Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for May 17th, 2013

What would be interesting to know

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As Paul Waldman writes in his article, the sheer magnitude of surveillance data available on you—cellphone and landline calls (numbers called, content, duration, frequency,…), credit card transactions, web-browsing history—sites, duration, etc.-, web-interaction history (all Facebook stuff, for example). . .

Think about it. Add in the CCTV surveillance cameras with facial-recognition software—and everything else that Waldman writes about.

Then consider: There is no safety in numbers. Our unconscious assumption is that analysts would drown in such a sea of data—but of course, the analysts will not be dealing with the data directly except by drill-down. The grunt work of seeking for patterns and connections will be done by software—initially hand-coded algorithms, then perhaps genetic programming—where the programs evolve in the desired directions, and perhaps neural nets. That would cost a lot, but a lot would be available to develop an All-Seeing Eye that could constantly monitor cyberspace/communications-space and flag as suspicious anything that fits certain criteria (probably state-secret criteria) as well as provide incredible market research for business/politics.

In other words, having such an enormous sea of data just makes it worse: then it becomes a treasure trove of information demanding good AI to mine. We’re well on our way, I bet.

Written by Leisureguy

17 May 2013 at 5:06 pm

It’s hard not to detest Congress

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Here’s an example.

Written by Leisureguy

17 May 2013 at 4:15 pm

Posted in Congress, Food

What a tangle web we weave when first we practice to deceive: Robert Clark Young edition

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Wow! This piece by Andrew Leonard in Salon is astonishing—and enthralling:

In the wee hours of the morning of January 27, 2013, a Wikipedia editor named “Qworty” made a series of 14 separate edits to the Wikipedia page for the late writer Barry Hannah, a well-regarded Southern writer with a taste for the Gothic and absurd.

Qworty cut paragraphs that included quotes from Hannah’s work. He removed 20 links to interviews, obituaries and reminiscences concerning Hannah. He cut out a list of literary prizes Hannah had won.

Two edits stand out. Qworty excised the phrase “and was regarded as a good mentor” from a sentence that started: “Hannah taught creative writing for 28 years at the University of Mississippi, where he was director of its M.F.A. program …” And he changed the cause of Hannah’s death from “natural causes” to “alcoholism.” But Hannah’s obituaries stated that he had died of a heart attack and been clean and sober for years before his death, while his role as a mentor was testified to in numerous memorials. (Another editor later removed the alcoholism edit.)

Taken all together, the edits strongly suggest a focused attempt to diminish Hannah’s legacy. But why? Who was Qworty and what axe did he have to grind with Hannah?

The answer to this question is on the one hand simple, almost trivial: Qworty turned out to be another author who had a long history of resenting Hannah. The late night Wikipedia edits are certainly not the first time that a writer’s ego has led to mischief. But the story is also important. Wikipedia is one of the jewels in the Internet’s crown, an amazing collective achievement, a mighty stab at realizing an awesome dream: a constantly updated repository for all human knowledge. It is created from the bottom up, a crowd-sourced labor of love by people who require no compensation for their work but also don’t need to jump through any qualifying hoops. Anyone can edit Wikipedia. Just create an account and start messing around! . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

17 May 2013 at 2:00 pm

Cops in the schools: People are missing the point

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Here’s yet another instance of a student—a minor, a kid—being arrested for a trivial prank. Do people now expect that nothing will ever go wrong and if it does, someone must pay? Can’t they just grow up and get over it? Remember the girl who did a science experiment out-of-doors in which no harm was done and no one was injured, and she was charged with a felony crime?

I expect many of these will be thrown out, but they serve their purpose: to teach and to demonstrate that everyone can immediately be arrested and harassed and possibly beaten and possibly sent to prison. The idea is train the populace to react as potential victims of the authorities, to fear the power of the authorities (very gratifying to the authorities, to be sure—thus attracting a certain sort of personality to positions of power, especial power over the people s/he sees daily). That’s the explicit idea of the stop-and-frisk harassment.

Why do you want a populace trained in this way? to be cowed? Well, it’s much easier to control large masses of people if they have first been trained to be cowed. Certainly that was the experience of South Africa in the last century, and of the American South in the century before that. I get the idea that authoritarian regimes pretty much depend on keeping the populace in a state of fear.

And that seems to be the state to which we’re headed. Cops in the school, training a new generation of children to fear the power of the police and their ability to detain and arrest and take to trial: that’s just another tactic. Terrorists—and even the threat of terrorists—are enormously useful in this training, as we’ve seen: people will give up pretty much all their rights if they are in a state of fear and “safety” is promised in exchange, though that “safety” of course requires, e.g., police officers arresting your children. (Don’t complain: you asked for it.) And we take another step toward becoming a cowed and fearful populace controlled by an elite minority. As little as 1%.

