Maine Writer

Its about people and issues I care about.

My Photo
Name:

I enjoy writing!

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Russia responds to the nation's economic downturn by dropping vodka prices

This headline epitomizes the cliche about "can't make this up". Russia is dropping vodka prices! Isn't that like trying to cure diabetes by overdosing on sugar?  There can't be any logic to this story, but it's incredulously being reported on CNN. 

While the Russian ruble currency tanks under the pressure of international economic sanctions and low oil prices, the price of vodka will apparently be reduced.  Alcoholism is epidemic in Russia! It seems like the way the Russians are responding to their nation's economic crises is to kill off the population with alcohol poisoning.

Russia slashing vodka prices as economy reels

The state agency that regulates alcohol said this month that it will slash vodka prices in February by about 16%.

The Russian economy is in a tailspin, but hey, vodka is about to get cheaper!
The price cut marks a reversal for Russian policy makers, who have tried to discourage excessive drinking by hiking alcohol taxes, banning advertising and introducing new, restrictive regulations over the past few years.

But now inflation in Russia is near 10%, the ruble has fallen by more than 40% this year and the economy is shrinking -- and cheaper vodka just might take the edge off.

The country is getting hit hard by a sharp drop in oil prices as well as Western sanctions due to the Russian invasion of the Ukraine, and the situation is expected to get much worse before it gets better.

News of the vodka price cut comes after Russian President Putin told government officials in Moscow last week that he was concerned that expensive vodka was driving consumers to drink cheaper bootlegged substitutes, which are not fully taxed or regulated.  Latest estimates suggest that up to one-third of vodka in Russia is bought through the black market. 

Alcohol prices in Russia have risen much faster than other items in recent years due to targeted government regulations. 

In 2013, alcohol prices shot up by about 15%, according to data from Euromonitor International.

Rising prices have helped curb consumption, and vodka sales have been hit particularly hard.

Russians consumed nearly 1.2 billion liters of vodka drinks in 2013, according to research from Mintel, down 13% compared to 2012.

Alcoholism in Russia is considered a major problem. It's believed to cause nearly 500,000 deaths per year and is responsible for one-third of crimes, according to Euromonitor.

"Alcohol consumption patterns in Russia are amongst the riskiest in the world as consumers frequently prefer to drink excessively," Euromonitor stated in a report.



 


Labels: ,

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Headlines should credit President Obama

A quick review of recent headlines should have a postscript attached to each one. Each headline pertaining to national policy should have a "POTUS +" or "POTUS -" addenddum. 

The designation would alert major media outlets, like NBC, to credit or not the President of the US with an accomplishment or missed opportunity. In the absence of such a designations, it seems like media are only blaming the POTUS when something of national interest goes wrong, but the same news sources forget to credit his accomplishments.

For example:

A leader of the al-Shabab Islamist group was killed by a US air strike on Monday, Somali officials say. The intelligence chief, named as Abdishakur, was part of a unit responsible for suicide attacks, security officials said.

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-30635240

POTUS +

Fill'er up! Missoouri's gasoline prices lowest in the nation. 
The free fall in gasoline prices has notched another milestone — Missouri and Oklahoma are the first states since 2009 to report average prices below $2 a gallon, according to AAA.
Missouri claimed bragging rights with the lowest average statewide price of $1.92 a gallon on Tuesday, followed by Oklahoma’s $1.98. The Midwest overall has the lowest regional prices, while the highest are in the Northeast.  

Potus +
ore here: http://www.kansascity.com/news/business/article5195142.html#storylink=cpy

Russian ruble currency in free falll; economic sanctions contribute to decline in Russian economy.

POTUS +

Blog readers get the point of this exercise. Therefore, it makes sense for major news media to pick up the trend, as well. 

It's beyond tiring to watch non news stories take up precious media time. Consider how Syrian refugees are under enormous stress, having been dislocated from their homes; women and children live in fear of Islamic terrorism throughout the Middle East and millions of American immigrants worry about deportation, because Republicans don't believe in compassionate immigration reforms.
These are the news stories our major networks should be focused on, rather than on entertainment news.

Moreover, when news stories reflect positively on the President of the United States, this fact should be just as important as if the reverse situation were evident. 

Especially note Fox News, the rapid responders when blame is due, but mute about POTUS successes. Fox News, of course, gets a double minus Rotten Tomatoes rating for their ability to create yellow journalism, while getting away with calling it "reporting".  NBC news gets a - (minus) in my rating because of the irritating giggling prevalent on the morning Today Show, plus the way the Peter Pan live theater special received the status of headline news.

Let's given President Obama credit when it's due and criticism when he doesn't measure up to expectations. But, the news media should stop creating negative news about President Obama while giving puff pieces headline status.

Labels: , , , ,

Monday, December 29, 2014

Russian economy shrinks for first time since 2009: Economic sanctions at work

The Moscow Times is telling the world what's going on inside Russia, but major American news networks like NBC would rather report "Making a Difference" stories. US news media must eventually give President Obama credit for his international patience and suppot for economic sanctions to oppose Russian President Putin's illegal invasion of the Ukraine.

It's difficult to understand how President Putin can withstand this kind of economic downturn, but our American news isn't reporting the ruble's collapse.

"This is linked to sanctions first of all, oil and the panic we saw on the market in December. The damage to the banking system and consumer sentiment will take a long time to repair," Polevoy said.
(chief economist for Russia and the CIS at ING Bank in Moscow)

The (economic) sanctions have severely reduced the ability of Russian companies to borrow abroad, triggering the worst currency crisis since Russia defaulted on its debt in 1998.


