Thursday, October 13, 2005

ENV: Evolution on Stage

Now Arguing Near You: The Evolution Drama
By STEVEN McELROY, The New York Times, October 12, 2005


In Harrisburg, Pa., lawyers are in court today arguing whether intelligent design should be taught in biology class alongside evolution. As Richard Thompson, the lawyer representing the school board members who favor teaching intelligent design, said, "There are two worldviews that are in conflict."

Last night, in Arcata, Calif., in another trial involving evolution's place in the school curriculum, a lawyer told a jury, "The contest between evolution and Christianity is a duel to the death, between the unbelief that attempts to speak through so-called science, and the defenders of the Christian faith."

The difference is that the Pennsylvania trial, Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District, is real, while the one taking place on the other side of the country is a play performed by L.A. Theater Works and drawn from the transcripts of the famed Scopes "monkey trial" of 1925, when a high school teacher in Tennessee was indicted for teaching evolution.

Observing the 80th anniversary of the Scopes trial, Theater Works began its 23-city tour of Peter Goodchild's radio play "The Great Tennessee Monkey Trial" last night with a rotating cast of actors that includes Edward Asner, Michael Learned, John de Lancie and Tom Bosley. Many places where the play, directed by Gordon Hunt, will be performed - mainly college campuses - are sponsoring additional events like panel discussions and workshops with the actors.

Susan Albert Loewenberg, the producing director of L.A. Theater Works, said recently: "This is not agitprop theater. Hopefully, this docudrama will enable people to think about the issue. The presentation will help to create a useful national conversation." But she emphasized that the theater company is not promoting either side of the argument.

After this week's performances at Humboldt State University, the company will make stops in Nashville, Tenn.; Green Bay, Wis.; Purchase, N.Y.; and other cities before finishing the tour in Los Angeles in March.

"I think the timing is great because it's something that's in controversy right now," said Roy Furshpan, the director of Center Arts, which is sponsoring this week's performances at Humboldt State. Mr. Furshpan was not expecting much contention over the performance. "Arcata is a fairly liberal town," he said.

But in Tennessee, home of the Scopes trial, the issue is white hot, said Bridgette Kohnhorst, assistant director of performing and fine arts at Vanderbilt University, where the show and forum are scheduled for Oct. 19. Ms. Kohnhorst said she had been working on the project long before the Dover School Board voted to include intelligent design in the science curriculum. The timing, though, is serendipitous, she said, adding, "You begin conversations about something like this a whole year earlier, and then what could be better?"

Ms. Loewenberg originally commissioned Mr. Goodchild, a writer and producer at the British Broadcasting Corporation, in 1992 to work on an adaptation of the Scopes trial transcripts. ("Inherit the Wind," the 1955 play and the 1960 film with Spencer Tracy and Fredric March, was based on the trial.) The company recorded the show, with Mr. Asner as William Jennings Bryan facing off against Charles Durning as Clarence Darrow.

L.A. Theater Works began producing recorded plays in 1987, with a 14-hour recording of the Sinclair Lewis novel "Babbitt." Now the company has created a library of more than 360 titles - the largest collection of its kind in the country.

The recordings are used in an educational outreach program, "Alive and Aloud," which supplies free radio plays and teaching materials to 2,000 schools. "The Play's the Thing," a weekly two-hour radio show broadcast on public radio affiliates across the country, features plays, interviews and other programs. In addition, L.A. Theater Works has an annual season of 10 or more plays at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles, where each play is recorded five times in front of a live audience and then edited to create a definitive CD version.

Three years ago, when Ms. Loewenberg was thinking about whether to do a show on tour, she reviewed the results of a recent company survey of teachers. "Surprisingly, we found that Scopes was the most utilized of all the recordings," she said, adding, "and we were already aware of the growing controversy surrounding the teaching of evolution."

The show has traveled before. When the Kansas State Board of Education decided to remove evolution from the science curriculum in 1999, Ms. Loewenberg received a phone call from the television producer Norman Lear. "He said, 'If I arrange it and pay for it, will you take the Scopes show to Kansas?' " Mr. Lear's advocacy group, People for the American Way, set up a performance the following summer at the Lied Center at the University of Kansas and ran a spirited panel discussion as well, Ms. Loewenberg said.

Mr. Asner, a Kansas native who was in that show, is one of several actors who has been with the company since its beginning. As part of the current tour's revolving cast, he is returning a third time to play Bryan, the prosecuting attorney, for the first several stops. Since Mr. Asner, like the other actors, is working for union-scale wages, it is not a particularly lucrative venture. But, he said, "I love doing radio; it's a very gratifying experience." He added, "It's a phenomenal exercise, like trying to get a tune out of a Schoenberg piece."

In each city on the tour, Ms. Loewenberg said, the local National Public Radio affiliate will record and broadcast the production, along with any discussions, to "extend the conversation."

Ms. Loewenberg might be interested to find herself in agreement with Bryan, who said at the 1925 trial, "There can be no settlement of a great cause without discussion, and people will not discuss a cause until their attention is drawn to it."

ENV: More little jawbones

A Big Debate on Little People: Ancient Species or Modern Dwarfs?
By JOHN NOBLE WILFORD, The New York Times, October 12, 2005


New discoveries in a cave on the Indonesian island of Flores, notably another jawbone, appear to give additional support to the idea that a separate species of little people new to science and now extinct lived there as recently as 12,000 years ago.

But a vigorous minority of skeptical scientists were unmoved by the new findings. They contend that the skeletal remains are more likely to be deformed modern human beings, not a distinct species.

The group of Australian and Indonesian researchers who announced the first findings a year ago and proclaimed the new species Homo floresiensis describe the additional bones in a report to be published tomorrow in the journal Nature.

They said the bones were fragments of nine individuals of unusually small stature, little more than three feet tall, and, judging by one skull, with brains the size of a chimpanzee's. The newly discovered lower jaw was almost identical to one previously found, except that it appeared to be 3,000 years younger.

"We can now reconstruct the body proportions of H. floresiensis with some certainty," the scientists, led by Michael J. Morwood and Peter Brown, both of the University of New England in Australia, said in the report.

"The finds further demonstrate," they continued, that the original skull and partial skeleton was not from "an aberrant or pathological individual, but is representative of a long-term population" that was present during the period from 95,000 to 12,000 years ago.

The implication that made the original discovery a year ago such a sensation was that these "little people of Flores," as they are commonly called, represent a distinct species that shared the earth with modern humans far more recently than anyone had supposed.

In a commentary in the journal, Daniel E. Lieberman, a biological anthropologist at Harvard University, said, "All in all, it seems reasonable for Morwood and colleagues to stick to their original hypothesis that H. floresiensis is a new species."

But Dr. Lieberman noted that the authors were less certain of the new species' lineage than they had been a year ago. Then the discovery team speculated that the little people had evolved from Homo erectus, the immediate predecessor of Homo sapiens. Now they suggest in the report that the species may descend more directly from earlier members of the human family, like the australopithecines, the group the famous 3.2-million-year-old Lucy belonged to.

In an exchange of e-mail messages from Australia, Dr. Brown said, "The limb proportions, stature, brain size and skeletal robusticity of H. floresiensis replicated those in Australopithecus afarensis, not in any member of our genus Homo."

Dr. Brown said he was preparing to publish results of research that could explain what, if any, connection the little people had to Lucy.

But some paleontologists and biologists express strong doubts that the little people represent a new species. Two separate groups, including Indonesians, Australians, Americans and Britons, said this week that they were about to submit reports to a journal that they say refute the new-species hypothesis.

"I don't think anything is changed with this paper," Robert D. Martin, a biological anthropologist and provost at the Field Museum in Chicago, said in a telephone interview, referring to the latest Nature report. "I feel very strongly that these people are glossing over the problems with this interpretation."

In Dr. Martin's view, in which he is joined by several prominent scientists, the more likely explanation for the small stature is, in part, a phenomenon known as island dwarfing. People and animals living in isolation for many generations tend to evolve smaller bodies, their growth constrained by limited resources.

Dr. Lieberman, who wrote the commentary in Nature, said the dwarfing issue could be resolved if fossils of much earlier specimens of the Flores people were discovered.

"If the island-dwarfing hypothesis is correct," he wrote, "then the island's earliest inhabitants should be larger than the Liang Bua fossils."

Liang Bua is the cave at a remote Flores village where archaeologists found the first bones of the little people two years ago. Besides the skull and jaw, the bones included limbs and other fragments in deposits dating from 18,000 years ago; they were accompanied by remarkably advanced stone tools. The latest finds were from trenches at various depths and thus ages, some as recent as 12,000 years ago, indicating that the cave was occupied for tens of thousands of years.

Another possibility raised by the skeptics is that the discoverers happened to come on a people suffering from microcephaly, a disorder that causes abnormally small brain growth and other deformities.

Recently, British researchers examined the skull of a microcephalic individual at the Royal College of Surgeons of England and found that its braincase appeared to match that of the Flores specimen.

Robert B. Eckhardt, a professor of developmental genetics at Penn State, complained that the new report on the additional jaw failed to support the thesis that these people were a separate species.

"All the paper tells us is that they have identified an early population of small people," Dr. Eckhardt said. "What we are disputing is that people with the brain size of a chimp made these stone tools in the cave. The easiest explanation is that the specimen with the small brain has a small brain because it is abnormal, not a new species."

