Daily Archives: January 13, 2008

Homicides by US Iraq and Afghan war vets up 90 percent

Reuters | Jan 12, 2008

NEW YORK, Jan 12 (Reuters) – A survey of public records by The New York Times found at least 121 U.S. veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan committed a killing or were charged with one after returning home from duty, the newspaper reported on Saturday.

The Times said the numbers indicated a nearly 90 percent increase in homicides involving active-duty military personnel and new veterans for the six-year period since the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan. Neither the Pentagon nor the Justice Department tracks such killings, which are handled by civilian courts. An Army spokesman said the report did not offer a complete picture.

Saying its research likely uncovered only the minimum number of such cases, the Times found three-quarters of the veterans charged were still in the military at the time of the killings, more than half of which involved guns.

Some 25 of the offenders faced murder, manslaughter or homicide charges for fatal car crashes resulting from drunken, reckless or suicidal driving.

The overwhelming majority had no prior criminal records, the Times said, but it added that in some of the cases, “the fact that the suspect went to war bears no apparent relationship to the crime committed.”

The Times said about one-third of the victims were spouses, girlfriends, children or other relatives, while some 25 percent were fellow service members.

Army spokesman Paul Boyce told Reuters in an e-mail that Army statistics “show little or no increases in positive drug use, driving under the influence crimes or domestic abuse in the past years among the more than 300,000 soldiers who have deployed in this war.”

The findings stemmed from searches of local news reports, examination of police, court and military records and interviews with defendants, their lawyers and families as well as victims’ families and military and law enforcement officials.

Interviews with relatives of the veterans brought a common refrain of “He came back (from war) different,” the Times said, with references to substance abuse and mental instability such as paranoia.

Few of the 121 veterans received more than cursory mental health screening at the end of their deployments, the veterans, their lawyers, relatives and prosecutors said. While many showed signs of combat trauma, they were not evaluated for or diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder until after the homicides, according to the interviews.

Boyce said the newspaper’s statistics “appear to be based on a basic review of American newspaper crime stories from 2004 to 2006, rather than statistics provided by the U.S. Army or the Department of Defense, or even any interviews with military medical or judicial professionals.”

Such methodology would make it “nearly impossible for reporters to determine the extent of highly personal mental-health assistance provided to individual members of the Armed Forces,” Boyce wrote. (Writing by Chris Michaud; Editing by Peter Cooney)

Organs to be taken without consent

Telegraph | Jan 13, 2008

By Patrick Hennessy and Laura Donnelly

Gordon Brown has thrown his weight behind a move to allow hospitals to take organs from dead patients without explicit consent.

Writing in The Sunday Telegraph, the Prime Minister says that such a facility would save thousands of lives and that he hopes such a system can start this year.

The proposals would mean consent for organ donation after death would be automatically presumed, unless individuals had opted out of the national register or family members objected.

But patients’ groups said that they were “totally opposed” to Mr Brown’s plan, saying that it would take away patients’ rights over their own bodies.

There are more than 8,000 patients waiting for an organ donation and more than 1,000 a year die without receiving the organ that could save their lives.

The Government will launch an overhaul of the system next week, which will put pressure on doctors and nurses to identify more “potential organ donors” from dying patients. Hospitals will be rated for the number of deceased patients they “convert” into donors and doctors will be expected to identify potential donors earlier and alert donor co-ordinators as patients approach death.

But Mr Brown, who carries a donor card, has made it clear he backs an even more radical revamp of the system, which would lead to donation by “presumed consent”. The approach is modelled on that of Spain, which has the highest proportion of organ donors in the world.

“A system of this kind seems to have the potential to close the aching gap between the potential benefits of transplant surgery in the UK and the limits imposed by our current system of consent,” Mr Brown writes.

He voted against such a system in 2004 – but sources close to the Prime Minister said last night that the measure proposed then was a much harder version of his latest plan, without families having the final say.

