Archive for December, 2010

Southern California hit by severe storm

December 23, 2010 Leave a comment

23 December 2010 Last updated at 00:00 ET

California has had half its annual rainfall in a week

A huge storm system has dumped record amounts of rain on southern California and prompted concern that the poor weather could spread across the US.

Streets flooded, residents were evacuated and authorities were on alert for landslides in the wake of the torrential downpour.

The deluge came at the end of a week that saw Los Angeles receive half its annual rainfall in just six days.

Torrential rain was also reported in neighbouring Arizona, Nevada and Utah.

There are concerns that the weather system will spread across the US, reaching New Mexico by Thursday and the Gulf Coast by the end of the week.

However, forecasters said the rain would ease as it travelled eastwards.

Mudslides: Even before the storm arrived, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency for half a dozen communities in California, some of which have already seen mudslides and flooded streets.

Cars stuck amid flood waters in Silverado Canyon, Orange County Torrential flood waters and fallen trees clogged the streets in some areas

Hundreds of people were evacuated in the suburbs of Los Angeles, with particular concerns for homes in steep-sided canyons previously ravaged by wildfires.

“The ground is so saturated it could move at any time,” said Bob Spencer, spokesman for the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works.

There were reports of mudslides in Laguna Beach, California, as intense rain hit the region, and 25 to 30 people were evacuated from their mountain homes in Silverado Canyon, Orange County, the Associated Press reported.

Heavy rains – estimated at up to 1in (2.5cm) per hour – brought down a hillside on a heavily used section of Interstate 10 early on Wednesday, covering three lanes near the city of Pomona.

In Highland, some 65 miles (104km) east of Los Angeles, two creeks overflowed, swamping as many as 20 homes in mud.

“This mud flow moved cars, picked them up, stood them up on their nose at 45-degree angles, buried them,” Bill Peters, a spokesman for the California department of forestry and fire protection told AP.

Homes in the mountains were blocked by boulders and mud as rescue workers helped residents seek shelter before the largest of the storms struck.

In far north-western Arizona, residents rushed to gather belongings from their homes along a flooded stretch where further structures risked being swept away.

“It is a mess,” said Lois Rolfsmeyer, resident of Beaver Dam.

“The water is going to take our next-door neighbour’s house and the one behind us, and it’s eroding under our house.”

On Tuesday, officials ordered the evacuation of 232 homes that sit beneath large hillsides in La Canada Flintridge and La Crescenta, in the suburbs of Los Angeles.

Flood warnings and emergency orders have also been put in place in Arizona, Nevada and Utah.

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Categories: Environment, US News

German anger over America’s ’15 per cent cut of Afghan aid’

December 22, 2010 Leave a comment

By Lewis Smith

Friday, 3 December 2010
Germany has accused the US military of swallowing a ¤50m (£42m) contribution to building up the Afghan army by charging a 15 per cent “administration fee”.

A series of protests was made by the German government to the US after discovering that money it was raising for nation-building in Afghanistan was being taken by the US. One of the cables sent to WikiLeaks was from the US mission at Nato requesting instructions from Washington after being harangued by the Germans.

The US ambassador to Nato, Ivor Daalder, pointed out there were “serious political concerns” arising from the complaint and warned the perception that “the US is charging allies an excessive fee for the use of monies they have donated” could be “difficult to explain away”.

The fund the money was intended forwas set up in 2007 to buy kit and infrastructure for the Afghan army. More than ¤100m had been raised by the start of 2010 with a further ¤150m more pledged. Germany’s donation was the biggest.

Some of the protests were made by Ulrich Brandenburg, the German ambassador to the military alliance, who demanded an explanation for the 15 per cent handling fee charged by the US army corps of engineers and wanting to know why projects were being held up.

A cable reporting his anger said: “He said that money for earmarked projects had not been disbursed, resulting in delayed projects. He also said that the US army corps of engineers was charging a 15 per cent administrative fee. He said that German parliamentarians were beginning to ask questions about how this money has been handled, adding that this could make it difficult for Berlin to provide additional contributions in the future.”

Germany’s ¤50m was transferred to Nato’s headquarters in Brussels in October 2009 and ¤7m was intended specifically for three military schools. However, by February this year the Germans were complaining that the money had gone to the US Treasury and “as of today no project financing has occurred”.


