Archive for the ‘government’ Category
Our government in action, for good, and mostly for worse
Funny how this works: databases containing all sorts of data about you is compiled by giant, somewhat secretive corporations, and then rented out to corporations so marketers can sell their goods and services to you, and yet you have no access to the data. For what it’s worth, I took the time to opt out of Acxiom’s system, based on my email address, but who knows if they really removed me. I doubt it, but there is no way to verify or confirm in any case. We are just numbers to them, not people.
I recently asked to see the information held about me by the Acxiom Corporation, a database marketing company that collects and sells details about consumers’ financial status, shopping and recreational activities to banks, retailers, automakers and other businesses. In investor presentations and interviews, Acxiom executives have said that the company — the subject of a Sunday Business article last month — has information on about 500 million active consumers worldwide, with about 1,500 data points per person. Acxiom also promotes a program for consumers who wish to see the information the company has on them.
As a former pharmaceuticals industry reporter who has researched all kinds of diseases, drugs and quack cures online, I wanted to learn, for one, whether Acxiom had pegged me as concerned about arthritis, diabetes or allergies. Acxiom also has a proprietary household classification system that places people in one of 70 socioeconomic categories, like “Downtown Dwellers” or “Flush Families,” and I hoped to discover the caste to which it had assigned me.
But after I filled out an online request form and sent a personal check for $5 to cover the processing fee, the company simply sent me a list of some of my previous residential addresses. In other words, rather than learning the details about myself that marketers might use to profile and judge me, I received information I knew already.
It turns out that Acxiom, based in Little Rock, Ark., furnishes consumers only with data related to risk management, like their own prison records, tax liens, bankruptcy filings and residential histories. For a corporate client, the company is able to match customers by name with, say, the social networks or Internet providers they use, but it does not offer consumers the same information about themselves.
(click here to continue reading Acxiom Consumer Data, Often Unavailable to Consumers – NYTimes.com.)
and I’m totally in favor of the FTC forcing these companies to become more transparent, based upon the historical precedent of the credit card industry’s standard practice:
Now federal regulators are pressuring data brokers to operate more transparently. In a report earlier this year, the Federal Trade Commission recommended that the industry set up a public Web portal that would display the names and contact information of data brokers, as well as describe consumers’ data access rights and other choices.
Julie Brill, a member of the Federal Trade Commission, said consumers should have access to all the details that data brokers collect on them, as well as any analyses that the companies sell about their behavior.
“I include in that not just the raw data, but also how that information has been analyzed to place the consumer into certain categories for marketing or other purposes,” she said. “I believe that giving consumers this kind of granularity will greatly increase consumer trust in the information flow process and will lead to more accurate marketing.”
At the moment, however, information brokers have wildly different policies. Acxiom lets people opt out of its marketing databases, while Epsilon, another marketing services firm, allows people to opt out of having their data rented to third parties. Epsilon says it will also furnish individuals, upon request, with general information about their past retail transactions — including the categories and years of purchase. But it does not include exact product or retailer names.
Commissioner Brill of the F.T.C. said she could not comment on specific companies. But she said the reluctance of the data broker industry to show consumers their own records reminded her of an earlier era, when consumer reporting agencies — companies that track and sell information about people’s credit histories — protested that it would be too expensive and time-consuming for them to show individuals the same reports that creditors could see. In 1996, Congress updated the Fair Credit Reporting Act of 1970, giving people greater access to the files that those agencies held about them. Today, consumers can easily gain access to their credit reports online.
“What the credit reporting industry did was change their point of view from client-oriented to consumer-oriented, and develop the tools and technology to allow consumers to see what’s in their reports and ensure it is accurate,” Ms. Brill said. “The data broker industry could do the exact same thing.”
(click here to continue reading Acxiom Consumer Data, Often Unavailable to Consumers – NYTimes.com.)
Zion Illinois, a Christian theocracy, sounds like hell on earth, at least to me. Why would anyone want to live there? Maybe there’s more to Zion than just the repression and hypocrisy, but I’d never want to find out.
As in other Chicago suburbs, Zion leaders struggle to provide services with less money, dealing with shrinking budgets, employee layoffs and declining tax revenue. But officials also remain beholden in some ways to the city’s colorful, religion-centric past.
Called “Mayberry-esque” by one business investor, Zion is home to residents who can still recall praying twice daily when a bell tolled. They live on streets named after biblical figures and landmarks, such as Gabriel, Hebron and Ezekiel avenues.
And in trying to balance a community’s history with modern economic development, perhaps no issue is more fraught with controversy than alcohol sales. In Zion, liquor has been sold under strict parameters since voters ended the local prohibition in 2004.
Zion was among the last suburban holdouts as a dry community. Even Wheaton — college alma mater of evangelist Billy Graham — overturned its prohibition on alcohol in 1985 after much controversy.…
Yet ever since the 1998 closing of Zion’s nuclear power plant — once dubbed the “golden goose” by Harrison — officials have tried to replace the millions in lost revenue. They have enjoyed mixed success, aided by the addition of alcohol sales that opened the door to chain restaurants and a hotel that caters to Zion’s largest employer, the Cancer Treatment Centers of America at Midwestern Regional Medical Center.
(click here to continue reading Zion officials struggle with brewery proposal – chicagotribune.com.)
a small bit of history:
JOHN ALEXANDER DOWIE was born in Edinboro’ Scotland on May 25, 1847 and received his religious conviction — while singing a hymn from a street pulpit in that city — at age seven. His family emigrated to Australia when he was thirteen; there he attended seminary and held a number of pastoral positions in the Congregational Church before resigning the last to become a full-time non-denominational evangelist in 1878.
As a young man he experienced a healing from chronic indigestion which he attributed to divine intervention; this led to his growing activity as a faith healer and ultimately to the foundation of his International Divine Healing Association. He left for the United States in 1888, and after two years on the Pacific coast moved to Evanston, Illinois. During the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893 he led healing services in a large tabernacle across the way from Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.