Patients’ groups said that they were appalled by Mr Brown’s intervention. “They call it presumed consent, but it is no consent at all,” said Joyce Robin, from the watchdog Patient Concern. “They are relying on inertia and ignorance to get the results that they want.” She said that the

Government had made little effort to get people to register to give up organs after death. “Where is the big media campaign, where are the leaflets? Why, when I go to see my GP, doesn’t he ask me about organ donation? These are the things they should be doing – not taking away our right to decide what happens to our bodies.”

Katherine Murphy, of the Patients Association charity, agreed. “We don’t think a private decision, which is a matter of individual conscience, should be taken by the state. If people want to give the gift of life, that is their right, but it must be something that is a voluntary matter. ”

While polls show 90 per cent of Britons are in favour of organ donation, 40 per cent of relatives refuse consent for the organs of their relatives to be donated, a figure which rises to 75 per cent among black and ethnic minorities. To solve this, the organ taskforce plans measures to boost donation, including putting pressure on doctors to identify patients as potential donors before they have died.

The taskforce report – to be released on Tuesday – calls for a senior doctor to be appointed in every hospital as a “champion” of donation, along with a lay person to spread the message about the importance of donation locally.

The force, which is to publish a report on “presumed consent” this summer, hopes its 14 recommendations will lead to 50 per cent more donations in five years.

It admits to a possible “conflict of interest” between medical staff, trying to save lives and those keen to ensure every possible organ is harvested. Dr Kevin Gunning, an intensive care consultant at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridge, and a member of the UK Transplant’s advisory group, said the measures could put doctors and relatives under pressure. “If, as a doctor you have turned your thoughts to your patient being a donor when they are still living, that is a real conflict.”

Dr Bruce Taylor, of the Intensive Care Society warned that early indicators of death were not reliable. “The only way to be sure is to do all the tests which show brain stem death; anything in advance of that is only a prediction.”

But Chris Rudge, of UK Transplant, the authority in charge of organ donation and transplant, insisted patients would not be considered as donors at any point where survival was possible.

Germany pardons Dutchman beheaded for Reichstag fire

Mentally disabled Marinus van der Lubbe was cleared under a law introduced in 1998 to lift unjust verdicts dating from the Nazi era.
Agence France-Press | Jan 11, 2008

BERLIN — Seventy-five years since the Reichstag building in Berlin was gutted by fire, the Dutchman executed by the Nazis for starting the blaze has been posthumously pardoned by the German state, federal justice officials said yesterday.

Marinus van der Lubbe, a member of the Communist party, was cleared under a law introduced in 1998 to lift unjust verdicts dating from the Nazi era.

The Reichstag, the imposing stone building that housed the Nazi-controlled parliament, was gutted by fire on Feb. 27, 1933 — one month after Adolf Hitler rose to power.

A Nazi court found Van der Lubbe guilty of arson and high treason and he was beheaded in 1934.

The verdict remains a source of controversy.

Some historians say the Dutchman admitted burning down the Reichstag alone in an attempt to rouse Germans to rise up against the Nazis.

Others believe he was made a scapegoat for a fire that the Nazis started themselves.

Blair kicks off campaign to become EU President

Apparently, since he has converted to Catholicism, Blair can now become the new leader over the entire European empire with the blessings of the papacy

The Observer | Jan 13, 2008

Alex Duval Smith in Paris

Tony Blair launched his campaign to become the first fully-fledged President of the European Union yesterday by describing the notion of left- and right-wing politics as redundant.

With France preparing to oversee the appointment process, Blair set out his vision of modern European democracy at a meeting of the French governing conservative party by also claiming that EU countries could achieve far more by working together than acting in isolation.

‘Europe is not a question of left or right, but a question of the future or the past, of strength or weakness,’ said the former British Prime Minister, speaking in French.

In his most important speech since leaving Downing Street last June, addressing 2,000 supporters of French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Blair said globalisation was eradicating traditional party lines and class distinctions and rendering old political remedies obsolete. ‘It’s about today versus yesterday. Less about politics and more about a state of mind; open as opposed to closed,’ he said.

