Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #6691 on: May 16th, 2012, 08:39am »
Originally published Tuesday, May 15, 2012 at 9:44 PM
Prevention is goal of Alzheimer's drug trial
The $100 million study will run for five years, but results on sophisticated tests may indicate in as little as two years whether a new drug, Crenezumab, is helping to delay memory decline or brain changes.
By PAM BELLUCK The New York Times
In a clinical trial that could lead to treatments that prevent Alzheimer's disease, people who are genetically guaranteed to suffer from the disease — but who do not show symptoms — will be given a drug intended to stop them from developing it, federal officials announced Tuesday.
Experts say the study will be one of the first to test prevention treatments for a genetically predestined disease. In Alzheimer's research, the trial is unprecedented, "the first to focus on people who are cognitively normal but at very high risk for Alzheimer's disease," said Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Most participants will be drawn from an extended family of 5,000 people who live in Medellín, Colombia, and remote mountain villages outside that city. The family is believed to have more members who suffer from Alzheimer's than any other. Those who possess a specific genetic mutation begin showing cognitive impairment around age 45, and full-blown dementia around age 51. The 300 family members who participate in the initial phase of the trial will be years away from developing symptoms. Some will be as young as 30.
The $100 million study will run for five years, but results on sophisticated tests may indicate in as little as two years whether the drug is helping to delay memory decline or brain changes, said Dr. Eric Reiman, executive director of the Banner Alzheimer's Institute in Phoenix and a lead researcher on the study.
While a relatively small percentage of Alzheimer's sufferers have the genetic early-onset form that affects the Colombian family, Reiman and other Alzheimer's experts not involved in the study say the trial is expected to answer questions that could apply to millions who will develop more conventional Alzheimer's disease.
Some 5.4 million Americans have Alzheimer's disease, and the numbers are expected to swell as the baby-boom generation ages.
Reiman and his team already are planning a similar drug trial for people at risk for conventional Alzheimer's in the United States.
The study announced Tuesday will include a small number of Americans with gene mutations guaranteed to cause early-onset Alzheimer's. The study is part of the federal government's first national plan to address Alzheimer's disease, details of which were unveiled Tuesday by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.
The drug trial will be financed with $16 million from the NIH, about $15 million from private donors through the Banner Institute and $65 million from Genentech, the drug's U.S. manufacturer.
If the drug, Crenezumab, which attacks the formation of amyloid plaques in the brain, is shown to forestall memory or cognitive problems, plaque formation or other signs of brain deterioration, scientists will have discovered that prevention or delay is possible and that the answer would appear to lie in targeting amyloid years before dementia develops.
Researchers, U.S. officials and drug companies were especially sensitive to the fact that the study would be conducted on people in a developing country, many of whom have little education, paltry incomes and a history of superstitions about the disease they call "la bobera" — the foolishness.
"The first thing I did was to ask myself the question, are we taking advantage of these folks?" Scheller said. "The answer was clearly no."
The risks, he said, were balanced by the fact that, if nothing is done, "they're going to get this terrible, terrible disease for sure."
Finding a way to prevent or delay Alzheimer's is a priority for scientists because decades of research have resulted in only a few drugs that can treat dementia once it starts, and that delay decline for only a few months. Researchers also have learned the brain begins deteriorating as long as 20 years before dementia begins. Many scientists believe waiting until symptoms appear is much too late to begin treatment because the brain already has been ravaged by the disease.
Prevention studies have been difficult and expensive, primarily because the cause of most Alzheimer's is unclear and it is impossible to predict exactly who will develop it. The few trials of prevention therapies — involving ginkgo biloba, women's hormone replacement treatment and anti-inflammatory drugs — have involved people not guaranteed to contract the disease. These therapies either failed or caused adverse side effects.
Testing drugs on that kind of population "would take too many healthy volunteers, too much money, and too many years to wait for enough people to develop memory and thinking problems to see if treatment worked," Reiman said. The Colombian population is ideal for such tests because it is large enough to provide solid results, and it is easy to identify whom the disease will strike, and when.
Crenezumab was chosen in part because it appears to be safer than other drugs designed to clear amyloid from the brain, said Dr. Francisco Lopera, a Colombian neurologist and a leader of the study. Other anti-amyloid treatments have caused edema in the blood vessels, an imbalance of fluid that can cause serious side effects.
Crenezumab is being given in two other clinical trials to people with mild to moderate symptoms of dementia in the United States, Canada and Western Europe to determine if it can help reduce cognitive decline or amyloid accumulation, according to Genentech.
In the Colombia study, expected to start early next year, 100 family members who carry the mutation will receive the drug every two weeks in an injection administered at a hospital. Another 100 mutation carriers will receive a placebo. And because many people do not want to know if they have the mutation, researchers also will include 100 noncarriers; they will receive a placebo.
"I can't think of a trial that's been done like this," Scheller said. In other trials, including those involving people with dementia, "they know they have it."
To evaluate whether the drug is effective, researchers have developed a sophisticated battery of five memory and cognitive tests shown to detect subtle alterations in recall and thinking ability that usually go unnoticed.
Dr. Pierre Tariot, director of the Banner Alzheimer's Institute and a leader of the study, said the measurements will involve recalling a list of words after a period of distraction, naming common objects, a nonverbal reasoning test, answering questions about time and place, and a drawing test in which participants copy increasingly complex figures.
