola clinic for pregnant women

Medical charity Medicins Sans Frontiers (MSF) has opened the first care centre in the current Ebola epidemic for pregnant women, whose survival rate from the virus is virtually zero, the charity said on Saturday.

There is currently one patient in the clinic, which is perched on a hill in the compound of a disused Methodist boys high school in the Sierra Leone capital.

Women are particularly vulnerable to a disease spread through direct contact with infected people and with the corpses of victims, because women often care for sick family members, said MSF Field Coordinator, Esperanza Santos.

“Pregnant women (with Ebola) are a high risk group so they have less chance than…than the rest of the population,” she told Reuters. The charity has played a leading roll in the fight against the virus.

And from AllAfrica, Kenyans volunteer for the fight:

Kenya: Why We’re Risking Our Lives to Fight Ebola

What would cause a newly married 28-year-old with a highly regarded skill set and his own practice to leave his home and risk contracting a highly contagious disease with a high mortality rate?

“Humanity is what,” clinician Stephen Kariuki tells Capital FM News as he sips a cup of tea just hours before his scheduled departure for either Liberia or Sierra Leone.

“They’ll tell us today,” he says without the slightest hint of apprehension at not knowing exactly where he’ll be posted.

Stephen is one of 170 health workers Kenya is deploying to the Ebola ravaged nations on Friday as part of its commitment to the African Union.

Chart of the day: State, local governments hurting

From the Census Bureau, a look at the impact of the crash on the combined assets, debts, and revenue flows of U.S. state and local governments:

State and Local Government Finances