Ebola Virus: ‘Horrible Way to Die’ and No Vaccine

Medical staff put on protective gear at Kenema Government Hospital before taking a sample from a suspected Ebola patient in Kenema, Sierra Leone.

Tommy Trenchard | Reuters
Medical staff put on protective gear at Kenema Government Hospital before taking a sample from a suspected Ebola patient in Kenema, Sierra Leone.

At least 826 people have died in West Africa from the Ebola virus.

Even though the number is expected to rise, it’s still more deaths than any previous outbreak of the deadly disease.

And that ironically, may be why there’s no vaccine or treatment available.

“Prior episodes burned themselves out with fewer deaths after a shorter time,” said Dr. Aileen Marty, an infectious disease professor at Florida International University.

“That’s meant less of a feeling that a vaccine should be on the market,” she explained. “There’s no money in it. But it’s such a horrible way to die.”

Experts say there are Ebola treatments and vaccines in various testing stages at several U.S. research centers, mostly funded by the government. Most of the drugs have been tested so far mostly on animals, with no target date for availability.

There are a few small American companies developing treatments, such asBioCryst and NancoViricides, One Canadian firm, Tekmira, is also working on a treatment, with funds from the U.S Defense Department.Larger outfits have shied away.

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“It’s tough to develop these drugs because they might not even be used,” said Dr. Chris Milne, director of research at the Tufts Center for the Study of Drug Development.

Milne said that pharmaceutical companies can spend millions in developing flu vaccines that get thrown away because they’re ineffective on new virus strains.

“It’s a lot of time, effort and money to develop something like an Ebola vaccine with little guarantee of a profit,” he said.

Heading to Sierra Leone

Just this weekend, the Centers for Disease Control said the Ebola virus is out of control and has advised against non-essential travel to West Africa.

FIU’s Marty is likely to arrive over the next couple of weeks in Sierra Leone, one of the countries hit by the virus.

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She’s on a list of doctors taking part in the new $100 million effort by the World Health Organization to treat Ebola patients.

This comes as two American aid workers have been diagnosed with the virus and one of them treated in an isolation unit at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. He is said to be in a critical phase of the disease, but improving.

“If we could get approval from the governments in West Africa, this could be a perfect way to try the vaccines out,” said Marty. But so far, Marty said, that permission has yet to come.

Asked if she had fears about going, she said it’s natural to be afraid.

“I’ve made my plans, like insurance and next of kin, but I’m feeling confident we’ll be protected over there with good equipment and proper hygiene,” she explained.

High mortality rate

Ebola is a severe and nearly always fatal disease to humans, according to WHO.

There are several strains with an incubation period of up to 21 days after infection.

Symptoms include fever, weakness, muscle pain, headache and sore throat. This is followed by vomiting, diarrhea, rash, impaired kidney and liver function and, in some cases, both internal and external bleeding.

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Transmission of the virus happens in several ways. Humans and animals can be infected by fruit bats, which are believed to be the first hosts of the virus.

Humans can get it from infected animals, either by slaughtering the animals or through consumption of blood, milk, or raw or under-cooked meat.

Between humans, the virus can be passed from person to person through touch, contact with body fluids, or contact with contaminated needles.

Funeral practices are ‘transmitters’

More than 1,300 people have been infected with Ebola over the last three months. This recent outbreak is believed to have started in Liberia.

The government there has called the crisis a national public emergency and has urged citizens to follow health guidelines. Sierra Leone has declared a state of emergency and called in troops to quarantine Ebola victims.

This outbreak has become extremely dangerous, said experts, because the virus has spread to more populated areas than in the past.

Liberia has threatened to arrest those who hide Ebola victims. Some residents are said to be removing patients from hospitals for special prayers or to treat them with local medicine.

“One of the main transmitters are the funeral practices,” said Dr. Steven Vryhof, who returned last month from Liberia after working there for two weeks with the medical aid group, Mission to Heal.

Vryhof said many people insist on burying the dead, which means shaving the men and braiding women’s hair and so exposing themselves to the Ebola virus.

