The Voice of the White House
Washington, D.C. February 9, 1013: “Because we have the reputation of publishing material not generally found on the Internet and certainly are not politically correct, we occasionally receive interesting material from readers. As this moment, I have been carefully reviewing the completed text of a manuscript based entirely on an identified, and proven authentic, Dead Sea scroll that was written ca 50 CE by two Essene scribes.
Accompanying this submission, among other documents, is a forensic report on the authenticity of the document and two translations by recognized academics of the text.
The current owner’s grandfather had bought this, and two other relatively unimportant scrolls, many years ago and the provenance is very clear.
This manuscript contained Xerox copies of the translations (in English) in addition to photographs of the actual scroll contents.
I make no pretensions to being able to read the old writing but the translators obviously could.
The basic, and stunning, theme of this scroll concerns itself with the origins, activities and history of the Biblical Jesus the Christ (Christ was not a family name but a Greek word meaning ‘Messiah.’)
It is on parchment, rather than papyrus indicating its relative importance.
It is the only known period writing about Jesus, the comments by Josephus being proven second century forgeries by Christian propagandists.
The Essene dogma, as preached by Jesus, his involvement in anti-Roman activities and so on are very clearly laid out as is his eventual capture and crucifixion by the then Roman Procurator of Judea.
Also very clearly laid out is Jesus active membership in the Essene cult, its organization and composition (it was an all-male cult that practiced homosexuality) and Jesus and his lover, and their erotic activities, are discussed specifically.
Given the hysterical anti-gay attitudes of the Evangelical movement, the discovery that the leader of their religion was gay will cause terrible problems.
Most interesting, and certainly reputable, historical writings tend to support almost everything contained in the scroll.
I read over the two translations, and other supportive documents, and then looked carefully at the manuscript which was a rationalizing of both the two translations into one, very readable, edition.
As I doubt if any mainline American publisher would ever dare to publish this, I have suggested to the current owner that an Internet edition, prepared with younger readers in mind, would best suit his needs.
There would be a reaction to this, of course, but it would be entirely predictable.
If the lunatic Bush and his equally deranged Attorney General Ashcroft were still in power, some governmental interference could be expected but the current administration has no interest in the subject.
I suggested that the book should be aimed specifically at the younger members of society who have grown up with the Internet and should be kept simple and direct for easier assimilation.
I note that younger people, preparing psychologically to leave their nest (saving for those who have steel umbilical cords and Love Mom) delight in testing their parents.
I have no doubt that this work will stimulate them not only to think but to challenge parental authority.
Parental and religious organizational responses would be entirely predictable and quite useless.
Screams of ‘Evil!’ and ‘Satanic’ will certainly be heard as will demands from alarmed Evangelical religious leaders for some form of suppression.
Like most people, they will react too little, too late and once this gets out into the world, it is a genie that cannot be shoved back into the bottle or something that cannot be forced back into Pandora’s Box.”
American Catholicism is at crossroads
February 12, 2013
by Marc Fisher,
The Washington Post
As the church suddenly faces an unexpected transition, American Catholicism is shrinking in size and splitting into two often harshly opposing camps — growing more polarized in faith, just as the nation has divided itself politically and socially.
The sexual abuse scandals that have rocked the U.S. church, along with its hard-line stands on celibate priests, homosexuality and ordaining women, have pushed many Americans away from the church, which is still the nation’s largest single denomination.
The prospect of a new pope provides a new focus for the world’s fourth-largest Catholic population, as Americans ask whether Catholicism will grow smaller but hew to traditional doctrine or follow its members as they adapt to a fast-changing society.
The latest surveys of American Catholics reveal sharp drops in weekly Mass attendance, a majority in support of legalizing same-sex marriage, and a large majority who say they do not look to the Vatican as the moral authority on sexual matters such as contraception, marriage and abortion, said William D’Antonio, a sociologist at Catholic University and author of a national survey that has tracked Catholic attitudes for 25 years.
“The laity are saying, ‘We can work things out for ourselves, these are matters for our own conscience, not questions where we just follow what the church is demanding,’ ” he said.
Just as Americans are now deeply divided over the role of government, Catholics have cleaved into two camps, one in which their religion is defined by its core tenets, the sacraments and concern for the poor, and another in which the church’s authority on the most personal aspects of life remains clear and essential, according to D’Antonio’s survey.
Hardly a week goes by without someone asking Elizabeth Scalia why she is still a Catholic. She has never felt a need to step away from her church, but the growing rift between American Catholics and their faith has forced her to a conclusion she once considered sad: The Catholic Church will and should become smaller, perhaps much smaller.
Scalia, like many traditional and conservative Catholics, says the experience of recent decades, as more Catholics have become more casual adherents to their faith, proves that the church should stick to its guns and accept that its beliefs may attract fewer people — and yet become more meaningful and effective.
