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“Profits Before Patients”: National Drug Shortages Are Threatening Cancer Patients’ Lives

Millions of Americans battling cancer are facing obstacles to recovery that have nothing to do with the disease’s toll on their bodies. According to a new study, national shortages of cancer drugs are threatening the health of the people who rely on them to stay alive.

According to the survey, presented at an oncology conference in Chicago on Monday, about 83 percent of cancer specialists have experienced a drug shortage at their clinics in the past six months. Of those doctors, 92 percent said the shortage had some effect on their patients’ care.

A little over a third of the doctors facing a shortage ended up switching their patients from a cheaper, generic version of that drug to a more expensive brand-name version. Considering the fact that cancer care is already exorbitantly expensive — Americans battling cancer are twice as likely to wind up bankrupt compared to those who don’t have the disease — that could represent a serious strain on those patients.

But cancer patients are facing much more than potential financial hardship. Thanks to the shortages, some cancer specialists can’t find the drugs their patients need at any price. When that happens, doctors are forced to make some painful choices. Nearly 80 percent reported that they switched patients to a different, and potentially less effective, chemotherapy regimen. Some have been forced to give cancers more time to spread further by delaying patients’ treatment or reducing their doses. And 37 percent of the study’s participants even had to choose between their patients, deciding which ones could receive life-saving medication and which ones would have to go without.

William Li, the executive director of a foundation that sponsors research into blood vessel growth, told USA Today that some hospitals are forced to hold lotteries to decide which patients will be able to receive the cancer drugs that are in short supply. “It baffles the mind that this is happening in a modern society,” Li said, pointing out that the FDA should do more to avert drug shortages.

Currently, drug manufacturers can alert the FDA when they suspect an impending shortage, and the federal agency can take steps to try to mitigate the effect on the market, like approving the same kind of drug from a different manufacturer. But so far, that hasn’t been enough to avert the situation. Largely due to manufacturing errors in drug-production facilities across the country, the U.S. faces limited supplies of everything from ADHD medications to painkillers — and cancer patients end up being hit the hardest.

Much of the blame may lie with powerful pharmaceutical companies. One of the co-authors of the new study, Keerthi Gogineni, noted that cancer doctors are concerned drug manufacturers may be prioritizing the most profitable medications over the most life-saving ones. “Some manufacturers have diverted existing production capacity from less profitable agents to more expensive agents,” Gogineni explained. Similarly, a group of over 100 doctors recently criticized Big Pharma for “causing harm to patients” by continuing to sell cancer drugs at unsustainably high prices.


By: Tara Culp-Ressler, Think Progress, June 3, 2013

June 4, 2013 Posted by | Big Pharma, Health Care | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Bygone Era That’s Not So Bygone”: California’s Mental Health System Targeted Latinas For Sterilization For Decades

Latina women in California’s mental health system were disproportionately targeted for forced sterilization for seventy years, according to new research by the University of Michigan.

Between 1909 and 1979, Latina women made up between 20 and 30 percent of the total sterilizations for mental health patients in California. It was during those years that California had in place a law that allowed the state to forcibly sterilize “feeble-minded” women, among others, based on the assumption that their offspring would suffer from the same “problems” that they did:

Various rationales were employed to justify a forced sterilization, including sexual deviance, being labeled as “feeble-minded,” suffering from epilepsy, being an out-of-wedlock adolescent without a support system, or having an I.Q. of 70 or lower. Many of the women sterilized in California were of Mexican origin, came from families disrupted by trans-border migratory patterns and had limited access to education.

The law that permitted forced sterilizations in California was one of a few state eugenics laws, legislative efforts to promote, essentially, selective breeding, weeding out people who society considered genetically imperfect. Often, eugenics laws are racially motivated by the belief that one race or ethnic group is genetically inferior to another.

Last year, a similar study by the University of Vermont found that African American women at some points in the 1960s accounted for as much as 60 percent of forced sterilizations in the state. Legislators tried to pass a compensatory bill for the victims, but the effort never made it into law, and thousands of black women in the state still live with the trauma of forced sterilization.

While it may seem like something out of a bygone era, quasi-eugenic views actually still do have some support. A recent immigration policy report by the conservative think tank The Heritage Foundation was co-authored by a man who thought that Latino immigrants would give birth to children with lower IQs.


By: Anne-Rose Strasser, Think Progress, June 3, 2013

June 4, 2013 Posted by | Reproductive Rights, Womens Rights | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Where There’s Smoke, There’s Money”: Tobacco Giant Reynolds American Inc Funded Conservative Nonprofits

Tobacco giant Reynolds American Inc. last year helped fund several of the nation’s most politically active — and secretive — nonprofit organizations, according to a company document reviewed by the Center for Public Integrity.

