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PAX, LUX ET VERITAS SINCE 1965
Post Democracy and Food Safety
Created by John Eipper on 06/03/13 3:18 AM

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Democracy and Food Safety (Leo Goldberger, USA, 06/03/13 3:18 am)

I wholeheartedly second Tor Guimaraes's dream of improving democracy everywhere--including right here on our own doorsteps, with Monsanto as a most telling case in point! (See Tor's post of 2 June.)

It took some courage for Australia and most of the European nations to ban all or some of their controversial, toxic products. And now we have Japan coming along as well. It is high time for the American public to defy the special interests groups by all democratic means and place potential health concerns over corporate profit.

Thanks, Tor, for raising the Monsanto issue!

JE comments: It's good to hear from Leo Goldberger--hope he's having a great summer.

Returning to the Monsanto controversy, we did address this issue last year, beginning with Sergio Mukherjee's post of 3 August 2012:

http://waisworld.org/go.jsp?id=02a&l=en&objectType=post&o=71278&objectTypeId=64209&topicId=

Randy Black's reply of 5 August has become the most-accessed post in modern WAIS history:

http://waisworld.org/go.jsp?id=02a&objectType=post&o=71305&objectTypeId=64234&topicId=162



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  • Democracy and Food Safety (Istvan Simon, USA 06/04/13 2:36 AM)
    Leo Goldberger (2 June) congratulated Tor Guimaraes for raising the Monsanto issue and he seems to tie it not only to improving democracy, which I think is a very valid issue, but also to food safety, which I think is not. As far as I know, food safety is not an issue in the Monsanto controversy.

    Though I am not a specialist in this subject, I am fairly confident that currently there is no known scientific reason to doubt the safety of foods grown from genetically modified seeds. If there were valid scientific concerns, certainly we would have heard of them by now from the many opponents of the use of GM seeds. We have not, because there is no known scientific evidence that would point to any danger to our food supply from the use of such seeds.


    The food safety issue in the use of these seeds does not appear to come from scientists that have studied the subject, but rather from unscientific and possibly paranoid fears of the general population, who are neither involved in agriculture, nor seem particularly knowledgeable about the relevant science.


    On the other hand, the Monsanto Protection Act controversy is a valid point to discuss about the improvement of our democracy, even if there is no danger to the safety of our food supply, because of the sneaky way that it became law. I addressed this in a WAIS post yesterday (3 June), and I would like to refocus the discussion to that aspect of the controversy.


    JE comments:  Regardless of the science behind genetically modified seeds, there is the "yuck" factor that Jon Stewart summarized so vividly with his reference to "Senator Poppington J. Cornarms," the fictional sponsor of the Monsanto Protection Act:


    http://www.mnn.com/food/healthy-eating/blogs/jon-stewart-explains-the-monsanto-protection-act 




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    • Democracy and Food Safety (John Heelan, UK 06/04/13 4:26 AM)

      Istvan Simon claimed on 4 June that there is no known scientific evidence that would point to any danger to our food supply from the use of such seeds.
      Perhaps Istvan should review "Long term toxicity of a Roundup herbicide and a Roundup-tolerant genetically modified maize" by Gilles Eric Seralini et al., published in the peer-reviewed journal Food and Chemical Toxicology (Vol. 50, Issue 11, November 2012, pp. 4221-4231).


      The Abstract states:


      "The health effects of a Roundup-tolerant genetically modified maize (from 11% in the diet), cultivated
      with or without Roundup, and Roundup alone (from 0.1 ppb in water), were studied 2 years in rats. In
      females, all treated groups died 2–3 times more than controls, and more rapidly. This difference was visible in 3 male groups fed GMOs. All results were hormone and sex dependent, and the pathological profiles were comparable. Females developed large mammary tumors almost always more often than and
      before controls, the pituitary was the second most disabled organ; the sex hormonal balance was modified by GMO and Roundup treatments. In treated males, liver congestions and necrosis were 2.5–5.5
      times higher. This pathology was confirmed by optic and transmission electron microscopy. Marked
      and severe kidney nephropathies were also generally 1.3–2.3 greater. Males presented 4 times more large
      palpable tumors than controls which occurred up to 600 days earlier. Biochemistry data confirmed very
      significant kidney chronic deficiencies; for all treatments and both sexes, 76% of the altered parameters
      were kidney related. These results can be explained by the non-linear endocrine-disrupting effects of
      Roundup, but also by the overexpression of the transgene in the GMO and its metabolic consequences."


      No doubt Monsanto has rolled out its big guns to counter the study as it usually does.


      JE comments:  I'm no scientist, but it appears this was a study done primarily on the herbicide Roundup, not on the modified corn per se.  In any case, the fate of these poor rats only underscores the "yuck" factor of genetically engineered food.

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      • Democracy and Food Safety; Seralini Paper (Randy Black, USA 06/04/13 6:18 PM)
        John Heelan's 4 June post brings up the matter of a controversial research paper on Monsanto's genetically modified corn by a French microbiologist. That paper offers an Occupy Wall Street-feel to the Gilles Eric Seralini-authored study.



        That study caused a unified uproar and large pushback from the global scientific community, due to the author's "flawed approach, personal bias and his deceptive use of the flawed data."



        From Forbes, 25 Sept 2012:



        "Who is Professor Seralini and how did he make this shocking discovery which conflicts with decades of research and extensive worldwide use of genetically engineered crops... Is there now evidence that suggests that genetically engineered crops are dangerous?

        "In a (Forbes) earlier this year, we speculated that Seralini was less guilty of actually fudging data to get the desired answer than of performing poorly designed experiments and grossly misrepresenting the results.


        "(Seralini has made a specialty of methodologically flawed, irrelevant, uninterpretable--but over-interpreted--experiments intended to demonstrate harm from genetically engineered plants and the herbicide glyphosate in various highly contrived scenarios.)


        "The experiment we wrote about purported to show toxicity in vitro to a line of cultured embryonic kidney cells exposed to two proteins commonly incorporated into many varieties of corn, soybean and cotton to enhance their insect-resistance. As we discussed, because the experiment was so poorly conceived, any result would have been meaningless.


        "We were mistaken about Seralini. The experiments reported last week show that he has crossed the line from merely performing and reporting flawed experiments to committing gross scientific misconduct and attempting fraud.


        "Seralini claimed that his experiments found harmful effects, including a high incidence of tumors, in laboratory rats fed genetically modified corn and/or water spiked with the commonly used herbicide, glyphosate. The treatments lasted for two years.


        "There is so much wrong with the experimental design that the conclusion is inescapable that the investigators intended to get a spurious, preordained result." (End of Forbes excerpt)


        Randy Black: My concern is that John Heelan did not delve a bit deeper into the controversial results and claims by Seralini versus the global objections of the scientific community.


        From letters to the editor of Food and Chemical Toxicology, which published the study by Seralini:



        "Dear Dr. Hayes,



        "I have serious concerns related to a recent online publication in one of the Elsevier Journals, Food and Chemical Toxicology: Séralini et al. "Long term toxicity of a Roundup herbicide and a Roundup-tolerant genetically modified maize." Food Chem. Toxicol. (2012).


        "This paper has some relevant flaws from the experimental design, through the statistical analysis and the way the data is presented. In addition, it lacks of some crucial information for the proper understanding and full assessment of the work...


        "First the choice of the rat breed, Sprague-Dawley, the duration and the uncontrolled feeding used in the study. These animals were maintained for 24 months and fed ad-lib. This specific breed of rats is well known to be prone to develop cancer with age and especially when there is no dietary restriction. For example, Prejean et al. (1973) noted a spontaneous tumor incidence of 45% in 360 Sprague-Dawley rats (179 males and 181 females) in an 18-month series of carcinogenesis experiments.



        "...Second, the way the data is presented and analyzed. Scientists have to be careful and take measures to avoid being trapped by (their) own bias, but the authors seem to consider the bits that supported their own beliefs and forgot to question their own contradicting results. An example of that, is the missing discussion; for instance, on why male rats appear protected to cancer when eating high quantities of GM maize... Despite the contradicting authors' claim: ‘In females, all treated groups died 2-3 times more than controls, and more rapidly. This difference was visible in 3 male groups fed GMOs,' the data presented do not support the conclusions made.



        "The initial unbalanced media coverage is causing damage to an important tool for global food security. It is also important to avoid unnecessary distress and pain of the animals (e.g. Directive 2010/63/EU), the experiment should not go beyond the point required to meet the scientific objectives. I urge you to take adequate measures to keep the high standard quality of publications that come to your journal. This paper as it is now, presents poor quality science and dubious ethics."



        Lúcia de Souza and Leila Macedo Oda, PhD, ANBio--Brazilian Biosafety Association



        From a press release from the European Food Safety Authority:



        October 2012


        "The European Food Safety Authority has concluded that a recent paper raising concerns about the potential toxicity of genetically modified (GM) maize NK603 and of a herbicide containing glyphosate is of insufficient scientific quality to be considered as valid for risk assessment.


        "EFSA's initial review found that the design, reporting and analysis of the study, as outlined in the paper, are inadequate. To enable the fullest understanding of the study the Authority has invited authors Seralini et al. to share key additional information.


        "Such shortcomings mean that EFSA is presently unable to regard the authors' conclusions as scientifically sound."


        http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0278691512008022


        http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0278691512007879


        http://www.forbes.com/sites/henrymiller/2012/09/25/scientists-smell-a-rat-in-fraudulent-genetic-engineering-study/

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        • Experimental Data (Charles Ridley, USA 06/05/13 3:09 PM)
          In response to our recent discussion on genetically modified seeds, I'd like to add a few comments on predictions based on experimental data based on my personal lab experience.



          I was hired as a research assistant in reproductive physiology at Jackson Laboratory (Bar Harbor, Maine) in the late spring of 1958, and worked there for about 16 months. The scientist for which I worked was attempting to find substances that would protect fetuses from abnormalities due to known teratogenic agents and treatments. One of the potential protective substances tested was ethanol, which, in fact, was found to have protective effects.



          Prior to the year I spend working on this experiment, the scientist I worked for had run a series of experiments to assess the rates of occurrence of certain spontaneous fetal abnormalities in untreated mice. These findings served as a basis for assessing the extent to which certain teratogenic agents produced fetal abnormalities and the extent to which certain potentially protective treatments (ethanol being one such treatment) protected the developing fetuses. The pregnant mice were "sacrificed" before giving birth and the fetuses were examined and kept for further examination. The final determination of whether ethanol, for example, was protective was based on statistical analysis of the data.



          One lesson that can be drawn from this is that one does not simply run tests on laboratory animals to determine the effects of drugs without first running the experiment on fetuses from mothers that were untreated and subjecting the data obtained in regard to fetuses from both treated and untreated mothers to statistical analysis.



          That is the proper way to conduct experiments to determine the effects of drug treatments on developing fetuses.



          The reader may learn about the studies in question on the internet by referring to research conducted by my "boss," Dr. Meredith Runner, who subsequently developed the Department of Reproductive Biology at the University of Colorado.

          JE comments: I always enjoy Charles Ridley's tales from his work history, but this one raises a curiosity: ethanol has a protective effect on fetuses?



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          • Experimental Data and a Huxley Quote (John Heelan, UK 06/10/13 4:06 AM)
            Charles Ridley (5 June) risks venturing into dangerous and uncharted ethical waters in discussing the possible use of human foetuses for experimental purposes. I suspect few parents would be willing to risk their unborn child in such experiments. However, given the recent advances in stem-cell research that indicates the potential for cloning human embryos, no doubt entrepreneurs would see a market in providing material for such experimentation.

            The world would move a step nearer to Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, which "breeds people to order, artificially fertilizing a mother's eggs to create babies that grow in bottles. They are not born, but decanted. Everyone belongs to one of five classes, from the Alphas, the most intelligent, to the Epsilons, morons bred to do the dirty jobs that nobody else wants to do. The lower classes are multiplied by a budding process that can create up to 96 identical clones and produce over 15,000 brothers and sisters from a single ovary."


            http://www.huxley.net/studyaid/bnwbarron.html


            JE comments:  Another ethical quandary we haven't yet considered is the "saviour sibling," a child conceived to provide an organ or cell transplant to a brother or sister with a fatal disease.  This is definitely Huxley territory, and a sure-fire way to ensure that the "saviour" will grow up with serious psychological challenges.


