Daily Archives: July 13, 2009

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper: “There Is Going To Have To Be Global Governance”

“Although this science will be diligently studied, it will be rigidly confined to the governing class. The populace will not be allowed to know how its convictions were generated. When the technique has been perfected, every government that has been in charge of education for a generation will be able to control its subjects securely without the need of armies or policemen.”

– Lord Bertrand Russell, in his1951 book, The Impact of Science on Society

Swine flu vaccine rushed through safety checks

London Times | Jul 13, 2009

by David Rose

A swine flu vaccine will be fast-tracked for use in Britain within five days once it is developed, and 130 million doses are on order.

The Department of Health expects to have enough vaccine this year to give it to half the population. Further supplies will be available if needed. Each person will need two doses of the vaccine, unless one single jab is found to provide high rates of immunity.

The first doses specific to the H1N1 swine flu virus are set to arrive in September and could be given regulatory approval in less than a week.

The move came after the first British patient without underlying health problems died from swine flu, taking the number of swine flu-linked deaths in Britain to 15. Peter Holden, the British Medical Association’s lead negotiator on swine flu, said that GPs’ surgeries were prepared for one of the biggest winter vaccination campaigns in almost 50 years. He said that, although swine flu was not generally causing serious illness in patients, health officials were eager to start a mass vaccination campaign, starting first on groups that were susceptible to infection or prone to complications.

It is likely that the elderly would be given a seasonal flu jab to guard against other circulating flu strains — as happens every year — as well as the swine flu vaccination. “The high-risk groups will be done at GPs’ surgeries. People are still making decisions over this, but we want to get cracking before we get a second wave, which is traditionally far more virulent,” Dr Holden said.

It takes several weeks or months to make flu vaccines, which are cultured using chicken eggs. The European Medicines Agency said the fast-tracked approval procedure has involved trials of a “mock-up” vaccine and that the speed would not compromise patient safety. “The vaccines are authorised with a detailed risk management plan,” the agency said.

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Rwandan bill would lead to forced sterilization: rights group

AFP | Jul 1, 2009

NAIROBI (AFP) — A US-based rights group on Wednesday urged Rwanda to revise a draft law which it said would introduce compulsory HIV testing and require all people with mental disabilities to be sterilized.

“Compulsory HIV testing and forced sterilization are counter-productive to the Rwandan government’s goal of improved reproductive health,” said Joe Amon, health and human rights director at Human Rights Watch.

“Provisions in the current bill that increase stigma, rely on coercion, and deny individuals their reproductive rights should be removed,” he said.

The reproductive health bill provides for HIV testing for all individuals who plan to marry, as well as for testing upon the request of a spouse.

A child or incapacitated person may be tested by a doctor without seeking consent, who may then show the result to parents or guardians.

HRW pointed out that mandatory HIV testing and disclosure have been condemned by the UN as a violation of privacy.

The group said “mandatory testing and compulsory disclosure can put women at increased risk of abuse and undermine public trust in the health care system.”

The draft legislation would also oblige the Rwandan government to “suspend fertility for mentally handicapped people,” the rights group said.

“Systematic forced sterilization had been recognised as a crime against humanity by the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court,” it said.

Plenty of cameras monitor 55,000 Lancaster residents

165 cameras watching residents and visitors, making it the most highly surveilled city per capita in the state, and possibly the nation.

Philadelphia Inquirer | Jul 6, 2009

By Joelle Farrell

On a sunny afternoon at H.M. Musser Park in Lancaster City, Vilma Caraballo pushed her grandson on a swing. Marion Young, 60, ate tortilla chips from her bagged lunch. And Maicol Ortiz, 19, sat on a brick wall, talking in Spanish with his 23-year-old girlfriend, Evelyn Monzon.

Above them, the scene was monitored by cameras installed at each corner of the park, part of an extensive, citywide surveillance system. By the end of July, Lancaster will have 165 cameras watching residents and visitors, making it the most highly surveilled city per capita in the state, and possibly the nation.

A similar program planned for Wilkes-Barre might soon steal that title, however.

Beyond the sheer number of cameras watching the city of 55,000, Lancaster’s program is unusual in that a private group, not police, monitors the cameras. The nonprofit Lancaster Community Safety Coalition provides its own training and is not overseen by any public agency.

