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Two Diseases Big Pharma Hopes You Get in 2014

By Martha Rosenberg | Dissident Voice | February 6, 2014

Most of us have our guard up when it comes to direct-to-consumer drug advertising. We know the butterflies, sunsets and puppies in the TV ads are designed to distract us from words like “blood clot”, “heart attack”, “stroke”, “seizure”, “life-threatening allergic reaction” and “death.” We are aware that more than half the ads tells us why we don’t want to ask our doctor about the new wonder drug.

Unbranded advertising, however, is much more insidious. Instead of selling a drug, it sells the disease driving the drug sales and sometimes doesn’t mention the drug at all.

Unbranded advertising often appears to be from the CDC and can even run free as a public service announcement thanks to its apparently altruistic message. The hallmark of unbranded advertising is it calls the disease it is hawking (whether depression, bipolar disorder or restless legs) “under diagnosed,” and “underreported” and cites “barriers” and “stigmas to treatment” which of course means sales. Sometimes it calls the disease a “silent killer” to scare people who think they’re fine. (Before drug advertising it was the opposite: the medical establishment said you were probably fine despite how you felt.)

Do You Have Non-24 Hour Sleep Wake Disorder?

“You can’t see me because of radio… and I can’t see you because I’m totally blind.” So begins a high saturation radio campaign that launched late last year to boost “awareness” of an obscure circadian rhythm disorder called Non-24 Hour Sleep Wake Disorder in typical unbranded drug marketing fashion. How obscure is Non-24? There are only 146 citations for the disorder in the entire US National Library of Medicine. By comparison, there are 8,463 citations for the plague.

The narrator says his blindness doesn’t “hold me back” but he often “struggles to keep up” because he is not “sleeping through the night.” He then says, “Sound familiar? You’re not alone!” The ads are from the Washington, DC-based drug company Vanda whose drug candidate for people who are blind and have Non-24, Hetlioz, received an FDA Advisory Committee recommendation for approval in January which means the FDA will likely approve it. Hetlioz is said to be chemically related to the sleeping pill marketed as Rozerem (Ramelteon).

Of course the development of “orphan drugs” that treat such a small part of the population (like the blind) they are not commercially viable is laudable. But orphan drugs are not usually accompanied by multimillion dollar ad campaigns and slick websites. (Nor are important messages for the blind usually on the Web.) Is there something disingenuous going on? For example, under “Could You Have Non-24?” on the site, it says “The key symptoms of Non-24 are the inability to sleep or stay asleep and a powerful urge to sleep during the day” with no mention of blindness. A longer list on the site mentions waking up “groggy,” being “less productive than usual at work or at school,” relationships that “are strained,” “sluggishness and forgetfulness,” mood that is “affected” and frustration “because no one seems to understand what you’re going through,” and also doesn’t mention blindness.

You don’t have to be a cynic to wonder if the new disease–and the drug that will treat it if approved– is actually being marketed to the hundreds of millions of adults with sleep problems. When I called the phone number and asked the “health educator” if I could have Non-24 even though I am not blind, I was told “you don’t have to be blind to have Non-24″ though it is more common in blind people. When I asked if there was a pill I could take if I had symptoms, my educator said he was unable to answer that because, “I am not a doctor,” but promised to send me more information.

Getting a pill approved by the FDA so it can be legally sold and then widening its apparent uses through ad campaigns is called off-label marketing and it is strictly illegal. Since the lab tests and clinical trials that would establish safety for a new condition haven’t been done, patients are guinea pigs. Almost all recent major settlements with drug companies revolve around off-label marketing of drugs including Johnson & Johnson’s Risperdal, Bristol-Myers Squibb’s Abilify, Eli Lilly’s Zyprexa, GlaxoSmithKline’s Paxil, Pfizer’s Neurontin, Bextra, Geodon and Lyrica, AstraZeneca’s Seroquel, Ortho-McNeil-Janssen’s Topamax, Forest Laboratories’ Celexa and Lexapro and Abbott’s Depakote.

