Daily Archives: August 4, 2010

In Russia, the age of Putin Mark II is looming. And it could last until he’s 72

Telegraph | Aug 3, 2010 

By Andrew Osborn World

Although Russia’s next presidential election, in the spring of 2012, is still some way off, one man has already started campaigning: Vladimir Putin. The 57-year-old former KGB spy and current prime minister has repeatedly claimed not to have decided whether he will run. But actions speak louder than words.

In recent weeks, Mr Putin has donned black fingerless gloves to ride a Harley Davidson, turned up in a village destroyed by forest fires to console its newly homeless residents, and – in an admission as surreal as it was bizarre – spoken wistfully of singing patriotic songs with the ten Russian spies recently expelled from the United States. On all three occasions, he used the tough rhetoric that ordinary Russians love and understand. He looked comfortable playing his favourite role: macho man.

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 Putin Sang Songs While Russia Burned

Meanwhile, President Dmitry Medvedev, the other man who might contest the presidency in 2012, has played the geeky Kremlin clerk. He has toyed with his new iPad, issued dry directives from the comfort of his Kremlin office, and generally played second fiddle. Yet appearances can be deceiving. Mr Putin’s electioneering is more about preparing public opinion and conditioning perceptions than a genuine popularity contest. More than halfway through Mr Medvedev’s presidential term, almost every serious political analyst still regards Mr Putin as Russia’s most powerful politician. He does not need to campaign in a conventional Western sense. He only needs to go through the motions so that any decision taken by the small coterie of people who rule Russia looks legitimate in the people’s eyes.

Mr Putin bought himself an option to return to the presidency the day he was forced to step down in May 2008 due to a constitutional term limit. It was a neat trick. He nominated a hand-picked loyalist, Dmitry Medvedev, to succeed him as president, and Mr Medvedev promptly returned the favour by appointing Mr Putin as prime minister. Since then, Mr Medvedev, a much softer personality than the flintier Mr Putin, has struggled to be taken seriously as an independent politician. Significantly, Mr Medvedev says he could not imagine running against Mr Putin.

The question: what would the age of Putin Mark II look like? Would it be any different in real terms to the situation today, when Mr Putin continues to call many of the shots from backstage anyway? One thing is certain: if Mr Putin does decide to return to his old job, he could stay there for much longer. Presidential terms have been extended to six years from four years since he stood aside and he would be entitled to serve a further two consecutive terms, potentially allowing him to stay in power until 2024, at which point he would be 72 years old.

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6 cities to train mail carriers to dispense anti-terror drugs

In 2001, workers prepare to test for anthrax at the Brentwood postal facility in Washington, D.C., after two workers there died of anthrax inhalation. File photo by Shawn Thew, AFP

USA TODAY | Aug 3, 2010

By Mimi Hall

WASHINGTON — The Postal Service is ready to deliver lifesaving drugs to about a quarter of the residents of Minneapolis-St. Paul, the only metropolitan area in the nation where letter carriers have been trained to dispense medication after a large-scale terrorist attack involving biological weapons.

Six years after the government began exploring the idea of using postal workers as rapid-response medicine dispensers and eight months after President Obama ordered government agencies to develop a plan to do so, efforts are underway in six cities to train workers to deliver the drugs needed to counter anthrax or other potentially deadly agents, the White House says.

The White House won’t name the six cities, and Department of Homeland Security spokeswoman Amy Kudwa says she can’t talk about whether more cities are interested in the voluntary program.

Cities are not required to adopt the plan, and most have separate plans in place to set up distribution centers in schools, community health centers and other government buildings where people can go to pick up drugs in the event of an attack. The White House, however, says using the Postal Service is a cost-effective and efficient way to create a reliable system for drug distribution in a crisis because postal workers can get drugs to the elderly and others who can’t get out easily or wait in long lines.

“We need the capability” to get lifesaving drugs to people in a hurry because in the case of an anthrax attack, in particular, “what we know is: hours matter,” White House spokesman Nick Shapiro says.

He says “many cities have expressed interest” in the program, especially now that there is a successful model to follow in Minneapolis.

The nation’s capital is among them. “We’re still looking at it,” says Dena Iverson of the District of Columbia Department of Health.

The projected cost to set up the program and train postal workers: $1 million per city, according to the White House.

In 2001, shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, a series of small-scale anthrax attacks killed five people. Victims can be saved, however, if they begin taking antibiotics soon after they’ve been exposed.

“It doesn’t make any difference if we make all these new antibiotics and vaccines if we don’t have ways to get them to people,” says Randall Larsen of the WMD Center, a think tank that focuses on bioterrorism.

The idea of having letter carriers deliver drugs to people in their homes has been discussed since 2004.

Since then:

•In 2006 and 2007, test runs were done in Seattle, Philadelphia and Boston.

•In 2008, the Bush administration issued an emergency order allowing the Food and Drug Administration to approve advance distribution of antibiotics to letter carriers who volunteer for the program and their families so that they would be protected from exposure to anything they encounter on their rounds.

•In December 2009, Obama issued an executive order to jump-start the process. It gave federal agencies 180 days to develop a Postal Service model that could be replicated around the country. It also required the government to meet a demand from the Postal Service: that workers delivering the drugs be accompanied by law enforcement officers to protect them from panicked and potentially violent crowds.

Now, “we’re fine if they (terrorists) attack Minneapolis,” says James Talent, former vice chairman of the Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission. The Postal Service has “proven they can do it.”

With a model in place, the White House says it is working to expand the voluntary program to cities across the country.

Natalie Grant director of Boston’s Office of Public Health Preparedness says the city is awaiting instruction from the federal government about how to proceed.

Minneapolis postal worker Chris Wittenburg of the National Association of Letter Carriers says setting up the program is complicated. First, letter carriers have to volunteer, undergo medical tests to make sure they can take the antibiotics, be fitted for masks (no facial hair allowed) and be trained. Routes have to be combined, and systems set up to suspend regular mail delivery in an instant, call postal workers in and send them out carrying boxes of drugs and fliers telling people what to do.

About 60% of the city’s letter carriers volunteered for the program, which was given a trial run in May.

Workers there can now deliver drugs to 205,000 households, or 575,000 people, within eight hours. Officials plan to expand the program to reach all 735,000 households in the metro area.

The need to get drugs or other antidotes to people fast is a “unique situation,” Wittenburg says, “and the Postal Service is really the only organization with the capability to pull it off.”