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Surgeon General Vivek Murthy Abandons Public Health for E-Cig Hysteria 

REUTERS/Jason Reed

Guy Bentley writes: Anti-e-cigarette alarmism reached fever pitch Thursday, with the release of the surgeon general’s first-ever report on youth e-cigarette use.

“While Murthy is correct to point out that vaping is not entirely safe, the report totally evades how much safer it is than smoking. This omission fails the most elementary rule of analysis whenever one is discussing the risks of e-cigarettes: Risky compared to what?”

Purporting to be the country’s most scientifically-sound report into the threats e-cigarettes pose to young people, it comes up woefully short and gives a fundamentally dishonest impression of the state of use and risks of vaping.

Man smoking e-cigarette

“These products are now the most commonly used form of tobacco among youth in the United States,” Surgeon General Vivek Murthy warns ominously. This language appears designed to sow maximum possible confusion about what e-cigarettes are and their dangers relative to tobacco cigarettes.

It is flat out wrong to describe vaping as a “form of tobacco use.” E-cigarettes contain zero tobacco and are up to 95 percent safer than regular cigarettes, according to the United Kingdom’s Royal College of Physicians. To imply the risks of vaping are in any way equivalent to the risks of smoking is a severe misrepresentation of the truth.

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The report makes great play of the surge in e-cigarette use among high school students. While the data cited are accurate, its presentation gives a highly misleading picture of teen e-cigarette use.

Murthy highlights data on middle and high school students who have ever used e-cigarettes or have used e-cigarettes in the past 30 days, showing dramatic increases since 2011. What Murthy doesn’t make clear is that the vast majority of teens using e-cigarettes do so only occasionally or experimentally.

Only around 1 percent of high schoolers vape daily. Many of them use vaping products with zero nicotine, which is the principal focus of the report’s health concerns. Read the rest of this entry »

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Donald Trump Chooses Tom Price as Health Secretary

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Price has led efforts to craft a GOP alternative to the spectacularly unpopular Affordable Care Act.

WASHINGTON— Louise Radnofsky and Peter Nicholas report: President-elect Donald Trump has chosen House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price (R., Ga.) as his nominee for secretary of the Health and Human Services Department, according to a transition team adviser, putting the six-term congressman in charge of the sprawling agency that will likely dismantle Democrats’ 2010 health-care overhaul.

“We think it’s important that Washington not be in charge of health care. The problem that I have with Obamacare is that its premise is that Washington knows best.”

Mr. Price, a 62-year-old former orthopedic surgeon, is one of several GOP physicians who sought to carve out a leading role in shaping the party’s health policy and, in particular, the party’s alternative vision to Democrats’ Affordable Care Act. Much of his criticism of the law has centered on the authority it gives to the federal government, and to the agency that he may now head.

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“There’s a genuine desire to have us coalesce around a single plan so that the American people can see who’s trying to solve these challenges. I wouldn’t draw any lines in the sand other than that the path that we’re on doesn’t work.”

“We think it’s important that Washington not be in charge of health care,” he said in an interview this summer. “The problem that I have with Obamacare is that its premise is that Washington knows best.”

[Read the full story here, at WSJ]

He has championed his own legislation, the Empowering Patients First Act, since 2009, taking a position on a number of hot-button issues for conservative health policy thinkers. In its latest iteration, the proposal includes refundable, age-adjusted tax credits for people to buy insurance if they don’t have access to coverage through an employer or government program. People in a government program, such as Medicare, Medicaid or Tricare, would also be allowed to opt out of it and get tax credits toward the cost of private coverage instead.

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius attends an event held in observance of World AIDS Day at the White House in Washington December 2, 2013. U.S. President Barack Obama and his HealthCare.gov website face another critical test starting this week, as Americans who have been unable to enroll in health coverage under Obamacare rush to a site that continues to face challenges. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius attends an event held in observance of World AIDS Day at the White House in Washington December 2, 2013. U.S. President Barack Obama and his HealthCare.gov website face another critical test starting this week, as Americans who have been unable to enroll in health coverage under Obamacare rush to a site that continues to face challenges. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Mr. Price had previously included tax deductions in his plans, a tool typically favored by harder-line conservative health policy thinkers, but said he had “moved towards credits because we felt it was cleaner.”

