Monthly Archives: May 2008

Post-traumatic stress soars in U.S. troops

Reuters | May 27, 2008

By David Morgan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Newly diagnosed cases of post-traumatic stress disorder among U.S. troops sent to Iraq and Afghanistan surged 46.4 percent in 2007, bringing the five-year total to nearly 40,000, according to U.S. military data released on Tuesday.

The statistics, released by the Army, showed the number of new PTSD cases formally diagnosed at U.S. military facilities climbed to 13,981 last year from 9,549 in 2006.

The numbers rose as President George W. Bush poured extra forces into Iraq to try to quell sectarian violence and extended Army tours from 12 to 15 months. The United States has also sent more forces to Afghanistan.

The figures, encompassing all four branches of the U.S. armed services, showed that the Army alone had 10,049 new PTSD cases last year.

This brings to 39,366 the number of PTSD cases diagnosed at military facilities between January 1, 2003, and December 31, 2007, among troops deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan.

The totals include 28,365 cases for the Army, 5,641 for the Marines, 2,884 for the Navy and 2,476 for the Air Force.

Army officials said the larger number of PTSD diagnoses in recent years partly reflects greater awareness and tracking of the disorder by the U.S. military.

Full Story

Quakes can be triggered from other side of globe: study

Breitbart | May 25, 2008

A major quake such as the one that left at least 60,000 dead in southwestern China this month can trigger other earthquakes half way around the world, according to a study released Sunday.

This unexpected finding could one day help make better predictions about the frequency and intensity of aftershocks, the lead researcher told AFP.

A team of geologists in the United States found that 12 out of 15 major quakes — registering a magnitude of 7.0 or higher — since 1990 generated surface waves that set off smaller seismic events in fault systems on distant continents.

The China quake, which measured 8.0 on the Richter scale, was not included in the study, which was published in the British journal Nature Geoscience.

“It was known that these surface waves could travel,” explained co-author Tom Parsons of the US Geological Survey.

“But most scientists thought these so-called dynamically-triggered earthquakes were a special case. In fact they happen all the time, everywhere, and that was something of a surprise,” he said in a phone interview.

The terrible December 2004 mega-quake off the coast of Sumatra, Indonesia, for example, provoked seismic events as far away as Alaska, California and Ecuador.

There is a better than 95 percent likelihood that the earthquake rate in distant areas will be much higher in the immediate aftermath of a big quake than before or after, the study found.

And while the seismic movements triggered by far away quakes were generally smaller — in the three-to-five magnitude range — there is no reason they could not be as big or bigger than the first.

“They could be any size,” said Parsons, who in previous research identified eight cases in the last quarter century in which a 7.0-or-bigger earthquake led to another that was even larger.

To measure the impact elsewhere on the planet of major tremblors, Parsons and colleagues analysed broadband seismographs from over 500 stations, part of a worldwide monitoring network.

By searching for the lowest frequencies and filtering out the highest, they detected a sharp increase in the number of distant quakes triggered by a main quake, even though the tectonic environment of the two regions were independent.

“The big question is aftershocks, and what happens after you have a big earthquake,” said Parons, adding that there are two competing theories as to how such follow-on quakes are unleashed.

Static triggering occurs within a few fault lengths of the main rupture, often in a cascading effect. But impact generally peters out beyond a 100-to-200 kilometre (70-to-140 mile) radius.

The spike in quake activity further afield can only be explained by dynamic triggering, explained Parsons.

Such seismic waves travelling along the surface of the earth “keep their amplitude and do not diminish that much even over great distances,” he said.

The key to predicting the aftermath of a quake such as the one in China will be teasing apart the role of static and dynamic triggering.

“We can look at the aftershocks and start to learn, but we need to know what percentage of those are dynamically triggered because the effect isn’t lasting, it’s transient,” Parsons explained.

“Once those waves are gone, the effect is mostly over with, we really don’t have to worry about that any more.”

Children in Katrina trailers may face lifelong ailments

Associated Press | May 27, 2008

By JOHN MORENO GONZALES

BAY ST. LOUIS, MISS. – The anguish of Hurricane Katrina should have ended for Gina Bouffanie and her daughter when they left their FEMA trailer. But with each hospital visit and each labored breath her child takes, the young mother fears it has just begun.

