Saturday, April 24, 2004

Unpublished data reverses risk-benefit of drugs

16:20 23 April 04

NewScientist.com news service

Unpublished studies on the effects of anti-depressant drugs on children suggest some are both ineffective and potentially harmful, according to a new review of research. The unpublished data contradict published results, fuelling the debate on how pharmaceutical companies reveal trial data.

The new study was conducted by Tim Kendall, deputy director of the Royal College of Psychiatrists' Research Unit in London, UK, and colleagues. One of Kendall's roles is to help analyse medical research to draw up the clinical guidelines on which the UK government bases its drug regulations.

After recent revelations that drug companies have suppressed unfavourable data on their drugs, Kendall and his colleagues contacted pharmaceutical companies requesting unpublished studies that might bear on the guidelines. None of the companies complied, so Kendall contacted a government agency which provided six unpublished studies on three anti-depressants known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).

Kendall and his team added those results to a review of five published studies on the effects of various SSRIs on children.

"When we got the unpublished data and put it in with the published data, something happened. Instead of being safe and effective, the risk-benefit reversed," Kendall told New Scientist.

Suicidal thoughts

Of the five SSRIs reviewed - fluoxetine, paroxetine, sertraline, citalopram, and venlafaxine, only fluoxetine (Prozac) offers more benefits than risks in children. Unpublished studies of venlafaxine, for example, suggested the drug increased suicide-related events such as suicidal thoughts or attempts by 14 times compared with placebo.

"This data confirms what we found in adults with mild to moderate depression: SSRIs are no better than placebo, and there is no point in using something that increases the risk of suicide," says Kendall. "The key point is, can we trust the published evidence now?"

An editorial in The Lancet, which published Kendall's study, suggests the answer is no. Research on SSRIs in children is marked by "confusion, manipulation, and institutional failure", it states.

Analyses of published data - which governments rely on to set regulations - are "made entirely redundant if [the] results are so easily manipulated by those with potentially massive financial gains".

The editorial reports that GlaxoSmithKline sold almost $5 billion worth of its SSRI paroxetine (known as Seroxat or Paxil) in 2003. In June 2003, paroxetene was shown to increase suicidal thoughts and behaviour in children by as much as three-fold over placebo.

And in March, a GlaxoSmithKline memo on the drug's effect on children surfaced that read: "It would be unacceptable to include a statement that efficacy had not been demonstrated, as this would undermine the profile of paroxetine."

Friday, April 23, 2004

April 21, 2004

by Frank Salvato


I have always found it quite amusing that the Kerry campaign, along with the DNC, has accused the Bush White House of being one of the most secretive in American history. I say this primarily because the charges are hypocritical in nature, especially where the Kerry’s are concerned. The most recent event validating my point of view is the refusal of Teresa Heinz Kerry, the condiment heiress – worth in the neighborhood of half a billion dollars, to release her financial statement to the public.

That Heinz Kerry is of foreign origin shouldn’t make any difference as to whether she would be a good First Lady, although I myself am uncomfortable with the idea. After all, this daughter of a prominent Portuguese expatriate doctor, who grew up in South Africa, came to this country as an immigrant and our politically correct culture has to embrace the “struggle” she went through in order to reap the benefits of her dream to become an American citizen (let the sarcasm run here). It doesn’t matter to me that her philanthropic organizations, two of which cannot be found on the tax-exempt rolls at the IRS, donate an inordinate amount of money to ultra-liberal charity organizations like the Tides Center and the League of Conservation Voters Education Fund. What bothers me is that she isn’t upfront enough to release her financial statements, setting her apart from every other aspiring First Lady.

One of the reasons behind her reluctance could be the reason why two of her philanthropic organizations don’t show up in IRS publication 78, an index of all tax-exempt organizations. In a Human Events article by Ron Arnold it is revealed that two out of the three philanthropic organizations named on the Kerry website don’t exist. Rather they are “’funds’ within the Heinz Family Foundation fed by non-exempt private trusts controlled personally by Teresa Heinz.”

Arnold explained:

"The Teresa and H. John Heinz III Foundation" and "The H. John Heinz III Foundation" receive their money from separate "charitable lead trusts." A charitable lead trust is a private non-exempt trust that provides payments to others (individuals or organizations) for a term of years. At a specified time, the trust principal goes to its recipients free of federal gift and estate taxes, or with the "death tax" greatly reduced.

