Daily Archives: October 22, 2008

Europe wants New Global Financial Order

In July 1944, 730 delegates from all 44 Allied nations gathered at the Mount Washington Hotel, in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, to regulate the international monetary and financial order after the conclusion of WWII.

RIA Novosti | Oct 21, 2008

MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Andrei Fedyashin) – America is losing Bretton Woods, the global financial system formed at the UN Monetary and Financial Conference, commonly known as the Bretton Woods conference.

In July 1944, 730 delegates from all 44 Allied nations gathered at the Mount Washington Hotel, in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, to regulate the international monetary and financial order after the conclusion of WWII.

They signed agreements to set up the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD), the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

At this point, nobody wants this system, which is why the top European leaders – French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission – came to Camp David on October 18 to inform President George W. Bush of the demise of the Bretton Woods principles.

Sarkozy said Barroso and he “have a mandate from the 27 members of the European Union to come here and say first and foremost that this is a worldwide crisis and, therefore, we must find a worldwide solution.” He said they needed to discuss a revision of the global financial system to “build together the capitalism of the future.”

Barroso did not “beat about the bush.” “We need a new global financial order,” he said.

This European vision apparently conflicts with U.S. wishes.

To cushion the heavy blow, the two European officials allowed Bush to say that the global financial summit would be held in the U.S.

The summit, to be held after the November 4 presidential election in the U.S. but not later than December, will convene the leaders of the expanded G8, which also includes China, India and Brazil, and possibly Australia, South Korea and Saudi Arabia.

According to the U.S. Constitution, the new Chief Executive will assume office in January next year, and therefore Bush will still be president at the time of the summit.

Bush said he looked forward to hosting this meeting in the near future, but Sarkozy reminded him that, “insofar as the crisis began in New York, then the global solution must be found to this crisis in New York.”

Some say the summit will be convened in the UN, which is not good for President Bush, because the UN complex on the Hudson River is officially a territory of the international community.

A Camp David meeting would have been utterly boring and unpleasant for the Americans, if not for Sarkozy’s compatriot, Managing Director of the IMF Dominique Strauss-Kahn. Shortly before the Camp David meeting, newspapers reported that Strauss-Kahn, age 59, had an affair with Piroska Nagy, an employee of the IMF’s African department.

According to Times Online, the case began in January when Mario Blejer, a senior Argentine-born economist, alleged that Piroska Nagy, his wife, had been seduced by her boss at the Davos international forum.

When their transgression was uncovered, Strauss-Kahn allegedly helped transfer the beautiful Hungarian to a post in London at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD).

The financial official’s romantic fling, which would have gone unnoticed in France, has made breaking news in the U.S.

Some say it was done on purpose. British newspapers write that Paris knew about the romantic troubles of Strauss-Kahn, who was living up to his old name as un grand seducteur, but regarded them as nothing out of the ordinary.

Some politicians say “the case had been leaked to the U.S. media to undermine the French effort,” because Sarkozy has been working with Strauss-Kahn “to form a new Bretton Woods pact on financial regulation.”

Sarkozy was reportedly furious because Paris had hoped no news would break until Strauss-Kahn was cleared later this month. Allies of Strauss-Kahn and some commentators dismissed the affair as another episode of hysteria by puritanical U.S. institutions.

However, even Strauss-Kahn’s indiscretion cannot seriously influence the current situation. Europe has snatched the initiative of creating a new global financial order from the U.S. and President Bush. The U.S. will be a part of the new order, but it will not play first violin in the new financial orchestra. And Bush will leave the White House as a man who attended the burial of the Bretton Woods system.

Those who have undertaken the creation of a new financial system are facing a challenging task. The trouble is that nobody, not Sarkozy, nor the EU, China or Japan, knows what it should look like, as proposals and ideas refuse to merge into a clear picture.

Everyone knows that the old system is not good. It is rooted in the greediness of banks and their clients, which cannot be eradicated overnight, and in the mystical belief in a markets’ talent for self-regulation.

