Friday, January 2, 2009

CDC To Hold A Meeting in Ashland Oregon Because of the High Number of Children Without Shots

US to Ashland: Why so many kids without shots?

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Federal health officials want to know why so many children in Ashland don't get the common vaccinations — more than a quarter of the kindergartners in the school district and about two-thirds of the pupils at two schools.

So, Ashland will be among three U.S. cities where the Centers for Disease Control holds a community meeting as it gathers information for its vaccine safety studies.

Dr. Ben Schwartz, a pediatrician and adviser in the Department of Health and Human Services' National Vaccine Program, said hearings are being held in Birmingham, Ala., Indianapolis and Ashland.

The two larger cities are typical communities, while Ashland stands out with its "substantially higher" rates of unvaccinated children, Schwartz said. The Ashland hearing is Jan. 10.

"We wanted to learn from people who had more concerns about vaccines," he said.

Oregon requires schoolchildren to be vaccinated against 11 diseases, but parents can get a religious exemption. Religion is defined as "any system of beliefs, practices or ethical values."

Statewide, 3.7 percent of kindergartners had exemptions in 2007, while 28.1 percent of Ashland kindergartners were exempt, Jackson County health department statistics show.

For 2007, 66.7 percent of students at Willow Wind Community Learning Center were exempt, while 65.9 percent of Siskiyou School students and 45.7 percent of John Muir Elementary students had exemptions, the department's reports show.

Belinda Brown, Ashland's school nurse coordinator, said some children get some of the vaccinations.

If a parent signs a religious exemption for one vaccination but follows the remaining requirements, the child is counted as an exemption, she said.

Study: Cell phones cause heart disease, kidney failure

Study: Cell phones cause heart disease, kidney failure


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What would you do without your cell phone?! Well, you might be a bit healthier sans phone, according to a new study.

The European Research Institute for Electronic Components in Bucharest found that cell phones may lead to heart disease and kidney stones, according to

How is this possible? The study found that cell phones emit radiation, which causes red blood cells to leak hemoglobin, according to The hemoglobin then accumulates in the body, which can lead to health complications including heart disease or kidney stones.

This new study is just one in a series of studies about the ills of cell phone use. Researchers at Sweden's Lund University found that exposure to cell phone radiation could cause proteins and toxins to leak into the brain, according to This can lead to Alzheimer's, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson's.

And here's something even more disturbing: average cell phone ownership is up to two per person, according to That's a lot of extra radiation!

The Federation of the Electronics Industry claims that there is no conclusive proof that cell phones are a health hazard, according to

9 Steps to Peace for Obama in the New Year

9 Steps to Peace for Obama in the New Year

By Deepak Chopra

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The following is a memo to Barack Obama from Deepak Chopra

You have been elected by the first anti-war constituency since 1952, when Dwight D. Eisenhower was elected after promising to end the Korean War. But ending a war isn't the same as bringing peace. America has been on a war footing since the day after Pearl Harbor, 67 years ago. We spend more on our military than the next 16 countries combined. If you have a vision of change that goes to the heart of this country's deep problems, ending our dependence on war is far more important than ending our dependency on foreign oil.

The most immediate changes are economic. Unless it can make as much money as war, peace doesn't stand a chance. Since aerospace and military technologies remain the United States' most destructive export, fostering wars around the world, what steps can we take to reverse that trend and build a peace-based economy?

1. Scale out arms dealing and make it illegal by the year 2020.

2. Write into every defense contract a requirement for a peacetime project.

3. Subsidize conversion of military companies to peaceful uses with tax incentives and direct funding.

4. Convert military bases to housing for the poor.

5. Phase out all foreign military bases.

6. Require military personnel to devote part of their time to rebuilding infrastructure.

7. Call a moratorium on future weapons technologies.

8. Reduce armaments like destroyers and submarines that have no use against terrorism and were intended to defend against a superpower enemy that no longer exists.

9. Fully fund social services and take the balance out of the defense and homeland security budgets.

These are just the beginning. We don't lack creativity in coping with change. Without a conversion of our present war economy to a peace economy, the high profits of the military-industrial complex ensures that it will never end.

Do these nine steps seem unrealistic or fanciful? In various ways, other countries have adopted similar measures. The former Soviet army is occupied with farming and other peaceful work, for example. But comparisons are rather pointless, since only the United States is burdened with such a massive reliance on defense spending. Ultimately, empire follows the dollar. As a society, we want peace, and we want to be seen as a nation that promotes peace. For either ideal to come true, you as president must back up your vision of change with economic reality. So far, that hasn't happened under any of your predecessors. All hopes are pinned on you.

