April 30th, 2009
05:15 PM ET

Flu and your health on a plane

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Mark Gendreau
Special to CNN

The novel swine flu is showing the world just how interconnected we are and how commercial aircraft can serve as vehicles of rapid disease spread.

I am frequently asked: What is the risk of catching an illness while flying?

In a nutshell, the risk of getting an infection while you're in an enclosed space such as an airplane depends upon three factors: The infectiousness of the contagious person spreading the illness; the degree of your exposure (how close you are to the contagious person and for how long); and the ventilation of the space or passenger cabin.

We really have no control over the infectiousness of our fellow passengers, and usually, you really don't have much of a choice about your seating partners. So the exposure is pure chance.

But this doesn't mean that you are doomed. Most respiratory viral infectious diseases - like influenza and the common cold - transmit via droplets contaminated with the offending microorganism when the infectious person coughs or sneezes.

Keep Reading...

Filed under: Airline Safety • Public Health
April 30th, 2009
05:14 PM ET

Swine flu: Your questions answered

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Elizabeth Cohen
CNN Senior Medical Correspondent

Over the past week, I've been inundated with questions about swine flu, via Facebook, Twitter, CNN blogs and e-mail. So this week I'm empowering people with information about swine flu: how to protect yourself, what all the numbers mean and why you shouldn't freak out.

1. Hasn't swine flu been around for a while?

Yes. Swine flu was first identified in 1930 when researchers isolated the virus in a pig. In 1976, more than 200 soldiers at Fort Dix, New Jersey, got swine flu. From 1976 until 2005, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention received approximately one report every year or two of humans with swine flu. From December 2005 until January 2009, there were 12 cases of swine flu reported.

2. The folks who have it now, did they get it from pigs or people?

It appears that no one in the United States with swine flu had any contact with pigs. Dr. Richard Besser, the acting director of the CDC, said in a news conference Friday that among the first seven cases, no one had contact with pigs. In another press conference Monday, he added that investigators have looked to see whether any of the infected people had contact with pigs, and "we're not finding that linkage here."

3. Swine flu is transmitted from animals to humans. Does that happen a lot?

Yes. More than 200 "zoonotic diseases" are transmitted from animals to humans, including illnesses caused by bacteria, viruses and parasites. Rabies and variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (better known as "mad cow disease") are two well-known examples.

4. Should I cancel my trip to Mexico?

Yes, you should, unless it's essential. That's the advice from a recent CDC travel warning.

Keep Reading...

Filed under: Elizabeth Cohen • Public Health
April 30th, 2009
04:33 PM ET

Financial Dispatch: Chrysler files for bankruptcy

Andrew Torgan
CNN Financial News Producer

Chrysler has filed for bankruptcy, but a deal has been reached to combine the company with Italy’s Fiat that will allow the Chrysler to stay in business.

The bankruptcy filing, which was made in federal court in New York, comes after some of the company's smaller lenders refused a Treasury Department demand to reduce the amount of money Chrysler owed them.

Speaking at the White House, President Barack Obama said the bankruptcy filing is not a failure for the company but “one more step on the path to Chrysler's revival.” He vowed the bankruptcy process would be quick, efficient and controlled.

A senior administration official predicted the process would be completed within 30 to 60 days.

There will be no immediate job cuts or plant closings due to the bankruptcy filing, the official said, although Fiat will be examining the cost structure of Chrysler to find additional savings. Fiat has promised to use Chrysler's existing plants to build the small cars it now sells in Europe for the U.S. market.

One Chrysler employee is losing his job, however… Chairman and CEO Robert Nardelli, who took the wheel in August 2007, will leave the company following its emergence from Chapter 11.

An unspecified number of Chrysler's 3,300 dealerships will also be closed under the bankruptcy, although many of those closings will take place after the company emerges from bankruptcy.

Administration officials say the Treasury Department will provide Chrysler with $3 billion to $3.5 billion in additional loans to fund operations during bankruptcy. The government anticipates that it will provide an additional $4.5 billion in financing to allow Chrysler to exit bankruptcy.

Chrysler had asked the government earlier this year for $6 billion in new federal loans to help it stay in business. That's on top of the $4 billion in loans it has already received.

It’s worth noting that this is not the first time that Chrysler, founded in 1925, has been at death’s door.

Driven to the brink by the gas crisis of the 1970’s, it negotiated a $1.5 billion federal loan guarantee in 1979 to stay afloat. Then in 1998 it was bought by Germany’s Daimler-Benz for a whopping $36 billion.

But what was at the time described by Daimler’s CEO as a “marriage made in heaven” disintegrated into a messy divorce in 11 years later that led to Daimler selling off Chrysler to a private-equity firm for less than $8 billion.

GM’s bondholders want majority stake

In a related development, holders of General Motors' debt will offer a counter proposal to the automaker's debt restructuring plan today, seeking a majority stake in the company.

The Ad Hoc Committee, representing about 20% of GM's bondholders, will propose that GM issue new stock, giving bondholders a 58% stake in the company, the union 41% and current shareholders less than 1%.

