EarthLink – News
Former US special envoy to Ukraine leaving McCain Institute
By JONATHAN J. COOPER | Mon, October 7, 2019 02:44 EDT
PHOENIX (AP) — Kurt Volker, the special envoy to Ukraine who stepped down amid the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, said Monday he’s also leaving his job as the head of the McCain Institute.
Arizona State University, which hosts the McCain Institute for International Leadership at its building in Washington, said Volker will also be on paid leave from other duties at the university.
ASU spokesman Brett Hovell refused to say what those duties are or why Volker has been suspended.
The institute is named for the late Sen. John McCain and oversees programs focused on national security, human trafficking and other issues.
Volker, a longtime diplomat, was tapped by former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to lead negotiations with Ukraine, an unpaid role.
He was little known outside foreign policy circles before he became a central figure in the House impeachment inquiry that began last month. A whistleblower alleged Trump tried to pressure Ukrainian leaders to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, a leading Democratic candidate for president.
Volker gave a House committee text messages showing that senior U.S. diplomats encouraged Ukraine’s newly elected president to do an investigation in exchange for a high-profile visit with Trump.
Volker said in a statement that media attention on his role as Trump’s Ukraine envoy “risks becoming a distraction from the accomplishments and continued growth” of the McCain Institute.
Volker has led the organization since it was founded in 2012, in part with millions of dollars left over from McCain’s failed 2008 presidential campaign.
Volker made $321,300 at ASU, according to a salary database compiled by The Arizona Republic.
McCain’s widow, Cindy McCain, said in a statement that she is thankful for Volker’s hard work and dedication to build the institute.
Nicholas Rasmussen, a former director of the National Counterterrorism Center who oversees national security and counterterrorism programs at the McCain Institute was appointed acting director of the organization.
Volker has had previous State Department assignments throughout Europe and as the ambassador to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. He was a legislative fellow in McCain’s office in the 1990s.
EarthLink – News
For Kurds, US pull-back feels like being abandoned once more
By BASSEM MROUE | Mon, October 7, 2019 02:07 EDT
BEIRUT (AP) — For Syria’s Kurds, the United States’ abrupt pull-back from positions in northeast Syria carries a sharp sting, reviving the community’s memories over being abandoned in the past by the Americans and other international allies on whose support they had pinned their aspirations.
The Kurdish-led forces have been the U.S.’ partner in fighting the Islamic State group for nearly four years. Now the pull-back exposes them to a threatened attack by their nemesis, Turkey.
Turkey wants to carve out a zone of control across northern Syria along its border, a strip that would run through part of the heartland of the Kurdish minority where they have carved out a degree of self-rule amid Syria’s civil war.
Over the past century, Kurds have gotten close to setting up their own state or autonomous regions on, only to have their dreams shattered after being abandoned by world powers. An old Kurdish proverb reflects a history of disappointments: “We have no friends but the mountains.”
Here’s a look at that past:
WHO ARE THE KURDS?
The Kurds are an ethnic group numbering some 20 million people spread across four nations — 10 million in Turkey, 6 million in Iran, 3.5 million in Iraq, and a little over 2 million in Syria. They speak an Indo-European language, related to Iran’s Farsi, and are overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim.
The 191,000-square-kilometer (74,000-square-mile) Kurdish area arcs through a mountainous zone from southeast Turkey to northwest Iran. They’re divided not only by borders but by tribal, political and factional splits that the regional powers have often used to manipulate them.
HISTORY OF STRUGGLE AND BETRAYALS
With the Ottoman Empire’s collapse after World War I, the Kurds were promised an independent homeland in the 1920 Treaty of Sevres. But the treaty was never ratified, and “Kurdistan” was carved up. Since then, there have been almost continuous Kurdish rebellions in Iran, Iraq and Turkey.
Two events have been burned in the Kurds’ memories as betrayals by Washington.
In 1972, the U.S. helped arm an Iraqi Kurdish insurrection against Baghdad. It did so on behalf of Iran, then led by America’s ally, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who hoped to pressure the Iraqi government in an ongoing border dispute. Three years later, the shah signed a border agreement with Baghdad and shut off the weapons pipeline. Then-Kurdish leader Mustafa Barzani pleaded to U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger for support, but the American help ended. The Iraqi government crushed the Kurdish rebellion.
Iraq’s Kurds rose up again in the 1980s with Iranian backing during the Iran-Iraq war. Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein’s army waged a brutal scorched-earth campaign, using poison gas and forcibly resettling up to 100,000 Kurds in the southern desert.
The second event came in 1991, after the U.S.-led Gulf War that liberated Kuwait from Iraqi forces. Then-President George H. W. Bush called on Iraqis to rise up against Saddam. The Kurds in the north and Shiites in the south revolted, and Saddam responded with a brutal crackdown. While Bush had not explicitly promised support, Kurds and Shiites felt left in the lurch.