Everyone also knows that to change this system the world must toughen control over global currency and finances and introduce state regulation of the economy, banks, exchanges, dealers, loans, etc.

Everyone knows that the global currency and financial organism cannot function properly without clearly defined rules, but nobody knows what the new model should be.

World leaders must clearly outline the new financial rules, or else they will fail just as the Bretton Woods principles did. The Bretton Woods rules have not stopped markets and financial institutions from misbehaving, even though the disease was diagnosed long before.

Many economists and experts say the system must be overhauled because crisis phenomena are growing exponentially, especially in the last 40 years.

Evidence of Bretton Woods’ inadequacy is central banks’ interventions to support national currencies, investment in gold instead of the U.S. dollar, regular convulsions and cramps on the exchanges, tough currency regulation (currency baskets), and regular loans taken from the IMF to cover budget deficits (the IMF’s main task seems to be to lend money to make up for budget deficit), devaluation, revaluation, currency fevers, and trade wars.

It would be wrong to lay all of the blame at the door of that system’s authors. It was designed in the last years of WWII, and the authors had to make do with what little was at their disposal at the time. At the end of WWII and for a long period after, the dollar and the U.S. were the two strongest entities in the world.

The world was comfortable with the dollar, but the situation has changed, though the U.S. tried to convince the world it could still be comfortable with the dollar. Americans were indeed comfortable with it, because Bretton Woods ensured the demand for the dollar and its stability.

But the comfy time is over, although the White House still insists that the liberal market system can be saved through reform. I don’t think so.

Safety a problem for new generation drugs

Genentech Inc.’s psoriasis drug Raptiva may contribute to a life-threatening brain illness and infections; and Exubera, an inhaled insulin product, linked with lung cancer risks.

AP | Oct 22, 2008

By LINDSEY TANNER

CHICAGO (AP) — Nearly a fourth of widely used new-generation biological drugs for several common diseases produce serious side effects that lead to safety warnings soon after they go on the market, the first major study of its kind found.

Included in the report released Tuesday were the arthritis drugs Humira and Remicade, cancer drugs Rituxan and Erbitux, and the heart failure drug Natrecor. All wound up being flagged for safety.

That might surprise some doctors who may have thought that these new treatments might be safer than traditional chemical-based medicines.

Researchers found that most of the warnings came within five years after these biologicals won government approval in the United States and Europe between 1995 and 2007.

Many traditional medicines wind up with safety warnings too after they go on the market. But experts said there were no similar studies of older medicines that made it possible to compare safety issues between the two groups of drugs.

The new study, by Dutch researchers, is the first comprehensive examination of these newer medicines, a driving part of the biotech revolution.

The drugs are known as biologicals because they’re made from living material and they typically affect the body’s disease-fighting immune system. Many relieve severe symptoms by suppressing that system.
It’s that same mechanism that can result in side effects often not seen with traditional chemical-based medicines, said Dr. Charles Bennett, a Northwestern University drug safety expert. These can include brain and fungal infections and cancer.

Many are genetically engineered and Bennett said that because they typically resemble naturally occurring proteins, many doctors have assumed they were safer than traditional chemical-based medicines. But he said the study shows that’s not necessarily true.

“They have an important role,” Bennett said. “They’re really the next generation of pharmaceuticals.”

He said the results simply show that doctors and patients should be aware that the drugs have many potential side effects that may not be listed on the label.

Among the drugs under examination are Genentech Inc.’s psoriasis drug Raptiva, which just last week the Food and Drug Administration warned may contribute to a life-threatening brain illness and infections; and Exubera, an inhaled insulin product, linked with lung cancer risks. Exubera was approved by the FDA in 2006 but Pfizer Inc. stopped selling it last year.

The study appears in Wednesday’s Journal of the American Medical Association.