“It’s just the sickness. I can’t get rid of it. It just keeps coming back,” said Bouffanie, 27, who was pregnant with her now 15-month-old daughter, Lexi, while living in the trailer. “I’m just like, `Oh God, I wish like this would stop.’ If I had known it would get her sick, I wouldn’t have stayed in the trailer for so long.”

The girl, diagnosed with severe asthma, must inhale medicine from a breathing device.

Doctors cannot conclusively link her asthma to the trailer. But they fear she is among tens of thousands of youngsters who may face lifelong health problems because the temporary housing supplied by the Federal Emergency Management Agency contained formaldehyde fumes up to five times the safe level.

The chemical, used in interior glue, was detected in many of the 143,000 trailers sent to the Gulf Coast in 2006. But a push to get residents out of them, spearheaded by FEMA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, did not begin until this past February.

Members of Congress and CDC insiders say the agencies’ delay in recognizing the danger is being compounded by studies that will be virtually useless and the lack of a plan to treat children as they grow.

“It’s tragic that when people most need the protection, they are actually going from one disaster to a health disaster that might be considered worse,” said Christopher De Rosa, assistant director for toxicology and risk assessment at the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, an arm of the CDC. “Given the longer-term implications of exposure that went on for a significant period of time, people should be followed through time for possible effects.”

Formaldehyde is classified as a probable carcinogen, or cancer-causing substance, by the Environmental Protection Agency. There is no way to measure formaldelhyde in the bloodstream. Respiratory problems are an early sign of exposure.

Young children are at particular risk. Thousands who lived in trailers will be in the prime of life in the 10 to 15 years doctors believe it takes cancer to develop.

FEMA and CDC reports so far have drawn criticism.

A CDC study released May 8 examined records of 144 Mississippi children, some of whom lived in trailers and others who did not. But the study was confined to children who had at least one doctor’s visit for respiratory illness before Katrina. It was largely inconclusive, finding children who went to doctors before the August 2005 storm were still visiting them two years after.

A bigger, five-year CDC study will include up to 5,000 children in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Texas, and CDC officials said it should begin next year. But members of Congress point to the decade or longer it could take for cancer to develop and say a five-year look is inadequate.

“Monitoring the health of a few thousand children over the course of a few years is a step in the right direction, but we need commitment,” said Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss.

Thompson has introduced legislation to force FEMA and CDC to provide health exams for trailer residents who believe formaldehyde made them ill. The bill is similar to $108 million legislation for workers who labored at the World Trade Center site.

Arch Carson, professor of occupational medicine at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston, said preliminary exams alone for trailer residents could cost more than the trade center bill. But he said class-action lawsuits over the formaldehyde — at least one has been filed — could be even more expensive, costing many billions of dollars.

“It would be best for the government to get its act together now,” Carson said.

More than 22,000 FEMA trailers and mobile homes are still being used in Mississippi and Louisiana.

FEMA and the CDC say they will create a registry of those who stayed in trailers for possible future study. But they admit that the task of keeping track of everyone is made difficult by the rush to get families into other housing.

The parents of McKenzie Whitney, a 1-year-old girl with wavy auburn hair, are running low on money and options for caring for the sick girl.

Born into a FEMA trailer, McKenzie was out of the dwelling in August 2007 after a 10-month stay. Her mother, Kacey Whitney, 22, a housekeeper, and her father, Kevin Whitney, 30, a maintenance man, juggle the pressures of post-hurricane life with tending to the child.

“Sunday night when I was going to work, as I was walking up to the front door, she just threw up. She had a fever. We went to the hospital and they wound up keeping her overnight,” the girl’s mother said. “She’s always had a cold, always.”

Like Lexi, McKenzie is treated with a nebulizer, a boxy breathing machine that turns medication into mist. It is prescribed to patients with moderate to severe symptoms, and requires children to inhale for 20 minutes.

Dr. Shama Shakir, a Bay St. Louis pediatrician who treats Lexi and Kacey at the Coastal Family Health Center, said that before the storm she prescribed nebulizers about twice weekly. Lately, she is doing so up to 12 times a week.

“You give them the most potent steroids, the most potent antibiotics, and still they have the symptoms,” Shakir said. “I worry about what will become of these children long-term.”

Deven Galloway, 27, lived in a FEMA trailer in Bay St. Louis for seven months with 4-year-old son DeReion. The boy uses a nebulizer for asthma.

