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Federal Government
On Heels Of CDC Anthrax Exposure, NIH Finds Vials Of Smallpox In Storage Room PDF Print E-mail
Federal Government
By Administrator   
Tuesday, 08 July 2014 13:53

ATLANTA (AP) — A government scientist cleaning out an old storage room at a research center near Washington made a startling discovery last week — decades-old vials of smallpox packed away and forgotten in a cardboard box.

 
The six glass vials of freeze-dried virus were intact and sealed with melted glass, and the virus might have been dead, officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday.
 
Still, the find was disturbing because for decades after smallpox was declared eradicated in the 1980s, world health authorities believed the only samples left were safely stored in super-secure laboratories in Atlanta and in Russia.
 
Officials said this is the first time in the U.S. that unaccounted-for smallpox has been discovered.
 
It was the second recent incident in which a government health agency appeared to have mishandled a highly dangerous germ. Last month, a laboratory safety lapse at the CDC in Atlanta led the agency to give scores of employees antibiotics as a precaution against anthrax.
 
The smallpox virus samples were found in a building at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, that has been used by the Food and Drug Administration since 1972, according to the CDC.
 
The scientist was cleaning out a cold room between two laboratories on July 1 when he made the discovery, FDA officials said.
 
Officials said labeling indicated the smallpox had been put in the vials in the 1950s. But they said it's not clear how long the vials had been in the building, which did not open until the 1960s.
 
No one has been infected, and no smallpox contamination was found in the building.
 
Smallpox can be deadly even after it is freeze-dried, but the virus usually has to be kept cold to remain alive and dangerous.
 
In an interview Tuesday, a CDC official said he believed the vials were stored for many years at room temperature, which would suggest the samples are dead. But FDA officials said later in the day that the smallpox was in cold storage for decades.
 
Both FDA and CDC officials said more lab analysis will have to be done to say if the germ is dangerous.
 
"We don't yet know if it's live and infectious," said Stephan Monroe, deputy director of the CDC center that handles highly dangerous infectious agents.
 
The samples were rushed to the CDC in Atlanta for testing, after which they will be destroyed.
 
In at least one other such episode, vials of smallpox were found at the bottom of a freezer in an Eastern European country in the 1990s, according to Dr. David Heymann, a former World Health Organization official who is now a professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
 
Heymann said it is difficult to say whether there might be other forgotten vials of smallpox out there. He said that when smallpox samples were consolidated for destruction, requests were made to ministers of health to collect all vials.
 
"As far as I know, there was never a confirmation they had checked in with all groups who could have had the virus," he said.
 
Smallpox was one of the most lethal diseases in history. For centuries, it killed about one-third of the people it infected, including Queen Mary II of England, and left most survivors with deep scars on their faces from the pus-filled lesions.
 
The last known case was in Britain in 1978, when a university photographer who worked above a lab handling smallpox died after being accidentally exposed to it from the ventilation system.
 
Global vaccination campaigns finally brought smallpox under control. After it was declared eradicated, all known remaining samples of live virus were stored at a CDC lab in Atlanta and at a Russian lab in Novosibirsk, Siberia.
 
The labs take extreme precautions. Scientists who work with the virus must undergo fingerprint or retinal scans to get inside, they wear full-body suits including gloves and goggles, and they shower with strong disinfectant before leaving the labs.
 
The U.S. smallpox stockpile, which includes samples from Britain, Japan and the Netherlands, is stored in liquid nitrogen.
 
There has long been debate about whether to destroy the stockpile.
 
Many scientists argue the deadly virus should be definitively wiped off the planet and believe any remaining samples pose a threat. Others argue the samples are needed for research on better treatments and vaccines.
 
At its recent annual meeting in May, the member countries of the WHO decided once again to delay a decision.
 
Last Updated on Tuesday, 08 July 2014 13:53
 
N.J. Democrat Sen. Menendez Wants Federal Probe Of Cuban Role In Allegations Of Impropriety PDF Print E-mail
Federal Government
By Administrator   
Tuesday, 08 July 2014 13:48

WASHINGTON (AP) — Sen. Robert Menendez said Tuesday that he has asked the Justice Department to investigate whether the Cuban government had a role in allegations against him that have made him a target of a federal probe.

 
Among the charges are so far unsubstantiated allegations that Menendez, D-N.J., flew on a plane provided by a friend and campaign supporter for rendezvous with prostitutes.
 
In an interview with The Associated Press, Menendez said his attorney has asked the Justice Department to investigate what he says were long-running rumors about a Cuban role in the allegations.
 
The lawmaker said he doesn't know if Cuba was involved. But Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, cited his decades-long role as a persistent critic of the Cuban government as potential motivation for Havana to act against him.
 
"To the extent they'd like to see the United States engage them more on their terms, which is not to observe democracy and human rights, they probably feel that I'm the single most significant impediment to their goals," Menendez said.
 
He added, "It would not be surprising at all for the regime to hold the view that we have to do whatever we can" against him.
 
Menendez cited a Tuesday report in The Washington Post that the CIA obtained evidence linking Cuban agents to the claims about Menendez and prostitutes and to trying to persuade American news organizations to pursue those claims.
 
While declining to provide details about his attorney's letter, Menendez said, "It is clearly to ask them to investigate the charges, some of which appeared in Post."
 
Menendez said the Post story makes clear that the federal government has information about the Cuban connection. Initial reports of Menendez's problems surfaced before his 2012 re-election.
 
"They should pursue their information," he said about the federal government, "because I think it is incredibly troublesome that a foreign government would try to interfere either with a federal election or the seating of a senator on a specific committee in order to pursue its foreign policy goals. And that should be troublesome far beyond my circumstances."
 
Last Updated on Tuesday, 08 July 2014 13:49
 
Poll: More Than Half Of America Remains Opposed To The Affordable Care Act PDF Print E-mail
Federal Government
By Administrator   
Monday, 07 July 2014 11:03

RALEIGH, (SGRToday.com) - A new poll Rasmussen finds that just four out of 10 likely U.S. voters believes the federal government should require that every American buy health insurance of face a penalty -- the individual mandate provision of the federal Affordable Care Act.

 
More than half of likely voters -- 51 percent -- remain opposed to the program commonly known as 'Obamacare.'
 
The survey was conducted on July 6.
 
The results come in the wake of a major legal ruling that went against the Obamacare mandate for businesses. Last week the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the the owners of the retail craft store chain Hobby Lobby do not have to provide insurance coverage to their employees for abortion-inducing drugs. 
 
The owners -- the Green family -- are devout Christians who oppose abortion. They argued that Obamacare violates their religious liberty.
 
The Greens were represented by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.
Last Updated on Monday, 07 July 2014 11:06
 
BLS: Unions Representing Government Workers Are Gaining PDF Print E-mail
Federal Government
By Administrator   
Friday, 04 July 2014 10:01

WASHINGTON (AP) — Unions representing government workers are expanding while organized labor has been shedding private sector members over the past half-century.

 
A majority of union members today now have ties to a government entity, at the federal, state or local levels.
 
Roughly 1-in-3 public sector workers is a union member, compared with about 1-in-15 for the private sector workforce last year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Overall, 11.3 percent of wage and salary workers in the United States are unionized, down from a peak of 35 percent during the mid-1950s in the strong post-World War II recovery.
 
The typical union worker now is more likely to be an educator, office worker or food or service industry employee rather than a construction worker, autoworker, electrician or mechanic. Far more women than men are among the union-label ranks.
 
In a blow to public sector unions, the Supreme Court ruled this week that thousands of health care workers in Illinois who are paid by the state cannot be required to pay fees that help cover a union's cost of collective bargaining.
 
The justices said the practice violates the First Amendment rights of nonmembers who disagree with stances taken by unions.
 
The ruling was narrowly drawn, but it could reverberate through the universe of unions that represent government workers. The case involved home-care workers for disabled people who are paid with Medicaid funds administered by the state.
 
Also in June, a California judge declared unconstitutional the state's teacher tenure, dismissal and layoff laws. The judge ordered a stay of the decision, pending an appeal by the state and teachers union.
 
"The basic structure of the labor union movement has changed, reflecting changes in the economy," said Ross Baker, a political science professor at Rutgers University. "Manufacturing is a diminishing segment of the economy. Also, a lot of the manufacturing that's being done today is being done nonunion."
 
Union members continue to be a powerful political force in politics, and Baker said he didn't see the role of unions diminishing. "I just think the colors of the collars are changing," Baker said.
 
In 2013, 14.5 million workers belonged to a union, about the same as the year before. In 1983, the first year for which comparable figures are available, there were 17.7 million union workers.
 
The largest union is the National Education Association, with 3.2 million members. It represents public school teachers, administrators and students preparing to become teachers.
 
Next is the 2.1-million Service Employees International Union. About half its members work in the public sector.
 
The American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees has 1.6 million, followed by the American Federation of Teachers with 1.5 million and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters with 1.4 million.
 
There are 1.3 million members in the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union.
 
Until four years ago, the unionization rate was far higher in the private sector than in the public sector. Now the roles are reversed.
 
But it's been a bumpy road for public unions in some Republican-governed states.
 
In 2011, Gov. Scott Walker, R-Wis., took on public sector unions forcefully soon after he was swept into office. He got enacted a bill effectively ending collective bargaining for most public workers in the state. He withstood huge labor demonstrations at the state Capitol and then became the first governor in U.S. history to defeat a recall attempt. The law has been challenged in court, and continues to be. But its main thrust so far has been upheld.
 
A sign of the decline of traditional labor unions came in May when the United Automobile Workers raised its membership dues for the first time in 27 years to help offset declining membership. Also, the defeat in February of the UAW's effort to unionize workers at Volkswagen's Chattanooga, Tennessee, plant was a setback to labor.
 
A 2013 Gallup poll showed that 54 percent of Americans said they approved of labor unions, down from the all-time high of 75 percent in both 1953 and 1957.
 
"Labor unions play a diminishing role in the private sector, but they still claim a large share of the public sector workforce," says Chris Edwards, director of tax studies at the libertarian, free-market Cato Institute.
 
"Public sector unions are important to examine because they have a major influence on government policies through their vigorous lobbying efforts. ... They are particularly influential in states that allow monopoly unionization through collective bargaining."
 
Since 2000, factories have shed more than 5 million jobs. Five states — Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina Georgia and Texas — ban collective bargaining in the public sector.
 
Last Updated on Friday, 04 July 2014 10:03
 
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