5 Oct 2015

"VA is Lying, Vets Are Dying" billboard displayed in Tomah. Part of a national campaign to bring awareness to alleged issues within the VA system

Drivers on I-94 passing by Tomah will now see a billboard that says "VA is Lying, Vets Are Dying," as part of a national campaign to bring awareness to alleged issues within the VA system.
The group behind the billboards is called "VA is Lying," and multiple billboards, like the one in Tomah, have been displayed in places like Tampa and Minneapolis.
Candace Baer-Delis lost her father at the Tomah VA in January and is a member of the group.
Baer-Delis is from Marshfield and took part in the unveiling of the billboard on Monday.
"It's a project that was started to try to make the public aware of what's going on within the VA," she said. They are basically going up where the worst problems are at least at this point."
The Tomah VA Medical Center said it respects the group's right to express their opinion.
"The Tomah VA respects the rights of groups like this to express their opinion," Public Affairs Officer Matt Gowan, said. "The VA works diligently everyday to create a collaborative problem-solving environment conducive to the need of our patients."
"I hope also people understand we're not attacking anyone," Baer-Delis said. "This isn't about the nurses and doctos that give good care. It's about the nurses and doctors that are corrupt and unethical and the administration that's corrupt and unethical. Really, it's about the people that don't care about the veterans and are just in it for the paycheck."
WXOW News 19 La Crosse, WI – News, Weather and Sports |

Medical aid group Doctors Without Borders denied that Taliban fighters were firing from its hospital at NATO forces before a US air strike killed at least 19 people. "In any case, bombing a fully functioning hospital can never be justified."

Medical aid group Doctors Without Borders — also known as Médecins Sans Frontières, or MSF — said on Sunday that the death toll from a suspected US airstrike on a hospital in Afghanistan has climbed to 22, with 12 MSF staff and 10 patients, including three children, killed in the attack.
The humanitarian organization issued a statement on Sunday denying that Taliban fighters were firing from its hospital in Kunduz at Afghan and NATO forces before the bombing, which also left dozens of people seriously wounded.
Fighting has continued to rage around the northern provincial capital of Kunduz for a seventh day as government forces backed by American air power seek to drive out Taliban militants who seized the city almost a week ago. Decomposing bodies littered the streets, and residents said that food was scarce.
The US military said it conducted an airstrike "in the vicinity" of the hospital, as it targeted Taliban insurgents who were directly firing on US military personnel. A US military spokesman acknowledged that the strike "may have resulted in collateral damage to a nearby medical facility." 
The US-led military coalition in Afghanistan issued a statement on Sunday that said US forces conducted an airstrike at 2:15am local time on Saturday "against insurgents who were directly firing upon US service members advising and assisting Afghan Security Forces in the city of Kunduz."
The statement acknowledged that the strike "was conducted in the vicinity of a Doctors Without Borders medical facility," and said that NATO Resolute Support, the name of the current mission in Afghanistan, "has directed a preliminary multi-national investigation known as a Casualty Assessment Team." Results are expected "in a matter of days." 
President Barack Obama said on Saturday that the Defense Department had ordered its own separate investigation into the incident, which the UN human rights chief said was "utterly tragic, inexcusable" and could amount to a war crime.
MSF issued a statement on Sunday demanding "a full and transparent investigation into the event be conducted by an independent international body," saying "an internal investigation by a party to the conflict would be wholly insufficient." MSF said it was operating "under the clear presumption that a war crime has been committed."
"Not a single member of our staff reported any fighting inside the MSF hospital compound prior to the US airstrike on Saturday morning," the statement said, noting that the facility was full of staff and patients. "We reiterate that the main hospital building, where medical personnel were caring for patients, was repeatedly and very precisely hit during each aerial raid, while the rest of the compound was left mostly untouched."
The bombing deals a blow to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani's policy of forging closer ties with the United States after his predecessor Hamid Karzai fell out with his backers in Washington in part over the number of civilians killed by bombs.
But the Afghan leader will be torn between distancing himself from Washington and the need for American firepower to help his forces drive insurgents out of Kunduz after the Taliban's biggest victory in the nearly 14-year-old war.
In a statement, Obama offered condolences to the victims of what he called "the tragic incident." 
"The Department of Defense has launched a full investigation, and we will await the results of that inquiry before making a definitive judgment as to the circumstances of this tragedy," Obama said.
In Kabul, the Afghan Ministry of Defense said Taliban fighters had attacked the hospital and were using the building "as a human shield." But the medical aid group denied this.
"The gates of the hospital compound were closed all night so no one that is not staff, a patient or a caretaker was inside the hospital when the bombing happened," MSF said in a statement on Sunday. "In any case, bombing a fully functioning hospital can never be justified."
Witnesses said patients were burned alive in the crowded hospital after the airstrike. Three children who were being treated in the hospital's intensive care unit were among the dead.
"We tried to take a look into one of the burning buildings," MSF nurse Lajos Zoltan Jecs said, recalling the bombing. "I cannot describe what was inside. There are no words for how terrible it was. In the Intensive Care Unit six patients were burning in their beds." 
The MSF hospital that was a lifeline for thousands in the city said it was pulling most of its staff out of the area because the hospital was no longer functioning. Some staff had gone to help treat the wounded at other hospitals outside of Kunduz.
The struggle to retake Kunduz has raised questions over whether NATO-trained Afghan forces were ready to go it alone now most foreign combat troops have left. Afghan security forces were conducting house-to-house searches on Sunday, as gunbattles persisted in parts of the city, said Hamdullah Danishi, acting governor of Kunduz province.
Danishi said 480 Taliban fighters and 35 soldiers had been killed. The army raised the national flag in the central square, an area of the city that has changed hands several times in the fighting during the last week.
"Our security forces took control of strategic areas in Kunduz," Danishi said. "We have a clearance operation ongoing." 