…Following a decade of legal wrangling with the Chicago authorities, between 1899 and 1901 Dowie secretly bought ten square miles of lakefront land 40 miles to the north and founded a true American theocracy: Zion, Illinois. Here people could — and would — live sinless lives in conditions approximating (as nearly as possible) those obtaining after the Millennium. Whether the New Jerusalem’s citizens will, in fact, be summoned to worship by steam whistle remains to be seen; but they were in Zion.
…Dowie owned everything personally, although settlers were offered 1,100-year leases (i.e., 100 years to usher in the Kingdom and 1,000 for Christ’s millennial reign — after that, seemingly, you were on your own). The leases specifically forbade gambling, dancing, swearing, spitting, theaters, circuses, the manufacture and sale of alcohol or tobacco, pork, oysters, doctors, politicians — and tan-colored shoes. The city police carried a billy club on one hip and a Bible on the other; their helmets were adorned with a dove and the word “PATIENCE.” At the height of his power and influence, Dowie was worth several million dollars and claimed 50,000 followers, 6,000 of whom lived in Zion City.
In 1901 Dowie proclaimed himself “Elijah the Restorer” and began to wear High-Priestly robes. This caused many disciples to fall away; the subsequent decrease in income combined with the expenses of building Zion marked the beginning of Dowie’s slide into bankruptcy. It was at this time that rumors of his polygamous teaching and activities, use of alcohol, and extravagant lifestyle began to gain currency, not only in the world, but also within the Church
(click here to continue reading John Alexander Dowie | Evangelist – Biography | Zion City, Illinois.)
…and since business decisions are secondary to interpretations of Christian doctrine, Zion is not a home of the free…
Finally, the businessmen were referred to the Planning and Zoning Board, which would review their original request to rent space within the former lace factory. The 385,000-square-foot brick building was one of the first businesses Dowie opened in Zion, which was incorporated in 1902.
Dowie’s early designs for the city are woven throughout Zion’s fabric, and they have continued to court controversy over the years.
“He would roll over in his grave because of the liquor. Other than that, I think he’d be fairly impressed,” said Commissioner Jim Taylor, citing the city’s attempts to preserve buildings such as Dowie’s original home, the Shiloh House.
By 1903, Dowie had attracted newcomers to his Christian utopia from Southern states and elsewhere around the world, with many hoping that he could heal them of disease. He had gained notoriety for his faith healing during Chicago’s 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition and found an international audience with a publication, “Leaves of Healing.”
He opened a wood-frame hotel where new residents lived until their houses were built. The hotel is long gone, but a gold dome was salvaged and is about to be repainted by a local business, Coral Chemical Co.
In 1990, city leaders were forced to drop the Zion corporate seal, which included a cross, a dove and a crown, after a federal court found it to be an unconstitutional endorsement of Christianity.
Well-known atheist Rob Sherman took the city back to court over the seal last fall, after city Commissioner Shantal Taylor resurrected it in an ad for a community event.
Taylor promised Judge James Zagel she wouldn’t use the seal again. She continues, though, to frame her personal vision for Zion within a Christian context.
“I really believe that great things are going to happen in Zion again,” said Taylor, opposed to the brewery. “If we go by a saying, ‘History repeats itself,’ then Zion is in for one heck of a repeat because this city was created to bring the God of gods glory.”
(click here to continue reading Zion officials struggle with brewery proposal – chicagotribune.com.)
Amazingly, a public health initiative is based on shaky research. Shocking, I know…
And yet, this eat-less-salt argument has been surprisingly controversial — and difficult to defend. Not because the food industry opposes it, but because the actual evidence to support it has always been so weak.
When I spent the better part of a year researching the state of the salt science back in 1998 — already a quarter century into the eat-less-salt recommendations — journal editors and public health administrators were still remarkably candid in their assessment of how flimsy the evidence was implicating salt as the cause of hypertension.
“You can say without any shadow of a doubt,” as I was told then by Drummond Rennie, an editor for The Journal of the American Medical Association, that the authorities pushing the eat-less-salt message had “made a commitment to salt education that goes way beyond the scientific facts.”
While, back then, the evidence merely failed to demonstrate that salt was harmful, the evidence from studies published over the past two years actually suggests that restricting how much salt we eat can increase our likelihood of dying prematurely. Put simply, the possibility has been raised that if we were to eat as little salt as the U.S.D.A. and the C.D.C. recommend, we’d be harming rather than helping ourselves.
WHY have we been told that salt is so deadly? Well, the advice has always sounded reasonable. It has what nutritionists like to call “biological plausibility.” Eat more salt and your body retains water to maintain a stable concentration of sodium in your blood. This is why eating salty food tends to make us thirsty: we drink more; we retain water. The result can be a temporary increase in blood pressure, which will persist until our kidneys eliminate both salt and water.
The scientific question is whether this temporary phenomenon translates to chronic problems: if we eat too much salt for years, does it raise our blood pressure, cause hypertension, then strokes, and then kill us prematurely? It makes sense, but it’s only a hypothesis. The reason scientists do experiments is to find out if hypotheses are true.
In 1972, when the National Institutes of Health introduced the National High Blood Pressure Education Program to help prevent hypertension, no meaningful experiments had yet been done. The best evidence on the connection between salt and hypertension came from two pieces of research. One was the observation that populations that ate little salt had virtually no hypertension. But those populations didn’t eat a lot of things — sugar, for instance — and any one of those could have been the causal factor. The second was a strain of “salt-sensitive” rats that reliably developed hypertension on a high-salt diet. The catch was that “high salt” to these rats was 60 times more than what the average American consumes.