Americans should be ‘prepared’

As to fears the Ebola virus could spread to the U.S, it’s been here before.

In the years, 1989, 1990 and 1996, Ebola was found in quarantined monkeys imported from the Philippines. But no human infections were discovered.

Even as one aid worker gets treatment in Atlanta, experts say the virus is unlikely to spread.

“We have a sophisticated infrastructure of isolation and other precautions that would prevent outbreaks here,” said Dr. Pascal James Imperato, of the SUNY Downstate Medical Center.

But Americans should be on the alert, said Dr. Cecilia Rokusek, assistant dean for education, planning and research at Nova Southeastern University.

“We can no longer become complacent to any public health danger anywhere,” she said.

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California Wake-Up Call: Extreme Drought Will lead to Migration Exit and Real Estate Collapse

A shocking 58 percent of the state of California is now in a state of “exceptional drought,” according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. (1)

“The drought’s incredible three-year duration has nearly depleted both the state’s topsoil moisture and subsoil moisture reserves, according to Brad Rippey of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, who wrote the Drought Monitor report,” reports the Washington Post. (2)

All the usual measures are being taken to try to soften the impact of the drought: The Governor has declared a state of emergency, strict water conservation efforts are already in force, neighborhood “water cops” hand out stiff fines for excessive water usage, and people are scrambling to cut water consumption in every way possible.

These efforts, however, will not be enough. The simple, inescapable fact is that much of California is simply not sustainably inhabitable with the population densities it currently hosts. Los Angeles, in particular, is a city built in a desert and almost entirely dependent on imported water supplies for its survival.

1,140 golf courses stand as symbols of a society living in abject denial

California is a wonderful place full of amazing and fun people, but the “California lifestyle” pursued there flat-out isn’t supportable by the climate of the region. For example, California currently hosts 1,140 golf courses. (3) Golf courses are perhaps the perfect symbol of the level of shameful denial under which so many of us Americans now live when it comes to sustainability.

Golf courses use ridiculously excessive volumes of water to create an artificial “green” playing field in the middle of dry, arid regions. While golf is a wonderful sport and a healthy way for many people to enjoy some sunshine and fresh air, the presence of massive green lawns in the middle of near-desert regions should cause any thinking person to ask, “What’s wrong with this picture?”

I do understand that golf courses practice drought conservation techniques, and they are trying to use less water. But from an environmental perspective, they shouldn’t have ever been built in most of these regions in the first place. Their very existence is a glaring declaration that “humans are idiots” when it comes to thinking long term.

California farmers are pumping away their water future

The extreme drought taking place right now is also forcing California ranchers to accelerate their siphoning of water from underground aquifers, sharply reducing the amount of water remaining in those aquifers.

This is literally the “pumping away” of your own agricultural future. Today, California produces a surprisingly high percentage of the food for America; but that production is already plummeting during this drought, and production is almost certain to collapse over the long haul as drought conditions persist.

Farm production is abundant when water is cheap and plentiful, but once the water starts to dry up, farming becomes nearly impossible. California is now facing the sobering reality that much of its agricultural production may simply not be viable anymore.

“Farmers in California have turned to groundwater to keep crops irrigated,” reports CNBC. (4) “That has led to fears of depleted groundwater in the years ahead if that continues, according to a report released earlier this month.” (Click here for the drought report from UC Davis.)

Here’s the latest drought map. All the areas in red or dark red cannot be used to grow any significant quantities of food until rainfall returns:

Mass migration away from California is inevitable

The inevitability of the mass migration away from California still hasn’t quite sunk in among most people who live there. Almost no one has thought about how they might afford to move out of California when the value of their own property in California will be approaching zero.

Lynn Wilson is the academic chair at Kaplan University, and she serves on the climate change delegation in the United Nations. “Civilizations in the past have had to migrate out of areas of drought,” she said in a CNBC article. (4) “We may have to migrate people out of California.”