Categories: Uncategorized

Five superbug defenses that can keep you from dying in the hospital

December 22, 2010 Leave a comment

By Boonsri Dickinson | Dec 22, 2010 | 0 Comments

He may have not realized it, but Alexander Fleming accidentally discovered a mold that could save millions of lives. On 1928, while in his lab, he discovered penicillin. The active ingredient in the mold Penicillium notatum was an infection-fighting agent that could kill colonies of the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus.

The pharmaceutical industry began producing antibiotics, drugs that could kill disease-causing bacteria. Bye bye, syphilis? Bye bye, gangrene? Bye bye, tuberculosis? Almost. Doctors started prescribing them (and then over-prescribing them). And we started using them (and abusing them).

However, this spawned another problem. This one possibly was as lethal as the infection itself: resistance and the suberbug. Some experts warn that we are at the end of the antibiotic era.

University of California, Los Angeles professor Brad Spellberg told Newsweek:

“It’s already happening,” says Spellberg, to the tune of roughly 100,000 deaths a year from antibiotic-resistant infections in the United States alone. “But it’s going to become much more common.”

Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA is a superbug – when it enters the blood stream and begins to attack the body, the infection can grow so large only surgery can get rid of the drug-resistant bug.

Right now, our best line of defense to kill off the infection is antibiotics. Sometimes, as a last line of defense, doctors prescribe — vancomycin and linezolid. But even those drugs aren’t guaranteed to work.

The MRSA infections are becoming a problem as bacteria become resistant to antibiotics. Just because hospital-acquired MRSA infections have been declining, it doesn’t mean we don’t need more ways to fight the superbug infections.

Superbugs are a huge problem in hospitals, but scientists have been working on a number of ways to combat the spread of the potentially deadly bug.

Here are five technologies that stand a chance against superbugs:

1. Fecal transplants: Any poo will suffice, as long as it is screened for infectious diseases. But siblings make the best donors. Gastroenterologist Thomas Borody’s clinic has performed 1,500 fecal transplants. Restoring the bacterial flora of the colon to the native state can literally stop a potentially deadly Clostridium difficile infection from taking over.

Borody tells New Scientist:

“I got a very bad name among my colleagues, as someone who feeds people shit.”

The donor’s poo is first cleaned with saline and filtered to remove unwanted particles. Then the poo is fed to a patient through a tube goes through the nose and into the stomach. Going from the bottom seems the more natural way. Either way, the transplants help restore populations of Bacteroides, the type of bacteria that is seen in a person with a healthy colon.

Borody asks:

“We have a therapy that is nearly 100 per cent curative. What the hell are we doing spending millions of dollars on antibiotics?”

2. Light technology: Scientists at the University of Strathclyde have shown that special light can make bacteria basically commit cell suicide. Clinical trials proved the HINS-light Environmental Decontamination System is effective in getting rid of bacterial pathogens in the hospital setting. The light prevents the pathogens from being transmitted through the environment – which ultimately prevents the spread of the infection among patients. University of Strathcylde professor John Anderson explains:

“The system works by using a narrow spectrum of visible-light wavelengths to excite molecules contained within bacteria. This in turn produces highly reactive chemical species that are lethal to bacteria such as meticillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, and Clostridium difficile, known as C.diff.”

3. Anti-pathogenic drugs: Case Western Reserve researchers developed an anti-pathogenic drug to treat MRSA . The drug works by blocking MRSA from producing toxins. This way, you can treat MRSA without actually killing the bacteria.

“Staph bacteria are ubiquitous and normally do not cause infections, however, occasionally these bacteria become harmful due to their secretion of toxins,” said Case Western Reserve’s professor Menachem Shoham. The key was preventing a molecule called AgrA from releasing toxins. The professor looked for compounds to inhibit it, so he screened 90,000 compounds. Seven of those worked.

The anti-pathogenic drugs might change they way we fight bacteria in the body. The way we currently treat the infection makes it a prime place for bacteria to want to fight for survival. The side effect of that is the eventual resistance to the drugs. This new type of drug would sidestep that urge and keep the bacteria at bay.

