“On Sacrificing for an Idea” by Gary North

While I am not a religionist of any stripe, I enjoy North’s writing. He is incisive and shares Claire Wolfe’s little niche where he tries to find practical application of the principles of liberty and freedom. His claim about digits and being able to wave ideas in the tyrant;s face is a powerful reminder of the precipice we are poised on. We have a totalitarian pit and maw of immense proportions ahead of us now in these united States. Lincolnian and Rooselveltian mischief don’t hold a candle to the emerging statist enterprise the Busheviks delivered to the practitioners of Obamunism. All the planets are aligning and North tells of the sacrifice of few lights of freedom in the twentieth century. I am reminded of Morpheus’ brilliant speech in Matrix (simply substitute Zion with your state, hometown or homestead):

Zion hear me! It is true what many of you have heard.
The machines have gathered an army and as I speak that army is drawing nearer to our home.
Believe me when I say we have a difficult time ahead of us but if we are to be prepared for it we must first shed our fear of it.
I stand here before you now truly unafraid!
Why?
Because I believe something you do not?
No!
I stand here without fear because I remember.
I remember that I am here not because of the path that lay before me, but because of the path that lies behind me!
I remember that for one hundred years we have fought these machines!
I remember that for one-hundred years they have sent their armies to destroy us and after a century of war I remember that which matters most!
We are still here!
Tonight let us send a message to that army!
Let us shake this cave!
Tonight let us tremble these walls of earth, steel and stone!
Let us be heard from red core to black sky!
Tonight let us make them remember this is Zion and we are not afraid!

Read and enjoy. -BB

Lew Rockwell gave a lecture on the trials and tribulations of three free market economists: Ludwig von Mises, Henry Hazlitt, and Murray Rothbard. He showed that their commitment to free market economic theory cost them their careers in an era of Keynesianism. Yet today, they are remembered by a growing number of readers. Their bureaucratic opponents are long forgotten: lost in the noise of “we, too.”

Rockwell did not mention this fact, but his efforts have been important in preserving this legacy. So are the skills of his digit-master, Jeffrey Tucker. The technology of the Web – the ultimate price competition in mankind’s history – favors ideas over institutional influence. The gatekeepers are now unable to restrict entry based on money and guild certification.

Ideas have more long-run clout that money does. Now the time frame grows ever-shorter. We have entered a new era: the triumph of digits. It is cheaper today to be a promoter of unpopular ideas than ever before. There are still career costs, but the barriers to entry for ideas are much lower. We should recall a fundamental insight of economic theory: At a lower cost, more is supplied. The gatekeepers today are on the defensive as never before. They are like elephants trying to stamp out ants. So many targets, so little time.

Mises, Hazlitt, and Rothbard were men of the pre-digital age, when access to book-publishing houses could make academic careers. Blocked ideas in their day had reduced consequences and longer time frames. Mises was blocked by his critics more successfully than Hazlitt was. Hazlitt had access to print media because he was a master of the written word. Rothbard labored in obscurity, but at least had some outlets, because of minor early funding by the William Volker Fund and later in the underground world of newsletters, the pre-digital realm of the dispossessed.

Rockwell did not have time to comment on the importance of all of the key gatekeepers who opened their gates. He did mention that Mises got Human Action into print at Yale University Press in 1949 because of the intervention of its editor, Eugene Davidson. Davidson was not afraid of controversy. A year earlier, he had succeeded in publishing Charles A. Beard’s masterpiece of historical revisionism, President Roosevelt and the Coming of the War. That book would have ended Beard’s career, had he not already been retired. The historical guild turned on him like a pack of jackals, for he showed that Roosevelt’s foreign policy had deliberately provoked the Japanese to attack the fleet. Beard was one of America’s most distinguished historians in 1947. By the end of 1948, he was a pariah.

Rothbard saw Man, Economy and State get into print in 1962 only because of the support of another anti-state economist, F. A. Harper. Harper had been with the Foundation for Economic Education, but his position on anarchism led to his dismissal by Leonard E. Read. Then he went to the Volker Fund. He ran it, but he did not control it. He was fired shortly before Man, Economy, and State appeared in print. Volker Fund money had funded it. He then founded the Institute for Humane Studies. In 1970, the IHS published Power and Market, the Volker Fund–suppressed final section of Man, Economy, and State.

THE LABOR THEORY OF VALUE

Rockwell made an important point regarding Rothbard’s career in academia.

He taught for many years at a tiny Brooklyn college instead, at very low pay. But as with Mises, this element of Rothbard’s life is largely forgotten. After their deaths, people have forgotten all the trials and difficulties these men faced in life. And what did these men earn for all their commitments? They earned for their ideas a certain kind of immortality.

This forgetfulness is altogether fitting and proper. Austrian School economists strive their entire careers against the widespread public acceptance of an idea that is incorrect: the labor theory of value. This idea was basic to classical economics. It was rejected most forcefully by the founder of Austrian School economics, Carl Menger, in 1871.

The labor theory of value teaches that the value of final production rests on the price of the inputs. Menger showed that this explanation is the mirror image of the truth. The price of a factor input is based on competitive bidding by producers. Entrepreneurs bid up prices because of their expectation of greater revenues in the future. Value moves from contemporary expectations to factor prices, not from factor prices to final output.

If this is true, then the value of an idea is not based on its cost of production. The cost of production is a factor cost. It is a barrier to entry. To overcome this barrier, an entrepreneur of an unpopular idea must find a way to fund the production and distribution of the idea. As Rothbard taught, it is not possible conceptually to separate production from distribution. (Man, Economy, and State, 1962, 1993 reprint, pp. 554–56) The same principle of non-separation applies to ideas.

There are some people who select their ideas in terms of the existing market. Rockwell summarizes the career of one such economist, Hans Mayer. He is forgotten today. As a university bureaucrat, he compromised with the Austrian government and the hierarchy of the University of Vienna. Then Mayer compromised with the Nazis. Then he compromised with the Communists. He never lost his job, but his name is not associated with an idea or anything else. He is forgotten.

He cared about his job and his bureaucratic power. That was what he got. He cared nothing about ideas. He is forgotten. His actions cost him little, because he did not care for ideas or fame.

Mayer distributed ideas that the academic system wanted promoted. He produced none. He was well paid for his efforts. But ideas that are subsidized by the state and its apparatus in one era do not survive the demise of that state and apparatus.

In 1972, I heard a lecture by the conservative Austrian scholar and gadfly, Eric von Kuehnelt-Leddihn. He delivered it to a well-named little group, Ed Opitz’s “Remnant.” I remember only one point in that speech. It was a profound insight. He said that his father had been the loyal servant of four nations. First, he swore allegiance to the Austrian emperor. Then he swore allegiance to the post-war Austrian republic. Then he swore allegiance to the Nazi regime. Then he swore allegiance to the second post-war Austrian republic. There was no oath-bound continuity in his father’s life. There was only a series of broken oaths and defeated armies. There was no loyalty to any idea. The ideas changed. The governments changed. The oaths changed. Employment was the only constant.

He who is in the business of producing and distributing unpopular ideas can rejoice in such a world. The success or failure of ideas is not based on the labor theory of value. Idea-mongers may forecast incorrectly about future demand for their ideas, but the value of those ideas will not be determined by how hard they work. Someone else may work even harder. So what? The ideas will survive or perish, not in terms of whatever price a producer pays, but on whether consumers of ideas see a benefit in holding them.

So, a good marketer of ideas should begin with the old marketing principle: “Lead with the benefits. Follow with the proof.”

Today, distributors of Austrian School economic ideas should begin here: “Well, here’s another fine mess Keynesianism has gotten us into.” We should make it clear that “not Keynesianism” is a major benefit. This message has begun to get across. Demand is increasing. It will have an expanding market over the next decade.

Isn’t digital price competition grand?

CONCLUSION

Mises cared about ideas. His lack of stable employment was an annoyance to him, but career success was not high on his value scale. The same was true of Rothbard. Both men got what they paid for. They paid in a currency that did not matter much to them, especially Rothbard.

I think this is why heroes dismiss their own heroism. They paid for their acclaim in a currency that matters more to the general public than it matters to them. They faced a lower subjective barrier to entry than the public imagines.

If you believe in an idea, and the market is not responding as fast or as widely as you would prefer, donate some money. Or write something. Create a blog. Shoot a YouTube video. Ideas have consequences. Digits are cheap. Your time is short. The gatekeepers are in trouble. The elephants are stamping. The ants are winning. Climb on board. The feast has only just begun, one byte at a time.

However, don’t expect many thanks in the future. Your sacrifice today may be a good story for your posthumous print-on-demand paperback biography, but it is irrelevant for ideological success.

As Leonard E. Read used to say, “Here is how you will know when your idea has been a success. Someone will repeat it to you, and he will have no idea where it came from.”

October 29, 2009

Gary North [send him mail] is the author of Mises on Money. Visit http://www.garynorth.com.

Solar Lantern Lights Up Rural India’s Dark Nights

These are actually a keen way to save electricity at night and may be lighting America at night once the system finally suffers a potential grid-down collapse in these united States. Don’t think it can’t happen here.  -BB

Reading by Lamplight

Monday, 26 October 2009

For more than 100 Indian villages cut off from grid electricity, life no longer comes to an end after dark thanks to an innovative solar-powered lantern that offers hope to the nation’s rural poor.

While cooking, farming and studying after sunset were once a struggle using inefficient kerosene or paraffin lamps, the solar lantern now provides a cheap and practical source of light.

The simple device, which is charged during the day from a communal rooftop solar panel, uses between five and seven watts of power and has a battery that lasts up to eight hours.

It also boasts a socket for charging mobile phones and a hand crank for topping up the power.

Villagers pay between three and six rupees (six to 13 US cents) a day to rent the lantern under the “Lighting a Billion Lives” (LaBL) scheme, which was launched last year to promote solar energy as the environmentally friendly answer to India’s energy shortages.

“I keep my shop open as late as 9:00 pm. All my fish get sold by that time,” a fish seller in Govindorampur district in West Bengal state who uses the lamp told researchers.

He is one of those whose lives have been transformed by the first wave of 5,000 lanterns distributed across nine states in India.

The LaBL scheme, run by The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) in New Delhi, plans to eventually put 200 million lamps into use.

Organisers say each lamp should work for ten years, saving between 500 and 600 litres of kerosene which would produce about 1.5 tonnes of carbon dioxide.

