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I’m now blogging over at Tumblr. You can follow my stories here! http://tinyyurt.tumblr.com/

This week I’m posting stories and interviews from Occupy Wall Street.

Powderhorn Latina leaders and friends host Noche de Paz (Night of Peace) event

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Powderhorn Latina leaders & friends host Noche de Paz (Night of Peace) event

Inspired by the beautiful “Peace in Powderhorn” event, Powderhorn neighbors come together to organize another lovely, peace-making event.

February 7, 2011 (MINNEAPOLIS)

Powderhorn Park neighborhood leaders, organized by Silvia Perez of Mujeres en Accion y Poder (Women in Action and Power), have come together to organize “Noche de Paz” (Night of Peace), an event to promote peace, safety, and unity in Powderhorn Park and celebrate all that makes the neighborhood a good place to live: strong families, art, music, creativity, diversity, acceptance, and peace.

On Sunday, February 13, from 6 – 8 pm, residents and friends of the community will gather outside the Powderhorn Park building, 15th Avenue and 33rd Street, for a celebration of Powderhorn. Children and adults, all are welcome! Please dress warm and bring a bowl and spoon for soup, a candle in a jar, a sled or skates if wanted, laughter, hope, and more. Come enjoy the park and each other, and celebrate the strengths of this diverse, creative, and caring community.

There will be music, puppets, warm soup, delicious bread, coffee, hot chocolate, warm bonfires, a candle-light walk, and a warm place to go (the Powderhorn Park building) to enjoy the great food and meet new friends. Thank you to the many generous donors, including La Poblanita, New York Plaza Produce, El Horno del Rey, other bakeries and cafes, and individual neighbors.

Noche de Paz was inspired by the December 1 event “Peace in Powderhorn”, a candle-light vigil and celebration of community, which was attended by over 300 people. The December event was motivated in response to violent incidents in the neighborhood, yet maintained a positive focus. Neighborhood leaders are building on that spirit and creating peace-making events that are pro-active efforts to further develop a peaceful and united community.

On Wednesday February 16, please join us at the Powderhorn Park Neighborhood Association at 6:30pm for a meeting of the Powderhorn Park Safety Committee, where we will continue to discuss ways we can use our strengths and creativity to make the neighborhood a safer place for everyone to live and thrive. Ideas include neighborhood walking groups, dog-walking groups, porch-sitting, Anchor families, block clubs, and strategies to prevent gang graffiti and other negative activity. (By the way, other committees and organizations are taking a role of providing positive activities for our youth.) For more information on the Safety Committee, contact Doug Hill, 718-4027, doughilltech@comcast.net.

We invite neighbors from all segments of the community to plan and host further Noche de Paz events several times a year! A Peacemakers Gathering is proposed for March, to discuss future peace-focused events and plans. Details to be determined. For more information, contact Lina or Silvia. See contact information below.

To volunteer with Noche de Paz, contact Sylvia 612-724-7457 spthalia1103@gmail.com at Mujeres en Accion (Spanish) or Lina 612-722-4817 lina@PPNA.com at Powderhorn Park Neighborhood Association, (English).

Media Contacts: Silvia Perez (Spanish), 612.724-7457 spthalia1103@gmail.com

Josefina Franco (Spanish, English), cat.josefina.franco@gmail.com

Kathleen Sullivan (English) 612-340-9209 kathsullivan@yahoo.comPre

### Kathleen Sullivan

General Counsel Rotenberg speaks about Himle and academic freedom

Yesterday, in an interview with U of M General Counsel Mark Rotenberg, I asked him specifically what had been done regarding questions of conflicts of interest and threats to academic freedom surrounding the “Troubled Waters” case. He had told me in October Himle’s role in the issue would be looked at, to ensure she didn’t violate the institutional conflict of interest policy. I asked if that had progressed, what they had discovered, and what that meant for her position. His quote yesterday:

“I can’t address anything with regard to Himle’s position here at the U of M. What I can tell you is that the faculty are going to continue to discuss these issues regarding academic freedom.”

I asked if it meant that she was still being investigated, and what was found–Did she act in “the best interest” of the University in pulling the film?

Rotenberg said again he couldn’t speak to her position, but that the provost and president had requested additional meetings surrounding academic freedom and that those meetings and discussions would be carried out.

