Current Events

Swine Flu–Deadly Pig Disease Reaches Humans

Reuters reported on April 24 that “The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Friday it was too late to contain the swine flu outbreak in the United States.”

On April 27, the Huffington Post published an interesting article by journalist David Kirby about the swine flu. We are bringing you the following excerpts:

“Officials from the CDC and USDA will likely arrive in Mexico soon to help investigate the deadly new influenza virus that managed to jump from pigs to people in a previously unseen mutated form that can readily spread among humans. One of the first things they will want to look at are the hundreds of industrial-scale hog facilities that have sprung up around Mexico in recent years, and the thousands of people employed inside the crowded, pathogen-filled confinement buildings and processing plants.

“Industry calls these massive compounds ‘confined animal feeding operations,’ or CAFOs (KAY-fohs), though most people know them simply as ‘factory farms’… Within each confinement, thousands of pigs are restricted to indoor pens and grain-fed for market, while breeding sows are kept in small metal crates where they spend most of their lives pregnant or nursing piglets… Many of these CAFOs raise tens of thousands of pigs at a time…

“Pigs are nature’s notorious ‘mixing bowls’ for inter-species infections, and many swine flu viruses have long contained human influenza genetic components… So where did this new, virulent and highly infectious influenza emerge from? According to Mexico’s Health Minister, Jose Angel Cordova, the virus ‘mutated from pigs, and then at some point was transmitted to humans.’ It sure sounds like something happened on some farm, somewhere.

“For years, leading scientists around the world have worried that large-scale, indoor swine ‘factories’ would become breeding grounds for new pathogens that could more easily infect humans and then spread out rapidly in the general population – threatening to become a global pandemic… This new strain making headlines and killing people contains genetic components of human flu virus, avian flu virus and – for the first time ever – two types of swine flu virus: American and Eurasian…”

Egypt Slaughters Its Pigs, and Jordan Closes Its Pig Farms

The Associated Press reported on April 29:

“Egypt began slaughtering the roughly 300,000 pigs in the country Wednesday as a precautionary measure against the spread of swine flu even though no cases have been reported here yet, the Health Ministry said… Egypt’s overwhelmingly Muslim population does not eat pork due to religious restrictions. But the animals are raised and consumed by the Christian minority, which some estimates put at 10 percent of the population…

“Pigs can be found in many places around [the] Muslim world, often raised by religious minorities who can eat pork. But they are banned entirely in some Muslim countries including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Libya.

“In Jordan, the government decided Wednesday to shut down the country’s five pig farms, involving 800 animals, for violating public health safety regulations.”

Swine Flu Puzzles Experts

Deutsche Welle wrote on April 27:

“There is nothing unusual about swine flu, which is as commonplace among livestock as seasonal flu is among humans. But the latest outbreak of swine flu… has come as a complete surprise. 
“The new sub-variant of the H1N1 influenza virus, which killed an estimated 40 percent of the world’s population in the pandemic of 1918, has been deadly in Mexico, where it wasn’t recognized for quite some time. What’s puzzling is that the new viral strain is apparently milder in the US, Canada and Spain…

“Although the airborne virus is called swine flu, it is a recombinant mixture of DNA segments from pigs, birds and humans. The virus is a new genetic strain, which medical experts say could mutate into an even more dangerous variant of potentially pandemic proportions, since no one would have immunity to it…

“In the event of a pandemic, the stockpile of anti-virals in Germany is unusually low, compared with Britain and France, where more than half the population could be treated in an emergency. But… there is absolutely no data showing that anti-viral drugs will save a patient’s life… clinical studies… show that anti-virals only reduce the duration of the disease’s symptoms, but [do] not actually kill viruses, which keep mutating and become resistant to drug treatment over time…”

The Worst Case Scenario?

Der Spiegel Online reported on April 28:

“Germany’s health minister says the swine flu outbreak could turn global and that it’s impossible to predict whether it will or not… Bild commented that the German government’s 100-page emergency plan ‘reads like the script of a disaster movie.’ The plan assumes that a full-blown outbreak of a flu such as swine flu could cause up to 103,000 deaths in Germany alone within eight weeks… Around 30 percent of the population would be infected, the report estimates… ‘the virus being widespread… closing borders or restricting travel really has very little effects in stopping the movement of this virus,’ said Mr Fukuda of the WHO.”