Still, the program was founded to help prevent hypertension, and prevention programs require preventive measures to recommend. Eating less salt seemed to be the only available option at the time, short of losing weight. Although researchers quietly acknowledged that the data were “inconclusive and contradictory” or “inconsistent and contradictory” — two quotes from the cardiologist Jeremiah Stamler, a leading proponent of the eat-less-salt campaign, in 1967 and 1981 — publicly, the link between salt and blood pressure was upgraded from hypothesis to fact.
In the years since, the N.I.H. has spent enormous sums of money on studies to test the hypothesis, and those studies have singularly failed to make the evidence any more conclusive. Instead, the organizations advocating salt restriction today — the U.S.D.A., the Institute of Medicine, the C.D.C. and the N.I.H. — all essentially rely on the results from a 30-day trial of salt, the 2001 DASH-Sodium study. It suggested that eating significantly less salt would modestly lower blood pressure; it said nothing about whether this would reduce hypertension, prevent heart disease or lengthen life.
(click here to continue reading We Only Think We Know the Truth About Salt – NYTimes.com.)
As a personal note, probably based on my mother’s attitude, I’ve always been skeptical about removing salt, and butter, and eggs, and whatever else the demon food of the moment is, from my diet. I cannot say I am in optimal health, but my preference is to eat fresh foods, and eat a variety of them. I try to stay away from deep fried foods, especially from crappy chain restaurants, and I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, and so I don’t consume much sugar, but otherwise, I don’t really have restrictions, besides personal taste preferences. Which is why Mayor Bloomberg’s anti-soda crusade seems a bit ridiculous…
Full page ad in Saturday’s NYT (not all shown)
QR code at the bottom led here:
((Shot with my Hipstamatic for iPhone / Lens: Watts / Film: Kodot XGrizzled))
Dr. Paul Krugman notes the inherent ridiculousness of the oft-repeated cliché about family budgets being similar to government budgets…
And all these conversations followed the same arc: They began with a bad metaphor and ended with the revelation of ulterior motives.
The bad metaphor — which you’ve surely heard many times — equates the debt problems of a national economy with the debt problems of an individual family. A family that has run up too much debt, the story goes, must tighten its belt. So if Britain, as a whole, has run up too much debt — which it has, although it’s mostly private rather than public debt — shouldn’t it do the same? What’s wrong with this comparison?
The answer is that an economy is not like an indebted family. Our debt is mostly money we owe to each other; even more important, our income mostly comes from selling things to each other. Your spending is my income, and my spending is your income.
So what happens if everyone simultaneously slashes spending in an attempt to pay down debt? The answer is that everyone’s income falls — my income falls because you’re spending less, and your income falls because I’m spending less. And, as our incomes plunge, our debt problem gets worse, not better.
This isn’t a new insight. The great American economist Irving Fisher explained it all the way back in 1933, summarizing what he called “debt deflation” with the pithy slogan “the more the debtors pay, the more they owe.” Recent events, above all the austerity death spiral in Europe, have dramatically illustrated the truth of Fisher’s insight.
And there’s a clear moral to this story: When the private sector is frantically trying to pay down debt, the public sector should do the opposite, spending when the private sector can’t or won’t. By all means, let’s balance our budget once the economy has recovered — but not now. The boom, not the slump, is the right time for austerity.
As I said, this isn’t a new insight. So why have so many politicians insisted on pursuing austerity in slump? And why won’t they change course even as experience confirms the lessons of theory and history?
(click here to continue reading The Austerity Agenda – NYTimes.com.)
Politicians, and their banker masters, want to seize the opportunity to dismantle social programs, or even better privatize them.
Scary stuff, actually. A million phony tax returns being filed annually seems to me to be a bigger threat to our nation financial security than kissing Grover Norquist’s, uh, ring.Too bad the Republican Do Nothings in Congress have partisanship on their mind, party over country…
Besieged by identity theft, Florida now faces a fast-spreading form of fraud so simple and lucrative that some violent criminals have traded their guns for laptops. And the target is the United States Treasury. With nothing more than ledgers of stolen identity information — Social Security numbers and their corresponding names and birth dates — criminals have electronically filed thousands of false tax returns with made-up incomes and withholding information and have received hundreds of millions of dollars in wrongful refunds, law enforcement officials say.
The criminals, some of them former drug dealers, outwit the Internal Revenue Service by filing a return before the legitimate taxpayer files. Then the criminals receive the refund, sometimes by check but more often though a convenient but hard-to-trace prepaid debit card.
The government-approved cards, intended to help people who have no bank accounts, are widely available in many places, including tax preparation companies. Some of them are mailed, and the swindlers often provide addresses for vacant houses, even buying mailboxes for them, and then collect the refunds there.
Postal workers have been harassed, robbed and, in one case, murdered as they have made their rounds with mail trucks full of debit cards and master keys to mailboxes.
The fraud, which has spread around the country, is costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars annually, federal and state officials say. The I.R.S. sometimes, in effect, pays two refunds instead of one: first to the criminal who gets a claim approved, and then a second to the legitimate taxpayer, who might have to wait as long as a year while the agency verifies the second claim.
J. Russell George, the Treasury inspector general for tax administration, testified before Congress this month that the I.R.S. detected 940,000 fake returns for 2010 in which identity thieves would have received $6.5 billion in refunds. But Mr. George said the agency missed an additional 1.5 million returns with possibly fraudulent refunds worth more than $5.2 billion.
Career criminals know easy money when they see it. The police say they run across street corner drug dealers and robbers who have been in and out of prison for years now making lots of money by filing fraudulent returns. Some have been spotted driving Bentleys and Lamborghinis.
“A gentleman, a former armed robber, said: ‘I’m not doing robberies anymore. This is much cleaner. I don’t even have to use a gun,’ ” said Sgt. Jay J. Leiner of the economic crimes unit in the Broward Sheriff’s Office, which has formed a multiagency task force.
