Daily Archives: November 20, 2008

Pope fails to make a hit on the mafia

Reuters | Oct 20, 2008

By Philip Pullella in Pompeii, Italy

pope_benedictTHE Vatican has defended Pope Benedict’s decision to avoid direct condemnation of organised crime during a trip to an area infested by the Camorra, one of its most ruthless manifestations.

The pope made a day-long trip to Pompeii to say a Mass and pray the rosary at a sanctuary in the modern section of the city.

In his speeches, Pope Benedict did not use the words organised crime or Camorra, as the local mafia is known. He made only an oblique reference when he said prayer is “a spiritual weapon in the struggle against evil and every form of violence”.

Questioned by reporters, a Vatican spokesman said the Pope had intentionally avoided the word Camorra.

“The trip has a strictly spiritual dimension and it was out of respect for the fact that most people from this area are honest and not members of organised crime,” he said.

“The pope preferred suggesting the positive energy through which the Camorra can be defeated,” he said, noting the he did speak out against organised crime in a visit to Naples in 2007.

The local newspaper, Il Mattino, ran a headline wrongly predicting that the pope would make appeals against organised crime and in support of jobs in an area of high unemployment.

Modern Pompeii is one of a string of bleak, run-down towns in the Naples hinterland and in the shadow of Mt Vesuvius where the crime group has a strong presence.

The Camorra, which makes its money in extortion rackets, drug trafficking, and smuggling, was recently the subject of a hit movie Gomorra based on the best-selling book of the same name by Roberto Saviano.

The title of the film and book is a play on the word Camorra and the Italian spelling of Gomorrah, the sinful city which God destroyed along with Sodom in the Old Testament.

Last week, Saviano said he would flee Italy to try to lead a normal life after reports the mob had ordered he be killed by Christmas.

The 29-year-old, who worked in a textile and building firm controlled by the mob to research his book, has been in hiding for two years because of threats to his life.

First published in 2006, the book is a gritty chronicle of how the Camorra dominates life around Naples and its hinterland told by a local boy who saw his first murder victim at 13.

It has sold more than a million copies in Italy and been translated into 42 languages. The film, which prompted fresh attention to the problem of organised crime in the south, has been nominated to be Italy’s candidate for the Oscars.

Study Confirms Genetically Modified Crops Threaten Human Health and Fertility

Austrian Government Study Confirms Genetically Modified (GM) Crops Threaten Human Fertility and Health Safety

Advocates Call for Immediate Ban of All GM Foods and GM Crops

Institute for Responsible Technology | Nov 13, 2008

(Los Angeles, CA.) – A long-term feeding study commissioned by the Austrian Agency for Health and Food Safety, managed by the Austrian Federal Ministry of Health, Family and Youth, and carried out by Veterinary University Vienna, confirms genetically modified (GM) corn seriously affects reproductive health in mice. Non-GMO advocates, who have warned about this infertility link along with other health risks, now seek an immediate ban of all GM foods and GM crops to protect the health of humankind and the fertility of women around the world.

Feeding mice with genetically modified corn developed by the US-based Monsanto Corporation led to lower fertility and body weight, according to the study conducted by the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna. Lead author of the study Professor Zentek said, there was a direct link between the decrease in fertility and the GM diet, and that mice fed with non-GE corn reproduced more efficiently.

In the study, Austrian scientists performed several long-term feeding trials over 20 weeks with laboratory mice fed a diet containing 33% of a GM variety (NK 603 x MON 810), or a closely related non-GE variety used in many countries. Statistically significant litter size and pup weight decreases were found in the third and fourth litters in the GM-fed mice, compared to the control group.

The corn is genetically modified with genes that produce a pesticidal toxin, as well as genes that allow it to survive applications of Monsanto’s herbicide Roundup.