“The world has gone superficial and promiscuous and morally avaricious, and the church is standing against that,” said Scalia, 54, of Long Island, a Catholic writer and Benedictine oblate — a lay person dedicated to religious life. “Do we want a large church of people who aren’t paying attention, or a smaller church of people who are fervently attempting to be the faith that can heal the world? Who wants a church of people who don’t care? I wouldn’t want to be on a softball team of people who don’t care.”
But John Gehring, a churchgoing Catholic who works at Faith in Public Life, a liberal advocacy group in the District, says the only hope the church has of stemming the tide of disengaged American Catholics is for the hierarchy to “stop being the Church of No and once again put it at the forefront of social justice and helping the poor.”
“When being a good Catholic is defined on a narrow range of sexuality issues rather than a more positive, loving vision, it’s no wonder people are moving away,” said Gehring, 38. “For me personally, my relationship with my faith has been to engage critically, and for that, I’m told I’m a bad Catholic. Well, I’m not going anywhere, but there’s a real sense of sadness that my church acts as if Catholics were this embattled, persecuted minority.”
With 74 million adherents, Catholics make up 24 percent of the U.S. population and have been the country’s largest Christian group since the late 19th century. More Catholics live in the United States than in all but three other countries (Brazil, Mexico and the Philippines).
But American Catholics today are strikingly different from their profile of even just 25 years ago. In 1987, for example, more than six in 10 Catholics were married. By 2011, that had dropped to just over half, with an additional 10 percent living with a partner outside of marriage. Catholics have moved into the middle class and beyond; the portion who have finished college has soared by 50 percent in just 25 years, to 27 percent.
Nathan Gagnon, 29, a practicing Catholic in Gaithersburg, watched as his parents divorced, contrary to church teachings. Now, he believes clergy should be more accepting of modern marital strains. “When a couple does feel frustrated,” he said, they shouldn’t have to fear being “scorned” by a priest.
But Maria Theresa Garrison, 73, a native of the Philippines who came to the United States about 35 years ago, said that “if your faith changes, there is no faith. If you have to move according to what the new generations say or what the politics say, where is the faith?”
Garrison, who attends Mass daily in Falls Church, said that she has watched nieces and nephews move away from the church because of issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage, but that the church should stand by its principles. “Today the message is that man is first, that the world has changed and our views should change, too,” she said. “But if your faith is in God, you put God first.”
For Blanca Portillo, 21, a Falls Church resident who attends St. Anthony of Padua Church, the church’s tone has been too harsh: “Instead of fighting and telling people, ‘Don’t do abortion, abortion kills,’ just help the person,” she said. “I am not saying the Catholic Church should say it is okay to do abortions, but . . . I think the church, its main duty is trying to tell people the why rather than impose rules.”
Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington, on Monday reiterated Pope Benedict XVI’s recent reminder that “there is a basic doctrine that is bedrock for Catholic faith. So I suspect that every pope is always going to be conscious of the need to proclaim the received tradition of the church. And then the challenge is living with that and applying that to the moment, to the circumstances of our day.”
Demographically, the U.S. church’s flock has shifted markedly, with non-Hispanic whites falling from 86 percent of Catholics in 1987 to 63 percent in 2011. Nearly all of the growth has been among Hispanics, who went from 10 percent of the Catholic population to 32 percent over that same period, according to Catholics in America, a survey conducted for the National Catholic Reporter.
The Rev. Jose Eugenio Hoyos, director of the Spanish Catholic Apostolate of the Diocese of Arlington and a native of Colombia, said the recent emphasis on transparency and helping those who have been abused has positioned the church for an American pope.
“This is an opportunity for us Catholics to demand a pope with origins in the United States or Latin America,” he said. “Just like in the United States we now have an African American president, the church also needs a change. We need a pope who is ours, a pope who speaks about pupusas, about tacos, about horchata.”
Luz Lazo and Annys Shin contributed to this report.
5 Homeland Security ‘Bots Coming to Spy on You (If They Aren’t Already)
February 8, 2013
It’s been 10 years since the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) started up operations. During that decade, DHS has moved to the forefront of funding and deploying the robots and drones that could be coming soon to a neighborhood near you.
DHS funds research and development for surveillance robots. It provides grant money by the hundreds of thousands to police agencies to buy their own. And sometimes it’s bought and deployed robots — for their skies, the ground and the waters — of its own, usually concentrated along the border. It’s not clear how many of those robots police operate, and law enforcement isn’t by any means the only domestic market for the ‘bots. But the trend lines point toward more robotic spy tools for law enforcement in more places — with more DHS cash.
But it’s not going to be simple. The Federal Aviation Administration is cautious about opening the skies to unmanned vehicles — so much so that Congress and the Obama administration ordered it to ease up on restrictions by 2015. But not all spy robots fly. DHS is also developing robots that resemble fish, and deploys tunnel-bots deep into drug-smuggling tunnels along the border.
Here are five examples.
