Friday, June 09, 2006How can that be? (thanks Kacey)
FDA Approves Vaccine That Should Prevent Most Cervical Cancers
By Marc Kaufman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 9, 2006; Page A01
In what officials called a major public health breakthrough, the Food and Drug Administration yesterday approved the first vaccine developed to protect women against cervical cancer.
The vaccine, which works by building immunity against the sexually transmitted human papillomavirus, was found to be effective in preventing almost three-quarters of all cervical cancers.
"This vaccine is a significant advance in the protection of women's health in that it strikes at the infections that are the root cause of many cervical cancers," said FDA Acting Commissioner Andrew von Eschenbach.
He predicted that the vaccine -- the first ever designed specifically to prevent a cancer -- will have a "dramatic effect" on the health of women worldwide.
The vaccine, called Gardisil and developed by Merck & Co., was approved for girls and women ages 9 and 26. It is most useful if given to younger girls, because the vaccine is ineffective once the virus -- which is very common among sexually active people -- is already present.
The prospect of young girls receiving the vaccine has disturbed some social conservatives, who adamantly oppose efforts to make the vaccination mandatory. They say that sexual abstinence is the best way to avoid getting the virus.
But women's and public health groups are pressing hard for early and mandatory vaccinations, saying they will potentially save thousands of lives.
"The most effective vaccination programs are either given to young children or are mandated for attending school," said Jeffrey Waldman, senior director for clinical affairs for Planned Parenthood Federation of America. "Clearly, to have the greatest benefit, this vaccine would be given to all girls -- and in the future, maybe boys -- before they become sexually active."
Merck said in a statement yesterday that the vaccine can be ordered immediately, but the company was not specific on when the drug might be available for use. Doctors will be free to administer the vaccine as soon as it is distributed.
A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advisory committee will decide June 29 whether the vaccine should be incorporated into routine vaccination schedules, in effect determining whether it will become the standard of care. If the CDC does, as expected, give the vaccine strong support, each state would have to determine whether the vaccine will be mandatory for school attendance. The federal government and states will also have to decide whether to subsidize its price.
On its Web site, the company said the catalogue price for Gardisil will be $120 per dose, and protection will require three doses over six months. That price has raised concerns that the vaccine will not be widely available to poor women or in less developed nations, where incidence of cervical cancer is considerably higher than in the United States.
Thursday, June 08, 2006
Militant leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi has been killed, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki has announced.
"We have eliminated Zarqawi," Mr Maliki said at a news conference in Baghdad, sparking sustained applause.
Zarqawi was considered the figurehead of the Sunni insurgency. He was leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, blamed for killing thousands of Shias and US forces.
The US said he was killed in an air strike "approximately 8km (five miles) north of Baquba".
The head of US-led forces in Iraq, General George Casey, said the strike against an "isolated safe house" took place at 1815 (1415 GMT) on Wednesday.
"Iraqi police were first on the scene after the air strike," he said, followed shortly afterwards by coalition forces.
Jordanian-born Zarqawi was said to have been in a meeting with associates at the time. Several other people were reported to have been killed in the raid.
General Casey said Zarqawi's body was identified through fingerprints, facial recognition and known scars. He promised to give more details on the raid later on Thursday.
Reports say a statement on the internet attributed to an umbrella group for jihadi organisations including al-Qaeda in Iraq has confirmed Zarqawi's death.
Zarqawi was not a global mastermind like al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden, says the BBC's security correspondent, Frank Gardner.
Instead he was a bloodthirsty and violent thug, who made enemies and several mistakes that might have contributed to his downfall.
These included ordering a triple suicide bombing against hotels in Amman, Jordan, last November, that killed 60 people, our correspondent says.
A Jordanian official told the Associated Press that Jordanian agents had contributed to the operation against Zarqawi.
The US ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, said Zarqawi's death marked "a great success for Iraq and the global war on terror... Zarqawi was the godfather of sectarian killing and terror in Iraq".
But he cautioned that it would not end bloodshed in the country.
Violence continued on Thursday as 13 people were killed and 28 injured in a bomb on a Baghdad market, police said.