A book by author Jeffrey M. Smith, Genetic Roulette, distributed to members of congress last year, documents 65 serious health risks of GM products, including similar fertility problems with GM soy and GM corn: Offspring of rats fed GM soy showed a five-fold increase in mortality, lower birth weights, and the inability to reproduce. Male mice fed GM soy had damaged young sperm cells. The embryo offspring of GM soy-fed mice had altered DNA functioning. Several US farmers reported sterility or fertility problems among pigs and cows fed on GM corn varieties. Additionally, over the last two months, investigators in India have documented fertility problems, abortions, premature births, and other serious health issues, including deaths, among buffaloes fed GM cottonseed products.

The principle GM crops are soy, corn, cottonseed and canola. GM sugar from sugar beets will also be introduced before year’s end.

Mr. Smith, who is also the Executive Director of the Institute for Responsible Technology says, “GM foods are likely responsible for several negative health trends in the US. The government must impose an immediate ban on these dangerous crops.” He says, “Consumers don’t need to wait for governmental action. They can download a free Non-GMO Shopping Guide at http://www.HealthierEating.org.”

Monsanto press offices in the UK and USA were unable to provide a comment on the findings for journalists yesterday.

The Institute for Responsible Technology’s Campaign for Healthier Eating in America mobilizes citizens, organizations, businesses, and the media, to achieve the tipping point of consumer rejection of genetically modified foods.

The Institute educates people about the documented health risks of GMOs and provides them with healthier non-GMO product choices.

The Institute also informs policy makers and the public around the world about the impacts of GMOs on health, environment, the economy, and agriculture, and the problems associated with current research, regulation, corporate practices, and reporting.

DEFRA plans secret GM trial sites

FWI | Nov 17, 2008

by Lucy Busuttil

The locations of genetically modified crop trials will be kept secret in the future to prevent protesters from wrecking the trial sites, DEFRA Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has announced.

Almost all of the 54 GM crop trials conducted since 2000 have been vandalised because of government rules which stated that the grid reference of the trial had to be publicised.

DEFRA also plans to conduct the trials at more secure locations from now on.
Farm fields and university sites were chosen in the past, allowing protesters to gain access. In the future secure government sites such as Porton Down near Salisbury, which carries out military research, will be used instead.

Ministers will also have more power to crack down on the opponents of GM crops. Rules introduced in 2005 have given police more powers to prosecute activists after Huntingdon Life Sciences was attacked by animal rights extremists.

“We need to see if they [GM foods] have a contribution to make – and we won’t know the answer unless we run controlled experiments,” said Hilary Benn, the DEFRA secretary.

Gordon Brown is aware that there has been public opposition to previous GM trials – notably from young mothers – but has said he will follow the science.

Retired banker proclaimed a Knight of St John in the name of the Queen


Former president and CEO of the Dime Bank of New Jersey, Thomas H. Van Arsdale. Photo By Mike Spencer

To this day, the reigining British monarch serves as “sovereign head” of the Knights of St. John. The queen’s cousin, Prince Richard, Duke of Gloucester, serves as “grand prior,” or chief executive.

Wilmington retiree proclaimed a knight

starnewsonline.com | Nov 17, 2008

By Ben Steelman

He doesn’t have a suit of armor, he doesn’t carry a sword, and you don’t have to call him “Sir.” Nevertheless, Thomas H. Van Arsdale of Wilmington is a real, live, honest-to-goodness knight – and he has the medal and parchment to prove it.

Retired banker Thomas H. Van Arsdale of Wilmington is a newly minted knight of the Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem. The ancient order is a modern-day charity, and the knighthood is an honor for community work.

Van Arsdale became an official knight of grace in the Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem in an investiture ceremony Nov. 8 at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.

Since Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain is the “sovereign head” of the order, Van Arsdale’s new title officially was published in The London Gazette, the British court’s official journal of record. He received his knighthood in Her Majesty’s name from the head of the order’s priory, or chapter, for the United States.

“Well, my wife calls me a knight-mare,” Van Arsdale joked.

Founded more than 900 years ago (with a few breaks since), the Knights of St. John, also known as the Knights Hospitallers, guarded pilgrims and fought in the Crusades.

Modern Hospitallers normally don’t ride horses, but they still perform good deeds, usually in the form of charity. Membership, which is by invitation only, often recognizes community service.