Unarmed Predator surveillance drones inside the United States have had a rocky history. The Department of Homeland Security’s sub-agency, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), has flown them off-and-on along the U.S.-Mexico border since 2004. Flights were suspended in 2006 after one of them crashed in Arizona, and drone flights were suspended again in 2010 after a Predator lost communications with its operators. At one point, drone boosters in Congress allocated funding for more drones than CBP had people to fly them.
How things have changed. In the past two years, DHS expanded Predator flights into the Caribbean to hunt for drug traffickers, and has taken to using the drones in an ad-hoc program to help out local police agencies, such as during a June 2011 standoff between SWAT officers and alleged cattle rustlers in Washington state. The drones have been used more broadly than that, reportedly assisting in police investigations from the Midwest to Texas. DHS has also gotten around to expanding its drone fleet. In November, DHS was revealed to be planning to expand its inventory of 10 Predators to 24, and is constructing a testing ground for small surveillance drones at Fort Sill, Oklahoma.
But in the years to come, the Predator is likely to have a numerically more marginal role as more law enforcement agencies join the drone bandwagon — it’s exceedingly likely the Predator will remain an exclusive item for the federal government. That is, a federal government putting the machines to work snooping on domestic turf.
Catch it if you can. In September, the Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Directorate premiered a prototype of its tuna-shaped robot called BIOSwimmer, developed by Boston Engineering Corporation. The concept revolves around eventually deploying the swimming robot to use in port security operations, and could prove to have several advantages over human divers. For one, it can get into tighter spaces, and can work in areas that have been contaminated with oil or other hazardous chemicals that could pose a risk to human health. But mainly, it’s designed to inspect ships and “flooded bilges and tanks, and hard to reach areas such as steerage, propulsion and sea chests,” noted a DHS statement.
The flapping motion is also designed to reduce power consumption, and the robot itself is designed with the intention of its sensors being easily swapped out between missions. There’s no public timeline for when it’s expected to be deployed, if it makes it that far — the tuna ‘bot is still an experimental design. But it’s generally a good idea to start on a small scale.
In a way, the trials of the ShadowHawk represent why police drones remain limited, at least for the time being. The Department of Homeland Security handed $220,000 to the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Department — just north of Houston, Texas — for one of these 50-pound helicopter drones in 2011. Aside from a mishap in which developer Vanguard Defense Industries crashed a ShadowHawk into the department’s armored SWAT vehicle during a photo-op, it seemed like a great idea. The drone has a maximum speed of 55 miles per hour, a range of 15 miles, and a turbine engine powered by jet fuel that can keep it in the air for more than an hour. For surveillance, it can be equipped with a Sony FCB EX-1020 camera or a Photon 320 thermal imaging camera, and in theory would’ve allowed the county’s law enforcement to cease relying on over-worked and tight-budgeted agencies in Houston for aircraft.
In theory, that is. Actually using the drone is another question. The FAA has only granted Montgomery County authorization to train with the drone over a one-mile-wide piece of rural land in the county’s northwest corner — away from the county’s built-up suburbs to the south — and not for actual police work. The drone is also too heavy, exceeding the 25-pound limit for domestic drones set by the FAA. (The limit was 4.4 pounds until a 2012 agreement between the Justice Department and the FAA bumped it up.) That had the chief deputy in the county fuming. The deputy, William McDaniel, argued to the House Homeland Security Committee (.pdf) last summer that the FAA should be removed from overseeing and approving drone operations in the United States, “other than the regular, routine review of agency flight operations to insure [sic] flight safety rules are being followed.” That doesn’t sound too likely, which means Montgomery County might have ended up with a brick for a drone — at a cost of more than 200 K’s in DHS money.
The past decade has seen a big build-up in border security under Homeland Security’s watch, including a doubling of Border Patrol agents and hundreds of miles of fence along the U.S.-Mexico border. But to keep their wares flowing, the drug cartels in Mexico have turned to an inventive tactic: digging more and more tunnels deep underground. Then in 2008, the DHS tunnel task force — a joint team of agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Customs and Border Protection and the DEA — got its hands on a Versatrax 150 crawler-bot, designed by Canadian robotics firm Inuktun.
But the Versatrax wasn’t first intended to be used for border security — it’s a pipe inspection robot more commonly used by sewage and water workers. The machine is waterproof, has a 500-foot tether cable and can travel at a rate of 30 feet per minute. A high-resolution camera can rotate in all directions, and the robot itself can squeeze through an opening as small as six inches in diameter. Border tunnels can also be dangerous places, at the risk of collapse and even booby-trapped — with no telling who’s inside or what weapons they may be carrying. The Versatrax was designed for sludging its way through sewer tunnels, so it’s not that big of a leap.
