Neuron Firing Pattern Tied To Reward Circuit

   (NIH) - 12/24/2012 - A specific pattern of neuronal firing in a brain reward circuit instantly rendered mice vulnerable to depression-like behavior induced by acute severe stress, a study supported by the National Institutes of Health has found. When researchers used a high-tech method to mimic the pattern, previously resilient mice instantly succumbed to a depression-like syndrome of social withdrawal and reduced pleasure-seeking — they avoided other animals and lost their sweet tooth. When the firing pattern was inhibited in vulnerable mice, they instantly became resilient.
   "For the first time, we have shown that split-second control of specific brain circuitry can switch depression-related behavior on and off with flashes of an LED light," explained Ming-Hu Han, Ph.D., of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York City, a grantee of NIH’s National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). "These results add to mounting clues about the mechanism of fast-acting antidepressant responses."
   Han, Eric Nestler, M.D., Ph.D.,of Mount Sinai, and colleagues, report on their study online, Dec. 12, 2012, in the journal Nature.
   In a companion article, NIMH grantees Kay Tye, Ph.D., of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Mass., and Karl Deisseroth, M.D., Ph.D., of Stanford University, Stanford, Calif., used the same cutting-edge technique to control mouse brain activity in real time. Their study reveals that the same reward circuit neuronal activity pattern had the opposite effect when the depression-like behavior was induced by daily presentations of chronic, unpredictable mild physical stressors, instead of by shorter-term exposure to severe social stress.
   Prior to the new studies, Han's team suspected that a telltale pattern — rapid firing of neurons that secrete the chemical messenger dopamine in a key circuit hub — makes an animal vulnerable to the depression-like effects of acute severe stress, and that slower firing supports resilience. But they lacked direct, real-time evidence.
   To pinpoint cause-and-effect, they turned to a research technology pioneered by Deisseroth, called optogenetics. It melds fiber optics and genetic engineering to precisely control the activity of a specific brain circuit in a living, behaving animal. Genetically modified viruses are used to inject light-reactive proteins, borrowed from primitive organisms like algae, to make the circuitry similarly light-responsive.
   The researchers had previously shown that neurons in the reward circuit hub deep in the brain, called the ventral tegmental area (VTA), fire at normal rates in social stress-resilient mice, but at high rates in social stress-susceptible mice. So they embedded an LED-lit optical fiber aimed at the VTA circuitry of genetically modified resilient mice to convert them into susceptible mice by triggering high firing rates.
   Normally, it takes 10 days of repeated encounters with a dominant animal — an experimental procedure called social defeat stress — to induce depression-related behaviors. Even after that, some mice emerge seemingly unscathed. But these resilient animals — in which the reward circuit had been genetically modified for optogenetic control — instantly succumbed to a long-lasting depression-like syndrome after light pulses triggered neural activity mimicking the high firing rates seen in the susceptible animals.
   In subsequent experiments, using similar optogenetic strategies, the researchers discovered that inhibiting the reward circuit activity pattern in stress-susceptible mice instantly converted them into stress-resilient animals. The reward circuit projects from the VTA to an area in the center front of the brain, called the nucleus accumbens. This study suggests that dopamine neurons firing at high rates in this specific circuit projection encode a signal for susceptibility to depression induced by acute, severe stress. By contrast, a circuit projection from the VTA to the prefrontal cortex, in the top front of the brain (see diagram), was found to serve an opposite function
   Depression in humans often stems from milder stressors over longer periods of time. Tye and Deisseroth used optogenetics to probe reward circuit workings related to depression-like behaviors in rodents exposed to stressors like white noise, crowded housing, or continuous darkness or illumination. Exposure to some of these milder stressors lasted 10 weeks, compared to the 10-days of social defeat stress.
   "We sought to mimic gradual, stress-induced transitions to depressed-like states, as are often seen clinically," explained Deisseroth, who is a practicing psychiatrist as well as a neuroscientist.
   In contrast to the Han-Nestler results after social defeat stress, following 10 weeks of unpredictable chronic mild stress, optogentically inducing high firing rates in VTA dopamine neurons instantly reversed such depression-like behaviors induced by chronic mild stressors — and vice versa. Also opposite to the social defeat stress findings, optogenetically inhibiting VTA dopamine neurons induced depression-like states.
   "The variable effects that stressors of different types induce in the dopamine system may point to the need for distinct treatment strategies for patients whose depressions stem from different types of experiences," said Tye, who is leading a research group studying the neural underpinnings of motivational and emotional processing.
   When Tye and Deisseroth infused agents that block binding of the chemical messenger glutatmate in the nucleus accumbens, they produced an antidepressant response – mice struggled more to escape the stressor. They note that this is consistent with the effects of the fast-acting antidepressant ketamine, which similarly blocks glutamate.
   While optogenetics is providing insights into rapid antidepressant mechanisms, the technique is not suitable for treatment of depression in humans.
   "These stunning demonstrations that depression-like states can literally be switched on and off underscore that context — stressor type and intensity — is pivotal in the workings of the neurons and circuit implicated," said NIMH Director Thomas R. Insel, M.D. "These new, precise circuit breakers are advancing our understanding of how specific brain pathways regulate behavior."

Economic Confidence Higher Year Over Year

   RIVERWOODS, Ill.- (BUSINESS WIRE) - 12/5/2012 -The Discover U.S. Spending Monitor declined 2.7 points to 95.4 in November from 98.1 in October, reflecting lower consumer confidence in personal finances. However, consumers indicated that they intend to spend more in December during the holiday season. The Monitor is a 5-year-old daily poll tracking economic confidence and spending intentions of nearly 8,200 consumers throughout the month.
Consumers Maintain Economic Confidence
   The percentage of consumers rating the U.S. economy as good or excellent remained the same as October at 18 percent, up 10 percentage points from November 2011.
   In November 2012, 51 percent of consumers viewed the economy as poor, an 11-point decrease from November 2011.
   Female respondents who rated the economy as good or excellent in November increased 2 percentage points to 18 percent compared to October. However, male respondents who rated the economy as good or excellent declined 3 percentage points from October, also to 18 percent.
   Remaining at a Monitor high, 35 percent of respondents expect the economy to improve, a 16-point year over year improvement from November 2011.
   Consumers with an income of greater than $75,000 and those making between $40,000 and $75,000 both reported a decline in expectations of the economy getting better (down 2 points to 44 percent from October and down 1 percentage point to 34 percent, respectively). However, those making less than $40,000, who felt the economy was getting better, increased 3 percentage points to 31 percent.
Outlook on Personal Finances Declines
   Consumer outlook on personal finances declined from October to November 2012, but remained up year over year.
   Consumers rating their personal finances as good or excellent declined 2 percentage points in November from the previous month to 35 percent. However, this is 2 percentage points higher than November 2011.
   While the percent of respondents who expect their personal finances to improve in the future declined 2 points from October to 26 percent, this is 7 percentage points higher than November 2011.
Respondents between ages 18 to 39 who rate their personal finances as poor increased 7 points from October to 28 percent.
Consumers Intend to Spend More in December

   Despite a decline in confidence about their personal finances, 39 percent of consumers are gearing up for the holidays and have plans to increase their spending in December. This is up 9 percentage points from last month and is typical this time of year. Twelve percent of consumers also plan on increasing their discretionary personal spending such as going out to dinner and the movies, up 3 percentage points from last month.
   However, consumers plan to offset their discretionary spending in other areas.
   On major personal purchases such as a vacation, 46 percent expect to spend less, up 1 percentage point from October.
   On household expenses, such as gas and groceries, 9 percent of consumers expect to spend less next month, up 2 percentage points from October.
   Consumers also plan to spend less on household improvements next month, a 2-point increase from October to 49 percent.
   42 percent of respondents intend to save or invest less in December, up 4 percentage points from last month.
About Discover U.S. Spending Monitor
    The Discover U.S. Spending Monitor is a monthly index of consumer spending intentions and capacity that is based on interviews with a random sample of 8,200 U.S. adults conducted at a rate of 275 per night. In addition to spending, the survey asks consumers their opinions on the U.S. economy and their personal finances. The Monitor began in May 2007 with a base index of 100. Surveys are conducted by Rasmussen Reports, an independent survey research firm (http://www.rasmussenreports.com).