ENV: U.S. fumbling wetlands

Supreme Court Takes Up 2 Cases Challenging Powers of U.S. Regulators to Protect Wetlands
By LINDA GREENHOUSE, The New York Times, October 12, 2005


WASHINGTON, Oct. 11 - The Supreme Court accepted two cases on the federal regulation of wetlands on Tuesday, bringing the court's federalism revolution into the heartland of environmental policy.

The cases, both from Michigan, challenge regulators' definition of federally protected wetlands under both the Clean Water Act and the Constitution. The question is whether the federal government is properly asserting jurisdiction over wetlands that may be part of a drainage area or tributary system but do not actually abut the "navigable waters" to which the Clean Water Act refers.

If the government's view of its power under the statute is correct, the landowners bringing the appeals argue, then Congress has exceeded its authority and the Clean Water Act, in this application, is unconstitutional.

The answer to the statutory question has been in some dispute in courts around the country, especially after the Supreme Court's ruling in 2001 that the use of isolated ponds by migratory birds was not sufficient to give the federal government jurisdiction over those ponds under the Clean Water Act.

But no federal court has gone so far as to declare the Clean Water Act unconstitutional. The argument "lacks merit and does not warrant this court's review," Solicitor General Paul D. Clement told the court in the briefs the government filed in response to each of the appeals. The goal of protecting the nation's water quality "implicates core federal interests," Mr. Clement said.

While arising under a different environmental law, the new cases present an issue similar to one that gained some attention during the Senate confirmation hearings for Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.

As a federal appeals court judge, the new chief justice had voted in dissent to grant a new hearing in a case brought under the Endangered Species Act. The question in that case, Rancho Viejo LLC v. Norton, was whether the federal government could constitutionally assert jurisdiction to protect a species of toad that exists only in California and has no commercial uses.

Judge Roberts did not say that this application of the act would be unconstitutional in his own view, but rather that it was in tension with recent Supreme Court precedents giving a narrow reading to the power of Congress to regulate intrastate noncommercial activities. His opinion said that the appeals court should rehear the case in order to "consider alternative grounds for sustaining application of the act that may be more consistent with Supreme Court precedent."

Both the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Water Act have become enmeshed in the debate over private property rights versus government regulation.

John A. Rapanos, the Michigan landowner who brought one of the new appeals, has been a symbol of that debate for more than 10 years. Mr. Rapanos has been the subject of a civil enforcement action and criminal prosecution for acting without a permit to move earth and perform construction work on three multi-acre parcels that the Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency deemed protected wetlands.

Last year, the Supreme Court denied review in Mr. Rapanos's appeal of his criminal conviction. The new case, Rapanos v. United States, No. 04-1034, is his appeal in his civil case, in which he faces millions of dollars in fines.

None of Mr. Rapanos's properties abut or drain directly into navigable waterways and, in fact, are up to 20 miles away from any navigable water. Two of the parcels are within the drainage system for Lake Huron, while water from the other runs off through a drain into a navigable river, the Tittabawassee.

In rejecting his appeal last year, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, in Cincinnati, found that the properties were "interconnected with traditional navigable waters" and consequently fit the definition of wetlands. Only in a later petition for rehearing did Mr. Rapanos present his constitutional challenge to the Clean Water Act, so the appeals court panel did not have occasion to address it.

In his Supreme Court appeal, which was filed by the Pacific Legal Foundation, an organization in Sacramento, Calif., that advocates on behalf of private property rights, Mr. Rapanos is arguing that "the Constitution prohibits the federal government from regulating noneconomic intrastate activities like the filling of remote, nonnavigable, intrastate wetlands in this case."

The second Clean Water Act case the court accepted is quite similar, but in this case, Carabell v. United States United States Engineers, No. 04-1384, the property owners did seek a permit under the Clean Water Act to build a condominium complex on 19 acres of largely forested wetlands.

They filed suit when the permit was denied, now arguing that the property was not subject to federal jurisdiction. They maintained that an artificial berm that separated their property from a drainage ditch deprived their land of a "hydrological connection" with any navigable waterway. The Federal District Court in Detroit, as well as the Sixth Circuit, found that the property met the federal regulatory definition as "adjacent to tributaries of a traditional navigable water."

The court accepted a third Clean Water Act case on Tuesday that presents a different issue under a separate section of the law. The question in that case, S. D. Warren Co. v. Maine Department of Environmental Protection, No. 04-1527, is whether a dam through which water flows requires certification under the statute even if nothing is added to the water, either from outside or by the dam itself.

The Clean Water Act requires a "water quality certification" before making "any discharge" of a "pollutant" into navigable waters. The owner of five 100-year-old hydroelectric generating dams in Maine, which provide electricity to a paper mill, is arguing that flowing water does not constitute a "discharge."

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court rejected that argument on the ground that "water that has left its natural state and has been subjected to man-made control" could be considered a discharge. In this case, the state's environmental agency was administering the law in cooperation with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which was reviewing a license renewal application from the company that owns the dams.

Separately on Tuesday, the court rebuked the Sixth Circuit for improperly dismissing a petition for habeas corpus from a man convicted of murder in the Michigan state courts. In an unsigned opinion, without dissent, the court said the petition filed by the defendant, Paul A. Dye, had been sufficiently precise in its allegation of prosecutorial misconduct and "it was error for the Court of Appeals to conclude otherwise." The case was Dye v. Hofbauer, No. 04-8384.

ENV: The decline of American science

Top Advisory Panel Warns of an Erosion of the U.S. Competitive Edge in Science
By WILLIAM J. BROAD, The New York Times, October 13, 2005


A panel of experts convened by the National Academies, the nation's leading science advisory group, called yesterday for an urgent and wide-ranging effort to strengthen scientific competitiveness.

The 20-member panel, reporting at the request of a bipartisan group in Congress, said that without such an effort the United States "could soon loose its privileged position." It cited many examples of emerging scientific and industrial power abroad and listed 20 steps the United States should take to maintain its global lead.

"Decisive action is needed now," the report warned, adding that the nation's old advantages "are eroding at a time when many other nations are gathering strength."

The proposed actions include creating scholarships to attract 10,000 top students a year to careers in teaching math and science, and 30,000 scholarships for college-level study of science, math and engineering; expanding the nation's investment in basic research by 10 percent a year for seven years; and making broadband access available nationwide at low cost.

"America must act now to preserve its strategic and economic security," the panel's chairman, Norman R. Augustine, retired chairman of Lockheed Martin, said in a statement. "The building blocks of our economic leadership are wearing away. The challenges that America faces are immense."

The underlying goal, the panel said, is to create high-quality jobs by developing new industries and new sources of energy based on the bright ideas of scientists and engineers.

The panel included Nobel laureates, university presidents, corporate chairmen and former presidential appointees. Their report, "Rising Above the Gathering Storm," said the proposed actions would require changes of law and new or reallocated funds. A summary of the report and a list of the 20 members is online at www.nationalacademies.org.

At a news conference in Washington, panel members estimated the cost of the new recommendations at $10 billion a year, a figure that may prove daunting to Congress in a time of tight budgets.

Nevertheless, two senators who helped initiate the effort - Lamar Alexander, Republican of Tennessee, and Jeff Bingaman, Democrat of New Mexico - praised its findings.

"This report shines a spotlight on the fact our country is losing its competitive edge," Mr. Bingaman said. "Clearly there are steps we can take to regain our competitiveness, and the recommendations outlined in this comprehensive report give us a good place to start."

Increasingly, experts say, strides in Asia and Europe rival or exceed America's in critical areas of science and innovation, often with little public awareness of the trend or its implications for jobs, industry, national security or the vigor of the nation's intellectual and cultural life.

The panel cited many examples:

¶Last year, more than 600,000 engineers graduated from institutions of higher education in China, compared to 350,000 in India and 70,000 in the United States.

¶Recently, American 12th graders performed below the international average for 21 countries on general knowledge in math and science.

¶The cost of employing one chemist or engineer in the United States is equal to about five chemists in China and 11 engineers in India.

¶Chemical companies last year shut 70 facilities in the United States and marked 40 for closure. Of 120 large chemical plants under construction globally, one is in the United States and 50 are in China.

"Thanks to globalization," the report said, "workers in virtually every sector must now face competitors who live just a mouse-click away in Ireland, Finland, China, India or dozens of other nations whose economies are growing."

Its 20 recommendations doubled the number that lawmakers - including Sherwood Boehlert, the New York Republican who is chairman of the House Science Committee, and Bart Gordon, a Tennessee Democrat also on the committee - asked for nearly five months ago.

To create a corps of 10,000 teachers annually, the report called for four-year scholarships, worth up to $20,000 a year, that would help top students obtain bachelor's degrees in science, engineering or math - with parallel certification as K-12 math and science teachers. After graduation, the students would work for at least five years in public schools.

Among the report's other recommendations were these:

¶An Advanced Research Projects Agency modeled after the military's should be established in the Energy Department to sponsor novel research to meet the nation's long-term energy challenges.

¶The nation's most outstanding early-career researchers should annually receive 200 new research grants - worth $500,000 each, and payable over five years.

¶International students in the United States who receive doctorates in science, technology, engineering or math should get automatic one-year visa extensions that allow them to seek employment here. If these students get job offers and pass a security screening test, they should automatically get work permits and expedited residence status. If they cannot get a job, their visas should expire.