“One day he was like, `I’m going to take more so I can go ahead and be finished for a long time,'” said his mother. “I had to tell him it didn’t work that way.”

Every adult in Britain could be forced to carry ‘carbon ration cards’

Daily Mail | May 27, 2008

By David Derbyshire

Every adult should be forced to use a ‘carbon ration card’ when they pay for petrol, airline tickets or household energy, MPs say.

The influential Environmental Audit Committee says a personal carbon trading scheme is the best and fairest way of cutting Britain’s CO2 emissions without penalising the poor.

Under the scheme, everyone would be given an annual carbon allowance to use when buying oil, gas, electricity and flights.

Anyone who exceeds their entitlement would have to buy top-up credits from individuals who haven’t used up their allowance. The amount paid would be driven by market forces and the deal done through a specialist company.

MPs, led by Tory Tim Yeo, say the scheme could be more effective at cutting greenhouse gas emissions than green taxes.

But critics say the idea is costly, bureaucratic, intrusive and unworkable.

The Government says it supports the scheme in principle, but warns it is ‘ahead of its time’.

The idea of personal carbon trading is increasingly being promoted by environmentalists. In theory it could be used to cover all purchases – from petrol to food.

For the scheme to work, the Government would need to give out 45million carbon cards – each one linked to a personal carbon account. Every year, the account would be credited with a notional amount of CO2 in kilograms.

Every time someone makes a purchase of petrol, energy or airline tickets, they would use up credits. A return flight from London to Rome would, for instance, use up 900kg of CO2 credits, while 10 litres of petrol would use up 23kg.
Enlarge
Mr Yeo, chairman of the committee said personal carbon trading rewarded those with a low carbon footprint with cash.

‘We found that personal carbon trading has real potential to engage the population in the fight against climate change and to achieve significant emissions reductions in a progressive way,’ he said.

‘The idea is a radical one. As such it inevitably faces some significant challenges in its development. It is important to meet these challenges.

‘What we are asking the Government to do is to seize the reins on this, leading the debate and coordinating research.’

The Government is committed to cutting CO2 emissions to 20 per cent below 1990 levels by 2010.

The Climate Change Bill going through Parliament aims to cut emissions by 60 per cent by 2050. The Government has said it backs the idea in principle, but it is currently too expensive and bureaucratic.

Environment Minister Hilary Benn said: ‘It’s got potential but, in essence, it’s ahead of its time. There are a lot of practical problems to overcome.’

A Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs report into the scheme found it would cost between £700million and £2billion to set up and up to another £2billion a year to run.

Tory environment spokesman Peter Ainsworth added: ‘Although it does have potential we should proceed with care. We don’t want to alienate people and we want everyone to be on board.’

But critics say the idea is deeply flawed. The scheme would penalise those living in the countryside who were dependent on their cars, as well as the elderly or housebound who need to heat their homes in the day.

Large families would suffer, as would those working at nights when little public transport is available.

It would need to take into account the size of families, and their ages. There is huge potential for fraud.

Matthew Elliott of the Taxpayers’ Alliance said the cards would be hugely unpopular. ‘The Government has shown itself incapable of managing any huge, complex IT system.’ he said.

HOW THE SCHEME WOULD WORK

Every adult in the UK would be given an annual carbon dioxide allowance in kgs and a special carbon card.

The scheme would cover road fuel, flights and energy bills.

Every time someone paid for road fuel, flights or energy, their carbon account would be docked.

A litre of petrol would use up 2.3kg in carbon, while every 1.3 miles of airline flight would use another 1kg.

When paying for petrol, the card would need to swiped at the till. It would be a legal offence to buy petrol without using a card.

When paying online, or by direct debit, the carbon account would be debited directly.

Anyone who doesn’t use up their credits in a year can sell them to someone who wants more credits. Trading would be done through specialist companies.

Nepal’s Prime Minister asks Maoists to lead new government

People’s Liberation Army poster of communist leaders in Kirtipur, Nepal. Photo: Brian Sokol for The New York Times

Saturday’s agreement paves way for the formation of Maoist-led government two years after the ex-rebels gave up their decade-old insurgency that killed more than 13,000 people.

AP | May 27, 2008

Kathmandu (AP): Nepal’s prime minister asked the country’s former communist rebels on Saturday to form a new coalition government after they won the largest number of seats for a constitution-drafting assembly.

