Monday, February 27, 2012

New 'superbug' strain of gonorrhea becoming resistant to Medications



Government heath officials are warning that gonorrhea, one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases, is becoming increasingly resistant to the last type of antibiotics left to treat it.


Although no cases of resistant gonorrhea have been reported in the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says its own laboratory studies are detecting growing signs of resistance to a class of antibiotic drugs called cephalosporins. In addition, resistant strains already have shown up in other countries. Recently, two cases in which gonorrhea treatment failed were reported in Norway among heterosexual men, and a new resistant strain of the bacteria was identified from a female sex worker in Japan, a finding reported this week at the International Society for Sexually Transmitted Disease Research conference in Quebec.


The new strain may be “a true superbug that initiates a future era of untreatable gonorrhea,’’ wrote the team of Japanese and Swedish scientists in a recent report about the new strain.


In its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, the C.D.C. reported last weekon a decade-long analysis of 5,400 to 6,500 annual gonorrhea cases from men treated in 30 American cities. From 2000 to 2010, the percentage of gonorrhea cases that showed potential resistance to two cephalosporin drugs rose sharply. Surveillance data from 2010 showed that over all, 1.4 percent of samples showed increasing resistance to the oral drug cefixime, up from 0.2 percent in 2000. Resistance to the injectable drug ceftriaxone rose to 3 percent, up from 1 percent a decade ago. Some parts of the United States showed bigger increases than others. For instance, testing in Honolulu found 7.7 percent of 2010 samples with potential resistance to cefixime, compared with none in 2000. In California, 4.5 percent of samples showed signs of resistance in 2010, up from zero in 2000.


Health officials emphasized that while the signs of growing resistance are seen in laboratory studies, so far in the United States, there have been no cases of treatment-resistant gonorrhea in patients. The trends, however, are concerning, because cephalosporin drugs are the fourth type of antibiotic used to treat gonorrhea since the 1940s. Resistance to penicillin and tetracycline occurred during the 1970s and became widespread during the early 1980s, the C.D.C. reported. More recently, the disease became resistant to a class of antibiotics called fluoroquinolones, and in 2007 the government stopped recommending those drugs for gonorrhea treatment. That left cephalosporin drugs as the last line of defense against gonorrhea.


“The measurements we’re finding in the laboratory do show concerning trends of declining susceptibility to cephalosporin antibiotics,’’ said Dr. Robert D. Kirkcaldy, a medical epidemiologist in the C.D.C.’s division of sexually transmitted disease prevention and co-author of the agency’s report last week. “What we’ve been noticing is really since 2009 and 2010, it’s taking higher concentrations of antibiotic to kill the bacteria. This could mean resistance to the last antibiotic we have for gonorrhea could be on the horizon.’’ The problem of growing resistance appears limited to gonorrhea and is not occurring with other sexually transmitted bacterial diseases. “It’s a very complex bacteria which has a pretty amazing ability to mutate and for people to develop resistance to antibiotics,” said Dr. Kirkcaldy. “It has a pretty documented track record of developing resistance since the dawn of the antibiotic age.”


More than 700,000 people in the United States get gonorrhea every year, although about only half those cases are reported to public health agencies. In women, untreated gonorrhea can lead to fertility problems, pelvic inflammatory disease or ectopic pregnancy, and pregnant women can pass the disease to their babies. In men, the disease can cause painful scarring of the urethra, urination problems and kidney failure. Long-term complications for both sexes include joint pain, heart valve infection and meningitis.


The signs of emerging resistance to cephalosporin drugs are following roughly the same patterns that occurred when gonorrhea became resistant to fluoroquinolones a few years ago. In that case, resistance was documented first in Asia, then emerged in the United States, first in Hawaii followed by other Western states, according to the C.D.C. The hope is that new antibiotics eventually can be developed to treat gonorrhea.


“The challenge is that there is not a well-studied second antibiotic we can turn to even when cephalosporin resistance does emerge,” said Dr. Kirkcaldy. “That’s why we’re so concerned, and one reason we wanted to sound the alarm about these findings. It’s incumbent on researchers in the pharmaceutical and other sectors to step up quickly and boldly to identify new drug combinations.”


By TARA PARKER-POPE: NY TIMES

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Jennifer Aniston Nixes 'Friends' Reunion Movie



Jennifer Aniston played the character of Rachel Green, on "Friends" for 10 years and she admits she "owes everything to her," but don't expect her to reprise the role anytime soon.


Like her former co-star Matt LeBlanc, the 43-year-old actress doesn't see a "Friends" reunion movie ever happening. "I can't imagine how you would do it, unless you did it years from now. Then it would be: 'Who are these guys? What are we watching?' I can't imagine what that would be," she told The Hollywood Reporter. "It's not normal. 'Friends' is in your living room: 'Friends' is not in a movie theater. It doesn't make sense to me. I think it would be going against its authentic self."


Aniston and former cast-mates Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matthew Perry, David Schwimmer and LeBlanc are still best known for their roles on the long-running sitcom that propelled them to stardom, but none of them found major success on the big screen.


Aniston has, however, maintained her A-list status and on Wednesday received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (it should be noted that while there is a nomination process, the recipients themselves have to pay $30,000 for the creation and installation of their star), despite a string of box office bombs and rarely receiving critical praise. But despite the fact that many of her former co-stars are thriving on TV shows such as "Cougar Town," "Web Therapy" and "Episodes," she has no plans to return to television.


Aniston told THR that it would probably take her five "Friends" co-stars to bring her back to doing a TV series. "It would probably take those five actors and be somewhere where we left off. I loved what I did for 10 years; it was pure joy and nothing but fun, and it'd be hard to top it. The way we sort of felt the excitement of what 'Friends' was when it started, it would have to be something where you felt a similar charge. But I'll never say never."


The Hollywood Reporter.

Dallas' Reboot First Look: J.R , Bobby, Sue Ellen Summer 2012





Get ready for a return to 'Dallas.' TNT is bringing the classic drama back from its oil-drenched grave for a 2012 reboot, and there are plenty of familiar characters and plot points to please long-time fans.