4. Brains of cockroaches: My first instinct around cockroaches have been to kill them with a paper towel. British researchers discovered that molecules found inside the brain tissues of insects can fended off unwanted bacteria. The brain tissue killed off 90 percent of the E. coli and MRSA. Remarkably, the healthy human cells were left alone.

“We hope that these molecules could eventually be developed into treatments for E. coli and Meticillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus infections that are increasingly resistant to current drugs,” University of Nottingham’s Simon Lee said in a statement. “Also, these new antibiotics could potentially provide alternatives to currently available drugs that may be effective but have serious and unwanted side effects.”

5. A coating can kill MRSA upon contact: Imagine if surgical equipment or the walls of the hospital could be coated with a paint that could slice up MRSA. The coating has carbon nanotubes with lysostaphin, an enzyme that is found in Staph bacteria that naturally fights off the superbug.

In the lab, when the nanotube-enzyme was mixed with regular household paint, all of the MRSA was eradicated in 20 minutes after it touched the special surface. Don’t worry though, the paint isn’t toxic to other cells – it’s just toxic to MRSA. It probably won’t lead to more resistance and won’t pollute the environment. The coating can be washed without losing its ability to kill MRSA.

Related on SmartPlanet:

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Categories: Health, Medical

Quake near Japanese islands triggers tsunami warning

December 21, 2010 Leave a comment

By the CNN Wire Staff
December 21, 2010 — Updated 1836 GMT (0236 HKT)
  • A Pacific-wide tsunami is not expected, center says
  • Japanese authorities have issued tsunami warnings for the Ogasawara Islands

Tokyo, Japan (CNN) — A magnitude 7.4 earthquake off the coast of Japan early Wednesday triggered a tsunami warning for a group of remote islands and an advisory for the southern region of the country, the Japanese Meteorological Agency said.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake, which occurred 3:19 a.m., is about 95 miles (155 km) from Chichi-shima, Ogasawara Islands.

A tsunami is a series of destructive sea waves caused by an earthquake, and the warning required people in the islands to evacuate from the seashore immediately to safe places.

According to an initial observation by the Japanese agency, the tsunami height is estimated to be up to 2 meters.

The tsunami advisory stretched across the southern Japanese coast. The quake epicenter is 210 miles (335 km) from Iwo Jima in the Volcano Islands, and 650 (1,050 km) miles from Tokyo.

The Japan National Tourism Organization says the “Ogasawara Islands is the general term for 30 islands of various size scattered over the Pacific Ocean.” They are also known as the Bonin Islands.

Chichi-shima island, “the main island and the entrance to the area, is 1,000 kilometers south of downtown Tokyo in the Pacific Ocean, and it has a land area of about 24 square kilometers. Water-eroded high cliffs surround the island making the scenery even more magnificent, and the area is a popular spot for divers,” the organization said.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said a Pacific-wide tsunami is not expected.

“No destructive widespread tsunami threat exists based on historical earthquake and tsunami data,” the Warning Center said.

“However, earthquakes of this size sometimes generate local tsunamis that can be destructive along coasts located within a hundred kilometers of the earthquake epicenter. Authorities in the region of the epicenter should be aware of this possibility and take appropriate action.”


Categories: Asia, Environment

HP inks $400 million data center outsourcing deal with BP

December 21, 2010 Leave a comment

Hewlett Packard said Tuesday that it has inked a five-year outsourcing deal with BP valued at more than $400 million.

HP said it will consolidate and standardize BP’s data centers across the globe. HP currently provides data center services to BP in Europe and the United Kingdom. The new deal puts the remainder of BP’s European data centers and those in the Americas under one contract.

Services under the deal include:

  • Data center monitoring;
  • Back up and recovery;
  • Site management;
  • Support services onsite and from HP’s India services hub;
  • Maintenance;
  • Use of HP’s orchestration software;
  • And database and middleware management.

BP will have the option to use HP’s private and public cloud services and use external providers.


Categories: Business/Markets, Tech

Weather chaos continues to hit UK airports

December 21, 2010 Leave a comment

An Aegean Airlines Airbus A321 passenger jet comes in to land as a Cathay Pacific Boeing 747 taxis at Heathrow airport in west London December 20, 2010. REUTERS/Luke MacGregor (BRITAIN - Tags: TRANSPORT ENVIRONMENT BUSINESS)

An Aegean Airlines Airbus A321 passenger jet comes in to land as a Cathay Pacific Boeing 747 taxis at Heathrow airport in west London December 20, 2010.


