Cilantro imports banned from Mexican farms littered with feces and toilet paper

The US has banned imports of cilantro from several farms in the Mexican state of Puebla after an investigation found growing fields littered with human feces and toilet paper.

A joint investigation by the US Food and Drug Administration and Mexican authorities found “objectionable” hygiene conditions in eight of 11 cilantro farms inspected in Puebla, Mexico’s fourth-biggest state, 130km (80 miles) south-east of the capital.

Five of the eight Puebla farms have been linked to recurrent outbreaks of the serious gastric disease cyclosporiasis in the US since 2012. The herb is thought to be at least partially responsible for a current outbreak which has so far sickened 200 people in Texas.

The disease, which is caused by a parasite that lives in human faeces, can lead to severe diarrhea, stomach cramps, weight loss, nauseas, vomiting, fever, extreme tiredness and other flulike symptoms. It can last from a few days to more than a month, and even after the symptoms disappear, some people will suffer recurrent relapses. In rare cases, people can suffer long-term muscle weakness and tiredness.

The parasite is spread by people ingesting contaminated food or water, but is not transmitted person to person…

In Puebla they found that some farms had no toilet or handwashing facilities for workers, while others had bathrooms but no running water, soap or paper towels. They also found visibly dirty surfaces where the herb was cut, bundled and stored, including the crates used for transportation. The water used to wash coriander in some farms may have been contaminated by sewage.

At one firm, the storage tank which supplied workers with water for handwashing tested positive for the cyclospora parasite that causes the illness…

The summer ban will continue in future years unless a company can prove to health authorities that its product is safe.

The FDA said it is tightening documentation requirements after it found firms producing coriander in Puebla often do business under multiple names and addresses, and some falsely claimed their suppliers are located outside of the state.

Cripes. Grow your own, folks. Easy-peasy as having a basil plant, Italian parsley or some rosemary in your kitchen window.

We planted it once in our courtyard kitchen garden and it came back for years.

Remember knocking on a door and not wondering if you need a bulletproof vest

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An off-duty New Jersey state trooper fired shots at a car with three young men inside as they were trying to drive away from his house after knocking on his door by mistake at night while looking for the house of a friend who lives next door…

The trooper told investigators he suspected the three men were trying to enter his Sparta home, 50 miles northwest of New York City, between 1:30 a.m. and 2 a.m. Sunday, according to the attorney general’s office.

Jesse Barkhorn, 18, who was in the car that night, told The Associated Press on Wednesday that they attended a party earlier and were dropping off one of them at a friend’s house. He said they mistakenly knocked on the door at the house next to their friend’s house. He said they heard a man screaming from inside and they ran back to the car.

They turned around in the cul-de-sac where the home is located and saw the man standing with his weapon pointed at them, Barkhorn said.

“At this point we’re freaking out, ‘It’s a gun. It’s a gun,'” Barkhorn said. “I was like ‘Dude, get out of here.'”

He said the driver accelerated and the man then fired at them. One of the bullets struck the car’s front tire and the driver stopped the car a short distance away.

According to officials, who didn’t release the names of those involved, two 18-year-olds and a 19-year-old went to the wrong house, knocked on the door and fled after a verbal exchange. They got in their car and drove away and the trooper fired three shots with his personal weapon when the car did not stop…

Barkhorn told the AP that after they stopped the car, one of the men fled. He was found by officers hours later.

Barkhorn said all three were taken to the Sparta police department then to state police barracks in Netcong. He said he remained in custody for more than nine hours before being released without being charged.

“It was traumatic. I really have never been in a situation like that,” Barkhorn said. “You don’t really appreciate things until you have a gun pointed at your head. It was really scary.”

Nine hours in state police custody because their cop bubba did the shooting – so it had to be the kids’ fault, right? How long does it take to establish that the cop firing at these kids was the one breaking the law?

Yes, you can be suspicious about someone turning up at your door at 2 in the morning. Maybe even you keep your piece handy if you’re a gun owner. But, if the dudes are obviously hurrying to depart, you needn’t do more than try to get their license number and call it in. You don’t start shooting up the neighborhood.

