Daily Archives: September 16, 2008

Gender-bending chemical used in plastic bottles ‘doubles risk of heart disease’

Daily Mail | Sep 16, 2008

By  David Derbyshire

Gender-bending chemicals in food packaging, drink cans and baby bottles may double the risk of heart disease, a new study has found.

Researchers have shown that people with higher-than-normal levels of bisphenol A in their blood are more likely to suffer from potentially dangerous heart problems.

The chemical – which mimics the female sex hormone oestrogen – also appears to raise the risk of diabetes, even though the amount found in tests on nearly 1,500 people fell far short of official safety limits.

It is the first time that bisphenol A – BPA for short – has been linked to health problems in people and raises disturbing questions about one of the most common chemicals in everyday use.

It is used to make linings of food and drink cans and is also found in plastic bottles, CD cases, plastic knives and forks and dental sealants.

Although some animal studies have shown it is safe, others have raised serious concerns.

BPA has been linked to breast cancer, liver damage, obesity, diabetes, fertility problems in men and developmental disorders in babies.

Prof David Melzer, at the Peninsula Medical School, Exeter, who led the research, said: ‘Our study has revealed for the first time an association between raised BPA loads and two common diseases in adults.

‘At the moment, we can’t be absolutely sure that BPA is the direct cause of the extra cases of heart disease and diabetes – if it is, some causes of these serious conditions could be prevented by reducing BPA exposure.’

The study, published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association, looked at blood and urine samples of 1,455 adults aged between 18 and 74 years collected by the American Government’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey in 2003 and 2004.

The 25 per cent of people with the highest levels of BPA were twice as likely to suffer heart disease or diabetes than the bottom 25 per cent, even when other factors such as weight, diet, income and age were taken into account.

Higher levels were also linked to abnormal concentrations of liver enzymes – a possible sign of liver damage.

The links were strongest for young people.

The levels of BPA were relatively small – suggesting the people in the study were consuming around 20 micrograms of the chemical a day. The minimum safety level is around 3,000 micrograms a day.

Prof Tamara Galloway, a toxicologist at Exeter University and co-author of the study, said more research was needed to find out if low BPA exposure caused health problems – or whether people with heart disease and diabetes just happened to have higher exposure because of their lifestyle or diet.

‘Bisphenol A is one of the world’s most widely produced and used chemicals, and one of the problems until now is we don’t know what has been happening in the general population,’ she said.

The scientists don’t know how BPA could increase the risk of heart disease and diabetes. However, it could lead to more fat being laid down in the arteries and interfere with the way insulin is processed .

Prof David Coggon, who teaches occupational and environmental medicine at the University of Southampton, said: ‘There is now a need to establish whether the association of BPA with heart disease and diabetes can be independently replicated, and if so, whether BPA is a cause of the disorders or is linked to them in some other way.

‘If low-level BPA were confirmed to cause disease, there would be a need to review controls on sources of exposure to the chemical.’

Other researchers urged caution over the results.

Prof Richard Sharpe, Medical Research Council Human Reproductive Sciences Unit, University of Edinburgh, said: ‘There may be an altogether more common sense – although still scary – explanation for the observations in this study.

‘That is, that if you drink lots of high-sugar canned drinks you will over time increase your risk of cardiovascular diseases and diabetes – I think we already suspect this – and incidentally you will be exposed to more bisphenol A from the can lining.

‘The fact that the younger age groups in this study had the highest bisphenol A exposures would certainly fit with this.’

Fact file

• Bisphenol A is used to make polycarbonate plastic – a clear shatter-resistant material found in baby bottles, CD cases, spectacle lenses, plastic forks and sports equipment.

• It is also used to make resins that line the inside of food and drink cans. BPA is used in dental fillings.

• People are exposed to BPA when it leaches out of plastic into liquid – particularly when hot.

• It may also escape from landfill sites into the water.

• The chemical is found in the bodies of more than 90 per cent of people.

• It mimics the sex hormone oestrogen – linked in laboratory studies to breast cancer, genital abnormalities in baby boys and liver problems.