The new trailer features Bobby (Patrick Duffy) and J.R. (Larry Hagman) at odds, with their sons Christopher (Jesse Metcalfe) and John Ross (Josh Henderson) also squabbling. Like father like son!


Watch the minute-long preview below and be on the lookout for Sue Ellen (Linda Gray), some slaps, a shove or two, a shotgun-wielding mama and so much more. Is it summer 2012 yet?


by Chris Harnick : AOLTV

How Big Pharma got Americans hooked on anti-psychotic drugs.



Mass psychosis in the US


Has America become a nation of psychotics? You would certainly think so, based on the explosion in the use of antipsychotic medications. In 2008, with over $14 billion in sales, antipsychotics became the single top-selling therapeutic class of prescription drugs in the United States, surpassing drugs used to treat high cholesterol and acid reflux.


Once upon a time, antipsychotics were reserved for a relatively small number of patients with hard-core psychiatric diagnoses - primarily schizophrenia and bipolar disorder - to treat such symptoms as delusions, hallucinations, or formal thought disorder. Today, it seems, everyone is taking antipsychotics. Parents are told that their unruly kids are in fact bipolar, and in need of anti-psychotics, while old people with dementia are dosed, in large numbers, with drugs once reserved largely for schizophrenics. Americans with symptoms ranging from chronic depression to anxiety to insomnia are now being prescribed anti-psychotics at rates that seem to indicate a national mass psychosis. It is anything but a coincidence that the explosion in antipsychotic use coincides with the pharmaceutical industry's development of a new class of medications known as "atypical antipsychotics." Beginning with Zyprexa, Risperdal, and Seroquel in the 1990s, followed by Abilify in the early 2000s, these drugs were touted as being more effective than older antipsychotics like Haldol and Thorazine. More importantly, they lacked the most noxious side effects of the older drugs - in particular, the tremors and other motor control problems.


The atypical anti-psychotics were the bright new stars in the pharmaceutical industry's roster of psychotropic drugs - costly, patented medications that made people feel and behave better without any shaking or drooling. Sales grew steadily, until by 2009 Seroquel and Abilify numbered fifth and sixth in annual drug sales, and prescriptions written for the top three atypical antipsychotics totaled more than 20 million. Suddenly, antipsychotics weren't just for psychotics any more.


Not just for psychotics anymore


By now, just about everyone knows how the drug industry works to influence the minds of American doctors, plying them with gifts, junkets, ego-tripping awards, and research funding in exchange for endorsing or prescribing the latest and most lucrative drugs. "Psychiatrists are particularly targeted by Big Pharma because psychiatric diagnoses are very subjective," says Dr. Adriane Fugh-Berman, whose PharmedOut project tracks the industry's influence on American medicine, and who last month hosted a conference on the subject at Georgetown. A shrink can't give you a blood test or an MRI to figure out precisely what's wrong with you. So it's often a case of diagnosis by prescription. (If you feel better after you take an anti-depressant, it's assumed that you were depressed.) As the researchers in one study of the drug industry's influence put it, "the lack of biological tests for mental disorders renders psychiatry especially vulnerable to industry influence." For this reason, they argue, it's particularly important that the guidelines for diagnosing and treating mental illness be compiled "on the basis of an objective review of the scientific evidence" - and not on whether the doctors writing them got a big grant from Merck or own stock in AstraZeneca.


Marcia Angell, former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine and a leading critic of the Big Pharma, puts it more bluntly: "Psychiatrists are in the pocket of industry." Angell has pointed out that most of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the bible of mental health clinicians, have ties to the drug industry. Likewise, a 2009 study showed that 18 out of 20 of the shrinks who wrote the American Psychiatric Association's most recent clinical guidelines for treating depression, bipolar disorders, and schizophrenia had financial ties to drug companies.


In a recent article in The New York Review of Books, Angell deconstructs what she calls an apparent "raging epidemic of mental illness" among Americans. The use of psychoactive drugs—including both antidepressants and antipsychotics—has exploded, and if the new drugs are so effective, Angell points out, we should "expect the prevalence of mental illness to be declining, not rising." Instead, "the tally of those who are so disabled by mental disorders that they qualify for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) increased nearly two and a half times between 1987 and 2007 - from one in 184 Americans to one in seventy-six. For children, the rise is even more startling - a thirty-five-fold increase in the same two decades. Mental illness is now the leading cause of disability in children." Under the tutelage of Big Pharma, we are "simply expanding the criteria for mental illness so that nearly everyone has one." Fugh-Berman agrees: In the age of aggressive drug marketing, she says, "Psychiatric diagnoses have expanded to include many perfectly normal people."


Cost benefit analysis


What's especially troubling about the over-prescription of the new antipsychotics is its prevalence among the very young and the very old - vulnerable groups who often do not make their own choices when it comes to what medications they take. Investigations into antipsychotic use suggests that their purpose, in these cases, may be to subdue and tranquilize rather than to treat any genuine psychosis. Carl Elliott reports in Mother Jones magazine: "Once bipolar disorder could be treated with atypicals, rates of diagnoses rose dramatically, especially in children. According to a recent Columbia University study, the number of children and adolescents treated for bipolar disorder rose 40-fold between 1994 and 2003." And according to another study, "one in five children who visited a psychiatrist came away with a prescription for an antipsychotic drug."


A remarkable series published in the Palm Beach Post in May true revealed that the state of Florida's juvenile justice department has literally been pouring these drugs into juvenile facilities, "routinely" doling them out "for reasons that never were approved by federal regulators." The numbers are staggering: "In 2007, for example, the Department of Juvenile Justice bought more than twice as much Seroquel as ibuprofen. Overall, in 24 months, the department bought 326,081 tablets of Seroquel, Abilify, Risperdal and other antipsychotic drugs for use in state-operated jails and homes for children…That's enough to hand out 446 pills a day, seven days a week, for two years in a row, to kids in jails and programs that can hold no more than 2,300 boys and girls on a given day." Further, the paper discovered that "One in three of the psychiatrists who have contracted with the state Department of Juvenile Justice in the past five years has taken speaker fees or gifts from companies that make antipsychotic medications."


