Monday, October 05, 2015

RUSSIA - World's Largest Freshwater Lake

"Wildfires in Russia scorch world’s largest freshwater lake" PBS NewsHour 10/3/2015

STEPHEN FEE (NewsHour):  On the shores of Lake Baikal, in Russian Siberia, unusually warm temperatures and dry conditions made for dangerous wildfire conditions this summer.

At least 1,500 square miles of forest burned until the flames died down in the past few weeks, leaving scorched earth and tree stumps where a once-lush forest stood.

Ecologists say the fires here could have a long-lasting impact on the delicate ecosystem around the lake, which is home to an estimated 20 percent of the world’s fresh, unfrozen water.

EKATERINA UDEREVSKAYA, ECOLOGIST RUSSIAN:  Since the forests are being destroyed, groundwater gets lost.  Drought starts, the springs that are still flowing dry out.  It lowers the level of Baikal, which was already lower than critical.

STEPHEN FEE:  The lake is one of the most bio-diverse regions in the world, home to 570 types of plants and more than 1,300 animal species, some of which are endangered.

Volunteers are now trying to plant one million new trees to restore the landscape.

IRINA VOLODCHENKO, VOLUNTEER COORDINATOR:  Any citizen, any resident can come to the nursery, collect a sapling and plant it in a plot of ground.  Anyone can join this action which allows you to express your concern about the common problem.

STEPHEN FEE:  Even a million new trees won’t replace all the greenery lost, an area larger than the state of Rhode Island. but volunteers say it’s a start.

IGOR FILIMONOV, VOLUNTEER:  It’s just that we’re thinking of our future, of the future of our children for the kind of country we will live in and the air we will breathe.

NORTH CAROLINA - Voter (supersession) ID Law

"Inside the battle over North Carolina’s voter ID laws" PBS NewsHour 10/3/2015


SUMMARY:  After the Supreme Court's decision to overturn a key part of the Voting Rights Act, North Carolina's Republican-led state legislature passed a new voter ID law and reversed many of the voting procedures civil rights leaders spent years trying to win. Now, the law is being challenged in federal court.  NewsHour's Jeff Greenfield reports.

REV. WILLIAM BARBER:  It’s a crime that we stand here 27 days after the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Voting Rights Act and we have less voting rights today.

JEFF GREENFIELD (NewsHour):  That fiery denunciation by Reverend William Barber, head of North Carolina’s N-double A-C-P, may seem out of a different time and place…

REV. WILLIAM BARBER:  Glory! Glory! Glory!

JEFF GREENFIELD:  But Barber believes new laws that alter how, where, and when citizens can vote are designed to disenfranchise as many Black voters as possible.

REV. WILLIAM BARBER:  All of these attacks on voting rights started right after President Obama won in states, and it changed the dynamic.  People came together who hadn’t been coming together in the south.  We know that this is an attempt to roll us backwards.”

JEFF GREENFIELD:  Barber and the NAACP believe photo voter ID laws in North Carolina and more than a dozen other states suppress minority voter turnout, because black and Latino voters are the most likely to lack an acceptable photo ID or the documents to get one.

Decreases in voter turnout have been found in states that require photo IDs to vote.  For example, in the 2008 and 2012 elections, the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office attributed a two percent decrease in turnout in Kansas and a two-to-three percent decrease in Tennessee to their photo ID laws.

And many voters in North Carolina are struggling with their new voter ID law that goes into effect in 2016.  94 year old Rosanell Eaton is one of them.

Her daughter drove her 250 miles back and forth from the Department of Motor Vehicles and Social Security offices to get a photo ID, because the name on her driver’s license—her married name – did not match her maiden name on her voter registration from over 70 years ago.

OPINION - Brooks and Dionne 10/2/2015

"Brooks and Dionne on mass shooting frustration, Kevin McCarthy’s Benghazi comments" PBS NewsHour 10/2/2015


SUMMARY:  New York Times columnist David Brooks and Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week’s news, including the national reaction to a mass shooting in Oregon, a speaking gaffe by the potential next Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy and impressive fundraising by Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders.

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  President Obama expresses frustration and anger in the wake of yesterday’s mass shooting in Oregon.  But is there anything he or anyone can do?  Will there be a battle among House Republicans to replace Speaker Boehner?  And what does Russia’s involvement in Syria mean for the U.S.?

We turn to the analysis of New York Times columnist David Brooks and Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne.

Mark Shields is away tonight.

And welcome, gentlemen.

E.J. DIONNE, Washington Post:  Thank you.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  So here we are yet again, another mass shooting.  They seem to be happening every few weeks.

David, the President said yesterday at his news conference that he thinks the country’s grown numb, that these are happening so often.  Is he right?

DAVID BROOKS, New York Times:  I actually don’t think so.

The reaction certainly among the people I have spoken to is one of impatience and growing frustration.  And so I don’t think we have grown numb to them.  I don’t think we have taken a practical and a pragmatic approach to trying to prevent them.

Obviously, as we heard earlier, they’re phenomenally hard to prevent.  I’m for gun control laws, as I have said so many times.  We have gone through a ritual on this program.


DAVID BROOKS:  And I don’t think they will do much good.  They might do a little good, just because there are 250 million guns in this country.  I think it’s just very hard to control the ones, but they might erect a barrier.

There’s obviously problematics with getting a list of people who have had mental health issues to run against a registry.  That’s obviously a problematic thing to do.  I have emphasized the make-believe function, that the profile of these guys who do it is very similar, and it is in this case, alienated young guy with loneliness issues and self-worth issues.

And if we looked around for young men like that in our society, maybe we could do something there.  I guess I would invite people to de-ideologize it, if that’s a word and to think pragmatically about the many steps we could do to hopefully make some dent, but it’s going to be hard to make a dent in this, I think.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  It is hard, E.J., and yet, as the president said, something has to happen, something has to happen.  What is the something to change?

E.J. DIONNE:  I must say, I loved seeing his anger about this, because I think he reflected the anger of a lot of people.

And I actually liked it when he said this is something we should politicize, because the barriers to de-ideologizing it, as David said, are political barriers.  And I was so struck by some of the responses of the Republican candidates to this.  Ben Carson, you’re not going to handle it with more gun control because gun control only works for normal — the normal law-abiding citizens.

Well, all laws only work for normal law-abiding citizens.  Only with guns do we hear these arguments.  Same with Marco Rubio, gun crime is committed by criminals.  Criminals ignore the law.  Well, yes.  But, again, that’s an argument against all law.  We have to try some things.

There are no free and democratic and wealthy countries in the world that have our rate of gun violence.  You know, David is quite right that we have to worry about loners and alienated people.  We have to do better on mental health.  But we’re not the only country in the world with loners and alienated people.

And I think we have to be willing to take some steps on guns.  And I don’t know what’s going to shake us to get there, but I think the President is saying we can’t just sit here anymore.  I think there is an anger that’s growing out there that may at some point get conservatives in particular, who ought to be in a different position than they are on this issue.

Here is the piece discussed in above article.

"Why the U.S. has done almost nothing to stop mass shootings" PBS NewsHour 10/2/2015


SUMMARY:  The violence in Oregon is one of nearly a thousand mass shootings to have taken place since the Newtown shooting in 2009.  For all of the discussion of what can be done to prevent future tragedies, little has changed.  What can be done to stop the violence?  Judy Woodruff talks with Todd Clear of the Rutgers School of Criminal Justice and Jeffrey Swanson of Duke University.

RUSSIA - Putin in Warrior-Land

Reminder, when Putin's lips move, he's lying.  How dare the U.S. oppose creation of his new empire!

"Pentagon questions true target of Russia’s Syrian strikes" PBS NewsHour 9/30/2015

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  Russian military aircraft bombed a number of sites in Syria today, deepening its involvement in that nation’s civil war.  But there are conflicting reports about exactly what Russia was targeting.