The shares would be in return for the $27 billion of debt held by bondholders and $20 billion in health benefit obligations GM owes its retirees.

The bondholders' proposal is very different than GM's restructuring plan, which was announced Monday. Under that plan, GM offered to swap $24 billion of the company's $27 billion in unsecured debt for stock. Bondholders would get stock equaling about a 10% stake in the company.

GM is facing its own deadline of June 1 for the company to successfully work out a restructuring deal or file for bankruptcy.

Jobless claims dip

The number of Americans filing initial claims for jobless benefits unexpectedly dropped last week while the number of people continuing to claim benefits set yet another record high.

First-time claims for unemployment insurance fell by 14,000 to 631,000 from the previous week revised figure of 645,000. But the number of people receiving benefits for one week or more rose by 133,000 to 6.27 million.

That’s the highest number on records dating back to 1967.

ExxonMobil’s profits drop

ExxonMobil this morning reported a big drop in first-quarter earnings and revenue due to lower oil prices and the weak global economy.

Exxon - which recently dethroned Wal-Mart at the top spot of the Fortune 500 list of America’s biggest companies - said it earned $4.5 billion in the first quarter, down 58% from $10.89 billion a year earlier. Revenue in the quarter was $64 billion.

Exxon, along with most other energy companies, has seen its profit decline with the price of oil, which has tumbled nearly $100 a barrel from last summer's all-time high.

Filed under: 360° Radar • Andrew Torgan • Economy
April 30th, 2009
03:52 PM ET

Details on the Chrysler bankruptcy

Editor’s Note: Notes on Chrysler’s bankruptcy and a Q & A with a senior administration official
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Details from a Senior Administration Official:

– total amount of us govt support will be similar to what president approved on march 30th, consistent with resources allocated on march 30th

– Canadian involvement is also involved, the company does biz on both sides of the border, have been working closely with Canadian govt, they will also provide resources, additional financial cushion.

– FIAT: we work closely on every element. They did not have a particularly view on bankruptcy. They were happy to take the advice from Chrysler and let them do this part of the work.

– Bankruptcy was never the preferred option – but will make for a stronger company.

– Everyone was prepared to do it, they have been preparing for it as an option, and it is consistent with what we told you 30 days ago

Q: Are there any risks associated with the filing? Are the agreements with bondholders and UAW in risk of being changed? What about General Motors? What signal does this give?

A: I don’t think anyone can say that there is 100% confidence or certainty on the final outcome. We have agreements with UAW, and support of bank group, in our view, this should lead to a successful conclusion.

Not here to speculate on GM. This is best option for us to come out with good options for future, for a strong company.

Q: could you outline what are factors that make you think this can be concluded quickly, in 30 to 60 days? Is there a risk from holdout lenders that they may put up legal roadblocks?

A: we think we got the best advice, we researched this, this is not something that came up last night, we’ve been working on this as an alternative for a long time. We know we have the support of all major stakeholders, if a few lenders want to go into court and cause trouble they might, but no judge is going to override that kind of support from the bulk of shareholders.

Q: when did the prez make this decision? What impact in terms of employment levels?

A: employment = no immediate plan for additional employment reductions. Fiat will be looking for cost reducing measures, but no major headcount reduction at this point because of the bankruptcy. Bankruptcy will have a positive effect on employment, because company will be stronger, and able to hire.

No tictoc about prez decision timeline. FULL POST

Filed under: 360° Radar • Economy
April 30th, 2009
03:48 PM ET

Gupta demystifies the pandemic

Program Note: Tune in tonight to hear more from Dr. Sanjay Gupta on the flu pandemic on AC360° at 10 p.m. ET.

CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta brings you the latest information on the swine flu epidemic from Mexico City.

Filed under: 360° Radar • Dr. Sanjay Gupta
April 30th, 2009
03:36 PM ET

Torture must be investigated

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/POLITICS/04/27/torture.memo/art.cuffs.gi.jpg]Oren Gross
Special to CNN

Popular clichés notwithstanding, not all is fair in war. The idea that war is subject to legal rules is an ancient one.

Over time nations have come to accept that their decisions whether to go to war as well as how to conduct warfare once armed conflict has erupted are limited by legal norms.

But do such limitations hold when the enemy is not another nation that itself plays, more or less, by the rules, but rather a nonstate actor such as al Qaeda that flagrantly ignores them?

Does not following the rules in this context mean that we would be fighting with one hand tied behind our back? And if so, should not all be fair at least in war against such an enemy? Yes, yes, and an emphatic no.

Al Qaeda does not pose a threat to the United States' (or any of its allies') existence. Its real threat lies in provoking us to employ authoritarian measures that would weaken the fabric of our democracy, discredit the United States internationally, diminish our ability to utilize our soft power and undermine our claim to the moral higher ground in the fight against the terrorists.

In other words, the critical threat is not that the United States would fail to defend itself but that it would do so too well and in the process become less democratic and lose sight of its fundamental values. "Whoever fights monsters," warned Friedrich Nietzsche, "should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you."


