Daily Archives: March 23, 2012

Mercury-Based Vaccine Preservative Lives On

courthousenews.com | Mar 23, 2012


  (CN) – The Food and Drug Administration is not liable for approving a mercury-based vaccine preservative because more expensive, mercury-free vaccines are available upon request, a federal judge ruled.

Thimerosal is a mercury-based compound that is FDA-approved as a vaccine preservative. Organizations such as the Coalition for Mercury-Free Drugs, however, have expressed concern about the preservative.

As a precautionary measure, most vaccines administered to children or pregnant women do not include thimersosal, but the flu vaccine is a significant exception. “Thimerosal-preserved flu vaccines are necessary to ensure sufficient supply at a reasonable price,” according to the judgment.

In August 2007, the coalition submitted a citizen petition to the FDA, asking the agency to ban the use of thimerosal in all vaccines for young children and pregnant women. When the FDA denied its petition, the coalition filed a federal complaint, alleging the FDA violated its duty to ensure the safety of vaccines.

A federal judge in Washington dismissed the complaint, finding that the coalition lacked standing to bring its claim.

Last week, the D.C. Circuit affirmed.

“We recognize plaintiffs’ genuine concern about thimerosal-preserved vaccines,” Judge Brett Kavanaugh wrote for a three-judge panel. “But plaintiffs are not required to receive thimerosal-preserved vaccines; they can readily obtain thimerosal-free vaccines. They do not have standing to challenge FDA’s decision to allow other people to receive thimerosal-preserved vaccines.” (Emphasis in original.)

“Plaintiffs may, of course, advocate that the legislative and executive branches ban all thimerosal-preserved vaccines,” Kavanaugh added. “But because plaintiffs are suffering no cognizable injury as a result of FDA’s decision to allow thimerosal-preserved vaccines, their lawsuit is not a proper subject for the judiciary.”

“In light of plaintiffs’ avowed intention to refuse thimerosal-preserved vaccines, plaintiffs cannot show that they face a ‘certainly impending,’ or even likely, risk of future physical injury from thimerosal in vaccines,” the decision states.

“To be sure, plaintiffs point out that vaccination is often compulsory for children whose parents seek to enroll them in public schools. But thimerosal-free versions of required vaccines are available, as plaintiffs have conceded, so parents concerned about the effects of thimerosal can obtain thimerosal-free vaccines for their school-age children.”

Furthermore, “rven if vaccine providers generally charge a higher price for thimerosal-free vaccines, the mere existence of a price differential would not establish that thimerosal-free vaccines are not readily available at a reasonable price. The price might be higher for the simple reason that things packaged individually (like thimerosal-free vaccines, which are packaged in single doses) generally cost more than the same things packaged in bulk (like thimerosal-preserved vaccines, which are packaged in multi-dose vials),” Kavanaugh concluded.

Government to keep data on citizens with NO connection to terrorism

National Intelligence Director James R. Clapper Jr., left, and Defense Intelligence Agency Director Lt. Gen. Ronald Burgess prepare to testify to the Senate Armed Services Committee last month. (Chip Somodevilla, Getty Images)

New rules on information kept by the National Counterterrorism Center raise worries among privacy advocates.

Associated Press | Mar 23, 2012

WASHINGTON—The U.S. intelligence community will be able to store information about Americans with no ties to terrorism for up to five years under new Obama administration guidelines.

Until now, the National Counterterrorism Center had to immediately destroy information about Americans that was already stored in other government databases when there were no clear ties to terrorism.

Members of Congress had called for expanding the center’s record-retention authority, saying the intelligence community did not connect strands of intelligence held by multiple agencies that led up to the failed bombing attempt on a Detroit-bound airliner on Christmas 2009.

“Following the failed terrorist attack in December 2009, representatives of the counter-terrorism community concluded it is vital for NCTC to be provided with a variety of data sets from various agencies that contain terrorism information,” National Intelligence Director James R. Clapper Jr. said in a statement late Thursday. “The ability to search against these data sets for up to five years on a continuing basis as these updated guidelines permit will enable NCTC to accomplish its mission more practically and effectively.”

The new rules, which replace guidelines issued in 2008, have privacy advocates concerned about the potential for data-mining information on innocent Americans.

“It is a vast expansion of the government’s surveillance authority,” said Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

“The fact that this data can be retained for five years on U.S. citizens for whom there’s no evidence of criminal conduct is very disturbing,” he said, adding that the new guidelines undercut the Federal Privacy Act.

