Daily Archives: July 17, 2007

Germany embraces New European Order

London Times | Jul 16, 2007

Germany’s Angela Merkel heads the new European triangle of power with Nicolas Sarkozy and Gordon Brown

by Roger Boyes

The first hint of change in the new triangle of power at the heart of Europe came when Nicolas Sarkozy hugged Angela Merkel. Not the gallant and slightly patronising hand-kiss of President Jacques Chirac, but an egalitarian Gallic embrace. As for Gordon Brown, the best that can be expected for now is a firm handshake.

Studying body language may seem out of date in a European Union that is run, after all, by 27 separate bodies, each with their own shrugs and twitches. But the modern Franco-German-British relationship depends on at least mimicking personal friendship between the respective leaders; too many of the continent’s vital issues have to be settled with a quick phone call or over a hurried dinner.

And the management of Europe is changing: to secure consensus in the swollen Union, different heavyweight leaders may have to be enlisted to lean on dissidents. President Sarkozy was swift to understand this and made himself useful to Chancellor Merkel, both at the G8 summit in Heligendamm – where he helped to build the consensus around climate change – and at the last EU summit of the German presidency, when he applied subtle pressure on the Poles.

This stole some of the Chancellor’s thunder but signalled the coming shift in the way that Europe is going to be run: each EU presidency is going to have to be helped out by an informal directorate of the diplomatically gifted. Mrs Merkel signed up not only Sarko but also Jean-Claude Juncker of Luxembourg to save the last EU summit.

Is this the future of the Franco-German partnership – not an ideological axis committed to deeper European integration but a kind of crisis-busting A-team? And, if so, will Britain be part of this new pragmatic order? So far, the leaders know almost nothing of each other.

According to the German press, Peer Steinbrueck, the German Finance Minister, has submitted a short character analysis of Gordon Brown to Chancellor Merkel. Very sharp-witted, concluded the briefing, and no lover of empty phrases. Not much to go on there. It will take more than a dinner at the Chancellery to fill in the gaps, though there is common ground on at least one thing: a committment to an open European economy.

More, of course, is known about Sarko, who is starting to irritate the Germans. He seems to specialise in attention-grabbing faits accomplis: when he positioned Dominique Strauss-Kahn as head of the International Monetary Fund recently he talked to Mr Juncker and to President Bush – but not to Chancellor Merkel.That is not how the Franco-German friendship used to work.

The French leader’s protectionist genes, his passion for French industrial champions and his drive to give eurozone governments some oversight of the European Central Bank’s monetary policy:all that suggests a truly happy marriage should be made in Heaven, not on the Rhine.

Given the differences between the world view of the three new leaders, the betting is that they will form shifting, competing but superficially friendly coalitions rather than lead the European Union into a brave new dawn.

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Full-time work losing luster for moms

AP | Jul 16, 2007

By JOCELYN NOVECK

It seems to happen every few months: a new book or study fuels the “Mommy Wars,” the intense debate over whether moms should stay home with the kids or work outside the home. Each time there’s spirited talk, angst, and some guilt from mothers who fear they’re doing the wrong thing.

Now the guilt seems actually tangible. In an eye-catching national survey from the Pew Research Center released last week, full-time working mothers rated themselves slightly lower as parents than those who stay home or work part-time.

And that was even more striking when viewed along with the survey’s primary finding – that fully 60 percent of working mothers now say part-time work is their ideal rather than full-time, compared to 48 percent a decade ago.

What does it all mean? Four decades after the feminist movement laid claim to equal footing for women in the workplace, are these findings and others like them a tacit admission that in the end, it’s really not possible to have it all?

For Erica Rubach, a 32-year-old mother of two, the findings weren’t a surprise. A year ago, she felt she couldn’t keep her head above water, though to others her life might have seemed ideal: two young kids and a job she loved as director of marketing and business development at a television station.

“But I knew there just wasn’t room for both in my life,” she says. “It was killing me.”

So she left her job, with its 60-70 hour weeks, and with fellow mother Joani Reisen founded MomSpace, a networking site devoted to matching mothers with services in their communities. The two now work on their own schedules. “Recently Erica’s daughter, Maya, had her birthday, and I said to her, ‘this is the coolest thing,’ says Reisen. ‘You got to spend the day canoeing with your daughter!”

The women count themselves among the ranks of so-called “Mompreneurs,” moms who’ve begun their own parent-oriented businesses to serve other moms plus have the flexibility they need for their own young families. They’ve also given other mothers part-time work; they’ve hired 60 people, mostly women, to sell ads on commission.

To both, “having it all” is a question of how you define it. “You can’t be a part-time vice president,” says Reisen. “And maybe you can’t attend every PTA meeting. But I do believe you can have it all, in bits and pieces.”

She thinks the trend among mothers “opting out” of the work force is a natural reaction to the previous generation. “I had a single mother who worked full-time,” says Reisen, 41, “and I missed having her at home.” For Rubach, “it has to do with how my generation was raised. Our moms were hardworking but they also missed out.”

Such explanations trouble author Linda Hirshman, who has forcefully argued that mothers are wasting their potential when they shun the work force to care exclusively for their kids. Hirshman, author of last year’s “Get to Work: A Manifesto for Women of the World,” says it’s clear that increasing numbers of women are working less or not at all – and at all different strata of society.

And why? She attributes the trend largely to a “ramping up” of the job of motherhood, by a culture that expects women to be super-moms, perfect at everything. “If you want to be Martha Stewart at home AND president of the PTA, well, then you’re right, you can’t do it!” says Hirshman. “So you have two ways out of the problem. You don’t buy into the madness – or you quit your job.”

But quitting your job – or switching to a much lower-paying one – can be a recipe for financial disaster, argues Leslie Bennetts, author of the recent book “The Feminine Mistake.”

“Many women romanticize the stay-at-home life, but most don’t realize the consequences,” says Bennetts. “The reality is that to give up your career and depend on someone else to support you is a very high-stakes gamble – for women AND their children.”

For Bennetts, the problem with the Pew survey is that it asks women about their feelings but not their experiences. “Part-time work, for many women, is an ideal that is out of reach, because the workplace is not offering them what they want,” she says.

That’s borne out by the study itself. Though it might be nice to think women’s increased desire for part-time work is fueled by increased flexibility among employers and hence more opportunity, project director Paul Taylor says the survey found otherwise: The percentage of working mothers who actually work part-time has stayed stable since 1997, at 24 percent.

“What you have is an increasing number of women expressing a preference for something that just over a quarter of them do,” said Taylor. “There’s a feeling that by and large the workplace has not accommodated a desire for part-time work.”

So the problem for most women is that there’s precious little middle ground between an exhausting juggling act and a risky trip down the off ramp, with only a vague hope of getting back in later. Deloitte, the professional services firm, is trying to offer up just such a middle ground with a new system called Mass Career Customization.

Under the system, now in a phased rollout, employees are allowed to dial up and dial down their professional commitment, depending on the stage of life they’re at, says Cathy Benko, the executive who conceived the system.

“The problem with surveys like this is that they look at one point in time, versus a whole career,” says Benko, Deloitte’s managing principal of talent, who is herself a mother of two. Yes, she says, many moms with young kids – some dads, too – want to dial down. But later, when the kids are older, they’ll often want to dial back up.

Dialing down may mean working fewer (or different) hours, getting less compensation or taking a slower track toward promotion. But it will be out in the open, and may keep valuable employees with the company. And they will feel less guilty over doing what everyone does at one point or another – sneaking out for that PTA meeting or first-grade violin performance.

“Wouldn’t it be better to just be able to say, I can’t make that 10 a.m. meeting because I’m the head of the PTA?” Benko asks. “Why sneak?”

Though the concept isn’t gender-based, it’s clear that solutions like these would most benefit women, who almost a half-century after the birth of the feminist movement still bear the brunt of managing the home.

Kim Savino, a 42-year-old mother of two with a business degree, has little regret over leaving demanding work in the hospitality industry when her second child was born, leaving her husband as the breadwinner. “One of us had to do it,” says Savino, of Downigntown, Pa. “That was me.”

Now, she happily does part-time sales work for MomSpace, the company started by Rubach and Reisen. But she acknowledges that mothers like her are always torn.

The development where she lives is evenly divided between stay-at-home moms and working ones. The stay-at-home moms often say to her of her part-time work: “How’d you find that?”

And the full-time working moms often say, with envy: “I can’t believe you’re home today.”