¶The Research and Experimentation Tax Credit, scheduled to expire in December, should be made permanent and expanded. It goes to companies that increase their spending on research and development above a certain level.

To encourage private investment in innovation, the panel said, the credit should increase from 20 percent to 40 percent of qualifying investments.

LIT: Pinter wins Nobel

British Playwright Wins Nobel Prize in Literature
By TIMOTHY WILLIAMS, The New York Times, October 13, 2005


Harold Pinter, the British playwright known for enigmatic plays such as "The Birthday Party" and "The Homecoming" and a well-known peace activist, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature today.

Mr. Pinter, 75, has also acted, directed, written poetry and written for film, including the screenplay for "The French Lieutenant's Woman," during his long career.

Mr. Pinter was treated for cancer of the esophagus in 2002 and has announced that he has retired from writing to focus on working for peace. He is a prominent anti-war activist in Britain, writing frequently in British newspapers about his staunch opposition to the United States-led invasion of Iraq. Mr. Pinter's trademark style is full of tense silences and spare dialogue, and he is among a handful of writers whose name has inspired an adjective: "Pinteresque." His plays, which have been labeled as absurdist, are deeply psychological. His characters speak to each other, but have difficulty truly communicating, and are often unable to finish sentences or express their desires.

In awarding the $1.3 million prize, the Swedish Academy said Mr. Pinter "uncovers the precipice under everyday prattle and forces entry into oppression's closed rooms." The citation added, "Pinter restored theater to its basic elements: an enclosed space and unpredictable dialogue, where people are at the mercy of each other and pretense crumbles."

Influenced by James Joyce and Samuel Beckett - who became a friend -- Mr. Pinter wrote plays, particularly those during the 1960's, that veer unexpectedly from comedy to examinations of fear and evil. In his early plays, menace lurked just beneath the comedic surface of things - a style that became known as the "comedy of menace."

Mr. Pinter was born in London in 1930 to working class Jewish parents and studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and the Central School for Speech and Drama. As a child, he grew up during the Blitz, and he and his family were forced to evacuate London for three years. That experience, he said later, informed his desire to work for peace.

As a teenager, he twice refused national military service, and was fined.

The Nobel committee has on occasion presented awards with a political tinge, and this is the second Nobel Prize in a week that has gone to an opponent of the Iraq war. Last Friday, the peace prize was awarded to the International Atomic Energy Agency and its head, Mohamed ElBaradei; in the weeks before the 2003 United States invasion, Mr. ElBaradei openly disputed the American contention that Saddam Hussein had rebuilt a nuclear weapons program.

After devoting time to poetry and acting, Mr. Pinter's first play, "The Room", was performed at at Bristol University in 1957.

His second play, "The Birthday Party", was generally demeaned by critics, with the exception of Harold Hobson, who was among the most influential theater critics in Britain at the time. Despite Mr. Hobson's praise, the play closed after about a week. When Mr. Pinter achieved commercial success with "The Caretaker" in 1960, "The Birthday Party" enjoyed a second, successful run.

The drama takes place in a run-down boarding house near the seaside that has only one resident, a man named Stanley. Later, two men, Goldberg and McCann, arrive at the house and appear intent on possessing Stanley's persona.

In the 1970's, Mr. Pinter became outspoken on political issues, especially about human rights violations. In 1985, he and the American playwright Arthur Miller traveled to Turkey. During remarks at a party at the American embassy, Mr. Pinter said he had spoken to Turks who had been the victims of torture by the Turkish government, including having their genitals electrically shocked. Although the party was held in his honor, he was asked to leave the embassy.

In recent years, Mr. Pinter criticized the NATO bombing of Kosovo and the American-led invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

COM: Gore to the Media

Text of Gore Speech at Media Conference
10/06/05 10:04 EDT

NEW YORK (AP) - Here is the text of former Vice President Al Gore's remarks at the We Media conference on Wednesday in New York:

I came here today because I believe that American democracy is in grave danger. It is no longer possible to ignore the strangeness of our public discourse . I know that I am not the only one who feels that something has gone basically and badly wrong in the way America's fabled "marketplace of ideas" now functions.

How many of you, I wonder, have heard a friend or a family member in the last few years remark that it's almost as if America has entered "an alternate universe"?

I thought maybe it was an aberration when three-quarters of Americans said they believed that Saddam Hussein was responsible for attacking us on September 11, 2001. But more than four years later, between a third and a half still believe Saddam was personally responsible for planning and supporting the attack.

At first I thought the exhaustive, non-stop coverage of the O.J. trial was just an unfortunate excess that marked an unwelcome departure from the normal good sense and judgment of our television news media. But now we know that it was merely an early example of a new pattern of serial obsessions that periodically take over the airwaves for weeks at a time.

Are we still routinely torturing helpless prisoners, and if so, does it feel right that we as American citizens are not outraged by the practice? And does it feel right to have no ongoing discussion of whether or not this abhorrent, medieval behavior is being carried out in the name of the American people? If the gap between rich and poor is widening steadily and economic stress is mounting for low-income families, why do we seem increasingly apathetic and lethargic in our role as citizens?

On the eve of the nation's decision to invade Iraq, our longest serving senator, Robert Byrd of West Virginia, stood on the Senate floor asked: "Why is this chamber empty? Why are these halls silent?"

The decision that was then being considered by the Senate with virtually no meaningful debate turned out to be a fateful one. A few days ago, the former head of the National Security Agency, Retired Lt. General William Odom, said, "The invasion of Iraq, I believe, will turn out to be the greatest strategic disaster in U.S. history."

But whether you agree with his assessment or not, Senator Byrd's question is like the others that I have just posed here: he was saying, in effect, this is strange, isn't it? Aren't we supposed to have full and vigorous debates about questions as important as the choice between war and peace?

Those of us who have served in the Senate and watched it change over time, could volunteer an answer to Senator Byrd's two questions: the Senate was silent on the eve of war because Senators don't feel that what they say on the floor of the Senate really matters that much any more. And the chamber was empty because the Senators were somewhere else: they were in fundraisers collecting money from special interests in order to buy 30-second TVcommercials for their next re-election campaign.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, there was - at least for a short time - a quality of vividness and clarity of focus in our public discourse that reminded some Americans - including some journalists - that vividness and clarity used to be more common in the way we talk with one another about the problems and choices that we face. But then, like a passing summer storm, the moment faded.

In fact there was a time when America's public discourse was consistently much more vivid, focused and clear. Our Founders, probably the most literate generation in all of history, used words with astonishing precision and believed in the Rule of Reason.

Their faith in the viability of Representative Democracy rested on their trust in the wisdom of a well-informed citizenry. But they placed particular emphasis on insuring that the public could be well-informed. And they took great care to protect the openness of the marketplace of ideas in order to ensure the free-flow of knowledge.

The values that Americans had brought from Europe to the New World had grown out of the sudden explosion of literacy and knowledge after Gutenberg's disruptive invention broke up the stagnant medieval information monopoly and triggered the Reformation, Humanism, and the Enlightenment and enshrined a new sovereign: the "Rule of Reason."

Indeed, the self-governing republic they had the audacity to establish was later named by the historian Henry Steele Commager as "the Empire of Reason."

Our founders knew all about the Roman Forum and the Agora in ancient Athens. They also understood quite well that in America, our public forum would be an ongoing conversation about democracy in which individual citizens would participate not only by speaking directly in the presence of others -- but more commonly by communicating with their fellow citizens over great distances by means of the printed word. Thus they not only protected Freedom of Assembly as a basic right, they made a special point - in the First Amendment - of protecting the freedom of the printing press.

Their world was dominated by the printed word. Just as the proverbial fish doesn't know it lives in water, the United States in its first half century knew nothing but the world of print: the Bible, Thomas Paine's fiery call to revolution, the Declaration of Independence, our Constitution , our laws, the Congressional Record, newspapers and books.

Though they feared that a government might try to censor the printing press - as King George had done - they could not imagine that America's public discourse would ever consist mainly of something other than words in print.

And yet, as we meet here this morning, more than 40 years have passed since the majority of Americans received their news and information from the printed word. Newspapers are hemorrhaging readers and, for the most part, resisting the temptation to inflate their circulation numbers. Reading itself is in sharp decline, not only in our country but in most of the world. The Republic of Letters has been invaded and occupied by television.

Radio, the internet, movies, telephones, and other media all now vie for our attention - but it is television that still completely dominates the flow of information in modern America. In fact, according to an authoritative global study, Americans now watch television an average of four hours and 28 minutes every day -- 90 minutes more than the world average.

When you assume eight hours of work a day, six to eight hours of sleep and a couple of hours to bathe, dress, eat and commute, that is almost three-quarters of all the discretionary time that the average American has. And for younger Americans, the average is even higher.

The internet is a formidable new medium of communication, but it is important to note that it still doesn't hold a candle to television. Indeed, studies show that the majority of Internet users are actually simultaneously watching television while they are online. There is an important reason why television maintains such a hold on its viewers in a way that the internet does not, but I'll get to that in a few minutes.

Television first overtook newsprint to become the dominant source of information in America in 1963. But for the next two decades, the television networks mimicked the nation's leading newspapers by faithfully following the standards of the journalism profession. Indeed, men like Edward R. Murrow led the profession in raising the bar.