In that respect, Van Arsdale – “Call me Tom,” he usually says – can be said to have earned his spurs.

The retired banker, who moved to Wilmington with his wife Susette in 1999, has been chairman of the trustees of the Cameron Art Museum, a trustee of Cape Fear Academy, treasurer of the St. James Parish Foundation, and a director of the Community Foundation of Southeastern North Carolina. He also mentors students at the University of North Carolina Wilmington through the Senior Business Network at UNCW’s Cameron School of Business.

Van Arsdale, a former president and CEO of the Dime Bank of New Jersey, was living in Pennsylvania when he found out about the order from a friend and from one of the Episcopal priests at St. Thomas Church in New York. Both men were members, and they proposed him for membership.

Over the years, Van Arsdale rose through the lower grades of the chivalric organization, serving successively as an esquire, a serving brother, an officer and a commander.

He said he had no idea he was going to be promoted until he received a heavily embossed formal letter from the priory this summer.

The modern-day order traces its roots back to warrior-monks who guarded Christian pilgrims to the Holy Land and maintained a hospice, or hospital, for them in Jerusalem. The order was officially recognized by Pope Paschal II in 1113. The black-robed order was a rival to the Knights Templar. (In formal ceremonies, Van Arsdale and other knights still wear a black mantle, or cloak, bearing the white, eight-pointed star that is their emblem.)

Although the order had been suppressed in England by King Henry VIII, some visionaries began attempting to revive it in Great Britain as early as the 1830s. Queen Victoria granted a charter to its British Grand Priory in 1887.

To this day, the reigining British monarch serves as “sovereign head” of the Knights of St. John. The queen’s cousin, Prince Richard, Duke of Gloucester, serves as “grand prior,” or chief executive.

In the modern world, the order functions mainly as a charity. In Great Britain and the Commonwealth, it is the parent body of the St. John Ambulance service, “which is kind of like a rescue squad or the Red Cross,” Van Arsdale said. One St. John’s ambulance unit from Hong Kong helped provide first aid and medical assistance at the Beijing Olympics.

In line with its heritage, the order also sponsors an eye hospital in Jerusalem, as well as clinics and medical centers for the poor in the West Bank and Gaza.

“Twenty percent of the people in that area have some kind of vision problem, glaucoma or blindness or whatever,” Van Arsdale said, “so it’s very much needed.”

Worldwide, the order has about 25,000 members. Its American branch, which was promoted to a priory in 1996, is a major fund-raising organization with about 1,100 members.

The Knights of St. John are considered a royal order of chivalry but are not a British state institution like the Order of the Garter. Members are not entitled to carry the title “Sir” – although they are eligible for a coat of arms – and while American members show respect to the British crown, they do not pledge allegiance.

The order is close to the Church of England and the American Protestant Episcopal Church, but membership is ecumenical and even non-Christians are admitted.

One of Van Arsdale’s biggest thrills was attending a 900th anniversary celebration by the order in St. Paul’s Cathedral in London: “You could see all these knights from all over the world,” he said, “in all their different robes.”

These days, even ladies can be knights – or “dames.”

Susette Van Arsdale is an officer in the order, and she and her husband are among the relatively few husband-and-wife members.

For more information, go to http://www.orderofstjohn.org. or http://www.saintjohn.org.

Soros-Funded Democratic Idea Factory Becomes Obama Policy Font

Bloomberg | Nov 18, 2008

By Edwin Chen

soros-psychonutThree blocks from the White House, on the 10th floor of a sleek glass building, young workers pound at computers, with giant flat-screen TVs overhead. It has the look and feel of a high-tech startup.

In many ways it is. The product is ideas.

Thanks in part to funding from benefactors such as billionaire George Soros, the Center for American Progress has become in just five years an intellectual wellspring for Democratic policy proposals, including many that are shaping the agenda of the new Obama administration.

Much as the Heritage Foundation provided intellectual heft for the Republican Party in the 1980s, CAP has been an incubator for liberal thought and helped build the platform that triumphed in the 2008 campaign.