It involved 136 biologics approved in the United States and 105 in the European Union between January 1995 and June 2007. A total of 41, or nearly 24 percent, got safety warnings issued through June 2008.

The results are a concern, and they underscore the need for closer scrutiny of drugs after their approval, said lead author Thijs Giezen of the University of Utrecht.

But he said the study also is reassuring because most problems showed up relatively soon after the drugs became available, which minimized the potential for widespread harm.

“If most issues are discovered within the first few years, then the system is working,” Giezen said.

Bennett says it’s unreasonable to think that the studied drugs’ safety issues should have been discovered before they were marketed. That’s because drug approval is based on relatively small studies with patients who generally are healthier than those in the general population. It often takes real-world experience for side effects to appear, he said.

Many biological drugs have advantages over conventional medicine, but the study shows their risks need to also be considered, said Thomas Moore of the Institute for Safe Medication Practices.

For example, non-steroid arthritis medicines including ibuprofen can reduce pain by decreasing inflammation, but they can cause stomach bleeding.

Biologic rheumatoid arthritis medicines Remicade, Enbrel and Humira are designed to ease painful joints by keeping the body’s immune system from attacking itself, the underlying problem in the disease. But they are much more expensive and have been linked with higher risks for potentially fatal infections. Also, the FDA is investigating possible cancer risks.

“My message to patients is that these biological products often can treat very difficult to treat diseases but may have very substantial risks and that you need to take extra care to educate yourself as to what those risks might be,” Moore said.

Danger seen with ‘biologicals’

Associated Press | Oct 22, 2008

CHICAGO – Nearly a fourth of widely used new-generation “biologicals” that treat several common diseases produce side effects that lead to safety warnings soon after they go on the market, the first big study of its kind found.

The drugs are called biologicals because they’re made from living material. Many relieve severe symptoms by suppressing the body’s immune system.

That can result in side effects often not seen with traditional chemical-based medicines, including brain infections and cancer.

The study appears in today’s Journal of the American Medical Association. Experts said there were no similar studies of older medicines, making it impossible to compare safety issues.

Among the new medicines that were flagged for safety: arthritis drugs Humira and Remicade; cancer drugs Rituxan and Erbitux; and heart failure drug Natrecor.

Pentagon envisions spaceship troops

USA TODAY | Oct 14, 2008

By Tom Vanden Brook

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon wants to rocket troops through space to hot spots anywhere on the globe within two hours, and planners spent two days last month discussing how to do it, military documents show.

Civilian and military officials held a two-day conference at the National Security Space Office to plan development of the Small Unit Space Transport and Insertion (SUSTAIN) program. The invitation to the conference called the notion of space troopers a “potential revolutionary step in getting combat power to any point in the world in a timeframe unachievable today.” Attendees included senior Army, Marine, Navy and Air Force officers.

The next steps toward getting troops in space: addressing the technological challenges and seeking input from the military, said Air Force Lt. Col. Mark Brown, a space office spokesman. No further meetings have been scheduled.

Marines launched the concept after the Sept. 11 terror attacks. They needed the “capability to transport small, mission-tailored units through space from any point on the globe to a contingency at any other point on the globe” within minutes of an order, according to a Marine document.

Some critics are skeptical. The concept defies physics and the reality of what a small number of lightly armed troops could accomplish in enemy territory, said John Pike, a military analyst who runs Globalsecurity.org.

“This isn’t even science fiction,” Pike said. “It’s fantasy.”

Private rocket pioneer Burt Rutan says the plan is technologically possible. Rutan’s SpaceShipOne was the first privately financed vehicle to carry people into space. It won the $10 million “X Prize” in 2004 for flying into space twice in five days.

“This has never been done,” Rutan said in an e-mail. “However, it is feasible. It would be a relatively expensive way to get the troops on the ground, but it could be done.”

Terrorist threats to the United States, according to a statement of need from the Marines in July 2002, can emerge quickly anywhere in the world. A nearly instantaneous response from a small contingent of troops could snuff them out. Rocketship forces could also rescue troops trapped behind enemy lines.

