You never heard of Robert Califf? After all, he’ll have a lot to do with you living or dying, and who will profit from those events. Califf was approved in February to be the new commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The FDA has a long record of misdeeds and cronyism. A former FDA commissioner, Herbert Ley, said in 1969: “People think the FDA is protecting them—it isn’t.” And another FDA official, David Graham, said in 2005: “FDA is inherently biased in favor of the pharmaceutical industry. … It views its primary mission as approving as many drugs as it can, regardless of whether the drugs are safe or needed.”
That brings us back to Califf, who while at Duke University received money from 23 Big Pharma outfits, and he has served as an official or director at Genentech and other companies. Califf has conceded that he has ties to more than a dozen pharmaceutical companies. Califf was a cheerleader for Vioxx, which was reported to have caused 50,000 heart attacks.
While at Duke, the research operations over which Califf presided resulted in major fraud.
Michael Carome, director of the health research group at Public Citizen, a consumer activist group in Washington, D.C., said: “It would be dangerously naïve to think he has not developed deeply ingrained attitudes that tilt in favor of the medical device and drug industries.”
So feel safe, the FDA’s Robert Califf is watching over you.
HealthBut It’s Only Alcohol…
In 2014, nearly 31,000 Americans died from alcohol-induced causes, including cirrhosis and alcohol poisoning—a 37 percent surge since 2002, according to The Washington Post. Alcohol is now the second most lethal drug in the U.S., behind tobacco, according to a recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study. In 2014, alcohol killed more people than prescription painkillers and heroin combined, and the death toll from alcohol would be nearly three times as great—90,000—if the CDC included fatalities from alcohol-induced car crashes.
TrendSome Good News About Teens and Drugs…
Fewer teenagers are using narcotics other than heroin today than they did in 2004. According to a report by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 5.4 percent of the 12th graders surveyed have used narcotics such as the addictive prescription opioids OxyContin and Vicodin, compared to 9.5 percent more than a decade ago.
“I think it’s a recognition that these medications are not benign,” Dr. Nora D. Volkow, the institute’s director, told The New York Times.
Alcohol consumption among teens also decreased from the 2004 survey.
The Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan conducted the survey of 45,000 eighth, 10th and 12th graders.
Racial EqualityBig Cities Become Less Segregated
Which side is the “wrong side of the tracks” has become less obvious in America’s biggest cities.
In nearly all of the nation’s 53 metropolitan areas with populations over 1 million, communities that had traditionally been segregated have become more integrated over the last 15 years, according to recent census data.
Cities that have long been divided by race, such as Chicago and Los Angeles, saw some of the biggest declines in segregation. For example, 72.2 percent of African Americans in Chicago lived in predominantly black neighborhoods in 2000, and now that number has dropped to 64.4 percent. And white people in Los Angeles in 2000 lived in neighborhoods that were 58.4 percent white, and now that percentage is down to 53.1 percent.
In America, the melting pot continues to meld.
HistoryAfro-Mexicans Recognized— a Few Centuries Late
Early 16th-century Spaniards who arrived in what would later become Mexico brought African slaves with them. Yet for generations after the fall of the Aztec empire, Mexico didn’t officially acknowledge that descendents of those slaves existed.
The country’s census bureau recently added Afro-Mexican to its categories, prompting 1.4 million citizens to identify with the ethnicity. “We celebrate this inclusion,” Afro-Mexican activist Benigno Gallardo said. “Schools teach children about Europeans and indigenous peoples, [but] history books practically don’t recognize our history.”
EducationGraduation Rates Rise!
American public high school students are proudly donning caps and gowns at the highest rate ever. According to the U.S. Department of Education, the graduation rate of students who started the ninth grade and graduated within four years reached 82.3 percent in the 2013-14 school year.
African-American students and those learning English made the most progress, improving 5.6 percent since the 2010-11 school year. Iowa led the nation with a graduation rate of 90.5 percent, followed by Nebraska at 89.7. The District of Columbia finished last, graduating 61.4 percent of its students.
“The hard work of teachers, administrators, students and their families has made these gains possible,” U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said. As a result, he expects “many more students will have a better chance of going to college, getting a good job, owning their own home and supporting a family. We can take pride as a nation in knowing that we’re seeing promising gains, including for students of color.”
GuantánamoWhat’s in a Name?
One of the 107 detainees still held indefinitely in the Guantánamo Bay Detention Center in Cuba has been locked up for 13 years because he has a name similar to a suspected al-Qaeda facilitator, courier or trainer, according to Department of Defense documents.
Mustafa Abd-al-Qawi Abd-al-Aziz al-Shamiri, a citizen of Yemen dubbed YM-434, was picked up in northern Afghanistan in 2002 because he was thought to be a low-level Taliban fighter.
Though al-Shamiri has never been charged, his only “crime” appears to have been that he had a name similar to a man the U.S. government sought. The Defense Department documents concede: “we now judge that these activities were carried out by other known extremists with names similar to YM-434’s.”
MilitaryToo Big to Fail
The F-35 fighter jet has been under development since 1996 as the advanced fighter jet of the future. The future has arrived and the jet is still not expected to be fully deployed until 2037. The jet has been beset with numerous operational issues and errors and cost overruns, with over 2,000 contractors literally around the world benefiting from the U.S. taxpayers’ largesse. The estimated cost to date of development is $1.5 trillion—the low-end estimate for the cost of the entire war in Iraq.