Archive for May 15th, 2009
In a House appropriations subcommittee hearing yesterday with Secretary Vilsack on the stand, Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) called out industrial livestock operations as “threats to human health” because of their pollution and contribution to antibiotic resistance. (See this post for more background on resistant bugs.) Vilsack sided with Big Meat, claiming the companies are “first and foremost… concerned for the safety of their consumers.” Asked if USDA had plans to reform livestock production to avoid some of the negative impacts, Vilsack offered little more than some rhetorical pabulum for reps to chew on. (Des Moines Register)
Congresswoman De Lauro (D-CT) also apparently questioned Vilsack on the CAFO issue, raising a Tulsa, OK news article that fingered local CAFOs for environmental pollution and noted that they were bringing in big subsidy money from the USDA. Why should USDA should continue to reward such behavior? Vilsack’s reported response: “You really don’t want to go down that road.”
For those of us who don’t want a side of drug-resistant bacteria with our chicken, more worrisome is the strong rumor that Vilsack will name University of Georgia researcher Mike Doyle as the head of the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service. Doyle is a longtime friend to Big Meat and has argued that feeding healthy livestock low doses of antibiotics helps keep the food system “safe.” Can’t say that makes us feel better. (Grist via Obama Foodorama)
I’m throwing out my BPA-containing Nalgene glasses because of this post from the Ethicurean:
The proof is in the pee? Bisphenol A (BPA) is suspected to be an endocrine disruptor and a potential cause of numerous chronic diseases, leading to various efforts to ban its use. A newly released study by researchers at Harvard and the Centers for Disease Control finds bottles made from BPA lead to BPA uptake by humans, with some of it being excreted in urine. The researchers had 77 Harvard College students drink cold beverages from stainless steel bottles for one week, then from BPA-containing polycarbonate bottles during the following week, with periodic urine sample collection for analysis. Use of the polycarbonate bottles led to a 69% increase in the subjects’ urinary concentration of BPA. (Environmental Health Perspectives)
Interesting post at Food Politics:
Who is responsible for food safety? You are!
Or so says ConAgra, apparently. The New York Times reports that ConAgra, unable to locate the source of Salmonella in its frozen dinners (oops), deals with the problem by telling you to heat the dinner to 165 degrees and use a thermometer to make sure you do. The Times tried this. Not so easy. Oops again.
Mind you, it makes sense for everyone to follow standard food safety procedures at home. These, you may recall, involve doing four things in your kitchen: CLEAN – wash hands and preparation surfaces frequently and thoroughly, SEPARATE cooked from uncooked foods so they don’t get cross-contaminated, COOK food to appropriate temperature to kill harmful microbes, and promptly CHILL foods in the refrigerator to retard bacterial growth.
Shouldn’t we expect ConAgra and everyone else to produce safe food in the first place? And don’t we need some regulation to make sure companies do? I think so. Now.
Since House Democrats this afternoon released their finalized version of legislation aiming to mitigate America’s role in global climate change, the response from environmentalists has been, well, not very encouraging. Here’s the statement just issued by Greenpeace:
Despite the best efforts of [Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif)], this bill has been seriously undermined by the lobbying of industries more concerned with profits than the plight of our planet. While science clearly tells us that only dramatic action can prevent global warming and its catastrophic impacts, this bill has fallen prey to political infighting and industry pressure. We cannot support this bill in its current state.
We mentioned earlier a few of the reasons that environmentalists are up in arms over the bill, which was diluted to attract support from a number of fossil-fuel-friendly Democrats on the E&C panel. Heightening their concerns, the advocates don’t see this proposal as a first step in some incremental process toward cutting emissions (or else they’d probably support it). Rather, the feeling is that if lawmakers this year pass reforms calling for 17 percent carbon reductions by 2020 (as mandated by the bill), they aren’t going to return next year to bump that figure to 20 or 25 percent — where many observers think the threshold should be. That’s the reason environmentalists are calling for Democrats to scrap this proposal and start the process anew — this time focusing their climate change bill on alleviating climate change, not catering to the polluters causing climate change.
Bill opponents might yet be in luck. That’s because even in its watered down state, the Waxman bill is still too radical for most Republicans to swallow. That won’t matter so much in the House, but this thing might easily die in the Senate.
Chewable aspirin is absorbed faster and is more effective than regular aspirin that is either swallowed whole or chewed and then swallowed, a new study shows.
This "seemingly quite simple finding" could lead to improvements in the care of heart attack patients, researchers say.
Sean Nordt, MD, of the University of California, San Diego, and colleagues, gave three different types of aspirin to 14 people between ages of 20 and 61. One group was given regular solid aspirin tablets and told to swallow the pills whole. Another was given regular aspirin tablets and told to chew the pills before swallowing. A third group was given chewable aspirin tablets, and swallowing occurred during chewing.
