“Monsanto Protection Act,” Provison snuck into Law

“Monsanto Protection Act,” and How Did It Sneak Into Law? A provison that protects the biotech giant from litigation passed Congress without many members knowing about it:

"MON 810", a variety of genetically modified maize (corn) developed by Monsanto Company is pictured January 23, 2012. The agricultural giant posted a large increase in quarterly earnings on strong results in corn seed sales in the US and Latin America

“MON 810”, a variety of genetically modified maize (corn) developed by Monsanto Company.

“MON 810”, a variety of genetically modified maize (corn) developed by Monsanto Company. The agricultural giant posted a large increase in quarterly earnings on strong results in corn seed sales in the US and Latin America. Slipped into the Agricultural Appropriations Bill, which passed through Congress last week, was a small provision that’s a big deal for Monsanto and its opponents. The provision protects genetically modified seeds from litigation in the face of health risks and has thus been dubbed the “Monsanto Protection Act” by activists who oppose the biotech giant. President Barack Obama signed the spending bill, including the provision, into law on Tuesday.

Since the act’s passing, more than a quarter million people have signed a petition opposing the provision and a rally, consisting largely of farmers organized by the Food Democracy Now network, protested outside the White House Wednesday. Not only has anger been directed at the Monsanto Protection Act’s content, but the way in which the provision was passed through Congress without appropriate review by the Agricultural or Judiciary Committees. The biotech rider instead was introduced anonymously as the larger bill progressed — little wonder food activists are accusing lobbyists and Congress members of backroom dealings.

The Food Democracy Now and the Center for Food are directing blame at the Senate Appropriations Committee and its chairman, Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md. According to reports, many members of Congress were apparently unaware that the “Monsanto Protection Act” even existed within the spending bill, HR 933; they voted in order to avert a government shutdown.

“It sets a terrible precedent,” the International Business Times. “Though it will only remain in effect for six months until the government finds another way to fund its operations, the message it sends is that corporations can get around consumer safety protections if they get Congress on their side. Furthermore, it sets a precedent that suggests that court challenges are a privilege, not a right.”

2012 started in Mexico

Security forces have removed some 500 inmates from a prison in the northern Mexican city:

 

Security forces have removed some 500 inmates from a prison in the northern Mexican city

Security forces have removed some 500 inmates from a prison in the northern Mexican city

Security forces have removed some 500 inmates from a prison in the northern Mexican city of Gomez Palacio after 24 people died during a foiled jailbreak. The jail “has been totally emptied as a preventive measure,” an official said, adding that the prisoners have been brought to other regional facilities. At least 15 inmates and nine guards were killed in Wednesday’s shootout as the prisoners tried to escape. The Durango state jail has been at the centre of a series of scandals. The latest violence erupted when guards rang the alarm bell after seeing inmates climb the prison’s back fence, Public Safety Secretary Jesus Rosso said. The prisoners then opened fire on the guard towers and the warden’s office. The guards retaliated, initially shooting into the air before aiming at the inmates. Mr Rosso said soldiers deployed to the penitentiary eventually regained control of the situation. The prisoners have been moved to other facilities while an investigation is underway to establish how they got hold of the firearms. The jail already made headlines in July when prison director Margarita Rojas Rodriguez and 10 of her employees were arrested on suspicion of collaborating with the Sinaloa drug cartel. They were found guilty of allowing inmates to use the guards’ weapons to carry out executions of other prisoners. Wednesday’s shootout happened a day after President Enrique Pena Nieto unveiled a six-point strategy to combat crimes linked to drug violence, kidnappings and extortions.His plan includes a new militarised force of 10,000 officers. However, there has currently been no mention of reviewing the country’s antiquated and dangerous prisons, the BBC’s Will Grant in Mexico City says. Human rights groups say the penal system suffers from chronic overcrowding and is in urgent of an overhaul.