Government figures show more than 10,000 impoverished Indian villages have no access to grid electricity, but the solar revolution could also change middle-class lives in urban India, where energy demands have soared.

Power cuts are common even in the smarter suburbs of New Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata as residents soak up fragile supplies with air-conditioning units, freezers and washing machines.

While per capita electricity use in India — 704 kilowatt hours in 2007-2008 — is far lower than the 8,000 kilowatt hours per capita in many industrialised countries, there is no sign of consumption slowing.

“There is something like 30 percent overdemand. There’s significant undergeneration as it is, even if you don’t electrify any more,” said Joel Slonetsky, a researcher with LaBL.

One “green” solution to the outages is a solar-charged inverter for backup electricity during cuts.

“People have started realising the scarcity of power,” said Chandra Sekhar, CEO of Solar India Solutions, which sells the inverters in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh. “They have become scared so they don’t mind spending an extra little.”

Sekhar said most of his clients belong to the “domestic middle-income group” and they choose to shell out between 3,000 to 6,000 dollars for the solar inverters that work as well as traditional ones.

“Right now the technology is at a stage where we can say that it stands side by side with conventional electricity,” said Ajay Prakash Shrivastava, president of the Solar Energy Society of India.

Increased efficiency and new materials mean the price of solar-powered equipment has been coming down for years, although initial installation costs are steep, said Shrivastava.

While the long-term benefits may be an incentive for some, he acknowledged that most people who have opted to use solar energy have done so out of necessity rather than a desire to be environmentally friendly.

“There are certainly people thinking in that direction,” said Shrivastava. “But that group is not very large.”

Slonetsky said although the Indian solar industry is constantly evolving, the options for domestic solar power use are still somewhat limited.

“It may just be a lag both in terms of consumer awareness and supply here.” he said.

It is certainly not for lack of sunshine — India receives a high level of solar radiation, equivalent to more than 5,000 trillion kilowatts or up to 3,200 hours of sun a year, according to government statistics.

The government hopes to harness this potential into 20,000 megawatts of solar power by 2020 as part of its National Solar Mission to promote renewable energy.

The plan envisions railway signals and water pumps eventually running on solar technology, but for now, villagers are content with the portable lamps that have made daily tasks such as cooking and cleaning easier.

“The lanterns have changed our position in society,” said Ayesha Begum from Sahsoul village in the eastern state of Bihar.

See:

http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/solar-lantern-lights-up-rural-indias-dark-nights-1809247.html

It’s Official…U.S. Government is Bankrupt

Corsi provides an interesting report. This should not surprise anyone especially when the GAAP process is used to calculate the debt. What seems to go unmentioned is the untold tens of billions in promised non-funded liabilities for all the tax-eaters combined with a shrinking revenue base as we sink deeper into the Greater Depression. There is no economic remedy to the current crisis and ALL actions by FedGod and the Federal Reserve are only compounding mistakes that will condemn these united States to a financial morass unseen to previous history. As I mentioned in one of my columns, the DC regime is much like a swimmer in the middle of an Olympic-sized swimming pool of gasoline and when the lights go out, he illuminates his path with a lighter held above the water. Dangerous times, indeed. -BB

The real 2008 federal budget deficit was $5.1 trillion, not the $455 billion previously reported by the Congressional Budget Office, according to the 2008 Financial Report of the United States Government released by the U.S. Department of Treasury, Jerome Corsi’s Red Alert reports.

The difference between the $455 billion “official” budget deficit numbers and the $5.1 trillion budget deficit based on data reported in the 2008 financial report is that the official budget deficit is calculated on a cash basis, where all tax receipts, including Social Security tax receipts, are used to pay government liabilities as they occur.

The calculations in the 2008 financial report are calculated on a GAAP basis (“Generally Accepted Accounting Practices”) that includes year-for-year changes in the net present value of unfunded liabilities in social insurance programs such as Social Security and Medicare. Under cash accounting, the government makes no provision for future Social Security and Medicare benefits in the year in which those benefits accrue.

Economist John Williams, who publishes the website Shadow Government Statistics, told Corsi, “As bad as 2008 was, the $455 billion budget deficit on a cash basis and the $5.1 trillion federal budget deficit on a GAAP accounting basis do not reflect any significant money from the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP, which was approved after the close of the fiscal year.”

He continued, “For 2009, the Congressional Budget Office estimated the fiscal year 2009 budget deficit as being $1.2 trillion on a cash basis, and that was before taking into consideration the full costs of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, before the cost of the Obama nearly $800 billion economic stimulus plan, or the cost of the second $350 billion tranche in TARP funds, as well as all current bailouts being contemplated by the U.S. Treasury and Federal Reserve.”

Williams told Corsi the federal government’s deficit is hemorrhaging at a pace that threatens the viability of the financial system. He said the 2009 budget deficit will clearly exceed $2 trillion on a cash basis and the full amount must be funded by Treasury borrowing. He noted that it’s not likely to happen without the Federal Reserve acting as lender of last resort by buying Treasury debt and monetizing the debt.

Corsi explained, “‘Monetizing the debt’ is a term used to signify that the U.S. Treasury will ultimately be required to print cash to meet Treasury debt obligations, acting in this capacity only because the Treasury cannot sell the huge amount of debt elsewhere, possibly not even to the Federal Reserve.”

So far, the Treasury has been largely dependent upon foreign buyers, principally China and Japan and other major holders of U.S. dollar foreign exchange reserves, including Middle East oil-producing nations purchasing U.S. debt through their financial agents in London.

“The appetite of foreign buyers to purchase continued trillions of U.S. debt has become more questionable as the world has witnessed the rapid deterioration of the U.S. fiscal condition in the current financial crisis,” Williams noted.

Corsi wrote, “The sad reality is that the U.S. Treasury has not reserved any funds to cover the future Social Security and Medicare obligations we are incurring today.”

Williams said there are no funds held in reserve today for Social Security and Medicare obligations each year. He said it’s only a matter of time until the public realizes that the government is truly bankrupt.

Corsi wrote that if President Obama adds universal health care to list of entitlement payments the federal government is obligated to pay, the negative net worth of the United States government will only get worse.

Calculations from the 2008 Financial Report of the United States Government show that the GAAP negative net worth of the federal government has increased to $59.3 trillion, while the total federal obligations under GAAP accounting now total $65.5 trillion.

Williams explained the federal government is truly bankrupt and argued that in a post-Enron world, if the federal government were a corporation such as General Motors, “the president and senior Treasury officers would be in federal penitentiary.”

Red Alert’s author, whose books “The Obama Nation” and “Unfit for Command” have topped the New York Times best-sellers list, received his Ph.D. from Harvard University in political science in 1972. For nearly 25 years, beginning in 1981, he worked with banks throughout the U.S. and around the world to develop financial services marketing companies to assist banks in establishing broker/dealers and insurance subsidiaries to provide financial planning products and services to their retail customers. In this career, Corsi developed three different third-party financial services marketing firms that reached gross sales levels of $1 billion in annuities and equal volume in mutual funds. In 1999, he began developing Internet-based financial marketing firms, also adapted to work in conjunction with banks.

In his 25-year financial services career, Corsi has been a noted financial services speaker and writer, publishing three books and numerous articles in professional financial services journals and magazines.

For financial guidance during difficult times, read Jerome Corsi’s Red Alert, the premium, online intelligence news source by the WND staff writer, columnist and author of the New York Times No. 1 best-seller, “The Obama Nation.”

http://redalert.wnd.com/

Twenty-Two Reasons Why this Recession is Different and Why it Will Endure

Jim’s SurvivalBlog is the second site I visit every day without fail when I have access to the ‘Net (the first is www.antiwar.com).  Here he commands a nice summation of all the bricks in the wall that will lead to our collapse.  If you are still listening to the government-media complex, they may have dazzled you with a siren song of government rescue and the yellow brick road.  They are wrong.  Dead wrong.  The very prognostications they issue forth every day will be a direct linkage to many cases of destitution and death in the future, but then again, is that not what government is for? -BB

Twenty-Two Reasons Why this Recession is Different and Why it Will Endure

Jim Rawles http://www.survivalblog.com/

I find it surprising that I’m now getting inquiries from readers, asking if “we’ve reached bottom” in the current economic recession, and asking if the time has come to start buying stocks or residential real estate. It seems that the talking heads of mainstream media are using some sort of voodoo. How can anyone think that we’ve hit bottom, and an economic recovery is in progress? To dispel the myths from the CNBC Cheering Section, please consider the following. (And note that I’ve provided references for each assertion, just so you know that I’m not talking out of my camouflage hat.):

  1. A broken global credit market that has not fully recovered. See: After Lehman, U.S. firms adjust to new face of credit
  2. Lack of transparency in Mortgage-Backed Securities and other re-packaged debt instruments. See: Geithner Blames Lack of Transparency for OTC Derivatives Hit on Market.
  3. The increasing Federal debt, which is growing at an unprecedented rate. See: The National Debt Clock.
  4. Mountains of consumer and corporate debt. See: Observations on the US Debt.
  5. The Federal budget deficit. See: Federal Deficit Hits All-Time High of $1.42 Trillion.
  6. Ever-expanding bailouts. (I call this The MOAB.) See: As More Companies Seek Aid, ‘Where Do You Stop?’
  7. Monetization of the National Debt. See: Fed Could Expand MBS Purchases. (Can you spell Oroborus?):
  8. The destruction of the American consumer economy. (It had been artificially credit-driven). See: A Year After The Crisis, The Consumer Economy Is Dead.
  9. Chronic unemployment, possibly much higher than officially reported. See: Alternate Data at ShadowStats.
  10. More than $500 Billion USD in hedge funds that have borrowed short and lent long. See: Assets invested in hedge funds increase by $100bn
  11. A double wave of residential mortgage rate resets. See: this chart of scheduled mortgage interest rate resets.
  12. Continued down-ratcheting of house prices. See: Housing Prices Will Continue to Fall, Especially in California
  13. The under-reported “shadow inventory” of foreclosed houses. See: The “Shadow” Foreclosure Inventory
  14. The very likely collapse of commercial real estate (“the other shoe to drop”.) See: Is a commercial real estate bust inevitable?
  15. A huge crisis lurking in over-the-counter derivatives. See my analysis published in 2006 and the dozens of articles on the Derivative Dribble Blog.
  16. Under-funded pensions. See: Almost half of top unions have under funded pension plans.
  17. A coming wave of municipal bond and municipal bond hedge fund failures. See: The Failure of Leveraged Municipal Bond Hedge Funds.
  18. Increasing numbers of bank failures. See: FDIC: Bank Failures to Cost Around $100 Billion.
  19. Insurance company collapses–some, like AIG, were foolish enough to insure more than a trillion dollars in derivative contracts. See: AIG: Is the Risk Systemic?
  20. Worsening state, county, and city budget crises. See: State prepares for shutdown as budget deadline looms, and this article from a liberal site: Predicting Worse Ahead from America’s Economic Crisis.
  21. Loss of faith in the US Dollar, on the FOREX. See: Dollar’s reserve currency status in focus as G-7 finance ministers meet.
  22. The coming mass currency inflation, follwing some asset deflation. See: Which is more likely in 2010: Deflation or inflation?

