This story in the Observer discusses a new strain of tuberculosis that resists every drug doctors can throw at it.
In South Africa, 52 of 53 patients diagnosed with the disease have died. Of greatest risk to the disease are the some 4.5 million AIDS patients in South Africa who already have compromised immune systems.
According to this story, the damage caused to the Earth's ozone layer is slowly recovering. Since the adoption of the Montreal Protocol, CFC emissions have slowly declined world wide and with it, the concentration of CFCs in the atmosphere.
"The level of ozone-depleting substances continues to decline from its 1992-1994 peak in the troposphere and the late 1990s peak in the stratosphere," [World Meteorological Organization] secretary-general Michel Jarraud said in a statement.
Last year, the ozone hole reached about 27 million square kilometers (10 million square miles) on September 20 -- just below its largest size in 2003 of about 29 million square kilometers (11.2 million square miles), WMO experts said.
The EPA's budget for library services, that is libraries that the public can access to do research about environmental issues, is being cut by $2 million for the 2007 fiscal year. EPA deputy press secretary, Jessica Emond, states that that leaves $4.5 million in the budget. So, in an age of congress calling any budgetary growth less that the rate of inflation a "cut", this actual drop of 30.7% is a significant story. Especially when you consider that the overall EPA budget is nearly $7 billion.
Public Employees for Environmental Responsiblity have an explaination as to what this all means:
Prosecution of polluters by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency â€œwill be compromisedâ€ due to the loss of â€œtimely, correct and accessibleâ€ information from the agencyâ€™s closure of its network of technical libraries. EPA enforcement staff currently rely upon the libraries to obtain technical information to support pollution prosecutions and to track the business histories of regulated industries.
This Frontline PBS story covers the growing controversy surrounding the use of Contractors in military roles in Iraq (although this is not the only place this is being done.) These contractors often are used to serve military purposes but do not answer to the same chain of command and are not subject to the uniform code of military justice.
As if being outside the chain of command weren't enough, the private workers are getting paid substantially better -- something which no doubt damages morale:
Erinys is staffed with an assortment of ex-Special Forces and policemen from around the world. A private security guard at Erinys makes approximately $400 dollars a day, twice what a soldier makes. Some guards make up to $1000 a day.
It is unclear exactly how large of a force the private contractors make up, although the story states that KBR has 50,000 people in Iraq and Kuwait alone. That's more than 1/3 the size of the US Military presence.
Not all unrest in foreign countries makes the news these days. One way to stay aware of these things is to regularly consult the U.S. State Department's Current Warnings page.
Many of the listed countries are ones which seem obvious to anyone who follows international news; but, even when the news fades from the public conciousness, those headline countries remain trouble spots. Here's some examples:
Al-Qaida and Taliban elements continue to operate inside Pakistan, particularly along the porous Afghan border region. Their presence, coupled with that of indigenous sectarian and militant groups in Pakistan, continues to pose potential danger to American citizens.
The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE) and Sri Lankan military forces have clashed on several occasions, and this fighting has escalated in recent weeks. While most of the country remains largely unaffected, the Department warns Americans against traveling to areas in the North and East of the country given the dangers caused by the ongoing fighting between LTTE, other armed groups, and Sri Lankan military forces. This Travel Warning expires on November 15, 2006.
Accoring to this L.A. Times article, the Bush administration is seeking to retroactively exempt policymakers from prosecution under the War Crimes Act for any role they may have had in directing the torture or abuse of prisoners.
This does make one wonder if the whole Abu Ghraib drama may have an act or two left in it. Asking for such an amendment can only be politically damaging to the administration, so why seek an amendment to the Act to protect yourself unless the political damage is less costly than the damage criminal charges will bring.
Addressing the heroic efforts of British security forces in thwarting a plot to blow up multiple passenger planes, president Bush again refers to the struggle against terrorism as a war. To be specific, a War Against Islamic Fascists, a phrase which, no doubt polls well with his base but is simply inaccurate.
Usage of the term 'war' has, in recent history, been used for many things; take for example the "war on drugs." (How's that going, by the way?) But, I think it's clear that when Bush uses that word in this context, he's seeking to invoke the image of "an armed conflict between nations, states, or parties." The problem is that Terrorism is an idea. It cannot be shot, stabbed, or blown up.
Declaring war against an idea is almost certainly a pursuit doomed to failure. The closest the U.S. has ever come to successfully fighting an idea is the "Cold War." An endeavor which took the better part of 50 years, trillions of dollars, and millions of lives (not all Americans.) We declared victory in the Cold War after the collapse of the Soviet Union, but we're still paying for the war today and for the forseeable future. The runaway defense spending of the 1980s, which continues today, was undoubtedly the coup de grace that toppled the Soviets as they collapsed under pressure to keep up. It remains to be seen whether the U.S. will survive the economic damage it did to itself in the conflict.
In a commentary posted today, Lou Dobbs takes president Bush to task for bragging on empty accomplishments along the U.S. - Mexico border. Here's an excerpt:
When you talk about the National Guard delivering results at our border and brag about our Border Patrol agents seizing 17,000 pounds of illicit drugs and 2,500 illegal aliens along our southern border since June 15, well doggone it, it's just about obvious those fancy advisers of yours forgot to tell you that's actually well below last fiscal year's pace, when the Border Patrol caught more than 1 million illegal aliens and seized more than 1.3 million pounds of illicit drugs.
That's some accomplishment! Don't get me wrong, I agree with the president when it comes down to accepting the reality that illegals in this country are best dealt with through an opportunity to earn citizenship. But, he's trying to pander to both sides and in doing so, pleases no one.