Peace Minister Ram Chandra Poudel said the former rebels, formally known as Communist Party of Nepal (Maoists), were asked by Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala at a meeting Saturday to “go ahead and make the new government.”

It had not been decided when Koirala will step down and the Maoist-led government will take over.

“The prime minister asked the Maoists to form the new government and take necessary initiatives to bring other parties in the coalition government,” Poudel said.

Saturday’s agreement paves way for the formation of Maoist-led government two years after the ex-rebels gave up their decade-old insurgency that killed more than 13,000 people.

Since giving up their armed revolt in 2006 to join a peace process, they have joined mainstream politics, confined their combatants in U.N. monitored camps and locked up their weapons. They contested last month’s election for the Constituent Assembly and won the most seats.

The Constituent Assembly was scheduled to meet on Wednesday for the first time and is expected to begin work by abolishing the Himalayan nation’s centuries-old monarchy.

Poudel said a meeting between the top leaders would again take place later Sunday to decide other details.

The assembly would debate and draft a new constitution, decide the future political system for Nepal and govern the nation.

The new government is expected to be a coalition government since the Maoists does not have a clear majority in the newly elected assembly.

Koirala’s Nepali Congress and the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist-Leninist) are the two other major political parties in Nepal.

It was decided even before the election that monarchy would be abolished by the first meeting of the assembly and Nepal declared a republic nation.

Kremlin will reward prolific mothers to stem population decline

The Kremlin is to revive the old Soviet tradition of honouring women who give birth to many children.

The government has spread the message that it is the patriotic duty of all women to bear at least three children – and many have taken up the cause. Pregnancy is now the height of fashion among wealthy women.

Telegraph | May 25, 2008

By Adrian Blomfield

The initiative, the latest in a series of measures harking back to Russia’s communist past, represents the latest attempt to reverse a population decline that Vladimir Putin described as the country’s biggest crisis.

A decree establishing the “Order of Parental Honour” was signed by President Dmitry Medvedev and candidates include women with many children who can show they are raising them as “heroes”.

The award is the latest in a series of responses to the demographic crisis. Russia’s population of 142 million is shrinking by more than 700,000 a year and may have halved by 2050.

The government has spread the message that it is the patriotic duty of all women to bear at least three children – and many have taken up the cause. Pregnancy is now the height of fashion among wealthy women.

But experts believe the chances of reversing the population decline are slim, partly because there are too few women between the ages of 20 and 30.

But the main reason, they say, is Russia’s low life expectancy, which for men is 58. Critics say Mr Putin has failed to address the true cause of the crisis – “rampant alcoholism” – for fear of damaging his popularity.

Lindbergh sought god-like transhuman immortality with Rockefeller eugenicist

Charles Lindbergh and fascist eugenicist Alexis Carrel, with their perfusion pump at the Rockefeller Institute in Manhattan.

Carrel was a eugenicist with fascistic leanings. He believed the world was split into superior and inferior beings, and hoped that science would allow the superior – which included himself and Lindbergh, of course – to dominate and eventually weed out the inferiors.

He thought the planet was “encumbered” with people who “should be dead”, including “the weak, the diseased, and the fools”. Something like Lindbergh’s pump was not intended to help the many, but the few.

BBC | May 26, 2008

Lindbergh’s deranged quest for immortality

By Brendan O’Neill

Flying had a strange effect on the great aviation pioneer Charles Lindbergh, leading him to team up with a French surgeon and embark on a quest for ever-lasting life… for a chosen few.

What do you know about Charles Lindbergh?

You probably know he was an American aviator. He achieved overnight world stardom when he became the first person to fly non-stop across the Atlantic, solo, in 1927.

You might also know that Lindbergh was a peace activist who opposed American involvement in World War II – until Pearl Harbor, after which he volunteered to fly combat missions in the Pacific.

And you might know that in later life he became a prolific author, an explorer and an environmentalist.

But did you know that he was also a machine-obsessed inventor, who entered into a macabre alliance with a French-born surgeon to try to achieve immortality?

Forget aviation hero. On the side, Lindbergh was a Dr Frankenstein figure, who used his mechanical genius to explore the possibility of conquering death – but only for the select few who were considered “worthy” of living forever.

“Beating death was something he thought about his entire life”, says David M Friedman, American author of the new book The Immortalists. “Even as a small child, he couldn’t accept that people had to die. He would ask: ‘Why do you have to die to get to heaven?'”