I suppose this would explain why the Kerry’s aren’t too concerned about John’s proposed tax plan should he be lucky enough to become President of the United States. It also explains why Teresa Heinz Kerry wouldn’t want to share information about her wealth. She is taking advantage of loopholes that allow the rich to get richer while dodging the taxman. The Kerry’s don’t care about the “death tax,” the gift tax or estate tax because they have found a way around them. I suppose this wouldn’t really sit well with the blue-collar workers the Kerry’s so vehemently proclaim they identify with.

Thursday, April 22, 2004

Science Watch

By John von Radowitz, Science Correspondent


People generally diet to lose weight, but there’s increasing evidence that cutting down on calories can help you live longer too.

Scientists have carried out research on a wide range of living things, from the lowliest yeast and laboratory worm to rats, dogs and monkeys, which suggest that eating less can extend lifespan.

One of the most impressive studies, published three years ago, was carried out by researchers at the University of Texas in San Antonio.

Mice with a fatal autoimmune disorder had their food intake cut by 40% and were given a supplement of fish oil.

They lived nearly 300% longer than mice allowed to eat what they wanted and given a corn oil supplement.

The key finding was that while fish oil was beneficial, calorie reduction had a much bigger impact. The mice given fish oil but not put on a diet only increased their life expectancy by 40%.

Other studies of mice and rats have shown that stringent and consistent calorie restriction can increase the animals’ lifespan by about 30% and protect them against cancer.

Findings like these have led scientists to wonder if strict dieting can help humans live longer.

The difficulty for anyone carrying out such an investigation is finding people known to have dieted rigorously enough for a sufficiently long time.

Now a team from Washington University School of Medicine in St Louis has overcome that obstacle, by recruiting volunteers from an American group dedicated to serious low-calorie eating.

The results of the study, the first to examine individuals who have restricted their calorie intake over a long period of time, are dramatic.

They show calorie restriction produces health effects that greatly reduce the risk of heart disease, and enhance the chances of living a long life.

Professor John Holloszy, who led the research, said: “We don’t know how long each individual actually will end up living, but they certainly have a much longer life expectancy than average because they’re most likely not going to die from a heart attack, stroke or diabetes.”

In some respects, the volunteers – whose average age was 50 – showed aspects of health normally seen in people decades younger.

A total of 18 participants, mostly men, were recruited from an organisation called the Caloric Restriction Optimal Nutrition Society. Their ages ranged from 35 to 82, and they had been following a strict low-calorie diet for between three and 15 years.

By consuming small amounts of nutrient-dense foods, members of the group try to restrict themselves to between 10% and 25% fewer calories than the average American.

The volunteers ate a wide variety of vegetables, fruits, nuts, dairy products, egg whites, wheat and soy proteins, and meat, while avoiding all processed foods containing trans-fatty acids, as well as refined carbohydrates (such as white sugar), desserts, snacks and soft drinks.

Their calorie consumption consisted of 26% protein, 28% fat and 46% complex carbohydrates.

Typically their energy intake was between 1,100 and 1,950 calories per day – about half that of a non-dieting comparison group recruited by the researchers.

The comparison group obtained only 18% of their calories from protein, 32% from fat, and 50% from carbohydrates, including refined processed starches.

For the purposes of the study, the scientists focused on atherosclerosis, the artery-narrowing that can trigger heart attacks and strokes, and is the leading cause of death in the western world.

They carried out a variety of tests to measure known risk factors for the disease, such as cholesterol level and blood pressure.

Dieters were found to have levels of both total and “bad” cholesterol – low density lipoprotein (LDL) – equal to the lowest 10% of the population in their age group.

Levels of “good” high density lipoprotein (HDL) were at the top of the range for middle-aged men. This was an unexpected finding, because HDL levels often decrease when people follow low-fat diets to lose weight.

Even more striking were the results of tests for triglyceride blood fats.

Raised levels of triglycerides are known to trigger atherosclerosis. Among the dieters, they were lower than more than 95% of Americans in their mid-20s.

Cholesterol and triglyceride levels in the comparison group were about halfway along the scale for average middle-aged individuals.

Significantly, a dozen of the calorie-restricted volunteers had medical records which showed that before starting their diets they had average cholesterol and triglyceride scores.

But the most dramatic evidence of dieting benefit came from the blood pressure tests.

