Daily Archives: July 5, 2009

Russia to grant U.S. Afghan supply route

Reuters | Jul 4, 2009

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia will grant President Barack Obama permission next week to ship U.S. weapons supplies across its territory, or through its airspace, en route to Afghanistan, sources on both sides told Reuters on Saturday.

The transit deal will open up an important corridor for the United States as it steps up its Afghan war against Taliban insurgents by sending in more troops. Routes via Pakistan have come under attack by militants.

It will be one of the main agreements signed during Obama’s Moscow summit next week with Kremlin chief Dmitry Medvedev, the sources said.

“The agreement will include the transit of all U.S. goods, including military ones (to Afghanistan),” a senior Kremlin source told Reuters.

A U.S. source confirmed the deal would be signed and said it would mark a step forward in cooperation on Afghanistan, which Russia views as a key area where both the former Cold War foes can work together to mend ties.

It was not immediately clear if the deal would allow the United States to fly troops over Russian territory to Afghanistan.

Medvedev has repeatedly said he is ready to widen cooperation with U.S.-led coalition and NATO forces in Afghanistan, though Moscow has ruled out sending any of its own troops to fight.

Russia has already granted Washington the right to transit ‘non-lethal’ supplies, such as food, overland via Russia — and Central Asia — to Afghanistan.

Moscow has also granted NATO members Germany, France and Spain the right to use Russian territory to transit military cargos to Afghanistan.

9,200 uncounted vials found at Army biodefense lab

AP | Jun 17, 2009

By DAVID DISHNEAU

HAGERSTOWN, Md. (AP) — An inventory of deadly germs and toxins at an Army biodefense lab in Frederick found more than 9,200 vials of material that was unaccounted for in laboratory records, Fort Detrick officials said Wednesday.

The 13 percent overage mainly reflects stocks left behind in freezers by researchers who retired or left Fort Detrick since the biological warfare defense program was established there in 1943, said Col. Mark Kortepeter, deputy commander of the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases.

He said the found material included Korean War-era serum samples from patients with Korean hemorrhagic fever, a disease still of interest to researchers pursuing a vaccine. Other vials contained viruses and microbes responsible for Ebola, plague, anthrax, botulism and host of other ailments, Kortepeter said in a teleconference with reporters.

“What happens over time, these get moved from one freezer to another, historically. Now we have much better tracking of where they are,” Kortepeter said.

About half of the found material has been destroyed, Kortepeter said. Samples deemed potentially useful were saved and entered into a laboratory database, he said.

The material was in tiny, 1mm vials that could easily be overlooked in the 25-cubic-foot freezers or even covered by clumps of minus-80-degree ice, said Sam Edwin, the institute’s inventory control officer.

Kortepeter said the inventory found nothing missing from about 70,000 items the institute began cataloging in 2005. He said Army criminal investigators have concluded that three vials of Venezuelan equine encephalitis that were discovered missing last year “were likely used up but for some reason were never recorded with the database.”

The separate search of the institute’s 335 freezers and refrigerators began Feb. 4 and ended May 27. Kortepeter said it was prompted by the discovery during a spot check in January of 20 samples of Venezuelan equine encephalitis in a box listed as containing 16.

He said the review was ordered by the institute’s commander, not by higher officials.

However, the spot check that led to the inventory was part of a tightened security program the Army implemented at all five of its biological and chemical research centers in December in response to an FBI finding that a Fort Detrick scientist was responsible for deadly 2001 anthrax attacks, said Michael Brady, special assistant to Army Secretary Pete Geren.

Brady said the other labs found no discrepancies, so they did not need inventory reviews.

The new security measures also include an annual check to ensure that all material in the database is accounted for, Brady said.

“This is not going to be a once-in-a-while thing,” he said. “This is going to be a regular, aggressive inventory accountability program to make sure we don’t have the problems we’ve seen in the past.”

After Fort Detrick anthrax researcher Bruce E. Ivins killed himself in July, the FBI announced that he alone was responsible for the anthrax mailings that killed five people and sickened 17 others in 2001. Ivins committed suicide after learning he would be charged in the attacks. His attorney maintains he was innocent.

Swine flu pandemic caused by “accidental leak” from laboratory

Daily Mail | Jun 30, 2009

The swine flu pandemic may have been caused by an accidental leak from a laboratory three decades ago, scientists have claimed.

An investigation into the genetic make-up of flu viruses claims the pandemic may not have occurred, had it not been for the accidental release of the same strain of influenza virus from a research lab in 1977.

The Independent reported that researchers believe this strain of the virus had been extinct in the human population for more than 20 years until it was unwittingly reintroduced by scientists.

The study in The New England Journal of Medicine said: ‘Careful study of the genetic origin of the (1977) virus showed that it was closely related to a 1950 strain, but dissimilar to influenza ‘A’ (H1N1) strains from both 1947 and 1957.

‘This finding suggested that the 1977 outbreak strain has been preserved since 1950. The re-emergence was probably an accidental release from a laboratory source.’

The strain is thought to be behind the pandemic in 1977 which began in Russia and China.

Shanta Zimmer from the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania said: ‘We cannot actually pinpoint which lab had it or accidentally released it, but the re-emergence of H1N1 in 1977 made it potentially a man-made pandemic.

‘It’s a reminder that we need to be continually vigilant in terms of laboratory procedures.’

The release of the 1950s virus may have occurred after a laboratory worker became infected accidentally and then infected family and friends.

Professor John Oxford of the Royal London Hospital said the accidental release of the 1950s strain of H1N1 in 1977 is a plausible theory.

Largest green carbon-neutral “leisure dome” in Europe to be constructed in Bucharest

Project of largest leisure area in Europe to be launched in Bucharest on Monday

Financiarul.ro | Jul 4, 2009

The Leisure Dome Bucharest project, to be launched on Monday, will cover a total surface of 400,000 sq m, with the investment having been estimated at 500 million euros, reads a release of the Domus M&D company.

The complex will host, during the entire year, such activities as ski, snowboarding, ice- skating, subtropical nautical sports, including surfing and diving, for the first time in the Central and Eastern Europe.

An indoor golf field, the single of the kind worldwide, will complete the Leisure Dome Bucharest world.

There will also be arranged here the largest simulation attractions area in Europe (3D, 4D, 5D, virtual reality, cinematography), wellness, fitness, tennis, an ample area of hypermarkets, restaurants and theme clubs, ice-bars, hotels, casinos, congress centers.

The Dutch Axion Lesiure Development and the Dutch architecture office Benthem develop the project. The funds will be attracted from institutional investors, local and international private investors, banks, structural funds and from the European Community.

Leisure Dome Bucharest will be 100 percent ecological, with Romania to be marked thus on Europe’s ‘green’ map and the world’s (carbon dioxide neutral, high level sustainability).

Pope Signs New Globalization Encyclical

VATICAN-POPE-AUDIENCE

Pope Benedict XVI waves as he leaves after his weekly general audience on July 1, 2009 at St Peter’s square at The Vatican. Pope Benedict XVI will release a social encyclical on July 7, “Caritas in Veritae” (Charity in thruth). VATICAN CITY, Jul. 4, 2009

Pope Signs New Globalization Encyclical; Tells New Archbishops To Protect Their Flocks

He has said the downturn shows the need to rethink the whole global financial system.

CBS | Jul 4, 2009

(AP)  Pope Benedict XVI signed his latest encyclical Monday, a text on ways to make globalization more attentive to meeting the needs of the poor amid the worldwide financial crisis.

The document, entitled “Charity in Truth,” is expected to be published soon.

The pope has said his third encyclical will outline the goals and values that the faithful must defend to ensure solidarity among all peoples.

Benedict has frequently spoken out on the financial crisis, urging leaders to ensure the world’s poor don’t end up bearing the brunt of the downturn even though they are not responsible for it. He has said the downturn shows the need to rethink the whole global financial system.

The pontiff announced he had signed the document Monday, a major Catholic feast day, after celebrating a Mass during which he told new archbishops they must be models for the faithful, guiding them and protecting them as shepherds care for their flock.

Thirty-four new archbishops, including the new archbishop of New York, Monsignor Timothy Dolan, received the pallium, a band of white wool decorated with black crosses that is a sign of pastoral authority and a symbol of the archbishops’ bond with the pope.

Benedict said the archbishops should be like Christ “who as a good shepherd carried on his back humanity – the lost sheep – to bring them home.”

Benedict has been working on “Caritas in veritate,” as the encyclical is known in Latin, since 2007 but held back on issuing it so that he could update it to reflect the global economic crisis.

An encyclical is the most authoritative document a pope can issue. Benedict has written two in his four years as pope: “God is Love” in 2006 and “Saved by Hope” in 2007.

Obama cites influence of Cardinal Bernardin, prepares to meet pope

Catholic News Service | Jul 2, 2009

By Patricia Zapor

WASHINGTON (CNS) — President Barack Obama told a round table of religion writers July 2 that he continues to be profoundly influenced by the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago, whom he came to know when he was a community organizer in a project partially funded by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development.

