Tagged: United States

Breakthrough treating sickle-cell anemia

Physicians at the University of Illinois Hospital & Health Sciences System have cured 12 adult patients of sickle cell disease using a unique procedure for stem cell transplantation from healthy, tissue-matched siblings.

The transplants were the first to be performed outside of the National Institutes of Health campus in Maryland, where the procedure was developed. Physicians there have treated 30 patients, with an 87 percent success rate. The results of the phase I/II clinical trial at UI Health, in which 92 percent of treated patients were cured…

The new technique eliminates the need for chemotherapy to prepare the patient to receive the transplanted cells and offers the prospect of cure for tens of thousands of adults suffering from sickle cell disease.

About 90 percent of the approximately 450 patients who have received stem cell transplants for sickle cell disease have been children. Chemotherapy has been considered too risky for adult patients, who are often more weakened than children by the disease.

“Adults with sickle cell disease are now living on average until about age 50 with blood transfusions and drugs to help with pain crises, but their quality of life can be very low,” says Dr. Damiano Rondelli, chief of hematology/oncology and director of the blood and marrow transplant program at UI Health, and corresponding author on the paper.

“Now, with this chemotherapy-free transplant, we are curing adults with sickle cell disease, and we see that their quality of life improves vastly within just one month of the transplant,” said Rondelli, who is also the Michael Reese Professor of Hematology in the UIC College of Medicine. “They are able to go back to school, go back to work, and can experience life without pain.”

Sickle cell disease is inherited. It primarily affects people of African descent, including about one in every 500 African Americans born in the U.S. The defect causes the oxygen-carrying red blood cells to be crescent shaped, like a sickle. The misshapen cells deliver less oxygen to the body’s tissues, causing severe pain and eventually stroke or organ damage.

Bravo! Some of the best medical news in a while.

Canada’s Harper forced to address death of refugees like Aylan Kurdi

Click to enlargeThe body of Aylan Kurdi on a Turkish beach

This is an image that must not be forgotten. Like the image of a young VietNamese girl fleeing the napalm that burned her body, like the image of an infant alone in the rubble of Nanjing, terrible moments in an uncaring world are critical to history.

I apologize if I have offended anyone.

Canada’s prime minister, Stephen Harper, has been forced to defend his government’s record on refugees after it emerged that a Syrian boy whose body washed ashore in Turkey this week had family in Canada.

Shocking images of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi’s s body lying face down in the surf not far from Turkey’s fashionable resort town of Bodrum captured the world’s attention and appeared on the front pages of newspapers worldwide.

His older brother Galip, five, and mother also died while trying to reach Europe.

Reports that Canada had rejected an asylum application by members of the boy’s family quickly made the tragedy a major issue in the country’s federal election campaign and forced the Conservative leader to change his schedule to address the controversy.

In a tearful news conference in British Columbia on Thursday, Aylan’s aunt, Tima Kurdi, described their father Abdullah’s desperate struggle to keep his young sons from drowning after their boat capsized.

Seeing Aylan was no longer alive “he closed his eyes and let him go”, she said, sobbing. “They didn’t deserve to die. They wanted a better life.”

Contrary to earlier reports, Tima, who has been in Canada for 20 years, said she had not sponsored Abdullah and his family as refugee claimants but instead had tried to bring in another brother, Mohammed, and his children.

She said he is currently in Germany after his bid was rejected…

At a campaign stop, Harper…addressed the Kurdi family’s tragedy, calling it blah, blah, blah…

According to the department of citizenship and immigration, Canada has resettled a total 2,374 Syrian refugees, the majority of them through private sponsorship.

The Conservative Canadian government hasn’t done enough. Which is what most thoughtful human beings expected.

Our own government, between a White House consumed with election tactics and a Congress ruled by bigots and white nativists only concerned with turning the clock back to the 18th or 19th Century, will only offer solutions profitable to our own arms industry. Every question must be answered with a gun. Every problem can be solved with a bomb.

State and country trade maps

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International trade is a big part of America’s economy, and a factor in each of the fifty state economies that constitute it.