The Draganflyer X6 mini-helicopter is perhaps the first police drone to see regular active use inside the United States by a local police agency. In July 2010, the Mesa County Sheriff’s Office in western Colorado used funding from the Department of Homeland Security to buy one of the machines, while also becoming one of the first police agencies for the FAA to authorize using the drones for police work. Weighing about four and a half pounds, the X6 can only stay in the air under its own power for about 20 minutes, but can travel at 30 miles per hour — allowing it to travel about six miles in one go. The drone packs either a Panasonic DMC-ZS20 camera or an infra-red thermal imaging camera, and can transmit video (when it’s not recording) in real-time back to an operator. The camera is stabilized against vibration, and a sensor head made of carbon fiber contains the gyros, accelerometers, GPS receiver and a barometric pressure sensor to keep it in the air. Mostly, the sheriff’s office claims it uses the drones to map out crime scenes and traffic accidents, although the office claims (.pdf) it’s been used to help a SWAT team track an armed suspect, and photograph a minor airplane crash.
Meanwhile, the DHS provided more than $80,000 to the Seattle Police Department for a pair of X6 drones. The department claims it intends to use the drone for criminal investigations and search-and-rescue operations. But Seattle hasn’t yet been approved by the FAA to use them in actual police work beyond training officers in how to fly it, and it hasn’t made it this far without objections from civil libertarians. On Feb. 4, Seattle City Councilman Bruce Harrell proposed legislation to prohibit the department using its drones for “general surveillance” — that is, spying on anything or anyone other than an individual suspect with a warrant.
Coca-Cola drinking ‘linked to New Zealander’s death’
February 12, 2013
Drinking large quantities of Coca-Cola was a “substantial factor” in the death of a 30-year-old woman in New Zealand, a coroner has said.
Natasha Harris, who died three years ago after a cardiac arrest, drank up to 10 litres of the fizzy drink each day.
This is twice the recommended safe limit of caffeine and more than 11 times the recommended sugar intake.
Coca-Cola had argued that it could not be proved its product had contributed to Ms Harris’ death.
The mother of eight, from the southern city of Invercargill, had suffered for years from ill health.
Her family said she had developed an addiction to Coca-Cola and would get withdrawal symptoms, including “the shakes”, if she went without her favourite drink.
She drank Coke throughout her waking hours and her teeth had been removed because of decay.
Coroner David Crerar said her Coca-Cola consumption had given rise to cardiac arrhythmia, a condition when the heart beats too fast or too slow.
“I find that when all the available evidence is considered, were it not for the consumption of very large quantities of Coke by Natasha Harris, it is unlikely that she would have died when she died and how she died,” Mr Crerar’s finding said.
The coroner calculated that drinking 10 litres (17.5 pints) of Coke amounted to more than 1kg (2.2lb) of sugar and 970mg of caffeine, Television New Zealand (TVNZ) reports.
Mr Crerar said that Coca-Cola could not be held responsible for the health of consumers who drank excessive quantities of its product.
But he called on soft drinks companies to display clearer warnings on their beverages about the risks of too much sugar and caffeine.
Ms Harris and her family should have heeded the warning signs about her ill health, the coroner added.
“The fact she had her teeth extracted several years before her death because of what her family believed was Coke induced tooth decay, and the fact that one or more of her children were born without enamel on their teeth, should have been treated by her, and by her family, as a warning,” TVNZ quotes his statement as saying.
Russia, US in Hasid books brawl: Moscow wants recourse over $50,000 daily penalties
:February 8, 2013,
Rabbis from the Chabad-Lubavitch movement of Judaism (Reuters/Keith Bedford)
Moscow is preparing a lawsuit against the US Library of Congress over rare books claimed by a US-based Hasidic group. The move comes amid ‘outrage’ over a US court ruling to fine Russia US$50,000 daily until it surrenders the texts.
¬Russia’s Foreign Ministry is planning to fight the Washington court’s ruling, which reads that Russia must pay $50,000 daily until it agrees to hand over the so-called Schneerson Library to US-based Jewish organization Chabad-Lubavitch (Agudas Chasidei Chabad).
The Schneerson Library, a collection of thousands of rare religious Hasidic books and documents, was started by Rabbi Joseph I. Schneersohn in the Russian city of Lyubavichi (present-day Belarus) in the early 20th century. Part of it was nationalized by Soviet Russia because there were no legal heirs in the Schneerson family.
Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok (Joseph Isaac) Schneersohn was born in 1880 in Lyubavichi, near Mogilev, in the Russian Empire (modern Belarus). An Orthodox rabbi and spiritual leader of the Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic movement. After becoming the movement’s sixth Rebbe in 1920, he spent years trying to keep Orthodox Judaism alive in the Soviet Union. He was allowed to leave the Soviet Union in 1928. He died in 1950 in Brooklyn, NYC, USA. The last 10 years of his life were spent in America. Known for a rich collection of Jewish religious books and documents dating back to the 18th century. A large part of the Schneerson Library stayed in the Soviet Union once Rabbi Schneersohn left the country.
¬Russia’s Foreign Ministry has ‘recommended’ that the Ministry for Culture and the Russian State Library prepare a counter suit against the US Library of Congress, which assisted Chabad-Lubavitch in stealin some books from the Schneerson Library in 1990s.