But all the while, television's share of the total audience for news and information continued to grow -- and its lead over newsprint continued to expand. And then one day, a smart young political consultant turned to an older elected official and succinctly described a new reality in America's public discourse: "If it's not on television, it doesn't exist."

But some extremely important elements of American Democracy have been pushed to the sidelines . And the most prominent casualty has been the "marketplace of ideas" that was so beloved and so carefully protected by our Founders. It effectively no longer exists.

It is not that we no longer share ideas with one another about public matters; of course we do. But the "Public Forum" in which our Founders searched for general agreement and applied the Rule of Reason has been grossly distorted and "restructured" beyond all recognition.

And here is my point: it is the destruction of that marketplace of ideas that accounts for the "strangeness" that now continually haunts our efforts to reason together about the choices we must make as a nation.

Whether it is called a Public Forum, or a "Public Sphere" , or a marketplace of ideas, the reality of open and free public discussion and debate was considered central to the operation of our democracy in America's earliest decades.

In fact, our first self-expression as a nation - "We the People" - made it clear where the ultimate source of authority lay. It was universally understood that the ultimate check and balance for American government was its accountability to the people. And the public forum was the place where the people held the government accountable. That is why it was so important that the marketplace of ideas operated independent from and beyond the authority of government.

The three most important characteristics of this marketplace of ideas were:

1) It was open to every individual, with no barriers to entry, save the necessity of literacy. This access, it is crucial to add, applied not only to the receipt of information but also to the ability to contribute information directly into the flow of ideas that was available to all; 2) The fate of ideas contributed by individuals depended, for the most part, on an emergent Meritocracy of Ideas. Those judged by the market to be good rose to the top, regardless of the wealth or class of the individual responsible for them; 3) The accepted rules of discourse presumed that the participants were all governed by an unspoken duty to search for general agreement. That is what a "Conversation of Democracy" is all about.

What resulted from this shared democratic enterprise was a startling new development in human history: for the first time, knowledge regularly mediated between wealth and power.

The liberating force of this new American reality was thrilling to all humankind. Thomas Jefferson declared, "I have sworn upon the alter of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man." It ennobled the individual and unleashed the creativity of the human spirit. It inspired people everywhere to dream of what they could yet become. And it emboldened Americans to bravely explore the farther frontiers of freedom - for African Americans, for women, and eventually, we still dream, for all.

And just as knowledge now mediated between wealth and power, self-government was understood to be the instrument with which the people embodied their reasoned judgments into law. The Rule of Reason under-girded and strengthened the rule of law.

But to an extent seldom appreciated, all of this - including especially the ability of the American people to exercise the reasoned collective judgments presumed in our Founders' design -- depended on the particular characteristics of the marketplace of ideas as it operated during the Age of Print.

Consider the rules by which our present "public forum" now operates, and how different they are from the forum our Founders knew. Instead of the easy and free access individuals had to participate in the national conversation by means of the printed word, the world of television makes it virtually impossible for individuals to take part in what passes for a national conversation today.

Inexpensive metal printing presses were almost everywhere in America. They were easily accessible and operated by printers eager to typeset essays, pamphlets, books or flyers.

Television stations and networks, by contrast, are almost completely inaccessible to individual citizens and almost always uninterested in ideas contributed by individual citizens.

Ironically, television programming is actually more accessible to more people than any source of information has ever been in all of history. But here is the crucial distinction: it is accessible in only one direction; there is no true interactivity, and certainly no conversation.

The number of cables connecting to homes is limited in each community and usually forms a natural monopoly. The broadcast and satellite spectrum is likewise a scarce and limited resource controlled by a few. The production of programming has been centralized and has usually required a massive capital investment. So for these and other reasons, an ever-smaller number of large corporations control virtually all of the television programming in America.

Soon after television established its dominance over print, young people who realized they were being shut out of the dialogue of democracy came up with a new form of expression in an effort to join the national conversation: the "demonstration." This new form of expression, which began in the 1960s, was essentially a poor quality theatrical production designed to capture the attention of the television cameras long enough to hold up a sign with a few printed words to convey, however plaintively, a message to the American people. Even this outlet is now rarely an avenue for expression on national television.

So, unlike the marketplace of ideas that emerged in the wake of the printing press, there is virtually no exchange of ideas at all in television's domain. My partner Joel Hyatt and I are trying to change that - at least where Current TV is concerned. Perhaps not coincidentally, we are the only independently owned news and information network in all of American television.

It is important to note that the absence of a two-way conversation in American television also means that there is no "meritocracy of ideas" on television. To the extent that there is a "marketplace" of any kind for ideas on television, it is a rigged market, an oligopoly, with imposing barriers to entry that exclude the average citizen.

The German philosopher, Jurgen Habermas, describes what has happened as "the refeudalization of the public sphere." That may sound like gobbledygook, but it's a phrase that packs a lot of meaning. The feudal system which thrived before the printing press democratized knowledge and made the idea of America thinkable, was a system in which wealth and power were intimately intertwined, and where knowledge played no mediating role whatsoever. The great mass of the people were ignorant. And their powerlessness was born of their ignorance.

It did not come as a surprise that the concentration of control over this powerful one-way medium carries with it the potential for damaging the operations of our democracy. As early as the 1920s, when the predecessor of television, radio, first debuted in the United States, there was immediate apprehension about its potential impact on democracy. One early American student of the medium wrote that if control of radio were concentrated in the hands of a few, "no nation can be free."

As a result of these fears, safeguards were enacted in the U.S. -- including the Public Interest Standard, the Equal Time Provision, and the Fairness Doctrine - though a half century later, in 1987, they were effectively repealed. And then immediately afterwards, Rush Limbaugh and other hate-mongers began to fill the airwaves.

And radio is not the only place where big changes have taken place. Television news has undergone a series of dramatic changes. The movie "Network," which won the Best Picture Oscar in 1976, was presented as a farce but was actually a prophecy. The journalism profession morphed into the news business, which became the media industry and is now completely owned by conglomerates.

The news divisions - which used to be seen as serving a public interest and were subsidized by the rest of the network - are now seen as profit centers designed to generate revenue and, more importantly, to advance the larger agenda of the corporation of which they are a small part. They have fewer reporters, fewer stories, smaller budgets, less travel, fewer bureaus, less independent judgment, more vulnerability to influence by management, and more dependence on government sources and canned public relations hand-outs. This tragedy is compounded by the ironic fact that this generation of journalists is the best trained and most highly skilled in the history of their profession. But they are usually not allowed to do the job they have been trained to do.

The present executive branch has made it a practice to try and control and intimidate news organizations: from PBS to CBS to Newsweek. They placed a former male escort in the White House press pool to pose as a reporter - and then called upon him to give the president a hand at crucial moments. They paid actors to make make phony video press releases and paid cash to some reporters who were willing to take it in return for positive stories. And every day they unleash squadrons of digital brownshirts to harass and hector any journalist who is critical of the President.

For these and other reasons, The US Press was recently found in a comprehensive international study to be only the 27th freest press in the world. And that too seems strange to me.

Among the other factors damaging our public discourse in the media, the imposition by management of entertainment values on the journalism profession has resulted in scandals, fabricated sources, fictional events and the tabloidization of mainstream news. As recently stated by Dan Rather - who was, of course, forced out of his anchor job after angering the White House - television news has been "dumbed down and tarted up."

The coverage of political campaigns focuses on the "horse race" and little else. And the well-known axiom that guides most local television news is "if it bleeds, it leads." (To which some disheartened journalists add, "If it thinks, it stinks.")

In fact, one of the few things that Red state and Blue state America agree on is that they don't trust the news media anymore.

Clearly, the purpose of television news is no longer to inform the American people or serve the public interest. It is to "glue eyeballs to the screen" in order to build ratings and sell advertising. If you have any doubt, just look at what's on: The Robert Blake trial. The Laci Peterson tragedy. The Michael Jackson trial. The Runaway Bride. The search in Aruba. The latest twist in various celebrity couplings, and on and on and on.

And more importantly, notice what is not on: the global climate crisis, the nation's fiscal catastrophe, the hollowing out of America's industrial base, and a long list of other serious public questions that need to be addressed by the American people.

One morning not long ago, I flipped on one of the news programs in hopes of seeing information about an important world event that had happened earlier that day. But the lead story was about a young man who had been hiccupping for three years. And I must say, it was interesting; he had trouble getting dates. But what I didn't see was news.

This was the point made by Jon Stewart, the brilliant host of "The Daily Show," when he visited CNN's "Crossfire": there should be a distinction between news and entertainment.

And it really matters because the subjugation of news by entertainment seriously harms our democracy: it leads to dysfunctional journalism that fails to inform the people. And when the people are not informed, they cannot hold government accountable when it is incompetent, corrupt, or both.

One of the only avenues left for the expression of public or political ideas on television is through the purchase of advertising, usually in 30-second chunks. These short commercials are now the principal form of communication between candidates and voters. As a result, our elected officials now spend all of their time raising money to purchase these ads.

That is why the House and Senate campaign committees now search for candidates who are multi-millionaires and can buy the ads with their own personal resources. As one consequence, the halls of Congress are now filling up with the wealthy.

Campaign finance reform, however well it is drafted, often misses the main point: so long as the only means of engaging in political dialogue is through purchasing expensive television advertising, money will continue by one means or another to dominate American politic s. And ideas will no longer mediate between wealth and power.