Think about it: When the day comes that the water taps run dry across large urban areas, there will be a rush for people to sell their homes and move out of the state. But in this rush,the value of California homes will plummet to nearly nothing. Why’s that? Because the value of a home that has no running water and likelihood of ever receiving running water is very close to zero.

There will be no buyers. There will only be sellers. And after the sellers realize they cannot sell, they will simply pack up the minivan and abandon their California properties and send their homes into foreclosure.

Areas of California will become ghost towns, much like many areas of Detroit today.

That’s why the smart people are the ones trying to get out right now. The long-term reality of the water crisis hasn’t sunk in with most people, so there are still buyers of real estate in the drought areas. But smart people are doing things like selling their homes in California andmoving to Colorado or Oregon where water is far more plentiful. Here in Texas, we’re getting a flood of Californians moving in, many of whom have seen the writing on the wall and are “headed East in search of water.”

Southern Oregon needs to start thinking about the coming “mass evacuation” of California, too. The problem with the evacuation is that California is largely surrounded by desert states. If you head East into Nevada, you’re in another desert where water is also scarce. Las Vegas, for example, will also become a ghost town in a matter of a few short years. That’s another inevitable reality that hasn’t been sufficiently acknowledged by its own citizens.

Arizona is also largely a desert state, with both Phoenix and Tucson facing their own water challenges in the years ahead.

To find water in the western USA, you either have to head North to Oregon and Washington or go far to the East, deep into Utah, Colorado or all the way to the Eastern half of Texas.

The current population of California is 38 million. Barring any miracle technology breakthrough in ocean water desalination, I’m guessing the state can likely only support about 10 million people in terms of a sustainable water supply. That means perhaps 28 million people will have to leave California and find homes somewhere else. They will be doing this at a time when nobody is buying their California properties, but they still owe money to the banks on those properties.

The net result is a mass human migration wave combined with a wave of home loan defaults as homeowners abandon their properties and walk away.

The drought, you see, will ultimately lead to a banking crisis, not just a food crisis.

Sources for this article include:
(1) http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/

(2) http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-nati…

(3) http://www.golflink.com/golf-courses/state.a…

(4) http://www.cnbc.com/id/101884085#.

Forget Russia. America Has a Raft of More Pressing Problems.

It’s time we stopped fighting Cold War demons and dealt with real catastrophes here at home
"To be strong abroad, America must first be strong at home."
“To be strong abroad, America must first be strong at home.” (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Vladimir Putin once called the collapse of the Soviet Union the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century. He clearly wants to put the Soviet Union back together, in some form, and stick it to America whenever and wherever he can. We must do whatever it takes to stop him. (I worked in Russia for many years, am a student of the Cold War era and know how this guy thinks — I met him many years before his rise to international fame.)

But is Russia really America’s No. 1 geopolitical foe, a claim Mitt Romney made in 2012, and which countless conservatives have recently latched onto? More specifically, is Russia really the foe America should be most focused on?

While the threat posed by Russia to the post-Cold War era is undeniable, I think the greatest threats to America’s security are homegrown.

Abraham Lincoln said our greatest foe is America itself: “America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.”

So set aside foreign threats for a second. Let’s focus on these domestic threats.

The debt. We’re up to our eyeballs in red ink: $17 trillion and counting. The interest alone this year will cost us $233 billion. That’s 40 percent of the 2014 budget deficit. And it gets worse: the debt is expected to grow to $21 trillion over the next decade.

Our incompetent leaders. Many of our “leaders” in Washington can’t acknowledge, much less cooperate on, the most critical issues we face. These obstinate hyper-partisans are a bigger threat to our future than Vladimir Putin can ever be.

The reality gap. Millions of Americans live in ideological cocoons; they’re so sure of themselves, so rigid in their beliefs, that they can’t deal with others who may be even the slightest bit disagreeable. We blame politicians for not being able to cooperate — but face it: We have trouble doing it ourselves.

Economic stagnation. Median wages in this country peaked way back in 1999. Housing peaked way back in 2006. Job growth is anemic.