EU Commission set to approve controversial GMO potato

GMO crop contamination of the general environment, agricultural areas and food supplies is one of the biggest crimes being committed in the world by Big Agribiz like Monsanto and BASF, yet the media largely ignores it. GMO’s constitute one of the worst potential hazards to both health and the environment, while people have been brainwashed into believing that natural climate change is the biggest problem. So most of their attention is placed on running around telling people to accept global  government, change their lightbulbs and cut back on their lifestyles, instead of grappling with the real issues. I’ll say no more because most people are just too dumbed-down to grasp what is happening to them.

PW

EurActiv | Jul 17, 2007

Following a Council of Ministers stalemate, the Commission has announced that it will approve a genetically modified potato for use in industrial processes and livestock feed. NGOs have reacted critically, arguing that the safety of the new crop cannot be assured.

Approving genetically modified organisms (GMOs) involves a request for authorisation by a producer. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) is then mandated to conduct a scientific assessment and to report to the Commission, which then submits its decision on the matter to the Council.

In the event that the Council cannot reach a majority for or against authorisation, as was the case on 16 July 2007, the matter is handed back to the Commission, which is free to authorise the GMO based on a special regulatory procedureexternal .

Both the special regulatory procedure and the role of EFSA have been the subject of criticism (EurActiv 05/12/05 and 10/03/06), and the Commission has decided to introduce practical changes to EFSA’s GMO-approval process (EurActiv 12/04/06).
Issues:

The EU has approved GMOs only on a handful of occasions, and a de-facto approval moratorium for approving new GMO crops has been in place since 1998, largely in response to NGO pressure and public concern about the potential health risks of GMOs.

* BASF’s potato

The potato in question is a blue variety that is used primarily for industrial starch production. Developed by German chemicals giant BASF, the potato is intended for use in the production of glossy magazine covers, for example.

In April 2004, BASF requested authorisation of the potato, and the Commission published a favorable decision in December 2006, following a scientific assessment by EFSA, which concluded that cultivation of the potato did not pose any “relevant” health risks.

* Antibiotic resistance

In addition to starch enhancing genes, the potato contains antibiotic-resistant marker genes (ARMGs).

Public health watchdogs and environmental NGOs are concerned that ARMGs might be transferred from plants to bacteria, thus rendering bacteria resistant to antibiotics and undermining the effectiveness of antibiotics for treating certain infections in humans.

Another concern is that if parts of the potato, such as skins and other non-starch parts, are also used to feed livestock (as requested by BASF), then the GMO would ultimately enter the food chain on a more widespread basis.

Positions:

BASF intends to begin commercial cultivation of the potato in 2008, and is confident that the product presents no health risks. “EFSA has repeatedly stated that [it] is for humans, animals and the environment as safe as any conventional potato,” the company stated.

Commission spokesperson Barbara Helferich assured journalists in Brussels on 16 July that the Commission is making “120% sure that this product is absolutely safe”. “We will approve the potato,” she said.

Greenpeace is calling for “an urgent review of EFSA’s role in the authorisation of GMO’s”, arguing that the food safety body’s authorisation process is flawed and, in this case, ignores a 2001 directiveexternal  that mandates the phasing-out of antibiotic resistant marker genes by 2004.

Friends of the Earth Europe is sceptical: “The risk of contaminating future crops is ignored. As they grow underground, it is virtually impossible to harvest all potatoes from a crop. Potatoes therefore grow back the following years and future crops could be contaminated with the genetically modified variant.”

Europe not hungry for GM potatoes

GMO crop contamination of the general environment, agricultural areas and food supplies is one of the biggest crimes being committed in the world by Big Agribiz like Monsanto and BASF, yet the media largely ignores it. GMO’s constitute one of the worst potential hazards to both health and the environment, while people have been brainwashed into believing that natural warming of the earth is the biggest problem and so most of their attention is placed on that hoax instead of the real issues. I’ll say no more.

PW

EUbusiness | Jul 16, 2007

Friends of the Earth Europe has welcomed EU member states’ rejection of the latest application to grow GMOs in Europe, as the EU Agriculture Council today failed to approve the commercial growing of a genetically modified potato. There have now been no new GMOs grown in the EU for ten years.

Helen Holder, GMO Campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe said: “Too few EU member states support growing genetically modified crops, and now yet another has been refused authorisation. National governments recognised the safety risks of growing this GM potato, as they have with previous applications. Now the decision is in the hands of the European Commission and we urge it to reject it too.”