“What CAP has done is recapture the role of ideas as an important political force, something the Republicans had been better at for 25 years,” said Walter Isaacson, president of the Aspen Institute, a non-partisan policy-research organization in Washington.

CAP’s president and founder, John Podesta, 59, former chief of staff to President Bill Clinton, is one of three people running the transition team for president-elect Barack Obama, 47. A squadron of CAP experts is working with them.

Some of the group’s recommendations already have been adopted by the president-elect.

Withdrawal of Troops

These include the center’s call for a gradual withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq and a buildup of forces in Afghanistan, a plan for universal health coverage through employer plans and proposals to create purchasing pools that allow small businesses to spread the cost among a larger group of workers. Obama has endorsed much of a CAP plan to create “green jobs” linked to alleviating global climate change.

CAP also is advocating the creation of a “National Energy Council” headed by an official with the stature of the national security adviser and who would be charged with “transforming the energy base” of the U.S. In addition, CAP urges the creation of a White House “office of social entrepreneurship” to spur new ideas for addressing social problems.

To help promote its ideas, CAP employs 11 full-time bloggers who contribute to two Web sites, ThinkProgress and the Wonk Room; others prepare daily feeds for radio stations. The center’s policy briefings are standing-room only, packed with lobbyists, advocacy-group representatives and reporters looking for insights on where the Obama administration is headed.

`Premier Progressive’

“The center is the premier progressive think tank in Washington,” said Mark Green, head of the New Democracy Project, an urban-affairs institute in New York.

Just eight days after the Nov. 4 election, CAP released a 300,000-word volume called “Change for America: A Progressive Blueprint for the 44th President” that offers advice on issues such as economic revival and fixing the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Work on the book began almost a year ago.

CAP, which has 180 staffers and a $27 million budget, devotes as much as half of its resources to promoting its ideas through blogs, events, publications and media outreach.

The center’s future was far from certain in 2003, when wealthy donors such as Soros and film producer Stephen Bing gave $10 million or more to fill what they believed was an intellectual void in the Democratic Party and create a vehicle to produce an agenda for the party’s eventual return to power.

Heritage Foundation

Podesta modeled the center on the Heritage Foundation, which became the go-to policy-research organization in 1981 when newly elected President Ronald Reagan embraced its conservative ideas embodied in a book called “Mandate for Leadership.” Heritage was just seven years old.

CAP and Heritage have something else in common.

“Others strive to be objective, we don’t,” said Jennifer Palmieri, CAP’s vice president for communications.

Podesta likes to say, “we’re not a think tank, we’re an action tank,” said Dan Weiss, an environmental activist who joined CAP last year.

CAP isn’t the only Democratic-leaning research organization in Washington with enhanced cachet after Obama’s election.

The 92-year-old Brookings Institution, for example, has advisers in Obama’s inner circle, including economist Jason Furman and foreign-policy expert Susan Rice. Others are working either part-time or full-time in the Obama transition.

Podesta’s center isn’t even among the biggest or best- funded. Brookings has a staff of more than 400 and an annual budget of $48 million. Heritage has a staff of 200 and a budget of $60 million. The American Enterprise Institute, which has close ties to the administration of President George W. Bush, has about 140 staffers, including Lynne Cheney, wife of Vice President Dick Cheney, and a budget of $28 million.


Yet CAP may be the most influential. In addition to Podesta, at least 10 other CAP experts are advising the incoming administration, including Melody Barnes, the center’s executive vice president for policy who co-chairs the agency-review working group and Cassandra Butts, the senior vice president for domestic policy, who is now a senior transition staffer.

“John understood that ideas have power in this town, and he brought in super-bright people whose ideas have become essential reading,” Isaacson said.

CAP’s successes offer a lesson for Republican-leaning groups, said James McGann, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia who tracks policy groups.

“They’ve shown that one has to constantly innovate and be responsible to an ever-changing demographics and electorate, and have policies that are responsive to that,” McGann said.