Category Archives: Development

On the mad utopian dreams of neoliberals

A recent episode of Christ Hedges’s news series for Telesur English features an interview with Canadian intellectual provocateur John Ralston Saul on the twisted origins and pernicious intellectual distortions of neoliberal ideology.

An erudite scholar and ferocious analyst, Saul has relentlessly pilloried the intellectual perversions underlying much of modern economic thought in a series of books [most famously Voltaire’s Bastards: The Dictatorship of Reason in the West] and essays, with his most recent targets being the twisted rationales employed by apologists for an economic order that has given rise to modern plutocracy.

In conversation with Hedges, Saul worries that modern neoliberalism has proven to resemble Beniuto Mussolini’s fascism.

From The Real News Network:

Days of Revolt: Neoliberalism as Utopianism

From the transcript:

SAUL: Right? And what they did, most universities, was they did an intellectual cleansing of the economic historians to remove the possibility of doubt, the possibility of speculation on ideas, leaving these sort of hapless — mainly hapless macroeconomists, who fell quite easily into the hands, frankly, of the ideologues, the neoliberals, neoconservatives, who were — you know, let’s face it. What is this ideology? It’s an ideology of inevitability, an ideology based on self-interest, an ideology in which there is no real memory. And at the end of the day, it really is — it’s about power and money.

HEDGES: It’s about, you write, making every aspect of society conform to the dictates of the marketplace, which, as you point out, there’s nothing — and I think you say something like 2,000 or 5,000 years of human history to justify the absurdity that you should run a society based on —

SAUL: On the marketplace.

HEDGES: — the marketplace.

SAUL: Let me just take a tiny step back as a historical marker, which is the day that I realized that the neos were claiming that Edmund Burke was their godfather or whatever, I realized that we were into both lunacy and the denial of history, ‘cause, of course, in spite of his rather crazy things about Mary Antoinette and the French Revolution, most of his career was about inclusion, standing against slavery, standing for the American Revolution, and of course leading a fight for anti-racism and anti-imperialism in India — amazing democratic [incompr.] a liberal in the terms of the early 19th century. So when you see that these guys were trying to claim him, it’s like lunatics today claiming Christ or Muhammad to do absolutely unacceptable things.

And I think that the fascinating thing is once you get rid of history, once you get rid of memory, which they’ve done with economics, you suddenly start presenting economics as something that it isn’t, and you start saying, well, the market will lead. And these entirely theoretically sophisticated experts are quoting the invisible hand, which is, of course, an entirely low-level religious image–it’s the invisible hand of God, right, running the universe. As soon as you hear that term and they say, oh, that’s what Adam Smith said — but when you talk to them, they haven’t read Adam Smith. Adam Smith isn’t taught in the departments of economics. You get quotes from Adam Smith even when you’re doing an MA or whatever. They don’t know Adam Smith. They don’t know that he actually was a great voice for fairness, incredibly distrustful of businessmen and powerful businessmen, and said never allow them to be alone in a room together or they’ll combine and falsify the market and so on, so that what we’ve seen in the last half-century is this remarkable thing of big sophisticated societies allowing the marketplace to be pushed from, say, third or fourth spot of importance to number one and saying that the whole of society must be in a sense structured and judged and put together through the eyes of the marketplace and the rules of the marketplace. Nobody’s ever done this before.

HEDGES: How did it happen?

SAUL: Well, I mean, I think it happened gradually, partly by this emptying out of the public space, by this gradual —

HEDGES: What do you mean by that?

SAUL: Well, by the advancing of the idea of the technocracy and the gradual reduction of the space of serious political debate and ideas, and with that the rise of kinds of politicians who would be reliant on the technocracy and really were not themselves voices of ideas that would lead somewhere, you know, the humanist tradition, democratic tradition, egalitarian tradition. And we can see this all sort of petering out. And you can like them or dislike them, but you can see when the real idea of debate of ideas and risk on policy starts to peter out with Johnson and suddenly you’re into either populists or technocrats.

Quote of the day: World Bank and human rights

From Philip Alston, United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, writing at Open Democracy:

The existing approach taken by the World Bank to human rights is incoherent, counterproductive and unsustainable. It is based on an out-dated legal analysis and shaped by deep misperceptions of what a human rights policy would require. In its operational policies in particular, the Bank treats human rights more like an infectious disease than universal values and obligations. For most purposes, the World Bank is a human rights-free zone.  These are harsh words, but unfortunately they are warranted.

The World Bank matters. When it comes to eliminating extreme poverty, it is arguably the single most important international agency. Eliminating extreme poverty is one of its two central goals, and its research is more voluminous and influential than that of its peers. It remains the key standard-setter in many areas—its knowledge and expertise are often crucial and its seal of approval frequently encourages the participation of other donors or investors.

Based on my careful analysis of the actual practice of the Bank, the following propositions seem to encapsulate its approach: (a) pay lip service to human rights in official settings, as long as there are no consequences; (b) acknowledge the theoretical significance of human rights in studies and analyses of issues in relation to which they are incontestably relevant; (c) ensure that, as a general rule, the Bank does not engage with any aspect of human rights in its actual operations and lending; and (d) be prepared to make exceptions when political imperatives require it, even if that leads to a high degree of inconsistency.