The scientists also will take physiological measurements, including PET scans that measure amyloid, PET scans that measure how glucose is metabolized in the brain, MRI scans that measure whether the brain is shrinking, and cerebral spinal fluid tests that measure levels of amyloid and tau, a protein that accumulates in dying brain cells.
If any of these biochemical indicators or biomarkers is improved by the drug, that could be another important scientific breakthrough, Reiman said. Scientists then might be able to treat one of these Alzheimer's biomarkers, in the same way that high blood pressure and cholesterol are considered treatable biomarkers of impending heart disease.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #6692 on: May 16th, 2012, 08:41am »
Exclusive: China pushes North Korea to drop nuclear test plan: sources
By Benjamin Kang Lim BEIJING | Wed May 16, 2012 6:20am EDT
China has been quietly and gently pressuring North Korea to scrap plans for a third nuclear test, said two sources with knowledge of closed-door discussions between the countries, but there is no indication how the North will react.
If North Korea goes ahead with the test, China would consider taking some retaliatory steps, but they would not be substantive, a source with ties to Pyongyang and Beijing told Reuters.
North Korea has almost completed preparations for the test, Reuters reported in late April, a step that would further isolate the impoverished state after last month's failed rocket launch that the United States says was a ballistic missile test.
"China is unhappy ... and urged North Korea not to conduct a nuclear test near Changbai Mountain," said the source, who declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the matter.
China feared a radiation leak and damage to the environment from a blast, the source added.
"China also complained about the environmental damage to the area after the first two tests."
When North Korea conducted nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009, it caused environmental damage to the mountain straddling the border with China. North Korea ceded part of the mountain to China in 1963.
It was unclear if the secretive North Korean government, typically unwilling to bow to outside pressure, would defer or drop the plans. China is the closest thing to an ally that North Korea has.
"The impact on China's northeast would be huge," the source said of a third test.
Chinese officials have discussed whether threats of diplomatic action would be effective, but any action might be restricted to some economic measures to signal China's displeasure and would not affect vital food aid for North Korea, the source said.
A Western diplomat, who also asked not to be identified, confirmed that China has put pressure on North Korea to abandon the test.
Major diplomatic repercussions were unlikely, however, said Jin Canrong, associate dean of the School of International Studies at Renmin University in Beijing. Instead, Jin, who has knowledge of how China deals with North Korea, said China may use financial levers to influence its neighbor.
"If closed-door negotiations fail to produce results, economic aid could be cut," Jin said, adding that imports of mineral resources and unspecified "special local products" could also be reduced.
China's exports to North Korea rose 20.6 percent last year to $2.28 billion from 2010, while imports plunged 81.4 percent to $147.4 million, according to Chinese customs figures.
China would also likely back another U.N. resolution slapping further sanctions on North Korea, including trade, said Jin.
China condemned North Korea's first nuclear test in October 2006, carried out in defiance of China's public pleas, and it supported a U.N. resolution that authorized sanctions. It backed sanctions again after the North's second test in May 2009.
Despite pressuring North Korea to cancel plans for a third test, China would want to avoid serious diplomatic measures, such as recalling its ambassador, said Jin.
"China does not want unnecessary external trouble ahead of the 18th congress. A major change in policy is not likely," he said, referring to the Communist Party's five-yearly conclave later this year when a broad leadership change is widely expected.
The sources declined to speculate whether China would cut oil supplies to North Korea.
In 2003, China briefly cut off fuel to North Korea after a missile test, but it cited technical problems.
The United States wants China to do more to rein in North Korea but China has little leverage over it and is unlikely to pull the plug on food aid due to fears of instability in its northeast, said the Western diplomat and Jin.
"China can't stop food aid. If that stops, it would endanger the regime," the envoy said of North Korea's leadership.
The main factor keeping China from using harsh measures to restrain North Korea is the fear of a destabilizing exodus of refugees into northeast China, preceded or followed by collapse of the North Korean regime.
"Experience has shown that sanctions have little impact on North Korean decision-making. And, of course, the comprehensive sanctions regime will be sabotaged by China, for whom a nuclear North Korea is a lesser evil than an unstable and or collapsing North Korea," said Andrei Lankov, a North Korea expert at South Korea's Kookmin University.
In addition, in the face of rising tension over disputed islands in the South China Sea, the last thing China needs is the United States using a North Korean nuclear test as an excuse to step up its military presence in the region, said a source with ties to China's top leadership, requesting anonymity.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in Beijing for two days of meetings this month, said the United States was willing to work with North Korea if it changed its ways.
North Korea hopes the United States would sign a peace treaty and recognize it - the North's long-standing demands - if it put off the nuclear test, the source with ties to Pyongyang and Beijing said.
The 1950-53 Korean War, in which China helped North Korea against the United States and South Korea, ended in a truce.
The threat of a nuclear test comes as Kim Jong-un, believed to be in his late 20s and the third member of his family to rule North Korea, seeks to cement his grip on power.
His father, Kim Jong-il, died in December after 17 years of rule that included mismanagement that resulted in the starving to death of an estimated 1 million people in the 1990s.
The untested Kim Jong-un has reaffirmed his father's "military first" policies that have stunted economic growth, dashing slim hopes of an opening to the outside world.
North Korean media recently upped its criticism of South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, who cut off aid to the North when he took power in 2008, calling him a "rat" and a "bastard" and threatening to turn the South Korean capital to ashes.
