Archive for January 7th, 2009
As a candidate, Barack Obama promoted hybrid cars.
As president, he’ll be handed the keys to one. Sort of.
Shortly after taking the oath of office, Obama will climb into the Mother of All Hybrids — part car, part truck and, from the looks of it, part tank.
In keeping with recent tradition, the Secret Service will place a brand-new presidential limousine into service January 20 to drive the new president on the 2-mile jaunt down Pennsylvania Avenue during the inaugural parade.
Already, spy photos of the limo — with patches of gray primer — have leaked out. And already, the reviews:
“Ugly as sin,” says one car enthusiast on an auto Web site. “Can’t we make a hotter ride for our pres?”
“Sheesh,” says another, “why don’t they just transport the president around in an Abrams tank.”
One news agency, noting its 8-inch-thick doors, says the limo can withstand a “direct hit from an asteroid.” But GM spokeswoman Joanne K. Krell laughed off the comments.
“And it will fix you a latte if you ask,” she jokes. Watch Obama’s new wheels »
In truth, the new presidential limo is a Cadillac, Krell said, although it is “not a direct extension of any single model.”
“The presidential vehicle is built to precise and special specifications, undergoes extreme testing and development, and also incorporates many of the top aspects of Cadillac’s ‘regular’ cars — such as signature design, hand-cut-and-sewn interiors, etc.,” Krell told CNN.
“Cadillac is honored to serve and renew this great tradition,” she said. “And it is entirely appropriate that an American president has at his service a great American vehicle.”
For much of the country’s history, the Secret Service didn’t even drive the president, evidently oblivious to the dangers of asteroids.
In the post-Lincoln horse-and-buggy era, it was customary for a security detail to closely trail the president, according to a Secret Service history.
With the advent of automobiles, the Secret Service acquired a 1907 H. White Steamer to follow Theodore Roosevelt’s horse-drawn carriage.
White House chauffeurs drove later presidents, until the Secret Service assumed many of the driving responsibilities after Franklin Roosevelt’s death in 1945.
In 1965, Lyndon Johnson was the first president to ride in a bulletproof limo in an inaugural parade, less than two years after his predecessor, John F. Kennedy, was shot and killed while riding in an open car. Take a look at a few presidential limos »
Cut off from the world
Obama should expect two seemingly contradictory feelings when riding in the presidential limousine, said Joe Funk, a retired Secret Service agent who was President Bill Clinton’s driver during part of his career. Watch Funk talk about his time as the president’s driver »
“I think he will be surprised about how when he’s in the limo, it’s a cocoon,” Funk said. “The everyday noises will be gone, and he will be totally isolated in this protective envelope.”
“At the same time, I think he will be surprised at the communication capabilities, how the phones, the satellites, the Internet — everything is at his fingertips,” he said. “So at one end, you are totally removed from society. The other side of the coin is that he can have any communications worldwide at a moment’s touch.”
Funk says presidents sometimes chat with the agents, and sometimes don’t.
“Every day is different, just like every person,” he said. “Sometimes they get in the car and they have a lot on their mind. They’re involved in reading material, they’re involved in the newspaper, they’re talking to local dignitaries or they are talking to Cabinet-level.
“Other times, they are interested in sporting events, in doing the crossword puzzle, interested in the feedback they get from talking to the agents — primarily the supervisor that sits in the front seat,” Funk said.
While the government spares no expense for the presidential limo, the weight of the car makes it less maneuverable and more sluggish than comparable sport utility vehicles, Funk said. And the door and window frames, which accommodate thick ballistic glass, create large blind spots, he said.
Funk’s own experience driving Clinton was uneventful, he says, which is a good thing, considering his line of business.
“I was very lucky. We didn’t have any close calls,” he says. “Everything was very smooth.”
But he still considers the experience a career highlight.
