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Effects of Anthrax vaccine downplayed

NEWPORT NEWS, VA — The Pentagon never told Congress about more than 20,000 hospitalizations involving troops who took the anthrax vaccine from 1998 through 2000, despite repeated promises that such cases would be publicly disclosed. Instead, generals and Defense Department officials claimed that fewer than 100 people were hospitalized or became seriously ill after receiving the shot, according to an investigation by the Daily Press of Newport News.

Written policies required that public reports be filed for hospitalizations, serious illnesses and cases where someone missed 24 hours or more of duty. But only a few of the cases were actually reported; the rest were withheld from Congress and the public, according to records obtained by the Daily Press. Critics of the vaccine, veterans’ advocates and congressional staffers say the Pentagon’s deliberate low-balling of hospitalizations helped persuade Congress and the public that the vaccine was safe.

Withholding the full record contributed to a shorter list of government-recognized side effects for the drug, which gave patients and physicians a false idea of what might constitute a vaccine-related illness or problem. Repeated evidence of the same adverse side effect after a vaccination is one of the most telling signs of a systematic problem, vaccine safety experts say.

The newspaper found three cases of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, that the military hadn’t reported. The disease destroys muscles and nerves, is always fatal, and rarely hits people younger than 45. One of the three cases involves Navy Capt. Denis Army of Virginia Beach, who died in 2000 after developing symptoms less than a week after his first anthrax vaccination.


His widow filed the first public acknowledgment of his death and its connection to the vaccine after talking to a Daily Press reporter and learning that she could file a report with the federal Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS).

Col. John Grabenstein, director of the military’s vaccine agency, said no one from the military intentionally misled Congress or the public. The 20,765 hospitalizations merely followed vaccinations in time, without documented proof of a cause-and-effect relationship, he claimed. However, the data that the Daily Press used to document the underreporting came from an unpublished report that Grabenstein supplied in response to its request.

Quarterly analysis of the vaccine’s effects ended just as the nation’s only manufacturer, BioPort, Inc. regained its license in 2002, after a 1998 shutdown by federal inspectors who found safety and other problems. The decision to discontinue the quarterly monitoring end systematic long-term studies of the health of those who have taken the drug, the newspaper notes. Most studies that the Pentagon cites as support for the vaccine’s safety involve monitoring that lasted no longer than a few months.

After the quarterly reviews stopped, more than a million troops were forced to take the vaccine — until a federal judge ruled last year that the drug had never been adequately licensed for protection against anthrax use in warfare. He ordered the military to make vaccination voluntary. The Pentagon is appealing that ruling. A decision is expected by February.

Tyson’s prayers conflict with deeds

FAYETTEVILLE, AK — Tyson Foods, the meat- and chicken-industry giant, is trying to sell God along with its chickens, beef, and pre-prepared frozen meals, Ad Age reports. The latest step is “mealtime prayer booklets” being distributed for a variety of faiths all over the world.

According to Ad Age, “What started out as the internal manifestation of Tyson’s mission statement — a set of core values that includes ‘striving to be a faith-friendly company’… and ‘to honor God’ … has over the last few years morphed into placing 128 part-time chaplains in 78 plants across the country and, now, the external marketing initiative to play a part in mealtime prayer.”

The prayerful image conflicts with a January 2005 report by Human Rights Watch, “Blood, Sweat and Fear,” which condemned Tyson for some less than godly behavior, including unsafe working conditions at many of its production facilities, and using illegal means to stop union organizing. Tyson workers “contend with conditions, vulnerabilities, and abuses which violate human rights,” concluded the report.

In April, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission successfully sued Tyson Foods and former chairman Don Tyson for filing misleading disclosures, investigative journalist Doug Ireland reports. The SEC found that while Don Tyson was chairman, the company provided an estimated $3 million in personal benefits to Tyson, his wife, their daughters, and three close personal friends.

In August, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a suit against Tyson alleging that its Alabama-based facility maintained a “whites-only” bathroom and that managers sternly disciplined black workers who complained about it, Ireland writes. The U.S. Labor Department has accused the company of cheating its workers out of $340 million in “lost” wage hours.

To underline the irony, Ad Age points to that Tyson’s chairman, the born-again John Tyson, is a sometime drug addict and alcoholic.

Global Notebook is compiled and edited by Greg Guma, co-editor of Vermont Guardian.

Pentagon’s 9/11 walk gets media pus

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VELCO’s transmission project vs. the public good

Vermont’s Public Service Board recently held its final merits hearing to consider the proposal by VELCO, the for-profit transmission corporation owned by Vermont utilities, to install an enormous 345-kilovolt transmission line from West Rutland to New Haven, and a 115kv line through Ferrisburgh, Charlotte, and Shelburne — to triple transmission capacity to northwest Vermont.

VELCO calls this the “Northwest Reliability Project” and says this project is needed for “reliability” of the power grid and that without it, the lights in Chittenden County may go out. A compelling argument — yes. But, it’s patently untrue. There is much more that Vermonters need to know.