And what if an individual citizen, or a group of citizens wants to enter the public debate by expressing their views on television? Since they cannot simply join the conversation, some of them have resorted to raising money in order to buy 30 seconds in which to express their opinion. But they are not even allowed to do that.

Moveon.org tried to buy ads last year to express opposition to Bush's Medicare proposal which was then being debated by Congress. They were told "issue advocacy" was not permissible. Then, one of the networks that had refused the Moveon ad began running advertisements by the White House in favor of the President's Medicare proposal. So Moveon complained and the White House ad was temporarily removed. By temporary, I mean it was removed until the White House complained and the network immediately put the ad back on, yet still refused to present the Moveon ad.

The advertising of products, of course, is the real purpose of television. And it is difficult to overstate the extent to which modern pervasive electronic advertising has reshaped our society. In the 1950s, John Kenneth Galbraith first described the way in which advertising has altered the classical relationship by which supply and demand are balanced over time by the invisible hand of the marketplace. According to Galbraith, modern advertising campaigns were beginning to create high levels of demand for products that consumers never knew they wanted, much less needed.

The same phenomenon Galbraith noticed in the commercial marketplace is now the dominant fact of life in what used to be America's marketplace for ideas. The inherent value or validity of political propositions put forward by candidates for office is now largely irrelevant compared to the advertising campaigns that shape the perceptions of voters.

Our democracy has been hallowed out. The opinions of the voters are, in effect, purchased, just as demand for new products is artificially created. Decades ago Walter Lippman wrote, "the manufacture of consent...was supposed to have died out with the appearance of democracy...but it has not died out. It has, in fact, improved enormously in technique...under the impact of propaganda, it is no longer plausible to believe in the original dogma of democracy."

Like you, I recoil at Lippman's cynical dismissal of America's gift to human history. But in order to reclaim our birthright, we Americans must resolve to repair the systemic decay of the public forum and create new ways to engage in a genuine and not manipulative conversation about our future. Americans in both parties should insist on the re-establishment of respect for the Rule of Reason. We must, for example, stop tolerating the rejection and distortion of science. We must insist on an end to the cynical use of pseudo studies known to be false for the purpose of intentionally clouding the public's ability to discern the truth.

I don't know all the answers, but along with my partner, Joel Hyatt, I am trying to work within the medium of television to recreate a multi-way conversation that includes individuals and operates according to a meritocracy of ideas. If you would like to know more, we are having a press conference on Friday morning at the Regency Hotel.

We are learning some fascinating lessons about the way decisions are made in the television industry, and it may well be that the public would be well served by some changes in law and policy to stimulate more diversity of viewpoints and a higher regard for the public interest. But we are succeeding within the marketplace by reaching out to individuals and asking them to co-create our network.

The greatest source of hope for reestablishing a vigorous and accessible marketplace for ideas is the Internet. Indeed, Current TV relies on video streaming over the Internet as the means by which individuals send us what we call viewer-created content or VC squared. We also rely on the Internet for the two-way conversation that we have every day with our viewers enabling them to participate in the decisions on programming our network.

I know that many of you attending this conference are also working on creative ways to use the Internet as a means for bringing more voices into America's ongoing conversation. I salute you as kindred spirits and wish you every success.

I want to close with the two things I've learned about the Internet that are most directly relevant to the conference that you are having here today.

First, as exciting as the Internet is, it still lacks the single most powerful characteristic of the television medium; because of its packet-switching architecture, and its continued reliance on a wide variety of bandwidth connections (including the so-called "last mile" to the home), it does not support the real-time mass distribution of full-motion video.

Make no mistake, full-motion video is what makes television such a powerful medium. Our brains - like the brains of all vertebrates - are hard-wired to immediately notice sudden movement in our field of vision. We not only notice, we are compelled to look. When our evolutionary predecessors gathered on the African savanna a million years ago and the leaves next to them moved, the ones who didn't look are not our ancestors. The ones who did look passed on to us the genetic trait that neuroscientists call "the establishing reflex." And that is the brain syndrome activated by television continuously - sometimes as frequently as once per second. That is the reason why the industry phrase, "glue eyeballs to the screen," is actually more than a glib and idle boast. It is also a major part of the reason why Americans watch the TV screen an average of four and a half hours a day.

It is true that video streaming is becoming more common over the Internet, and true as well that cheap storage of streamed video is making it possible for many young television viewers to engage in what the industry calls "time shifting" and personalize their television watching habits. Moreover, as higher bandwidth connections continue to replace smaller information pipelines, the Internet's capacity for carrying television will continue to dramatically improve. But in spite of these developments, it is television delivered over cable and satellite that will continue for the remainder of this decade and probably the next to be the dominant medium of communication in America's democracy. And so long as that is the case, I truly believe that America's democracy is at grave risk.

The final point I want to make is this: We must ensure that the Internet remains open and accessible to all citizens without any limitation on the ability of individuals to choose the content they wish regardless of the Internet service provider they use to connect to the Worldwide Web. We cannot take this future for granted. We must be prepared to fight for it because some of the same forces of corporate consolidation and control that have distorted the television marketplace have an interest in controlling the Internet marketplace as well. Far too much is at stake to ever allow that to happen.

We must ensure by all means possible that this medium of democracy's future develops in the mold of the open and free marketplace of ideas that our Founders knew was essential to the health and survival of freedom.

Friday, October 07, 2005

COM: The battle against poultry flu

Bird flu pandemic risk 'very high'
U.S. official tours Asia to coordinate plans for outbreak

BANGKOK, Thailand (AP) -- The likelihood of a human flu pandemic is very high, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt said as he began a tour of Southeast Asia to coordinate plans to combat bird flu.

The H5N1 strain of bird flu has swept through poultry populations in many parts of Asia since 2003 and jumped to humans, killing 60 people, mostly through direct contact with sick fowl.

While there have been no known cases of person-to-person transmission, World Health Organization officials and other experts have been warning that the virus could mutate into a form that spreads easily among people. In a worst-case scenario, they say millions of people could die.

Three influenza pandemics have occurred over the last century and "the likelihood of another is very high, some say even certain," Leavitt said Monday after meeting with Thai health officials to review the country's preparations against the disease.

"Whether or not H5N1 is the virus that will ultimately trigger such a pandemic is unknown to us," he told a news conference.

"The probability is uncertain. But the warning signs are troubling. Hence we are responding in a robust way."

Leavitt, accompanied by the director of WHO and other top health professionals, also plans to visit Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam to prepare for the anticipated public health emergency.

His tour comes after U.S. President George W. Bush last month established the "International Partnership on Avian and Pandemic Influenza" to coordinate a global strategy against bird flu and other types of influenza. (Full story)

Leavitt said "containment" was the first line of defense against the illness, encouraging countries to step up development and production of vaccines and strengthen efforts to detect any cases of human-to-human transmission early.

"Anywhere, the sooner we know, the faster we can respond and the more lives that will be saved," he said.

Thai Public Health Minister Suchai Charoenratanakul said Thailand would contribute at least 5 percent of its antiviral drug supplies to a proposed Southeast Asian regional stockpile.

So far, 41 people have died of bird flu in Vietnam, 12 in Thailand, four in Cambodia and three in Indonesia. Leavitt said he would also visit Indonesia at a date to be announced.

World Heath Organization Director General Dr. Lee Jong-wook said preparation was the key to preventing a flu epidemic such as the one that struck in 1918, killing an estimated 40 million to 50 million people. (Full story)

"Now we know in advance what is happening and we have to prepare ourselves. That is our duty," he said.




Health Secretary to Emphasize Urgency of Avian Flu in Asia
By SETH MYDANS, International Herald Tribune, October 10, 2005


BANGKOK, Oct. 10 - The United States health and human services secretary, Michael O. Leavitt, began a four-nation tour of Southeast Asia today with a message of urgency in preparing for a possible pandemic of avian influenza.

"We in the United States do not have the capacity to manufacture vaccines for our own population," he said, urging regional leaders to increase their capacities for making antiviral vaccines.

"Most natural disasters have a geographic confinement to them," he said. "Most have a relatively short time period which they are active. An influenza pandemic could geographically expand in unlimited numbers of locations and sometimes grow as long as a year or a year and a half."

Mr. Leavitt said the goal of his trip was to increase international cooperation as the best defense against an outbreak.

"For all of us, the best defense is containment, to find it and find it soon and then work as an international community to contain it," he said. "That requires all of us to act in a way that is both transparent and cooperative."

His trip in the region, where 60 people reportedly have died of avian flu, began here in Thailand, where he said preparedness and cooperation were already at a high level. More than 40 million chickens and ducks have been killed in Thailand over the past two years and 12 human deaths have been confirmed.

Mr. Leavitt plans to travel to Laos and Cambodia, where the levels of public health and awareness are low relative to Thailand and where preventive action is hindered by lack of money and organization. Finally, he is scheduled to travel to Vietnam, where the World Health Organization has recorded 91 cases of avian flu, including 41 that have resulted in death. The secretary said he would make a separate trip to Indonesia, where the flu appears to be spreading rapidly and where the most recent four fatalities have been recorded.

The organization's director general, Jong Woo Lee, who is traveling with Mr. Leavitt, said the recent appearance of infected birds in Russia and Central Asia amounted to a worldwide warning. There were also reports of outbreaks in Turkey and Romania over the weekend.