Lack of skills. Half of all the jobs in America today “are at high risk of being automated by 2024.” To keep up, we have to focus more on STEM skills: Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. Too bad we’re letting other nations kick our behind. In a 2009 survey, American kids ranked 14th out of 34 countries in reading, 17th in science, and 25th in math. Where are the jobs, you ask? They’re going to the smart kids in other countries, that’s where.

Brain drain. Thousands of students from around the world come here to study at America’s great universities. In the past, they’d stay here, start companies, and help power America’s economic engine. Now they’re increasingly going home — where they often find greater opportunities — and compete against us. This has to stop.

Poverty. Forty-seven million people rely on food stamps. Thirty-eight million households have nothing saved for retirement. Some 1.2 million children are homeless. An estimated 58,000 veterans live on the streets each night.These facts are a national disgrace. America’s massive, grinding poverty is eating away at our strength. What kind of a “superpower” allows a million children to fend for themselves on the street?

There’s much more. We don’t have enough water. We’ve cut spending on medical research while millions die each year from cancer, heart disease, and other killers. We’re whistling in the graveyard while cyberattacks mount. And climate change threatens our species and planet. On and on and on.

To be strong abroad, to defeat threats from the likes of Putin, America must first be strong at home. I fear we’re failing.

Death to the Federal Gas Tax

The notion that U.S. infrastructure is crumbling and underfunded has been common lately, and more such news came in February, when the Department of Transportation (DOT) announced that the Federal Highway Trust Fund could soon run out. This spurred debate about what to do with the trust’s main funding source, the federal gas tax. Some legislators have long wanted to raise this tax, and President Obama recently proposed his own $302 billion funding plan. But one Congressman, Georgia Republican Tom Graves, has a better idea: nearly abolish the gas tax altogether.

Last November, Graves introduced the Transportation Empowerment Act, which was cosponsored through Senate legislation by Republican Mike Lee. By drastically reducing the tax, it would enable states to manage their own transportation policies, improving a process that has become massively inefficient under federal oversight.

“It’s rather silly,” Graves told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, that “taxpayers pay taxes at the pump that go to the federal government, [which] then tells our state how it must spend the money,” even though it doesn’t “give you all the money you submitted.”

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Government Agency: If 9 Substations Are Destroyed, The Power Grid Could Be Down For 18 Months

What would you do if the Internet or the power grid went down for over a year?  Our key infrastructure, including the Internet and the power grid, is far more vulnerable than most people would dare to imagine.

Image: Power Grid (Wiki Commons).

These days, most people simply take for granted that the lights will always be on and that the Internet will always function properly.  But what if all that changed someday in the blink of an eye?  According to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s latest report, all it would take to plunge the entire nation into darkness for more than a year would be to knock out a transformer manufacturer and just 9 of our 55,000 electrical substations on a really hot summer day.  The reality of the matter is that our power grid is in desperate need of updating, and there is very little or no physical security at most of these substations.  If terrorists, or saboteurs, or special operations forces wanted to take down our power grid, it would not be very difficult.  And as you will read about later in this article, the Internet is extremely vulnerable as well.

When I read the following statement from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s latest report, I was absolutely floored…

“Destroy nine interconnection substations and a transformer manufacturer and the entire United States grid would be down for at least 18 months, probably longer.”

Wow.

What would you do without power for 18 months?

FERC studied what it would take to collapse the entire electrical grid from coast to coast.  What they found was quite unsettling

In its modeling, FERC studied what would happen if various combinations of substations were crippled in the three electrical systems that serve the contiguous U.S. The agency concluded the systems could go darkif as few as nine locations were knocked out: four in the East, three in the West and two in Texas, people with knowledge of the analysis said.

The actual number of locations that would have to be knocked out to spawn a massive blackout would vary depending on available generation resources, energy demand, which is highest on hot days, and other factors, experts said. Because it is difficult to build new transmission routes, existing big substations are becoming more crucial to handling electricity.

So what would life look like without any power for a long period of time?  The following list comes from one of my previous articles

-There would be no heat for your home.