Residents in the park recently had mixed reactions. The cameras are hidden inside black orbs hung from what look like white street lights. Inside the orbs the cameras swivel, pan, and zoom. They are powerful enough to make out a face or a license plate a block or more away.

“I like it,” said Caraballo, 51, who has asked that a camera be placed on her block. “I want them all over the city.”

Young, who works as a secretary at the courthouse, said, “I’m not doing anything bad. They can watch me all they want.”

Some, like 19-year-old Amanda Bachman, bemoan the cameras as another step in an increasingly regulated culture.

“What’s next?” Bachman said as she walked near the park. “You can’t get away with anything anymore. You can’t even smoke a cigarette in front of a building.”

The camera’s footage has helped police arrest people charged with homicide, assault, gun and drug sales, as well as lesser crimes: Staffers have called the police to report public drinking and two adults engaging in a “sex act” in a park, said the coalition’s executive director, Joseph R. Morales, who also serves on the City Council. In 2008, the coalition said, it made 492 calls to police, resulting in 82 arrests and 86 citations.

Supporters say it functions as a high-tech neighborhood watch group. This isn’t Big Brother watching, it’s the people next door.

“It’s a crucially important distinction because of the privacy issues that have come up,” said Dennis F. Cox, who was a part of a local crime commission that recommended installing the cameras. “It’s kind of a citizen effort . . . a way to have eyes and ears in the neighborhood.”

The coalition requires its 10 employees to undergo drug tests and a criminal-records check, and supervisors can track how employees use the cameras. If an operator tries to look into a window, the image inside the building is digitally blacked out, a safeguard installed to protect residents’ privacy in their homes.

The Supreme Court has ruled that people aren’t entitled to privacy in public places, said Stephen Henderson, an associate law professor at Widener Law. There are guidelines that law enforcement officials must follow, but none exist for private surveillance systems, Henderson said.

“You need those same safeguards built in,” Henderson said, “when private actors start conducting what are normally police functions.”

“You have all the potential for abuse and none of the accountability and oversight,” added Mary Catherine Roper, a staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania.

Morales said he would welcome guidance from state legislators or federal authorities on how to regulate private firms surveilling a city.

Lancaster might be just the start of privately run city surveillance. Mayor J. Richard Gray said other cash-strapped cities had approached him to ask about the program.

Wilkes-Barre, a city of 41,000, plans to install 150 cameras this year, monitored by a nonprofit called Hawkeye, said City Administrator J.J. Murphy. The city’s mayor chose the board members who will lead the nonprofit. The $2.3 million project is to be funded almost entirely by gaming revenues.

Surveillance in Wilmington is also run by a nonprofit, not police.

While Philadelphia may have fewer police cameras per capita watching its 1.4 million residents (the city currently has 96 but plans to install 154 more, possibly by year’s end), privately operated cameras watch college campuses, banks, hotels, and other businesses.

“Do you think you’re ever not on a camera in downtown Philly?” said Lancaster Mayor J. Richard Gray.

Lancaster’s crime rate isn’t unusually high for a city of its size and demographics. There have been two killings this year, and 109 incidents of aggravated assault, up from 81 last year at this time, said Lancaster Police Lt. Todd Umstead.

The crime commission found that residents were most concerned with noise, litter, and vandalism. It recommended greater community policing and camera surveillance.

The coalition, which lists the fire chief, a former police captain, and the district attorney on its board, put up the first camera at King and Lime Streets, a known drug corner, in 2004.

The crime rate hasn’t changed much, but police say they’re better equipped to find perpetrators.

“Even when the camera doesn’t capture an actual crime in progress, it captures movements of people prior to and after the crime,” Umstead said.

David Greiner, 51, a lifelong Lancaster resident, was one of the company’s first watchers and now supervises the crew. He has called in fights, robberies, and an attempted sexual assault.

Two years ago, Greiner helped catch a murderer. He called police when a fight broke out in a large group on the street in March 2007. Shots were fired before police arrived, and a man ran to a nearby home.

Greiner directed the police to the building; the man, Abdul Walton, 22, of Philadelphia, had shaved his beard in an effort to disguise himself. Walton was convicted of first-degree murder.

Camera footage has led other defendants to plead guilty and persuaded reluctant witnesses to step forward, District Attorney Craig Stedman said.