(Additional reporting by David Chance in SEOUL; Editing by Don Durfee and Raju Gopalakrishnan)
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #6693 on: May 16th, 2012, 08:46am »
Advertisers Aren’t Ready Yet To Move Lots Of TV Spots To Online Video: Analyst
By DAVID LIEBERMAN, Executive Editor Wednesday May 16, 2012 @ 6:19am PDT Tags: Advertising Upfront Market, Internet TV
AOL, Hulu, Yahoo, and Google’s YouTube are among the companies that provided so-called “newfront” presentations to advertisers this year — sales pitches urging them to divert to Web video platforms some of the billions that they plan to spend on conventional TV. Some major advertisers including GM and Samsung Mobile have said that they expect to do just that this year. But while that’s made this upfront season interesting, “we think it is still too early for online video to be meaningfully disruptive to TV,” Barclays Equity Research analyst Anthony DiClemente says in a report this morning. He notes that most viewers still flock to TV much more than the Web: The average person spent 153:19 hours a month watching the tube in Q4 — with another 11:44 hours going to time-shifted TV — according to Nielsen data. But they devoted just 4:34 hours watching Web video, and 4:20 watching videos on mobile phones.
Things are changing slowly. Monthly television watching was down 46 minutes from the average at the end of 2010, more than made up by the 1:17 hours added to timeshifted TV. But Web videos were only up 11 minutes, and there was no change in video viewing on mobile phones.
What accounts for this year’s expected $2.5B in digital video advertising, a 36% increase over 2011? That’s come “more at the expense of print ad budgets,” DiClemente says. He notes that more viewers will turn to Web videos as entertainment stars use the platform for their passion projects. But he still is unimpressed with the business model: It costs a lot to produce high quality entertainment, and “we wonder about what the eventual return on that investment could be.”
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #6694 on: May 16th, 2012, 08:54am »
UFO Amnesty: Ex-Army Colonel John Alexander Seeks Amnesty For Military Who Witness UFOs [EXCLUSIVE]
Posted: 05/16/2012 8:52 am
By Lee Speigel
If you're in the military and have ever seen what you believe to be a UFO, but were reluctant to mention it for fear of ridicule or, worse, repercussions that might end your career, take heart. Things may change.
A former military insider with top secret clearance who created Advanced Theoretical Physics -- a group of top-level government officials and scientists brought together to study UFO reports -- has just called on three of the highest-ranking military and intelligence officials in the Obama administration.
Retired Army Col. John Alexander has one goal: to ask Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, CIA Director Gen. David Petraeus and National Intelligence Director Gen. James Clapper to offer amnesty to anyone in the military who has been previously sworn to secrecy about UFOs.
"The issue has to do with this [notion of] disclosure," said Alexander. "The assumption in the UFO community -- and, frankly, the general population -- is that UFOs are secret and all the information is automatically classified. My position is that is not true."
Revealed exclusively to The Huffington Post, Alexander has sent letters to Panetta, Petraeus and Clapper, in which he proposes a no-cost, win-win solution for enhancing the U.S. government's trust and confidence with the American public. He's specifically referring to Unidentified Flying Objects.
A leading advocate for the development of non-lethal weapons, Alexander commanded Special Forces "A" Teams in Vietnam and Thailand in the 1960s. As a program manager for Los Alamos National Laboratory, he conducted non-lethal warfare briefings for the White House staff, National Security Council, members of Congress and senior defense officials.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #6695 on: May 17th, 2012, 07:47am »
Exclusive: Iran flouts U.N. sanctions, sends arms to Syria: panel
By Louis Charbonneau UNITED NATIONS Thu May 17, 2012 6:09am EDT
Syria remains the top destination for Iranian arms shipments in violation of a U.N. Security Council ban on weapons exports by the Islamic Republic, according to a confidential report on Iran sanctions-busting seen by Reuters on Wednesday.
Iran, like Russia, is one of Syria's few allies as it presses ahead with a 14-month old assault on opposition forces determined to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
News of the panel's report came as Tehran and the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency try narrow their differences on how to tackle concerns over Iran's atomic program, and as Iran prepares for talks with the five permanent council members and Germany in Iraq next week.
The new report, submitted by a panel of sanctions-monitoring experts to the Security Council's Iran sanctions committee, said the panel investigated three large illegal shipments of Iranian weapons over the past year.
"Iran has continued to defy the international community through illegal arms shipments," it stated. "Two of these cases involved (Syria), as were the majority of cases inspected by the Panel during its previous mandate, underscoring that Syria continues to be the central party to illicit Iranian arms transfers."
The third shipment involved rockets that Britain said last year were headed for Taliban fighters in Afghanistan.
"The Panel recommends the designation (blacklisting) of two entities related to these interdictions," it said. "The report also takes note of information concerning arms shipments by Iran to other destinations."
The kinds of arms that Iran was attempting to send to Syria before the shipments were seized by Turkish authorities included assault rifles, machine guns, explosives, detonators, 60mm and 120mm mortal shells and other items, the panel said.
The most recent incident described in the report was an arms shipment discovered in a truck that Turkey seized on its border with Syria in February. Turkey announced last year that it was imposing an arms embargo on Syria.