Hari Sreenivasan has this report.

HARI SREENIVASAN (NewsHour):  This amateur video purports to be the first evidence of Russian warplanes in action over Syria, plumes of smoke rising over cities as fighters streak across the skies.  The assault began hours after the Russian parliament authorized action and President Vladimir Putin vowed to forge ahead.

PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN, Russia (through interpreter):  The only right way to fight international terrorism in Syria is to act preemptively, to fight and eliminate fighters and terrorists on the territories they have already occupied, not to wait until they come to our home.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  But exactly what the Russians hit, and why, remained unclear. There were strikes near Homs and in Hama province, and Moscow reported attacking eight Islamic State targets.  But, by all accounts IS, or ISIL, has no significant presence in those areas.

Instead, the Free Syrian Army charged its forces were targeted.  The western-backed faction has fought Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, an ally of Russia.  U.S. officials agreed the strikes may have hit moderate rebel factions, and not Islamic State forces.  The Kremlin denied it, but also claimed most of the Free Syrian Army has now joined ISIL ranks.

And, at the United Nations, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was dismissive.

SERGEI LAVROV, Foreign Minister, Russia:  Everything — everything was said by the Russian Ministry of Defense.  Don’t listen to Pentagon about the Russian strikes.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  Secretary of State John Kerry was also at the U.N.  He said Washington would welcome any genuine effort to defeat ISIL, but he issued a warning as well.

JOHN KERRY, Secretary of State:  We would have grave concerns should Russia strike areas where ISIL and al-Qaida affiliated targets are now operating — are not operating.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  Meanwhile, at a U.S. House hearing, a top Pentagon official complained the Russians gave just one hour’s notice of the strikes.

ROBERT WORK, Deputy Secretary of Defense:  We are alarmed by what happened this morning.  What was agreed by the two presidents is that our militaries would talk, so that we would deconflict operations.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said later those military-to-military talks are set to take place in the coming days.  But he said the Kremlin is making a mistake.

ASHTON CARTER, Secretary of Defense:  By supporting Assad and thereby, seemingly, taking on everybody who is fighting Assad, you’re taking on the whole rest of the country of Syria.  That is not our position. And so that’s one of the reasons why — in fact, it is the central reason why the Russian approach here is doomed to fail.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  Carter said the Russian actions will not deter the U.S.-led air war on Islamic State fighters that’s been under way for a year.

For the PBS NewsHour, I’m Hari Sreenivasan.

"Are Russia’s military priorities in Syria cause for concern?" PBS NewsHour 9/30/2015


SUMMARY:  How do Russian military actions affect the conflict in Syria and American operations against the Islamic State?  Judy Woodruff speaks with Steven Simon of Dartmouth College and Andrew Weiss of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

"U.S., Russian officials tackle technical details of Syrian strikes" PBS NewsHour 10/1/2015


SUMMARY:  Unleashing another round of airstrikes in Syria, the Russian military maintain they’re targeting the Islamic State, but the Pentagon and a rebel group backed by the CIA challenged that account.  Amid the conflicting claims, Russian and American military officials discussed airspace via teleconference.  Chief foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Warner discusses the situation with Judy Woodruff.

PEDIATRICS - Ending of Coke Relationship

"American Academy of Pediatrics decides relationship with Coke is not so sweet" PBS NewsHour 9/30/2015


SUMMARY:  Coca-Cola, the world's largest producer of sugary beverages, had been a partner and sponsor of the American Academy of Pediatrics.  But the Academy is now ending its relationship after revelations that the company has paid for scientific research playing down the role of soda in obesity.  Hari Sreenivasan learns more from Anahad O'Connor of The New York Times.

HARI SREENIVASAN (NewsHour):  Coke is the world’s largest producer of sugary beverages, so you might not think the American Academy of Pediatrics would partner with the company.  But that had indeed been the case until this week.  It was a main sponsor of the academy’s Web site,, and a past sponsor of the group’s national conference.

It’s provided over $100 million in financial support to other professional medical and health groups as well.  The Academy is now ending its relationship with Coke.  And it comes after a recent story in The New York Times laid out how the company has paid for scientific research that plays down the role of soda in obesity.

Anahad O’Connor has been working on these stories, joins me now.

So, I guess the first story — or the most recent story first, what’s the connection between Coke and the Academy of Pediatrics?

ANAHAD O’CONNOR, The New York Times:  So, the first story I did was looking at Coke’s — the money that they were paying a lot of researchers and institutions to do research that, you know, was downplaying the role of sugary drinks in obesity.

And in response to that story, the CEO of Coca-Cola said, we’re not trying to deceive the public.  We’re trying to work with institutions to promote active healthy living, and we are going to release all of the funding that we provided to scientists, universities, to health groups over the past five years.

And so they released a trove of data showing this extensive number of grants.  And in that data, we saw that the American Academy of Pediatrics was in there, and Coke had provided something like $3 million to the Academy, at least over the past five years.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  And how do the pediatricians feel?

ANAHAD O’CONNOR:  So, the actual members of the Academy — and there’s more than 64,000 pediatricians who are part of this Academy — it’s very prestigious — a lot of them are very upset.  When I spoke to them, they said they couldn’t believe that the Academy had partnered with Coke or worked with it to any extent, because sugary drinks are considered a very major factor in the obesity epidemic, especially among children.

These pediatricians see the effects of it firsthand.  They see type 2 diabetes, hypertension.  You know, all these diseases that used to occur in middle age and later in life, they see them in children now.  And they think that sugary drinks are a primary influence of that.  So, pediatricians were very upset.

GREED FILES - Big-Pharma and Profit Extortion

"Is profit or innovation driving the rising costs of drugs?" PBS NewsHour 9/29/2015

Nah.... Big-Pharma really do care about customers being able to afford their drugs..... NOT!   ...MORE $money$! or your life!


SUMMARY:  Turing Pharmaceuticals sparked outcry when it raised the price of a single pill from $13 to $750.  Judy Woodruff discusses the rising costs of prescriptions drugs with Dr. Peter Bach of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and Dr. Thomas Stossel of Harvard Medical School.

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  Now let’s turn to the rising price of prescription drugs and outcries to do something about it.

The latest uproar began after The New York Times reported how one company, Turing Pharmaceuticals, raised the price of a drug from $13 a pill to $750.  It follows headlines about the rising costs of new cancer drugs, as well as a breakthrough drug for hepatitis C that initially cost more than $80,000 for a course of treatment.

The two leading Democratic candidates for president, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, are proposing big changes, including lowering patient costs and bigger discounts for Medicare.

Now two views on this.

Dr. Peter Bach is the director of the Center for Health Policy and Outcomes at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.  And Dr. Thomas Stossel is the director of translational medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.

And, gentlemen, we welcome you both.

Dr. Bach, I’m going to start with you.

Why is this happening?

DR. PETER BACH, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center:  Well, it’s really that there’s no system in place the hold down drug prices, and so companies are just becoming increasingly bold, charging prices that they think the market will bear.

And Turing Pharmaceuticals and the 55-fold increase in the price of Daraprim is just a version of a company testing the market, if you will, just how high they can raise a price.  But we see it across drugs, rapid inflation in the cost of drugs, not only new ones, but old ones.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  Dr. Stossel, how do you explain it?  It’s long been the case that there has been no system for keeping prices down.  Why now?

DR. THOMAS STOSSEL, Harvard Medical School:  Well, there still is no system, although people are asking for it.

Well, thank you for having me.

So, I have been in medicine for almost half-a-century, and it’s incredibly better because of the drugs that are available.  So, drugs bring great value.  There’s no question about it.  Also, despite the fact there’s been uptake in costs in recent years, they still constitute less than, I think, 14 percent of total health care costs.