For taxpayers, the benefit of having a private operator is clear: Donations pay for a third of the coalition’s expected $600,000 annual budget, and covered most of the $3 million start-up costs, Morales said.

“If you don’t have money for cops, you buy a damn camera and put it on the street corner,” said Steve Murray, who owns Zap & Co., a vintage clothing and furniture store on Queen Street. “It’s not Tehran or Tiananmen Square here.”

Everyone in the UK to be vaccinated against swine flu

Scotsman | Jul 13, 2009

By Stephen McGinty

THE entire UK population is to be vaccinated against swine flu following the death of the first healthy British patient.

The NHS will receive the new vaccine in the next few weeks and is expected to fast-track the drug through regulatory approval within five days.

Scottish ministers are currently drawing up plans to decide which population groups should be first to be vaccinated, following reports there will not be enough for the Scottish population until November 2010.

The NHS is understood to be planning to vaccinate as many as 20 million people in Britain before the end of the year.

The move comes after the death of an Essex man on Friday who was the first person without underlying health problems to have died after contracting the virus.

Yesterday Peter Holden, the British Medical Association’s lead negotiator on swine flu said GP surgeries were gearing up for one of the biggest vaccination campaigns in almost 50 years.

“If this virus does (mutate] it can get a lot more nasty, and the idea is to give people immunity. But the sheer logistics of dealing with 60 million people can’t be underestimated.”

He said the principal goal was to vaccinate all those who would traditionally be at risk of the winter flu virus such as the old, the pregnant and those who have kidney and renal diseases. He stressed the reason public vaccination was taking place was not because the virus was perceived as a killer but that society could not cope with a high percentage of the population off work ill. The jabs would also reduce the number of people who require hospitalisation.

Mr Holden said there will be enough vaccines available to allow the inoculation of all those at higher risk by the end of the year.

Regulators at the European Medicines Agency (EMEA) said the vaccine, which is being supplied to the UK by GlaxoSmithKline and Baxter Healthcare, could be approved for use within five days. The EMEA said clinical trials have taken place on a “mock-up” vaccine, similar to the one that will be used for the biggest mass vaccination programme in decades.

However, the regulators said the decision to fast-track the drug would not be at the expense of the public’s health.

A spokesman said: “The vaccines are authorised with a detailed risk management plan. There is quite a body of evidence regarding safety on the trials of a mock-up and the actual vaccine could be assessed in five days.”

The government has ordered enough vaccine to cover the entire population of 60 million and GPs across Britain are being told to prepare for a nationwide vaccination campaign.

However, NHS Scotland chief executive Kevin Woods recently said in a letter to local NHS board officials: “According to current delivery estimates vaccine for 100 per cent of the population could be received by November 2010.”

Yesterday a spokeswoman for the Scottish Government said: “We have said that a vaccine is being worked on and the plan is to vaccinate everybody.”

US Government Prepares For Mass Swine Flu Vaccinations

Red Orbit | Jun 17, 2009

On Tuesday, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said she is urging school superintendents around the country to spend the summer preparing for the possibility of turning schools into swine flu vaccine clinics this fall.

“If you think about vaccinating kids, schools are the logical place,” Sebelius told The Associated Press.

Last week the World Health Organization formally declared the swine flu a pandemic, meaning it is now spreading throughout the world unchecked.

The U.S. has not made a formal decision on how to vaccinate millions of Americans against the flu, although money is being poured into developing a vaccine for the strain.

Currently the swine flu doesn’t appear to be any more harmful than regular flu, which kills 36,000 Americans each year, although scientists do fear that the strain has the potential to develop into a much more serious flu.

According to the WHO, nearly half of the 160 people who have died from swine flu have been young and healthy.

That could mean school-age children would be the first priority to receive vaccinations, said Sebelius.

Schools have teamed up with health officials in the past to provide flu vaccinations, although the event is rare.

Last fall, 140 schools scheduled flu vaccinations for students, and some offered them to entire families.

According to Sebelius, meeting President Barack Obama’s top healthcare priority of covering the uninsured could take until 2012 to implement, even if it Congress passes legislation this fall.

Implementing the new programs is estimated to cost over $1 trillion over 10 years.

The administration also plans to eliminate health disparities between minority groups and whites.