Zillow, Inc. Faces Class Action Suit Over Stock

   SEATTLE - (BUSINESS WIRE) - 11/30/2012 - Securities law firm Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro, LLP (“Hagens Berman”), recently  announced the filing of a class-action securities lawsuit against Zillow, Inc. (NASDAQ:Z) (“Zillow”) on behalf of a proposed class of investors who purchased Zillow stock during the period from Feb. 15, 2012, to Nov. 6, 2012 (the “Class Period”), inclusive.
    Shareholders who purchased or otherwise acquired Zillow common stock during the Class Period are encouraged to contact Hagens Berman attorney Karl Barth at 206-623-7292 or to contact the Hagens Berman legal team through e-mail at Zillow@hbsslaw.com to discuss their legal rights. Investors can also contact Mr. Barth by visiting www.hb-securities.com/cases/Zillow.
    Investors who wish to serve as lead plaintiff in the case must move the court no later than Jan. 28, 2013. Any member of the proposed class may move the court to serve as lead plaintiff through counsel of their choice, or may choose to do nothing and remain an absent class member. Class members need not seek to become a lead plaintiff in order to share in any possible recovery.
    Hagens Berman’s lawsuit, filed Nov. 29, 2012, in the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington, alleges that Zillow and certain of its officers violated the Securities Exchange Act of 1934.
    On Nov. 5, 2012, Zillow announced its third quarter, 2012, financial results and reduced guidance for the fourth quarter and the full 2012 year. On the news, Zillow’s stock price fell nearly 18 percent, closing at $28.15 per share.
    The complaint alleges that the defendants issued false and misleading statements to investors during the Class Period, causing the company’s stock to trade at an artificially high level. It claims the company misled investors regarding issues the company was having in signing up new real estate agents as subscribers, among other issues.
    The complaint further alleges that company insiders sold 3.1 million shares of Zillow stock for nearly $115 million while the stock traded at an artificially high price.
    The plaintiff in the case seeks to recover damages on behalf of the class and is represented by Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro, LLP. Hagens Berman is a nationwide investor-protection law firm, with many years of experience prosecuting investor class actions and actions involving financial fraud.
    For more information about Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro, LLP, or to review a copy of the complaint filed in this action, visit www.hb-securities.com/cases/Zillow.

Officials Target Civil Business Opportunity Cases

   (USDOJ) - 11/15/2012 - The Justice Department announced on Nov. 15 the filing of several criminal and civil business opportunity fraud cases, initiated as part of a joint sweep with the Federal Trade Commission and several states. Business opportunity fraud schemes take advantage of people looking for work by luring them in with false promises of big profits and leaving them worse off than they started. The cases include criminal charges against 14 individuals and civil cases against three businesses. The criminal and civil cases announced today are part of a series of investigations named “Operation Lost Opportunity.”
    The Justice Department’s cases are part of the efforts of the President’s Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force and are being handled by the Civil Division’s Consumer Protection Branch, in coordination with the U.S. Attorney’s Offices for the Central District of California, the Southern District of California, the Southern District of Florida, the District of Oregon, the Western District of North Carolina, the Western District of Pennsylvania and the Southern District of Texas.
    Seven different business opportunity schemes are the targets of the Justice Department’s actions.   According to the charging documents, the criminal schemes involved placement of advertisements online and in newspapers that touted the profits that could be earned by purchasing a business opportunity to own and operate vending machines or display racks.   The United States alleges that the schemes operated as follows:     Salespeople explained that consumers who purchased the opportunity would earn substantial income from the equipment.   According to the sales pitch, the vending machines or display racks would be placed in store locations in the purchaser’s hometown and would offer candy, refreshments or jewelry, depending on which opportunity was being offered.   According to the sales pitch, the purchaser would then receive profits based upon sales from the vending machines or display racks.
    “In an attempt to lure wary consumers, fraudsters have crafted business opportunity schemes that promise what appear to be more realistic returns backed up by false success stories,” said Tony West, Acting Associate Attorney General.   “But we are more determined than ever to bring to justice those who are defrauding Americans out of their time, money, and faith in our economic system – this law enforcement sweep represents a coordinated effort to combat business opportunity fraud on multiple fronts.”
    Enticed by the promise of a “turnkey” business, hundreds of consumers lost millions of dollars purchasing the fraudulent business opportunities targeted in this sweep.   The four businesses involved in the criminal component of the sweep include the following:  

·          Mark Five Inc., a Houston company that promoted a jewelry business opportunity.   O n November 12, 2012 and November 14, 2012, the Department of Justice filed criminal informations charging Billie Joyce Sanders and Michael Cupina in connection with their conduct at Mark Five.   Each defendant was charged with conspiracy, which carries a maximum prison term of five years.   According to the charging documents, Mark Five salespeople referred potential business opportunity buyers to Sanders and Cupina, who falsely claimed to own and operate successful jewelry display racks.   One other individual was previously charged in connection with Mark Five.   In February 2012, a grand jury in Houston indicted Mark Five principal Robert King on charges of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, and substantive mail and wire fraud.   King’s trial is scheduled for February 2013.
·          The Lauren Jewelry Collection, an Atascocita, Texas, company that promoted a jewelry business opportunity.   On November 13, 2012, the Department of Justice filed a criminal information in the Southern District of Texas charging Regina Rush in connection with the Lauren Jewelry Collection.   Rush was charged with one count of conspiracy, which carries a maximum prison term of five years.   According to the charging document, Rush served as the proprietor of the firm and made false representations about the success of distributors and the authenticity of references.   The charges state that Rush encouraged potential purchasers to call references who made false statements about their experiences with the Lauren Jewelry Collection.
·          American Vending Systems (AVS), a Colorado company that promoted energy candy business opportunities.   On November 14, 2012, the Department of Justice filed a criminal information in the Western District of Pennsylvania charging Pearl Pastilock in connection with her conduct at AVS.   Pastilock was charged with one count of conspiracy, which carries a maximum prison term of five years.   According to the charging document, AVS salespeople referred potential buyers to Pastilock, who falsely claimed to own and operate successful energy candy vending machines.   Five other individuals were previously charged for their conduct at AVS and related firms.   Richard Black, Gary Luckner, Lou Gubitosa, Trey Friedmann and Mel Hendricks were all charged and pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges for this conduct.
·          Multivend LLC, dba Vendstar, a New York company that promoted candy vending machine business opportunities.   On Oct. 10, 2012, a grand jury in the Southern District of Florida indicted 10 individuals for misrepresenting a number of facts in connection with the sale of Vendstar business opportunities.   More information about these charges can be found at:  
    The charging documents referred to above contain only accusations against the defendants and are not evidence of guilt.   The defendants should be presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
    The civil cases the Justice Department filed allege that three businesses violated the Federal Trade Commission’s Business Opportunity Rule.   The businesses include:
·          The Zaken Corp., also doing business as The Zaken Corporation, QuickSell and QuikSell, (Zaken).   Zaken is alleged to be a Thousand Oaks, Calif., corporation that offers a work-at-home business opportunity.   According to the complaint against Zaken and its corporate officer Tiran Zaken, the defendants offer consumers a business plan to locate and contact businesses with excess inventory to sell.  The complaint alleges that Zaken represents that once purchasers of the opportunity identify businesses interested in selling excess inventory, Zaken will find a buyer for the inventory and give the purchaser a “finder’s fee” equal to half of the total sales price.   Among other allegations, the complaint filed by the Justice Department alleges that Zaken makes unsubstantiated claims, including that purchasers “can make thousands of dollars monthly for working just 2 to 4 hours a week from home.”   This case was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.
·          Christopher Andrew Sterling, doing business as Sterling Visa, Rebate Data Processors and Credit Card Workers.   Sterling is alleged to have run several work-at-home schemes from Southern California.  According to the complaint, Sterling represents that purchasers of his opportunity will make a substantial income by “processing” applications for product rebates or credit card applications. Among other allegations, the government’s civil complaint alleges that Sterling failed to make required disclosures under the FTC’s Business Opportunity Rule and made unsubstantiated earnings claims.   This case was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California.
·          Smart Tools LLC, a Tualatin, Ore., company.   The complaint against Smart Tools and its corporate officer, Kirstin Hegg, alleges that the defendants have marketed a work-at-home business opportunity that teaches purchasers to locate people who are eligible for a partial refund of their FHA mortgage loan insurance premium.   According to the complaint, the defendants tell potential buyers that they can charge a fee for information on how to obtain the refund.   The defendants allegedly sent postcards to potential buyers stating that purchasers can earn up to $38,943 per year without stating what, if any, substantiation supports the earnings claim.   Such a claim violates the FTC’s Business Opportunity Rule.   This case was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon.