In addition to expanding the diagnoses of serious mental illness, drug companies have encouraged doctors to prescribe atypical anti-psychotics for a host of off-label uses. In one particularly notorious episode, the drugmaker Eli Lilly pushed Zyprexa on the caregivers of old people with Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia, as well as agitation, anxiety, and insomnia. In selling to nursing home doctors, sales reps reportedly used the slogan "five at five"—meaning that five milligrams of Zyprexa at 5 pm would sedate their more difficult charges. The practice persisted even after FDA had warned Lilly that the drug was not approved for such uses, and that it could lead to obesity and even diabetes in elderly patients.


In a video interview conducted in 2006, Sharham Ahari, who sold Zyprexa for two years at the beginning of the decade, described to me how the sales people would wangle the doctors into prescribing it. At the time, he recalled, his doctor clients were giving him a lot of grief over patients who were "flipping out" over the weight gain associated with the drug, along with the diabetes. "We were instructed to downplay side effects and focus on the efficacy of drug…to recommend the patient drink a glass a water before taking a pill before the meal and then after the meal in hopes the stomach would expand" and provide an easy way out of this obstacle to increased sales. When docs complained, he recalled, "I told them, ‘Our drug is state of the art. What's more important? You want them to get better or do you want them to stay the same--a thin psychotic patient or a fat stable patient.'" For the drug companies, Shahrman says, the decision to continue pushing the drug despite side effects is matter of cost benefit analysis: Whether you will make more money by continuing to market the drug for off-label use, and perhaps defending against lawsuits, than you would otherwise. In the case of Zyprexa, in January 2009, Lilly settled a lawsuit brought by with the US Justice Department, agreeing to pay $1.4 billion, including "a criminal fine of $515 million, the largest ever in a health care case, and the largest criminal fine for an individual corporation ever imposed in a United States criminal prosecution of any kind,''the Department of Justice said in announcing the settlement." But Lilly's sale of Zyprexa in that year alone were over $1.8 billion.


Turning people into zombies


As it turns out, the atypical antipsychotics may not even be the best choice for people with genuine, undisputed psychosis. A growing number of health professionals have come to think these drugs are not really as effective as older less expensive medicines which they have replaced, that they themselves produce side effects that cause other sorts of diseases such as diabetes and plunge the patient deeper into the gloomy world of serious mental disorder. Along with stories of success comes reports of people turned into virtual zombies. Elliott reports in Mother Jones: "After another large analysis in The Lancet found that most atypicals actually performed worse than older drugs, two senior British psychiatrists penned a damning editorial that ran in the same issue. Dr. Peter Tyrer, the editor of the British Journal of Psychiatry, and Dr. Tim Kendall of the Royal College of Psychiatrists wrote: "The spurious invention of the atypicals can now be regarded as invention only, cleverly manipulated by the drug industry for marketing purposes and only now being exposed." Bottom line:Stop Big Pharma and the parasitic shrink community from wantonly pushing these pills across the population.


By James Ridgeway

Friday, February 24, 2012

Chappelle's Show -True Hollywood Stories - Prince (Video)



Charlie Murphy gets schooled by the Artist Known as Prince in a game of hoops.


 Video Clip, Airdate 2/18/2004






Study by British scientists found that alcohol is the most dangerous drug



Drug experts say alcohol worse than crack or heroin A new study by British scientists found that alcohol is the most dangerous drug.


(Reuters) - Alcohol is a more dangerous drug than both crack and heroin when the combined harms to the user and to others are assessed, British scientists said Monday.


Presenting a new scale of drug harm that rates the damage to users themselves and to wider society, the scientists rated alcohol the most harmful overall and almost three times as harmful as cocaine or tobacco. According to the scale, devised by a group of scientists including Britain's Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs (ISCD) and an expert adviser to the European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA), heroin and crack cocaine rank as the second and third most harmful drugs.


Ecstasy is only an eighth as harmful as alcohol, according to the scientists' analysis. Professor David Nutt, chairman of the ISCD, whose work was published in the Lancet medical journal, said the findings showed that "aggressively targeting alcohol harms is a valid and necessary public health strategy." He said they also showed that current drug classification systems had little relation to the evidence of harm. Alcohol and tobacco are legal for adults in Britain and many other countries, while drugs such as ecstasy and cannabis and LSD are often illegal and carry the threat of prison sentences.


"It is intriguing to note that the two legal drugs assessed -- alcohol and tobacco -- score in the upper segment of the ranking scale, indicating that legal drugs cause at least as much harm as do illegal substances," Nutt, who was formerly head of the influential British Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), said in a statement about the study.


Nutt was forced to quit the ACMD a year ago after publicly criticizing ministers for ignoring scientific advice suggesting cannabis was less harmful than alcohol.


The World Health Organization estimates that risks linked to alcohol cause 2.5 million deaths a year from heart and liver disease, road accidents, suicides and cancer -- accounting for 3.8 percent of all deaths. It is the third leading risk factor for premature death and disabilities worldwide. In an effort to offer a guide to policy makers in health, policing, and social care, Nutt's team rated drugs using a technique called multicriteria decision analysis (MCDA) which assessed damage according to nine criteria on harm to the user and seven criteria on harm to others.


Harms to the user included things su


ch as drug-specific or drug-related death, damage to health, drug dependence and loss of relationships, while harms to others included crime, environmental damage, family conflict, international damage, economic cost, and damage to community cohesion.


Drugs were then scored out of 100, with 100 given to the most harmful drug and zero indicating no harm at all. The scientists found alcohol was most harmful, with a score of 72, followed by heroin with 55 and crack with 54. Among some of the other drugs assessed were crystal meth (33), cocaine (27), tobacco (26), amphetamine or speed (23), cannabis (20), benzodiazepines, such as Valium (15), ketamine (15), methadone (14), mephedrone (13), ecstasy (9), anabolic steroids (9), LSD (7) and magic mushrooms (5).

Why Growing Income Inequality Is Bad for America

The Rich Keep Getting Richer


Controversy over the huge bonuses at financial firms like AIG and J.P. Morgan Chase have served to highlight both the disproportionate growth of the financial sector, and the perverse incentives that led traders and executives to take reckless risks with their companies and our economy.


But they have also shined the spotlight once again on the grave threat posed to our society by the growing income inequality that was the trademark of the last thirty years of our economic history.