Zarqawi was accused of leading the rash of kidnappings and beheadings of foreign workers.
It has been suggested that he appeared personally on one video posted on the internet, cutting off the head of an American hostage.
A video released in April showed Zarqawi shooting an automatic rifle and berating the US for its "arrogance". The video provided the most up-to-date picture of the fugitive.
Mr Maliki said intelligence from Iraqi people had helped track down Zarqawi, who had a $25m (£13m) price on his head - the same bounty as that offered by the US for Bin Laden.
"What happened today is a result of co-operation for which we have been asking from our masses and the citizens of our country," he said.
Shortly after the Zarqawi announcement, the Iraqi parliament approved Mr Maliki's nominees for the key posts of defence and interior ministers.
The two crucial roles had remained unfilled despite the formation of a coalition government last month.
Wednesday, June 07, 2006So.: Congress is so powerless these days the CEO's of a phone company don't even appear, and they just lap it up. And the wonderful deal that Cheney struck with Specter?
promised that the Bush administration would consider legislation proposed by Specter that would place a domestic surveillance program under scrutiny of a special federal court.
Specter traded the farm for empty promises. The worst is that he's not an idiot, and knows exactly what was up. It makes this smell of a publicity stunt by the Republicans - to make it look like they were on the case when in fact they're helping to bury the dead bodies under the porch again.
Senators won't grill phone companies
Updated 6/6/2006 10:27 PM ET E-mail | Save | Print |
By John Diamond, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON — A last-minute deal Tuesday with Vice President Cheney averted a possible confrontation between the Senate Judiciary Committee and U.S. telephone companies about the National Security Agency's database of customer calling records.
The deal was announced by Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., the committee chairman, and Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. They said Cheney, who plays a key role supervising NSA counterterrorism efforts, promised that the Bush administration would consider legislation proposed by Specter that would place a domestic surveillance program under scrutiny of a special federal court.
In return, Specter agreed to postpone indefinitely asking executives from the nation's telecommunication companies to testify about another program in which the NSA collects records of domestic calls.
If passed, Specter's legislation would give the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court power to oversee the NSA program and render an opinion on the constitutionality of conducting domestic surveillance without a warrant. The court, established by the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), normally considers case-by-case requests by intelligence agencies to conduct surveillance inside the USA.
The deal prompted protests from Democratic lawmakers, who said the Republican-controlled Congress had refused to challenge the administration's expansion of presidential authority. "Why don't we just recess for the rest of the year, and the vice president will just tell the nation what laws we'll have?" said Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, ranking Democrat on the committee.
Specter has challenged the administration to justify the legality of intelligence programs inside the country.
After the hearing, Specter said his hand had been forced by the telephone companies' refusal to discuss classified programs. Representatives of more than one company — which ones were not specified in the meeting — agreed to appear, Specter said, but told the panel they would not talk about classified information. Hatch said President Bush "is willing to work with us as long as it doesn't detract from the president's constitutional powers."
At least one Democrat shared Republican concerns about forcing telephone officials to discuss classified programs. "Companies that are trying to be good citizens shouldn't be held out to dry," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.
Feinstein said there were two programs at issue: the NSA surveillance of international calls with one end in the USA and in which one participant is suspected of terrorist activity; and a program that "does not involve content" of conversations.
The surveillance program was disclosed in December by The New York Times and then acknowledged by the administration. The other program, which has not been formally acknowledged by the White House, was disclosed last month by USA TODAY. The program involves the collection of domestic calling data — the numbers and times of calls — by the NSA for use in tracking calling patterns by people suspected of terrorist activities.
In the wake of the USA TODAY story, Specter, who had proposed legislation to give the FISA court power over NSA's warrantless surveillance program, said he wanted phone company executives to testify about any involvement they had with the NSA.
Tuesday, June 06, 2006What's next, American soldiers bathing in the blood of Iraqi children? Good lord.
U.S. taxpayers financed human trafficking, report says
BY CAM SIMPSON
WASHINGTON - For the first time since Congress mandated its annual publication, a State Department report cataloging human trafficking across the globe includes allegations that American taxpayers financed such abuses.