Mr. Ferrer, the United States attorney, said he had seen tax fraud overtake violent crime in Overtown, a poor, high-crime section of Miami. He said criminals there were holding filing parties, at which they would haul out laptops and, for a fee, teach others how to run the swindle.
“There is no real competition,” Mr. Ferrer said. “They are not fighting each other. Altogether, they are stealing from the I.R.S.”
(click here to continue reading With Personal Data in Hand, Thieves File Early and Often – NYTimes.com.)
Good job by the Trib: doing actual journalism, getting results.
Since the Tribune published its “Playing With Fire” series, momentum has been building for stricter oversight of flame retardants and other toxic chemicals.
The newspaper’s investigation documented a deceptive campaign by industry that distorted science, created a phony consumer watchdog group to stoke the fear of fire and organized an association of top fire officials to advocate for greater use of flame retardants in furniture and electronics.
Promoted as lifesavers, flame retardants added to furniture cushions actually provide no meaningful protection from fires, according to federal researchers and independent scientists. Some of the most widely used chemicals are linked to cancer, neurological deficits, developmental problems and impaired fertility.
“Your series was an eye-opener,” said Joseph Erdman, legislative director for the New York Senate Committee on Environmental Conservation. “We hope other people around the state and nation read it.”
The committee has revived legislation targeting a chemical known as chlorinated tris, or TDCPP, that was voluntarily taken out of children’s pajamas more than three decades ago after studies found it could cause cancer. Recent tests have found that chlorinated tris now is commonly added to strollers, highchairs, rockers, diaper-changing pads and other baby products.
(click here to continue reading Momentum builds for stronger oversight of flame retardants – chicagotribune.com.)
Kudos to Tribune reporters Michael Hawthorne, Sam Roe, Patricia Callahan; keep up the pressure, and perhaps something good will come of this…
Eric Zorn lists a few of the problems Richard Daley left for his successor. There are others that could be added, such as the Silver Shovel investigations, or even the continued abuse of TIF monies for real estate developers, but that’s a post for another time, as these ten are pretty devastating when you consider the bad place the City of Chicago is in because of Daley.
Wednesday marks the anniversary of Mayor Rahm Emanuel tagging in for Daley, yet even at this chronological distance, the former mayor continues to be a looming baleful presence in the news, more a subject for fury than nostalgia.
Consider, in no particular order, these 10 things:
1. Recent revelations that Daley took advantage of obscure provisions in the law not only to avoid more than $400,000 in pension contributions but also to boost his retirement pay to $183,778 a year.
2. News that the dreaded privatization of parking meters in 2008 was worse than we thought: Chicago Parking Meters LLC, which has been cheerfully jacking up rates since buying 75-year rights to meter revenue for $1.15 billion, is billing the city $14 million for the offense of taking meters out of service for repairs and other street closings, and pursuing an additional $13.5 million claim related to parking for the disabled.
3. Headlines announcing that Daley, who quickly burned through most of that $1.15 billion parking-meter payout in an effort to conceal a structural deficit in city finances, was hired by Katten Muchin Rosenman LLP, the law firm that — wait for it! — billed the city $663,000 for helping negotiate the parking-meter deal.
(click here to continue reading Change of Subject: Daley, a year later— No thanks for the memories.)
and this might be the worst:
5. The ever-growing realization that toward the end of his 22 years in office, Daley was frantically moving money around and playing budget tricks instead of taking on the painful job of resetting priorities to restore the city to fiscal health. “That set of choices has been avoided over the past decade,” said Emanuel one year ago of the $636 million budget shortfall he inherited.
“We cannot ignore these problems a day longer,” he said.
“Because of the appalling lack of stewardship by you-know-who,” he did not say.
Mayor Daley did some good things for the city, I won’t deny it, but at what cost? Is having a sparkling downtown worth all the corruption and crony capitalism?
Paul Krugman muses on the dismal science a bit, and the dismal scientists known as structural economists
So what’s with the obsessive push to declare our problems “structural”? And, yes, I mean obsessive. Economists have been debating this issue for several years, and the structuralistas won’t take no for an answer, no matter how much contrary evidence is presented.
The answer, I’d suggest, lies in the way claims that our problems are deep and structural offer an excuse for not acting, for doing nothing to alleviate the plight of the unemployed.
Of course, structuralistas say they are not making excuses. They say that their real point is that we should focus not on quick fixes but on the long run — although it’s usually far from clear what, exactly, the long-run policy is supposed to be, other than the fact that it involves inflicting pain on workers and the poor.
Anyway, John Maynard Keynes had these peoples’ number more than 80 years ago. “But this long run,” he wrote, “is a misleading guide to current affairs. In the long run we are all dead. Economists set themselves too easy, too useless a task if in tempestuous seasons they can only tell us that when the storm is long past the sea is flat again.”
I would only add that inventing reasons not to do anything about current unemployment isn’t just cruel and wasteful, it’s bad long-run policy, too. For there is growing evidence that the corrosive effects of high unemployment will cast a shadow over the economy for many years to come. Every time some self-important politician or pundit starts going on about how deficits are a burden on the next generation, remember that the biggest problem facing young Americans today isn’t the future burden of debt — a burden, by the way, that premature spending cuts probably make worse, not better. It is, rather, the lack of jobs, which is preventing many graduates from getting started on their working lives.
So all this talk about structural unemployment isn’t about facing up to our real problems; it’s about avoiding them, and taking the easy, useless way out. And it’s time for it to stop.
(click here to continue reading Easy Useless Economics – NYTimes.com.)
I vowed I was going to stop making drive-by posts1 like these, but here’s the quandary. I know next to nothing about economics and even economic history, so I can’t dispute or amplify what Dr. Krugman asserts. However, I like his turn of phrase, and his reasoning sounds plausible. Maybe in the future, I’ll be able to use this post as a footnote to a different post?
