Sunday, 16 December 2018

Baby power appears to be a ticking time bomb for consumers



Reuters Investigates, 14 December 2018:

Facing thousands of lawsuits alleging that its talc caused cancer, J&J insists on the safety and purity of its iconic product. But internal documents examined by Reuters show that the company's powder was sometimes tainted with carcinogenic asbestos and that J&J kept that information from regulators and the public….

J&J didn’t tell the FDA that at least three tests by three different labs from 1972 to 1975 had found asbestos in its talc – in one case at levels reported as “rather high.”……

…J&J has been compelled to share thousands of pages of company memos, internal reports and other confidential documents with lawyers for some of the 11,700 plaintiffs now claiming that the company’s talc caused their cancers — including thousands of women with ovarian cancer.

A Reuters examination of many of those documents, as well as deposition and trial testimony, shows that from at least 1971 to the early 2000s, the company’s raw talc and finished powders sometimes tested positive for small amounts of asbestos, and that company executives, mine managers, scientists, doctors and lawyers fretted over the problem and how to address it while failing to disclose it to regulators or the public.

The documents also depict successful efforts to influence U.S. regulators’ plans to limit asbestos in cosmetic talc products and scientific research on the health effects of talc.

A small portion of the documents have been produced at trial and cited in media reports. Many were shielded from public view by court orders that allowed J&J to turn over thousands of documents it designated as confidential. Much of their contents is reported here for the first time……

The World Health Organization and other authorities recognize no safe level of exposure to asbestos. While most people exposed never develop cancer, for some, even small amounts of asbestos are enough to trigger the disease years later…..

What J&J produced in response to those demands has allowed plaintiffs’ lawyers to refine their argument: The culprit wasn’t necessarily talc itself, but also asbestos in the talc. That assertion, backed by decades of solid science showing that asbestos causes mesothelioma and is associated with ovarian and other cancers, has had mixed success in court.

In two cases earlier this year – in New Jersey and California – juries awarded big sums to plaintiffs who, like Coker, blamed asbestos-tainted J&J talc products for their mesothelioma.

A third verdict, in St. Louis, was a watershed, broadening J&J’s potential liability: The 22 plaintiffs were the first to succeed with a claim that asbestos-tainted Baby Powder and Shower to Shower talc, a longtime brand the company sold in 2012, caused ovarian cancer, which is much more common than mesothelioma. The jury awarded them $4.69 billion in damages. Most of the talc cases have been brought by women with ovarian cancer who say they regularly used J&J talc products as a perineal antiperspirant and deodorant.

At the same time, at least three juries have rejected claims that Baby Powder was tainted with asbestos or caused plaintiffs’ mesothelioma. Others have failed to reach verdicts, resulting in mistrials.

J&J has said it will appeal the recent verdicts against it. It has maintained in public statements that its talc is safe, as shown for years by the best tests available, and that the information it has been required to divulge in recent litigation shows the care the company takes to ensure its products are asbestos-free. It has blamed its losses on juror confusion, “junk” science, unfair court rules and overzealous lawyers looking for a fresh pool of asbestos plaintiffs…..

Read the full article here.

Australian Electoral Commission sets up temporary counting house in Grafton ahead of 2019 elections



The Daily Examiner, 10 December 2018, p.4:

After  more than two years without a tenant one of Grafton’s largest retail outlets has a new tenant.

The store at 51 Prince St, formerly tenanted by failed electronics retailer Dick Smith, has been leased to the Australian Electoral Commission to be used as a vote counting centre in the upcoming state and federal elections.

The commercial manager at Ford and Dougherty Natasha Watkinson, said the lease was for just six months, but would be a welcome change to the main street after being so long without a tenant.

She said the owner has given the building a new coat of paint to cover up the previous tenant’s corporate colours.

She said people would not notice a lot of change because of the new tenant.

“Because of legislation the AEC has to block the windows so people cannot see inside,” she said.

“The building is going to be used for vote counting, so there won’t be access for the public.

“For the whole period of the lease it’s probably going to look like the tenant is preparing to move in and fit out.”