Montreal to dump 8 billion liters of sewage in the St. Lawrence River

The City of Montreal is going ahead with its controversial plan to dump eight billion litres of raw sewage into the St. Lawrence River.
Pierre Desrochers, the chairman of the city's executive committee, said at a news conference Friday morning that emptying a major sewer interceptor into the river is the only viable option that will allow necessary construction work to be completed. 
"After re-examining the situation, our administration has concluded that it's inevitable that we have to close the interceptor, even if it means diverting the wastewater to the river," said Desrochers, adding that the quality of drinking water will not be affected. 
"We studied all other alternatives, and this is the only option."
The city estimates it would cost $1 billion to build a temporary diversion or storage area for wastewater. 
Mayor Denis Coderre had temporarily put the brakes on the plan after a public backlash earlier this week, saying it needed a second look. 
Project Montréal head Luc Ferrandez said that the city's administration is "indifferent" to the environment.
"Where's the mayor? If this was about baseball then he would be here," said Ferrandez.

Provisions to be taken by the city:

  • Any activity that involves direct contact with water will be prohibited from Oct.18-28 in Montreal's Southwest borough.
  • The same restriction applies to the King Edward Quay sector from Oct.18-Nov.15.
  • The city will ask businesses and residents along the St. Lawrence River from LaSalle to Rivière-des-Prairies to limit waste that goes in water during this period.

Snow dump to be moved

The construction work is tied to the demolition of the Bonaventure Expressway.
The city is moving a snow dump now located beneath the expressway.
Runoff from that snow dump empties into the interceptor, as does the industrial and residential effluent from many other sewer lines.
The sewage will be allowed to flow into the river beginning Oct. 18, and that will continue for about a week.
The province's Environment Ministry has approved the decision. 
Up until the 1980s, it was common practice to clear Montreal's sewers this way, but it is no longer considered to be accepted practice. It's been six years since the city last dumped raw sewage into the river. 
Montreal will not be the first Canadian city to deliberately or inadvertently release untreated sewage into oceans, lakes and rivers. Victoria discharges millions of litres of raw sewage into the Strait of Juan de Fuca every day. 
Since 2004, Winnipeg's outdated sewer system has led to 185 million litres of raw sewage being dumped into the city's waterways. In 2014, untreated sewageflowed freely into Halifax Harbour, years after Halifax's sewage treatment was finished.
City spokesman Philippe Sabourin said earlier this week that contamination is not a big concern because of the sheer size of the river and how quickly it flows. Water in the river flows at a rate of 6,000 to 7,000 cubic metres a second compared to the flow rate of the wastewater, expected to be just 13 cubic metres a second.