Controlling the government automatically means controlling the legal means of force, and if you control those, you might as well use them: that’s what it’s for. Keep the military busy! Keep the police and law enforcement busy! Tap everyone’s phone! Look for things, anything: you never know what you might find. Plus it’s also all great market research!

The first thing we do, we take the brakes off the banks—let them do whatever they want, because the money they make/steal all comes to us—well, 99% of it, anyway. And if they do get caught, slap ’em with a fine and let them get back to work. No penalties and no accountability: those slow things down.

/rant

 

Written by Leisureguy

17 May 2013 at 1:45 pm

Another look at Jonathan Karl’s unreliable reporting

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Paul Waldman at The American Prospect:

In case you’ve forgotten, what took Benghazi from “a thing Republicans keep whining about” to “Scandal!!!” was when some emails bouncing around between the White House, the CIA, and the State Department were passed to Jonathan Karl of ABC last Friday. The strange thing about it was that the emails didn’t contain anything particularly shocking—no crimes admitted, no malfeasance revealed. It showed 12 different versions of talking points as everybody edited them, but why this made it a “scandal” no one bothered to say. My best explanation is that just the fact of obtaining previously hidden information, regardless of its content, is so exciting to reporters that they just ran with it. They’re forever trying to get a glimpse behind the curtain, and when they do, they almost inevitably shout “Aha!” no matter what.

But then the problem comes. The White House decided to release a whole batch of emails related to the subject, and when they were examined, it turns out that what was given to Karl had been altered. Altered by whom, you ask? Altered by Karl’s source: Republican staffers on the House Oversight Committee, which had been given the emails by the White House (CBS’s Major Garrett confirmed this yesterday).

Let me just explain quickly in case you haven’t been following this, and then we’ll discuss what it means. Two changes to the emails were made, one in an email from Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes, and one from State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland. Rhodes actually wrote, “We need to resolve this in a way that respects all the relevant equities, particularly the investigation.” That was changed to, “We must make sure that the talking points reflect all agency equities, including those of the State Department, and we don’t want to undermine the FBI investigation.” In the Nuland email, she actually wrote, “the penultimate point could be abused by Members to beat the State Department for not paying attention to Agency [CIA] warnings so why do we want to feed that either?,” which was changed to, “The penultimate point is a paragraph talking about all the previous warnings provided by the Agency about al-Qaeda’s presence and activities of al-Qaeda.”

So the changes have the effect of making it look like 1) the CIA was tying the attack to al Qaeda, but the State Department wanted to play that down publicly, and 2) the White House was taking special pains to protect the State Department. Neither of these things appear to be true, but there’s a logic to the Republican staffers wanting to paint that picture. Their argument, after all, is that the wrongdoing here consists of the White House (Obama!) and State Department (Clinton!) trying to fool everyone in America into thinking Benghazi wasn’t a terrorist attack, because Obama’s re-election hinged on the false belief that he had defeated al Qaeda forever, and if there’s any al Qaeda left then Mitt Romney would have won. And yes, that’s ridiculous, but it’s what many conservatives seem to believe. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

17 May 2013 at 12:32 pm

Trying to puzzle out terrorist motivations: Is it because “they hate our freedoms”?

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George W. Bush famously explained the reasons why terrorist act: They hate our freedoms. An alternative motivation becomes available with the explicit written explanation by one of the Boston bombers. Ray McGovern at ConsortiumNews.org:

Quick, somebody tell CIA Director John Brennan about the handwriting on the inside wall of the boat in which Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was hiding before Boston-area police riddled it and him with bullets. Tell Brennan that Tsarnaev’s note is in plain English and that it needs neither translation nor interpretation in solving the mystery: “why do they hate us?”

And, if Brennan will listen, remind him of when his high school teachers, the Irish Christian Brothers, taught him the meaning of “handwriting on the wall” in the Book of Daniel and why it became an idiom for predetermined, imminent doom.

CBS senior correspondent John Miller, who before joining CBS served in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, broke the handwritten-note story Thursday onCBS This Morning. He described what Dzhokhar Tsarnaev scribbled on the side of the boat as he lay bleeding “from multiple gunshot wounds” in the boat. Here, according to Miller’s sources, is what Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s note said:“The [Boston] bombings were in retribution for the U.S. crimes in places like Iraq and Afghanistan [and] that the victims of the Boston bombing were collateral damage, in the same way innocent victims have been collateral damage in U.S. wars around the world.  Summing up, that when you attack one Muslim you attack all Muslims.”

My experience with now-CBS-This-Morning’s Charlie Rose is that he does listen closely. Thus, I believe it is to his credit that he seemed determined, with his follow-up question, to drive home what I think is by far the most important point:

Co-anchor Charlie Rose: “Does it [the note] answer questions about motives?”

Miller: “Well it does … there it is in black and white – literally.”

Co-anchor Norah O’Donnell: “But they still believe he was self-radicalized and not part of a larger group, right?”