“At the end of the day, if you had a good driving day, you do kind of sit back with a certain amount of pride and say, ‘I had the president of the United States in the car with me for an hour, two hours, and I got him from point A to point B safely in conjunction with all the other team members,’ ” he said. “When it’s done, you can sit back and take some pride in knowing that you pulled it off.”
Available in any color, as long as it’s black
One Internet wag, adding to the rampant speculation about the new car, made this prediction: It will be painted black. But environmentalists may ask, will it be green?
Not likely. Car enthusiasts believe the overweight vehicle burns diesel and will have low mileage. And with diesel costing about $2.40 a gallon Monday, versus $1.67 for gasoline, this new limo can’t be called an economy vehicle.
“The limousines of yesteryear were designed just well enough to provide protection to get the president out of the situation,” says Ken Lucci, CEO of Ambassador Limousine Inc. and owner of two Reagan-era limos. “In today’s case, they [the Secret Service] expect a prolonged attack, and they expect an attack that is a lot more violent than [with] a weapon you can hold in you hand.”
“It literally is a rolling bunker,” he says. “It just happens to have wheels on it.”
And it’s not a bad vehicle for someone whose job is to fix the economy, even if it won’t brew coffee on command.
2) Israeli elections are due to take place in February 2009. You can have an indirect but important and constructive impact on the outcome, by announcing your unequivocal determination to achieve Israeli-Palestinian, Israeli-Syrian and Israeli-all-Arab peace in 2009.
3) Unfortunately, all your predecessors since 1967 have played a double game. While paying lip service to peace, and sometimes going through the motions of making some effort for peace, they have in practice supported our governments in moving in the very opposite direction. In particular, they have given tacit approval to the building and enlargement of Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian and Syrian territories, each of which is a land mine on the road to peace.
4) All the settlements are illegal in international law. The distinction sometimes made between “illegal” outposts and the other settlements is a propaganda ploy designed to obscure this simple truth.
5) All the settlements since 1967 have been built with the express purpose of making a Palestinian state–and hence peace–impossible, by cutting the territory of the prospective State of Palestine into ribbons. Practically all our government departments and the army have openly or secretly helped to build, consolidate and enlarge the settlements–as confirmed by the 2005 report prepared for the government by lawyer Talia Sasson.
6) By now, the number of settlers in the West Bank has reached some 250,000 (apart from the 200,000 settlers in the Greater Jerusalem area, whose status is somewhat different). They are politically isolated, and sometimes detested by the majority of the Israel public, but enjoy significant support in the army and government ministries.
7) No Israeli government would dare to confront the concentrated political and material might of the settlers. Such a confrontation would need very strong leadership and the unstinting support of the President of the United States to have any chance of success.
8) Lacking these, all “peace negotiations” are a sham. The Israeli government and its US backers have done everything possible to prevent the negotiations with both the Palestinians and the Syrians from reaching any conclusion, for fear of provoking a confrontation with the settlers and their supporters. The present “Annapolis” negotiations are as hollow as all the preceding ones, each side keeping up the pretense for its own political interests.
9) The Clinton administration, and even more so the Bush administration, allowed the Israeli government to keep up this pretense. It is therefore imperative to prevent members of these administrations from diverting your Middle Eastern policy into the old channels.
10) It is important for you to make a complete new start, and to state this publicly. Discredited ideas and failed initiatives–such as the Bush “vision,” the Road Map, Annapolis and the like–should be thrown into the junkyard of history.
11) To make a new start, the aim of American policy should be stated clearly and succinctly. This should be: to achieve a peace based on the two-state solution within a defined time span (say, by the end of 2009).
12) It should be pointed out that this aim is based on a reassessment of the American national interest, in order to extract the poison from American-Arab and American-Muslim relations, strengthen peace-oriented regimes, defeat Al Qaeda-type terrorism, end the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and achieve a viable accommodation with Iran.
13) The terms of Israeli-Palestinian peace are clear. They have been crystallized in thousands of hours of negotiations, conferences, meetings and conversations. They are:
13.1) A sovereign and viable State of Palestine will be established side by side with the State of Israel.