Now, in that 50 years, the price, the cost of what it takes to get a drug approved by the FDA has increased 100 times.

WAR ON ISIS - Egyptian President's Comments

"Egypt’s president on fighting Islamic State, U.S. relations" PBS NewsHour 9/28/2015


SUMMARY:  Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi sits down with chief foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Warner to discuss the pardoning of Al Jazeera journalists, whether Egypt will step up military action against the Islamic State, President Bashar al-Assad’s future in Syria, the government crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood and the strength of the relationship between his nation and the U.S.

MARGARET WARNER (NewsHour):  Mr. President, thank you for joining us.

This past week, the big news was that you released 100 political prisoners, including two prominent Al Jazeera journalists.  Was the timing of that dictated by the fact you were coming here to the U.N. General Assembly, to quiet all the international criticism there has been of that?

PRESIDENT ABDEL-FATTAH EL-SISSI, Egypt (through interpreter):  The idea is very simple.  Once the legal procedures are over and there is a possibility for me to intervene and to issue a pardon, I didn’t hesitate.

MARGARET WARNER:  In your system, does a legal pardon mean that you have concluded that the charges — that they were innocent of the charges?

PRESIDENT ABDEL-FATTAH EL-SISSI (through interpreter):  Once those are over, the legal party allows the president to intervene to bring an end to this issue and to this legal issue.

MARGARET WARNER:  Well, now there are still 18 journalists being held, and, by conservative estimates, 20,000 or more political prisoners, many of whom had been brought in on what are said to be trumped-up terrorism charges.

Could you act and will you act as swiftly once the legal process is over?

PRESIDENT ABDEL-FATTAH EL-SISSI (through interpreter):  It is very important to stop at the word of under detention.

There is no legal formality that allows me to do so, but there are court procedures force that we can deal with these cases.

MARGARET WARNER:  So, the big issue here at the U.N. General Assembly is going to be the fight against Islamic State, and, in particular, focused on Syria right now.

Now, the anti-ISIL coalition, of which Egypt is a member, you have been at it for a full year, and yet ISIS has grown, if anything, more powerful.  Something like 30,000 new fighters, foreign fighters, have entered Syria.  Why is that?

PRESIDENT ABDEL-FATTAH EL-SISSI (through interpreter):  It’s the idea that we can fight ISIS only militarily.  This means the strategy is incomplete.  We need a holistic approach that would include security dimensions, an economic dimension, social and cultural dimensions as well.

MARS - Water and Life

"Where there’s water on Earth, there’s life. Is the same true on Mars?" PBS NewsHour 9/28/2015


SUMMARY:  NASA has found evidence of liquid water on Mars.  Science correspondent Miles O’Brien joins Judy Woodruff to discuss the inevitable question:  Does this mean there could be some form of life on the red planet?

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  Finally tonight: big news from outer space.

NASA today announced that it has found evidence of liquid water on Mars, at least during certain seasons of the Martian year.  The discovery was made through satellite images, which revealed darkly shaded streaks on slopes of craters and hillsides.  They darken and lighten over time as water seeps across the surface, and then evaporates.

For more on what it all might mean, I’m joined by science correspondent Miles O’Brien.

Hello again.

MILES O’BRIEN (NewsHour):  Judy, good to see you.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  So, how do they know it’s water, Miles?  They don’t — there hasn’t been a human there to look at it.  They’re looking through satellites.  What — how do they know?

MILES O’BRIEN:  The HiRISE instrument, which is on the orbiting Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, is a very sophisticated instrument and has the ability to do spectral analysis.

So, it can actually look at how light moves through whatever is flowing there.  And it gives unique signatures of water and in this case a lot of salt.  It’s the salt that is the key here, because Mars is cold and has an atmosphere which is almost nonexistent.  So, the idea of water flowing there is hard to imagine.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  But this flies in the face of what scientists thought for a long time, or have they been building up to this?

MILES O’BRIEN:  Well, there is a huge body of evidence that Mars at one time was warm and wet, and we think probably a cushy birth for life.

So, we have been looking for evidence of ancient life, fossils, for example.  There has always been this thought that maybe the water is underneath in an aquifer.  Could it somehow rise to the surface on certain occasions in certain ways?  That’s been a big question.

They first spotted these streaks back in 2010.  It sure looked like water.  But what would keep it flowing?  And the key was, they found these percolates, these salts in there.  It’s extremely salty water.  Think of why do — how do we get snow off our roads in the winter?  We use salt.

Monday, September 28, 2015


"Inside the British government’s sweeping cyber surveillance program" PBS NewsHour 9/26/2015


SUMMARY:  For years, the British government has reportedly tracked and stored billions of records of Internet use by British citizens and those outside the UK in an effort to track every visible user on the Internet.  Ryan Gallagher of "The Intercept" joins Hari Sreenivasan via Skype from Brighton, England, with more on UK cyber surveillance.

HARI SREENIVASAN (NewsHour):  For years, the British government has reportedly tracked and stored billions of records of Internet use by British citizens and people outside the U.K., in an effort to track every visible user on the internet.  That finding comes from “The Intercept” Web site, which is publishing findings from National Security Agency contractor (traitor) Edward Snowden’s leak on government surveillance practices.

“Intercept” reporter Ryan Gallagher wrote the story and joins me now via Skype from Brighton, England.

First of all, explain the scale of surveillance that was happening from the British equivalent of the NSA, the GCHQ.

RYAN GALLAGHER, THE INTERCEPT:  Well, the skill is quite phenomenal.  I mean, it’s hard to translate it when you just see the numbers.  But you’re talking about 50 (ph) to 100 billion metadata records of phone calls and e-mails every single day.  So vast, vast quantities of information they’re sweeping up.  And they were talking by 2030 having in place the world’s largest surveillance system, so, a system that surpasses even what the NSA and U.S. has built itself.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  OK, when somebody hears that there’s millions and billions and possibly trillions of pieces of data, they’re going to say, you know, what, how do you actually identify this is specifically me that’s doing this, or going to the site, or saying this thing in a chat room?

RYAN GALLAGHER:  Uh-huh. Well, I mean, we have — we don’t actually — one of the interesting parts of the story is that we had a bunch of specific cases where, for example, we had monitored something like 200,000 people from something like 185 different countries, so almost every country in the world, they have listened to radio source (ph) through their computer.  In one case, they decided to pick out just one of these people.  It seems like at random, and what web site he had been viewing.

So, it’s kind of an all-seeing system.  When you’re gathering that amount of information, it’s going to be something that does have an impact and effect in all of us really.

OPINION - Shields and Brooks 9/25/2015

"Shields and Brooks on Boehner’s leadership turmoil, Pope Francis’ uplifting visit" PBS NewsHour 9/25/2015


SUMMARY:  Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week’s news, including Speaker of the House John Boehner’s resignation and who will take his place, as well as the pope’s visit to Congress.

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  Capitol Hill was a historic place to be this week, with a papal visit and the surprise resignation of House Speaker Boehner.

Of course, those are the main topics for our turn to Shields and brooks.  That’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

Welcome, gentlemen.

So, Mark, surprised about Boehner?

MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated columnist:  Yes.


MARK SHIELDS:  But, as Lisa reported to you from the Hill, the speaker faced what is a vote of no confidence.  He would have prevailed.  He would have survived, but it would have showed him weakened within his own caucus.  This was among the Republican members.  So, I think he made the decision to go out on his own terms.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  David, a complete shock for you?

DAVID BROOKS, New York Times:  No, saw it coming months and months and months ago.


DAVID BROOKS:  No, obviously, since the day he walked in the door, he’s had this challenge, and it’s grown more, but I don’t think anybody saw it coming in this way.

Obviously, I think the papal visit had — on the timing, had an effect.  There is a beautiful piece by Robert Costa of The Washington Post talking about how, the night before, Costa, a reporter, was with him on the balcony, and Boehner was saying the pope stood right here, right here, and he asked me to pray for him.  And he was so moved.