The Census Bureau publishes annual figures on each state’s international trade. In addition to the top 25 goods imported and exported by each state, the Bureau reports the 25 countries each state imports the most from and exports the most to. We took a look at the biggest trade partners by dollar value of goods imported and exported for each state in 2014.

Here’s the country that each state imports the most from. Canada and China loom large.


TPP talks crash and burn — not every nation willing to rollover for Obama

Pacific Rim trade ministers have failed to clinch a deal to free up trade between a dozen nations after a dispute flared between Japan and North America over cars, New Zealand dug in over dairy trade and no agreement was reached on monopoly periods for next-generation drugs.

Trade ministers from the 12 nations negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which would stretch from Japan to Chile and cover 40 percent of the world economy, fell just short of a deal on Friday at talks on the Hawaiian island of Maui…

The result frustrated negotiators who had toiled to cross off outstanding issues and made significant progress on many controversial issues.

Three sources involved in the talks told the Reuters news agency that a last-minute breakthrough had been viewed as unlikely due to issues with dairy and auto trade and a standoff over biologic drugs made from living cells.

Australian Trade Minister Andrew Robb said the problem lay with the “big four” economies of the United States, Canada, Japan, and Mexico. “The sad thing is, 98 percent is concluded,” he said.

Failure to seal the agreement is a setback for US President Barack Obama, given the trade pact’s stance as the economic arm of the administration’s pivot to Asia and an opportunity to balance out China’s influence in the region…

Obama promised oil income to Canada and Mexico, agricultural income to Canada and Mexico, monopoly power to US Pharmaceutical giants and American Tech firms. Japan as our pet stalking horse on the Asian side of negotiations was promised continued niche protections which would help keep Abe’s political party in power. Everyone else was supposed to line up in tidy little rows and nod their bobbleheads. Especially those nations like Australia with Conservatives holding power.

Didn’t happen.

If this doesn’t happen before the end of the year, the TPP is probably dead. An election year in the United States guarantees no legislative approvals more radical than Congress voting for baseball, motherhood and apple pie.

Prepare for five months of carrots, sticks, butt-kissing and bribes.

Republicans pushing GE to ship $10 billion in work overseas

General Electric Co is taking steps to shift some U.S. manufacturing work overseas now that the U.S. Export-Import Bank will be shuttered at least until September…

GE Vice Chairman John Rice said the conglomerate is bidding on over $10 billion worth of projects that require support from an export credit agency (ECA) like Ex-Im.

With Ex-Im unable to extend new loans or guarantees thanks to an effort by congressional Republicans to shut it down, GE is arranging with ECAs in other countries to finance the deals involved, with much of the production going to GE plants in those foreign locations. The prospective government partners include Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, China and Hungary, he said…

Ex-Im has been unable to consider any new financing requests since Congress allowed the bank’s charter to expire on June 30.

Rice’s comments come as the U.S. Congress starts a five-week summer recess with no clear path to revive Ex-Im in the months ahead. A group of conservative Republicans, who say the 81-year-old trade bank is a nest of “crony capitalism” that doles out government welfare to GE, Boeing Co and other wealthy corporations, want to keep it closed for good…

Rice, who is based in Hong Kong, said GE is not moving to shift work and jobs overseas “just to make a point” to Congress, but to win contracts that require export credit agency support. “We’re doing this because if we don’t, we can’t submit a valid tender,” he said.

In one such power-sector bid, for example, GE would do final assembly work on its aero-derivative gas turbine power generation units at GE plants in Hungary or China instead of a factory in Houston. It already has capacity in place, and export credit agencies willing to support the work, he said.

“Next year, if we win this bid, work that would have been in Houston will be someplace else,” Rice said.

In practice, shutting down the Ex-Im Bank handicaps small-biz as much or more than any other. Such questions devolve from commercial regulations and cause problems just like this one.

I expect Tea Party idjits will ignore the result they cause as often as ever. And if we’re really lucky, Luddites who panic over commerce taking place in a real world which now stretches well beyond the boundaries of the industrial landscape pre-World War 2 will join their peers on the Right.

After more than a half-century of political activism on behalf of the working class I was born into I’m still frustrated by sectarians who can turn an ordinary question of guaranteeing a loan – into religious fears over the purity of their bodily fluids.