The average blood pressure in the normal diet group was a standard 130/80. The first figure, systolic pressure, shows the pressure on each heart beat, and the second, diastolic, the pressure between beats.

Members of the calorie-restricted group had an average blood pressure reading of 100/60 – the kind of level expected in a 10-year-old.

Other risk factors were also significantly better in the dieting volunteers. They included body mass index, fat mass, and the thickness of the carotid artery which carries blood to the brain.

Levels of C-reactive protein, linked to inflammation that greatly contributes to artery narrowing, were extremely low among the dieters.

Two markers of diabetes risk, fasting glucose and insulin, were also greatly reduced in the calorie-restricted group. Insulin concentrations were as much as 65% lower than they were for the normal diet volunteers.

The Washington University researchers are now conducting a controlled prospective study, following a group of calorie-restricted volunteers to see what happens to their health.

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Thunderer: Millions of pills do not make anybody happy
by Theodore Dalrymple

THE 19th-century American doctor, writer and pioneer of anaesthesia, Oliver Wendell Holmes, once remarked that if the entire pharmacopoeia of his time were thrown into the sea it would be the better for mankind, but the worse for the fishes.
Since then, of course, our pharmacopoeia has increased in size and power out of all recognition, and few of us would wish it otherwise; but I can’t help wondering whether his dictum might apply to at least one class of drugs, namely the antidepressants.

About a quarter of British women now take an antidepressant at some time in their lives, and no doubt a significant proportion of men as well. Prescriptions for all types of antidepressants have increased from 13.2 million in 1995 to 26 million in 2002 for antidepressants of only one type, the serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs). But I can’t say I’ve seen more bright, smiling faces around as a result.

There are several possible explanations of this great increase and I don’t claim to have thought of them all, or even of the right ones. Indeed, the possible explanations are not mutually exclusive and some combination of any or all might be correct.

First, it is possible that more people than ever are depressed. I can certainly think of reasons why this should be so. More and more people lead isolated lives in the name of personal autonomy, without a comforting, if sometimes stifling and stultifying, family network to support them. Personal autonomy is often only a euphemism for loneliness.

The increasing ubiquity, indeed inescapability, of entertainment is another cause of depression. Compared with the glamorous, fast-moving and exciting existence that entertainment portrays, the real lives of most people must seem dull to them: it requires greater philosophical resources than most people possess to see the interest of the everyday.

Second, doctors might be more inclined to prescribe antidepressants. They have been bombarded with propaganda to the effect that depression is a condition that they have often missed; so, rather than miss it in the future, they give them to everyone who might conceivably have it. Just as it is better that 99 guilty men should go free than that one innocent man should be imprisoned, so it is better (from the doctor’s point of view) that 99 people should be prescribed antidepressants unnecessarily than that one depressed person should go untreated. Besides, the drug companies have given him clocks, coffee mugs and pens, with the names of antidepressants on them, and it would be churlish not to reciprocate a little.

Third, it is firmly embedded in our culture that unhappiness is an illness. In the past 14 years, I have heard only one patient say he was unhappy: and he was a prisoner who wanted to go to another prison to be nearer his family. Otherwise, every unhappy person considered him or herself depressed, that is to say, as suffering from a condition which it was the doctor’s responsibility to relieve. This relieves the patient from the painful duty of self-examination and the even more painful duty to change. And, since the patient now considers himself a customer and the doctor a shopkeeper, the doctor is rather afraid not to give him what he wants, or rather expects as of right, namely a prescription.

As it happens, antidepressants don’t work even in a third of highly selected cases, that is to say those who have depression according to the strictest criteria. Half of the antidepressant effect of the drugs is due to the placebo effect: in other words, they are only marginally antidepressant. They can work marvellously, but in the majority of cases are no better than pink pills for pale people, which at least were harmless. But the main damage antidepressants do is to create the belief that unhappiness is a disease susceptible to a technical fix. This is the royal road to shallowness.

Saturday, April 17, 2004

United Press International: Analysis: 'Bounce' rock's cosmic portent

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Daily aspirin therapy ups risk of brain hemorrhage

Monday, April 12, 2004

Medical scientists too close to industry, study shows
Friday, 24 January 2003

Drug companies often fund research that show new drugs in a positive light
One in four biomedical scientists are affiliated with corporations, and two-thirds of universities hold equity in start-up companies that sponsor their research, a new study has found.

