Blogs

Public Health Officials Warn of Drug-Resistant Tuberculosis Strain

| Tue May 29, 2007 9:16 PM EDT

A man flew back and forth on commercial flights across the Atlantic before landing in an isolation ward, diagnosed with a particularly virulent and drug-resistant strain of tuberculosis. The case is so serious that the director of the Centers for Disease Control, Dr. Julie Gerberding, announced the matter herself, and issued a federal quarantine order.

Interesting facts from the New York Times story:

Tuberculosis kills about 1.6 million people each year worldwide.... At any given time, one person in three worldwide is infected with dormant tuberculosis germs, according to the World Health Organization. People become ill when the bacteria become active, usually when a person's immunity declines, whether because of advancing age, HIV infection or some other medical problem.

That's why we called it "the Patient Predator." For more, read this terrifying essay by Kevin Patterson in Mother Jones. He writes:

Tuberculosis infection has been so prevalent that for most of human history it was an almost normal, if often lethal, part of the human bio-niche.... The most devastating infection in the world is not Ebola or Lyme disease, West Nile virus or even HIV, but tuberculosis.

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How To Spare Polar Bears The Bullet

| Tue May 29, 2007 9:14 PM EDT

Polar bears are in trouble from global warming, melting ice, and toxins in the marine foodweb. Do they really need to be hunted too? No, says the Humane Society of the United States, Defenders of Wildlife, and the International Fund for Animal Welfare. The three groups have called on the Senate to act on bipartisan legislation to close a loophole in the Marine Mammal Protection Act. This loophole currently allows wealthy American trophy hunters to bring the heads and hides of hundreds of imperiled polar bears into the United States from the Canadian Arctic.

The legislation, S. 1406, to close the loophole in the law was introduced by U.S. Senators John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), and by U.S. Reps. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.) and Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.) as H.R. 2327 in the House of Representatives.

"The polar bear has become a tragic symbol of our threatened environment, and of the wildlife that pays the price for dangerous practices," Sen. Kerry said. "It's time to put the polar bear on the Endangered Species List, and give them a fighting chance at survival. But it also means that we must close the loophole that allows for trophy hunting by U.S. sport hunters in Canada. Not only must these bears contend with their home melting away, but they are also being hunted in the limited habitat they have left. It's time to take responsibility for their survival. We need to pick up the pieces and change our practices, before it's too late."

HSUS asks those who agree with this legislation to contact their reps in DC & urge them to close the loophole. --JULIA WHITTY

Fight Takes Shape at International Whaling Commission Meeting

| Tue May 29, 2007 8:43 PM EDT

The annual International Whaling Commission Meeting is underway in Anchorage, Alaska. Hardy Jones of Bluevoice reports in his blog what's at stake this crucial year.

The votes will be close. The Japanese have bought more than a dozen small nations and thus threaten to open the doors to legal whaling for the first time in twenty years. Since 1987 Japan and other nations like Iceland and Norway have only been able to conduct whaling under an article in the IWC treaty that allows for scientific whaling. Of course Japan has exploited that loophole to do pseudo-science and then sell the meat from the whales they have "researched" by harpooning and cutting them into steaks… The twenty-year moratorium on whaling, which went into effect in 1987 and was the cause of joyous celebration among those of us who love whales, is set to expire. And several nations, along with their prostitute allies, will be seeking to open the world to legal whaling.

The IWC is a perverse organization--a huge room full of men and a few women sitting down to determine the life or death of whales swimming thousands of miles away in the Antarctic or in the North Atlantic. The most odious plan Japan has brought forth is to kill humpback whales in the Antarctic. The issue will be raised Wednesday. We will follow this closely as it represents spitting in the face of tens of thousands of people around the world who not only love these whales in aggregate but know them personally, individually and marvel each year when the whales return on their migrations to Moorea, New Zealand, Australia, Tonga, Rurutu, Raritonga, New Caledonia and other areas of the Southern Ocean.

Fingers crossed, emails ready to fire… we'll be following closely. --JULIA WHITTY

Overseas Foods To Lose Organic Status in UK?

| Tue May 29, 2007 8:06 PM EDT

Food flown into the UK may be stripped of organic status because of concern about greenhouse gas emissions. The move is being considered by the Soil Association, which certifies what foods are organic, reports the BBC. Due to growing demands to cut the environmental impact of food distribution, the organization is considering five options to reduce the carbon footprint of air-freighted food, including an outright ban, or showing a product's country of origin, and/or carbon offsetting schemes.

Let's hope the UK gives this overdue boost to local foods (check out more on this movement in "No Bar Code," Mother Jones, May/Jun 2006)… And for some really interesting developments on this much-needed front, Mark Heffernan in Wisconsin tells me of some community-based food systems in his area, as well as fascinating developments in the field of vertical farming, designed to feed urban populations… Wow. Food never looked so sci-fi. --JULIA WHITTY

Dems Virtually Assured Victory, Pessimist Reports, Tempting Fate

| Tue May 29, 2007 7:34 PM EDT

A new Rasmussen poll shows that if Barack Obama were to face Mitt Romney in the general election, he would trounce him by 12 percentage points. Fred Thompson fared slightly better against the black Harvard man, losing by just 7 percentage points. Another Rasmussen poll indicated that John Edwards could route Republicans on a scale resembling the 65-13 Oklahoma-University of Texas game of 2003. (Oddly, Rasmussen hasn't run the Clinton matchups, but other polls have predicted Hillary faring poorly in the general election.) I cautioned in a previous post against counting on a Democratic victory, but now I'm wondering, why even bother to hold a general election, when polls show that Americans believe Dems are better suited to lead even on issues that Republicans have historically owned, such as national security (46 percent trust Democrats more) and taxes (the Democrats lead 47 to 42 percent)? Democrats enjoy double-digit advantages on ethics and government corruption and the war in Iraq as well as on their traditional issues, including education, social security, immigration, and health care.