LONDON | Tue Dec 21, 2010 5:09am EST

LONDON (Reuters) – Snow and freezing temperatures continued to ground flights to and from Britain on Tuesday, with travellers hoping to get away for Christmas likely to suffer delays and cancellations for several more days.

British Airways (BAY.L) said it expects to make a “significant number of cancellations” to its shorthaul services from London’s Heathrow airport, which will again operate with just one of its two runways on Tuesday.

“Severe weather continues to cause significant disruption to our operation and will do so in the run up to Christmas,” the airline said in a statement on Tuesday.

“Currently Heathrow has only one of its two runways operational and many areas of the airfield remain unusable, including areas around parked aircraft.”

Ferrovial (FER.MC)-owned BAA, which operates Heathrow, said the airport’s south runway would remain closed on Tuesday, as on Monday, meaning the airport would be operating at significantly reduced capacity.

Thousands of passengers have been stranded at Heathrow, the world’s busiest international airport, for days as flights have been delayed and cancelled.

Arctic conditions have caused major disruption to operations since Saturday, with BA expecting the travel chaos to continue. The Met Office has issued severe weather warnings for most of the UK for the remainder of the week.

BAA said 27 flights had arrived at Heathrow and 10 had departed by 0745 GMT on Tuesday — more than at the same point on Monday.

“BAA has confirmed a limited schedule of flights to and from the airport, at least until 06.00 on Wednesday 22 December,” BA said. “We have adjusted our schedule to fit with the capacity of the airport for both flight departures and arrivals.”

The British government on Monday said it had relaxed regulations on night flights at Heathrow, allowing for arrivals until 0100 GMT each day until Christmas.

The harsh winter weather has grounded flights across northern Europe for days.

Eurocontrol, the umbrella group for air-traffic control across 38 countries, said more than 22,000 flights across Europe were cancelled on Monday but that more services would likely operate on Tuesday.

London’s Gatwick Airport re-opened at 0600 GMT after closing overnight.

“We expect to operate the vast majority of our flights into and out of London Gatwick and London City, although some flights may be subject to delays,” BA added.

Analysts believe the freezing conditions are hitting BA’s profit by around 10 million pounds a day.

Shares in BA were 1 percent up at 268 pence by 0830 GMT, in line with the FTSE100 bluechip index, up 0.75 percent.

(Reporting by Rhys Jones, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)



Palast Arrested Busted by BP in Azerbaijan

December 21, 2010 Leave a comment

by Greg Palast
Monday, December 20, 2010

BP’s Azeri police arresting Palast for filming BP oil rig – Baku, Azerbaijan, December 2010

“Here in Azerbaijan we believe in human rights. PLEASE GIVE US YOUR FILM.”

Oh, no, no, not good.

The enforcers here come in three colors:  the military police still wearing their old Russian puke-green uniforms, the MSN (the dictator’s secret police) in windbreakers without ID, and BP’s own corporate police force in black tunics, sashes and full hats who look like toy soldiers from the Nutcracker ballet. They weren’t dancing.

I showed all three flavors of police our press credentials in both English and Azeri, neither of which could be read by the officers. (The dictator had suddenly changed the Azeri alphabet, making most of the nation illiterate overnight.)

The dictator made everyone call him, “Baba,” Grandpa.

I told the dumbest-looking one, “Look here: This paper says your so-called President is a weasel’s rectum,” which our ‘fixer’ translated as, “This letter from Foreign Ministry is authorization to make a documentary for the British Television.”

We’d been surreptitiously filming BP’s cancer-making machine, the giant pipeline terminal near Baku, the capital, that sends the Azeri’s Caspian Sea oil eastward to light Europe’s Christmas trees.

Now, it looked like I’d be spending Christmas in Baba’s dungeon licking rats for breakfast. My clown-show antics bought the crew the precious minutes needed to switch the film in the camera to blanks.  Our cameraman told a BP cop, with mime: “Hadn’t begun filming yet, Old Bean.”