Filed under: 360° Radar • al Qaeda • Torture
April 30th, 2009
03:27 PM ET

Churchgoers more likely to back torture, survey finds

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The more often Americans go to church, the more likely they are to support the torture of suspected terrorists, according to a new analysis.

More than half of people who attend services at least once a week - 54 percent - said the use of torture against suspected terrorists is "often" or "sometimes" justified. Only 42 percent of people who "seldom or never" go to services agreed, according the analysis released Wednesday by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

White evangelical Protestants were the religious group most likely to say torture is often or sometimes justified - more than 6 in 10 supported it. People unaffiliated with any religious organization were least likely to back it. Only 4 in 10 of them did.

The analysis is based on a Pew Research Center survey of 742 American adults conducted April 14-21. It did not include analysis of groups other than white evangelicals, white non-Hispanic Catholics, white mainline Protestants, and the religiously unaffiliated, because the sample size was too small.

Take a look at the full survey and report here.

Filed under: Religion • Torture
April 30th, 2009
03:16 PM ET

Senators not concerned about being exposed to flu virus on airline flights

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/HEALTH/04/29/swine.flu/art.flu.afp.gi.jpg]Ted Barrett
CNN Congressional Producer

Top Senate Democrats are saying they’re not concerned about airline travel—despite the risk of being exposed to the flu virus.

Their comments came after Vice President Biden’s said Americans should advice to stay off airplanes to in order to avoid the swine flu—advice his office tried to clarify as meant to apply only to unnecessary air travel to and from Mexico– or if people are sick.

Biden made the comments on NBC’s “Today” program—and they prompted reporters to ask senators whether people should be using public transportation right now and whether they should do anything different when they travel.

“I’m on the first plane out of here tomorrow morning,” Sen. Patty Murray of Washington said at a press conference with other Senate Democratic leaders Thursday.

“I have a reservation this evening,” chimed in Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois.

“I’m on the shuttle tonight,” added Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York.

Only Majority Leader Harry Reid won’t be flying but only because his schedule is keeping him from returning home to Nevada this weekend, he said.

That uniform response will be good news for the travel industry which was stunned Thursday by Biden’s suggestion people stay out of confined spaces where someone could sneeze.

“The airlines are taking the precautions that they need to,” Murray said. “I have confidence in the transportation system.”

The best advice to avoid the flu may have come from Durbin who told reporters what he used to remind his children when they were sick: “Coughers and sneezers cover their beezers.”

Filed under: 360° Radar • Airline Safety • Public Health
April 30th, 2009
02:39 PM ET

It’s still my party

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Christine Todd Whitman
The New York Times

I HAVE always admired Arlen Specter for his willingness to stand up for his principles and to put policy ahead of party when he thought it was necessary. I do, however, regret his decision to switch parties and I worry about the direction this country could go with a filibuster-proof Democratic majority. Some historians suggest that no president has had such power since 1937, when large Democratic majorities in Congress gave President Franklin Roosevelt tremendous leverage.

The United States needs two vibrant, competitive parties. With the economic crisis, the war in Iraq and countless other issues facing the nation, the stakes are too high to simply let one ideological segment of the country determine our fate. If we are to prevent this kind of one-party dominance, Republicans need to reassess where we are and what we stand for — and we need to do it now.

Unfortunately, a preview of the Republican Party’s future came from the reaction to Senator Specter’s switch — many conservatives evinced a sense of “I told you so” satisfaction and denigrated his service to the country. As was to be expected, the blogosphere is full of people saying that Arlen Specter was always a Democrat and now he’s simply proved it.

In reality, until Tuesday, Arlen Specter caucused with the Republicans, and he voted with his party 70 percent of the time in the 110th Congress. It is a sure bet that his voting record will now change. I fail to see the satisfaction in that.

Mr. Specter’s announcement portends a challenge for Republicans, in terms of both governance and political prospects. To those Republicans counting on the usual phenomenon of off-year election losses for the party holding the presidency, I say do not forget the examples of Roosevelt and George W. Bush, whose parties prospered in 1934 and 2002, respectively. Besides, given the re-election rate of incumbents and the number of Republicans from competitive districts who have retired, the chances of gaining more than a handful of seats is remote.


Filed under: Democrats • Raw Politics
April 30th, 2009
01:35 PM ET

Swine Flu: Statistical Model Predicts 1,000 Cases In U.S. Within Three Weeks

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Alessandro Vespignani
Indiana University

There had been 40 cases of swine influenza (H1N1) reported in the U.S. as of 6 a.m., April 28, according to the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"But this is a worst-case scenario, as we are always working in a worst-case scenario setting," he said of the models performed at IU and Northwestern University. "What we are finding is that this is not a panic situation and that this thing is not ramping up in some crazy way. Right now we are confident that in the next few days things will be more optimistic."

That optimism is due in part to actions taken worldwide, such as the medical alert in Mexico, school closures in Texas, World Health Organization warnings, increased controls at international airports and the availability of an anti-viral drug for treatment. The next 72 hours will be critical, he predicted, and models could change as often as every 12 to 24 hours, based on worldwide events.


Filed under: 360º Follow • Public Health
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