Some facts:
* The CEO of the average company in the Standard and Poor's Index makes $10.5 million. That means that before lunch, on the first workday of the year, he (sometimes she) has made more than the minimum wage workers in his company will make all year. That translates to $5,048 per hour -- or about 344 times that pay of the typical American worker.
* Most people would consider a salary of $100,000 per year reasonably good pay. But the average CEO makes that much in the first half-week of the year.
* And that's nothing compared to some of the kings of Wall Street. In 2007, the top 50 hedge and private equity fund managers averaged $588 million in compensation each -- more than 19,000 times as much as the average U.S. worker. And by the way, the hedge fund managers paid a tax rate on their income of only 15% -- far lower than the rate paid by their secretaries.
There is simply no moral or economic justification for this kind of greed. Just as important, growing income inequality is a cancer that is attacking both the economy, and the social and political fabric of our society. A look at economic history makes several things clear.


1) Growth of income inequality does not result from "natural economic laws," as conservatives would like us to believe. It is the result of systems set up by human beings that differentially benefit different groups in the society.


At the beginning of the Great Depression, income inequality, and inequality in the control of wealth, was very high. Then came the "the great compression" between 1929 and 1947. Real wages for workers in manufacturing rose 67% while real income for the richest 1% of Americans fell 17%. This period marked the birth of the American middle class. Two major forces drove these trends -- unionization of major manufacturing sectors, and the public policies of the New Deal that were sparked by the Great Depression.


The growing spending power of everyday Americans spurred the postwar boom of 1947 to 1973. Real wages rose 81% and the income of the richest 1% rose 38%. Growth was widely shared, but income inequality continued to drop.


From 1973 to 1980, everyone lost ground. Real wages fell 3% and income for the richest 1% fell 4%. The oil shocks, and the dramatic slowdown in economic growth in developing nations, took their toll on America and the world economy.


Then came what Paul Krugman calls "the New Gilded Age." Beginning in 1980, there were big gains at the very top. The tax policies of the Reagan administration magnified income redistribution. Between 1980 and 2004, real wages in manufacturing fell 1%, while real income of the richest one percent rose 135%.


Much as they like to tout the magic "natural" effects of the market on levels of wages, conservatives have not been shy about using the power of government to affect the distribution of the fruits of the US economy. They have slashed taxes for the rich and for corporations, and increased the relative tax burden on working people. And by cutting taxes for the rich, they have transferred wealth to the most affluent people in America from all of our children by increasing the federal debt.


2). Increased income inequality is completely unrelated to the relative contribution of various groups in the population to the nation's economic prosperity.


Who could argue that the executives and traders of the Wall Street financial firms, whose reckless speculating ultimately sent our economy into a tailspin, made any meaningful contribution to our economic welfare? Yet they often made hundreds of millions of dollars.


Remember, much of the financial sector does not produce anything. The principal missions of the financial sector are to take on risk and allocate capital effectively. Some in the industry -- especially many community and regional banks -- do just that. But in the last year, the financial sector as a whole didn't "take on risk," it shifted risk to ordinary Americans through gigantic taxpayer bailouts. Many Wall Streeters themselves escaped the recent economic debacle, having salted away hundreds of billions of dollars.


Fundamentally the financial sector is made up of middlemen, who spend their time creating schemes that allow them to funnel society's money through their bank accounts so they can take a sliver of every dollar off of the top.


Right now, the private health insurance industry is busy trying to defend its turf against a public health insurance option. It wants to maintain its "right" to take that tribute off the top of as many health care dollars as possible. Remember, the private health insurance industry doesn't deliver any actual health care.


Does the CEO of CIGNA who is going to retire this year with a $73 million golden parachute contribute more to our well-being than a nurse who actually delivers health care?


The same is true of most of the financial sector, many of whom are essentially professional gamblers. It is the farmers, manufacturing firms, the health care providers, the transportation companies, the guys who sweep up buildings, the cops and firefighters, the people who teach our kids -- those are the people who produce the goods and services that we consume in our economy. The real incomes of these Americans have dropped by $2,197 per year since 2000, while the "bonus party" on Wall Street continues even though these Americas were asked to reach into their jeans and pony up hundreds of billions to bail out Wall Street's catastrophic mistakes.


3). As political scientists Nolan McCarty, Kevin T. Poole and Howard Rosenthal show in their book Polarized America: The Dance of Ideology and Unequal Riches, inequality in income distribution causes political polarization. It divides our society. Their study found that there is a direct relationship between economic inequality and polarization in American politics.


McCarty, Poole and Rosenthal measured political polarization in congressional votes over the last century, and found a direct correlation with the percentage of income received by the top 1% of the electorate.


They also compared the Gini Index of Income Inequality with congressional vote polarization of the last half-century and found a comparable relationship.


Want less political polarization? What a more bi-partisan spirit? Want America to be unified? Want less hatred and violence in our society? History shows that you start by once again compressing the difference in incomes between the very richest and the rest of America.


4). Finally, increased income inequality is completely undemocratic. It is a betrayal of our most fundamental democratic values. And it is dangerous to our prospects for long-term survival.


The increasing inequality of income leads inexorably to increasing inequality in the distribution of wealth. Power in the society is more and more concentrated in the hands of a few. It becomes more and more likely that some of our most powerful citizens came to that station not because of their merit, but because they got it the "old fashion way" -- they inherited it. That is directly contrary to our shared belief in a more democratic society -- where power and opportunity are broadly shared -- where no one's power or station in life are determined by accident of birth. The earliest Americans came to this continent to escape tyranny, aristocracy and plutocracy.


Progressives who stand up against the increasing concentration of economic power in the hands of a few are standing for one of the proudest traditions of our democracy. And our commitment to the democratic distribution of power is not simply an expression of utopian idealism.


In his brilliant study of why societies in the past have failed, called Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed , Pulitzer Prize-winning physiologist and ethno-geographer Jared Diamond concluded that one of the most common factors was "rational behavior" by actors -- and decision-making elites -- that benefited some individual or private self-interest but was harmful to the prospects of the entire society.


He found that this was often complicated because the benefits to a small group that profited from the action were great in the short run, and the resulting damage to everyone else was not very palpable or immediate, except over time.


