Tales from the Trail

Qat joins al Qaeda as Yemen threat

YEMEN-QAT/U.S. lawmakers, convening a meeting on Wednesday to discuss the threat posed by al Qaeda in Yemen, found themselves focused on another problem stalking the impoverished Arab country:  the mild drug qat, which permeates Yemeni society.

Rep.  Howard Berman, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, launched the discussion of Yemen’s drug problem in his opening remarks, noting that qat was “a narcotic plant that produces feelings of euphoria and stimulation, but ultimately undermines individual initiative — sort of like being in Congress.”

Berman noted that many people chew qat regularly  in Yemen — pushed close to the top of the U.S. security watchlist after the Christmas Day bombing attempt on a U.S. airliner by a Nigerian with Yemeni links  –  and that cultivation of the drug consumes about 40 percent of Yemen’s fast diminishing agricultural water supplies.

The focus on qat continued with Rep. Gary Ackerman, who mused that Yemen’s drug habit might be undercutting its readiness to sign on to a more forceful campaign against al Qaeda militants within its borders.

“These people spend the afternoon getting away from reality, getting high…it’s like, wow,” Ackerman said.

from Maggie Fox:

Swine flu update

WHO has given up on trying to keep any kind of precise count on swine flu, which is just about everywhere now. It's fairly mild but hardly anyone has any immunity, so it will infect far more people than seasonal flu does in an average year. That may mean more serious cases and more deaths than usual, just by virtue of sheer numbers.

It is affecting lots of kids but there are some clear guidelines for health care workers to protect themselves and their families.

Lots of companies are working on vaccines, which likely will not be ready for most countries  until the middle of October.  In the meantime, most patients do not need any treatment at all. People with diabetes, asthma, pregnant women and children who seem to have trouble breathing need prompt treatment, however, and the good news is the antiviral drugs still work well.