What do I know about partying or anything else?Footnotes:
- posts where I don’t add much to the discussion [↩]
I have two thoughts regarding this horrific article as reported by Nicholas Kristof:
Pine Ridge, one of America’s largest Indian reservations, bans alcohol. The Oglala Sioux who live there struggle to keep alcohol out, going so far as to arrest people for possession of a can of beer. But the tribe has no jurisdiction over Whiteclay because it is just outside the reservation boundary.
So Anheuser-Busch and other brewers pour hundreds of thousands of gallons of alcohol into the liquor stores of Whiteclay, knowing that it ends up consumed illicitly by Pine Ridge residents and fuels alcoholism, crime and misery there. In short, a giant corporation’s business model here is based on violating tribal rules and destroying the Indians’ way of living.
It’s as if Mexico legally sold methamphetamine and crack cocaine to Americans in Tijuana and Ciudad Juárez.
Pine Ridge encompasses one of the poorest counties in the entire United States — Shannon County, S.D. — and life expectancy is about the same as in Afghanistan. As many as two-thirds of adults there may be alcoholics, and one-quarter of children are born suffering from fetal alcohol spectrum disorders.
In short, this isn’t just about consenting adults. Children are born with neurological damage and never get a chance.
(click here to continue reading A Battle With the Brewers – NYTimes.com.)
The Longhorn Saloon – Main Street, Scenic, South Dakota
First, Anheuser-Busch aka InBev has long been a sleazy corporation. You don’t give large amounts of corporate donations to scum like the Heartland Institute unless you are a willing tool of Republican agenda, and Anheuser-Busch is a willing tool of the GOP.
Second, and this is just wild speculation, what would happen if the Pine Ridge Reservation legalized booze sales, but vigorously controlled the sale? Stop selling to obviously intoxicated people, have a quota for how much beer a particular household could purchase in a month, and so on. Try the drug legalization model, in other words, like Switzerland or The Netherlands do (did?). Of course, the slightly-over the county line store would have to be removed, or incorporated into the plan. But isn’t this just as feasible as a public shaming of corporate scum like InBev?
I don’t doubt alcoholism is a big, big problem on the Res, but perhaps there are other ways to tackle this problem. Heroin junkies in Vancouver are allowed to shoot up, but only under watchful eyes of public health officials.
Just days after Canada’s Supreme Court smacked down the ruling Conservative party’s attempts to close Insite, the cutting-edge walk-in safe-injecting clinic in Vancouver, comes the latest volley from harm-reduction advocates north of the border. Over the next three years a new trial will test whether giving heroin addicts access to free, clean opiates can be an effective way to stabilize hardcore users and ultimately entice them into drug treatment.
SALOME (Study to Assess Longer-term Opiate Maintenance Effectiveness) grew out of the earlier NAOMI (North American Opiate Maintenance Initiative) study. whose conclusions were similar to those of similar trials in Switzerland, Germany and other highly evolved nations: “Heroin-assisted therapy proved to be a safe and highly effective treatment for people with chronic, treatment-refractory heroin addiction. Marked improvements were observed including decreased use of illicit “street” heroin, decreased criminal activity, decreased money spent on drugs, and improved physical and psychological health,” as NAOMI’s authors wrote.
Unlike the earlier trial, the focus of SALOME is not on heroin prescribing. With the Conservative government’s panties already in a bunch over injecting rooms, a less controversial alternative to handing out heroin had to be foundt. The solution? Hydromorphone (trade name Dilaudid), a legally available painkiller whose effects are almost indistinguishable from heroin—not a surprise given that it is synthesized from morphine. “There’s less of a stigma, less of an aura, around hydromorphone, and it’s legally available,” said British Columbia’s medical health officer, Perry Kendall. “In Switzerland and Germany, they don’t have a problem with treating people with heroin, but here we do.”
(click here to continue reading Junkies Get Free, Clean Heroin Alternative in Vancouver Trial | The Fix.)
What do you think? Could this work for alcohol too? Of course, this is idle speculation, and as long as the GOP is around, public health initiatives will get short shrift.
More of Daley’s sad legacy…
The parking meter company took in more than $80 million from meters across Chicago in 2011, according to documents it filed this week with city officials.
Chicago Parking Meters’ financial performance last year slightly exceeded projections of Wall Street analysts, who have rated the company a smart investment, said Matthew Hobby, an analyst with the Standard & Poor’s ratings agency.
For $1.15 billion, paid upfront, the City Council approved a plan championed by then-Mayor Richard M. Daley in 2008 that privatized Chicago’s 36,000 meters for 75 years. In a deal that was widely criticized for selling taxpayers short, Chicago Parking Meters was given the right to keep all meter revenues until 2084. Drivers have since seen sharp increases in parking rates under the deal.
After leaving office a year ago, Daley, along with his former corporation counsel and two top press aides, went to work for Katten Muchin Rosenmann LLP, the law firm that handled the parking meter deal for the city.
Since the meter deal took effect, city officials have paid the parking meter company more than $2 million in what they call “true-up adjustments” to make up for parking spaces taken out of service.
The amount billed for those adjustments skyrocketed in the first nine months of the 2011 budget year, to $14 million — a sum Emanuel is refusing to pay. The company hasn’t submitted its claim for the last three months of the year yet.
In an April 5 letter to Chicago Parking Meters chief executive officer Dennis Pedrelli, Emanuel’s chief financial officer, Lois Scott, blasted the way the company calculated those adjustments for last year, calling its invoices “legally and factually erroneous.”
Scott said that, under the parking meter deal, City Hall should be determining how much money Chicago Parking Meters is owed for those out-of-service meters — something the Daley administration had allowed the company to do.
(click here to continue reading Chicago parking meter company wants more money; mayor balks – Chicago Sun-Times.)
Painted Trees Overlooking LSD1
Psychedelic drugs have a lot of potential, especially if we can separate the puritanical Drug-War impulses of politicians from science.