“15,000 elderly people in nursing homes [are] dying each year from the off-label use of anti-psychotic medications,” testified FDA drug reviewer David Graham, MD, during congressional hearings, adding that Pharma is “laughing all the way to the bank.”

Selling the “disease” of Non-24 is reminiscent of the campaign to sell Shift Work Sleep Disorder two years ago. “Do you work a nontraditional work schedule?” asked the ads for Cephalon’s stimulant Nuvigil . “Do you struggle to stay awake?” You may be suffering from Shift Work Sleep Disorder! Soon there was an unbranded website called the Wake-Up Squad to sell the disease without ever mentioning the drug. The Wake-Up Squad is “on a mission to lead the fight against Shift Work Disorder,” it announced, offering facts and myths about the disease and a big red headline that asked “Are You At Risk?”

Both the hypothyroidism and Non-24 unbranded ad campaigns are so general, they apply to almost everyone. They bring us closer to what comedian Chris Rock predicted drug advertising would become, in a TV special: “Do you fall asleep at night and wake up in the morning? You may be suffering from…”.

Do You Have Undiagnosed Hypothyroidism?

From Joan Lunden and Mike Piazza who sold Claritin to Dorothy Hamill and Bruce Jenner who sold Vioxx, celebrity drug advertising is often phenomenally successful. No wonder the drug company AbbVie has selected actress Sofia Vergara to lead its hypothyroidism campaign.

Emmy-nominated actress Sofia Vergara is helping to raise awareness about the importance of diagnosing and treating hypothyroidism,” read a press release last spring, “a thyroid condition that affects millions of Americans.” Her campaign, called “Follow the Script,” funded by AbbVie, “aims to educate individuals with hypothyroidism about the importance of being consistent with the treatment their doctor prescribes, and provides a ‘script’ to ensure they consistently receive the medication prescribed by their doctor when they visit the pharmacy.” Ka-ching.

While hypothyroidism certainly exists (as do other kinds of thyroid disorders) Vergara’s campaign capitalizes on the gray areas in its diagnosis and the well-documented human tendency to self-diagnosis, by planting fear and doubt. For example, the AbbVie press release says, “Thyroid conditions affect an estimated 30 million individuals in the U.S.” and “one in every eight women will develop a thyroid condition in her lifetime.” Yet Harvard Health Publications at Harvard Medical School places the figure at 12 million.

Commensurate with unbranded advertising a.k.a. “disease mongering” Vergara’s “Follow the Script” campaign website features “interactive polls, symptom and treatment information,” “stories and videos from other individuals with hypothyroidism,” and a chance for visitors to “share their own experiences.” In classic unbranded pill marketing, the site also provides “helpful ‘scripts’ for speaking with your doctor and pharmacist”–so patients don’t go all the way to the doctor and fail to ring the cash register.

AbbVie was formed in early 2013 when Abbott, located near Chicago, split into two companies, with AbbVie to concentrate on the blockbuster Humira, which made it $2 billion in one quarter of 2013. But Synthroid, the thyroid supplement drug behind Vergara’s campaign, enjoyed almost 25 percent growth last year and accounted for $153 million during the same quarter. Synthroid is the nation’s leading thyroid supplement drug despite going off patent decade ago, because it is widely perceived as more stable than competitor and generic versions of the drug.

Lest no potential customers miss the fact that hypothyroidism is an under diagnosed, under-reported major health problem with barriers and stigmas to treatment, a “National Academy of Hypothyroidism” also now exists. The first thing visitors to the site will see is a slide of an overweight woman on a scale with the brazen headline “Is Your Thyroid Making You Fat”? Visitors will also learn that hypothyroidism could be causing their stress, depression and chronic pain just as lack of hormones or antidepressants caused them ten years ago. There is even a perk for sufferers of hypothyroidism. The Academy tells them how to apply for disability benefits for their hypothyroidism. Just trying to help!