Reynolds American’s contributions include $175,000 to Americans for Tax Reform, a nonprofit led by anti-tax activist Grover Norquist, and $50,000 to Americans for Prosperity, a free-market advocacy outfit heavily backed by billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch.

The tobacco company’s donations are just a fraction of the nearly $50 million that those two groups reported spending on political advocacy ads during the 2012 election cycle, almost exclusively on negative advertising. Federal records show that Americans for Prosperity alone sponsored more than $33 million in attack ads that directly targeted President Barack Obama.

But the money, which Reynolds American says it disclosed in a corporate governance document at the behest of an unnamed shareholder, provides rare insight into how some of the most powerful politically active 501(c)(4) “social welfare” nonprofits are bankrolled.

Reynolds American is the parent company of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco, which makes Camel and Winston brand cigarettes.

“The shareholder specifically requested that we disclose information about 501(c)(4)s, and in the interests of greater transparency, we agreed,” Reynolds American spokeswoman Jane Seccombe said.

Large corporations — tobacco companies or otherwise — almost never release information about their giving to such groups, and it’s most unusual for the groups themselves to voluntarily disclose who donates to them.

These groups, which obtain their nonprofit status because they say their “primary purpose” is not political activity, are generally under no legal obligation to detail their funding sources. Super PACs and other recognized political committees, by contrast, must report the names of their contributors who give more than $200 and the amounts they give.

Yet during the 2012 election cycle, various social welfare nonprofit organizations, emboldened by the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision in January 2010, spent more than $250 million to promote or attack federal political candidates, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. The source of most of that money remains a mystery.

Reynolds American’s other contributions last year to 501(c)(4) groups include $100,000 to the Partnership for Ohio’s Future, an organization run by the Ohio Chamber of Commerce that spent several million dollars in a failed 2012 ballot initiative campaign to uphold a law limiting public workers’ collective bargaining rights. It also gave $12,500 to the National Taxpayers Union, a 501(c)(4) group that backed Republican candidates last year with modest expenditures.

Ohio Chamber of Commerce Executive Vice President Linda Woggon told the Center for Public Integrity she wasn’t aware that Reynolds American planned to disclose its donation to Partnership for Ohio’s Future.

But Woggon said she did not have a problem with officials there doing so, adding that “the decision is up to the company.”

Americans for Prosperity, which in 2011 reported to the IRS it received more than $25.4 million in contributions and grants, “leaves it up to our supporters” to decide whether to reveal their donations,” spokesman Levi Russell said.

“It’s their right, and we respect it,” he said.

Officials at Americans for Tax Reform, which in 2011 reported to the IRS that it received nearly $4 million in contributions and grants, did not reply to several requests for comment.

Within the tobacco industry, Reynolds American competitor Lorillard, which manufactures Newport brand cigarettes, has no nonprofit donation disclosure policy in place.

Ronald Whitford, the company’s associate general counsel, said Lorillard “could look at possibly enhancing disclosure in the future.”

Altria, the world’s largest tobacco company, does make contributions to politically active nonprofit organizations, spokesman Bill Phelps said — but he would not name any beneficiaries.

Altria’s corporate policy only requires it disclose its contributions to 501(c)(4) nonprofits in narrow circumstances, none of which applied to its 2012 donations, Phelps said.

For example, Altria, which makes Marlboros, the top-selling cigarettes, would publicly disclose a contribution if a nonprofit used at least $50,000 specifically for “political activities” as defined by the Internal Revenue Service — but only if the nonprofit informed Altria of this fact.

The IRS considers political activity to be the “participation in, or intervention in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office.”

Therefore, by its own rules, Altria would not disclose contributions that a 501(c)(4) used to fund so-called “issue advertisements” that are sometimes barely distinguishable from ads that directly advocate for or against a politician.

Politically active nonprofit groups such as Americans for Prosperity and Crossroads GPS, which was co-founded by GOP strategist Karl Rove, together spent millions of dollars on these kinds of communications last year.

Reynolds American’s written corporate policy on nonprofit donation disclosure is similar to that of Altria. But the policy “represents the minimum disclosure threshold,” said Seccombe, the company spokeswoman.

Reynolds American specifically acknowledged its donation to Americans for Tax Reform “because of expected stakeholder interest, not because the contributions were intended to be used or were in fact used for ‘political activity’ as that term is meant for purposes of the Internal Revenue Code,” Seccombe added.

She declined to speculate on which 501(c)(4) organizations Reynolds American will donate to this year. But officials will release information on its 2013 donations early next year, she said.

The company’s actions, although limited and hardly in real time, “set a precedent” and are “to be commended,” said Bruce Freed, president of the Center for Political Accountability, which tracks and advocates for political transparency by corporations.

“We just haven’t seen this with other companies related to their giving to (c)(4)’s,” Freed said.