This year's Trafficking in Persons Report, released Monday, also ranks Iran among the 12 nations in the world with the worst records for limiting human trafficking within and across its borders, just as the Bush administration is attempting to bring pressure on Tehran because of its developing nuclear program.
Other familiar Bush administration targets, such as Syria, North Korea, Cuba and Venezuela, also made this year's list of the worst dozen, while White House allies and other strategically important nations - including India, Mexico, Russia and China - escaped the roll call despite evidence in the report of growing problems.
People can be trafficked across or within borders for prostitution or forced labor, a practice officials describe as a modern form of slavery.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice unveiled this year's report by telling reporters that the United States and its allies "will stop at nothing to end the debasement of our fellow men and women."
Yet this year's report includes a special section on reforms the Defense Department instituted after an investigation prompted by "Pipeline to Peril," a series published by the Chicago Tribune in October that detailed human trafficking into Iraq for privatized U.S. military support operations.
Human brokers and subcontractors from Asia to the Middle East have worked in concert to import thousands of laborers into Iraq from impoverished countries, often employing fraud or coercion along the way, seizing workers' passports and charging recruitment "fees" that make it difficult for workers to escape employment in the war zone.
U.S. military leaders in Iraq have acknowledged confirming widespread abuses against such workers, who are brought to Iraq to do menial labor on U.S. bases for contractors and subcontractors. Those businesses ultimately receive their checks from the U.S. government. The abuses corroborated by military investigators included violations of U.S. human-trafficking laws.
In a section of the 2006 report titled "Department of Defense Responds to Labor Trafficking in Iraq," the State Department notes that Gen. George Casey, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, ordered sweeping changes in April for privatized military support operations.
The report also says the Defense Department "has responded swiftly with a number of measures to closely monitor the hiring and employment of foreign laborers."
John Miller, who heads the State Department's trafficking office and is responsible for the annual report, said it was the first time in the report's six-year history that it contained allegations that U.S. taxpayers had financed such abuses.
In an interview, Miller also suggested the Defense Department moved too slowly, saying, "All of this should have happened faster, ideally." But he praised the measures and pledged to press the State Department itself to adopt reforms similar to those instituted by the military.
While the Tribune series, and subsequent Defense Department investigations, detailed abuses of workers contracted for American military bases, thousands of other such workers have been imported into Iraq for contractors paid by the State Department or other agencies.
One of the State Department's largest contractors in Iraq, a Kuwaiti construction firm, is building the new U.S. Embassy on a nearly $600 million contract. The company was implicated by the Tribune last year for allegedly trying to force unwilling Nepalese workers into Iraq from Kuwait, allegations denied by the firm but corroborated by a Nepalese Foreign Ministry official who rescued nearly 200 of his countrymen from Kuwait.
Miller said he would work to make sure the Defense Department's standards become the minimum rules for everyone in Iraq.
"I expect that this department, the State Department and other departments, will do no less than the Defense Department has done to try to stop any trafficking anywhere," he said.
The four nations that are strategically important to the Bush administration but were not included on the State Department's list of the worst dozen offenders are all making repeat appearances on the report's so-called "Watch List." That special list, specifically created by Congress for the 2004 report and the two issued since, is meant only as a temporary refuge for governments with questionable records, according to Miller and officials in his office.
Without what Miller called "significant efforts in the coming year," such nations are supposed to be included among the worst of the worst. But China has stayed on the special watch list for two straight years, while India, Mexico and Russia made their third straight appearance on the watch list.
This year's report marks the first time since 2002 that Iran was included among the worst offenders. The report alleges there are "persistent, credible reports of Iranian authorities punishing victims of trafficking with beatings, imprisonment and execution."
Monday, June 05, 2006political motivation for this move, could there? Naaaaah.
Army Manual to Skip Geneva Detainee Rule
By Julian E. Barnes
The Los Angeles Times
Sunday 04 June 2006
The Pentagon's move to omit a ban on prisoner humiliation from the basic guide to soldier conduct faces strong State Deptartment opposition.