 
Russia's economy shrank sharply in November and the ruble resumed its slide on Monday as Western sanctions and a slump in oil prices combined to inflict the first contraction in GDP since the global financial crisis.

The Economic Development Ministry said gross domestic product shrank 0.5 percent last month, the first drop since October 2009. With oil exports forming the backbone of the economy, analysts said the contraction is likely to worsen.

The slide on the oil market accelerated this month after the exporters' group OPEC refused to cut output, and prices are down almost 50 percent from a peak in June. On top of this, the sanctions imposed over Moscow's role in the Ukraine crisis have deterred foreign investment and led to over $100 billion flooding out of the Russian economy this year.

"With the current oil price we expect things to get worse. There is no cause for optimism," said Dmitry Polevoy, chief economist for Russia and the CIS at ING Bank in Moscow.

"This is linked to sanctions first of all, oil and the panic we saw on the market in December. The damage to the banking system and consumer sentiment will take a long time to repair," Polevoy said.

The sanctions have severely reduced the ability of Russian companies to borrow abroad, triggering the worst currency crisis since Russia defaulted on its debt in 1998.

The ruble, which had strengthened on Friday, slumped over 6 percent against the dollar in early trade on Monday in thin trade, although it later regained some of the losses.

Overall the ruble's weakness will inevitably lead to higher inflation next year by pushing up the cost of imports, threatening President Vladimir Putin's reputation for ensuring Russia's prosperity.

Government ministries forecast the slump in oil prices will lead to a 4 percent contraction of the economy next year and that inflation could exceed 10 percent.

Falling Ruble

The ruble had lost more than half of its value at one stage in December, although it has recovered since then after the government introduced informal capital controls and raised interest rates steeply.

The government issued orders to large state-controlled oil and gas exporters Gazprom and Rosneft to sell some of their dollar revenues to shore up the ruble.

Russians have kept a wary eye on the exchange rate since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Hyper-inflation wiped out their savings over several years in the early 1990s and the ruble collapsed again in 1998.

At 2:27 p.m. in Moscow the ruble was trading at 56.40, much weaker than the 30-35 seen in the first half of the year but well up from a low of 80 per dollar in mid-December, its lowest point since the financial collapse of 1998.

The falling ruble has prompted huge buying of foreign currency in Russia and heavy withdrawals of bank deposits, heaping pressure on a vulnerable banking sector whose access to Western capital markets is restricted by the sanctions.

On Friday, Russian authorities also significantly scaled up rescue funds for Trust Bank, saying they would provide up to $2.4 billion in loans to bail out the mid-sized lender, the first bank to fall victim to the crisis.
 
It's a dangerous situation for ordinary Russians trying to survive the winter.  For President Putin, it's an ominous problem but one he has control over. Just pull back out of Eastern Ukraine and the economic problems will be alleviated. It's not rocket science.  
 
But, for President Putin to order a withdrawal means he must deflate his ego or the Russian nation will pin prick it for him.

Labels: , , , ,

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Pakistan waking up to terrorism

Protecting the Islamic long standing brotherhoods of tribes and alliances has apparently been more important to Pakistani government officials then saving their own people from terrorism. Now, finally, after Islamic terrorists have masacred children, the nation has been exposed to the dangerous practice of harboring extremists, just because they don't want to offend those who share blood ties.

No amount of revenge killing will save the Pakistani people from the memories of loosing innocent children in a home grown terrorist attack. This deadly attack was launched by evil Pakistani extremists who don't believe in education outside of the fundamentalism taught strictly from the Muslim Koran.  

Obviously, murder is not preached by the Mohammed inspired Koran. Nevertheless, that fact doesn't impact extremists, who believe Jihad is anything they claim it to be and, therefore, the root cause, real or imagined, must be destroyed.

Yet, when stirred to action, the Pakistani army has taken retribution for the evil and senseless murder of innocent school children. Finding those responsible for the murders is the least the Pakistani government can do for the families of their own military members who lost children in the massacre. Still, has Pakistan's government learned anything from the tragedy?  Harsh lesson number one is to realize that protecting terrorists, regardless of how close they might be to "relatives" or "brothers" or any other alliance, will only serve to destroy those who harbor the evil of extremism.  

Extremists are never satisfied, because no human on earth  can be as "extreme" on any given issue as a chaotic "extremist" believes we should be. Tolerance should trump extremism on every issue including religion and politics. Perhaps Pakistan has finally seen how protecting extremists and terrorists is dangerous for everone.

The Washington Post reports:

Pakistani forces kill alleged organizer of school massacre
 December 26 at 2:30 PM  
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Security forces on Friday killed an alleged organizer of last week’s school massacre, the latest sign that the government and military are stepping up their assault on the Pakistani Taliban and other Islamist militant groups.

The slaying of the Taliban commander, known as Saddam, comes as Pakistani leaders are vowing to forcefully respond to the attack on the school. With the country still mourning the deaths of 149 students and staff members, security forces­ are taking their battle deep into Pakistani cities while the country’s air force pounds militants’ havens along the border with Afghanistan.

Saying he plans “to wipe terror out of Pakistan,” Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif huddled with his cabinet much of Friday to oversee the implementation of a newly announced anti-terrorism policy. While Pakistan’s battle against Islamist militants appeared to sputter during much of the past decade, Sharif stressed in recent days that the current operations will define his term as prime minister.

Julie's comment - it's cliche to say "better late than never", but certainly this attitude voiced by Nawaz Sharif is long-long overdue.