Miller: “That’s right. …”

Note to CIA Director Brennan

If you didn’t understand much about such motives three years ago, after Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab tried to down an airliner over Detroit on Christmas Day 2009, here’s a chance to learn. I actually felt embarrassed for you when you – then-White House counter-terrorism adviser – were asked on Jan. 7, 2010, two weeks after the almost-catastrophe over Detroit, to explain why people want to kill Americans. I’m sure you remember; it turned out to be Helen Thomas’s swan song.

It took the questioning of the then-89-year old veteran correspondent Thomas to show how little you were willing to share (or how little you knew) about what leads terrorists to do what they do. As her catatonic White House press colleagues took their customary dictation, Thomas posed an adult query that spotlighted the futility of government plans to counter terrorism with more high-tech gizmos and intrusions on the liberties and privacy of the traveling public.

She asked why Abdulmutallab did what he did: “And what is the motivation? We never hear what you find out on why.” It was a highly revealing dialogue; this is how it went. Remember?

You: “Al-Qaeda is an organization that is dedicated to murder and wanton slaughter of innocents. … They attract individuals like Mr. Abdulmutallab and use them for these types of attacks. He was motivated by a sense of religious sort of drive. Unfortunately, al-Qaeda has perverted Islam, and has corrupted the concept of Islam, so that he’s (sic) able to attract these individuals. But al-Qaeda has the agenda of destruction and death.”

Thomas: “And you’re saying it’s because of religion?”

You: “I’m saying it’s because of an al-Qaeda organization that used the banner of religion in a very perverse and corrupt way.”

Thomas: “Why?”

You: “I think this is a — long issue, but al-Qaeda is just determined to carry out attacks here against the homeland.”

Thomas: “But you haven’t explained why.”

Actually, there is a ton of information explaining why people try, for example, to explode bombs in Times Square, in airliners over Detroit, in remote CIA outposts in Afghanistan just to kill Americans, even when it means killing themselves. [See, for example, Consortiumnews.com’s “Answering Helen Thomas on Why.”]

It was painful to watch you suggest on Jan. 7, 2010, that, apparently in some mysterious way, some folks are hard-wired at birth for the “wanton slaughter of innocents,” and your contention that – in the case of Abdulmutallab – al-Qaeda/Persian Gulf was able to jump-start that privileged 23-year old Nigerian, inculcate in him the acquired characteristics of a terrorist, and persuade him to do the bidding of al-Qaeda/Persian Gulf.

Your words were a real stretch as to how the well-heeled Abdulmutallab, without apparent prior terrorist affiliations, was suddenly transformed into an international terrorist ready to die while killing innocents.

Perhaps no one told you that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

17 May 2013 at 12:23 pm

FBI working hard to make country less secure

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Talk about tunnel vision! The FBI is demanding that companies make their communications insecure so that the FBI won’t have to work so hard. Timothy Lee reports in the Washington Post:

The FBI is pushing for expanded power to eavesdrop on private Internet communications. The law enforcement agency wants to force online service providers to build wiretapping capabilities into their products. But a group of prominent computer security experts argues that mandating “back doors” in online communications products is likely to compromise the security of Americans’ computers and could even pose a threat to national security.

The fundamental problem is that eavesdropping facilities are a double-edged sword. They make it easier for the U.S. government to spy on the bad guys. But they also make it easier for the bad guys to hack our computers and spy on us. And, the researchers say, the Internet’s decentralized architecture makes it particularly hard to build effective and secure wiretapping capabilities online.

Since the 1994 Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA), telephone companies have been legally obligated to build wiretapping capabilities into their telecommunications equipment. But CALEA didn’t apply to Internet-based communications technologies. The result, the FBI says, is that its surveillance capabilities are “going dark,” as criminal suspects increasingly shift to digital communications platforms that don’t offer real-time interception capabilities.

In response, the government is reportedly seeking to impose CALEA-type requirements on Internet services. But rather than mandating the implementation of specific surveillance standards, as the original CALEA did, the government’s proposal would fine online service providers who failed to comply with a wiretapping request from the government — leaving it to each individual firm to decide the best way to comply.

Crucially, according to reporting by The Washington Post, the FBI proposal would apply even to “Internet phone calls conducted between two computer users without going through a central company server.” In a paper published Friday by the Center for Democracy and Technology, more than a dozen prominent computer security experts warn that such a requirement would be a disaster for the security of online communications.

If information isn’t flowing through a central server, then the only way to intercept it is to add surveillance software to the user’s PC. But popular software is constantly being probed by hackers seeking vulnerabilities they can exploit. The more complex a system, the more likely programmers are to make mistakes that could provide hackers with an opening. And surveillance features are particularly dangerous, the researchers argue.

“The cleverest and most dangerous cyber-attackers are those who are able to not only compromise a system but also to evade detection,” they write. “That is also precisely the objective of a government surveillance solution.”

