Following a September 16 incident that left 17 Iraqis dead and 24 wounded, the Iraqi government demanded that the private security contractor Blackwater USA be ejected from Iraq. According to the State Department, Blackwater USA was involved in 56 shootings during 1,873 convoy runs in Iraq during 2007 while guarding American diplomats. Blackwater USA employees have fired their weapons at a rate at least twice as high as competitors. In 2006, DynCorp International reported only 10 cases of weapons use in 1,500 convoy runs.
A second US Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that threatened to withhold $300 million in federal funding to Yale prompted Yale Law School to back down from policies that prevented the military from recruiting on campus. Since 1978, Yale Law School has required recruiters to sign a pledge of nondiscrimination. The Pentagon would not sign the pledge because of its “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy toward homosexuals, resulting in the military’s exclusion from recruitment activities. In 2002, the military challenged the law school by use of the Solomon Amendment, a congressional statute allowing the government to withhold funding to colleges and universities that impede military recruitment on campus. The university complied, although 45 faculty members filed suit. In 2005, a federal judge in Connecticut ruled Yale had the right to deny the military participation in the interview program. Last year, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled against 36 colleges and universities fighting to keep military recruiters off campus, a decision that brought about the latest appellate ruling against Yale. “The judges that hold office at the moment disagree with us,” said professor Robert Burt, the lead plaintiff in the case. “We must wait for history to vindicate our position.” Without the federal funding, the university’s medical research into cancer, heart disease, and other illnesses would suffer. The military argues that it needs to hire lawyers for projects related to Afghanistan and Iraq and their inability to recruit law students is hindering that process.
Source: Associated Press
Despite varying figures, government and independent groups agree civilian casualties in Iraq have decreased since August. The Iraqi Interior Ministry recorded a 29 percent drop from August’s 2,318 deaths to September’s 1,654. A British-based nongovernmental group, Iraq Body Count, monitored 1,280 deaths, an even larger reduction from its 2,575 August count. Reuters reported a 50 percent plunge in deaths making September’s numbers the lowest for 2007 with 884 casualties. Another indication that violence in Iraq is on the decline: Casualties for American troops decreased from 84 in August to 63 in September.
Source: New York Times
Common chronic health conditions plague more than half of Americans and cost the US economy more than $1 trillion a year, not only in treatment expenses but loss of productivity in workers through sick days and reduced performance, according to a Milken Institute report. Left unchecked, the economic blow could rocket to nearly $6 trillion annually by 2050. In 2003, $277 billion was spent on the treatment of chronic diseases but lost productivity cost $1.1 trillion. If steps are taken toward prevention, early detection, and improved lifestyles, $1.6 trillion may be saved and 40 million Americans may be spared chronic illness by 2023. The institute studied seven chronic diseases: cancer, asthma, heart disease, stroke, hypertension, diabetes, and mental disorders.
Source: San Francisco Chronicle
In September, Republican senators blocked legislation to allow terrorism detainees the right to appeal their detention to federal courts. The proposal was an effort to reverse a 2006 anti-terrorism law that is before the Supreme Court. Opponents of the bill argue that by granting detainees appellate rights, the government would be jeopardizing national security. “Casting aside the time-honored protection of habeas corpus makes us more vulnerable as a nation because it leads us away from our core American values and calls into question our historic role as a defender of human rights around the world,” said Senator Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vermont), who backed the bill.
Source: New York Times
A new study finds that Americans 50 years or older suffer from more diseases, especially obesity and smoking-related ones, than Europeans in the same age group. This disparity adds $150 billion per year to US health care costs. Americans have higher rates of cancer and diabetes, and nearly twice as much heart disease as Europeans. Arthritis and cancer were more than twice as common in Americans. Diabetes was diagnosed in 16 percent of American seniors, compared to the 11 percent of European seniors. Fifty-three percent of Americans were present or past smokers and 33.1 percent were obese. While the higher cancer rates are likely due to more intensive screening in the US, the study concludes that obesity-related illnesses point to an unhealthy population. “If you look at the doctor-diagnosed rates of diabetes and other chronic diseases related to obesity, it’s just startling,” said Kenneth Thorpe, lead author of the report conducted by Emory University. Thorpe said the US health care system is part of the problem—it’s fiscally driven, not patient driven. “We wait for people to get sick. They show up. We treat them. And doctors and hospitals get paid. That’s not a very good way for managing disease,” said Thorpe.
Source: Los Angeles Times
Forty percent of the world’s languages are at risk of dying out, and two researchers have identified the most endangered. “The pace of language extinction we’re seeing, it’s really unprecedented in human history,” said Dr. David Harrison, author of When Languages Die. “And it’s happening faster than the extinction of flora and fauna. More than 40 percent of the world’s languages could be considered endangered, compared to 8 percent of plants and 18 percent of mammals.” Globalization and migration are the main causes for this trend. People move to cities and pick up the dominant tongue of the workplace when economic pressures force them out of their villages. As well, children shed their native languages quickly in school. The researchers discovered the last speaker of Amurdag, an aboriginal language of Northern Australia previously thought to be extinct, and recorded him reciting words like “aburga” (rainbow serpent). It would take between three and four years of detailed documentation of a language and over $400,000 to save it. With a tongue dying every two weeks and 3,500 languages spoken by only 0.2 percent of the world’s population, resources are limited in protecting them.
Source: Independent (UK)
In September, environmental organizations petitioned the US Environmental Protection Agency and the Consumer Product Safety Commission to investigate and more stringently regulate air fresheners, products expected to achieve $1.72 billion in sales this year. The Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, Alliance for Healthy Homes, and the National Center for Healthy Housing claim the air fresheners—whether scented sprays, gels, or plug-ins—contain harmful chemicals linked to developmental problems in infants, cancer in laboratory animals, and breathing difficulties, especially in asthmatics. They commissioned independent laboratories to test popular brands of fresheners. Most of the companies identified in the report continue to stand by the safety of their products. Walgreens removed three brands of air fresheners from their shelves in 5,850 stores nationwide.
Source: San Francisco Chronicle
In 2006, consumers worldwide spent about $2.2 billion on fair trade-certified products. This 42 percent increase from the previous year is evident in the rising demand for fair trade coffee, cocoa, and cotton. Dunkin’ Donuts serves fair trade espresso in all 5,400 of its stores and from 2005 to 2006 Starbucks doubled its order of fair trade coffee. Fair trade is defined, by the International Fair Trade Association, as “concern for the social, economic, and environmental well-being of marginalized small producers” and does not exploit them for profit. Farmers follow a list of rules for certification that cover pesticides, farming techniques, recycling, and even their children’s education. In return, they receive a premium price for their products. Fair trade coffee farmers in Brazil get paid $1.29 per pound, compared to the $1.05 per pound market rate.
Source: New York Times