According to Sebelius, the most severe disparities are found among American Indians .

She pledged to reverse this “a historic failure of the government,” saying the U.S. must provide free health care on reservations, and give the Indian Health Service the funds it needs.

Sebelius faces the question of whether to push forward with swine flu vaccinations this fall in edition to the annual winter flu vaccination.  Communication on who needs which, or both, vaccines will be a key challenge.

She will soon call together state governors to see that the summer is used to prepare for the possibility of a severe flu season, instead of being “used as vacation months.”

“We can always sort of back off” if the new flu fades away, she said, “but we can’t wait til October hits and say, ‘Oh my heavens, what are we going to do?'”

In 1976, a mass vaccination against a different swine flu occurred, but was spoiled by reports of paralyzing vaccine side effects.

The Food and Drug Administration will thoroughly test for swine flu vaccine safety, Sebelius said.

“The worst of all worlds is to have the vaccine cause more damage than the flu potential,” she added.

Half a million African slaves are at the heart of Mauritania’s presidential election

mauritania_slaves

Supporters of General Mohamed Ould Abdelaziz Photo: AFP/GETTY

More than half a million slaves are at the heart of a presidential election battle in the former French colony of Mauritania.

Telegraph | Jul 11, 2009

By Nick Meo in Nouakchott, Mauritania

A year after she ran away from her master, Barakatu Mint Sayed prays that the election on July 18 will mark the beginning of the end of slavery in Mauritania.

Her nation is one of the last places on Earth where large numbers of humans are still kept as property.

And like thousands of other slaves and freed slaves across the Saharan country, her hopes are fixed on an inspirational candidate, a man born to slave parents who has sworn to put an end to the practice of “owning” humans if he is elected president.

That candidate is Messaoud Ould Boulkheir, a 66-year-old former civil servant with a strong resemblance to the film actor Morgan Freeman. Mr Boulkheir has vowed that in power he would punish slave owners and do everything he can to free their human property.

His prospects of winning power are growing by the day – and he is being hailed as Mauritania’s brightest star by his supporters.

“He is the Obama of Mauritania,” said Boubacar Messaoud, an architect and veteran anti-slavery campaigner in the northwest African desert state. “He is going to bring change, and he represents social justice and equality.”

Officially, slavery has long been abolished in Mauritania, but the law has never been enforced and there are an estimated 600,000 slaves, almost one in five of the country’s 3.2 million people, almost 150 years since the American civil war.

Change will come too late to heal Mrs Sayed’s ruined life. But she knows that victory for Mr Boulkheir could transform the future for the daughter and grandchildren whom she had to leave behind in captivity when she finally summoned the courage to escape.

A black African of Mauritania’s Haratine caste, she was born into slavery about 40 years ago – she is illiterate and has only a hazy idea of time – and grew up as the property of an Arabic-speaking Berber family, in an oasis town deep in the desert.

While her master’s children went to school, she was cooking, cleaning and washing from dawn to dusk. She slept on the floor, and suffered beatings.

“Sometimes I was too tired by the end of the day to eat my food,” Mrs Sayed said at her new home in the capital, Nouakchott, where she now works as a paid housekeeper.

Aged about 10, she was separated from her mother by being given to a cousin of the master as a wedding gift. She remembers crying uncontrollably when they moved to a different town, where she was forbidden from leaving the master’s house.

Another 20 years later she was separated from her own daughter, Mulkheir, when the girl was given away as a teenager – a common trauma for slave families.

Mrs Sayed has never seen her three young grandchildren or met her daughter’s husband. In fact she is not sure whether her daughter even has a husband, or whether Mulkheir’s children were fathered by her master.

It is the kind of life that has been endured for centuries by Mauritania’s slaves, since the first marauding Berber raiders rode out of the desert from the north in the 3rd century to carry off African villagers.

The former slave who would be president believes he can finally bring such suffering to an end.

“All that is needed to free the slaves is willpower,” Mr Boulkheir told The Sunday Telegraph at his modest home in the capital.

A quietly spoken man with a commanding presence, he has a clean reputation in an Islamic nation which has suffered years of corrupt rulers.