Insurance Executive Indicted for Insider Trading

   DENVER – 11/2/2012 - Insurance executive Michael Van Gilder, age 45, of Denver, was indicted by a federal grand jury in Denver on five counts of insider trading, U.S. Attorney for the District of Colorado John Walsh and FBI Denver Special Agent in Charge James Yacone announced.
   The case is being prosecuted in conjunction with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), which has filed a complaint charging Van Gilder with civil insider trading violations, conducted a parallel civil investigation and substantially contributed to the criminal investigation of the case as well. The defendant allegedly traded based on inside information regarding a Denver oil and natural gas company called Delta Petroleum Corp. Van Gilder surrendered to the FBI this morning at the U.S. Marshals’ Office, and will appear in U.S. District Court in Denver this afternoon for an initial appearance.
   According to the indictment, Van Gilder was the CEO and a member of the board of directors of Van Gilder Insurance Company, an insurance business owned by the defendant’s family. Van Gilder was a close personal friend of an executive at Delta Petroleum. Delta Petroleum was a Denver-based oil and gas exploration and development company whose core area of operations was in the Gulf Coast and Rocky Mountain regions. The company’s stock was traded on NASDAQ under the ticker symbol “DPTR.” Van Gilder at times arranged for and provided insurance policies covering certain of Delta’s business operations.
   From Nov. 5, 2007, and continuing until at least Jan. 9, 2008, Van Gilder allegedly committed securities fraud by trading in securities based on material, non-public information.
   Specifically, on Nov. 8, 2007, Delta publicly announced and filed with the SEC a quarterly report disclosing its operational performance, revenues, earnings and other financial performance for its quarterly period which ended Sept. 30, 2007. Three days prior to the disclosure, the financial publication Barron’s disseminated an article entitled “Day of Reckoning” focusing on Delta, expressing pessimism about the company and its stock. Following the publication of the article, the price of Delta’s common stock dropped $1.49 per share. Van Gilder was, at the time, a shareholder of Delta and held shares of its common stock and long-term call options to purchase Delta common stock in a brokerage account with Merrill Lynch and Company.
   The Barron’s article was brought to Van Gilder’s attention. Based on the article, Van Gilder called his stockbroker and asked whether he should sell his shares of Delta. Later that day, Van Gilder spoke with a Delta executive. According to the indictment’s allegations, the executive conveyed to Van Gilder that Delta planned on announcing figures in its third quarter financial report that would not miss its third quarter forecasts and projections for its financial and operational performance, a first in a number of quarters that Delta would meet its projected numbers. At the time Van Gilder received this information, the financial and operational performance had not yet been publicly released and was not generally known to the investing public.
   Based on this confidential material, Van Gilder decided not to sell his Delta investment but instead instructed his stockbroker to buy more Delta common stock on his behalf. As a result, the stockbroker purchased an additional 1,250 shares of Delta common stock at $15.55 per share. Several hours after he purchased the additional stock, Van Gilder emailed two friends and told them that the Barron’s article was “bogus” and that they should buy Delta stock because Delta “will hit their numbers.” In the Nov. 8, 2007, third quarter results Delta disclosed earnings and other financial figures that were in line with or exceeding previous forecasts and predictions of its performance for the quarter.
   In late November 2007, discussions also began for Delta to get a large cash infusion from a privately held investment company called Tracinda, owned by California resident Kirk Kerkorian, through a large equity investment by Tracinda in the oil and gas company. The indictment alleges that the Delta executive shared confidential information about the possible investment with Van Gilder, and that, on Nov. 26, 2007, following a series of calls and other communications, Van Gilder contacted his stockbroker and purchased an additional 1,750 shares of Delta common stock at $13.87 and $13.88 per share.
   As the indictment further relates, the Delta executive continued to share information about the confidential discussions about the contemplated Tracinda equity investment in Delta with defendant Van Gilder, as the confidential discussions progressed over the course of early December 2007. As result, according to the indictment, on Dec. 8, 2007, Van Gilder, in turn, emailed his stockbroker to advise him that he “wanted to purchase as much Delta stock as possible” and two days later arranged through the stockbroker to purchase an additional 4,000 shares of Delta common stock at $17.64 per share. Within minutes of execution of these purchases, Van Gilder spoke by phone with a family member, who, several minutes later, instructed his own stockbroker to purchase Delta common stock.
   On Dec. 17, 2007, the Delta executive advised its board of directors of his discussions with Tracinda. The board authorized the executive to proceed with negotiations with Tracinda. That evening, the executive exchanged a series of text messages with the defendant regarding the board’s decision. Several hours later, Van Gilder directed that $40,000 be wire transferred from a bank account to his Merrill Lynch brokerage account.
   On Dec. 19, 2007, a representative of Tracinda contacted the Delta executive and made an offer for Tracinda to purchase a one-third interest in Delta through a purchase of Delta’s common stock at $17 per share. At the time, Delta’s stock was trading at approximately $14.65 per share. Tracinda’s overture remained confidential. Van Gilder, knowing about the overture, purchased 200 call options, entitling him to purchase up to 20,000 shares of Delta common stock at $20 per share. Delta continued negotiations with Tracinda, and on Dec. 22, 2007, Tracinda agreed to increase its stock purchase to $19 per share. The indictment alleges that in a series of calls Van Gilder was informed of the progress of the confidential negotiations. Immediately following one of these conversations between Van Gilder and the Delta executive, Van Gilder sent an email to two of his family members, with the subject line entitled “Xmas present.” In the email, he advised the family members to purchase Delta stock because “something significant will happen in the next 2-4 weeks.”
   On Dec. 24, 2007, Van Gilder, through his stockbroker, purchased 3,000 more shares of Delta common stock at prices ranging between $15.63 and $15.65 per share, and 90 more call options to purchase up to 9,000 additional shares at $20 per share. On Dec. 28, 2007, during the course of working to finalize the Tracinda stock purchase, the Delta executive exchanged a series of cell phone text messages with Van Gilder. As a result, Van Gilder caused $272,212 from a bank account to be wire transferred into his Merrill Lynch brokerage account. The following day Van Gilder emailed his stockbroker, requesting the broker to “get it on Delta asap.”
   On Dec. 29, 2007, Delta’s board of directors approved a finalized stock purchase agreement for Tracinda to purchase approximately 35 percent of Delta’s common stock for $19 per share. On Monday, Dec. 31, 2007, before the commencement of NASDAQ’s regular trading hours, Delta and Tracinda issued a press release announcing the stock purchase agreement. Within an hour of the commencement of regular trading hours that day, Van Gilder’s stockbroker purchased an additional 4,000 shares of Delta common stock at prices ranging from $19.28 to $19.33 per share, and 114 additional call options. By the close of regular hours trading that day, Delta’s common stock price had risen $3.34 from its previous close of $15.51. Over the course of the next three trading days, Delta’s stock price continued to rise, closing at $22.82 per share by Jan. 4, 2008. On Jan. 9, 2008, Van Gilder sold the 290 call options that he had purchased between Dec. 19 and Dec. 24, 2007, realizing a profit of approximately $86,100 on the transaction.
   The indictment charges Van Gilder with five counts of securities fraud, reflecting five transactions between Nov. 6, 2007 and Dec. 24, 2007 where Van Gilder purchased Delta common stock based on confidential insider information. If convicted on all counts, the defendant faces up to 100 years in federal prison, and up to $25 million in fines.
   “Trading on inside information undercuts the fairness and transparency of our financial markets,” said U.S. Attorney Walsh. “This case demonstrates that in the highly networked world we now live in, insider trading knows no geographic boundaries. This office, and U.S. Attorney’s Offices around the country, will continue to target insider trading wherever it may occur. Thanks to the hard work of this office, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York, the SEC and the FBI, a Denver insurance executive has been charged for profiting using confidential information.”
   Thr case was investigated by the FBI, New York and Denver Divisions, with the assistance of and working with the SEC.
   Van Gilder is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Ken Harmon and Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Levy from the Southern District of New York.
   The charges contained in the indictment are allegations, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