By: David Levinthal, The Center for Public Integrity, May 31, 2013

June 4, 2013 Posted by | Campaign Financing, Citizens United | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Towel, Sunscreen And A Handgun”: Now, You Can’t Ban Guns At The Public Pool

If you feel unsafe at a public pool in Charleston, WV, you may soon have the right to lie there on a towel with a handgun at your side.

For 20 years, Charleston has been an island of modest gun restrictions in a very pro-gun-rights state. But its gun laws — including a ban on guns in city parks, pools and recreation centers — are now likely to be rolled back, the latest victory in a long-standing push to deny cities the power to regulate guns

Since the 1980s, the National Rifle Association and other groups have led a successful campaign to get state legislatures to limit local control over gun regulations. These “preemption” laws block cities from enacting their own gun policies, effectively requiring cities with higher rates of gun violence to have the same gun regulations as smaller towns.

Before 1981, when an Illinois town banned the possession of handguns, just a handful of states had preemption laws on the books. Today, 42 states block cities from making gun laws, according to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. Even Illinois, which has long allowed its cities to pass gun control measures, is about to invalidate local restrictions on concealed handguns and ban any future local regulation of assault weapons.

Gun rights advocates argue that allowing cities to have their own gun laws creates an impossible situation for law-abiding gun owners, who cannot be expected to read ordinances for every town they might pass through.

The preemption campaign has racked up so many victories nationwide, it’s now focusing on holdouts like Charleston, population 51,000.

Charleston’s current gun restrictions include a three-day waiting period to buy a handgun, and a limit of one handgun purchase per month, as well as bans on guns on publicly owned property, such as parks and pools.

West Virginia Delegate Patrick Lane crafted an amendment to an unrelated state bill, now passed, that will likely force Charleston to erase those restrictions.

“Crime could happen anyplace. You obviously want to be able to defend yourself and your family if something happens,” Lane said, when asked why anyone would want to bring a gun to a public pool.

The NRA did not respond to requests for comment, but its website calls Charleston’s restrictions “misguided” and “unreasonable.” Its site has closely tracked the progress of the repeal of the ordinances, which it states “would have no negative impact whatsoever on Charleston.” The site has repeatedly criticized Charleston’s Republican mayor for “speaking out publicly against this pro-gun reform.”

It’s not clear what effect the spread of preemption has had on public safety. “It’s very hard to determine what causes crime to go up and down, because there are so many variables,” said Laura Cutilletta, a senior attorney at the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

But in Charleston, Police Chief Brent Webster says he’s worried about losing the city’s current restrictions, in particular the law banning guns at city pools, concerts and sporting events.

“You will have some citizens say, ‘I can do that now, so I’m going to do that,’” Webster said. “I am greatly concerned.”

“When they’re diving off the diving board, is that [gun] going to be in a book bag? Is that going to be lying under their towel and an eight-year-old kid is walking through the pool area and picks it up?”

Two of the city’s former police chiefs also say they’re worried about losing the ban on guns in public places that attract kids.

“That has nothing to do with the Second Amendment right. It has to do with public safety,” former Chief Dallas Staples said.

Charleston’s mayor, Danny Jones, who’s fought to keep the gun restrictions, said the city now has no choice but to do what the state legislature wants and roll them back. The state legislature packaged the rollback requirement with a popular measure giving Charleston more leeway in how it raises taxes.

“I’m still reeling from all this, because it’s going to affect us in a very negative way,” Jones told reporters after the law passed.

Keith Morgan, president of the West Virginia Citizen’s Defense League, a gun rights group, said the group has been pushing for an end to Charleston’s ordinances for years, and that the change would protect law-abiding gun owners from a “minefield” of conflicting local laws.

Lane, the West Virginia delegate, also said that gun-owning commuters were put at risk as they traveled through different cities with different rules.

But neither Lane nor Morgan could cite an example of a gun owner being prosecuted for accidentally breaking the law during their commute, or by accidentally wandering into a city park. When Morgan himself once showed up at the Charleston Civic Center with a gun, he said, he was simply asked to leave, and he did. In lawsuits the West Virginia Citizen’s Defense League filed against gun ordinances in Charleston and Martinsburg, the plaintiffs cited their fear of potential prosecution.

The main burden of Charleston’s laws for gun owners has been the inconvenience of waiting three days to purchase a handgun, and only being able to buy one handgun at a time — something that can be particularly troublesome “if you’re buying a present for your family and there happens to be a Christmas sale at the retailer,” Lane said.

Former Charleston law enforcement officers say the handgun restrictions, passed in 1993, helped the city tamp down on the drugs-for-guns trade that was rampant at the time. But since then, gun stores have sprung up right at the city’s borders, said Steve Walker, a former Charleston police officer and now president of the West Virginia branch of the Fraternal Order of Police.

“Honestly, I don’t know whether with them repealing it, it is going to help them or hurt them,” Walker said of the handgun restrictions.

