September 10, 2010
The Associated Press
By: Min Lee
The vaccine used to contain the recent swine flu pandemic was effective, but health authorities will need to ramp up the speed and volume of production during the next global outbreak, a World Health Organization official said Monday.
The WHO declared last month that the swine flu pandemic that started in June 2009 was over, after it killed about 18,600 people worldwide, far less than the worse-case scenarios in which authorities said millions could die.
The widespread use of vaccines was critical in limiting the number of casualties, with studies showing they offered protection in up to 95 percent of cases, WHO official David Wood said at a news conference on the sidelines of an influenza conference in Hong Kong.
Some 350 million doses of the vaccine were administered worldwide, according to WHO figures.
“That gives us considerable hope for the future, for the future pandemics, that the technologies that we have to actually make the vaccines are” effective, said Wood, the quality and safety team co-ordinator for the WHO’s immunization and vaccines department.
But while vaccines became available six months after the H1N1 virus strain behind the pandemic was identified in April 2009, that was still too late for some countries, he said. In the case of the U.S., vaccination started on Oct. 5, 2009 — weeks after a second wave of cases hit as schools resumed, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention flu expert Nancy Cox told reporters.
The WHO is studying ways to make vaccines more quickly, Wood said without offering specifics, adding that technological breakthroughs will also speed up the process.
“In the short term, we’ll be able to make some gains of weeks that Nancy was talking about that can make all the difference. In the longer term, we may even have these new technologies that shorten our lag more significantly, so I’m quite optimistic,” Wood said.
The WHO official also said the global healthy body is working on increasing global production capacity beyond the centers of Europe, America and China, targeting countries like India, Indonesia, Thailand, Brazil and Mexico.
The WHO was accused by some of hyping the pandemic, prompting excessive buying of vaccines and antiviral drugs that enriched drug companies. Asked about such accusations, Wood said the organization only advised countries to vaccinate high-risk groups, like health care workers and pregnant women.
“I believe that the recommendations that came from the organization were proportionate to the risks that we had at the time,” he said.
August 6th, 2010
By: Helen Jung
It’s hardly unusual to hear small-business owners gripe about licensing requirements or complain that heavy-handed regulations are driving them into the red.
So when Multnomah County shut down an enterprise last week for operating without a license, you might just sigh and say, there they go again.
Except this entrepreneur was a 7-year-old named Julie Murphy. Her business was a lemonade stand at the Last Thursday monthly art fair in Northeast Portland. The government regulation she violated? Failing to get a $120 temporary restaurant license.
Turns out that kids’ lemonade stands — those constants of summertime — are supposed to get a permit in Oregon, particularly at big events that happen to be patrolled regularly by county health inspectors.
“I understand the reason behind what they’re doing and it’s a neighborhood event, and they’re trying to generate revenue,” said Jon Kawaguchi, environmental health supervisor for the Multnomah County Health Department. “But we still need to put the public’s health first.”
Julie had become enamored of the idea of having a stand after watching an episode of cartoon pig Olivia running one, said her mother, Maria Fife. The two live in Oregon City, but Fife knew her daughter would get few customers if she set up her stand at home.
Plus, Fife had just attended Last Thursday along Portland’s Northeast Alberta Street for the first time and loved the friendly feel and the diversity of the grass-roots event. She put the two things together and promised to take her daughter in July.
The girl worked on a sign, coloring in the letters and decorating it with a drawing of a person saying “Yummy.” She made a list of supplies.
Then, with gallons of bottled water and packets of Kool-Aid, they drove up last Thursday with a friend and her daughter. They loaded a wheelbarrow that Julie steered to the corner of Northeast 26th and Alberta and settled into a space between a painter and a couple who sold handmade bags and kids’ clothing.
Even before her daughter had finished making the first batch of lemonade, a man walked up to buy a 50-cent cup.
“They wanted to support a little 7-year-old to earn a little extra summer loot,” she said. “People know what’s going on.”
Even so, Julie was careful about making the lemonade, cleaning her hands with hand sanitizer, using a scoop for the bagged ice and keeping everything covered when it wasn’t in use, Fife said.
After 20 minutes, a “lady with a clipboard” came over and asked for their license. When Fife explained they didn’t have one, the woman told them they would need to leave or possibly face a $500 fine.
Surprised, Fife started to pack up. The people staffing the booths next to them encouraged the two to stay, telling them the inspectors had no right to kick them out of the neighborhood gathering. They also suggested that they give away the lemonade and accept donations instead and one of them made an announcement to the crowd to support the lemonade stand.
That’s when business really picked up — and two inspectors came back, Fife said. Julie started crying, while her mother packed up and others confronted the inspectors. “It was a very big scene,” Fife said.
Technically, any lemonade stand — even one on your front lawn — must be licensed under state law, said Eric Pippert, the food-borne illness prevention program manager for the state’s public health division. But county inspectors are unlikely to go after kids selling lemonade on their front lawn unless, he conceded, their front lawn happens to be on Alberta Street during Last Thursday.
“When you go to a public event and set up shop, you’re suddenly engaging in commerce,” he said. “The fact that you’re small-scale I don’t think is relevant.”