EbolaWatch: Numbers, politics, orphans, burials

We begin with the latest case counts, via the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

BLOG Ebola

Next, via the New York Times, a diagnosis:

Ebola-Stricken Countries Lagged in Health Systems

The world has spent more than $4 billion fighting Ebola, but according to a new report from Save the Children, it would have cost only $1.6 billion to bring health care systems up to minimum standards in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, which might have prevented the outbreak or ended it faster.

Even before Ebola struck West Africa, more than 25 countries had health care systems worse than those in impoverished Liberia and Sierra Leone, the report also found.

The assessment, released last week, relied on typical health measures like infant mortality, childhood immunization rates and numbers of health care workers per capita. But it also included assessments of fairness, such as government health spending and how often the poorest of the poor had doctors, nurses or midwives present at births.

On to Liberia with numbers from StarAfrica:

Liberia’s deaths at 6,097 since Ebola epidemic – official

A total of 6,097 deaths were recorded nationwide since the outbreak of the deadly Ebola epidemic in Liberia, according to an official of the Incident Management System (IMS).

Dehwehn Yeabah who heads, the Dead Body Management Team of the IMS told the Ministry of Information’s daily briefing in Monrovia on Monday that the figure represents the combined total of both Ebola and non-Ebola deaths from March 2014 to February 2015 nationwide.

Yeabah explained that of this figure, 2,711 bodies were cremated, while 3,386 bodies were safely buried by burial teams around the country. According to Yeabah, oral swab procedures were performed on a total of 70.61 percent of the recorded bodies.

Next, via Sputnik, a declaration nears:

Liberia is Close to Be Declared Ebola-Free

Good news is coming from Liberia, as the country may soon be declared Ebola-free. To mark this, the government in Monrovia decided to dismantle a crematorium and remove drums containing the ashes of over 3,000 Ebola victims.

The Liberian government decided to dismantle a crematorium and remove drums that contain the ashes of more than 3,000 Ebola victims who were cremated at the height of the deadly epidemic.

Liberia began to cremate the bodies of Ebola victims after communities across the country rejected traditional burials, fearing that the deadly virus could contaminate the soil and spread further. At the same time, traditional burial practices include customs, like washing and touching of the dead, which could further spread the disease. Therefore, it was decided that it would be safer for everyone to cremate the bodies of the dead.

From the Associated Press, a major landmark:

Liberia removes Ebola crematorium as outbreak is contained

Marking the progress in controlling its Ebola outbreak, the Liberian government dismantled a crematorium and removed drums containing the ashes of more than 3,000 Ebola victims cremated during the height of the epidemic, whose last patient was discharged last week.

Liberia resorted to cremating the bodies of Ebola victims when communities rejected burials in their areas for fear the disease could spread and contaminate their soil and affect them. The cremations were very controversial because they were against traditional burial practices. But those customs, including washing and touching the dead, spread the deadly Ebola which brought the government to impose cremations.

Religious leaders gathered Saturday at the former crematorium outside Monrovia and prayed for the victims who came from many different religious groups, Acting Information Minister Isaac Jackson told The Associated Press.

More from FrontPageAfrica:

‘Gross Disrespect’: Ebola Victims Get Befitting Burial

It was a scene of grief and sorrow as the remains of nearly 3,000 victims of the deadly Ebola Virus were transferred from the Boys Town crematorium to the new cemetery specifically for Ebola burials, located at Disco Hill on the Roberts International Airport highway. Relatives of the dead showed up in their numbers clad in white suits and red head ties as the drums of bones were lifted from pickup trucks dripped with white and red binding cloths.

Cecelia Parker lost three of her relatives to the deadly Ebola virus, as she saw the drums filled with ashes, she broke down in tears. Like many of the families who showed up at the site the grief was difficult to endure. “I lost three persons and their ashes are in there; my sister, my two sisters, and a cousin and it hurts and you see me; my two sisters left eight children with me. Right now, I just need the government to help me with the education of the children,” she said weeping bitterly.

Marvin Wesley came all the way from Bomi County to see the last resting place of his relatives who succumbed to the deadly virus last year. He was in tears and said his heart was heavy because he lost two of his family members to the virus at the Island Clinic Ebola Treatment Unit. But Wesley said he is relieved that the ashes of his brothers have finally found a proper and decent resting place.

From the New Dawn, a political verdict:

Saah Joseph on Sierra-Leone’s Ebola Response

The head of the First Response Ebola Team from Liberia to Sierra Leone, Montserrado County Representative Saah Joseph, says his team in Sierra Leone was making all mobilization efforts in villages for awareness on the Deadly Ebola Virus.

Representative Joseph told the Truth FM Breakfast show on Monday that members of his the team walk were trekking from village to village and home to home to create awareness on the necessary preventive measures against Ebola, saying the First response has made a difference towards these efforts, and that the people of Sierra Leone were positively responding, as well as showing respect and trust in the team.

He added that the people of Sierra Leone see the entire team as the representative of the Government and people of Liberia. He noted that five members from the Team have been deployed to the border between Sierra Leone and Liberia to test anyone coming and going out of the two countries, not only for Ebola cases, but any other related disease.

From AllAfrica, a call for support:

Liberia: Health Official Wants Support for Ebola Survivors

The Coordinator of the Ebola Survivors Network at the Ministry of Health, Rev. Meekie Glayweon, says the ministry is currently collaborating with partners to provide care for the estimated 2,000 Ebola survivors in the country.

Rev. Glayweon said more than 900 of the Ebola survivors reside in Montserrado County, the capital, according to the Liberia News Agency.

She disclosed that the World Food Program (WFP) is providing food items and cash support through mobile money to 2,000 survivors across the country for a period of three months.