The acting president and head of the senate, Ba Mamadou Mbare, is not contesting the election. Of his nine rival candidates, the man Mr Boulkheir has to beat is the self-appointed president of the Higher State Council, General Mohammed Ould Abdelaziz, who led a military coup last year and is the most powerful man in the country. He is the Arabic-speaking former head of security for Ould Taya – the deposed dictator who was driven out by an earlier coup in 2005 and now lives in exile.

Gen Abdelaziz – who has removed his uniform to contest the election in line with the constitution – and his political opponents including Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi, the president he deposed last year, agreed to the polls in a deal brokered by Senegal.

The junta and its opponents had come under intense pressure from the international community to re-establish a democratic government, with the United Nations, European Union and African Union co-sponsoring the mediation.

Gen Abdelaziz’s enemies stop short of claiming that he owns slaves – he was in fact born in poverty and inherited nothing. But they insist that there are slave-owning masters among the ranks of his wealthy supporters.

The two candidates despise each other. Their electoral battle, a novelty in a ramshackle capital which is more used to coups, has enthused its residents, as much as anyone can be enthused in temperatures of 43 degrees centigrade.

Its streets, where sand drifts across the tarmac, are plastered with posters, and nomadic-style tents have been erected in every suburb. Blaring loudspeakers praise the rival candidates at such volume that passing camels and donkeys pulling carts are sent into a panic. With six days to go, diplomats consider the race too close to call.

The votes of slaves who have been registered by their masters may make a critical difference. But campaigners fear that in the great swathes of the country’s dusty hinterland where most of the slaves are kept, thousands will be compelled to cast their votes for Gen Abdelaziz.

Mr Boulkheir’s camp hopes it can pull ahead by energising the freed Haratine – the slave caste which has grown in size and clout in recent years, especially in the cities, as slaves have gradually been freed or run away. Once free, they can join the workforce. Fishing, desert agriculture and iron and gold mining and are the main sources of income for Mauritanians, who on average earn little more than $2 a day, although that could rise if offshore oil exploration ever proves fruitful.

Mr Boulkheir also enjoys the kudos of having being jailed three times by Mauritania’s former military dictatorship for advocating democracy when that looked impossible in the 1990s.

Arabic-speakers as well as black Africans back his bid for power, attracted by his promise of building democracy after years of economic stagnation under military misrule and a chaotic series of coups. He is regarded as the candidate with the best chance of ending conflict between the black majority and the Berber ruling elite. Slave-holding has been abolished three times, first by the country’s former French overlords and then twice by different rulers of the independent state, most recently in 2007. But the law has never been enforced and no slave owner has ever been prosecuted.

“Many slaves have been freed in Mauritania now, and if I am elected I will speed up the process,” Mr Boulkheir said. “Slave owners will be punished, for the first time in our history. Justice will be implemented.

“I will do everything in my power to end this curse of slavery.”

In this, he has a deeply personal motivation. Soon after he was born his mother was beaten almost to death by the master from whom his parents had run away. They only managed to escape to freedom because of help from the French authorities.

Their son overcame the handicap of his birth to find a job as a civil servant and rise to a senior rank.

He knows that ending slavery will not prove easy, especially in the vastness of the Sahara where pastoralists and nomads endure a harsh existence which has barely been touched by the modern world.

Not all slaves suffer abuse. If they are lucky, masters feed and care for them as if they are family members, albeit inferior ones, and they will eat and pray with their slaves.

In bondage, the Haratine work as labourers: herding animals; working in date groves; or doing the household chores while the master’s family laze around.

Centuries of indoctrination have persuaded the Sahara’s captives that slavery is religiously ordained – slaves are taught that if they run away they will be barred from heaven. As a local saying puts it: “Paradise is under your master’s foot.” In some remote places a runaway will still be hunted down by nomad masters.

If they are brave enough, boys do often escape when they reach their late teens, but for women and children it is much harder. They know that with no skills or education a life of hunger or prostitution is the realistic alternative to captivity, and many escaped slaves return to their masters to beg forgiveness.

In the oasis towns of the desert masters are still powerful, but after 20 years of international pressure – and encouraged by such Western organisations as Anti-Slavery International, which help local campaigners to challenge the entrenched culture – few are prepared to discuss slavery openly.

A Berber driver, who would only give his first name, Mohammed, defended slavery. “It is our religion and custom,” he said.

“Why does the international community try to stop it? The slaves are better off with their masters. This is their fate. When they leave, they starve.”