Even worse, a huge number of companies could be forced to comply with the government’s proposed regulations. Ed Felten, a computer scientist at Princeton and one of the paper’s authors (and, full disclosure, my graduate adviser) points out that a growing number of companies are adding peer-to-peer communications capabilities to their products. For example, many multi-player video games include built-in facilities for players to communicate with each other in real time. . .

Continue reading. Later in the article:

Worst of all, the researchers say, the proposed mandate is unlikely to even be effective. People who want to evade surveillance will inevitably find ways to modify the software on their computers to deactivate the eavesdropping feature, just as many people today “jailbreak” their smartphones to activate forbidden features. Indeed, some popular communications software is open source, making it trivial to build a version of the software with the wiretapping feature removed. So an Internet wiretapping mandate will do little to help the government spy on the bad guys, while reducing security for everyone else.

The Federal government is starting to become a serious threat—no news to villagers in Pakistan, Yemen, Afghanistan, and so on.

Written by Leisureguy

17 May 2013 at 12:19 pm

Why the AP leak was a big deal

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Kevin Drum helps me understand the response of the Obama Administration—perhaps not an overreaction, but unfortunately Obama has poisoned the well by his vindictive pursuit of whistleblowers so he gets no trust on the subject.

Written by Leisureguy

17 May 2013 at 11:55 am

The overt vote-suppression efforts of the GOP continue

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This time in Ohio. The GOP really works hard to keep voters from going to the polls; I’m sure if they had the power they would discontinue voting altogether and go for a government staffed by appointments. Of course, they also don’t like appointments, as is shown by their refusal to confirm candidates for judgeships and Executive-Branch posts. Hunter Walker reports at TPMDC:

Republicans in the Ohio Legislature are pushing a plan that could cost the state’s public universities millions of dollars if they provide students with documents to help them register to vote. Backers of the bill describe it as intended to resolve discrepancies between residency requirements for tuition and voter registration, while Democrats and other opponents argue it is a blatant attempt at voter suppression in a crucial swing state.

“What the bill would do is penalize public universities for providing their students with the documents they need to vote,” Daniel Tokaji, a professor and election law expert at Ohio State University told TPM. “It’s a transparent effort at vote suppression — about the most blatant and shameful we’ve seen in this state, which is saying quite a lot.”

The legislation is a provision in the state budget that was backed by the Republican majority in the Ohio House of Representatives. It is now headed to the Ohio Senate, which also has a GOP majority.

Currently, Ohio requires voters to be “a resident of Ohio for at least 30 days immediately before the election in which you want to vote” and to provide photo identification, a current utility bill, a bank statement, current paycheck, current government check, or “an original or copy of a current other government document, other than a voter registration acknowledgement notification mailed by the board of elections, that shows the voter’s name and current address.” Students who live in dormitories and do not have state identification or a job or bank account in Ohio might not be able to meet this requirement even if they have lived in the state for over a month. Public universities provide letters or utility bills to students to help them meet the residency requirement for voter registration. If the legislation is passed, it would force schools that provide this documentation to charge out-of-state students the same tuition they charge students from Ohio.

This change would effectively eliminate out-of-state tuition, which is more expensive than the rates currently charged to students from Ohio. According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, university officials have said they will continue to provide the documentation even if this item remains in the state budget and a group called Innovation Ohio that opposes the legislation has estimated the will cost the schools about $272 million. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

17 May 2013 at 10:40 am

Posted in Election, GOP

Why generic drugs can be dangerous: Criminal manufacturers

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Corporations, as we are continually reminded by their actions, will do anything that increases profit. Here’s one horrendous example—and I imagine the company will happily pay a fine so long as they can continue to reap profits. Katherine Ebert at CNN Money:

On the morning of Aug. 18, 2004, Dinesh Thakur hurried to a hastily arranged meeting with his boss at the gleaming offices of Ranbaxy Laboratories in Gurgaon, India, 20 miles south of New Delhi. It was so early that he passed gardeners watering impeccable shrubs and cleaners still polishing the lobby’s tile floors. As always, Thakur was punctual and organized. He had a round face and low-key demeanor, with deep-set eyes that gave him a doleful appearance.

His boss, Dr. Rajinder Kumar, Ranbaxy’s head of research and development, had joined the generic-drug company just two months earlier from GlaxoSmithKline, where he had served as global head of psychiatry for clinical research and development. Tall and handsome with elegant manners, Kumar, known as Raj, had a reputation for integrity. Thakur liked and respected him.

Like Kumar, Thakur had left a brand-name pharmaceutical company for Ranbaxy. Thakur, then 35, an American-trained engineer and a naturalized U.S. citizen, had worked at Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMY) in New Jersey for 10 years. In 2002 a former mentor recruited him to Ranbaxy by appealing to his native patriotism. So he had moved his wife and baby son to Gurgaon to join India’s largest drugmaker and its first multinational pharmaceutical company.

When he stepped into Kumar’s office that morning, Thakur was surprised by his boss’ appearance. He looked weary and uneasy, his eyes puffy and dark. He had returned the previous day from South Africa, where he had met with government regulators. It was clear that the meeting had not gone well.

The two men strolled into the hall to order tea from white-uniformed waiters. As they returned, Kumar said, “We are in big trouble,” and motioned for Thakur to be quiet. Back in his office, Kumar handed him a letter from the World Health Organization. It summarized the results of an inspection that WHO had done at Vimta Laboratories, an Indian company that Ranbaxy hired to administer clinical tests of its AIDS medicine. The inspection had focused on antiretroviral (ARV) drugs that Ranbaxy was selling to the South African government to save the lives of its AIDS-ravaged population.

As Thakur read, his jaw dropped. The WHO had uncovered what seemed to the two men to be astonishing fraud. The Vimta tests appeared to be fabricated. Test results from separate patients, which normally would have differed from one another, were identical, as if xeroxed.

Thakur listened intently. Kumar had not even gotten to the really bad news. On the plane back to India, his traveling companion, another Ranbaxy executive, confided that the problem was not limited to Vimta or to those ARV drugs.

“What do you mean?” asked Thakur, barely able to grasp what Kumar was saying.

The problem, said Kumar, went deeper. He directed Thakur to put aside his other responsibilities and go through the company’s portfolio — ultimately, every drug, every market, every production line — and uncover the truth about Ranbaxy’s testing practices and where the company’s liabilities lay.

MORE: Maker of generic Lipitor pleads guilty to selling ‘adulterated drugs’

Thakur left Kumar’s office stunned. He returned home that evening to find his 3-year-old son playing on the front lawn. The previous year in India, the boy had developed a serious ear infection. A pediatrician prescribed Ranbaxy’s version of amoxiclav, a powerful antibiotic. For three scary days, his son’s 102° fever persisted, despite the medicine. Finally, the pediatrician changed the prescription to the brand-name antibiotic made by GlaxoSmithKline (GSK). Within a day, his fever disappeared. Thakur hadn’t thought about it much before. Now he took the boy in his arms and resolved not to give his family any more Ranbaxy drugs until he knew the truth.

What Thakur unearthed over the next months would form some of the most devastating allegations ever made about the conduct of a drug company. His information would lead Ranbaxy into a multiyear regulatory battle with the FDA, and into the crosshairs of a Justice Department investigation that, almost nine years later, has finally come to a resolution.

On May 13, Ranbaxy pleaded guilty to seven federal criminal counts of selling adulterated drugs with intent to defraud, failing to report that its drugs didn’t meet specifications, and making intentionally false statements to the government. Ranbaxy agreed to pay $500 million in fines, forfeitures, and penalties — the most ever levied against a generic-drug company. (No current or former Ranbaxy executives were charged with crimes.) Thakur’s confidential whistleblower complaint, which he filed in 2007 and which describes how the company fabricated and falsified data to win FDA approvals, was also unsealed. Under federal whistleblower law, Thakur will receive more than $48 million as part of the resolution of the case. . .

Continue reading.

Whew! Thank God that none of those responsible was charged with any crime or faced any prison or, indeed, had to pay a fine: the company paid that. So the same people are free to cook up other frauds.

Why on earth does ANYONE think that a company’s paying a fine will do ANYTHING to change its behavior? Send executives to prison and you’ll quickly see some serious reforms. But we don’t send executives to jail—we let their companies pay for the fines. Executives are like reckless teen-age males, who get into serious trouble and cause serious harm and leave it up to their parents (the corporation) to pay restitution and damages, while they themselves get off scot-free.

Written by Leisureguy

17 May 2013 at 10:34 am

Posted in Business, Law, Medical

Metal Shards and Much Worse In Your Food? What Happens When the Food Industry Regulates Itself

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Corporations love voluntary guidelines because they can then ignore the guidelines: that’s what “voluntary” means. At AlterNet Martha Rosenberg takes a look at voluntary guidelines in the food industry:

Was Jose Navarro, a federal poultry inspector who died two years ago at the age of 37, a victim of increasingly noxious [3] chemicals used in poultry and meat production? Chemicals like ammonia, chlorine and peracetic acid that are frequently employed to kill aggressive bacteria in meat and poultry?

Navarro coughed up blood several months before his death, the Washington Post reported last week, and he died in November 2011 of lung and kidney failure, according to the autopsy report. An OSHA inspector during a subsequent investigation said “the combination of disinfectants and other chemicals” in addition to pathogens such as salmonella “could be causing significant health problems for processing-plant occupants,” reports the Post. The plant where Navarro worked and the chicken industry defend the chemicals as safe.