13.2) The border between the two states will be based on the pre-1967 Armistice Line (the “Green Line”). Insubstantial alterations can be arrived at by mutual agreement on an exchange of territories on a 1:1 basis.
13.3) East Jerusalem, including the Haram-al-Sharif (“Temple Mount”) and all Arab neighborhoods will serve as the capital of Palestine. West Jerusalem, including the Western Wall and all Jewish neighborhoods, will serve as the capital of Israel. A joint municipal authority, based on equality, may be established by mutual consent to administer the city as one territorial unit.
13.4) All Israeli settlements–except any which might be joined to Israel in the framework of a mutually agreed exchange of territories– will be evacuated (see 15 below).
13.5) Israel will recognize in principle the right of the refugees to return. A Joint Commission for Truth and Reconciliation, composed of Palestinian, Israeli and international historians, will examine the events of 1948 and 1967 and determine who was responsible for what. Each individual refugee will be given the choice between (1) repatriation to the State of Palestine, (2) remaining where he/she is living now and receiving generous compensation, (3) returning to Israel and being resettled, (4) emigrating to any other country, with generous compensation. The number of refugees who will return to Israeli territory will be fixed by mutual agreement, it being understood that nothing will be done that materially alters the demographic composition of the Israeli population. The large funds needed for the implementation of this solution must be provided by the international community in the interest of world peace. This will save much of the money spent today on military expenditure and direct grants from the United States.
13.6) The West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip constitute one national unit. An extraterritorial connection (road, railway, tunnel or bridge) will connect the West Bank with the Gaza Strip.
13.7) Israel and Syria will sign a peace agreement. Israel will withdraw to the pre-1967 line and all settlements on the Golan Heights will be dismantled. Syria will cease all anti-Israeli activities conducted directly or by proxy. The two parties will establish normal relations between them.
13.8) In accordance with the Saudi Peace Initiative, all member states of the Arab League will recognize Israel and establish normal relations with it. Talks about a future Middle Eastern Union, on the model of the EU, possibly to include Turkey and Iran, may be considered.
14) Palestinian unity is essential for peace. Peace made with only one section of the people is worthless. The US will facilitate Palestinian reconciliation and the unification of Palestinian structures. To this end, the US will end its boycott of Hamas, which won the last elections, start a political dialogue with the movement and encourage Israel to do the same. The US will respect any result of democratic Palestinian elections.
15) The US will aid the government of Israel in confronting the settlement problem. As from now, settlers will be given one year to leave the occupied territories voluntarily in return for compensation that will allow them to build their homes in Israel proper. After that, all settlements–except those within any areas to be joined to Israel under the peace agreement–will be evacuated.
16) I suggest that you, as president of the United States, come to Israel and address the Israeli people personally, not only from the rostrum of the Knesset but also at a mass rally in Tel-Aviv’s Rabin Square. President Anwar Sadat of Egypt came to Israel in 1977, and, by addressing the Israeli people directly, completely changed their attitude towards peace with Egypt. At present, most Israelis feel insecure, uncertain and afraid of any daring peace initiative, partly because of a deep distrust of anything coming from the Arab side. Your personal intervention, at the critical moment, could literally do wonders in creating the psychological basis for peace.
President-elect Barack Obama has approached CNN’s chief medical correspondent, Sanjay Gupta, to be the country’s next surgeon general, the cable news network said Tuesday. CNN said it has kept Gupta from reporting on health care policy and other matters involving the incoming Obama administration since learning he was under consideration for the post.
A Democrat with knowledge of the discussions over the surgeon general spot cautioned that there was not yet a final decision on who would fill the post. The person spoke on a condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media on the matter.
Obama’s transition office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Gupta hosts “House Call” on CNN, contributes reports to CBS News, and writes a column for Time magazine. He is a neurosurgeon and is on the faculty at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta. During the Clinton administration, he was a White House fellow and special adviser to then-first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton.
