Sunday, August 28, 2011

Doctors unleash legal challenge over inquest Dr David Kelly never had/ Mail Online

From Miles Goslett at the Daily Mail:
Doctors are preparing to challenge the Government’s decision not to hold an inquest into the death of Dr David Kelly...

This month the doctors were given a 33-page legal opinion by Aidan O’Neill QC, a colleague of Cherie Blair at Matrix chambers in London, indicating that Mr Grieve’s decision could be judicially reviewed, paving the way for an inquest. They are now set to proceed, managed by solicitors Withers LLP...

Speaking on behalf of the other three doctors involved in the case, Dr David Halpin said: ‘We need to raise about £50,000 to cover stage one legal fees to take this to the High Court but we believe this must be done. Britain has great potential for good but many people know it is now mired in mendacity. They must help the doctors get light into the dark corner of the Dr Kelly cover-up. Truth must out.’
The lawyers must be formally instructed by August 30 so that proceedings can begin by September 8, the legal deadline by which the judicial review must be under way...

The doctors’ decision is likely to cause significant unease within Whitehall.  No full explanation has been supplied for closing down the inquest into Dr Kelly’s death, which began as a matter of routine immediately after his body was found. It was replaced with a public inquiry chaired by Lord Hutton, who did not hear witness evidence under oath...
Last year it emerged that in 2004 all medical and scientific reports relating to his death – including photographs of his body – were secretly classified for 70 years.
Much of the material affected by this highly unusual gagging order has still not been released and no legal explanation for it has ever been made.
Mr Halpin added: ‘Coroners,  not politicians, should determine how, where and when someone has died. That is our law in our country. There is an element of David and Goliath here...’

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Imperial Presidency -- Why Is That a Secret?/ NY Times Editorial

From the NY Times Editor:
A former top official in charge of ensuring that real secrets are kept secret has delivered a stunning repudiation of the Obama administration’s decision to use the Espionage Act against a whistle-blower attempting to expose government waste and abuse.
J. William Leonard, who directed the Information Security Oversight Office during the George W. Bush administration, filed a formal complaint about the prosecution with the Justice Department and the National Security Agency, and urged punishment of officials who needlessly classify documents that contain no actual secrets.
    In the case in question, Thomas Drake, an N.S.A. employee, faced 35 years in prison for espionage after he leaked information to a reporter about a potential billion-dollar computer boondoggle. The case collapsed last month with Mr. Drake walking away after a token misdemeanor plea to providing information to an unauthorized person. The government was deservedly berated by Judge Richard Bennett of Federal District Court in Maryland for an “unconscionable” pursuit of the accused across “four years of hell.”
    Prosecutors dropped the felony charges at the 11th hour after Judge Bennett ordered them to show allegedly classified material to the jury. But Mr. Leonard said he was willing to testify for Mr. Drake that there were no secrets at issue and that he had never seen “a more deliberate and willful example of government officials improperly classifying a document.”
    The Obama administration has misguidedly used the Espionage Act in five such cases of news media disclosures; previously there were no more than four in all of White House history. This comes as officials classified nearly 77 million documents last year — a one-year jump of 40 percent. The government claim that this was because of improved reporting is not reassuring.
    Two years ago, President Obama ordered all agencies to review secret material by June 2012 with a goal of promoting more declassification. Unfortunately, the administration’s emphasis since then has all been in the opposite direction. Treating potentially embarrassing information as a state secret is the antithesis of healthy government.

    Tuesday, August 23, 2011

    Certain Hip Replacement Failures Zoom, but Getting the Data Nearly Impossible/ NY Times

    The following excerpts from today's NY Times article point to serious failures of data collection, analysis, and commitment to safety at FDA.  The failures follow lax, politically-driven regulations, which allow products to be licensed without data if they are substantially like other licensed products.  There is no good guideline for how alike the products must be.   The continuing failure of FDA's information technology system only magnifies the problem. 

    FDA administrators have overruled FDA scientists and FDA advisory committees to approve questionable medical devices and drugs.   FDA's infrastructure for reviewing the effectiveness and safety of devices and drugs after licensure is bare bones.  Therefore, once approved, it is very hard to take a product off the market.  The excerpts below are telling:
    ...One of the most problematic devices, the A.S.R., or Articular Surface Replacement, was recalled last year by Johnson & Johnson and accounted for 75 percent of the complaints reviewed by The Times.