The researchers then measured levels of aspirin in the blood; researchers say the chewable aspirin consistently showed the greatest and fastest absorption rates…
As the teaching of penmanship dies away, young writers lose the benefit of good instruction and, like all self-taught practitioners, fall prey to common errors. One common error for writers (discussed in this Lifehacker.com post) is to hold the pen or pencil in a death grip, fatiguing the hand muscles and leading to cramping. In penmanship classes, the teacher normally stresses how lightly the writing instrument is held—like a live bird: closely enough that it doesn’t escape, but not so tightly as to distress (or kill) the bird. The teacher should be able to lean over the writing student and pluck the pen or pencil from his (or her) grasp without effort. If there is great resistance—if, for example, pulling up the pencil lifts the writing hand as well—then the grip is too tight.
Earlier this month, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) and House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA) sent a letter to President Obama regarding the Middle East peace process. The letter says that the U.S. “must be both a trusted mediator and a devoted friend to Israel,” adding that “Israel will be taking the greatest risks in any peace agreement.” The Washington Post’s Al Kamen writes today about a discovery he made when opening the computer file version of the letter, in an item titled “Now, That’s Lobbying”:
Curiously, when we opened the attachment, we noticed it was named “AIPAC Letter Hoyer Cantor May 2009.pdf.”
Seems as though someone forgot to change the name or something. AIPAC? The American Israel Public Affairs Committee? Is that how this stuff works?
Matt Yglesias observes, “It is worth noting, however, that while public talk at the AIPAC conference was about devotion to peace, the substance of this letter is to try to make people think there will be a domestic price to be paid for any serious effort to push for a solution. This is similar to how Israel’s land grabs in-and-around Jerusalem are at odds with the Israeli government’s public presentation of itself as interested in peace and disturbed by the lack of a credible partner.”
President Barack Obama has nominated a lawyer for the nation’s largest toxic polluters to run the enforcement of the nation’s environmental laws. On Tuesday, Obama “announced his intent to nominate” Ignacia S. Moreno to be Assistant Attorney General for the Environment and Natural Resources Division in the Department of Justice. Moreno, general counsel for that department during the Clinton administration, is now the corporate environmental counsel for General Electric, “America’s #1 Superfund Polluter“:
Number five in the Fortune 500 with revenues of $89.3 billion and earnings of $8.2 billion in 1997, General Electric has been a leader in the effort to roll back the Superfund law and stave off any requirements for full cleanup and restoration of sites they helped create.
This February, General Electric lost an eight-year battle to “prove that parts of the Superfund law are unconstitutional.” One of the 600-person DOJ environmental division’s “primary responsibilities is to enforce federal civil and criminal environmental laws such as” the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, and the Superfund.
Before General Electric, Moreno worked as a corporate attorney at Spriggs and Hollingsworth. Moreno’s name is found in the Westlaw database as an attorney defending General Motors in another Superfund case, the GM Powertrain facility in Bedford, Indiana:
Historical uses and management of PCB containing hydraulic oils and PCB impacted materials has contaminated on-site areas as well as the sediment and floodplain soil within Bailey’s Branch and the Pleasant Run Creek watershed.
Although General Motors entered into an agreement in 2001 with the EPA to clean up the site, a number of local residents whose land has been contaminated by polychorinated biphenyls (PCBs) have sued for damages in Allgood v. GM (now Barlow v. GM), in a contentious and caustic dispute over cleanup, monitoring, and lost property values.
During the Clinton administration, Moreno was involved in another controversial case, unsuccessfully defending the Secretary of Commerce’s decision to weaken the dolphin-safe tuna standard. In Brower v. Daley, Earth Island Institute, The Humane Society of the United States, and other individuals and organizations brought suit against the United States government for actions that were “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, and contrary to law,” winning their case in 2000.
$1 million per day—pretty soon you’re talking real money. Scott Sloan reports:
Lexmark International released the results of a survey this week that suggests that the federal government wastes more than $1 million daily on printing.
The study, based on the survey as well as federal and Lexmark’s proprietary printing data, suggests that the government spends nearly $1.3 billion annually on employee printing, and nearly $450 million of that is described as wasteful.
The Lexington-based company noted that the amount of waste is more than four times the $100 million that President Barack Obama has called upon federal agency chiefs to eliminate from their administrative budgets.
"We thought this would be a great way to show some opportunity for cost savings that wouldn’t require cutting programs," said Brian Henderson, Lexmark’s federal information solutions director.
The survey of 380 federal government employees, conducted in March by O’Keeffe & Company, reported that 92 percent say they don’t need all the documents they print in a day.
The average federal employee will print 7,200 pages annually, the company said, and discard 35 percent of them on the same day they’re printed…
Avery Palmer reports for Congressional Quarterly:
House energy legislation would give away the vast majority of pollution allowances to industries and states, in a departure from President Obama’s proposal to auction them, according to a summary of the bill released Friday.
The Energy and Commerce Committee plans to mark up the bill Monday.
Democrats on the panel have mostly resolved disputes over how to distribute allowances to industry under the bill’s cap-and-trade program. To meet the bill’s cap on greenhouse gas emissions, businesses could either reduce pollution or purchase allowances from other companies.
These allowances would be valuable commodities representing the right to emit greenhouse gases. An early EPA estimate found they would be worth $13 to $17 per ton of emissions in 2015. With a cap in the neighborhood of 5 billion tons, this would make the total pool of allowances worth tens of billions of dollars.