And so there’s an element of uplift, and might as well do the right thing.  And this specific act was the right thing.  Paul Ryan called it a selfless act.  And I think it really is a selfless act.  It spares us from a potential government shutdown.  It helps the institution.  It helps his party from the fallout from a government shutdown.

And so I think it’s a beautiful act.  Now, over the long term, the downside of Boehner was that he wasn’t that imaginative and the Republicans weren’t that aggressive in putting together a lot of policies, an alternative to Obamacare, a health care, a tax plan, whatever.

But he did know reality.  He could see reality around him.  He knew the craft of politics and how you craft a deal, especially these budget deals.  Some of his critics don’t seem to see that reality, that they don’t control the White House or the supermajority in the Senate.  And they don’t seem to respect the craft of politics.  And if they ever get in actual power, they are going to be introduced it to rudely.
DAVID BROOKS:  I think both parties are ideologically polarized.  The Republican — some of the Republican Party doesn’t believe in politics.  I think most of the Democratic Party does believe in politics.  They’re the party of government.  They believe in government.

And, so, in some sense, the Republican Party can get a little more extreme over tactics, but I think it will be hard for speakers in the future to control people, just because, if you have got a super PAC, if you got some independent expenditures, it’s hard to impose discipline anymore on the body.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  Mark, does more get done, does less get done?  How do you see it?

MARK SHIELDS:  Less gets done, Judy, I believe.

And could I be rude and just say that there are probably four dozen members of the House Republican Caucus who do not believe in government?  And they are not — they have never accepted the responsibility of the governing party.

I mean, John Boehner accepted the fact that the Republicans are the majority party in the House and the Senate.  Therefore, we have a responsibility to keep government operating, not to close it down, to fund it, to compromise, to get the votes necessary to pass the legislation required.  And there are four dozen who say, hell no, if it does close down, great, that’s good, that’s what we’re here about.

IMHO:  Boehner is paying for the Republican Party allowing the Tea Party to join with them.  The Tea Party should be an separate party.  The Republican Party WAS a party of governance, now the Tea Party members have warped the Republican Part into the party of NON-governance.

What worst, we as a nation are also paying for allowing the no-governance politicians power.

MUSIC - Unique Mentorship

"Unique mentorship between conductor and pianist sparks musical fireworks" PBS NewsHour 9/25/2015


SUMMARY:  Pianist Yuja Wang has evolved from prodigy to international superstar, with some help from one of her mentors, music director of the San Francisco Symphony Michael Tilson Thomas.  In collaboration with KQED, Jeffrey Brown talks with the 28-year-old Chinese virtuoso and the classical music veteran about their collaboration.

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  We take a look now at a very different Chinese-American collaboration, this time in the world of the arts.

Ever since a ban on Western music was lifted in China almost 40 years ago, the country has produced a number of artists for elite music conservatories in the West.

Jeffrey Brown has the story of one such pianist who’s taken the leap from prodigy to international superstar with the help of an American mentor and a former prodigy himself.

This story was produced in collaboration with public TV station KQED.

JEFFREY BROWN (NewsHour):  He is 70, the grandson of Yiddish theater stars, music director of the San Francisco Symphony, and a major figure on the classical music scene for five decades.  She is 28, a virtuoso from China and a spectacular new presence on the international circuit.

Michael Tilson Thomas and Yuja Wang have been collaborators, as conductor and pianist, for 11 years now.

MICHAEL TILSON THOMAS, San Francisco Symphony & News World Symphony:  This is a little part of a Schubert Rondo, which is subtitled, “Our Friendship is Unchanging.”  It’s forever.


JEFFREY BROWN:  Up close, it’s clearly a relationship based on musicianship and a sense of humor.

MICHAEL TILSON THOMAS:  There is an element of excitement and danger to it, because it reminds me sometimes as if you were watching the circus and you’re watching a trapeze act.  Somebody is jumping and doing flips in the air, but also somebody is catching the person who is doing that.

DIPLOMACY - China White House Summit

"What did and didn’t get done at the U.S.-China White House summit" PBS NewsHour 9/25/2015


SUMMARY:  Climate change was one area of agreement between President Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping, but the leaders made little headway on human rights and a South China Sea territory dispute.  Judy Woodruff talks with Christopher Johnson of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago and Susan Shirk of University of California, San Diego.

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  For more on what they might and might not be discussing at that dinner, I’m joined by John Mearsheimer, a professor at the University of Chicago and former Air Force officer.  Susan Shirk, she was a deputy assistant secretary of state for China in the Clinton administration.  She now chairs the 21st Century China Program at the University of California, San Diego.  And Christopher Johnson, a senior adviser who closely watches China at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Welcome, all three, to the program.

Let’s talk first about what was accomplished, China signing on to this climate change agreement, so-called cap-and-trade system, Susan Shirk, wherein they limit how much an industry can pollute.  How significant is this?

SUSAN SHIRK, University of California, San Diego:  Well, it’s very significant because air pollution has become a domestic political problem in China.

And the Chinese leadership has, therefore, gotten very serious about its commitments on climate change, because these two issues are very much related.  And to see China and the United States both making strong commitments on climate change going into the U.N. climate summit…

POLITICS - Boner is Out!

(opps, Boehner is Out)

"Under fire from House GOP, Boehner drops resignation bombshell" PBS NewsHour 9/25/2015


SUMMARY:  Speaker of the House John Boehner announced he would be leaving office and giving up his leadership position, sending shockwaves across Capitol Hill.  Political director Lisa Desjardins reports on what led to Boehner's decision and how lawmakers are reacting.

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  On this day, when a pope and two presidents were already making headlines, a surprise resignation came along to stun Washington (DC).

We begin with the announcement that the speaker of the United States House of Representatives is stepping down.

NewsHour political director Lisa Desjardins reports.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), Speaker of the House (singing):  Zip-a-dee-doo-dah, my, oh, my, what a wonderful day.

LISA DESJARDINS (NewsHour):  With his decision, House Speaker John Boehner, the happy warrior, projected a kind of personal relief and institutional sacrifice.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER:  It’s become clear to me that this prolonged leadership turmoil would do irreparable harm to the institution.  So, this morning, I informed my colleagues that I would resign from the speakership and resign from Congress at the end of October.  Now, as you have often heard me say, this isn’t about me.

LISA DESJARDINS:  In fact, it had become about him, at least in part.  Boehner was again under fire from Tea Party Republicans pushing to defund Planned Parenthood, even if it means closing the government.  They’d threatened a floor vote to try to strip him of the speakership.

"Is Boehner’s departure a win for conservatives?" PBS NewsHour 9/25/2015

IMHO:  Today's Republican conservatives are America's new neo-Nazis


SUMMARY:  How do House Republicans see the resignation of Speaker John Boehner?  Judy Woodruff gets perspective from Rep. Reid Ribble, R-Wisc., with more analysis from political director Lisa Desjardins.

GREED FILES - Volkswagen SMOG Test Cheating (Updated)

"Volkswagen comes clean on emissions cheating" PBS NewsHour 9/22/2015


SUMMARY:  German automaker Volkswagen has revealed that as many as 11 million of its diesel-powered cars worldwide could be affected by software designed to dupe emissions tests.  The software, which only switches on during emissions tests, leaves the cars emitting up to 40 times the legal pollution limits.  Judy Woodruff speaks to John Stoll of The Wall Street Journal.

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  The scandal, and the fallout, over Volkswagen’s cheating of emissions standards grew today.  Just last week, the EPA alleged there was deceitful software in half-a-million cars.  Today, Volkswagen raised that number significantly and tried to restore customer trust.