February 7, 2014 Posted by | Deception, Timeless or most popular | , , , , | Comments Off on Two Diseases Big Pharma Hopes You Get in 2014

US penalizes companies for doing business with Iran

Press TV – February 7, 2014

The United States has penalized nearly three dozen companies and individuals in eight countries, accusing them of evading unilateral sanctions against Iran.

The move is aimed at blunting “an atmosphere of optimism” that has resulted from an interim nuclear deal reached between Iran and six world powers late last year, the New York Times reports.

The US Treasury Department said the targeted entities operated in Turkey, Spain, Germany, Georgia, Afghanistan, Iran, Liechtenstein and the United Arab Emirates.

The announcement marks the second time the Obama administration has penalized businesses since the deal was inked on November 24 and put into effect last month.

As part of the current agreement, the West offered Tehran modest sanctions relief in return for Iran taking steps to limit its uranium enrichment activities. The deal called for negotiation of a full agreement within a year.

Many members of Congress and Israel have denounced the agreement, arguing that the easing of sanctions disproportionately favored Iran.

Washington has said it will continue to enforce existing sanctions until a more comprehensive deal is reached. “We strongly believe that sustaining sanctions pressure will be critical,” a senior US Treasury Department official said in a conference call with reporters on Thursday.

A recent visit to Iran by a French delegation of more than 100 businesspeople has greatly irritated senior US officials.

Secretary of State John Kerry called his French counterpart, Laurent Fabius, on Tuesday to express concern about the business delegation.

In testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday, Wendy Sherman, under secretary of state for political affairs and the Obama administration’s top negotiator with Iran, said Kerry and other senior US officials believe these trade visits are “not helpful.”

“Tehran is not open for business because our sanctions relief is quite temporary, quite limited and quite targeted,” Sherman said.

David Cohen, top Treasury sanctions official, also warned that companies or governments still risk heavy penalties under United Nations, US or European sanctions if they expanded trade with Iran.

The Treasury prohibits companies and individuals from carrying out financial transactions with Iran under US jurisdiction.

February 7, 2014 Posted by | Corruption, Economics, Wars for Israel | , , , , | Comments Off on US penalizes companies for doing business with Iran

The Center for American Progress and the Nullify NSA Movement

By Tracy Rosenburg | CounterPunch | February 7, 2014

The prominent  Democratic website Think Progress recently took aim at the anti-NSA surveillance movement with a warning to “Beware of Libertarians Bearing Gifts”. The blog suggests bipartisan alliances between civil liberties advocates and libertarians will sink the New Deal, which some might say is already taking on a bit of water.

The direct target of authors Zack Beauchamp and Ian Millhiser is the Offnow.org coalition, a partnership anchored by the right-wing Tenth Amendment Center and the left-wing Bill of Rights Defense Committee.*

The premise of Offnow is local legislation in states, counties, and universities to make it policy to dis-invest in mass surveillance. Twelve state legislatures have introduced versions of the 4th Amendment Act (Alaska, Arizona, California, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Vermont and Washington).  The big target is Utah, home of the huge Utah Data Center in Bluffdale, where the provision of 1.7 million gallons of water by the state every day cools the huge supercomputers.

Think Progress’s objection to turning off the utilities on the NSA emanates from a liberal nightmare of a state like Texas darkening health clinics for poor people or cutting off water supplies to voting rights attorneys.

Let me be clear. I buy the idea that nutty contingents of the Tea Party might advocate for such things. Texas’s recent foray into fetal survival within the carcass of a deceased woman is evidence to never say never. But there is one basic difference.

Mass blanket surveillance of telephone metadata, email and Internet searches without individualized warrants and probable cause, is unconstitutional. The Bill of Rights doesn’t allow it. Congress didn’t approve it. The American public didn’t know about it until a certain contractor took a trip to Hong Kong. The idea Think Progress is embracing – the rogue activities of the NSA are established government policy – isn’t true.

Even the unaccountable secret FISC court has agreed: “The Obama administration, under pressure from continued NSA leaks, declassified documents Wednesday showing the agency scooped up tens of thousands of emails and other online communications from Americans beginning in 2008 that it wasn’t allowed to target, and was told to stop by the secret court that oversees the program”.