In the early years of the program, the government would auction 15 percent of the allowances and use the proceeds to compensate the public for higher energy costs. Of the remaining allowances, well over half would be distributed to industry.
At the same time, lawmakers have said the bill will ensure that allocations to electric utilities — 35 percent of the total — will be passed on to consumers in the form of lower prices. Natural gas distribution companies would receive 9 percent of the allowances for a similar purpose, and states would receive 1.5 percent to benefit users of home heating oil.
Daniel J. Weiss, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress Action Fund, said the public will still benefit even though many of the allowances go to industry. “It’s a different means to accomplish the same end,” he said.
Coal-fired utilities would receive additional allowances, beginning at 2 percent of the available allowances and rising to 5 percent, to install and operate carbon sequestration technologies. The automobile industry would receive 3 percent of allowances to invest in electric vehicles and other advances…
Four U.S. contractors affiliated with the company formerly known as Blackwater Worldwide fired on an approaching civilian vehicle in Kabul earlier this month, wounding at least two Afghan civilians, according to the company and the U.S. military.
The off-duty contractors were involved in a car accident around 9 p.m. on May 5 and fired on the approaching vehicle they believed to be a threat, according to the U.S. military. At least some of the men, who were former military personnel, had been drinking alcohol that evening, according to a person familiar with the incident. Off-duty contractors aren’t supposed to carry weapons or drink alcohol.
The incident occurred as the U.S. is facing rising outrage from Afghan leaders over civilian casualties from U.S. air strikes. For Xe, which is the name Blackwater chose earlier this year to distance itself from its controversial security work in Iraq, the shooting comes as the Obama administration and Defense Secretary Robert Gates reconsider the role of military contractors, a practice that boomed during the Bush administration.
The contractors were trainers hired by Paravant LLC, a little-known subsidiary of Xe. Paravant has terminated contracts with the four men "for failure to comply with the terms of their contract," according to Xe spokeswoman Anne Tyrrell. "Contractual and or legal violations will not be tolerated," she said.
The contractors were ordered not to leave Afghanistan without permission of the Defense Department, she said, and the company is cooperating with authorities…
And if not, why do we fund the agency. Take a look at this:
And then note this by Spencer Ackerman in the Washington Independent:
In the [Obama administration's] view, a commission would expose secrets without any means of determining whether they’re properly protected or not, and they’ve been warned that the nation’s spy services would simply cease to function effectively if they’re forced to surrender exacting details about their immediate past conduct. The administration further worries that the Commission would be carried out in the context of vengeance and would not focus the rage on lessons learned for the future. This, again, is the point of view senior administration officials; it may or may not be my own.
My emphasis. On the effectiveness point, the history of the CIA is a history of telling Congress that looking at its operations too deeply will cause the entire apparatus to shatter. If it’s true, then the nation isn’t getting what it should be getting for its $50 billion annual intelligence budget anyway. But it’s a dubious point. The CIA did not cease to function “effectively” after the Church/Pike commissions in the 70s; after the 9/11 Commission and the Silberman/Robb Commission and the Intelligence Reform Act of the 2000s. It entered periods of adjustment after its excesses were exposed. Many if not most of those excesses resulted from the magical thinking of policymakers, a point often lost in the rush to blame CIA for assorted failings.
But speaking of those commissions. The recent history of the United States proves that it’s possible to have a thoroughgoing inquiry about the most politically explosive and potentially toxic events in American history and emerge with a consensus. The 9/11 Commission was not without its flaws, but it demonstrated that a group of wise men can avoid rancor, maintain the good faith of both political parties, display independence, yield an authoritative history of an American trauma and do this all in an election year.
That commission didn’t recommend prosecutions. Indeed, it labored to avoid placing guilt, to the point of copping out. That may or may not be appropriate in this case — let an investigation determine that conclusion — and I’m don’t mean to suggest that a truth commission on torture needs to follow the 9/11 Commission to the “T.” But its example refutes the idea that a commission into torture is necessarily an instrument of persecution and vindictiveness. That’s probably why its executive director favors repeating the experience.
Now he likes the military commissions he campaigned against. Glenn Greenwald has a good column, which begins:
It now appears definitive that the Obama administration will attempt to preserve a "modified" version of George Bush’s military commissions, rather than try suspected terrorists in our long-standing civilian court system or a court-martial proceeding under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Obama officials have been dispatched to insist to journalists (anonymously, of course) that Obama’s embrace of "new and improved" military commissions is neither inconsistent with the criticisms that were voiced about Bush’s military commission system nor with Obama’s prior statements on this issue. It is plainly not the case that these "modifications" address the core criticisms directed to what Bush did, nor is it the case that Obama’s campaign position on this issue can be reconciled with what he is now doing. Just read the facts below and decide for yourself if that is even a plausible claim…
Continue reading. Obama seems quick to adopt positions that he aggressively campaigned against. This is not good.
From the YouTube description:
In 1969, the US Senate had a hearing on funding the proposed Corporation for Public Broadcasting, but President Nixon wanted it cut in half for the Vietnam War. Sometimes nice guys do win some.
Here’s the testimony: