The latest must-read from investigative journalist andNew York Times bestselling author David Kirby is Death at SeaWorld, which meticulously chronicles the miserable lives and deaths of captive orcas at the marine park, and how the park also puts employees at risk. From the tragic death of trainer Dawn Brancheau in 2010, to many other less-publicized violent incidents, Kirby details the deeply rooted culture of cruelty and culpability at SeaWorld. Although not originally conceived as a slam of the theme park (multiple attempts by the author to get SeaWorld’s input were rebuffed), the book makes it clear that confining animals who have evolved over millions of years to swim the vast open oceans leads to aggression, depression and premature death. Kirby reports that while no serious attack by a wild orca on a human has ever been recorded, SeaWorld’s own corporate incident logs contain reports of more than 100 incidents at its parks. Orcas have pulled trainers into the water, held them at the bottom of the pool, head-butted them, slammed into them, and breached on top of them. As Ric O’Barry, who was part of PETA’s ground-breaking lawsuit against SeaWorld, puts it, “Death at SeaWorld outlines in grim detail just how bad captivity is for orcas and other marine mammals.”
Drugs companies putting profit ahead of medical discoveries, warn scientists:
Drugs companies putting profit ahead of medical discoveries, warn scientists
The multi-billion pound pharmaceutical industry has spent the last decade developing new drugs which have produced little benefit and caused considerable harm, experts say today. The claim that there is an “innovation crisis” in pharmaceuticals because of the difficulty and expense of discovering new drugs is a myth fostered by an industry whose chief focus is on marketing, they add. Counter to drug industry claims that the pipeline of new drugs is running dry, the number of new drugs being licensed each year has remained at between 15 and 25. But most involve minor tweaks to existing drugs, designed to grab a slice of an existing market rather than offering genuine therapeutic innovation. Independent reviews suggest that 85 to 90 per cent provide little benefit over existing treatments with some, such as Vioxx the painkiller and Avandia, the diabetes drug, causing serious side effects which led to their withdrawal, the latter’s in Europe. Writing in the British Medical Journal, Professor Donald Light from the University of Medicine of New Jersey and Joel Lexchin from York University in Toronto say the situation has remained the same for 50 years. The incentives for drug development are wrong and have skewed the behaviour of the industry. “This is the real innovation crisis: pharmaceutical research and development turns out mostly minor variations on existing drugs and most new drugs are not superior on clinical measures. [They] have also produced an epidemic of serious adverse reactions that have added to national healthcare costs,” they say. More is spent on marketing (25 per cent of revenues) than on discovering new molecules (1.3 per cent). Drug industry claims that the cost of bringing a new drug to market is £1bn and is unsustainable are exaggerated, they claim. Research and development costs did rise substantially between 1995 and 2010 by $34.2bn (£21.9bn), they concluded, but revenues increased six times faster – by $200.4bn. Companies avoid mentioning this “extraordinary revenue return”, they said, adding that up to 80 per cent of drug spending is used by the industry on promotion. The authors call for licensing authorities around the world to stop approving new drugs of little therapeutic value. They suggest large cash prizes should be awarded for genuinely new therapeutic agents in lieu of patent protection. The European Medicines Agency, which licenses drugs in the UK and Europe, keeps certain data about their safety and efficacy secret. Yet 29 per cent of new biological agents approved by the EMA received safety warnings within the first 10 years. In a second paper, researchers from the London School of Economics in the UK argue that drug manufacturers should be made to demonstrate that their products are superior to existing treatments before being granted a licence, rather than, as now, superior only to a placebo. “Changing the nature of regulation could encourage manufacturers to concentrate on the development of new drugs in therapeutic areas with few alternatives,” they say. “Supplementing regulation with scientific advice and guidance can steer manufacturer’s interest and efforts into key research priorities.” Stephen Whitehead, chief executive of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, said: “We strongly disagree with the claims made in these papers. Medical research has always rested on iterative and gradual innovation rather than breakthrough advances which are very rare. If it were not for the incremental improvements made in the treatment of HIV, the disease would still be terminal rather than a manageable condition.”
You have probably heard that the General Electric Corporation made about $14.2 billion in profits last year, and that didn’t pay a single penny in taxes on that huge profit. Even worse, they actually got the government to give them $3.2 billion. That’s not just wrong, it’s absolutely obscene! And GE’s absurdity doesn’t stop there. They have doubled the already enormous salary of their CEO, Jeffrey Immelt. Now a reasonable person might think that a company with a profit of $14.2 billion and no tax bill would not only reward their management but also all of their workers. But that would be wrong. The company is now planning to ask their employees to take cuts in pay and benefits. This has to be the very definition of greed gone out-of-control. But what really defies belief is that President Obama has now appointed GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt to be the chairman of the White House Council on Jobs and Competitiveness. That’s right. The CEO of a company that made $14.2 billion in profit and still wants to cut wages and benefits for its workers is going to be giving jobs advice to the president. That’s like asking the fox how to build a safe and secure chicken coop! Well, Russ Feingold doesn’t think this makes much sense either. Here’s what he has to say about this fiasco. It’s everything that’s wrong with corporate power today. News broke last week that General Electric, America’s largest corporation, made $14,200,000,000 in profits last year and paid $0 in taxes — that’s right, zero dollars in taxes. At the same time, C.E.O. Jeffrey Immelt saw his compensation double. Now I hear that GE is expected to ask 15,000 of their unionized workers to make major concessions in wages and benefits. But what really adds insult to injury is the prestigious and influential position Jeffrey Immelt holds as chair of President Obama’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness. That’s wrong. Someone like Immelt, who has helped his company evade taxes on its huge profits — and is now looking to workers to take major pay cuts after his compensation was doubled — should not lead the administration’s effort to create jobs. We cannot stand by and watch while we are led down this road. Mr. Immelt must step down from the president’s jobs panel — and if he won’t, President Obama needs to ask for his resignation. How can someone like Immelt be given the responsibility of heading a jobs creation task force when his company has been creating more jobs overseas while reducing its American workforce? And under Immelt’s direction, GE spends hundreds of millions of dollars hiring lawyers and lobbyists to evade taxes. All of this at a time when Fox News and the right wing are demonizing public workers, like teachers, as the cause of our economic problems. It’s time for policymakers to stop coddling corporate interests, and get to work creating jobs and wealth for Main Street. We shouldn’t reward wealthy CEOs and Wall Street for behavior that undermines the nation’s economy. President Obama has been talking about how we must “win the future,” and I agree with him in that goal. Jeffrey Immelt is not the person for that job.