Back in the Fall of 2008, I started hearing from consulting clients with notes of fear in their voices. They realized that something is horribly wrong with the economy, but they could not properly isolate and articulate the problem. In my estimation, the “something wrong” that they sensed is nothing short of a monumental shift in the economic climate.

America will continue in recession. Most economic recessions are simply a product of the business cycle. These recessions are relatively mild and they often last just 12 to 24 months. The economic engine just readjusts and everything soon gets back to normal. But the recession that began in 2008 is something radically different, and it won’t be short-lived. The current slow down was triggered by a collapse in the global credit market. For decades, the global credit market grew and grew, in an enormous debt spiral. Our neighbors to the south saw trouble coming decades ago, because their economies were at the time more debt-dependent than our own. As far back as the mid-1980s, their newspapers featured political cartoons that portrayed an enormous, insatiable monster that was invariably captioned “La Dueda“–”The Debt”. Our cousins in Latin America saw it coming first, but the dark side of the debt nemesis will soon be clear to everyone.

The Federal governments’s debt, just by itself is cause for concern. As an old gunsmithing friend mine, the late Chuck Brumley, was fond of saying: “If your outgo exceeds your income your upkeep will be your downfall.” Several decades of profligate spending by the US Congress are finally starting to take their toll. Just because their friend Helicopter Ben has a high-speed printing press does mean that they can continue to spend money like drunken sailors in definitely. (On second thought, I should apologize for impugning the reputation of drunken sailors. They are actually much more conservative with their funds than congressmen.)

Because modern banking in the western world is based on interest charges that create continuously compounding debt, credit cannot continue to grow indefinitely. At some point the excesses of malinvestment become so great that the entire system collapses. This is what we are now witnessing: a banking panic that is spreading uncontrollably as wave after wave of ugly debt gets destroyed by margin calls and subsequent business failures.

Some economists are fixated on reading charted histories–and unrealistically expect that by doing so that the can reliably predict future market moves. Although they are working from a flawed premise at the micro level, the chartists do have some things right on the macro level: There are major economic “seasons” and even climate changes. The most vocal chartists like Robert Prechter hold to what is called the Elliot Wave Theory. And the big bad nasty in this school of thought is a Kondratieff Winter. This “K-Winter” is an economic depression phase that the world has not fully experienced since the 1930s. An economic winter does not end until after the foundations of industry and consumer demand are rebuilt. This can be a painful process, often culminating with war on a grand scale. (It was no coincidence that the Second World of the early 1940s was an outgrowth of the Great Depression of the 1930s.)

The US Federal Reserve and the other central banks are furiously pumping liquidity to the best of their ability, but in the long run they will not be successful. At best, dumping billions in cash on the economy will delay a depression by perhaps a year or two. But inevitably, a K-Winter depression will come. And the longer that it is delayed, then the worse the depression will be. Further inflating the debt bubble will only make matters worse.

“Big Picture” Implications

As I’ve mentioned before, hedge funds are presently most at risk in the unfolding liquidity crisis, because they use lots of leverage in lending funds that they themselves have borrowed. They borrow short and lend long, and effectively use debt compounded upon debt.

Even more alarming is the scale of global derivatives trading, particularly for credit default swaps (CDSes). Derivatives are a relatively new phenomenon, so most derivatives contract holders are only just now experiencing their first major recession. Thus, it is difficult to predict what will happen in a genuine K-Winter phase. In a perfect world, derivatives are a nicely balanced mechanism, where there are parties and counterparties, and every derivatives contract equation balances out to have a neat “zero” at its conclusion. But we don’t live in a perfect world: Companies go bankrupt. Contracts get breached. Counterparties disappear and disappoint. We have not yet experienced a full scale “blow up” of derivatives, but I predict that if and when it happens, it will be spectacular. The pinch in CDSes (a form of derivative contract) in 2008 was just a faint foreshadowing of what we’d experience in a a full-blown derivatives collapse.

The scale of derivatives trading is monumental, and the vast majority of the population is blissfully ignorant of both its scale and the implications of a derivatives crisis. There are presently about $500 trillion of derivatives contracts in play. That is many times the size of the gross product of the global economy, but the average man on the street has no idea what is going on. It won’t be until after the giant derivatives casino implodes that the Generally Dumb Public (GDP) awakens and asks, “What the heck happened?” Since the credit market began to collapse in the summer of 2008, the number of new derivatives contracts has dropped precipitously. But whether the aggregate derivative market is $400 trillion versus $500 trillion, when a crisis occurs there will undoubtedly be some very deep drama.

The next decade will likely be characterized by successive waves of inflation and deflation, and perhaps some of both simultaneously, at different levels. Countless corporations, and perhaps a few currencies or even governments will go under as this tumult plays out. (Take note of the recent vote of no confidence in Latvia.) The current low interest rates will soon be replaced by double-digit rates, much like we saw in the late 1970s. The dollar will lose value in foreign exchange, and may collapse completely. The Mother of All Bailouts (MOAB) will inevitably result in mass inflation. The bull markets in silver and gold will surge ahead, propelled by economic and currency instability. (Investors will be desperate to find a safe haven, when currencies and equities are falling apart.)

Mitigating the Risks

Be ready to “winter over” the coming K Winter depression. That will require: 1.) Prayer. 2.) Friends and /or relatives that you can count on (a “retreat group”). 3.) A deep larder, and 4.) An effective means of self defense with proper training. (For each of those four factors, see the hundreds of archived articles and letters at SurvivalBlog.com for details.)

Since additional large-scale layoffs seem likely, it would also be wise to have a second income from a recession-proof home-based business.

In the event of a “worst case” (grid down) economic collapse, it would be prudent to have a self-sufficient retreat in a rural area that is well-removed from major population centers. Get the majority of your funds out of anything that is dollar-denominated, and into tangibles, as soon as possible. The very best tangible that you can buy is a stout house on a piece of productive farm land. It will not only preserve your wealth, but living there may very well save your life.

Attention All Bloggers: FedTroll Avoidance 101!

Mike V is headlining my unworthy scribblings for the third day and it just so happens that the points of instruction make it so.  I have just returned from a lovely weekend instructing a Rifle Clinic near Phoenix in 100+ degree weather but it produced better shooters so the means justifies the end.  While the country has always been rather intolerant of dissent, the times are becoming even more perilous with the mountains of laws blanketing the once fruitful and free united States.  Please read and heed.

The modus operandi for federal law enforcement is entrapment through the use of confidential informants (CI) for the majority of cases which send both the innocent and the guilty to jail.  Mike nicely instructs in his tidy primer yet another methodology employed by our “public servants” in their never-ending quest to act as polite and not so polite concierges to usher formerly free citizens in to various levels of the penal systems and political gulags in America.  What?  America does not have gulags.  Au contraire, all gun crimes in America which don’t involve violence in the commission of a crime are political crimes (see Olafson),  Per that line of reasoning, all drug offenses are…and we travel down that inconvenient logic path.  Students, pay attention… -BB

FedTroll 101: Gather round class and I will explain why I manage my own comments.

FedTroll in his natural habitat.

All we all comfortable? Everybody paying attention? Good. This is your critical thinking assignment for today. The subject was placed as a comment to one of my posts on my blog. Read it first in its entirety and then we will deconstruct it.

Anonymous has left a new comment on your post “”In re U.S. vs. Olofson”: A second Open Letter to …”:

I firmly believe in preparing for a first strike. I did a Google search on the name of my town and it somehow led me to the E-mail list for the entire police department. Using the search engine (REDACTED) I have been able to find the home address of almost all the officers. Most of the local cops have M-4 Carbines in the trunk of their cruisers so my friends know where to go to get some weapons (if needed). I would think that when the SHTF that a phone call from the spouse or child of an officer that there is someone holding them hostage just might demoralize the Gestapo who would be helping the BATF goons. Just my 2 cents worth to give hints such as finding where the BATF FBI & others live.

Now, class, if you haven’t figured it out by now, this is the work of a FedTroll. FedTrolls live under bridges and in other dark sewers and do not like the light.

Let us then deconstruct this piece of work.

“I firmly believe in preparing for a first strike.”

Now class, which of our Three Percent prime directives does this violate? Yes, Johnny? That is correct. “No Fort Sumters.” What else? Yes, Janey? That is certainly true. Our first requirement as Three Percenters is that we not be stupid and play into our opponent’s hands. Bobby? That is also correct. Anyone who was serious about his announced intention would keep it quiet out of operational security. Yes, Billy, your hand was up? Right, no one with half a brain would announce such an intention on the Internet where every key stroke and ISP can be mapped by the NSA. And, therefore? Anybody? Correct. He is either too stupid to fear the Feds or he is one. Well done, James. Now let’s move on to the next statement.

“I did a Google search on the name of my town and it somehow led me to the E-mail list for the entire police department.”

Comments? Yes, Martin. No Billy, Martin’s hand was up first. Uh, huh. Yes, this does defy logic. How many police departments put their rosters on the Internet? Yes, that’s right. It does defy logic and experience. And you conclude? Precisely. It IS a lie. OK, next statement.

“Using the search engine (REDACTED) I have been able to find the home address of almost all the officers.”

Now, who would this statement most disconcert? Yes, Billy, that’s right. Police officers. And are local police officers and sheriff’s deputies ipso facto the enemies of the Three Percent? Of course, they aren’t. Billy? Yes, well said. If they are Oathkeepers they ARE one of us. And what do you think Oathkeepers would think about this if it were true? Yes, they would view anybody who did this as a potential enemy. I would too. Now, next statement.