The Dems at The Center for American Progress also seem stricken by an attack of amnesia about the long tradition of local disinvestment movements to impact American policy – by progressives.

The anti-apartheid movement advocated for disinvestment in South Africa under apartheid from both private and public sources including state universities. By 1984, 53 U.S institutions divested, by 1987, 128 including the University of California. By the end of 1989, 26 states, 22 counties and over 90 cities had taken some form of binding economic action against companies doing business in South Africa. Most of this pre-dated the 1986 Comprehensive Apartheid Act by Congress.

Over 110 American cities have declared themselves sanctuary cities that will provide limited or no local cooperation with the Secure Communities deportation program run by the Department of Homeland Security.

Vermont, the state most often described as a progressive Disneyland has developed a virtual cottage industry in defying the federal government. In just the last few years, the state has authorized hemp growing without a permit, passed a law prohibiting patent trolling not addressed by the US Patent Act, opted out of the Affordable Care Act, and has considered a GMO labeling bill, currently stalled by litigation threats from Monsanto.

If the New Deal is sinking, the most progressive state in the nation appears to be steadily poking holes in the hull of the boat.

In the latest version of “you’re with us or you’re against us”, the Center for American Progress has embraced an a-historical definition of progressivism that prioritizes not sleeping with the enemy over principled dissent against unconstitutional activities.

The last line of the Think Progress article is “Ideology matters”.

Does it really matter more than justice?

*Disclaimer: Media Alliance, my organization, recently joined the Offnow coalition.

Tracy Rosenberg is the executive director of Media Alliance (www.media-alliance.org), an Oakland CA-based democratic communications advocacy organization. Research assistance with this article was provided by Alexander Houk.

February 7, 2014 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Corruption, Progressive Hypocrite | , , , , , | Comments Off on The Center for American Progress and the Nullify NSA Movement

‘F**k the EU’: Senior US State Dept. official caught in alleged phone chat on Ukraine

RT | February 7, 2014

A senior US State Department official has allegedly been caught giving an unexpected message to the EU while discussing Ukrainian opposition leaders’ roles in the country’s future government. The phone call was taped and posted on YouTube.

“F**k the EU,” Assistant Secretary of State for Europe Victoria Nuland allegedly said in a recent phone call with US ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt, as the two were discussing a deal to end the crisis in Ukraine.

The four-minute video – titled ‘Maidan puppets,’ referring to Independence Square in Ukraine’s capital – was uploaded by an anonymous user. The origin of the recording is not clear. The video was first reported in the Kyiv Post.

The US State Department did not deny the authenticity of the video and stressed that Nuland had apologized for the “reported comments.”

The conversation is mainly focused on Ukraine’s government and President Viktor Yanukovich’s offer last month to make opposition leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk the new prime minister and Vitaly Klitschko deputy prime minister.

“I don’t think that Klitschko should go into the government. I don’t think it is necessary. I don’t think it is a good idea,” a female voice – allegedly Nuland – said.

“In terms of him not going into the government, just let him stay out and do his political homework,” a male voice – believed to be Pyatt – replied. “In terms of the process moving ahead, we want to keep the moderate democrats together,” he said.

As Nuland sees it, Ukrainian opposition leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk should be in charge of the new government and Klitschko would not get along with him. “It’s just not going to work,” she said.

Nuland added that she has also been told that UN chief Ban Ki-moon is about to appoint the former Dutch ambassador to Kiev, Robert Serry, as his representative to Ukraine.

“That would be great I think to help glue this thing and have the UN glue it and you know, f**k the EU,” she said in apparent reference to their differences over policies.

“We’ve got to do something to make it stick together, because you can be pretty sure that if it does start to gain altitude the Russians will be working behind the scenes to try to torpedo it,” Pyatt replied.

US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki declined to comment on the tape’s contents, but did not deny its authenticity.

“I did not say it was not authentic,” she said, adding that Nuland had apologized to her EU counterparts for the reported comments.