Machine-enabled people

Friedman’s The Immortalists relates the untold story of Lindbergh’s frequently bizarre efforts to cheat death by creating machines that might sustain human life.

In the 1930s, after his historic flight over the Atlantic, Lindbergh hooked up with Alexis Carrel, a brilliant surgeon born in France but who worked in a laboratory at the Rockefeller Institute in Manhattan. Carrel – who was a mystic as well as a scientist – had already won a Nobel Prize for his pioneering work on the transplantation of blood vessels. But his real dream was a future in which the human body would become, in Friedman’s words, “a machine with constantly reparable or replaceable parts”.

This is where Lindbergh entered the frame. Carrel hoped that his own scientific nous combined with Lindbergh’s machine-making proficiency (Lindbergh had, after all, already helped design a plane that flew non-stop to Paris) would make his fantasy about immortal machine-enabled human beings a reality.

“Both of their needs were met in this rather strange relationship”, says Friedman. “Carrel benefited from Lindbergh’s mechanical genius and inventiveness, and for Lindbergh – well, Carrel became the most important person in his life, effectively steering the way he viewed the world and the people who lived in it.”
At the Rockefeller lab, Lindbergh and Carrel – almost like a real-life Jekyll and Hyde double act – made some extraordinary breakthroughs.

Lindbergh created something that Carrel’s team had singularly failed to: a perfusion pump that could keep a human organ alive outside of the body. It was called the “Model T” pump. In later years, Lindbergh’s pump was further developed by others, eventually leading to the construction of the first heart-lung machine.

Eugenics

“Some people, even academics and science students, are still shocked when they hear about the contribution that the aviator Lindbergh made to developing life-saving cardiac machinery,” says Friedman.

But there was a serious downside to what Friedman refers to as Lindbergh and Carrel’s “daring quest” to live forever.

Carrel was a eugenicist with fascistic leanings. He believed the world was split into superior and inferior beings, and hoped that science would allow the superior – which included himself and Lindbergh, of course – to dominate and eventually weed out the inferiors.

He thought the planet was “encumbered” with people who “should be dead”, including “the weak, the diseased, and the fools”. Something like Lindbergh’s pump was not intended to help the many, but the few.

Lindbergh himself sympathised with the Nazis.

“I wouldn’t say Lindbergh was the philosophical partner of Himmler or Hitler,” says Friedman. “But yes, he certainly admired the order, science and technology of Nazi Germany – and the idea of creating an ethnically pure race.”

Friedman says Lindbergh considered himself a “superior being”.

“Let’s not forget that, as a pilot, he felt he had escaped the chains of mortality. He had had a god-like experience. He flew amongst the clouds, often in a cockpit that was open to the elements. Flying was such a rare experience back then. In taking to the skies, he did something humans have dreamt of for centuries. So it is perhaps not surprising that he ended up trying to play god in a laboratory.”

Ethical ever-lasting life

Even contemporary transhumanists – the name given to those who want to extend human longevity and possibly conquer death – are surprised to hear about Lindbergh’s contribution to machine-assisted life.

“I never knew that”, says Nick Bostrom, director of the Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford University and President of the World Transhumanism Association.

For Bostrom and his colleagues, aware that some people think transhumanism is the same thing as eugenics, the key today is the “ethical use of technology to extend human capabilities”.

“There are many ways we have used science and technology effectively to ‘cheat death'”, says Bostrom, “whether it’s through antibiotics, organ transplantation, or even lightning rods to deflect electrical currents from the sky. You know, when they were first invented some people said it was ‘playing god’ to try to deal with lightning in this way.”

Bostrom believes that reversing the ageing process, or at least using stem cell therapy to slow down the negative effects of ageing, should be “the next frontier” in medical science.
“But it should be for the benefit of everyone and it should be done ethically – somewhat different to what Lindbergh got up to”, he argues.

Stuart Derbyshire, a leading expert in pain based at the University of Birmingham, says it is certainly “desirable to live a long and healthy life” – but from Lindbergh’s experiments to today’s ethical question for longevity, he says there is also a “troubling” side to the “quest to live forever”.

“Any life, long or short, is only worthwhile if it is lived towards some purpose. The zealous pursuit of health and longevity can too easily become a substitute for real purpose.

“Health itself becomes a quasi-religious crusade against the old sins of the flesh – gluttony, sloth, lust – with all the attendant odious associations of physical impairment or disease with moral turpitude or a bad life.”