Another political judgment, via the News:

‘Liberia Is Not Out Of The Woods’

…Ellen Tells ACP-EU Parliamentarians

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has told parliamentarians of the Asian, Caribbean, Pacific (ACP) and European Union (EU) Joint Parliamentary Assembly that Liberia is not out of the ‘’woods’‘ yet but has made tremendous progress since the outbreak of the Ebola virus disease.

According to a Dispatch from Brussels, President Sirleaf made the statement when she addressed the ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly in Brussels on Wednesday, March 4, 2015.

The Liberian leaders said though there has been no new case in recent days, Liberians remain cautiously optimistic about progress made thus far in the fight against the disease. She said through a concerted regional approach that will handle clear surveillance programs, border monitoring, rapid response, upgrade of health facilities and systems, share health data and other information, the situation in the most affected countries will be addressed.

From the Monrovia Inquirer, a plea:

Ebola Orphans Cry For Help

Some Ebola orphans from the Taffi Dollars Children’s Welfare Center (TDCWC) yesterday gathered in front of the Ministry of Gender with placards requesting for support from government to enable them get back to school.

The children had lots of placards like “I am Joshua Kangar; I am from Dolo Town; my father, Rev. Brown Kangar died of Ebola so please help me.” Another one stated, “Thank God for Taffi Dollar Children’s Welfare Center (TDCWC).” Another placard read, “We are 100 children orphaned by Ebola sponsored by ALC at TDCWC.”

The Spokesperson for Taffi Dollars Children Academy, Julius S. Jarwood, in an interview with the Press also expressed concern over how the children have been left alone after their parents have died from the deadly Ebola virus.

AllAfrica covers a denial:

Liberia: Ebola Survivor Denied of Properties in Fuamah District, Lower Bong County

An Ebola Survivor is calling on the Government of Liberia and the International Communities to come to her aid by helping her in order to claim her late mother’s properties. Speaking to the Inquirer recently at the C.H. Rennie Hospital, Helena Henry said after the death of her mother, she also came down with the virus and was later taken to the Ebola Treatment Unit (ETU) at ELWA in Monrovia but survived by the grace of God.

She further narrated that eight persons along with her mother died from the virus, and as such, she is the only survivor in her family.

Madam Henry added that since the death of her mother, she has been asked by some citizens of Bong Mines in Fuamah District, Lower Bong County not to step in that part of the county, because they alleged that it was her mother who took the virus to the District, something she said, the situation has made it difficult for her to get her late mother properties back.

And from the Thomson Reuters Foundation, a Sierra Leonean tragedy abroad:

Sierra Leone athlete freed in Britain, appeal raises 23,000 pounds

Jimmy Thoronka, a Sierra Leonean sprinter who competed in the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and spent the winter sleeping rough in London after hearing his family had died of Ebola, was weighing up his options on Monday.

Thoronka was arrested on Friday for overstaying his visa, but was released from police custody a day later – to find that an online appeal had raised thousands of pounds to help him.

While competing in the Games last summer, Thoronka heard that his whole family had died in the Ebola epidemic ravaging the west African country.

After the Games, he wanted to go to London but his passport and money were stolen and he was afraid to go the police in case he was arrested, press reports said. Since reaching London, he had been sleeping rough.

EnviroWatch: Outbreaks, oil, air, climate, nukes

And more. . .

We begin with the Express Tribune and a Pakistani vaccination crisis:

Sehat ka Ittehad struggles as WHO recommends extension of restrictions

There has been no documented international spread of the poliovirus since March 2014 – with the exception of “one new exportation from Pakistan into Afghanistan documented after 13 November 2014″.

The fourth meeting of the International Health Regulations Emergency Committee announced the spread of polio still constitutes a “Public Health Emergency of International Concern”. The committee has recommended extending the “temporary recommendations” for another three months. Among others, these include declaring a national public health emergency, restricting departure of any residents from the country if they lack an international certification of vaccination and maintaining these measures till the country has stopped exporting polio. The WHO statement is available on their website.

Hours after the WHO pointed to Pakistan as the only country still spreading the preventable, crippling virus. Sehat ka Ittehad’s recent drive came to a close and left at least 33,601 children unvaccinated, but not without efforts to the contrary.

And closer to home for esnl, a deadly hospital-based outbreak spreads, via the Guardian:

Cedars-Sinai hospital in LA investigates outbreak of deadly ‘superbug’

  • Hospital says four patients have been infected with bacteria from a contaminated medical scope, and 67 other people may have been exposed

The Cedars-Sinai hospital in Los Angeles announced a possible “superbug” outbreak linked to gastrointestinal devices, the second hospital in a month to link the potentially deadly germs to devices called duodenoscopes.

The bug, called carbapenem-resistant enterobacteriaceae (CRE), is a bacteria resistant to some of medicine’s strongest antibiotics. The duodenoscope is a difficult-to-clean, complex flexible tube inserted through the throat of patients to check for issues in the upper intestines.

Cedars-Sinai hospital officials linked four transmissions of CRE to duodenoscopes. The hospital sent letters and home-testing kits to 71 more patients who may have been exposed between August 2014 and February 2015, “out of an abundance of caution”.

From the Associated Press, regulatory failure:

Maker of device in ‘superbug’ outbreak lacked FDA clearance

The manufacturer of a medical instrument at the center of a recent “superbug” outbreak in Los Angeles did not receive federal clearance to sell an updated version the device, according to officials from the Food and Drug Administration.