So the question is…what did the U determine about her role in pulling “Troubled Waters”? What did the investigation–if indeed there was one–reveal about her role or institutional conflicts of interest?

Faculty for the Renewal of Public Education calls for inquiry into the suicide of Dan Markingson

Following up on a letter to the Board of Regents from eight bioethicists from the University of Minnesota calling for an investigation into the death of Dan Markingson, four faculty members from the Faculty for the Renewal of Public Education sent a letter to the Board today also calling for an independent probe into Markingson’s suicide. The full story is here. The letter from FRPE and four new faculty members is below. More to come…

Dec 5, 2010

Board of Regents
University of Minnesota
600 McNamara Alumni Center
200 Oak Street SE
Minneapolis, MN 55455-2020

Dear Board of Regents Members:

We write in support of the call made by faculty members affiliated with the university’s Center for Bioethics for the Board of Regents to establish an independent panel of experts to investigate the suicide of Dan Markingson. We are particularly concerned that possible ethical violations at the University of Minnesota may have contributed to his death.

Dan Markingson committed suicide on May 8, 2004, while in a psychiatric study at the University of Minnesota, sponsored by the pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca. Articles in the St. Paul Pioneer Press and Mother Jones suggest that ethical violations contributed to Mr. Markingson’s death. These violations may have included the following:

1. The recruitment of a mentally ill subject into a research study while he was under an involuntary commitment order
2. Financial conflicts of interest on the part of the university researchers conducting the study
3. A payment structure which included financial incentives to recruit and retain subjects rather than provide them with standard therapy
4. A study design aimed at generating positive results for AstraZeneca rather than investigating a genuine scientific question
5. The failure of university researchers to address concerns of Mr. Markingson’s mother, who warned that Mr. Markingson was suicidal and who attempted for months to have him removed from the study
6. The development of a specialized unit in Fairview Hospital designed to identify severely mentally ill subjects for recruitment into research studies
7. A failure of the institutional oversight system for protecting human subjects of research.

These are all serious charges. If true, they suggest systemic problems in the way that clinical research is conducted and overseen at the university. Moreover, they erode confidence in research at the University of Minnesota, both within and beyond its medical school. It is essential that patients participating in research studies at the University of Minnesota, the university community at large, and the wider public, be confident that the university is doing everything it can to protect research subjects from harm.

We believe that an inquiry by an independent panel of experts in research ethics and the conduct of medical research is both warranted and necessary in order for the university to respond adequately to Dan Markingson’s death and take measures to ensure that research conducted here does not again result in a like tragedy. Transparency and accountability in conduct should be the touchstones of a public university.

Sincerely,

Bruce Braun, Department of Geography
Gil Rodman, Department of Communication Studies
Karen-Sue Taussig, Department of Anthropology
Antonio Vazquez-Arroyo, Department of Political Science
for Faculty for the Renewal of Public Education (FRPE).

U of M faculty members call for an investigation into death of research subject

Dan Markingson was deemed incompetent. Then, days later, he was deemed competent enough to take part in a research study that ultimately netted the U of M hundreds of thousands of dollars—and possibly led to Markingson’s violent death.

Now, more than six years after the suicide of the 26-year-old Minnesota man, eight faculty members at the University of Minnesota are calling for an independent investigation into the gruesome death that occurred while Markingson was part of a U of M research study.

“There are serious questions about this case that need to be answered,” says Dr. Leigh Turner, an associate professor of bioethics and signatory on a letter to the Board of Regents calling for an investigation. “How much did [financial] incentives have a role in Markingson being enrolled in the study, even despite significant concerns of his mother?” Turner said in an interview on Friday. “And why was [Markingson's] consent even sought when just days before he was deemed incompetent?”

The letter calls for an independent investigation into Markingson’s death and for the U, a top research institution already tainted by stories outlining serious conflicts of interest and threats to academic freedom, to examine its conflict of interest policy and ensure safeguards are in place to protect its research subjects.

Markingson lacked “capacity to make decisions”

In 2003 Markingson was enrolled in a psychiatric drug study against his mother’s wishes. Two separate parties had deemed Markingson mentally incompetent when he was admitted to the U of M’s Fairview Medical Center on November 12 after Markingson’s mom, Mary Weiss, called the police after he threatened to slit her throat.

