Private cash for Congressional junkets has actually gone up since the days of Casino Jack Abramoff — especially if it benefits Israel

At least these clowns kept their clothes on!

The trip was much like any of the hundreds hosted in recent years by a nonprofit offshoot of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a powerful Washington lobby, and the purpose was much the same: to solidify the support of American lawmakers for Israel…

With hundreds of Washington lawmakers having gone to Israel courtesy of the program, the trips have a reputation as being the standard-bearer for foreign Congressional travel. “We call it the Jewish Disneyland trip,” said one pro-Israel advocate in Washington.

…The attention surrounding last summer’s trip — thanks to reports of a skinny-dipping Kansas lawmaker who was part of the delegation — has cast an unwanted spotlight once again on the practice of private groups paying for foreign travel, a source of frequent criticism in the past.

One of the most famous travel boondoggles — a golf trip to Scotland for members of Congress and staff members, hosted by the lobbyist Jack Abramoff — led Congress in 2007 to tighten restrictions on who could sponsor trips and for how long. But despite the new restrictions, the number of Congressional trips paid for by outside groups has actually increased since 2007, to more than 1,600 from about 1,300, according to Legistorm, a research group that tracks Congressional data. To comply with the new restrictions, many political and lobbying groups have turned to nonprofit groups they set up and finance to host the Congressional trips.

Since 2000, the American Israel Education Foundation has been more prolific than any other in sponsoring overseas trips for members of Congress and their staffs, organizing 733 trips for both Republicans and Democrats at a cost of more than $7 million. Last year, it spent $2 million to sponsor 146 trips…

Among the donors who have helped to finance the trips is Sheldon Adelson, the casino magnate who is a strong Israel supporter and has pledged to spend as much as $100 million to defeat President Obama. A charitable trust operated by Mr. Adelson and his wife gave $1.2 million in 2006 to the American Israel Education Foundation, records show.

“What this says is that these kinds of trips are still happening, because these groups want to influence those members of Congress, to make them sympathetic to the host’s interests,” said Bill Allison, editorial director for the Sunlight Foundation…

Eric Cantor of Virginia, as House majority leader, a dedicated supporter of Israel, has been on five trips since 2003. Trips costing $57,000. No doubt he would describe the trips, who paid for them and their purpose as educational and a wonderful aid to his performance as Congressman.

The same crap always used as rationales for Congressional junkets designed to curry favor, influence political hacks and guarantee policies that haven’t much to do with legislation appropriate to the needs of American voters.

2012 Labby Image Finalists

This color enhanced scanning electron micrograph (SEM) of a water bear (Macrobiotus sapiens) was captured by Eye of Science—a two-person team of photographer Oliver Meckes and biologist Nicole Ottawa. Water bears are tiny invertebrates that live in aquatic and semi-aquatic habitats such as lichens and damp moss.

One of the finalists for the Labby Awards.

See the finalists for best image and vote for your favorite

Thanks, Ursarodinia!

Japan gets to feed their Jones for Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups

Americans have enjoyed Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups since 1923, but until now devotees in Japan had to buy them on U.S. military bases, carry them back in suitcases or resort to making their own homemade versions of the popular treat.

That changed this spring when Seiyu GK, the Japan arm of Wal-Mart Stores Inc, began selling the chocolate and peanut butter Reese’s under an exclusive one-year distribution agreement with Hershey Co.

The products are the same as those sold in the United States, minus a preservative not approved for use in Japan…

Based on their initial reception, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups are likely to be in Japan to stay…Seiyu’s first-month sales amounted to 1.7 times more than Kit-Kat Mini, which had been the most popular product in the store’s chocolate line-up until then…

Hershey’s produces Japan’s Peanut Butter Cups in the U.S. for export. While the company doesn’t comment on product formulation, Hershey spokesman Jeff Beckman said the Reese’s products sold in Japan are identical to those sold at Walmart stores in the United Kingdom, South Africa and Latin America.

One difference between the export version and the one sold in the U.S. is apparent from comparing labels. The Reese’s sold abroad do not list “TBHQ,” which is shorthand for tertiary butylhydroquinone, a preservative.

Fortunately, Americans are convinced that tertiary butylhydroquinone is really good for us. Right?

Republicans include Akin plank in platform — Rape is No Excuse!

You want us to honor reproductive rights for who? — Flores, Ryan, Akin
Daylife/AP Photo used by permission

Even as the Republican establishment continued to call for Representative Todd Akin of Missouri to drop out of his Senate race because of his comments on rape and abortion, Republicans approved platform language on Tuesday calling for a constitutional amendment outlawing abortion with no explicit exceptions for cases of rape or incest.

The anti-abortion plank, approved by the Republican platform committee…was similar to the planks Republicans have included in their recent party platforms, which also called for a constitutional ban on abortions…

“Faithful to the ‘self-evident’ truths enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, we assert Blah, blah, blah…“We support a human life amendment to the Constitution and endorse legislation to make clear that the Fourteenth Amendment’s protections apply to unborn children.”

The timing of the approval of the Republican anti-abortion plank was awkward for Mitt Romney, who has denounced Mr. Akin’s comments about rape and abortion and who has said that he supports exceptions to allow abortions in cases of rape. And it comes as his selection of his running mate, Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, was already drawing scrutiny for his support for a more absolute ban on abortions, even in cases of rape or incest

The Republican platform committee waded into the abortion debate again later on Tuesday when it approved language opposing drugs like RU-486, which can terminate pregnancies. “We oppose approval of these drugs and similar drugs that terminate innocent human life after conception,” said Mary Summa, a delegate form North Carolina, who introduced a plank calling on the Food and Drug Administration not to approve such drugs…

The party also approved a plank supporting abstinence-only education, as it has in the past…“We renew our call for replacing “family planning” programs for teens with increased funding for abstinence education, which teaches abstinence until marriage as the responsible and expected standard of behavior.”

I’m not certain if the Republican Party would prefer to drag this nation back into the 19th Century – removing the voting franchise from women and non-whites – or take society all the way back to the 14th Century and simply get rid of all that stuff about voting and democracy altogether. Rule by kings and papal edict seemed to work well enough for the moneyed classes of the time and, after all, that is the only imperative for political rule in today’s Republican Party.

Lab-grown meat may give meat-on-the-hoof a run for the money

A burger grown in a laboratory. Sounds like science-fiction? Well up until very recently it probably was but now the prospect of lab-grown meat appearing on our supermarket shelves is closer than ever.

Synthetic or test-tube meat involves taking a small amount of cells from a living animal and growing it into lumps of muscle tissue in the lab, which can then, in theory, be eaten as meat for human consumption.

As well avoiding killing animals, scientists believe it could help reduce the environmental impact of meat production.

The technology to create artificial meat has been around since the turn of the century — NASA once looked into developing it for their astronauts — but making an edible and commercially viable product has remained out of reach. It also remains to be seen whether consumers will accept it as an alternative to farm animal-based meat.

But now a U.S. scientist says he is closer than ever to achieving the technological breakthrough. What’s more, he believes a market for his lab-grown meat does exist…

Gabor Forgacs, of the University of Missouri, became the first scientist in the United States to produce and publicly eat some of his tissue-engineered meat, at the 2011 TEDMED conference…

Initially at least, his engineered meat is likely to be more of a “niche” product, priced somewhere close to Kobe beef, which is currently around $125-$395 a kilo.

This product isn’t going to be for the masses at the beginning, it’s going to be for eco-conscious people and people who don’t eat meat for ethical reasons,” says Forgacs…

In fact, rather than attempt to race to produce an engineered meat product, Forgacs said his first lab-grown product is going to be leather, which he says “is a similar product to some extents but not as controversial and doesn’t require the same legislation that meat does”.

Interesting article. I’ve had a couple of friends, molecular biologists, who’ve experimented in this field. No luck that I heard of; but, mostly that was before the kind of genetic engineering now possible.

My position is the same as anything proposed to aid our environment and our lives. Make it affordable – preferably more affordable – than the products you’re competing with and you can find someone to make it seem more palatable. Economics rules the marketplace a heck of a lot better than tradition and ideology.

‘Balcony Removed’ sign doesn’t aid blind residents

Hamburg, Germany — A blind man in a German medical care home sued after he was injured, unable to read a “Balcony Removed” sign installed by a work crew…

Wheelchair-bound Klaus Ohlmeier suffered broken ribs and internal bleeding in a two-story fall in Hamburg, the German news agency The Local reported, in a 2010 accident after balconies at his residence were removed in a renovation.

The construction site manager, defendant in the negligence suit this week and identified in court as Patrick B., said the balconies were replaced with protective wooden planks across access areas, but “we had to remove them to insulate the blind people’s home.”

He added “There was a sign,” apparently unaware of its uselessness in a building containing residences for the blind…

“I’m glad it didn’t come out any worse,” plaintiff Ohlmeier told the newspaper Hamburger Morgenpost Friday.