Archive for March 4th, 2009

Christmas Comes Early for NIH

March 4th, 2009 | No Comments | Source: NY Times

arlendontlooklikesantaThat was quite a coup Arlen Spector pulled off a few weeks back, huh?

The Republican Senator from Pennsylvania cast one of only 3 GOP votes in the Senate for the Big O’s economic Hail Mary, and the pound of flesh he extracted in return was a cool $10 billion for the NIH.

A survivor of 2 cancer scares, open-heart surgery and a bogus diagnosis of Lou Gehrig’s disease, Spector has been an NIH backer forever. But this move alone deserves a lifetime achievement award from the folks in Bethesda.

Before Spector put his foot down, Senate versions of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act had set aside $29 billion for the NIH, but Spector almost singlehandedly bumped the number to $39 billion before saying “aye.”

heregocurecancerOf that total, $2 billion will support building and equipment projects at the Bethesda campus and medical centers around the country.

Nearly all the rest will be used to fund up to 15,000 short term grant proposals.

That would expand the current NIH grant portfolio by 33%, although the deal is use it or lose it in 2 years because after that it’s back to business as usual, budget-wise.

Republican leaders in the House argued the NIH was already flush with cash and that such a windfall would support less worthy projects while creating few jobs.

To which the NIH counters that currently, it’s able to fund only 40% of grant proposals it deems meritorious and thousands of beaker-ready studies are on the docket.

Importantly, typical grants cover projects lasting longer than 2 years, so project plans are going to have to be altered to meet the requirements of the stimulus package.

Pat White, the Association of American Universities’ VP for federal relations hailed Spector’s work as among the most important accomplishment on behalf of the NIH in years.

“He turned his support of NIH into the fulcrum of the entire stimulus negotiations,” White told the New York Times.

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Civil Unions for Straight Couples

March 4th, 2009 | No Comments | Source: Washington Post

Arnaud and Aurélie are in love. They’ve lived together for years and they just decided they want to be together forever.

So they trotted down to Marseille’s Palais de Justice and got PACSed by a clerk.

maybesoonaureliePACS is the French appellation for a perfunctory procedure authorized by the nation’s 10 year-old Civil Solidarity Pact that validates their togetherness legally and socially without the implication of permanence conveyed by marriage.
 
“It’s a first step toward marriage,” Arnaud told the Washington Post after the 15 minute procedure ended and he headed back to work.

France’s government had introduced PACS to legalize unions among gay couples since French law does not permit them to marry. But the law was not made specific for gay couples, and heterosexual couples have been leveraging PACS’ advantages ever since.

PACSed couples can file joint income tax returns and have an easier time navigating inheritance laws and establishing a legal residence, among other things.

PACS is also perceived to be a declaration of independence from calcified social traditions and best of all, it can be terminated by either party with a short written note.

And that’s it: no divorce proceedings, no claims to the other’s property and no alimony.

The number of PACS has exploded from 6,000 to 140,000 in the decade since the law passed. That’s half as many as the number of marriages taking place in France. Nearly 92% of PACSed couples are heterosexual.

Oh and in France nowadays, more than half of all babies are born out of wedlock. Last month, the unmarried Justice Minister had a baby, and Ségolène Royal, the Socialist Party candidate that lost to Nicolas Sarkozy is an unmarried mother of 4.

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Vaccine Court Rules on Autism

March 4th, 2009 | No Comments | Source: Washington Post

Last week, 3 special masters in federal vaccine court released independent rulings against families who contended that vaccines had caused their children’s autism.

thisonewaseasyThe judges’ findings meant the 3 families and thousands of similar claimants will not receive compensation, but it will probably not deter those who believe there’s a conspiracy involving the government, vaccine makers and evil scientists to hide the truth about a vaccine-autism link. 

Numerous studies show there is no link between childhood vaccines and autism.

Federal agencies from HHS to the CDC also say there’s no link, and public health officials warn that people who don’t vaccinate their kids endanger their lives as well as those of others with whom they interact.

Still concerns remain especially about the MMR vaccine, which prevents measles, mumps and rubella. The National Center for Health Statistics says roughly one in 12 kids in the US hasn’t received the MMR.

In one case, special master George Hastings concluded the family’s theory linking vaccines and autism was “very wrong. The (family has) been misled by physicians who are guilty…of gross medical misjudgment.”

This family’s daughter became ill one week after receiving the MMR at the age of 16 months. The girl, now 14, requires full-time medical care, has a seizure disorder, is nearly blind and is beset with abdominal pain.

In another case, the family argued that thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative in the MMR vaccine caused its son to develop a type of autism.

But special master Denise Vowell concluded that the experts who argued for no link “were far more qualified, better supported by the weight of scientific research… and…more persuasive.”

The conspiracy movement has been embraced by several celebrities and politicians including House Republican Dan Burton and Robert F. Kennedy who asserted there was a “government cover-up of a mercury/autism scandal” in a June 2005 Rolling Stone article.

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