Obama said his encounters with the cardinal continue to influence him, particularly his “seamless garment” approach to a multitude of social justice issues.

Related

Obama praises Pope’s ‘extraordinary leadership’

“…we in some ways see this as a meeting with any other government– the government of the Holy See….there’s a government-to-government relationship that is already very strong and we want to build on….having a meeting with the Holy Father is a great honor and something that I’m very much looking forward to.”

In addition to Catholic News Service, the round table included reporters and editors from other Catholic publications: National Catholic Reporter, America magazine, Catholic Digest, National Catholic Register, Commonweal magazine and Vatican Radio. A religion writer from The Washington Post also participated.

It was held in anticipation of Obama’s audience with Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican July 10. The 45-minute session touched on his expectations for that meeting as well as aspects of foreign policy, the public criticism directed at him by some Catholic bishops and others in the church, and the Obamas’ own search for a church home in Washington.

The president also clarified that he expects an ongoing review of conscience clause regulations will result in a continuation of protections that have long existed, allowing people who are morally opposed to abortion or contraceptives to decline to provide them in the line of work without repercussions.

Obama said in some ways he sees his first meeting with the pope as the same as any contact with a head of state, “but obviously this is more than just that. The Catholic Church has such a profound influence worldwide and in our country, and the Holy Father is a thought leader and opinion leader on so many wide-ranging issues. His religious influence is one that extends beyond the Catholic Church.”

He said he considers it a great honor to be meeting with the pope and that he hopes the session will lead to further cooperation between the Vatican and the United States in addressing Middle East peace, worldwide poverty, climate change, immigration and a whole host of other issues.

Several of the questions addressed the sometimes contentious relations between the Obama administration and some U.S. bishops, notably surrounding the president’s commencement address at the University of Notre Dame in May. The university’s decision to invite Obama and present him with an honorary degree led to a wave of protests at the university and a flurry of criticism by more than 70 bishops who said his support for legal abortion made him an inappropriate choice by the university.

Statements by the U.S. bishops also have chastised Obama for administrative actions such as the reversal of the Mexico City policy, which had prohibited the use of federal family planning funds by organizations that provide abortions or counsel women to have abortions.

But Obama said he’s not going to be deterred from continuing to work with the U.S. Catholic hierarchy, in part “because I’m president of all Americans, not just Americans who happen to agree with me.”

“The American bishops have profound influence in their communities, in the church and beyond,” Obama said. “What I would say is that although there have been criticisms leveled at me from some of the bishops, there have been a number of bishops who have been extremely generous and supportive even if they don’t agree with me on every issue.”

He said part of why he wants to establish a good working relationship with the bishops is because he has fond memories of working with Cardinal Bernardin when Obama was a community organizer, working with Catholic parishes on the South Side of Chicago.

“And so I know the potential that the bishops have to speak out forcefully on issues of social justice,” Obama said.

On conscience clauses, the president said he has consistently believed in them. As a state legislator, he said, he supported “a robust conscience clause in Illinois for Catholic hospitals and health care providers.” Soon after he took office as president, the administration reversed what Obama described as “eleventh-hour change(s) in conscience clause provisions that were pushed forward by the previous administration.”

According to Obama, the Bush administration change, which took effect two days before the new president was sworn in, hadn’t been “properly reviewed and thought through, and he added that there were some concerns about how broad it might be and what its manifestations would be once implemented.”

In general, that change codified longtime federal statutes that prohibit discrimination against health professionals who decline to participate in abortions or other medical procedures because of religious or moral objections.

In his speech at Notre Dame, Obama called for a “sensible conscience clause.” and said he wished to “honor the conscience of those who disagree with abortion.”

The president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, Cardinal Francis E. George of Chicago, has called on Obama to make good on that comment and protect the conscience of health workers.

The cardinal said health care professionals and institutions “should know that their deeply held religious or moral convictions will be respected as they exercise their right to serve patients in need.”

Obama told reporters at the White House session that hundreds of thousands of comments for the conscience-clause review had been received.

“We will be coming out with, I think, more specific guidelines,” he said. “But I can assure all of your readers that when this review is complete there will be a robust conscience clause in place. It may not meet the criteria of every possible critic of our approach, but it certainly will not be weaker than what existed before the (Bush administration’s) changes were made.”

Obama said worries that the conscience protections would disappear are an example that “there have been some who keep on anticipating the worst from us, and it’s not based on anything I’ve said or done, but is rather just a perception somehow that we have some hard-line agenda that we’re seeking to push.”