Daily Archives: August 30, 2009

Experts say Swine Flu warnings may be overblown

Doctors Question WHO’s Severe Swine Flu Warning

Some Say While Severe Swine Flu Exists, Warnings May Be Overblown

ABC | Aug 29, 2009

The World Health Organization warned Friday that doctors around the world are now reporting a severe form of swine flu that goes straight to the lungs of otherwise healthy young people — but some infectious disease experts said the alarm could be unwarranted.

The WHO update comes in the wake of reports from some countries that as many as 15 percent of patients infected with the new H1N1 pandemic virus require extensive — and expensive — hospital care.

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“During the winter season in the southern hemisphere, several countries have viewed the need for intensive care as the greatest burden on health services,” the report said. “Preparedness measures need to anticipate this increased demand on intensive care units, which could be overwhelmed by a sudden surge in the number of severe cases.”

But infectious disease experts from both inside and outside the government say that the phrasing used by WHO raises some questions — particularly because the existence of such a form of the disease is not a new development.

“WHO is certainly putting the fear of [God] in people with this type of release,” said William Muraskin, a professor of urban studies at Queens College in New York, who is a specialist in international health. “The description by the WHO is similar to lung infections that claimed so many young people during the 1918 pandemic.”

Dr. Julie Gerberding, former director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, noted, “Severe pneumonia occurred in 1918 too, but we cannot confirm the pathophysiology is the exactly the same.”

And Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health, one of the government’s preeminent figures on swine flu, told ABC News’ Brian Hartman, “The severity should not be anything near what we saw in 1918 — again, underscoring that things can change.

“But if what we’re seeing now is predictive of what we’ll be seeing in the fall and the winter this looks like a mild to moderate, not a very severe, pandemic.”

Swine Flu May Not Be as Deadly as Past Pandemics

Indeed, many believe that the ultimate impact of the swine flu will not be as disastrous as that of pandemics of times past.

“The total mortality remains extremely low,” said John Barry, author of “The Great Influenza.” “And as far as the cases go, it’s important to remember that while such [severe] cases have been seen, they are extremely rare.”

But rare or not, the severe form of the illness is a deadly emergency. Dr. Jeffrey Boscamp, chair in pediatrics at the Children’s Hospital at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey, said that the lung infection triggers a syndrome called acute respiratory distress syndrome.

“The lung becomes a battleground: the virus versus all of the immunologic components that are recruited to the lung to fight the infection,” Boscamp said. “The inflammation is so severe that it becomes impossible for the lung to put oxygen back into the blood.

“When oxygenation becomes impossible, other organs — kidneys, heart, et cetera — fail, and death can be the outcome.”

And Dr. Greg Poland, director of the Vaccine Research Group at the Mayo Clinic, noted that the intensive care doctors he works with are in contact with other intensivists around the world who describe a bleeding, or hemorrhagic, lung infection. Poland said these doctors “are indeed seeing high viral, overwhelming viral, pneumonia, which then leads to hemorrhagic pneumonitis and severe respiratory distress syndrome; this has been requiring extraordinarily intensive therapy.”

A spike in such severe cases could have big implications for hospitals, some fear.

“I have seen a number of these cases, with a number of deaths,” said Dr. Christian Sandrock, medical director of the Intensive Care Unit at the University of California Davis Medical Center.

He added that while doctors can treat patients with much more specialized medical care now, if these very sick patients increase in numbers at hospitals, “These are the patients that are going to crush us.”

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Dont Inject Me the Swine Flu Vaccine Song Music Video

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Police search babies for weapons and drugs

Three babies were searched for weapons and drugs by police, new figures disclose.

Telegraph | Aug 28, 2009

A Freedom of Information request found that a one-year-old and two babies ”0 years of age” were stopped and searched by Norfolk Constabulary this year.

Police said that since 2007, 32 children aged nine and younger were searched by officers in the county.

A Norfolk police spokesman said: ”A typical call about a group of children and young people dealing drugs could involve searching everyone in the group.

”Furthermore, a child could be given drugs or weapons to stash, either willingly or unwillingly, even concealing such items in push chairs or prams.”

Since 2007, most of those searched were aged nine, but five babies not yet a year old were searched by officers. Two one-year-olds and three two-year-olds have also been subject to scrutiny by police.

In the past two years a total 6,113 children under the age of 17 have been stopped and searched in Norfolk.