The FDA confirmed that Olympus Corp. did not seek agency clearance for the redesign of its specialized endoscope, which it began selling in 2010. FDA clearance is required for all substantive updates to medical devices sold in the U.S.

Despite the lack of clearance, the FDA said doctors should continue using the device because it’s not clear that a federal review would have prevented the recent infections in patients.

From National Geographic, a story we’ve been covering since our earliest posts:

Chemical Exposure Linked to Billions in Health Care Costs

Researchers conclude they are 99 percent certain that hormone-altering chemicals are linked to attention problems, diabetes, other health problems.

Exposure to hormone-disrupting chemicals is likely leading to an increased risk of serious health problems costing at least $175 billion (U.S.) per year in Europe alone, according to a study published Thursday.

Chemicals that can mimic or block estrogen or other hormones are commonly found in thousands of products around the world, including plastics, pesticides, furniture, and cosmetics.

The new research estimated health care costs in Europe, where policymakers are debating whether to enact the world’s first regulations targeting endocrine disruptors. The European Union’s controversial strategy, if approved, would have a profound effect on industries and consumer products worldwide.

Linda Birnbaum, the leading environmental health official in the U.S. government, called the new findings, which include four published papers, “a wake-up call” for policymakers and health experts.

From Newsweek, one of those chemicals and twisted regulatory semantics:

BPA Is Fine, If You Ignore Most Studies About It

Bisphenol-A (BPA) is either a harmless chemical that’s great for making plastic or one of modern society’s more dangerous problems. Depends whom you ask.

BPA is in many types of plastics and the epoxy resins that line most aluminum cans, as well as thermal papers like receipts. It is an endocrine disruptor that mimics estrogen, a hormone especially important in sexual development, and the fact that it’s all over the place worries many people. Newsweek spoke with about 20 scientists, leaders in the field of BPA research, and the majority say it is likely (though not certain) that the chemical plays a role in a litany of health concerns: obesity, diabetes, problems with fertility and reproductive organs, susceptibility to various cancers and cognitive/behavioral deficits like ADHD.

“There’s too much data consistent across studies…time and time again…to ignore it and suggest BPA has no effect on humans,” says Gail Prins, a physiologist at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

But the plastic industry, researchers it funds and, most important, many regulatory agencies—including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA)—say BPA is safe for humans at the levels people are exposed to.

From VICE News, and not so surprising for students of history:

Deforestation May Be Helping to Spread the Plague in Africa

The destruction of forests is known to cause the release of massive amounts of greenhouse gases, destroy critical wildlife habitat, and increase soil erosion, which can lead to deadly floods and landslides.

But converting forests to farmland can also increase the spread of the plague, according to researchers at the University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB).

“It pops up every other year or so, and the number of cases per year is quite variable and it’s also poorly reported,” Hillary Young, an ecologist at UCSB, who led the study, told VICE News. “So we don’t have a good sense of the number of cases per year in the region.”

Madagascar’s complex climate woes, via IRIN:

Disaster-prone Madagascar battles flooding and drought

Authorities in Madagascar are struggling to respond to increasingly severe flooding in the central highlands region of the country that includes the capital, Antananarivo, in addition to a prolonged drought in the south.

The latest round of flooding, which started when three rivers that cross Antananarivo – the Sisaony, Ikopa and Imamba – burst their banks during a storm on 24 February, has left 19 people dead and an estimated 36,000 displaced, according to the National Office for the Management of Risks and Catastrophes (BNRGC in French). A further 40,000 people were displaced in 13 other districts.

On Wednesday, BNRGC issued a new alert warning that a low-pressure system just off the island’s west coast was expected to bring more torrential rainfall to the central highlands region. Several neighbourhoods in Antananarivo remain braced for further flooding and landslides over the coming days.

Getting bad air off their chest, via the Los Angeles Times:

Cleaner air is linked to stronger lungs in Southern California children

Cleaner air has for the first time been linked to bigger and stronger lungs among school-age children, according to findings released Wednesday from a two-decade study in Southern California.

The research by USC scientists, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, found the region’s steep decline in air pollution since the mid-1990s is strongly associated with “statistically and clinically significant improvements” in children’s lung function and growth.

The analysis, which studied more than 2,000 children in five cities over the years, provides the strongest evidence yet that years of government regulations to reduce air pollution in California and across the nation are paying off with measurable improvements in children’s health.

The accompanying graphic tells the story:

BLOG Lungs

From the Associated Press, and we wonder just how safe those “small” levels are over time?:

FDA study finds little evidence of antibiotics in milk

In an encouraging development for consumers worried about antibiotics in their milk, a new Food and Drug Administration study showed little evidence of drug contamination after surveying almost 2,000 dairy farms.

In response to concerns, the agency in 2012 took samples of raw milk from the farms and tested them for 31 drugs, almost all of them antibiotics. Results released by the agency Thursday show that less than 1 percent of the total samples showed illegal drug residue.

Antibiotics and other drugs can end up in milk when they are used on dairy cows to keep them healthy. Small levels of drugs are allowed in milk, but residues that go beyond certain thresholds are illegal.

Some delightful news for bees, via

Amsterdam bee population is booming

Amsterdam bee population is booming Society March 5, 2015 Honey comb and a bee workingBee populations may be in trouble elsewhere but in Amsterdam there are now 61 different bee species, up from 51 in 2000, according to new research.