The low paid will suffer if I don't cut their tax credits, says George Osborne

People on low incomes will suffer if cuts to their tax credits do not go ahead, George Osborne has insisted.
The Chancellor argued that reducing the payments to people in low paid jobs would give them “economic security” by reducing the Government’s spending deficit. 
“Working people of this country want economic security, the worst possible thing you can do for those families is bust the public finances, have some welfare system this country can’t afford,” the told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“That includes a tax credit bill that’s gone up from the £1bn when it was introduced to the £30bn today. They are the people who will suffer. It’s not about philosophy or theory: it’s about the practical economic security of the people of this country. 
“That tax credit bill would go up and up and up, the country couldn’t afford it, people’s economic security would be undermined, and the people who would suffer would be the very lowest paid in our country – they would be the people who would ultimately lose their work.”
Labour says the richest should pay to cut the deficit, and has identified cuts to tax avoidance and corporate subsidies it says could replace cuts to the lowest paid.  
Mr Osborne is facing disquiet from this own party over the cuts after research from the Institute for Fiscal Studies found the Government’s measures would leave people in work significantly worse off.
The Chancellor claims that increases in the minimum wage would make up for the cuts in most cases, but the IFS says the increase comes “nowhere near” to compensating for it.
The Institute also says the deepest welfare cuts planned by the Chancellor will hit people who have jobs.
The revelation is a blow to the Chancellor, who has repeatedly claimed his party represents “working people”.
David Cameron on Sunday also ruled out any changes to the tax credits cuts, telling the BBC that his plans were “right” and would leave people better off.
Mr Cameron effectively ruled out cutting the benefit before the election, telling a voters Question time that he “rejected” proposals to cut tax credits and did not want to do so. 
The cuts are part of £12bn cuts to the social security budget that the Government is to make – specifics of which it refused to announce before the election.

Countries That Rank the Highest for Being Competitive (15 pics)

The Global Competitiveness Report of 2015-2016 ranked the world’s countries based on competitiveness and these are the results.

15. Taiwan
14. Qatar
13. Canada
12. Denmark
11. Norway
10. United Kingdom
9. Sweden
8. Finland
7. China
6. Japan
5. Netherlands
4. Germany
3. USA
2. Singapore
1. Switzerland

3 Oct 2015

Anti-Vaxxers Accidentally Fund a Study Showing No Link Between Autism and Vaccines.