The Obama administration said the new rules come with strong safeguards for privacy. Before the counter-terrorism center may obtain data held by another government agency, there is a high-level review to assure that the data “is likely to contain significant terrorism information,” Alexander Joel, the civil liberties protection officer at the national intelligence directorate, said in a news release Thursday.

The center was created after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to be the central U.S. organization to analyze and integrate intelligence regarding terrorism.

Passive images might trigger ‘malintent cues’ from suspicious travelers

gsnmagazine.com | Mar 23, 2012

By Jacob Goodwin

Minority Report: Back again?

For years, DHS has been studying the behavior of travelers as they approach a security checkpoint to see if they unwittingly give off any clues that they are harboring what security officials call “malintent.” Researchers have studied travelers’ respiration, cardiovascular responses, eye movements, thermal measures and gross body movements, which occur while a traveler is communicating verbally with a security screener.

Now, DHS researchers are stepping things up a bit, by introducing what they call “passive stimuli” — such as non-word images of security signs, guard posts, floor layouts and interview rooms — which are intended to amplify the “malintent cues” emitted by a nervous traveler. DHS has recruited volunteers who have agreed to participate in experiments that will test whether such “passive” methodologies can be effective.

“The goal of the Passive Methods for Precision Behavioral Screening is to activate malintent representations selectively from individuals who already have malintent via passive, environmental stimuli; e.g., pictures, sounds, etc.,” explains a DHS privacy impact statement which was released last December.

In other words, the goal of the latest experiments in this arcane area of research is to determine whether the presentation of visual images on a monitor can trigger psychological reactions from a traveler that DHS sensors could capture and analyze in an automated way, and which would enable security personnel to determine that the traveler might, indeed, represent a bona fide threat.

Two of the aims of this research are to spot threatening travelers at greater stand-off distances and to lessen the likelihood that travelers will try to alter their behavior in order to fool security screeners.

In the future, DHS researchers plan to run operational tests of this “passive” methodology by studying volunteers as they approach screening sites at public places, such as special events, mass transit portals and border crossings, says the DHS privacy impact statement. “The volunteer will be asked to answer a few questions and to observe various stimuli as they are presented on an LCD monitor,” says the notice.

The original version of this DHS research program was called Future Attribute Screening Technology, or FAST, while the latest iteration — which includes the passive stimuli — is known as FAST/Passive.

Movie fans who might remember the Tom Cruise hit, Minority Report, which depicted law enforcement officers trying to anticipate future crimes, should understand that this behavior-based screening technique is intended to help screeners make better-informed decisions, says DHS, not to arrest the “bad guys” pro-actively.

“FAST is not intended to provide ‘probable cause’ for law enforcement processes, nor would the technology replace or pre-empt the decisions of human screeners,” says the DHS document.

Number of children with autism soars by more than 50% in just five years

Photo: Getty Images

The number of schoolchildren who are classified as being autistic has soared by 56 per cent in the last five years.

Telegraph | Mar 22, 2012

There are now 61,570 schoolchildren in the state-funded sector that have been recorded as having some kind of autistic spectrum disorder and they make up almost one percent of the entire school population.

Just five years ago, the number of children classified as being autistic was just 39,465 and they accounted for just 0.5 per cent of the school population.

The Government’s definition of autism is a lifelong condition that affects how a person communicates with, and relates to, other people, and how a person makes sense of the world around them.

The term is used to cover a variety of autistic conditions including Asperger’s syndrome. Data from the Department of Education shows that in 2006 autistic children made up just one in every 200 pupils.

The latest figures put that ratio at one in every 125 children. Autism can cause learning problems for children.

Around 20percent of autistic pupils have been suspended from school more than once and around 50percent say they have been bullied at school.

The USA has seen a similar rise in the number of children with autism. Its Government estimates the cost of schooling a child with the condition is treble the figure for a child that does not need any extra assistance.

Some experts fear the sharp rise in autism may be more down to parents trying to seek an advantage for their child rather than a genuine ailment.

Sociology professor Frank Furedi, who wrote Wasted: Why Education Isn’t Educating, said: “There has been a proliferation for dispensation on the grounds of autism.

“It is unlikely to be a genuine unprecedented increase in autism, rather an institutional use of this condition to allow people to get easier access to resources.

“This activity ends up trivialising what is a very serious condition for some children.”

Statistics from schools in England shows that in the same five year period that has seen autism rise, there has also been an increase on 15percent in the numbers of children registered as having behavioural, emotional or social difficulties to a total of 158,015.