Saturday, 15 December 2018

Tweet of the Week



Quotes of the Week


“If you want to know what caused those conditions, I’ll give you an answer – it’s called climate change,” the Queensland premier told reporters. “It is only the LNP who could watch Queensland burn and then blame the trees.”  [Queensland Premier Anna Palaszczuk quoted in The Guardian, 7 December 2018]

“Last year, more Australians bought their seventh home than those who bought their first”  [Journalist Timothy Swanston quoting an incorrect statment by Queensland Minister for Housing and Public Works Mick de Brenni, ABC News, 8 December 2018]

 Most people just consider Assange a spoilt-brat egomaniac with murky motives, a limelight habit and some profoundly questionable political affiliations.”  [Journalist Elizabeth Farrelly writing in The Sydney Morning Herald, 8 December 2018]

“Both Brandis and Turnbull were regularly labelled, and probably were what passes for, ‘moderates’ in the neoliberal alt-right nativist populist Trumpist tribal world, or whatever white patriarchy is called these days.”  [Academic and blogger Ingrid Matthews writing in oecomuse, 27 November 2018]

“Scott Morrison reminds me of a belligerent & angry Sunday School teacher. Protected by his Christian reputation but in reality just a nasty, angry, vengeful man”  [Elizabeth Marr on Twitter, 9 December 2018]


Friday, 14 December 2018

Australia’s Chief Scientist gives the Clarence Valley’s Daily Examiner a polite serve



This is what happens when a once proud 159 year-old newspaper is brought by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp and begins to publish the political rot that Andrew Bolt spews forth…….

The Daily Examiner, letter to the Editor, 11 December 2018, p.13:

Doing nothing on climate change not an option

On Tuesday, December 4 you published an opinion piece by Andrew Bolt titled, ‘Less marching, more learning’, which included a reference to me ‘admitting’ that we “could stop all Australia’s emissions – junk every car, shut every power station, put a cork in every cow – and the effect on the climate would still be ‘virtually nothing’.”

Those are Andrew Bolt’s words, not mine, and they are a complete misrepresentation of my position.

They suggest that we should do nothing to reduce our carbon emissions, a stance I reject, and I wish to correct the record.

On June 1, 2017 I attended a Senate Estimates hearing where Senator Ian Macdonald asked if the world was to reduce its carbon emissions by 1.3 per cent, which is approximately Australia’s rate of emissions, what impact would that make on the changing climate of the world.

My response was that the impact would be virtually nothing, but I immediately continued by explaining that doing nothing is not a position that we can responsibly take because emissions reductions is a little bit like voting, in that if everyone took the attitude that their vote does not count and no-one voted, we would not have a democracy.

Similarly, if all countries that have comparable carbon emissions took the position that they shouldn’t take action because their contribution to this global problem is insignificant, then nobody would act and the problem would continue to grow in scale.

Let me be clear, we need to continue on the path of reducing Australia’s carbon emissions. The fact remains that Australia’s emissions per person are some of the highest in the world.

In response to the recent IPCC report, I urged all decision makers – in government, industry, and the community – to listen to the science and focus on the goal of reducing emissions, while maximising economic growth.
I was upfront about the magnitude of the task: it is huge and will require a global effort.

We’ve never been a nation to shy away from a challenge, or from shouldering our fair share of the responsibility for solving global issues.

Sitting on our hands while expecting the rest of the world to do their part is simply not acceptable.

Dr Alan Finkel AO,
Australia’s Chief Scientist. [my yellow highlighting]

Human Rights 2018: when forgetting is not a good thing



The Guardian, 11 December 2018:

As those who lived through two world wars die out, taking with them real memories of past atrocities, the world is back on a path to self-destruction, a leading authority on torture has warned.

Human rights are facing a “worrying backlash” from a global community that has failed to “learn the lesson” of the past.

Speaking exclusively to the Guardian, the United Nations’ special rapporteur on torture, Nils Melzer, said the global community had become “complacent” in the face of injustice because the world no longer understood why human rights should be protected or what the world would look like without them.

“I don’t think it’s a coincidence that 70 years after world war two, when the last witnesses of past atrocities are dying away, we start to see human rights being questioned on a broad scale,” said Melzer, a Swiss law professor who assumed the UN post in 2016.

“The generation that had the answer is almost gone. They left behind the Universal Declaration of Human Rights for us, but it is as if its message is no longer understood, and it looks like we will have to learn the same lesson the hard way again.”