Elephant Herds Found On Isolated Sudanese Island

| Tue May 29, 2007 7:32 PM EDT

Wildlife experts have located hundreds of wild elephants on a treeless island in the swamps of south Sudan. The herds have avoided unchecked hunting in this isolated sanctuary during more than 20 years of war, reports Reuters. "We flew out of a cloud, and there they were. It was like something out of Jurassic Park," said Tom Catterson, working on a US-funded environment programme in south Sudan. Environmentalists are keeping the location of the island secret to prevent poachers from killing the animals… Life is resilient. Hopefully more than we ever get to know. --JULIA WHITTY

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The Case of the Missing Bees: It's the Flowers, Dummy

| Tue May 29, 2007 6:58 PM EDT

Today's Salon features a round-table discussion that's the real bees' knees on the disappearing bee problem. The scientists seem to agree that the precipitous drop-off in domesticated honeybee populations (no one keeps track of wild bee populations) was likely caused, at least in part, by the unavailability of nutritious pollen. (The theory that cellphones are doing it didn't get much traction.) Jeffery Pettis, who heads the research program at the USDA's honeybee lab, observes that "all pollinators -- which rely on a diversity of flowers -- are in decline." Eric Mussen, of the Honey Bee Research Facility at the University of California at Davis, explains:

Honeybees rely on pollen for protein, vitamins, fats and minerals. …If we are having a typical year, and the rains come, there aren't too many places in the United States where the bees cannot find their mix of pollens to meet their dietary needs. …What happens when…you get this blast of hot temperature [at] about the time the flower buds are forming and the pollen grains are beginning to form[?] …You get sterile pollen.

Lack of sufficient food leaves honeybees with compromised immune systems, making them vulnerable to parasites. Honeybees play a major role in the agricultural production of fruit and nuts. Mussen puts it this way:

Bees are a necessary part of our food production. If we don't grow our own cherries and apples, can't we just buy them somewhere else? The answer is yes. But do we want to become as dependent on foreign nations for our food as we are dependent on them for fuel?

The disappearing bees also point to another problem, explains Wayne Esaias, a NASA climatologist and amateur beekeeper. We don't have any idea how climate change will affect blooming trees:

[E]cologists in general have not paid attention to the timing of blooming and nectar availability and quality of pollen.… As a kind of a climatologist, I'm getting paid to study the impact of potential global warming scenarios on our ecology. There's a lot of research being done on carbon cycling, but without information about when the plants bloom and how the quality of the flora changes, we are in a poor position to assess the effect of changes in temperature and rainfall on our ecosystems.

In other words, the models, which are already predicting disaster, aren't even accurate because we have immense gaps in our knowledge of the interconnectedness of plants and animals. That spells serious trouble.

Anti-War Republican Wins "Iraq Joke of the Day" Contest

| Tue May 29, 2007 4:12 PM EDT

Our buddy Walter Jones (R-N.C.) has a suggestion for Paul Wolfowitz's next job: Mayor of Baghdad. You broke it, you buy run it, Paul.

Ron Paul is Still Throwing Elbows

| Tue May 29, 2007 1:50 PM EDT

Libertarian, internet sensation, and Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul takes on Rudy Giuliani, explains why he's the only real Republican in the race, and comments on the importance of the internet for candidates like him who "can't raise $100 million."

I think the campaign needs characters like Paul and Mike Gravel. There will be months and months of dissection of the frontrunners and eventual nominees (some might argue there already has been). If we didn't have other people to focus on in these early months, we'd all be so burned out by the primaries that we wouldn't have any energy or attention span left for the general election. Besides, Paul is a smart, likable guy who I only disagree with 60 or 70 percent of the time. Better than most in his party!

Illegal Immigration - Terrorism Nexus Debunked

| Tue May 29, 2007 11:55 AM EDT

The anti-immigration forces have long pushed the myth that cracking down on illegal immigration is necessary to stop terrorism from seeping into the United States.

They might want to tell the Department of Homeland Security about their game plan. According to a new study that analyzed millions of records obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, only 0.0015 percent of cases filed in immigration courts by the Department of Homeland Security have had anything to do with terrorism. Only 0.014 percent pertained to national security.

The rest were mundane immigration cases. According to the study, 85 percent of the charges involved infractions such as not having a valid immigrant visa, overstaying a student visa, or entering the United States without an inspection.

So the Department of Homeland Security's immigration department is protecting our country from over-ambitious graduate students instead of terrorists. Unless there really aren't any terrorists trying to sneak in across the southwestern desert, in which case someone might want to fact-check Michelle Malkin.