Most experts today agree that the belief that childhood vaccines cause autism is based on bunk science. Even still, some advocacy groups claim immunizations are responsible for raising the risk for this neurodevelopmental condition, despite a growing body of research that shows there isn’t a link. (The study that most anti-vaccination groups point to was retracted after it wasfound to be based on falsified data.)
Despite the science, organizations involved in the anti-vaccine movement still hope to find some evidence that vaccines threaten children’s health. For example, the autism advocacy organization SafeMinds recently funded research it hoped would prove vaccines cause autism in children. But this effort appears to have backfired for the organization—whose mission is to raise awareness about how certain environmental exposures may be linked to autism—since the study SafeMinds supported showed a link between autism and vaccines does not exist.
Between 2003 and 2013, SafeMinds provided scientists from the University of Texas Southwestern School of Medicine, the University of Washington, the Johnson Center for Child Health & Development and other research institutions with approximately $250,000 to conduct a long-term investigation evaluating behavioral and brain changes of baby rhesus macaques that were administered a standard course of childhood vaccines. (The National Autism Association, another organization that has questioned vaccine safety, also provided financial support for this research.) The latest paper in the multiyear project was published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). In it, the researchers concluded that vaccines did not cause any brain or behavioral changes in the primates. 
The PNAS paper reports findings of the full-size study, conducted between 2008 and 2014 at the Washington National Primate Research Center, that occurred after the completion of an initial pilot program on 17 infant macaques. The full study involved 79 infant male macaques, aged 12 to 18 months, broken into six groups. Two groups received thimerosal-containing vaccines for a child’s complete vaccine schedule; two were given the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine without TCVs; and two received saline injections as a control group. In each case, the monkeys were further split into subgroups: Half were on an accelerated vaccination schedule recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the 1990s, and half were on the recommended schedule from 2008.
Anti-vaccine activists have claimed that both the vaccines with thimerosal—a mercury-based antifungal and antiseptic preservative—and the MMR vaccines are linked to autism. Thimerosal was removed from most vaccines in the late 1990s. But the researchers wanted to study its potential health effects anyway.
The researchers then put the monkeys together in cages to see if they exhibited any new autistic-like social behaviors, such as fear, withdrawal, rocking, self-clasping and stereotypy (repetitive behavior). They reported that the monkeys’ behaviors remained unchanged. (Another paper by some of the same researchers, published in February in Environmental Health Perspectives, assessed the learning and social behaviors of the same group of monkeys and found the vaccines did not affect their development.)
For the PNAS paper, the researchers also conducted postmortem analyses of the primates’ brains after they had been euthanized. The team looked for brain abnormalities, including those in the volume and density of the cerebellum, amygdala and hippocampus regions, all of which have been shown to have some variations in children with autism. They also looked at the numbers and size of certain types of brain cells, known as Purkinje cells; some studies have shown there are fewer Purkinje cells in the brains of children with autism. The researchers say they didn’t find any marked differences in the brains of monkeys in the vaccine groups compared with those in the control group.
SafeMinds, the nonprofit that funded the research, is not happy with the results. Representatives from the group say the findings contradict both an earlier pilot study and interim progress reports the organization received from the researchers.
The pilot study, undertaken at the University of Pittsburgh, led to two papers, both published in 2010, showing that the vaccines did in fact affect brain development in infant macaques. One paper, published in Acta Neurobiologiae Experimentalis, looked at the development of the amygdala region of the brains of monkeys that received the complete U.S. childhood vaccine schedule from the 1990s and then underwent MRI and PET scans at 4 and 6 months of age.
The researchers reported that amygdala volume was different in monkeys that received the vaccines versus those that did not. They also reported differences in certain opioid receptors in the brains of monkeys in the vaccine group. The other paper, from the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, looked at differences in the reflexes of baby monkeys that received a single dose of thimerosal-containing hepatitis B vaccine versus those in a control group. In that paper, the researchers reported that “in exposed animals there was a significant delay in the acquisition of root, snout, and suck reflexes, compared with unexposed animals.”
SafeMinds argues that these changes all suggest a correlation between vaccination and autism. But as Alycia Halladay, chief science officer at the Autism Science Foundation, points out, these findings do not necessarily indicate anything about autism. “There are likely many biological effects that occur in an organism after a vaccine administration, but that doesn’t always mean it will cause autism,” she says.
SafeMinds also believes that the research team behind the new PNAS study may have cherry-picked their data. SafeMinds Director Lyn Redwood, a registered nurse, says she received an email in 2013 from the researchers reporting a “statistically significant” 11 percent reduction in certain types of hippocampal cells in the vaccine groups. But she says the authors did not include these findings in the new paper.
Dr. Laura Hewitson, director of research for the Johnson Center for Child Health & Development, an adjunct associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, a lead researcher on project and co-author on all four papers, says that at the time that email was sent, it was also made clear to SafeMinds “that the data should be treated as preliminary until all of the animals had completed the study.” She added that none of the study’s procedures changed once her team moved from the pilot program to a larger sample.
“The same assessments were performed on a much larger number of primates by a team of behaviorists with decades of experience working with nonhuman primate infants,” Hewitson tells Newsweek. “For example, in the pilot study we examined 13 different neonatal reflexes from birth to 14 days of age in just two groups of animals. In the current study, we examined those same 13 reflexes, plus six others from birth to 21 days of age, in six groups of animals—a much more comprehensive experimental design.”
She added that all of the researchers, technicians and behaviorists involved in collection and analysis of data did not know which of the monkeys were in the vaccine groups or the control group. The researchers also implemented a “chain of custody” protocol once the data were collected, in which they reviewed chronological documentation that shows the control, transfer and analysis of all data sets. Hewitson says that her team used an independent statistical consultant for all data analysis, and that two additional outside investigators from two other academic institutions confirmed their findings.
“As you can see, we have done everything possible to ensure the integrity of the data. My co-authors and I stand by our published findings,” she says. “The comprehensive nature of the current study underscores why the findings from the pilot study should be interpreted with an abundance of caution, given the small number of animals included.”
But Sallie Bernard, president of SafeMinds, says she would at least like to see a re-analysis of the newest data. “We feel that embedded within these data sets there are animals that have potentially an adverse reaction to this vaccine schedule that would mirror what happens in human infants,” she says. “The majority who get vaccines are fine, but we believe there is a subset that have an adverse reaction to their vaccines. By looking at the raw data, not data in aggregate, we may be able to identify the subgroup that had that reaction.”