    A precise count of failed implants reported to the F.D.A. is hard to come by because of the agency’s overlapping reporting system, though The Times sought to eliminate duplicate reports about the same incident. Some complaints came from outside the United States.

    Under F.D.A. rules, many all-metal devices were sold without testing in patients or without a requirement that producers track their performance. But in an unusual intervention, the F.D.A. in May ordered producers to study how frequently the devices were failing and to examine the threat to patients. Now, researchers say, producers face substantial hurdles in recruiting the hundreds of patients needed to conduct sound studies because of the lack of patient registries. 
    “They are grasping at how they are going to get this information,” said Dr. Robert S. Namba, an orthopedic surgeon with Kaiser Permanente...

    “It is like playing Russian roulette,” said Dr. Geoffrey H. Westrich, an orthopedic surgeon at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York, who has stopped using all-metal implants. 

    Dr. William Maisel, the chief scientist of the F.D.A. division that oversees medical devices, said he believed that producers would mount rigorous studies and find answers. But he acknowledged that it could take several years.

    “There is not an existing infrastructure for studying this kind of information,” Dr. Maisel said...
    Meanwhile, researchers say it may be a year before standard protocols are formulated that may be central to the future studies, like a uniform procedure to measure metallic ions in a patient’s blood or how to calibrate diagnostic equipment to best detect tissue damage.

    Monday, August 22, 2011

    Prosecutor to drop Strauss-Kahn case: report/Reuters

    From Reuters and the NY POst:
    Prosecutors will ask a judge to dismiss all charges in the [criminal] sexual assault case against former IMF director Dominique Strauss-Kahn at a court hearing on Tuesday, the New York Post reported on Sunday, citing unnamed sources.
    The Manhattan district attorney's office will file a motion recommending the case be dropped and laying out the chronology of events that led to that point, according to the Post....

    Strauss-Kahn faces a civil suit filed by Diallo two weeks ago and a complaint filed in France by journalist and writer Tristane Banon, who has alleged that he tried to rape her in 2002. Authorities in Paris are considering whether to press charges in that case.

    Wednesday, August 17, 2011

    The explosive truth behind Fukushima's meltdown/ The Independent

    From McNeill and Adelstein at The Independent:
    It is one of the mysteries of Japan's ongoing nuclear crisis: How much damage did the 11 March earthquake inflict on the Fukushima Daiichi reactors before the tsunami hit?
    The stakes are high: if the earthquake structurally compromised the plant and the safety of its nuclear fuel, then every similar reactor in Japan may have to be shut down.
    With almost all of Japan's 54 reactors either offline (in the case of 35) or scheduled for shutdown by next April, the issue of structural safety looms over any discussion about restarting them.
    Plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co (Tepco) and Japan's government are hardly reliable adjudicators in this controversy. "There has been no meltdown," government spokesman Yukio Edano repeated in the days after 11 March. "It was an unforeseeable disaster," Tepco's then president Masataka Shimizu famously and improbably said later. Five months since the disaster, we now know that meltdown was already occurring as Mr Edano spoke. And far from being unforeseeable, the disaster had been repeatedly forewarned by industry critics...
    The Independent has spoken to several workers at the plant who recite the same story: serious damage, to piping and at least one of the reactors, occurred before the tsunami hit. All have requested anonymity because they are still working at or connected with the stricken plant. Worker A, a maintenance engineer who was at the Fukushima complex on the day of the disaster, recalls hissing, leaking pipes...
    The suspicion that the earthquake caused severe damage to the reactors is strengthened by reports that radiation leaked from the plant minutes later. The Bloomberg news agency has reported that a radiation alarm went off about a mile from the plant at 3.29pm, before the tsunami hit...
    The reason for official reluctance to admit that the earthquake did direct structural damage to reactor one is obvious. Katsunobu Onda, author of Tepco: The Dark Empire, explains it this way: A government or industry admission "raises suspicions about the safety of every reactor they run. They are using a number of antiquated reactors that have the same systematic problems, the same wear and tear on the piping." Earthquakes, of course, are commonplace in Japan.