It means that in total there are now 701,000 children, almost one in ten schoolchildren, who are classified as having some kind of special needs.

Nick Seaton, a spokesman for the Campaign for Real Education, said: “Obviously children with autism need special treatment.

“But the rapid increase does suggest that perhaps the figures should be looked at again.

“Children should not be classified as having special needs too easily. The rise should be examined closely because it has a knock-on effect for teachers, schools and the pupils themselves.”

Caroline Hattersley, Head of Information, Advice and Advocacy at The National Autistic Society, said: “A recent NHS study revealed that the prevalence of autism is 1 in 100 and that the same rate applies for adults as for children. We know that with accurate diagnosis the right support can be put in place so that children with autism can reach their full potential.

“It’s very likely that all teachers and school staff will come into contact with children with autism at some stage during their teaching career, so it’s vital that they receive quality training and strategies to support these children in the classroom.”

A Department of Education spokesman said: “Schools receive funding to meet their duty to support any child with special educational needs, including autism.

In addition, through the Autism Education Trust, we are funding autism training for teachers. “We’re proposing the biggest programme of reforms in 30 years to help children and young people with special educational need or disabilities, including those with autism.

“We recently announced 20 pathfinder areas that will be testing out some of the main proposals from the Special Educational needs and disability Green Paper. This includes trialling a new, single education, health and care plan that can cover children and young people aged birth to 25.”

Big Romney is watching you

Security cameras on a pole in front of the giant portrait of former Chinese Chairman Mao Zedong at Beijing’s Tiananmen Square Jan. 9, 2012.  (Credit: David Gray / Reuters)

salon.com | Mar 16, 2012  

Romney’s private equity firm is helping China create an all-seeing surveillance system — the free market at work

The New York Times reported today that Bain Capital, the private equity firm started by GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, owns a Chinese company, Uniview, that supplies highly advanced surveillance equipment to the Chinese government. China’s authoritarian rulers are using the equipment to create an “omniscient monitoring system” throughout the country, according to a Human Rights Watch researcher quoted by the Times. “When it comes to surveillance, China is pretty upfront about its totalitarian ambitions,” said Nicholas Bequelin.

To realize those totalitarian ambitions, China’s authorities, with Bain Capital’s help, are expanding the country’s already vast network of surveillance cameras. The city of Chongqing is spending $4.2 billion for a network of 500,000 cameras, Guangdong Province is installing a million cameras, and Beijing is planning to put cameras in all entertainment venues, the Times reported.

The authorities use these cameras, along with Internet monitoring and cellphone surveillance, to monitor as much of the entire population as possible. But they are particularly interested in keeping a permanent eye on democracy advocates, intellectuals, religious figures and other people they deem dangerous. For example, police used a surveillance camera to record a human rights lawyer named Li Tiantian entering a hotel with men other than her boyfriend, then taunted her about her sex life and threatened to show the tape to her boyfriend. “The scale of intrusion into people’s private lives is unprecedented,” Li told the Times. “Now when I walk on the street, I feel so vulnerable, like the police are watching me all the time.”

But the whining of Li and her troublemaking ilk are of no concern to the patriotic Uniview. In its promotional materials, the company chirps, “Social management and society building pose new demands for surveillance and control systems.”


Big Brother Bain Is Watching You

Bain is also untroubled by the fact that it owns a company dedicated to re-creating the unique societal ambience of George Orwell’s “1984.” It stressed to the Times that Uniview’s products “were advertised” as tools to fight crime, not to monitor dissidents, and that only one-third of Uniview’s sales were to public security bureaus.

Ah, because Uniview advertised that its surveillance cameras were only used to fight crime, it’s OK for Bain to own them. Thanks for clearing that up, Bain! (I take the liberty of addressing you as Bain because, as the Supreme Court has ruled and the GOP believes, corporations are people.)

Speaking of which, Bain, I would be remiss to your investors if I did not draw your attention to an excellent opportunity to acquire a leading Rwandan firm, the Tutsi Machete Co. The Tutsi Machete Co. is a perfect target for you. It is underperforming, has a weak management structure and is ripe for a leveraged buyout. Some have claimed that TMC provides hundreds of thousands of machetes to frenzied genocidal mobs, but that is not a concern: The company ran an ad claiming that their machetes were only used to fight crime. Making the optics even stronger, only one-third of the machetes were given to frenzied genocidal mobs. With a significant downsizing of its workforce – which can be accomplished using the company’s own products, thus ensuring significant additional savings – TMC’s profits should increase by 300 percent. Recommendation: Buy.