Still, a U.S.-enforced no-fly zone over northern Iraq helped ensure a degree of Kurdish autonomy. After Saddam’s fall in 2003, Washington ensured Iraq’s new constitution enshrined that autonomous zone. But the U.S. has drawn the line against Kurdish independence.
IN SYRIA, EVERYTHING TO LOSE?
Syria’s Kurds have hoped for full autonomy in the northeast corner of the country where their population is concentrated. Damascus has not allowed it, and Turkey is vehemently opposed to it.
Still, they gained a degree of autonomy unthinkable before the war, including teaching their own language at schools, setting up their own police force and controlling an administrative council that runs day to day affairs.
The U.S. found in the Kurds an effective partner on the ground to fight the Islamic State group. Armed by the U.S. and backed by American troops and firepower, the Kurdish-led forces finally put an end to IS’s territorial hold — at the cost of thousands of Kurds killed in years of fighting. The force now control nearly a third of Syria.
The Kurds had hoped the alliance would give weight to their autonomy ambitions.
But the alliance raised friction between the U.S. and Turkey. Ankara views the main Syrian Kurdish militia, which is linked to Kurdish insurgents in Turkey, as a terrorist group.
Turkey sent troops into Syria in August 2016 and seized an area along the western end of the border. It later overran the key enclave of Afrin, leading to the displacement of tens of thousands of Kurds.
Kurds now fear the same will happen on a larger scale if Turkey seizes the rest of the zone it seeks — extending all the way east to the Iraqi border and as far as 30 to 40 kilometers deep (19 to 25 miles) into Syria.
EarthLink – News
Hospital where 3 preemies died seeking source of bacteria
Mon, October 7, 2019 03:18 EDT
DANVILLE, Pa. (AP) — A Pennsylvania hospital is racing to determine the source of a waterborne germ that appears to have infected at least eight infants in the neonatal intensive care unit, three of whom have died, officials said Monday.
Geisinger Medical Center in Danville has begun sending very premature newborns and some expectant mothers to other facilities while officials investigate, the hospital said.
Four babies have recovered from an infection caused by the Pseudomonas bacterium, and one is still being treated with antibiotics, the hospital said.
Officials said they are working with state and federal health authorities to ensure the bacteria have been eradicated.
The bacteria are common and often harmless but can cause disease in “very fragile patients,” Dr. Frank Maffei, the hospital’s chair of pediatrics, said at a news conference.
The deaths, he said, “may have been a result of the infection complicating an already vulnerable state.”
As a precaution, the hospital is transferring babies born at less than 32 weeks’ gestation to other hospitals and diverting other expected premature deliveries to other hospitals. Full-term pregnancies amount to 40 weeks of gestation.
“It’s important to remember that we are only talking about diverting these very premature infants, less than 32 weeks, both the moms who would be delivering at that age or the babies already born,” said Dr. Rosemary Leeming, the hospital’s chief medical officer.
Doctors said they first became aware of an unusual infection in early August.
The neonatal intensive care unit is inside a children’s hospital that is part of a larger campus. It could take weeks to determine how the infections occurred, although it’s likely the pathogen was brought in from outside the children’s hospital, investigators said.
Cultures of the water supply and surfaces inside the neonatal intensive care unit, where all the infections occurred, tested negative for Pseudomonas, officials said.
“It’s really too soon to say exactly where the organism is coming from, but the information we have so far suggests that it’s someplace outside of the neonatal intensive care unit,” said Dr. Mark Shelly, Geisinger’s director of infection control and prevention.
The hospital has increased chlorination of water, bolstered water filtering, performed extra cleaning and changed some of its processes.
The investigation may not reveal exactly what went wrong, Shelly said.
Seven of the eight babies were born at less than 26 weeks of gestation, and the eighth was born at less than 27 weeks’, according to the hospital.
The Danville hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit treats more than 600 babies a year.
EarthLink – News
The Latest: Standing ovation for Nobel winner
Mon, October 7, 2019 02:46 EDT
STOCKHOLM (AP) — The Latest on the Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology (all times local):
Dr. Gregg L. Semenza received a standing ovation from faculty members and students as he walked into an auditorium at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Medicine in Baltimore.
Semenza said he was in a “daze” when he received the news that he was one of three scientists receiving the 2019 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine.
The award, he says, puts a new gloss on a “lousy year.” He says he fell down a flight of stairs at home May 31 and broke four cervical vertebrae.
Semenza and Drs. William G. Kaelin Jr. of Harvard University and Peter J. Ratcliffe at the Francis Crick Institute in Britain and Oxford University are being lauded for discovering how the body’s cells sense and react to oxygen levels. The work has paved the way for new strategies to fight anemia, cancer and other diseases.
He says he hopes the work will help “significantly improve” the outcomes for patients with a number of diseases, including cancer and chronic kidney disease.
Semenza says his inspiration was his biology teacher in the 1970s at Sleepy Hollow High School in New York state. The teacher once told his class that when one of them earned a Nobel Prize, she didn’t want them to forget where they learned that information.
Dr. Gregg Semenza, a top researcher at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, says he was awakened by a call from Stockholm shortly before 4 a.m. with the good news that he is one of three recipients of the Nobel Prize for physiology or medicine.
He’s been too barraged by phone calls ever since to even think about how to spend his share of the award money.
Semenza and two others are being honored for research into how genes respond to varying levels of oxygen. Semenza said his team was studying a rare kidney cell type years ago when they discovered that the same phenomenon happens throughout the body. It has such widespread physiological importance that it has opened up many possible avenues for more research and treatments for everything from anemia to cancer to diabetes and heart disease.
Researchers have since learned how to switch on and off genes that can increase or decrease oxygen levels. By doing this, they can kill a cancer cell, or stimulate blood vessel growth in heart patients. People with chronic kidney disease can get injections to increase their oxygen levels. And drugs are in development in pill form to turn on red blood cell production. Semenza expects some to reach the market in the next few years.
Now that DNA sequencing is possible, Semenza said they’ve learned that the phenomenon they once discovered in a rare kidney cell is evident throughout the genomes of people who have adapted to low-oxygen environments, such as Tibetans who live at high altitude. Semenza says this shows that some genetic changes can occur spontaneously as the human body adapts.
A member of the Nobel Committee at Sweden’s Karolinska Institutet says this year’s award was given for “a fundamental basic science discovery about how the body adapts to different levels of oxygen.”
Nils-Goran Larsson told The Associated Press that although we are surrounded by oxygen “we have to adapt to different oxygen levels — for instance if we start living at higher altitude we have to adapt and get more red blood cells, more blood vessels, and also in different disease processes the regulation of oxygen and the metabolism is very important.”
Larsson says “people with renal failure often get hormonal treatment for anemia. With this discovery system there are alternative ways of doing this and developing similar treatments.”
The 2019 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was earlier in the day given jointly to medics William G. Kaelin, Jr., Peter Ratcliffe and Gregg L. Semenza for their research into how cells respond to levels of oxygen.
The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine is celebrating one of its top researchers, Dr. Gregg Semenza, who shares this year’s Nobel Prize for medicine for his work on how genes respond to low levels of oxygen.
Semenza’s dean, Paul B. Rothman, says his “groundbreaking basic research has been inspired largely by what he has seen in the clinic” at Hopkins. The university says that work has “far-reaching implications in understanding the impacts of low oxygen levels in blood disorders, blinding eye diseases, cancer, diabetes, coronary artery disease, and other conditions.”
The 63-year-old Semenza shares the award with William G. Kaelin Jr., professor of medicine at Harvard University and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute who did his specialist training in internal medicine and oncology at Johns Hopkins, and Sir Peter J. Ratcliffe, professor at Oxford University and at the Francis Crick Institute.
Johns Hopkins University President Ronald J. Daniels calls it a momentous day, and says they’re immensely proud of Semenza’s passion for discovery, an example of the school’s commitment to creating new knowledge that helps make a better and more humane world.
Reached at his home in the Boston area, Kaelin said he was half-asleep when his phone rang at 4:50 a.m.
“I was aware as a scientist that if you get a phone call at 5 a.m. with too many digits, it’s sometimes very good news, and my heart started racing. It was all a bit surreal,” he said.
Kaelin, who was born in the New York City borough of Queens and grew up in the city’s suburbs, said the prize committee had initially been unable to find his phone number so they first reached his sister, “and that will become part of the family lore.”
Kaelin said he isn’t sure yet how he’ll spend the prize money but “obviously I’ll try to put it to some good cause.”
Asked what practical payoffs have been achieved from his work, Kaelin explained that “the molecular pathway that my fellow prize winners and I helped to define converges on a protein called HIF, and as a result of this work there are now opportunities to either increase or decrease HIF.”
He said drugs are being developed to do that. Certain diseases like anemia might be treated by increasing HIF, while inhibiting that protein could help with other diseases including certain cancers.
Dr. Andrew Murray of the University of Cambridge says the three winners of the Nobel prize in medicine “revealed the elegant mechanisms by which our cells sense oxygen levels and respond to fluctuations.
In a statement on Monday, Murray said that hypoxia — when the body doesn’t have enough oxygen — is a characteristic of numerous diseases including heart failure, chronic lung disease and many cancers.
He said the work of Dr. William G. Kaelin Jr, Dr. Gregg Semenza and Dr. Peter Ratcliffe has “paved the way to greater understanding of these common, life-threatening conditions and new strategies to treat them.”
The 2019 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was given jointly to William G. Kaelin Jr, who was born in 1957 in New York City and is a professor of medicine at Harvard University; Peter Ratcliffe, 65, of the University of Oxford; and 63-year-old Gregg L. Semenza at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
The trio was given the award jointly for their discoveries of “how cells sense and adapt to oxygen availability,” the Nobel Committee announced Monday.
Thomas Perlmann, the secretary of the Nobel Committee at the Sweden’s Karolinska Instititute, said he was able to call the three laureates Monday, adding the last one he called was Kaelin. He reached him via his sister who gave him two phone numbers — the first one was a wrong number but he reached Kaelin on the second.
“He was really happy,” Perlmann told a news conference.
The 2019 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine has been awarded to scientists William G. Kaelin, Jr, Peter J. Ratcliffe and Gregg L. Semenza.
They received the award jointly for their discoveries of “how cells sense and adapt to oxygen availability,” the Nobel Committee announced Monday.
It is the 110th prize in the category that has been awarded since 1901.
The Karolinska Institutet said in a statement the trio should share equally the 9 million kronor ($918,000) cash award.
The discoveries made by the three men “have fundamental importance for physiology and have paved the way for promising new strategies to fight anemia, cancer and many other diseases.”
The winners of this year’s Nobel Prizes are to be announced over the next week, to include two literature laureates and the coveted Nobel Peace Prize.
Events begin Monday with the award for physiology or medicine. The physics prize is handed out Tuesday and the following day is the chemistry prize.
This year’s double-header Literature Prizes will be awarded Thursday and the Peace Prize will be announced on Friday.
The economics prize — officially known as the Bank of Sweden Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel — will be awarded on Oct. 14.
The 2018 literature prize was suspended after a scandal rocked the Swedish Academy. The body plans to award it this year, along with announcing the 2019 laureate.
Read more stories on the 2019 Nobel Prizes by The Associated Press at https://www.apnews.com/NobelPrizes
EarthLink – News
The Latest: Greece expands program to transfer refugees
Mon, October 7, 2019 07:46 EDT
MILAN (AP) — The Latest on migrants trying to reach Europe (all times local):
Authorities in Greece have expanded a program to transfer migrants and refugees from overcrowded camps on the islands to the mainland amid concern that the number of arrivals from nearby Turkey could continue to rise.
More than 500 asylum-seekers arrived early Monday on ferries from the islands at the port of Piraeus, near Athens, and were being taken in buses to a newly setup camp in northern Greece.
An expected incursion by Turkish forces into northeastern Turkey has increased concern in Greece that more refugees may try to reach the European Union following a summer surge in arrivals.
Transfers to the mainland were expanded Sunday and Monday to include all five Greek islands in the eastern Aegean Sea with refugee camps.
French lawmakers are poised to debate immigration reform, taking up one of the country’s touchiest issues at a time when tent cities have expanded in cities across the country and asylum demands are spiking.
Monday’s debate is part of French President Emmanuel Macron’s promise to confront the issue head-on during the second half of his presidency.
Demands for asylum have fallen across Europe since 2015 while continuing to rise in France.
The issue is particularly visible in Paris, where tent cities sprawl along a highway leading to the city and in a northern neighborhood.
Macron’s administration wants to discuss tightening eligibility for families and blocking social services for those who enter illegally, according to a draft document reviewed by the French newspaper Le Monde.
Spanish aid group Open Arms says it has rescued 44 people, including a toddler and a months-old baby, on a wooden boat trying to reach European shores.
Gerard Canals, chief of mission of the Open Arms rescue boat, says the boat was found late Sunday in Malta’s rescue zone, about 50 miles (80 kilometers) from the Italian island of Lampedusa.
Canals says that Malta’s rescue coordination center told the group not to offer the migrants any assistance. But Open Arms decided to rescue them anyway because the boat wouldn’t have made it to land without fuel.
In video remarks distributed by the aid group, Canals says that all 44 rescued — 38 men, 4 women, a 4-year-old boy, and a baby around 6 to 9 months old — are in good condition.
The Italian Coast Guard says at least nine people have died when a migrant boat capsized near the island of Lampedusa as they were about to be rescued. Twenty-two people were saved.
The coast guard said Monday the overcrowded smugglers’ boat overturned as a patrol was boarding migrants some 6 miles off Lampedusa just after midnight.
Authorities said 22 migrants were rescued from the sea, and nine bodies were recovered. The search is underway for more missing.
Initial reports by authorities in Sicily who received the distress call put the number of migrants on board at around 50.