Diplomats told Reuters that the panel's draft report may be changed by the Security Council's Iran sanctions committee before it is submitted to the council itself for consideration.
It was unclear how long it would take the committee to pass the report to the Security Council. Last year's expert panel report on Iran was never made public because Russia blocked its publication.
The report also discusses Iran's attempts to circumvent sanctions on its nuclear program but notes that the four rounds of punitive measures the 15-nation Security Council imposed on Iran between 2006 and 2010 are having an impact.
"Sanctions are slowing Iran's procurement of some critical items required for its prohibited nuclear program," it said. "At the same time prohibited activities continue, including uranium enrichment."
Among the items Iran has attempted to procure for its nuclear program, the panel said, were nuclear-grade graphite, high-strength aluminum, aluminum, powder, specialized alloys, maraging steel, carbon fiber, magnets, vacuum pumps, turbines, electrical switchboards and helium gas detectors.
"The Panel identifies the acquisition of high-grade carbon fiber as one of a number of critical items Iran requires for the development of more advanced centrifuges," the report said, adding that nations should be on alert for illicit attempts to acquire such items.
Iran rejects allegations by Western nations and their allies that it is secretly developing the capability to produce nuclear weapons. It has refused to suspend its enrichment program as demanded by the Security Council despite being hit with increasingly draconian U.N. and various national sanctions.
The report said Iran has been trying to circumvent U.N. and other unilateral sanctions on financial firms by using correspondence banking relationships with institutions not under sanctions, and appears to be relying on Iranians abroad to carry out such transfers. Transfer traffic has risen sharply, it said.
The panel said it had received information about a small firm set up abroad by an Iranian national that was involved in funds transfers to various recipients worldwide. The firm, which the report did not identify, had processed transfers amounting to some $11 billion over an 18-month period, it said.
The report discussed at length the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines, known as IRISL. While IRISL itself is not formally under U.N. sanctions, three of its subsidiaries are, and the council has warned U.N. member states to be vigilant regarding potential sanctions violations by IRISL.
The panel report said that Irano Hind Shipping Company, one of the IRISL subsidiaries subject to sanctions, continues to operate vessels. IRISL is a difficult company to monitor because it is constantly changing the ownership, names and national flags of its ships, the report said.
The panel said that IRISL, as Reuters has previously reported, has set up what appear to be front companies intended to operate vessels and obscure its ownership. Currently IRISL's more than 130 ships are owned by some 75 different companies, which the panel said was unusual for a major shipping line.
IRISL and its related companies have also been changing the names of their ships to get the word "Iran" out of them.
Before the council passed resolution 1803 in March 2008, which warned all U.N. member states to be "vigilant" about IRISL, most of its vessels' names contained the word "Iran." Now fewer than 10 do, the panel said.
Since March 2008, IRISL and its related companies have carried out more than 220 changes in ownership of vessels, the report said.
Turning to Iran's ballistic missile program, the report said it "continues to develop with additional launches, which are prohibited under resolution 1929," adopted in June 2010.
"The Panel takes note of the recent designations (U.N. Security Council blacklisting) ... of two (North Korean) entities and their links to Iran's ballistic missile program."
The two North Korean companies linked to Iran's missile program are the Green Pine Associated Corp and the Korea Heungjin Trading Company. The council's North Korea sanctions committee blacklisted them on May 2.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #6696 on: May 17th, 2012, 07:52am »
Muslim Brotherhood presidential candidate an underdog in Egypt
By Ernesto Londoño 16 May 2012
CAIRO — Had Egypt’s post-revolutionary political winds held steady, Mohammed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood’s presidential candidate, would have been coasting to victory in this month’s election.
Instead, he’s running an underdog campaign. The group’s prodigious political machine, which turned the once-besieged opposition movement into the dominant force in parliament early this year, has to contend with an uncharismatic candidate and a shift in public opinion as many Egyptians have soured on the venerable Islamist organization.
The Brotherhood’s political stock is plunging, analysts and ordinary Egyptians say, because its political party has backtracked on promises and accomplished little since a predominantly Islamist cadre of lawmakers was sworn in in January.
In the working-class Cairo neighborhood of Abbasiya, where the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party campaigned vigorously in the weeks before the parliamentary elections, shopkeeper Abbas Helmi, 58, put down a Koran he was reciting softly to talk politics. On the eve of those elections, he said, Freedom and Justice campaigners set up stalls to sell residents subsidized meat and vegetables, drawing large crowds.
“People went and bought their meat,” Helmi recalled. “But after the vote, [the party workers] disappeared, and the people felt deceived.”
The backgrounds of the two front-runners — a former foreign minister who served under now-deposed Hosni Mubarak and a moderate Islamist who broke away from the Brotherhood — suggest that Egyptians may want a statesman who is more inclusive and less dogmatic about the role of Islam in governance than the devout politicians who control parliament.
But experts caution that it would be a mistake to dismiss Morsi’s chances outright. His rivals might be generating more enthusiasm and doing better in the polls, they say, but none has the Brotherhood’s mighty machinery or its network of allied preachers and local operatives.
“They go into full mobilization mode on Election Day,” said Shadi Hamid, an Egypt expert with the Brookings Doha Center who has studied the Muslim Brotherhood for years. “They play old-fashioned bare-knuckles politics, and they’re in it to win it.”