It is no secret that new methods are being used in the war against bacteria because of the antibiotic resistance the meat industry’s widespread reliance on antibiotics has helped cause. Antibiotics save money for livestock operations in two ways: they keep the animals alive in filthy, packed conditions in which they might otherwise die; and they make animals gain weight with less food because of their metabolic effects.

Despite the routine use of antibiotics in livestock operations, bacteria and resistant bacteria are rampant in the food supply. Almost half of US beef, chicken, pork and turkey contained staph bacteria when they were tested, reported the Los Angeles Times [4] in 2011–including the resistant MRSA bacterium (methicillin-resistant S. aureus). Two serious strains of antibiotic-resistant salmonella, Salmonella Heidelberg and Salmonella Hadar, forced recalls in recent years of turkey products from Jennie-O Turkey [5] and Cargill. [6] The resistant salmonella strains were so deadly, officials warned that disposed meat should be placed in sealed garbage cans to protect wildlife [5].

But there is another reason that stronger and more volatile chemicals are being used. The federal government is increasingly washing its hands, pun intended, of slaughterhouse inspection and encouraging industry “self-regulation,” which is cheaper for both sides. Thanks to the new era of food industry laissez-faire, assembly lines are moving even more quickly–if that’s possible–and more aggressive chemicals are being employed. “Pink Slime” treated with puffs of ammonia [7] to kill E. coli, was only one example of extreme chemicals routinely used to kill germs, often under the public’s radar.

There is also an ongoing battle between US trade officials [8] and the European Union and Russia over US poultry because it is dipped in chlorine bleach to kill germs. Who knew? And conventional US poultry is often grown on feed that contains arsenic, which the FDA says is used [9] to control parasites, promote weight gain and feed efficiency and improve “pigmentation.” In 2011, Pfizer announced it would stop selling arsenic-treated chicken feed after the FDA found residues in chicken livers and most people assumed the substance had been retired from poultry farms. Guess again. Histostat, or nitarsone, [10] another arsenic-based feed additive, is still on the market, reports the New York Times.

Inspectors Add Their Voices To Agribusiness Critics

Over the years, reports about the deleterious effects of self-regulating agribusinesses on animals, workers, the environment and consumers who eat the products have made headlines. But increasingly, federal meat inspectors are speaking out about the broken system.

“My plant in Pennsylvania processed 1,800 cows a day, 220 per hour,” and veterinarians were pressured “to look the other way” when violations happened,” Lester Friedlander, a federal meat inspector told the Winnipeg Free Press [11]. The reason? Stopping “the line” cost the plant about $5,000 a minute. Friedlander was a USDA veterinarian for 10 years and trained other federal veterinarians.

When mad cow disease was first a US threat in 1991, Friedlander says a USDA official told him not to say anything if he ever discovered a case and said he knew of cows who had tested positive at private laboratories but were ruled negative by the USDA. Friedlander told United Press International [12] that the USDA attempted to force him out after he alleged, on national TV, that meat from downer cows supplied the national school lunch program. His charge proved true, and led to the biggest meat recall [13] in US history. . .

Continue reading.

The reasons for the “voluntary guidelines” approach is that the GOP has gutted the regulatory and enforcement agencies so they no longer have the resources to do the job that is their task: to protect the public. The GOP is not interested in protecting the public; their focus is protecting the profits of corporations.

Written by Leisureguy

17 May 2013 at 9:51 am

Posted in Business, Food, Government

Military Quietly Grants Itself the Power to Police the Streets Without Local or State Consent

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An interesting step-up from giving the civilian police forces military weapons, equipment, and training to create paramilitary forces whose focus is civilians (SWAT units). Jed Morey reports at AlterNet:

The manhunt for the Boston Marathon bombing suspects offered the nation a window into the stunning military-style capabilities of our local law enforcement agencies. For the past 30 years, police departments throughout the United States have benefitted from the government’s largesse in the form of military weaponry and training, incentives offered in the ongoing “war on drugs.” [3] For the average citizen watching events such as the intense pursuit of the Tsarnaev brothers on television, it would be difficult to discern between fully outfitted police SWAT teams and the military.

The lines blurred even further Monday as a new dynamic was introduced to the militarization of domestic law enforcement. By making a few subtle changes to a regulation in the U.S. Code titled “Defense Support of Civilian Law Enforcement Agencies” [4] the military has quietly granted itself the ability to police the streets without obtaining prior local or state consent, upending a precedent that has been in place for more than two centuries.

The most objectionable aspect of the regulatory change is the inclusion of vague language that permits military intervention in the event of “civil disturbances.” According to the rule: “Federal military commanders have the authority, in extraordinary emergency circumstances where prior authorization by the President is impossible and duly constituted local authorities are unable to control the situation, to engage temporarily in activities that are necessary to quell large-scale, unexpected civil disturbances.”