            (I would venture that Nineteen Eighty-Four is the most quoted novel on WAIS.  Brave New World may be in second place...might it soon be time for a Brave New WAISworld?)

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            • Experimental Data: A Misunderstanding (Charles Ridley, USA 06/10/13 10:32 AM)
              In response to John Heelan (10 June), I did not suggest the use of human fetuses in experimental work. I was discussing how mice are used. The use of human fetuses is the last thing in the world I would suggest.

              One of the consequences of having taken embryology in college was the development of a spirit of wonder and reverence toward development of the embryo and fetus. I don't know how my remarks were so misinterpreted. I was speaking solely of research on laboratory animals.


              JE comments:  Happy to post this clarification.



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              • Experimental Data: A Misunderstanding (John Heelan, UK 06/11/13 3:31 AM)
                My sincere apologies to Charles Ridley for misinterpeting his phrasing (5 June), "one does not simply run tests on laboratory animals to determine the effects of drugs without first running the experiment on fetuses from mothers that were untreated and subjecting the data obtained in regard to fetuses from both treated and untreated mothers to statistical analysis...That is the proper way to conduct experiments to determine the effects of drug treatments on developing fetuses."

                JE comments: I think Charles Ridley was referring to laboratory animal fetuses, although the text as written is ambiguous.


                Next up: a poem from Charles on the very topic of laboratory research.



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            • *Nineteen Eighty-Four* and the Philippines post-WWII (Bienvenido Macario, USA 06/11/13 4:16 AM)
              When commenting John Heelan's post of 10 June, JE wrote: "I would venture that Nineteen Eighty-Four is the most quoted novel on WAIS. Brave New World may be in second place...might it soon be time for a Brave New WAISworld?"

              Usually the quote from 1984 is about "Big Brother," and I'm curious if other than "Big Brother" there was any WAIS post in reference to the quote below:


              "'Who controls the past,' ran the Party slogan, 'controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.'" --George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four, Book 1, Chapter 3 (1949)


              I don't know if Big Brother applies to the Philippines, but the above excerpt is very much the basis for the existence of the present quisling republic that should have never gone beyond 1949, when Quirino's presidency was almost overrun by communists. Thus the 1946 Philippine republic is null and void.


              By the way, maybe Eugenio Battaglia (10 June) would be happy to know that after WWII it was the Falangist-Fascists like Roxas, Ayala, Zobel and Soriano who took over the Philippines. In fact Andrés Soriano was a spy for Franco even before WWII started in the Pacific. He deliberately did not register as a spy with US authorities in the Philippines.


              Another quote very fitting for the Philippines today was attributed to Joseph Goebbels:


              "If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it."--Goebbels



              Example: "The Philippines is independent, sovereign and ready for self-rule. It is a former US colony, not a territory. It was not bought from Spain for $20 million along with Puerto Rico and Guam. The Philippines is the newest tiger economy."--Aquino III


              Now repeat and repeat and repeat.


              JE comments:  What do we know about the businessman Andrés Soriano and his role as leader of the Philippine Falange?  His Wikipedia bio is quite thin, although it tells us that Soriano founded Philippine Airlines and was instrumental in the development of the San Miguel brewery.  (Beer and piloting--not a smart combination!) 


              What connection existed between Franco and Soriano in the post-WWII years?


              http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andrés_Soriano



               



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              • Philippine Falange Founders Andres Soriano and Enrique Zobel (Bienvenido Macario, USA 06/12/13 4:05 AM)
                This could be a good post to observe Philippine Independence Day (June 12, 1898).

                When commenting my post of 11 June, JE wrote: "What do we know about the businessman Andrés Soriano and his role as leader of the Philippine Falange? His Wikipedia bio is quite thin, although it tells us that Soriano founded Philippine Airlines and was instrumental in the development of the San Miguel brewery."


                First, in Stanley Karnow's In Our Image, 1989, p. 325, Andrés Soriano was identified as Generalísimo Francisco Franco's Manila agent who failed to register with the US authorities.


                Then in Wikipedia's entry on "Philippine Falange," Andrés Soriano and his cousin Enrique Zobel were listed as founding leaders with Spanish National Assemblies of the Philippines (Juntas Nacional Española) as the formal name for the Philippine Falange party.


                See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philippine_Falange


                As war with Japan became inevitable, the oligarchs played the 50-50 strategy of playing both sides of the coin. Enrique Zobel collaborated with Japanese while Andrés Soriano applied for Filipino citizenship, joined Quezon and the Commonwealth and became one of the most influential aides of MacArthur.


                So either way, be it during the Japanese occupation or after WWII, the oligarchs managed to be on top of the food chain in the Philippines.


                This explains how Soriano's cousin, the oligarch-traitor Roxas, became president and why the operations against the dispossessed peasants and unrecognized communists guerrillas in Central Luzon was a "near-pogrom."


                In pre-war Manila, there was one problem in Joseph McMicking, the only Philippine-born member of MacArthur's entourage, who left and returned to the Philippines with MacArthur. But when Americans reached the outskirts of Manila, the Hall-McMicking families were found and arrested in a "random" search. The entire family was executed in the Masonic Lodge on January 30, 1945. At that time Manuel Roxas was working for the Japanese. Later his cousin Jaime Zobel-Ayala took over the McMicking properties.


                In the 1980s, Andrés Soriano is said to have retired in a villa in Spain. As to whether or not Soriano retired in the same town villa where renegade CIA agent Philip Agee lived, I wouldn't know. But I won't be surprised.


                JE comments:  Happy Philippines Independence Day to Bienvenido Macario, although I know he is ambivalent on its meaning.  The Philippines Declaration of Independence, drafted in Spanish, was recognized by neither the US nor Spain.  There is irony in the US failure to accept a declaration so clearly inspired by our history, although 1898 was not a time when this country embraced the concept of self-determination.


                The Philippine Falange flag is creepy.  Red and black banners have a way of doing that.  Here it is for the curious:








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              • *Nineteen Eighty-Four* and Some Vintage WAIS Posts (John Heelan, UK 06/13/13 3:54 AM)

                Bienvenido Macario asked on 11 June if any WAISer had quoted the 1984 prediction about control of the past, present, and future. I purposely misquoted Orwell in a discussion with Miles Seeley, re: Iran/UK: The Marine Incident and the "Cowboy Spirit" (John Heelan, UK, 04/06/07):


                http://waisworld.org/go.jsp?id=02a&objectType=post&o=14655&objectTypeId=8905&topicId=1



                Five years previously, Ronald Hilton agreed with me in applying 1984 to contemporary world happenings. I commented, "This has some striking and frightening similarities with the contemporary world."  Prof. Hilton's reply:  "Indeed it does, but I had not thought of Big Brother (the US?). Orwell also said 'He who controls the past controls the future.' This applies perfectly to our history textbook project and takes us to Afghanistan and its history."


                See:  Afghanistan history and George Orwell (Ronald Hilton, USA, 02/11/02):


                http://waisworld.org/go.jsp?id=02a&objectType=post&o=62772&objectTypeId=57022&topicId=60



                JE comments:  There are 248 (now 249) matches for "Orwell" in the WAIS database.  The earliest reference I can find is Prof. Hilton on 20 July 1999, talking about the Orwellian use of language:


                http://waisworld.org/go.jsp?id=02a&objectType=post&o=64129&objectTypeId=58379&topicId=104


                For the curious, Cervantes has 41 matches, and Shakespeare 127.


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                • Orwell and *Nineteen Eighty-Four* (Robert Whealey, USA 06/14/13 5:09 AM)
                  To add to the WAIS bibliography on Orwell, I taught a unique history course at Ohio University from 1985 to 2001, when I retired. It was called "George Orwell, 1984 and the future." It had three parts.



                  I. The Life of George Orwell 1904 to 1950



                  II. Two classic novels, Animal Farm (1946), and Nineteen Eighty-Four (written in 1948--the 8 and the 4 were reversed)



                  III. How far did the USSR and the US fulfill Orwell's predictions since 1991 as to what Oceania, Eurasia and East Asia might look like?



                  The most surprising thing about the course, which usually drew 20-30 students, was that in 1991, when the Soviet Union collapsed, I predicted the enrollment would drop. Surprisingly, the enrollment from 1992 to 2001 remained the same.



                  In the last five years, I asked the students, I wonder why? Their response: they could see through the lies of American TV, the pollsters and public relations campaigns of Madison Ave. and K street. When I retired, nobody in the History Department at Ohio University wanted to continue teaching the course. Like A. J. P. Taylor, at Oxford, most of my colleagues were glad to see mavericks retire.

                  JE comments:  A sobering thought:  not only were our current undergraduates not yet born in the actual year 1984, some of their parents were still teenagers.



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            • Stem-Cell Research; on "Saviour Siblings" (Istvan Simon, USA 06/13/13 4:25 AM)
              In response to John Heelan (10 June), there is no doubt that there are important ethical issues involved in the area of experimentation on human cells. Nonetheless, once again people's fears far exceed what is being done or contemplated. If anything, I would say that there is far too much Aldous Huxley being cited, not too little.

              I invest in a company that does work with stem cells, work that I am convinced is not only ethical, but of great benefit to humanity. Stem cells save lives and cure diseases: the blind can see again, and many other marvels of medicine will come from work in this area. To put obstacles in the path of this work is in my opinion obscene, and obscenely unethical.


              One of the things that this pioneering company does so well is that it can use embryonic stem cells that can then be grown and reproduced for use in curing diseases without destroying the embryo. Not that this usually does much of a favor for the embryo, because the embryos might be then later destroyed anyway, for completely different reasons--usually because their parents do not want to pay for their storage. See below.


              There are a lot of people in political positions who pontificate on this without knowledge and in so doing cause great harm to humanity by putting artificial impediments and obstacles to work that must be done in this area. They do so based on ethical concerns, but as I said above their opposition is obscenely unethical. They cause real harm to millions of human beings. They also harm the United States, where most of this work is being done, in spite of the obstacles that are designed to try to slow down this work. George W. Bush for example was one of the politicians who has much to answer on these grounds. I voted for him twice, which shows among other things that I am not a one-issue person, but I hated everything that he did in this area, which was harmful and unnecessary. Nancy Reagan must have hated it as well. It is obvious that Alzheimer's disease, which killed President Reagan, might be one of the diseases that will turn out to benefit from stem cell research.


              The first thing that must be understood to have any informed discussion in this area is that a human cell is not a human being. This should be obvious--I had a mole removed the other day by a doctor, and yet I did not cry over it, nor arranged a funeral because those cells of mine died or where used in experiments in a laboratory--they were examined for malignancies, for example. Nor does it make any sense to prohibit the use of fetal stem cells for the betterment of humanity for already existing embryos, that will be destroyed anyway. Many such embryos exist--mostly created in human fertility treatments that have produced babies for the otherwise infertile parents, but in a process that creates far larger number of embryos that are used to make the said babies. So what is to be done with the remaining embryos? If the parents will not pay for their storage, they will be destroyed. What sense does it make to stop their cells from being used for stem cell research? I would say none. Yet this is being done every day in these United States.


              I also want to comment on JE's assertion about the ethical quandary of creating a sibling to save an existing child. I know of a case like this. The existing child, a boy, had leukemia and the parents decided to have a second child, who turned out to be a girl, to increase the chances of his survival, should the treatments that he was receiving at the time fail. I would like to testify that JE is wrong. I have known this family for over 25 years, and both brother and sister are fortunately alive and well, both adults by now, and contrary to what JE said, the "savior" child had absolutely no psychological challenges or issues. She grew up a perfectly normal and happy child in a loving family, and is today a perfectly normal young adult lady, as far as I know happy that her brother is alive and well.


              JE comments:  I'm glad to be proven wrong on the topic of "saviour siblings," but I still can imagine the need for a lot of expensive therapy for children conceived to provide medical services for a brother or sister.  Does anyone have a contrasting anecdote?