“Most of the local cops have M-4 Carbines in the trunk of their cruisers so my friends know where to go to get some weapons (if needed).”

OK, William, I haven’t heard from you yet. What is wrong with this statement? Yes. Certainly. The 7.62 NATO cartridge does outrange the 5.56. Give me more though. Yes, full auto weapons do waste ammo. And? More please. Yes I know you and your father have better weapons than “those POS” as you eloquently put it. And? (Sigh.) OK, anybody. Janey. Yes. Precisely. If the officer is an Oathkeeper whoever stole his weapon would be an enemy to all of us. OK, and what about this part of his comment?

“I would think that when the SHTF that a phone call from the spouse or child of an officer that there is someone holding them hostage just might demoralize the Gestapo who would be helping the BATF goons. Just my 2 cents worth to give hints such as finding where the BATF FBI & others live.”

OK, look, you can’t all answer at once. William. Critical thinking time, son. What’s wrong with this? Don’t look at Janey. THINK, son. Right! William is correct. Three Percenters and Oathkeepers do not target non-combatants or innocents of any kind. That is what our enemies do. Yes, William, thank you. It IS just like Waco and Ruby Ridge. And is this the conduct of a Threeper or an Oathkeeper? Yes, well, you seem to all be certain of that. The answer is NO. Anybody else? Yes, Janey? That is correct. If he has done what he claims to have done and posted it in public, he has violated a number of new federal laws. Yes, he could go to jail for a long time for doing so. So is he just stupid and wrong or is he a FedTroll? Let me see a show of hands. Who thinks he’s just stupid? OK, William. anybody else? No? The rest of you are correct, this IS the work of a FedTroll. And why would he try to post it as a comment on my blog?

That is right, Janey. To discredit me and the Threepers. And if I just let this comment post automatically without vetting it? Yes, Janey, again you are correct. It might pass unnoticed and people would think I agreed with such, uh, crap. Really Janey, I know you feel strongly about this, but try to use less, uh, scatalogical language. Yes, dear, I know your daddy is a truck driver.

OK, I guess that about wraps it up for today. William? See me after class for some extra reading, will you?

An excellent comment upon the issues raised by the 2nd Holder letter.?..

Mike continues his conversation with the AG, Eric Holder.  I think his point about what our present rulers hold dear is spot-on.  We are in a civilizational battle here between the Neo-Stalinist/collectivist regime in DC and its tentacled subsidiaries occupying the various states and the broad array of folks across these united States whose varying viewpoints agree on one notion:  leave us the hell alone unless we intentionally harm others. -BB
AzcIII responds to Nick below, in part:

. . . For RoE, I would rather target the real perpetrators and spare as many useful idiots and innocents as possible. The “head of the snake” approach will work on them. Us, not so much, as we have no organized leadership and probably won’t even communicate outside local groups. Call it 5G warfare, I guess. That’s Mike’s point: they will not be able to negotiate a cease fire once it starts because there will be no one to negotiate with. Even negotiating with some will likely not reach others, so it will have a life of its own and be unstoppable. Ugly scenario all the way around.

We don’t want this fight at all, but just as it takes two to fight, it takes two for peace. Where is our common ground with these people? Where do we compromise? How do we peacefully coexist when we share opposite and incompatible worldviews? Peace requires a surrender of all we hold dear, or for them to surrender what they believe. It can’t and won’t happen. So what is the end result?

Even assuming we have another election, get control of the House and make substantial gains in the Senate, what then? Our new Congress could repeal all they can, and strengthen protections for liberty, but that doesn’t mean the other side will accept it peacefully.

azcIII

Understand, folks, once this is started for us by the aggression of the other side, it is victory or death. Either our descendants end up as a subject people, or the other side ends up leaving like the Tories in 1783. For us, there is no place else to go. If we lose here, we’ve lost everywhere, perhaps for a century or more.

Perhaps forever, in this world.

This IS about world views. Believe me when I tell you, I understand collectivism and collectivists having been one of them. They view “peace” as their vistory and our surrender (and if need be, the deaths of as many innocents to achieve their purpose — see “Waco, 19 April 1993″). We view peace as the restoration of the Founder’s Republic as a safeguard of our children’s future liberty and, after that, the cessation of hostilities.

Remember one other thing. If they start a civil war, no matter who wins it, there will still be a war with the creditors after that. I hope against hope that we can avoid the first, which will divide and bleed the military, for we will need them — we will need us all — when the Chinese come knocking to collect what’s owed them.

This is why, if they start it, we must be focused, disciplined and absolutely targeted on the Mandarin war-makers, the decision makers, the political Eichmanns. Break them. Break their will to resist quickly, absolutely, and we might preserve the country.

For here is their dirty little secret, and our strength. We do not mind if we die if by doing so we secure our children’s future lives and liberties. We will resist to the death even if we fail, because for us it is better to die a free man than live as a slave. For them, however, the single most important thing is their cravenly lives, their continued existence. Their appetite for our liberty is only equal to the perceived safety of acquiring it. Convince them that they will die before they get to the main course and they will content themselves with finding another table, another meal.

There are currents of thought abroad in the land that some easy tactic, secession or military coup, will avail us in our struggle to recover our liberties. If maintaining the Founders’ Republic is truly what we are about then either would doom us to failure and lead to a worse tyranny, even if the actors in either scenario began from the best of motives.

There is no facile, painless solution to the fix we’ve gotten ourselves into by our sloth and decadence. But, we can begin by being absolutely focused on the murderous willing actors of our intended subjugation. Defeat them quickly, even if it is only in the battlespace between their ears, and we may save ourselves, our posterity and the Republic.

In the end, it may avail us nothing. That is up to God. And certainly we deserve whatever judgment He has in mind for us.

But we must try. We must stand, and if forced, we must fight.

If they start the ball, we must resist in the best way we know how. But have no illusions. However many needless deaths they inflict upon us in an attempt to sate their arrogant appetites, and however many deaths we are forced to wreak upon them in return, this conflict, this civil war, will be to the practical political death of one world view or another.

I vote it be theirs.

Mike
III

An Open Letter to Eric Holder and the Storm Ahead

I can only dream of commanding the wit and verve of Mike V.  He is our 21st century Paul Revere.  In the following essay, he clearly stakes out the undiscovered country here in these united States for the foreseeable future.  America is now a tinderbox, a land populated by two nations (and many more subsidiaries).  One nation is a collectivist horde of parasites, looters and tax-eaters formally called the Federal Government and its attendant vassals in the states.  The other nation is a rickety band of individualists who know that to be under another man’s yoke without their consent reduces them to be beasts of burden harnessed to an inherently evil system of central planning and a perceived monopoly on violence.  The breaking point approaches and the times are going to determine which men know what they are about.  Keep what is left of your powder dry. -BB

“In re U.S. vs. Olofson”: A second Open Letter to Eric Holder, this time explicating the obvious about agency misadventure, “decapitation” and spasm.

15 October 2009

“In re U.S. vs. Olofson”

Dear Eric,

When I began this letter some days ago, I was pleased to hear at the time that the subject of my first letter to you back in May — the case of that friend of mine whose life was threatened by your employees — was thought to be shortly coming to a safe, legal resolution. It was expected then that the ATF would have to throw one or two perjured employees under the bus, the agency was going to have to change the way they do business and that your department would have to pay a bunch of money to people you would rather not.

Still, I thought then, if we all get out of it alive that’s more than some of your employees had cooked up before your intervention. That’s a good thing.

However, while I still thank you for your hands-on response, I learned today that my optimism may have been premature. This is extremely unfortunate, for as I said, there will be no more free Wacos.

This is doubly discouraging coming on the heels of the Supreme Court’s refusal to hear the final appeal of David Olofson, the Wisconsin father of three whose malfunctioning semi-automatic rifle was used against him by your employee, ATF Agent Jody Keeku, to attack and imprison an innocent man under color of law.

There are two things about this case that bode future evil. First, there is now no legal way out for anyone who has a malfunctioning semi-auto rifle. Can they legally take it to a gunsmith to have it fixed? What is to prevent anyone with such a broken weapon from going to jail at the lowliest ATF agent’s whim?

Here’s what folks are having trouble digesting:

- By your department’s failure to restrain Keeku’s outrageous conduct in returning the weapon to the ATF Testing Branch after it had been found by them NOT TO BE A MACHINEGUN but simply a malfunctioning semiauto rifle, with the demand that they retest it until they came to her opinion;

- By the trial judge’s refusal to allow defense experts to even examine the weapon; and

- By the appellate court’s blind refusal to allow a new trial based on these and other prosecutorial misdeeds,

the Federal government — that’s you, Eric, as the nation’s highest-ranking law enforcement officer — has put every owner of a semi-auto rifle on notice that they cannot count on the protections of the rule of law.

Secondly, and even more dangerously, if we can no longer count on a fair trial in a case of obvious ATF misconduct, then rationally, we have no reasonable expectation of a fair trial at all. In that case, we then are faced, when approached by any law enforcement officer attempting to enforce any gun law, with a Hobson’s choice:

- Submit, and be railroaded unfairly into prison, or

- Resist, and endure not only the personal consequences of that defiance, but also the likely consequences of a regional or even national conflagration.

As Attorney General and loyal servant of the President, you will, of course, dispute our conclusions. But Eric – only a fool would deny these unintended consequences of this patently unfair case. You are not a fool. As such, you need not believe that we are correct in our conclusions, but make no mistake — WE believe we are correct, and are thus adjusting our options accordingly.

This practical reality, added on top of your department’s previous misadventures going back to Ruby Ridge and Waco (and the subsequent successful cover-ups), make inadvertent violence, even accidental civil war, ever more likely.

Look, I’m not a leader of any organization, I’m just an Internet scribbler who sees things more clearly than most. It happens that a number of folks agree with me. Yet, on a good day my blog gets only about 5,500 hits. In Internet terms that’s miniscule. Chump change. But I have had certain experiences in dealing with out-of-control government agencies over the past 16 years which gives me insights into possible futures, most of which scare the crap out of me and ought to scare the crap out of you, too.

Back in the Nineties, my friend and New Mexico militia leader Bob Wright learned that the ATF planned a raid on some innocents in his area. He asked the FBI Special Agent in Charge to meet him and when he arrived at the appointed place Bob opened with these words:

“You know, back in the Sixties, the left in this country advanced the opinion that if the people who actually fought the wars could sit down and talk things over, there wouldn’t be any wars . . . We’re here to test that theory.”