How Swine Flu Panic Affects U.S. Economy

USA Today reported on April 28:

“For an ailing global travel industry, swine flu couldn’t have erupted at a worse time. ‘It has the potential to paralyze travel,’ says Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association… ‘Certainly if it gets out of hand,’ it will be catastrophic. There are signs the situation is speedily getting out of hand.

“The U.S. government Monday urged Americans to cancel travel to Mexico if not essential… ‘This is kind of the one-two-three-four-five punch,’ says Jan Freitag, a vice president at the hotel-tracking firm Smith Travel Research. ‘You have a global recession; business travel has been severely curtailed; leisure travel is curtailed because people are not sure they’re going to have jobs; you have a lot of new hotel supply in the pipeline; and oops, now we have the European Union suggesting that travel to the United States is a mistake.’

“Androulla Vassiliou, the European Union’s health commissioner, initially suggested avoiding all non-essential travel to Mexico and the United States. She later softened her warning, stressing she was speaking only for herself, not the entire 27-nation EU, and that it was an advisory, not a ban, that applied only to hot spots. Still, her comments added to fears that the outbreak would hit an ailing industry on the verge of the summer travel season.

“They also revived memories of the 2002-03 outbreak of the severe acute respiratory syndrome epidemic in Asia. SARS prompted a plunge in air travel and cost the global economy $33 billion in 2003… Airline stocks slid Monday, with shares of Continental falling $2.17, or 16.4%… Shares of AMR, parent of American, fell 72 cents, or 13.3%…

“Hotels had a bad day, too. Marriott fell $1.13 (5.1%)… American depositary receipts of InterContinental Hotels Group fell 55 cents, or 5.6%… The travel industry already is reeling under the weight of worldwide recession. Before flu broke out, the global airline industry was on track to lose $4.7 billion this year… In the USA, hotel occupancy was down 10.9% from a year ago, and rates were down 7.7%…”

Several Countries Ban Import of Pork and Isolate Travelers reported on April 26:

“Hong Kong and Taiwan said visitors who came back from flu-affected areas with fevers would be quarantined. China said anyone experiencing flu-like symptoms within two weeks of arrival [from] an affected area had to report to authorities. A Russian health agency said any passenger from North America running a fever would be quarantined until cause of the fever is determined. Tokyo’s Narita airport installed a device to test the temperatures of passengers arriving from Mexico. Indonesia increased surveillance at all entry points for travelers with flu-like symptoms…

“Hong Kong and South Korea warned against travel to the Mexican capital and three affected provinces. Italy, Poland and Venezuela also advised their citizens to postpone travel to affected areas of Mexico and the United States…

“The virus is usually contracted through direct contact with pigs, but Joseph Domenech, chief of animal health service at U.N. Food and Agriculture Agency in Rome, said all indications were that the virus is being spread through human-to-human transmission. No vaccine specifically protects against swine flu, and it is unclear how much protection current human flu vaccines might offer.

“Russia banned the import of meat products from Mexico, California, Texas and Kansas. South Korea said it would increase the number of its influenza virus checks on pork products from Mexico and the U.S. Serbia on Saturday banned all imports of pork from North America…”

Bank of America and Citigroup Fail “Stress Test”

The Associated Press reported on April 28:

“Bank of America… and Citigroup…, which have each received $45 billion in government bailout funds, have been told by regulators that ‘stress test’ results show they may need to raise additional capital… Bank of America is looking at a shortfall in the billions of dollars… Both banks plan to rebut the preliminary findings…

“Banks deemed to have enough capital may learn whether they’ll be permitted to repay billions of dollars the government injected into them last fall… Most large banks have said they want to repay the money to escape executive compensation limits and other obligations. Investors have grown more concerned about regional banks with many risky loans on their books. Defaults on those loans could skyrocket in a worsening economy. Banks that carry such loans are likely to be asked to improve their capital reserves.”