Volkswagen revealed that as many as 11 million diesel-powered cars worldwide could be affected by software that was designed to cheat on emissions tests.  Most of those cars are thought to be in Europe, the automaker’s primary market.  The revelation caused Volkswagen stock to plummet for a second day.  The company lost almost 19 percent of its stock value, or $17 billion, Monday.  The price plunged another 20 percent during trading in Frankfurt today.

The CEO of Volkswagen America, Michael Horn, gave a frank apology last night at an event in Brooklyn.

MICHAEL HORN, CEO, Volkswagen America:  So, let’s be clear about this.  Our company was dishonest.  We have totally screwed up.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  A year-long investigation by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency uncovered the software.  It switches on a car’s emissions controls when a smog test is taking place.  But the controls turn off again when the test is over, leaving cars emitting up to 40 times the legal pollution limits.

The software is installed in Volkswagen Jettas, Beetles, Golfs and Passats and Audi A3s sold in the U.S. since 2008.  The Justice Department has reportedly opened a criminal investigation of the automaker.  Investigations are also being launched in France, Germany and South Korea.

For more, we turn to John Stoll.  He is Detroit bureau and global automotive editor for The Wall Street Journal.  He has been following developments in this story closely.

John Stoll, welcome.

You have been covering this story closely.  And you have covered other auto industry problems.  Where does this one rank?

JOHN STOLL, The Wall Street Journal:  It’s up there.

I mean, this is one, because of the volume of vehicles we’re talking about and the sort of transatlantic implications — 11 million is not a small number when you talk about the U.S. car park.  About 85 million vehicles are sold a year.  So, yes, that’s spread over several years of production, but that’s a large sum of cars.  And Volkswagen right now is the biggest automaker in the world, as of the first half of 2015, huge aspiration, and obviously, in Germany, they’re a big employer.

JUDY WOODRUFF 9/23/2015:  ..... the head of the German automaker Volkswagen is out, amid a scandal over rigging diesel cars to pass pollution tests.  CEO Martin Winterkorn announced today he’s stepping down.

He denied any personal wrongdoing, but in a statement, said — quote — “Volkswagen needs a fresh start.  I am clearing the way for this fresh start with my resignation.”

Germany’s economy minister warned today against assuming the scandal will do lasting harm to V.W. or to the German economy.

"How Volkswagen got caught cheating" PBS NewsHour 9/29/2015


SUMMARY:  How did Volkswagen get caught rigging the emissions software of its diesel vehicles?  William Brangham talks with John German of the International Council on Clean Transportation, one of the engineers who helped catch the automaker.

INDIA - Girls in Schools

"Why it’s hard for girls in rural India to stay in school" PBS NewsHour 9/22/2015


SUMMARY:  Fifteen years ago, the UN set a goal that by 2015 there would be universal free primary education.  Although the number of children out of school has been cut almost in half, getting them to stay in school has proved more challenging.  The WNET series “Time for School” travels to India to see whether education has improved for young girls in the country.

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  Fifteen years ago, the United Nations set a goal:  By this year, every child in every nation should be able to obtain free basic education.

While the number of children out of school has been cut almost in half, there are still 57 million worldwide who have never set foot in a classroom.  Hundreds of millions more have dropped out.

PBS has been reporting on the global education crisis by following six children from different countries over 12 years, part of WNET’s documentary series “Time for School.”

Tonight, we travel to India, where nearly 100 percent of children start primary school.  But especially for girls in rural areas, staying in school remains a challenge, and literacy rates have not improved.

NARRATOR:  Neeraj Gujar is 9 years old and lives with her tightly knit family of herders in a small village in Rajasthan, a desert region in the northwest of India.  It’s a deeply traditional community, where women rarely have the chance to go to school.

NEERAJ GUJAR, India (through interpreter):  My name is Neeraj. I’m about 9 or 10, and I have been studying for the past year, math, multiplication, addition. So I’m learning.

QUESTION (through interpreter):  Did you ever go to school?

WOMAN (through interpreter):  What would I go to school for?  What’s so great about being educated?  Even if you study, these educated people have nothing to do.  Anyway, the everyday chores will take over.

NEERAJ GUJAR (through interpreter):  I work during the day.  I do so much.  I have to sweep.  I have to bring water.  I have to make dung cakes.  I have to graze the cows.

NARRATOR:  Like many girls here, Neeraj can only go to school if she does so at night.  In Rajasthan, 56 percent of the female population is illiterate.  Schools like hers started in India to educate the country’s legions of girls, who must work all day.

MILITARY - Women in Combat

"Navy Secretary:  Gender should not bar women from Marine combat roles" PBS NewsHour 9/22/2015


SUMMARY:  The U.S. Army, Air Force and Navy are expected to allow women to serve in all combat roles starting next year.  But the Marine Corps commandant has asked that Marines be excluded from the new rule.  Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus joins Gwen Ifill to explain why he feels that gender should not bar servicewomen from Marine combat roles.

GWEN IFILL (NewsHour):  But, first, the battle brewing at the Pentagon over the future of women in America’s armed forces.

Early next year, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter is expected to announce whether previously closed positions to women in the military will open.  The Army, Air Force and Navy are expected to allow women to serve in all combat roles.

But Marine Corps Commandant General Joseph Dunford, soon to be chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has asked that the Marines be excluded from the new rule.

Joining me now to explain why he disagrees with that assessment is Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, who is also the civilian head of the Marine Corps.

Welcome.  And thank you for joining us, Secretary Mabus.

RAY MABUS, U.S. Secretary of the Navy:  Gwen, thank you.

GWEN IFILL:  There is a report that has come out that shows that women in integrated combat units were slower, there were more injuries, they were less accurate at firing weapons.  What is your take on that report?

RAY MABUS:  Well, first, the Commandant and I share the overall goal of making sure we maximize the combat effectiveness of the United States Marines.  That’s the first principle.

Second, this study, that Marine study, and had Marines doing very valuable work, and it came out with some great findings, the main one of which was that, before then, there had been no standards set for being in the infantry.

So, this study set those high standards.  Before then, it was assumed that if men went through boot camp, they could become Marine infantry.  Turned out that the specific jobs in the infantry, which the study went through, deconstructed all the jobs [and] here’s what you need to do to be a success in this, to do the job.

But then the Marines took averages from the study.  It wasn’t the individuals.  They set the high standards.  But then they looked across averages.  And the Marines have never been about average.  The Marines are about exceptionalism.

And what my view is, set high standards.  Make sure those standards have something to do with the job.  And then whoever meets those standards, gender is not crucial.  If you can meet the standards, you should be able to serve.


"Syrian family resettled in U.S. sees future for their children" PBS NewsHour 9/21/2015


SUMMARY:  The Obama administration plans to settle as many as 10,000 Syrian refugees in the U.S. within a year.  Special correspondent Marcia Biggs meets a refugee family who fled in 2012 and have begun life over in New Jersey.

GWEN IFILL (NewsHour):  The Obama administration’s plans to settle as many as 10,000 Syrian refugees in the U.S. within a year is coming under fire.

In a statement released Sunday, Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley and House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, both Republicans, said the Islamic State group will use the refugee crisis to try to enter the United States and that the administration doesn’t have a concrete and foolproof plan to ensure that terrorists won’t be able to enter the country.

So far, fewer than 2,000 refugees have settled here.

Tonight, the story of one family that recently arrived.

Special correspondent Marcia Biggs reports.

MARCIA BIGGS (NewsHour):  It’s a theme that played out all over America this month, children getting ready for their first days of school.  But for this family, it’s an entirely new kind of fresh start.

Mohamed and Amira Darbi and their three children arrived only two months ago, five of the roughly 1,700 Syrian refugees that the United States has taken in since 2011.

MOHAMED DARBI, Resettled Syrian Refugee (through interpreter):  I have been in the U.S. for 50 days now, and I like it.