Labels: ,

Friday, December 26, 2014

Influenza and Ebola - unrelated viruses but spreading infections

Finding Perspective: Influenza in the Shadow of Ebola

http://www.medscape.org/viewarticle/836401?src=wnl_cme_revw

Each year, an estimated 200,000 Americans are hospitalized for influenza and its complications; in 2014, 4 persons were hospitalized with Ebola. Influenza kills an average of 20,000 Americans each year, ranging from 3300 in a year with mild H1N1 infections to 49,000 in a year with severe H3N2 infections; 2 died of Ebola in the United States from the virus contracted in Africa.


As of December 4, 2014, Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone have documented more than 17,000 cases and more than 6100 deaths. These figures almost certainly underestimate the true impact, and the unfolding tragedy in West Africa is far from over. Although signs of progress have appeared at long last -- the number of new cases is stable in Guinea and falling in Liberia -- the epidemic continues in Sierra Leone, and new foci have appeared in Guinea and Liberia. As long as the epidemic continues, so will the risk of spread to other resource-poor countries.

Medscape asked infectious disease expert Andrew T. Pavia of the University of Utah to provide perspective to emergency medicine physicians and nurses and other healthcare workers who see patients with influenza-like symptoms regarding the risk of Ebola virus disease and influenza. 

Cases of a potentially lethal viral diseases are increasing rapidly in the United States. Patients with high fevers crowd emergency departments and hospitals. Seven children have died between late September and December 6, 2014.[1]A mutated strain has been detected that may reduce vaccine effectiveness and worsen the epidemic.

This bad news about influenza arises in the midst of the largest outbreak of Ebola virus disease in history. As of December 4, 2014, Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone have documented more than 17,000 cases and more than 6100 deaths. These figures almost certainly underestimate the true impact, and the unfolding tragedy in West Africa is far from over. Although signs of progress have appeared at long last -- the number of new cases is stable in Guinea and falling in Liberia -- the epidemic continues in Sierra Leone, and new foci have appeared in Guinea and Liberia. As long as the epidemic continues, so will the risk of spread to other resource-poor countries.

A small number of patients have acquired Ebola in Western countries or have been evacuated to Western countries for care. A nursing assistant in Spain was infected while caring for a dying priest evacuated from West Africa and recovered. Four cases have occurred in the United States -- 2 imported and 2 acquired domestically. In Dallas, Ebola was diagnosed in a Liberian man on September 30, 2014, and 2 nurses who provided intensive care for him before his death became infected. 

An American doctor became ill in New York City after returning from caring for Ebola patients in Guinea. The Liberian man died but the other 3 patients recovered, and none of the several hundred potential contacts, including the Liberian man’s family, have been infected.
A Public's Unhealthy Response

The somewhat dramatic and feverish response of the public and the media to the domestic Ebola cases peaked in October 2014, a time when physicians, nurses, and public health officials typically focus efforts on improving influenza awareness and immunization rates. In October, a Harvard School of Public Health poll reported that more than half of respondents were concerned there would be a large outbreak of Ebola in the United States, and almost 60% believed that sneezing and coughing readily spread Ebola.[2] In contrast, influenza was met with a yawn.

The reasons for this disparate response are not entirely clear. Ebola is an exotic threat and most Americans had previously paid no attention to it. Ebola virus disease is often lethal with a case fatality rate of more than 50%. However, the media response was nonstop and breathless. Politicians looking to the upcoming election inserted themselves into discussions of public health response. Some thoughtful voices, as well as accurate and informative reporting, were heard, but they were overwhelmed. Public health officials did not adequately prepare the public for the possibility that recommendations might be adjusted as the epidemic unfolded. Together, these factors may have fed into the public’s distrust of authority. But the public reaction in October also highlighted the less-than-rational -- yet very human -- way that we tend to think about risk. We overestimate the risk of rare or novel events. In contrast, we seem more likely to minimize risk that is familiar. 

We drive too fast and with our cell phones in use, and we ignore advice to exercise and eat sensibly; then, we obsess about plane crashes, terrorist attacks, and Ebola. Influenza clearly is a familiar threat, and we seem to be more comfortable with that threat.
Compare and Contrast

Healthcare providers also can sometimes focus on novel and emerging threats while minimizing those that are familiar. 

It is informative, then, to directly compare features of the 2 diseases from a US perspective. Each year, an estimated 200,000 Americans are hospitalized for influenza and its complications; in 2014, 4 persons were hospitalized with Ebola. Influenza kills an average of 20,000 Americans each year, ranging from 3300 in a year with mild H1N1 infections to 49,000 in a year with severe H3N2 infections; 1 has died of Ebola in the United States.[3,4]Thus, an American is more than 10,000 times more likely to die from influenza in the coming year than from Ebola.

Influenza is readily spread via large droplets and contaminated surfaces, aided by sneezing and coughing. Patients with influenza are infectious at least 24 hours before symptoms begin. In contrast, Ebola virus is spread via direct contact with infected blood and body fluids. There is no evidence of presymptomatic shedding or transmission, and virus is not detectable in blood until after symptoms begin. In fact, virus may not be detectable in some patients during the first 24 to 72 hours after symptom onset.[5]

Important potential overlaps exist in the presentations of the 2 diseases. As influenza begins to surge in the United States and the Ebola outbreak continues in West Africa, the public may become anxious and hospital emergency departments challenged. Both diseases begin with fever -- often high -- associated with myalgia, weakness, or headache. Onset of influenza is often sudden, whereas Ebola gradually worsens over several days. Vomiting and diarrhea are prominent symptoms later in Ebola infection but variably present early in disease; these can occasionally be seen with influenza.[6] Cough and sore throat are prominent features of influenza; sore throat can also occur with Ebola, but cough is uncommon until very late in disease. A moderately effective vaccine and antiviral agents are available for influenza. To date, similar countermeasures have not yet been demonstrated to be effective for Ebola.