I write to you today with the same desire to avoid conflict, and precisely because the threat of accidental causation is there, I will speak as bluntly to you now as Bob did then to the FBI. We do not have time for faux politeness and insincere pretence. For we are potentially, thanks to your employees and their reputation over the past twenty or more years, on the brink of a spasm of violence unlike anything this country has ever seen.

If they are worth what you are paying them, your analysts must be telling you how dangerous is the mood in this country right now. And if their reports are not reaching you, then certainly the monthly tallies of firearm and ammunition sales are.

This march towards the abyss did not happen overnight, and it will not go away of itself. Smart, capable people are looking at the world around them, and here is what they see:

- The suppurating wound of Waco and its aftermath is still festering;

- The prospects for armed government misadventure (be it ATF, FBI, DHS, or any of the other hordes of armed Federal agents stalking the land) growing day by day;

- The increasing realization on our side that the “Waco rules” (e.g., “kill as many witnesses to government malfeasance as possible, indict and convict any survivors, and obstruct any attempts at independent investigation”) still obtain;

- By the recycling of former Clinton Administration officials in the current Administration, the present Federal law enforcement mechanisms remain staffed by people who believe, as they did in the Nineties, that they can do anything we can’t physically stop them from doing; and

- Unprecedented levels of electronic surveillance, both within and without the traditional Constitutional restraints against governmental overreach, being directed against all American citizens, especially who those dare to criticize Leviathan government.

Eric, it doesn’t take a social scientist to understand that things are quickly going to get out of hand unless somebody pulls back from the brink.

Not to put too fine a point on it, Eric, but that somebody is you. YOU are the nation’s highest-ranking law enorcement official. YOU must restrain your employees from illegal actions. YOU must get a handle on not only out-of-control agencies like the ATF, but the entire panoply of Federal law enforcement agencies. And, most importantly, YOU must reassure us that you will return these agencies to the rule of law and the constitutional restraints that the Founders put in place.

You must understand that as firearms owners we are done backing up. For 75 years, since the National Firearms Act of 1934, the federal government has encroached upon our tradional rights to liberty and property and each time we backed up, grumbling.

No more.

It is YOU who need to consider backing YOUR employees out of OUR faces.

Almost a month ago, I wrote this on my blog, Sipsey Street Irregulars:

Today I read some internal ATF documents that cannot be publicized for now, yet they convinced me beyond a shadow of a doubt that the agency is as rogue at this moment as it ever was.

The failure of successive administrations of both parties to rein in these armed bureaucrats can only lead to deadly, bloody misadventure which will trigger a murderous spasm unlike anything yet seen in this country’s long history of periodic civil strife.

The thing is, once started, the regime will find it almost impossible to stop on any terms besides their own unconditional surrender as they would be fighting an enraged but dispersed network insurgency. It is likely that after a few weeks of such blood-letting, the administration will be unable to find anybody left alive with sufficient influence among the insurgents with whom they can negotiate an end to the horror. The fact of the matter is that they would have done their best to kill the folks they would need to stop what they started.

And they will want to stop it, oh, yes, out of concern for their own miserable hides if nothing else.

For they will have provoked a conflict that will not be directed at the war-fighters, the grunts, even those in the outnumbered federal police, but rather at the war-makers, i.e. themselves.

In this they have only Bill Clinton to blame. When the Philanderer in Chief, frustrated with Serbian intransigence in 1999, changed the rules of engagement to include the political leadership, news media and the intellectual underpinnings of his enemy’s war effort, he accidentally filed suit under the Law of Unintended Consequences. The Serbians knuckled under, yes. But the rest of the world took note, including us. I assure you, the appeal to the higher court of history in that case has yet to be decided.

These awful thoughts, Eric, were not only provoked by the ATF documents, as bad as they were, but also by the current popularity in government circles of “decapitation strategies.” Indeed, it was the original warnings about my friend, borne out in these documents, that convinced me that the ATF, an alleged “law enforcement” agency, was interested in their own decapitation strategy when it came to people they found bureaucratically threatening or even merely inconvenient to the way they have done business these past decades.

These dark impulses of your own employees may, if unrestrained by you, start a chain reaction, a spasm, that would be difficult if not impossible to stop once started.

In this same essay, I offer a hypothetical speculation that pulls no punches. This is not about the rule of law, after all. United States vs. Olofson convinced us of that. As with Waco, this is about raw, unrestrained government power, and how free men and women who wish to remain free may deal with it at a time when politics and the courts have failed utterly to do so.

Unfortunately for them, in the situation the administration would find itself after Waco Two, the “decapitation” strategy would for them more resemble Russian Roulette played with an automatic pistol.

Hypothetical: They kill some of us, at first accidentally perhaps, but almost immediately thereafter intentionally. The spasm of defensive killing begins, targeted at their leadership. They spasm in return. They would not be able to scuttle into their “green zones” fast enough. For each clumsy attack on us, they receive a lesson in the 500 meter war, one bullet (or many bullets) at a time. They commit “collateral damage” of our innocents, we stay within the rules of engagement and kill only war-planners and war-wagers.

I have asked this question before. They will fight to the last ATF agent or to the last oath-breaking soldier. Will they fight to the first senior bureaucrat, the second Congressman, the third newspaper editor, the fourth Senator, the fifth White House aide? Can they stand Bill Clinton’s rules of engagement?

These are the stakes for them, though they do not understand it.

And once they start it, they will find it impossible to stop, until they surrender unconditionally or personally face the music themselves.

Forgive me these dark thoughts, my friends, on this Constitution Day. They are occasioned by my glimpse today inside the minds of some taxpayer-supported jack booted thugs. They really are as venal, stupid, arrogant and dangerous as I feared.

As I read their innermost thoughts, freely expressed among themselves, I realized that all my efforts to prevent this madness from happening will very likely be mere cruel, futile self-deception on my part.

And given the arrogant, narcissistic master they now nominally serve, it is unlikely this will end with mere politics, but rather by what Clausewitz called “politics by other means.”

May God forgive them.

For whoever is left standing with a rifle after the initial spasm that they start certainly won’t.

“Leadership decapitation” indeed.

Their leadership. . . and their decapitation.

These are the darkest of thoughts, Eric, and I do not relish them. Yet someone must say them, and say them to you, for it is your employees we are talking about.

Only if everyone understands the consequences, personal and societal, to further deadly misadventure by your employees may civil war be averted.

Yes, we are that close. Ask your analysts. Unless they have fertilizer for brains, or fear to tell you the truth, they will confirm the imminent danger.

We have no desire to go down this bloody road, the mere fact of my writing you on this subject should tell you that, but we will not be shoved back any further and we will not allow any more free Wacos. The choice, then, is yours.

However, if worse comes to worst, and your employees once more get out of control, by miscalculation or deliberate action, I would like to give you a means of communication with the men and women you will have provoked to defensive violence.

As I do not expect to survive the first round of this ghastly horror, I make my gift in advance, and you will find it enclosed with this letter.

When the spasm you initiate by attacking some innocent has escalated to the point that you wish it to stop, you should understand that this can only mean your unconditional surrender to the forces of restoration of the constitutional republic.

Enclosed, then, is the battle flag of the Three Percent. Your analysts will certainly have explained to you by now who we are. In any case, when you sincerely desire the shooting to stop and you wish to indicate your unconditional surrender, take this flag and run it up the pole at Main Justice. Your tormentors will see it, and understand, and the firing will taper off, then stop. Then you will have to take your chances with the war crimes trials, but as I expect to be dead by that point, I can’t make you any promises.

Of course this is all hypothetical. It may even be that I’m off my rocker and imagining the whole thing. But can you count on that? You’re betting the whole farm on it, if you do. You are in fact betting all our farms and all our futures, even those of our children’s children.

Maybe I AM a loon.

But then, I’m not imagining your employees’ venal acts, am I? We both know that. Nor am I making up the continuing run on firearms and ammunition. Do you really want to find out what that’s all about?

Because the one thing I know I’m not imagining is that the American people are fed up with being victimized by the same federal employees they are supposed to be paying to protect them from real criminals.

So, please, Eric, get your gang under control, for all our sakes. You’re their boss, for crying out loud. Suck it up and prove it.

As always, I wish you a full, successful and safe term as Attorney General.

Your friend,

Mike Vanderboegh
PO Box 926
Pinson AL 35126]
GeorgeMason1776@aol.com
sipseystreetirregulars.blogspot.com

DNC Official Calls Critics Terrorists Who Mock Obama’s Peace Prize

I find this both amusing and disturbing.  The keenest definition of terrorism is politically motivated violence against noncombatants and innocents.  Very simple and straight-forward.  This definition fits both the Dems and the Grand Old Politburo like a glove;  after all, both these political organizations (I won’t call them parties when they are in collusion with a facade for the viewing public) are founded and maintained by putting a gun in the hand of the national state to threaten, fine,  jail,  maim and kill an occupied population that provides them with their succor and sustenance.  So the true terrorists in this particular discourse are the very apparatchiks tossing the sobriquet about with abandon.  Welcome to Lamprey Nation. -BB

.:A top Democratic National Committee official reacted furiously to a statement from Republican Party Chairman Michael Steele mocking — and describing as “unfortunate” — President Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize.

“The Republican Party has thrown in its lot with the terrorists – the Taliban and Hamas this morning – in criticizing the President for receiving the Nobel Peace prize,” DNC communications director Brad Woodhouse told POLITICO. “Republicans cheered when America failed to land the Olympics and now they are criticizing the President of the United States for receiving the Nobel Peace prize – an award he did not seek but that is nonetheless an honor in which every American can take great pride – unless of course you are the Republican Party.

“The 2009 version of the Republican Party has no boundaries, has no shame and has proved that they will put politics above patriotism at every turn. It’s no wonder only 20 percent of Americans admit to being Republicans anymore – it’s an embarrassing label to claim,” Woodhouse said.

See:

http://www.politico.com/blogs/bensmith/1009/DNC_official_GOP_siding_with_terrorists.html

Does the Vaccine Matter?