I’ve been in the same situation – with a young guy showing up at the door who ran out of gas in front of our home. Yes, I had a handgun in my pocket. No need to wave it about or even mention it. And, yes, we hunted up the gas can for our lawnmower and got enough into his car to get him close enough back to civilization to find an all-night gas station and get himself home.

Cripes! Being civilized is really easier than being paranoid.

Researchers find no benefit from chemotherapy at end of life

Chemotherapy near death failed to improve quality of life (QOL) for patients with cancer, even those who otherwise were in good health, a review of end-of-life care showed.

Quality of life near death (QOD) deteriorated in patients who had good performance status when they started chemotherapy. Palliative chemotherapy had no impact on QOL among sicker patients, Holly Prigerson, PhD,…and colleagues reported online in JAMA Oncology.

…”Thus, chemotherapy appears to contribute directly to worse QOD, presumably through adverse and toxic effects that impair the QOL of those who are initially feelling well.”

Organizations that have clinical guidelines addressing end-of-life chemotherapy, such as the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), might need to rethink their recommendations, Prigerson and colleagues added.

Even an accompanying editorial expressing some disagreement…acknowledged that “if an oncologist suspects the death of a patient in the next 6 months, the default should be no active treatment.”…

Three years ago, ASCO’s expert panel for the “Choosing Wisely” campaign identified use of chemotherapy in patients for whom no proven benefit existed as one of the most widespread, wasteful, and unnecessary practices in oncology. ASCO recommends against the use of chemotherapy for patients who have not benefited from prior therapy…

Prigerson and colleagues examined the association among ECOG performance status, chemotherapy, and QOL in the last week of life…They hypothesized that patients with good performance status would have worse QOL if they received additional chemotherapy, and that patients with poor performance status would not have an improvement in quality of life with chemotherapy…

Beyond the data, the study suggests that “equating treatment with hope is inappropriate,” Blanke and Fromme said.

“Even when oncologists communicate clearly about prognosis and are honest about the limitations of treatment, many patients feel immense pressure to continue treatment,” they said. “Patients with end-stage cancer are encouraged by friends and family to keep fighting, but the battle analogy itself can portray the dying patient as a loser and should be discouraged. Costs aside, we fell the last 6 months of life are not best spent in an oncology traetment unit or at home suffering the toxic effects of largely ineffectual therapies for the majority of patients.”

Time to turn away from the greed-centric portion of the medical-industrial complex, folks. Pay attention to the folks who say, as did these researchers, “This is a clarion call…to take the lead in curtailing the use of ineffective therapy and ensuring a focus on palliative care and relief of symptoms throughout the course of illness.

Overdue.

Climate study is scary as ever – but, James Hansen still has hope


Click to enlarge — Hurricane Isaac storm surge greater than Hurricane Katrina — Lt. Conrad H. Franz

When James Hansen speaks, climate hawks listen. Hansen was legendary during his long career as NASA’s chief climatologist for being ahead of the curve on seeing the threat of catastrophic climate change. Now he teaches at Columbia University, and he has more bad news to deliver. According to a study conducted by Hansen and 16 coauthors, being published this week in the European Geophysical Union’s open-access journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, the effects of even moderate warming on sea-level rise are worse than previously believed.

Hansen and his colleagues combined analysis of the historical record with modeling and current observation and found that the rate of oceanic ice melting in Greenland and Antarctica may exceed our expectations. As InsideClimate News explains, the scientists “analyzed how an influx of cold freshwater from the planet’s melting ice sheets will disrupt the ocean’s circulation … They concluded the influx of freshwater from melting ice sheets in modern times would essentially shut down the ocean’s circulation, causing cool water to stay in the Earth’s polar regions and equatorial water to warm up even faster.”

“The cooling mechanism is cut off, so it’s melting ice shelves,” Hansen explained in an interview with Grist. “It’s a really dangerous situation where you get melting that causes more melting.”…

The bottom line, as Slate’s Eric Holthaus writes, is that “glaciers in Greenland and Antarctica will melt 10 times faster than previous consensus estimates, resulting in sea-level rise of at least 10 feet in as little as 50 years.” A sea-level rise of 10 feet would inundate parts of major cities from New York to Shanghai…

Hansen, despite his reputation for doomsaying, remains hopeful about the prospects for fending off the worst of climate change. The biggest emitting nations are not pledging to cut emissions enough to even keep warming below 2C, but Hansen says a gradually rising global carbon fee could change that. It could force emissions to drop several percentage points per year and hold us down to 1.5C in warming. To get this outcome from the messy global climate treaty process would be fantastic, but it is highly unlikely. Hansen sort of admits this, but holds out hope nonetheless.