Kawaguchi, who oversees the two county inspectors involved, said they must be fair and consistent in their monitoring, no matter the age of the person. “Our role is to protect the public,” he said.
The county’s shutdown of the lemonade stand was publicized by Michael Franklin, the man at the booth next to Fife and her daughter. Franklin contributes to the Bottom Up Radio Network, an online anarchist site, and interviewed Fife for his show.
Franklin is also organizing a “Lemonade Revolt” for Last Thursday in August. He’s calling on anarchists, neighbors and others to come early for the event and grab space for lemonade stands on Alberta between Northeast 25th and Northeast 26th.
As for Julie, the 7-year-old still tells her mother “it was a bad day.” When she complains about the health inspector, Fife reminds her that the woman was just doing her job. She also promised to help her try again — at an upcoming neighborhood garage sale.
While Fife said she does see the need for some food safety regulation, she thinks the county went too far in trying to control events as unstructured as Last Thursday.
“As far as Last Thursday is concerned, people know when they are coming there that it’s more or less a free-for-all,” she said. “It’s gotten to the point where they need to be in all of our decisions. They don’t trust us to make good choices on our own.”
June 23, 2010
By Alan Zibel
WASHINGTON (AP) — Sales of new homes collapsed in May, sinking 33 percent to the lowest level on record as potential buyers stopped shopping for homes once they could no longer receive government tax credits.
The bleak report from the Commerce Department is the first sign of how the end of federal tax credits could weigh on the nation’s housing market.
The credits expired April 30. That’s when a new-home buyer would have had to sign a contract to qualify.
“We fear that the appetite to buy a home has disappeared alongside the tax credit,” Paul Dales, U.S. economist with Capital Economics,” wrote in a note. “After all, unemployment remains high, job security is low and credit conditions are tight.”
New-home sales in May fell from April to a seasonally adjusted annual sales pace of 300,000, the government said Wednesday. That was the slowest sales pace on records dating back to 1963. And it’s the largest monthly drop on record. Sales have now sunk 78 percent from their peak in July 2005.
June 17, 2010
By Paul Joseph Watson
The federal government would have “absolute power” to shut down the Internet under the terms of a new US Senate bill being pushed by Joe Lieberman, legislation which would hand President Obama a figurative “kill switch” to seize control of the world wide web in response to a Homeland Security directive.
Lieberman has been pushing for government regulation of the Internet for years under the guise of cybersecurity, but this new bill goes even further in handing emergency powers over to the feds which could be used to silence free speech under the pretext of a national emergency.
“The legislation says that companies such as broadband providers, search engines or software firms that the US Government selects “shall immediately comply with any emergency measure or action developed” by the Department of Homeland Security. Anyone failing to comply would be fined,” reports ZDNet’s Declan McCullagh.
The 197-page bill (PDF) is entitled Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act, or PCNAA.
Technology lobbying group TechAmerica warned that the legislation created “the potential for absolute power,” while the Center for Democracy and Technology worried that the bill’s emergency powers “include authority to shut down or limit internet traffic on private systems.”
The bill has the vehement support of Senator Jay Rockefeller, who last year asked during a congressional hearing, “Would it had been better if we’d have never invented the Internet?” while fearmongering about cyber-terrorists preparing attacks.
The largest Internet-based corporations are seemingly happy with the bill, primarily because it contains language that will give them immunity from civil lawsuits and also reimburse them for any costs incurred if the Internet is shut down for a period of time.
June 10, 2010
By Shobhana Chandra
June 10 (Bloomberg) — More Americans than anticipated filed applications for unemployment benefits last week, a sign firings remain elevated even as the economy is expanding.
Initial jobless claims dropped by 3,000 to 456,000 in the week ended June 5, Labor Department figures showed today in Washington. Economists surveyed by Bloomberg News projected 450,000 claims, according to the median forecast. The number of people receiving unemployment insurance fell to the lowest level since 2008, while those getting extended payments climbed.
While payrolls rose for a fifth month in May, hiring by companies was less than forecast, underscoring Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke’s comments yesterday that there will be “only a slow reduction” in the unemployment rate. Job gains are needed to spur consumer spending, which accounts for 70 percent of the economy, and ensure a sustained expansion.
“The labor market is not as healthy as it should be at this stage of the recovery,” said John Herrmann, senior fixed- income strategist at State Street Global Markets LLC in Boston, who forecast claims at 453,000. “Hiring isn’t ramping up and this means there are downside risks to growth, income and consumption.”
The U.S. trade deficit widened in April to the highest level in more than a year as exports dropped more than imports, a report from the Commerce Department showed. The gap grew 0.6 percent to $40.3 billion, the most since December 2008.
April 27, 2010
Indianapolis – The state health department’s H1N1 hotline is no more. The state health commissioner shut down the toll-free number due to a lack of activity.
Health officials want to make sure the public knows the deactivation does not mean H1N1 is gone completely. They are still encouraging hoosiers to get vaccinated.
If H1N1 activity increases, the state could bring the hotline back. The hotline had been open since October.