The most common bee in the city is the common furrow (Lasioglossum calceatum) while the hairy-footed flower bee, which was very rare in 2000, now lives in abundance in the city’s Vondel park, the research shows.

The research was commissioned by the city council. Bee expert and researcher told the Parool the city council should be extremely pleased the city has such committed people managing its green spaces. ‘The city can thank their expertise for the increase,’ he said.

Ten years ago the city council took a new, environmentally-friendly approach to its green areas and roadside verges. It no longer uses pesticides and wild flowers have been sown in many places. Specific bee friendly projects have also been set up.

After the jump, Brits sign a Mexican dirty energy deal, an oil company settles a cleanup complaint in Peru, Britain’s central bank sounds a fossil fuel alert, Oklahoma scientists play Big Oil’s music, Feds find the Arctic oil they want drilled will most likely lead to a major oil spill, allegations industry corrupted Europe’s clean air laws, separating fossil fueled climate change from oceanic changes, flooding predicted to triple in 15 years, a new African environmental alliance announced, Brazilian peasants seize a paper plant over plans to plan GMO trees, Arctic Sea ice thinning accelerates, on to Fukushimapocalypse Now!, first with more radioactive leaks, local communities protests TEPCO’s concealing of a major leak for ten months, another radioactive fuel removal planned, evacuees plagued with blood clots, the governor calls for extending reconstruction programs, Japanese tourism recovers from Fukushimaphobia, nearby factories suffer from major labor shortages, regulators find major flaws in plans for the restart of another Japanese nuke plant shut down after the earthquake that shattered Fukushima, a lawsuit challenges plans for a new British nuke plant, and, finally, fears over new Nuclear plants in a Pakistani seismic hot spot. . . Continue reading

EnviroWatch: Outbreaks, autism, fracking, nukes

And more. . .

We begin with a new outbreak from Outbreak News Today:

Norovirus: Dozens of staff and patients sickened at Phoenix VA

At least 35 people, including 16 patients and 19 staff members at The Carl T. Hayden Veterans Affairs Medical Center have contracted norovirus. According to a hospital press release, everyone infected was from two inpatient mental health units and to date, all but three have fully recovered.

The Phoenix VA hospital stopped taking new patients at two mental health units with 48 beds on the hospital’s fifth floor. VA officials have embarked on a cleaning regimen to rid the hospital of the highly-contagious virus. Some steps included limiting staff members who are allowed to access the affected floors and using paper trays to deliver food, according to Phoenix VA Health Care spokeswoman Jean M. Schaefer.

Norovirus is a highly contagious viral illness that often goes by other names, such as viral gastroenteritis, stomach flu, and food poisoning.

From Al Jazeera America, deadly outbreaks from an instrument of healing:

Medical scope now tied to Wisconsin superbug outbreak

  • Congressman considers bill to force states to notify federal agencies of superbug outbreaks and medical device failures

A medical device called a duodenoscope that’s been linked to recent deadly superbug infections across the country was also connected to a 2013 outbreak at a Wisconsin medical facility that infected five people, America Tonight has learned.

Health officials at the Wisconsin Department of Health Services confirmed the five patients were sickened with NDM1 – a subgroup of an antibiotic-resistant “superbug” known as carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae, or CRE, that’s responsible for two deaths at UCLA’s Ronald Reagan Medical Center in Los Angeles since October and dozens of serious infections around the country in recent years.

Meanwhile, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, another Los Angeles hospital, announced Wednesday that four patients there were infected with the deadly superbug due to a dirty duodenoscope and that 64 more patients may have been exposed since August.

From the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control [PDF], measles numbers on another continent:

Germany- update

A large measles outbreak is ongoing in Berlin. As of 24 February 2015, media report nearly 600 cases. The outbreak that started in October 2014 initially affected asylum seekers from Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia but has now spread to the general population. According to media, at least two cases in Berlin have been linked to the United States. One involved a woman who developed symptoms in the United States before travelling to Berlin. A second involved a child who developed the infection after returning from the United States of America. There has been one death in an 18 months old unvaccinated toddler. The child fell ill in the Reinickendorf district of Berlin on 12 February with fever and cough and later rash. The child was hospitalised due to worsening condition on 14 February and died in hospital on 18 February. The child was not vaccinated against measles and had no pre-existing conditions.


Media report two epidemiologically linked cases of measles in children in Copenhagen.

Serbia- update

Since November 2014 and as of 13 February 2015, 228 cases of measles have been reported in Serbia in several outbreaks affecting numerous areas of the country. This is an increase of 105 cases since 26 January 2015, the last monthly update.

Kyrgyzstan – update

According to WHO, Kyrgyzstan has reported 7477 cases between May 2014 and February 2015. The first case was identified in Bishkek city on 3 May 2014, but the number increased dramatically in 2015.

From BBC News, causation:

Autism is largely down to genes, twin study suggests

Autism is caused by genetic make-up in 74-98% of cases, a Medical Research Council study of 516 twins indicates.

The King’s College London team said 181 of the teenagers had autism, but the rate was far higher in the identical twins, who share the same DNA. The researchers told JAMA Psychiatry tens if not hundreds of genes were involved, and they do not rule out environmental factors entirely.

Both twins in each pair had been raised by their parents in the same household.

The World Health Organization issues a call:

WHO calls on countries to reduce sugars intake among adults and children

A new WHO guideline recommends adults and children reduce their daily intake of free sugars to less than 10% of their total energy intake. A further reduction to below 5% or roughly 25 grams (6 teaspoons) per day would provide additional health benefits.