MARCIA BIGGS:  “And before the 50 days?”  I asked.

MOHAMED DARBI (through interpreter):  I didn’t know what America meant.

MARCIA BIGGS:  Mohamed and Amira are from Homs, the birthplace of the Syrian revolution.  He was a carpenter and she a high school physics teacher.

All three children were small in 2011, when the revolution began and Bashar al-Assad issued a brutal crackdown on their town.


"U.S. considers Russian intentions, involvement in Syria" PBS NewsHour 9/21/2015


SUMMARY:  The conflict in Syria has become ever more complicated as factions have splintered.  As Russia steps up its military support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Moscow is calling for greater coordination with the U.S. against the common threat of the Islamic State.  Gwen Ifill speaks to chief foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Warner.

GWEN IFILL (NewsHour):  Now we return to the root of what’s forced millions from their homes: the conflict in Syria.

With multiple factions and common enemies in play, the war has become even more complicated, as Russia now steps up its support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad by moving additional military men and weaponry into Syria and expanding its base there.

Meanwhile, Moscow is calling for greater coordination with the U.S. to fight a common enemy: the Islamic State group.

Joining me now to help us sort through some of this latest tangle is chief foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Warner.

So, Margaret, where does this proposal or this talk about having joint U.S.-Russia talks stand tonight?

MARGARET WARNER (NewsHour):  Well, Gwen, even though there’s been no official announcement, in fact, you could say the military-to-military talks have already begun.

Last Friday, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter had a conversation 50 minutes with his counterpart, and this had been 18 months in which the Obama administration had cut off all contacts after Russia seized Ukraine or certainly seized Crimea.

So the question they’re trying to figure out, OK, publicly, they’re saying, the U.S. is saying, well, these are deconfliction talks.  Make sure that our planes don’t interfere with each other and we don’t have an accident.

That is part of it.  But really what they want to know is, what is Assad’s intention here?  And is it to prop up the Assad government?  I’m sorry — Russian’s intentions are to prop up the Assad government, or in fact is it just to fight ISIS, which is what Kerry had been told by Lavrov?

GWEN IFILL:  Now, is this just old Cold War suspension, or do we have reason to be worried that this is more than what Russia says it is?

MARGARET WARNER:  Oh, well, that’s exactly — and the administration will admit this — they do not want to be gamed, as several said to me, the way they were in Ukraine, where President Putin and Foreign Minister Lavrov, Sergei Lavrov, consistently, in the U.S. view, lied, not only to them on the phone, face to face, but lied to the world about whether they were in Ukraine and what they were doing in Ukraine.

And so this time, they didn’t want to be sucked into that.  They also want to make sure, you know, if his intention is to help Assad fight ISIS and they adopt Assad’s view, which is everybody opposed to me is a terrorist, well, the U.S. doesn’t want to get sucked into that kind of endeavor or that kind of partnership.

GWEN IFILL:  I can understand that, but I just don’t see — how do face-to-face talks mean that they will tell the truth or that they will get the truth?

MARGARET WARNER:  Excellent point, Gwen, because Kerry has already had three conversations with Lavrov.

Based on what happened in Ukraine, there is no guarantee they will be told the truth.  And the interventions with Lavrov on the phone have, so far, not slowed the Russian advance of weapons and materiel and men into Syria at all.

Hint.... Putin lies, period.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

BIG PHARMA - Extra Strength Tylenol Regulation

"New Court Docs: Maker of Tylenol Had a Plan to Block Tougher Regulation" by Jeff Gerth and T. Christian Miller, ProPublica 9/21/2015

Filings from a lawsuit, scheduled to go to trial today in Atlantic City, describe a previously unreported lobbying campaign by McNeil Consumer Healthcare to protect its iconic painkiller.

Recently filed court documents show the makers of Tylenol planned to enlist the White House and lawmakers to block the Food and Drug Administration from imposing tough new safety restrictions on acetaminophen, the iconic painkiller’s chief ingredient.

An executive with McNeil Consumer Healthcare – which counts Tylenol as its flagship product – told the board of directors for parent company Johnson and Johnson about a campaign to “influence the FDA” and block recommendations made by an agency advisory panel in 2009.

After Dr. Janet Woodcock, the FDA’s top drug regulator, put off meeting with McNeil executives, the company’s president, Peter Luther, sent out an August 2009 email.

“We’re being too nice and too worried about stepping on FDA’s toes.  It may be time to let members of Congress to put some pressure on FDA,” Luther wrote to other top executives.  ”We have to make this our top priority and pull out all stops.”

Acetaminophen is considered safe when taken as directed.  But in higher doses, the drug can cause liver damage and death.  Studies show the drug is the leading cause of acute liver failure in the U.S., with fatalities increasing seven-fold in the decade between 1995 and 2005 to more than 200 a year.

“’We’re going to involve key opinion leaders, and we’re going to get them to help us influence the FDA to disregard what the advisors said,’” a plaintiff’s lawyer told a New Jersey court late last month, describing the contents of internal corporate documents.

The previously unreported lobbying campaign was disclosed as part of a trial scheduled to start today in Atlantic City that promises to draw new scrutiny to McNeil’s efforts to protect its painkiller from additional regulation and disclosures about the full extent of its risks.

The case pits McNeil against Regina Jackson, a New Jersey state employee who claims she was hospitalized with elevated liver enzymes after inadvertently exceeding the daily recommended dose for Extra Strength Tylenol for a couple of days.

The Atlantic City case is being watched closely as it is the first to come to trial of more than two hundred lawsuits currently pending in state and federal courts that allege McNeil knew its drug was potentially dangerous while promoting its safety.

As detailed in a 2013 investigation by ProPublica and This American Life, McNeil has opposed warning labels, dosage restrictions and even public awareness campaigns over concerns of profitability.

At the same time, the investigation found that the FDA has delayed implementing suggestions to improve the safety of acetaminophen, taken by tens of millions of Americans every week.  Though hearings began more than 38 years ago, the agency has yet to finalize regulations for the safe use of the drug.

The long-running battle between McNeil and the FDA over the safety of one of the country’s most popular painkillers has been a key focus during the run up to the trial, which is expected to last four to six weeks.

As New Jersey Superior Court Judge Nelson C. Johnson told attorneys at a hearing on Aug. 31:  “I think the jury is going to learn that the margin of safety for acetaminophen may be more narrow than the public understands.”

McNeil spokeswoman Jodie Wertheim declined to comment on material divulged during the pretrial proceedings, saying the company would defend itself at trial.  McNeil has contested the allegations in all the lawsuits.

“Johnson & Johnson Consumer Inc., McNeil Consumer Healthcare Division is committed to providing consumers with safe and effective over-the-counter medicines and recommends consumers always read and follow the product label,” Wertheim said.  “The company has acted appropriately, responsibly and in the best interests of patients regarding Tylenol, which has one of the most favorable safety profiles among OTC pain relievers.”

Skirmishes at a series of pre-trial hearings have hinted at McNeil’s methods and motives in protecting its star product.  Neither attorneys for McNeil or the plaintiff responded to a request for comment on the trial.

The proposed lobbying campaign arose in response to a June 2009 meeting of more than three dozen scientists, researchers and pharmacists convened by the FDA to review the safety of acetaminophen.

The panel of independent experts endorsed a sweeping set of reforms.  They recommended that the FDA reduce the total daily dose of acetaminophen, and make extra-strength pills available only by prescription.

McNeil officials viewed the recommendations as a threat to sales of Extra Strength Tylenol, according to R. Clay Milling, one of the plaintiff’s attorneys.  McNeil makes about $400 million in revenue from its extra-strength line, compared with only about $14 million from regular strength Tylenol, Milling told the court, according to a transcript.