US Treasury “Needs” to Borrow Over $870 Billion

The Associated Press reported on April 27:

“The Treasury Department said Monday it will need to borrow $361 billion in the current April-June quarter, a record amount for that period. It’s the third straight quarter the government’s borrowing needs have set records for those periods. Treasury also estimated it will need to borrow $515 billion in the July-September quarter…

“The huge borrowing needs reflect the soaring costs of the $700 billion financial rescue program and the recession, which is nearing a record as the longest in the post World War II period…

“The administration is projecting the federal deficit for the entire budget year ending Sept. 30, will total a record $1.75 trillion. A deficit at that level would nearly quadruple the previous record of $454.8 billion set last year. To cover the government’s heavy borrowing needs, Congress in February boosted the limit for the national debt to $12.1 trillion as part of the legislation that enacted President Barack Obama’s $787 billion economic stimulus program. The national debt now stands at $11.1 trillion…

“The $361 billion estimate for borrowing this quarter compared with borrowing needs of just $13 billion in the year-ago period. Normally the government’s borrowing needs shrink sharply in the April-June quarter because of all the tax revenue being collected…”

“That Wasn’t Me”

The Associated Press wrote on April 29:

“‘That wasn’t me,’ President Barack Obama said on his 100th day in office, disclaiming responsibility for the huge budget deficit waiting for him on Day One. It actually was him – and the other Democrats controlling Congress the previous two years – who shaped a budget so out of balance. And as a presidential candidate and president-elect, he backed the twilight Bush-era stimulus plan that made the deficit deeper, all before he took over and promoted spending plans that have made it much deeper still.”

Mr. Obama’s First 100 Days–How the British “Times” Sees It

The Times wrote on April 25:

“As the White House prepares to reach the 100 days milestone since President Obama’s inauguration, it is being true to the form shown over the preceding 99: to exploit ruthlessly American politics while simultaneously asking that the President be judged by a different standard. The strategy is to swat aside any effort to reach an early verdict, on the ground that the Administration has faced unprecedented challenges, but to acknowledge nonetheless that Wednesday — on which the 100th day falls — may be a useful moment to reflect on how much has been accomplished…

“By any measure the pace has been frenetic. The President has ordered the closure of the Guantánamo Bay prison camp, the end of ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ and for troops to be withdrawn from Iraq; recast military strategy in Afghanistan; travelled to nine countries and met the leaders of almost 60. On top of this he has signed legislation that makes it easier for women to sue for job discrimination and extends health coverage to millions of children; eased a ban on stem-cell research; sacked the head of General Motors; intervened in the housing and credit markets; reached out to the Muslim world; tried to improve relations with Cuba; drawn up a $3.6 trillion (£2.4 trillion) budget and forced a bitterly contested $787 billion stimulus Bill through Congress…

“The President is intensely aware of criticism that he is being overambitious… advisers acknowledge that Mr Obama’s reach may exceed his grasp… Nor is the President quite as infallible as he seemed before the inauguration… In the past week the contradictory statements coming out of the White House on the need to investigate or prosecute those responsible for CIA interrogations showed how swiftly a popular policy on banning torture or allowing transparency can unravel.

“Such episodes are symptoms of the difficulty in moving from campaigning — when all politicians can do is make speeches and promises — to governing, when words ultimately have to be judged by results… Having underestimated the scale of public anger over executive bonuses he then whipped it up by railing so hard against the insurance giant AIG that employees began getting death threats…

“His approval ratings, hovering in the low 60s, are almost identical to those of George Bush eight years ago. Aides say that Mr Obama’s popularity is neither unique nor permanent… Mr Obama is a politician grappling with enormous problems and making a slow descent to earth.”

Obama’s First 100 Days–How the German “Der Spiegel” Sees It

On April 30, Der Spiegel Online published an article, titled: “The Most Expensive President Since 1945.”

It continued:

“The new US president’s first 100 days in office were expensive, glamorous and often contradictory…

“[On the] subject [of communication], the new president is truly a world-class performer. In fact we Germans might like to send our chancellor, Angela Merkel, to the White House for a four-week internship under Mr. Obama.

“… the president has performed poorly when it comes to the central political issue of the day [that of managing the financial crisis]. Obama has ignited a dangerous time bomb in the US government’s budget. The economic stimulus program and the billions in bailout funds for Wall Street banks are being paid for primarily with borrowed funds. Obama’s first 100 days have been the most costly in American postwar history.