“In the end, events around the globe can unfold much more rapidly and in many circumstances call for the earliest intervention if larger conflicts or other negative international implications are to be averted,” the statement says. “Space transport and insertion is the only means of attaining the needed speed of response.”

The need to develop technology to get SUSTAIN off the ground was restated in 2005 in a Marine document called the Expeditionary Maneuver Warfare Capability List. The list, signed by Gen. James Mattis, presented the space program as a goal to be realized as early as 2019. Mattis, who took over the Joint Forces Command last year, declined to comment.

Flying troops through space to distant crises is an idea that’s been discussed since the early 1960s. In a speech in 1963, Marine Gen. Wallace Greene said such flight could have a “staggering” impact on projecting U.S. power. Greene, later the Marine Corps commandant, hoped to have Marines in space by 1968.

Emerging technology makes SUSTAIN a possibility, perhaps by 2030, said Baker Spring, a military analyst at the Heritage Foundation. Just as important, he said, is determining what troops could do if they managed to rocket into a crisis.

Another issue: vehicles must be relatively light to reach space. “It would be wildly vulnerable,” said Ivan Oelrich, a security analyst at the Federation of American Scientists. “You can’t armor a rocket ship.”

Pike said an enormous amount of fuel would be needed to return from such missions. He questioned what 13 troops could accomplish in a hostile environment without getting killed or captured.

Parents home-school to avoid vaccinations

Debra Barnes, holding Samuel, 3, and husband Curtis home-school Beau, 7, and Victoria, 9, because of vaccination requirements. By Vickie D. King, The Clarion-Ledger

USA TODAY | Oct 22, 2008

By Chris Joyner

JACKSON, Miss. — Debra Barnes has a thriving chiropractic practice, a nice home and a family who loves living in the South, but she said she would leave Mississippi in a heartbeat if health officials tried to force her home-schooled children to be immunized.

Barnes is part of a network of parents whose decision to home-school their children rests on their belief that mandated vaccinations for public and private schoolchildren are a dangerous overreach by state governments.

While the mainstream scientific community maintains that childhood vaccines are safe, Barnes relies on the work of some scientists who argue that immunizations can bring on autism or weaken the natural immunities of children.

“If you want to vaccinate your children, go ahead. But don’t force me to vaccinate my children. These children are entrusted to us,” she says.

Some public health officials are concerned that the growing popularity of home schooling has created gaps in the vaccination safety net, leading to outbreaks of rare childhood diseases.

In August, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported measles cases had spiked; 131 cases were reported nationwide for the first seven months of the year, compared with an average of 63 cases per year since 2000.

Of the infected, 91% were unvaccinated, most because of “philosophical or religious beliefs,” the CDC said.

Home-schooled children accounted for 25 out of 30 cases in an outbreak of measles in suburban Chicago in May, according to the CDC. In Grant County in Washington, public health officials tied 11 of 19 measles cases to unvaccinated home-schooled children.

Lance Rodewald, director of the CDC’s Immunization Services Division, says the measles outbreaks show a problem with state policies allowing home-schooled children to escape vaccines.

“One of the contributors we are seeing has to do with exemption laws,” he says. “Somebody who has taken an exemption from school laws, like a philosophical or religious exemption, is 35 times more likely to get measles … and 22 times more likely to get whooping cough.”

Barnes, who is president of the Jackson chapter of the Mississippi Vaccination Information Center, says she wants Mississippi to change the law that allows no exemptions beyond medical necessity. She and her husband, Curtis, home-school their 9-year-old daughter and 7-year-old son, and when the times comes, they will home-school their 3-year-old son.

“When I came to Mississippi, I had no idea there would be a place in the 21st century that would have a mandated vaccination schedule,” she says. “I happen to believe that you shouldn’t inject things into your blood.”