“I don’t think it’s impossible that you could get key players to agree to the concept of an international carbon fee,” he says. “It’s not going to happen with 190 countries sitting around a table. It’s going to happen with key players negotiating directly either at Paris or in the years ahead.” Specifically, Hansen imagines that the world’s two biggest economies and biggest carbon emitters, the U.S. and China, would negotiate a carbon fee bilaterally and then use their global buying power to force all of their trading partners to join.

People who actually read and study agree. At least economists who earn a living in the world of business and finance – as well as academia. I happened to see Peter Orszag on Bloomberg Surveillance, the other morning, and he was working at advancing the Hansen solution as practical and possible. Hoping against hope that reasonable leaders of industrial nations might engage in bilateral negotiations and treaties to force the reduction in atmospheric carbon.

No, he didn’t hold out any hope for the United States offering world leadership unless anti-science conservatives were absent from both houses of Congress and the White House. Poisonally, I don’t think Americans are well-enough informed or yet free enough of medieval hobgoblins to bring about that quality of change.

Ignore conservative whiners – Medicare improves your health

In a 15-year study of older Medicare patients, Yale School of Medicine researchers saw an estimated 20% drop in mortality, about 30% fewer hospitalizations, and 40% reduction in deaths after hospitalization…

Published in the July 28 JAMA theme issue on Medicare and Medicaid at 50, the study took a comprehensive look at national trends in mortality, hospitalizations, outcomes, and expenditures from all causes from 1999 to 2013. The team, from the Center for Outcomes Research and Evaluation at Yale-New Haven Hospital, analyzed data on 68,374,904 Medicare recipients 65 years of age or older from key demographic groups and geographic areas.

“We are in the midst of a remarkable era of improvements in health and health care in America,” said lead author Harlan M. Krumholz, M.D….co-director of the Clinical Scholars Program. “This decline represents millions of hospitalizations averted and hundreds of thousands of deaths delayed.”

“The news should give us reassurance about our current efforts, but not make us complacent. We should seek to continue our advances in technology, health behaviors and policies, and quality of care — and seek to continue this remarkable trend,” Krumholz added.

Krumholz and his team also found that the total number of hospitalizations for major surgery decreased over the course of the study. The average length of time spent in the hospital declined from 5 to 4 days, and the average inpatient costs per Medicare fee-for-service recipient declined from $3,290 to $2,801. The findings were consistent across geographic and demographic groups.

Now, imagine how much better this good news might be – if we kicked whiners and ideologues out of Congress and concentrated on solid science, best administrative practices and took as the single goal improving health and healthcare for all Americans.

That would really be good news.

UK terrorism case ends in acquittal – no one allowed to say why

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Ian Cobain

Ian Cobain, a reporter with The Guardian, is one of very few people who know why a student arrested by armed British police officers in 2013 was finally acquitted this year of terrorism charges.

Problem is, he cannot report what he knows. He was allowed to observe much of the trial, but only under strict conditions intended to keep classified material secret. His notebooks are being held by Britain’s domestic intelligence agency. And if he writes — or even talks — about the reason that the student, Erol Incedal, 27, was acquitted, Mr. Cobain faces prosecution and possibly jail.

“I know the essence of what was happening,” Mr. Cobain said, “but I can’t tell, I can’t even talk to my editor about this.”

Having initially gone along reluctantly with the reporting restrictions, a number of British news organizations are now challenging them in court. And yes, the challenge itself is being heard under secrecy rules that leave the public mostly excluded. Were Mr. Cobain to break the law and disclose what he knows publicly, his prosecution would also take place in secret…

The case is among the latest to highlight the growing debate about the proper balance between civil liberties and national security in the age of terrorism. That debate has intensified this year in the United States and across much of Europe, with nations reflecting on decisions they have made since the Sept. 11 attacks and reacting to more recent developments, from the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris to disclosures in Germany about eavesdropping by the United States National Security Agency…

But the Incedal case has focused attention on whether governments are cloaking too many of their activities in national security classifications, insulating themselves from public debate and accountability for mistakes or collusion with suspects.

