FDA report shows problems at Merck vaccine plant

Federal inspectors documented unwanted “fibers” on the stoppers of vaccine vials at Merck & Co. Inc.’s vast vaccine plant in Montgomery County.

They also found instances of contaminated children’s vaccines and complaints that were not always investigated at the West Point plant.

Inspectors from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration spent 30 days at the plant between November and January and cited 49 areas of concern, including a failure to follow good manufacturing practices.

The findings are detailed in an unpublished 21-page FDA report obtained by The Inquirer under the federal Freedom of Information Act.

Independent experts who reviewed the report say it documents serious concerns in one of the country’s premier vaccine plants. They suggested the problems could be a symptom of Merck’s cost cutting in the face of rapid growth of its vaccine business.

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Rockefellers urge action on climate change

One of America’s most powerful families will call tomorrow for a sweeping shake-up at the top of ExxonMobil, the world’s largest company.

A group of descendants of John D. Rockefeller, who founded Exxon’s predecessor Standard Oil in 1870, will begin a campaign to split the role of chief executive and chairman of the board at the oil and gas group, a role held by Rex Tillerson.

Last night the family group issued a statement saying that the company’s leadership was “failing to address the future of energy and related industry hurdles”.
It said that representatives would make an announcement in New York to explain “that a majority of the family is now so concerned about the direction of ExxonMobil Corporation that it is urging a major change”.

Exxon, which earned $40 billion (£20 billion) last year, when Mr Tillerson was paid $21.7 million, was the slowest of the big oil majors to acknowledge climate change. The family is calling for an independent chairman and a bigger leadership role for the directors. The campaign comes as big oil companies face mounting pressure to deal with public concern over global warming.

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U.S. risks stagflation, says BIS chief

BASEL, Switzerland, April 29 (Reuters) – Stagflation is an increasingly plausible prospect in the United States and weak economic growth could last well into 2009, if not longer, the head of the Bank for International Settlements says.

That does not herald a rerun of the economic stagnation and rampant inflation that ran riot during the 1970s when oil prices last soared to unprecedented levels, Malcolm Knight, BIS general manager, said in an interview.

But it does cast some doubt on the White House’s thesis that the economy will rebound in the second half of 2008 in response to the tens of billions of dollars of tax rebates the government will be delivering to U.S. households in the coming weeks.

“I see a certain amount of scope for stagflation in a number of economies and that usually tends to result in subpar economic growth performance for an extended period of time, which could go well into 2009 or even longer,” said Knight, a Canadian who worked for more than 20 years at the International Monetary Fund.

“I think the U.S. economy is likely to experience weakness this year and in much of 2009,” said Knight, speaking to Reuters at BIS headquarters in Basel, Switzerland.

“Stagflation is a definite risk.”

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Washington to keep supplying arms to Taiwan

Washington will continue to back Taiwan militarily while it pushes for peace talks with China, the de facto US envoy here assured incoming president Ma Ying-jeou Tuesday.

Stephen Young, director of the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT), said the United States would continue to supply weapons to Taipei.

“We also expect our traditional close security cooperation to continue, as we are convinced American support for Taiwan’s defence gives its democratic leaders the confidence to explore closer ties with its big neighbour without fear of pressure or coercion,” he said in an address to the American Chamber of Commerce (Amcham) here.

Taiwan has been governed separately since the end of a 1949 civil war, but Beijing has repeatedly threatened to invade should the island declare formal independence, and has targeted it with more than 1,000 ballistic missiles.

Washington has been the island’s leading arms supplier, despite switching diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979.

But Taipei-Washington ties were frustrated by cross-strait tensions under the outgoing pro-independence government and Ma, of the Beijing-friendly Kuomintang, has vowed to improve relations.

Young also hailed the unprecedented contacts between the island and China earlier this month.

“We applaud both sides of the Strait for facilitating vice president-elect Vincent Siew’s recent participation in the Boao Forum, during which he held a highly symbolic meeting with People’s Republic of China President Hu Jintao,” Young said.

Tuesday April 29, 2008

Source: AFP

Bank bail-outs to be kept secret

The Bank of England has imposed a permanent news blackout on its £50bn-plus plan to ease the credit crunch.

Ferocious and unprecedented secrecy means taxpayers will never know the names of the banks that have been supported through the special liquidity scheme, which was unveiled by Bank Governor Mervyn King last week.

Requests under the Freedom of Information Act are to be denied. Details will be kept secret even after 30 years – the period after which all but the most sensitive state documents are released.

Any Bank of England employee leaking the names of institutions involved will face court action for breach of contract.

Even a figure for the overall amount advanced will not be published until October. Meanwhile the Bank is expected to issue at least £50bn of Treasury bills to banks in exchange for their mortgages – entirely in secret.

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Drone attacks hit high in Iraq

WASHINGTON — U.S. commanders in Iraq have ordered an unprecedented number of airstrikes by unmanned airplanes in April to kill insurgents in urban combat and to limit their ability to launch rockets at American forces, military records show.