“… The bailout programs are not being paid for with ‘taxpayer money,’ as Obama claims. Instead, the money is coming from the savings of the frugal Japanese, Chinese and Europeans… Not only is this is costly, but it is also extremely risky. More important, it is not sustainable. By taking this approach, Obama is only leading his country more deeply into dependence on creditors from around the world. Before long, anyone who wishes to attack America will no longer need nuclear weapons, but merely sufficient dollar reserves. China already has close to $2 trillion (€1.5 trillion) stored away in its coffers…

“Things are not exactly adding up when it comes to Obama’s economic policy. The effects of economic stimulus packages are usually short-lived. For many people, the government’s programs will seem to herald a speedy end to the crisis, but the light at the end of the tunnel will be fueled by burning dollar bills. When the flames subside, darkness will return…

“Obama wants to help establish a modern healthcare system in America — at last. Fifty million people currently have no health insurance. Their situation is hardly better than it might have been during the Middle Ages… But there is one thing the president has neglected to tell his fellow Americans. A first-class medical system cannot be purchased at Walmart discount prices. His promises of further tax cuts and health-care reforms are mutually exclusive. He will have to break one of the two promises…

“The foreign policy motto of his predecessor could have been: ‘If you don’t want to be my brother, I’ll smash your skull.’ Obama clearly takes a different approach to foreign policy… In the coming years, people will start asking themselves: What does America get in return? Is it a soft or a hard currency to be open? The answer will most likely be found in Tehran, Beijing and Moscow…

“Commander-in-chief Obama is sending mixed messages. On the one hand, he is taking a dovish approach to the Arabs, extending his hand to Islam and offering a peace pipe to the Russians. On the other hand…, the US military is adding large numbers of troops to its forces in Afghanistan, while unmanned drones are being used to stage attacks in Pakistan’s border region… His strategy has already bred results, but they are not what he expected. Anti-American sentiment is growing in Pakistan… If Pakistan, a nuclear state, falls into the hands of fundamentalists, Obama will have handed the West more than just another defeat…

“The closing of the CIA prison in Guantanamo Bay and the ban on torture in interrogations brought the sinister practices of the Bush years to a necessary end. This deserves respect, but not applause. Obama’s America is merely returning to the normal state of a democratic nation governed by the rule of law. Although the torture practices have been abolished, no one is being called to account…

“Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner is increasingly proving to be a weak point in Obama’s cabinet… This year, bank bonuses are likely to be twice as high as they were before the crisis. This may be a nuisance during normal times, but today — in light of the government’s bailouts of the banks — it is nothing short of scandalous…

“Vice President Joe Biden is… known for his charm as well as his wagging tongue. He embarrassed his boss, for example, when he said of the bailout plans in Washington: ‘If we do everything right, if we do it with absolute certainty, there’s still a 30 percent chance we’re going to get it wrong’…

“So far, the Obama presidency is as contradictory as reality. No one today can say whether he will end up being the president he wants to be… Many US newspapers speak admiringly of Obama, calling him ‘larger than life.’ But that too remains to be seen. Perhaps life will turn out to be larger than Obama.”

The Demise of the Superpower USA

Der Spiegel Online wrote on April 29:

“The severe crisis is affecting the United States, which is already in a weakened position, and it could accelerate the country’s relative demise as a superpower which already began a long time ago. American industry, or what is left of it, is already in a deplorable condition today… The history of the US auto industry… is the history of America as an economic superpower, from its brilliant ascent to its agonizingly slow demise…

“Never before has a country lived at the expense of the future with such reckless abandon. The United States today is an economy that sucks in the savings of other nations. America currently needs more than half of worldwide savings merely to avoid falling below the levels of previous years. The government and private households borrow roughly $1 billion (€760 million) on each business day… Even when adjusted for the size of today’s economy, the US’s current debts significantly exceed debt levels during the Great Depression. The superpower has become an empire of debt. The most dangerous element of President Obama’s crisis management program is that this debt is not being reduced, but expanded.