This problem became especially acute when elites thought they could insulate themselves from the consequences of communal disaster. Then, they were even less prone to make decisions in the public interest. The increased inequality in the distribution of wealth and income makes this kind of decision-making more and more likely. We see when the interests of the wealthy stand in the way of solutions to the problems of climate change and environmental destruction -- or when we fail to raise enough money for the public education that benefits all children because the few who can afford private schools refuse to pay "higher taxes."


The creation of a democratic society, built on egalitarian principles, is the only real systematic means of assuring that the interests of the entire society

Thursday, February 23, 2012

'X Factor' Judges: Simon Cowell Speaks Out on Search for New Cast



Simon Cowell is playing it coy about rumors that Fergie, Britney Spears and Janet Jackson are being considered for 'The X Factor.'


Two judges' spots on the Fox TV singing contest opened up when Paula Abdul and Nicole Scherzinger left after the first season. Cowell told a teleconference Wednesday that two women will replace them, but he declined to comment on who's being considered.


"There's been a load of speculation, some true, some not true," Cowell said. He added that he waited to see who was interested enough to ask about joining the show before focusing on the search.


Judge Antonio "L.A." Reid confirmed there had been discussions about adding Whitney Houston but no contact was made with her. Houston died Feb. 11.


Meetings will be held over the next few weeks with "a number of people," Cowell said, primarily to make it clear to contenders how much of a time commitment "X Factor" represents.


He didn't shed much light on the departures of Abdul and Scherzinger, saying only that shows evolve and "this time it was decided to do it sooner or later." He said the two have been "incredibly gracious and respectful" and he's looking forward to working with them again.


With host Steve Jones' exit, Cowell said he wants to switch to a two-host format that would better suit the show and the amount of information that needs to be explained, entertainingly, to viewers. He didn't say who might be hired but said they could be people who don't have "host" on their resume.


He's not looking far for new judges and emcees, Cowell indicated, saying, "it's important we have more Americans on the show."


Cowell, who's a judge on the Fox show he based on his hit British series, is English. Jones is Welsh.


He was guarded about guessing the ratings for 'X Factor' when it returns this fall for its second season. After Cowell predicted it would be a hit in its freshman outing with 20 million viewers, the show averaged around 12 million weekly viewers, which is respectable but not a blockbuster.


"I should have kept my mouth shut," Cowell said. It took time for 'American Idol,' the home he and Abdul once shared, and NBC's 'The Voice' to grow in the ratings, he said, expressing confidence the same will happen for 'X Factor.'


"I absolutely expect the second season to do better than the first season," he said. "We're not doing this to be second or third ... We've learned how to make the show better."


Asked when the first release from season-one winner Melanie Amaro would be out, Cowell said the project wasn't being rushed, to do justice to her talent.


by The Associated Press

J.K. Rowling has deal for new novel for adults



Adult fans of J.K. Rowling can rejoice: She has a new novel coming, for grownups.


The kids will have to wait and see.


The author of the mega-selling "Harry Potter" series said Thursday she has an agreement with Little, Brown in the United States and Britain to publish her first adult novel. The title, release date and details about the novel, long rumored, were not announced. Her seventh and final Potter story came out in 2007. In recent years, the British author has said that she had been working on an adult book and on a Potter encyclopedia.


Rowling's Potter books, which broke sales records around the world, were published by Bloomsbury in Britain and Scholastic in the U.S. Rowling will now share the same publisher with Stephenie Meyer, whose "Twilight" series at least partially filled the gap opened by the conclusion of the Potter stories.


"Although I've enjoyed writing it every bit as much, my next book will be very different to the Harry Potter series, which has been published so brilliantly by Bloomsbury and my other publishers around the world," Rowling, 46, said in a statement released by Little, Brown. "The freedom to explore new territory is a gift that Harry's success has brought me, and with that new territory it seemed a logical progression to have a new publisher. I am delighted to have a second publishing home in Little, Brown, and a publishing team that will be a great partner in this new phase of my writing life."

HILLEL ITALIE |AP

Columnist Jonathan Capehart Grills Christie On Gay Marriage



In a surprising twist on Thursday's "Morning Joe," Washington Post columnist Jonathan Capehart spontaneously jumped in and harshly grilled New Jersey Chris Christie on his position on gay marriage.




Christie was defending his decision to veto gay marriage in New Jersey and put it to a popular vote. He said that he has "exact same position as the president" on civil unions. "My feet are firmly planted right next to President Obama's," he said.


Capehart, who had merely been on set for an earlier segment on Willie Geist's show, had apparently gasped at the remarks off-camera. Co-host Mika Brzezinski noticed his extreme reaction, and had him weigh in. Capehart's appearance seemed to catch Christie, who looked surprised, off-guard.


The columnist, who is openly gay, challenged Christie's claim. "The key difference between you and the President is while you support putting the civil rights of a minority up for a public referendum, the president is certainly not in favor of that,” Capehart said.


Christie pushed back. "Has he said that?" he asked about Obama's position. "I haven’t heard him say that… he's silent on the issue, like he’s silent on every issue that’s difficult for him."


Capehart insisted that that was not true. "He’s not silent on this,” Capehart countered. “The president and the Justice Department have made it clear that they believe that the so-called Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional." Then he asked whether Christie would support the legislation as president.


Christie tried to challenge Capehart's argument, but the columnist pressed him to answer the question. Capehart's persistence seemed to annoy Christie, who snapped, "First of all, I used to be a prosecutor. I don't know if you did too, but I’m not going to be cross-examined by you this morning."


"I’m having fun trying," Capehart responded.


"And you’re going to lose," Christie shot back. "So let’s just move on."


Capehart would not let up, and Christie proceeded to say that he had made his position on gay marriage clear. "Let’s have the President of the United States show some courage, come on this program, look into the camera like I’m looking into the camera, and state his position," he said. "At least I'm standing up to what I believe in."

Google's 'Do Not Track' Button


Google Inc. (GOOG) will allow a “do-not- track” button to be embedded in its Web browser, letting users restrict the amount of data that can be collected about them.