Meanwhile, White House spokesman Jay Carney alleged that the fact that it had been “tweeted out by the Russian government, it says something about Russia’s role.”

In the conversation, it sounds like the two officials are playing a game of chess; strategizing on how to put together the government of another country, RT’s Marina Portnaya said while commenting on the report.

Foreign policy expert Nebojsa Malic told RT that even though Nuland apologized for the reported comments, she did not admit her fault in trying to overthrow the government in Ukraine.

“What she hasn’t apologized for is the plans to midwife a new government in Ukraine. In other words, she is apologizing for cussing up the EU, but she is not apologizing for trying to overthrow the government in Kiev, calling it popular democracy,” Malic said. “I don’t think anybody in the US establishment is sorry for what they are trying to do. I think they are very proud of it and they are going to pursue it.”

The leaked chat fuels earlier allegations that Washington is heavily meddling in the Ukrainian political crisis by manipulating the pro-EU opposition and helping it in its efforts to oust President Viktor Yanukovich.

Back in December, Victoria Nuland was spotted in the cradle of the anti-government protests – Kiev’s landmark Independence Square – distributing cookies to demonstrators. Later in the month, Senator John McCain arrived in Kiev to show his support for the opposition. Addressing protesters on Independence Square, he stated that Ukraine’s future was with Europe, adding that the country would “make Europe better.”

February 7, 2014 Posted by | Deception, Video | , , , | 1 Comment

Israel demolished 27 Jordan Valley homes in January

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Ma’an – 07/02/2014

BETHLEHEM – Israeli forces destroyed 27 homes in the occupied Jordan Valley in January, according to Israeli rights group B’Tselem, leaving 147 people homeless.

Nearly half of those displaced were children and 65 people lived in communities that had been demolished more than once by Israel, B’Tselem said.

On Wednesday, the International Committee of the Red Cross said it would stop providing tents to Palestinians whose homes had been demolished in the Jordan Valley because Israel would often confiscate them.

Last week, the UN humanitarian coordinator for the Palestinian territories criticized Israel’s demolition of Palestinian homes in the Jordan Valley.

“I am deeply concerned about the ongoing displacement and dispossession of Palestinians … along the Jordan Valley where the number of structures demolished more than doubled in the last year,” James Rawley said in a statement.

“This activity not only deprives Palestinians of access to shelter and basic services, it also runs counter to international law.”

The number of structures demolished by the Israeli authorities in the Jordan Valley in 2013 more than doubled, from 192 in 2012 to 393 in 2013.

Israel has said in recent negotiations that it is not willing to compromise security in the Jordan Valley, which forms a third of the occupied West Bank.

Over 90 percent of the Jordan Valley is designated as Area C, with illegal settlements controlling up to 50 percent of the land area.

February 7, 2014 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Illegal Occupation | , , , , , | Comments Off on Israel demolished 27 Jordan Valley homes in January

Head of Danish parliament’s planned visit to Palestine angers Israel

MEMO | February 7, 2014

Israel is angered that the head of the Danish parliament, Mogens Lykketoft, has scheduled a visit this weekend to Ramallah and the Gaza Strip, an itinerary that does not include Israel.

Israel’s Channel 10 television reported on Thursday that Lykketoft had informed the Israeli foreign ministry two months ago of his planned visit and asked to meet with his Israeli counterpart, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein. Edelstein replied that he is busy and suggested an alternate date; however, Lykketoft decided to continue with his visit as scheduled and suggested meeting with a lower level Israeli official instead, a move that angered the Israeli Foreign Ministry.

Channel 10 noted that in response, Edelstein slammed Lykketoft for insisting on visiting Ramallah and the Gaza Strip and threatened to sever ties with him. Israeli officials also told the news channel that, “Due to his conduct, we have no intention of letting him enter Gaza.”

The Speaker of the Danish Parliament’s visit comes after Denmark’s largest bank announced that it would be divesting from Israel’s major banks over their involvement with the Israeli settlements.