• It is one of the most common artificial chemicals, with factories producing more than 2.2 million tonnes a year.

England most crowded country in Europe due to immigration

Population growth: Official figures show England has overtaken the Netherlands to become the most crowded country in Europe

Daily Mail | Sep 15, 2008

By  Steve Doughty

England has become the most crowded major country in Europe, official figures show.

The number of people crammed in has overtaken those in Holland, long the most densely-populated major nation on the continent.

A count released to MPs showed England now has 395 people per square kilometre.

Crowding has increased because of high immigration into England while the Dutch population has fallen or remained steady.

Last night MPs who are campaigning for ‘balanced migration’ said the figures were a milestone in the immigration debate.

Beyond Europe, England’s population density is among the highest in the world. Of countries with a population of at least 10million, England ranks third in density after Bangladesh (1,045 per sq km) and South Korea (498 per sq km).

The English figures were in a Commons written answer from National Statistician Karen Dunnell.

Miss Dunnell said that in 2008 the number of people in every square kilometre in Britain was 253 with 395 in England. Latest figures from Holland show that its population density was 395 a square kilometre in 2002 and 393 in 2005.

The only country in the European Union with greater crowding is Malta. The Mediterranean island is a special case because it has only 400,000 people, most of whom live around the port of Valletta.

Increasing crowding in England is largely concentrated in the South and East, where in recent years the greatest number of migrants have headed to provide labour for agriculture, construction and service industries.

Official projections say the population will become even more concentrated in the future.

Miss Dunnell’s department, the Office for National Statistics, has estimated that English population density will rise to 464 people for every square kilometre by 2031.

The new estimates were made public just a week after an unprecedented alliance of all-party public figures called for balanced migration.

The campaigners, led by Labour former minister Frank Field and Tory MP Nicholas Soames, have called for the number of foreigners allowed to settle in the country to be held at around the same level as the number who leave.

The two MPs said yesterday: ‘The Government have now been obliged to recognise that England is projected to catch up with Holland this year as the most crowded country in Europe.

‘This is a milestone in the immigration debate as immigration accounts for 70 per cent of our population growth.

‘The Government’s points-based system places no limit on the number of people who are allowed to settle in the UK. If ever there was a case for balanced migration, it is now.’

The campaigners estimate current immigration into Britain at around 300,000 a year – although not all will stay permanently – and calculate that a balanced migration policy would result in a British population of around 65million by 2050. Current Government policies would mean a British population of nearly 80 million by then.

England has taken its position as the most crowded country in Europe at a point when the risk of economic recession has led to growing concern over diminishing numbers of jobs and pressure on public services.

A spokesman for the UK Border Agency, the organisation set up by the Home Office to tighten immigration by admitting only those with skills, said: ‘Our tough new points system plus our plans for newcomers to earn their citizenship will reduce overall numbers of economic migrants coming to Britain, and the numbers awarded permanent settlement.’

Govt study: 5 year old children should be taught the pleasures of gay sex

Children as young as five should be taught about gay sex, an education project has said

Daily Mail  | September 2008

By  Steve Doughty

Children as young as five should be taught to understand the pleasures of gay sex, according to leaders of a taxpayer-funded education project.

Heads of the project have set themselves a goal of ‘creating primary classrooms where queer sexualities are affirmed and celebrated’.

The ambition was revealed in documents prepared for the No Outsiders project run by researchers from universities and backed with £600,000 of public money provided by the Economic and Social Research Council.

The stated purpose of the project – which is operating in 14 primary schools – is to stop bullying and prejudice aimed at homosexuals.

However, at a seminar at Exeter University tomorrow, supporters of the group will go beyond the anti-bullying agenda and discuss ‘pleasure and desire in educational contexts’.

A document prepared for the seminar and couched in convoluted academic jargon says: ‘The team is concerned to interrogate the desexualisation of children’s bodies, the negation of pleasure and desire in educational contexts, and the tendency to shy away from discussion of (sexual) bodily activity in No Outsiders project work.