Israel rejects ceasefire calls and escalates attacks in Gaza

Israel rejects ceasefire calls and escalates attacks in Gaza

By Peter Symonds

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The murderous Israeli air assault on Gaza continued unabated for a sixth day yesterday. According to Palestinian emergency services, at least 420 people have been killed and more than 2,100 injured including women and children. The UN estimates that at least a quarter of those killed have been civilians.

In a further escalation of the attacks, two Israeli war planes fired rockets into the home of senior Hamas leader Nizar Rayan in the Jabaliya refugee camp, killing at least 12 people including Rayan, two of his wives and four of his children. The strike levelled the four-storey apartment block in which Rayan lived and badly damaged surrounding buildings.

Despite Israeli denials that it is seeking "regime change", the assassination of Rayan is part of a broad air war targetting every aspect of the Hamas administration in Gaza. The education and transportation ministries have been virtually destroyed and parliament building was also hit yesterday, according to Palestinian security officials. The justice ministry was struck for the first time, a medical source told Agence France Presse.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert declared yesterday that "we will deal with Hamas and terror with an iron fist". While the Israeli military insists that the air strikes are aimed at destroying Hamas's military capacity, nothing is off limits. A military spokesman declared that the government buildings were "a critical component of the terrorist groups' infrastructure in Gaza". On Wednesday, after the Tel Al-Hawa mosque had been reduced to rubble, Israeli officials claimed that it had been used to store weapons.

At the Shifa hospital, a dentist told the New York Times that his friend, Ehab Madhoud, has just died. Madhoud, a doctor, had been responding to an emergency in the Jabalya refugee camp when his ambulance was hit by a missile. "I can't understand why Israel would hit an ambulance," the dentist said. Among the injured in intensive care was also an eight-year-old boy with severe brain damage and broken limbs. He had been hit during an Israeli strike that killed his two sisters aged five and 12.

The Israeli military announced Wednesday that its warplanes had flown 500 bombing missions. Hundreds more combat sorties were carried out by helicopter gunships and surveillance aircraft, both manned and unmanned. The spokesman declared that 95 percent of the targets had been hit and no major targets remained standing. The aim now, he claimed, was to hunt down missile launchers and fighters one by one.

The Israeli army is also poised to enter Gaza with tanks, armoured vehicles and artillery massed on the border. The call up of reservists has been extended to more than 9,000. Military spokeswoman Major Avital Leibovich told the media: "The infantry, the artillery and other forces are ready. They're around the Gaza Strip, waiting for any calls to go inside."

Israel insists the offensive is to prevent homemade rockets being fired into southern Israel. But the claim is no more believable than the assertion that the 2006 war in Lebanon was launched in response to the capture of two Israeli soldiers. The assault on Gaza is aimed at terrorising the population and bringing the Hamas administration to its knees in the same way that the Lebanon war was meant to cripple Hezbollah. As a senior Israeli military official bluntly told the New York Times, the purpose is "making Hamas lose their will or lose their weapons."

The Israeli government on Wednesday flatly rejected calls by French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner for a 48-hour ceasefire for humanitarian purposes. Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni, who left for a brief visit to France yesterday, issued a statement declaring: "There is no humanitarian crisis in the [Gaza] Strip, and therefore there is no need for a humanitarian truce." Israel, she said, was supplying "comprehensive humanitarian aid".

Livni's denial of any humanitarian crisis provoked outrage among relief officials, who pointed out that the limited supplies of food and medicine flowing into Gaza were completely inadequate. Israel has sealed its borders with Gaza and maintained an economic blockade of the densely populated and impoverished area for more than a year.

World Food Program director Christine van Nieuwenhuyse said she was furious at Livni's remarks, saying that WPF inventories in Gaza showed a 30 percent shortage of basic dry goods such as flour. There was a much greater shortfall of "ready-to-eat" food which was greatly needed because of the acute lack of power and gas for cooking.

UN head of humanitarian operations John Holmes described the situation in Gaza as "alarming". He pointed out that 55 trucks of food and medical supplies reached Gaza through the Kerem Shalom crossing from Israel on Tuesday and about 60 trucks on Wednesday, as compared to 475 truckloads a day in May 2007 before Hamas took control in Gaza.

UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) commissioner Karen Abu Zayd said that her agency needed 100 trucks of flour a day to meet the needs of refugees. She said that UNRWA had not distributed any food for two weeks because of shortages and the Israeli air strikes so "I think that means that 20,000 people a day have been without food that they expect."

"People are doing pretty badly. Everyone we know is sharing whatever they have, not just with their families but with their neighbours. We haven't seen widespread hunger. We do see for the first time... people going through rubbish dumps looking for things, people begging, which is quite a new phenomenon as well," she told the Associated Press.

Yesterday's Telegraph explained: "Almost all food shops in Gaza have closed through lack of supplies and the few functioning bakeries are surrounded by long queues of customers on the rare occasions when they open. Power has been out in central Gaza City since Israel launched operation Cast Lead and other towns in the strip have suffered numerous lengthy power cuts. Mains water is not available to hundreds of thousands of people and there is a very real threat of a health crisis caused by the total collapse of Gaza's elderly and overwhelmed sewage system."

The one-sided war being waged against the population of Gaza has provoked horror and protests throughout the Middle East and internationally. In Israel itself, despite the militarist clamour being whipped up, a poll in Ha'aretz found that support for the war was far from universal. Some 20 percent backing calls for a ceasefire, and, while 52 percent supported the air war, only 19 percent favoured a ground offensive.

The Israeli government is dependent on the tacit political support of the Bush administration in particular to fend off mounting pressure for a ceasefire. The US and Britain effectively stymied a move by Arab countries yesterday in the UN Security Council for a draft resolution condemning "the excessive, disproportionate and indiscriminate use of force by Israel" and calling for an immediate end to hostilities.

US Ambassador to the UN Zalmay Khalilzad dismissed the resolution as "not balanced" and "not acceptable to the United States". By insisting that Hamas must prevent the firing of rockets into southern Israel as the precondition of any ceasefire, the Bush administration intends to drag out any discussion in the UN indefinitely to allow Israel to achieve its strategic aims in Gaza. All of the hypocritical statements about Israel's "right to self defence", which are repeated by the European powers, ignore the provocative actions of the Israeli military, including the killing of six Palestinians in November.

Israel is also able to rely on the cowardice and duplicity of Arab leaders, who, while posturing against the attacks on Gaza, have blamed Hamas for the conflict. At a summit of foreign ministers on Wednesday, Saudi foreign minister Prince Saud al-Faisal criticised Palestinians for not uniting behind Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. "We are telling our Palestinian brothers that your Arab nation cannot extend a real helping hand if you don't extend your own hands to each other with love," he said.

The conservative Abbas has been the instrument used by the US and Israel to undermine Hamas ever since the Islamist organisation won Palestinian elections in 2006. The Saudi appeal for "unity" is thus simply an attempt to further isolate Hamas, in line with the efforts of the Egyptian regime which has collaborated in sealing its own border with Gaza and strengthening the Israeli economic blockade.

What exactly the Israeli government is seeking to achieve in its onslaught on Gaza is by no means clear. The military, which plays a major role within the Israeli political establishment, is clearly seeking to revive its stature after its humiliating withdrawal from Lebanon in 2006. Livni, who is due to lead the Kadima Party in elections scheduled for next month, is using the opportunity to fend off criticisms from Benjamin Netanyahu of the right-wing Likud Party who has been calling for a more aggressive policy towards Hamas.

The Israeli offensive in Gaza is, however, bound up with broader Israeli and US strategic interests throughout the Middle East. Condemnations of Hamas are laced with broader accusations against Iran for supporting Hamas and the dangers of Iran's alleged nuclear weapons programs. Israeli ambassador to the US, Sallay Meridor, this week denounced Iran as "an octopus" with "proxies in the region and beyond the region". "What you see in Gaza is made in Iran—it's funded in Iran, the terrorists are trained in Iran, it's supplied in Iran," he said.

Reflecting right-wing layers of the US political establishment, former US ambassador to the UN, John Bolton also focussed on Iran during an interview with Fox News. He warned of "a multi-front war here, not just in the Gaza Strip, but potentially by Hezbollah, the terrorist group in Lebanon attacking Israel from the north as it did in the summer of 2006. And indeed, the continuing Iranian quest for nuclear power. So while our focus obviously is on Gaza right now, this could turn out to be a much larger conflict."