Just months before that incident in St. Paul, Weiss had become seriously concerned about the mental state of her son, a celebrity-tour-bus driver in L.A. Weiss went to visit him that summer. He told her a hole burnt in his carpet was from aliens and that a secret world order had called for him to kill people in a storm. Seriously worried for his safety, she convinced him to move back to Minnesota, but only after pretending to be a “guardian angel” spirit of his dead grandmother who suggested the “storm” was starting in Minnesota.

At the hospital only a few months later, in a document signed by Dr. Stephen Olson, an associate professor of psychiatry at the U of M, Markingson was deemed incompetent and ordered to a state mental institution. At the time, Olson noted, Markingson “lack[ed] the capacity to make decisions regarding such treatment.”

Days later, under orders of a judge and Olson, Markingson was granted a “stay of commitment,” an option in Minnesota where patients can avoid involuntary commitment to a mental institution as long as they follow a treatment plan. This gave Markingson only two options: Go involuntarily to a state hospital, or commit to a treatment plan to be ordered by Olson.

Olson’s treatment plan for Markingson consisted of enrolling him in a blind clinical trial sponsored by the pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca. Markingson’s mother was not present to offer consent. She believes her son was coerced by Olson to sign up for the study.

In early May of that same year, while still enrolled in the blind study for Seroquel despite his mother’s repeated attempts to remove him and her fear that he would hurt himself or others, Markingson stabbed himself to death with a box cutter in the bath tub of a halfway house.

Questions of serious ethical violations

In the letter to the Board of Regents, the eight signatories say they want the U to investigate whether Olson’s financial interests played a role in Markingson’s diagnosis and inclusion in the study, and his resulting death.

According to a 2008 story in the Pioneer Press: “Olson had been searching for recruits for more than a year. The study required a very specific and elusive person — a schizophrenic experiencing his first symptoms. Markingson fit that profile.” The University was in danger of losing the study. Finding new research subjects was essential to continued funding, the story says.

Weiss, however, objected to her son’s inclusion in the clinical trial, and she was surprised by Olson’s diagnosis of schizophrenia. Her son had been previously diagnosed with bipolar disorder. The schizophrenia diagnosis was new.

Weiss had repeatedly and unsuccessfully called for her son to be removed from the study, including making multiple phone calls and sending five letters to the doctors. She cited an increase in her son’s erratic behavior and inner rage. She worried her son would kill himself or someone else. She received only one response, from Dr. Charles Schulz, the chairman of the U’s psychiatry department. “It was not clear to me how you thought the treatment team should deal with this issue,” he wrote in a letter.

The study, according to an article by U of M professor Dr. Carl Elliott in Mother Jones, barred subjects from being being taken off their assigned drug. It also required them to stay on the drug for an entire year.

The U of M received $327,000 for this study, Turner notes. And for each person enrolled and continuing with the year-long study, the University received an additional $15,000. Some of that money went directly to the psychiatry department—and some directly to Olson’s salary.

Between 2002 and 2008, Olson and Schulz had earned a combined $811,045 from pharmaceutical companies, and $261,364 of that came directly from AstraZeneca. According to the 2008 Pioneer Press story, “Four experts hired by Weiss’ attorneys agreed that Olson had an ethically questionable position — as the gatekeeper over Markingson’s commitment, as his treating psychiatrist, and as the researcher with a financial incentive to enroll patients.”

(Olson and Schulz could not be reached for comment for this story.)

Elliott, a bioethics professor at the U of M who also wrote a story about the case for Mother Jones, says the letter to the Regents is not an accusation, but a call for an investigation into the claims raised by experts and the U faculty. “There are lots of questions about this,” Elliot says. “And no one at the U has, as far as I know, looked into this.”

Elliott says of most serious concern to him are the financial conflicts of interest and that just days after deeming Markingson incompetent, Olson determined without documentation and without Markingson’s mother present that Markingson was competent enough to consent to a research study.

“It’s not clear how Olson or how his study coordinator evaluated his competence,” Elliot says, “because Mary Weiss wasn’t there when it happened.” Elliott is hoping an independent investigation will reveal how Olson came to these conclusions.

FDA “ignores conflict of interest”

In 2005 the Food and Drug Administration investigated the conduct of Olson, who was Markingson’s only doctor when he was enrolled in the research study. The FDA’s study cleared Olson of wrongdoing. However, Elliott and the signatories note that that the FDA investigation did not include questions of serious ethical violations.

“There is nothing about conflict of interest in that report,” Elliott notes. “The conclusion [by the investigator] was that [Markingson] was mentally competent. Yet he was so mentally dangerous that he needs to be involuntarily committed? How can an FDA investigator look at that and say there is nothing to suggest he is incompetent?”

In addition, most clinical trials exclude patients who are at risk of homicide or suicide. This study only excluded those at risk of suicide, which Markingson later became. Elliott wonders how someone admitted to the hospital threatening to kill someone could be included in a research study that normally bars violent subjects.

Elliott has made numerous attempts to reach the FDA about his questions and concerns. He says he is continuously stonewalled and the FDA refuses to answer any questions.

“A system has failed”

Dr. Mary Faith Marshall has been involved with human-subject protection policy initiatives for more than a decade. The U of M bioethics professor signed the letter to the Board of Regents because of what she says were serious lack of protections for Markingson. “Any time a human subject dies in a research project it’s a signal or a sign that the system has failed,” she says.

“There was a failure of the monitoring system,” Marshall adds. “There were, I think, some conflicts of interest at play. And there were coercive elements.”

After the death of Jesse Gelsinger, a research subject who died during a clinical trial for gene therapy at the University of Pennsylvania, Marshall was asked to chair the National Human Research Protections Advisory Committee, which recommended, in 2002, that all research subjects be awarded the same protections, regardless of private of federal funding. Marshall notes that had this been a federally-funded study—which is regulated by the Office of Human Resource Protections—it likely would have been shut down.

“The University agrees, regardless of federal or private funding, we are going to use the same standard to protect subjects,” Marshall says. In theory, the U uses the same standard for all studies. That includes ensuring that research subjects are capable to make decisions, are not coerced into a study, and understand the impact of the study. But even with those ethical safeguards in place, universities and researchers aren’t prone to the same regulations and repercussions when a study is funded with private dollars.

The OHRP was asked to investigate the case and determine whether Markingson was competent in voluntarily submitting to the study. “If I were a member of the site-visit team, I certainly would be looking into this,” Marshall says.

But the office declined to look into the matter because the study was funded with private dollars. Currently, there is no system in place to ensure that privately funded research follows the same guidelines as federally funded studies. Still, Marshall says, it is then the U’s responsibility to look into the case and determine if ethical violations were committed in the death of Markingson.

“Voluntariness is an essential component of decisional capacity for any research subject,” Marshall says. “And there was little evidence to suggest he had any voluntariness… It’s a shame that the federal government doesn’t think they can make a for-cause visit where someone has been killed in a study with private funding.”

More conflicts of interest for the U

In the wake of the “Troubled Waters” scandal, in which University Relations officials yanked a film’s premiere after it had raised concerns of the larger agricultural community, U faculty and staff have continued to raise questions about conflicts of interest. Letters to the Board of Regents suggest and call for investigations by independent committees into why the film was pulled by a non-academic department.

Matt McGeachy, a student representative to the Board of Regents, recently put together a document outlining student concerns about conflict of interests at the University. He included in his draft concerns over “Troubled Waters” censorship and the Markingson case. However McGeachy says that last Monday the Board of Regents Office nixed that section in the report, suggesting, according to McGeachy, “that it was inappropriate for inclusion.” McGeachy plans to edit and resubmit the draft for inclusion next semester.

Turner and Elliott hope the Board doesn’t similarly dismiss the letter signed by eight faculty members calling for an investigation into the Markingson case.

“This is the court of last appeal,” Elliott said. “The U has known about this case for a long time. And the response was to follow with legal action against Mary Weiss.”

In 2008, Weiss filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the U of M. The lawsuit was dismissed, but Weiss was awarded a settlement of $75,000, which mostly paid for legal fees. Two months later the U turned around and filed legal action against Weiss to collect the $57,000 in legal fees it accrued in defending itself against Weiss’ suit.

“To me, that’s shameful,” Elliott says. “I am embarrassed that even happened. This is a woman whose son died. Do people actually know that this man died? And do they know that the U’s response to the lawsuit was to file an action against the dead man’s mother to prevent her from filing any further lawsuits? I really hope that the answer isn’t silence this time.”

Elliott says he and the other signatories are waiting on a response from the Board of Regents.