NIH establishes Down syndrome patient registry

   (NIH) - 10-27-2012 - A new Down syndrome patient registry will facilitate contacts and information sharing among families, patients, researchers and parent groups. The National Institutes of Health has awarded a contract to PatientCrossroads to operate the registry. The company has created patient-centric registries for muscular dystrophy and many rare disorders.
   People with Down syndrome or their family members will be able to enter contact information and health history in an online, secure, confidential database. Registry participants will be able to customize their profile, update it online, and choose which information they would like to display, including reminders about their own medical care and general information about Down syndrome. They also will be able to compare their own medical information to that of other registrants in a confidential and anonymous manner.
   If a participant gives permission to be contacted, clinicians and researchers who are authorized to access the database will be able to contact these individuals to see if they are interested in participating in a research study.
   Ultimately, the registry will be able to link to biorepositories of tissue samples and other resources, with the goal of making it easier for patients to take part in clinical studies for new medications and other treatments for Down syndrome.
   The contract, which will support the creation of the registry through September 2013, received $300,000 in funding for its first year.
   "The new registry provides an important resource to individuals with Down syndrome and their families," said Yvonne T. Maddox, deputy director of the NIH's Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), which is funding the registry. "The registry links those seeking volunteers for their research studies with those who most stand to benefit from the research."
   Down syndrome most frequently results from an extra copy of chromosome 21 in the body’s cells. Infants with Down syndrome are likely to have certain physical characteristics, such as short stature and distinctive facial features, as well as health conditions like hearing loss, heart malformations, digestive problems, and vision disorders. Although Down syndrome most commonly results in mild to moderate intellectual disability, the condition occasionally involves severe intellectual disability. In addition, some individuals with Down syndrome age prematurely and may experience dementia, memory loss, or impaired judgment similar to that experienced by individuals with Alzheimer disease.
   "Down syndrome is complex," Maddox said. "A wide array of scientific expertise is required to address all its aspects in a comprehensive manner."
   Development of a patient registry was a leading recommendation in the 2007 NIH Down Syndrome Research Plan, which sets goals and objectives for the Down syndrome research field. Together with the Global Down Syndrome Foundation, the NICHD sponsored the Down syndrome National Conference on Patient Registries, Research Databases, and Biobanks to solicit the advice of a number of experts from the advocacy community, federal agencies, industry, and the clinical and research communities on how best to establish a Down syndrome registry.The plan for the registry was supported by the public-private Down Syndrome Consortium, which was established by the NIH in 2011 to foster the exchange of information on Down syndrome research, and to implement and update the Research Plan. Membership on the Consortium includes individuals with Down syndrome and family members, representatives from prominent Down syndrome and pediatric organizations, and members of the NIH Down Syndrome Working group, an internal NIH group that coordinates NIH-supported Down syndrome research.
   "We're grateful to those who provided us with the advice that allowed us to establish a national registry," Maddox said. "We are happy that this important step in furthering research on Down syndrome has been accomplished and hope that many families will take advantage of the opportunity to sign up as soon as the registry goes online."

Weight Loss, Type 2 Diabetes Risk Questioned

   (NIH) - 10/21/2012 - An intensive diet and exercise program resulting in weight loss does not reduce cardiovascular events such as heart attack and stroke in people with longstanding type 2 diabetes, according to a study supported by the National Institutes of Health.
   The Look AHEAD (Action for Health in Diabetes) study tested whether a lifestyle intervention resulting in weight loss would reduce rates of heart disease, stroke, and cardiovascular-related deaths in overweight and obese people with type 2 diabetes, a group at increased risk for these events.
   Researchers at 16 centers across the United States worked with 5,145 people, with half randomly assigned to receive an intensive lifestyle intervention and the other half to a general program of diabetes support and education. Both groups received routine medical care from their own health care providers.
   Although the intervention did not reduce cardiovascular events, Look AHEAD has shown other important health benefits of the lifestyle intervention, including decreasing sleep apnea, reducing the need for diabetes medications, helping to maintain physical mobility, and improving quality of life. Previous Look AHEAD findings are available at www.lookaheadtrial.org.
   "Look AHEAD found that people who are obese and have type 2 diabetes can lose weight and maintain their weight loss with a lifestyle intervention," said Dr. Rena Wing, chair of the Look AHEAD study and professor of psychiatry and human behavior at Brown University. "Although the study found weight loss had many positive health benefits for people with type 2 diabetes, the weight loss did not reduce the number of cardiovascular events."
   Data are currently being analyzed to fully understand the cardiovascular disease results. Investigators are preparing a report of the findings for a peer-reviewed publication.
   Few, if any, studies of this size and duration have had comparable success in achieving and maintaining weight loss. Participants in the intervention group lost an average of more than 8 percent of their initial body weight after one year of intervention. They maintained an average weight loss of nearly 5 percent at four years, an amount of weight loss that experts recommend to improve health. Participants in the diabetes support and education group lost about 1 percent of their initial weight after one and four years.
   In September, the NIH stopped the intervention arm, acting on the recommendation of the study’s data and safety monitoring board. The independent advisory board, charged with monitoring the study data and safety of participants, found that the intensive lifestyle did no harm but did not decrease occurrence of cardiovascular events, the primary study goal. At the time, participants had been in the intervention for up to 11 years.
   Because there was little chance of finding a difference in cardiovascular events between the groups with further intervention, the board recommended stopping the intensive lifestyle intervention, but encouraged the study to continue following all Look AHEAD participants to identify longer-term effects of the intervention.
  "The intervention group did not have fewer cardiovascular events than the group receiving general diabetes support and education, but one positive factor we saw was that both groups had a low number of cardiovascular events compared to previous studies of people with diabetes," said Dr. Mary Evans, director of Special Projects in Nutrition, Obesity, and Digestive Diseases within the NIH’s National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), the study's primary sponsor.
   Type 2 diabetes — affecting nearly 24 million people in the United States alone — has increased in prevalence along with the country's epidemic of overweight and obesity. Cardiovascular diseases are the most common cause of death among people with type 2 diabetes. Look AHEAD is the first study to examine the long-term effects of a lifestyle intervention on major cardiovascular disease events and death in adults with type 2 diabetes.
   "Look AHEAD provides important, definitive information about the long-term health effects of weight loss in people with type 2 diabetes," NIDDK Director Dr. Griffin Rodgers said. "Beyond cardiovascular disease, this study and others have shown many other health benefits of weight loss through improved diet and increased physical activity. For example, for overweight and obese adults at high risk for diabetes, modest weight loss has been shown to prevent or delay developing type 2 diabetes."
   Participants were 45 to 76 years old when they enrolled in the study. Sixty percent of enrollees were women. More than 37 percent were from racial and ethnic minority groups. Researchers are now analyzing data to measure effects of the lifestyle intervention on subgroups, including racial and ethnic groups and people with a history of cardiovascular disease.
  Find more information about the Look AHEAD trial (NCT00017953), including a list of current publications, at www.lookaheadtrial.org. For a list of centers enrolling patients for diabetes or obesity trials, search for keywords "diabetes" or "obesity" at www.clinicaltrials.gov.
   Source: National Institutes of Health release.

Executives Sentenced for Roles in Conspiracies

   WASHINGTON – 10/18/2012 - Three former financial services executives were sentenced today in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, for their participation in conspiracies related to bidding for contracts for the investment of municipal bond proceeds and other municipal finance contracts, the Department of Justice announced. The three former executives were convicted after a three week trial on May 11, 2012.
    Dominick P. Carollo, Steven E. Goldberg and Peter S. Grimm, all former executives of General Electric Co. (GE) affiliates, were sentenced by District Court Judge Harold Baer Jr. for their roles in the conspiracies. Carollo was sentenced to serve 36 months in prison and to pay a $50,000 criminal fine. Goldberg was sentenced to serve 48 months in prison and to pay a $90,000 criminal fine. Grimm was sentenced to serve 36 months in prison and to pay a $50,000 criminal fine.
    “By manipulating the competitive bidding process, the conspirators cheated cities and towns out of money for important public works projects,” said Scott D. Hammond, Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Antitrust Division’s criminal enforcement program. “The division and its law enforcement partners remain committed to rooting out such corruption.”
    According to evidence presented at trial, while employed at GE affiliates, Carollo, Goldberg and Grimm participated in separate fraud conspiracies with various financial institutions and insurance companies and their representatives from as early as 1999 until 2006. These institutions and companies, or “providers,” offered a type of contract, known as an investment agreement, to state, county and local governments and agencies throughout the United States. The public entities were seeking to invest money from a variety of sources, primarily the proceeds of municipal bonds that they had issued to raise money for, among other things, public projects. Goldberg also participated in the conspiracies while employed at Financial Security Assurance Capital Management Services LLC.
   At trial, the Department of Justice asserted that Carollo, Goldberg, Grimm and their co-conspirators corrupted the bidding process for dozens of investment agreements to increase the number and profitability of investment agreements awarded to the provider companies where they were employed. Carollo, Goldberg and Grimm deprived the municipalities of competitive interest rates for the investment of tax-exempt bond proceeds that were to be used by municipalities for various public works projects, such as for building or repairing schools, hospitals and roads. Evidence at trial established that they cost municipalities around the country millions of dollars.
    “Today’s sentencing of Carollo, Goldberg and Grimm for their involvement manipulating a competitive bidding process of public contracts is the final step in a case that demonstrates the FBI’s commitment to investigate and prosecute those who illegally influence the financial markets for their own profit,” said Mary E. Galligan, Acting Assistant Special Agent Charge of the FBI in New York. “The co-conspirators scheme over many years deprived municipalities across the country of competitive interest rates on bonds, a yield that most cities would say they greatly need. The FBI will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to enforce the laws that protect our financial markets.”
    "The sentences handed down today send a clear message that crime motivated by outright greed will land you in jail,” said Richard Weber, Chief, Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI). “Quite simply, the defendants stole money from taxpayers and conspired to manipulate the competitive bidding system to benefit themselves instead of the towns and cities that needed this money for important public works projects. IRS Criminal Investigation is committed to working with our law enforcement partners to uncover this kind of corruption and secure justice for American taxpayers.”
    Carollo was found guilty on two counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and defraud the United States, Goldberg was found guilty on four counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and defraud the United States and Grimm was found guilty on three counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and defraud the United States.
    A total of 20 individuals have been charged as a result of the department’s ongoing municipal bonds investigation. Including today’s convictions, a total of 19 individuals have been convicted or pleaded guilty, and one awaits trial. Additionally, one company has pleaded guilty.
    The sentences announced today resulted from an ongoing investigation conducted by the Antitrust Division’s New York Office, the FBI and the IRS-CI. The division is coordinating its investigation with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
    Today’s convictions are part of efforts underway by President Obama’s Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force (FFETF) which was created in November 2009 to wage an aggressive, coordinated and proactive effort to investigate and prosecute financial crimes.
   Anyone with information concerning bid rigging and related offenses in any financial markets should contact the Antitrust Division’s New York Field Office at 212-335-8000, the FBI at 212-384-5000 or IRS-CI at 212-436-1761, or visit www.justice.gov/atr/contact/newcase.htm.
   Source: Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force