Such comments suggest that, among the most militarist layers in the US and Israel, the war on Gaza is simply regarded as setting the stage for further military operations throughout the region.

Israel defies peacemakers and prepares for invasion

Israel defies peacemakers and prepares for invasion

Security cabinet rejects EU-backed peace proposal as tanks mass on the border with Gaza

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Israel has defied a formidable international consensus in favour of a ceasefire in Gaza by opting to continue its unprecedentedly fierce air attacks on Hamas targets and stepping up preparations for a possible ground offensive.

As the security cabinet rejected an EU-backed French proposal for a 48-hour humanitarian halt to the bombing, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said: "We did not begin the Gaza operation in order to finish it with rocket fire continuing like it did before. Israel has restrained [itself] for years and given plenty of chances for a calm."

With Palestinian sources putting the total death toll in Gaza at 390, since the bombing beganon Saturday, with 1,600 wounded, Associated Press reported that a long column of tanks and armoured vehicles was visible along an access road to Gaza from Israel, while dozens of other tanks were parked in a field close to the border.

The Israeli military reported that more than 50 rockets had been fired by Gaza militants yesterday, including further longer-range, reportedly Chinese-made, rockets at the large southern city of Beersheeva which is more than 22 miles from the border. There were no serious casualties as a result by early evening. Four Israelis have been killed since the bombardment began last Saturday.

The Defence Minister, Ehud Barak, had let it be known on Tuesday that he intended to submit the proposal for a halt to the offensive – whose backers include the US – to yesterday's security cabinet. But, after considerable confusion, he appears to have been persuaded at a meeting which included Mr Olmert and the Foreign Minister, Tzipi Livni, not to do so.

In Gaza City, apartment buildings shook during air strikes on government buildings which the Israeli military said included an office of Ismail Haniyeh, Gaza's Hamas Prime Minister. The Israeli military said it was not aware of a missile striking an ambulance, which Palestinian sources said had killed two medics. An Egyptian official said Israel has destroyed 120 of between 200 and 400 smuggling tunnels since Saturday.

Mark Regev, Mr Olmert's spokesman, said Israel would work with international agencies to increase aid to the civilian population. "I don't detect much criticism from Berlin, Paris and London about hitting Hamas targets. What there is concern about is the humanitarian situation," he said.

The Israeli human rights organisation B'tselem yesterday reported testimony that a truck destroyed in an air attack on Monday, which the military said was carrying Grad missiles, was in fact carrying oxygen canisters. Eight people were killed in the bombing. Abu Imad Sanur, the owner of the truck, whose son was among the dead, and who denies any connction with militants, told the agency that he and his family had been salvaging the canisters from his metal workshop, which was next to a building that had been bombed. An Israeli official strongly denied the claim and said the military was preparing a full response.

Gordon Brown said: "It is vital that moderation must now prevail – there's a humanitarian crisis. Of course, the second thing we've got to do is secure an immediate and urgent ceasefire." The Prime Minister said proposals for a ceasefire package being discussed by Arab foreign ministers in Cairo offered "the best way forward".

The package contains similar elements to those spelled out on Tuesday by EU ministers and the Middle East Quartet. The proposals call for an immediate and sustainable ceasefire, with international monitors guaranteeing the truce and the reopening of border crossings into Gaza. European governments hope that, if the Arab states agree a united position, it would increase the pressure on Hamas to compromise.

But yesterday it was Arab divisions that were on display. The Saudi Foreign Minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, said: "This terrible massacre would not have happened if the Palestinian people were united behind one leadership speaking in one voice.

"We are telling our Palestinian brothers that your Arab nation cannot extend a real helping hand if you don't extend your own hands to each other with love."

Israel destroys Hamas homes, flattens Gaza mosque

Israel destroys Hamas homes, flattens Gaza mosque

Israel bombed a mosque it claimed was used to store weapons and destroyed homes of more than a dozen Hamas operatives Friday, but under international pressure, the government allowed hundreds of Palestinians with foreign passports to leave besieged Gaza.

Israel has been building up artillery, armor and infantry on Gaza's border in an indication the week-old air assault against Gaza's Hamas rulers could imminently expand with a ground incursion. At the same time, however, international pressure is building for a cease-fire that would block more fighting.

"There is no water, no electricity, no medicine. It's hard to survive. Gaza is destroyed," said Jawaher Haggi, a 14-year-old U.S. citizen who said her uncle was killed in an airstrike when he tried to pick up some medicine for her cancer-stricken father. She said her father died several days later.