"This comprehensive review of the literature confirms that financial relationships among industry, scientific investigators and academic institutions are pervasive," writes Dr Justin Bekelman of the Yale University School of Medicine in this week's issue of Journal of the American Medical Association.

The analysis of 37 scientific papers looked at the relationship between industry sponsorship and scientific research. It found strong and consistent evidence that industry-sponsored research tends to draw conclusions that are supportive of industry.

Bekelman and colleagues argue that one reason for this is that industry tends to fund trials designed to favour positive results, such as those that compared a new drug to a placebo but avoid the comparison of the drug with existing options.

Commenting on the research, Professor David Henry of the University of Newcastle's School of Medical Practice said research questions of industry-funded research were "driven by marketing considerations rather than science or health".

"Many drugs offer such little advantage over old drugs that the companies almost run shy of doing direct head to head comparisons," he told ABC Science Online. Henry is currently involved in a study looking at the relationship between medical specialists and the pharmaceutical industry.

Bekelman and colleagues said that industry-sponsored research also tends to suppress negative studies and publish numerous reports of positive studies about the same drug. Such influence on scientific evidence is further compounded by the fact that journals tend to prefer publishing positive studies.

And while journals have recently required researchers to disclose their conflicts of interest, compliance with the guidelines are poor, the researchers say.

"Guidelines don't work," commented Henry. "The responsibility lies with the journal editors who have been criticised for not being as tough as they should be."

Bekelman and colleagues also express concern about what they describe as the extensive equity holdings of academic institutions. "Equity ownership has created a new revenue model for academic institutions and has induced a dramatic increase in institutional medical entrepreneurialism, further blurring the lines between academic and commercial values," they write.

According to Henry, while most of the research reviewed in the study was from North America, the findings were very relevant to Australia. "As in most developed countries, the medical research effort is heavily subsidised by the pharmaceutical industry and other commercial interests," he said.

While the problem of conflicts of interest due to commercial funding of universities was less of a problem in Australia when compared to the U.S., Henry said it was "heading in that direction" because Australian universities were developing commercial partnerships.

"You're dealing with economic entities that are larger than countries here, so it's nothing to spend a few million to buy off an academic, and an institution is dead easy and dirt cheap," he said.

The decrease in government funding for independent research at universities did not help, he added. "Academic institutions are being bled. It's not surprising that investigators feel that they have to go to commercial sources when they've got governments that don't support them," Henry said.

It is important that institutional ethics committees "put their foot down" and not approve biased industry-funded research in universities, Henry argued, but also that government continue to fund independent research.

"The Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme pays out A$4.5 billion (US$2.7billion) a year," he said of Australia's government-subsidised medicines program. "If you just committed half of one per cent of that to research comparing the effects of drugs, a hell of a lot of money could go into arm's-length, properly-constituted and policy relevant research questions."

Anna Salleh - ABC Science Online

Saturday, April 10, 2004

Top 5 Low Tax States

Alaska 6.3%

New Hampshire 7.5

Delaware 8.2

Tennessee 8.5

Texas 8.7

Top 5 High Tax States

New York* 12.9%

Maine 12.3

Ohio 11.3

Hawaii 11.3

Rhode Island 11.1

U.S. Average 10.0

*Conn. also ranks No. 1 when including federal tax burden

Thursday, April 08, 2004

Cut-Rate Calling, by Way of the Net

VERY time an important piece of our lives goes electronic, much is gained, but something is lost, too. Audiophiles say that compact discs don't sound as warm as vinyl records. Home theaters are neat, but don't offer the communal fun of a movie theater crowd. And no matter how efficient e-mail may be, it can't touch the joy of receiving a handwritten letter on fine stationery, thoughtfully composed and concluding with the words "check enclosed."

So stand back. The latest life component to make a radical, Internet-driven shift is ordinary home telephone service.

This development is annoyingly called voice-over-Internet protocol, or VoIP, which means "calls that use the Internet's wiring instead of the phone company's." When you sign up, you get a little box that goes between your existing telephone and your broadband modem (that is, your cable modem or D.S.L. box, a requirement for most of these services).

At that point you can make unlimited local, regional and long-distance calls anywhere in the United States for a fixed fee of $20 to $40 a month (plus the cost of your broadband Internet service, of course). Overseas calls cost about 3 cents a minute. These figures aren't subject to inflation by a motley assortment of tacked-on fees, either; voice-over-Internet service is exempt from F.C.C. line charges, state 911 surcharges, number-portability service charges and so on.