I am a vaccination skeptic informed not only by my minimal knowledge on viral evolution but the simple observation that government is incapable of doing anything on a mass scale that is competent or cognizant of second and third order effects.  The following article (rather long) is possibly the best intellectual vaccination against vaccinations you will find.  Read and heed. -BB

Whether this season’s swine flu turns out to be deadly or mild, most experts agree that it’s only a matter of time before we’re hit by a truly devastating flu pandemic—one that might kill more people worldwide than have died of the plague and aids combined. In the U.S., the main lines of defense are pharmaceutical—vaccines and antiviral drugs to limit the spread of flu and prevent people from dying from it. Yet now some flu experts are challenging the medical orthodoxy and arguing that for those most in need of protection, flu shots and antiviral drugs may provide little to none. So where does that leave us if a bad pandemic strikes?

by Shannon Brownlee and Jeanne Lenzer

Image credit: Jason Reed/Reuters/Corbis

Drive too fast along Red Lion Road, beside Philadelphia’s Northeast Airport, and you will miss the low-rise cement building where the biotech company MedImmune has been quietly pumping out swine flu vaccine at about a million doses a week. Through the summer and fall, workers wearing protective gear that covered them from head to toe brewed up batches of live, genetically modified flu virus. Robots then injected tiny doses of virus-laden fluid into glass vials, which were mounted into nasal spritzers, labeled, and readied for shipment at the direction of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in Atlanta, which is helping to coordinate the nation’s pandemic-preparedness plan. In the most ambitious vaccination program the nation has mounted since the anti-polio campaign in the 1950s, the federal government has commissioned MedImmune and four other companies to produce enough vaccine to cover the entire U.S. population.

Vaccination is central to the government’s plan for preventing deaths from swine flu. The CDC has recommended that some 159 million adults and children receive either a swine flu shot or a dose of MedImmune’s nasal vaccine this year. Shots are offered in doctors’ offices, hospitals, airports, pharmacies, schools, polling places, shopping malls, and big-box stores like Wal-Mart. In August, New York state required all health-care workers to get both seasonal and swine flu shots. To further protect the populace, the federal government has spent upwards of $3billion stockpiling millions of doses of antiviral drugs like Tamiflu—which are being used both to prevent swine flu and to treat those who fall ill.

But what if everything we think we know about fighting influenza is wrong? What if flu vaccines do not protect people from dying—particularly the elderly, who account for 90 percent of deaths from seasonal flu? And what if the expensive antiviral drugs that the government has stockpiled over the past few years also have little, if any, power to reduce the number of people who die or are hospitalized? The U.S. government—with the support of leaders in the public-health and medical communities—has put its faith in the power of vaccines and antiviral drugs to limit the spread and lethality of swine flu. Other plans to contain the pandemic seem anemic by comparison. Yet some top flu researchers are deeply skeptical of both flu vaccines and antivirals. Like the engineers who warned for years about the levees of New Orleans, these experts caution that our defenses may be flawed, and quite possibly useless against a truly lethal flu. And that unless we are willing to ask fundamental questions about the science behind flu vaccines and antiviral drugs, we could find ourselves, in a bad epidemic, as helpless as the citizens of New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina.

The term influenza, which dates back to the Middle Ages, is taken from the Italian word for occult or astral influence. Then as now, flu seemed to appear out of nowhere each winter, debilitating or killing large numbers of people, only to vanish in the spring. Today, seasonal flu is estimated to kill about 36,000 people in the United States each year, and half a million worldwide.

Yet the flu, in many important respects, remains mysterious. Determining how many deaths it really causes, or even who has it, is no simple matter. We think we have the flu anytime we fall ill with an ailment that brings on headache, malaise, fever, coughing, sneezing, and that achy feeling as if we’ve been sleeping on a bed of rocks, but researchers have found that at most half, and perhaps as few as 7 or 8 percent, of such cases are actually caused by an influenza virus in any given year. More than 200 known viruses and other pathogens can cause the suite of symptoms known as “influenza-like illness”; respiratory syncytial virus, bocavirus, coronavirus, and rhinovirus are just a few of the bugs that can make a person feel rotten. And depending on the season, in up to two-thirds of the cases of flu-like illness, no cause at all can be found.

Nobody knows precisely why we are much more likely to catch the flu in the winter months than at other times of the year. Perhaps it’s because flu viruses flourish in cool temperatures and are killed by exposure to sunlight. Or maybe it’s because in winter, people spend more time indoors, where a sneeze or a cough can more easily spread a virus to others. What is certain is that influenza viruses mutate with amazing speed, so each flu season sees slightly different genetic versions of the viruses that infected people the year before. Every year, the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention collect data from 94 nations on the flu viruses that circulated the previous year, and then make an educated guess about which viruses are likely to circulate in the coming fall. Based on that information, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issues orders to manufacturers in February for a vaccine that includes the three most likely strains.

Every once in a while, however, a very different bug pops up and infects far more people than the normal seasonal flu variants do. It is these novel viruses that are responsible for pandemics, defined by the World Health Organization as events that occur when “a new influenza virus appears against which the human population has no immunity” and which can sweep around the world in a very short time. The worst flu pandemic in recorded history was the “Spanish flu” of 1918–19, at the end of World WarI. A third of the world’s population was infected, with at least 40million and perhaps as many as 100million people dying—more than were killed in World Wars I and II combined. (Some scholars suggest that one reason World WarI ended was that so many soldiers were sick or dying from flu.) Since then, two other flu pandemics have occurred, in 1957 and 1968, neither of which was particularly lethal.

In August, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology projected that this fall and winter, the swine flu, H1N1, could infect anywhere between one-third and one-half of the U.S. population and could kill as many as 90,000 Americans, two and a half times the number killed in a typical flu season. But precisely how deadly, or even how infectious, this year’s H1N1 pandemic will turn out to be won’t be known until it’s over. Most reports coming from the Southern Hemisphere in late August (the end of winter there) suggested that the swine flu is highly infectious, but not particularly lethal. For example, Australian officials estimated they would finish winter with under 1,000 swine flu deaths—fewer than the usual 1,500 to 3,000 from seasonal flu. Among those who have died in the U.S., about 70 percent were already suffering from congenital conditions like cerebral palsy or underlying illnesses such as cancer, asthma, or AIDS, which make people more vulnerable.

Public-health officials consider vaccine their most formidable defense against the pandemic—indeed, against any flu—and on the surface, their faith seems justified. Vaccines developed over the course of the 20th century slashed the death rates of nearly a dozen infectious diseases, such as smallpox and polio, and vaccination became one of medicine’s most potent weapons. Influenza virus was first identified in the 1930s, and by the mid-1940s, researchers had produced a vaccine that was given to soldiers in World WarII. The U.S. government got serious about promoting flu vaccine after the 1957 flu pandemic brought home influenza’s continuing potential to cause widespread illness and death. Today, flu vaccine is a staple of public-health policy; in a normal year, some 100 million Americans get vaccinated.

But while vaccines for, say, whooping cough and polio clearly and dramatically reduced death rates from those diseases, the impact of flu vaccine has been harder to determine. Flu comes and goes with the seasons, and often it does not kill people directly, but rather contributes to death by making the body more susceptible to secondary infections like pneumonia or bronchitis. For this reason, researchers studying the impact of flu vaccination typically look at deaths from all causes during flu season, and compare the vaccinated and unvaccinated populations.

Such comparisons have shown a dramatic difference in mortality between these two groups: study after study has found that people who get a flu shot in the fall are about half as likely to die that winter—from any cause—as people who do not. Get your flu shot each year, the literature suggests, and you will dramatically reduce your chance of dying during flu season.

Yet in the view of several vaccine skeptics, this claim is suspicious on its face. Influenza causes only a small minority of all deaths in the U.S., even among senior citizens, and even after adding in the deaths to which flu might have contributed indirectly. When researchers from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases included all deaths from illnesses that flu aggravates, like lung disease or chronic heart failure, they found that flu accounts for, at most, 10 percent of winter deaths among the elderly. So how could flu vaccine possibly reduce total deaths by half? Tom Jefferson, a physician based in Rome and the head of the Vaccines Field at the Cochrane Collaboration, a highly respected international network of researchers who appraise medical evidence, says: “For a vaccine to reduce mortality by 50 percent and up to 90 percent in some studies means it has to prevent deaths not just from influenza, but also from falls, fires, heart disease, strokes, and car accidents. That’s not a vaccine, that’s a miracle.”

The estimate of 50 percent mortality reduction is based on “cohort studies,” which compare death rates in large groups, or cohorts, of people who choose to be vaccinated, against death rates in groups who don’t. But people who choose to be vaccinated may differ in many important respects from people who go unvaccinated—and those differences can influence the chance of death during flu season. Education, lifestyle, income, and many other “confounding” factors can come into play, and as a result, cohort studies are notoriously prone to bias. When researchers crunch the numbers, they typically try to factor out variables that could bias the results, but, as Jefferson remarks, “you can adjust for the confounders you know about, not for the ones you don’t,” and researchers can’t always anticipate what factors are likely to be important to whether a patient dies from flu. There is always the chance that they might miss some critical confounder that renders their results entirely wrong.

When Lisa Jackson, a physician and senior investigator with the Group Health Research Center, in Seattle, began wondering aloud to colleagues if maybe something was amiss with the estimate of 50 percent mortality reduction for people who get flu vaccine, the response she got sounded more like doctrine than science. “People told me, ‘No good can come of [asking] this,’” she says. “‘Potentially a lot of bad could happen’ for me professionally by raising any criticism that might dissuade people from getting vaccinated, because of course, ‘We know that vaccine works.’ This was the prevailing wisdom.”

Nonetheless, in 2004, Jackson and three colleagues set out to determine whether the mortality difference between the vaccinated and the unvaccinated might be caused by a phenomenon known as the “healthy user effect.” They hypothesized that on average, people who get vaccinated are simply healthier than those who don’t, and thus less liable to die over the short term. People who don’t get vaccinated may be bedridden or otherwise too sick to go get a shot. They may also be more likely to succumb to flu or any other illness, because they are generally older and sicker. To test their thesis, Jackson and her colleagues combed through eight years of medical data on more than 72,000 people 65 and older. They looked at who got flu shots and who didn’t. Then they examined which group’s members were more likely to die of any cause when it was not flu season.