    Mitsuhiko Tanaka, a former nuclear plant designer, describes what occurred on 11 March as a loss-of-coolant accident. "The data that Tepco has made public shows a huge loss of coolant within the first few hours of the earthquake. It can't be accounted for by the loss of electrical power. There was already so much damage to the cooling system that a meltdown was inevitable long before the tsunami came."...

    Tuesday, August 16, 2011

    Remembering a humble giant of biological and chemical weapons control/ Bulletin Atomic Scientists

    Well-known arms control/disarmament/nonproliferation expert Jonathan Tucker died last week at 56.  Paul Walker, who follows a similar career trajectory, as arms control advocate and expert, wrote about Tucker's life and accomplishments.  Regarding Tucker's views on the anthrax letters case, Paul wrote the following:
    His intellectual and academic vigor, together with his journalistic instincts, were also stimulated by the 2001 anthrax attacks in Washington and elsewhere; he was skeptical of the FBI's pursuit of both Steven Hatfill and Bruce Ivins as lone culprits. Hatfill was eventually found innocent and won a lawsuit against the FBI; a recent National Academy of Sciences analysis of the FBI probe has raised serious doubts about Ivins's guilt. Finding Ivins's case to be circumstantial and too thin to base firm judgments on, Jonathan wanted more evidence to reach a conclusion about what really took place.

    Sunday, August 14, 2011

    Anthrax investigators hope to learn where exposure occurred/ CIDRAP

    Someone got inhalation anthrax along the old west cattle trail.  This is where cattle in decades past were herded, and sometimes died of anthrax.  When that happened, the spores entered the soil and even today emerge periodically, during extreme weather conditions, to reinfect cattle.

    Only problem is, they do not reinfect humans.  The spores only affect those creatures who graze in the soil.  Humans only get inhalation anthrax indoors.  Or maybe from gardening, putting your nose into some contaminated blood or bone fertilizer.  "Naturally occurring" anthrax in the environment causes cutaneous anthrax.  Inhalation anthrax almost always requires many thousands of spores and was only a natural event for woolsorters and ragpickers. 

    You can protect the person's privacy but still give details about the illness.  This story is exceedingly skimpy and does not add up.--Meryl
    Aug 10, 2011 (CIDRAP News) – An investigation into the origins of Minnesota's first human anthrax case in many years is focusing on where the patient might have been exposed to the deadly pathogen, Minnesota State Epidemiologist Dr. Ruth Lynfield said today.
    The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) announced yesterday that a person who had recently traveled through North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, and Wyoming was being treated for inhalational anthrax in a Minnesota hospital. Officials said the case was apparently caused by naturally occurring anthrax in the environment.
    The MDH has not revealed the patient's condition or listed any identifying details such as name, gender, home state, or hospital.
    Lynfield said today that the patient had been on a "multi-week trip" and was sick on arrival in Minnesota after traveling through the four western states. "Anthrax is in the environment in the soil in all these places, so it's hard to know for sure" where the exposure might have occurred, she said.
    "We're trying to go through the [travel] itinerary. We'll be learning more, but at this point what we know is that the person was in a place where anthrax does cause disease in animals," she said. She noted that the disease strikes cattle and wildlife such as bison and deer.
    She also said officials are looking into whether the patient has any risk factors that could have made him or her more susceptible to inhalational anthrax.
    Lynfield noted that floods can move Bacillus anthracis, the bacterium that causes anthrax, in the soil, leading to animal outbreaks. "One thing we're doing now is checking in with various wildlife groups and veterinarians to try to determine if there's anything going on this summer," she said.
    She said Minnesota has not had a confirmed human anthrax case in "decades," and neighboring states have not had any recent cases, either.
    Because of the potential for bioterrorist use of anthrax, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) initially collaborated with the MDH to investigate the case, the MDH said yesterday. The FBI ended its involvement after concluding there was no evidence of terrorist or criminal activity, officials said.
    Lynfield declined to describe the patient's condition today. "There was a rumor that the patient had died—that's just a rumor," she said. She noted that the patient's family has had bad experiences with the news media in the past and has asked the MDH to protect its privacy.
    Inhalational anthrax is the most deadly form of the disease. Anthrax spores that were sent by mail to several media offices and two US senators' offices in 2001 sickened 22 people, killing five of them.