Losers in the Food Chain

This is a different year…books are variations on the title “How Big Food Is Trying to Kill You.” We have “Salt Sugar Fat,” my Times colleague Michael Moss’s epic description of the manipulation of processed food to make it even more palatable and addictive tomorrow than it was yesterday…And we have the cleverly titled “Pandora’s Lunchbox,” by Melanie Warner, a freelance (and former Times) reporter, which is so much fun that you might forget how depressing it all is…

For instance: Warner writes of your food being “constructed from powders,” and uses as an example the Subway Sweet Onion Chicken Teriyaki sandwich. (The name alone feels like it took five geniuses two weeks of brainstorming to devise.) “Of the 105 ingredients,” (you read that right) “55 are dry, dusty substances” whose names sound familiar only to those who read labels, names like disodium guanylate, calcium disodium EDTA, and other things you probably don’t have lying around your kitchen.

Warner reserves much of her astonishment for the amoral food technologists she meets, many of whom decline to eat their own products, which include the much-discussed processed cheese, white bread, soybean oil (extremely complicated, but let’s just say that once you read about it you’ll stop buying it) and breakfast cereal…

History plays a large part in “Pandora’s Lunchbox,” not only that of the development of processed food — again, hilarious as long as you have a sense of irony — but also that of the struggle to contain it. There are heroes here, most notably the late 19th- and early 20th-century crusader Harvey Wiley, who witnessed and fought against processed food. (Oreos were introduced in 1912, Kraft processed cheese in 1915.)

Wiley opposed – mostly unsuccessfully — saccharin (the first product marketed by Monsanto), cigarettes, soda and especially additives. His “Poison Squads” raised awareness — so much that when Upton Sinclair published “The Jungle,” public anger was pronounced enough so that President Theodore Roosevelt was compelled to sign into law the Federal Meat Inspection Act and the Pure Food and Drug Act, also known as the Wiley Act.

This was the foundation of the current Food and Drug Administration (F.D.A.), so named in 1930. Warner, like many of us writing about these topics, is alternately angry and sympathetic with its current incarnation: “On the one hand their hands are tied, but there is a lot they could be doing within their authority to keep things that are known to be unsafe, like brominated vegetable oil and BHA, out of food. It’s not very heartening.”

…In a phone interview with Warner, she said that until recently “We didn’t know the true impact of these changes in food on our society and our health. Our diets have changed more in the last century than in the previous 10,000 years, when agriculture was introduced.”

Our corporate foodstuffs manufacturers – you can’t call it packaging food – don’t care if they kill the goose that lays the golden eggs. Not if they somehow can keep us alive, albeit unhealthy, for whatever is the current normal lifespan. It matters not that we might live longer without their crap additives – as long as tame physicians continue to applaud steady increases in potential age. Though even that measure seems to be failing.

There are few responsible government agencies. Most are committed to the profiteers. For the present, folks – it’s up to us to take care of our own families and try to steer them into healthy nutrition.

States begin to fight back against MERS mortgage fraud

A prominent economist said about the 2008 financial crisis: “At the root of the crisis we find the largest financial swindle in world history”, where “counterfeit” mortgages were “laundered” by the banks.

The Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems – MERS – was one of the main ways the swindle was done, and the main way in which counterfeit mortgages were laundered by the banks.

MERS is a shell company with no employees, owned by the giant banks.

MERS threw out centuries of well-established law about how real estate is transferred – and cheated governments out of many tens or hundreds of billions of dollars in recording fees…

MERS … is essentially an effort at systematically evading taxes … and hiding information from homeowners in ways that enabled the Countrywides of the world to defraud investors and avoid legal consequences for same…

Outrageously, MERS actually marketed itself to its customers as a way to save money by avoiding the payment of legally-mandated registration fees. Check out this MERS brochure from 2007. It brags on the face page about its fee-avoiding qualities (“MINIMIZE RISK. SAVE MONEY. REDUCE PAPERWORK”) and inside the brochure, in addition to boasting about helping clients “Foreclose More Quickly,” it talks about how clients save money because MERS “eliminates the need to record assignments in the name of the Trustee.”

All of this adds up to a system that enabled the mortgage industry to avoid keeping any kind of proper paperwork on its frantic, coke-fueled selling and re-selling of mortgage-backed securities during the bubble, and to help the both the Countrywide-style subprime merchants and the big banks like Goldman and Chase pull off the mass sales of crappy loans as AAA-rated securities.

Here’s a detailed and thorough indictment of Big Bank corruption and thievery. Read it and weep – and then holler at your elected representatives in that sewer called Congress. Tell ’em to get off their rusty dusty and try working for voters instead of lobbyists and other corporate flunkies.