Cleaning Products Contain Known Carcinogen

   WASHINGTON, D.C. – (EWG) - 10/12/2012 – In a dramatic illustration of why it is essential that makers of cleaning products fully disclose their ingredients on product labels, the release of Environmental Working Group’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning has resulted in the revelation that more than half of a line of cleaners marketed to parents of babies contain an ingredient that releases formaldehyde, a known human carcinogen.
   The company is New York state-based BabyGanics, whose representative has described its products as “so safe that you can even drink them” in a video posted online. In the video uploaded by BabyTVcom on Feb. 13, 2008, he then drank from a bottle of a BabyGanics cleaner.
   EWG’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning, which gave more than 2,000 products grades of A-to-F based on the potential hazards of their ingredients and the completeness of their ingredient disclosures, gave “F” scores to a number of BabyGanics products because of poor disclosure. After the company contacted EWG and protested its grades, it agreed to post a full ingredient list on its website. This list, in turn, revealed that more than half of its products contain a preservative called HHT (Hexahydro-1,3,5-tris(2-hydroxyethyl)-s-triazine), which releases formaldehyde during product use. As a result, those products will continue to be graded “F” on the EWG guide until their formulations are changed.
   Executives of BabyGanics told EWG that the company is making plans to remove the preservative from its entire line.
   “Consumers should be wary of products that release formaldehyde because it is a carcinogen that experts believe is unsafe even in small amounts,” said Johanna Congleton, a senior scientist at EWG. “It would be hard to find anyone, especially parents, who believe it’s acceptable for products marketed as safe to use around babies to contain a substance known to release a known human carcinogen.”
   The BabyGanics revelation is a dramatic reminder that consumers cannot take companies’ labeling and marketing claims at face value.
   “As a mother of two young children, I am shocked that companies don’t have to tell consumers what’s in their cleaning products,” said Heather White, EWG’s chief of staff and general counsel. “So many families buy these products because they think they are safe, when in fact they contain chemicals that could pose serious dangers, including cancer. My advice to consumers is simple – don’t buy products labeled only with generic terms like ‘surfactants’ or ‘preservatives.’ Companies need to tell us exactly what’s in the products they’re selling. We have a right to know what chemicals we’re bringing into our homes in the products we buy. And EWG’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning was created to help consumers exercise that right.”
   The BabyGanics line is sold by national retailers such as Babies R Us and Bed, Bath & Beyond.
   EWG’s guide has highlighted how many cleaning products contain toxic chemicals and how difficult it is for even careful consumers to find out exactly what’s in them. Many companies use generic names like “surfactants” and “mineral salts” to describe some of their ingredients. Current federal law does not require disclosure of ingredients on the vast majority of cleaning products. EWG’s rating system and the information provided by the guide is challenging other companies to reevaluate what they put in their products and to detail that information on their product labels and on their web sites.
   EWG plans to do further research to evaluate more closely the use of toxic preservatives in household cleaning products.

Mid-Market CFOs See Expansion Opportunities

   NORWALK, Conn. - (BUSINESS WIRE) - 9/27/2012 - U.S. chief financial officers (CFOs) of middle-market companies surveyed this summer remain generally positive about the state of their own industries and continue to see measured growth over the next three years, according to the latest GE Capital Mid-Market CFO Survey.
  CFOs’ sentiment on the state of the U.S. economy and their respective industries declined slightly since the first quarter survey but remained above the levels of a year ago. Their view on the current health of the world economy continued to deteriorate.
  A majority of CFOs expect to grow their revenues in 2012, and nearly two-thirds of CFOs still plan to hire in the next 12 months, although both figures fell from six months ago.
   The survey, which was conducted during the third quarter of 2012, included responses from 500 CFOs of companies with average revenues of $124 million operating across seven distinct industries including: food, beverage and agribusiness; general manufacturing; healthcare; metals, mining and metals fabrication; retail; technology and business services; and transportation.
   “Middle-market CFOs still see expansion opportunities over the next three years, but remain cautious as concerns about the business environment and uncertainties in areas such as tax and healthcare policy persist,” said Dan Henson, president and CEO of GE Capital, Americas. “From our perspective as a provider of capital, we see positive year over year growth in both lending and leasing. Economic sentiment, while still positive, is slightly more guarded than we saw in the last survey. In the meantime, the credit markets are very healthy, providing extremely attractive terms for borrowers as credit facilities come up for renewal and as acquisition or other investment opportunities develop.”
2012 Growth and Profit Expectations
   CFOs’ expectations for their industries shifted from an expansion phase to a more stable outlook. Moving forward, CFOs continue to project moderate growth for their companies, even amid a more measured sentiment for the U.S. economy.
   Eighty-five percent expect the U.S. economy to grow or be stable in the next 12 months, down 11 percentage points since the first quarter, but higher than a year ago.
Eighty-eight percent expect their industry to grow or be stable during the same time period.
   Revenue expectations for 2012 remain positive but have diminished, with 54 percent projecting increases, down 13 percentage points since the last survey.
   Seventy percent expect profits to remain the same or increase this year compared to last, down 11 percentage points.
   Healthcare and raw materials costs continue to be cited as the top threats to business performance in the next 12 months.
   “This data reinforces what we have heard from our clients. Over the last several years, middle-market companies have focused on right-sizing to manage through a lower growth environment and have maintained disciplined approaches to growth — and they now have cash on hand that they are looking to use wisely, including purchasing new equipment and making strategic hires,” said Henson.
   Confidence Indicators: Hiring, Cost Structure and Capital Expenditures
   Forty-six percent of CFOs plan on increasing their cost structure in 2012. Eighteen percent expect to decrease their cost structure in 2012, up from 15 percentage points since the last survey.
Sixty-two percent of CFOs plan to hire in the next 12 months, down 12 percentage points from the last survey. Transportation companies are the most bullish in their hiring plans, with 79 percent expecting to hire.
   Layoffs continue to decline, down to 24 percent from 27 percent a year ago.
   Expectations for greater capital expenditure spending increased slightly to 28 percent. Retail companies are the most likely to increase their cap-ex spending.
Other Top Findings
   Top threats to health of the economy – Domestic unemployment numbers and global fiscal concerns continued to weigh heaviest on CFOs.
   Pricing outlook – For the first time since the third quarter of 2010, less than half (44 percent) of CFOs expect to raise prices on their company’s products or services this year, down from 51 percent in the first quarter of 2012.
   Credit availability/cost – Sixty-five percent of CFOs state that credit availability from their current lender has stayed the same, an increase of eight points from a year ago. Seventy-two percent believe the cost of capital will remain the same in the next 12 months, with only 18 percent predicting an increase.
Internal challenges – Reducing employee benefit costs and implementing service process improvements were cited as the most common internal challenges faced by middle market CFOs today.
   For an executive summary including industry highlights, visit www.gecapital.com/cfosurvey