Now, nerds have been making PC-to-PC Internet calls for years, using their computers' microphone and speakers. But VoIP is different: you dial and talk using a conventional phone. The computer doesn't even have to be on.

The gold rush began last year when a startup called Vonage offered a $35-a-month calling plan. Soon it was joined by a crowd of similarly little-known services with names like VoicePulse, Packet 8, Broadvox and VoiceGlo.

Recently, though, some much bigger names began taking the technology seriously: AT&T arrived on the scene last week with an Internet-based service, CallVantage, and last fall Cablevision, the cable TV company, began offering its own phone service, Optimum Voice. (Technically, Optimum Voice isn't an Internet service; it connects to the regular phone network by cable TV wiring. A review is on Page 7.)

Most of these services have a jaw-dropping list of features. They include call waiting; caller ID; caller ID blocking (your number is invisible to those you call); call forwarding (incoming calls are automatically routed to, say, your cellphone when you're not home); call return (dial *69 to call back the last person who called you); call transfer ("You'll have to ask my dad in Denver about that; here, I'll transfer you"); automatic busy-line redial; Do Not Disturb (all calls go directly to voice mail during specified hours); Find Me (incoming calls try various phone numbers until you answer); multiple ring (incoming calls make all your various phone numbers ring at once); three-way calling, and more.

Now, $20 to $40 may not necessarily represent an earth-shattering discount from your existing phone bills. Verizon, for example, offers unlimited local and long-distance residential phone service - the usual way, over phone wires - with five calling features for $60 a month (not counting all those exciting taxes and fees). SBC, another Baby Bell, offers unlimited calling with 11 features for $55.

Still, even $20 a month is a decent savings. Besides, Internet phone services often use the power of the Web to enhance those standard calling features. For example, you can listen to your voice mail by dialing *123 on your phone, by visiting a Web page or by sitting back and letting your new Internet phone company send you sound attachments by e-mail. VoIP fans love that; not only can they save important messages forever, but they can also retrieve their messages from anywhere in the world.

At this point, some readers have no doubt skipped to the Sports section. For many people, a natural reaction is: "Why take something as simple and reliable as the telephone and muck it up with complexity?" That's a legitimate concern, and only the first sign that VoIP service isn't for everybody.

Here's another: when you have VoIP phone service, your phone number no longer requires any relationship to your physical location. You can choose any area code offered by the VoIP company. It need not be the area code where you live - in fact, it probably won't be, because at this early stage, the VoIP companies don't have access to numbers in every locality. You may live in Denver, but choose a Dallas number.

What's nice about this independence is that you can travel with your little VoIP box. You can plug a telephone into it anywhere you can find broadband Internet service. Your home phone number will make the phone ring whether you're in Roanoke, Raleigh or Russia.

Some companies even offer a second phone number for the same line (Vonage, VoicePulse, and Broadvox charge $5, $5 and $0 a month, respectively). So if you live in New York (area code 212) but have relatives in Cleveland (216), you can opt for a 216 bonus number that makes you a local call for your relatives.

The downside of all this, of course, is that you may wind up being a long-distance call for people in your hometown. Conversely, you have to dial 1 + area code for every call you make, even to the house next door. No question, in VoIP land, things can get very weird very fast.

While you're contemplating the drawbacks of Internet calling, consider this: most VoIP adapters accommodate only one handset per line. Many Internet phone customers wind up buying cordless phone systems that permit several handsets to communicate with a single base station. (Some fans hire an electrician to install the adapter where the phone lines enter the house, so that it affects all phone jacks, but that's a complex and iffy approach.)

Remember, too, that you're now completely off the phone company's grid, which has a number of ramifications. First, your number is unlisted whether you like it or not. Second, only a few companies let you dial 411 (Broadvox, VoicePulse and, for a fee, Vonage) and 911 (Broadvox, Vonage and AT&T). But in either case, if your power or Internet service ever goes out, you'll lose your phone service too. Most VoIP services can auto-route incoming calls to a different number when the system goes down, but most VOIPers keep a cellphone as a backup anyway.

Or a basic phone-company line. That will come in handy if you have gadgets that require a traditional analog phone line, like a TiVo, a home alarm system or a fax machine. (Vonage offers a fax line for $10 a month; Broadvox and AT&T say they'll lick the fax-line problem later this year.)