Israel launched the aerial campaign Saturday in a bid to halt weeks of intensifying Palestinian rocket fire from Gaza. It has dealt a heavy blow to Hamas, but has failed to halt the rockets. New attacks Friday struck apartment buildings in a southern Israeli city but no serious injuries were reported.

Before the airstrikes Friday, Israel's military called at least some of the houses to warn residents of an impending attack. In some cases, it also fired a sound bomb to warn away civilians before flattening the homes with missiles, Palestinians and Israeli officials said.

After destroying Hamas' security compounds, Israel turned its attention to the group's leadership. In airstrike after airstrike, warplanes hit some 20 houses believed to belong to Hamas militants and members of other armed groups, Palestinians said.

They said the Israelis either warned nearby residents by phone or fired a warning missile to try to reduce civilian casualties. Israeli planes also dropped leaflets east of Gaza giving a confidential phone number and e-mail address for people to report locations of rocket squads. Residents stepped over the leaflets.

Israel used similar tactics during its 2006 war against Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Most of the targeted homes Friday belonged to activist leaders and appeared to be empty at the time, but one man was killed in a strike in the Jebaliya refugee camp in northern Gaza.

Separate airstrikes killed five other Palestinians — including a young teenage boy east of Gaza City and three children — two brothers and their cousin — who were playing in southern Gaza, according to Health Ministry official Moaiya Hassanain.

More than 400 Gazans have been killed and some 1,700 have been wounded in the Israeli campaign, Gaza health officials said. The number of combatants and civilians killed is unclear, but Hamas has said around half of the dead are members of its security forces and the U.N. has said more than 60 are civilians, 34 of them children.

Three Israeli civilians and one soldier have also died in the rocket attacks, which have reached deeper into Israel than ever before, bringing an eighth of Israel's population of 7 million within rocket range.

The mosque destroyed Friday was known as a Hamas stronghold, and the army said it was used to store weapons. It also was identified with Nizar Rayan, the Hamas militant leader killed Thursday when Israel dropped a one-ton bomb on his home.

That airstrike killed 20 people, including all four of Rayan's wives and 10 of his 12 children. The strike on Rayan's home obliterated the four-story apartment building and peeled off the walls of others around it, carving out a vast field of rubble.

Israel's military said the homes of Hamas leaders are being used to store missiles and other weapons, and the hit on Rayan's house triggered secondary explosions from the stockpile there.

Israeli defense officials said the military had called Rayan's home and fired a warning missile before destroying the building. That was impossible to confirm. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss military tactics.

Israel has targeted Hamas leaders many times in the past, but halted the practice during a six-month truce that expired last month. Most of Hamas' leaders went into hiding at the start of Israel's offensive.

Israel allowed about 300 Palestinians who hold passports from other countries to cross from Gaza into Israel so they could leave the country. Military liaison officer Maj. Aviad Zilberman said the Israelis had approved the requests following pleas from foreign governments.

The Palestinians who left hold citizenship from the U.S., Russia, Turkey, Norway, Kazakhstan and other countries.

Fear of Israeli attacks led to sparse turnout at Friday's communal prayers at mosques throughout Gaza. But thousands of people attended a memorial service for Rayan. Throngs of people prayed over the rubble of his home and the destroyed mosque nearby.

An imam delivered his sermon over a car loudspeaker as the bodies of Rayan and other family members were covered in green Hamas flags. Explosions from Israeli airstrikes and the sound of warplanes overhead could be heard in the distance.

Following the prayers, a sea of mourners marched with the bodies, with many people reaching out to touch and kiss them.

"The Palestinian resistance will not forget and will not forgive," said Hamas lawmaker Mushir Masri, calling the assassination a "serious" development. "The resistance's response will be very painful."

A rocket barrage hit the Israeli city of Ashkelon early Friday. Two rockets hit apartment buildings, lightly wounding two Israelis, police said. Sirens warning Israelis to take cover when military radar picks up an incoming rocket have helped reduce casualties in recent days.

The military said aircraft destroyed the three rocket launchers used to fire at Ashkelon.

While keeping up the military pressure, Israel also appears to be offering an opening for the intense diplomatic efforts, saying it would consider a halt to the fighting if international monitors were brought in to track compliance with any truce with Hamas.

Concerned about protests, Israeli police stepped up security and restricted access to Friday prayers at Jerusalem's al-Aqsa Mosque, barring all males under 50 from entering.

Jerusalem's mufti, Mohammed Hussein, said a mere 3,000 Palestinians attended Friday's prayers because of the tough restrictions.

"We condemn these measures, and we believe they contradict the principle of freedom of worship," Hussein said.

Those prayers ended without incident, though in a nearby east Jerusalem neighborhood, youths clashed with anti-riot police on horseback. No injuries were reported.

Thousands demonstrated in the West Bank in solidarity with Gazans. In Ramallah, Palestinian police loyal to Hamas' moderate rival, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, barred protesters from chanting pro-Hamas slogans or waving Hamas banners. Three Hamas activists were arrested.

In Nablus, about 3,000 Hamas supporters protested, singing songs and calling for an attack against Israelis in Jerusalem.

Israel accused of downplaying food crisis

Israel accused of downplaying food crisis

Israel was last night accused of downplaying the humanitarian suffering in Gaza in order to justify continuing its military assault.

By Tim Butcher

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The director of the World Food Programme operation said she was "furious'' when she learned Israel was claiming warehouses were full of supplies.

Christine van Nieuwenhuyse said WPF stocks in Gaza showed a 30 per cent shortfall of dry goods such as flour and a much greater shortfall of 'ready-to-eat' goods which are in dire need in Gaza because of the acute shortage of power and gas for cooking.

Tzipi Livni, the Israeli foreign minister, speaking during a visit to Paris denied the 1.5 million-strong population of Gaza was suffering a humanitarian crisis.

She was responding to calls led by France but supported by the European Union for a ceasefire in Gaza to allow a surge in humanitarian supplies.

"There is no humanitarian crisis in the Strip and therefore there is no need for a humanitarian truce,'' she said.

"Israel has been supplying comprehensive humanitarian aid to the Strip ... and has even been stepping this up by the day.''

Her analysis was at odds with Gordon Brown who categorised the current situation in Gaza as a "humanitarian crisis'' and called for a ceasefire.

Chris Gunness, spokesman for the United Nations agency responsible for Gaza's one million refugees – Palestinians who used to live in what is now Israel and their children – accused Israel of downplaying the humanitarian situation.

"When you look at the Israeli assertions about the humanitarian situation it is very hard to square this with the extraordinarily dire situation on the ground in Gaza,'' he said. "Any claims about human need at this stage need to be grounded in reality.''

The humanitarian situation has worsened rapidly inside Gaza with families living in unheated, unlit buildings through fear of being hit by flying shrapnel while others venture out to pick through rubbish tips for scraps.

Almost all food shops in Gaza have closed through lack of supplies and the few functioning bakeries are surrounded by long queues of customers on the rare occasions when they open.

Power has been out in central Gaza City since Israel launched operation Cast Lead and other towns in the strip have suffered numerous lengthy power cuts.

Mains water is not available to hundreds of thousands of people and there is a very real threat of a health crisis caused by the total collapse of Gaza's elderly and overwhelmed sewage system.

Gazans have been seen picking through rubbish dumps looking for anything to burn such is the dire need for fuel for cooking and heating.

Winter rains have meant temperatures in Gaza have plummeted, something that has been made worse by families leaving windows open for fear of shattered glass being blown into their houses.

Cooking gas, which used to come in through the smuggler tunnels from Egypt, is in short supply now most of the tunnels have been destroyed by Israeli air force bombs.

Another impact of the tunnel closures is that regular diesel in short supply. This is needed to run backup generators at hospitals, water pumps and, very importantly, sewage pumps.

Without new supplies of regular diesel all those functions will near collapse.

Israel has allowed in a small amount of industrial diesel to run Gaza's sole power station but the amount let in is much lower than that required by an Israeli court order won in an action brought by human rights groups.

Treasury Has Pledged More Rescue Funds Than Authorized

Treasury Has Pledged More Rescue Funds Than Authorized

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The Treasury Department has committed nearly $10 billion more than the $350 billion Congress has authorized to date for the financial-sector rescue package, which could constrain how the incoming Obama administration deploys the rest of the fund.

[digging deeper]

Treasury's announcement Monday that it is directing $6 billion to auto-finance company GMAC LLC brought to $358.4 billion the total funds from the Troubled Asset Relief Program that have been pledged to a variety of programs and guarantees. That suggests Treasury is tapping into the second half of the $700 billion set aside in October before it has been released by Congress.