Exposure history is the critical distinguishing factor.[7] Epidemiologic risk factors for Ebola include travel to an Ebola-affected country within the past 21 days or contact with blood or body fluids of an Ebola patient. Interestingly, 75% of inquiries to the CDC for Ebola testing in October were for persons with no identified risk factor. Since October 27, the CDC and state and local health departments have implemented risk-stratified active monitoring of all persons arriving from Ebola-affected countries. This means that most persons with risk factors who develop symptoms will have contacted the health department and be referred and transported to a hospital following protocols for persons under investigation (PUI) for Ebola.
The Influenza Situation

While this program of active monitoring will likely lessen the burden of unanticipated Ebola evaluations, recent surveillance data raise the real possibility that this will be a severe influenza season. Influenza cases are increasing rapidly in many regions of the country, and most isolates are influenza A (H3N2) with a small number of influenza B. In seasons where influenza A (H3N2) predominates, illness is typically more severe with higher rates of hospitalization and death, especially among the very young, older persons, and those at higher risk of complications from influenza because of immunosuppression and underlying medical conditions, including morbid obesity and pregnancy. In addition, more than 50% of H3N2 strains characterized by early December were antigenically different or “drifted” from the H3N2 strain used to produce the 2014-2015 vaccine. This type of mismatch occurs approximately every 10 years and results from having to select strains for the coming season’s vaccine many months in advance, typically during the preceding February. The drifted strain (A/Switzerland/9715293/2013) was first detected in very small numbers in March. The drifted strain makes it likely that vaccine effectiveness will be substantially lower this year than the average effectiveness of approximately 60%.
MANAGING THE GREATER THREAT

Although vaccine effectiveness for the current influenza season is likely to be less than optimum, it is still wise to encourage the use of influenza vaccine. All influenza B strains and 48% of influenza A (H3N2) strains are well matched to the vaccine, and the degree of cross-protection that the vaccine provides for drifted strains is unknown. There may also be some benefit by reducing febrile illness in a person for whom the presence of fever might prompt concern about Ebola, such as those with known exposure.
Antivirals

Antiviral medications can be an important adjunct to immunization in reducing the effect of influenza, and clinicians should be familiar with the benefits of antiviral medications for influenza and recommendations for their use.[9] The clinical benefit of antivirals is greatest when administered early, ideally within 48 hours of symptom onset. This is particularly true for otherwise healthy outpatients, because clinical trials have not shown any benefit from delayed antiviral therapy. There is, however, substantial evidence from observational studies of benefits from antiviral use for hospitalized patients or those with severe or progressive illness even when started more than 48 hours after illness onset.[10,11] It is important to educate patients at high risk of influenza complications to contact you or to seek care promptly if they develop symptoms of influenza.

Clinical trials in predominantly healthy adults and children demonstrated reductions of 1 to 1.5 days in total symptom duration and a modest reduction in otitis media and lower respiratory tract illness. No robust data from randomized trials address the effectiveness of antivirals in patients with more severe illness or at higher risk for complications. A large body of observational data has demonstrated benefits among hospitalized and severely ill patients, including reductions in intensive care unit admissions and mortality.[12-16]

CDC recommendations for using antiviral drugs emphasize early empiric use in patients at greatest risk of complications and most likely to have substantial benefits. Patients include those who are hospitalized or have severe progressive disease, as well as persons at increased risk for complications of influenza because of age (younger than 2 years or 65 years or older) or who have chronic pulmonary, cardiac, renal, metabolic, hematologic, or neurologic disorders. [See CDC Recommendations for Antiviral Use, below.] Others at increased risk include pregnant or postpartum women, those who are immunosuppressed due to medication or HIV infection, those who are morbidly obese, American Indian and Alaska native persons, and residents of nursing homes.

Initiating antiviral therapy in high-risk patients should not wait for laboratory confirmation of influenza. Rapid antigen detection tests (RIDTs) can give rapid results but have relatively low sensitivity. False-negative results are common when the probability of influenza is high, and a negative RIDT does not exclude influenza. One rapid molecular test for influenza and one rapid multiplex platform are currently FDA approved that can provide results within 1 to 2 hours with high sensitivity, but these may not be widely available.

The recommended drugs are the neuraminidase inhibitors oral oseltamivir and inhaled zanamivir. Oseltamivir is approved for treatment of people 2 weeks of age and older, while zanamivir is approved for those 7 years and older. Oseltamivir resistance has been problematic in strains of H1N1 circulating before 2009 and the development of resistance during treatment has occurred, especially among severely immunosuppressed patients. To date, oseltamivir resistance has been fairly rare with H3N2 strains.
Keeping Perspective

Emerging infections continue to threaten and surprise us. Influenza is both an old and familiar illness and an unpredictable emerging infection. Our current diagnostic tests, vaccines, and antivirals are far from perfect, but their effective use can have a major impact on our care of patients while we await better tools.

CDC Recommendations for Antiviral Use

Clinical benefit is greatest when antiviral treatment is administered early. When indicated, antiviral treatment should be started as soon as possible after illness onset, ideally within 48 hours of symptom onset. However, antiviral treatment might still have some benefits in patients with severe, complicated, or progressive illness and in hospitalized patients when started after 48 hours of illness onset.