State legislators said that city officials are overplaying their fears.

“I don’t see everyone with a concealed carry permit deciding to go to a pool and carry a gun,” said Democrat Mark Hunt, a state delegate, “So what if they do? They’re law-abiding citizens.”

Charleston’s mayor said he has a plan if somebody brings a gun poolside: “We’re going to close down the pool.”

By: Lois Beckett, Pro Publica, June 3, 2013

June 4, 2013 Posted by | Gun Control, Gun Violence | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“There’s Still Louie Gohmert And Ted Cruz”: Even Without Michele Bachmann, The GOP Is Still Crazy

Michele Bachmann is saying goodbye to Congress. Her exit means less work for fact checkers, tougher times for Democrats who tried making her a Republican Party symbol (though they’re planning on running against her anyway), leaner times for comedians — and a huge sigh of relief to the Republican Party’s establishment. The overwhelming consensus is that her leaving will help the GOP.

The Daily Beast‘s John Avlon labeled Bachmann “the congresswoman who represented the worst of modern American politics more than she ever tried to represent her Minnesota constituents.” In Avlon’s words, she “degraded national debate, consistently chose fear mongering over facts, and exhibited every impulse of the demagogue and the ideologue.” Avlon focused on one particular statement in her farewell announcement:

She wants the world to know that “this decision was not impacted in any way by the recent inquiries into the activities of my former presidential campaign or my former presidential staff. It was clearly understood that compliance with all rules and regulations was an absolute necessity for my presidential campaign.” In a word: bullshit. The Office of Congressional Ethics investigation into her presidential campaign that was first disclosed by The Daily Beast is due to release its initial report soon. [Daily Beast]

Ostensibly, Bachmann’s decision not to run is a Godsend to the GOP. She has been a reliable outrageous quote machine who reinforces the perception that the Republican Party’s right wing is way, way, way out there. Conservative Intelligence Briefing‘s David Freddoso further notes that Bachmann’s exit removes a huge financial “black hole” for conservatives since Bachmann “may hold a lifetime record” for wasting campaign donations from small donors:

So if you’re a true conservative, do you want more Michele Bachmanns in the House? What you probably want are more people who share your principles but who won’t subject them to ridicule; who won’t make their re-election races needlessly expensive; and who can hold down a safe congressional seat easily so that they’re not competing for money that could go to conservatives running for shakier seats. [Conservative Intelligence Briefing]

Bachmann was a political celebrity who accomplished little (only one of the 58 bills she introduced passed the House) but whose push-the-envelope assertions tapped into partisan resentments, anger, and rage. She created a following, making her famous in the conservative media and infamous in the mainstream media.

Veteran editor and blogger Robert Stein asks: “How did a mouthy back bencher parlay ignorance that made Sarah Palin look like Winston Churchill into such prominence? And does her downfall amid murky misuse of campaign funds portend a continuing descent of the GOP into a diehard faction of the major party it once was?”

CNN columnist L.Z. Granderson says her retirement should “help the GOP scrub stupid” away:

The fact is, the brand of spitfire politics Bachmann, [Sarah] Palin et al. employ is usually not patient or intelligent. It’s often irresponsible hyperbole designed to generate buzz as opposed to inform. If directed properly, it’s an effective way to win an election. But the problem with spitfire is that it’s sometimes hard to control. [CNN]

That’s why legendary Democratic strategist James Carville remains buoyant. When Morning Joe‘s Republican Joe Scarborough mentioned Bachmann’s retirement, Carville’s response was: “It makes me so sad and you so happy, Joe. God closes one door for Michele Bachmann and opens three to [Republican Texas Rep.] Louie Gohmert.”

Indeed, the GOP still has many high-profile verbal bomb throwers that will hurt its image — particularly ascending Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who some say talks like the late Sen. Joe McCarthy, looks like McCarthy, and even resembles the evil puppet in the movie Magic.

Meanwhile, all but the most skillful public relations people would declare the Republican Party’s more inclusive “rebranding” effort a hair away from being embalmed. Democrats are gleefully hammering Republicans for the party’s “recruiting nightmare” for Senate races, and point to the party’s failing effort to woo increasingly influential Hispanic voters. Reuters reports a strong chance that the Republican House will kill immigration reform.

Bachmann built her career on saying no and appealing to hyper-ideologists — thus highlighting the weakness of the House’s Republican leadership. She helped solidify a far-right political style and was instrumental in rallying conservative opposition to ObamaCare. Her retirement means one more member of the Republican Party’s right-wing fringe will pass not-too-quietly into the political night. But many independent and centrist voters will unlikely be impressed if one character has dropped out of political Looney Tunes while the high-visibility series still continues its big-cast-of-characters run.


By: Joe Gandelman, The Week, June 3, 2013

June 4, 2013 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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