‘The danger of accusations of the corruption of innocent children has led team members to make repeated claims that this project is not about sex or desire – and that it is therefore not about bodies.

‘Yet, at a very significant level, that is exactly what it is about and to deny this may have significant negative implications for children and young people.’

No Outsiders is led by researchers from Sunderland University and also involves academics at the Institute of Education and Exeter University. Books, puppet shows and plays are used to teach children about same-sex relationships.

During the project, the seminar paper says, its members have ‘challenged each other to go beyond imagined possibilities into queer practice’.

The seminar will ‘question the taken-for-granted of the supposedly sexless, bodiless and desire-less primary classroom’ and examine ‘the place of the research team members’ own bodies, desires and pleasures in this research’.

The discussions provoked a furious reaction from critics of the homosexual rights agenda. Simon Calvert of the Christian Institute said: ‘When an adult who is working in a primary school suggests that children should explore their sexuality, that should result in a complaint to the police.’

Patricia Morgan, author of studies of family life and gay adoption, said: ‘The proposal is that primary school classrooms should be turned into gay saunas. This is about homosexual practice in junior schools. The idiots who repealed Section 28 should consider that this is where it has got them.’

Project leader Dr Elizabeth Atkinson said the seminar had no connection with No Outsiders work in classrooms. ‘The seminar is part of a long-standing academic debate and has nothing to do with schools,’ she said. ‘It has no connection with sex education.’

Section 28, the law which banned the promotion of homosexuality in state schools, was repealed five years ago. Current guidance on sex education says it should not promote sexual orientation or sexual activity.

Big Brother in the “Big Apple”: Encircling Manhattan with thousands of surveillance cameras

New York’s Mass Surveillance Plan Fast-Tracked by the NYPD. Mukasey Hands FBI Broad New Powers

Global Research | Sep 15, 2008

by Tom Burghardt

Last month Antifascist Calling reported on a scheme by the New York City Police Department (NYPD) to encircle Manhattan with thousands of surveillance cameras and sensors that would photograph all vehicles entering the city. Information captured by this intrusive system would be stored in a huge database for an undisclosed period of time. That plan is now moving forward with a vengeance.

The Lower Manhattan Security Initiative (LMSI) and a related program, Operation Sentinel, are modeled after London’s so-called “Ring of Steel.” In London, roads entering the city are narrowed and have tight serpentine curves that force drivers to slow down and be recorded by CCTV cameras. Typically, such roads have concrete or reinforced plastic medians with a sentry box where police stand guard and monitor traffic flows. Following the July 7, 2005 terrorist attacks in London, security has been stepped up, with occasional spot checks by machine-gun toting police of cars and trucks entering the security cordon.

As it now stands, LMSI would link a matrix of 3,000 public and private surveillance cameras for monitoring and tracking vehicles and pedestrians south of Canal Street, the city’s financial hub. Other features of the system include mobile roadblocks that could swivel into place and block off any given street to traffic.

Full Story

Pakistani troops fire on US helicopters trying to enter tribal region

The Guardian | Sep 16, 2008

Saeed Shah in Islamabad

Pakistani troops fired on US forces entering the country’s lawless tribal region yesterday, marking a further deterioration in ties between the two allies in the “war on terror”. Details of the incident in south Waziristan were unclear but, according to local security officials and tribesmen, two American helicopters breached Pakistani airspace in the early hours, but retreated when they came under fire.

The US forces were likely to have been on a hit-and-withdraw mission against suspected militants in the area, similar to the first documented American ground raid into the tribal territory this month when helicopters flew in commandos. That enraged Pakistan’s army and public.

A security official in south Waziristan said yesterday: “American helicopters came and there was a space [border] violation. Pakistani scouts [paramilitary troops] fired artillery as a warning and they left. The helicopters did not land.”

Other reports said troops had fired at the helicopters, which were just inside Pakistani territory. One official said the fire came from Pakistani soldiers based at a frontier checkpost known as BP-27.

