Venezuelan Health System Decays Further, Opposition-led Survey Says

Venezuela’s health system is sinking into further disarray, a survey led by the opposition-dominated Congress showed on Monday, with most hospitals plagued by water outages, unable to feed patients and lacking even basic devices like catheters.

In the midst of a crushing economic crisis that has caused medicine shortages and emigration of doctors, President Nicolas Maduro’s socialist government has stopped issuing weekly bulletins on health.

To fill the gap, Venezuela’s Congress and a health group have for five years asked doctors and hospital workers to report the situation in their institutions. Those in government-run hospitals have usually been ordered to keep quiet, and so communicate surreptitiously with the pollsters.

“The government has decided not to inform, to hide the truth. The truth is that every day Venezuelans are dying due to lack of supplies and medicines,” said opposition lawmaker and oncologist Jose Manuel Olivares as he presented the findings on Monday.

All indicators worsened in 2018 and the private sector is increasingly hit, the survey said. Some 94 percent of x-ray units are out of service or only partially functional. Around 79 percent of hospitals have poor or in existent water service. Only 7 percent of emergency services are fully operative.

“Behind each number you see here, there is a story. There is a father, a mother, a son … there is a Venezuelan suffering,” said Olivares.

“We hope the government reflects on this. Political differences can never supersede the problems of the people.”

The Information Ministry did not respond to a request for comment on the survey. The poll was conducted between March 1 and March 10. Information was drawn from 137 hospitals in 55 cities.

A crumbling state-led economy and low global prices for oil, which is Venezuela’s main export, have led to a shortage of medicine and vaccines, sparking the return of diseases that were once controlled such as diphtheria and measles.

Venezuelans suffering from chronic illnesses like cancer or diabetes are often forced to forgo treatment. Transplant patients who had gotten a second shot at life are terrified as anti-rejection medicine runs short, heightening chances that their body will reject the foreign organ. Epileptic patients are struggling with seizures due to drug shortages.

Amid the dire panorama, patients and health groups have been lobbying for international aid. But Maduro’s government says there is no humanitarian crisis in Venezuela and has refused to accept aid.


Cuba Opens Wholesale Market to Sell Basic Staples

Cuba has opened up its first wholesale market in an economy dominated by government-run enterprises.


State-run newspaper Granma says the market is part of an ongoing effort to “reorganize” commerce on the communist island. The market will sell beans, beer, sugar, cigars and other basic staples for 20 to 30 percent less than the products are sold throughout the country.


Since 2010, the government has authorized about 500,000 people to operate private businesses, and many of them have long-sought access to a wholesale marketplace. Their wait is not over. The government says the market known as the Mercabal is only open to 35 worker-owned cooperatives in Havana, at least for now.


The state-run economy accounts for 70 to 80 percent of the Cuban economy.


Our First Interstellar Visitor Likely Came From Two-star System

Our first known interstellar visitor likely came from a two-star system.


That’s the latest from astronomers who were amazed by the mysterious cigar-shaped object, detected as it passed through our inner solar system last fall.


The University of Toronto’s Alan Jackson reported Monday that the asteroid — the first confirmed object in our solar system originating elsewhere — is probably from a binary star system. That’s where two stars orbit a common center. According to Jackson and his team, the asteroid was likely ejected from its system as planets formed.


“It has been wandering interstellar space for a long time since,” the scientists wrote in the Royal Astronomical Society’s journal, Monthly Notices.

Discovered in October by a telescope in Hawaii millions of miles away, the asteroid is called Oumuamua, Hawaiian for messenger from afar arriving first, or scout. The red-tinged rock is estimated to be possibly 1,300 feet (400 meters) long and zooming away from the Earth and sun at more than 16 miles (26 kilometers) per second.


Last month, a science team led by Wesley Fraser of Queen’s University Belfast reported that Oumuamua is actually tumbling through space, likely the result of a collision with another asteroid or other object that kicked it out of its home solar system. He expects it to continue tumbling for billions of more years.


Scientists originally thought it might be an icy comet, but now agree it is an asteroid.


“The same way we use comets to better understand planet formation in our own solar system, maybe this curious object can tell us more about how planets form in other systems,” Jackson said in a statement.


Close binary star systems may be the source of the majority of interstellar objects out there, both icy comets and rocky asteroids, according to the researchers.


Want to Avoid the Flu While Flying? Try a Window Seat

Worried about catching a cold or the flu on an airplane? Get a window seat, and don’t leave it until the flight is over.

That’s what some experts have been saying for years, and it’s perhaps the best advice coming out of a new attempt to determine the risks of catching germs on an airplane.