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              • Stem-Cell Research (John Heelan, UK 06/14/13 6:11 AM)
                Istvan Simon (13 June) acknowledges that there are important ethical issues involved in the area of experimentation on human cells in his characteristically spirited defence of his investment in stem-cell research (and the good of the US, "where most of this work is being done").

                As a non-scientist, I understand that human embryos reach the stage at which stem cells are useful some 4-5 days after fertilisation, and that isolating the bit useful for experimentation usually results in the destruction of the embryo itself (other than the company in which Istvan has his investment apparently). So the ethical question revolves on whether the human embryo has a right to life or not. Some people believe that the still unexplained "miracle of life" occurs at fertilisation, others suggest a development time after which "life" can be said to exist. The ethical conundrum exists whether or not the embryo is destroyed as part of the experimentation, or by parental wish not to store excess embryonic cells resulting from IVF.


                Istvan deftly avoids that conundrum by arguing, a little speciously perhaps, that a human cell is not a human being. Of course not--few of us grieve over the flakes of skin that we shed every night. However, is a human embryo a human being? Left to natural gestation, would that embryo evolve naturally into a person?


                The nature of scientific enquiry is "project creep," as scientists extrapolate known science to search for the next step in trying to understand what causes "life." So, one could speculate that a scientific step in the future might well be to work out how human embryos could be developed into living beings outside the womb. If successful, then Aldous Huxley's prediction that the Brave New World babies were "decanted from bottles rather than being born" would have some truth behind it.


                At this point the ethics would become even more difficult.


                JE comments:  I've changed the topic line of this discussion thread to "ethics."  Previously it was "food"--not a tasteful choice here.

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                • Stem-Cell Research (Istvan Simon, USA 06/15/13 3:26 PM)
                  Maybe I am ethically less astute than John Heelan (12 June), but I see no new conundrum, ethical or otherwise, in his post.

                  From an ethical standpoint, I don't see how embryonic cells are any different from the skin cells John sheds at night. I see no difference. After all Dolly did not start life as an embryo, and yet she was a perfectly nice little sheep made in a laboratory in Scotland from Dolly's "mother"'s somatic cells.


                  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dolly_(sheep)


                  If this is so, why would an embryo have any more of a right to life than a skin cell?


                  In any case, irrespective of what some people may believe or not about the "miracle of life," and whether they believe that this occurs at conception or not, stem cell research brings no new ethical problems, because the embryos already exist.


                  By logic, either embryos have a right to become babies or not. But if embryos have a right to become babies--a right which is not recognized by any country that I know of-- then all the fertility work for infertile couples violates that right, because plenty of embryos are created which do not become babies, which are then discarded. Yet, fertility work has been going on for 35 years, and by now it has been generally accepted: there are four million "test-tube babies" that have been born all around the world. Therefore, it seems to me that the ethical issues were also resolved to most people's satisfaction: most people have now accepted implicitly that embryos do not have a right to become babies--because that is the implication of the fertility work which has been accepted in most countries, and as far as I know, is not being challenged anywhere on ethical grounds.


                  http://learning.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/10/06/the-science-of-conception-studying-fertility-and-i-v-f/


                  It follows that there is nothing wrong or new ethically in getting stem cells from already existing embryos, even if the embryo is destroyed in the process, because as I said above most people have already accepted much before this work even began that the embryo does not have a right to life.


                  By the way, the stem cell company that I mentioned without naming in a previous post is Advanced Cell Technology Corporation. John is welcome to check that they indeed do not destroy the embryo from which they grow their embryonic stem cells:


                  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Advanced_Cell_Technology


                  JE comments:  Just a rhetorical question.  If there is no ethical conundrum in destroying embryos when doing stem-cell research, why then does Advanced Cell Technology pride itself in not destroying them?
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        • Democracy and Food Safety; Seralini Paper (John Heelan, UK 06/06/13 3:13 AM)
          In his defence of Monsanto, Randy Black (4 June) laments that I did not delve a bit deeper into the controversial results and claims by Seralini versus the global objections of the scientific community. As I speculated in my post and as usually happens when Big Pharma profits are threatened, the challenged corporation rolls out its army of big scientific guns and political lobbyists to delay/defeat any possible threat to its profits--settling cases out of court if necessary.

          (Those of us with long memories remember similar tactics being used by Big Pharma in the Thalidomide scandal, and more recently in denouncing Wakefield during the safety of MMR battle.)


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    • Democracy and Food Safety (Tor Guimaraes, USA 06/04/13 6:57 PM)
      In his 4 June post, Istvan Simon wrote, "I am fairly confident that currently there is no known scientific reason to doubt the safety of foods grown from genetically modified seeds. If there were valid scientific concerns, certainly we would have heard of them by now from the many opponents of the use of GM seeds. We have not, because there is no known scientific evidence that would point to any danger to our food supply from the use of such seeds."

      This statement is wrong. A simple survey of the available literature shows that in general there are strong and well-justified doubts about the health, environment, and economic effects of genetically modified food based on its very nature.


      http://communities.washingtontimes.com/neighborhood/world-our-backyard/2013/apr/15/frankenfoods-debate-over-genetically-modified-gm-f/


      Further, many scientists agree that assuming GM food is generally safe is not an advisable conclusion at this time. The evidence clearly indicates that we have good reason to be concerned, and that the burden of "proof" should belong to the party introducing such foods for public consumption to enhance their profits using all sorts of deceit, obfuscation, and manipulative behavior bordering on the criminal. For example, see:


      http://anrcatalog.ucdavis.edu/pdf/8180.pdf and


      http://www.who.int/foodsafety/publications/biotech/20questions/en/


      JE comments:  I'm basically agnostic on the genetically modified food controversy, but I see nothing unreasonable in Tor Guimaraes's statement that the burden of proof should be on those who claim the safety of GM foods.
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    • Democracy and Food Safety (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 06/05/13 2:20 AM)

      Referring to Istvan Simon's post of 4 June, let me start by pointing out that everyone is entitled to his ethically wrong opinions, starting from the the self-determination of peoples, the occupation of foreign countries and ending with genetically modified seeds.



      There is a point rarely considered: such seeds permit the Empire to dominate various countries without using troops. In fact when a country has committed its agriculture to genetically modified seeds it becomes a slave to the supplier, because the farmer always has to buy the modified seeds which become sterile by the second generation (Terminator technology or Genetic Use Restriction Technology patent USA N.5.723.765, granted on March, 3 1998 to Delta Pine Land, later bought by Monsanto, and to the US Department of Agriculture). Furthermore, when using such seeds it is imperative to use only insecticides and herbicides made by the same supplier of the seeds.


      However, now there is the possibility that the GM seeds might not be sterile and that they can reproduce, of course provided that a special chemical is applied (Zombie or Traitor technology), which as expected is only sold by the supplier of the seeds.


      In the past there have been several mishaps: the Flavr Savr, a tomato that did not apparently decay but only lost flavor, nutrients and vitamins, soy modified with Brazil nuts that caused severe allergies, StarLink corn which was insect-resistant but also an insect-killer and so on.


      In many modified seeds antibiotic-resistant genes are inserted, which created the diffusion of antibiotic resistance in pathological germs. The 1975 Nobel Prize biologist Renato Dulbecco stated in 2002: "When a new gene is inserted in a cell, the functions of a great number of other genes are altered." Of course, it is not known when and which genes will be altered and what will happen.


      The Universities of Urbino and Pavia have noted that mice fed with GM "Roundup ready" soy have developed mutations in the liver, testicles and pancreas.  Finally, the threat to biodiversity from universally adopting GM seeds is absolutely crazy and criminal.


      My thanks to John Heelan (4 June) for his post on this matter.


      JE comments:  Eugenio Battaglia introduces two new points of concern about genetically modified seeds:  the economic impact on farmers "locked" into the seeds and chemicals marketed by the GM companies, and the possible threat to the planet's biodiversity.  Both are worthy of further discussion.

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      • Biodiversity and the Economics of GM Foods (Tor Guimaraes, USA 06/06/13 3:19 AM)
        Eugenio Battaglia's 5 May post shows a strong understanding of where this genetically modified food industry will take the world: food oligopoly/monopoly by a few profit blinded corporations. This should not be a major surprise, since we already have similar situations in the banking and oil industry, coal, news media, entertainment, etc. We must always remember that large global corporations are extremely powerful and have no national allegiance but exist for one purpose only:  increased profits every quarter.

        Monsanto has been clearly identified as a villain manipulating legislators, undermining farmers' efforts to maintain their plants' genetic diversity and economic independence, as well as fighting consumer demand for proper GM food labeling. However, to be fair to Monsanto, one must note that similar corporate abuse has been running rampant for the last few decades. The pattern of abuse is very clear. From more socially responsible business models designed to show the superiority of the corporate capitalist system in contrast with state capitalism (USSR, old China, etc.), major global corporations to keep steady profit growth have learned to squeeze their own employees with global job outsourcing and/or legal/illegal immigration. They are also abusing the commons, destroying the environment while reducing operational costs, and changing/reducing government regulations by undermining democracy.


        Last, I want to thank Istvan Simon (5 June) for discussing the separation of church and state in the context of Israel. Nevertheless, Istvan misrepresented my search for truth with the statement, "Tor Guimaraes is often so strongly critical of Israel or the United States, while at the same time so uncritical of the Palestinians, of Egypt, of Syria, of Iran, Venezuela, or even Brazil, that he knows well. Just days ago he wrote how 'hopeful' he was when Lula was elected in Brazil."


        I may seem too critical of the US sometimes, because despite its greatness it can always be improved. The US is exceedingly powerful and manipulative. It can stand more criticism because it can invade countries and control the world more than any other country. But just to be clear, my heart and mind belong to the American nation, to the people; not to various American parties, corporations or other private interests behind most of the manipulations. As to Lula in Brazil, yes I was hopeful for a while, but then he showed his true self as just another corrupt politician.

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      • Economics of GM Foods (Istvan Simon, USA 06/06/13 4:36 AM)
        Eugenio Battaglia's argument (5 June) against genetically modified seeds inspires the following question: Why would farmers buy the expensive "bad" seed from Monsanto if they supposedly have so many disadvantages to the farmer?

        JE comments: I suspect GM seeds give specific advantages, such as yields and resistance to insects or disease, but their long-term impact (such as biodiversity) is unclear.

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        • Economics of GM Foods (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 06/06/13 5:51 PM)
          In response to Istvan Simon (6 June), the PR of firms producing GM foods are saying that such products are necessary for the nutrition of Humanity, but this is not really true.

          As NEIC (Nutrition Ecological International Center) stated on April 14, 2008:


          The continuous increase in the need for grains is not only due to their use for making biodiesel (which should be made only from waste) but to the huge demand for meat.

          To satisfy such requests, intense use of grain is necessary to feed livestock.


          About 15 kilos of grain are necessary to produce one kilo of beef.


          If all vegetables/grains could be used only for the direct feeding of humans, it would be possible to save 90% of the harvest, water, chemicals and energy.


          Therefore the issue is not to use GM foods to increase the production of grains which may be dangerous to human health and may lead to the destruction of biodiversity, but the real issue is to convince humans to consume less and less meat (after all, I and all the fellows I knew during WWII almost did not consume meat without great problems).  In such a way we could avoid:


          Land degradation

          Deforestation

          Chemicals pollution

          Excessive energy use

          Excessive consumption of water (the next wars will be not for oil but for water--might the war in Syria be a prelude?)

          Excessive waste disposal

          Global warming and acid rain


          Furthermore, it will also be a good step ahead to comply with the Universal Declaration of the Animal Rights as for UNESCO at Paris on October 15, 1978.


          JE comments:  And as China and other developing nations become more prosperous, meat consumption is growing precipitously.


          Excellent points from Eugenio Battaglia.  I hope Eugenio won't mind if I make an observation of a personal nature:  One never hears "reduce, reuse, and go vegetarian" arguments coming from the US Right, which tends to have a red meat-and-big-trucks line of thought.  In other words, Eugenio is sounding like...a liberal!  This is one of the reasons I find WAIS so fascinating--it exposes us to worldviews outside the cookie-cutter political categories we know in the US.