Today’s vote was on an application to grow the genetically modified potato for use in industrial processes like making paper. The producer – German chemicals giant BASF – has also applied for approval to use the same potato in food and animal feed and acknowledges that contamination of the food chain is possible.

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) gave the GM potato the green light, but has been criticized for overlooking several important health and environmental risks:

* Antibiotic resistance marker gene: the potato contains a gene which can convey resistance to antibiotics. Under EU law, genes of this kind should have been phased out by the end of 2004. EFSA acknowledges that the cultivation of this potato could lead to antibiotic resistance, yet argued that this did not pose a “relevant” risk to human health or to the environment.

* The risk assessment, required under EU law, fails to fulfil legal requirements. Basic information on the health and environmental safety of the GM potato is missing; in particular there is only an analysis of effects of surrounding wildlife on the potato, rather than looking at the impact of the GM potato on the environment.

* Effects on health have not been sufficiently investigated. A number of irregularities, ncluding toxicological differences that could have serious implications for food safety, have imply not been probed either by BASF or by EFSA

* BASF admits that food contamination is likely: the potato has been genetically modified by he chemical giant BASF to increase its amylopectin content, which is used to produce starch. lthough it is not intended to enter the food chain, BASF have issued a separate application or use in human food and animal feed, stating that “it cannot be excluded that amylopectin otato.. may be used as or may be present in food”.

* The risk of contaminating future crops is ignored. As they grow underground, it is virtually impossible to harvest all potatoes from a crop. Potatoes therefore grow back the following years and future crops could be contaminated with the genetically modified variant.

“No new GMOs have been grown in the European Union for 10 years now and research show that GMOs actually stimulate the economy less than green farming measures. It is time to accept that there is simply no market for genetically modified crops.”

“The big GMO companies claim that using genetically modified potatoes in industrial processes is an environmentally-friendly option, but this is absurd considering the associated health and environmental risks,” Ms Holder added.

Illegal Aliens Get Free College Tuition

ABC Ch 7 | July 16, 2007

Illegal Immigrants Get Aid To Go To College

Poudre High School Students Get In-State Tuition In New Mexico

FORT COLLINS, Colo. — At least 10 undocumented students from Colorado will get to attend classes at the University of New Mexico this fall, with many not having to pay for tuition or books.

A new Colorado law prohibits state colleges from providing in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants.

In New Mexico, the state is barred from denying education benefits based on immigration status, said Terry Babbitt, director of admissions for the University of New Mexico.

While New Mexico’s state financial aid is intended for residents, Poudre High School counselor Isabel Thacker in Colorado found a way for her students to receive in-state tuition, plus scholarships to cover it.

“Students can enroll for up to six credit hours and get the in-state rate (at UNM),” said Alex Gonzalez, associate director of the scholarship office at UNM. “They can then go across the street to Central New Mexico Community College and enroll for another six hours and continue to pay the UNM in-state tuition rate. They then are counted as full-time UNM students.”

A full year of tuition at UNM, or 12 credit hours per semester, costs $4,570.80, Gonzalez said. An institutional scholarship available to undocumented students covers $5,000 of their tuition and book expenses, meaning the students’ costs for attending college would be minimal.

“The neat thing about the program at Poudre is that we have been able to open the door of opportunity for these students,” said Thacker, a Cuban-born citizen who came to the United States with her parents when she was 9.

The four students who attended UNM through the program last year all earned a grade point average of at least 3.0, Thacker said. Students entering the program have an average GPA of 3.5, have taken advanced placement classes and were involved in extracurricular activities, Thacker said.

Nine undocumented students from Poudre High and one from Fort Collins High School will attend UNM in the fall through the program.

Former Colorado Senate President John Andrews, who backed the campaign to deny certain services to illegal immigrants in Colorado, said he was concerned about the program.

“Now that a high school graduate is of age, they are recognized as young adults and they become responsible for their own action,” he said.

“The only law-abiding choice that a young person like this can make is to return to their country of origin after graduating high school. I don’t think that we are doing a high school graduate any favors by sending him or her the message that breaking the law benefits themselves. I believe in the letter of the law, and I am deeply troubled by this program,” Andrews said.

Chinese food ‘made from cardboard’

CNN | Jul 12, 2007

cardboardfood

Steamed buns sold in Beijing contain 60 percent cardboard, a report on China Central Television said.

BEIJING, China (AP) — Chopped cardboard, softened with an industrial chemical and flavored with fatty pork and powdered seasoning, is a main ingredient in batches of steamed buns sold in one Beijing neighborhood, state television said.

The report, aired late Wednesday on China Central Television, highlights the country’s problems with food safety despite government efforts to improve the situation.

Countless small, often illegally run operations exist across China and make money cutting corners by using inexpensive ingredients or unsavory substitutes. They are almost impossible to regulate.

State TV’s undercover investigation features the shirtless, shorts-clad maker of the buns, called baozi, explaining the contents of the product sold in Beijing’s sprawling Chaoyang district.

Baozi are a common snack in China, with an outer skin made from wheat or rice flour and a filling of sliced pork. Cooked by steaming in immense bamboo baskets, they are similar to but usually much bigger than the dumplings found on dim sum menus familiar to many Americans.

The hidden camera follows the man, whose face is not shown, into a ramshackle building where steamers are filled with the fluffy white buns, traditionally stuffed with minced pork.

The surroundings are filthy, with water puddles and piles of old furniture and cardboard on the ground.

“What’s in the recipe?” the reporter asks. “Six to four,” the man says.

“You mean 60 percent cardboard? What is the other 40 percent?” asks the reporter. “Fatty meat,” the man replies.

The bun maker and his assistants then give a demonstration on how the product is made.

Squares of cardboard picked from the ground are first soaked to a pulp in a plastic basin of caustic soda — a chemical base commonly used in manufacturing paper and soap — then chopped into tiny morsels with a cleaver. Fatty pork and powdered seasoning are stirred in.

Soon, steaming servings of the buns appear on the screen. The reporter takes a bite.

“This baozi filling is kind of tough. Not much taste,” he says. “Can other people taste the difference?”

“Most people can’t. It fools the average person,” the maker says. “I don’t eat them myself.”

The police eventually showed up and shut down the operation.

MIT finds cure for fear

Press Esc | Jul 16, 2007

I hope I don’t have to explain why this is not good.

PW

by Vidura Panditaratne

MIT biochemists have identified a molecular mechanism behind fear, and successfully cured it in mice, according to an article in the journal Nature Neuroscience.

Researchers from MIT’s Picower Institute for Learning and Memory hope that their work could lead to the first drug to treat the millions of adults who suffer each year from persistent, debilitating fears – including hundreds of soldiers returning from conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Inhibiting a kinase, an enzyme that change proteins, called Cdk5 facilitates the extinction of fear learned in a particular context, Li-Huei Tsai, Picower Professor of Neuroscience in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, and colleagues showed.

Conversely, the learned fear persisted when the kinase’s activity was increased in the hippocampus, the brain’s center for storing memories, the scientists found.

Cdk5, paired with the protein p35, helps new brain cells, or neurons, form and migrate to their correct positions during early brain development, and the MIT researchers looked at how Cdk5 affects the ability to form and eliminate fear-related memories.

“Remarkably, inhibiting Cdk5 facilitated extinction of learned fear in mice,” Tsai said. “This data points to a promising therapeutic avenue to treat emotional disorders and raises hope for patients suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder or phobia.”

Emotional disorders such as post-traumatic stress and panic attacks stem from the inability of the brain to stop experiencing the fear associated with a specific incident or series of incidents.

For some people, upsetting memories of traumatic events do not go away on their own, or may even get worse over time, severely affecting their lives.

A study conducted by the Army in 2004 found that one in eight soldiers returning from Iraq reported symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

According to the National Center for PTSD in the United States, around eight percent of the population will have PTSD symptoms at some point in their lives. Some 5.2 million adults have PTSD during a given year, the center reports.

In the current research, genetically engineered mice received mild foot shocks in a certain environment and were re-exposed to the same environment without the foot shock.

The team found that mice with increased levels of Cdk5 activity had more trouble letting go of the memory of the foot shock and continued to freeze in fear.

The reverse was also true: in mice whose Cdk5 activity was inhibited, the bad memory of the shocks disappeared when the mice learned that they no longer needed to fear the environment where the foot shocks had once occurred.

“In our study, we employ mice to show that extinction of learned fear depends on counteracting components of a molecular pathway involving the protein kinase Cdk5,” Tsai concluded. “We found that Cdk5 activity prevents extinction, at least in part by negatively affecting the activity of another key kinase.”