It turns out there’s been little research on the risks of catching a cold or flu during air travel. Some experts believed that sitting in a window seat would keep a passenger away from infectious people who may be on the aisle or moving around.

The new study, published Monday, came to the same conclusion.

For somebody who doesn’t want to get sick, “get in that window seat and don’t move,” the study’s lead researcher, Vicki Stover Hertzberg of Emory University in Atlanta.

The study was ambitious: Squads of researchers jetted around the U.S. to test cabin surfaces and air for viruses and to observe how people came into contact with each other.

But it also had shortcomings. In a total of 10 flights, they observed only one person coughing. And though the experiment was done during a flu season five years ago, they didn’t find even one of 18 cold and flu viruses they tested for.

It’s possible that the researchers were unlucky, in that they were on planes that happened to not have sick people on them, Hertzberg said. 

The new study was initiated and funded by Boeing Co. The Chicago-based jet manufacturer also recruited one of the researchers, Georgia Tech’s Howard Weiss, and had input in the writing of the results. “But there was no particular pressure to change stuff or orient it one way or the other,” Hertzberg said.

The article was released by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The researchers did some mathematical modeling and computer simulations to determine how likely people were to come close to a hypothetical infectious passenger sitting in an aisle seat on the 14th row of a single-aisle airplane. They concluded that on average, only one person on a flight of about 150 passengers would be infected.

Researchers who were not involved said it would be difficult to use the relatively small study to make any general conclusions about the risks of an airline passenger getting a cold or flu, let alone other diseases like measles or tuberculosis. 

But it’s a novel study about a subject that hasn’t been well researched, they said. Studies have looked at how respiratory viruses spread in labs and in homes, but “this is the first time I’ve seen it done for airplanes,” said Seema Lakdawala, a University of Pittsburgh biologist who studies how flu spreads. 

She and others not involved in the research were intrigued by the study’s findings about how people moved about the cabin and came in contact with each other.

It found:

_About 38 percent of passengers never left their seat, 38 percent left once, 13 percent left twice, and 11 percent left more than twice. 

_Not surprisingly, a lot of the people getting up had an aisle seat. About 80 percent of people sitting on the aisle moved at least once during their flights, compared with 62 percent in middle seats and 43 percent in window seats.

_The 11 people sitting closest to a person with a cold or flu are at the highest risk. That included two people sitting to their left, the two to their right, and people in the row immediately in front of them and those in the row behind.

A lot of frequent fliers will be interested in the study’s results, said Edward Pizzarello, an investor in a Washington-area venture-capital firm who also writes a travel blog .

“It’s absolutely a fear I hear from people all the time. They just believe that they’re going to get sick from going on an airplane, or they got sick from being on an airplane,” he said.

Pizzarello said he’s an aisle person, because he doesn’t want to feel trapped in the window seat if he needs to get up.

Will he now go for the window? 

Maybe, he said, if a sick person sits next to him.


New York Councilman Investigating Kushner Real Estate Company

A New York City councilman and a tenants’ rights group said they will investigate allegations that the real estate company formerly controlled by Jared Kushner, a presidential adviser and President Donald Trump’s son-in-law, falsified building permits.

In allegations first uncovered by The Associated Press, the Kushner Companies is accused of submitting false statements between 2013 and 2016, stating it had no rent-controlled apartments in buildings it owned when it actually had hundreds.

Rent-controlled apartments come under tighter oversight from city officials when there is construction work or renovations in buildings. 

The councilman and tenants’ rights group charged the Kushner Companies of lying about rent-control in order to harass and force out tenants paying low rents so it can move in those who would pay more.

They also blame city officials for allegedly being unaware what Kushner was up to.

Rent control is a fixture in many big U.S. cities, where the government regulates rent to help make housing more affordable.

Some tenants in Kushner-owned buildings told the AP that the landlord made their lives a “living hell,” with loud construction noise, drilling, dust and leaking water. They said they believe they were part of a campaign of targeted harassment by the Kushner Companies to get them to leave.

The company denies intentionally falsifying documents in an effort to harass tenants. In a news release Monday, the company called the investigation an effort to “create an issue where none exists.”

“If mistakes or typographical errors are identified, corrective action is taken immediately with no financial benefit to the company,” it said.

The company also said it contracted out the preparation of such documents to a third party and that the faulty paperwork was amended. 

Kushner stepped down as head of his family’s company before becoming presidential adviser. But the AP said he still has a financial stake in a number of properties.


Україна переходить на «літній час» у ніч на 25 березня

У ніч на 25 березня Україна переходить на «літній час». О 3:00 за київським часом стрілки годинників будуть переведені на одну годину вперед.

Переведення годинників регламентується постановою Кабінету міністрів від 1996 року.

