Scientists Detect Flu Strain
In East Asian Migratory Birds
The strain of bird flu responsible for the deaths of tens of millions of chickens and 54 people in East Asia over the past two years is now circulating in long-distance migratory birds, potentially opening a way for the deadly virus to reach India, Australia and Europe.
That is the conclusion of two research teams whose findings were rushed into print Wednesday by the rival journals Science and Nature.
Spread of the virus beyond its current home in China and neighboring countries could cause billions of dollars in losses to poultry farmers around the world. It could also give influenza A/H5N1 -- the virus's formal name -- further opportunity to adapt to human as well as avian hosts, a development that theoretically could lead to a global flu epidemic.
Until now, the H5N1 virus has chiefly attacked chickens and ducks in farms and markets. It also killed a small number of birds in two Hong Kong nature parks in late 2002, and since then it has been found sporadically in hawks, herons and swans. Those birds presumably acquired it from direct contact with poultry.
Now, however, it appears the virus is being transmitted among wild birds that have had no known contact with domesticated birds.
-- David Brown
Bush Bristles at Attacks
On Gonzales From Right
President Bush tried to quell the conservative criticism engulfing his longtime adviser, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, and lashed out at special interest groups for exploiting the debate over the next Supreme Court justice to raise funds.
In his first news conference since Justice Sandra Day O'Conner announced her retirement on July 2, Bush said he would not require her replacement to pass a test on abortion or same-sex marriage. He offered a robust defense of Gonzales, the one potential nominee who has stirred vigorous opposition among the president's own conservative supporters.
After Bush's stern warning, delivered Wednesday in Denmark from his first stop on last week's European trip, many conservatives ratcheted down their rhetoric or went silent altogether, but others ignored the president and pressed their attack on Gonzales for not aggressively opposing abortion and affirmative action. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) offered qualified words of support for Gonzales.
The continued focus on the attorney general underscored how the selection process has swiftly evolved into a Gonzales-or-someone-else choice. Whether Bush views it that way or not, senators and interest groups on both sides have concentrated their attention on Gonzales's record and perceived views on the theory that the president's friend and confidant has emerged as the front-runner.
-- Jim VandeHei and Peter Baker
New York Times Reporter
Jailed in CIA Leak Case
A federal judge ordered New York Times reporter Judith Miller to a suburban jail after she again refused to cooperate in an investigation of whether senior administration officials leaked a CIA operative's name in retaliation against an administration critic.
Time magazine reporter Matt Cooper avoided Miller's fate by agreeing in the same court hearing to cooperate with special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald's probe He said he received a surprise phone call from his government source who freed him to break their confidentiality agreement and tell a grand jury about their conversations in July 2003.
This battle centered on questions about President Bush's justification for taking the country to war, the reputations of two top media organizations, and allegations that someone in a bitter White House broke the law to strike back at a public critic.
It also posed painful questions for the press about whether journalists have falsely assumed they have an absolute legal right to promise anonymity to sources. Ultimately, the case even led to a philosophical rift within the Fourth Estate, with Time magazine yielding to Chief U.S. District Judge Thomas Hogan's order to turn over Cooper's reporting notes and Times editors saying they were wrong to do so.
-- Carol D. Leonnig
Study Doubts Prevention Boon
Of Aspirin, Vitamin E in Women
Neither low-dose aspirin nor Vitamin E supplements prevent cancer in women, and Vitamin E also does little or nothing to prevent heart disease in them, according to results of a large and authoritative study.
The findings from the nearly 40,000-person Women's Health Study add to the growing evidence that Vitamin E pills have no health benefit, but run counter to the rising tide in favor of wider use of aspirin to prevent disease.
The study hinted that the two compounds may offer some protection against disease in some women -- results that in the case of Vitamin E were already being touted by "dietary supplement" advocates. It is also possible that a higher dose of aspirin may have had a cancer-preventing effect not seen with the low dose used in the clinical trial. That is worth exploring, the researchers said. But for the moment their advice is against routine use of either substance by healthy women.
The decade-long $40 million study met both goals even though the substances under study proved largely ineffectual. The final report appears in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
-- David Brown
U.S. Resolution to Block
Oil Bid Decried by China
The Chinese government criticized the United States for threatening to erect barriers aimed at preventing the attempted takeover of the American oil company Unocal Corp. by one of China's three largest energy firms, CNOOC Ltd.
Four days after the House overwhelmingly approved a resolution urging the Bush administration to block the proposed transaction as a threat to national security, China's Foreign Ministry excoriated Congress for injecting politics into what it characterized as a standard business matter.
"We demand that the U.S. Congress correct its mistaken ways of politicizing economic and trade issues and stop interfering in the normal commercial exchanges between enterprises of the two countries," the Foreign Ministry said in a written statement.
CNOOC's bid comes as China's emerging force in the global economy continues to sow international tensions over competition for natural resources, impacts to the environment, trade balances and security relationships. The deal would be the latest in a string of Chinese purchases of foreign companies as Beijing encourages domestic firms to seek new markets abroad.
Already, CNOOC's bid has taken China across a new threshold: It has unleashed the first takeover battle between a Chinese company and a U.S. firm, the oil giant Chevron Corp., which has its own deal in hand to buy Unocal for $16.5 billion. If completed, CNOOC's purchase -- its bid is for $18.5 billion -- would stand as the largest foreign takeover ever by a Chinese firm.
-- Peter S. Goodman