Pam Sakuda was 55 when she found out she was dying. Shortly after having a tumor removed from her colon, she heard the doctor’s dreaded words: Stage 4; metastatic.…As her fears intensified, Sakuda learned of a study being conducted by Charles Grob, a psychiatrist and researcher at Harbor-U.C.L.A. Medical Center who was administering psilocybin — an active component of magic mushrooms — to end-stage cancer patients to see if it could reduce their fear of death. Twenty-two months before she died, Sakuda became one of Grob’s 12 subjects. When the research was completed in 2008 — (and published in the Archives of General Psychiatry last year) — the results showed that administering psilocybin to terminally ill subjects could be done safely while reducing the subjects’ anxiety and depression about their impending deaths.
Grob’s interest in the power of psychedelics to mitigate mortality’s sting is not just the obsession of one lone researcher. Dr. John Halpern, head of the Laboratory for Integrative Psychiatry at McLean Hospital in Belmont Mass., a psychiatric training hospital for Harvard Medical School, used MDMA — also known as ecstasy — in an effort to ease end-of-life anxieties in two patients with Stage 4 cancer. And there are two ongoing studies using psilocybin with terminal patients, one at New York University’s medical school, led by Stephen Ross, and another at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, where Roland Griffiths has administered psilocybin to 22 cancer patients and is aiming for a sample size of 44. “This research is in its very early stages,” Grob told me earlier this month, “but we’re getting consistently good results.”
Grob and his colleagues are part of a resurgence of scientific interest in the healing power of psychedelics. Michael Mithoefer, for instance, has shown that MDMA is an effective treatment for severe P.T.S.D. Halpern has examined case studies of people with cluster headaches who took LSD and reported their symptoms greatly diminished. And psychedelics have been recently examined as treatment for alcoholism and other addictions.
Despite the promise of these investigations, Grob and other end-of-life researchers are careful about the image they cultivate, distancing themselves as much as possible from the 1960s, when psychedelics were embraced by many and used in a host of controversial studies, most famously the psilocybin project run by Timothy Leary. Grob described the rampant drug use that characterized the ’60s as “out of control” and said of his and others’ current research, “We are trying to stay under the radar. We want to be anti-Leary.” Halpern agreed. “We are serious sober scientists,” he told me.
(click here to continue reading How Psychedelic Drugs Can Help Patients Face Death – NYTimes.com.)
Bear in mind, marijuana is sometimes considered a psychedelic drug, and the US still hasn’t stopped demonizing it, despite the number of successful pot smokers who partake (or have partook)…
The Office of National Drug Control Policy is by far one of the most ridiculous wastes of taxpayer money in our nation. Their mandate is to convince young folks that marijuana is a demon weed, and that one toke will corrupt young minds forever, and ever, amen. A current ad asserts that if you partake of cannabis, the only career options left for you will be comical dead-end jobs like “Burrito Taster” and “Couch Security Guard” and so on.
[and from The Agitator: Successful Pot Smokers: Let’s Make a List
Barack Obama, president-elect. Bill Clinton, 42nd president of the U.S. John Kerry, U.S. Senator and 2004 Democratic nominee for president. John Edwards, multi-millionaire, former U.S. Senator, and 2004 Democratic nominee for vice president. Sarah Palin, governor of Alaska, 2008 Republican nominee for vice president. British Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, Transport Secretary Ruth Kelly, and and Chancellor Alistair Darling. Josh Howard, NBA all-star. New York Governor David Paterson. Former Vice President, Nobel Peace Prize winner, and Oscar winner Al Gore. Former Sen. Bill Bradley, who smoked while playing professional basketball. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, and former New York Governor George Pataki. Billionaire and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
That’s the result of a five-minute Google search. The presence of so many high-ranking politicians so early in the search results puts the lie to the ONDCP’s ridiculous ad campaign, and shows that to the extent that marijuana is harmful, the harm lies mostly in what the government will do to you to you if it catches you
- Lake Shore Drive, but seems a bit trippy to me [↩]
The so-called Farm Bill is a five year plan for American agriculture policy, and as usual, rewards food corporations instead of consumers, and is adverse to encouraging sustainable food production.
For decades, groups like Fred Hoefner’s [National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition] have worked hard to create a set of programs designed to at least partially offset US farm policy’s tendency to bolster Big Ag. The programs, which the Obama Administration in 2009 grouped under the banner of Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food, include initiatives designed to assist new farmers to get loans help communities roll out farmers markets, and reduce costs for farms to transition to organic.
Taken as a whole, Hoefner says, the programs amount to about $175 million per year—less than 1 percent of the non-food stamps portion of the farm bill. “These programs make up an extremely modest portion of the farm bill’s budget, but they’ve had a large impact on communities nationwide,” Hoefner said. Hoefner pointed to a wide-ranging recent USDA study documenting positive impact of the programs.
and of course having lots of money to hire lobbyists always pays off for food corporations:
Big Ag continues to get support for monster corn and soy crops. Large commodity growers will take a nominal hit in the next farm bill. For years, farmers in a few chosen crops—corn, soy, cotton, etc.—have received $5 billion per year in so-called “direct payments” based on the acreage under production. In order to receive direct payments, farmers had to sign so called “conservation-compliance” agreements, which obligated them to create conservation plans for highly erodible land and agree not to drain wetlands for planting. The conservation-compliance agreements were far from perfect, Hoefner says, but they did help slow soil erosion in the Corn Belt for years.
In the next farm bill, direct payments will almost certainly be scrapped, Hoefner says, and replaced by a revenue-insurance scheme that is projected to cost $3.5 billion per year, saving taxpayers $1.5 billion per year. Sounds like a step forward, right? Wrong. First of all, in current negotiations, there is no conservation-compliance requirement for revenue insurance—meaning that farmers will have incentive to drain wetlands to grow crops, as well as expand crops onto erosion-prone land. Moreover, the new scheme will likely insure prices at high levels—meaning that relatively small price dips could cost taxpayers serious money, potentially wiping out that promised $1.5 billion in savings.