Зміна часу в Україні відбувається разом із усім Європейським союзом і більшістю країн Європи двічі на рік: в останню неділю березня країна переходить на літній час, а кожної останньої неділі жовтня повертається на «зимовий», тобто свій поясний час.

У 2011 році Верховна Рада намагалася скасувати переведення годинників на зимовий час, щоб повторити схожий крок Росії, але під тиском громадськості ця постанова була скасована.

В Україні літній час уперше формально з’явився 1917 року, коли його запровадив Тимчасовий уряд Російської республіки, до якої тоді належала більша частина України.

Після низки радянських експериментів із часом літній час стали знову регулярно застосовувати в Україні як на той час частині СРСР із 1981 року.

На початку 1990-х років Україна експериментувала з відмовою від сезонного переходу на літній час, але потім відновила його 1992 року «з урахуванням порядку обчислення часу, що діє в країнах Європи», і «згідно з рекомендаціями Європейської економічної комісії ООН».

Уперше перехід на літній час здійснили в кількох європейських країнах у 1916 році. Ідея полягає у кращому використанні світлого часу дня, а відтак в економії – в часи Першої світової війни йшлося про заощадження вугілля, в пізніші часи про електроенергію. Водночас такої економії практично немає в місцевостях, розташованих ближче до екватора, та у приполярних регіонах, де сезонний час не має економічного сенсу.

Практика щорічного переходу на літній час і повернення на поясний застосовується зараз у майже 75 країнах чи територіях світу, на всій їхній площі чи частково. При цьому близько 180 країн чи територій не користуються сезонним часом.


UNESCO Study: More Investment Needed in ‘Green’ Water Management Systems

Population growth, changing consumption patterns and development are taking their toll on the world’s water supplies, and governments need to rely more on ‘green’ water management to ensure a healthy planet and meet the needs of the fast-growing global population. 

That’s one of the messages in a new study by the U.N.’s cultural and scientific organization, UNESCO, presented today at a world water conference in Brazil.

Water demand is increasing by about 1 percent a year, even as climate change, pollution and erosion threaten its quality and availability. But until now, most countries have relied on traditional, man-made water management systems such as reservoirs, irrigation canals and water treatment plants. The study considers the many benefits of natural water “infrastructure” — like wetlands, urban gardens and sustainable farming practices — and finds that very little investment has gone into these greener water management options. 

Stefan Uhlenbrook, coordinator of UNESCO’s World Water Assessment Program, which authored the study, notes, “Green solutions can meet several water management solutions at the same time — improving water management, while also reducing floods or droughts. Improving access to water.” He also points to multiple benefits outside the water sector, to “help store carbon, create jobs — particularly in rural environments. They can also help increase biodiversity, which is also very essential.”

Striking a balance

The goal, UNESCO says, is not to scrap traditional water management options like dikes, but instead to strike the right balance between man-made systems and those relying more on Mother Nature. 

Some places are starting to do that. New York City saves hundreds of millions of dollars yearly in water treatment and maintenance by protecting vast, natural watersheds. China plans to build pilot initiatives that recycle rainwater for urban consumption. 

Some communities are building artificial wetlands to fight flooding and pollution. Others, like the Indian state of Rajasthan, have adopted more sustainable soil and water management practices that boost harvests and fight drought — growing challenges in the future. 

Uhlenbrook says these are important steps. “We have to grow some 50 percent more food in the next 30-40 years. We have to think of how to do that without cutting more forests, cutting more trees and trying to develop more land — which is hardly possible in many places around the world.” 

Experts say greener water management can help to increase agricultural production by 20 percent — which may prove key in feeding a global population expected to reach nearly 10 billion by 2050.


Indonesia to Effectively Continue Fuel Subsidy

Indonesian president Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has instructed ministers to keep fuel prices stable over the next two years, said Energy Minister Ignasius Jonan, which would, in effect, continue a controversial fuel subsidy scheme that analysts say has negatively impacted growth and the environment. 

The Ministry said it would increase the per-liter subsidy for diesel and regular petrol from 500 Indonesian rupiah (about $0.35) to 700-1000 rupiah ($0.49-$0.70) while keeping pump prices unchanged.

The measure indicates how protectionist measures have been hard to shake for the initially reform-minded Jokowi, who made several inroads against subsidies in 2014 and 2015. 

Meanwhile, the rupiah continues to sink in the global market, due in part to Indonesia’s widening current-account deficit. On Monday, Credit Suisse said “the rupiah is among the most vulnerable emerging market currencies in Asia.”