Washington - The Pentagon has decided to omit from new detainee policies a key tenet of the Geneva Convention that explicitly bans "humiliating and degrading treatment," according to knowledgeable military officials, a step that would mark a further, potentially permanent, shift away from strict adherence to international human rights standards.
The decision culminates a lengthy debate within the Defense Department but will not become final until the Pentagon makes new guidelines public, a step that has been delayed. However, the State Department fiercely opposes the military's decision to exclude Geneva Convention protections and has been pushing for the Pentagon and White House to reconsider, the Defense Department officials acknowledged.
For more than a year, the Pentagon has been redrawing its policies on detainees, and intends to issue a new Army Field Manual on interrogation, which, along with accompanying directives, represents core instructions to U.S. soldiers worldwide.
The process has been beset by debate and controversy, and the decision to omit Geneva protections from a principal directive comes at a time of growing worldwide criticism of U.S. detention practices and the conduct of American forces in Iraq.
The directive on interrogation, a senior defense official said, is being rewritten to create safeguards so that all detainees are treated humanely but can still be questioned effectively.
President Bush's critics and supporters have debated whether it is possible to prove a direct link between administration declarations that it will not be bound by Geneva and events such as the abuses at Abu Ghraib or the killings of Iraqi civilians last year in Haditha, allegedly by Marines.
But the exclusion of the Geneva provisions may make it more difficult for the administration to portray such incidents as aberrations. And it undercuts contentions that U.S. forces follow the strictest, most broadly accepted standards when fighting wars.
"The rest of the world is completely convinced that we are busy torturing people," said Oona A. Hathaway, an expert in international law at Yale Law School. "Whether that is true or not, the fact we keep refusing to provide these protections in our formal directives puts a lot of fuel on the fire."
The detainee directive was due to be released in late April along with the Army Field Manual on interrogation. But objections from several senators on other Field Manual issues forced a delay. The senators objected to provisions allowing harsher interrogation techniques for those considered unlawful combatants, such as suspected terrorists, as opposed to traditional prisoners of war.
The lawmakers say that differing standards of treatment allowed by the Field Manual would violate a broadly supported anti-torture measure advanced by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). McCain last year pushed Congress to ban torture and cruel treatment and to establish the Army Field Manual as the standard for treatment of all detainees. Despite administration opposition, the measure passed and became law.
For decades, it had been the official policy of the U.S. military to follow the minimum standards for treating all detainees as laid out in the Geneva Convention. But, in 2002, Bush suspended portions of the Geneva Convention for captured Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters. Bush's order superseded military policy at the time, touching off a wide debate over U.S. obligations under the Geneva accord, a debate that intensified after reports of detainee abuses at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison.
Among the directives being rewritten following Bush's 2002 order is one governing U.S. detention operations. Military lawyers and other defense officials wanted the redrawn version of the document known as DoD Directive 2310, to again embrace Common Article 3 of the Geneva Convention.
That provision - known as a "common" article because it is part of each of the four Geneva pacts approved in 1949 - bans torture and cruel treatment. Unlike other Geneva provisions, Article 3 covers all detainees - whether they are held as unlawful combatants or traditional prisoners of war. The protections for detainees in Article 3 go beyond the McCain amendment by specifically prohibiting humiliation, treatment that falls short of cruelty or torture.
The move to restore U.S. adherence to Article 3 was opposed by officials from Vice President Dick Cheney's office and by the Pentagon's intelligence arm, government sources said. David S. Addington, Cheney's chief of staff, and Stephen A. Cambone, Defense undersecretary for intelligence, said it would restrict the United States' ability to question detainees.
The Pentagon tried to satisfy some of the military lawyers' concerns by including some protections of Article 3 in the new policy, most notably a ban on inhumane treatment, but refused to embrace the actual Geneva standard in the directive it planned to issue.
The military lawyers, known as judge advocates general, or JAGs, have concluded that they will have to wait for a new administration before mounting another push to link Pentagon policy to the standards of Geneva.