The Pakistani army admitted that a skirmish took place, but denied that its troops were involved. “The villagers had some firing incident,” said a spokesman, Major General Athar Abbas. “But who fired at who, I cannot confirm.” The US military denied there had been any operation.

“We did not have any forces or helicopters on or near the border,” said Mark Swart, a spokesman for the American military at Bagram airbase in Afghanistan.

The US raid earlier this month, which killed up to 20 people including civilians, was finally admitted by the Pentagon, but not on the record.

The US believes that the tribal area is used as a safe haven by Taliban and al-Qaida militants who are fighting American and coalition forces in Afghanistan. Last week, Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, said a new strategy for Afghanistan was needed that incorporated the tribal territory. President George Bush is believed to have signed a secret order allowing US forces to operate in the tribal area, even though the UN mandate for international forces in Afghanistan does not extend into Pakistan.

Bush is thought to be in a desperate push for a trophy strike against al-Qaida’s top leadership, which is likely to be based in the tribal area, before he leaves office.

Analysts believe the new policy risks a clash between the Pakistani and US militaries and threatens to undermine the new democratic government in Islamabad. As well as the ground assault, there has been a big increase in the number of US missiles fired from unmanned aircraft at militant targets in the tribal area. These, too, have claimed dozens of civilian lives.

“This kind of situation cannot go on, because any government in Pakistan will get destabilised,” said Hasan Askari Rizvi, a security analyst in Lahore. “The Americans don’t realise that if there is instability in Pakistan, their war on terror cannot be pursued. If everybody turns against America, no [Pakistani] government will be in a position to support the war on terror.”

Tectonic market shift gives birth to “New Financial World Order”

“The tectonic plates beneath the world financial system are shifting, and there is going to be a new financial world order that will be born of this,” said Peter Kenny, managing director at Knight Capital Group Inc.

Bloomberg | Sep 15, 2008

`Tectonic’ Market Shift as Lehman Fails, Merrill Sold

By Christine Harper

Sept. 15 (Bloomberg) — In the biggest reshaping of the financial industry since the Great Depression, two of Wall Street’s most storied firms, Merrill Lynch & Co. and Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc., headed toward extinction.

New York-based Lehman, founded 158 years ago, said early today that it filed for bankruptcy protection after failing to find a buyer. Merrill Lynch, 94 years old and also based in New York, agreed to sell itself to Bank of America Corp. for $50 billion in an emergency deal hashed out yesterday.

“The tectonic plates beneath the world financial system are shifting, and there is going to be a new financial world order that will be born of this,” said Peter Kenny, managing director at Knight Capital Group Inc., the Jersey City, New Jersey-based brokerage that handles about $1 trillion worth of stock transactions a quarter. “It’s an ugly and painful process.”

The engines that powered record growth in the financial industry over the past decade — cheap credit and surging property values — have been thrust into reverse. Companies that once thrived on making real estate loans and holding assets bought with borrowed money are now under siege, giving the upper hand to those less reliant on leverage and holding the fewest assets tied to property.

Bear, Fannie, Freddie

The industry convulsions that started last year have already eliminated Bear Stearns Cos., forced into a cut-price sale to JPMorgan Chase & Co. with government support in March. A week ago, the U.S. Treasury placed mortgage companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac into conservatorship, guaranteeing their widely held debt securities while all but erasing their equity value.

American International Group Inc., once the world’s largest insurer, is struggling to raise cash to avoid a credit-rating downgrade that could cripple its business. AIG shares fell as much as 52 percent in New York Stock Exchange composite trading today and were down $5.49, or 45 percent, to $6.65 at 10:50 a.m.

The five New York-based securities firms that dominated Wall Street have been reduced to two: Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Morgan Stanley. While both firms are scheduled to report a drop in third-quarter earnings this year, their business has remained profitable throughout 2008 — unlike Lehman and Merrill. As concerns swirled about their futures, Goldman’s stock dropped as much as 7.9 percent and Morgan Stanley’s fell as much as 13 percent in New York Stock Exchange composite trading today.