"They are pushing the envelope here," said Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.), a critic of the bailout. "What they are trying to do is create a situation to put pressure on [President-elect Barack] Obama and the Congress to provide the next $350 billion."

Under the legislation that approved the bailout funds, Treasury received $350 billion and was required to request access to the rest by providing a detailed plan of how the money would be spent. The goal was to provide a check for lawmakers wary about Treasury's broad authority under the legislation.

Treasury says the agency has complied with the rescue legislation. A Treasury official briefing reporters Monday said that "from a short-term cash-flow basis," the department hasn't come close to the $350 billion limit because not all its commitments have been fulfilled. As of Tuesday, roughly $207 billion had been disbursed.

Treasury's actual commitments include $250 billion for capital injections into banks, $40 billion for insurer American International Group Inc., $20 billion for a Federal Reserve consumer-finance program, $25 billion for Citigroup Inc. and $23.4 billion in aid to the auto industry.

A Treasury spokeswoman declined to comment Tuesday on whether the newest commitments were based on the assumption that Congress would release the second installment, or would require reallocating money that had been promised to others.

A spokeswoman for Mr. Obama's transition team declined to comment.

Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, in announcing the auto-rescue plan Dec. 19, said "it is clear" that Congress will have to release the second $350 billion tranche to maintain financial-market stability.

One group that still is getting a raise — Congress

One group that still is getting a raise — Congress

Rob Hotakainen

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Members of Congress have at least one reason to ring in the new year: They've given themselves a $4,700-a-year pay raise starting Thursday.

With the economy in a recession and millions of Americans losing their jobs, however, members are under fire to rescind the pay hike, which will increase their base salaries to $174,000, roughly a 2.8 percent raise.

Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California will get a larger raise of about $6,100, though it's about the same percent increase. Her salary will rise to nearly $223,500. Pelosi's office declined to comment on the raise.

When Congress begins a new session next Tuesday, critics have an idea for the very first vote: Block the 2009 raise for all 535 senators and representatives.

"Certainly, the timing could be a lot better. . . . When you look at the rest of the country, people are hoping to hang on to their jobs, much less get a salary increase or a bonus," said Steve Ellis, the vice president of the watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense.

Other critics say that Congress has done nothing to deserve a raise.

"The general public can't help but think that lawmakers are patting themselves on the back, and padding their wallets, for presiding over the worst fiscal-policy blunders in recent history," said Pete Sepp, the vice president for policy and communications for the National Taxpayers Union.

The issue is always sensitive for members of Congress, who've designed a way to raise their pay automatically without even having to vote. They call it a cost-of-living allowance that takes effect each year, unless members vote to turn it down. Conveniently, it allows them to leave no evidence that could be used against incumbents in re-election campaigns.

"It's a gimmick to essentially avoid something that would be politically dicey," Ellis said. "And both parties are complicit in this system and benefit from it."

Members of Congress don't often snub an opportunity to make more money. It happened most recently in 2007, when the Democratic-led Congress decided to forgo a raise because it hadn't approved an increase in the minimum wage. Last January, members received an automatic increase of 2.5 percent.

Ellis said that Congress would be wise to delay its 2009 raise until the recession ended or unemployment declined. That would show that public officials are making a "shared sacrifice" during times of economic difficulty, he said.

While members of Congress will receive a raise, 12 percent of seniors are living at or below the poverty line, said Daniel O'Connell, the chairman of The Senior Citizens League. A senior who receives average Social Security benefits will get a $63 monthly increase in 2009, he said.

The congressional pay raise is expected to cost taxpayers $2.5 million next year.

"This money would be much better spent helping the millions of seniors who are living below the poverty line and struggling to keep their heat on this winter," O'Connell said.

He said that members of Congress were increasing their salaries after questioning the multimillion-dollar compensation of auto executives earlier this month.

"As lawmakers make a big show of forcing auto executives to accept just $1 a year in salary, they are quietly raiding the vault for their own personal gain," O'Connell said.

Four members of Congress from Indiana have announced that they won't accept the pay increase: Democratic Sen. Evan Bayh, Republican Reps. Mike Pence and Dan Burton and Democratic Rep. Brad Ellsworth.

In Florida, Republican Sen. Mel Martinez and Republican Reps. Gus Bilirakis and Ginny Brown-Waite said they'd vote to block the raise if congressional leaders allowed a vote. California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein said she wanted nothing to do with the raise. Feinstein, the chair of the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, intends to donate her raise to charity, spokesman Phil LaVelle said Tuesday.