His implication is clear – while Lindbergh and Carrel’s quest had all the hallmarks of Nazi-promoted eugenics, it’s perhaps impossible to separate the pursuit of ever-lasting life with notions of supremacy.

Brad Pitt could star in scifi movie about Jesuit space mission to Alpha Centauri region

Warner Brothers purchased the rights to the novel, the story of Father Emilio Sandoz, a Jesuit scientist, who travels with a crew of three other Jesuits to Rakhat while the leaders on earth are still deciding what to do about the newly discovered world.

Warner Brothers purchased the rights for Brad Pitt’s production company, Plan B, and screenwriter Michael Seitzman has already adapted the novel to film.

WKYC | May 12, 2008

Will Brad Pitt star in South Euclid author’s book-turned-movie?

by Kim Wendel

There seems to be no limits to what South Euclid professor-turned-author Mary Doria Russell can do or imagine.

What she never imagined was that her very first novel, 1996’s science fiction “The Sparrow,” would be sought out by Warner Brothers’ motion picture studio to be turned into a movie, much less a movie starring actor Brad Pitt.

The title refers to the Bible’s Matthew 10:29-31, which states, “not even a sparrow falls to the earth without God’s knowing of it.”

“The Sparrow” begins in the year 2019, when the SETI program at the Arecibo Observatory picks up radio broadcasts of music from the vicinity of Alpha Centauri.

The first expedition to Rakhat, the world that is sending the music, is organized by the Jesuit order.

But the movie’s production is still a long way from a certainty.

“I’m not holding my breath, though,” Russell said. If the movie is made, the likely release date will be 2010.

Warner Brothers purchased the rights to the novel, the story of Father Emilio Sandoz, a Jesuit scientist, who travels with a crew of three other Jesuits to Rakhat while the leaders on earth are still deciding what to do about the newly discovered world.

Sandoz is the only one who survives and returns to earth.

“They went so that they might come to know and love God’s other children,” Russell said. “They went for the reason Jesuits have always gone to the furthest frontiers of human exploration, they went ‘ad majorem Dei gloriam,’ for the greater glory of God.”

Warner Brothers purchased the rights for Pitt’s production company, Plan B, and screenwriter Michael Seitzman has already adapted the novel to film.

Russell’s novel was in good hands. Seitzman wrote 2005’s “North Country,” the critically acclaimed drama that starred actress Charlize Theron and for which she was nominated for best actress for her lead role.

Even if you only meet Russell once, you are struck by her energy and humor. You can almost hear her brain clicking away as she speaks, storing new information as she imparts what she has already learned.

Born and raised in Chicago, her intellect is boundless and even her Web site’s biography shows her humor, as she describes her education:

” … learned discretion at Sacred Heart Catholic elementary school; how to diagram sentences at Glenbard East High; cultural anthropology at the University of Illinois; social anthropology at Northeastern University in Boston; and biological anthropology at the University of Michigan.”

Her warmth and humor extend to the animal world as well, as she and her husband share their home, now that son Daniel is off to college, with a huge Golden Retriever named Leo Lebowski and a dachshund named Annie Fannie Sweet Feet, a rescued dog from http://www.petfinders.com

Annie is the model for the fictional Rosie, in “Dreamers of the Day,” which Russell shamelessly claims “includes the finest portrait of a 16-pound black and tan, longhaired dachshund in modern American literature.”

Dreamers, her fourth novel, was just released in March.

Her second novel was “Children of God” and the third was 2005’s “A Thread of Grace,” which was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.

Rockefellers Seek Change at Exxon

Neva Rockefeller Goodwin and Peter O’Neill, descendants of John D. Rockefeller, are among those who want Exxon to shift priorities. Shareholders will vote Wednesday on four resolutions.

New York Times | May 27, 2008

By CLIFFORD KRAUSS

HOUSTON — The Rockefeller family built one of the great American fortunes by supplying the nation with oil. Now history has come full circle: some family members say it is time to start moving beyond the oil age.

The family members have thrown their support behind a shareholder rebellion that is ruffling feathers at Exxon Mobil, the giant oil company descended from John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Trust.

Three of the resolutions, to be voted on at the company’s shareholder meeting on Wednesday, are considered unlikely to pass, even with Rockefeller family support.