Melzer’s comments mark the 70th anniversary of the declaration in a week when world leaders are in an uproar over global migration flows, with numerous countries backing out of a UN compact in Marrakech seeking to make migration a universal right.

Melzer pointed to the grave human rights violations occurring in key migration routes as proof that the global community now considers human rights a “luxury” instead of a right….

The first major dismantling of human rights began after 9/11, said Melzer, who worked for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) at the time. He said that the “global war on terror” saw the use of torture increasingly tolerated in public opinion as well as in mainstream entertainment….

The global erosion of human rights is just one crisis among many, said Melzer, from migration and the environment to financial instability, energy, poverty and cyber security. Rather than provide solutions to these problems, however, world leaders are instead “promoting regressive policies focused on national interests and decrying human rights as a threat to national sovereignty and security”.

Melzer added: “We must understand that, in a world full of globalised challenges, human rights are the very basis for our safety, stability and prosperity, and that any significant erosion of these rights will cause the collapse of our modern civilisation.


Thursday, 13 December 2018

Yet another Frydenberg ministerial blunder disclosed which is still reverberating


The Guardian, 11 December 2018:

The Australian government has permitted the export of hundreds of rare and endangered parrots to a German organisation headed by a convicted kidnapper, fraudster and extortionist, despite concerns the birds could be sold at a huge profit.

An investigation by Guardian Australia has revealed that the Berlin-based Association for the Conservation of Threatened Parrots received permission to export 232 birds between 2015 and November 2018 – more than 80% of all the live native birds legally exported from Australia in the same period.

The exports include threatened species such as Carnaby’s and Baudin’s black cockatoos, worth tens of thousands of dollars each.

The head of the ACTP, Martin Guth, has multiple criminal convictions, including a five-year jail sentence for hostage-taking, extortion and attempted fraud in 1996. In 2009 Guth was sentenced to one year and eight months in prison for seven cases of fraud. In one incident Guth kidnapped two men and threatened to cut their fingers off unless they paid a large sum of money.

A six-month Guardian investigation has found:

·    Export permits for Australian birds specified they were for exhibition purposes only, but ACTP has no facility that is freely open to the public.

·    Export permits prohibited the sale of the birds or their offspring, but private messages on social media reveal native Australian birds apparently from ACTP have been offered for sale for hundreds of thousands of dollars. The German federal agency for nature conservation has said it was aware of those offers.

The Australian government was repeatedly warned of concerns about ACTP by international wildlife authorities, private breeders and the government MP Warren Entsch.

International conservation bodies and scientists have raised questions about the organisation’s activities in other countries, including Dominica, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and Brazil.

ACTP does not publish its financial records and is not registered with any major international zoological association.

Concerns about ACTP in Australia were raised with the former environment minister and now treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, and the office of the former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, as well as the environment department. But the government has continued to allow the exports. The latest shipment of 64 birds to ACTP was approved on 12 November.

In December 2017 the government brokered a deal with ACTP that involved the organisation giving $200,000 to the Western Australian government for projects to protect the endangered western ground parrot.

In response to questions from Guardian Australia, the office of the threatened species commissioner, Sally Box, said no such deal would have been reached had it known of Guth’s record…..

Guth’s criminal convictions do not relate to his involvement with ACTP. But the investigation raises serious questions about the oversight of exports of native species from Australia, and the due diligence conducted by international wildlife authorities on a group that has acquired one of the largest collections of rare and endangered parrots in the world.

The Australian parrots, which were bought openly and legally by ACTP from local breeders and birdkeepers, were exported after the environment department agreed to recognise the organisation as a zoo in 2015.

Documents show ACTP obtained a licence to operate as a zoo in Germany in 2014, only months before its application to Australian authorities.

The organisation told the Australian government it ran numerous centres in Germany. None are freely open to the public. Its main premises at Tasdorf, a village 30km outside Berlin, displays no public information other than a mobile phone number. Its location is not advertised and the buildings display no opening hours nor any other indication that the public is welcome to visit….

Germany’s Federal Agency for Nature Conservation (BfN) has confirmed to Guardian Australia it was aware that glossy black cockatoos imported from Australia by ACTP had been offered for sale. It said it had looked into the offers and found the birds had been legally imported and bred, and there were no limits on trade.

But under the terms of ACTP’s Australian permits, the animals and their offspring could only be moved to recognised zoos…. [my yellow highlighting]