In addition to its robust get-out-the-vote campaign, the Brotherhood’s endurance of decades of oppression under Mubarak probably helped it to win sympathy during the parliamentary elections. But the group’s short stint in power has proved largely disappointing.
The Brotherhood-dominated parliament has passed no laws of consequence since its January inauguration. Many Egyptians have been disenchanted by the Brotherhood’s refusal to prioritize the repeal of the reviled emergency law, which has been used for decades to crack down on dissidents.
The Brotherhood’s handling of another controversial issue, the use of military trials to prosecute civilians, has angered human rights activists. Parliament recently restricted the president from referring civilians for prosecution in military court, but it stopped short of also barring the armed forces from doing so.
Despite occasional public statements criticizing the ruling military council, the Brotherhood has had a surprisingly cooperative relationship with the generals who were once instrumental in keeping the group oppressed and politically disenfranchised. The Brotherhood has often discouraged its followers from joining protests against the military, infuriating other political factions, which view the Islamist group as opportunistic.
Senior Brotherhood officials acknowledged in interviews that Morsi might lack charisma, but they disputed the notion that his campaign for the two-day election next week is floundering.
“Egypt doesn’t need a charismatic president,” said Essam el-Erian, an influential Brotherhood legislator. “It needs a president who can deal with the government and with the parliament.”
In recent weeks, some rallies for Morsi have seemed tailor-made for ultraconservative Muslim voters, whom the campaign is trying to woo. It has also enlisted radical clerics to rally voters, in an apparent attempt to excite and broaden the party’s base.
Morsi, 60, has dismissed as flawed polls that show him lagging and has pointed to large turnouts at campaign rallies nationwide as evidence that his presidential bid is not doomed.
He is branding himself a “renaissance” candidate and the only contender who would bring impeccable Islamist credentials to the presidency. A vote for him, Morsi has assured Egyptians, is a way to ensure that the spirit of the revolution that ousted Mubarak from the presidency in February 2011 endures.
“I want the revolution to stay alive after the president is elected,” Morsi said at a recent rally. “We will not allow another dictator to control Egypt.”
Morsi was not the Brotherhood’s first choice when the group reneged on its vow not to field a presidential candidate. The group says it broke the promise because it believes the military council that replaced Mubarak has mismanaged the transition to democratic rule.
The Freedom and Justice Party nominated Khairat el-Shater, the Brotherhood’s top strategist and biggest bank roller, as its candidate in March. Anticipating that Shater could be disqualified, Morsi’s name was registered as a backup.
Shater was among 10 contenders disqualified last month by the country’s presidential election commission, an unexpected move that forced the Brotherhood to thrust little-known Morsi into the spotlight. Shater was disqualified because the commission ruled that the time he served as a political prisoner during the Mubarak regime made him ineligible.
Morsi, an engineer with a doctorate from the University of Southern California, had a relatively low profile until he became the Freedom and Justice Party’s chairman when the long-banned Muslim Brotherhood was allowed to register as a political party after Mubarak’s ouster.
‘Not sticking to their word’
A senior Brotherhood leader who offered his candid assessment of the Morsi campaign on the condition of anonymity said there is deep angst about the race among the movement’s old guard.
“I think they made a mistake in making too many promises and then not sticking to their word,” the veteran Brotherhood figure said. “As Islamists, they should have stuck to their word. People are now calling the Muslim Brotherhood dishonest.”
Besides reneging on its promise not to field a presidential candidate, Brotherhood leaders have raised eyebrows by warming up to Washington and suggesting that they would honor Egypt’s unpopular peace deal with Israel.
Morsi’s main competitors are former foreign minister Amr Moussa, the Arab League’s erstwhile chief whose appeal stems largely from his name recognition and his hard-line stance against Israel, and Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, a former Brotherhood leader who is regarded as a moderate Islamist. Aboul Fotouh supporters have sought to disparage the Brotherhood. New billboards that have gone up around Cairo in support of Aboul Fotouh call the candidate’s former group the “Machiavellian Brotherhood.”
Abdul Ghamed Ahmad Abdel, a 69-year-old taxi driver, said the Brotherhood’s popularity has slipped in his district of Imbaba in Cairo.
“They took control of the parliament because they are deeply entrenched in the rural areas,” he said. But their lackluster performance in office is sure to hurt them, he added. “They’ve been exposed for what they are.”
Special correspondent Ingy Hassieb contributed to this report.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #6697 on: May 17th, 2012, 08:01am »
Giant fish caught in Chinese river
A sturgeon weighing more than half a ton is caught by startled fishermen in northeast China.
9:42AM BST 17 May 2012
The 617kg Kaluga fish was caught on Tuesday in Heilongjiang River, at Tongjiang, a city that borders Russia in northeast China.
The Kaluga is a large predatory sturgeon only found in the Heilongjiang River basin. Chen Lin, the fisherman who caught the fish said it was the biggest he had ever seen. Chen, along with fellow fishermen, sent the fish to a local sturgeon breeding station.
According to breeders, the sturgeon is a female and is currently carrying about 1.2 million eggs. Staff at the station will collect the roe and implement artificial insemination. The fish fry will be released into the Heilongjiang River.
Kaluga fish are believed to have existed for 130 million years and are claimed to be the largest freshwater fish in the world. The fish is listed as critically endangered, having been fished to near extinction for its valuable roe.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #6698 on: May 17th, 2012, 08:13am »
Gavin Smith Family Calls Off Weekend Search for Missing Fox Executive 7:22 PM PDT 5/16/2012 by Aaron Couch
Family spokesman Howard Bragman said the decision came after consultations with the LA County Sheriff's Department.
A search for missing 20th Century Fox executive Gavin Smith scheduled for this weekend has been canceled. The family’s public relations counselor, Howard Bragman, said the decision came after consultations with the LA County Sheriff's Department and the Smith family.
“There is not a specific area of defined interest to make this effort productive at this time,” Bragman said in a statement released Wednesday evening.
The search had been planned to take place May 19-20 at undisclosed "remote areas," and Smith's family had asked members of the public to assist.
“The family is hopeful that people will be able to join us on our search this weekend," Smith's sister, Tara Addeo, said in a statement released to The Hollywood Reporter Tuesday. "The love and support of so many has helped us immensely.”
Family members had also planned on granting interviews to local media to publicize the search.
Smith, 57, was last seen May 1 at a friend's residence in Oak Park, an affluent Ventura County community. He left the property between 9 and 10 p.m. in his black Mercedes-Benz E420 sedan, according to the Sheriff’s department. Smith is 6-foot-6 and was wearing purple pants and black and gray shoes at the time of his disappearance.
Smith has worked in Fox’s distribution department for 18 years, where he is branch manager for theaters in Dallas and Oklahoma City. He acts as a liaison between the studio and theaters to help ensure films reach their destinations.
The Smith family has set up a Web site to raise awareness of his disappearance.
Read the statement from Bragman below:
After consultations between the LA County Sherriff's Department and the Gavin Smith family, it has been decided that there will be NO search this weekend. There is not a specific area of defined interest to make this effort productive at this time.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #6700 on: May 18th, 2012, 08:27am »
European markets rebound after dropping in response to economic worries
By Anthony Faiola Updated: Friday, May 18, 5:30 AM
ATHENS — Europe’s economic woes escalated Friday as fears mounted over troubled Spanish banks and the credit rating agency Fitch further downgraded Greece’s debt, citing heightened concern the country might be forced to abandon the euro.
Concern was focused on Madrid a day after a dramatic sell-off of troubled Bankia, one of Spain’s biggest banks. Rumors of a quickened pace in depositor withdrawals — denied by officials — were fueling investor fear. Underscoring the mounting concern over Spain’s financial system, Moody’s issued sweeping downgrades Thursday on 16 Spanish banks.
On Friday, key stock indexes fell in early trading but were rebounding by midday, with stock exchanges in Frankfurt, Paris, Madrid and Milan all trading in positive territory. London’s FTSE 100 was still down, however.
The euro touched a five-month low against the dollar early Friday but strengthened in later trading. Bankia, along with other hard-hit Spanish banking stocks, was rebounding.
Analysts have expressed concern that recession-plagued Spain, after spending an undisclosed sum in a partial nationalization of Bankia, might be reaching the critical point at which it would need to ask the European Union for a bailout. Spanish officials have denied such need, and have issued calls for calm.
On Thursday, Spain was forced to pay sharply higher interest rates to raise cash, paying 5.1 percent for debt maturing in April 2016, up from 3.37 percent last March. Though the sale actually went better than some analysts predicted, it nevertheless continued to raise fears that Madrid might be locked out of credit markets in the weeks ahead.
Howard Archer, chief European economist at IHS Global Insight in London, said markets are in a “fragile” mood and “it doesn’t take much bad news to trigger off a move downwards.” He said the headlines from across Europe in the past few days, including Thursday night's downgrading of Spanish banks, “highlight the fact that it isn’t just Greece, Spain has major problems of its own. There’s a huge amount of uncertainty, and all news coming out at the moment is pretty bad.”
Moody’s sweeping Spanish downgrades— including the euro zone’s largest bank, Banco Santander — came as the agency saw a convergence of woes. Spain, the agency noted, is now mired in recession, stung by “the ongoing real estate crisis and persistent high levels of unemployment.” At the same time, the debt crisis has contributed to concerns over the banks’ access to cash, and the ability of the Spanish government to prop them up.
Fitch also further downgraded the debt of troubled Greece to CCC from B-minus. The agency cited the “heightened risk” that Greece might not be able to stay in the euro after the strong showing of anti-austerity parties in the May 6 elections. That vote was inclusive, leaving politicians here unable to form a government, and Greeks are now set to go back to the polls June 17.
One voter survey released Friday, however, suggested Greeks might be swinging back toward supporting traditional parties more prepared to work with European officials on more modest changes to a bailout deal.
Special correspondent Karla Adam contributed to this report from London.
A mysterious object flying over Denver nearly caused a mid-air collision Monday evening.
As far as investigators know, the mystery object did not show up on radar Monday.
Investigators believe this object, whatever it is, could pose a serious safety hazard to planes.
Radio transmissions from LiveATC.com confirm a nervous-sounding pilot reported a strange object at 5:17 p.m. Monday.
The pilot is heard telling air traffic control: "A remote controlled aircraft, or what? Something just went by the other way ... About 20 to 30 seconds ago. It was like a large remote-controlled aircraft.
The corporate jet, a Cessna Citation 525 CJ1, was flying at 8,000 feet above sea level over Cherry Creek when the mystery object came close enough to make any pilot nervous.