Revealed: Lockerbie link to oil exploration deal

London Times | Aug 30, 2009

by Jason Allardyce

The British government decided it was “in the overwhelming interests of the United Kingdom” to make Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, the Lockerbie bomber, eligible for return to Libya, leaked ministerial letters reveal.

Brown_GaddafiGordon Brown’s government made the decision after discussions between Libya and BP over a multi-million-pound oil exploration deal had hit difficulties. These were resolved soon afterwards.

The letters were sent two years ago by Jack Straw, the justice secretary, to Kenny MacAskill, his counterpart in Scotland, who has been widely criticised for taking the formal decision to permit Megrahi’s release.

The correspondence makes it plain that the key decision to include Megrahi in a deal with Libya to allow prisoners to return home was, in fact, taken in London for British national interests.

Edward Davey, the Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman, said: “This is the strongest evidence yet that the British government has been involved for a long time in talks over al-Megrahi in which commercial considerations have been central to their thinking.”

Two letters dated five months apart show that Straw initially intended to exclude Megrahi from a prisoner transfer agreement with Colonel Muammar Gadaffi, under which British and Libyan prisoners could serve out their sentences in their home country.

In a letter dated July 26, 2007, Straw said he favoured an option to leave out Megrahi by stipulating that any prisoners convicted before a specified date would not be considered for transfer.

Downing Street had also said Megrahi would not be included under the agreement.

Straw then switched his position as Libya used its deal with BP as a bargaining chip to insist the Lockerbie bomber was included.

The exploration deal for oil and gas, potentially worth up to £15 billion, was announced in May 2007. Six months later the agreement was still waiting to be ratified.

On December 19, 2007, Straw wrote to MacAskill announcing that the UK government was abandoning its attempt to exclude Megrahi from the prisoner transfer agreement, citing the national interest.

In a letter leaked by a Whitehall source, he wrote: “I had previously accepted the importance of the al-Megrahi issue to Scotland and said I would try to get an exclusion for him on the face of the agreement. I have not been able to secure an explicit exclusion.

“The wider negotiations with the Libyans are reaching a critical stage and, in view of the overwhelming interests for the United Kingdom, I have agreed that in this instance the [prisoner transfer agreement] should be in the standard form and not mention any individual.”

Within six weeks of the government climbdown, Libya had ratified the BP deal. The prisoner transfer agreement was finalised in May this year, leading to Libya formally applying for Megrahi to be transferred to its custody.

Saif Gadaffi, the colonel’s son, has insisted that negotiation over the release of Megrahi was linked with the BP oil deal: “The fight to get the [transfer] agreement lasted a long time and was very political, but I want to make clear that we didn’t mention Mr Megrahi.

“At all times we talked about the [prisoner transfer agreement]. It was obvious we were talking about him. We all knew that was what we were talking about.

“People should not get angry because we were talking about commerce or oil. We signed an oil deal at the same time. The commerce and oil deals were all with the [prisoner transfer agreement].”

His account is confirmed by other sources. Sir Richard Dalton, a former British ambassador to Libya and a board member of the Libyan British Business Council, said: “Nobody doubted Libya wanted BP and BP was confident its commitment would go through. But the timing of the final authority to spend real money was dependent on politics.”

Bob Monetti of New Jersey, whose son Rick was among the victims of the 1988 bombing, said: “It’s always been about business.”

BP denied that political factors were involved in the deal’s ratification or that it had stalled during negotiations over the prisoner transfer talks.

A Ministry of Justice spokesman denied there had been a U-turn, but said trade considerations had been a factor in negotiating the prisoner exchange deal. He said Straw had unsuccessfully tried to accommodate the wish of the Scottish government to exclude Megrahi from agreement.

The spokesman claimed the deal was ultimately “academic” because Megrahi had been released on compassionate grounds: “The negotiations on the [transfer agreement] were part of wider negotiations aimed at the normalisation of relations with Libya, which included a range of areas, including trade.

“The exclusion or inclusion of Megrahi would not serve any practical purpose because the Scottish executive always had a veto on whether to transfer him.”

A spokesman for Lord Mandelson said he had not changed his position that the release of Megrahi was not linked to trade deals.

Man-made volcanoes may cool Earth

London Times | Aug 30, 2009

by Jonathan Leake

THE Royal Society is backing research into simulated volcanic eruptions, spraying millions of tons of dust into the air, in an attempt to stave off climate change.

The society will this week call for a global programme of studies into geo-engineering — the manipulation of the Earth’s climate to counteract global warming — as the world struggles to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

It will suggest in a report that pouring sulphur-based particles into the upper atmosphere could be one of the few options available to humanity to keep the world cool.