Free sugars refer to monosaccharides (such as glucose, fructose) and disaccharides (such as sucrose or table sugar) added to foods and drinks by the manufacturer, cook or consumer, and sugars naturally present in honey, syrups, fruit juices and fruit juice concentrates.

“We have solid evidence that keeping intake of free sugars to less than 10% of total energy intake reduces the risk of overweight, obesity and tooth decay,” says Dr Francesco Branca, Director of WHO’s Department of Nutrition for Health and Development. “Making policy changes to support this will be key if countries are to live up to their commitments to reduce the burden of noncommunicable diseases.”

The WHO guideline does not refer to the sugars in fresh fruits and vegetables, and sugars naturally present in milk, because there is no reported evidence of adverse effects of consuming these sugars.

Much of the sugars consumed today are “hidden” in processed foods that are not usually seen as sweets. For example, 1 tablespoon of ketchup contains around 4 grams (around 1 teaspoon) of free sugars. A single can of sugar-sweetened soda contains up to 40 grams (around 10 teaspoons) of free sugars.

From the Los Angeles Times, kicking the habit. . .sort of:

McDonald’s to phase out serving chicken raised with antibiotics

McDonald’s Corp. will phase out over the next two years the use of chickens raised with antibiotics important to human health in a step to combat resistance to antibiotics.

The Oak Brook, Ill. fast food giant said Wednesday that later this year it will also begin selling only milk from cows that are not treated with the artificial growth hormone rbST.

Farmers in the company’s supply chain can continue to use ionophores, a type of antibiotic not used for humans, on their chickens.

From the Guardian, Aussie bananas threatened:

Queensland banana farm quarantined after testing positive for fungal disease

  • Biosecurity experts warn Panama TR4 disease could pose a serious threat to the banana industry in Australia

A north Queensland banana farm has been quarantined after testing positive for a potentially destructive fungal disease.

Biosecurity Queensland has warned that the Panama TR4 disease would have serious consequences for the state’s banana industry if it spread from the plantation near Tully, south of Cairns.

Panama, a soil fungus, was found in the Northern Territory in 1997 and has since spread to a number of areas in the Top End, but this is the first time it has been detected at a Queensland plantation.

Science covers sewer diagnostics:

Pollution, human health tracked with sewage microbes

Microbiologists have a new way to tell whose sh-t is dirtying the waters. A survey of sewage across the United States shows that every city has a distinct microbial character that can reveal signs of health, such as how obese its residents tend to be. Dozens of the microbes identified in the survey are common throughout the United States, and could provide better ways to tell whether bacterial pollution comes from humans.

The human gut is filled with microbes that are proving ever more important to health and disease. To understand the diversity of these bacteria—collectively called the gut microbiome—and how their numbers and types vary through time, microbiologists have isolated and sequenced DNA from stool samples of hundreds of individuals. But Mitchell Sogin, a molecular evolutionist at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, and Sandra McLellan, a microbiologist at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, wanted to take a much broader view and study the microbiomes of entire human communities. In addition, they were looking for a better indicator of human fecal pollution.

To do that, they needed to figure out how to assess the microbiomes of large numbers of people at once. They recruited wastewater treatment plant operators from 71 U.S. cites to collect more than 200 samples of incoming sewage. They then sequenced DNA in the samples and determined its origin. About 15% of the isolated sewage DNA belonged to microbes found in humans, Sogin and McLellan’s team reported online last week in mBio. Many of the rest are microbes that live in sewer pipes. Using a technique developed by Sogin and his colleagues, which can more precisely determine which bacteria are present in a large sample of feces, the researchers identified about 60 types of bacteria that were common to people in all of the cities. Because they seem to be found wherever humans are, these 60 may be a more reliable way to determine if human feces are contaminating a waterway, McLellan says.

From StarAfrica, African climate change costs:

Africa’s climate adaptation costs to hit $50 billion -UNEP

Africa, the continent with warming deviating most rapidly from “normal” conditions, could see climate change adaptation costs rise to $50 billion per year by 2050, even assuming international efforts keep global warming below 2°C this century, according to a new United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report.

Released on Wednesday at the 15th African Ministerial Conference on the Environment (AMCEN), Africa’s Adaptation Gap builds on UNEP’s Emissions Gap Report 2014, which showed that the world is not currently headed in the right direction for holding global warming below 2°C.

This latest Africa Adaptation Gap report also builds on UNEP’s Global Adaptation Gap Report 2014, which found that adaptation costs in all developing countries together could climb as high as $250-500 billion per year by 2050.

Produced in collaboration with Climate Analytics and the African Climate Finance Hub, the report says deep global emissions reductions are the best way to head off Africa’s crippling adaptation costs.

After the jump, California beach town voters nix downtown oil drilling, groundwater-endangering oil wells ordered to close in the Golden State, a vote to overturn Obama’s Keystone veto fails, Canadian frackers cast eyes on Spain, Chinese media invoke a foggy Cone of Silence, termites saving the soil, an endangered Cuban bat, on to Fukushimapocalypse Now!, first with massive numbers on a radioactive water leak, an order to look for all possible sources, and a long time remains before a watery resolution, and very slow progress in securing land for interim radioactive soil storage, lifelong monitoring ordered for Fukushima cleanup workers, massive dissatisfaction over the government’s handling of the disaster, more delays for another reactor restart, and desperate dreams of a nuclear power economic boom zone. . . Continue reading

Abby Martin’s swan song: An insightful look at Cuba

Abby Martin’s final week at the helm of RT America’s Breaking the Set with an insightful look at Cuba, offering a rare, and comprehensive, look at the people and its political, economic, and agricultural systems.