Hedge Fund Managers Sentenced to Prison Terms

   NEW YORK – 9/19/2012 - Michael Katz and Christopher Fardella, two former hedge fund managers, were each sentenced on Sept. 19 to three years in prison for their roles in defrauding investors out of nearly $1 million, announced Preet Bharara, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York. Katz and Fardella each pleaded guilty in October 2011 to one count of conspiracy to commit securities fraud and mail fraud and one count of securities fraud before U.S. District Judge Laura T. Swain, who also imposed today’s sentences.
   “In order to lure investors, Michael Katz and Christopher Fardella created resumes and marketing materials for their phony investment fund out of whole cloth. Their sentences demonstrate to those who may consider similar schemes that smoke and mirrors will not fool law enforcement, and you will be held accountable for such fraudulent activity,” Bharara said.
   According to the information filed in Manhattan federal court, as well as statements made in court proceedings: From April 2005 through November 2006, Katz, Fardella and two other co-conspirators were partners in KMFG International LLC, a hedge fund located primarily in Florida with ties to New York. Katz was KMFG’s Portfolio Manager, and Fardella was KMFG’s Treasurer.
    Katz, Fardella and their co-conspirators used “cold calls” to solicit approximately $1.03 million from investors across the country. Investors were misled about KMFG’s principals and about the firm’s financial performance. For example, KMFG’s marketing materials falsely claimed that KMFG was operated by “a management team consisting of hedge fund managers, traders and top level executives from independent oil and gas companies” with a track record of generating substantial trading profits for KMFG’s investors. In fact, Katz, Fardella and their co-conspirators had no genuine experience running a hedge fund and were never top level executives in the oil and gas industry. KMFG’s marketing materials also falsely claimed that KMFG had generated “cumulative returns for 30 months of over 165 percent.” In truth, KMFG had no prior financial track record, and never made a profit for any of its investors.
    The defendants used investor funds for their own personal benefit without investor knowledge. Specifically, Katz and Fardella used investors’ funds to finance a lavish lifestyle by making personal cash withdrawals and using the funds for expensive meals and trips to Las Vegas.
    To conceal the fact that Katz, Fardella and their co-conspirators were misappropriating investor funds and the fact that KMFG was never profitable, the defendants submitted false financial statements to their clients that indicated their investments were making profits when they were not. KMFG clients continued to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars with KMFG after receiving the false financial statements. In total, Katz, Fardella and their co-conspirators either lost or spent $981,000 out of the $1,031,086 collected in investor funds.
    In addition to their prison terms, Katz, 33, of Brooklyn, N.Y., and Fardella , 34, of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., were each sentenced to three years of supervised release and ordered to forfeit $981,000.
    Co-conspirator Kristian Murphy-Fuhse, who was charged in a separate information for his role in the same scheme, pleaded guilty in January 2012 and is awaiting sentencing before U.S. District Judge Thomas P. Griesa.
    Bharara praised the work of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.
    These cases were brought in coordination with President Barack Obama’s Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force, on which U.S. Attorney Bharara serves as a Co-Chair of the Securities and Commodities Fraud Working Group.
    This case is being handled by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York’s Securities and Commodities Fraud Task Force. Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason P. Hernandez is in charge of the prosecution.
   Source: National Fraud Enforcement Task Force

Organic Produce Lowers Pesticide Exposure

   Washington, D.C. – 9/8/2012 - Consumers can markedly reduce their intake of pesticide residues and their exposure to antibiotic-resistant bacteria by choosing organic produce and meat, according to researchers at Stanford University who reviewed a massive body of scientific studies on the much-debated issue.
   The Stanford team analyzed more than 230 field studies and 17 human studies conducted in the United States and Europe to compare pesticide residues, antibiotic resistance and vitamin and nutrient levels in organic and conventionally produced foods.
    “The study confirms the message that EWG and scores of public health experts have been sending for years, that consumers who eat organic fruits and vegetables can significantly reduce pesticide concentrations in their bodies,” Sonya Lunder, senior analyst at Environmental Working Group, said. “This is a particularly important finding for expectant mothers and kids, because the risks of dietary exposures to synthetic pesticides, especially organophosphate and pyrethroid insecticides, are greatest during pregnancy and childhood, when the brain and nervous system are most vulnerable. These are two groups that should really avoid eating foods with high levels of pesticide residues.”
   Based on its review of the available research, the Stanford team also concluded that conventionally raised meat harbors more antibiotic resistant bacteria. It found that consumers of non-organic chicken or pork are 33 percent more likely to ingest three or more strains of antibiotic-resistant bacteria than those who eat organic meat.
   “What jumped out at us in this study is that conventionally-raised meat treated heavily with antibiotics is much more likely to carry drug-resistant bacteria than meat produced on organic farms,” said EWG Senior Analyst Kari Hamerschlag, who focuses on organic and conventional agriculture. “Antibiotics, which are banned in organic production, promote the development of resistant super-bugs that are a serious risk to human health.”
   The researchers did not find “significant” or “robust” differences in nutritional content between organic and conventional foods. But Charles Benbrook, a professor of agriculture at Washington State University and former chief scientist at The Organic Center who reviewed the Stanford study and most of the underlying literature, had this to say in response:
   "This study draws a markedly different conclusion than I do about the nutritional benefits of organic crops. Several well-designed US studies show that organic crops have higher concentrations of antioxidants and vitamins than conventional crops. For crops like apples, strawberries, grapes, tomatoes, milk, carrots, and grains organic produce has 10 to 30 percent higher levels of several nutrients, including vitamin C, antioxidants and phenolic acids in most studies."
   The Stanford study also contradicts the findings of what many consider the most definitive analysis in the scientific literature of the nutrient content of organic versus conventional food.
   In that 2011 study, a team led by Dr. Kirsten Brandt of the Human Nutrition Research Center of Newcastle University in the United Kingdom analyzed most of the same research and concluded that organic crops had approximately 12 to 16 percent more nutrients than conventional crops.
   EWG noted that the Stanford study also did not directly address the important environmental and public health benefits that result from reduced pesticide and antibiotic use. Synthetic pesticides can kill insect pollinators, harm wildlife and farm workers, and often end up in the air and water. Tests conducted in 2011 by the US Geological Survey found that glyphosate (commonly sold as Roundup), one of the most widely used herbicides, was a ubiquitous contaminant in air, water and rainfall in two Midwest states.
   “Organic produce and meat products live up to their promise,” EWG President Ken Cook said. “Consumers selecting organic produce ingest fewer pesticides. They also eat meats that harbor fewer deadly bacteria. While you still need to take responsibility for eating a varied and healthy diet, you can rest assured that organic food provides a healthier choice for people and the planet.”
   While the Stanford study briefly mentioned previous research on the effects of organic foods on children’s health, it did not focus on the growing body of studies published in the last decade that have demonstrated children’s higher sensitivity to the effects of neurotoxic pesticides. Last year, Cook, along with several of the world’s most respected authorities in environmental health, sent a letter to the Obama Administration requesting that the federal government expand the testing it conducts on crop chemical residues in foods “to give Americans a full accounting of risks faced by children who consume pesticides on produce.”
   “Studies that have come out in the last two years have linked exposures to organophosphate pesticides with increased risks of ADHD and lower IQ in children, and to low birth weight and early gestation among newborns,” Cook said. “The authors of this study, for whatever reason, decided not to focus on this new and troubling research showing that a diet of food high in certain pesticides could pose such serious and lasting health impacts in children. That’s a glaring omission, in my opinion.”
   Source: EWG 

Protein Linked to Increased Heart Failure Risk

   (NIH) - 9/3/2012 - A protein known as galectin-3 can identify people at higher risk of heart failure, according to new research supported by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), part of the National Institutes of Health. This research is based on work from the NHLBI's Framingham Heart Study, which began in 1948 and has been the leading source of research findings about heart disease risk factors.      
    "Galectin-3, a Marker of Cardiac Fibrosis, Predicts Incident Heart Failure in the Community," was published online on August 29 in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology and will be published in the October 2 print issue.
   Heart failure occurs when the heart cannot fill with enough blood and/or pump enough blood to meet the body's needs. Galactin-3 has recently been associated with cardiac fibrosis, a condition in which scar tissue replaces heart muscle, and cardiac fibrosis plays an important role in the development of heart failure.
   Heart failure carries enormous risk for death or a lifetime of disability and often there are few warning signs of impending heart failure. Measuring levels of galectin-3 in the blood may offer a way to identify high-risk individuals who could benefit from treatments to prevent debilitating heart failure and death. Early identification of predisposed individuals would allow treatment to begin long before heart failure develops and could help people at high risk for heart failure to live longer, more active lives.
   Galectin-3 levels were measured in 1996-1998 as part of a routine examination of 3,353 participants enrolled in the Offspring Cohort of the Framingham Heart Study. At the time of measurement the average age of the participants was 59 years old. During an average follow-up of 11 years, 166 participants (5.1 percent) had a first heart failure event. Among the 25 percent of people with the highest galectin-3 levels (ranging from 15.4 to 52.1 nanograms per milliliter) the annual rate of heart failure was 12 per 1,000 people compared with 3 per 1,000 people for the 25 percent of participants with the lowest galectin-3 levels (ranging from 3.9 to 12 nanograms per milliliter). Fifty-three percent of participants were women.
   Spironolactone and other related drugs believed to counteract cardiac fibrosis have been shown to improve outcomes in heart failure patients. Future research will be needed to determine whether treatment with these or other drugs can benefit healthy patients with elevated galectin-3 levels.
   Source: National Institutes of Health