The intervention by the Royal Society comes amid tension ahead of the United Nations-sponsored climate talks in Copenhagen in December to agree global cuts in carbon dioxide emissions. Preliminary discussions have gone so badly that many scientists believe geo-engineering will be needed as a “plan B”.

Ken Caldeira, an earth scientist at Stanford University, California, and a member of a Royal Society working group on geo-engineering, said dust sprayed into the stratosphere in volcanic eruptions was known to cool the Earth by reflecting light back into space.

“If I had a dollar for geo-engineering research I would put 90 cents of it into stratospheric aerosols and 10 cents into everything else,” said Caldeira.

The interest in so-called aerosols is linked to the eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines in 1991, the second largest volcanic eruption of the 20th century. The explosion blasted up to 20m tons of tiny sulphur particles into the air, cooling the planet by about 0.5C before they fell back to earth.

The Royal Society is Britain’s premier science institution and its decision to take geo-engineering seriously is a measure of the desperation felt by scientists about climate change.

Brian Launder, a professor at Manchester University, who is also on the working group, recently said that without CO2 reductions or geo-engineering “civilisation as we know it will end within our grandchildren’s lifetime”. “The only rational scheme is to reduce the sunlight reaching Earth and to reflect back more of it,” he said.

The world’s population generates the equivalent of 50 billion tons of CO2 a year, a figure which is projected to reach 60-70 billion tons by 2030 on current trends.

Scientists warn that the planet could warm by 5C by 2100 and say emissions must fall to 20 billion tons a year by 2050 if a disaster is to be averted.

However, many researchers and policymakers regard this target as impossible.

The Royal Society report is expected to draw partly on research by Tim Lenton, professor of earth sciences at the University of East Anglia, who has just completed the first big comparison of different forms of geo-engineering.

“We estimate that 1.5-5m tons of sulphate particles could be released [artificially] into the stratosphere each year on a recurring basis,” said Lenton.

“This is quite a small amount, which makes it potentially economically viable, but it could reduce global temperature rise by up to 2C.”

The study investigates several other proposals for geo-engineering, dividing them into two broad approaches. One approach involves reducing the sunlight reaching the Earth’s surface — a premise that lies behind both aerosol release and the construction of mirrors in space.

Lenton regards the latter idea as “science fiction”, pointing out that any space sunshade would need a surface area of 1.8m square miles to be effective.

Another suggestion for cutting the light reaching the Earth is cloud-whitening, where salt water is sprayed into the air from thousands of ships, producing brighter clouds.

However, the Met Office has attacked this idea in its submission to the Royal Society, warning that it could cut rainfall in areas such as the Amazon and Africa.

Vicky Pope, head of climate change advice at the Met Office, said: “If humanity starts messing with the world’s cloud systems it is bound to have major side effects, some of which will be dangerous.”

The other main approach to geo-engineering is to try to accelerate the rate at which CO2 is removed from the air by plants and ocean plankton, or through chemicals.

This is the basis of ideas such as ocean fertilisation, where nutrients such as iron are added to water to promote plankton growth. Plankton absorb CO2 as they grow and carry it down to the seabed when they die.

Such techniques would have relatively few adverse side effects but the disadvantage, the report will say, is that they would take far too long to make significant cuts in atmospheric CO2.

The same criticism applies to the idea of using giant artificial filters driven by nuclear power that chemically strip CO2 from the air.

John Shepherd, professor of earth system science at the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton, who chaired the Royal Society working party, is expected to warn of other problems. Any measures that are taken may have to be kept going for decades or even centuries.

Met Office research has suggested that if techniques such as sulphate aerosols were to be suddenly discontinued the Earth could experience a disastrous warming surge.

Muammar Gadaffi’s son moving into $32 million London home

DAVOS/

Saif al-Islam, son of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, attends a session at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos January 30, 2009. More than 40 heads of state and government — almost double the number last year — will be joined at the WEF meeting by 36 finance ministers and central bankers, including the central bank chiefs of all the G8 group of rich countries except the United States.

He is the chairman of the Gaddafi International Charity and Development Foundation which donated £1.5m in July to a new global governance unit at the London School of Economics, of which he is a graduate.

London Times | Aug 30, 2009

by Kevin Dowling

SAIF GADAFFI, the son of the Libyan ruler, is moving his burgeoning media empire to London as he seeks to capitalise on blossoming trade ties with Britain.