“… no one knows whether… all the money being thrown at the aggressive virus fueling this crisis will only make it worse. Debts are being fought with debts, meaning that not only banks but entire countries could end up bankrupt. Perhaps the efforts to combat the current crisis are merely laying the foundations for the next crisis, which will be bigger still.”

“Plane Stupid”

The Daily News reported on April 27:

“A perfect storm of idiocy led to a frightening 9/11 flashback for thousands of New Yorkers Monday when a jumbo jet and an F-16 fighter jet buzzed lower Manhattan without warning. A ‘furious’ Mayor Bloomberg denounced the dunces who dreamed up the stunt – and the NYPD officials and bureaucrats who never told him about it… Sources said the chief reason for the panic-inducing flight was to create souvenir pictures of Air Force One flying over the Statue of Liberty to be given out – like a presidential tie clip – to family, friends or supporters…

“The planes appeared on the horizon around 10 a.m. and sent a chill through the city. Flying in as low as 1,000 feet to 1,500 feet above New York City, they circled the Statue of Liberty before flying over Manhattan, Staten Island and New Jersey. Before they vanished, hundreds of frightened people had jammed emergency phone lines, and thousands of terrified people evacuated from buildings in the city and across the river in New Jersey… ‘The President was furious,’ a White House insider said.”

CBS wrote on April 28:

“Federal officials knew that sending two fighter jets and Air Force One to buzz ground zero and Lady Liberty might set off nightmarish fears of a 9/11 replay… But they demanded total secrecy from the NYPD, the Secret Service, the FBI and even the mayor’s office and threatened federal sanctions if the secret got out…”

According to Bloomberg, dated April 28, “The flight by the VC-25… and two F-16 fighter jets cost $328,835, Air Force spokeswoman Vicki Stein said.” 

It’s Politics–Specter Becomes a Democrat, Possibly Giving Democrats Full Control of the Senate

The Washington Post reported on April 28:

“Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter will switch parties and run for reelection in November 2010 as a Democrat, he announced today, a decision that could have wide-ranging consequences for the Senate and President Obama’s agenda. Specter told reporters that he received a ‘bleak’ poll Friday from his advisers that showed virtually no chance of him winning in the GOP primary next spring against Pat Toomey, a former Republican House member…

“The move brings Democrats to 59 seats in the Senate, just one shy of the 60 they need to exert filibuster-proof control over the chamber. In Minnesota, Democrat Al Franken holds a 312-vote lead over former senator Norm Coleman (R), but Coleman has appealed the result to the state Supreme Court. Oral arguments in the case are expected to begin in June… Assuming the court sides with Franken in Minnesota, it will mark the first time since the 95th Congress — 1977 to 1979 — that Democrats have controlled 60 or more Senate seats.”

Pros and Cons of Global Warming

The Associated Press wrote on April 24:

“Former Vice President Al Gore, the leading American voice on climate change, urged lawmakers Friday to… take action to reduce greenhouse gases, but Democrats and Republicans sparred even more vigorously over the cost of dealing with global warming.

“Gore, who won a Nobel prize for his work on climate change, told a congressional hearing that ‘the dire and growing threat’ of a warmer earth requires the parties to unite to deal with the environmental threat. He endorsed a House Democratic bill that would limit carbon dioxide and other pollution linked to warming… But former House Speaker Newt Gingrich… argued that the Democratic proposal to reduce greenhouse gases would ‘punish the American people’ by imposing higher energy costs and threatening jobs…

“The House bill calls for mandatory reductions in carbon dioxide and five other greenhouse gases by 20 percent from 2005 levels by 2020, and 83 percent by mid-century. It also would require utilities to produce a quarter of their electricity from renewable sources by 2025 and impose new efficiency requirements… Rep. Joe Barton of Texas, the committee’s top Republican, argued that the proposed ‘cap-and-trade’ system would cost tens of billions of dollars a year… House Republican Leader John Boehner of Ohio denounced the draft bill as a ‘massive national energy tax on every American …. who drives a car, buys a product manufactured in the United States, or has the audacity to flip on a light switch’…

“While Republicans were critical, some Democrats expressed concern as well. ‘How do we protect our people?’ asked Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., whose state is reeling from the economic recession and is home to many energy-intensive industries, including the ailing auto industry. Dingell said he’s not convinced the bill will protect U.S. jobs, especially if China isn’t forced to take similar actions.”