Expert studies show that conservation can meet our reliability needs. Need proof? California solved its energy crisis in 2001 largely by implementing an innovative program of conservation measures and rate discounts for customers who agreed to save energy. The program averted power outages while lowering customer bills. But conservation was rejected by VELCO because its business is to build transmission lines and sell electricity.

Reliability through conservation is better for Vermonters than building new lines. Conservation reduces electric bills and would keep millions of Vermont dollars in state, rather than shipping dollars south to buy power.

Conservation also works better because building more wires makes us more dependent on other states’ electric systems. The August 14, 2003, blackout spared Vermont because we were somewhat disconnected from the grid. VELCO’s project will make us more likely to join the next blackout.

The VELCO project has profound implications for all of Vermont. What happens will influence Vermont’s economic and energy policies for years to come.

Robert Blohm, an independent transmission expert, was hired by Vermont citizens to explain the long-term implications of building more wires. The real “need” for the NRP is to meet growing demands for electricity in Chittenden County. Specifically, it is to provide power to the big box stores and air conditioning for new homes in Burlington suburbs. Blohm explained that Vermont should be thought of as two “zones”: congested and uncongested, and electricity rates should be set accordingly. Federal authorities require this in other parts of New England.

Unlike the new federal rules, the way rates are currently applied in Vermont, the cost of electricity use growth in Chittenden County is paid for by all Vermonters. If Chittenden County paid its fair share for electricity, its rates would be 10 to 20 percent higher than the rest of Vermont. Residents of Bennington, Springfield, Rutland, Montpelier, and St. Johnsbury would pay 10 to 20 percent less, with a corresponding economic boost for these locales. Building VELCO’s NRP would perpetuate this inequity, and the decision to forego conservation will render almost inevitable another huge project of 345kv lines, this one running right into Chittenden County (already planned by VELCO).

Vermont’s Department of Public Service is supposed to protect the “public good” and the interests of all Vermont consumers — not just those living in Chittenden County. But in this case, the DPS has spent the state’s ratepayers’ money on witnesses to cheerlead for VELCO’s wires-only approach rather than rigorously review and challenge the evidence presented by the corporation. Of nearly a dozen witnesses used by the department, only one witness, a landscaper, provided testimony that enhanced the public interest. DPS’ other witnesses marched in lockstep with VELCO, while DPS joined VELCO in suppressing the testimony of experts paid for by ordinary citizens. The key consultant hired by the DPS to evaluate the “need” just recently retired from VELCO, where he planned the NRP.

This project has unfairly trampled on the interests of Vermonters. Towns have been pitted against towns and neighbors against neighbors regarding where to locate the “industrial strength” new lines. Local officials and citizens have been consumed by the demands of this case, with its rapid-fire deadlines and huge costs. So far, Vermont citizens and towns have had to raise more than half a million dollars for witness and legal fees to protect their interests. All in a rush to judgment pushed by VELCO so Vermonters are prevented from carefully considering better solutions such as conservation and rate reform.

There is one aspect of the NRP that will improve “reliability”: It will guarantee reliable profits for VELCO and its owners by perpetuating growth in energy use. That is good for VELCO. It is not so good for Vermonters. But it’s not too late to stop the NRP. Let the Public Service Board, the DPS, and your local legislator know that you want a more local, more energy efficient electricity system that reduces the need for new transmission lines.

Syria strikes still on the table

WASHINGTON — In an effort to bolster security for the upcoming Iraq elections, Bush administration hardliners have been considering selected military strikes at insurgent training camps in Syria and border-crossing points used by Islamist guerrillas to enter Iraq.

According to former and current administration officials contacted by UPI correspondent Richard Sale, pressure for some form of military action also is coming from interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi.

One former U.S. intelligence official told UPI, “I don’t usually find myself in sympathy with the Bush neocons, but I think there is enough fire under this smoke to justify such action.”

Gary Gambill, editor of the Middle East Intelligence Bulletin, called Syria “the No. 1 crossing point” for guerrillas entering Iraq, adding that Damascus “does nothing about it.”

Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the top U.S. commander in Iraq, recently said that senior Ba’ath Party officials are operating from Syria, where they provide financing and direction to the cells of Iraqi insurgents killing Americans, sparking new discussions within the administration about possible measures against Syria.

U.S. officials said that money, direction, weapons and personnel are flowing into Iraq from Syria, ending up in cities such as Iskanderiya, Baqouba, Latafiya and Fallujah. Damascus also is home to associates of a top insurgency commander now affiliated with al-Qaida, Jordanian Abu Musab Zarqawi, who is responsible for many major suicide bombing attacks in Iraq, U.S. officials said.

strikes still on the table

What worries U.S. intelligence analysts is the seeming weakness of Syrian Pres. Bashar Assad. According to these sources, Assad is “well aware of the U.S. Army on its border to the east, and does not want to antagonize the United States.” But he is surrounded by “the old guard,” rogue members of the ruling circle “who are making millions of dollars” by allowing former Ba’ath officials to shelter in Syria.

One former senior CIA official, usually an administration critic, said, “We should send a cruise missile into southside Damascus and blow the Mukharbarat headquarters off the map. We should first make clear to them that they are the target.”

Is this likely to happen? Former CIA Syria expert Martha Kessler doesn’t think so. “I don’t think the administration can afford to destabilize another country in the region,” she said. Syria has tried, often in vain, to cooperate with the United States, only to be either snubbed or ignored, she explained.

But a chief reason for not moving against Damascus is that any strikes would “destabilize Lebanon,” where the Lebanese Hezbollah movement awaits orders from Iran before launching retaliations against Israeli attacks.

Military policy on gays creates linguist gap

SAN FRANCISCO — The number of Arabic linguists discharged from the military for violating its “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy is nearly three times as high as previously reported, according to records obtained by the Center for the Study of Sexual Minorities in the Military.

Center Director Aaron Belkin wants the public to see the real costs of the current policy. “We had a language problem after 9/11 and we still have a language problem,” he told Northern California’s Contra Costa Times last week.

Between 1998 and 2004, the military discharged 20 Arabic and six Farsi speakers, according to Department of Defense data. The military previously had reported that only 7 translators who specialized in Arabic were discharged because they were gay. The updated numbers were first revealed in The New Republic magazine.

The “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy allows gays and lesbians to serve in the military as long as they keep their sexual orientation private and do not engage in homosexual acts. Belkin and other advocates argue that such a policy endangers national security at a time intelligence agencies and the military say they don’t have enough Arabic speakers


Why the towers fell: Two theories

Having worked on structural steel buildings as a civil engineer in the era when the Twin Towers were designed and constructed, I found some disturbing discrepancies and omissions concerning their collapse on 9/11.

I was particularly interested in the two PBS documentaries that explained the prevailing theories as determined by two government agencies, FEMA and NIST (National Institute of Science and Technology). The first (2002) PBS documentary, Why the Towers Fell, discussed how the floor truss connectors failed and caused a “progressive pancake collapse.”

The subsequent 2006 repackaged documentary Building on Ground Zero explained that the connectors held, but that the columns failed, which is also unlikely. Without mentioning the word “concrete,” the latter documentary compared the three-second collapse of the concrete Oklahoma City Murrah Federal Building with that of the Twin Towers that were of structural steel. The collapse of a concrete-framed building cannot be compared with that of a structural steel-framed building.

Since neither documentary addressed many of the pertinent facts, I took the time to review available material, combine it with scientific and historical facts, and submit the following two theories for consideration.  Best Proxy site

The prevailing theory

The prevailing theory for the collapse of the 110-story, award-winning Twin Towers is that when jetliners flew into the 95th and 80th floors of the North and South Towers respectively, they severed several of each building’s columns and weakened other columns with the burning of jet fuel/kerosene (and office combustibles).

However, unlike concrete buildings, structural steel buildings redistribute the stress when several columns are removed and the undamaged structural framework acts as a truss network to bridge over the missing columns.


After the 1993 car bomb explosion destroyed columns in the North Tower, John Skilling, the head structural engineer for the Twin Towers, was asked about an airplane strike. He explained that the Twin Towers were originally designed to withstand the impact of a Boeing 707 (similar in size to the Boeing 767). He went on to say that there would be a horrendous fire from the jet fuel, but “the building structure would still be there.”

The 10,000 gallons of jet fuel (half capacity) in each jetliner did cause horrendous fires over several floors, but it would not cause the steel members to melt or even lose sufficient strength to cause a collapse. This is because the short-duration jet fuel fires and office combustible fires cannot create (or transmit to the steel) temperatures hot enough. If a structural steel building could collapse because of fire, it would do so slowly as the various steel members gradually relinquished their structural strength. However, in the 100-year history of structural-steel framed buildings, there is no evidence of any structural steel framed building having collapsed because of fire.

Let’s assume the unlikelihood that these fires could weaken all of the columns to the same degree of heat intensity and thus remove their structural strength equally over the entire floor, or floors, in order to cause the top 30-floor building segment (South Tower WTC #2) to drop vertically and evenly onto the supporting 79th floor. The 30 floors from above would then combine with the 79th floor and fall onto the next level down (78th floor) crushing its columns evenly and so on down into the seven levels below the street level.

The interesting fact is that each of these 110-story Twin Towers fell upon itself in about ten seconds at nearly free-fall speed. This violates Newton’s Law of Conservation of Momentum that would require that as the stationary inertia of each floor is overcome by being hit, the mass (weight) increases and the free-fall speed decreases.

Even if Newton’s Law is ignored, the prevailing theory would have us believe that each of the Twin Towers inexplicably collapsed upon itself crushing all 287 massive columns on each floor while maintaining a free-fall speed as if the 100,000, or more, tons of supporting structural-steel framework underneath didn’t exist.