Halloween 2012

Halloween 2012

Halloween 2012

 

Halloween as it is celebrated these days is but a pale representation of its rich and multicultural history. It is not, as some would call it, a celebration of the Devil or of Hell or of the Damned, but rather a blending of the celebrations marking the end of the growing season, a heralding of the coming of the winter months and folk traditions that told of the day when the veil between the living and the dead, ever a transparent, gossamer veil at that, would lift and ghosts and ghouls would walk among the living. From those many traditions, coming to us from the Celts, the Roman rituals and even Catholic tradition, we get the stirrings of what would eventually become Halloween. Back in the old days, or once upon a time, in the tradition of fairy tales, there were the Celtic people and their Druid priests. The Druids were believed to have the ability, among other skills, to commune with the dead. Their powers, it was rumored, were much more powerful on the day of Samhain (pronounced sow-en), which was the last day of the year in the Celtic calendar. But, before believing that the Halloween celebration came directly from Samhain, a day mistakenly attributed directly to the Wiccans rather than to the Celts, you must understand that it is a blend of Hallowmas, a celebration of Catholic origins, as well as the Roman festival called Feralia. On the day of Samhain, the Celtic people would all extinguish their home’s hearth fire. They would gather in front of a blessed bonfire and would sing, dance and listen to the stories that were told during the celebration. At the end of the evening, each person would take some of the bonfire home to relight their heart fire in hopes of ensuring good fortune to their home and family for the coming year. It is said that if your hearth fire would not light from the sacred bonfire, misfortune, even death, would befall someone in the house that very year. By the 19th century, most of the religious aspects of the Halloween celebration had dwindled away and it was mostly a secular holiday, a gathering of community with only some of the remnants of the past clinging to it like the cobwebs of a haunted house. People would still dress up in costume, but less for the original reason of confusing the dead and more for just plain entertainment and fun. European immigrants brought many of their traditions and beliefs with them to the New World, even those that were sometimes frowned upon or scoffed at. Halloween itself was largely disallowed, even forbidden, but in Maryland, the tradition was not only allowed but encouraged. The people there held what they called “play parties” where they would take turns telling each other’s fortunes, dancing, singing and telling ghost stories. The children would dress in costumes and try to scare one another as well. The Irish immigrants came to the new world in great masses, fleeing from the Potato Famine that was starving them to death, and brought with them the Halloween tradition of going door to door looking for sweets and other treats.

Halloween House

Halloween House

The tradition of trick or treating is still a favorite among little children today.There are still many, especially among fundamentalist Christians, who believe that Halloween is nothing more than a celebration of paganism and witchcraft because of some of the traditions that are involved. It was thought that on Halloween night, a young woman could determine who her future spouse would be by staring into a mirror in a darkened room or by peeling an apple in one long strip and then casting the peel over her shoulder. Other traditions involved baking small coins and trinkets as well as a single, plain ring into a barm brack, a type of fruit cake that would be shared among the neighbors. If you got a trinket in your piece – that was your fate for the coming year, with the person who got the ring destined to wed.While the Catholic Church bears no ill will toward the Halloween traditions and the holiday itself, there are some Christian churches who say that it encourages witchcraft and may even lead to Satanism. These churches hold “Hell Houses” meant to scare children and young adults away from the traditions and to lead them back to the church. Some of these churches even hand out pamphlets and religious tracts on Halloween night to be found when the children go through their candy.

 

 

Halloween is an old holiday and it’s evolved from those first Druid & Celtic roots, to what’s celebrated today.  In Canada and the US is where it’s most popular.  Up to 65% of Americans decorate for Halloween and Christmas is the only holiday which is more popular.   More candy is sold on Halloween than on any other holiday and every country which celebrates Halloween at all, does so in its own unique way.

Halloween in Austria

Just like at Christmas in North America with milk & cookies for Santa, Austrians have a tradition of leaving water, bread, and a lighted lamp on the table before going to bed on Halloween night.  From long ago, the tradition held that these types of items would welcome any dead souls back to the land of the living.  Austrians felt that Halloween was a night chock full of cosmic energy and this made the dead souls’ return for a night much easier.

Halloween in Canada

Irish and Scottish immigrants arrived in Canada during the 1800s.  Festivities included trick or treating and parties, homes decorated with corn stalks and pumpkins, plus the carving of Jack O’Lanterns.

Halloween in Belgium

Belgian’s believe that a black cat crossing someone’s path is unlucky.  If it goes on a ship or enters a home, then that’s also unlucky and Belgians light candles on Halloween to remember dead relatives.

Halloween in Czechoslovakia

Chairs are put by the fireside on Halloween and they are one per family member, plus one for each of their spirits.

Halloween in China

Halloween is known by Teng Chieh here.  Water and food are placed in front of dead relatives’ photographs.  Lanterns and bonfires are lit so that spirits can see the pathway back to earth.  Buddhists make little boats from paper and these are burned when it gets dark and this honors the dead, plus spirits of pretas are released and can ascend into heaven.  Pretas are people who died because they drowned or had an accident and their bodies weren’t able to be buried.  If pretas roam amongst the living, the Chinese feel that it’s dangerous.

