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The Buzz

Need-to-know news

Issue: "Do the math," Nov. 7, 2009

Missile messages

It's not news that North Korea has helped Iran produce intermediate-range ballistic missiles. But a leading Russian analyst says Tehran has extended North Korean technology capabilities to produce missiles with a range of nearly 2,000 miles-putting not only Israel but Turkey and parts of Europe within striking distance. "I believe statements by the Russian General Staff that Iran possesses missiles with a range of up to 1,000 kilometers [620 miles] are inaccurate," said Vladimir Dvorkin, senior researcher at the Moscow-based International Security Center.

Iran's nuclear advances have gained more attention than its missile launch capability, but its missile test launch in September prompted joint Israeli-U.S. military exercises in late October.

Flu symptoms

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Just as a vaccine against the H1N1 flu virus became available last month in the United States, health officials cited recent studies to underscore concern about stress placed on intensive-care units with a second wave of the disease through the fall and winter. With 37 U.S. states reporting outbreaks, a Canadian study of 168 critically ill swine flu patients found that 30 percent had no underlying health problems, yet 17 percent (29 patients) died. "There's almost two diseases. Patients are either mildly ill, or critically ill and require aggressive ICU care. There isn't that much of a middle ground," said Anand Kumar, an intensive-care physician and lead author of one of the studies. Critically ill flu sufferers require extended periods on ventilators and other equipment, and occupied 50 percent to 100 percent of available ICU beds in the Canadian survey. The good news? Less than 4 percent of swine flu cases reported in the region reached that stage.

Medical exceptions granted

Medical marijuana use has been given the federal green light after a Justice Department memo released last week told prosecutors not to waste their time on pot-smoking patients. The policy applies to states where such marijuana usage is already allowed. This marks a departure from the Bush administration, which enforced federal anti-marijuana laws regardless of state regulations. Currently 14 states allow some marijuana use for medical purposes, with California dispensaries even advertising their services.

"This is a major step forward," Bruce Mirken, with the Marijuana Policy Project, told the Associated Press. But Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, fears that this will set the nation further behind in the drug wars: "We cannot hope to eradicate the drug trade if we do not first address the cash cow for most drug trafficking organizations-marijuana."

Zimbabwe

Citing "the fiction of the credibility and integrity" of a unity government with Zimbabwe's strongman president, Robert Mugabe, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai withdrew indefinitely from the power-sharing arrangement that brought his opposition party to power just eight months ago. The arrest and detention of one of its party leaders last month precipitated the boycott, and the continuing political crisis is likely to deepen the country's humanitarian crisis.

Pakistan's war

Pakistan announced the closure of all schools indefinitely on Oct. 21, after brutal weeks of bombings that culminated in a double suicide bombing at an Islamabad university the day before. That attack killed at least four students and was the seventh major attack by militants in just weeks that have left dozens dead. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the two suicide bomb attacks on International Islamic University, and a Taliban spokesman warned of more such attacks in a phone call to the BBC.

Fooled again

The Yes Men, the group that fooled the world with a fake New York Times piece proclaiming the end of the Iraq War, is at it again. This time, the group poked fun at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce by announcing that the Chamber had changed its mind and would now support climate change legislation. It staged a fake press conference with a fake Chamber representative named "Hingo Sembra" talking to reporters. By the time a real Chamber employee stormed in to denounce the conference as "a stunt," Reuters and several networks had already filed stories.

Approaching Sudan

As a candidate he called for a no-fly zone over Darfur and said, "The UN Security Council should impose tough sanctions on the Khartoum government immediately." But nine months after moving into the White House, President Barack Obama has announced a policy on Sudan different from his campaign pledges, one based on "broad engagement and frank dialogue," according to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in an Oct. 20 appearance.

Flanked by the U.S. special envoy to Sudan Scott Gration and the U.S. ambassador to the UN Susan Rice, who have often sparred over a carrot-and-stick approach to Khartoum, Clinton said that ending the conflict in Darfur and implementing the terms of a 2005 peace agreement remain the cornerstones of U.S. policy. While officials have said that sanctions are likely to remain in place, most of those details were kept from public view in a "classified annex" to the policy statement.

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