The Russian State Library’s actions are expected to be symmetrical to the actions of the American side. They are expected to file a lawsuit with a Moscow court. If it finds the Library of Congress guilty of purloining the books and the financial claim is not settled, that will be a basis for Russia to demand the seizure of the non-immune American property abroad.
The roots of the conflict go back to 1994, when the Library of Congress obtained seven rare Schneerson Library books from the Russian State Library through an inter-library exchange system.
The books were handed on to Chabad-Lubavitch and the US library helped to prolong the use of the books twice, in 1995 and 1996, before in 2000 the Jewish organization practically refused to return the books to Russia.
Chabad-Lubavitch used diplomatic channels to propose an ‘exchange’, sending a list of the books they were ready to give back in return for getting the seven abovementioned books into indefinite possession.
Russian librarians were taken aback by the ‘proposal’.
“Accepting the proposal would be unjust,” Deputy Director of the Russian State Library Aleksandr Samarin told Kommersant daily, also pointing out that the exchange would be unequal. Besides that, those books printed in the Russian Empire in 19th century, that got ‘lost’ in the US are not subject to the inter-library exchange system and their dispatch to the US Library of Congress was nothing but an act of goodwill.
Samarin stressed that the Russian State Library has all the documents that the books were given to the Library of Congress, enough to hold it responsible for the appropriation in court.
In 2004 Chabad-Lubavitch filed a lawsuit against Russia, claiming the Russian part of the Schneerson Library in full. In 2010 an American court granted their claim, which Russia ignored as invalid.
In January 2013, the US court imposed on Russia a $50,000 daily fine for not complying with its earlier decision.
¬Chabad-Lubavitch is one of the largest Hasidic movements of Orthodox Judaism in the world. It has cells in over 1,000 cities around the world. Founded in the late 18th century by Rabbi Shneur Zalman, the movement was based in the Russian town of Lyubavichi, near Mogilev, until the early 20th century. In 1940, the sixth leader of the organization Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn escaped from WWII raging in Europe to New York, USA, where he established a synagogue. The movement’s current official HQ is in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, NYC.
¬Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that the ruling of the American court concerning the Schneerson Library “has nothing in common with justice,” emphasizing that the collection is the “heritage of the Russian nation.”
“It is outrageous that a Washington court has taken this unprecedented step fraught with most serious consequences, such as the imposition of a fine on a sovereign state,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a special statement.
The ministry slammed the US ruling as “exterritorial in nature,” and a violation of international law. Russia considers the ruling to be legally null and void, the Foreign Ministry’s statement stated.
“The Schneerson Library has never belonged to the Chabad Lubavitch; it never left Russia,” the statement pointed out, therefore a ‘return’ of these books to the US is “not an issue in principle.”
Though the scandal over the Schneerson Library became particularly loud in early 2013, Russia has been suffering the consequences of the US court decision since 2010. Cultural exchange with the US has been minimized because Chabad Lubavitch promised to seize Russian cultural property exhibited in the US to put pressure on Russia to fulfill the US court’s decision about the Schneerson Library.
Press Attache at the US Embassy in Moscow Joseph Kruzich told Kommersant daily that the US State Department does not support this particular sanction imposed on Russia because it goes against the US Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act introduced in 1976. At the same time he confirmed that the US authorities do support Chabad Lubavitch’s claim to get the Schneerson Library into its possession.
Russian diplomats believe that the US authorities have been acting “sluggishly” and failed to explain to the court the real state of facts concerning the Schneerson Library.
“We will seek to make a reciprocal move. This situation should not be left without reaction,” Russian FM Sergey Lavrov proclaimed in January.
More on the Latino-Black war in Los Angeles
February 11, 2013
by Kevin MacDonald
Two Latino gang members were indicted on hate crime charges in an attack on 4 Black youths. Today’s LA Times article:
Authorities allege they beat a young black man with a pipe and then turned their threats and racial epithets toward members of a black household where he fled. …
U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte said the alleged actions of the pair were part of a pattern of racial intimidation of blacks by their alleged gang, including racial graffiti. “The Compton 155 gang has racial animus toward African Americans, and the gang has a practice of harassing and attacking African Americans with a goal of eliminating them from the west side of Compton,” he said.
“The gang proudly proclaimed that they are “nk” with ‘n’ standing for an unfortunate well-known racial epithet and ‘k’ for killers,” he said. …
The attacks on the family are the latest in a series of violent incidents in which Latino gangs targeted blacks in parts of greater Los Angeles over the last decade. Birotte noted that his office last year charged several Azusa gang members with hate crimes. In the Compton case, both men could face up to 10 years in prison for each of the five charges.
Compton, with a population of about 97,000, was predominantly black for many years. It is now 65% Latino and 33% black, according to the 2010 U.S. census.
Only 2 gang members were indicted despite the fact that around 15 were involved in an incident when the gangsters surrounded the house with 4 Blacks inside. ”A window was smashed and they were met with racial slurs and epithets and warned they did not belong in this neighborhood.”
February 11, 2013
MOSCOW, February 11 (RIA Novosti) – Russia began a temporary ban on US beef and pork imports Monday over what it says is a failure by the US food safety watchdog to guarantee that these shipments are free of the feed additive ractopamine.
Russia’s federal food safety agency warned the United States, Canada, Mexico and Brazil in late 2012 that their meat imports could be halted should the shipments contain the additive.
Animal rights groups have said that ractopamine, which is used to stimulate livestock growth and make meat leaner, is prohibited in about 160 countries, including the European Union and the member states of the Customs Union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan.
The US government and the country’s meat industry lobby groups insist that ractopamine is safe at acceptable levels established by the international community, including the United Nations’ main food safety body.
US meat exporters likewise say the ban will mean huge financial losses. A spokesman for the US Meat Export Federation said Friday that the United States had exported about $280 million worth of pork and about $305 million worth of beef to Russia in the first 11 months of 2012, Bloomberg reported. The agency also said the trade group plans to send a delegation to Russia this week to search for a “compromise.”
A spokeswoman for the US White House’s chief trade adviser said earlier that the United States was “deeply concerned” by Russia’s decision to ban US beef and pork imports containing ractopamine, a move Washington believed could hurt bilateral ties.
“These actions threaten to undermine our bilateral trade relationship,” said Andrea Mead, a spokeswoman for the office of US Trade Representative (USTR) Ron Kirk.
The dispute comes at a time of increasingly strained relations between the United States and Russia over human rights and international adoptions.
Washington angered the Russian government last year by introducing the so-called Magnitsky Act, a law imposing sanctions against Russian officials suspected of human rights abuses. The law was named after Sergei Magnitsky, a whistleblowing lawyer who died in a Moscow jail in 2009.
Russia responded by banning US citizens from adopting Russian children and prohibiting politically active Russian nongovernmental organizations from accepting financing from the United States.
Russia has denied that the meat ban is connected to the current friction in bilateral ties.
However, late Monday afternoon, the country’s food safety watchdog, Rosselkhoznadzor, said the demand for ractopamine documenation from Brazil, Canada and Mexico could be withdrawn if inspections show that these nations’ meat exports to Russia match the same criteria as exports to the European Union.
“We plan to cancel the requirement for additional documentation guaranteeing the absence of ractopamine for meat supplies from Canada, Mexico and Brazil in the near future,” Rosselkhoznadzor spokesman Alexei Alekseyenko told the Prime news agency. “This will be done if we are sure their system works.”
It was not immediately clear when the planned inspections would take place.
Genetically Engineered Meat, Coming Soon to a Supermarket Near You
February 11, 2013
If you’re one of the 91 percent of Americans who opposes genetically engineered (GE) meat, you may have limited time to act: The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has proposed approval of the first-ever GE animal, called “AquAdvantage Salmon.” If this first approval proceeds, the process is likely to become top secret in the future: we won’t find out about new GE animals until after they’re approved for human consumption, and they won’t be labeled. Welcome to the new world of genetically engineered meat — unless we act now. The Process
The problems begin with FDA’s bizarre decision to consider GE meat using its “New Animal Drug Approval” (NADA) process, a process designed for evaluation of new animal drugs (hence the name), not genetically engineered animals. The GE salmon themselves are, according to this analysis, the animal drug. As food blogger Ari LeVaux explains on Civil Eats, “the drug per se is AquaBounty’s patented genetic construct… Inserted at the animal’s one-cell stage, the gene sequence exists in every cell of the adult fish’s body.”
Of course, NADA was not designed to analyze the human health or environmental consequences of new animal drugs, and because the animals are the drugs in this process, their welfare is also ignored. In all three areas, there is ample reason for concern.
Since they aren’t consumed by humans, new animal drugs are not evaluated for their human health impact, so perhaps it’s unsurprising that FDA’s analysis in this area has been almost nonexistent. Health and consumer rights advocates have raised alarms, noting among other concerns, that: 1) these animals will require massive doses of antibiotics to keep them alive in dirty, crowded aquaculture conditions, and we don’t know these antibiotics’ effect on human health; 2) the limited testing that has been conducted was carried out by or for AquaBounty and included shockingly small sample sizes; and 3) what studies have been done indicated increased allergic potential and increased levels of the hormone IGF-1, which is linked to various cancers — an outcome ignored in FDA’s approval according to the Consumers Union, Food & Water Watch, and the Center for Food Safety.
The process of examining new drugs’ environmental impact is also lax, so it’s also not surprising that FDA bungled this analysis as well. As just one glaring example, the agency looked only at how one small pilot project in Canada and Panama will affect U.S. waters, ignoring its legal obligations to consider the likelihood of salmon escaping as the pilot program expands—an expansion the company has already announced. Similarly, FDA suggests that the GE salmon’s lack of fear and rapacious appetite means that they could not survive escape. Another possibility, ignored by FDA and feared by environmental groups including Friends of the Earth, is that escapees would “wreak havoc on the ecosystem.” The Center for Food Safety (CFS) points out that every year “millions of farmed salmon escape, outcompeting wild populations for resources and straining ecosystems.” Regarding GE salmon, CFS continues: “Research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences notes that a release of just sixty GE salmon into a wild population of 60,000 would lead to the extinction of the wild population in less than 40 fish generations.” FDA totally ignores this scenario and its vast implications for our aquatic ecosystems.
Animal welfare is the one area where we might expect NADA to do a passable job because the process is supposed to guarantee drug safety in the target animal. Sadly, FDA ignored animal welfare in its decision to recommend approval of GE meat, perhaps because it considers the GE animals to be drugs, not animals. In 2010, the American Anti-Vivisection Society and Farm Sanctuary detailed more than a dozen concerns with the AquAdvantage salmon, any one of which should have precluded approval. Yet, in its proposal, FDA ignored animal welfare concerns entirely.
Here are just a few of our concerns, none of which were addressed in FDA’s proposal:
Although AquaBounty supplied limited animal welfare data, its own application indicates that it engaged in “extensive culling” of deformed, diseased, dying, and dead fish from its analysis. This would be like studying smoking’s impact only on long-distance runners who had shown no signs of cancer or heart disease.
All aquaculture causes physical deformities and makes fish sick; nevertheless (and even after culling the sickest animals), the limited data supplied by AquaBounty indicates that AquAdvantage fish are even sicker and more prone to abnormalities and death losses than other farmed fish
Even within these parameters, there were problems with the studies. For example, sample sizes provided were tiny and included limited data, and all analysis was done by the company (do you recall how this worked out with the tobacco companies?).
Salmon in the wild are remarkable animals, swimming thousands of miles, including up streams and waterfalls; and of course, they feel pain and have similar cognitive, emotional, and behavioral complexity to other animals. AquAdvantage salmon will be crammed into tanks in grossly unnatural conditions, and slaughter will be completely unregulated (see video below). Imagine living your entire life, day and night, in an elevator with 20 other people — you can’t even stand up; you live in a pile of everyone else’s limbs and excrement. That’s aquaculture.
Brave New World
The scariest thing about approving GE animals through NADA is that once a type of technological drug advance is approved (here, genetic animal engineering), future approvals become much easier and much less transparent: the process that protects corporate drug development secrets will protect the GE process, resulting in reduced scrutiny and no transparency at all for future approvals. The American public will probably not even find out about future GE animals until after they’re approved for sale. As Friends of the Earth notes, FDA’s approval “will open the floodgates for other genetically engineered animals, including pigs and cows, to enter the food supply.”
FDA’s process for approving genetically engineered meat is rotten to the core, and the effects of such a bad process on human health, our environment, and animals cannot be overstated. In the 2010 process, FDA received more than 400,000 comments and letters from more than 300 health, consumer advocacy, environmental, animal protection, and other organizations. All were ignored. We have one more chance before litigation becomes necessary. Click here to take action.
Lawmaker: Cyberattacks against US getting worse
February 10 2013
WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. is vulnerable to cyberattacks that could shut down financial services or destroy information that companies need for daily operations, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee said Sunday.
Rep. Mike Rogers says 95 percent of private sector networks are vulnerable and most have already been hit.
What’s being stolen? Personal identities, Social Security numbers, money from banks, blueprints for next-generation jobs. At risk are private companies and public agencies. Some estimates put the value of information hacked at up to $400 billion a year. But many companies are reluctant to admit they’ve been attacked to keep a competitive edge and avoid reactions from shareholders.
The Michigan Republican says hackers have stepped up attacks since the fall, and he points to China and Iran.
“They’re taking blueprints back, not just military documents, but civilian innovation that companies are gonna use to create production lines to build things,” Rogers said. “They’re stealing that, repurposing it back in nations like China and competing in the international market.”
Rogers tells CBS’ “Face the Nation” that the U.S. government has, essentially “set up lawn chairs, told the burglars where the silver is … and opened the case of beer and watched them do it.”
A bipartisan bill to shore up the nation’s cyberdefenses passed the House, but died in the Senate in the last Congress. Similar legislation could be introduced again as early as this week.
For Rogers, the fix is “very simple.”
” Share information about threats online,” he said. “The senior leadership in the intelligence community said that they think that we can stop 90 percent of our problems by just sharing classified cyber threat information.”
Kids ‘using coding skills to hack’ friends on games, expert says
February 7, 2013
by Dave Lee Technology reporter,
Children as young as 11 years old are writing malicious computer code to hack accounts on gaming sites and social networks, experts have said.
A report from antivirus company AVG detailed evidence of programs written to “steal” virtual currency.
In one case, researchers were able to reverse-engineer “amateur” code to reveal data about the identity of one child in Canada.
The company said children must be educated on coding “rights and wrongs”.