Bruce Afran, a civil liberties attorney and constitutional law professor at Rutgers University, calls the rule, “a wanton power grab by the military.” He says, “It’s quite shocking actually because it violates the long-standing presumption that the military is under civilian control.”

A defense official who declined to be named takes a different view of the rule, claiming, “The authorization has been around over 100 years; it’s not a new authority. It’s been there but it hasn’t been exercised. This is a carryover of domestic policy.” Moreover, he insists the Pentagon doesn’t “want to get involved in civilian law enforcement. It’s one of those red lines that the military hasn’t signed up for.” Nevertheless, he says, “every person in the military swears an oath of allegiance to the Constitution of the United States to defend that Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic.”

One of the more disturbing aspects of the new procedures that govern military command on the ground in the event of a civil disturbance relates to authority. Not only does it fail to define what circumstances would be so severe that the president’s authorization is “impossible,” it grants full presidential authority to “Federal military commanders.” According to the defense official, a commander is defined as follows: “Somebody who’s in the position of command, has the title commander. And most of the time they are centrally selected by a board, they’ve gone through additional schooling to exercise command authority.”

As it is written, this “commander” has the same power to authorize military force as the president in the event the president is somehow unable to access a telephone. (The rule doesn’t address the statutory chain of authority that already exists in the event a sitting president is unavailable.) In doing so, this commander must exercise judgment in determining what constitutes, “wanton destruction of property,” “adequate protection for Federal property,” “domestic violence,” or “conspiracy that hinders the execution of State or Federal law,” as these are the circumstances that might be considered an “emergency.”

“These phrases don’t have any legal meaning,” says Afran. “It’s no different than the emergency powers clause in the Weimar constitution [of the German Reich]. It’s a grant of emergency power to the military to rule over parts of the country at their own discretion.”

Afran also expresses apprehension over the government’s authority “to engage temporarily in activities necessary to quell large-scale disturbances.”

“Governments never like to give up power when they get it,” says Afran. “They still think after twelve years they can get intelligence out of people in Guantanamo. Temporary is in the eye of the beholder. That’s why in statutes we have definitions. All of these statutes have one thing in common and that is that they have no definitions. How long is temporary? There’s none here. The definitions are absurdly broad.”

The U.S. military is prohibited from intervening in domestic affairs except where provided under Article IV of the Constitution in cases of domestic violence that threaten the government of a state or the application of federal law. This provision was further clarified both by the Insurrection Act of 1807 and a post-Reconstruction law known as the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 (PCA). The Insurrection Act specifies the circumstances under which the president may convene the armed forces to suppress an insurrection against any state or the federal government. Furthermore, where an individual state is concerned, consent of the governor must be obtained prior to the deployment of troops. The PCA—passed in response to federal troops that enforced local laws and oversaw elections during Reconstruction—made unauthorized employment of federal troops a punishable offense, thereby giving teeth to the Insurrection Act.

Together, these laws limit executive authority over domestic military action. Yet Monday’s official regulatory changes issued unilaterally by the Department of Defense is a game-changer.

The stated purpose of the updated rule is “support in Accordance With the Posse Comitatus Act,” but in reality it undermines the Insurrection Act and PCA in significant and alarming ways. The most substantial change is the notion of “civil disturbance” as one of the few “domestic emergencies” that would allow for the deployment of military assets on American soil. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

17 May 2013 at 9:14 am

Medicare’s rugged start

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Fascinating look back at the difficulties and dire predictions that accompanied the launch of Medicare. Take a look at the collection of anecdotes and clippings in Sarah Kliff’s article in the Washington Post.

Written by Leisureguy

17 May 2013 at 9:02 am

Posted in Government, Healthcare

What happens if you define DUI as starting at 0.05% instead of 0.08% blood alcohol level?

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Currently the US mostly defines DUI as having a blood-alcohol level of 0.08% or higher. What would be the effect of reducing that to 0.05%, the standard used in most of Europe? Fortunately we have data, so an informed decision is possible. Dylan Matthews reports in the Washington Post:

Time to close your tab: The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) wants to reduce the amount of booze you have to drink to count as a “drunk driver.”

Currently, the threshold is set at a blood alcohol content of 0.08 percent, as a result of a transportation bill signed into law by President Clinton in 2000, which stated that states had to adopt the 0.08 threshold by 2004 or else have their highway funding revoked.

But in a new report, the NTSB argues that this threshold is too high, and that it should be reduced further to 0.05. For reference, the average woman weighing 165 pounds would have to consume three beers to top 0.05, four to top 0.08, and five to top 0.10 (change that to four, five and six for the average man weighing 195 pounds).