"That's an issue because now we have something in controlled airspace that poses a danger," Former NTSB Investigator and 9NEWS Aviation Analyst Greg Feith said.
"Was this an unmanned vehicle that was part of some sort of law enforcement operation? Was this somebody that had flown a large model aircraft inadvertently into the airspace? Or was it just [a bird that] caught the pilot's eye so he believed it was an aircraft but could have been a very large wing span bird," Feith said.
Any one of those things can be catastrophic if it collides with an airplane.
Three years ago, a bird strike took down a commercial airliner that managed to land safely in the Hudson River. All the passengers survived.
FAA spokesman Mike Fergus says investigators will talk to the pilot and look at other clues.
"The threat is there from a collision standpoint. We'll do as much as we can here to try to track back what time it was. Probably talk with some remote-control clubs, that type of thing," Fergus said.
The mission of investigators now is to identify that mystery object before another close call, or worse.
So far, nobody has been able to tell us if a drone was flying over Denver.
We also called local airports and model aircraft clubs.
John Dickens, president of the Denver RC Eagles, says members are not permitted to fly more than 400 feet above ground level or about 5,700 feet above sea level, due to possible air traffic interference with Centennial Airport. Dickens said he would look into the incident.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #6702 on: May 18th, 2012, 08:34am »
Exclusive: Drugmakers weigh emergency supply plan for Greece
By Ben Hirschler LONDON Fri May 18, 2012 9:01am EDT
International drugmakers are working with European authorities on emergency plans to keep medicines flowing into Greece if the country crashes out of the euro.
Discussions have intensified in recent days, according to industry sources, and manufacturers are looking closely at the experience of Argentina's collapse in 2002, when some firms agreed to continue to supply medicines without payment for a period of time.
Executives at leading drug companies - particularly those with European headquarters - are under pressure to avert a health catastrophe, which could occur if Greek imports are halted by a massive devaluation of newly issued drachma.
"There's a moral obligation to continue to supply," said Simon Friend, global pharmaceutical leader at PricewaterhouseCoopers.
"Greece is not a big market, so most drug companies can absorb it … the reputational damage would, I think, more than outweigh the economic cost."
Although plans are still in flux, the idea is to have a scheme ready for implementation at short notice that could bridge the gap by supplying critical medicines for a few months, according to one person familiar with the situation.
Richard Bergstrom, director general of the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations, confirmed his group was discussing the Greek situation but declined to go into details.
"We obviously are on alert and talking to people about it," he said. "We are in very close contact with the European Commission and the Greece task force and we are monitoring developments."
The European Union set up the task force last year under Horst Reichenbach to help Athens tackle its debt crisis.
Greece imports nearly all its medicines and is particularly reliant on branded drugs, as opposed to cheaper generics, which means it spends a relatively large amount per capita on medicines.
Any short-term initiative might be limited to certain categories of essential medicines and would probably not be a panacea, reflecting the need of companies to protect the interests of shareholders as well as patients.
Certain parts of the Greek healthcare system have already experienced drug shortages in recent months and drug manufacturers - owed 1.21 billion euros in unpaid bills from Greek state hospitals, according to the Hellenic Association of Pharmaceutical Companies - have adopted a range of strategies to limit exposure to an uncertain market.
Some, like Denmark's Novo Nordisk, the world's largest supplier of insulin for diabetics, have long demanded payment on delivery. Others, including Britain's GlaxoSmithKline, say they have not changed the terms of business and are not demanding immediate cash settlement.
Swiss-based Roche, the world's largest maker of cancer drugs, has a nuanced approach. It switched last year to a system of payment on delivery for hospitals with a history of bad payments but spokesman Daniel Grotzky said this policy did not apply to critical products like HIV drugs and CellCept, a medicine given to organ transplantation patients.
Drugmakers know from experience that turning off the supply tap may simply not be an option. Two years, Novo Nordisk was hit by storm of protest when it halted deliveries of certain insulins for around a month after Greece cut the price by more than a quarter. The cut-off ended when Athens agreed to somewhat smaller price cuts.
Greece represents just under 1 percent of the world drugs market but it has a potentially wider impact because the country is embedded in the European Union.
As a result, price cuts in Greece can trigger automatic cuts in richer countries through the practice of "reference pricing" to other countries - something industry is keen to avoid if Greece leaves the euro and prices in euro terms fall heavily.
Drug price cuts over the past two years have also helped suck medicines out of the country as wholesalers sell supplies to countries - like Germany - where drug prices are higher, although recently introduced quotas limiting exports of some drugs have tried to address this.
Such parallel trade is allowed under European free trade rules and can help keep costs down for European healthcare systems, according to the European Association of Euro-Pharmaceutical Companies, representing wholesalers involved in the practice.
Drug manufacturers, however, see it as a thorn in their side and any short-term emergency supply plan for Greece is likely to include a demand for assurances that drug deliveries will actually get to Greek patients. Fraud over medicine reimbursement in Greece is another concern.
On the ground, meanwhile, many patients are already struggling to get the prescription medicines they need, according to Apostolos Veizis, head of programs for Medecins Sans Frontieres in Greece.
One reason is a liquidity crunch among pharmacists, who face delays in payments from public insurers and, as a result, are unable to pay their suppliers.
But even when drugs are available, more and more Greeks have trouble paying the 10-25 percent of the prescription cost not covered by the public healthcare system.