As Christopher Peterson at the University of Utah puts it – “There was no court case behind this, no statute from Congress or the state legislatures — It was accomplished in a private corporate decision. The banks just did it.”

NOTE: Didn’t notice the original source for this was Washington’s Blog when I read it at The Big Picture. Here’s the appropriate link.

Schoolboy finds 300 million year old fossil

Bruno Debattista holds up the piece of shale with the fossilised footprints

An Oxford schoolboy has discovered what appears to be an extremely rare fossil of footprints from more than 300 million years ago.

Ten-year-old Bruno Debattista, who attends Windmill Primary School in Oxford, brought a piece of shale rock containing what he thought might be a fossilised imprint to the after-school club at Oxford University’s Museum of Natural History.

Oxford University Natural History Museum experts were astonished to find that it appeared to contain the trackways left by a horseshoe crab crawling up the muddy slopes of an ancient shore around 320 million years ago.

Chris Jarvis, education officer at the Museum and organiser of the Natural History After-School Club, said: ‘Footprints of this age are incredibly rare and extremely hard to spot, so we were amazed when Bruno produced them at our After-School Club.

‘Still more impressive is the fact that Bruno had a hunch they might be some kind of footprints, even though the specimen had some of our world expert geologists arguing about it over their microscopes!”

Bruno’s fossil has been confirmed by the Museum as likely showing footprints of a pair of mating horseshoe crabs laid down during the Carboniferous period, some 308-327 million years ago. At this time, the sea was slowly being sealed off as Earth’s landmasses crunched together to form Pangaea. Bruno and his family have decided to donate the fossil specimen to the Museum’s collection.

Bravo. A kid with a bright future.

Secret recording grows easier as the “Wire” gets smaller

“In the old days, they would say, ‘Let me pat you down for a wire’ and boom, everybody would just open their shirt and say, ‘I’m not wearing a wire,’ ” a retired undercover Federal Bureau of Investigation agent, Joaquin Garcia, said in a telephone interview on Friday. “Now there is no need to wear a wire. It’s become extinct. It’s all gone digital. But what are you going to say, ‘I’m wearing digital,’ instead of ‘I’m wearing a wire’? It’s just become part of the parlance of law enforcement.”

Technological advances aside, the methods have remained the same, with federal agents and undercover officers using covert recording equipment to ensnare would-be criminals, sometimes with the help of a well-placed informer or cooperating witness.

“Technology has made it so easy to plant a device that is much less detectable,” Richard B. Zabel, deputy United States attorney for the Southern District of New York, said in an interview last week. “Yes, people are conscious of being recorded, but as you’ve seen, in some cases they are not able to find the recorder anyway.”

Nowadays, recording equipment is miniaturized. “Your options have increased a lot because the devices are a lot smaller,” Mr. Zabel said. “They can really hide them now in buttons, in pens, at the point of a pen, in a cuff link or the edge of a tie clip.”

And frisking an undercover agent for a wire, as Mr. Tabone allegedly did, can be as fruitless as finding a pay phone and “dropping a dime” to call the police.

That is sort of an antiquated way to look for a device,” Mr. Zabel said…

During the cold war era, the surveillance device of choice among law enforcement was the Nagra, a Swiss-made portable tape recorder. The first model was about the size of a shoe box and weighed more than 10 pounds. The recorder was battery-powered and used reel-to-reel tape, an important feature because it moved slowly and could record hours of conversation. The recorder could be secreted inside an elastic band or pouch that sat low on a person’s waist, just above the groin. Microphone heads, attached to a right and left wire, were typically threaded up a person’s chest or back and secured near the collarbone with industrial-strength tape.

“When you pulled them off, all the hair came off our chest,” said Robert K. Wittman, a retired senior F.B.I. investigator and founder of the agency’s National Art Crime Team. “There used to be a lot of recordings that ended with ‘Aaahhhhh,’ when you ripped the wires off. It was almost like getting a body wax…”

Today, eavesdropping equipment is sophisticated enough to record high-definition video and sound, and stream it live to a remote computer. Devices no bigger than a pen cap can be slipped into a coat pocket and easily record through the person’s clothing, said Bob Leonard, a retired police officer and founder of the Spy Store, which sells a quarter-sized item called the “Super Mini Covert Wireless Camera” and recording devices disguised as a calculator, cigarette carton or cordless phone.

“Short of having the person stripped down naked, it’s almost impossible to detect,” Mr. Pollini said.

And not even then.

Though it’s been years since a strip search was needed to detect someone using a device that communicates to a computer or recorder nearby. All you need is equipment that will detect if someone is broadcasting.