Gadaffi, who escorted Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, the freed Lockerbie bomber, from Scotland to Tripoli, has bought a £10m home in Hampstead, north London.

Staff at Gadaffi’s television news company, Al Mutawassit, are moving to the UK — with the first broadcast planned this week — and their boss is expected to follow. Ultimately, it aims to rival Al-Jazeera, the leading Arab news channel, with the launch of a website and newspaper.

Whitehall sources confirmed that Gadaffi, 37, had been granted a UK visitor’s visa that allows him to stay in Britain for up to six months.

Widely seen as the most likely successor to his father, the urbane second son of Muammar Gadaffi has built an impressive international political network.

He is the chairman of the Gaddafi International Charity and Development Foundation which donated £1.5m in July to a new global governance unit at the London School of Economics, of which he is a graduate.

Lockerbie bomber calls for a public inquiry

London Times | Aug 29, 2009

by Robin Henry

The Lockerbie bomber is calling for a public inquiry into the atrocity for which he was convicted of killing 270 people.

Abdul Baset Ali al-Megrahi, who has always protested his innocence, says it is ‘unfair’ to the victims’ families not to have an inquiry into the bombing.

He also accused the UK government of pandering to pressure from America and claims to hold documents which could shed a new light on the 1988 airplane disaster.

Speaking from his bed at his home in Tripoli, al-Megrahi said he backed calls led by Dr Jim Swire, whose 23-year-old daughter died in the crash, for a fresh inquiry.

He said: “I would want to help Dr Swire and the others with the documents I hold.

“In my view, it is unfair to the victim’s families that this has not been heard. It would help them to know the truth. The truth never dies. If the UK guaranteed it, I would be very supportive.”

“My feeling is that the UK government will avoid a public inquiry because it would be a headache for them and the Americans and it would show how much the Americans have been involved and it would also cost them a lot of money which they may not want to spend because of the recession.”

His comments today are sure to add to the controversy surrounding his early release.

Al-Megrahi, who is suffering terminal cancer, was freed by the Scottish government on compassionate grounds.

Television images of him receiving a hero’s welcome on returning to Libya and being hugged by Colonel Gaddafi have sparked outrage, particularly in America, where President Obama condemned the release.

There have also been allegations that the UK government influenced the Scottish government’s decision in order to secure an lucrative deal to receive oil and gas from Libya.

Last week Gordon Brown was forced to personally dismiss any suggestion of a deal, following similar denials from both the foreign secretary David Miliband and business secretary Lord Mandelson.

Today it emerged al-Megrahi’s release broke a pledge made to the US government a decade ago.

Robin Cook, then foreign secretary, promised Madeleine Albright, US secretary of state at the time, that anyone found guilty of the Lockerbie bombing would serve their sentence in Scotland.

In January 2001 Al-Megrahi was found guilty of the murder of 270 people and sentenced to life imprisonment, but has served just eight years.

Secret delegation of bankers went batting for British corporate interests in Tripoli

On board were the architect Lord Foster of Thames Bank; Lord Guthrie of Craigiebank, the former Army Chief of Staff; Sir John Bond, the chairman of HSBC, Britain’s biggest bank, and the financier Lord Rothschild. Lord Rothschild brought along his youngest son, Nathaniel, and the party was accompanied by four executives from a public relations firm run by Lord Bell.

London Times | Aug 29, 2009

by David Robertson, Richard Kerbaj and David Brown

A delegation of influential establishment figures arrived in Libya to ease the way for the return of British businesses ten days after Tony Blair ended the country’s diplomatic isolation, The Times has learnt.

They landed at the same Tripoli airport at which the Lockerbie bomber was given a hero’s welcome last week amid speculation about how far Britain’s business interests had influenced the decision to release him.

Mr Blair became the first prime minister since Churchill to travel to Libya when he held his “Big Tent” meeting with Colonel Gaddafi in March 2004. Less than a fortnight later a flight laid on by the Libyan leader’s son, Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, brought representatives from British businesses.

On board were the architect Lord Foster of Thames Bank; Lord Guthrie of Craigiebank, the former Army Chief of Staff; Sir John Bond, the chairman of HSBC, Britain’s biggest bank, and the financier Lord Rothschild. Lord Rothschild brought along his youngest son, Nathaniel, and the party was accompanied by four executives from a public relations firm run by Lord Bell.