"We're seeing a massive decrease in patient access because of the economic crisis," Veizis said.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #6703 on: May 18th, 2012, 08:43am »
Bruno Wu To Finance John Woo-Produced Remake Of ‘The Killer’: Cannes
By NANCY TARTAGLIONE, International Editor Friday, 18 May 2012 11:25 UK Tags: Bruno Wu, John Woo, The Killer
(Cannes) May 18, 2012 –– Bruno Wu’s Seven Stars Film Studios (SSFS) has agreed to finance John Woo and Terence Chang’s Lion Rock Productions ‘THE KILLER’, the English language retelling of John Woo’s iconic 1989 action film. John H. Lee (A MOMENT TO REMEMBER, 71: INTO THE FIRE) will direct the script by Josh Campbell (ONE SQUARE MILE). Sarah Yan Li, China’s most promising rising star, will co-star in the thriller. Additionally, Li is a top graduate from China Central Academy of Performing Arts, China’s top performing art academy, and was recently selected as the spokesperson of China’s leading automaker Brilliance Automobile. Li is repped by CAA.
Lion Rock’s John Woo and Terence Chang will produce alongside Lion Rock’s Lori Tilkin, who will executive produce. Bruno Wu’s Seven Stars will finance the film which begins filming Q4 2012 in Toronto. Seven Stars’ CEO Fred Milstein closed the deal prior to Cannes. Bruno Wu, Chairman of Seven Stars Global Entertainment (SSGE), the parent company of SSFS, said: “SSFS and Lion Rock is the perfect team to bring this iconic project to the global audience. I have always admired John Woo’s work and am confident he and John Lee are the ideal filmmaking duo.”
Lion Rock Productions John Woo said: “THE KILLER” is one of my most beloved projects. I have wanted to make an English-language remake and thrilled to have John H. Lee on board to make that happen. Lee brings a perfect blend of emotion and stunning visuals to his films and I have supreme confidence he’ll bring this story to a new generation and do it justice.”
Set in present day Los Angeles, Jef, a highly skilled contract killer falls in love with the only living witness to his latest job, a female singer (Sarah Yan Li) who was blinded during the hit. Meanwhile, Detective Vaughn, the cop assigned to investigate Jef’s hit, has a chance to save his reputation when he correctly, and fatefully, suspects Jef to be the killer, but after witnessing Jef display an act of heroism, Vaughn’s perceptions of right and wrong begin to change.
John H. Lee’s award-winning film A MOMENT TO REMEMBER remains the highest-grossest Korean film in Japan to date and won the Grand Bell Award for its screenplay.
As recently announced, Harvest Seven Stars Media Private Equity (HSSMPE), which is a subsidiary of Seven Stars Film Studios (SSFS), will invest $800 million across two distinct areas: mergers and acquisitions in the media field and the development of a marketing and distribution platform in all media throughout China, plus the creation of content. In addition, the company recently tapped Fred Milstein President, International, HSSMPE and Chief Executive Officer of SSFS.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #6704 on: May 19th, 2012, 08:36am »
Three Mexico generals held in investigation of crime ties
May 18, 2012 | 4:04 pm
MEXICO CITY -- In a fresh blow to the prestige of the Mexican military amid a bloody drug war, three current or retired generals have been detained in Mexico as part of a government investigation of possible ties between ranking officers and organized crime.
The army announced late Thursday that it had detained retired Gen. Ricardo Escorcia Vargas as part of a probe that earlier led to the arrests of two other generals suspected of possible ties to the Beltran Leyva drug-trafficking group in a case dating to 2009.
The army’s statement said Escorcia Vargas was being held to get him to testify, but it did not say whether he faced the same accusations as the two other men in custody, retired Gen. Tomas Angeles Dauahare and Gen. Roberto Dawe Gonzalez. Both were detained Tuesday and are being held by the federal attorney general. The statement noted that the three arrest orders were issued at the same time.
The army has faced growing criticism as tens of thousands of soldiers have been deployed across the country to crack down on heavily armed drug cartels. The deployment has prompted numerous charges of rights abuses -- unlawful detentions, torture and even extrajudicial killings -- by soldiers, and concern is spreading about the integrity and image of the military, long one of the nation’s most respected institutions.
Drug violence, largely between rival traffickers, has killed more than 50,000 people since President Felipe Calderon mobilized the military in late 2006 as part of a crackdown on cartels.
The arrests may stoke political controversy. One of the detained generals, Angeles Dauahare, appeared recently at a security forum sponsored by the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, which ruled Mexico for decades and hopes to regain power by defeating Mexican President Felipe Calderon’s party in July elections. Angeles Dauahare has been mentioned by pundits as a possible future public-safety secretary if the PRI wins. Its candidate, Enrique Peña Nieto, holds a big lead in polls.
Angeles Dauahare served as assistant defense secretary in the Calderon government from 2006 until his retirement in 2008.
Last month, retired Gen. Mario Acosta Chaparro, once accused but exonerated of drug links to a cartel based in Ciudad Juarez, was shot and killed in Mexico City.
The most well-known modern case of ties between a general and drug traffickers was that of Mexico’s drug czar, Gen. Jesus Gutierrez Rebollo, charged in 1997 with providing protection for Juarez-based drug lord Amado Carrillo Fuentes, known as “Lord of the Skies” for his group’s use of aircraft to move drug shipments.