"The JAGs came to the conclusion that this was the best they can get," said one participant familiar with the Defense Department debate who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the protracted controversy. "But it was a massive mistake to have withdrawn from Geneva. By backing away, you weaken the proposition that this is the baseline provision that is binding to all nations."
Derek P. Jinks, an assistant professor at the University of Texas School of Law and the author of a forthcoming book on Geneva called "The Rules of War," said the decision to remove the Geneva reference from the directive showed the administration still intended to push the envelope on interrogation.
"We are walking the line on the prohibition on cruel treatment," Jinks said. "But are we really in search of the boundary between the cruel and the acceptable?"
The military has long applied Article 3 to conflicts - including civil wars - using it as a minimum standard of conduct, even during peacekeeping operations. The old version of the U.S. directive on detainees says the military will "comply with the principles, spirit and intent" of the Geneva Convention.
But top Pentagon officials now believe common Article 3 creates an "unintentional sanctuary" that could allow Al Qaeda members to keep information from interrogators.
"As much as possible, the foundation is Common Article 3. That is the foundation," the senior official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the new policies had not been made public. "But there are certain things unlawful combatants are not entitled to."
Another defense official said that Article 3 prohibitions against "outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment" could be interpreted as banning well-honed interrogation techniques.
Many intelligence soldiers consider questioning the manhood of male prisoners to be an effective and humane technique. Suggesting to a suspected insurgent that he is "not man enough" to have set an improvised explosive device sometimes elicits a full description of how they emplaced the bomb, soldiers say.
The Pentagon worries that if Article 3 were incorporated in the directive, detainees could use it to argue in U.S. courts that such techniques violate their personal dignity. "Who is to say what is humiliating for Sheikh Abdullah or Sheikh Muhammad?" the second official asked. "If you punch the buttons of a Muslim male, are you at odds with the Geneva Convention?"
Military officials also worry that following Article 3 could force them to end the practice of segregating prisoners. The military says that there is nothing inhumane about putting detainees in solitary confinement, and that it allows inmates to be questioned without coordinating their stories with others.
Human rights organizations have their doubts, saying that isolating people for months at a time leads to mental breakdowns.
"Sometimes these things sound benign, but there is a reason they have been prohibited," said Jumana Musa, an advocacy director for Amnesty International. "When you talk about putting people in isolation for eight months, 14 months, it leads to mental degradation."
Jinks, of the University of Texas, contends that Article 3 does not prohibit some of the things the military says it wants to do. "If the practice is humane, there is nothing to worry about," he said.
Defense officials said the State Department and other agencies had argued that adopting Article 3 would put the U.S. government on more solid "moral footing," and make U.S. policies easier to defend abroad.
Some State Department officials have told the Pentagon that incorporating Geneva into the new directive would show American allies that the American military is following "common standards" rather than making up its own rules. Department officials declined to comment for this article about the directive or their discussions with the Pentagon.
Common Article 3 was originally written to cover civil wars, when one side of the conflict was not a state and therefore could not have signed the Geneva Convention.
In his February 2002 order, Bush wrote that he determined that "Common Article 3 of Geneva does not apply to either Al Qaeda or Taliban detainees, because, among other reasons, the relevant conflicts are international in scope and Common Article 3 applies only to 'armed conflict not of an international character.' "
Some legal scholars say Bush's interpretation is far too narrow. Article 3 was intended to apply to all wars as a sort of minimum set of standards, and that is how Geneva is customarily interpreted, they say.
But top administration officials contend that after the Sept. 11 attacks, old customs do not apply, especially to a fight against terrorists or insurgents who never play by the rules.
"The overall thinking," said the participant familiar with the defense debate, "is that they need the flexibility to apply cruel techniques if military necessity requires it."
"This national question requires a national solution, and on an issue of such profound importance, that solution should come from the people, not the courts," Bush said.
I mean, come ON. There are so many things wrong with that statement. First of all, there's the use of "question" and "solution", which reeks of, at the very least, insensitivity given the Nazis' attitude toward homosexuals, and then there's, once again, the idea of populism trumping laws, which reeks of Nazism all over again. Never mind that this has a snowball's chance in hell of passing. Republicans: tending to matters that truly concern America.