-Water would no longer be pumped into most homes.

-Your computer would not work.

-There would be no Internet.

-Your phones would not work.

-There would be no television.

-There would be no radio.

-ATM machines would be shut down.

-There would be no banking.

-Your debit cards and credit cards would not work.

-Without electricity, gas stations would not be functioning.

-Most people would be unable to do their jobs without electricity and employment would collapse.

-Commerce would be brought to a standstill.

-Hospitals would not be able to function.

-You would quickly start running out of medicine.

-All refrigeration would shut down and frozen foods in our homes and supermarkets would start to go bad.

If you want to get an idea of how quickly society would descend into chaos, just watch the documentary “American Blackout” some time.  It will chill you to your bones.

The truth is that we live in an unprecedented time.  We have become extremely dependent on technology, and that technology could be stripped away from us in an instant.

Right now, our power grid is exceedingly vulnerable, and all the experts know this, but very little is being done to actually protect it

“The power grid, built over many decades in a benign environment, now faces a range of threats it was never designed to survive,” said Paul Stockton, a former assistant secretary of defense and president of risk-assessment firm Cloud Peak Analytics. “That’s got to be the focus going forward.”

If a group of agents working for a foreign government or a terrorist organization wanted to bring us to our knees, they could do it.

In fact, there have actually been recent attacks on some of our power stations.  Here is just one example

The Wall Street Journal’s Rebecca Smith reports that a former Federal Energy Regulatory Commission chairman is acknowledging for the first time that a group of snipers shot up a Silicon Valley substation for 19 minutes last year, knocking out 17 transformers before slipping away into the night.

The attack was “the most significant incident of domestic terrorism involving the grid that has ever occurred” in the U.S., Jon Wellinghoff, who was chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission at the time, told Smith.

Have you heard about that attack before now?

Most Americans have not.

But it should have been big news.

At the scene, authorities found “more than 100 fingerprint-free shell casings“, and little piles of rocks “that appeared to have been left by an advance scout to tell the attackers where to get the best shots.”

So what happens someday when the bad guys decide to conduct a coordinated attack against our power grid with heavy weapons?

It could happen.

In addition, as I mentioned at the top of this article, the Internet is extremely vulnerable as well.

For example, did you know that authorities are so freaked out about the security of the Internet that they have given “the keys to the Internet” to a very small group of individuals that meet four times per year?

It’s true.  The following is from a recent story posted by the Guardian

The keyholders have been meeting four times a year, twice on the east coast of the US and twice here on the west, since 2010. Gaining access to their inner sanctum isn’t easy, but last month I was invited along to watch the ceremony and meet some of the keyholders – a select group of security experts from around the world. All have long backgrounds in internet security and work for various international institutions. They were chosen for their geographical spread as well as their experience – no one country is allowed to have too many keyholders. They travel to the ceremony at their own, or their employer’s, expense.

What these men and women control is the system at the heart of the web: the domain name system, or DNS. This is the internet’s version of a telephone directory – a series of registers linking web addresses to a series of numbers, called IP addresses. Without these addresses, you would need to know a long sequence of numbers for every site you wanted to visit. To get to the Guardian, for instance, you’d have to enter “77.91.251.10″ instead of theguardian.com.

If the system that controls those IP addresses gets hijacked or damaged, we would definitely need someone to press the “reset button” on the Internet.

Sadly, the hackers always seem to be several steps ahead of the authorities.  In fact, according to one recent report, breaches of U.S. government computer networks go undetected 40 percent of the time

A new report by Sen. Tom Coburn (R., Okla.) detailswidespread cybersecurity breaches in the federal government, despite billions in spending to secure the nation’s most sensitive information.

The report, released on Tuesday, found thatapproximately 40 percent of breaches go undetected, and highlighted “serious vulnerabilities in the government’s efforts to protect its own civilian computers and networks.”

