Daily Archives: October 21, 2008

Canada bans gender-bending baby bottles

Canada has banned the chemical bisphenol A from baby bottles (file picture)

Canada bans ‘gender-bend baby bottles’, putting Britain under pressure to follow suit

Daily Mail | Oct 20, 2008

Baby bottles containing a controversial ‘gender bending’ chemical are to be barred in Canada, the first country to introduce such a ban.

In a move that will put pressure on Britain to follow suit, health officials have officially classified bisphenol A (BPA) – an everyday chemical added to plastics and food packaging – as toxic.

BPA mimics the female sex hormone oestrogen and has been linked to birth defects in boys, heart disease in adults, and lower sperm counts and breast cancer in animals.

The chemical is an ingredient of polycarbonate plastic – a lightweight, shatterproof version used for CD cases, drinks bottles, spectacle lenses and food containers.

It also crops up in the resins used to line food cans, and make glues, paints and dental sealants.

Studies have shown that BPA can leach from plastic bottles into their liquid contents.

The government plans to restrict the import, sale and advertising of bottles made with BPA.

It is also proposing ‘to allow the lowest amount of BPA as reasonably achievable in infant formula cans’ and all foods in general.

The chemical industry said polycarbonate bottles contain little BPA and leach traces of the chemical at levels too low to harm people.

EU scientists also say the chemical is safe. BPA is found in the bodies of nine out of ten people.

Meltdown Good News For European Leaders

British Chancellor Gordon Brown, center left, shares a word with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, center right, during a group photo at an EU summit in Brussels, Wednesday Oct. 15, 2008. Efforts to calm the impact of the global financial crisis will top the agenda at a two-day EU leaders summit along with talks on how the 27-nation bloc can keep on track ambitious promises to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent by 2020. Standing rear is Estonian Prime Minister Andrus Ansip, and front left is Cypriot President Dimitris Christofias.

Forbes | Oct 20, 2008

By Lionel Laurent

LONDON – It may seem strange, but some European leaders are actually enjoying a bounce in popularity as a result of the economic crisis.

Despite the collapse into government hands of lenders like Royal Bank of Scotland (nyse: RBS – news – people ), Dexia (other-otc: DXBGF – news – people ) and Bradford & Bingley over the past few weeks, President Nicolas Sarkozy of France and Prime Minister Gordon Brown of Britain are not feeling the heat from voters. On the contrary: according to one poll in the French daily newspaper Le Figaro, Sarkozy’s handling of the crisis has a 60.0% approval rating, while one polling source in London told Forbes.com that the British public was showing greater confidence in Brown.

Polling firms in Britain are testing the waters this weekend following the so-called Brown Plan, which has seen the prime minister get the credit for a recapitalization program designed to calm interbank lending markets and restore investor confidence. (See “The Not-So-Brown Bailout Plan.”) Although the national polls are not yet completed, early unconfirmed indicators show that are placing greater trust in the prime minister as the economy deteriorates.

So why is there now a show of extra support for leaders in France and Britain at a time like this? Partly because they are no longer seen as responsible for the meltdown. It may have been possible at one time to attack Finance Minister Alistair Darling of Britain for the slipshod nationalization of Northern Rock back in February, or to criticize Sarkozy’s government for pushing back budget-deficit targets, but since the collapse of Lehman Brothers, the crisis has become truly nasty and truly global.

While the state was once seen as weak and ineffectual in the face of private-sector woes, now leaders are scrambling to take the podium and offer their vision for a world free of financial excess.

“In a real crisis, people tend to move back to supporting the government,” said Ben Page, managing director of polling firm Ipsos MORI’s public affairs unit. “We saw it with 9/11, we saw it with [the 2005 London terrorist attacks]. As somebody said to me in Downing Street: ‘We’re back in the game’.”

But there is no reason to expect the short-term bounce to continue. Recession is a serious likelihood for Britain and France before the year is out, and that means the kind of atmosphere that is usually fatal for elected politicians: unemployment, shrinking wages and a potentially more painful tax bill.

“When the relief at probably having staved off a total financial collapse has passed, people will focus on the poor economic prospects for the immediate future,” said Jonathan Hopkin, of the London School of Economics. He believed it would “take a miracle” for Brown to get enough of a surge to actually win the next election.

Suicide rate rapidly increasing among white, middle-aged Americans


Golden Gate Bridge to get suicide nets to catch would-be jumpers during financial meltdown

The suicide rate in America is rising for the first time since the late 1990s as more white middle-aged men and women decide to end their lives.

Chicago Tribune | Oct 21, 2008

The data from a just-published study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine are startling:

Between 1999 and 2005, the suicide rate for white women age 40 to 64 rose 3.9 percent annually. The raw numbers show a 35 percent jump, from 2,429 suicides in this group in 1999 to 3,280 in 2005.

For white men age 40 to 64, the suicide rate climbed 2.7 percent yearly and suicides jumped 33 percent (from 7,916 to 10,535) between 1999 and 2005.

No other age or racial group marked similarly significant increases. Indeed, over the seven years analyzed, suicide rates for African-Americans declined by slightly more than 1 percent a year.