It’s unlikely that this change will happen any time soon. The NTSB first recommended lowering the threshold from 0.10 to 0.08 in 1982. Utah, which has a large Mormon teetotaling population, adopted the new standard the next year, but by the time the federal government adopted the standard in 2000, only 18 states and the District of Columbia had followed suit. Passing the federal standard took some political heavy lifting on Clinton’s part, and that was after decades of lobbying from Mothers Against Drunk Driving and other groups for the new standard. So don’t expect the 0.05 standard to get by too easily.

But leaving political plausibility to the side, is the 0.05 standard a good idea? There’s some evidence to suggest that reducing the threshold for drunk driving can save lives:

The 0.08 switch worked

One way to evaluate that would be to see whether the national switch to the 0.08 standard made a difference in terms of traffic deaths and injuries. There was considerable research before the bill was passed predicting that it would. Perhaps the most notable study, a 1996 paper in the American Journal of Public Health by Boston University’s Ralph Hingson, Timothy Heeren and Michael Winter, compared states that had voluntarily adopted the 0.08 limit to nearby states that had not.They found that states that had adopted the limit experienced a 16 percent decline in the share of fatal car crashes that involved a fatally injured driver whose BAC was 0.08 or above, relative to states that hadn’t adopted the limit. They concluded that the lower standard would, if adopted nationally, probably prevent 500 to 600 fatal crashes a year. A 2000 study by the same authors found similar effects for states that had recently adopted the new standard, estimating that national adoption would save 400 to 500 lives a year (a lower number because more states were already on board).

A 2001 study by National Highway Traffic Safety Administration researchers investigating the 1997 implementation of the 0.08 standard in Illinois found similar results. They built a model to predict the share of fatalities where drivers had positive BACs, and compared its predictions to what actually happened in 1997, 1998 and 1999. They found that the new limit caused a sudden break with previous patterns: . . .

Continue reading. Of course, the last thing that Congress is concerned about is saving lives: that ranks extremely low in Congressional priorities. Plus most of Congress cannot follow a scientific argument.

Written by Leisureguy

17 May 2013 at 8:44 am

Interesting interview with Bill Gates regarding his humanitarian work

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Ezra Klein interviews Bill Gates in the Washington Post:

“I always use this chart of childhood death,” Bill Gates says. “In 1960, 25% of kids died before the age of 5. And now we’re down below 6% of kids dying before the age of 5.”

We’re sitting in a bare conference room at his foundation’s D.C. headquarters. Gates — who Bloomberg News calculates is once again the world’s richest man — is in town to talk to members of Congress about his top priority this year: Global health – and, in particular, the total eradication of polio. He wants to drive that 6 percent even lower, and he believes he can. Wiping out a disease like polio sounds impossible. But it’s actually, Gates tells me, completely achievable. Perhaps even by the end of 2013. This is a transcript of our conversation, edited for length and clarity.

Ezra Klein: Your Foundation is known for taking a particularly data-driven approach to its work. So how do you know what’s actually working when you’re in failed states with very little data-collection capacity?Bill Gates: Of all the statistics in health, death is the easiest, because you can go out and ask people, “Hey, have you had any children who died, did your siblings have any children who died?” People don’t forget that. If you say to them, “Did your kids get vaccines or not,” they might have done it and not remember, or they might think, “Oh, this person wants me to say yes, maybe I look bad if I don’t say yes.” Death is something we really understand extremely well.

But you can save a lot of lives. One thing about the childhood death rate is you really can split it into the first 30 days of life versus 30 days to 5 years. Thirty days to 5 years is all vaccine preventable stuff — it’s diarrhea, respiratory and malaria. The first 30 days, the primary healthcare system really has to engage with the mother pre-birth, and then get the mother to do things like keeping the baby warm, making sure to avoid doing things that break the baby’s skin, breast-feeding, and that’s been harder. We’ve had sites in India where we can cut those deaths down by over 50 percent just by training the mother. But the worker has to engage with the patient, hopefully speak the same language or be of the same caste so that they’re willing to trust the advice that they’re getting.

EK: What’s been the biggest surprise? What has the data shown works, or doesn’t work, that you simply didn’t expect? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

17 May 2013 at 8:38 am

Great shave with a test shaving cream

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SOTD 17 May 2013

I like the feel of this little New Forest brush—need to use it more often. As you can see, I used a test sample (Palermo in the fragrance) from AlsShaving.com. I am embarrassed to say that I’ve had this sample sitting around for weeks if not months. I’m not a good person for testing because I find I’m inclined to wander around through the products I already have and only rarely now try something new.

It was quite a good shaving cream, but then I find Al’s regular shaving creams quite good. I do like the Palermo fragrance. I got a fine lather, and the Tradere Solid Bar produced an extremely smooth face in three passes using an oldish Astra Superior Platinum blade, which I replaced with a new Kai blade upon finishing the shave.

A good splash of Marlborough, and the day begins: Friday, the weekend’s vestibule.

Written by Leisureguy

17 May 2013 at 8:33 am

Posted in Shaving

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