GOP plans votes on favored causes
Moves will bolster party's voter base, strategists say
By James Kuhnhenn, Knight Ridder | June 5, 2006
WASHINGTON -- When President Bush beat Senator John F. Kerry in 2004, Republicans said a ballot initiative in Ohio to ban gay marriage sealed the election, drawing legions of conservatives to the polls.
Bush and Republican senators now will seek another dose of conservative magic to energize their party's base.
Call it nostalgia -- or election-year jitters.
This week's expected detour into some of the party's favorite social causes comes as Congress is locked in a stalemate over immigration policy, paralyzed over ethics legislation, and flummoxed by the Iraq war.
On Saturday, Bush urged support for a national ban on gay marriage, saying that the bond between a wife and a husband ``promotes the welfare of children and the stability of society."
Today, the president plans to meet at the White House with opponents of gay marriage, just as the Senate begins debate on a constitutional amendment to limit marriage to the union of a man and a woman.
A Senate vote on the issue is expected Wednesday.
Next, Senate majority leader Bill Frist, Republican of Tennessee, wants votes on two perennial conservative causes: repealing the estate tax and giving Congress the constitutional authority to ban flag burning.
None of the measures is expected to pass, although the estate tax debate could yield a compromise that applies the tax only to the largest inheritances.
Despite the futility of the gay marriage and flag burning votes, some Republican strategists said they were just the jolt that conservative voters needed to overcome what polls suggest is their growing antipathy toward the party.
``Every time you have that conversation it reminds [voters] of what team they're on," said Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform and a prominent voice in conservative circles.
``I can't believe the American people can't see through this," Senator Joseph Biden, Democrat of Delaware, said yesterday on NBC's ``Meet the Press."
``We already have a law, the Defense of Marriage Act. . . . Nobody has violated that law," Biden said. ``There's been no challenge to that law. Why do we need a constitutional amendment?"
``I think this just highlights the fact they have no intention, they have no plan, to deal with healthcare," Biden said. ``They have no plan to deal with our national security. They have no plan to deal with the energy crisis."
Some conservatives, such as political direct-mail guru Richard Viguerie, also are skeptical about Republican motives. The upcoming votes aren't enough to compensate for what he considers a pattern of wayward behavior, he said.
``No conservative is going to take this as a change of heart or as a newfound belief in conservative principles," he said.
Other Republican operatives say the strategy is a waste of time when most Republican voters are angry or divided over the Iraq war, high gas prices, and immigration.
``Those are the issues that are dominating people's dinner-table talk," said Scott Reed, who managed Bob Dole's 1996 presidential campaign. Reed dismissed Frist's plan, saying: ``If you're a gay who likes to burn flags, it's going to be a long year."
But in his Saturday radio address, Bush described the proposed amendment as a means to rein in judges who have overturned gay marriage bans in Washington, California, Maryland, New York, and Nebraska.
``This national question requires a national solution, and on an issue of such profound importance, that solution should come from the people, not the courts," Bush said.
Same-sex marriage has been a prime issue for social conservatives since 2004, when a Massachusetts court decreed that the state must recognize such unions.
Voters in seven states will decide gay marriage initiatives this year. Alabama has it on the ballot tomorrow. The rest will be decided Nov. 6. Two other states want ballot initiatives as well.
But a Senate vote to change the US Constitution is much more removed from voters. Even if the House and Senate managed to get the necessary two-thirds majority, 38 states would have to ratify the change.
John Green, a researcher on religious voters at the University of Akron in Ohio, said the party's appeal to social conservatives might work, but would satisfy only one slice of potential Republican voters.
``It's not going to bring back swing voters who are angry over Iraq, or fiscal conservatives," he said.
What's more, a national debate over gay marriage could backfire. It might energize liberal Democrats and alienate Republican moderates.
A study by the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative-leaning research center, observed that public opinion has become more accepting of homosexuality. Polls show that while a majority doesn't support gay marriage, the country is evenly divided over a constitutional ban.
The issue's history is complicated. A constitutional ban has caused rifts before even among conservatives.