The 11 attacks by Predators — nearly double the previous high for one month — were conducted as the Pentagon has intensified efforts to increase the use of drones, which play an increasingly vital role for gathering intelligence and launching attacks in Iraq. Last week, Defense Secretary Robert Gates prodded the Air Force to do more to rush drones to the war zone.


An AGM-114 Hellfire missile is unloaded from an MQ-1 Predator unmanned aerial vehicle after a mission in May at Balad Air Base, Iraq in this undated image.

The increase in Predator attacks coincided with a spike in fighting in Baghdad’s slum of Sadr City and in the city of Basra, where the Iraqi government mounted an offensive to root out militias there.

Commanders are expected to rely more on unmanned systems as 30,000 U.S. troops sent last year are withdrawn. The military has dozens of Predators in Iraq and Afghanistan. In all it operates 5,000 drones, 25 times more than it had in 2001.

“The Predator teams have just been doing unbelievable work down there (in Basra) and in Baghdad as well,” Gen. David Petraeus, the top commander in Iraq, said in a statement last week.

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Former workers accuse employees of improper activity, including the stealing of weapons, artwork and gold

WASHINGTON — KBR employees working in Iraq stole weapons, artwork and even gold to make spurs for cowboy boots, two former company workers told Senate Democrats on Monday.

Appearing before a Democrats-only panel looking into allegations of contracting abuses in Iraq, the witnesses accused their former co-workers of widespread improper activity.


Linda Warren, former employee of KBR, shows the flag she brought back from Iraq during testimony on Capitol Hill on Monday. Warren said many of her colleagues stole numerous items while doing reconstruction work in Iraq.
SUSAN WALSH
: ASSOCIATED PRESS

Read moreFormer workers accuse employees of improper activity, including the stealing of weapons, artwork and gold

DynCorp Manager Used Armored Car To Transport Hookers in Iraq

Some explosive testimony this afternoon from a panel of whistleblowers testifying before the Senate’s Democratic Policy Committee on contractor abuse in Iraq.

A contractor died when a DynCorp manager used an employee’s armored car to transport prostitutes, according to Barry Halley, a Worldwide Network Services employee working under a DynCorp subcontract.

“DynCorp’s site manager was involved in bringing prostitutes into hotels operated by DynCorp. A co-worker unrelated to the ring was killed when he was travelling in an unsecure car and shot performing a high-risk mission. I believe that my co-worker could have survived if he had been riding in an armored car. At the time, the armored car that he would otherwise have been riding in was being used by the contractor’s manager to transport prostitutes from Kuwait to Baghdad.

Other revelations:

– Kellogg Brown & Root contractors used to destroy countless quantities of still-usable equipment that was difficult to transport in “massive burn pits” that were “burning 24 hours a day.”

– KBR’s ice foreman “was cheating the troops out of ice at the same time that he was trading the ice for DVDs, CDs, food and other items at the Iraqi shops across the street.”

– When KBR whistleblower Frank Cassaday reported weapons looting, he was placed in a jail tent by KBR security.

– KBR employees looted Iraqi palaces for treasure to sell on eBay.

Monday, April 28th, 2008 at 5:04 pm

Source: Muckraked

Israel preparing to bomb Iran N-sites

The commander of the Israeli Air Force says the regime’s decision makers have been preparing plans to take out Iran’s nuclear facilities.

General Eliezer Shkedi, who also heads the Israeli task force on Iran, made the remarks in an interview with “60 Minutes” on Sunday.

A large portion of Shkedi’s service has been dedicated to the preparation for a possible mission that was never discussed in public; an Israeli strike on Iranian nuclear facilities, should international economic sanctions fail, Israeli daily Ha’aretz reported on Monday.

Shkedi spoke of a mission in 1981, when Israeli war planes attacked a nuclear reactor in Iraq.

He went on to say that today the Israeli decision makers are faced with a similar choice about Iran’s nuclear program.

Israeli and US officials accuse Iran of seeking nuclear bombs.

Iran, a member of the IAEA and a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), maintains that its nuclear activates are solely aimed at peaceful purposes.

Tehran has warned Tel Aviv of a crushing response, in case the regime launches an attack on the Islamic Republic.

JS/DT
Tue, 29 Apr 2008 05:06:54

Source: Press TV

Wall Street Grain Hoarding Brings Farmers, Consumers Near Ruin

April 28 (Bloomberg) — As farmers confront mounting costs and riots erupt from Haiti to Egypt over food, Garry Niemeyer is paying the price for Wall Street’s speculation in grain markets.

Commodity-index funds control a record 4.51 billion bushels of corn, wheat and soybeans through Chicago Board of Trade futures, equal to half the amount held in U.S. silos on March 1. The holdings jumped 29 percent in the past year as investors bought grain contracts seeking better returns than stocks or bonds. The buying sent crop prices and volatility to records and boosted the cost for growers and processors to manage risk.

Niemeyer, who farms 2,200 acres in Auburn, Illinois, won’t use futures to protect the value of the crop he will harvest in October. With corn at $5.9075 a bushel, up from $3.88 last year, he says the contracts are too costly and risky. Investors want corn so much that last month they paid 55 cents a bushel more than grain handlers, the biggest premium since 1999.

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