"The burning question is, will there be a human influenza pandemic," Mr. Leavitt said. "On behalf of the W.H.O., I can tell you that there will be. The only question is the virulence and rapidity of transmission from human to human."

The health organization has warned that a possible pandemic of avian influenza could kill as many as 7.4 million people. It has urged nations in the region to draw up preparedness plans and stockpile antiviral drugs that could be effective against an emerging strain.

"At present, there is no convincing evidence of sustained human-to-human transmission of the H5N1 virus," the organization said in a statement. "However, there have been incidents, in Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia, where limited transmission between humans was suspected."

Mr. Leavitt met with Thai government officials, nongovernmental groups and officials from the health organization. "Three times in this century we have experienced pandemic influenza and they will come again," he said. "We must be ready."

He added, "Our preparations are not yet complete nor are they adequate."




What would a modern quarantine look like?
Experts: Isolating bird flu patients could be accomplished in several ways
The Associated Press, Updated: 5:34 p.m. ET Oct. 10, 2005

WASHINGTON - Quarantine — or some version of it — in a 21st-century flu pandemic would look very different from the medieval stereotype of diseased outcasts locked in a do-not-enter zone.

President Bush’s specter of a military-enforced mass quarantine is prompting debate of the Q-word as health officials update the nation’s plan for battling a pandemic — a plan expected to define who decides when and how to separate the contagious from everyone else.

“All the options need to be on the table,” said Dr. Marty Cetron, head of quarantine at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Bush’s comments recall how quarantines were enforced in parts of this country in the 1890s, when armed guards patrolled streets to keep victims of smallpox and other dread diseases confined to their homes.

'A whole range of options'
“The image that perhaps was inadvertently conveyed is really a setting in extreme that’s less likely,” Cetron cautioned. “There’s a whole range of options in the public-health toolbox for ways to achieve this goal of social distancing.”

For three years the CDC has been helping states plan how they would enact quarantines in case of a bioterrorism attack. The instructions stress using the least restrictive means necessary to stem an infection’s spread.

And public health officials expect a U.S. quarantine today to almost always be voluntary, with incentives to cooperate. In case of a horrific outbreak, quarantined areas would get first shipments of scarce medicines.

“I don’t think either the Tennessee National Guard or the U.S. Army and Marines will try to establish a cordon sanitaire around Nashville,” said Dr. William Schaffner of Vanderbilt University, an influenza expert who advises the federal government. “That’s not going to happen.”

Actually, “we practice in this country quarantine every day,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt. “If a child gets the measles, their mothers are expected to keep them at home.”

Vaccination is the cornerstone of fighting a pandemic, and quarantine-like steps are supposed to be brief, “designed to buy time until we have an adequate supply of countermeasures,” CDC’s Cetron said.


Voluntary measures?
The SARS epidemic of 2003 illustrated that “the public will voluntarily comply with measures to both protect themselves and their loved ones” — if doctors make the case that the steps are for their own good, he added.

Legally, “isolation” is the term for separating people who already are sick from others. That happens routinely in hospitals, as they limit access to patients being treated for certain infections.

“Quarantine” means restricting the movement of still healthy people who may have been exposed to an infectious disease, in case they’re carrying it. It’s almost always for a brief time; during SARS, for instance, hospital workers exposed to suspect cases were asked to stay home from work during the respiratory disease’s 10-day incubation period.

States have the primary legal authority to enact quarantines during outbreaks within their borders. Federal quarantine authority involves preventing infectious diseases from entering the country and stopping interstate spread. Expanding that authority to encompass a military role might entail legislation, something lawmakers’ staffs have begun mulling as public health experts downplay the need.

With SARS, CDC used its existing authority to stop that virus from spreading here like it did in Asia: Over three months, CDC workers delayed on the tarmac 12,000 airplanes carrying 3 million passengers arriving from SARS-affected countries. Anyone with SARS symptoms was isolated. Anyone possibly exposed was told what symptoms to watch for in the next 10 days and how to seek help without exposing entire emergency rooms if symptoms arose.

SARS showed that tracking down patients and people they may have exposed — allowing individuals, not large areas, to be contained — can work, Cetron said.

Flu would spread more easily than SARS
At the same time, a super-flu would demand more intense measures because it would spread more easily, perhaps even before symptoms appeared. Drafts of the pandemic plan make clear that affected communities would probably close schools, shut down large gatherings and restrict travel.

Ramping up gradually is crucial to minimize social and economic fallout, Schaffner cautioned.

He offered his home city of Nashville as an example: Authorities first might urge people to watch the Titans play football on TV instead of at the stadium, and to avoid shopping malls. Then schools might close for a while. Then people might be told to postpone holidays or business trips to Nashville, all steps to stem transmission by minimizing contact — but well short of compulsory quarantine.

“We’re going to have to permit ourselves a graduated, intelligent response to the magnitude of the threat,” he concluded.


Resurrecting a Killer Flu
A scientist explains why he re-created the lethal virus that killed millions in 1918 and what it can teach us about today’s avian flu.
By Anne Underwood, Newsweek, Updated: 6:06 p.m. ET Oct. 7, 2005

Oct. 7, 2005 - Scientists have long puzzled over the exceptional lethality of the 1918 flu, which killed between 20 million and 50 million people worldwide. What features of the viral genome enabled it to become both highly transmissible and lethal at the same time? Some of those questions were answered this week, with the publication of twin papers in the journals Nature and Science. In Nature, Jeffery Taubenberger of the Pentagon's Armed Forces Institute of Pathology announced that he had completed sequencing the genome of the 1918 flu. At the same time, Terrence Tumpey, senior microbiologist at the Influenza Branch of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, reported in Science that he and his colleagues had used Taubenberger’s sequence to reconstruct the actual 1918 virus, a living copy of the germ that killed millions.

Fears that it could escape into the environment or be appropriated by bioterrorists made it a controversial move. But Tumpey says the risk was worth the trade off because of the information we stand to learn from the virus. What was particularly chilling about the last killer flu was that it appeared to come, with only minimal changes, from an avian virus--bringing a new urgency to the current flu sweeping Southeast Asia. Tumpey spoke with NEWSWEEK's Anne Underwood about his findings. Excerpts:

NEWSWEEK: What is the significance of these twin papers?
Terrence Tumpey: For the first time we have a truly avian pandemic influenza virus that we can study. Not only did we want to rescue the virus, but also characterize some of the important viral proteins that made it so exceptionally virulent.

And we know for sure now that this was a purely avian virus, not a hybrid. Was it really changes of just 25-30 amino acids out of 4,400 in the viral RNA that transformed the virus into a killer?
That’s Jeff Taubenberger’s work, but it appears that way. The dogma until [the current bird flu struck in] 1997 was that pandemics were caused by shuffling of genes between avian and mammalian viruses. But both the current bird flu outbreak and the 1918 virus appear not to be a human/avian reassortant virus, but an avian virus that made minimal changes to infect humans directly. Thankfully, bird flu virus hasn’t figured out how to spread yet. The 1918 virus did.

Does this confirm our worst fears about current bird flu?
It’s hard to know whether or not the current flu will emerge into the human population and spread efficiently. But it’s a good guess that with enough time, it will figure out how to transmit human to human. If so, it will fit the three criteria of a pandemic: a novel subtype, a subtype to which the population has no immunity and high transmissibility.

Why was it important to create a living virus from the sequence?
There is little information in the sequence itself that tells us why it would be so deadly. We see from the sequence that it is avianlike, but there are not any obvious molecular smoking-gun features that we can point to and say, "That is the reason why it killed so many people." Reconstructing the virus helps us do that and identify targets for vaccines and antiviral drugs. The knowledge we’re gaining to protect public health far outweighs the hypothetical risk of working with this strain or providing the information to the public.

When you tested the reconstructed 1918 virus in mice, chicken embryos and human lung cells, what did you find was different about it?
We demonstrated in mice that the hemagglutinin (HA) protein on the viral coat was essential for development of severe pulmonary disease. The 1918 HA seemed to target deeper areas of the lungs than standard viruses. It targeted the alveoli--delicate tissues where the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide takes place. In animals, we saw lots of inflammation deep in the lungs, blocking the airways. When you remove the HA protein from 1918 and replace it with the HA from a contemporary virus, you don’t see the virus target deeper areas of lung. That appears to be a unique function of the 1918 virus.

What’s more, it can propagate in culture without the enzyme trypsin. Normally, with garden-variety influenza, in order to grow the virus in culture, you have to add the enzyme, which enables the hemagglutinin to function properly. These enzymes are found in lung tissue, too, or else influenza wouldn’t grow in our lungs.

What does the trypsin do?
It cleaves the HA, breaking it into two pieces. One of the pieces is used to get inside cells [for the virus to replicate]. If the virus doesn’t cleave, it binds to the cell surface, but can’t get inside. But the 1918 virus doesn’t require trypsin. We demonstrated that the other protein on the viral coat, referred to as neuraminidase, was able to mediate that function by cleaving the hemagglutinin, although it’s not clear yet how it does that.

Targeting the alveoli and functioning without trypsin would help explain why the virus was so lethal. What accounted for its ease of transmission among humans?
We don’t have a clue about transmissibility of the 1918 virus. But we showed in the paper that the polymerase genes of the 1918 flu were essential for maximal replication of the virus. Polymerase is one of the most important genes of the virus. Think of polymerase as the engine of the virus, driving the replication machinery. A good polymerase makes more and more copies. A bad one won’t. The polymerase described in the Nature paper is almost all avian, with minimal changes. The current bird flu also appears to have a very good polymerase.