The plan offers a one-time credit aimed at boosting health savings accounts, long described by supporters as a way of bringing down medical spending, and derives part of its funding from capping how much employers can spend on providing employee health care before being taxed. The plan seeks to make health insurance available to individuals with pre-existing medical conditions by helping states set up new “high-risk” pools or other programs for such enrollees, and sets new rules allowing insurers to sell policies across state lines.

At every turn, he is confronted by the irrationalities and inconveniences of his own health-care law

At every turn, he is confronted by the irrationalities and inconveniences of his own health-care law

But Mr. Price, whose rise in the congressional ranks began at the conservative Republican Study Committee and then steadily climbed, has already said he is open to compromise with fellow GOP lawmakers on many points. Read the rest of this entry »


Kiss Kiss Bang Bang: Handgun Ownership Rising Most Quickly Among Women

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The almost amusing part of the report, however, was the seeming shock registered by the people at Harvard involved in the study.

Jazz Shaw writes: We hear repeated stories of how gun ownership is on the rise, but who are the people buying the guns? (We’re talking about legal purchases here obviously. The motives and opportunities for criminals are another issue.) It’s a complicated question because there is no “generic” lawful gun owner in the United States.

[Read the full story here, at Hot Air]

But Time Magazine is looking at one particular segment of American gun owners this week and it’s women who purchase a single firearm… specifically handguns. And the most common reason given is self-defense.

According to a new survey by public health officials at Harvard and Northeastern universities, women are more likely than men to report owning a gun for protection. The research, conducted in 2015 but previously unpublished, was recently obtained by The Guardian and The Trace.

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The data shows that, compared to men, American women are more likely to own a single handgun (as opposed to multiple guns). And as fewer men purchase guns, the proportional presence of female gun-owners is on the rise. Forty-three percent of individuals who own just a handgun are women, with almost a quarter of those women living in urban areas. The Guardian noted that female gun-owners were more likely to live in urban areas than their male counterparts, and called the data “the most definitive survey of US gun ownership in two decades.”

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A couple of decades ago this might have been seen as a shocking trend, but in 2016 it seems rather obvious. Men have been buying guns in larger numbers for a long time, but shifts in the social paradigm have made it far more common for women to catch up in this area. Read the rest of this entry »


The Misleading Uses, Flagrant Abuses, and Shoddy Statistics of Social Science About Gun Violence

campus-censorship

You Know Less Than You Think About Guns

Brian Doherty writes: “There is a gun for roughly every man, woman, and child in America,” President Barack Obama proclaimed after the October mass shooting that killed 10 at Umpqua Community College in Oregon. “So how can you, with a straight face, make the argument that more guns will make us safer? We know that states with the most gun laws tend to have the fewest gun deaths. So the notion that gun laws don’t work—or just will make it harder for law-abiding citizens and criminals will still get their guns—is not borne out by the evidence.”

In this single brief statement, Obama tidily listed the major questions bedeviling social science research about guns—while also embodying the biggest problem with the way we process and apply that research. The president’s ironclad confidence in the conclusiveness of the science, and therefore the desirability of “common-sense gun safety laws,” is echoed widely with every new mass shooting, from academia to the popular press to that guy you knew from high school on Facebook.

[Order Emily Miller’s book “Emily Gets Her Gun” from Amazon]

In April 2015, the Harvard gun-violence researcher David Hemenway took to the pages of the Los Angeles Times to declare in a headline: “There’s scientific consensus on guns—and the NRA won’t like it.” Hemenway insisted that researchers have definitively established “that a gun in the home makes it a more dangerous place to be…that guns are not used in self-defense far more often than they are used in crime…and that the change to more permissive gun carrying laws has not reduced crime rates.” He concludes: “There is consensus that strong gun laws reduce homicide.”