It’s hard to know quite who is being protected in all this,” said David Davis, a lawmaker from the governing Conservative Party and a former minister…“The implication is that this is more about the embarrassment of the agencies than it is about real questions of national security…”

Please RTFA. This case, the repressive manipulation by government, courts and the thought police is not happening in isolation. The parallels with the American FISA court and actions of the NSA, FBI, other alphabetized fascists is striking.

The good fortune is that journalism in the UK is willing to challenge restrictions – even in roundabout ways – while most US media is self-restricted to entertainment. And it ain’t folks who believe in Free Speech who get to determine what is entertainment.

There is beaucoup detail, anecdotal adventures in the dreamland nightmares of our spooks and politicians.

Colorado coppers charge mom for burning a Confederate flag

toasty confederate flag

It was an hour before midnight on July 22 when a cop knocked on the door of local Black Lives Matter activist Patricia Cameron. She was asleep at home with her 8-year-old son. The officer called out her name and asked her to come outside. Cameron wasn’t dressed, so the cop told her to put on some clothes— he had something for her to sign…

“I was petrified,” she says when she found a uniformed cop at her door at 11:00 at night. The name of Sandra Bland, a young black woman who was found dead July 13, hanging from a trash bag noose in a Texas jail cell days after a traffic stop, flashed through her mind. In the hallway of Cameron’s apartment building, the officer told her he was there to serve her with something, and handed her what looked like a ticket. He asked her to sign it, saying it had to do with an incident on July 4. The document was an arrest summons accusing her of fourth degree arson.

Two weeks prior, the single mom, local political activist and EMT had organized an Independence Day public burning of a Confederate flag in a local park as a form of peaceful protest. Online, photos had been spreading of accused killer Dylan Roof posing with Confederate flags before police say he carried out his attack on nine black parishioners in a Charleston, SC church. In announcing her plans days before the event, Cameron told a local alt-weekly reporter the demonstration was “simply us getting together and reiterating the fact that black lives in fact matter.” She’d alerted the local police department about what she’d planned to do, tagging them in a post on Facebook, though a police spokesperson says the department never saw it. The police chief had also gotten an anonymous e-mail about the event…

Not many people showed up on the day Cameron and a handful of others held their flag burning under a park pavilion that doesn’t allow barbecuing. There, she squirted lighter fluid on a large Confederate flag, someone else lit it, and a third man held the pole as the flag burned on a charcoal grill. With an American flag bandana covering her nose and mouth, Cameron clapped as others waved signs reading “Black Lives Matter” and “Who is burning black churches?” The local paper dispatched a summer intern to the scene. A video went up on YouTube. Some local TV stations carried the news.

Now, nearly three weeks later, an officer was standing in Cameron’s hallway asking her to sign an arrest summons that accused her of arson. She was not formally arrested and taken to jail. “I was confused,” she says about how it all went down, especially so late at night— and so long after the very public incident…

As for why it took nearly 20 days for the cops to contact Cameron, Police spokeswoman Odette Saglimbeni said the police had conducted a “pretty extensive investigation” after seeing video of the flag burning…Trying to identify all the people involved also took time, she said…

Under state law, fourth degree arson in Colorado is when “a person who knowingly or recklessly starts or maintains a fire or causes an explosion, on his own property or that of another, and by so doing places another in danger of death or serious bodily injury or places any building or occupied structure of another in danger of damage.”

The charge can be a felony or a misdemeanor; Cameron was charged with the latter.

I haven’t had to visit the Colorado Springs area since I got off the road. Otherwise, I can’t think of any reason to go there other than for the Pikes Peak Hill Climb. Local politics are pretty much under the thumb of the US military, local Republicans and headquarters staff for various rightwing fundamentalist Christian groups. I don’t know which has the biggest militia, nowadays.

The arson charge is about as phony as they get; but – you already know that. All it reminded me of was the police chief back in the New England factory town where I grew up threatening to have me arrested for “contributing to littering” when I leafletted the church he attended – inviting parishioners to join the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963.

I suggested he call the city attorney first. Looks like Manitou Springs coppers ain’t that bright.