The world’s most popular search engine will join with other Web companies to support the anti-tracking initiative, which prevents an individual’s browsing history from being used to tailor ads, according to an e-mailed statement today. “We’re pleased to join a broad industry agreement to respect the ‘do-not-track’ header in a consistent and meaningful way that offers users choice and clearly explained browser controls,” Google Senior Vice President of Advertising Susan Wojcicki said in the statement.


Google, based in Mountain View, California, joined the initiative as the Obama administration unveiled plans to give consumers more control over their personal information online. Congress should enact a privacy bill of rights for Web users, the administration said in a report released today.


Revelations about potential privacy vulnerabilities during the past year have spurred calls from regulators and lawmakers in Washington for stronger protections of personal data online and on Internet-connected mobile devices. Google announced plans on Jan. 24 to unify privacy policies for products including YouTube videos and Android software for mobile phones, saying it will simplify conditions that users agree to.


Consumer Data
Google and Facebook, the world’s largest social network, are among Web companies facing scrutiny over their handling of consumer data used to power an online ad market projected to reach $39.5 billion in the U.S. this year, according to eMarketer Inc., a New York-based research firm. The White House report sets broad principles for the use of personal information that include giving consumers control over what data is collected on them and how it is used; providing understandable privacy policies; and handling consumer data securely. The Commerce Department will meet with companies and privacy advocates to develop voluntary standards for businesses based on the principles.





By Amy Thomson and Jonathan Browning

Identity Thieves Target Children For Unused Social Security Numbers




Every few weeks, Stephanie McManis receives a phone call from a collection agency asking for someone she never met. She recently opened a letter from a bank threatening to sue her for defaulting on a loan she never took out. She checks her credit report monthly, disputing late payments on emergency room visits she never made.


McManis, 31, says she is a victim of identity theft, a well-documented problem these days. One detail elevates her case from the typical, however: her identity was stolen when she was 12 years old. Now, nearly two decades later, she still can't separate herself from a checkered financial past created before she was old enough to drive.


"It's frustrating because I'm constantly having to jump through hoops," McManis said. "I'm resigned to the fact that I will be dealing with this for the rest of my life."


Experts say children represent an emerging market for identity thieves who steal their Social Security numbers because they offer clean slates that can be used to commit fraud for years without detection. Many victims don't learn about the crime until they are young adults and find their credit in tatters as they are rejected for student loans, jobs and places to live.
Even as recent data breaches at large corporations have raised awareness about safeguarding consumer information, children's Social Security numbers are lying around little-guarded places not accustomed to fearing cyber-attacks -- like schools and pediatric centers -- constituting a goldmine for criminals seeking untainted identities.


If left unchecked, child identity theft poses risks not only to young adults, but also to the financial system by eroding confidence that loans will be repaid, experts say.


"There's a systemic financial impact, as well as what we should be doing morally, ethically and legally to help our children have a future that they design on their own," Michelle Dennedy, a privacy consultant and founder of TheIdentityProject.com, said at a July conference on child identity theft sponsored by the Federal Trade Commission.
With increasing frequency, cyberthieves are hijacking those futures, tapping the pristine Social Security numbers of children for adult purposes, enabling undocumented immigrants to gain employment and people with tainted credit to secure credit cards, mortgages and car loans, experts say.
Utah officials have started checking a state employment database with a list of Utah children on public aid, finding "thousands" of workers using children's identities to acquire jobs, according to Utah Assistant Attorney General Richard Hamp. In one recent case, nine people were using a 9-year-old's Social Security number to gain employment, Hamp said.
"I have prosecuted a number of those cases at this stage and can tell you -- I've got kids that are brick masons. I've got kids that are waitresses. I've got kids that are carpenters," Hamp said at the FTC forum.


A THEFT GOES UNDETECTED
Last year, about 8 percent of identity theft complaints came from victims 19 and younger, slightly more than the year before, according to the Federal Trade Commission. More than 140,000 children are victims of identity theft each year, according to ID Analytics, which sells identity fraud protection and based its estimate on a one-year review of children enrolled in its services.
Both figures are probably much higher, experts say, because parents typically don't monitor their child's credit report, assuming one should not exist. And even if they did, the fraud may go undetected by credit bureaus because identity thieves pair children's Social Security numbers with new names and birthdays.
Debix, which sells identity protection services, says it recently ran credit reports on 381 cases of confirmed child identity theft and found credit reports only turned up fraudulent activity in four cases, or 1 percent.
Child identity theft is driven largely by organized crime, but undocumented immigrants and family members are also using children's Social Security numbers to start new lives or pay bills, experts say. Foster children are particularly vulnerable to identity theft because their personal information is floating through the foster-care system, experts say.
Jaleesa Suell entered foster care when she was 8 years old and was placed in six different foster families. At some point, someone used her identity to apply for a credit card, she said.
When Jaleesa turned 21 last year, she said she was denied her first credit card. Then she noticed on her credit report an account opened when she was 17 with payments in default. Despite six months of corresponding with credit bureaus and the bank, she has been unable to have the fraudulent payments removed.
She fears the issue won't be resolved in time for graduation when she will need credit to rent an apartment -- a cruel irony for someone who grew up in foster care.
"I've spent my life wondering if I'll have a place to stay," she said. "And now that my identity is stolen I find myself in the same circumstance."
To combat identity theft among foster children, Rep. Jim Langevin (D-R.I.) has introduced legislation that would require states to annually obtain their credit reports and prohibit states from using their Social Security numbers to identify them.
"These youth already face so many unique challenges and it is unconscionable that we are seeing more and more evidence of identity theft that further hinders their ability to become self-sufficient young adults," Langevin said in a statement.

Jaleesa Suell's identity was stolen while she was 17 and in foster care.


17 YEARS OLD AND $725,000 IN DEBT
In the largest study on child identity theft to date, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University found that 10 percent of children were victims of identity theft, compared with less than 1 percent of adults.
Though not scientific, the study, which was published this spring, analyzed more than 800,000 records, including 40,000 belonging to minors, that were compromised by data breaches in 2009 and 2010. The information was provided by Debix, which sells identity theft services and offers free scans for parents who want to find out if a credit file exists on their child.
The stolen identities were used to purchase homes and cars, open credit card accounts, gain employment and obtain driver's licenses, the report found. The youngest victim was five months old. In one case, eight people are suspected of opening 42 accounts and incurring more than $725,000 in debt using a 17-year-old's Social Security number.
Many child identity thefts begin with a cyber attack, according to Bo Holland, chief executive of Debix. Hackers are now using computer viruses and botnets, or networks of infected computers, to search for specific documents on computers such as tax records and health records, which contain children's Social Security numbers, Holland said.
Once stolen, children's Social Security numbers are sold to human traffickers or thieves looking to open fraudulent credit accounts, authorities say. Last fall, two men in Newark, Del., were convicted of stealing the identities of more than 93 victims, including 44 children, and using them to open 343 credit cards, 54 bank accounts and two shell businesses over six years, resulting in about $1 million in losses.
Gerald.Smith@huffingtonpost.com

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Little Known Facts #712345


Average number of people airborne over the US at any given hour: 61,000

Saddled With Debt, Students Selling Themselves To Pay Loans




On a Sunday morning in late May, Taylor left her Harlem apartment and boarded a train for Greenwich, Conn. She planned on spending the day with a man she had met online, but not in person.
Taylor, a 22-year-old student at Hunter College, had confided in her roommate about the trip and they agreed to swap text messages during the day to make sure she was safe.
Once in Greenwich, a man who appeared significantly older than his advertised age of 42 greeted Taylor at the train station and then drove her to the largest house she had ever seen. He changed into his swimming trunks, she put on a skimpy bathing suit, and then, by the side of his pool, she rubbed sunscreen into the folds of his sagging back -- bracing herself to endure an afternoon of sex with someone she suspected was actually about 30 years her senior.
Taylor doubted that her client could relate to someone who had grown up black and poor in the South Bronx. While he summered on Martha's Vineyard, she'd likely pass another July and August working retail in Times Square.
A love match it wasn't. But then again, this was no ordinary date.
A month prior, faced with about $15,000 in unpaid tuition and overdue bills, Taylor and her roommate typed "tuition," "debt," and "money for school" into Google. A website calledSeekingArrangement.com popped up. Intrigued by the promise of what the site billed as a "college tuition sugar daddy," Taylor created a "sugar baby" profile and eventually connected with the man from Greenwich. ("Taylor" is the pseudonym she uses with men she meets online. Neither she nor any of the other women interviewed for this article permitted their real names be used.)
In her profile on the site, Taylor describes herself as "a full-time college student studying psychology and looking to meet someone to help pay the bills." Photos on the site show her in revealing outfits, a mane of caramel-colored hair framing her face. But unlike other dating sites, where a user might also list preferred hobbies or desired traits, Taylor instead indicates preferences for a "sugar daddy" and an "arrangement" in the range of $1,000 to $3,000 a month.
Saddled with piles of student debt and a job-scarce, lackluster economy, current college students and recent graduates are selling themselves to pursue a diploma or pay down their loans. An increasing number, according to the the owners of websites that broker such hook-ups, have taken to the web in search of online suitors or wealthy benefactors who, in exchange for sex, companionship, or both, might help with the bills.






The past few years have taken an especially brutal toll on the plans and expectations of 20-somethings. As unemployment rates tick steadily higher, starting salaries have plummeted. Meanwhile, according to Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, a professor of psychology at Clark University, about 85 percent of the class of 2011 will likely move back in with their parents during some period of their post-college years, compared with 40 percent a decade ago.
Besides moving back home, many 20-somethings are beginning their adult lives shouldering substantial amounts of student loan debt. According to Mark Kantrowitz, who publishes the financial aid websites Fastweb.com and Finaid.org, while the average 2011 graduate finished school with about $27,200 in debt, many are straining to pay off significantly greater loans.
Enter the sugar daddy, sugar baby phenomenon. This particular dynamic preceded the economic meltdown, of course. Rich guys well past their prime have been plunking down money for thousands of years in search of a tryst or something more with women half their age -- and women, willingly or not, have made themselves available. With the whole process going digital, women passing through a system of higher education that fosters indebtedness are using the anonymity of the web to sell their wares and pay down their college loans.
"Over the past few years, the number of college students using our site has exploded," says Brandon Wade, the 41-year-old founder of Seeking Arrangement. Of the site's approximately 800,000 members, Wade estimates that 35 percent are students. "College students are one of the biggest segments of our sugar babies and the numbers are growing all the time."
Wade identifies clients who might be students on his site by a .edu email address, which the site verifies before it will allow a profile to become active. Currently, 82,510 profiles on the site contain one or more of the following keywords: school, college, university, money for school, student debt, college debt, tuition or college expenses. Wade says 110,126 women and 25,363 men list "student" as their occupation.
Wade rewards students who use a .edu email address to register on Seeking Arrangement by automatically upgrading their free, basic membership to a premium membership, allowing them to send unlimited free messages and granting them exclusive access to the site's cadre of VIP sugar daddies. The site also includes a complimentary stamp on sudent profiles, certifying them as a "college sugar baby."
Wade sees his company as providing a unique service, a chance for "men and women living through tough economic times to afford college." He bristles at the notion that he's merely running a thinly veiled, digital bordello, choosing instead to describe his site as one that facilitates "mutually beneficial relationships."
Taylor doesn't explicitly refer to what she was doing in Greenwich as prostitution, but she now allows that her primary motivation was, indeed, money. She and her host ended up in his bedroom, where he peeled off her bikini.
"I just wanted to get it over and done with as quickly as possible," recalls Taylor, forcing out a nervous smile. "I just wanted to get out of that situation as safely as possible, pay off my debt, and move on."
While she and her host hadn't agreed to a set amount of money, on the drive back to the train station in Greenwich he handed her $350 in cash. She pocketed the envelope, seeing it as decent money for half a day's work. But once on the train and no longer worried for her safety, she started to agonize over what she had just done.
"I never thought it would come to this. I got on the train and I felt dirty. I mean, I had just gotten money for having sex," says Taylor, who never heard from the guy in Greenwich again. "I guess I accomplished what I needed to do. I needed the money for school. I just did what needed to be done."
And she's still doing what needs to be done. With tuition due in September to pay for her last semester of college, Taylor's back on the hunt for other, more lucrative online hookups.
WHO ARE THESE GUYS?
"It's a very expensive job," says Jack, a 70-year-old sugar daddy, who describes himself as a "humanitarian" interested in helping young women in financial need. Jack isn't the name that appears on his American Express black card, but an identity he uses when shopping online for companionship and sex.
Jack says he meets up twice a week with a young woman from Seeking Arrangement. He typically forks over about $500 a night -- and that's not including lavish dinners at Daniel or shopping excursions on Madison Avenue.
"Unlike a traditional escort service, I was surprised to find such an educated, smart population," says Jack, during cocktail hour recently at the Ritz-Carlton in Manhattan. He said he lives next door in a penthouse apartment overlooking Central Park South and pays $22,000 a month in rent.
In his profile on Seeking Arrangement, Jack describes himself as a 67-year-old with a bachelor's degree. Prior to retiring, the divorced Charleston, S.C., native says he founded four financial services companies. But after taking a big hit in the financial crisis and being forced to downsize, Jack says he had to part ways with his private jet due to what he describes as "reduced circumstances." On the site, he lists his annual income as $1 million and his net worth as something between $50 and $100 million.
While sugar babies can create profiles on Seeking Arrangement free of charge and a regular sugar daddy membership costs $50 each month, Jack pays $2,400 a year to belong to the Diamond Club. For a sugar daddy willing to pay up, the site says it verifies his identity, annual income, and net worth and then ensures his profile gets the most traction by continually allowing it to pop up in the top tier of search results.
Educated, debt-ridden 20-somethings happen to be an age demographic that intersects nicely with Jack's preferences. "I only go out with girls 25 and under," says Jack, whose thick head of white hair and bushy eyebrows form a halo around a red, flushed face. "But I can't walk into a bar and go up to a 25-year-old. They'd think I'm a pervert. So, this is how I go about meeting them."
As he continues, he repeatedly glances over his shoulder to make sure no one is listening.
"Most of these young women have debt from school," says Jack, who finds most young women also carry an average of $8,000 in credit-card debt. "I guess I like the college girls more because I think of their student debt as good debt. At least it seems like I'm helping them out, like I'm helping them to get a better life."
"By the way, how old are you?" he asks, inching closer.
"Older than 25," I respond.
amanda.m.fairbanks@huffingtonpost.com

Trash Inc. Giving Garbage a Second Life


CNBC’s Carl Quintanilla goes inside a $52 billion a year industry. — and it's pure gold for companies like Waste Management and Republic Services who dominate this $52 billion-a-year industry. From curbside collection by trucks costing $250,000 each, to per-ton tipping fees at landfills, there's money to be made at every point as more than half of the 250 million tons of trash created in the United States each year reaches its final resting place.


At a cost of $1 million per acre to construct, operate and ultimately close in an environmentally feasible method, modern landfills are technological marvels — a far cry from the town dump that still resonates in most people's perceptions. Not only do they make money for their owners, they add millions to the economic wellbeing of the towns that house them. Technologies, such as Landfill Natural Gas and Waste To Energy, are giving garbage a second life, turning trash into power sources and helping to solve mounting problems. It's particularly important in places like Hawaii, where disposal space is an issue, and in China, where land and energy are needed and trash is plentiful. One sure thing about the garbage business: it's always picking up.

Lead With Love- Whether kids are gay or straight, family love is key





"It was like he kicked me. … I came home and I cried. … It was crushing … a slap in the face." Those are the voices of parents remembering the day their children told them they were gay, lesbian or bisexual. The parents are featured in a new documentary film called Lead With Love. The message of the film: Such reactions are common in a world that still often rejects gay people — but the sooner parents can move past their shock and offer their children acceptance and love, the better.


Acceptance can be a matter of life and death, says David Huebner, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Utah. He produced the 35-minute film with colleagues and posted it online a few weeks ago (at leadwithlovefilm.com) in hopes of reaching as many parents as possible.


 Driving his urgency: His own studies and others that show gay youths rejected by their parents, in big or small ways, are more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol, have unprotected sex, become depressed and attempt suicide. In recent months, media attention has focused on gay teens who killed themselves after they were bullied by peers. But rejection by parents plays an underappreciated role in the struggles of gay youths, Huebner says.





 "You hear anecdotes about people who disown their children and throw them out," Huebner says. But more common forms of rejection, such as complaints about "gay" clothing or pleas for teens to delay coming out to the wider world, can hurt more deeply than parents know, he says. "Parents don't react badly because they are horrible people or hate their kids," he says. "They react badly because they care so much and they are worried." Jody Huckaby, executive director of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (pflag.org), a national advocacy group, says: "This film really communicates the honest struggles that many families have," while sending the message that "family acceptance is the key to young people's success … and that's true whether they are straight or gay."


 Jan Wood, 52, a mom from Salt Lake City featured in the film, says she was scared when her then-16-year-old daughter, Lauren, announced that she had a girlfriend. "She was popular, captain of the swim team, class president," Wood says. "I thought that this was going to destroy all of that for her." She and her husband urged their daughter not to tell too many people about her sexual orientation and to try dating some boys.


 Today, she says, they understand that by the time Lauren talked to them, she had known for a long time that boys didn't interest her in that way. "They reacted very well, considering the society in which we live," says Lauren Wood, now 22. "The first thing they said was, 'We support you and we love you.' So I knew it was going to be OK." Not everyone gets to "OK" quickly, Huebner says, but "we're trying to get parents to react a little bit better, a little bit sooner." To that end, the film offers the mainstream scientific view on homosexuality — that it is a normal biological variation, not a choice or an illness. 


Some, but not all, religious groups label it a sin, but most also ask parents to love and support their gay children, the film notes. The filmmakers suggest four specific ways to do that, with the acronym LEAD: •Let your affection show. Keep up the hugs, back pats and praise. •Express your pain away from your child. Talk to understanding family members, friends or a counselor. •Avoid rejecting behaviors. Even a few cutting remarks can hurt a vulnerable young person. •Do good before you feel good. In other words, do all of the above even if you are hurt, angry or depressed, Huebner says: "Fake it until you make it."

 By Kim Painter