The sound quality of VoIP calls is amazing. Every call sounds like it's being made from downstairs. The problem is delay (or latency, as telecom wonks call it). On Vonage, Packet8 or Broadvox, the delay is so severe your conversation partners come across not only as rude, because they're constantly "interrupting" you, but also distracted, because their timing seems off when they are reacting to your dramatic revelations and jokes.

The worst part, of course, is that you sound equally rude and distracted to them.

Using your computer to surf the Web doesn't affect the call quality. But downloading a file can make you sound "staticky," "watery" or "jiggly" (to use my test callees' terms).

Your equipment, time of day and Internet speed can affect the severity of these problems. But in my testing, only VoicePulse and AT&T escaped the voice-delay issue; only Vonage and AT&T seemed exempt from the jiggly water sound during downloads.

All right, suppose you're still game. You have a cellphone or backup land line, you love features and you figure you can save hundreds of dollars a year. How do you choose an Internet phone company?

If you care about having an area code that matches your current one, look for a company that offers numbers in that area. Packet8, Vonage and Broadvox offer phone numbers in 47, 39 and 32 states, respectively, although for only a few area codes in each state. At the opposite extreme is AT&T, which currently offers only area codes in New Jersey and Texas (although anyone can sign up, of course). But AT&T, like all of these companies, intends to expand rapidly in the coming year.

For sheer economy, Packet8 is almost unbelievable. It offers fewer calling features than its rivals (no speed dial, auto-redial, or Find Me), and the voice-delay problem can be bad. But imagine having unlimited local, regional and long-distance calling for $20 a month.

VoicePulse is another standout, thanks to its long list of security features. Telemarketer blocking rejects calls from automated dialing computers; international call blocking prevents guests or teenagers from racking up an overseas bill; and call filtering offers astonishing control over who (in your address book) can call you at what hours. The $25 monthly plan is an excellent value, although it requires a one-year commitment after the trial period. (All of the plans offer a money-back trial period.)

But in terms of pure excellence, AT&T's CallVantage service takes the cake. At $40 a month, it's the most expensive service, but the call quality is close to perfect (no download distortion, almost no voice delay). You get a beautifully written manual, cheekily called "User's Guide for the Digital Communication Revolution." All of these services offer a real-time, Web-based call log (numbers only), but on AT&T's, you can click on a number to see the name of the caller, click on the voice-mail icon to hear the message that person left for you, click on the number to return the call, and so on.

AT&T also offers what it's called a voice portal, a local number that you can dial to retrieve voice mail, change your settings (Do Not Disturb, for example) and even make calls. You can reach the portal from any phone - a pay phone, a cellphone or a friend's phone, for example - which means that you can get to your voice mail or make free calls even when you're out or when the power's out.

Finally, AT&T's phone support center is always open. I know that because it took until 2 a.m. to get AT&T's adapter box working. (My home network includes an Ethernet router - an inexpensive box that distributes a broadband Internet signal to several computers. The adapters from most VoIP companies plug right into an empty jack on this router. But the AT&T, Vonage and Broadvox boxes must be installed before the router, between it and the broadband modem. That's a small point for most people, but a migraine nightmare for consumers whose cable modem isn't even on the same floor as the router. Ahem.)

At this early moment in the birth of Internet phone companies, you can save all kinds of money by tolerating some quirks and peccadilloes. But as the VoIP companies expand their area-code offerings, work the kinks out of the voice transmissions and build up their network of intermediary 411 and 911 call centers, the benefits of Internet-based calling will entail fewer and fewer compromises.

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

LINCOLN, Nebraska (AP) -- A type of abortion banned under a new federal law would cause "severe and excruciating" pain to 20-week-old fetuses, a medical expert on pain testified Tuesday.

"I believe the fetus is conscious," said Dr. Kanwaljeet "Sonny" Anand, a pediatrician at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. He took the stand as a government witness in a trial challenging the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act.

The act, which was signed by President Bush in November, has not been enforced because judges in Lincoln, Neb., New York and San Francisco agreed to hear evidence in three simultaneous, non-jury trials on whether the ban violates the Constitution.

Anand said fetuses show increased heart rate, blood flow and hormone levels in response to pain.

"The physiological responses have been very clearly studied," he said. "The fetus cannot talk ... so this is the best evidence we can get."

The Bush administration has argued that the procedure, referred to by opponents as "partial-birth abortion," is "inhumane and gruesome" and causes the fetus to suffer pain.