The crooks who would cause the financial crisis again – for the sake of ideology


Phil Gramm, the ideological creep-in-chiefDouglas Graham/Roll Call

Many elected or appointed officials have a specific belief system that they act upon in the implementation of policies. When the policies that flow from those beliefs go terribly wrong, it is natural to want to learn why. As is so often the case, that underlying ideology is usually a good place to begin looking.

In the aftermath of the great credit crisis, we have seen all manner of contrition from responsible parties. Most notably, former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan admitted error, saying as much in Congressional testimony. Greenspan was unintentionally ironic when he answered a question about whether ideology led him down the wrong path when it came to preventing irresponsible lending practices in subprime mortgages: “Yes, I’ve found a flaw. I don’t know how significant or permanent it is. But I’ve been very distressed by that fact.”

Other contributors to the crisis have been similarly humbled. In “Bailout Nation,” I held former President Bill Clinton, and his two Treasury secretaries, Robert Rubin and Larry Summers, responsible for signing the ruinous Commodity Futures Modernization Act that exempted derivatives from regulation and oversight. The CFMA was passed as part of a larger bill by unanimous consent, and that Clinton signed on Dec. 21, 2000. Clinton joined Greenspan in admitting his contribution to the credit crisis, as well as saying the advice he received from his Treasury secretaries — Rubin and Summers — was wrong.

The CFMA removed the standard regulations that all other financial instruments follow: reserve requirements, counter-party disclosures and exchange listings…

The exception to any post-crisis self-reflection is former Senator Phil Gramm. Although he was one of the chief architects of the radical gutting of financial regulations and oversight rules during the two decades that preceded the financial crisis, the former senator remains a stubborn believer that banks and markets can regulate themselves.

Perhaps more than anyone else, Gramm drove the legislation that allowed banks to get much bigger and derivatives to run wild. His name is on the law — the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999 — that overturned the Glass-Steagall Act, a Depression-era law that forced commercial banks to get out of the risky investment-banking business…

He led the effort to block measures curtailing deceptive or predatory lending, which was just beginning to result in a jump in home foreclosures that would undermine the financial markets. He advanced legislation that fractured oversight of Wall Street while knocking down Depression-era barriers that restricted the rise and reach of financial conglomerates.

And he pushed through a provision that ensured virtually no regulation of the complex financial instruments known as derivatives, including credit swaps, contracts that would encourage risky investment practices at Wall Street’s most venerable institutions and spread the risks, like a virus, around the world.

…If you want to hold a single elected official responsible for the collapse of American International Group — if any one event could have taken down the entire financial system, that was it — it would have to be Gramm…

Other actors who have yet to come clean include Harvey Pitt, Hank Paulson and George W. Bush. Don’t hold your breath waiting for their mea culpas.

Bear with me if you’ve heard this story from me before; but, I recall sitting in the offices of a firm selling big, family-size mobile homes. Trailer park specials. A young couple legally here from Mexico – not yet citizens – told the sales manager their tale of being turned down by local banks, local branches of chain banks, for a mortgage.

The sales manager told them not to worry. He had a storefront loan company down in Albuquerque that would approve their loan – just put the right numbers on the application. They did it. He did it. They left getting ready to move into a home they couldn’t afford in good times. And this was before the crash of Bush’s Great Recession.

The sales manager told me after they left – he wasn’t worried. He would be able to sell that paper on within 48 hours to Countrywide – and forget about it. And that was a present from Phil Gramm and his bubbas in Congress.

GOP Masters of Sophistry

I make no case for Hillary other than she’s a decent alternative to the cowards, ideologues and bigots staffing and leading today’s Republican Party. That description of that political entity isn’t especially radical. I know too many Recovering Republicans who feel the same.

Who will I vote for in Democrat primaries – after I make my usual every-other-year-registration as someone other than Independent? Bernie, of course. He comes closer to a model of truth and service, sound knowledge and integrity of anyone I’ve had a chance to vote for in decades.

Yes, I still would rather be voting for someone in a 3rd Party independent of ownership by the usual corporate lobbyists. Even that class representation needn’t be restricted to the two old parties. Essentially useless, an impedance to progress.

And, still, Hillary is lightyears ahead of the thugs in the Republican Party. The choice in November 2016 will be easy-peasy.