The switch to revenue insurance, Hoefner says, will “further reduce the risk of putting the pedal to the metal on commodity production, [with] no incentive whatsoever to diversify crops or leave any ground unplanted.” All of that, of course, is manna to the companies that supply inputs to industrial-scale farmers: seed and pesticide companies like Monsanto and Syngenta; and to the companies that buy corn and soy and transform them into a range of low-quality, profitable foods.
(click here to continue reading The Worst Farm Bill Ever? | Mother Jones.)
Lobbyists won’t like this suggestion:
The federal government could save about $1 billion a year by reducing the subsidies it pays to large farmers to cover much of the cost of their crop insurance, according to a report by Congressional auditors due to be released on Thursday.
The report raised the prospect of the government’s capping the amount that farmers receive at $40,000 a year, much as the government caps payments in other farm programs. Any move to limit the subsidy, however, is likely to be opposed by rural lawmakers, who say the program provides a safety net for agriculture.
The report, by the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, was requested by Senator Tom Coburn, Republican of Oklahoma, as part of his efforts to cut government spending.
Under the federal crop insurance program, farmers can buy insurance policies that cover poor yields, declines in prices or both. The insurance is obtained through private companies, but the federal government pays about 62 percent of the premiums, plus administrative expenses.
The crop insurance subsidy, according to the G.A.O. report, ballooned to $7.3 billion last year from $951 million in 2000, or about $1.2 billion adjusted for inflation. A Congressional Budget Office study cited in the report estimates that the premium subsidy will cost $39 billion from 2012 to 2016, about $7.8 billion a year.
Unlike other farm programs that have income or payment limits, crop insurance payments have no such restrictions, so farmers can get millions in subsidies regardless of their income. The G.A.O. said a cap last year would have affected about 4 percent of farmers in the program, who accounted for about a third of the premium subsidies and were mostly associated with large farms.
(click here to continue reading Cap on Farm Insurance Subsidy Could Save Billions, Report Says – NYTimes.com.)
and we ignore climate change at our peril:
One of the biggest challenges facing this planet isn’t simply feeding a growing population — perhaps as many as 10 billion by the year 2100. The challenge is feeding all those people as the climate changes in ways we can barely project. A new report called “Achieving Food Security in the Face of Climate Change” (PDF) illustrates the complexity of the problem and makes clear that action must be taken soon to address it.
Commissioned by Cgiar — a research alliance financed by the United Nations and the World Bank — it recommends essential changes in the way we think about farming, food and equitable access to it, and the way these things affect climate change.
It is tempting to assume that expanding agricultural acreage and using new technology, like genetically engineered crops, will somehow save the day. The report says that efficiency and sustainability will also require fundamental changes in how we grow and consume food: reducing waste in production and distribution and finding ways to farm that reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and other “negative environmental impacts of agriculture,” like soil loss and water pollution. The report also calls for better dietary habits in wealthy countries, which have a disproportionately and unsustainably high calorie intake, and targeted aid to populations whose farming is most at risk.
(click here to continue reading Sustainably Feeding a Changing World – NYTimes.com.)
Google really has lost whatever ethics it may have once had1 and should really have to pay a price for their latest lapse. Especially since Google and the Federal Trade Commission had an arrangement already, and Google violated it within weeks…
The Stanford privacy researcher who first uncovered Google evading the default privacy settings for all users of Apple’s Safari web browser believes that the Federal Trade Commission has a “slam dunk” case that Google violated its privacy agreement with the government.
“The facts in this case are unusually clear cut,” Jonathan Mayer, a grad student in computer science and law and a researcher at the Stanford Law Center for Internet and Society, in a phone interview with TPM.
The settlement, first struck in October 2011 , was the result of the FTC’s year-long privacy investigation into Google over its failed Google Buzz social network. The FTC concluded that Google had indeed misled users and violated their privacy and subjected Google to 20 years worth of privacy audits and ordered that Google no longer “misrepresent” its privacy settings to users. If Google violates any of the terms of the settlement, the FTC can slap the company with a $16,000 civil fine for every day that the company violated any of the terms.
On Thursday night, The Journal reported that the FTC “is examining whether Google’s actions violated last year’s legal settlement,” and another regulatory body in France (the CNIL) and several states attorneys general were also investigating Google over the practice and could levy fines of their own.
(click here to continue reading FTC Has ‘Slam Dunk’ Case Against Google, Privacy Researcher Says | TPM Idea Lab.)
and from the WSJ:
In the U.S., the Federal Trade Commission is examining whether Google’s actions violated last year’s legal settlement with the government in which Google pledged not to “misrepresent” its privacy practices to consumers, according to people familiar with the investigation.
The fine for violating the agreement is $16,000 per violation, per day. Because millions of people were affected, any fine could add up quickly, depending on how it is calculated. The FTC declined to comment.
A group of state attorneys general, including New York’s Eric Schneiderman and Connecticut’s George Jepsen, are also investigating Google’s circumvention of Safari’s privacy settings, according to people familiar with the investigation. State attorneys general can have the ability to levy fines of up to $5,000 per violation.
In Europe, the French Commission Nationale de l’Informatique et des Libertés, or CNIL, has added the Safari circumvention technique to its existing pan-European investigation into Google’s privacy-policy changes, according to a person close to the investigation. The CNIL is the agency that levied a €100,000 ($130,960) fine on Google last year for collecting passwords and other personal information when Google vehicles were gathering information for its Street View map service.
(click here to continue reading Google Faces New Privacy Probes – WSJ.com.)
Google power and deep pockets shouldn’t be enough to evade the law, the FTC should make an example of Google, and really bring the hammer down.Footnotes:
- perhaps it never had ethics and was just better at covering up its questionable decisions. No matter [↩]
Years ago, I read a book (or series?) set in the near future where all the freeways had been turned into public parks.
Everybody’s been sort of trained to believe that if you’ve got a traffic problem, all you have to do is make the pipe bigger, you know, make the road wider and that’ll solve the problem. The Detroit metropolitan area is covered with freeways. Ever freeway you could possible imagine has been built—although there are a couple left on the drawing board—but more than any other place in the country, the Michigan DOT pretty much go its way.
And they have solved the problem that they identified, which was congestion. The city of Detroit doesn’t really have a problem with congestion anymore. That’s the least of their problems. So by creating a transportation system that encouraged people to leave town—the population of the city is about a third of what it was since 1950. They had 300 miles of streetcars at the end of the war. That’s all gone. Now they have these big roads. The street grid has been cut up, so it’s hard to move around on the surface streets. And normally that’s a big problem, but with Detroit the rush hour has become so uneventful that you really don’t have a problem with congestion. You have to go out to the suburbs to find congestion that you’re used to in America…
The stated goal was to battle congestion, and in Detroit, they did it. And there are side effects. You could take care of congestion in New York in a similar way: If you eliminate the 700 miles of subway, eliminate the commuter trains, build the Cross-Manhattan Expressway, put the West Side Highway back in—build all the freeways that Robert Moses didn’t get around to building—you could probably solve the congestion problem in New York. Manhattan’s population would drop from 2 million down to half a million, and the city would become a really poor place instead of a rich place.
The point I’m making is that, since the postwar period, federal transportation policy has been focused on eliminating congestion, and that’s too narrow a goal. The goal ought to be, What adds value to society? What adds value to the economy? If you look at the richest places in America, they’re the most congested.
(click here to continue reading Next American City » Buzz » INTERVIEW: John Norquist and Our Congestion Obsession.)
Also too bad the current crop of Republicans is so anti-train: city congestion is one thing, but what about travel from city to city?
LSD and the heartbeat of a city
Another victim of Nixon’s ill-guided War on Drugs…
One dose of the hallucinogenic drug LSD could help alcoholics give up drinking, according to an analysis of studies performed in the 1960s. A study, presented in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, looked at data from six trials and more than 500 patients. It said there was a “significant beneficial effect” on alcohol abuse, which lasted several months after the drug was taken. Researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology analysed earlier studies on the drug between 1966 and 1970.
Patients were all taking part in alcohol treatment programmes, but some were given a single dose of LSD of between 210 and 800 micrograms. For the group of patients taking LSD, 59% showed reduced levels of alcohol misuse compared with 38% in the other group.
This effect was maintained six months after taking the hallucinogen, but it disappeared after a year. Those taking LSD also reported higher levels of abstinence.
The report’s authors, Teri Krebs and Pal-Orjan Johansen, said: “A single dose of LSD has a significant beneficial effect on alcohol misuse.”
They suggested that more regular doses might lead to a sustained benefit.
“Given the evidence for a beneficial effect of LSD on alcoholism, it is puzzling why this treatment approach has been largely overlooked,” they added.
(click here to continue reading BBC News – LSD ‘helps alcoholics to give up drinking’.)
Puzzling, until you recall that the United States government is adamantly opposed to scientists being able to even research drugs like psilocybin, LSD and marijuana, no matter how many promising studies occur.
Tellingly, the US media has not, to my knowledge, published this story.
Update, just took a while. So far, NPR, San Francisco Chronicle, Mother Jones, and a few other not-quite mainstream players have seen fit to run a story.
The study is available here, as PDF, if you are interested in the details…
Alcohol is said to cause more overall harm than any other drug (Nutt et al., 2010). Alcohol contributes to about 4% of total mortality and about 5% of disability adjusted life-years to the global burden of disease (Rehm et al., 2009). Despite the often extreme individual and social consequences of alcohol misuse, many users find it challenging to stop drinking. Alcoholism, also called alcohol dependence, continues to be difficult to treat, and many patients do not achieve recovery from existing treatments (Schuckit, 2009).
Numerous clinical investigators have claimed that treating alcoholics with individual doses of lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), in combination with psychosocial interventions, can help to prevent a relapse of alcohol misuse, for example, by eliciting insights into behavioural patterns and generating motivation to build a meaningful sober lifestyle (Dyck, 2008). LSD is well- known for inducing spectacular and profound effects on the mind (Henderson and Glass, 1994; Passie et al., 2008). It has previously been used in standard treatment programs for alcoholism at many clinics, but, unfortunately, assessments of the clinical value of LSD have not been based on formal systematic review and meta- analysis (Mangini, 1998). Hence, we have performed a quantita- tive evaluation of the effectiveness of LSD for alcoholism, based on data from randomized controlled clinical trials.
Methods Search strategy and selection criteria
We searched the PubMed and PsycINFO databases (1943–2010), without language restrictions, using the following terms: LSD, lysergic, lysergide, psychedelic*, or hallucinogen*; and alcohol*, addict*, or dependence. We independently inspected the searchresults by reading the titles and abstracts. We retrieved each potentially relevant publication located in the search and assessed it for inclusion, subsequently examining the reference lists of eligible studies and relevant review articles. We supplemented our search for trials by contacting experts. If publications lacked important information, we attempted to contact study investigators and institutions.
We specified inclusion and exclusion criteria and defined primary and secondary outcomes in the meta-analysis study protocol. We included randomized controlled trials of LSD for alcoholism, in which control condition involved any type of treatment, including doses of up to 50 mcg LSD as an active control. If a trial included multiple randomized treatment arms, all participants in the eligible LSD arms and all participants in the eligible control arms were pooled for analysis. We excluded participants with schizophrenia or psychosis from analysis, as psychosis is recognized as a contraindication for treatment with LSD (Johnson et al., 2008; Passie et al., 2008).