Powderhorn residents respond to recent violence with “Peace in Powderhorn” event

Powderhorn Park responds to recent spate of violence with peace-making events and awareness

Neighborhood residents come together to organize a “Peace in Powderhorn” vigil on December 1 and a Safety Brainstorming Meeting for December 2

November 28, 2010 (MINNEAPOLIS) - Powderhorn Park residents have come together to organize “Peace in Powderhorn,” an event to honor those affected by violence and reclaim Powderhorn Park and all of the things that make the neighborhood unique: art, music, creativity, diversity, acceptance, and peace.

On Wednesday, December 1, at 7:30pm, exactly one week after the tragic events occurred in Powderhorn Park, residents and friends of the community will gather at 32nd St. and 14th Ave. S., in the northeast corner of Powderhorn Park, for a celebration of Powderhorn. Everyone is encouraged to bring music, art, puppets, laughter, hope, food…In other words, they are encouraged to reclaim the park and celebrate the strengths of the artful, diverse, and loving community.

A moving statement from the woman who was sexually accosted in the park is testament to the Powderhorn community’s commitment to peace—and its desire to understand, heal, and grow from such tragic events.

“Please take this [vigil] as an opportunity to celebrate our riches. I would love it if people came out to sing, dance, ski, sled, play Frisbee, etc. Let’s make it a celebration of our community and our park! At one point the boys [who accosted us] asked for our skis. I wish they could have taken them and used them and experienced the pure joy of gliding in the fresh snow, getting winded from exertion and breathing in cool, fresh air. Please send them all the love you can muster. I think they really need it.”

Please join us on Wednesday evening to honor her words, celebrate our riches, and reclaim the park that is famous for the May Day Parade; fireworks; fishing; Empty Bowls; art sleds, picnics; skiing; baseball; soccer; sledding; yoga; and neighborhood gatherings of strength, peace, and love.

And on Thursday, December 2, please join us at the Powderhorn Park Neighborhood Association at 6:30pm for a Safety Brainstorming Gathering, where we will discuss ways we can use our strengths and creativity to make the neighborhood a safer place for everyone to live and thrive. Ideas so far have included dog-walking groups; neighborhood monitors; park patrols; community chants and meditations for healing; and yoga and youth newspaper classes. All ideas are welcome and will serve to make this diverse community even stronger.

In addition to inviting Powderhorn friends and community members to the vigil and meeting, residents would also like to encourage donations to the family of Guadalupe Galeno Hernandez, the 12-year-old girl who was shot in the neck on November 12. Guadalupe is likely paralyzed by the drive-by shooting and her family needs your love and support.

http://helpguadalupe.com/

Contact: Molly Priesmeyer

612.239.6358

molly@gooodworkgroup.com

###

I’m still here

Since the last time I updated Tiny Yurt, we learned the movie “I’m Still Here” was a hoax; I got mugged in Honduras, but swiftly forgot about it by touring the ruins and drinking wine; and I wrote and performed a story about my getting kicked out of Monday night religion school in 2nd grade for wondering if someone “hallucinated” the resurrection of Christ after they ingested some spoiled meat. Yes, a lot has happened, folks!

In addition, I’ve continued to work on “Troubled Waters” and other stories. Here’s a quick update:

1. “Troubled Waters” redactions. On October 28th, I sent an email to Dan Wolter at the U of M asking him to indicate the basis for the redactions in a number of attached emails. In addition, I asked that if the U could not indicate the privileged or private-data basis for each email redaction, that the U provide me with the excised material in pursuant to Section 13.03 subd 3(e). This is important because Data Practices laws state that only information pertaining to personnel or attorney-client privilege can be redacted. (What’s more, some of the information is pertinent to the recent U meetings about academic freedom asking just how much of a role University Relations should have in academic issues.)

On November 1, Dan Wolter told me that they U “would let me know as soon as possible” when they “had a response.” I still have yet to receive a response. The Data Practices Act requires the recipient to “respond in a timely manner.” I will keep requesting answers.

2. On a lighter note, I have published a feature over at the Line about bike cafes in Minneapolis. You can check it out here.

3. Other stories: I’m still keeping on the “Troubled Waters” story and enviro beat. In fact, I’m looking into some intriguing stories about our polluted waters–the same issues highlighted in the film. But I’m just a lil’ PT freelancer, so you’ll have to bear with me. In the meantime, please send any tips to me at mollypriesmeyer [at] gmail.com. I’d love to year from you!