Finding anyone brave enough to defend the pay hike in Washington these days is like looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack. When they're asked to comment, usually accessible members quickly go missing, are on vacation, are extremely busy with family members or can't be reached on their cell phones because they're in remote locations. Some congressional aides, however, speaking privately, said they wouldn't be surprised if public pressure forced Congress to revisit the issue when members returned to work next week.

Sepp called the latest raise "sadly, not surprising" and said it was indicative of a Congress that was out of touch with voters.

"If 9-11, the resulting economic slowdown and wars couldn't deter these folks from taking a pay grab, how could the current recession shame them into doing the right thing?" Sepp asked. "Salaries for senators and representatives are about the only federal expenditure that average Americans can directly relate to, and yet lawmakers can't grasp why people get so upset over such a relatively small amount of money in the federal budget."

Motorists' habits spur call for tax increases

Motorists' habits spur call for tax increases

Motorists are driving less and buying less gasoline, which means fuel taxes aren't raising enough money to keep pace with the cost of road, bridge and transit programs.

A federal commission created by Congress to find a way to make up the growing revenue shortfall in the program that funds highway repairs and construction is talking about increasing federal gas and diesel taxes.

A roughly 50 percent increase in gasoline and diesel fuel taxes is being urged by the commission until the government devises another way for motorists to pay for using public roads.

The 15-member National Commission on Surface Transportation Infrastructure Financing is the second group in a year to call for increasing the current 18.4 cents a gallon federal tax on gasoline and the 24.4 cents a gallon tax on diesel. State fuel taxes vary from state to state.

In a report expected in late January, members of the infrastructure financing commission say they will urge Congress to raise the gas tax by 10 cents a gallon and the diesel tax by about 12 cents to 15 cents a gallon. At the same time, the commission will recommend tying the fuel tax rates to inflation.

The commission will also recommend that states raise their fuel taxes and make greater use of toll roads and fees for rush-hour driving.

Although the cost of gasoline has dropped dramatically in recent months, such tax increases could be politically treacherous for Democratic leaders in Congress. A gas tax hike was one of the reasons they lost control of the House and Senate in the 1994 elections. President-elect Barack Obama has expressed concern about raising fuel taxes in the current economic climate.

But commission members said the government must find more road and bridge building money somewhere.

"I'm not excited about a gas tax increase, but the reality is our current gas tax doesn't pay for upkeep of the system we have now," said Adrian Moore, vice president of the Reason Foundation, a libertarian think tank in Los Angeles, and a member of the highway revenue commission. "We can either let the roads go to hell or we can pay more."

The dilemma for Congress is that highway and transit programs are dependent for revenue on fuel taxes that are not sustainable. Many Americans are driving less and switching to more fuel-efficient cars and trucks, and a shift to new fuels and technologies like plug-in hybrid electric cars will further erode gasoline sales.

According to a draft of the financing commission's recommendations, the nation needs to move to a new system that taxes motorists according to how much they use roads. While details have not been worked out, such a system would mean equipping every car and truck with a device that uses global positioning satellites and transponders to record how many miles the vehicle has been driven, and perhaps the type of roads and time of day.

"Most if not all of the commissioners have a strong belief and commitment that we need a fundamental transformation of the current system," said commission chairman Robert Atkinson, president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a technology policy think tank in Washington.

A study by the Transportation Research Board of the National Academies estimated that the annual gap between revenues and the investment needed to improve highway and transit systems was about $105 billion in 2007, and will increase to $134 billion in 2017 under current trends.

Projected shortfalls in revenue led the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission, in a report issued in January 2008, to call for an increase of as much as 40 cents a gallon in the gas tax, phased in over five years.

Charles Whittington, chairman of the American Trucking Associations, which supports a fuel tax increase as long as the money goes to highway projects, said Congress may decide to disguise a fuel tax hike as a surcharge to combat climate change.

Transportation is responsible for about a third of all U.S. carbon emissions created by burning fossil fuels. Traffic congestion wastes an estimated 2.9 billion gallons of fuel a year. Less congestion would reduce greenhouse gases and dependence on foreign oil.

"Instead of calling it a gas tax, call it a carbon tax," Whittington said.

Bottlenecks around the nation cost the trucking industry about 243 million lost truck hours and about $7.8 billion per year, according to the commission.


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