February 7, 2014 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism | , , , , | Comments Off on Head of Danish parliament’s planned visit to Palestine angers Israel

Israel forces TV station to stop broadcasting

Ma’an – 07/02/2014

BETHLEHEM – Israel’s threats against a Palestinian television station in Tulkarem forced its management to stop broadcasting, a Ramallah-based Palestinian media rights group reported Thursday.

Mada quoted Sheraa TV general director Mohamed Zeidan as saying that it received numerous threats from the Israeli army throughout the week that it must stop broadcasting immediately.

The army told the channel that its broadcasts were interfering with communications at its airport in Tel Aviv, according to the official.

Zeidan says the channel consulted technicians from the Palestinian Authority’s Ministry of Communications and Al-Najah University, who confirmed that the devices do not cause any such interference.

After they presented the Palestinian liaison center with proof, the Israeli military dropped its claims and said that the broadcasting was interfering with an Israeli TV broadcast, according to Zeidan.

“We have taken the decision to stop broadcasting two days ago until we find a solution to this issue, because it is no stranger to the occupation authorities to raid media outlets and confiscate broadcasting equipment, which cost us a fortune,” Zeidan said.

Mada, the rights group, condemned the pressure on the station.

“We call all countries and human rights organizations, to pressure Israel to respect freedom of expression, and a commit to international laws and agreements signed with the Palestinian National Authority,” it said.

Israel’s military did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

February 7, 2014 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Illegal Occupation | , , | Comments Off on Israel forces TV station to stop broadcasting

Venezuelan University Developing Experimental Bamboo for Green Homes

By Ryan Mallett-Outtrim | Venezuelanalysis | February 6, 2014

Merida  – Venezuelan researchers are studying ways to use bamboo to provide cheap, environmentally friendly housing.

With funding from the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation, students and educators at Venezuela’s Simon Bolivar University (USB) are undertaking research into improving the durability and lifespan of bamboo, along with conducting studies into possible uses of the material in housing construction.

Initial tests have already been carried out on experimental, reinforced bamboo developed at the university, according to a press release from the government’s National Foundation for Science and Technology (Fonacit). The foundation is supporting the study.

“The preliminary results were positive,” director of the USB’s Centre for Surface Engineering Professor Joaquín Lira stated.

Lira explained that the experimental bamboo has been strengthened with polymers mixed with ceramic powders. According to the professor, the reinforcing mixture succeeded in “plugging holes made by pests” and improved the uniformity of the material.

In a second phase of the study, researchers hope to construct a prototype apartment block with the reinforced bamboo. According to Lira, the modified bamboo is intended for future use as a “structural element for green, affordable housing”.

A mission to provide affordable housing to the country’s poor was launched by former president Hugo Chavez, has been continued under his successor, President Nicolas Maduro. By the end of last year, over 500,000 homes had been constructed since mid 2011 under the housing mission, according to the government. The Maduro administration has committed to constructing three million new homes by 2019. Although current construction figures are behind schedule, the government has pledged to speed up building.

Lira argued that bamboo is a logical choice for construction material in South America.

“Venezuela , Brazil and Colombia are countries with high production potential for… bamboo…adapted for construction,” Lira stated.

“In these countries, it’s estimated that there are 11 million hectares of bamboo,” the professor said.

The USB is sourcing its bamboo from 200 growers in Aragua state.

Bamboo is one of the fastest growing plants in the world. It can reportedly grow as much as 250cm in 24 hours, depending on climate and soil conditions. Lira also argued that bamboo is cheaper than other construction materials, strong and environmentally friendly.

However, the professor indicated that more research should be undertaken, particularly to reduce bamboo’s susceptibility to insects.

“Technically, we know little about bamboo [construction],” Lira stated, though the plant has been used in buildings for centuries.

“There are three story homes, bridges and churches built with this plant,” Lira said.

The research is expected to be completed by the first quarter of 2015.

February 7, 2014 Posted by | Economics, Environmentalism, Science and Pseudo-Science, Timeless or most popular | , , , | Comments Off on Venezuelan University Developing Experimental Bamboo for Green Homes