D.C. police sign nondisclosure with FBI to keep StingRay use private

Under a non-disclosure agreement with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington, D.C., will keep its StingRay surveillance use private.
The D.C. police also promised to notify the FBI if technical details about the surveillance device were in danger of being exposed as a result of a court proceeding so the agency could take action to have the case dismissed, according to VICE News.
Last month, the Justice Department announced new guidelines that would prohibit agents from using StingRays - which act as fake wireless cell towers to allow law enforcement to intercept mobile calls, text messages and emails - to collect the information without first obtaining a search warrant.
The FBI's non-disclosure agreement with the Metropolitan Police Department is the latest of several similar NDAs that the agency has signed with local and state police in Florida, New York and Maryland.
Update: An FBI representative told SCMagazine.com its NDAs do not prohibit local police departments from disclosing use of the StingRay device, but only prohibit disclosing technical details related to the device. The Metropolitan Police Department confirmed via email that the department has signed a non-disclosure agreement with the FBI and declined further comment. SCMagazine.com obtained via email from the Justice Department comments from Deputy Attorney General Sally Quillian Yates. She said the Justice Department's new guidelines do not address the FBI's NDAs but "consistent with the spirit of this policy, we expect the FBI to be revising those agreements with the state and locals."

Pfizer Raised Prices on 133 Drugs This Year, And It's Not Alone

A single, 5,000 percent price hike on an anti-parasitic drug made by Turing Pharmaceuticals garnered national media attention. But it’s just one of hundreds of smaller price increases drug companies make in the U.S. each year, a tactic the industry uses to generate more revenue from older medications.
Pfizer Inc., the nation’s biggest drugmaker, has raised prices on 133 of its brand-name products in the U.S. this year, according to research from UBS, more than three-quarters of which added up to hikes of 10 percent or more. It’s not alone. Rival Merck & Co. raised the price of 38 drugs, about a quarter of which resulted in increases of 10 percent or more. Pfizer sells more than 600 drugs globally while Merck has more than 200 worldwide, including almost 100 in the U.S.
Drugmakers have long said these increases aren’t felt by most consumers because intermediaries like insurers negotiate what is ultimately paid -- meaning what they really charge for their drugs is far below the list price. Pfizer and its rivals say they can’t make those negotiated prices public for competitive reasons.
Like its competitors, Pfizer has been raising prices on older drugs in its portfolio for years. The increases in the U.S. have added $1.07 billion of quarterly revenue from mid-2012 to the middle of this year, helping limit the company’s total decline in quarterly revenue over that time period to $2 billion even as patents on blockbuster drugs expired, according to estimates from SSR, an investment research firm. In the case ofBristol-Myers Squibb Co., increasing the price of existing drugs in the U.S. brought in $435 million of revenue over the past three years, leaving the contraction of the company’s global sales at $280 million, SSR estimates show.