`Ride This Out’

“I think highly of Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs, so I expect them to ride this out,” Evercore Partners Inc. Chief Executive Officer Roger Altman, a former deputy Treasury secretary who spent his early career at Lehman, said in an interview on CNBC. “But as to whether we’ve seen the last of this crisis, I think the answer to that is clearly no. And exactly where it goes from here and how it unfolds, I’m unsure.”

Lehman, which employed 25,935 people at the end of August in 61 offices around the world, had a balance sheet totaling $786 billion as recently as February. Merrill Lynch, with 60,000 employees, is known for its “thundering herd” of financial advisers that brought Wall Street financial products to Main Street investors.

`Vaporized’

“I’ve been on Wall Street for many years, and I’ve never seen a weekend like this one,” said Michael Holland, 64, chairman and founder of New York-based Holland & Co. “We are unwinding what has been years of silliness in the financial markets, and the silliness is being vaporized as we speak, unfortunately with the stock price of a number of companies involved in it.”

To help cushion the fallout, 10 banks created a $70 billion fund to lend to firms that are having trouble financing their assets in the markets. The Federal Reserve also said it will be willing to lend money in return for a wider array of collateral including stocks.

Still, the repercussions may be widespread.

Meredith Whitney, an analyst at Oppenheimer & Co., wrote in a note to investors that sales of Lehman’s assets will push down the value of securities, forcing other firms to write down their own holdings.

`Fundamentally Flawed’

Nouriel Roubini, an economics professor at New York University, said the independent securities firm model is “fundamentally flawed” and that every securities firm will need to combine with a bank to gain a deposit base and greater access to loans from the Federal Reserve.

Just five months ago, Lehman Brothers Chief Executive Officer Richard Fuld, 62, was telling shareholders that “the worst is behind us” in the credit contraction. As concerns escalated about the value of Lehman’s assets tied to residential and commercial real estate, Fuld replaced Chief Financial Officer Erin Callan and President Joseph Gregory in June.

Deteriorating markets put more pressure on the value of Lehman’s assets and the firm, unable to negotiate an investment from the Korea Development Bank, instead tried to reassure investors last week by revealing third-quarter results early and unveiling a plan to sell part of its fund management unit and create a separate unit for its real estate holdings.

Fuld’s efforts were undermined on Sept. 10, when Moody’s Investors Service put Lehman’s credit rating on review for downgrade, noting that the firm needed a “strategic transaction with a stronger financial partner” to help support its rating.

Stock Tumbles

Lehman’s stock fell 50 percent on Thursday, Sept. 11 and Friday, Sept. 12 and the collapse spread to Merrill, which has reported four consecutive quarters of losses and is expected to lose money again this quarter.

New York Federal Reserve President Timothy Geithner called a meeting of Wall Street’s top firms starting at the Fed’s downtown headquarters that began at 6 p.m. on Friday, with a goal of helping ease a sale of Lehman, according to people familiar with the situation.

The two banks most interested in Lehman, London-based Barclays Plc and Charlotte, North Carolina-based Bank of America, balked at a deal unless the government would protect it from any losses on some of the hardest-to-value assets. The government, already shaken by criticism of its actions to support Bear Stearns, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, refused to budge and tried to persuade the CEOs of the biggest Wall Street firms to pitch in instead.

Weekend Discussions

The talks lasted through the weekend, with groups of executives breaking off into smaller groups to discuss options and teams of traders examining positions at every major firm. Yesterday, Barclays, the U.K.’s third-biggest bank, dropped out, deciding it couldn’t agree on a deal so quickly without some type of protection from losses.

As hopes dimmed for salvaging Lehman, attention turned to the future of Merrill, Lehman’s bigger rival. That business, with its 16,690 financial advisers and almost half of fund manager BlackRock Inc., was more attractive to Bank of America than Lehman could be. Merrill CEO John Thain, persuaded by the weekend’s events that a deal was necessary to avoid a loss of confidence and a fate similar to Lehman’s, entered into negotiations with Bank of America’s Ken Lewis.

