Alaska's GOP Governor upset, CDC health workers recalled for emergency, Ag Dept. vet medicine workers brought back in Day 10 of the GOP's government shutdown.

MarvinGayeWhat'sGoingOnalbumcover courtesy wikipedia.jpg

"Can't find no work, can't find no job, my friend / Money is tighter than it's ever been / Say man, I just don't understand / What's going on across this land?”

— Marvin Gaye, “What’s Happening Brother?”

Like Marvin, frustrated, furloughed federal workers—as well as the millions of people whose health and livelihoods depend on them doing their jobs--are baffled that Congressional Republicans refuse to do the basic job of passing a budget. More incomprehensible is that this mule-headedness persists even though the damage the GOP is doing to the fabric of the country is becoming more and more apparent.  As public outcry grows over the loss of important government services, Republicans are introducing one bill after another to re-open the parks; give death benefits for soldiers killed in Afghanistan; fund medical research; support nutrition for women, infants and children; let kids get back into the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum; and more. Yet in their spare time, they’re blaming President Obama, the Pentagon, and anyone else they can find for the results of their own actions.

The once-hidden consequences of this mindless shutdown are starting to reveal themselves. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had to recall furloughed staff to deal with a major salmonella outbreak linked to raw chicken from California. The Agriculture Department recalled workers to prevent a shortage of important animal vaccines. Even the conservative Republican governor of Alaska was shocked, shocked that the National Wildlife Refuges are closed for hunting and fishing. 

It’s time for Congress to quit playing political games with people’s livelihoods and health and pass a straightforward spending bill to get our cancer scientists and health monitors and anti-pollution enforcers and, yes, park rangers, back on the job.

“Non-essential” CDC workers suddenly essential to fight “superbug” salmonella outbreak

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was apparently just as worried as I was that an alert for a major salmonella outbreak had been posted Monday amidst the shutdown--while 9,000 of CDC’s 13,000 workers were furloughed. Yesterday it was reported that CDC is hastily calling back a dozen or so experts on foodborne diseases to cope with the outbreak, which has been linked to raw chicken from three California packing plants and sickened nearly 300 people in 18 states.  The returning staff will look for new cases and analyze the outbreak and the characteristics of the microbe.  A CDC spokesman said that recall was prompted in part by the unusual virulence of the Salmonella strain—of 183 victims the agency has documented, 42 percent had been hospitalized, a high number.

Worse, this bug appears to be resistant to commonly used antibiotics, which can make it more dangerous to patients. The rise of antibiotic resistant “superbugs” is a large and growing problem, and one cause is the widespread use of antibiotics of farm animals—which accounts for 80 percent of the antibiotics sold in the United States.  Although the Food and Drug Administration has long acknowledged the risks to human health from overuse of antibiotics on livestock and poultry—especially animals that aren’t even sick—the agency has for years dragged its heels on taking meaningful action. FDA’s response to the problem of antibiotic resistance is to propose a loophole-laden set of voluntary recommendations for industry that industry is free to ignore.  This new outbreak is a wakeup call: FDA should move swiftly to impose mandatory restrictions on the improper use of antibiotics for speeding up animal growth. 

Alaska Governor: Keep your federal hands off my National Wildlife Refuges

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 Alaska’s only Congressman, Republican veteran Don Young, is apparently a fan of the government shutdown. He has repeatedly voted with his party against a “clean” funding bill, with no strings attached, to re-open the government.  And Alaska’s Republican Governor, Sean Parnell? Maybe not so much.  The governor, who once served as Lieutenant Governor to Gov. Sarah Palin (another big shutdown fan), picked up the phone last Friday and called Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell to complain that the Fish and Wildlife Service was shuttering all the national wildlife refuges in Alaska, favorite spots for Alaskan hunters and anglers.

Federal wildlife refuges around the country have been similarly closed to all comers. But Parnell told Jewell that Alaska—which has 16 NWRs covering more than 76 million acres, an area larger than the state of Arizona-- is a special case. “Whether it’s for hunting, fishing, or subsistence, Alaskans’ access opportunities cannot lawfully be curtailed due to a federal government shutdown,” Parnell said, according to a press release from his office, citing the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act under which he says federal lands and waters are to be open and accessible without fees or permits. Yesterday shutdown supporter Young, along with Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), wrote a letter to FWS complaining about the shutdown of the Alaska refuges.

Healthy food starts with healthy agency: Some furloughed USDA workers return to safeguard chickens, turkeys and livestock

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When he was Defense Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld used to talk about the unknown unknowns as worrisome because they represented the things that we don’t know we don’t know. The unknown unknowns apparently didn’t concern the Republicans who pushed the government into shutdown. But every day more of them are showing up.

Take, for example, the alarm bell rung recently by the American Veterinary Medical Association and major poultry groups. They sent letters to Congress complaining about the closure of the Center for Veterinary Biologics at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It’s responsible for ensuring the safety of animal vaccines and approving their release for commercial use.

Food-animal producers typically don’t keep a long-term supply on hand, so, with the USDA’s veterinary office closed, veterinarians and farmers would soon run out, leaving them unable to vaccinate poultry flocks or livestock herds. This, AMVA’s President Ron DeHaven wrote, would “endanger herd health, food safety and public health.”

Together, the groups pleaded with Congress to immediately restore the center’s funding. About a day ago, they learned USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack had abruptly deemed some of the center’s staff “excepted,” meaning they can return to work during the shutdown. Now vaccines will continue to be available.

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