High Crop Prices, Subsidies Called Destructive

  Washington, D.C. - (EWG) - 8/30/2012 - Responding to high crop prices and unlimited insurance, growers plowed under more than 23 million acres of grassland, shrub land and wetlands in order to plant commodity crops between 2008 and 2011, a new report by Environmental Working Group and Defenders of Wildlife shows.
   The analysis, titled “Plowed Under,” uses U.S. Department of Agriculture satellite data to produce the most accurate estimate currently available of the rate of habitat conversion in the farm belt. It shows that more than 8.4 million acres were converted to plant corn, more than 5.6 million to raise soybeans and nearly 5.2 million to grow winter wheat. Most of the destroyed habitat was in states in the Great Plains and Upper Midwest, but some of the highest rates of habitat conversion to grow crops were in drought-plagued portions of West Texas and Oklahoma.
   “Policymakers are right to attend to the short term crisis created by the current drought, but what we’ve lost sight of in recent years is the long term crisis,” said Ken Cook, president of EWG. “A generation of conservation gains has been wiped out because costly, misguided government policies have caused ten of millions of acres of fragile land and wildlife habitat to be plowed under."
   Using a sophisticated mapping technique, “Plowed Under” found that 11 states had habitat losses of at least 1 million acres each over the three-year period, and a total of 147 counties lost at least 30,000 acres each. The losses were greatest in counties that received the largest amounts of crop insurance subsidies.
   According to USDA, widespread destruction of grassland is threatening habitats for important wildlife species such as the swift fox, as well as putting at risk sage grouse, the lesser prairie chicken, whooping cranes and mountain plover.
   The comprehensive analysis underscores the need for Congress to fully fund conservation programs designed to mitigate the devastating effects of severe weather and restore wildlife habitat, and to reject proposals to extend unlimited insurance subsidies without environmental protections. The full Senate and the House Agriculture Committee have each approved competing 2012 farm bill versions, and both would expand insurance subsidies, while cutting conservation programs by more than $6 billion over 10 years.
   Extravagant crop insurance subsidies are not only a threat to wildlife and the environment, but they also take a heavy toll on American taxpayers. Today, USDA pays, on average, 62 percent of farmers’ premiums for crop insurance and lavishes $1.3 billion a year on the insurance companies and agents that sell the policies. At current rates, taxpayers can expect to send another $90 billion to farmers and insurance companies over the next decade.
   “When Congress returns from recess and considers the 2012 farm bill, it should pass reasonable reforms to crop insurance subsidies, such as payment limits, and require every recipient to carry out basic conservation practices to protect the health of our land, water and soil, as the Senate version does,” said Scott Faber, EWG’s vice president of government affairs. (Read the full report)
   Source: EWG release of August 6, 2012

Report Details Health, Status of Older Americans

   (NIH) - 8/19-2012 - Today's older Americans enjoy longer lives and better physical function than did previous generations, although, for some, an increased burden in housing costs and rising obesity may compromise these gains, according to a comprehensive federal look at aging. The report, Older Americans 2012: Key Indicators of Well-Being, tracks trends at regular intervals to see how older people are faring as the U.S. population grows older.
   In 2010, 40 million people age 65 and over accounted for 13 percent of the total population in the United States. In 2030, the number and proportion of older Americans is expected to grow significantly — to 72 million, representing nearly 20 percent of the population said the report, by the Federal Interagency Forum on Aging-Related Statistics.
   Older Americans 2012, the sixth report prepared by the Forum since 2000, provides an updated and accessible compendium of indicators, drawn from official statistics about the well-being of Americans primarily age 65 and older. The 176-page report provides a broad description of areas of well-being that are improving for older Americans and those that are not. Thirty-seven key indicators are categorized into five broad areas — population, economics, health status, health risks and behaviors, and health care. This year's report also includes a special feature on the end of life.
   Highlights of Older Americans 2012 include:
   Increased labor force participation by older women — Participation of older women in the labor force has increased significantly over the past 40 years. In 1963, 29 percent of women aged 62-64 worked outside the home; in 2011, that had increased to 45 percent. In 1963, 17 percent of women aged 65-69 were in the labor force; in 2011, that had increased to 27 percent. For women 70 and older, 6 percent worked in 1963, increasing to 8 percent in 2011. Some older Americans work out of economic necessity. Others may be attracted by the social contact, intellectual challenges or sense of value that work often provides.
   Declines in poverty, increases in income since 1974 — Older Americans are in better economic shape now than they were in 1974. Between 1974 and 2010, the proportion of older people with income below the poverty thresholds (less than $10,458 in 2010 for a person 65 and older) fell from 15 percent to 9 percent. The percentage with low income (between $10,458 and $20,916 in 2010 for people 65 and older) dropped from 35 percent to 26 percent. There were also notable gains in income over the period, as the proportion of people 65 and older with high income ($41,832 and above in 2010) rose from 18 percent to 31 percent.
   Increased housing problems — The most significant issue by far is housing cost burden, which has been steadily increasing over time. In 1985, about 30 percent of households with householders or spouses age 65 and over spent more than 30 percent of their income on housing and utilities. By 2009, the proportion of older people with high housing cost burden reached 40 percent. For some multigenerational households, crowded housing is also fairly prevalent.
   Rising rates of obesity — Obesity, a major cause of preventable disease and premature death, is increasing among older people. In 2009-2010, 38 percent of people age 65 and over were obese, compared with 22 percent in 1988-1994. In 2009-2010, 44 percent of people age 65-74 were obese, as were 29 percent of those age 75 and older.
   More use of hospice — The percentage of older people who received hospice care in the last 30 days of life increased from 19 percent in 1999 to 43 percent in 2009. The percentage of older Americans who died in hospitals dropped from 49 percent in 1999 to 32 percent in 2009. The percentage who died at home increased from 15 percent in 1999 to 24 percent in 2009. In 2009, there were notable differences in the use of hospice services at the end of life among people of different race and ethnicity groups.
   Older Americans 2012: Key Indicators of Well-Being is available online at http://www.agingstats.gov.

U.S., Mexico Sign Agreement on Environment

   WASHINGTON – 8/10/2012 - U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Lisa P. Jackson joined Mexico’s Secretary for the Environment and Natural Resources Juan Elvira Quesada recently to sign the Border 2020 U.S.-Mexico Environmental program agreement.
The signing was witnessed by a number of leaders including the U.S. Ambassador to Mexico E. Anthony Wayne, Vice Chairman of the Tohono O’odham Nation Wavalene Romero, California Secretary for Environmental Protection Matthew Rodriquez, Baja California Governor José Guadalupe Osuna Millán and Tijuana Mayor Carlos Bustamante Anchondo. The Border 2020 agreement, developed with significant stakeholder input, will work to address high priority environmental and public health problems in the 2,000 mile border region. It follows the Border 2012 environmental agreement which ends this year.
    "Addressing the environmental issues along the border has long been a priority we share with our colleagues in Mexico, because we know that environmental degradation, pollution, and the diseases they trigger don’t stop at the national boundaries,” said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. “Thanks to help from our partners in government, industry, academia and local communities, the Border 2020 agreement will build upon the significant progress already made, and families on both sides of the border will continue to benefit from cleaner, healthier communities for decades to come.”
    The Border 2020 program works to reduce pollution in water, air, and on land, reduce exposure to chemicals from accidental releases or terrorism, and improve environmental stewardship. It is the latest environmental program implemented under the 1983 U.S.-Mexico La Paz Agreement. It builds on the Border 2012 program and encourages meaningful participation from communities and local stakeholders through regional task forces.
    Over the next eight years, the Border 2020 Environmental program will work towards significant improvements that will focus on five key areas:
  • Reducing air pollution in bi-national air sheds by promoting vehicle inspection programs and road paving, and encouraging anti-idling technologies such as diesel truck electrification at ports-of-entry.
  • Improving access to clean and safe water as well as improving water quality in the bi-national watersheds.
  • Promoting materials and waste management, and addressing contaminated sites as well as management practices for addressing electronics, lead acid batteries, tires, and trash.
  • Enhancing joint preparedness for environmental and emergency response.
  • Enhancing compliance assurance and environmental stewardship.
    The new Border 2020 program also strengthens its focus in regional areas where environmental improvements are needed most: establishing realistic and concrete goals, supporting the implementation of projects, considering new fundamental strategies, and encouraging the achievement of more ambitious environmental and public health goals.
    Border 2012, which concludes this year, resulted in numerous achievements, including connecting households to drinking water and wastewater services benefitting more than 8.5 million border residents. In addition, the program helped remove more than 12 million scrap tires from dump sites border wide and more than 75.5 metric tons of obsolete pesticides from rural areas in California, Sonora, and Tamaulipas.
    As the home to over 14 million people and one of the busiest cross-border trade regions in the world, protecting human health and the environment in the border region is essential to ensuring that the U.S. continues to be safe, healthy and economically productive. The Border 2020 U.S.-Mexico Environmental program will protect the environment and public health for 10 states on both sides of the 2,000-mile border, including 26 U.S. tribes and seven groups of Mexican indigenous people.
    Reference: http://www.epa.gov/usmexicoborder/