Halloween in England

English children used to carve beetroots like Jack O’Lanterns.  They carried these “punkies”  from door to door and sang, then asked for money.  Turnip lanterns were placed on posts to protect the home form spirits roaming around on Halloween.  Sometimes, stones, nuts and vegetables were tossed into a bonfire to scare away spirits and fortune telling was often read into the remains of the bonfire in the morning.  The English people no longer celebrated Halloween when Martin Luther had his protestant reformation.  Costumes and trick or treating have crossed back over the pond into England and the children there go out on Halloween.  Most seniors in England don’t know what it’s all about.

 

 

Halloween in France

Until 1996, Halloween was thought of as an American holiday and the French do not celebrate it to honor the dearly departed.

Halloween in Hong Kong

Yue Lan is the name of the Halloween celebration in Hong Kong.  Spirits supposedly roam freely for 24 hours and people there burned photos of money and fruit.

Halloween in Germany

Residents of Germany put their knives away on Halloween because returning spirits could be harmed.

Halloween in Japan

In Japan, the Obon festival is similar to Halloween.  Food is prepared and red lanterns are hung all over.  When lit candles are placed into the lanterns they are set adrift on rivers.  Families light fires to show ancestors the path to their families and community dances are put on, and memorial stones are cleaned during the Obon Festival.  The Japanese festival happens during August or July.

Halloween in Ireland

This is supposed to be the birthplace of Halloween.  Bonfires are lit in the countryside and children dress in costumes then go trick or treating.  Parties are given in neighborhoods and games are played, one of which is bobbing for apples.  A type of fruitcake is eaten on Halloween and a treasure is buried inside for someone to find.

 

 

Halloween 2012

Halloween 2012

 

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U.S. troop suicide one a day in 2012

 

Suicides among U.S. troops averaging one a day in 2012:

Suicides among U.S. troops averaging one a day in 2012

Suicides among U.S. troops averaging one a day in 2012

Suicides are surging among America’s troops, averaging nearly one a day this year — the fastest pace in the nation’s decade of war. The 154 suicides for active-duty troops in the first 155 days of the year far outdistance the U.S. forces killed in action in Afghanistan — about 50% more — according to Pentagon statistics obtained by the Associated Press. The numbers reflect a military burdened with wartime demands from Iraq and Afghanistan that have taken a greater toll than foreseen a decade ago. The military also is struggling with increased sexual assaults, alcohol abuse, domestic violence and other misbehavior. Because suicides had leveled off in 2010 and 2011, this year’s upswing has caught some officials by surprise. The reasons for the increase are not fully understood. Among explanations, studies have pointed to combat exposure, post-traumatic stress, misuse of prescription medications and personal financial problems. Army data suggest soldiers with multiple combat tours are at greater risk of committing suicide, although a substantial proportion of Army suicides are committed by soldiers who never deployed. The unpopular war in Afghanistan is winding down with the last combat troops scheduled to leave at the end of 2014. But this year has seen record numbers of soldiers being killed by Afghan troops, and there also have been several scandals involving U.S. troop misconduct. The 2012 active-duty suicide total of 154 through June 3 compares to 130 in the same period last year, an 18% increase. And it’s more than the 136.2 suicides that the Pentagon had projected for this period based on the trend from 2001-2011. This year’s January-May total is up 25% from two years ago, and it is 16% ahead of the pace for 2009, which ended with the highest yearly total thus far. Suicide totals have exceeded U.S. combat deaths in Afghanistan in earlier periods, including for the full years 2008 and 2009. The suicide pattern varies over the course of a year, but in each of the past five years the trend through May was a reliable predictor for the full year, according to a chart based on figures provided by the Armed Forces Medical Examiner. The numbers are rising among the 1.4 million active-duty military personnel despite years of effort to encourage troops to seek help with mental health problems. Many in the military believe that going for help is seen as a sign of weakness and thus a potential threat to advancement. Kim Ruocco, widow of Marine Maj. John Ruocco, a helicopter pilot who hanged himself in 2005 between Iraq deployments, said he was unable to bring himself to go for help. “He was so afraid of how people would view him once he went for help,” she said in an interview at her home in suburban Boston. “He thought that people would think he was weak, that people would think he was just trying to get out of redeploying or trying to get out of service, or that he just couldn’t hack it — when, in reality, he was sick. He had suffered injury in combat and he had also suffered from depression and let it go untreated for years. And because of that, he’s dead today.” Ruocco is currently director of suicide prevention programs for the military support organization Tragedy Assistance Programs, or TAPS. She joined the group after her husband’s suicide, and she organized its first program focused on support for families of suicide victims. Jackie Garrick, head of a newly established Defense Suicide Prevention Office at the Pentagon, said in an interview Thursday that the suicide numbers this year are troubling. “We are very concerned at this point that we are seeing a high number of suicides at a point in time where we were expecting to see a lower number of suicides,” she said, adding that the weak U.S. economy may be confounding preventive efforts even as the pace of military deployments eases. Garrick said experts are still struggling to understand suicidal behavior. “What makes one person become suicidal and another not is truly an unknown,” she said. Dr. Stephen N. Xenakis, a retired Army brigadier general and a practicing psychiatrist, said the suicides reflect the level of tension as the U.S. eases out of Afghanistan though violence continues. “It’s a sign in general of the stress the Army has been under over the 10 years of war,” he said in an interview. “We’ve seen before that these signs show up even more dramatically when the fighting seems to go down and the Army is returning to garrison.” But Xenakis said he worries that many senior military officers do not grasp the nature of the suicide problem. A glaring example of that became public when a senior Army general recently told soldiers considering suicide to “act like an adult.” Maj. Gen. Dana Pittard, commander of the 1st Armored Division, last month retracted — but did not apologize for — a statement in his Army blog in January. He had written, “I have now come to the conclusion that suicide is an absolutely selfish act.” He also wrote, “”I am personally fed up with soldiers who are choosing to take their own lives so that others can clean up their mess. Be an adult, act like an adult, and deal with your real-life problems like the rest of us.” He did also counsel soldiers to seek help. His remarks drew a public rebuke from the Army, which has the highest number of suicides and called his assertions “clearly wrong.” Last week the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, said he disagrees with Pittard “in the strongest possible terms.” The military services have set up confidential telephone hotlines, placed more mental health specialists on the battlefield, added training in stress management, invested more in research on mental health risk and taken other measures. The Marines established a counseling service dubbed “DStress line,” a toll-free number that troubled Marines can call anonymously. They also can use a Marine website to chat online anonymously with a counselor. The Marines arguably have had the most success recently in lowering their suicide numbers, which are up slightly this year but are roughly in line with levels of the past four years. The Army’s numbers also are up slightly. The Air Force has seen a spike, to 32 through June 3 compared to 23 at the same point last year. The Navy is slightly above its 10-year trend line but down a bit from 2011. As part of its prevention strategy, the Navy has published a list of “truths” about suicide. “Most suicidal people are not psychotic or insane,” it says. “They might be upset, grief-stricken, depressed or despairing.” In a report published in January, the Army said the true impact of its prevention programs is unknown. “What is known is that all Army populations … are under increased stress after a decade of war,” it said, adding that if not for prevention efforts the Army’s suicide totals might have been as much as four times as high. Marine Sgt. Maj. Bryan Battaglia, the senior enlisted adviser to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recently issued a video message to all military members in which he noted that suicides “are sadly on the rise.” “From private to general, we shoulder an obligation to look and listen for signs and we stand ready to intervene and assist our follow service member or battle buddy in time of need,” Battaglia said. The suicide numbers began surging in 2006. They soared in 2009 and then leveled off before climbing again this year. The statistics include only active-duty troops, not veterans who returned to civilian life after fighting in Iraq or Afghanistan. Nor does the Pentagon’s tally include non-mobilized National Guard or Reserve members. The renewed surge in suicides has caught the attention of Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. Last month he sent an internal memo to the Pentagon’s top civilian and military leaders in which he called suicide “one of the most complex and urgent problems” facing the Defense Department, according to a copy provided to the AP. Panetta touched on one of the most sensitive aspects of the problem: the stigma associated seeking help for mental distress. This is particularly acute in the military. “We must continue to fight to eliminate the stigma from those with post-traumatic stress and other mental health issues,” Panetta wrote, adding that commanders “cannot tolerate any actions that belittle, haze, humiliate or ostracize any individual, especially those who require or are responsibly seeking professional services.”