‘Variety of Factors’

Pfizer said it offers programs to help patients who can’t afford its drugs. The company said it advocates that the prices patients pay be "as low as possible."
"There are a variety of factors that determine the timing and amount of a price change for a Pfizer product," Pfizer spokesman MacKay Jimeson said. "In some cases a price change may be due to competitor pricing, an increase in global demand as a result of a competitor exiting the market, or shifting disease patterns in a particular country or region."
Bristol-Myers spokesman Ken Dominski said the company can’t confirm SSR’s numbers and that its complete financial information, including the impact of prices on sales, is disclosed in regulatory filings.
Bristol-Myers takes into account a number of things when considering the prices of drugs, “including the value they deliver to patients and society, the scientific innovation they represent and the investment required to research new uses for these and other compounds in our pipeline,” Dominski said. The company increased prices on about six of its drugs this year, according to the UBS data.
Merck declined to comment.
"Some companies have made greater use of price increase than others, and those are typically companies that are trying to paper over financially an absence of innovation that they’ve not been able to generate internally," said John Schroer, sector head of health care at Allianz Global Investors. Schroer’s firm has shares in Pfizer but he said its holding is underweight compared with benchmark indexes.
Pfizer has been busy developing new drugs, having gotten 15 new treatments approved by U.S. regulators since 2010, Jimeson said.

Clinton’s Move

The issue of drug price increases was thrust into the political spotlight last month after Turing raised the price of a decades old medicine to $750 a pill, from $13.50. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton weighed in, saying that she’d implement programs to force the industry to concede tens of billions of dollars a year in tax breaks, reduce prices and increase research spending. Turing’s CEO Martin Shkreli has since said the company would lower the price of its controversial drug but it has yet to do so.
Pfizer has raised list prices on some of its biggest drugs this year, including two 9.4 percent increases on Lyrica, the pain medicine that’s expected to be its second-biggest selling drug globally in 2015 with $4.8 billion in sales, according to a poll of Bloomberg analysts. That compares with $5.17 billion last year, when it was the company’s top-selling product.
Pfizer is one of the leaders among the largest U.S. pharmaceutical companies in getting sales gains through price increases on its top products, even taking discounts into account, according to Morgan Stanley research. In a note Friday, analysts at Morgan Stanley said Pfizer’s net prices grew 11 percent a year on average from 2012 to 2014. List prices on drugs from large pharmaceutical companies grew 12 percent a year in that span, leading to an 8 percent annual increase in net prices, after discounts, the analysts said.
Pfizer’s Lyrica contributed $208 million in additional quarterly sales attributable solely to price hikes, over a three-year period in which the price rose by 51.7 percent, according to SSR’s estimates. Viagra contributed $166 million in extra quarterly sales from price hikes during a period in which its price rose 72.1 percent, SSR said. Those figures indicate that the insurers only paid a portion of the price increases.
SSR reached its estimates after removing contributions from products that immediately face loss of market exclusivity and after adjusting estimates for products that appear to have had large inventory swings in the wholesale market.

Congress Still Bans CDC Scientists From Studying Gun Violence

In the wake of another mass shooting (among many this year), we are asking again: What causes gun violence? Is there a causal relationship between gun ownership and gun violence? We might know the answers to these questions, or at least have a body of empirical evidence getting us closer to the answers, if government scientists were allowed to study them.

But they’re not.
In June, the Appropriations Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives rejected an amendment that would have repealed a ban on scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) conducting research to study the relationship between gun ownership and gun violence. Supporters of the ban, including current House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) argue that the CDC shouldn’t study these questions because “a gun is not a disease.”

Arguably, though, CDC researchers have studied other kinds of environmental factors that play a role in human health and in human behaviors with implications for human health. Are alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs of abuse diseases? Is a faulty ventilation system, of the sort that might provide a hospitable environment for the bacterium that causes Legionnaire’s disease? Is a hurricane?  If you think, given its scientific mission, that the CDC is the wrong group of government scientists to study the connection between gun ownership and gun violence, fine. Allocate funding to the right government scientists, those working in the appropriate scientific disciplines to conduct the research. Establish research grants to support academic scientists studying this question. Do something to mobilize scientists to address this problem.

Or, admit that the point of the ban is that you don’t want scientists to work on these questions at all.
Why wouldn’t you want scientists to look into connections between gun ownership and gun violence?
Perhaps you think the question has already been decisively answered by existing research. This would make spending additional money, on research to answer an already-answered question, wasteful. If this is where you stand, show us the study.