Coal is getting to be worth less than dirt

Coal is having a hard time lately. U.S. power plants are switching to natural gas, environmental restrictions are kicking in, and the industry is being derided as the world’s No. 1 climate criminal. Prices have crashed, sure, but for a real sense of coal’s diminishing prospects, check out what’s happening in the bond market.

Bonds are where coal companies turn to raise money for such things as new mines and environmental cleanups. But investors are increasingly reluctant to lend to them. Coal bond prices tumbled 17 percent in the second quarter, according to an analysis by Bloomberg Intelligence. It’s the fourth consecutive quarter of price declines and the worst performance of any industry group by a long shot.

Bonds fluctuate less than stocks, because the payoff is fixed and pretty much guaranteed as long as the borrower remains solvent. A 17 percent decline is huge, and it happened at a time when other energy bonds—oil and gas—were rising. Three of America’s biggest coal producers had the worst-performing bonds for the quarter:

Alpha Natural Resources: -70 percent
Peabody: -40 percent
Arch: -30 percent

The map shows coal plants in 2010 that may be headed for retirement. Blue circles represent plants that will be shuttered by 2020, while yellow will convert to gas, and red have undetermined futures.

About 17 percent of U.S. coal-fired power generation will disappear over the next few years, according to an analysis by Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF). Obstacles include age, the abundance of cheap natural gas, and new EPA rules to cut pollution…

Even China, the world’s biggest consumer of coal, wants to be rid of it…While China’s electricity demand will soar in the coming decades, its coal use will remain relatively flat, peaking by 2030 and then declining, according to BNEF. The pollution is too thick and the alternatives too cheap for coal to flourish…

But even setting aside the environmental and health issues, renewables are on a trajectory to outcompete fossil fuels, starting with coal. Between now and 2040, two-thirds of the money spent on adding new electricity capacity worldwide will be spent on renewables, according to BNEF…

Pigs like the Koch Bros and their bed-buddies ExxonMobil et al are putting their last hopes into the Republican Party. Unlike their peers in archaic monarchies like Saudi Arabia, they have to confront minimal papier mache democracies like the United States. Conservatives like Republicans or Blue Dog Democrats needn’t involve themselves with science to decide policy. Their only decision is whether they require a new wheelbarrow to carry away the dollar$ on offer from the barons of fossil fuel – or the old one is adequate.

It only remains for the crowd in charge of the Democrat Party to decide if they will listen to reason, evidence-based science and concern for future generations of our species. For some that’s still a difficult questions.

Who is the insane outlier on guns?

In developed countries, there is a strong correlation between the number of guns and incidences of gun violence. In 2012, the US, which has the most guns per capita, also had the most firearm-related homicides of developed countries. Japan, which has the lowest rate of gun ownership, had the least:

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VOX offers tidy, apt infographics on all topics. This batch is particularly relevant.

Take the time to wander through the collection of 13 cards at the bottom of the article.

Mexico latest Latin nation to pass USA on legalizing same-sex marriage

Hiram Gonzalez married Severiano Chavez in ChihuahuaCheros/AC

His church turned him away, his family discouraged him from a public fight and the government of the state where he lives vowed it would never happen.

But it did. Hiram Gonzalez married his boyfriend, Severiano Chavez, last year in the northern state of Chihuahua, which, like most Mexican states, technically allows marriage only between a man and a woman.

Mr. Gonzalez and dozens of other gay couples in recent months have, however, found a powerful ally: Mexico’s Supreme Court.

In ruling after ruling, the court has said that state laws restricting marriage to heterosexuals are discriminatory. Though the decisions have been made to little public fanfare, they have had the effect of legalizing gay marriage in Mexico without enshrining it in law…

As the United States awaits a landmark decision on gay marriage by the Supreme Court, the Mexican court’s rulings have added the country to a slowly growing list of Latin American nations permitting same-sex unions.

Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil already allow same-sex marriage. Chile plans to recognize same-sex civil unions this year; Ecuador approved civil unions in April; and Colombia grants same-sex couples many of the same rights extended to heterosexual married couples…

The shift in Mexico, the second largest country in Latin America after Brazil, is the product of a legal strategy that advocates used to bypass state legislatures, which have shown little inclination, and often hostility, to legalizing gay marriage.

In 2009, Mexico City, a large liberal island in this socially conservative country, legalized gay marriage — a first in Latin America. There have been 5,297 same-sex weddings there since then, some of them couples coming to the city from other states…

The Supreme Court upheld Mexico City’s law in 2010, adding that other states had to recognize marriages performed there.

Alex Ali Mendez, the lawyer pressing these cases, said the next step in the legal process was compiling enough injunctions in each state to reach a threshold under which the court could formally order state legislatures to rewrite their laws.

But experts said that Mexico had already reached a watershed.

A similar watershed exists among ordinary American citizens. Meaningless to Congress.

There are a fair number of judges in Mexico who hold to the traditions of law aiding the progress of their nation. Completely at odds with the philosophy of American conservatives and their pet judges on the Supreme Court. Progress for our nation, our people, means nothing to their theocratic minds. Preserving a backwards view of the past, as distorted as that may be, is their cardinal waypoint.

With politicians as corrupt as any in the hemisphere, Americans see the only exceptions being political action in blue states and the majority of federal courts. Still, when you get to the ultimate federal court in the nation, progress is held hostage to liars, frauds appointed by reactionary and cowardly hacks under Republican administrations.

Israel spied on US-Iran nuclear talks

Why does the waiter always ask me to speak into his lapel pin?

A cybersecurity firm has traced a virus, believed to be used by Israeli spies, to hotels which hosted the Iran nuclear talks.

Moscow-based Kaspersky Lab ZAO said in a statement Wednesday “Duqu” malware was found in three unnamed hotels immediately prior to talks between the United States and Iran over a proposed nuclear deal. The firm itself was hacked by the malware, developed in Israel and used by Israeli intelligence agencies, and found the hotels’ computers were also invaded when it searched for other victims of the scheme…

Kaspersky did not identify Israel by name as responsible for placement of viruses to enable eavesdropping on conversations and theft of electronic files, but the “Duqu” virus is essentially an Israeli invention which would take years to duplicate…U.S. intelligence regards the “Duqu” infections as Israeli intelligence operations, the Kaspersky report said…

The virus was also found in computers used at an event honoring the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Nazi concentration camps at Auschwitz, Poland, which was attended by a number of heads of state in January.

Let me be clear. This little tidbit of info about Israel spying on US negotiations with anyone – is about the maximum level of what we will see either in the popular press or from the White House. Hypocrisy rules our government and there are no clearer examples than our policies on cyber-security and economics.

Obama will blather about currency manipulation whenever the calendar pops up with a reminder it’s time to accuse the Chinese government of doing something evil with money. Uncle Sugar relies on the truly ignorant to add incorrect statements about China controlling our Treasury debt, etc. – even though the largest holder of US debt now happens to be Japan. Who practices currency manipulation as a matter of corporate/state policy for decades.

The same follows with cyber-security. There are few tools as distinctive as Duqu or Stuxnet. The rest is presumption. Those two involve both the US and Israel, though Duqu is exclusive to the Israeli government. Tracing back IP addresses is horse manure. As any script kiddy can demonstrate.

Recall any TV report on a cyber-security breach that included as sidebar the fact that we live in the land that spends more than the rest of the world combined on cyber-spying?

Maps that explain the United States better than any textbook

Years ago, famed historian E.H. Carr made an apt point that one cannot separate the historian from history and that what we see in history books is not necessarily pure fact–it has been made and presented as such due to the judgments of a very fallible and selective person. All of this is to say that when it comes to getting to the reasons why the United States looks the way it does today, “truth”–if we can find it–is quite hard to come by.

For every historian who disputes the reasons why a certain war broke out or how a particular president’s decision changed the fate of America, there’s a map which lays hard data bare and allows for the viewer’s own interpretation. Maps aren’t as immediately exciting as a good story, which is why we tend to overlook them when trying to understand our present. We’d like to change that. Without further ado, here are thirty-three fascinating maps that explain the United States…

highest paid public employees
Click to reach this first map – and the rest