In the face of overwhelming opposition and subversion from Washington, fueled by the Cuban exile dominance of the electoral votes of Florida, the small island nation 90 miles from U.S. shores, and the subsequent fall of the Soviet Union, its main base of support, Cuba faced enduring struggles, yet endured.

In the process, it has created revolutions in healthcare and agriculture, becoming the only nation in which cities provide most of their own food from intensive and organic neighborhood gardens and educating a cadre of physicians who have provided much, often most, of the total global response to medical emergencies around the world.

The outstanding examples set by Cuba in these fields have made a mockery of the enduring U.S. embargo against the island nation, leaving Israel Washington’s only ally in opposition to full normalization of relations.

In these three segments, Abby Martin demonstrates the skills she has honed during, first, her years as an unsalaried journalist at Berkeley Community Television, then during the three years at the helm of her RT America news magazine.

So sit back and enjoy a remarkable work of journalism.

From Breaking the Set:

Cuba Part I: Revolution, Sabotage & Un-Normal Relations

Program notes:

On this special episode of Breaking the Set, Abby Martin highlights BTS’ eight day trip to Havana, Cuba, starting with a historical look at the tensions between the US and Cuba that have led the two countries to the negotiating table to normalize relations. Abby then discusses the major areas of contention when it comes to these negotiations and where they currently stand. BTS producer, Cody Snell, then speaks with members of the largest delegation of peace activists to visit Cuba since the normalized relations announcement, highlighting the role of grassroots diplomacy. BTS than talks to average Cubans both in Havana and in Miami about their views on the state of US-Cuban relations. BTS wraps up the show with an interview with Kenia Serrano, a high ranking Cuban parliament member and President of The Cuban Institute of Friendship with the Peoples, about everything from internet access to the crackdown on free speech in the country.

Cuba Part II: Ebola Solidarity & Castro’s Daughter on Gay Rights

Program notes:

On this special episode of Breaking the Set, Abby Martin highlights part II of BTS’ eight day trip to Havana, Cuba, starting with an interview with Cuban doctor, Katiel Llorente Izabelez, who explains how Cuba has managed to maintain such a high life expectancy rate, despite the lack of access to up to date medical supplies. BTS producer, Cody Snell, then speaks with students at the Latin American School of Medicine, an international medical school set up by the Cuban government that provides free tuition to low income individuals that want to become doctors. Abby then discusses how Cuba managed to send the largest contingent of doctors to fight the ebola crisis in West Africa, and how this is just the latest example of the country’s medical internationalism. Abby then goes over the US programs meant to encourage Cuban doctors to defect and how this undermines international health efforts. BTS wraps up the show with an exclusive interview with Mariela Castro, daughter of Cuban President, Raul Castro, and director of Cuba’s sexual education program CENESEX, about the biggest challenges facing Cuba’s gay community.

Cuba Part III: The Evolution of Revolution

Program notes:

On this special episode of Breaking the Set, Abby Martin features the third installment of BTS’ trip to Cuba, focusing on reforms to the country’s economic and agricultural models. Abby first gives an overview of how Cuba’s organic movement evolved and the challenges of the country’s food subsidy system. Abby then speaks with agricultural co-op founder, Miguel Angel Salcines Lopez, about how Cuba’s cooperative and food system works. Abby then talks to Ernesto Blanco, owner of La Fontana restaurant in Havana, about the difficulties of operating a private business in Cuba and how entrepreneurs are being impacted by recent economic reforms. Abby then speaks with Ricardo Alarcón, Cuba’s former minister of foreign affairs and president of the People’s National Assembly of Power, about the normalization process with the US and the biggest hurdles still remaining in the negotiations.

EnviroWatch: Measles, water, climate, & nukes

From the Guardian, An outbreak in Chicago:

Measles cluster at Chicago daycare prompts health department investigation

  • Five children younger than 12 months old – under the recommended age to receive the measles vaccine – diagnosed with infectious disease

Diagnoses of measles for five children in a Chicago-area daycare prompted an investigation by the Illinois department of public health on Thursday, although the source of the infection remained unknown.

All five children were younger than 12 months old and attended the Palatine KinderCare Learning Center in Palatine, Illinois. Two unvaccinated children tested positive for measles and results were pending for the other three, who were diagnosed based on clinical criteria, Cook County officials told reporters.

Dr Terry Mason, chief medical officer for Cook County, said there were “at least 15 children” causing concern after being “potentially exposed” to the infected infants. Mason said the county’s investigation confirmed that two cases were linked to the daycare’s common room, at which point officials contacted staff there.

The latest California numbers, via CNN:

CA confirms 99 cases of measles

California says the number of confirmed measles cases in the state is growing.

The number now stands at 99.

Many of those cases are connected to December’s outbreak at Disneyland.

And numbers for Germany, via

Berlin counts 254 new cases of measles in 2015

Measles have taken hold in Berlin in an outbreak that could have been entirely preventable with vaccines, the federal authority for disease control said in an interview published on Thursday.

The Robert Koch Institute (RKI) is reporting that in Berlin alone, there have been 375 people infected with measles since the beginning of an outbreak in October, dampening the federal government’s goal to have the disease eradicated by the end of this year.