We would now. I clicked on my hidden micro-cam.

BP’s Azeri police badge depicting oil drilling rig

A black SUV arrived on the remote desert track and unloaded its impressive cargo, a colonel sprinkled with medals from the recent war Azerbaijan lost to Armenia. The colonel said, “British Petroleum drives this country,” and as a “British” journalist, he thought I’d be as proud of that fact as he is.

“I know,” I said. “Believe me, I know.”

There is an awful lot of evidence that BP and Britain’s MI6 had their hands in Baba’s 1993 coup d’état which overthrew the nation’s elected president. Within months of taking power, Baba signed “The Contract of the Century” giving BP monopoly control of Azerbaijan’s Caspian reserves.”

Baba headed the KGB when this Islamic land was an occupied “republic” of the Soviet Union, the good old days of relative peace, freedom and prosperity.

I was here in the desert to investigate a tip-off I’d had that BP had a near-disaster at its Caspian offshore rig that was extraordinarily similar to the Deepwater Horizon blow-out. But BP covered it up.

What I didn’t know was that WikiLeaks was about to release a State Department memo which referred to a small piece of this BP game. Rather than go to Azerbaijan to check the facts, the Wiki newspapers called BP in London for comment.

That put BP on high alert and my sources in high danger.

Palast pictured in front of BP offshore oil rig in Baku, Azerbaijan, December 2010

So the Baba-BP police were more than curious about our film which we promised was about nothing more than, “the business boom in Central Asia.” Of course, we didn’t add that the only business booming here is corruption and BP’s oil drilling. (I don’t use the plural here because it is a single industry.)

How the crew and I (and the poor shepherd on a little horse swept up with us) were released is a complex story involving an impromptu banquet with the Secret Police and the poignant recanting of a statement about BP made to us by an environmental activist.

I understood his need to back down. The night before, we dined with a young video blogger who’d just gotten out of prison after the current president (now Baba’s son, Baby Baba), saw the blogger hold a press conference in a donkey suit. The President had no doubt that he was the ass. He was. He is.

Welcome to the Islamic Republic of BP, otherwise known as Azerbaijan. And good-bye.

I’m out of there. Out with the evidence we need about BP and how it lead to the Gulf of Mexico blow-out and an extension of the occupation of Iraq.

It’s a hell of a story, and my holiday gift to myself is that I’m here and ready to tell it.

My best wishes to you and your family.


Won’t you please support this work, the “Arctic to Amazon investigation”?

I need seven more committed folks to make a tax-deductible donation of at least $1000 to cover the remaining work. Donate at least $1,000 and we will, with your approval, list you as a co-producer in the video version of this important film already scheduled for broadcast everywhere but the USA.

And we MUST bring it to America. That will require more help for the US production and print reports.  Don’t have $1,000 or $5000?  All donations to the Palast Investigative Fund are tax-deductible and keep us going.

We had to leave the secret filming equipment in Baku, Azerbaijan’s capital; we were warned by a friendly plainclothesman that they knew I had it and needed to ditch it.

I’ve now taken our crew from the Amazon rainforest to BP’s next drilling target above the Arctic Circle, to Africa and now to Central Asia.  We must now go to the most dangerous locales yet:  deepest darkest Washington DC, and London, home to BP, whose natives are heavily armed with lawyers and PR bullshit.

Please help me drill down to the truth with your tax deductible donation to the Palast Fund.  Donations of $50 or more receive, if you wish, a gift I will sign.  (Make the request today or tomorrow, Dec. 21, and I’ll send it priority within 12 hours.)

Three big European networks have combined to cover our travel costs and some filming; but none have the money to support the deep investigation, the endless hours of research, that provide the hard facts on which the filming must be based.

Special, exceptional thanks go to the Cloud Mountain and Puffin foundations for their faith in our work and to the 2,000 wonderful supporters who have sent us donations.

Peace on Earth, Goodwill to All … and to all, a good night.

Greg Palast, reporting from … somewhere safe.


Greg Palast is an investigative journalist and the author of the New York Times bestsellers Armed Madhouse and The Best Democracy Money Can Buy. His reports can be seen on BBC Newsnight.

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Categories: US News, World