What kind of precautions do you have to take to work with the virus in the lab?
Before we even began this work, we had to undergo multiple safety approvals in order to protect ourselves and public. The 1918 virus was reconstructed in a high-containment, BSL-3-enhanced [biosafety-level-3-enhanced] laboratory. Of the different biosafety levels, the highest is 4. That’s for agents such as Marburg and Ebola that have no treatment at all and are deadly. The next level down is our level--BSL-3-enhanced--which is used for agents that are susceptible to current FDA-approved antiviral drugs and for which the public has some cross-immunity from other viruses.

The population already has some immunity against the 1918 flu?
Yes. H1N1 subtype viruses still exist, although they’re declining. Older individuals especially have good cross reactivity to the 1918 virus.

What other precautions do you take?
All viruses are handled inside a biosafety cabinet. In addition, we have a half-body suit with a respirator, so all the air is filtered before it reaches the head piece. We have to wear double gloves and shower out when we’re finished. And there are heightened security requirements mandated by the select agent program [to make sure the virus doesn’t fall into the wrong hands]. Fingerprinting pads are used for entering the high-containment lab. And to open the locked freezers, we use retina scanning for identification.

Once the sequence is out there, what’s to stop someone from whipping up a batch?
It takes a lot of skilled work by microbiologists. It can’t be done overnight in a less than ideal lab. And there are other complicated issues. You can’t grow it by conventional means because the 1918 flu kills eggs. Standard flu does not.

How did this project get started?
In 1995, Jeff Taubenberger started systematically going through the eight viral genes and sequencing them individually. The initial genetic material he used came from the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, which was started as an Army medical museum in 1862 by Abraham Lincoln to help fight diseases of the battlefield. Jeff found tissues from two soldiers who had succumbed to infection in 1918. But they were just little tissue blocks the size of a nickel or a postage stamp. He didn’t have enough to sequence the whole virus.

Then a retired pathologist named Johan Hultin saw Jeff’s work and offered to help him get more tissue from victims whose bodies were preserved in permafrost. This pathologist, as part of his graduate studies in 1952, had gone to an Alaskan burial site to exhume bodies, after receiving permission from the city council. The poor village probably got the virus in the fall of 1918 from the mailman, who delivered the mail by dogsled. He delivered the mail and the 1918 flu. In November, 72 people died--about 85 percent of the adult population there. All were buried in this mass grave, below the permafrost layer. Hultin got permission from the town of Brevig Mission, and got lung tissue from a female that had died. He sent it to Jeff, who had enough genetic material then to work with.

So what’s the next step for you?
We are planning on looking at the other four of the 1918 influenza genes that were not addressed in the current work. Now that we know the full virulence of the pandemic virus, we can replace individual genes with genes from contemporary viruses and determine their importance in replication and virulence.




First deadly bird flu cases suspected in Europe
H591 virus may have caused deaths of ducks in Romania, officials say
Reuters, Updated: 8:14 p.m. ET Oct. 7, 2005

Three domestic ducks have died of bird flu in eastern Romania, but authorities said Friday they had not confirmed whether the birds were infected by the H5N1 strain that experts are tracking for fear it could mutate and spawn a human flu pandemic.

There are several strains of bird flu but only a few are deadly. Agriculture officials said they strongly suspected that tests now under way in Britain would confirm the birds were infected with H5N1.

If so, it would be the first time the virus strain has been detected in Europe.

Authorities worldwide are on alert for confirmed cases of fowl infected with H5N1 now circulating in parts of Asia.

H5N1 has infected 116 people in Asia, killing 60 — but experts are more worried the virus could mutate into a form that passes easily between people. That could trigger a human flu pandemic.

The best defense against a pandemic is to stamp out any outbreak in birds before the virus has a chance to change.

The dead birds were first noticed in the remote eastern village of Ceamurlia de Jos near the Black Sea in late September, Agriculture Minister Gheorghe Flutur said. Samples were sent to a lab in Bucharest, where scientists found antibodies to bird flu.

However, that lab did not have the capability to determine the exact strain of the virus, and sent the samples to Britain. Results were expected in the next few days.




World leaders meet in effort to contain poultry flu
Officials from 80 nations gather in Washington to devise plans to halt virus
Reuters, Updated: 8:09 p.m. ET Oct. 7, 2005

WASHINGTON - President Bush asked vaccine makers to do their utmost to boost flu vaccine production on Friday, while officials from 80 countries and the United Nations met to start setting up ways to fight a feared influenza pandemic.

Neither meeting provided any immediate solutions, but U.S. officials said they served to raise the profile of the potential crisis and start setting up the networks needed to deal with outbreaks.

“I think what this is, is ratcheting this up,” said Dr. Bruce Gellin, vaccine coordinator at the U.S. Department of Heath and Human Services and coordinator of the federal influenza preparedness plan.

Experts have been warning since 2003 that the H5N1 avian influenza is the biggest current health threat to the world but policy efforts to battle it have only reached a peak in recent weeks.

The virus has killed millions of birds across Asia and infected more than 100 people, killing more than 60 of them in four Asian nations.

If it acquires the ability to pass easily from person to person, it could kill millions in the space of a few months, experts say. The world does not have enough vaccine to fight off annual flu, let alone a pandemic of avian flu, and part of the problem is that very few companies make the vaccine.

Calls for more vaccine
Last year there was a shortage of annual flu vaccine. Congress and HHS agencies have been working to find ways to lure companies back into the business of making it.

So Bush met with the chief executive officers of some of the top corporate makers of vaccines.

They included Richard Clark, president and CEO of Merck & Co. Inc., Robert Essner, chairman, president and CEO of Wyeth, Jean-Pierre Garnier, CEO of GlaxoSmithKline, David Mott, president and CEO of MedImmune, Howard Pien, chairman, president and CEO of Chiron Corp., and David Williams, CEO of Sanofi Pasteur, the vaccine unit of Sanofi-Aventis.

“It was primarily for the president to express directly to them the importance he places on this issue and to thank them for their willingness to step up and to cooperate with us on the development of a pandemic plan, both for the short-term and the long-term,” Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt, who attended the meeting, told reporters.

“We talked about what’s necessary to get to the goal of having enough vaccine in the shortest possible amount of time.”

International meeting
Only a few blocks away, the U.S. State Department wrapped up a meeting of diplomats and United Nations experts.

“That’s a very good indication of the importance countries around the world place on this issue, said Kang Kyoung-wha, director general of the South Korean Foreign Ministry’s international organizations bureau.

“This initiative on the part of the United States government has solidly placed the avian influenza and the very real threat of a pandemic very high on the global agenda,” Kang told Reuters.

Officials have used SARS as an example of how countries must quickly share information.

Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome first started affecting people in China’s Guangdong province in late 2002, but it was not reported until months later. By June 2003 it had swept to several cities around the world, infecting close to 8,000 people and killing about 800 before it was stopped.

China was accused of failing to share information and ask for help quickly enough.

“I think they’ve learned from their SARS experience that transparency is important from the earliest stages,” Kang said.




Leavitt: Bird flu 'demands our attention'
International representatives in U.S. to discuss preparations

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Bush administration's top health official said Thursday that "no one in the world is ready" for a potentially catastrophic outbreak of Avian bird flu.

But Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt also said that U.S. officials and their counterparts around the globe recognize that a pandemic is possible and are working hard on ways to protect people from it.

"The good news is, we do have a vaccine," Leavitt said on CBS's "The Early Show." But he cautioned that officials do not currently have an ability to mass produce it or get it to people quickly.

"It's enough of a possibility that it demands our attention," he said. "We have to be prepared all the time ... for that type of problem and we need to improve."

Outlining the pandemic plan in an interview Wednesday with The Associated Press, Leavitt said U.S. health officials would rush overseas to wherever a bird flu outbreak occurred and work with local officials to try to contain it.

"If you can get there fast enough and apply good public health techniques of isolating and quarantining and medicating and vaccinating the people in that area, you can ... squelch it or you can delay it," Leavitt said in an interview with The Associated Press.

Leavitt is traveling to Asia to shore up international cooperation should bird flu mutate to easily infect people.

To further that goal, more than 65 countries and international organizations were to participate in discussions Thursday at the State Department about preparations for the possibility of worsening bird flu.

Next week, Leavitt plans to meet with leaders of the Southeast Asia countries that are the epicenter of the virus.

There have been three flu pandemics in the last century; the worst, in 1918, killed as many as 50 million people worldwide.

Scientists say it is only a matter of time before the next worldwide influenza outbreak. Concern is rising that it could be triggered by the avian flu called H5N1.

That virus has killed or led to the slaughter of millions of birds, mostly in Asia, but also in parts of Europe. It has killed about 60 people, mostly poultry workers, because so far the virus does not spread easily from person to person.

The fear is that it will mutate to spread easily, a catastrophe because H5N1 is so different from annual flu strains that people have no natural immunity.

"The probability that the H5N1 virus will create a pandemic is uncertain. The signs are worrisome," Leavitt said. He added that the updated pandemic plan, due this month, envisions other super-strains of flu, too.