Some fear that by allowing parents more choice, pockets of unvaccinated children will be created, spawning more outbreaks.

Last year, Arthur Caplan, a University of Pennsylvania ethicist, co-authored an article in the Journal of Law, Medicine and Ethics advising states to get more serious about requiring the vaccination of home-schooled students or risk new outbreaks of formerly rare diseases such as measles or polio.

The article has been passed around among home-school advocates as evidence of a conspiracy to force mandatory vaccinations.

Caplan says it is not just the children who are put at risk. Vaccines work by providing “herd immunity,” meaning large numbers of vaccinated individuals protect a small minority of the unvaccinated. That dynamic breaks down if increasing numbers of people are not vaccinated.

“Unvaccinated children pose not only a risk to themselves, but to their families, other children they come in contact with and especially older people they might visit or encounter in a movie theater or mall,” he says.

The Department of Education estimated in 2003 that more than 1 million children were home-schooled, and home-schooling groups such as the National Home Education Research Institute say the number has grown to around 2 million.

“The vast majority of parents know that vaccination is the best way to protect their children,” Rodewald says. “Certainly, the vaccination is much, much, much safer than the disease itself.”

Tracking outbreaks down to the neighborhood level shows a high correlation between the disease and families who have filed exemptions to escape vaccinations, Rodewald says.

Barnes says the parents in her group are not buying it. “There is so much out there that they scare us with and belittle the parents with that is so unnecessary. If the science was there and the safety was there, they wouldn’t have a problem with the numbers (of vaccinations).”

TSA to expand paperless boarding pass program

Air France started using electronic boarding passes on mobile phones in September. The only paper document needed from fliers with electronic boarding passes is a personal ID.

USA TODAY | Oct 22, 2008

By Thomas Frank

WASHINGTON — Airplane boarding passes will increasingly be electronic bar codes that passengers display on cellphones and personal-digital assistants instead of paper documents, airline and government officials say.

The Transportation Security Administration, after testing paperless boarding passes at a few airports to make sure they are secure, plans a nationwide expansion in the next year, spokesman Christopher White said.

Delta Airlines, which uses paperless boarding passes at New York’s LaGuardia Airport, plans to expand them soon to Atlanta, Orlando and Salt Lake City, spokeswoman Betsy Talton said.

Alaska Airlines just started using paperless boarding passes at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and could expand next year to Los Angeles, Anchorage and Portland, Ore., spokeswoman Marianne Lindsey said.

The boarding passes are e-mailed to a passenger’s cellphone or PDA and appear on screen as a bar code. At security checkpoints, a TSA screener scans the code with a $1,000 handheld device, which displays a passenger’s name and flight information for comparison to a passenger ID. Passengers can still use traditional paper boarding passes.

The TSA requires airlines to add security features to the electronic bar codes to help spot a forged boarding pass. The agency must approve airline plans to use paperless boarding passes.

Paperless boarding passes are expanding overseas, too. Last month, Lufthansa began allowing passengers to use the passes on all 1,000 of its daily flights from Germany to other European destinations. Air France, KLM and smaller European airlines also use paperless boarding passes.

“Within two to four years, it’s going to be standard across Europe,” said Oliver Wagner, a vice president of Lufthansa.

The International Air Transport Association, an airline trade group that has created global criteria for boarding passes, recently added the TSA security requirement to its standard for paperless passes, said Eric Leopold of the association. “The U.S. is the only country in the world so far that has such a requirement,” Leopold said.

Since TSA first approved paperless boarding passes in December, Continental Airlines has started using them at six airports including Houston Intercontinental and Newark and will add Cleveland as its seventh airport on Thursday. Northwestern uses them at Indianapolis International.

United Airlines plans to start using paperless boarding passes next year, spokeswoman Robin Urbanski said.

The boarding passes are used mostly by “the business customer who is used to having all their information” in a handheld computer, Continental spokeswoman Mary Clark said.