The delegation marked the first steps by British business back into Libya since the United Nations imposed sanctions in 1992. At stake was access to oil and gas reserves and the opportunity to profit from the country’s $90 billion sovereign wealth fund, the Libyan Investment Authority.

Lord Rothschild, 73, was until last year an adviser to the Libyan Investment Authority and Mr Bond’s HSBC is understood to be managing billions of dollars for the fund. Lord Foster’s company, Foster & Partners, has signed contracts for two large developments.

Mr Blair returned to Libya in March 2007 for a meeting with Colonel Gaddafi at which they signed “memorandums of understanding” covering defence, tourism, economic and financial development and health: all areas where British business could benefit.

Sir Howard Davies, the head of the London School of Economics and former head of the Financial Services Authority, was asked by Mr Blair to be his economic envoy to Libya in 2007, partly because Saif Gaddafi was taking a PhD at the LSE.

“The aim was to facilitate various links between the Libyan authorities and the financial authorities in the UK,” Sir Howard said.

Almost 100 other major companies are members of the Libya British Business Council, which is chaired by Lord Trefgarne, a former defence procurement minister in the Thatcher Government. Defence is potentially one of the most lucrative areas of business as Libya looks to upgrade its equipment.

Since the 2007 agreement, defence sales to Libya have grown rapidly from £5 million to £12 million last year and £9 million in the first three months of this year alone.

The biggest potential beneficiaries will be the oil companies, as Libya has the largest reserves in Africa. On the day that Mr Blair returned to Libya in May 2007, BP announced a £545 million deal to explore for oil. Shell and BG Group have also signed exploration deals.

The big carrot for the City is Libya’s national wealth, which is being invested by the LIA. About 60 per cent of its capital is yet to be invested. This could be very lucrative for the banks and a trade mission of 24 asset managers went to Libya in May to tout for business. But behind the renewed friendship lurked the presence of Abdul Baset Ali al-Megrahi, who was convicted in 2001 of the bombing of a Pan Am airliner above Lockerbie in December 1988, in which 270 people were killed.

The Libyan authorities insist that he is the victim of a miscarriage of justice. Saif Gaddafi said at the weekend that he was referred to in all negotiations with Britain and Mr Blair admitted this week that the bomber’s future was discussed during his 2007 visit.

A line in the official joint communique issued after that visit which referred to “judicial co-operation and training” went unnoticed at the time.

However, the Memorandum of Understanding signed two months later committed the Government to agree to a deal within 12 months on transferring prisoners back to their home countries, and to seeking the agreement of the devolved jurisdictions. The deal was signed by the Government last November, with the intention that it would implemented by the following March.

On March 3 the influential Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights wrote to Jack Straw, the Justice Secretary, seeking a delay in implementation. In a highly unusual move Mr Straw, who was Foreign Secretary at the time of the 2004 deal with Libya, refused. He said that it was “likely to lead to serious questions on the part of Libya in regards to our willingness to conclude arrangements”.

A month after the law was implemented the Libyan Government applied for al-Megrahi to be transferred home.

Saif Gaddafi said yesterday that the original prisoner transfer agreement (PTA) was directly linked to talk on trade and oil — and that al-Megrahi was central. “We have tried many times in the past to sign the PTA without mentioning Mr Megrahi, but it was obvious we were targeting Mr Megrahi and the PTA was on the table all the time,” he said.

When al-Megrahi was found to have cancer, British expatriates in Libya were warned that they faced serious repercussions if he died in prison. It was a threat to be taken seriously. When Colonel Gaddafi’s son Hannibal Gaddafi and his wife were arrested in Geneva accused of beating two of their servants, the Libyans imposed economic sanctions and seized two Swiss businessmen in Tripoli.

The Italians have also paid a heavy price. Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian Prime Minister, has been forced to agree to pay $5 billion over 25 years as compensation for colonial-era misdeeds. But there have also been benefits for Mr Berlusconi, whose broadcasting company Mediaset last year announced that it had bought a 25 per cent stake in Nessma, a Tunisian-based satellite channel broadcasting into Libya.

For British interests the al-Megrahi issue was resolved when he was returned to Libya after being released on compassionate grounds.

Mohamed Fezzani, a Libyan-born former banker and a board member of the Libyan British Business Council, said: “We were worried he would die in prison, which would have affected the business side in Libya. The relationship is good already but this will give it an enhancement and clear the air.”

Whatever the reason, al-Megrahi’s arrival in Tripoli means that for British interests it is now business as usual.