Milling, who reviewed internal McNeil documents as part of the lawsuit, told the court that a senior McNeil executive made a presentation to the Johnson and Johnson board about a plan that included contacting the White House, the Office of Management and Budget and lawmakers.

“This petitioning of the government is not just petitioning of the government.  It goes right to what the heart of this case is, saving Extra Strength Tylenol, their billion-dollar product,” Milling told the judge.

The campaign’s size and effects, if any, are unclear.  At the time, Johnson & Johnson did not significantly increase its spending of about $6.5 million a year on lobbying, according to records compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.

McNeil Consumer Healthcare is listed as a separate entity only sporadically — for example, the lobbying firm Foley Hoag reported receiving $45,000 from McNeil in 2010 to contact lawmakers in the House and Senate regarding “regulation of [over the counter] drugs.”

McNeil’s over the counter drugs sales, at $4 billion last year, are a small fraction of Johnson & Johnson’s total revenues, which came to $74 billion in 2014.

OMB officials declined to comment and the White House did not respond to requests for comment.  The FDA’s top drug regulator said she would not comment given the pending lawsuit.

Whether McNeil’s campaign had impact, this much is certain:  Six years later, the FDA has still taken no action on the recommendations made by its advisory board to clamp down on the “persistent, important public health problem” of deaths and injuries involving over-the-counter acetaminophen.  (The FDA has implemented tougher restrictions on prescription medicines containing the drug and has issued guidelines on pediatric formulations.)

An FDA spokeswoman said the agency is continuing to review its advisers’ recommendations.

“The agency strives for a timely review and decision for future actions to assure that acetaminophen-containing medicines are safe and effective for the American public,” said Andrea Fischer, a spokeswoman for the agency.

Both agency and independent scientists have expressed concerns about acetaminophen’s safety margin – the difference between what can help and what can harm.

The current recommended daily dose for the drug is four grams per day — the equivalent of eight extra strength pills.  But occasional reports in scientific literature have documented liver damage occurring after taking as little as two extra pills per day for several days.

The agency has worried about the prevalence of acetaminophen on the market — McNeil and its generic competitors have developed hundreds of over-the-counter products that contain the drug, increasing the risk that a consumer could inadvertently ingest dangerous levels.

The most recent FDA data show that acetaminophen remains, by far, the leading cause of acute liver failure in the United States, with the number of cases increasing.

FDA officials have blamed the agency’s inaction largely on a system designed in the 1970s to regulate over-the-counter drugs.  The process requires lengthy public debate, legal review and economic analysis to make even small changes.

After the ProPublica investigation, the FDA announced it was seeking to reform the cumbersome process.

“The law allows the FDA to handle safety issues with prescription drugs rapidly,” said Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, an associate dean at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the former number two at the FDA.  “By contrast, for over-the-counter drugs, the law generally requires a mountain of paperwork and a tortuous path through the federal government.”

At the late August pretrial hearing, Michael B. Hewes, an attorney for McNeil, acknowledged that McNeil had talked with FDA officials after the June 2009 meeting to discuss the new proposals.

His account is consistent with documents obtained by ProPublica and This American Life through the Freedom of Information Act.  Only a month after the experts’ recommendations, McNeil sent a letter to Woodcock, the director of the FDA branch overseeing drugs.  The first sentence requested a meeting “to establish a dialogue.”

In the letter, the company reversed several positions it had taken a month earlier before the advisory panel.  For instance, McNeil offered to voluntarily add language to Tylenol products suggesting a limit of three grams per day.  McNeil products currently direct consumers to take up to three grams, while maintaining that four grams per day is a safe daily limit.

But McNeil stood its ground on the experts’ recommendation to make a dose of two Extra Strength Tylenol pills available only via prescription.  Any such action, McNeil warned Woodcock, would take a “significant amount of time,” citing the agency’s process.

A series of emails between executive at McNeil and Johnson & Johnson from mid-August 2009 that were read into the court record on Sept. 17 by attorneys indicate Woodcock and her aides were not ready to meet with McNeil.  So the head of Johnson & Johnson’s FDA liaison office, who formerly worked as a lawyer in the FDA drug division, was planning to “reach out directly” to Woodcock in the coming days, one email said.

Luther responded with the suggestion that McNeil enlist members of Congress to press the FDA on the company’s behalf.

It is not clear what became of McNeil’s lobbying plans.  But internal documents show their strategy was one part compromise and one part resistance.

The compromise, as discussed with the Johnson & Johnson board and in the subsequent letter to Woodcock, adopted one of the panel’s recommendations, lowering the daily maximum recommended dose.  The FDA, in 2010, gave its blessing to that idea and it became part of Tylenol’s label by the summer of 2011.

But the company also opposed any move to have Extra Strength Tylenol fall under the more prohibitive prescription drug regimen, as the panel had recommended.  The main goal, one senior Johnson & Johnson executive wrote Luther in September 2009, was to “just save” the 500-milligrams product, according to court records from last week.  The medication remains an over-the-counter drug to this day.

In the six months after the 2009 advisory meeting no senior agency official, including Woodcock, indicated holding a meeting with McNeil on acetaminophen, according to the agency’s public calendar.  Woodcock, through a spokeswoman, declined to comment, citing the court case.

However, Woodcock made her concerns over acetaminophen public in an opinion article in the New England Journal of Medicine in November 2009. She said the agency was considering the panel’s recommendations, which she acknowledged would have a “considerable” effect on the availability of the drug on the market.

“Although acetaminophen, when used as labeled, is generally safe, the ubiquity of the drug and its relatively narrow therapeutic index create the potential for serious harm from both inadvertent and intentional overdoses,” Woodcock wrote.

The judge, in pre-trial rulings, has said the 2009 lobbying documents will not be presented to the jury unless McNeil’s attorneys ask witnesses to discuss what happened to the advisory panel’s recommendations.

Last week, the judge asked whether the company had an “ulterior motive” in seeking to influence the FDA, as the plaintiff’s lawyers had suggested.  Hewes, the McNeil lawyer, said the company’s concerns involved “unintended health consequences” if Tylenol became a prescription drug.  He later went on to say that restrictions on acetaminophen would shift consumers to other painkillers, such as NSAIDs, which can have adverse gastrointestinal and other side effects.

Even without the FDA lobbying issue, McNeil’s attorneys in the Atlantic City case indicated they plan to emphasize that the company has always complied with the rules of the FDA – the agency charged with protecting the American public.

“The FDA is all over the case.  I mean, all over the case,” David Kott, another lawyer for McNeil, told Johnson, the presiding judge last month.

Johnson expressed his agreement.

“We’re talking about a product that’s been on the market for 50 years and is widely used,” he told the attorneys.  “Throughout that process, FDA was giving various blessings.”

Monday, September 21, 2015


All that has been said and in articles I've posted, race is a problem, a big problem.  The race and policing, economic history, attempted fixes, and much more.

But the one question that has been missed (IMHO) is WHY?

If you look at ALL of human history (as opposed to recent) slavery has been a 'norm.'  One society conquers another, and usually makes the conquered people slaves.

Some societies did absorb conquered people.  Like some Native American tribes or the early Roman Republic (freed slaves become Roman citizens), but a conquered people were still generally looked upon as inferior.

In recent history this behavior has been repudiated for the most part, so now the conversation is that all people are deserving of respect and the benefits of society.  But it is very hard to overcome the very long behaviors of human history especially if the long human history is not acknowledged.

There is much work to be done to overcome prejudices of human history and recent events.  This work will be very, very long and hard, especially if human history is not appreciated.

We need to NEVER give up in the fight against prejudice.

OPINION - Shields and Brooks 9/18/2015

"Shields and Brooks on GOP debate standouts, Pope Francis goes to Washington" PBS NewsHour 9/18/2015


SUMMARY:  Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Hari Sreenivasan to discuss the week’s news, including how the second Republican debate helped or hurt the candidates, why Donald Trump didn’t contradict bigoted remarks at a campaign rally and the significance of Pope Francis’ upcoming visit to the U.S.

MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated columnist:  To me, this is — Barack Obama is a Christian who was born in Hawaii.  Barack Obama is a Christian who was born in Hawaii.  I mean, what we have is feeding paranoia.  Right now, 43 percent of Republicans, according to CNN’s latest poll, believe Barack Obama is a Muslim; 54 percent of Trump supporters in the same survey believe he is.
MARK SHIELDS:  Well, the pope, Pope Francis, is coming to Washington.  He’s never been to Washington, never been to the United States before.  We know we’re the center of the universe (toung-in-cheek).  Somehow, it has escaped him in his entire life.

But several things.  One is, he’s the antithesis to big-money politics.  I mean, this is somebody who spends his time with — he listens to the voiceless.  He remembers the forgotten.  He sees the overlooked, whether it’s the immigrant, or the refugee, as we saw, or the day worker, or the sick, the handicapped, or the lonely.

I mean, he really does — he does embody — I fear he’s going to make both parties — I know he’s going to make both parties very uncomfortable, because his message is not trimmed for politics.  He’s going to make the Republicans quite uncomfortable on the question of poverty and the obligation that we have to act collectively.  He’s very pro-politics.  He believes in politics.

He’s very strong on the environment and on climate change, contrary to many Republicans, including Marco Rubio.  But, at the same time, he speaks fondly and well and consistently about protecting the unborn and those in the late stages of life who face death.  He is — really, it’s going to be remarkable to watch Joe Biden and John Boehner, both Catholics, the Vice President and The Speaker, sitting behind him, and applauding different passengers and kind of pretending they didn’t hear others.

So — but I hope it doesn’t become political, because this truly is a remarkable spiritual moment in a very secular city.


DAVID BROOKS, New York Times:  Yes, I just want to underline that last comment.  I hope we don’t overpoliticize this visit.

The first thing we’re going to see is our countrymen, thousands, millions of them moved by faith, their eyes looking to heaven, their heart warmed by God’s love.  And we’re going to see that in public.  And we’re going to see that in tens of millions of people.  And that will be a moment of seeing faith in a way we rarely see it in this country in public.

And, secondly, we will see the example of the man.  The message is the person.  It’s the way he conducts himself.  His love for the poor is not out of any self-congratulatory.  He — whether you’re Jewish, Muslim, atheist, whatever, he is the embodiment of the Christian virtues that I think we all admire, the — seeing the meekest, seeing the poorest, seeing the lowest, and lifting them up, and seeing the brokenness in people, and then lifting them up with joy.

And so, to me, it will be a theater of spiritual — a spiritual theater more than a political theater.  And I suspect tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of people’s lives will be changed, in the way that politics can never change them, from within.  Their lives will be transformed because they will be at this visit.  And they will be moved by something they had never felt or only have felt weakly before.

And to me, that’s just a seismic event, whatever happens to our political culture.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  David, so what about — how does that translate when that spiritual theater is finished?  Does that translate into any sort of policy action or rethinking something that might be in the works in Congress that’s stalled?

DAVID BROOKS:  Well, I hope it transforms hearts.  And I hope it transforms hearts in the ways Mark just suggested.

The pope is not going to visit the homeless or the prisoners once in his visit.  He’s doing it six, seven, eight times in the visit.  So, the constant focus will be there on those who are hurting the most.  And I think that enlivened attention will carry over into people’s eyes, both in their private lives and their private giving, but also in their public lives.

Mark has said this many times over the years.  We have a political culture focused on the middle class.  We have lost some of the contact with the poor, some of the contact with the needy, and not only — and not from high to low, and, frankly, some of the compassionate conservatism and some of progressivism has been from high to low, but treating the poor as those closest to God and worthy of respect maybe even more than everybody else.

And that’s an attention that has been absent from our political culture or in short supply, and maybe it will be in slightly bigger supply.

MARK SHIELDS:  I think David said it very, very well, just that wherever he goes, he brings the cameras with him, and an incredible number of cameras, as we know.

But as soon as he finishes Congress — and it’s the hottest ticket in the history of Capitol Hill.  I mean, people are fighting to get in.  Former members and senators can’t even get into the gallery to hear him.  They have set up a JumboTron outside.

He’s going to have lunch with the poorest of the poor in the Center City in Washington sponsored by Catholic Charities.  I mean, these are the addicted.  These are people with alcohol problems, with psychological problems, the homeless.  And he doesn’t allow us to look away.  He forces us to examine those who are living on the outskirts of hope.

Of course 34% of Republicans believe the trash on Obama's birth.  They live in an alternate universe, wear aluminum-foil hats, and  believe that the strip in our bills is a tracking device.

EUROPE - Migrant Crisis, Two Families

"What happened for two Syrian families who made it to Germany" PBS NewsHour 9/18/2015


SUMMARY:  A week ago we followed two Syrian families along the grueling and unpredictable migration to Germany.  Already, much has changed for the two families.  William Brangham offers an update.

HARI SREENIVASAN (NewsHour):  William Brangham updates on the stories of two families he first met in Hungary.  Tonight, we meet them in Germany, where their lives have taken, for now, very different turns.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM (NewsHour):  While refugees and migrants have clashed violently with police on the Hungarian border this week, their attempts to enter into Europe are, for many of them, just the beginning of a much longer journey.

Last week, we followed two Syrian families along the grueling, unpredictable migration from the Middle East towards Germany.  Both suffered sleepless nights, chaotic border crossings, and a maze of ever-changing rules and challenges.

Now, only a week later, so much had changed.

HAMEED YAKDI, Syrian Refugee (through interpreter):  It’s a good feeling.  After a long, hard effort and great risk, we arrived here.  Thank God that we made it here.  It’s a very strange feeling.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM:  Hameed Yakdi and his family from Syria were lucky in many ways.  Not only did they make it through Hungary before this week’s violence broke out and the sealing of the border, but, in Austria, they met Hameed’s brother, Muhammaed, who immigrated to Germany two years ago, and helped guide them the rest of the way.

HAMEED YAKDI (through interpreter):  I felt safe the moment I reached Germany.  I have a family that welcomed and helped me.  I have not had to struggle.  When I ask, they answer right away.  They have lived here a long time, and they make me feel at home.

POLITICS - They're Tracking You on Smartphones

"Smartphone user?  The 2016 candidates are watching you" PBS NewsHour 9/18/2015


SUMMARY:  If you own a smartphone, you are already on the frontline of the 2016 presidential race.  On the left and the right, campaigns are amassing information about you and figuring out how to influence you with individualized marketing.  And that's not the only way that candidates have gone digital.  Political director Lisa Desjardins reports.

LISA DESJARDINS (NewsHour):  With all the gentility of a marching band, the presidential campaign is under way and booming.  But like much of America, you may think the 2016 presidential fight has yet to really enter your life.

Do you think any of the campaigns are paying any attention to you right now?

WOMAN:  Not really, no.

MAN:  Very little.

WOMAN:  Not a whole lot.

MAN:  Probably almost zero.

WOMAN:  Not really, no.

LISA DESJARDINS:  And last question, do you have a cell phone?

WOMAN:  Of course.

MAN:  Yes, I do.

WOMAN:  I do.

MAN:  Yes, I have a cell phone.

MAN:  Yes, I have a cell phone.  It’s a very big part of my life because I do a lot with my cell phone.

LISA DESJARDINS:  If you have a smartphone — and two-thirds of us in America do, according to the Pew Research Center — you are already on the radar for most 2016 campaigns.  That’s because campaigns left and right are now amassing more and more data about voters, and they’re trying to influence you this time around using this.

COMMENT:  Hum..... so we are suppose to worry about government tracking but NOT about political tracking?  Really?!