The resolutions ask Exxon to take the threat of global warming more seriously and look for alternatives to spewing greenhouse gases into the air.

One resolution would urge the company to study the impact of global warming on poor countries, another would encourage Exxon to reduce its emissions and a third would encourage it to do more research on renewable energy sources like solar panels and wind turbines.

A fourth resolution, which the Rockefellers are most united in supporting, is considered more likely to pass. It would strip Rex W. Tillerson of his position as chairman of Exxon’s board, forcing the company to separate that job from the chief executive’s job.

A shareholder vote in favor of that idea would be a rebuke of Mr. Tillerson, who is widely perceived as more resistant than other oil chieftains to investing in alternative energy.

The Rockefellers say they are not trying to embarrass Mr. Tillerson, also Exxon’s chief executive, but think it is time for the company to spend more of its funds helping the nation chart a new energy future.

“Exxon Mobil needs to reconnect with the forward-looking and entrepreneurial vision of my great-grandfather,” Neva Rockefeller Goodwin, a Tufts University economist, said in a statement to reporters.

“The truth is that Exxon Mobil is profiting in the short term from investments and decisions made many years ago, and by focusing on a narrow path that ignores the rapidly shifting energy landscape around the world,” she added.

The resolution on Exxon’s chairmanship was offered for several years before the Rockefellers became publicly involved and last year was supported by 40 percent of shareholders who voted. Royal Dutch Shell and BP already separate the positions of chairman and chief executive, as do many other companies.

“You need a board asking the tough questions,” Peter O’Neill, a private equity investor and great-great-grandson of John D. Rockefeller, said in an interview. “We expect the company to figure out how in this changing world to adjust.”

Kenneth P. Cohen, vice president for public affairs at Exxon, said the shareholders pushing the resolutions were “starting from a false premise.” He added that the company was already concerned about “how to provide the world the energy it needs while at the same time reducing fossil fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions.”

Fifteen members of the family are sponsoring or co-sponsoring the four resolutions, but it appears that some have much more solid support in the sprawling family than others.

Mr. O’Neill said that 73 out of 78 adult descendants of John D. Rockefeller were supporting the family effort to divide the chief executive and chairman positions. The goal of that resolution is to improve the management of the company, which could strengthen its environmental policies and improve more traditional pursuits like exploring more aggressively for new oil reserves.

David Rockefeller, retired chairman of Chase Manhattan Bank and patriarch of the family, issued a statement saying, “I support my family’s efforts to sharpen Exxon Mobil’s focus on the environmental crisis facing all of us.”

The Rockefeller family has always been identified with oil and the legacy of Standard Oil, but for several generations, it has also been active in environmental causes and acquiring land for preservation. John D. Rockefeller’s grandsons devoted themselves to conservation issues, and Rockefeller charitable organizations have long promoted efforts to fight pollution.

Ms. Goodwin, one of the most vocal Rockefellers on the environment today, is co-director of the Global Development and Environment Institute at Tufts.

In recent years, family members have quietly encouraged Exxon executives to take global warming seriously, but their private efforts did not go far. Until now, they have avoided publicity in their efforts, and the youngest Rockefeller generations have generally shunned attention.

Exxon executives said the company spent $2 billion over the last five years on programs to reduce emissions and improve efficiencies and had plans to spend $800 million on similar initiatives over the next three years. They said the company reduced the release of greenhouse gases from its operations last year by 3 percent, and it was working with Stanford to research biofuels and solar and hydrogen energy.

Since taking over the company two years ago, Mr. Tillerson has gradually shifted the company’s positions away from those of his predecessor, Lee R. Raymond, who was considered a skeptic on the science of global warming.

But with gasoline prices soaring and concern growing over global warming, Exxon, the biggest of the investor-owned oil companies, is a target for politicians and environmentalists. Chevron, BP and Shell, Exxon’s largest competitors, have given their investments in renewable fuels a much higher profile.

Similar or identical environmental proposals have not passed at previous Exxon shareholder meetings, but the public support of the Rockefeller family has given old efforts new energy.

The involvement of the Rockefellers, said Robert A. G. Monks, a shareholder who has been urging a separation of the chairman and chief executive jobs for years, shows that “this is not just a matter of the self-appointed good guys against the cavemen, but also a matter of the capitalists wanting to make money.”