How Democrats Suppress Global Warming Dissent

News Climate Depot reported on April 25:

“UK’s Lord Christopher Monckton, a former science advisor to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, claimed House Democrats have refused to allow him to appear alongside former Vice President Al Gore at a high profile global warming hearing on Friday April 24, 2009 at 10am in Washington. Monckton told Climate Depot that the Democrats rescinded his scheduled joint appearance at the House Energy and Commerce hearing on Friday. Monckton said he was informed that he would not be allowed to testify alongside Gore when his plane landed from England Thursday afternoon.

“‘The House Democrats don’t want Gore humiliated, so they slammed the door of the Capitol in my face,’ Monckton told Climate Depot in an exclusive interview. ‘They are cowards.’… According to Monckton, House Democrats told the Republican committee staff earlier this week that they would be putting forward an unnamed ‘celebrity’ as their star witness Friday… The ‘celebrity’ witness turned out to be Gore. Monckton said the GOP replied they would respond to the Democrats’ ‘celebrity’ with an unnamed ‘celebrity’ of their own. But Monckton claims that when the Democrats were told who the GOP witness would be, they refused to allow him to testify alongside Gore… ‘The Democrats have a lot to learn about the right of free speech under the US Constitution’…, Monckton said from the airport Thursday evening.”

Soon Civil Unrest in Germany Over Bad Economy?

Netzeitung reported on April 26:

“The economic crisis is hitting the German psyche hard; a new survey says 72 percent of Germans are scared by the crisis and over 30 percent would demonstrate on the streets… In the last week, German politicians and union leaders have debated whether or not social unrest will arrive in Germany once companies are forced to lay off workers and the economy slows down further.

“The Sunday survey in Bild am Sonntag says 54 percent of Germans believe there will be unrest in the coming months. Eastern Germans are gloomier, with 61 percent percent believing that unrest is coming. West Germans are more likely to take to the streets than those from the east, the survey found, with 34 percent of westerners saying they would demonstrate compared to only 27 percent of easterners.

“The first big test of whether Germany’s social fabric is fraying comes… on May 1st, the annual day of work celebrated all over Europe, often with labor demonstrations. In Berlin, where the annual demonstrations often turn violent, with anarchists burning cars and clashing with police, the city is preparing for larger-than-usual rallies. ‘Attacks by extremists on police are rising,’ Konrad Freiberg, the head of the Union of Police, told Bild. ‘Already by May first, the violence threatens to escalate.'”

The Great Depression of 1929–Is History Repeating Itself in 2009?

Der Spiegel Online wrote the following on April 29:

“Is history repeating itself? The current global downturn has many parallels to the Great Depression. And if the current massive bailout packages fail, the effect on the world’s economies could be similarly drastic…

“More than 5 million people in the United States have lost their jobs since the crisis began. As if the country were undergoing fever convulsions, more than 650,000 were catapulted into the streets in the last month alone.

“Most experts are now convinced that Germany will follow the United States along this downward trajectory… Unemployment will rise sharply. It is expected to exceed 4 million by this fall and hit 5 million by next year. By then, at the latest, the crisis will have become reality for millions of people, as it reaches private households, forces more companies into bankruptcy and pushes countless loans into default, only making things worse for the country’s already ailing banks…

“In the wake of the economic crisis, Germany fell into the hands of the Nazis. The slogan, ‘Hitler – Our Last Hope,’ was plastered on campaign posters in the 1930s. Many agreed with the sentiment at the time… On May 2, 1930, Hitler, a man who had been ridiculed until then, was suddenly speaking to a packed house at Berlin’s Sportpalast hall. Now the people, or at least a significant portion of the people, were eager to hear Hitler speak.

“After the Reichstag election in the late summer of 1930, a splinter group had suddenly become a force to be reckoned with. The Nazi Party won 18.3 percent of the vote and 107 seats in the Reichstag, making it the country’s second-most powerful party. The economic crisis had catapulted the party to power within just a short space of time.

“Berlin is not Weimar. And the current economic crisis has not produced any noticeable political changes — at least not yet… This could change if the crisis worsens and unemployment rises significantly…”

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