          Specifically:  is Eugenio's type of environmentalism common among the European Right?


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          • Environmentalism and Europe's Right (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 06/07/13 2:43 AM)
            My thanks to John Eipper for his comments of 6 June that are, as usual, so appropriate and nice.

            JE asked, "is Eugenio's type of environmentalism common among the European Right?" I may say that in Europe and specifically in Italy there are two types of "Right," the traditional "Destra Liberale" (Liberale in Italy in economic terms is contrary to the US Liberal view), which is Berlusconi and can be quite close to the US Republicans, and there is also the "Destra Sociale Nazionalista Ambientalista" (Social Environmentalist National Right), which regarding the economy may be very near to the US Democrats.


            It may even be a mistake to call the latter position rightist, but everything started immediately after WWII with the Italian elections of 1948: the very few representatives of the heirs of the RSI tried to sit in Parliament on the left, but the huge Communist Party rendered this impossible, so they went to sit at the extreme right. From then it appeared to be on the extreme right, but socially nationalist and environmentalist.


            By the way generally, especially in recent years, my preference goes to the US Liberals.


            Hope that I succeeded in answering in an understandable manner.


            My wife is only an environmentalist and an animal-rights advocate, and does not care much about nationalism.


            JE comments:  Very interesting.  I know of no such thing as a "social environmentalist nationalist right" in the US, a position that would strike most Americans as contradictory.  Perhaps in some ultra-Catholic lines of thought?

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            • MSI and the Italian Right(s) (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 06/09/13 5:21 AM)
              In response to JE's question of 7 June, I do not know if there may be something similar to the Italian social national and environmentalist Right in the USA.

              However, the "other right" or MSI [Movimento Sociale Italiano], founded at the end of 1946 by ex-RSI members, was plagued by persecution, misfortune, mishandling and treason. In the beginning the members met clandestinely because it was physically dangerous. The first meeting place in my hometown was in an apartment just below mine, but practically nobody knew about it. It was only known that there lived the family of one fascist killed at Cadibona and of his son, a lieutenant in the RSI Army, injured, badly beaten, prisoner and invalided.


              When I joined this party at the age of sixteen, I would go around writing on the walls: "Do not be afraid to have courage." My mother, when knew of my membership, slapped me, saying it was better to be punished by her than by the communists or to go to jail, but I, for once, did not obey.


              All the other parties were against the MSI, and a couple of laws were passed in order to persecute them.


              It was the time of the Cold War. The party was supposed to be independent, but the prevailing idea was that the first priority was to fight communism. So under cover, meetings with OSS, then with the CIA and Italian Secret Service for Operation Gladio occurred, and any anti-communist position was approved, including demonstrations in support of the US intervention in Vietnam: perhaps this was the only way to survive but it was a mistake. During the Dark Years from 1968 to 1980, 21 young "Missini" were killed by the communists, many injured and many become genuine extremists and were jailed.


              In 1972, the party united with the monarchists and some non-communist partisans--this too was another mistake. In the years 1992-'93 the MSI received a great boom of votes (about 15%), but the idea prevailed to water down the residual original ideology in order to be in the government with Berlusconi. So in 1995, thanks to the leader Fini, the name was changed to Alleanza Nazionale and finally, a few years later, the party united with that of Berlusconi, the last horrible mistake of the despised Fini, called the new Badoglio. Fini then quarreled with Berlusconi and founded another small and useless party, and is now out of the Parliament.


              At present there are five small parties which descend more or less from the old MSI. Among the social, national environmentalist right, only one (Fratelli d'Italia) is in Parliament presently, but thanks to a spurious alliance with Berlusconi.  Another one, La Destra, in spite of being temporarily favourable to an alliance with Berlusconi in order to enter in Parliament, did not do so and is out. The other three parties, Fiamma Tricolore, Forza Nuova, and Casa Pound, are all three strongly against Berlusconi.


              Such fragmentation is ridiculous and extremely self-defeating. Of course I am not a member of any of these parties.


              In spite of the political mess, the Association of the various ex-soldiers of the RSI survives, as well as the young fellows who recognise the historic importance of their fight.


              JE comments:  Fascinating.  From the Italian perspective, US politics must be seen as singularly boring!

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          • "Sermon Economics" (Istvan Simon, USA 06/07/13 2:56 AM)
            I may agree or not with Eugenio Battaglia's points (6 June) about how we should feed ourselves. But irrespective of whether I agree or not, Eugenio seems to propose here what I call Sermon Economics. And I do not agree with Sermon Economics.

            No one has or should have the power to dictate to others which way they should eat. Eugenio is welcome to be a vegetarian, and try to convince others of the wisdom of his diet, So far so good. But it is arrogant to argue that therefore there is no need to increase grain production, or use lands with higher salinity, which are now unproductive, and thus dismiss Monsanto's technology.


            JE comments:  Aren't "sermon economics" as old as the Dismal Science itself?  Think of Christ's casting out of the money changers.



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        • Economics of GM Foods (Tor Guimaraes, USA 06/07/13 2:33 AM)
          Istvan Simon's 6 June rhetorical question regarding genetically modified plants ("Why would farmers buy the expensive 'bad' seed from Monsanto if they supposedly have so many disadvantages to the farmer?") once again invites rebuke based on overwhelming contrary evidence. Monsanto not only attempts to fool consumers by fighting proper labeling to the point of corrupting legislators and undermining democracy, but it also tries to fool the farmers into surrendering their economic freedom and their plants' genetic diversity. Directly contradicting Istvan's implicit assertion, farmers have been and are continuing to fight Monsanto's fraudulent tactics in court. The latest development may be an unexpected result from Monsanto's past efforts going out of control. Its past seems to be catching up to it:


          http://www.naturalnews.com/040625_lawsuit_Monsanto_genetic_pollution.html#ixzz2VRLqcNe3




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          • Economics of GM Foods (Cameron Sawyer, Russia 06/07/13 3:17 AM)
            It doesn't seem to me that Tor Guimaraes (7 June) has really answered Istvan's question about farmers and GM seeds.

            I will say at the outset that I am, like JE, agnostic about genetically modified food, but as I watch this debate on WAIS I catch a whiff of Luddism in the passionate anti-GM camp. Istvan's question is exactly on point, in my opinion--does Monsanto lobby the government to forbid the sale of non-GM seed? Are non-GM seeds not available? If using GM seed is not beneficial to farmers, then they can buy ordinary seed, unless Monsanto is doing something to interfere with the availability of ordinary seed. I think if farmers are not idiots, then they would indeed buy ordinary seed, if using GM seed is not beneficial to them.


            The argument in favor of GM food plants is that they lead to greater productivity, they help the environment by requiring less use of pesticides, that they lead to lower food prices and more certain supply of food. Greater productivity also means less land is needed for a given amount of production. Given that hunger is still a problem in various parts of the world, these are pretty strong arguments on their face. I'm not saying that I buy these arguments, but it seems to me that nothing substantial has been argued to rebut them.


            Providing links to tendentious sources is not argument, in my opinion.



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            • Economics of GM Foods (Tor Guimaraes, USA 06/08/13 4:29 AM)
              As someone who has appreciated Cameron Sawyer's normally thoughtful and intellectually well-balanced postings, I confess to great disappointment at his 7 June post for several reasons:

              While declaring his impartial, agnostic view regarding the benefits and dangers of genetically modified foods, Cameron reduced himself to labeling as Luddites all the WAIS members who have provided well-reasoned opinions and clear evidence that Monsanto has continuously attempted to fool consumers by fighting proper product labeling to the point of corrupting legislators and undermining democracy, and to fool farmers into surrendering their economic freedom and their plants' genetic diversity.


              Cameron redirected the focus from the need for Monsanto to be more truthful and careful in its experimentation with this extremely dangerous and globally very controversial new technology (as well explained in recent posts by Eugenio Battaglia, Leo Goldberger, and others) by bringing up two questions apparently designed to obfuscate rather than advance the debate:


              The first question, "does Monsanto lobby the government to forbid the sale of non-GM seed?" makes sense only in some very special countries, perhaps in North Korea or some other nation with crazy, corrupt dictators.


              The second question, "Are non-GM seeds not available? If using GM seed is not beneficial to farmers, then they can buy ordinary seed, unless Monsanto is doing something to interfere with the availability of ordinary seed. I think if farmers are not idiots, then they would indeed buy ordinary seed, if using GM seed is not beneficial to them." That is one of the major problems. Non-GM seeds get easily corrupted by "accidental" pollination which then makes the next crop partially owned by Monsanto. Cameron should read about what has happened to the sacred Mayan corn seeds in Central America. Further, what can humanity do once genetic diversity is lost, except be stuck with the possible, perhaps probable, curse of genetically modified seeds? Thus, any reasonable person should be able to see that the burden of proof in this case belongs to the genetic engineers.


              Last, Cameron embarks on a double standard. He stated, "the argument in favor of GM food plants is that they lead to greater productivity, ... help the environment, ... lead to lower food prices and more certain supply of food...less land needed for a given amount of production. Given that hunger is still a problem in various parts of the world, these are pretty strong arguments on their face."


              I agree that this is a nice list of promises. Unfortunately, Cameron excused himself from providing even the slightest evidence to support them, not even what he called "tendentious sources." Remember, for changes with nebulous benefits and great risks, we must be careful and the burden of proof belongs with the change agent.


              JE comments: The contamination of non-GM seed stock by "blowover" from the GM field next door is a serious potential risk.


              I don't see how "Luddite" is an offensive term--I often use it to characterize myself (re:  Facebook, smartphones, and other recent technologies).




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              • Economics of GM Foods (Cameron Sawyer, Russia 06/12/13 1:50 PM)
                In response to Tor Guimaraes (8 June), let's get straight what was said and what was not said. Clearly, I did not say it well enough, for Tor to have so thoroughly misunderstood me.

                My post was narrowly addressed to Tor's failure to answer Istvan's question about why farmers would buy GM seeds if it is not in their interest to do so, and if other kinds of seeds are available. In however many posts we've had on the subject of GM food, I don't believe that this question has been answered yet. A lot of claims have been made about "the farmers" standing up against GM seeds, but who are they? Why would they not simply stop buying GM seeds, if it is harmful to their interests to do so? Maybe "the farmers" are not the broad worldwide farming community, but a narrow group of politicized activists, claiming to speak for all farmers, but actually not?


                I think it's an important subject. I do not, personally, find these claims credible, if farmers continue to buy GM seed. If farmers buy them and keep buying them, it must be because it is beneficial to them, unless someone is preventing them from making other choices. This contradicts a number of the claims which have been made in this conversation.


                The next thing to get straight: When I listed the arguments in favor of GM food, I specifically said that I do not necessarily accept them. I have not studied the issue deeply enough to have an opinion. What I said was that the claims are strong on their face, and would need to be addressed squarely, if anyone is to be persuaded that GM food is an evil plot against mankind.


                I also do not believe that Monsanto a burden of proof to prove that GM foods are safe to the satisfaction of every activist in the world. This is not true as a matter of law, nor as a matter of good common sense. The benefits from GM food are great and are well-established, and they have been eaten by mankind for quite a long time, without any obvious problems. Would Tor ban them, and withdraw all the benefits of them to mankind, a withdrawal which would fall hardest on the world's poor, while--what? What kind of testing program? How many years or decades? While hungry people grow hungrier, because food has become more expensive because more of it spoils, while more pesticides are used to try to compensate for the lack of self-protection? Does this really sound like a good idea to anyone? In the meantime, absolutely anyone in the world is absolutely free to do any testing he wants. If anyone actually comes up with any scientifically credible evidence that GM food is generally harmful, then there will be something to talk about.


                Concerning Monsanto's lobbying against labeling: I did not mention it in my last post so I'm not sure what Tor is objecting to. I posted on this a year or two ago--what I said then was that Monsanto has made a misstep by acting against labeling of GM foods. In my opinion, people should have the right to know anything they wish to know about what they eat, and should have the right to refuse to buy any type of food they like, even if they are motivated by pure superstition. So in my opinion, Monsanto certainly deserves criticism on this particular point.


                When I said there seems to me to be a "whiff of Luddism" in some of the anti-GM foods arguments, I meant that I get the impression, from the form and style of the arguments, and the lack of substance behind them, that an irrational anti-technological, anti-capitalist emotional response is the main driver of them. It's only an impression--a "whiff"--so I'm not actually calling anyone a Luddite. But for me, this "whiff" is a turn-off, and the more I read, the less sympathetic to the anti-GM camp I become.


                JE comments: After a couple of days' hiatus, the genetically modified food topic has returned. Next in the queue: Eugenio Battaglia.



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                • GM Foods; Books by Marie-Monique Robin (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 06/12/13 2:27 PM)
                  Going back to the discussion about genetically modified foods and my suggestion to eat less meat, I just want to point out the new book of the French writer Marie-Monique Robin, "The future harvest:  How Agroecology Can Feed the World." This book follows her other two, "Our Daily Poison" and "The World According to Monsanto." (The titles of the above books are a literal translation from the Italian, but may be different in English.)

                  This work is a comparative analysis of the various systems of food production and arrives to the conclusion that agroecology is not only safer but also cheaper than the industrial industry with GM seeds for producing food.


                  A very bad (for me) development has just occurred: the European Court of Justice (Nigel Jones, where are you?) has just ruled that a farmer in Friuli, in the northeast of Italy, has the right to plant GM corn MON 810, and it will be the first case of GM seeds in Italy. At present such corn is present in Europe only in Spain, Portugal, Poland, Romania, Czech Republic and Slovakia.


                  JE comments:  Robin's The World According to Monsanto and Our Daily Poison have been published in English.  I don't believe the newest title has been translated yet.




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                • GM Foods, Revisited (Tor Guimaraes, USA 06/15/13 11:41 AM)
                  Cameron Sawyer's 12 June post insists that no one has properly addressed "why farmers would buy GM seeds if it is not in their interest to do so, and if other kinds of seeds are available." He wrote, "why would they not simply stop buying GM seeds, if it is harmful to their interests to do so? Maybe 'the farmers' are not the broad worldwide farming community, but a narrow group of politicized activists, claiming to speak for all farmers, but actually not?"

                  Perhaps Cameron is unaware that "over the past 15 years or so, a collection of five giant biotech corporations--Monsanto, Syngenta, Bayer, Dow and DuPont--have bought up more than 200 other companies, allowing them to dominate access to seeds. The takeover has been so dramatic that it is becoming difficult for farmers to find alternatives. As a result, in the US, 90 percent of soybeans are genetically modified, and many conventional farmers have trouble obtaining non-genetically modified seeds ... Farmers are now increasingly forced to use GM seeds simply because there are so few alternative sources of seeds remaining. The effect of this is that we're losing renewable agriculture--the age-old practice of saving and replanting seeds from one harvest to the next."


                  The problem is global, not just in the US. "Two years ago, 400 scientists from around the world created a report (http://www.agassessment.org/ ) that shows how seed and plant patents are increasing, as opposed to reducing, costs as promised. For example, between 1996, when GE seeds were introduced to the market, and 2007, the price for soy and corn seeds doubled ... Heartbreaking proof of the devastating effect of this agricultural change can be seen in the skyrocketing suicide rate in India, where rising debt combined with frequent GM crop failures bring farmers to the brink of despair on a daily basis. Africa has also been negatively impacted by GM crops. SeattleGlobalJustice.org recently reported that 'in 2009, Monsanto's genetically modified maize failed to produce kernels and hundreds of farmers were devastated. According to Mariam Mayet, environmental attorney and director of the Africa Centre for Biosafety in Johannesburg, some farmers suffered up to an 80 percent crop failure.' GM crops were brought to market with the promise of higher yields, lower costs, and reduced pesticide use. None of them have turned out to be true..."



                  http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2010/11/11/how-monsanto-controls-the-future-of-food.aspx



                  Cameron tends to make strongly opinionated statements backed by clear evidence. However on this issue Cameron communicates platitudes. He stated, "I think it's an important subject. I do not, personally, find these claims credible, if farmers continue to buy GM seed. If farmers buy them and keep buying them, it must be because it is beneficial to them, unless someone is preventing them from making other choices ... When I listed the arguments in favor of GM food, I specifically said that I do not necessarily accept them. I have not studied the issue deeply enough to have an opinion. What I said was that the claims are strong on their face, and would need to be addressed squarely, if anyone is to be persuaded that GM food is an evil plot against mankind."


                  Additionally, Cameron wrote: "When I said there seems to me to be a 'whiff of Luddism' in some of the anti-GM foods arguments, I meant that I get the impression, from the form and style of the arguments, and the lack of substance behind them, that an irrational anti-technological, anti-capitalist emotional response is the main driver of them. It's only an impression--a 'whiff'--so I'm not actually calling anyone a Luddite."


                  Before Cameron judges people based on "whiffs," where is any of your evidence of GM food benefits? This is critical since he admitted that "when I listed the arguments in favor of GM food, I specifically said that I do not necessarily accept them. I have not studied the issue deeply enough to have an opinion."


                  Also Cameron stated, "I also do not believe that Monsanto a burden of proof to prove that GM foods are safe to the satisfaction of every activist in the world. This is not true as a matter of law, nor as a matter of good common sense. The benefits from GM food are great and are well-established, and they have been eaten by mankind for quite a long time, without any obvious problems. Would Tor ban them, and withdraw all the benefits of them to mankind, a withdrawal which would fall hardest on the world's poor?"


                  It is quite bewildering to me for someone to make such strong statement right after stating "When I listed the arguments in favor of GM food, I specifically said that I do not necessarily accept them. I have not studied the issue deeply enough to have an opinion."


                  The last potentially devastating piece of Cameron advice: "If anyone actually comes up with any scientifically credible evidence that GM food is generally harmful, then there will be something to talk about." Wrong again. Then, given the nature of the change, there would be nothing to talk about. It will be way too late.


                  JE comments: Where was your morning WAIS, you ask? My apologies: our website was down all morning.  Roman Zhovtulya and I have been doing some site updates, including the exciting new Membership Map, and perhaps we pushed the wrong button...


                  I'll work throughout the day to catch up on the backlog.

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                  • GM Foods; An Experience in China (Henry Levin, USA 06/15/13 4:21 PM)
                    In response to Tor Guimaraes and Cameron Sawyer. Cameron asked (12 June) why farmers would buy the genetically modified (GM) seeds if not in their interests? The answer is that it may be in their narrow interests, but not necessarily in societal interests.

                    Let me give a different example. Food in China is unregulated. We spent the fall in China, and our colleagues constantly gave us advice on where to buy food and where not to buy it based not on fact, but on rumor. Their view was that even stores that claimed that their produce was untainted by pesticides or meats were untainted by hormones and antibiotics could not be trusted (and there were few who made these promises).


                    One day I met a professor at Peking University, where I taught, who was a biologist, and I asked him where he bought his food. He flew much of it in from a place in Hong Kong that he believed was untainted. But, he also told me an interesting story. He said that it is now increasingly common among more prosperous farmers to set out two distinct plots of land, a small plot and a large one. The small plot is for family and uses neither pesticides nor hormones and antibiotics for the animals. The large one is for the agricultural market and uses prodigious quantities of pesticides and hormones and antibiotics for the animals and produces faster and far more output because the animals get fattened up more quickly and the fruits and vegetables are more abundant. He also claimed that many of these "aides" were sold by multinational corporations who were prevented from selling them in their home countries because of scientific evidence on health dangers.


                    I mentioned this to several colleagues, and they acknowledged that it was well-known to be true, and one even told of taking a daytrip and stopping at a farm to admire the fruit, but being turned down for purchase because it was reserved for the farmer's family, but being offered fruit by the same farmer from the main plot.


                    The point is that what is good for the farmer is not necessarily good for society. I still know too little about GM food to draw strong judgment other than to acknowledge uncertainty. I wish that there were more concrete information. More generally, there are situations where an individual farmer may have incentives where society does not. In this case the good is fungible by appearance (that is it cannot be distinguished from the non-GM in appearance by the typical consumer, even if it has deleterious consequences). Yet, that may not make it safe for society, even if it has advantages for the farmer.


                    JE comments: Excellent points. The fungible-by-appearance aspect of GM foods should give us all concern.  Unless there are strongly enforced labeling laws, consumers don't have a choice.



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                    • Food in China (Istvan Simon, USA 06/17/13 4:13 AM)
                      I am usually in agreement with Henry Levin on most issues, but I feel a considerable amount of unease with his 15 June post, in which he argues that what may be in the interest of the farmer may not be in the interest of society in general.

                      I want to dispute the example that Hank brought up about Chinese farmers having two plots, one for themselves and one for all others. I don't buy this story, nor the implications that Henry draws from it. I am not saying that the story is untrue--it very well may be true, but it may also be false. I do not know, but I tend to doubt that something like what Henry describes might be a general practice of farmers in China. It may occur for some farmers, but China is a large country and I very much doubt that it can be generalized. There are hundreds of millions of farmers in China. Why would all or most behave the same way? I contend first of all that this would be highly unlikely, and second, even if true, Henry's conclusions would not follow.


                      Farmers have customers--and in a free society, which China of course is not an entirely good example of, customers have much of a say in the practices of their suppliers. They do, because they take the decision whether they patronize or not a business. If they do not like the business practices of a business, they may and often do take their business elsewhere. For example, we have JE's antipathy for Walmart (which I do not share). Therefore, he takes his business elsewhere because of this antipathy, while I am perfectly happy to buy at Walmart. This is a pressure that is true in China as well, and it is even more true in a free country, like the United States. So it is false to say that what is good for the farmer is not necessarily good for society. And anyway, who determines "what is good for society"? Once again, clearly opinions may and will vary a lot on what may be good or not for society.


                      JE comments:  I cannot agree.  A good example of how a farmer's personal interest may be harmful to society is fertilizer run-off into the water supply.  The fertilizer boosts yields, but elevated nitrogen levels in lakes and streams negatively impact the ecosystem.


                      Ah, Walmart.  I've found a point in common between Istvan Simon and Randy Black, who rarely see eye to eye.  It just so happens that Randy is next in the WAIS queue.


                      Walmart's latest:  they are moving ever-larger percentages of their workforce to permanent part-time status, in an effort to get around the requirements of Obamacare.  News reports indicate that this may be taking a toll on the retail behemoth, with dirtier stores, longer lines, and poorly stocked shelves.  I never go to Walmart, but have WAISers who shop there noticed any decline in the customer experience?

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                      • Food Safety in China (Henry Levin, USA 06/17/13 6:57 AM)
                        Istvan Simon (17 June) seems to doubt the dangers of contaminated food in China. Having just spent a semester there with intensive contact every day with Chinese colleagues and news coverage of mass sickness from such food, I am very surprised. All that Istvan and others with Chinese connections need to do is to read the daily press, the official press. The traffic jams, ecological threats, bad air, coal mine disasters, and food risk are daily topics of conversation and not issues of contention.

                        We were constantly informed of restaurants and food stores that we needed to avoid. In restaurants, it is common to use the same cooking oil again and again. The government does not vet the food supply or go to farms to evaluate farm production. Given Istvan's Chinese connection, I am surprised on his appraisal of the sanctity of the food supply. My point wasn't that all farmers follow the practice that I described. The vast majority are too poor to have the land to make this distinction. I simply gave this example for what some of the richer and knowledgeable farmers do. My understanding is that most small farmers are ignorant of the characteristics of and health impacts of the pesticides that they use. US Libertarians would delight in the freedom given to Chinese farmers to do what they want with impunity. In the absence of laboratory testing of their purchases, consumers cannot tell what is safe and what is not. But, farmers need not worry about regulations.


                        I should also add that I have been teaching in China since 1988 and have traveled there regularly, and have never seen such a ubiquitous obsession with the issue of food contamination. Whether this is a function of greater awareness or of increased danger is not clear. But, consumers in the cities (now more than half of all Chinese) do not know the origins of their food, so cannot simply trace it to the farming practices used to produce it.


                        JE comments:  I am convinced.  Why, I wonder, can't the Chinese authorities enact and enforce minimal food-safety laws?  Is it the sheer size of the problem, or something more nefarious?




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                        • Food Safety in China (Istvan Simon, USA 06/18/13 3:37 AM)
                          I am sure that what Henry Levin (17 June) writes is true. Answering Henry, I do not think that the food supply in China is sacred. Nonetheless, I have to consider my own experience, and I have to say that I did not experience what he describes. I ate at least 800 meals at a lot of restaurants all over China. I estimate this number because I lived a total of 9 months in China, and I ate at restaurants regularly. My wife of course lived in China for decades.

                          I also visited China four times since 2004, when again I would eat at restaurants.


                          In 2004 we were treated to a banquet organized in our honor in Shenzhen where I would estimate at least 20 people were present. These were all ex-colleagues of my wife at her University, and their families, and who by 2004 were all very rich. Most had high positions in banks or were highly paid executives in industry. We ate at an expensive and exclusive restaurant in a private banquet room. The meal must have cost thousands of dollars to our host. No one showed any concern for the safety of our food.


                          When I first went to China I observed two things personally. My wife would not wash fruit to eat it, but instead she would take the skin off and discard it, for apples for example and similar other large fruits. She did this because of fear of pesticides. The second thing I observed is that after washing dishes, they would sterilize them in the microwave oven.


                          Though my wife did this with larger fruit that had skin, she ate with her Chinese friends a lot of a little Chinese fruit called "lichee" during the summer and that they would eat without any such concerns. Otherwise my wife never showed any concern about food contamination in restaurants.


                          Not once did I get sick in China from food, and that includes many meals at cheap restaurants too. So either I was eating poison but never enough of it to make me sick, or these fears are a bit exaggerated. I leave it to WAISers to decide for themselves.


                          The obsession with food safety that Henry reports may be related to the powdered milk scandal of a few years ago, where dozens of babies died in China because of powdered milk that contained anti-freeze to increase profits. Because many deaths were caused by this, people were arrested for this crime, prosecuted, sentenced to death, and executed. I conjecture that the preoccupation with food safety has roots in this scandal. Nonetheless, I am fairly sure that the farming practices were not better in 2004 than they are today. So my personal experiences in China should be considered as a counterpoint to what Henry described.


                          JE comments: Istvan has had very good luck with his Chinese culinary adventures. I don't have the same iron constitution--I love to travel, but the food often catches up with me.

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                      • Obamacare and Part-Time Employment (Randy Black, USA 06/19/13 5:00 PM)
                        I had to laugh (sadly) when John Eipper noted in his response to Istvan Simon (17 June) that Walmart was taking heat for the unproven allegation that they were moving more employees to part-time help in order to avoid the Obamacare healthcare expense.



                        Whether or not Walmart is taking such action is not the issue.



                        The issue is that the Democrats rammed a new law through the Congress a couple of years ago that no one had read or even had a clue as to its impact on the USA. When it's sorted out, we find the following facts:



                        Millions of union workers have been exempted from Obamacare for nothing more than their votes.



                        Adding insult to injury, the truth is that local, regional and state governments are putting their part-time employees on 29-hours per week limits by the tens of thousands for the same reason that John criticized Walmart, in order to avoid having to fund mandatory healthcare coverage.



                        In my case, it's personal. My local public school district notified hundreds of substitute teachers last week that beginning in August, we'd be limited to working no more than 29 hours weekly. What this means to me is that I cannot work more than three days a week.



                        Last year, for instance, I worked for one teacher for 15 straight days when she was out for health reasons. No more continuity with the students, the same gig would now be shared with up to four other teachers, assuming they can find qualified individuals, in order to stay under the 29 hours per week limits due to the Obamacare regulations. And while I don't need the work, I do it for the joy of the process.



                        But there are others who do need the hours. Personally, I work for a specific cadre of about 15 upper-echelon teachers who teach very upper-level students. Those teachers trust me to pick up where they leave off with nothing missed. I lead the class discussions, administer the test and quizzes, organize lesson plans, improvise as needed, tutor during the conference period and grade the tests at the end of the day, all the while enjoying the experience. Obamacare? Don't need it; I'm covered. But this one law makes my so-called teaching career impossible. I cannot opt out by law. How unfair is that?



                        Obamacare inhibits my right to work if I choose to. It also inhibits the rights of my colleagues who are just entering their careers and need to exhibit their talents in order to get their feet in the door of my 267-teacher high school.



                        So it's not just Walmart, Monsanto, the Bank of America, Dunkin' Donuts, Red Lobster, Olive Garden, Taco Bell, Wendy's, Starbucks or Ford Motor Company; it's happening at every level of society.



                        Browsing the Internet, I see that the State of Virginia, faced with $110 million in added medical costs that they cannot fund, are cutting hours of adjunct faculties to less than 30 hours a week to avoid this debacle. Ohio and Pennsylvania are following suit. MSN writes that 65% of the nation's colleges and universities rely on "non-tenure-track faculty members such as adjunct."



                        Lead from an article in Pennsylvania:



                        Pennsylvania's Community College of Allegheny County (CCAC) is slashing the hours of 400 adjunct instructors, support staff, and part-time instructors to dodge paying for Obamacare. The solution, says United Steelworkers representative Jeff Cech, is that adjunct professors should unionize in an attempt to thwart schools seeking similar cost-savings efforts from avoiding Obamacare.



                        http://collegeinsurrection.com/2012/11/pa-college-cuts-worker-hours-to-avoid-obamacare/


                        http://money.msn.com/now/post.aspx?post=4d244b10-c6c5-4ac5-8813-6af97bde54ff



                        JE comments: I've gone on record many times against the increasing reliance on part-time faculty. It has heightened the class system in academia, and is only getting worse. Adrian College is following the same path as Randy's school and the Community College of Allegheny County: starting in the fall, adjuncts will be limited to eight credits per semester, so that they won't count as full-time employees.  I presume this is the trend around the country.



                        In an ideal world, shouldn't Walmart as the nation's largest private employer take the lead in bucking this trend?  Of course, the best antidote will be lowering the unemployment rate, which will put market pressure on employers.


                        As I said earlier, I'm grateful to Walmart for one thing:  it counts among its faithful my two friends Randy Black and Istvan Simon, who don't flock together on most issues.



                         



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                        • Obamacare and Part-Time Employment (Paul Pitlick, USA 06/20/13 10:29 AM)

                          The problem with Randy Black's argument (20 June) is that he's focusing on one piece of a complex puzzle. There isn't enough money to go around. Texas is one of the poorest-funded states per pupil in the US.  See: "Wendy Davis says Texas ranks 49th in what it is doing in per-pupil education spending":  http://www.politifact.com/texas/statements/2013/apr/18/wendy-davis/wendy-davis-says-texas-ranks-49th-what-it-doing-pu/




                          If Texans would pay more money for education, there might be room to pay for Randy's services. Or maybe he should do it the American way--look for a rich Texas capitalist who might donate money to his school to cover his expenses!



                          In order to make health insurance work for everyone, we all have to be in the pool. That's what RomneyObamaCare is trying to do. Personally, I'd have rather seen a single payer (i.e. Medicare for all) than what was passed, but the Republicans wouldn't let that happen, so we have what we have. There are some real structural problems with how the US pays for its health care, so although the plan as passed may not be great, from what I've seen, the rates of increase of health-care costs may actually be coming down.


                          JE comments: Texas does have some good educational outcomes for its 49th-place spending; my niece graduated from a Houston public high school and is now at Harvard. (But she's a overachieving outlier in every sense of the word, and her district is one of Houston's richest.)


                          Paul Pitlick would have preferred a single-payer system over Obamacare, and the Good Doctor (Pitlick)'s word is good enough for me. It's a moot point now to argue for Medicare for everyone, but one thing is clear: there are going to be some serious growing pains as we adopt Obamacare.


                          Why didn't the drafters of the law foresee that employers would respond by turning the working poor into permanent part-timers?  Employers could have been required to pay a percentage of the insurance premiums--i.e., 73% for a person hired at 29 hours per week.  This would immediately remove the incentive to not hire at full time.


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                          • Obamacare and Part-Time Employment (Randy Black, USA 06/23/13 3:58 AM)
                            When Paul Pitlick wrote (20 June) that Texan Wendy Davis claimed that Texas ranks 49th out of 50 states in funding for public school students and cited that claim to www.politifact.com, I followed the link.



                            In the final paragraph, the Politifact writer corrected Ms. Davis' error and reset the ranking for Texas at 38th place. That is not particularly impressive, but a significant difference. It also puts Texas ahead of states such as California, Georgia, Oklahoma and Arizona.



                            Of course, rankings don't always present the entire picture. Clearly, one cannot ignore the obvious cost differences between teacher union states and non-union, geographically small states such as Maryland versus huge states such as Texas, states with higher living costs, state income taxes, higher property costs and regulatory ambiguities.



                            About Ms. Davis: She is a product of the Fort Worth public school system in a state that ranks 49th or 38th in public school funding, depending upon who you ask. The Democrat was recently reelected as state senator representing a diverse district that has it all: Hispanics, blacks, whites, poor and, wealthy.



                            Her bio says that by age 14, she was holding down a part-time job to help her mom support her and her three siblings. As the daughter of a single mother, she was also single with a daughter by age 19. Her early life does not sound very promising in such a poorly funded state as Texas, right?



                            One might expect Ms. Davis to end up in a trailer park with a bunch of kids and a dead-end job for life after such a humble beginning in such a poorly funded educational system, right?



                            But wait, don't answer yet. After high school Ms. Davis took paralegal courses in the community college system, made top grades and transferred to Texas Christian University on scholarships, where she graduated first in her class. Valedictorian at TCU got her into Harvard Law, where she graduated with honors a couple of years later.



                            My point to here is that it's not how much or little the state spends but what the kid does with it as it's presented, and what type of support the parent or parents provide during the process.



                            Wendy Davis currently works for one of Fort Worth's more prestigious law firms as a litigation lawyer. Her job as a state senator only occupies about six months every two years, which is when our legislature operates.



                            While it's paramount that students and parents make the most of their educational opportunities, it seems to me that we must also consider how the money provided into the education system in each state is spent.



                            Contrary to California and the US government, by state law, the Texas budget must be balanced every year.



                            One thing we do not do is waste $600 million on one school as did the Los Angeles unified school district, which opened the Robert F. Kennedy K-12 school for 4,200 students a year ago. Construction costs were $578 million, not counting land. That's for one school facility. A couple of years earlier they spent $300 million on another single school. Another California problem that we don't have in Texas is union featherbedding.



                            From LAWeekly: "United Teachers Los Angeles and the California Teachers Association, with their enormous political influence at the state and district level, had fixed things so that even the worst teacher could tap a multistep appeals process that on average took more than a year and cost schools hundreds of thousands of dollars per case... In the United States, across all jobs and professions, about 2 to 6 percent of employees are fired annually. For LA teachers, the firing rate was roughly 1/100th of 1 percent."



                            In Texas, while we may not spend the most among the US states, it's pretty obvious that we do a fairly decent job of providing educational opportunities to all children regardless of their country of origin. By state law, if a kid presents his or herself at the door to a school, we must and will educate them, legal or illegal, no questions asked. A Republican governor spearheaded that law a dozen years ago.



                            Undocumented aliens also enjoy in-state tuition status at the university level. This law was actively supported by (Republican) governor Rick Perry and the bipartisan state legislature. "If you say that we should not educate children who have come into our state for no other reason than they have been brought there by no fault of their own, I don't think you have a heart," Perry said. Perry signed the Texas DREAM Act in 2001.



                            Clearly, you will get a negative impression of Texas education if you listen only to a Democrat or a labor union type. What never shows up in the so-called spending stats is the fact that while the feds and the state provide much of the funding, each of the more than 1,000 independent school districts in Texas put their own local taxes in the pool. Not one Democrat or union liberal ever takes that into account.



                            Heck, there is one wealthy local independent school district that contributes more of its own money to other districts that it spends on its own kids because of something called "the Robin Hood plan, a controversial tax redistribution system that provides court-mandated equitable school financing for all school districts in the state."