“In the past few years, we have seen significant breaches in cybersecurity which could affect critical U.S. infrastructure,” the report said. “Data on the nation’s weakest dams, including those which could kill Americans if they failed, were stolen by a malicious intruder. Nuclear plants’ confidential cybersecurity plans have been left unprotected. Blueprints for the technology undergirding the New York Stock Exchange were exposed to hackers.”

Yikes.

And things are not much better when it comes to cybersecurity in the private sector either.  According to Symantec, there was a 42 percent increase in cyberattacks against businesses in the United States last year.  And according to a recent report in the Telegraph, our major banks are being hit with cyberattacks “every minute of every day”…

Every minute, of every hour, of every day, a major financial institution is under attack.

Threats range from teenagers in their bedrooms engaging in adolescent “hacktivism”, to sophisticated criminal gangs and state-sponsored terrorists attempting everything from extortion to industrial espionage. Though the details of these crimes remain scant, cyber security experts are clear that behind-the-scenes online attacks have already had far reaching consequences for banks and the financial markets.

Up until now, attacks on our infrastructure have not caused any significant interruptions in our lifestyles.

But at some point that will change.

Are you prepared for that to happen?

We live at a time when our world is becoming increasingly unstable.  In the years ahead it is quite likely that we will see massive economic problems, major natural disasters, serious terror attacks and war.  Any one of those could cause substantial disruptions in the way that we live.

At this point, even NASA is warning that “civilization could collapse”…

A new study sponsored by Nasa’s Goddard Space Flight Center has highlighted the prospect that global industrial civilisation could collapse in coming decades due to unsustainable resource exploitation and increasingly unequal wealth distribution.

Noting that warnings of ‘collapse’ are often seen to be fringe or controversial, the study attempts to make sense of compelling historical data showing that “the process of rise-and-collapse is actually a recurrent cycle found throughout history.” Cases of severe civilisational disruption due to “precipitous collapse – often lasting centuries – have been quite common.”

Ford to Move Production of Large Trucks from Mexico to Ohio Read

ford hq reuters

Ford plans to move production of its new medium-duty trucks from Mexico to an assembly plant in Ohio, the company announced on Friday.

The automaker said it will invest $168 million in the Cleveland-area facility, which currently makes Ford’s E-series vans. Ford expects the plant to begin production of the F-650 and        F-750 commercial trucks early next year before they go on sale in the spring of 2015.

Dearborn, Mich.-based Ford is scrapping its E-series cargo and passenger vans later this year, replacing them with the upcoming 2015 Transit. The new van will be produced at a plant near Kansas City, Mo.

The E-series cutaway vans and stripped chassis will continue to be built in Ohio through most of the decade, Ford noted.

“Building these trucks in-house will utilize our expertise from our other tough truck and commercial vehicle lines to give our customers a better product at a competitive price,” said Joe Hinrichs, Ford’s president of the Americas.

Ford unveiled several upgrades to the F-650 and F-750 at a truck show in Indianapolis this week. The company said it will equip the trucks with an eight-cylinder turbo diesel engine. Ford is also the only automaker to offer a gasoline engine for medium-duty trucks.

Ukraine Crisis: Russia Warns of Dropping US Dollar as Reserve Currency if US Imposes Sanctions

A Kremlin aide was quoted on Tuesday as saying that if the United States were to impose sanctions on Russia over Ukraine, Moscow might be forced to drop the dollar as a reserve currency and refuse to pay off any loans to US banks.

Image: U.S. Dollar (Wiki Commons).

Mr Sergei Glazyev, who is often used by the authorities to stake out a hardline stance but does not make policy, was cited by RIA news agency as saying Moscow could recommend that all holders of US treasuries sell them if Washington freezes the US accounts of Russian businesses and individuals.

The US Senate Foreign Relations Committee is preparing legislation to provide support to Ukraine and consulting the Obama administration on possible sanctions against individual Russians, the committee’s chairman said on Monday.

The committee was also consulting with President Barack Obama’s administration on possible sanctions against individuals ranging from visa bans and asset freezes to suspending military cooperation and sales, as well as economic sanctions.