The surgeon general typically isn’t heavily involved in shaping an administration’s policy, but it can be a very effective bully pulpit. Past surgeons general have proved instrumental in battling tobacco and AIDS.
Having such a well-known TV personality could bring the surgeon general attention not seen since C. Everett Koop help the position under President Ronald Reagan. Koop is best known for pushing to make AIDS a public health issue rather than a moral issue, and Reagan faced pressure to fire him. Koop has said Reagan never interfered.
CNN said Gupta would not comment on the discussions and released a statement that said, “Since first learning that Dr. Gupta was under consideration for the surgeon general position, CNN has made sure that his on-air reporting has been on health and wellness matters and not on health care policy or any matters involving the new administration.”
CBS News is a unit of CBS Corp.; CNN is owned by Time Warner.
As you take steps to avoid the germs and viruses that proliferate as winter progresses, you’ve no doubt received a good share of advice on how to avoid catching whatever’s going around.
ABCNews OnCall+ spoke with experts about some of the popular myths about germs that tend to spread as fast as the bacteria themselves this time of year.
Is a dog’s mouth cleaner than a person’s? How unsafe are public toilet seats? Some of these questions lack hard data, and the study findings sometimes conflict.
So before taking advice from your friends, you might want to check their wisdom about our microbe neighbors.
Fact or Myth? You can get infections or illnesses from sitting directly on a public toilet seat.
“Just sort of sitting on the seat and having that contact with the skin on your butt isn’t going to be a way of transmitting an infection,” said Elizabeth Scott, co-director and founder of the Simmons Center for Hygiene and Health in Home and Community Settings at Simmons College in Boston.
“I think that one’s associated with the fact that we all find public toilets very disgusting,” she said, adding that you were more likely to get sick from touching the toilet seat or the flush handle with your hand.
Dr. J. Owen Hendley, professor of pediatric infectious disease at the University of Virginia Children’s Hospital, said that this myth has been a persistent one.
Of getting an infection, he said, “I guess you could, but I’ve never known of a documented case where that actually happened.”
But that has not stopped the myth. Hendley noted that the concern might have originated with a fear that syphilis could spread through toilet seats. He said that that fear is likely behind the design of many public toilet seats in which the seat itself is open in the front, preventing contact between the person and the seat in that area.
But the knowledge that sitting directly on the seat doesn’t spread the germs doesn’t seem likely to make it more appealing.
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“I couldn’t imagine it [spreading infection],” said Hendley. “Which is not to say I would like to go into a public restroom and sit down on the toilet seat.”
Fact or Myth? If you keep your toothbrush within 6 feet of your toilet, you’re brushing your teeth with toilet water.
Answer: Possibly a Fact
“You get a great spray out of the toilet when you flush it,” said Charles Gerba, a professor of microbiology at the University of Arizona. “This throws bacteria out of the toilet.”
Gerba’s research showed a spray coming out of toilets when they are flushed. That spray goes out and puts fecal bacteria and whatever else is in the toilet all over everything else in the bathroom, right?
Maybe not. A few years ago, the Discovery Channel’s “Mythbusters” tackled the issue.
In its tests, the show placed toothbrushes near the toilet, in a bathroom cabinet and in the kitchen of a house.
At the end of the test, the show declared the toilet-toothbrush-shower a myth, with all three toothbrushes having similar amounts of fecal bacteria, regardless of placement.
So we know there’s a spray when the toilet gets flushed, but it’s unclear how far it travels and what ends up where.
Ultimately, the problem may be that there hasn’t been a peer-reviewed study of toothbrush hygiene. We don’t know where the bacteria travel, and we don’t know the source of bacteria that may have ended up on the toothbrushes placed in various areas.
“A lot of the droplets that are generated when you flush a toilet, they are too large to spread probably more than a foot or two,” said Sattar.