Antiviral treatment with oseltamivir or zanamivir is recommended as early as possible for any patient with confirmed or suspected influenza who:
is hospitalized;
has severe, complicated, or progressive illness; or
is at higher risk for influenza complications. This list includes:
children aged younger than 2 years;
adults aged 65 years and older;
persons with chronic pulmonary (including asthma), cardiovascular (except hypertension alone), renal, hepatic, hematological (including sickle cell disease), and metabolic disorders (including diabetes mellitus), or neurologic and neurodevelopment conditions (including disorders of the brain, spinal cord, peripheral nerve, and muscle such as cerebral palsy, epilepsy [seizure disorders], stroke, intellectual disability [mental retardation], moderate to severe developmental delay, muscular dystrophy, or spinal cord injury);
persons with immunosuppression, including that caused by medications or by HIV infection;
women who are pregnant or postpartum (within 2 weeks after delivery);
persons aged younger than 19 years who are receiving long-term aspirin therapy;
American Indians/Alaska Natives;
persons who are morbidly obese (ie, body mass index is equal to or greater than 40); and
residents of nursing homes and other chronic-care facilities.

Clinical judgment, on the basis of the patient’s disease severity and progression, age, underlying medical conditions, likelihood of influenza, and time since onset of symptoms, is important when making antiviral treatment decisions for high-risk outpatients. Decisions about starting antiviral treatment should not wait for laboratory confirmation of influenza.

Oseltamivir is approved for treatment of influenza in persons aged 2 weeks and older and for chemoprophylaxis to prevent influenza in people 1 year of age and older, while zanamivir is approved for treatment of persons 7 years and older and for prevention of influenza in persons 5 years and older.

Antiviral treatment also can be considered on the basis of clinical judgment for any previously healthy, symptomatic outpatient who is not considered “high risk” with confirmed or suspected influenza, if treatment can be initiated within 48 hours of illness onset.

Labels:

Ebola obviously is not under control there must be more resources applied to care and cure

Fighting Ebola in Western Africa will take a long time.

Liberia now has an upper hand against Ebola, but Sierra Leone is experiencing a rapid spread of the virus, as is Conakry, the capital of Guinea. The World Health Organization today announced that the number of cases and deaths in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea — the epicenter of the outbreak — has risen to 19,340 and 7518, respectively.  

Although some infection control education and implementation will curb the spread of the Ebola virus, the processes aren't curing new outbreaks.

Ebola Remains a 'Long, Hard Fight,' CDC Chief Says


The head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently came back from a tour of Ebola-ravaged West Africa with stories that made him feel both optimistic about defeating the virus and somber about the long-term nature of the struggle.

In a news conference yesterday, CDC Director Thomas Frieden, MD, MPH, recalled visiting a cemetery in Liberia where gravediggers once struggled to keep up with burying the bodies of Ebola victims. Now the number of deaths is quickly tapering off, so much so that gravediggers are using some of their time to make furniture for survivors, said Dr Frieden. He returned from his trip on December 20.

However, Dr Frieden said he also witnessed scenes suggesting that healthcare workers might let victory slip through their hands. He described how a nurse in Guinea acquired the Ebola virus from a patient — and survived — after she started an intravenous line on him without wearing any gloves. "Getting good infection control practices up and running is not easy," said Dr Frieden.

"The bottom line is, there's been real momentum and real progress," Dr Frieden said. "I'm hopeful about stopping the epidemic, but I remain realistic that this will be a long, hard fight."

Dr Frieden surveyed a public health battleground in which Liberia now has an upper hand against Ebola, but Sierra Leone is experiencing a rapid spread of the virus, as is Conakry, the capital of Guinea. The World Health Organization today announced that the number of cases and deaths in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea — the epicenter of the outbreak — has risen to 19,340 and 7518, respectively.

Healthcare workers from the CDC, the 54-nation African Union, Great Britain, France, Switzerland, and other countries, along with their West Africa colleagues, represent a "world working together to make a difference" in stopping the virus, Dr Frieden said. He thanked Congress for recently budgeting roughly $5 billion to battle Ebola, money that "allows us to move faster, allows us to do more, allows us to see the possibility of an end to this epidemic more clearly."

The ultimate challenge, he said, is reducing the number of Ebola cases to zero. Doing that will require the continued painstaking work of tracing contacts of every infected person, monitoring them for signs of illness, and isolating and treating them if they turn out to have the virus. That job of sleuthing is harder, said Dr Frieden, in urban areas such as Freetown, Sierra Leone, and Monrovia, Liberia, which have more mobile populations than rural areas.

The CDC director said he is looking forward to the arrival of several public health tools to help Ebola fighters in their work. A point-of-care diagnostic test for the virus would eliminate having to transport blood samples by jeep, helicopter, and canoe back to a laboratory. Such a test might become available in a matter of months, he said. Likewise, Dr Frieden said testing an experimental vaccine on healthcare workers could begin as early as January in Sierra Leone. Meanwhile, researchers are assessing experimental Ebola treatments such as plasma therapy.

"Scientific studies don't know if [experimental Ebola treatments] work or save lives," said Dr Frieden. "That's got to happen very quickly."

Labels:

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Pope Francis messages to people and the human condition- strong anti ISIS message

"May Christmas bring them hope, as indeed also to the many displaced persons, exiles and refugees, children, adults and elderly, from this region and from the whole world," the Pope said.