But the science is a lot less certain than that. What we really know about the costs and benefits of private gun ownership and the efficacy of gun laws is far more fragile than what Hemenway and the president would have us believe.

More guns do not necessarily mean more homicides. More gun laws do not necessarily mean less gun crime. Finding good science is hard enough; finding good social science on a topic so fraught with politics is nigh impossible. The facts then become even more muddled as the conclusions of those less-than-ironclad academic studies cycle through the press and social media in a massive game of telephone. Despite the confident assertions of the gun controllers and decades of research, we still know astonishingly little about how guns actually function in society and almost nothing at all about whether gun control policies actually work as promised.

Do More Guns Mean More Homicides?

“More Americans have died from guns in the United States since 1968 than on battlefields of all the wars in American history,” New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote on August 26, 2015, just after the grisly on-air murder of two television journalists in Virginia. It’s a startling fact, and true.

[See John R. Lott’s More Guns, Less Crime: Understanding Crime and Gun Control Laws, Third Edition (Studies in Law and Economics) at Amazon]

But do the number of guns in circulation correlate with the number of gun deaths? Start by looking at the category of gun death that propels all gun policy discussion: homicides. (Gun suicides, discussed further below, are a separate matter whose frequent conflation with gun crime introduces much confusion into the debate.)

In 1994 Americans owned around 192 million guns, according to the U.S. Justice Department’s National Institute of Justice. Today, that figure is somewhere between 245 and 328 million, though as Philip J. Cook and Kristin A. Goss in their thorough 2014 book The Gun Debate: What Everyone Needs to Know (Oxford University Press) wisely concluded, liberal-huh“the bottom line is that no one knows how many firearms are in private hands in the United States.” Still, we have reason to believe gun prevalence likely surpassed the one-gun-per-adult mark early in President Barack Obama’s first term, according to a 2012 Congressional Research Service report that relied on sales and import data.

Yet during that same period, per-capita gun murders have been cut almost in half.

One could argue that the relevant number is not the number of guns, but the number of people with access to guns. That figure is also ambiguous. A Gallup poll in 2014 found 42 percent of households claiming to own a gun, which Gallup reports is “similar to the average reported to Gallup over the past decade.” But those looking for a smaller number, to downplay the significance of guns in American life, can rely on the door-to-door General Social Survey, which reported in 2014 that only 31 percent of households have guns, down 11 percentage points from 1993’s 42 percent. There is no singular theory to explain that discrepancy or to be sure which one is closer to correct—though some doubt, especially as gun ownership continues to be so politically contentious, that people always reliably report the weapons they own to a stranger literally at their door.

woman-drawing-gun-from-holster

The gun murder rate in 1993 was 7.0 per 100,000, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention‘s (CDC) National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. (Those reports rely on death certificate reporting, and they tend to show higher numbers than the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting program, though both trend the same.) In 2000 the gun murder rate per 100,000 was 3.8. By 2013, the rate was even lower, at 3.5, though there was a slight upswing in the mid-00s.

This simple point—that America is awash with more guns than ever before, yet we are killing each other with guns at a far lower rate than when we had far fewer guns—undermines the narrative that there is a straightforward, causal relationship between increased gun prevalence and gun homicide. Even if you fall back on the conclusion that it’s just a small number of owners stockpiling more and more guns, it’s hard to escape noticing that even these hoarders seem to be harming fewer and fewer people with their weapons, casting doubt on the proposition that gun ownership is a political crisis demanding action.

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In the face of these trend lines—way more guns, way fewer gun murders—how can politicians such as Obama and Hillary Clinton so successfully capitalize on the panic that follows each high profile shooting? Partly because Americans haven’t caught on to the crime drop. A 2013 Pew Research Poll found 56 percent of respondents thought that gun crime had gone up over the past 20 years, and only 12 percent were aware it had declined.

Do Gun Laws Stop Gun Crimes?

The same week Kristof’s column came out, National Journal attracted major media attention with a showy piece of research and analysis headlined “The States With The Most Gun Laws See The Fewest Gun-Related Deaths.” The subhead lamented: “But there’s still little appetite to talk about more restrictions.”

Critics quickly noted that the Journal‘s Libby Isenstein had included suicides among “gun-related deaths” and suicide-irrelevant policies such as stand-your-ground laws among its tally of “gun laws.” That meant that high-suicide, low-homicide states such as Wyoming, Alaska, and Idaho were taken to task for their liberal carry-permit policies. Worse, several of the states with what the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence considers terribly lax gun laws were dropped from Isenstein’s data set because their murder rates were too low!

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Another of National Journal‘s mistakes is a common one in gun science: The paper didn’t look at gun statistics in the context of overall violent crime, a much more relevant measure to the policy debate. After all, if less gun crime doesn’t mean less crime overall—if criminals simply substitute other weapons or means when guns are less available—the benefit of the relevant gun laws is thrown into doubt. When Thomas Firey of the Cato Institute ran regressions of Isenstein’s study with slightly different specifications and considering all violent crime, each of her effects either disappeared or reversed.

Read the rest of this entry »


[VIDEO] Matt Jacobson and Tanya Rivero Discuss Maine Lobster Flavor & Fishing Rules

Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative executive director Matt Jacobson and WSJ’s Tanya Rivero discuss the highly lucrative Maine lobster market and efforts to maintain future fishing sustainability.

"This represents a complete collapse of our aquatic immigration system"

“Sustainability?”


Where Dietary-Fat Guidelines Went Wrong

From the Department of ‘We Got That Memo Already’

TIME

A little fat may not be harmful, while too much of it can be unhealthy, and even fatal. But in the latest review of studies that investigated the link between dietary fat and causes of death, researchers say the guidelines got it all wrong. In fact, recommendations to reduce the amount of fat we eat every day should never have been made.

Reporting in the journalOpenHeart, Zoe Harcombe, a researcher and Ph.D. candidate at University of the West of Scotland, and her colleagues say that the data decisionmakers had in 1977, when the first U.S. guidelines on dietary fat were made, did not provide any support for the idea that eating less fat would translate to fewer cases of heart disease, or that it would save lives.

[time-brightcove videoid=3619144914001]

“The bottom line is that there wasn’t evidence for those guidelines to be introduced,” she says. “One of the…

View original post 730 more words


[REWIND] Barack Obama 2008: ‘Americans… must know the health effects that are caused by the presence of mercury in vaccines’

obama-judgement-to-lead

Posted by Orac on April 22, 2008:

Well, so much for Hillary Clinton’s and Barack Obama’s reputations for supposedly being well-informed about scientific issues. True, they didn’t sink as far into the stupid as John McCain didabout vaccines and autism, but what they said was bad enough. Let’s put it this way: If David Kirbythinks what they said about vaccines and autism is just great, they seriously need to fire all their medical advisors and get new ones who know how to evaluate evidence:Obama-2008

No matter who wins in Pennsylvania today, the next President of the United States will support research into the growing evidence of some link between vaccines and autism.

Senator John McCain has already expressed his belief that vaccines and the mercury containing preservative thimerosal could be implicated in what he has rightly termed an “autism epidemic.”

Senator Hillary Clinton, in response to a questionaire from the autism activist group A-CHAMP, wrote that she was “Committed to make investments to find the causes of autism, including possible environmental causes like vaccines.” And when asked if she would support a study of vaccinated vs. unvaccinated children, she said: “Yes. We don’t know what, if any, kind of link there is between vaccines and autism – but we should find out.”

And now, yesterday, at a rally in Pennsylvania, Barack Obama had this rather surprising thing to say:

“We’ve seen just a skyrocketing autism rate. Some people are suspicious that it’s connected to the vaccines. This person included. The science right now is inconclusive, but we have to research it.”

True, this is not quite as bad as John McCain’s incredible ignorance, but it’s pretty bad.

Obama’s statement, even if the interpretation that his saying “this person included” was referring to someone in the crowd and not referring to himself, is nonetheless particularly ignorant and egregious. The science is quite conclusive thus far that vaccines do not cause autism and becomes more convincing every year. Obama is just plain wrong about implying that vaccines have something to do with an “autism epidemic,” and he was wrong when his campaign supplied this reply to a questionnaire sent to the candidates by A-CHAMP. I’m not going to go through all of the candidates’ responses to the questions, mainly because most of them consisted of only the most vacuous and vapid of soothing political pander-language that looks like it’s saying something but really isn’t. For example, this is Obama’s answer to one question:

Obama Change Not

Are you satisfied that the federal vaccine approval process is free of conflicts of interests, transparent and rigorous?

As President, I will conduct a thorough examination of all federal programs to ensure that they are effective and operating in the best interests of the American people. And I will ensure that sound and unbiased science, not ideology, guides decisions made in my administration.

That’s about as vacuous and controversy-free as a politician can make it, as is Hillary Clinton’s reply to the very same question:

I believe that we need independent, thorough, and comprehensive testing of all drugs, including vaccines, to make sure that they are safe and effective. I will ensure that the process of approving vaccines is based on science and research – not ideology or other motives. I will do everything I can to protect the health and well-being of American families.

Such boilerplate language doesn’t need a dose of Respectful Insolence™ because it says nothing of substance that is worth beating on for anything other than the fact that it says nothing of substance. However, this response by Barack Obama to the questionnaire does deserve a heapin’ helpin’ of not-so-Respectful Insolence™:

Do you believe there is an autism epidemic in the United States?

Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) is the fastest growing developmental disorder in the United Sates and, perhaps the world.. One in 150 children is diagnosed with ASD. These numbers can not be explained solely by increased awareness or changes to the diagnostic criteria. It is a health crisis and I will act accordingly. There are many Americans with special needs. They will have a partner in the federal government under my administration. Read the rest of this entry »


Dr. Ben Carson: No ‘Philosophical’ or ‘Religious’ Exemptions for Vaccinations

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Dr. Ben Carson, a likely 2016 GOP presidential contenders, believes there should be no “philosophical” or “religious” exemptions for vaccinations.

“Certain communicable diseases have been largely eradicated by immunization policies in this country and we should not allow those diseases to return by foregoing safe immunization programs, for philosophical, religious or other reasons when we have the means to eradicate them.”

“Although I strongly believe in individual rights and the rights of parents to raise their children as they see fit, I also recognize that public health and public safety are extremely important in our society,” Carson told The Hill. “Certain communicable diseases have been largely eradicated by immunization policies in this country and we should not allow those diseases to return by foregoing safe immunization programs, for philosophical, religious or other reasons when we have the means to eradicate them.”

Paul's amendment would ban laws that don’t apply equally to citizens and government. | AP Photo

The retired neurosurgeon’s comments came hours after New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), both of whom are likely 2016 presidential candidates and potential rivals, stirred up controversy with their takes on vaccinations after the Disneyland measles outbreak.

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On Monday, Christie called for a need for “balance” regarding vaccination before his office immediately clarified Christie’s comments, saying there is “no question” that kids should be vaccinated against a disease like measles.

Paul said he could not understand why his belief that most vaccinations should be “voluntary” is in any way “controversial.”

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“I guess being for freedom would be really unusual?” he said during a Monday CNBC appearance. “I don’t understand the point why that would be controversial.”

Paul said that “vaccines are one of the greatest medical breakthroughs” and he was a “great fan of the smallpox vaccine.” Read the rest of this entry »


The Devastating Impact of Vaccine Deniers


Democrats Lining Up to Oppose Obamas Anti-Gun Nominee For Surgeon General

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Katie Pavlich writes: President Obama’s anti-gun nominee for Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Hallegere Murthy, could go down in flames on the Senate floor. Murthy, who has a history of calling guns a “healthcare issue,” classifying guns as a “public health threat” and of slamming the National Rifle Association, is being opposed not by just Republicans, but numerous Democrats in an election year.

[See Emily Miller: Obama’s Surgeon General Nominee Dr. Vivek Murthy is a Radical Gun Grabber]

[Don’t miss our Exclusive: Interview with Obama’s Surgeon General Nominee Dr. Vivek Murthy]

Democratic Senate aides estimated on Monday that from eight to 10 Democrats may oppose Murthy’s nomination if the vote were to be held soon, mostly because of his left-leaning views on gun policy, which have attracted opposition from the National Rifle Association.

Read the rest of this entry »


Althouse: Did You Know Theres a “Corporate Consumption Complex” Conspiring to Make Us Think We Have a “Right” to Do Dangerous Things?

That’s what Nicholas Freudenberg says in “Lethal But Legal: Corporations, Consumption, and Protecting Public Health,” and Mark Bittman is writing about it in the NYT today:

It sounds creepy; it is creepy. But it’s also plain to see. Yes, it’s unlikely there’s a cabal that sits down and asks, “How can we kill more kids tomorrow?” But Freudenberg details how six industries — food and beverage, tobacco, alcohol, firearms, pharmaceutical and automotive — use pretty much the same playbook to defend the sales of health-threatening products….

There is no “playbook.” It’s just as if there were a playbook, because the 6 industries are all doing the same thing, which is simply the obvious thing: They don’t put their promotional resources into reminding you

This man thinks "Rights "need to be reexamined.

how their products could cause harm. Except to the extent that they do. I’ve seen liquor ads that tell you not to drink too much, and liquor ads don’t show people overindulging or even seeming tipsy. Ads for foods and drinks show slim models, which subliminally urges us to keep slim. Gun ads don’t scare us with the not-unknown news that these things could kill you, but gun companies promote gun safety — maybe not the gun safety policy some NYT readers prefer (i.e., no guns) — but safety features on guns and safe gun use. Car companies build safety features into their products and call attention to them in their ads.

But I notice the care Bittman took in the phrase “to defend the sales of health-threatening products.” The companies still want to sell their products, and if anyone threatens their sales, they go to an argument about the consumers’ role in choosing which products to buy, and that argument takes the form of “rights” talk:

All of these industries work hard to defend our “right” — to smoke, feed our children junk, carry handguns and so on — as matters of choice, freedom and responsibility. Their unified line is that anything that restricts those “rights” is un-American.

And that is the way we talk in America. We think we have rights, and we get stirred up when anyone seems to mobilize to take them away. It’s not surprising that successful marketers know what pitch works on us. There doesn’t need to be a playbook, but if you want to imagine an American playbook, that playbook is about freedom from constraints; it’s about  personal autonomy over the choices that affect our lives and, especially, our bodies.

Read the rest of this entry »


History of Sexually Transmitted Diseases

Attributed to Albrecht Dürer (1496). It is possible that this could be an early work of Durer, or just as likely the work of his master, Wolgemut. The 1484 refers to a planetary conjunction, not the date of the print. An early depiction of Syphilis which was still called 'French Disease' at the time.

A section of an illustration attributed to Albrecht Dürer (1496). It is possible that this could be an early work of Durer, or just as likely the work of his master, Wolgemut.

Did you know the original term for Syphilis was “The French Disease“, it made the flesh fall off your face, and killed millions of people? Ever wonder about state-of-the-art treatment for S.T.D.’s in the middle ages?

Did you know that in the 17th century, patients with syphilis were made to wear yellow in hospital ‘foul’ wards, and nicknamed “canaries” (the yellow clothing) until Westmoreland Lock Hospital in Dublin–the first to treat people with venereal diseases–opened in 1792? Of course you didn’t. Neither did I.

From stdpanels.com, an innovative timeline:

History of Sexually Transmitted Diseases

The samples shown here barely do it justice, it’s formatted in a way that can only be appreciated by visiting the site, and navigating from the 1400s, all the way up to the 21st century.

US Government WWII anti-VD poster believed to date from 1942-1945. This poster is now in the public domain. Posters like this one warning against VD were once commonplace.

US Government WWII anti-VD poster believed to date from 1942-1945. This poster is now in the public domain.
Posters like this one warning against VD were once commonplace.

For a long time it was thought that syphilis and gonorrhea were the same disease and it wasn’t until the 20th century that the distinction was made when it was discovered that they were caused by different bacteria. Posters like this one were commonplace in the 1940s to try and warn against venereal diseases.

History of Sexually Transmitted Diseases

During World War II large numbers of Americans, including soldiers, died of syphilis, leading the US Public Health Service to make a short motion picture entitled ‘To The People of The United States’ starring Jean Hersholt about the risks of contracting syphilis.

Read the rest of this entry »


Obamacares Slush Fund Fuels A Broader Lobbying Controversy

By Stuart Taylor

Obamacares Slush Fund Fuels A Broader Lobbying Controversy - Forbes

A little-noticed part of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act channels some $12.5 billion into a vaguely defined “Prevention and Public Health Fund” over the next decade–and some of that money is going for everything from massage therapists who offer “calming techniques,” to groups advocating higher state and local taxes on tobacco and soda, and stricter zoning restrictions on fast-food restaurants.

The program, which is run by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), has raised alarms among congressional critics, who call it a “slush fund,” because the department can spend the money as it sees fit and without going through the congressional appropriations process. The sums involved are vast. By 2022, the department will be able to spend $2 billion per year at its sole discretion. In perpetuity.

What makes the Prevention and Public Health Fund controversial is its multibillion-dollar size, its unending nature (the fund never expires), and its vague spending mandate: any program designed “to improve health and help restrain the rate of, growth” of health-care costs.  That can include anything from “pickleball” (a racquet sport) in Carteret County, N.C. to Zumba (a dance fitness program), kayaking and kickboxing in Waco, TX.

“It’s totally crazy to give the executive branch $2 billion a year ad infinitum to spend as they wish,” said budget expert Jim Capretta of the conservative Ethics and Public Policy Center. “Congress has the power of the purse, the purpose of which is to insure that the Executive branch is using taxpayer resources as Congress specified.”

The concerns are as diverse as the critics. The HHS Inspector General, in a 2012 “alert,” was concerned that the payments to third-party groups came dangerously close to taxpayer-funded lobbying. While current law bars lobbying with federal money, Obama administration officials and Republican lawmakers differ on where lawful “education” ends and illicit “lobbying” begins.  Nor have federal courts defined “lobbying” for the purposes of this fund. A health and Human Services (HHS) department spokesman denies that any laws were broken and the inspector general is continuing to investigate.

Republicans in both the House of Representatives and Senate have complained that much of the spending seems politically motivated and are alarmed that some of the federal money went to groups who described their own activities as contacting state, city and county lawmakers to urge higher taxes on high-calorie sodas and tobacco, or to call for bans on fast-food restaurants within 1,000-feet of a school, or total bans on smoking in outdoor venues, such as beaches or parks. In a May 9 letter to HHS Secretary Sebelius, Rep. Fred Upton (R,Mich) wrote that HHS grants “appear to fund lobbying activities contrary to the laws, regulations, and guidance governing the use of federal funds.” His letter included the latest in a series of requests for more documents and complaints about responses to previous requests.

Some Democrats, including Obamacare champion Sen. Tom Harkin (D, Iowa), are extremely unhappy with another use of Prevention Fund money. The Obama Administration plans to divert $453.8 million this year from that fund to use for administrative and promotional efforts to enroll millions of people in health insurance exchanges that are said to be vital to Obamacare’s success. Harkin calls this shift, which has not been authorized by Congress, “an outrageous attack on an investment fund that is saving lives.”

This extraordinary fund transfer coincides with HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius’s much-criticized solicitation of health industry officials for large “voluntary” corporate donations — on top of hefty tax increases — to help implement Obamacare. Together, they give the appearance of a desperate Administration effort to avoid the kind of “train wreck” that Senator Max Baucus (D, Montana), a principal architect of Obamacare, recently said he fears. That’s also one reason why Republicans who want to kill Obamacare refuse to provide additional funding for the exchanges…

 More via  Forbes