Macrocosm

Fall Election?

Prime Minister Jean Chrétien is itching to call an election this fall to take advantage of a booming economy and the positive afterglow of his groundbreaking health accord with the provinces, senior Liberals say. Party pollsters have told the Liberals they could win a third majority government if the election were held now, and insiders say Mr. Chrétien is sorely tempted to take advantage of the party’s wide lead in public support. Still, with Parliament having resumed yesterday, most Liberals expect the Prime Minister will wait until spring to call the general election. Many of his advisers and most of his caucus are urging caution.

The conventional wisdom is that he has no pressing issue on which to base an election call, and voters would punish him for calling it early. But ultimately, Mr. Chrétien will call the election if, in his calculation, the risk of waiting outweighs the risk of going to the polls three and a half years after the last election. His window for a fall election call, if it comes, is tight since it’s unlikely he’d want the 35-day campaign to stretch into December.

—Courtesy of The Globe and Mail

Shuttle Atlantis Stocks Up International Space Station

Space shuttle Atlantis’ astronauts closed the doors to the international space station on Sunday after accomplishing all their chores and more. Expedition One, the first permanent space station crew, is scheduled to blast off October 30 aboard a Russian rocket and arrive at the complex two days later for a four-month stay. During their five days inside, the shuttle astronauts stocked the space station with more than 6,000 pounds of food, clothes, soap, toothbrushes, ear plugs, pens, notebooks, trash bags, radios, vacuum cleaners, power converters and other gear. The seven men installed the toilet, oxygen generator and treadmill in the new Russian-built living quarters and, during an excursion outside last Monday, hooked up power and TV cables. They also plugged in fresh batteries and boosted the station into a 240-mile-high orbit, about 14 miles higher than before.

—Courtesy of Associated Press

Brazil Model in Fight Against Aids

An estimated 580,000 people out of Brazil’s population of 167 million are HIV-positive. Two decades ago, when the first cases of AIDS emerged in Brazil, health experts forecast that by now, the human immunodeficiency virus would afflict at least 1.2 million Brazilians. Instead, infection rates have returned to 1995 levels. At the heart of Brazil’s success is its drug-distribution program. Begun in 1992, it became dramatically more far-reaching when the government decided to manufacture its own anti-AIDS drugs. Today, government labs churn out five generic AIDS medications. Brazil will spend $400 million this year to distribute medicines to 81,000 AIDS patients. The government role has driven prices down. Since 1996, the price of AIDS drugs manufactured only by international corporations has dipped by 9 percent in Brazil. But the cost of those medications that must compete with Brazilian generic brands has plummeted by 72 percent. A typical treatment of antiretroviral drugs—the medicines used in AIDS cocktails—costs Brazil $4,162 US per patient per year; in the United States, similar treatment generally costs about $15,000 US.

—Courtesy of The Washington Post Skyrocketing Oil Prices Prompt International Review of Economy

The price of oil surged again last Friday, returning to the $33-a-barrel mark, as the head of the World Bank gave warning that higher fuel costs could seriously damage global growth.

Mounting tensions in the Middle East helped to send the price of London Brent crude up by more than a dollar, with the US cautioning Iraq that it would use military force if Baghdad threatened Kuwait, its neighbour. The latest price jump came as James Wolfensohn, President of the World Bank, predicted that higher oil prices could cut up to 0.5 percentage points from global growth. Developing countries are set to suffer even more, with growth falling by as much as 0.75 percentage points. The International Monetary Fund (IMF), is also expected to give warning of the effect of oil prices on global growth in its biannual assessment of the world economy, to be released next week.

Preliminary leaks of the IMF’s forecasts suggest that, despite the rising oil price, the organization will forecast global growth of 4.7 per cent for this year. This would be the best performance in 12 years and would exceed the IMF’s April forecast by half a percentage point.

—Courtesy of The London Times

Genomics and Individualism?

Celera Genomics Inc., the Maryland-based company working to map every single human gene, said Wednesday it had found 2.4 million of the little changes that make one person different from another. These differences — known as single nucleotide polymorphisms, or SNPs — each represent a single change in the 3 billion letters that make up the human genetic code.

Earlier this month, the publicly funded Human Genome Project and the public/private SNP consortium, which includes 10 major pharmaceutical companies, announced that they had found 800,000 different SNPs (pronounced snips), and that 400,000 of those were different from those identified by Celera. That brings the total of known SNPs to 2.8 million. Scientists hope to eventually use SNPs to find out why one person develops problems such as heart disease and another does not.

—Courtesy of Los Angeles Times

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