What we’re seeing is the emergence of white, middle-age people as a “new high-risk group for suicide,” the authors write in the journal article.

Why is this happening – and why now?

“Really, we don’t know,” said Susan Baker, an author of the new study and a professor with the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Perhaps, she notes, Baby Boomers are more prone to depression, drug abuse and their counterparts—despair and hopelessness. Perhaps women have become more vulnerable to mood disorders as they’ve pulled back on taking hormone replacement therapy around menopause.

More than 90 percent of suicides are associated with psychiatric disorders, and deteriorating access to treatment may part of the explanation, says Dr. Paula Clayton, medical director of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

Also, she says, “don’t rule out the impact of suicides of veterans” from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

When the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention highlighted a notable increase in suicides among 45- to 54-year-olds last December, the New York Times wrote “the prime suspect is the skyrocketing use – and abuse – of prescription drugs.”

The CDC report covered the period from 1999 to 2004; it didn’t look at which racial group was most affected.

The Baby Boomer hypothesis has yet to be tested in a rigorous fashion. But it appears to dovetail, at least superficially, with the largest study of happiness in America, published by University of Chicago researchers earlier this year.

That report in the American Sociological Review stated that Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) were the least happy age group of all those surveyed.

“This is probably due to the fact that the generation as a group was so large, and their expectations were so great, that not everyone in the group could get what he or she wanted as they aged,” U. of C. assistant sociology professor Yang Yang said in a statement. “This could lead to disappointment that could undermine happiness.”

Dr. Jan Fawcett, a professor of psychiatry at the University of New Mexico, echoed the sentiment. “When you get into middle age and start evaluating whether your dreams have been fulfilled – when you realize you’re not going to be a Master of the Universe and besides that you’re balding and aging—that can be hard,” he said. “Also, the kids leave home and that changes everything.”

Add to that disrespect for older people, stigma associated with mental health disorders, economic insecurity, and the unravelling of social networks, suggested hundreds of readers who responded to the New York Times article.

Still, there are lots of pieces that don’t fit the puzzle. In the University of Chicago study, white women had the highest probability of being happy (33 percent) followed by white men (28 percent), black women (18 percent) and black men (15 percent).

Also, a separate study recently found that Americans count middle age as the happiest time of life, the New York Times noted.

Whatever the cause for the uptick in suicides, the recommendation is clear. “I would hope that families and friends would reach out to anyone who might be susceptible — especially people who tend to be alone and lonely without much purpose in life,” said Baker of Johns Hopkins.

Before the current uptick in suicides, the number of people taking their own lives had declined 18 percent between 1986 and 1999. In 2005, suicide claimed 32,637 people, ranking as the fourth leading cause of death for people 10 to 64 years old.

Only time will tell if the current trend holds and if the profile of people who end their lives in this country is, in fact, changing.

While a rash of recent suicides related to the economic downturn has made news, those deaths are not included in the new study, which is based on data from several years ago.

Mexico clamps down on illegal immigration from Cuba

Reuters | Oct 20, 2008

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Mexico agreed to tighten immigration rules on Monday in an effort to cut off the main smuggling route for thousands of Cubans headed to the United States.

“We believe now there will be fewer attempts to use Mexico as an illegal corridor for Cuban immigrants trying to get to the United States,” said Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque at a news conference with Mexican officials.

More than 11,000 Cubans slipped into the United States via Mexico last year, according to U.S. authorities.

Most sneak off the island without exit permits from the Cuban government and travel in small speedboats to Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula.

Paying smugglers up to $15,000, they then make their way overland to the United States where, unlike other Latin American immigrants, they only have to step on U.S. soil and request political asylum to be allowed to stay.

If arrested in Mexico, the Cubans are often released and continue their journey north.

The lax enforcement will change under the new agreement, with Mexico pledging to send all Cubans caught without proper documents home.

The move is an effort by President Felipe Calderon to smooth the ties between the two countries strained under his predecessor, Vicente Fox.

Fox and Fidel Castro feuded publicly, with the Cuban leader calling Mexico a U.S. pawn, and Fox voting to condemn Cuba at the U.N. Human Rights Commission in 2002.

The two countries temporarily withdrew their ambassadors in May 2004. Fox left office in December 2006 and Castro, sidelined by illness, was replaced by his brother Raul Castro this year as Cuba’s first new leader in 49 years.

Cubans seeking to get to the United States traditionally packed into boats and motored across the Florida Straits, but U.S. drug patrols in the area have made it harder to get through. Now the preferred route is by boat to Mexico and then overland to the U.S.-Mexico border.

Human traffickers are believed to be working with drug smuggling gangs that control organized crime and police protection rackets in Mexico.

Several Cubans have been murdered in Mexico in recent months with police pointing fingers at smugglers with suspected ties to drug cartels.

A joint declaration by the two governments said the preferential treatment given by the United States to Cuban migrants encourages their illegal entry into Mexico.

“The U.S. immigration policy toward Cuba … complicates efforts to effectively combat criminal organizations that profit from the illegal trafficking of Cubans,” the declaration said.