NEWS DAY | Flu, vaccine, and MN pigs / Mortgage foreclosures dead ahead / War Reports

<a href=Flu, vaccine, and MN pigs “Unprecedented levels” of flu were reported by the federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC) last week, saying that “the amount of influenza and pneumonia mortality is above the epidemic threshold.” The CDC and others say that more swine flu vaccine will be available by the end of the month, and express concern about resistance to getting vaccinated. According to NPR, about one third of people who don’t want vaccination are worried about side effects, 28 percent say they don’t think they are at risk, and 25 percent say they can get medication and treatment if they do get the flu. Not necessarily, says Arthur Kellermann, an emergency medicine physician at the Emory University School of Medicine who has treated swine flu cases:

That last statistic is the one that really worries Kellermann, who is also an associate dean for health policy at Emory’s medical school. He says that even a mild flu outbreak could overwhelm the nation’s emergency rooms, which already have a limited supply of the high-tech equipment that is needed to fight the most virulent cases of the H1N1 virus.

“This flu, seemingly by random, occasionally picks out the healthy child or young adult and puts them in the intensive care unit, hanging on by a thread,” he says. “We don’t have thousands and thousands of ICU beds and high-frequency jet ventilators standing by to care for those people.”

The CDC and medical professionals continue to point out that the swine flu vaccine was developed in the same way that seasonal flu vaccines are developed, over about a six-month period. (New seasonal flu vaccines are developed every year, in response to new viruses.) But opposition to vaccination has high-profile leadership, reports NPR:

First, an unusual set of high-profile personalities — including conservative media commentators like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck, and more liberal ones like Bill Maher — is publicly opposing the vaccination effort.
Their opposition appears to be part of the larger anti-government movement that has been vocal during the debate over the Obama administration’s efforts to overhaul the nation’s health care system. Beck told his viewers on Fox News that he would do “the exact opposite” of whatever the government recommends. Maher echoed that on his HBO talk show, saying, “I don’t trust the government, especially with my health.”

Minnesota’s Department of Health has revamped its flu website and now offers more up-to-date information on vaccination availability for both seasonal flu and H1N1.

NPR reports that sales of hand sanitizer are booming. And, lest you forget, the CDC recommends that you avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. If you do get sick, stay home. And when you sneeze or cough, cover your nose and mouth with a tissue, then throw it away.

Meanwhile, three Minnesota pigs may have tested positive for H1N1 virus, reports MPR. The pigs, which were tested at the State Fair, belonged to different owners. Health officials reiterated that the pigs posed no danger to humans. The virus cannot be transmitted from a pig to a human via food. Transmission of the virus directly from pigs to humans is rare. However, officials said the pigs might have been infected by contact with already-infected humans, such as the group of 4-H members who had the virus.

Mortgage foreclosures dead ahead In 2008, Minnesota saw a record 26,251 mortgages, and, while 2009 numbers are down from that record, we are not out of the woods yet, reports the Pioneer Press:

Last month, lenders sent 6,411 notices to troubled homeowners in Minnesota — 16 percent more than in January, according to numbers released this week by the Minnesota Home Ownership Center. The rate of increase was even greater in the metro area.

The Pioneer Press points out that 2009 foreclosures fell, in part, due to a voluntary, but temporary and informal moratorium by lenders during the first half of 2009, “while the federal government worked out details of a program to promote home mortgage modifications.” Now, however, with the weak economy, “many housing experts fear the situation will get worse before it gets better.”

According to the Star Tribune, Minnesota’s supply of foreclosed houses was down by 60 percent in September, compared to September 2008, but that doesn’t necessarily mean fewer people losing their homes. The Strib offered two explanations for the relatively small supply of foreclosed homes on the market. The first is that these homes were snapped up by homebuyers trying to take advantage of the federal tax credit. The second explanation is that more homes are being offered as short sales. When homeowners can’t make payments, foreclosure is one route for banks and homeowners, and short-selling is another. Short selling means selling a home for less than is owed on the mortgage, in order to avoid foreclosure, thereby avoiding the legal process and delays.

Homeowners and tenants are fighting back, demanding a moratorium on foreclosures, at local, state and national levels. The Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder reported on recent meetings in Minneapolis, sponsored by organizations including the Minnesota Coalition for a People’s Bailout, the Minnesota Tenants Union, the Minneapolis Urban League, and others. Leslie Parks is part of the “Foreclosure Five” – five local women fighting to keep their homes:

Parks told [U.S. Rep. Keith] Ellison that a “real movement” is needed to get local, state and national lawmakers to start working seriously to stop foreclosures. …

Amidst applause, Parks told the audience that just talking about the foreclosure crisis must stop. “This is a call for a peaceful revolution…,” she pleaded. “The people have to wake up and not allow these banks to destroy our communities, our neighborhoods, our families. We have to get involved and take action right now. This is the only way we can fight this.”

In a second article, the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder described testimony at a town hall forum from people who had tried to negotiate with lenders and failed to get loan modifications, from organizations providing foreclosure counseling, and from Wells Fargo officials who insisted that their bank is responsive and does modify loans. Many people at the meeting expressed their frustration at trying to work with the system and getting no resposne:

Other residents also complained about working with banks and mortgage companies, and especially about the $75 billion federal Home Affordability Modification Program, which was introduced in March. Under the program, banks are required to cut interest rates for qualified borrowers until their payments reach a threshold of 31 percent of their gross income.

Reportedly, only 12 percent of those who qualify for relief have been approved for loan modifications thus far. “People need to be patient, because [the federal program] is new,” said Josh Fuhrman of the Homeownership Preservation Foundation. “It is not a quick-fix plan.”

U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison told the overflow crowd that he supports a moratorium:

“We are all in a jam here… This is not just an urban problem,” said the Fifth District congressman. “There [also] are foreclosures in the Sixth District, which includes Bloomington. This foreclosure crisis is part of a larger assault on middle-class and working-class people.”

Minnesota State Rep. Jeff Hayden said that he and others in the legislature are also working on legislation to help homeowners facing foreclosure, but that Governor Tim Pawlenty had vetoed all the bills that they passed in the last session.

War Reports

Afghanistan The Taliban has a diversified funding base, according to the New York Times. While the U.S. previously believed that drug trafficking was the major source of Taliban funding, administration and military officials now acknowledge that is not the case. Instead, the largest source of funding is foreign donations. Other sources include extortion and criminal activities.A Washington Post article says that foreign Taliban recruits are also increasing. The recruits come from both the United States and Europe:

Since January, at least 30 recruits from Germany have traveled to Pakistan for training, according to German security sources. About 10 people — not necessarily the same individuals — have returned to Germany this year, fueling concerns that fresh plots are in the works against European targets.

Pakistan The army launched a major offensive in South Waziristan Saturday, reports NPR, which called it, “the most critical and difficult yet for the Pakistani army, which has lost at least five soldiers and had 11 more injured in the last 24 hours. In a statement, the army claimed to have killed 60 militants.”  Some 96,000 people in the region have already registered as displaced, and authorities say that as many as a quarter of the region’s half million residents may become internally displaced persons.

Meanwhile, on Sunday, two suicide bombers targeted Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps near the Pakistan-Iran border, reports NPR. The Baluchi insurgent group Jundallah (which has bases in Pakistan) claimed responsibility for the bombings, in a post on an Islamic Web site that usually publishes al-Qaida statements. According to NPR, in a Monday morning update, “The chief of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard on Monday accused the United States, Britain and Pakistan of having links with the Sunni militants responsible for a suicide bombing that killed five senior Guard commanders and 37 others.”

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