“As more schools are educating people for programming in this early stage, before they are adults and understand the impact of what they’re doing, this will continue to grow.” said Yuval Ben-Itzhak, chief technology officer at AVG.
The researchers found that many instances of malware targeting games popular with children shared the same characteristics.
Most were written using basic coding languages such as Visual Basic and C#, and were written in a way that contain quite literal schoolboy errors that professional hackers were unlikely to make – many exposing the original source of the code.
The team examined closely one particular instance of code that masqueraded as a cheat program for gamers playing Runescape, an online title that has over 200 million signed-up players.
The program, Runescape Gold Hack, promised to give the gamer free virtual currency to use in the game – but it in fact was being used to steal log-in details from unsuspecting users.
“When the researchers looked at the source code we found interesting information,” explained Mr Ben-Itzhak to the BBC.
“We found that the malware was trying to steal the data from people and send it to a specific email address.
“The malware author included in that code the exact email address and password and additional information – more experienced hackers would never put these type of details in malware.”
That email address belonged, Mr Ben-Itzhak said, to an 11-year-old boy in Canada.
Enough information was discoverable, thanks to the malware’s source code, that researchers were even able to find out which town the boy lived in – and that his parents had recently treated him to a new iPhone.
Many schools around the world are changing education programmes in schools to teach children to code, rather than simply to use, computers.
In the UK, several after-school clubs have been set up – and initiatives to get kids into programming have been backed by the likes of Google and Microsoft.
Mr Ben-Itzhak said that, as the ability level of children increased, more needed to be done to educate them on how best to use their new skills.
“We cannot tell how many kids around the world are [writing malicious programs], but we believe there are more cases like this.
“You teach your children that you can’t take a toy without paying – so I think this type of a message needs to get to the kids when they’re writing software too.”
Linda Sandvik is the co-founder of Code Club, an initiative that teaches children aged nine and up how to code.
She told the BBC that the benefits from teaching children to code far outweighed any of the risks that were outlined in the AVG report.
“We teach English, maths and science to all students because they are fundamental to understanding society,” she said.
“The same is true of digital technology. When we gain literacy, we not only learn to read, but also to write. It is not enough to just use computer programs.”
Horsemeat scandal: bute drug ‘presents very low risk to public health’
Chief medical officer moves to allay concerns of any potential harm from phenylbutazone as butchers report spike in business
February 11, 2013
by James Meikle
The UK’s chief medical officer, Dame Sally Davies, has said there is a “limited public health risk” if the drug phenylbutazone, known as bute, is found in beef products that contain horsemeat.
In her first public statement on the horsemeat scandal, Davies reiterated the message of ministers that there was no health risk and sought to allay concerns over any potential harm from bute, an equine anti-inflammatory medicine that is banned in food.
The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has ordered further tests and said last week that consumers should not eat Findus beef lasagne bought before it was removed from shelves because it had not been tested for bute.
Meanwhile, Romania denied any part in the growing scandal after being implicated by France, and butchers reported a spike in business as concerns mounted over processed meat.
Romania’s prime minister, Victor Ponta, told a news conference: “From all the data we have at the moment, there is no breach of European rules committed by companies from Romania or on Romanian territory. I am very angry, to be honest.”
The UK environment secretary, Owen Paterson, who has already warned that thousands of tests conducted this week may find “there is a substance which is injurious to human health”, told BBC Breakfast: “The FSA’s clear advice is to continue buying and eating all the products for sale.
“Should evidence come forward of any serious threat to health, obviously we will react very swiftly, and that could mean action on imports. But at the moment, all the evidence is that these products are entirely safe and people are open to eat them if they are advised so by the FSA – and they are.”
Davies said: “We are working closely with the FSA and Defra [the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs] to investigate how horsemeat got into the UK food chain. There is nothing to suggest a safety risk to consumers who may have eaten the products. All of the retailers involved so far have removed potentially affected products from their shelves.
“Phenylbutazone is used in some people who suffer from ankylosing spondylitis, a type of arthritis. However, there are international checks to prevent phenylbutazone from entering the food chain because there is a low risk of serious effects – such as aplastic anaemia [bone marrow failure] – in some people. As such, it presents a limited public health risk and CMO supports the FSA advice that it should be excluded from the food chain.”
With the health department saying Davies’s statement was intended to put concerns over bute “in context”, the chief medical officer said there was “currently no indication” that bute was present in any product so far identified in the UK.
“It’s understandable that people will be concerned, but it is important to emphasise that even if bute is found to be present at low levels, there is a very low risk indeed that it would cause any harm to health,” Davies said.
Brindon Addy, chairman of the Q Guild, which represents 130 butchers across England, Scotland and Wales, said: “There has definitely been a spike in sales for the high street butcher in recent weeks, some are saying by as much as 20-30%.
“It is obviously great news for those butchers who have found it difficult to compete with the big supermarkets in the past. People slip into the convenience of supermarket shopping, but whenever there is a scare – be it horsemeat or BSE – they always come back.”