‘Terrorism, security, immigration, organised crime, energy, the environment, science, biotechnology and higher education. In all these areas, and others, we are much stronger and able to deliver what our citizens expect from us as individual nations if we are part of a strong and united Europe,’ he added before supporters of Sarkozy’s Union Pour Un Mouvement Populaire (UMP) party. Blair, a close ally of Sarkozy who advised the French politician during his rise to power, is strongly backed by the French President to become President of the EU Council of Ministers in January next year, a position he has previously said he was not interested in.

Sarkozy, 52, who appeared at the Palais des Sports rally without his 40-year-old girlfriend, Carla Bruni, offered unequivocal backing for Blair yesterday, describing him as an ideal candidate to run Europe. ‘He is intelligent, he is brave and he is a friend. We need him in Europe. How can we govern a continent of 450 million people if the President changes every six months and has to run his own country at the same time? I want a President chosen from the top – not a compromise candidate – who will serve for two-and-a-half years,’ added Sarkozy.

A UMP party grandee, Jean-Pierre Rafarin, wrote in yesterday’s Le Monde newspaper that Blair’s experience in Europe positioned him well for the post. The position of President of the European Council – which meets at head-of-state and government level, usually four times a year – is due to be created by the 27-nation grouping in the second half of 2008, when France will chair EU ministerial meetings.

At the end of this month, Blair will continue his campaign to win the leadership of Europe when he addresses a conference at the Sorbonne of Les Progressistes, a breakaway socialist party group which has joined Sarkozy’s government. Blair is also due to attend the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, this month.

After Blair’s speech, Sarkozy took the former Prime Minister for lunch at the Hotel Bristol near the Elysee Palace. Despite support from Sarkozy – who is the architect of the mini-treaty for a European constitution – Blair is an outsider for the EU job. His support for the war in Iraq and Britain’s reluctance to join the euro and other core projects is likely to count against him when EU leaders vote for their president later this year.

Sedatives and chemo drugs found in drinking water

Telegraph | Jan 13, 2008

By Richard Gray

Britain’s tap water should be monitored for powerful medicines after traces of cancer and psychiatric drugs were detected in samples, a report has warned.

The 100-page statement, commissioned by the drinking water watchdog, the Drinking Water Inspectorate (DWI), reveals that pharmaceuticals are finding their way into the water supply despite extensive purification treatments used by water companies.

Trace levels of bleomycin, a cancer chemotherapy drug, and diazepam, a sedative, have been found during tests on drinking water, the report reveals.

While the levels are considered too low to pose a direct risk to health, doctors have expressed concern about exposing pregnant women to drugs that could harm an unborn child.

The report, compiled for the DWI by the consultants Watts and Crane Associates, recommends that drinking water should be monitored for hazardous drugs.

The report states: “The observed concentrations of pharmaceuticals in raw waste water indicate that the major source of pharmaceuticals to the environment is via sewage treatment works effluent.

“Drinking water treatment works use a wider and technically more advanced range of processes, but again these are not specifically designed to remove pharmaceuticals and several compounds have been reported in drinking water.”

But it adds: “Even in the worst-case situation, there is no significant risk to health from the intake of pharmaceuticals via drinking water.”

Sue Pennison, from the DWI, said: “The recommendations are now being considered and this may include conducting testing on drinking water.”

The report comes as a separate study by environmental scientists has warned that toxic chemotherapy drugs used to treat cancer patients are being washed into Britain’s rivers. They, too, have called for testing of tap water to ensure there is no risk to people.

The study, carried out at the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology in Wallingford, Oxfordshire, examined the risks posed by chemotherapy drugs that escape into the environment through sewage.

The researchers estimated that an adult drinking more than three pints of water a day would receive a weekly dose of between 300 and 30,000 times lower than recommended safety levels.

They warn that a developing foetus would also be exposed to the drugs in the womb.

Andrew Johnson, the scientist who led the Wallingford study, said: “In the foetus, which is rapidly growing and comparatively tiny, the dose would be relatively higher and any damage to its cells could be far more serious.

“There is not evidence to show that drinking water treatment removes all these drugs, so while we are not wanting to alarm people, it would be foolish to assume there is no risk.”

Lives of Poverty Untouched by China’s Boom

Li Enlan at her home in Yangmiao, a village in Henan Province in China. “We eat somehow, but it’s never enough,” she said. Photo: Ariana Lindquist for The New York Times

NY Times | Jan 13, 2008


YANGMIAO, China — When she gets sick, Li Enlan, 78, picks herbs from the woods that grow nearby instead of buying modern medicines. That is not a result of some philosophical choice, though. She has never seen a doctor and, like many residents of this area, lives in a meager barter economy, seldom coming into contact with cash.

“We eat somehow, but it’s never enough,” Ms. Li said. “At least we’re not starving.”

In this region of southern Henan Province, in village after village, people are too poor to heat their homes in the winter and many lack basic comforts like running water. Mobile phones, a near ubiquitous symbol of upward mobility throughout much of this country, are seen as an impossible luxury. People here often begin conversations with a phrase that is still not uncommon in today’s China: “We are poor.”

China has moved more people out of poverty than any other country in recent decades, but the persistence of destitution in places like southern Henan Province fits with the findings of a recent World Bank study that suggests that there are still 300 million poor in China — three times as many as the bank previously estimated.

Poverty is most severe in China’s geographic and social margins, whether the mountainous areas or deserts that ring the country, or areas dominated by ethnic minorities, who for cultural and historic reasons have benefited far less than others from the country’s long economic rise.

But it also persists in places like Henan, where population densities are among the greatest in China, and the new wealth of the booming coast beckons, almost mockingly, a mere province away.

“Henan has the largest population of any province, approaching 100 million people, and the land there just cannot support those kinds of numbers,” said Albert Keidel, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and an expert on Chinese poverty. “It is supposed to be a breadbasket, but there has always been major discrimination against grain-based areas in China. The profit you can get from a hectare of land from vegetables, or a fish farm or oils, is so much more.”

Other experts say Henan and other heavily populated parts of the Chinese heartland are often excluded from the financial support that goes to the coastal areas, and what antipoverty measures there are have little effect. Typically, residents of those areas say, money intended for them is appropriated by corrupt local officials, who pocket it or divert it to business investments.

Paradoxically, they say, they are overlooked precisely because of their proximity to the major economic centers of the east, forced to fend for themselves on the theory that they can make do with income sent home by migrant laborers and other forms of trickle-down wealth.

“Previous poverty alleviation policy focused more on western China, places like Gansu, Qinghai or Guizhou, which were poorer,” said Wang Xiaolu, deputy director of the National Economic Research Institute, a Beijing nongovernmental organization. “Besides, the situation in the border regions is more complicated, because if things go wrong there, it becomes more than a poverty problem. That’s why policy leaned toward them.”

Here in Henan’s rural Gushi County, only 73,000 of 1.4 million farmers fall below the official poverty level of $94 a year, which is supposed to be enough to cover basic needs, including maintaining a daily diet of 2,000 calories. “We should bear in mind that this poverty standard is very low,” Mr. Wang said, echoing the view of many Chinese economists.

Many more people in this part of Henan subsist between the official poverty line and the $1 a day standard long used by the World Bank. The World Bank’s estimate of the number of poor people in China was tripled to 300 million from 100 million last month, after a new survey of prices altered the picture of what a dollar can buy. The new standard was set according to what economists call purchasing power parity. By the new calculations, estimates of the overall size of the Chinese economy also shrank by 40 percent.

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Researchers Create New Rat Heart in Lab

NY Times | Jan 13, 2008


Medicine’s dream of growing new human hearts and other organs to repair or replace damaged ones received a significant boost on Sunday when University of Minnesota researchers reported success in creating a beating rat heart in a laboratory.