Political Context

“Subsidizing fuel does tend to exacerbate currency depreciation, because the bulk of Indonesia’s petrol is imported,” said Kevin O’Rourke, a veteran Indonesian political analyst. “Fixed retail prices cause over-consumption, as the price remains the same even though the currency is declining; ordinarily, what should happen is that petrol prices rise as the currency declines, thereby discouraging consumption of the imports.”

In 2014, the year he was elected president, Jokowi raised fuel prices and capped the diesel subsidy within months of taking office. Last year he also pushed to phase out electricity subsidies, but was already facing pushback from consumers amid rising inflation. Consumer expectations are perhaps looming larger now that he is in the latter half of his term, and gearing up for a competitive reelection campaign in 2019. 

“Widodo hopes to keep retail prices stable through the April 2019 election, despite the gap between the Indonesia Crude Price (ICP) and the budget’s oil price assumption,” said O’Rourke. “Ostensibly, this subsidization aims to preserve consumer purchasing power; in reality, Widodo clearly hopes to avoid sacrificing popularity ahead of his re-election bid.” Ironically, he said, artificially low fuel prices end up creating inflation anyway, since people tend to then over-consume imported petrol, which further sinks the rupiah.

The subsidy may also imperil Indonesia’s public transport ambitions, said Jakarta-based energy policy researcher Lucky Lontoh. “Jokowi’s massive infrastructure development actually was started with a fuel subsidy reduction back in 2014, which freed some fiscal space needed to fund the infrastructure projects. More subsidies means the government will have less money to fund other development activities.” 

Environmental Impact

Fuel subsidies are considered a regressive form of spending because their benefits are captured by people wealthy enough to drive and own vehicles, said Paul Burke, an economist at Australian National University who focuses on energy and transportation. 

But they also aggravate traffic jams — including in cities like the notoriously traffic-choked Jakarta — air pollution, and oil dependence, said Burke, citing a recent paper he authored on the topic. 

Burke said Indonesia’s substantial progress on electricity subsidies are a hopeful sign and possible roadmap for fuel subsidy reform. 

“Over recent years, Indonesia has achieved substantial success in reducing electricity subsidies, by increasing some electricity tariffs to cost-reflective levels,” he said. “Poor households are among those that have been exempted from the reforms… [which] have made an important contribution to improving the efficiency of Indonesia’s electricity use. As electricity prices have increased, electricity use has shifted to a lower-growth trajectory. This has helped Indonesia to avoid the need to build too many expensive new power stations.”

In the fuel realm, Burke said a reform option that economists often suggest is a “fuel excise,” which is a tax on the sale of fuel and the opposite of a fuel subsidy. “Fuel excise would be a progressive form of revenue raising, would help to reduce pollution and traffic jams, and would help Indonesia reduce its budget deficit and fund key priorities.”

Fossil fuel subsidies have existed in Indonesia since its independence in 1949 and, per the International Energy Agency, accounted for nearly 20 percent of fiscal expenditure by the 1960’s. In that context, the reforms of modern-day Indonesia and the Jokowi administration are not inconsiderable: by 2014, about 3 percent of the GDP was spent on fossil fuel subsidies, and by 2016, after Jokowi’s initial spate of reforms, it was less than 1 percent. 

But, due to consumer expectations, the political climate, and the unique challenges of the fuel industry — Indonesia both has a lot of natural resources itself and a burgeoning consumer class — the current subsidy apparatus may prove sticky for the near future. 


Біатлон: Юлія Джима завершила сезон п’ятим місцем у гонці переслідування

Лідер збірної України з біатлону Юлія Джима фінішувала п’ятою в гонці переслідування, яка завершила жіночу змагальну програму на восьмому етапі Кубка світу в норвезькому Голменколлені. Джима припустилася двох промахів на вогневих рубежах.

Перемогла в гонці білоруска Дарія Домрачева, яка випередила на останньому колі іншу сильну екс-росіянку, Анастасію Кузьміну зі Словаччини. Третьою стала американка С’юзан Данклі.

Для Джими етап у Голменколлені став дуже успішним – вона фінішувала серед найсильніших в обох особистих гонках, у спринті в четвер Юлія стала бронзовою призеркою.

На відміну від неї, українська естафета, в якій також змагалися Анастасія Меркушина та сестри Валя й Віта Семеренки, зробила крок назад, фінішувавши 17 березня восьмою.

У програмі змагань у Голменколлені 18 березня залишилася одна гонка – чоловіча естафета. У ній Україну представлять Артем Прима, Руслан Ткаленко, Дмитро Підручний та Володимир Сємаков. Початок змагання – о 15:45 за Києвом.

Для збірної України змагання в Голменколлені є останніми в сезоні. До російської Тюмені на фінал сезону команда не їде.