Charges Filed in $97 Million Medicare Fraud Case

   (USDOJ) - July 31/2012 - A superseding indictment was unsealed on July 26 charging two owners of a Houston mental health care company, Spectrum Care P.A., some of its employees and the owners of Houston group care homes for their alleged participation in a $97 million Medicare fraud scheme, according to a joint announcement by the Department of Justice, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the FBI.
    Mansour Sanjar, 79, Cyrus Sajadi, 64, and Chandra Nunn, 34, were originally charged in December 2011, and are expected to make their initial appearances on the superseding indictment in the coming days. The indictment was originally returned on July 24.
    Adam Main, 31, Shokoufeh Hakimi, 65, Sharonda Holmes, 38, and Shawn Manney, 50, all from the Houston area, were arrested and were expected to make their initial appearances in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas in Houston on July 26 or 27.
   The superseding indictment charges Sanjar, Sajadi, Main, Terry Wade Moore, 51, Hakimi and Nunn each with one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud; Sanjar, Sajadi, Main and Moore are charged with various counts of health care fraud; Sanjar, Sajadi, Hakimi, Nunn, Holmes and Manney each are charged with one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States and to pay health care kickbacks; and Sanjar, Sajadi, Hakimi, Nunn, Holmes and Manney are charged with various counts of payment and receipt of healthcare kickbacks. The superseding indictment also seeks forfeiture.
    According to the indictment, Sanjar and Sajadi orchestrated and executed a scheme to defraud Medicare beginning in 2006 and continuing until their arrest in December 2011. Sanjar and Sajadi owned Spectrum, which purportedly provided partial hospitalization program (PHP) services. A PHP is a form of intensive outpatient treatment for severe mental illness. The Medicare beneficiaries for whom Spectrum billed Medicare for PHP services did not qualify for or need PHP services. Sanjar, Sajadi, Main and Moore signed admission documents and progress notes certifying that patients qualified for PHP services, when in fact, the patients did not qualify for or need PHP services. Sanjar and Sajadi also billed Medicare for PHP services when the beneficiaries were actually watching movies, coloring and playing games – activities that are not covered by Medicare.
    Sanjar, Sajadi and Hakimi paid kickbacks to Nunn, Holmes, Manney and other group care home operators and patient recruiters in exchange for delivering ineligible Medicare beneficiaries to Spectrum, according to the indictment. In some cases, the patients received a portion of those kickbacks. The indictment alleges that Spectrum billed Medicare for approximately $97 million in services that were not medically necessary and, in some cases, not provided.
   The charges were announced by Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division; U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson of the Southern District of Texas; Special Agent in Charge Stephen L. Morris of the FBI’s Houston Field Office; Special Agent in Charge Mike Fields of the Dallas Regional Office of HHS’s Office of the Inspector General (HHS-OIG), the Texas Attorney General’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit (MFCU); Joseph J. Del Favero, Special Agent in Charge of the Chicago Field Office of the Railroad Retirement Board, Office of Inspector General (RRB-OIG); and Scott Rezendes, Special Agent in Charge of Field Operations of the Office of Personnel Management, Office of Inspector General (OPM-OIG).
   An indictment is merely a formal accusation. Defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.
    The case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorneys Laura M.K. Cordova and Allan J. Medina and Deputy Chief Sam S. Sheldon of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section with assistance from Trial Attorneys Jennifer Ambuehl and Aixa Maldonado-Quinones of the Criminal Division’s Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section. The case was investigated by the FBI, HHS-OIG, MFCU, RRB-OIG and OPM-OIG and was brought as part of the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, supervised by the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas.
    Since its inception in March 2007, the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, now operating in nine cities across the country, has charged more than 1,330 defendants who have collectively billed the Medicare program for more than $4 billion. In addition, HHS’s Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, working in conjunction with HHS-OIG, is taking steps to increase accountability and decrease the presence of fraudulent providers.
   Source: www.stopfraud.gov/

Health Experts Denounce Flawed House Farm Bill

   Washington, D.C. – (EWG) - 7/27/2012 0- More than 60 leading chefs, authors, food and agriculture policy and nutrition experts, business leaders and environment and health organizations have sent an open letter to Capitol Hill objecting that the House agriculture committee’s proposed farm bill would “steer the next five years of national food and farm policy in the wrong direction.”
   The notable signatories urged lawmakers “to vote a resounding ‘no’ should the legislation come to a House floor vote (before the August recess), unless the bill is extensively rewritten through the amendment process.”
   Signers include Chefs Mario Batali and Ann Cooper, Food Inc. film director Robert Kenner, authors Michael Pollan and Laurie David, New York University nutrition professor Marion Nestle, pediatrician Dr. Harvey Karp and medical expert Dr. Andrew Weil.
   “The House bill will leave millions of people without enough food to eat, help fewer farmers and contribute to the loss of millions of acres of wetlands and grasslands,” said Ken Cook, president of Environmental Working Group. “Meanwhile the cost of crop insurance is poised to set another record---at the expense of the American taxpayer.”
   You can read the full letter and list of signers here.
   Kari Hamerschlag of Environmental Working Group and authors Dan Imhoff and Anna Lappé initiated the group letter to express frustration that the House Agriculture Committee slashes $16 billion in nutrition assistance and $6.1 billion from conservation programs while spending $36 billion on new farm subsidies and failing to include meaningful reforms to the costly federal crop insurance program.
   Hamerschlag, Imhoff, and Lappé organized a similar letter denouncing the Senate version of the farm bill last month.
   "We are speaking up for the millions of Americans who share the belief that the farm bill should use taxpayer dollars wisely and fairly,” Lappé said. “The 2012 legislation should promote healthy food, reward farmers who are good stewards of the land, and provide the much-needed resources for struggling families to put food on the table."
   The letter sent to the House acknowledges that the committee retained some of the Senate bill’s modest but positive elements, including programs that scale up local production and distribution of healthy foods and bolster marketing and research for fruit, nut and vegetable farmers.
   “On the whole, however, this is a huge step backward in almost every other regard,” the letter says. “We are deeply concerned that the bill would continue to give away tens of billions of taxpayer dollars to the largest commodity crop growers, insurance companies, and agribusinesses while drastically underfunding programs to protect natural resources, invest in beginning and disadvantaged farmers, revitalize local food economies, and promote health and food security.”
   The letter strongly criticizes the House panel’s failure to retain the Senate-approved conservation compliance amendment. Moreover, its version contains dangerous anti-environmental provisions that would roll back fundamental regulatory and constitutional protections, gut common-sense rules that protect water quality and wildlife from agricultural pesticides, exempt GMO crops from meaningful environmental review and federal oversight, and prevent states from setting their own standards for farm and food production.
   "Rather than making real reforms to alleviate hunger, strengthen stewardship, and boost rural economies, the House farm bill would continue sending billions to agribusinesses and weaken regulations around pesticides and genetically modified crops,” Imhoff said. “Americans deserve better."
   Signers of the letter hope that floor action on the bill would give House lawmakers the opportunity to dramatically improve the legislation. They are calling on lawmakers to pass amendments that eliminate harmful extraneous provisions, support local, healthy and organic food, provide full funding for nutrition assistance programs and include fiscally responsible reforms to crop insurance and commodity programs.

The Arms Debate

Not All American's Have the Right to Bear Arms

Photo by Steve Rensberry (c) 2018