During the procedure, which doctors call "intact dilation and extraction" or D&X, a fetus is partially removed from the womb and its skull is punctured. It is generally performed in the second trimester.

Abortion rights advocates argue that it is sometimes the safest procedure for women, and that the law will endanger almost all second-trimester abortions, or 10 percent of the nation's 1.3 million annual abortions.

The law would be the first substantial limitation on abortion since the Supreme Court legalized it 31 years ago in the landmark case Roe v. Wade.

Challenges to the ban were filed by several doctors being represented by the Center for Reproductive Rights, the National Abortion Federation and the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. The issue is expected to reach the U.S. Supreme Court.

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

'Spin Sisters' Reveals How Media Sell Misery to Women
Paige McKenzie, NewsMax.com
Monday, April 5, 2004

Second of two parts. See part one, 'Spin Sisters' Reveals Phony Feminist Hype of Media Princesses.

Throughout the 1990s, women’s magazines became focused less on fashion and more on features about violence against women and children, “even though crime statistics were plummeting across the country,” Myrna Blyth notes in "Spin Sisters: How the Women of the Media Sell Unhappiness and Liberalism to the Women of America.”

Research studies of women’s magazines such as Cosmo, Family Circle, Good Housekeeping, Glamour, Marie Claire, Redbook, Vogue, Woman’s Day and Ladies Home Journal show that during that decade stories and cover lines that touched on social issues and victimization skyrocketed.

“In almost all of the stories, the message was the same: We have a big problem. It’s scary and could affect any woman or her children. … we need government action, and we need it now!”

Blyth says that a major tool of the media is to grossly exaggerate the challenges facing ordinary women as far more difficult and even tragic than they really are to make a political point.

This was a technique employed even by the Clinton administration. Blyth told NewsMax.com that Bill Clinton's team had something called the “Redbook Strategy,” purportedly to reach all those so-called soccer moms.

The networks began to mimic the magazines, writes Blyth, with “hyped-up stories of murder and mayhem, usually at the hands of abusive husbands or boyfriends, evil corporations, or incompetent doctors. It could be you!”

Television executive and "20/20" creator Av Westin, which helped pioneer many news magazine shows, told Blyth: “We started every story with a victim. That’s what we said. We need a victim. Find me the victim.”

Blyth urges readers to notice that shows such as "48 hours" and "Dateline NBC" “all have the same format: high volume on emotions, low volume on facts … because they all want you to feel afraid.”


And then, of course, there’s the “mother network of all victim television”: Lifetime Television Network for Women, a forerunner of "Sex and the City," whose programs tell women that “all men are unfaithful rats, abusive monsters, dishonest scumbags, or all of the above.” Women, however, are “ubervictims.”

More than 20 years ago, Blyth recalls, political scientist Aaron Wildavsky looked around America and wrote: “How extraordinary! The richest, longest-lived, best-protected, most resourceful civilization with the highest degree of insight into its own technology is on its way to becoming the most frightened.”

Just count the female victims paraded before us all during the last decade: Princess Diana, Amy Fisher, Tonya Harding, Nancy Kerrigan, Lorena Bobbitt, Nicole Brown Simpson, Susan Smith, Louise Woodward, Paula Jones, Linda Tripp, Monica Lewinsky, Chandra Levy, Laci Peterson and, of course, Hillary Clinton.

The "vast right-wing conspiracy" couldn't keep the worst poll numbers of any first lady ever from shooting through the roof when news broke of the Lewinsky affair.

Though Hillary is a “supremely powerful” woman, she learned to milk the victimization card for all it was worth, notes Blyth.

“It wouldn’t surprise me, however, to see Bill conveniently fall off the marital wagon publicly sometime in 2007, just in time for the long-suffering senator to publicly don a victim’s rage one more time.”

Oprah's Fake 'Science' Fools the U.N.

But there is a bright side to all the stress of victimization. It entitles you to focus on yourself. As Dr. Alice Domar of Harvard says, “Your plan for yourself ... is just as important as any other.” And women should not be required to give up anything if they need it for themselves.

Interestingly, Blyth notes that anti-depressants have become a $10 million market. Could there be a correlation?

Stress also sells self-indulgence, writes Blyth, which in turn sells “everything from Botox injections to body creams, spa visits to yoga mats.”