Fecal bacteria means the bacterium E. coli, which is found in fecal matter, among other things. While often used to gross someone out about bacterial contamination, just finding it doesn’t mean the germs came from the toilet.
So it’s not entirely clear that your toothbrush is showering in your toilet water just because it’s nearby. But it may not be a bad idea to put the lid down when you flush.
Fact or Myth? The blowing air from a hand drier in a public restroom spreads germs.
Syed Sattar, a professor emeritus of microbiology at the University of Ottawa, has looked into this issue, and was more than happy to declare it an outdated concern.
“That is certainly a myth, because we have done our own studies in that regard,” he said.
Sattar said his team had sampled the air around driers in various public restrooms as people were using them and found no increase in bacteria.
As to the rumor that dust accumulates inside, he said his team had taken apart multiple hand driers in places like bus stations and busy shopping centers and also found nothing.
The real worry about hand driers, said Scott, is having to touch something to start them.
“It’s always good to look for systems that don’t require you to touch,” she said, because the buttons will accumulate germs.
Ideal restrooms, Scott said, wouldn’t have doors or handles for the faucet, and would have electronic eyes to start hand driers, faucets and flush mechansms on toilets.
“No-touch is ideal,” Scott said.
Fact or Myth? Antibacterial soap keeps your hands cleaner than regular soap.
This myth may stem from a misconception about what we do when we wash our hands. By rinsing in soap and water for at least 20 seconds, we aren’t supposed to be killing bacteria, but simply getting germs and viruses off our hands.
“If you can get to a sink and you can wash your hands thoroughly 15 to 20 seconds with regular soap and then rinsing — that is the most effective method of ‘de-germing’, or removing germs from your hands,” said Scott.
She noted that washing with soap and water doesn’t remove all the microbes from our hands, because some are an important part of our skin, and even if we did kill them, they would return.
Given that regular soap and water removes the germs, there is no need for an antibacterial agent, and it probably won’t work anyway.
“The speed of action of these ingredients that are added is rather slow, so that they are not there on the hands long enough to present the desired level of reductions,” said Sattar.
So the antibacterial agents added to soap, typically triclosan, isn’t effective in this case but may present problems, as our next myth explains.
Fact or Myth? Alcohol rubs cause bacterial mutation and help create resistant strains.
Answer: Myth for Alcohol Rubs, Possibly a Fact for Antibacterial Soap
The alcohol-based antibacterial rubs are effective enough that they do not create resistant strains, explained Scott, but the antibacterial soaps may present a hazard.
While the alcohol rub stays on the hands and is not meant to be rinsed off, the antibacterial triclosan is rinsed off before it can do all its work and then enters the water supply.
“The reason I don’t like it is because it gets in the water supply and stuff like that,” said Hendley of his opposition to triclosan in soap.
Scott notes that resistant strains of bacteria have been created in labs using triclosan, although it remains to be seen if it will happen in the natural environment.
“It’s something that’s been observed in the laboratory, and it’s something that needs to be researched,” she said.
For Sattar, the long-term risks of triclosan in the environment also need to be looked at.
“Their accumulation in the environment or chronic exposure to them on a long-term basis, especially for children, may have a long-term risk that we will not discover until later on,” he said.
Ultimately, Sattar said, antibacterial soap doesn’t do enough to justify its use. “Don’t take risk without a demonstrated benefit,” he said.
Fact or Myth? Sponges typically don’t help keep your kitchen cleaner, they just spread germs around.
Sponges pick up various contaminants when used to clean used to clean dishes or surfaces that food has touched, and those contaminants can be easily spread.
“Sponges are probably the most germ-laden object in the household,” said Gerba. “They usually contain 10,000,000 or more fecal bacteria. In a study we did some years ago, we found salmonella in 10 percent of them. The reason is that they are wet and pick up food for the bacteria. They do a great job of spreading bacteria around the household.”
So in order to keep sponges from being bacteria farms for your kitchen, several steps should be taken.