Romney and his wife earned at least $5.6 million from their Bain holdings, the Times reported. But according to the person who manages their trusts, the Romneys had nothing to do with the decision to invest in Uniview. All they did was pocket the money.

Owning a piece of the Great Eye of Sauron Company is probably too much even for the free-market-worshiping Romney. He will probably get out of the trust, and it won’t be surprising if Bain suddenly decides to unload Uniview. But that won’t solve the real problem, which this grotesque episode highlights. The real problem is untrammeled capitalism, at whose coldblooded shrine he and the rest of the GOP worship. And that problem won’t go away if Romney washes his hands of Uniview, any more than Pontius Pilate was able to wash away his responsibility for crucifying Jesus.

For the almighty market has no conscience. Private equity firms like Bain are sharks. They were created to maximize profits for their investors – nothing more, nothing less. Buying Uniview was egregious, but firms like Bain buy slightly less nasty versions of Uniview every day. Until they stop making decisions solely based on the bottom line, the same issues will keep coming up.

The same thing applies to the free-market mantra constantly repeated by companies like Bain and their defenders — “improving corporate performance.” “Improving corporate performance” really means “maximizing profits for shareholders.” Sure, it sometimes works out well for everyone, workers and investors alike. But the point is, that isn’t its goal. The fate of human beings is not important. If tens of thousands of workers get dumped along the way, they’re just collateral damage, road kill along the great haj to honor Adam Smith.

Early in the primary campaign, in a desperate attempt to wound Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich both channeled their inner Marx and made this exact charge against Romney and Bain. When Romney fired back that they were “putting free enterprise on trial,” and GOP ideologues tut-tutted, Twinkle Dumb and Twinkle Me realized that they had gone too far off the reservation and changed the subject. But they were right.

As a liberal, I’d like to be able to cite this story as an example of the perfidy of the American right and the internal contradictions of an ideology that exalts “freedom” but somehow leads to totalitarianism. Unfortunately, the Democrats are virtually indistinguishable from the Republicans on this issue. Bain Capital, in all its creepiness, is as American as apple pie.

Bain is doing two things with Uniview. It is helping an authoritarian regime keep an eternal eye on its citizens, and it is doing so for the same reason it does everything: to maximize its profits. The Democrats are marginally better than the Republicans when it comes to the latter issue: they at least pay lip service to the workers who are “downsized” by firms like Bain. But the differences are cosmetic: they, too, have essentially bought the gospel of greed. And both parties have signed off on the Surveillance Society.

It was President George W. Bush who created the Patriot Act. But in 2011, it was President Obama who asked Congress to extend its surveillance powers. It was Obama who signed the National Defense Authorization Act, which allows indefinite detention and essentially declares that the “war on terror” is permanent. And it was Obama who decided that it was OK to launch drones at will around the world, and assassinate American citizens without trial.

After all, those who are innocent have nothing to fear.

So there’s no reason to worry about the millions of surveillance cameras being deployed all over China. Big Brother is already watching us. Why shouldn’t he watch some other people too?

Maltese Court stays clear of clash between Sovereign Order of St John of Jerusalem Grandmasters

timesofmalta.com | Mar 22, 2012


Louis Scerri Montaldo

A court has ruled that it has no jurisdiction to decide a case where its judgement would have implied recognition of who is the Grandmaster  of the ‘Sovereign Order of St John of Jerusalem’ (an order which is different from the SMOM, known as the Knights of Malta).

The issue came up when Louis Scerri Montaldo in his name and as Grandmaster of the order, filed an application again Basilio Cali’.

Basilio Cali'

He said the Cali’ was presenting himself as the 77th grandmaster of the Order  and appropriating funds which were due to the order. He called on the court to declare that the 77th  grandmaster of the order did not exist and the accused had no title or post within the order.


In his reply, Basilio Cali’ denied the charges and said that Chev Montaldo had been removed from the post of grandmaster on December 5, 2006 and he had succeeded him and assumed the right of legal representation of the order.

In its judgement, the court said that in terms of the law, no public official or authority in Malta could recognise or act in a way which was construed as granting recognition of some title of nobility or honour, decoration, membership or post which were not already recognised by the State.

The court said that were it to consider the issues in the case before it, it would be granting the sort of recognition prohibited by law. The court therefore declared that it had no jurisdiction over the case.