Even the United Nations and the World Health Organization got in on the act when Oprah Winfrey devoted an entire show to a brand new female ailment -- “perimenopause.” As Blyth notes wryly, “the same crowd that voted to give Libya a seat on its human rights committee” officially defined a condition that did not exist until just a few years ago. Now a Google search reveals nearly 70,000 references.

Reality: 'The Best of Times'

The truth is a much different story.

“This is the best of times for American women. Every statistic proves it,” Blyth writes. “You also happen to be the best-educated, healthiest, wealthiest, longest–lived women with more opportunities for personal fulfillment than any other generation in history.

“Yet you're are being sold, day after day and month after month in soppy TV movies and scary TV newsmagazines and on the slick pages of colorful magazines, the most negative interpretation of your lives.”

Perhaps the biggest tool of the spin sisters, says Blyth, is the way they present themselves as ordinary American women, and use sympathy as manipulation, to convince readers and viewers that all women should and do think alike. And, she writes, they are manipulative even in the face of tragedy ... doing things to get stories that “most women would not approve of.”

But the tactics aren’t working so well these days. Sales of magazines are plunging, and the networks' ratings are in the toilet.

“I find it so fascinating that even on Wisconsin public radio, believe it or not, 90 percent of the women who called in agreed with me. .... When women call up, and men too, they say, ‘At least someone has said this.’ It’s as if everyone feels very isolated with their beliefs, especially women, and don’t realize there are many others who agree with them,” Blyth told NewsMax.

Media filter out diverse opinions, notes Blyth, especially those of conservative women.

Conservative Women 'Invisible'

“Finding conservatives or even moderate Republicans like me in the Spin Sister media elite is as likely as finding a size 16 model on the cover of Vogue,” she writes.

When Blyth observed aloud that she was the only Republican at a recent baby shower, attended by Hillary Clinton, Katie Couric, Diane Sawyer, Barbara Walters and other media spin sisters, she was told, “You were invited despite that fact.”

As far as the media are concerned, “Not only are conservative women dumb, but dull and uptight,” says Blyth, who admires Dr. Laura, Michelle Malkin, Laura Ingraham and Ann Coulter.

All strong, attractive successful women, they and others like them – such as Bush administration members Condoleezza Rice and Elaine Chao - are ignored by the spin sisters.

Blyth mentions a particular noteworthy female, “a brilliant operative … whose own life story reads like a Barbara Taylor Bradford novel … who worked her way through university in a munitions factory, winning a fellowship to Radcliff for graduate work, attending law school in her fifties, an expert on arms control, the author of a major work of political philosophy. Oh, and a wife and mother of six children. My media buddies are wildly impressed by her achievements. Until I mention her name …”

Phyllis Schlafly, a Midwestern housewife who outsmarted and outmaneuvered sophisticated New York editors by marshalling huge grassroots support in defeat of the Equal Rights Amendment when it was just three states shy of approval, Blyth recalls.

“But no self-respecting Spin Sister would be caught dead doing a piece on this woman, who by any objective measure, has led an extraordinary life.”

Then there’s Patricia Heaton, who is “unabashedly pro-life. When asked how other Hollywood types reacted to her unusual for Tinseltown views, she sweetly says, ‘On a personal level, as a Christian, it will not be Barbra Streisand I’m standing in front of when I have to make an accounting of my life.’”

The spin sisters see the America between the east and west coasts as empty, and don’t want women from small towns on television because they are not articulate enough in a one-minute sound bite, says Blyth. She quotes pollster Kellyanne Conway: “You just don’t see many women on television from the ‘red states,’ the states that voted for George Bush. You don’t hear about their beliefs. They are almost invisible.”

Even so, Blyth told NewsMax she didn’t know if a conservative magazine for women could succeed. Though tests repeatedly show a huge market and desire for magazines that would appeal to conservative women, she says, “advertisers want nothing to do with them."

“In truth advertisers are more and more important in women’s media. The editorial staff is getting smaller, and the marketing and advertising staff are getting bigger. And the fashion advertisers love the new, the hot and trendy, so they’re [uninterested] in things that confirm traditional conservative values. They’re more comfortable with articles about sex toys than things that talk about how many women in this country are deeply religious. They would think a magazine like that is exclusionary."

Now Blyth is the one who will be excluded, she says. Though no one has refuted the stories she reveals in her book, the spin sisters have not been very nice. But she says: “I’m pretty tough. I won’t be invited to parties by Hillary anymore.”

She doesn’t seem too concerned.

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