Nineteen institutional investors with 91 million shares announced last week that they would support resolutions asking Exxon to separate the top executive positions and tackle global warming. They included the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, the California State Teachers’ Retirement System and the New York City Employees’ Retirement System.

California’s treasurer, Bill Lockyer, who serves on the boards of the two California funds, said the company’s “go-slow approach” on global warming “places long-term shareholder value at risk.”

Under Exxon’s rules, a shareholder proposal that passes is not binding without the support of the board. But Andrew Logan, director of the oil program at Ceres, a coalition of institutional investors and environmentalists, said, “boards tend to strongly consider proposals that get significant support.”

Paul Sankey, an oil analyst at Deutsche Bank, said that he thought a separation of the chief executive and chairman jobs might be a good management move and that “we might see a mild benefit to Exxon’s public image.” But he added, “On balance, we wouldn’t expect any change in strategy.”

The Fraternal Order of Police, which represents public safety officers, whose pensions are invested in Exxon, has publicly opposed the shareholder effort to change company policy.

“The Rockefeller resolution threatens to degrade the value of Exxon Mobil,” the organization wrote in a letter to Mr. Tillerson that criticized the splitting of the top executive jobs.

Related

CEO to Face Rockefellers, Nuns in Exxon Meeting Showdown

Child abuse by UN peacekeepers and aidworkers rife

The study found a huge range of exploitation and abuse: children trading sex for food, forced sex, verbal sexual abuse, child prostitution, child pornography, sexual slavery, sexual assault and child trafficking.

U.N. peacekeepers were identified as the most likely perpetrators by 20 of the 38 groups, although a total of 23 humanitarian, peacekeeping and security organizations were associated with sexual abuse in the three countries.

Reuters | May 26, 2008

by David Clarke

LONDON (Reuters) – Sexual abuse of children by aid workers and peacekeepers is rife and efforts to protect young people are inadequate, said a report published on Tuesday.

The study by charity Save the Children UK said there were significant levels of abuse in emergencies, much of it unreported and unless the silence ended, attempts to stamp out exploitation would “remain fundamentally flawed.”

Accusations of sexual abuse by U.N. peacekeepers and aid workers around the world have increased in recent years and the United Nations is investigating claims against its soldiers in hotspots such as Haiti, Liberia, Ivory Coast and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The report said while the U.N. and some non-governmental organizations were stepping up efforts to address the problem, a global watchdog should be established this year to monitor attempts to tackle abuse and champion effective responses.

Save the Children based its findings on visits last year to Haiti, Southern Sudan and Ivory Coast. It held 38 focus group discussions with 250 children and 90 adults, followed up by in-depth interviews with some and desk-based research.

The study found a huge range of exploitation and abuse: children trading sex for food, forced sex, verbal sexual abuse, child prostitution, child pornography, sexual slavery, sexual assault and child trafficking.

The focus groups identified children as young as six as having been abused, although most were aged 14 to 15.

U.N. peacekeepers were identified as the most likely perpetrators by 20 of the 38 groups, although a total of 23 humanitarian, peacekeeping and security organizations were associated with sexual abuse in the three countries.

“All humanitarian and peacekeeping agencies working in emergency situations, including Save the Children UK, must own up to the fact that they are vulnerable to this problem and tackle it head on,” said Jasmine Whitbread, chief executive of Save the Children UK.

YOUNG GIRLS

More than half of the participants in the study identified incidents of sexual touching and forced sex. Of these, 18 and 23 percent respectively recalled 10 or more such incidents.

“They especially ask us for girls of our age. Often it will be between eight and 10 men who will share two or three girls. When I suggest an older girl, they say that they want a young girl,” a 14-year-old boy who works at a peacekeeping camp in Ivory Coast told the Save the Children research team.

And the report said official U.N. statistics appeared to underestimate the scale of abuse, probably because so much of the exploitation was not reported by victims.

“Clearly there is a significant disparity between the low levels of abuse cited in these statistics and the high levels suggested in field investigations and other evidence,” it said.

Save the Children said there were many reasons why abuse was not reported: fear of losing material assistance, threat of retribution, stigmatization, negative economic impact, lack of legal services, resignation to abuse, lack of information about how to report abuse and, crucially, lack of faith in a response.

Anecdotal evidence from all 38 focus groups suggested there was an endemic failure to respond to reports of abuse.

“Many U.N. agencies and NGOs working here feel they cannot be touched by anyone,” said an aid worker in Ivory Coast.