Experts not involved in the Minnesota work called it “a landmark achievement” and “a stunning” advance. But they and the Minnesota researchers cautioned that the dream, if it is ever realized, is still at least 10 years away.

Dr. Doris A. Taylor, the head of the team that created the rat heart, said that she followed a guiding principle of her laboratory — “give nature the tools and get out of the way.”

“We just took nature’s own building blocks to build a new organ,” Dr. Taylor said of her team’s report in the journal, Nature Medicine.

The researchers removed all the cells from a dead rat heart, leaving the valves and outer structure as scaffolding for new heart cells injected from newborn rats. Within two weeks, the new cells formed a new beating heart that conducted electrical impulses and pumped a small amount of blood.

With modifications, scientists should be able to grow a new human heart by taking stem cells from a patient’s bone marrow and placing them in a cadaver heart that’s been prepared as a scaffold, Dr. Taylor said in a telephone interview from her laboratory in Minneapolis. The early success “opens the door to this notion that you can make any organ: kidney, liver, lung, pancreas — you name it and we hope we can make it,” she said.

“Doris Taylor’s work is one of those maddeningly simple ideas that you knock yourself on the head, saying why didn’t I think of that,” said Todd N. McAllister, of Cytograft Tissue Engineering of Novato, Calif. His team has used a snippet of a patient’s skin to grow blood vessels in a laboratory and then implanted them to restore blood flow around a patient’s damaged arteries and veins.

The field of tissue engineering has been growing rapidly. For many years, doctors have used engineered skin for burn patients. Engineered cartilage is used for joint repairs. Researchers are investigating use of stem cells to repair cardiac muscle damaged by heart attacks. Also, new bladders grown from a patient’s own cells are being tested in the same patients.

Dr. Taylor is a newcomer to tissue regeneration. She began her professional career at the Albert Einstein Medical School in the Bronx investigating gene therapy and then cell therapy. She said she switched to tissue regeneration when she realized the limiting step in trying to generate an organ was not the number of cells needed, but the complexity of creating a three-dimensional structure.

“The heart is a beautiful organ, and it’s not one that I thought I’d ever be able to build in a dish,” Dr. Taylor said.

Her view changed about three years ago when she recalled that cells are removed from human and pig heart valves before they are used to replace damaged human ones. As she contemplated replacing the old rat cells with new ones, Dr. Taylor followed another of her mantras: “trust your crazy ideas.”

Progress came in fits and starts. “We made every mistake known, did every experiment wrong and had to go back and do them right,” Dr. Taylor said.

She poured detergents like those in shampoos in the rat’s arteries to wash out the heart cells and then injected neonatal cardiac cells. The first two detergents she tested failed. But a third concoction led to a clear, translucent scaffold that retained the heart’s architecture.

After injecting the young rat heart cells into a scaffold, she stimulated them electrically and created an artificial circulation as the equivalent of blood pressure to make the heart pump and produce a pulse. The steps also helped the cells mature. Tests like examining slices of the heart under a microscope showed they were living cells.

To test the biological compatibility of the new hearts, the team transplanted them into the abdomen of unrelated live rats. The hearts were not immediately rejected. A blood supply developed. The hearts beat regularly. And cells from the host rats moved in and began to re-line the blood vessels, even growing in the wall of the hearts.

Dr. Taylor is now conducting similar experiments on pigs as a step toward human work. “Working out the details in a pig heart made a lot more sense” because the anatomy of the porcine heart is the closest to humans and pigs are plentiful, she said.

“The next goal will be to see if we can get the heart to pump strongly enough and become mature enough that we can use it to keep an animal alive” in a replacement transplant, Dr. Taylor said.

As for human hearts, the best-case scenario would be to obtain them from cadavers, remove their cells to make a scaffold and then inject bone marrow, muscle or young cardiac cells from a patient. The process of repopulating the scaffold with new cells would take a few months, she said.

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