Role-playing different outbreak possibilities over the past few months led federal health officials to broaden their focus on how to detect a bird-flu mutation in another country and quickly send overseas help.

If that fails, the pandemic plans' first draft last year called for closing schools, restricting travel and other old-fashioned quarantine steps, depending on how fast the super-strain was spreading and its virulence. Those steps are getting renewed attention after President Bush's comments Tuesday that troops might have to be dispatched to enforce a mass quarantine.

Typically, state and local authorities deal with quarantine decisions -- isolating the sick and closing large gatherings where diseases might spread.

"They have to be prepared, and frankly they're not," Leavitt said.

The updated plan will outline when federal health officials will take over for the locals, something that will depend on how the flu is spreading, he said. For instance, mass quarantines were needed in 1918, but not during the pandemics of 1957 and 1968, he said.

As for treatment, HHS last month began spending $100 million for the first large-scale production of a bird flu vaccine. But the department has been criticized for only stockpiling enough of the anti-flu drug Tamiflu for several million people. The Senate last week passed legislation that would increase those purchases by $3 billion.

A bigger gap is how to create quickly a vaccine to match whatever pandemic flu strain erupts, Leavitt said. That currently takes months. The new plan will focus on rejuvenating vaccine production to speed the process, he said.


Researchers reconstruct 1918 virus
Scientists seek better understanding of bird flu

ATLANTA, Georgia (AP) -- Scientists have made from scratch the Spanish flu virus that killed as many as 50 million people in 1918, the first time an infectious agent behind a historic pandemic has ever been reconstructed.

Why did they do it? Researchers say it may help them better understand -- and develop defenses against -- the threat of a future worldwide epidemic from bird flu.

Like the 1918 virus, the current avian flu in Southeast Asia occurs naturally in birds. In 1918, the virus mutated, infected people and then spread among them. So far, the current Asian virus has killed at least 65 people but has rarely spread person-to-person.

But viruses mutate rapidly and it could soon develop infectious properties like those seen in the 1918 bug, said Dr. Jeffery Taubenberger of the U.S. Armed Forces Institute of Pathology.

"The effort to understand what happened in 1918 has taken on a new urgency," said Taubenberger, who led the gene-sequencing team.

The public health risk of resurrecting the virus is minimal, U.S. health officials said. People around the world developed immunity to the deadly 1918 virus after the pandemic, and a certain degree of immunity is believed to persist today. Also, in previous research, scientists concluded that modern antiviral medicines are effective against Spanish flu-like viruses.

The virus recreation, announced Wednesday, is detailed in the journal Science. The completion of that gene sequencing was announced in the journal Nature.

The virus was made from scratch, but based on a blueprint from Alaska.

Taubenberger's team sequenced genome information recovered from a female flu victim buried in the Alaskan permafrost in 1918. Then, they shared the data with researchers at New York's Mount Sinai School of Medicine. Using a technique called reverse genetics, the Mount Sinai researchers used the genetic coding to create microscopic, virus-like strings of genes, called plasmids.

The plasmids then were sent to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, where they were inserted into human kidney cells for the final step in the virus reconstruction.

"Once you get the plasmids inside the cell, the virus assembles itself," said Terrence Tumpey, the CDC research scientist who assembled the virus. "It only takes a couple of days."

About 10 vials of virus were created, each containing about 10 million infectious virus particles, Tumpey said in an interview with The Associated Press. More may be created, he said, to accommodate researchers' future needs.

The virus particles are being stored at the CDC, and there are no plans to send samples off campus, said Dr. Julie Gerberding, the agency's director.

However, the genetic information sequenced by Taubenberger is being placed in GenBank, a public genetic sequence database operated by the National Institutes of Health.

Scientists need access to the research as they try to develop vaccines and antiviral medications against potential future pandemic agents, said Donald Kennedy, editor-in-chief of Science.

"We carefully considered the implications of publishing this research and concluded that the knowledge we're gaining to potentially protect public health far outweighs the risk of working with the virus," Kennedy said.

The Spanish flu of 1918 was a terrible pandemic. In a few months, it killed more people than any other illness in recorded world history -- an estimated 20 million to 50 million worldwide, including roughly 550,000 in the United States.

In severe cases, victims' lungs filled with fluid and they essentially drowned in a disease process that took less than a week. It was known for being particularly dangerous to young adults, a group usually less susceptible to flu complications than younger and older people.

A flu virus has eight gene segments. Taubenberger and other researchers previously had published the sequences of five of them, but they accounted for less than half of the virus's total sequence. The new work completes it.

The three new segments appear to be crucial in explaining how the bird-based virus became adapted to humans, Taubenberger said.

Tumpey also confirmed the 1918 virus's avian-like characteristics by injecting it in fertilized bird eggs. It killed the eggs, just like the Asian bird flu does. Other modern-day flu strains that are human-based don't kill fertilized bird eggs, he noted.

The researchers also refined their focus on one gene, the HA gene, that encodes the hemagglutinin surface protein that help the virus attach to cells and multiply. The 1918 virus is deadly with the HA gene, but when the gene was replaced, it was not virulent, Tumpey said.

The virus's genetic properties may explain why it was able to settle deeper in the lungs than most current flu strains, causing the drowning condition, he said.

Virologist Yoshihiro Kawaoka of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Tokyo called the work important.

"We need to understand why this virus was so pathogenic," he said.

He also noted that Tumpey's work had to go through a variety of scientific reviews and approvals -- a process Tumpey said took about three years.

"If there was any concern about safety, the experiment would not have been approved," Kawaoka said.


Bush pushes for mass-produced bird flu vaccine
President urges drug manufacturers to expand production capacity
The Associated Press, Updated: 9:06 p.m. ET Oct. 6, 2005

WASHINGTON - President Bush summoned vaccine manufacturers to a White House meeting Friday, hoping to personally boost the rickety industry amid increasing fears of a worldwide outbreak of bird flu. It’s the latest in a flurry of preparations for a possible pandemic after criticism of the government’s response to Hurricane Katrina.

This month, vaccine maker Sanofi-Pasteur begins the first mass production of a new vaccine that promises to protect against bird flu, producing $100 million worth of inoculations for a government stockpile.

But it would take months to create a new vaccine from scratch if a different strain of bird flu than today’s known as H5N1 emerges. Even if the vaccine works, Sanofi is producing enough to protect anywhere from 2 million to 20 million people — depending on how much must be put into each dose — and it’s not clear when or where similar large stockpiles could be made.

The nation has only three main manufacturers of vaccine against the regular flu that circulates each winter.

Bush called together the heads of major vaccine companies “to press ahead to expand our manufacturing capacity for a vaccine to address this risk,” White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Thursday.

Obstacles to increased production
On the agenda for Friday’s meeting is liability, McClellan said. If healthy people suffer side effects from a vaccine, manufacturers can face huge lawsuits, one reason many companies have left the business in the last two decades.

Another reason is that vaccines simply aren’t very profitable, especially flu vaccine, which must be made fresh every winter to keep up with newly circulating strains. The irony: Although there have been three shortages since 2000 and supplies are strained again this year, in most years manufacturers throw away millions of unused flu shots.

“We cannot handle the threats we face today with a broken flu vaccine system,” said Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y.., who with Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., introduced legislation Thursday that would, among other things, financially guarantee a market in return for more vaccine production.

A spokeswoman for one manufacturer who plans to attend Friday’s White House meeting said a pandemic will transcend those issues.

“When you’re actually in a pandemic situation, it’s all hands to the wheel,” said Nancy Pekarek, spokeswoman for GlaxoSmithKline, which hopes to begin testing its experimental bird flu vaccine in people next year. “It’s got to be many, many people producing what they can.”

Later this month, the Bush administration will issue updated plans to deal with a pandemic, and a key part will be “how to revitalize that industry in a way to have the capacity not just that it meets H5N1 but any potential pandemic virus,” Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt told The Associated Press.

'A Category 5 viral hurricane'
Scientists have been warning for two years that bird flu in Southeast Asia is growing more ominous and the nation must prepare.

“If the avian flu were to hit here, it would be like having a Category 5 viral hurricane hit every single state simultaneously. We’re not ready for that,” said Shelley Hearne, director of the nonprofit Trust for America’s Health, which backed the vaccine legislation.

“The lawmakers in the last few months have been paying attention,” said Hearne, who cites Hurricane Katrina as a key reason.

The Bush administration has been criticized for not getting help fast enough to devastated Gulf Coast states after the storm.

Bush has pushed the focus now on bird flu, by suggesting Tuesday that the military might be needed to enforce mass quarantines and by repeatedly raising the specter of a pandemic.

In the flurry of activity, the Senate last week passed legislation authorizing $4 billion for additional purchases of anti-flu medication. The vast majority is to buy Tamiflu, a pill to both treat and possibly prevent bird flu but that is in short supply. Leavitt has called for a Tamiflu stockpile to treat 20 million people, but the government has enough for just 4.3 million so far.

Influenza pandemics erupt every few decades — the worst was the 1918 Spanish flu that killed some 50 million people worldwide — when the virus mutates into a uniquely different strain. The world is overdue; the last pandemic was in 1968.

Even the ordinary flu kills 36,000 Americans every year. The bird flu so far has killed only about 60 people, mostly poultry workers, even as it has killed or led to the slaughter of millions of birds. But if it changes so it can spread easily from person to person, it would be catastrophic because people have no natural immunity to it.