Hendley said he maintains separate counter and dish sponges and makes sure to have detergent in the sponge whenever he uses it.
Scott said that maintaining separate dish and counter sponges is key.
“I think the best practice is to keep the sponge at the kitchen sink for washing up, and to use paper towels for wiping down kitchen surfaces,” she said.
Sponges can be placed in the dishwasher or laundry to decontaminate them, although the research on how much that helps remains unclear.
Perhaps the best way to clean sponges is by microwaving them, but it’s important to ensure that they are wet before putting them in.
Fact or Myth? Plastic cutting boards are more sanitary than wooden ones.
Answer: Fact — if the board’s handled right
The difference in sanitation has little to do with the cutting boards themselves.
“[The cutting boards] are about the same,” said Gerba. “In the average household they have 200 times more fecal bacteria that the average toilet seat.”
Scott explains that the wear on the cutting board affects its cleanliness more than the material from which it’s made.
“The most important thing is, whatever cutting board anyone’s using, it’s not badly scoured,” she said.
So why did we deem this a fact?
As Scott explained, a plastic cutting board is easier to clean, by bleaching it at the sink or putting it through the dishwasher.
In any case, she noted, separate cutting boards should be used for raw chicken or beef and vegetables.
And ultimately, the plastic cutting boards are more sanitary, Scott said, because they’re cheaper — so people are more likely to throw them out and replace them. Fact or Myth? The makeup at a cosmetics counter is unsafe to use — it harbors a multitude of germs.
Answer: Probably a Fact
The safety of using sample cosmetics from the counter may depend on how they’re used, but the prospect of what could be in that makeup is enough to keep Scott away from them.
“I don’t like that idea at all,” she said. “There is the possibility that someone handled the cosmetic who had pathogens on their hands or a skin infection or an eye infection. That all might be transmitted by that cosmetic.”
There doesn’t appear to much hard data on what the cosmetics at the counter contain, but their usage could lead to the spread of infection.
Scott’s advice is to stick to single use samples and avoid the communal beauty sources.
Fact or Myth? A dog’s mouth is cleaner than a person’s mouth.
If you heard this myth, it probably came from a dog lover as they justified why they let their pet lick their face.
And in one sense, they may be right: A dog’s mouth is likely to contain fewer microbes that are harmful to humans.
“If I were forced to be bitten by a dog or a human, I’d take a dog,” said Hendley.
But that doesn’t mean a dog’s mouth has fewer microbes, or that it’s “clean.”
“I’m thinking, what was the dog last licking?” said Scott.
Hendley and Scott noted that dogs tend to lick themselves, particularly after scraping themselves, and their mouths tend to come in contact with animal feces.
Scott also noted that germs can be picked up by stroking the animals, and you should wash your hands anytime you touch them.
Fact or Myth? Airplanes are a major source of contamination because of the recirculated air.
Airplanes put many different people in a confined space for several hours with the same air. Small wonder that some see planes as flying germ houses.
But while germs may once have recirculated freely, new technology may have removed some of the flight concerns.
ABCNews OnCall+ has previously looked at the issue, and travel can increase risk of flu (which comes from a virus, not a germ), but that is a concern in any crowded area, not just an airplane.
The recirculated air, however, is not as much of a concern as it may once have been.
“It probably was true in the sense that inside of an aircraft cabin, if filled to capacity, you would have a lot of people breathing germs in and out,” said Sattar.
But, he said, “More recent aircraft design has created engineering controls which reduce that risk.”
Sattar notes that HEPAs, or high efficiency particulate arresters, which were developed around World War II, trap tiny particles in the air so that any particle that might be carrying viruses or bacteria is caught when viruses pass through the air system in the aircraft.
So planes, like any crowded area, pose an increased disease risk, but it isn’t clear how much, if any, of that is due to the recirculated air.
Sattar also noted that the World Health Organization will be examining this issue to ensure that passengers aren’t sharing illnesses with their fellow travelers.