Jackson’s findings showed that outside of flu season, the baseline risk of death among people who did not get vaccinated was approximately 60 percent higher than among those who did, lending support to the hypothesis that on average, healthy people chose to get the vaccine, while the “frail elderly” didn’t or couldn’t. In fact, the healthy-user effect explained the entire benefit that other researchers were attributing to flu vaccine, suggesting that the vaccine itself might not reduce mortality at all. Jackson’s papers “are beautiful,” says Lone Simonsen, who is a professor of global health at George Washington University, in Washington, D.C., and an internationally recognized expert in influenza and vaccine epidemiology. “They are classic studies in epidemiology, they are so carefully done.”

The results were also so unexpected that many experts simply refused to believe them. Jackson’s papers were turned down for publication in the top-ranked medical journals. One flu expert who reviewed her studies for the Journal of the American Medical Association wrote, “To accept these results would be to say that the earth is flat!” When the papers were finally published in 2006, in the less prominent International Journal of Epidemiology, they were largely ignored by doctors and public-health officials. “The answer I got,” says Jackson, “was not the right answer.”

The history of flu vaccination suggests other reasons to doubt claims that it dramatically reduces mortality. In 2004, for example, vaccine production fell behind, causing a 40 percent drop in immunization rates. Yet mortality did not rise. In addition, vaccine “mismatches” occurred in 1968 and 1997: in both years, the vaccine that had been produced in the summer protected against one set of viruses, but come winter, a different set was circulating. In effect, nobody was vaccinated. Yet death rates from all causes, including flu and the various illnesses it can exacerbate, did not budge. Sumit Majumdar, a physician and researcher at the University of Alberta, in Canada, offers another historical observation: rising rates of vaccination of the elderly over the past two decades have not coincided with a lower overall mortality rate. In 1989, only 15 percent of people over age 65 in the U.S. and Canada were vaccinated against flu. Today, more than 65 percent are immunized. Yet death rates among the elderly during flu season have increased rather than decreased.

Vaccine proponents call Majumdar’s last observation an “ecological fallacy,” because he fails, in their view, to consider changes in the larger environment that could have boosted death rates over the years—even as rising vaccination rates were doing their part to keep mortality in check. The proponents suggest, for instance, that influenza viruses may have become more contagious over time, and thus are infecting greater numbers of elderly people, including some who have been vaccinated. Or maybe the viruses are becoming more lethal. Or maybe the elderly have less immunity to flu than they once did because, say, their diets have changed.

Or maybe vaccine just doesn’t prevent deaths in the elderly. Of course, that’s the one possibility that vaccine adherents won’t consider. Nancy Cox, the CDC’s influenza division chief, says flatly, “The flu vaccine is the best way to protect against flu.” Anthony Fauci, a physician and the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the NIH, where much of the basic science of flu vaccine has been worked out, says, “I have no doubt that it is effective in conferring some degree of protection. To say otherwise is a minority view.”

Majumdar says, “We keep coming up against the belief that we’ve reduced mortality by 50 percent,” and when researchers poke holes in the evidence, “people pound the pulpit.”

The most vocal—and undoubtedly most vexing—critic of the gospel of flu vaccine is the Cochrane Collaboration’s Jefferson, who’s also an epidemiologist trained at the famed London School of Tropical Hygiene, and who, in Lisa Jackson’s view, makes other skeptics seem “moderate by comparison.” Among his fellow flu researchers, Jefferson’s outspokenness has made him something of a pariah. At a 2007 meeting on pandemic preparedness at a hotel in Bethesda, Maryland, Jefferson, who’d been invited to speak at the conference, was not greeted by any of the colleagues milling about the lobby. He ate his meals in the hotel restaurant alone, surrounded by scientists chatting amiably at other tables. He shrugs off such treatment. As a medical officer working for the United Nations in 1992, during the siege of Sarajevo, he and other peacekeepers were captured and held for more than a month by militiamen brandishing AK-47s and reeking of alcohol. Professional shunning seems trivial by comparison, he says.

“Tom Jefferson has taken a lot of heat just for saying, ‘Here’s the evidence: it’s not very good,’” says Majumdar. “The reaction has been so dogmatic and even hysterical that you’d think he was advocating stealing babies.” Yet while other flu researchers may not like what Jefferson has to say, they cannot ignore the fact that he knows the flu-vaccine literature better than anyone else on the planet. He leads an international team of researchers who have combed through hundreds of flu-vaccine studies. The vast majority of the studies were deeply flawed, says Jefferson. “Rubbish is not a scientific term, but I think it’s the term that applies.” Only four studies were properly designed to pin down the effectiveness of flu vaccine, he says, and two of those showed that it might be effective in certain groups of patients, such as school-age children with no underlying health issues like asthma. The other two showed equivocal results or no benefit.

Flu researchers have been fooled into thinking vaccine is more effective than the data suggest, in part, says Jefferson, by the imprecision of the statistics. The only way to know if someone has the flu—as opposed to influenza-like illness—is by putting a Q-tip into the patient’s throat or nose and running a test, which simply isn’t done that often. Likewise, nobody really has a handle on how many of the deaths that are blamed on flu were actually caused by a flu virus, because few are confirmed by a laboratory. “I used to be a family physician,” says Jefferson. “I’ve never seen a patient come to my office with H1N1 written on his forehead. When an old person dies of respiratory failure after an influenza-like illness, they nearly always get coded as influenza.”

There’s one other way flu researchers may be fooled into thinking flu vaccine is effective, Jefferson says. All vaccines work by delivering a dose of killed or weakened virus or bacteria, which provokes the immune system into producing antibodies. When the person is subsequently exposed to the real thing, the body is already prepared to repel the bug completely or to get rid of it after a mild illness. Flu researchers often use antibody response as a way of gauging the effectiveness of vaccine, on the assumption that levels of antibodies in the blood of people who have been vaccinated are a good predictor—although an imperfect one—of how well they can ward off the infection.

There’s some merit to this reasoning. Unfortunately, the very people who most need protection from the flu also have immune systems that are least likely to respond to vaccine. Studies show that young, healthy people mount a glorious immune response to seasonal flu vaccine, and their response reduces their chances of getting the flu and may lessen the severity of symptoms if they do get it. But they aren’t the people who die from seasonal flu. By contrast, the elderly, particularly those over age70, don’t have a good immune response to vaccine—and they’re the ones who account for most flu deaths. (Infants with severe disabilities, such as leukemia and congenital lung disease, and people who are immune-compromised—from AIDS, or diabetes, or cancer treatment—make up the rest. As of August8, only 36 deaths from swine flu had been confirmed among children in the U.S., and the overwhelming majority of those children had multiple, severe health disorders.)

In Jefferson’s view, this raises a troubling conundrum: Is vaccine necessary for those in whom it is effective, namely the young and healthy? Conversely, is it effective in those for whom it seems to be necessary, namely the old, the very young, and the infirm? These questions have led to the most controversial aspect of Jefferson’s work: his call for placebo-controlled trials, studies that would randomly give half the test subjects vaccine and the other half a dummy shot, or placebo. Only such large, well-constructed, randomized trials can show with any precision how effective vaccine really is, and for whom.

In the flu-vaccine world, Jefferson’s call for placebo-controlled studies is considered so radical that even some of his fellow skeptics oppose it. Majumdar, the Ottawa researcher, says he believes that evidence of a benefit among children is established and that public-health officials should try to protect seniors by immunizing children, health-care workers, and other people around them, and thus reduce the spread of the flu. Lone Simonsen explains the prevailing view: “It is considered unethical to do trials in populations that are recommended to have vaccine,” a stance that is shared by everybody from the CDC’s Nancy Cox to Anthony Fauci at the NIH. They feel strongly that vaccine has been shown to be effective and that a sham vaccine would put test subjects at unnecessary risk of getting a serious case of the flu. In a phone interview, Fauci at first voiced the opinion that a placebo trial in the elderly might be acceptable, but he called back later to retract his comment, saying that such a trial “would be unethical.” Jefferson finds this view almost exactly backward: “What do you do when you have uncertainty? You test,” he says. “We have built huge, population-based policies on the flimsiest of scientific evidence. The most unethical thing to do is to carry on business as usual.”

Just after 6 p.m. on a warm Friday evening in July, Dr. David Newman is only minutes into a 10-hour shift in the emergency room of New York City’s St. Luke’s Hospital, and already he has assumed responsibility for 11 patients. The young Italian tourist sitting on the bed in front of the doctor has meningitis, and through an interpreter, Newman tells him he almost certainly has the viral form of the disease, which will do nothing more than make him feel ill for a few days. There is a tiny chance, says Newman, that the illness is caused by a bacterium, which can be deadly, but he is almost positive that’s not what the tourist has. He says to his patient, “I can’t tell you with 100 percent certainty that you don’t have it, but if you do, you’ll begin to feel worse and you’ll need to come back.” The tourist, on learning that he might be infected with a potentially lethal disease, looks down at his feet and confesses that he is much more worried about another illness: swine flu. Newman smiles patiently. “It would be nice if you had swine flu,” he says. “Compared to bacterial meningitis, swine flu is safe.”

Late last spring, as headlines and airwaves warned of a possible pandemic, patients like Newman’s began clogging emergency rooms across the country, a sneezing, coughing, infectious tide of humanity more worried than truly sick, but whose mere presence in the emergency room has endangered the lives of others. “Studies show that when there is ER crowding, mortality goes up, because patients who need immediate attention don’t get it,” says Newman, the director of clinical research in the Department of Emergency Medicine at the hospital, which is affiliated with Columbia University. In an average year the ER at St. Luke’s, a sprawling 1,076-bed hospital on 113th Street, takes in 110,000 patients, some 300 a day. At the height of the summer swine flu outbreak, that number doubled. The vast majority of panicky patients who came in the door at St. Luke’s and other emergency departments didn’t actually have the virus, and of those who did, most were not sick enough to need hospitalization. Even so, says Newman, when patients with even mild flu symptoms show up in the hospital, they vastly increase the spread of the virus, simply because they inevitably sneeze and cough in rooms that are jammed with other people.

Many of the worried sick come to St. Luke’s and other hospitals in search of antiviral drugs. The CDC recommends the use of two drugs against H1N1: oseltamivir and zanamivir, better known by their brand names, Tamiflu and Relenza, which together form the second pillar of the government’s anti-pandemic-flu strategy. Public-health officials at the state and local levels are also recommending the drugs. Guidelines issued by the New York City Department of Health, says Newman, “encourage us to give a prescription to just about every patient with the sniffles,” a practice that some experts worry will quickly lead to resistant strains of the virus.

Indeed, that’s already happening. Daniel Janies, an associate professor of biomedical informatics at Ohio State University, tracks the genetic mutations that allow flu virus to develop resistance to drugs. Flu can become resistant to Tamiflu in a matter of days, he says. Handing out the drug early in the pandemic, when H1N1 poses only a minimal threat to the vast majority of patients, strikes him as “shortsighted.” Indeed, samples of resistant H1N1 were cropping up by midsummer, increasing the likelihood that come late fall, many people will be infected with a resistant strain of swine flu. Alarmed at that prospect, the World Health Organization issued an alert on August 21, recommending that Tamiflu and Relenza be used only in severe cases and in patients who are at high risk of serious complications. By mid-August, two U.S. swine flu patients had developed Tamiflu-resistant strains.

The U.S. first began stockpiling Tamiflu and Relenza back in 2005, in the wake of concern that an outbreak in Southeast Asia of bird flu, a far more deadly form of the disease, might go global. On November 1, 2005, President George W.Bush pronounced pandemic flu a “danger to our homeland,” and he asked Congress to approve legislation that included $1billion for the production and stockpiling of antivirals. This was after Congress had already approved $1.8billion to stockpile Tamiflu for the military, a decision that was made during the tenure of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. (Before joining the Bush Cabinet, Rumsfeld was chairman for four years of Gilead Sciences, the company that holds the patent on Tamiflu, and he held millions of dollars’ worth of stock in the company. According to Roll Call, an online newspaper covering events on Capitol Hill, Rumsfeld says he recused himself from all government decisions involving Tamiflu. Gilead’s stock price rose more than 50 percent in 2005, when the government’s plan was announced.)

As with vaccines, the scientific evidence for Tamiflu and Relenza is thin at best. In its general-information section, the CDC’s Web site tells readers that antiviral drugs can “make you feel better faster.” True, but not by much. On average, Tamiflu (which accounts for 85 to 90 percent of the flu antiviral-drug market) cuts the duration of flu symptoms by 24hours in otherwise healthy people. In exchange for a slightly shorter bout of illness, as many as one in five people taking Tamiflu will experience nausea and vomiting. About one in five children will have neuropsychiatric side effects, possibly including anxiety and suicidal behavior. In Japan, where Tamiflu is liberally prescribed, the drug may have been responsible for 50 deaths from cardiopulmonary arrest, from 2001 to 2007, according to Rokuro Hama, the chair of the Japan Institute of Pharmacovigilance.

Such side effects might be worth risking if the antivirals prevented serious complications of flu, such as pneumonia, hospitalization, and death. Roche Laboratories, the company licensed to manufacture and market Tamiflu, says its drug does just that. In two September2006 press releases, the company announced, “Tamiflu significantly reduces the risk of death from influenza: New data shows treatment was associated with more than a two third reduction in deaths,” and “Children with influenza [are] 53 percent less likely to contract pneumonia when treated with Tamiflu.” Once again cohort studies (the same kind of potentially biased research that led to the conclusion that flu vaccine cuts mortality by 50 percent) are behind these claims. Tamiflu costs $10 a pill. It is possible that people who take it are more likely to be insured and affluent, or at least middle-class, than those who do not, and a large body of evidence shows that the well-off nearly always fare better than the poor when stricken with an infectious disease, including flu. In both 2003 and 2009, reviews of randomized placebo-controlled studies found that the study populations simply weren’t large enough to answer the question: Does Tamiflu prevent pneumonia?

As late as this August, the company’s own Web site contained the following statement, which was written under the direction of the FDA: “Tamiflu has not been proven to have a positive impact on the potential consequences (such as hospitalizations, mortality, or economic impact) of seasonal, avian, or pandemic influenza.” An FDA spokesperson said recently that the agency is unaware of any data submitted by Roche that would support the claims in the company’s September 2006 news release about the drug’s reducing flu deaths.

Why, then, has the federal government stockpiled millions of doses of antivirals, at a cost of several billion dollars? And why are physicians being encouraged to hand out prescriptions to large numbers of people, without sound evidence that the drugs will help? The short answer may be that public-health officials feel they must offer something, and these drugs are the only possible remedies at hand. “I have to agree with the critics the antiviral question is not cut-and-dried,” says Fauci. “But [these drugs are] the best we have.” The CDC’s Nancy Cox also acknowledges that the science is not as sound as she might like, but the government still recommends their use. And as with vaccines, she considers additional randomized placebo-controlled trials of the antiviral drugs to be “unethical” and thus out of the question.

This is the curious state of debate about the government’s two main weapons in the fight against pandemic flu. At first, government officials declare that both vaccines and drugs are effective. When faced with contrary evidence, the adherents acknowledge that the science is not as crisp as they might wish. Then, in response to calls for placebo-controlled trials, which would provide clear results one way or the other, the proponents say such studies would deprive patients of vaccines and drugs that have already been deemed effective. “We can’t just let people die,” says Cox.

Students of U.S. medical history will find this circular logic familiar: it is a long-recurring theme in American medicine, and one that has, on occasion, had deadly consequences. In 1925, Sinclair Lewis caricatured a medical culture that allowed belief—and profits—to distort science in his Pulitzer Prize–winning book, Arrowsmith. Based on the lives of the real-life microbiologists Paul de Kruif and Jacques Loeb, Lewis tells the story of Martin Arrowsmith, a physician who invents a new vaccine during a deadly outbreak of bubonic plague. But his efforts to test the vaccine’s efficacy are frustrated by an angry community that desperately wants to believe the vaccine works, and a profit-hungry institute that rushes the vaccine into use prematurely—forever preempting the proper studies that are needed.

The annals of medicine are littered with treatments and tests that became medical doctrine on the slimmest of evidence, and were then declared sacrosanct and beyond scientific investigation. In the 1980s and ’90s, for example, cancer specialists were convinced that high-dose chemotherapy followed by a bone-marrow transplant was the best hope for women with advanced breast cancer, and many refused to enroll their patients in randomized clinical trials that were designed to test transplants against the standard—and far less toxic—therapy. The trials, they said, were unethical, because they knew transplants worked. When the studies were concluded, in 1999 and 2000, it turned out that bone-marrow transplants were killing patients. Another recent example involves drugs related to the analgesic lidocaine. In the 1970s, doctors noticed that the drugs seemed to make the heart beat rhythmically, and they began prescribing them to patients suffering from irregular heartbeats, assuming that restoring a proper rhythm would reduce the patient’s risk of dying. Prominent cardiologists for years opposed clinical trials of the drugs, saying it would be medical malpractice to withhold them from patients in a control group. The drugs were widely used for two decades, until a government-sponsored study showed in 1989 that patients who were prescribed the medicine were three and a half times as likely to die as those given a placebo.

Demonstrating the efficacy (or lack thereof) of vaccine and antivirals during flu season would not be hard to do, given the proper resources. Take a group of people who are at risk of getting the flu, and randomly assign half to get vaccine and the other half a dummy shot. Then count the people in each group who come down with flu, suffer serious illness, or die. (A similarly designed trial would suffice for the antivirals.) It might sound coldhearted, but it is the only way to know for certain whether, and for whom, current remedies actually work. It would also be useful to know whether vaccinating healthy people—who can mount an immune response on their own—protects the more vulnerable people around them. For example, immunizing nursing-home staff and healthy children is thought to reduce the spread of flu to the elderly and the immune-compromised. Pinning down the effectiveness of this strategy would be a bit more complex, but not impossible.

In the absence of such evidence, we are left with two possibilities. One is that flu vaccine is in fact highly beneficial, or at least helpful. Solid evidence to that effect would encourage more citizens—and particularly more health professionals—to get their shots and prevent the flu’s spread. As it stands, more than 50 percent of health-care workers say they do not intend to get vaccinated for swine flu and don’t routinely get their shots for seasonal flu, in part because many of them doubt the vaccines’ efficacy. The other possibility, of course, is that we’re relying heavily on vaccines and antivirals that simply don’t work, or don’t work as well as we believe. And as a result, we may be neglecting other, proven measures that could minimize the death rate during pandemics.

“Vaccines give us a false sense of security,” says Sumit Majumdar. “When you have a strategy that [everybody thinks] reduces death by 50 percent, it’s pretty hard to invest resources to come up with better remedies.” For instance, health departments in every state are responsible for submitting plans to the CDC for educating the public, in the event of a serious pandemic, about hand-washing and “social distancing” (voluntary quarantines, school closings, and even enforcement of mandatory quarantines to keep infected people in their homes). Putting these plans into action will require considerable coordination among government officials, the media, and health-care workers—and widespread buy-in from the public. Yet little discussion has appeared in the press to help people understand the measures they can take to best protect themselves during a flu outbreak—other than vaccination and antivirals.

“Launched early enough and continued long enough, social distancing can blunt the impact of a pandemic,” says Howard Markel, a pediatrician and historian of medicine at the University of Michigan. Washing hands diligently, avoiding public places during an outbreak, and having a supply of canned goods and water on hand are sound defenses, he says. Such steps could be highly effective in helping to slow the spread of the virus. In Mexico, for instance, where the first swine flu cases were identified in March, the government launched an aggressive program to get people to wash their hands and exhorted those who were sick to stay home and effectively quarantine themselves. In the United Kingdom, the national health department is promoting a “buddy” program, encouraging citizens to find a friend or neighbor willing to deliver food and medicine so people who fall ill can stay home.

In the U.S., by contrast, our reliance on vaccination may have the opposite effect: breeding feelings of invulnerability, and leading some people to ignore simple measures like better-than-normal hygiene, staying away from those who are sick, and staying home when they feel ill. Likewise, our encouragement of early treatment with antiviral drugs will likely lead many people to show up at the hospital at first sniffle. “There’s no worse place to go than the hospital during flu season,” says Majumdar. Those who don’t have the flu are more likely to catch it there, and those who do will spread it around, he says. “But we don’t tell people this.”

All of which leaves open the question of what people should do when faced with a decision about whether to get themselves and their families vaccinated. There is little immediate danger from getting a seasonal flu shot, aside from a sore arm and mild flu-like symptoms. The safety of the swine flu vaccine remains to be seen. In the absence of better evidence, vaccines and antivirals must be viewed as only partial and uncertain defenses against the flu. And they may be mere talismans. By being afraid to do the proper studies now, we may be condemning ourselves to using treatments based on illusion and faith rather than sound science.

See:

http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200911/brownlee-h1n1