                            Sources:

                            http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/08/22/robert-f-kennedy-communit_n_690497.html#s129588title=Robert_F_Kennedy



                            http://teachersunionexposed.com/protecting.php




                            http://www.laweekly.com/2013-04-11/news/dance-of-lemons-lausd-firing-jumps/



                            JE comments: Why have teacher unions become the universal whipping boy of the US Right? This is a sincere question.  I'd especially like to know when the phenomenon began--in the Reagan 1980s, or before?  Note Randy Black's second link, above:  "Teacher Union Exposed," a single-issue website if there ever was one.


                            Perhaps Henry Levin can shed some lux on this.

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                            • More on Education Spending and RomneyObamaCare (Paul Pitlick, USA 06/24/13 3:30 AM)

                              In response to Randy Black's post of 23 June, a minor correction first. The final paragraph of the link I posted on 20 June does not state: "the Politifact writer corrected Ms. Davis's error and reset the ranking for Texas at 38th place. That is not particularly impressive, but a significant difference. It also puts Texas ahead of states such as California, Georgia, Oklahoma and Arizona." The second to last paragraph does say that there is another way to look at the data, which might place Texas 38th. However, the final paragraph goes back to Ms. Davis's original claim: "Our sense is that this is the appropriate comparison, though Davis failed to clarify that Texas is 49th by this yardstick in comparison to other states plus Washington, DC, which is not a state. Absent this clarification, her claim rates as Mostly True."



                              My point here is not to quibble about a state ranking, which is mostly obfuscation, as is the comparison to whether Texas spends more or less than CA, GA, OK, AZ, etc. One can also only congratulate Ms. Davis for her achievements after starting out on an unpromising path, and it's great to see that the state of Texas can scrimp on education expenditures and still educate it youngsters. However, these are also long obfuscations. And Randy's last two paragraphs really lose me: I'm not either a "Democrat or union liberal," so I don't labor under the delusion that the feds or state are responsible for my local school district--in California, our local property taxes support our local schools, as I presume is true in most, if not all, states. Randy might also be surprised that my own school district (Palo Alto Unified School District) "contributes more of its own money to other districts than it spends on its own kids." In California, we don't fall for politically charged words like "something called ‘the Robin Hood plan'"; we just call them "Basic Aid" districts, of which there are about 40 (of more than 1000 school districts) in the state. But this is also obfuscation.



                              My issue was that of all the various reasons that Randy Black might have cited for his cutback in hours, he chose "Obamacare." My point was that at 49th (or 38th) in spending, there simply isn't enough money in the system to do all Randy would have the schools do. This is just an example of what the Tea Party types want--cut back government at every level. I'd love to hear John Torok's thoughts, but I think that Randy has a lot more in common here with the "Occupy" types than with the Tea Party types. Randy also disparages the "Democrat or labor union types"--maybe Randy and his fellow-teachers need an effective union!



                              Finally, there was an interesting article in the 23 June New York Times, discussing implementation of RomneyObamaCare (my preferred term) in Louisville, Kentucky. (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/23/us/a-louisville-clinic-races-to-adapt-to-the-health-care-overhaul.html?ref=us&_r=0 ). While Randy may argue that the US medical/medical-insurance/industrial complex is doing just fine, the article offers some story lines to the contrary. For example, many patients who don't have health insurance now will be eligible for insurance under the ACA. Other patients who don't comply with medical regimens now (a diabetic who eats poorly and doesn't take her medications) could be helped by the ACA, but may instead choose to remain non-compliant, in which case she may be no better off. Even things as simple as updating office-scheduling systems and/or medical records. Computers have been around for more than 50 years, but in many settings, medical information is still paper-based. Where would we be if airlines and banks were still based upon such primitive systems? No--the current medical system needed to change, and it's unfortunate that Republicans remain part of the problem, rather than trying to become part of the solution.


                              JE comments:  I don't think we'll see Randy Black occupying the "Occupy" barricades anytime soon, but Paul Pitlick makes an intriguing point.  Perhaps what Texas teachers need are more effective unions to combat their cutback in hours--not the repeal of Obamacare.


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                              • Education Spending and Performance; Highland Park, Michigan (Randy Black, USA 07/06/13 4:51 AM)

                                In his June 24 post about education spending by state, Paul Pitlick made the case that the state of Texas was near the bottom of the list of states pertaining to overall spending on education of public school students.



                                I noted that the ranking of Texas as 38th in some rankings and as low at 49th in others in per student spending annually. I attempted to point out that the ranking in spending is not the real issue; it's the result.



                                Today, we find that the state of Michigan, while ranked at 9th nationally for school spending per student from local, state and federal funding sources, the results of such spending is disastrous for districts such as Highland Park in Michigan.



                                According to the US Census Bureau, the Highland Park district's 2011 results (near Detroit) for literacy in reading, math, science and social studies demonstrate that their students ranked far below those of other states who spend far less per student than does Michigan.



                                Michigan's Highland Park District: "Each year, kids in 11th grade take the Michigan Merit Exam to see if they are college-ready. In 2011, 90 percent of Highland Park students failed the reading portion, 97 percent failed the math section, and 100 percent failed the social studies and science portions. Not one of the district's 69 eleventh graders was ready for college in science and social studies." Math and reading were close behind. Not surprisingly, the Michigan ACLU is suing for educational fraud.



                                The district operates two K-8 schools and a high school that have been in trouble for their financial troubles (despite the huge spending advantage over Texas) and a move to appoint emergency managers for the schools.


                                Said Michigan State University: "Dumping more money in the system is not a solution," countered Eileen Weiser, a member of the State Board of Education. She compared investing more in Michigan's current public education system to bigger and bigger car repairs for an old jalopy. "At some point, you have to make a decision to buy a new car," Weiser said.


                                "Michigan has in various times been in the top 10 in funding schools but in the bottom half of student achievement," Weiser said. "If there were a relationship between money and competence, it would show up in results."


                                http://www.takepart.com/article/2012/07/13/aclu-sues-michigan-schools-district-horrific-10-percent-literacy-rate


                                https://baa.state.mi.us/oeaa/directory/meap.asp?dCode=82070&bCode=-99&gCode=118&aCode=MME



                                JE comments: Ouch, Randy! It's cruel to beat up on Highland Park, which is six miles south of here along Woodward Avenue. Best known as the birthplace of the Model T, HP now has a post-Apocalyptic appearance that makes Detroit, which surrounds it on all sides, look like Boston or San Francisco in contrast. I'm not sure what is to be done with HP, but it is not an indicator of overall school performance in Michigan.  Nor is it a sound argument for spending less on public education.

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                            • Teacher Unions (Henry Levin, USA 06/24/13 3:54 AM)
                              The issue of teacher unions is a complex one. Randy Black (23 June) expresses a view that is common in the "right to work" states. The empirical evidence tells a somewhat different story, but it is clear that there have been serious union abuses and bottlenecks. Susana Loeb at Stanford is the nation's foremost authority on teacher markets, and one of her many articles evaluates the impact of teacher salaries on graduation rates ten years later in a very sophisticated econometric model which finds that with statistical controls there is consistent evidence of a positive effect of teacher salaries on high school graduation rates among the states. There is no magic here. With higher salaries in any occupation, employers can attract a larger pool of applicants and be more selective. That is simple labor economics. To the degree that unions can establish better salaries and working conditions, this "supply" effect holds and is found in the general research on unions by labor economists such as Richard Freeman, Larry Katz, and others. (All of these names and their works can be found by going to Google Scholar.)

                              However, the other side of this picture is that the teachers' unions have often been opponents of change. In the past they have had a heavy hand in writing the states' education codes through election financing and lobbying. This legislative power has resulted in rigid licensing requirements and employment protections and "due process," which has made it difficult to cull out ineffective teachers. The result is that local school districts have had to find all kinds of other devices to get rid of bad teachers, including counseling out and "buying" involuntary quits through paying off teachers. My former colleague at Stanford, Ed Bridges, has written a book about this, in which he actually was able to obtain the records of 100 or so cases to see how school districts have handled this. By the way, when statistics are given on numbers of teachers who are dismissed, these types of dismissals are not included because they do not go through a formal process which is expensive and frustrating and pro-teacher in many respects because of their influence on the state legislation.


                              But, in the last decade the legislators themselves have gotten impatient and have changed the laws for licensing, teacher tenure, and salary policy. The impatience comes from the lack of leadership of the teacher organizations in addressing the concerns of the public regarding educational challenges. Of course, the teacher unions argue that what is good for teachers is good for students. Perhaps in some cases this is true, such as salaries and working conditions drawing more talent into the profession. But, it is not true for many other regulations and practices.


                              Sorry that I could not give you a simple sound bite.


                              JE comments: Henry Levin always does a great job of walking us through the complexities of education politics.  The teacher unions probably need to be more proactive about embracing change, in particular with regards to teacher quality.  This also means a more vigorous effort at educating the public.  The union-bashers are presently winning the PR war by framing the debate in "unions vs. our kids" terms.

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                              • Chicago Teacher Unions and Mayor Emanuel (David Duggan, USA 06/25/13 4:15 AM)
                                JE wrote (24 June) that US teacher unions are losing the PR war. However, after the strike last year in Chicago, the consensus is that the union bested the Mayor in the court of public opinion, principally by claiming that Emanuel doesn't care about the kids, which is probably correct. It's all about getting re-elected in 2015, so that he can run for president in 2016. There are more parents who vote than teachers, and who are the teachers going to vote for? There will be no one running to the left of Emanuel in either race.

                                JE comments: Great to hear from David Duggan. Is there a common assumption in Chicago that Mayor Emanuel will throw his hat in the 2016 Presidential race? His Honor is a fellow of unlimited ambition, but I don't see how he'll ever overcome his ruthless, attack-dog reputation.



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                        • Obamacare and Part-Time Employment (Istvan Simon, USA 06/20/13 11:27 AM)
                          With all due respect to Randy Black (20 June), I do not think he knows much about Obamacare, and his opposition to it seems to be political and based not on knowledge of the law, but on pre-conceived prejudices.

                          Obamacare is the law of the land. It is not going to be repealed, no matter how many times the Republicans in the House vote on it. Furthermore, it seems politically counterproductive to keep doing so, because President Obama explicitly ran on this issue in the presidential election, and as we all know, he won. So the American people decided already in a democratic fashion that Obamacare is good for them. Randy better get used to it, because Obamacare is here to stay.


                          I wrote repeatedly about Obamacare in this Forum, and I took a University-level course on it. So I know for a fact that what Randy writes about it is just plain wrong. It may not be a perfect law--no law this comprehensive could be perfect. And so, as experience with its implementation grows, it will need to be fine-tuned. But overall, it is not only a very good law, but in my opinion an absolutely necessary law, and the very best thing that happened in the area of health care in the last forty years.


                          The system of health care that existed prior to Obamacare needed to be changed, because even though it was the most expensive of the world by a huge factor, it produced mediocre results. Every objective measurement of the effectiveness of health care put the United States behind countries that spent per capita a tiny fraction of what we spent on health care, and yet did much better on these objective measurements. This is an undisputed and undisputable fact that no amount of political rhetoric can hide. So health care reform was an absolute necessity, and it is a great achievement of the Obama administration that a comprehensive law was passed.


                          Second, the law was drafted with the assistance of specialists that contrary to those who have been vociferously opposed to this law, actually know something about health care and health care policy. That is, people who have studied this subject worldwide. Health care facts are well known and published in scientific journals. But the public of course is largely ignorant of these studies and facts, mostly because almost all of the public political debate on health care is distorted by ideology, and concentrates on things which are unimportant, red herrings--things that research has shown to be irrelevant to the cost of medical care. Examples of these are: (1) malpractice insurance, (2) tort reform, (3) defensive medicine, (4) bureaucracy.


                          (1) contends that the cost of medical care is due in large part to the litiginous nature of American culture, and that as a result doctors must have to carry huge malpractice insurance premiums. That therefore, if we only passed (2) tort reform legislation, we could lower the cost of medical care significantly.


                          It turns out that this is completely false, yet a good deal of political debate on health care costs centers on this issue. I want to add that prior to taking the course I mentioned above on health care policy, I also believed in the above myth, because it seems eminently reasonable--the cost of malpractice insurance is indeed huge for some specialties. Yet research shows that the contribution of this to the overall cost of medical care is absolutely negligible.


                          (3) contends that because doctors fear law suits, they practice defensive medicine. That they order far too many unnecessary tests, which then makes health care too expensive.


                          This turns out to be a myth as well. Once again, research shows that this has no relevance to the overall cost of health care.


                          Even more irrelevant are the "talking points" that Randy repeats constantly in his posts. For example, that the law has too many pages, and that the lawmakers that passed it supposedly have not even read it. Now, whether some lawmakers that voted for the law have read it or not is really largely irrelevant. That is because lawmakers rely on their staffs and what they tell them, and so the question should be if their staffs have read the law or not. Someone clearly did read the law, because someone wrote it. So all this is just so much fluffy hot air without much substance. In any case, to me it is obvious that Randy has not read the legislation either, because he never attacks any particular provision of the law, but instead concentrates his attacks on these political points.


                          In his latest post Randy attributes his troubles as a substitute teacher to Obamacare. Well, of course I may add that Texas is one of the states that is resisting the implementation of Obamacare. My point is that Randy might as well rail for his troubles against Texas, which is so stubbornly still resisting the implementation of the law. It is quite possible that states that have embraced Obamacare instead of dogmatically opposing it as Texas does do not experience what Randy is reporting about his teaching job.


                          http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/29/gop-governors-obama-health-care_n_1637456.html


                          There are indeed several states that have now seen the light, and have changed their opposition to approval, in order to get the money that the Federal government allocates to those that implement the exchanges where people are supposed to buy insurance. Furthermore, Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman wrote that indeed medical costs have been moderated by those states that have adopted Obamacare, so that early results on its economic effects seem to favor the law as doing precisely what it has been designed to do.


                          But for the sake of the argument let us suppose that indeed Randy's troubles stem from Obamacare. He said: "Obamacare inhibits my right to work if I choose to."


                          Now seriously, Randy, are you kidding me? Obamacare does nothing of the sort, even if we assume that what you reported is one of its side-effects. There is absolutely nowhere in the US Constitution that I can read that you have a right to the kind of job that you had prior to Obamacare. So whether the new restrictions you write about are motivated by Obamacare or not, it is ludicrous to claim that it inhibits your right to work. At worst we can conclude that Obamacare has side effects that change the labor market, just like technology, and many other factors change it constantly. You do not have a right that things should continue to be exactly the way they used to be. You and everyone else will just need to adapt to the new labor market.


                          JE comments: I'd like to invite Istvan Simon to follow up on this post by looking at the apparent increase in the part-time underemployed, due to the requirements of Obamacare.


                          A parallel thought:  might Texas be putting the squeeze on its employees precisely to fire them up against the new law?



                          At least Istvan and Randy have Walmart in commmon...



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                  • GM Foods and Mercola.com (Randy Black, USA 06/17/13 4:42 AM)
                    In his reply to Cameron Sawyer's post about the pluses and minuses of genetically modified seeds in the global food chain (June 15), Tor Guimaraes supported his contrarian position with information from a popular alternative medicine website.



                    Tor offered an excerpt from www.mercola.com, owned by Joseph Mercola, DO.



                    Always a skeptic, I looked into who Mercola is and how he's accumulated his celebrity status and resulting fortune. Whether or not Mercola is a credible source for Tor's anti-GM position is up to WAIS readers.



                    The following information simply represents information that I discovered from various news outlets, enforcement letters from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the words of an honored medical writer. I have no horse in this race. I've previously written that I support proper labeling of food products that include GM-related materials.



                    Mercola's primary businesses promote his dietary supplements, medical devices and alternative medicine practices via an electronic newsletter (1.5 million subscribers) with "unsubstantiated claims that clash with those of leading medical and public health organizations," according to Stephen Barrett, MD, a retired psychiatrist from Chapel Hill, NC, activist medical writer and owner of www.quackwatch.org.



                    Dr. Barrett has earned an FDA Commissioner's Special Citation Award for Public Service in fighting nutrition quackery.



                    For example, Barrett states and Mercola's interviews and presentations indicate that that Mercola opposes immunization and fluoridation, and mammography; claims that amalgam fillings are toxic; and makes many unsubstantiated recommendations for dietary supplements.



                    Bloomberg BusinessWeek wrote of Mercola: "He is selling health-care products and services, and is calling upon an unfortunate tradition made famous by the old-time snake oil salesmen of the 1800s."



                    According to Barrett and other publications including the Chicago Tribune, in 2005, Mercola was ordered by the FDA to stop making illegal claims for products and goods sold through his website.



                    The FDA charged that Mercola made false claims that his mail order product Chlorella "fights cancer and normalizes blood pressure, and that his Tropical Tradition Virgin Coconut Oil reduces the risk of heart disease and is beneficial against Crohn's disease and irritable bowel syndrome."



                    Mercola was sent a second warning in 2006. This time, the FDA objected to labeling of products that claimed that Chlorella "helped to virtually eliminate risk of developing cancer in the future," along with three other products that Mercola claimed were "safer than aspirin for treating heart disease, were possibly useful in treating Alzheimer's disease and reduced risk of heart disease, cancer and degenerative diseases."



                    By 2011, Mercola was ordered by the FDA to stop making claims about the ability of an infrared camera at his Hoffman Hills clinic (that) "can be used alone to diagnose or screen for various diseases or conditions associated with the breast." (Chicago Tribune, April 26, 2011).



                    Supporters of the FDA position as it relates to Mercola's claims include the American Cancer Society and the American Medical Association.



                    Significantly, per Barrett's www.quackwatch.com, Mercola funds a coalition of websites "that exaggerate the risks of vaccinations, another that is the leading promoter of misinformation about fluoridation, another that understates the benefits of GM foods, and one that spreads false alarms about food irradiation, agri biotechnology and vaccines."



                    According to the Portland, Oregon's Willamette Week, in 2013, "Mercola... questioned whether HIV causes AIDS, suggests that many cancers can be cured by baking soda, and warned parents not to vaccinate their children. He also (said) that animals are psychic."



                    Mercola's marketing company (Mercola Health Resources, LLC) earned a F rating from the BBB of Chicago and Northern Illinois (Feb. 2012, ChicagoMag.com) due to a pattern of not honoring their published money back guarantee for their products among other complaints.



                    http://www.quackwatch.com/11Ind/mercola.html


                    http://www.chicagotribune.com/health/ct-met-fda-warns-mercola-20110425,0,7369962.story


                    http://www.chicagomag.com/Chicago-Magazine/February-2012/Dr-Joseph-Mercola-Visionary-or-Quack/index.php?cparticle=3&siarticle=2#artanc


                    http://www.nutriwatch.org/00AboutNutriwatch/bio.html


                    http://www.quackwatch.org/10Bio/bio.html



                    JE comments:  Interesting.  Nobody scrutinizes a messenger like Randy Black!  I do detect a "whiff" (spasibo, Cameron Sawyer) of charlatanism around Dr. Mercola, although Dr. Barrett's antipathy may also be fueled by the tendency of MDs to look down upon DOs (Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine), whom the former place only slightly above chiropractors in the medical pecking order.


                    If you'll excuse me, I'm off for my daily dose of baking soda.  My grandfather swore by it.  He called it "bicarb" and continued to swear by it until his final days.


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          • Naturalnews.com (Randy Black, USA 06/08/13 2:55 PM)
            In his post of 7 June, Tor Guimaraes supported his assertion that Monsanto is bad for humanity. Tor wrote, "Monsanto not only attempts to fool consumers by fighting proper labeling to the point of corrupting legislators and undermining democracy, but it also tries to fool the farmers into surrendering their economic freedom and their plants' genetic diversity." Supporting his thesis, Tor cited an article from a blog, naturalnews.com.



            Natural News, owned by Mike Adams, is ranked "#1 Top 10 Worst Anti-Science Websites" list by another blog Skeptoid. It beat out Huffington Post, which ranked #10. Another blog, Neurologica, said about Mr. Adams, "His intellectual sloppiness is indistinguishable from dishonesty, as he peddles dubious cancer cures, pseudoscience such as homeopathy, and attacks vaccines and effective therapies for AIDS and other serious diseases."



            Always a skeptic on site with which I am not familiar, I tracked that site and its owner Mike Adams.



            Interestingly, in addition to his anti-Monsanto promotions, Mr. Adams writes on many other issues that demonstrate his opposition to all vaccinations for any diseases in the world, anti-medical visits to any medical professional for any reason, online cancer cures, his promotion of a bizarre theory promoting eating peaches and plums as a cure for seven of the most aggressive cancers, including breast cancer.



            He also writes of his beliefs in conspiracy theories on nearly any topic, along with his opposition to homogenized milk. He repudiates the entire philosophy of modern medicine post-Pasteur, is a 9-11 truther, a birther and supports Ron Paul for president.



            Among a plethora of conspiracy theories, he believes and writes that the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings was a "false flag" operation on behalf of "private military contractors."



            Finally, he believes that "conventional physics" is a conspiracy on the same level as conventional medicine. I found ads on his Website promoting products such as bumper stickers saying "Check your map, Hawaii is not part of Kenya, Don't blame me, I voted for the American," and a Barry Soetoro iPhone case. He claims to have cured his own Type 2 diabetes at age 30 without medical help.



            I'll leave it to my valued WAIS associates to form their own opinions as to whether or not it's worth the time to browse that site. It certainly opened my eyes regarding the broadness of conspiracy theories that drive some men to write.



            Sources: http://www.naturalnews.com/index-HRarticles.html

            http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/NaturalNews#cite_note-6


            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NaturalNews



            JE comments: Very interesting--even odds that I'll be hearing from Mike Adams within a week.

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            • Naturalnews.com (Tor Guimaraes, USA 06/09/13 4:38 PM)
              In response to Randy Black's 8 June post, I must caution him not to put words in my mouth. Contrary to Randy's words, I have never stated or implied that "Monsanto is bad for humanity." Based on many sources presented by several well-respected WAIS members, I have developed my opinion that there is a the need for Monsanto to be more truthful and careful in its experimentation with the extremely dangerous and globally very controversial genetic re-engineering technology. Also based on all the evidence widely available, it is also my opinion that if genetic diversity is lost, humanity would be stuck with the possible, perhaps probable, curse of less than desirable genetically modified seeds. Thus, any reasonable person should be able to see that the burden of proof in this case belongs to the genetic engineers.

              Further, now paraphrasing, Randy wisely "left to our valued WAIS associates to form their own opinions as to whether or not it's worth the time to browse this one site [naturalnews.com]." For some reason, rather than discussing this complex issue based on the numerous studies and intelligent opinions widely available (several presented in this Forum), Randy chose to base his opinion about this subject on the personal/professional background of one of the bloggers cited. This is not acceptable.


              JE comments:  Naturalnews.com does make some over-the-top arguments, but the GM seed debate should focus on the message, not its messengers. 


              A good deal of discord on WAIS lately, but tomorrow is another day.

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    • Democracy and Food Safety (Leo Goldberger, USA 06/06/13 3:03 AM)
      I must say I was a bit surprised by Istvan Simon"s contention (4 June) that there was not an issue regarding Monsanto products' food safety.

      The controversy on the subject has been quite polarized for years, with studies largely in the pocket of Monsanto, on the one side, taking aim at the other, seemingly the more independent side--though, who knows, they too may have their biases. The public at large--as well as the non-specialists in the highly specialized fields of the biological sciences--unfamiliar with the ins and outs of the finer points of scientific methodology, have largely been victims of a public relations warfare, yet some, perhaps the better educated among us, have indeed been quite concerned about the potential health implications of genetically engineered seeds and glyphosate herbicide in their food intake.


      Obviously, one cannot readily translate the finding from mice and rats to humans. Still, there is cause for concern. Just take a look at this most recent report from some highly respected Brazilian researchers and see if it not a cause of some concern:


      http://www.greenmedinfo.com/blog/new-study-links-gmo-food-leukemia

      JE comments:  To the "yuck" factor of genetically modified foods, we could also add the Frankenstein Fear:  do we really understand, and can we control, these Brave New Species?
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