Although Pope's speak formally from Scripture, I'm probably typical about not following Papal communications out of the Vatican in Rome. Pontiffs strive to speak in inspiring narrative, yet their messages don't usually have an impact on our daily lives.

Pope Francis has certainly broken the Vatican's Roman Catholic communications mold. Beginning with his vernacular greeting "buonasera", when he was presented as the newly elected Pope on March 13, 2013, he opened a new era of Papal communications. 

Throughout his public life, both as an individual and as a religious leader in Argentina, Pope Francis has been noted for his humility, his concern for the poor. He is dedicated to dialogue as a way to build bridges between people of all backgrounds, beliefs and faiths.


As Pope Francis continues to capture the world's attention because of his charisma, he applies his aura to some cutting edge messages.

The Pope's Christmas message on 2014 has put the evil forces of the Islamic State aka "ISIS" on notice for a forthcoming avalanche of Christian wrath. As a matter of fact, ISIS has given the Pope a bully pulpit, whereby all people who are vitriolic against the Islamic extremist group's terror tactics are in awe of his spiritual leadership.  Pope Francis wears the white Papal robes of hope.  This is in brilliant contrast to the ISIS extremists, who drape themselves in totally black robes and burkas. The contast is extraordinary because Pope Francis definitely captures the light of enlightenment, compared to the medieval repressiveness of ISIS.

In his Christmas message, Pope Francis spoke directly to ISIS about the group's persecution of Christians.

Vatican City (Reuters) - Pope Francis condemned the "brutal persecution" of minorities by Islamic State insurgents in his Christmas message on Thursday and urged people not to be indifferent to the suffering of so many around the world

 
In his second "Urbi et Orbi" - to the city and the world - Christmas message, the pontiff highlighted the plight of victims of conflict in Syria and Iraq.  
"Too many people are being held hostage or massacred" in Nigeria, he added.

Pope Francis also urged dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians and condemned Taliban attacks in Pakistan.

Tens of thousands of people turned out on St Peter's Square to hear the Argentine Pope deliver his annual message.

He said Christians in Iraq and Syria had endured conflict for too long, and "together with those belonging to other ethnic and religious groups, are suffering a brutal persecution".
"May Christmas bring them hope, as indeed also to the many displaced persons, exiles and refugees, children, adults and elderly, from this region and from the whole world," the Pope said.


Tens of thousands of people turned out on St. Peter's Square to hear the Argentine pope deliver his "Urbi et Orbi" (to the city and the world) blessing and message, marking the second Christmas since his election last year.

Pope Francis also appealed for an end to conflicts in African countries, urged dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians, condemned the attack by Taliban militants that killed more than 130 students in Pakistan last week, and thanked those helping the victims of the Ebola epidemic.

But he reserved his toughest words to defend the victims of Islamic State fighters who have killed or displaced Shi'ite Muslims, Christians and others in Syria and Iraq who do not share the group's ideologies.


Moreover, Pope Francis also does the unexpected.  On Christmas Eve, he made a surprise telephone call to refugees in a camp near Irbil, in Iraq's northern Kurdistan region. "You are like Jesus on Christmas night. There was no room for him either," he told them.

It's likely the Pope doesn't often hear from the people who are touched by his personal messages. Therefore, in the unlikely event he happens to read this blog, I would like to be sure and close by saying,  "God Bless You Pope Francis".  



Labels: , , , , ,

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Two thousand years of Christmas

Some thoughts on the meaning of Christmas.

Luke and John's Christmas chronicle is two thousand years old. Although skeptics might be right about the myths regarding angels at the manger, the fact is, the Christmas story unites Christians, regardless of our religious faiths. 

If the story of the nativity were completely false, this "conspiracy" would have been disclosed hundreds of years ago. My faith in the Gospel reports by Luke and John describing the birth of Jesus are rooted in the sheer simplicity of the events. One small birth in Bethlehem, chronicled 2000 years ago, brought forth a universal religion, where forgiveness is a tenet of the faith. Regardless of whether or not the birth of Jesus was a "miracle", the fact is, his short life created a religion that will be with us until the end of human time on earth.  

Consequently, the nativity Christmas story is worthy of belief.

The Washington Times published an interesting essay about the Christmas nativity, written by Cal Thomas (not necessarily a writer I follow, but this time he presented some concepts deserving consideration).


There is everything to gain and nothing to lose in embracing the Christmas story by Cal Thomas December 24, 2014


Suppose what some call the “Christmas story” is true — all of it, from the angels, to the shepherds, to the virgin birth, to God taking on human flesh. By this, I don’t mean to suggest it is true only for those who believe it to be true, but what if it is objectively true, no matter what the deniers say? What difference would it make? Should it make any difference?

The narrative and the quotations written by the physician named Luke and by John, the closest disciple of Jesus of Nazareth, are unique and exclusive. The genealogical line of Jesus compiled by Matthew the tax collector is impressive and compelling. The words spoken by Jesus and recorded by these men are phenomenal. They expose the inner darkness of man, offering a road map out, while also revealing the light of God, offering directions into His presence.



The information provided by witnesses to these events are either true or not. The claims leave no room for middle ground, despite what some “theologians” claim. If they are not true, one must conclude “the greatest story ever told” was the result of the greatest conspiracy in history from which not a single “conspirator” later recanted. The One who spoke such heartwarming words, as C.S. Lewis has noted, was either a liar or a fool, or he told the truth. There are no other options.

The “conspiracy” would have to have stretched over thousands of years, from the time of the prophets to the modern era when millions continue to claim their lives have been transformed by this carpenter with no formal training, no college degree and no influence with the reigning religious and secular authorities of His day.