Germany had signed on to the WHO’s pledge to eliminate the disease by 2015, but that doesn’t look possible, says the RKI.

And a vaccine that doesn’t work, via the London Telegraph:

Flu vaccine given to millions in the UK barely works

  • A warning has been circulated that the main strain of influenza has mutated since the jab was prepared

The flu vaccine given to millions of people in the UK barely works, health officials have admitted, amid warnings that the number of deaths this winter will be the worst for 15 years.

Public Health England (PHE) warned that the main strain of influenza in circulation – which is particularly lethal among the elderly – has mutated from the type that was used in the jab.

As a result, it is working in just three per cent of people given it, when it is normally effective in around half of cases.

And it has no effectiveness at all against the dominant strain of flu in circulation this winter, which is particularly dangerous in the elderly.

A big number for another disease, via Newswise:

Lyme Disease Costs Up to $1.3 Billion Per Year to Treat, Study Finds

  • Research suggests prolonged impact of the tick-borne illness in some patients is greater and more widespread than previously understood

Lyme disease, transmitted by a bite from a tick infected by the Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria, had long been considered easy to treat, usually requiring a single doctor’s visit and a few weeks of antibiotics for most people.

But new research from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health suggests that a prolonged illness associated with the disease is more widespread and serious in some patients than previously understood. With an estimated 240,000 to 440,000 new cases of the tick-borne illness diagnosed every year, the researchers found that Lyme disease costs the U.S. health care system between $712 million and $1.3 billion a year — or nearly $3,000 per patient on average — in return doctor visits and testing, likely to investigate the cause of some patients’ lingering symptoms of fatigue, musculoskeletal pain and memory problems. These visits come after patients have finished their original course of antibiotics.

Some doctors call those persistent symptoms post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome (PTLDS); others call it chronic Lyme disease. Still others attribute the complaints of fatigue, headaches and memory problems to the hum of daily life, the aches and pains that come with aging. At the core of the controversy is whether PTLDS can be a severe and chronic condition that requires more than reassurance and symptomatic therapy. While a blood test can confirm Lyme disease, there is no definitive test for PTLDS and there are no approved or proven treatments. It’s a controversial topic in medicine, the Hopkins researchers say.

A report on the findings is published online Feb. 4 in the journal PLOS ONE.

Veggie validation, via Medical Daily:

Occasionally Buying Organic Produce Significantly Reduces Exposure To Pesticides

Organophosphates (OPs) are the most common and toxic pesticides used today, namely on conventionally grown produce. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency classified OPs as highly or moderately toxic; low levels are suspected to be enough to affect the human nervous system. While prior research deduced these conclusions by relying solely on urinary biomarkers, a new study predicts exposure to OPs based on people’s diets.

“The magnitude of pesticide exposure from diet depends partly upon personal decisions such as which foods to eat and whether to choose organic food,” researchers wrote. So they culled data from 4,466 participants already taking part in the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis — a medical research study involving men and women from six communities in the U.S. This data included the types and amounts of produce each participant ate in a year, as well as how often each participant ate organic foods.

Participant-level exposure was estimated by combining the information on typical intake of specific foods with average OPs residue levels on those items. And among conventional participants (they reported rarely or never eating organic produce), researchers assessed the levels of pesticides excreted in urine. They found among “conventional consumers,” increased OPs exposure from produce was associated with higher OPs in their urine.

As for participants who bought organic produce, levels were significantly lower — and that’s if they occasionally bought and ate organic produce. For those who often or always bought organic fruits and vegetables, they experienced around 65 percent lower levels of pesticides in their urine. Live Science reported this study is among the first to consider pesticide residue levels through a person’s diet.

A Big Agra butterfly threat from EcoWatch:

Monsanto’s Roundup Ready Crop System Puts Monarch Butterflies at Brink of Extinction

Center for Food Safety (CFS) released today a detailed, 80-page scientific report, Monarchs in Peril: Herbicide-Resistant Crops and the Decline of Monarch Butterflies in North America. The comprehensive report reveals the severe impacts of herbicide-resistant genetically engineered (GE) crops on the monarch population, which has plummeted over the past twenty years. The report makes it abundantly clear: two decades of Roundup Ready crops have nearly eradicated milkweed—the monarch caterpillar’s sole source of food—in cropland of the monarch’s vital Midwest breeding ground. At the urgent request of scientists and public interest groups, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is currently considering listing the monarch as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.

The report is being presented to Congress today at an expert briefing on the decline of monarchs.

“This report is a wake-up call. This iconic species is on the verge of extinction because of Monsanto’s Roundup Ready crop system,” said Andrew Kimbrell, executive director at Center for Food Safety. “To let the monarch butterfly die out in order to allow Monsanto to sell its signature herbicide for a few more years is simply shameful.”

Monarch population numbers have fallen by 90 percent in less than 20 years. This year’s population was the second lowest since careful surveys began two decades ago. The critical driver of monarch decline is the loss of larval host plants in their main breeding habitat, the Midwestern Corn Belt. Monarchs lay eggs exclusively on plants in the milkweed family, the only food their larvae will eat.

After the jump, an unpalatable petro pollution policy in California, deforestation leads to Brazilian drought, and the drought spreads to another Brazilian city, parsing the climate debate, on to Fukushimpaocalypse Now!, as American sailors press for damages, another reactor plant hits another restart roadblock, and an active fault is found near another plant, plus another exposure of the “low carbon” nuclear myth. . . Continue reading