The liquidation of Lehman, last year’s top underwriter of bonds backed by mortgages, is an amplified version of investment bank Drexel Burnham Lambert Inc., which filed for bankruptcy in 1990. Drexel made its name financing corporate takeovers in the 1980s using junk bonds pushed by Michael Milken.

Keeping the Talent

Maintaining the confidence of the markets is only one of the challenges for an investment bank — the other is retaining employees, recalled Fred Joseph, Drexel’s CEO from 1985 to 1990.

“It’s an awfully good business, but the assets go down in the elevator every night,” said Joseph, 71. “Despite the tough times, the Street’s so small, everybody wants the really good guys.”

A key difference with Drexel is Lehman’s central role in the over-the-counter derivatives markets, which have ballooned to $454 trillion since Drexel was in business. A default by Lehman on its obligations in that market could cause chain reactions throughout the markets that have never before seen a major financial counterparty fail to honor its obligations.

“The implications of one of the `too big to fail’ institutions being allowed to fail is incredibly difficult to grasp, but suffice to say that a huge number of firms and securities are going to get affected,” said Michael Auyeung, who manages about $500 million as chief executive officer at Pacific Mutual Fund Bhd. in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia. “The reach of the carnage will be global and system-wide.”

Lehman’s collapse wipes out a company that had a market value of $45.5 billion in February 2007. Merrill’s sale to Bank of America for $29 a share, while about a 70 percent premium to Merrill’s value on Friday, compares with the company’s $86 billion market capitalization in January 2007.

“It’s breathtaking that we’ve gone from five standalone firms to two very quickly,” said Roy Smith, a finance professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business and a former partner at Goldman Sachs. “It’s certainly going to cause Wall Street to rethink the strategy.”

China’s toxic baby formula victim count expected to rise


Eight-month-old Cheng Aobing, who suffers from kidney stones, receives medical treatment at a hospital in Hefei, Anhui province in this September 14, 2008 file photo.

REUTERS/Stringer
Reuters | Sep 16, 2008

BEIJING (Reuters) – The number of Chinese infants found threatened by toxic milk powder is likely to rise as the search for victims spreads, state media reported on Tuesday, as the government faced growing public anger over the safety crisis.

More than 1,200 children have been diagnosed with kidney illness after drinking adulterated milk powder produced by the Sanlu Group.

Two infants have died and more than 50 are in a serious condition from kidney stones caused by a banned chemical, melamine, added to raw milk before processing in an apparent bid to fool inspectors.

“Their number could rise as the search for more infants fed Sanlu milk food spreads across the country’s rural areas,” the China Daily reported. “…The number could rise sharply in coming days as more parents take their children for medical check-ups,” it added, citing Health Minister Chen Zhu.

Melamine is rich in nitrogen, an element often used to measure protein, and so can be used to disguise diluted milk.

China is the world’s second biggest market for baby milk powder, and Sanlu has been the top-selling company in the sector for 15 years, with 18.3 percent of sales in 2007.

Sanlu dominates in poorer rural areas, where farmer and migrant workers often find milk powder is easier than breast-feeding, and sometimes believe it is also healthier.

The central government has called the poisonings a “Level 1” food safety incident and formed an emergency team to grapple with the fall-out, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

But public anger has grown over claims the company and officials failed to act sooner.

Sanlu, 43 percent owned by New Zealand dairy giant Fonterra, last week halted production after investigators announced they had found the problem.

Local Chinese officials acted last week only after the New Zealand government contacted Beijing, New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark said on Monday. But according to Fonterra chief executive Andrew Ferrier, Sanlu started its own recall from suppliers from Aug. 2.

In past years China has been beset by a series of domestic and international scandals about toxic and unsafe food and products. In 2004, at least 13 babies died in the eastern province of Anhui after drinking fake powder that had no nutrition.

But last year, Sanlu was lauded by a Chinese state television programme, “Weekly Consumer Report”, as a model of good quality.

In past days, Chinese internet sites have filled with bitter criticisms claiming the broadcaster was more interested in boosting companies than protecting consumers.

“Weekly Consumer Report changes from an attacker of fake and sub-standard products into their protector,” said one.