Among other things skeptics have to contend with is why would so many people claim the story is true, including what would occur at the end of Jesus’ life on earth, when they had nothing to gain in this life by promoting a lie? In fact, they invited persecution from the religious authorities, along with imprisonment and death from the Roman rulers, who treated any perceived or actual challenge to Caesar as a capital offense.

Of course, the story is fantastic. But who would want to follow a God that can be defined and understood by human logic? Such a God would not be worth knowing because He would be created in our image.


The information provided by witnesses to these events are either true or not. The claims leave no room for middle ground, despite what some “theologians” claim. If they are not true, one must conclude “the greatest story ever told” was the result of the greatest conspiracy in history from which not a single “conspirator” later recanted. The One who spoke such heartwarming words, as C.S. Lewis has noted, was either a liar or a fool, or he told the truth. There are no other options.

The “conspiracy” would have to have stretched over thousands of years, from the time of the prophets to the modern era when millions continue to claim their lives have been transformed by this carpenter with no formal training, no college degree and no influence with the reigning religious and secular authorities of His day.

Among other things skeptics have to contend with is why would so many people claim the story is true, including what would occur at the end of Jesus’ life on earth, when they had nothing to gain in this life by promoting a lie? In fact, they invited persecution from the religious authorities, along with imprisonment and death from the Roman rulers, who treated any perceived or actual challenge to Caesar as a capital offense.

Of course, the story is fantastic. But who would want to follow a God that can be defined and understood by human logic? Such a God would not be worth knowing because He would be created in our image.  (from Julie...hmmmmm, not sure what Cal is saying here.....but, I think what he means to say is that, by creating his son to endure scorn and suffering, God allowed us mere humans to see how He knows about our own human condition and sufferings. I believe Saint Anthony  of Padua said - not an exact quote-   "Christians should use the Cross of Jesus to support us through life like a mountain climber relies on a walking stick .....)


Cal Thomas is a nationally syndicated columnist. His latest book is “What Works: Common Sense Solutions for a Stronger America” (Zondervan, 2014).

Celebrating a 2,000 year old birthday. 
Merry Christmas to everyone.



Labels: ,

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

When diplomatic enemies become our friends and visa versa - column by John Culleton

"The constitutional provision that forbids Obama from running again also frees him to do what is right without fear of political consequences." 

United States history is inextricably laced with the ebb and flow of nations who were once our enemies but now are among our friends, and visa versa. 

Let's begin remembering Great Britain, for example.
Our nation's founding forefathers would be astounded to see the bonds between the Brits and Americans, post our bloody 18th century Revolutionary War of Independence.

Therefore, normalizing relations with the Cuban nation, off the coast of Florida, is certainly consistent with our diplomatic ability to become friends with former enemies. 

A column from the Caroll County Times, sent to me by a Maryland friend, puts the diplomatic ebb and flow of international relations into historical perspective, by John Culleton.



"Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it." 
There are some things to remember from our own history in war and occasionally peace.

"Yesterday's Enemies" was name of a 1960s TV show.  Indeed, yesterday's enemies can become our friends and, conversely, yesterday's friends can become today's enemies. Here is a list of nations we have fought either in a declared war or an undeclared conflict that are now our friends, or at least our trading partners: Great Britain, Canada, Germany, Japan, China, Italy, Vietnam, France and Spain.

On the other hand, some nations that were our friends, or at least our trading partners, have become our enemies. 

Periodically, the US even invades a country whose ruler is deemed a tyrant, in the belief that we will be greeted with flowers as liberators. 

This first occurred in Canada in the war of 1812. We were wrong then; we were wrong in the Bay of Pigs incursion into Cuba; we were wrong in Iraq; we never seem to learn that a bad guy still can stir up national patriotism in the face of a foreign invader.



Our Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) frequently overreaches. 

Ever since the overthrow of Iran, a once friendly nation, the Iranian people had been our enemy.  The US once had peaceful relations with Iran and its elected president, Mohammad Mossadegh, but our CIA helped the British and the titular monarch (Shah) of Iran to overthrow the elected government. It was all about Iranian nationalization of the nation's oil resources

The CIA-managed Bay of Pigs invasion was a disaster

Much of the hatred of the U.S. in the Middle East can be traced to those sites where captured terrorists were tortured. In (Culleton's view) no external threat justifies torture of prisoners. We will ultimately be judged, not on how we treated our friends, but how we treated our captured prisoners.

Another thing we keep forgetting is that an irregular insurgent force with a strong motivation can frequently harass and ultimately defeat a better equipped regular army that lacks motivation. 

In our own nation's revolution, the forces that harassed the British and Hessian units were frequently little more then untrained volunteers. In the words of Nathanael Greene, "We fight, get beat, rise, and fight again." 

In the wars against America's original inhabitants, the Battle of Little Big Horn showed the folly of underestimating irregular opponents. More recently, in the Iraq war, regular Iraqi units often surrendered en masse, but the irregulars, known as "Feyadeen Saddam," gave us trouble and casualties. 

Currently the reconstituted regular Iraqi army still tends to not show up, but the irregular Kurdish force known as Peshmerga has proven to be the most reliable opponent of the ISIS forces.

But, currently there is some good foreign policy news. President Barack Obama has a firm grasp of the obvious, and it is obvious that more friendly relations with Cuba does us no harm and may help the Cuban people, including Cuban-Americans, a great deal. The embargo on trade with Cuba is still the law. Hopefully, some future Congress will recognize the virtue of being Cuba's friend, and not their bully.

America lost 50,000 troops fighting in Vietnam, yet today we trade with Vietnam. In the Korean war, Chinese "volunteers" killed many Americans, but today we allow free trade with China.

The constitutional provision that forbids Obama from running again also frees him to do what is right without fear of political consequences. The recent deal with Cuba is typical Obama strategy, do what is needed, but in small incremental steps.
If you want bolder leadership then elect a better Congress. 

Or perhaps we should elect a Republican president, and let him or her try to deal with the intransigents on the far right and the cowardice of House Speaker John Boehner. It would be fit punishment for the GOP. Unfortunately, we all would have to suffer along with them when the market crashes because of deregulation and unemployment rises again.

John Culleton writes from Eldersburg. His column appears every second Tuesday. Email him at cct@wexfordpress.com. 

Labels: , ,

Monday, December 22, 2014

Finally Pope Francis is speaking for the people

Vatican Curia will never be able to return to the old ways of pompous hierarchy.....but it will also take a long time for people to forget the transgressions.  I hope Pope Francis will be able to appoint some cardinals who support his reforms.

VATICAN CITY (AP) — To the Catholic Church's "seven deadly sins," Pope Francis has added the "15 ailments of the Curia."

Francis issued a blistering indictment of the Vatican bureaucracy Monday, accusing the cardinals, bishops and priests who serve him of using their Vatican careers to grab power and wealth, of living "hypocritical" double lives and forgetting that they're supposed to be joyful men of God.

Francis turned the traditional, genteel exchange of Christmas greetings into a public dressing down of the Curia, the central administration of the Holy See which governs the 1.2-billion strong Catholic Church. He made clear that his plans for a radical reform of the structures of church power must be accompanied by an even more radical spiritual reform of the men involved.

Ticking off 15 "ailments of the Curia" one by one, Francis urged the prelates sitting stone-faced before him in the marbled Sala Clementina to use the Christmas season to repent and atone and make the church a healthier, holier place in 2015.

Vatican watchers said they had never heard such a powerful, violent speech from a pope and suggested that it was informed by the results of a secret investigation ordered up by Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI in the aftermath of the 2012 leaks of his papers.

Benedict tasked three trusted cardinals to probe deep into the Vatican's back-stabbing culture to root out what would have prompted a papal butler to steal incriminating documents and leak them to a journalist. Their report is known only to the two popes.

Francis had some zingers: How the "terrorism of gossip" can "kill the reputation of our colleagues and brothers in cold blood." How cliques can "enslave their members and become a cancer that threatens the harmony of the body" and eventually kill it off by "friendly fire." How some suffer from "spiritual Alzheimer's," forgetting what drew them to the priesthood in the first place.

"The Curia is called on to always improve itself and grow in communion, holiness and knowledge to fulfill its mission," Francis said. "But even it, as any human body, can suffer from ailments, dysfunctions, illnesses."

Francis, who is the first Latin American pope and never worked in the Italian-dominated Curia before he was elected, has not shied from complaining about the gossiping, careerism and bureaucratic power intrigues that afflict the Holy See. His 2013 Christmas address cast a spotlight on such sins.

But a year into his reform agenda, Francis seemed even more emboldened to make clear to the prelates themselves that superficial displays of change aren't what he is looking for.

"This is a speech without historic precedent," church historian Alberto Melloni, a contributor to Italian daily Corriere della Sera, said in a telephone interview. "If the pope uses this tone, it's because he knows it's necessary."

Melloni noted that until Francis was elected, the Vatican bureaucracy largely answered to no one, saying "an entire generation of the Curia ran it as if they were pope." St. John Paul II was too busy travelling the world, and later too sick, to pay attention to administrative details, and Benedict left the minutiae of running a government to his deputy, later determined to have been part of the problem.

The Rev. Robert Wister, a church historian at Seton Hall University, said Francis was essentially asking the Curia to undergo an examination of conscience, asking them to reflect on how they had sinned before God before going to confession.

"Perhaps he believes that only a severe rebuke can help turn things around," he said.

The cardinals were not amused. Few smiled as Francis spoke, and at the end they offered only tepid applause to a speech that was so carefully prepared it had footnotes and Bibilical references. Francis greeted each one, but there was little Christmas cheer in the room.

It is, to be fair, a difficult time for the Curia. Francis and his nine key cardinal advisers are drawing up plans to revamp the whole bureaucratic structure, merging offices to make them more efficient and responsive.

Francis has said though that while this structural reform is moving ahead, what is taking much longer is the "spiritual reform" of the people involved.

The Vatican's finances are also in the midst of an overhaul, with Francis' finance czar, Cardinal George Pell, imposing new accounting and budget measures on traditionally independent congregations not used to having their books inspected.

Francis started off his list with the "ailment of feeling immortal, immune or even indispensable."

Then one by one he went on: Being rivals and boasting. Wanting to accumulate things. Having a "hardened heart." Wooing superiors for personal gain. Having a "funereal face" and being too "rigid, tough and arrogant," especially toward underlings — a possible reference to the recently relieved Swiss Guard commander said to have been too tough on his recruits for Francis' tastes.

Some critiques could have been seen as worthy of praise: working too hard and planning too much ahead. But even those traits came in for criticism as Francis noted that people who don't take time off to be with family are overly stressed, and those who plan everything to a "T'' don't allow themselves to be surprised by the "freshness, fantasy and novelty" of the Holy Spirit.

At the end of the speech, Francis asked the prelates to pray that the "wounds of the sins that each one of us carries are healed" and that the Church and Curia itself are made healthy.

Labels: