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2008 Elections

It seems that the sub-prime mess will have even more fallout than I’d thought back in this post in April. I’d thought about the global connections but there are a few things happening that could make this a really sticky wicket, and the fallout could well be much larger than anyone’s allowing right now.

It has come out that one of the largest mortgage lenders had pressured the appraisal firm to use appraisers who had a track record of over-valuing houses. The next logical step is an accusation of fraud from those who securitised these mortgages, and then from those who bought the securities backed by these mortgages. It is a small step from that point for consumers to begin to repudiate these loans, saying they were fraudulently duped into taking out a larger loan, and therefore seek damages. And they would simply be: right, if the lender put pressure on the appraiser. And it seems they did.

And from a recent legal decision regarding the enforceability of these securitized loans, there is a special bonus, one of those great quotes from a judge who actually upholds the law, and didn’t get (or didn’t read) the memo that the American legal system is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Mega Corp, Inc:

The plaintiff’s argument that “‘Judge, you just don’t understand how things work,’” the judge wrote, “reveals a condescending mindset and quasi-monopolistic system where financial institutions have traditionally controlled, and still control, the foreclosure process.

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Hat Tip: TLF

An interesting web application that the New York Times put on their website allowing you to search the transcript of the Presidential debates for any particular word. You can roll your cursor over the highlighted portions of the text, and you will see that snippet of text, which you can click on to go to that section, and see that portion of the debate.

transcript_analyzer_global_warming1.png

Well, since there have been 3 cases of BSE (mad cow disease) in the USA, a Kansas-based farm, Creekstone, wants to test all of its Cows for BSE. Not so fast, says the Bush administration, which had filed suit to stop the testing from being done. Note that Creekstone does only want to be able to test its own cows; the Bush administration stopped that, because they feared it would hurt sales of beef in general. Looks like the ‘free market’ credentials (not to mention free speech credentials) of the Bushies look a little weak.:

Hat Tip: microbiologybytes

Bush administration fights testing for mad cow disease
The Agriculture Department tests less than 1 percent of slaughtered cows for the disease, which can be fatal to humans who eat tainted beef. But Kansas-based Creekstone Farms Premium Beef wants to test all of its cows.

Larger meat companies feared that move because, if Creekstone tested its meat and advertised it as safe, they might have to perform the expensive test, too.

The Agriculture Department regulates the test and argued that widespread testing could lead to a false positive that would harm the meat industry.

A federal judge ruled in March that such tests must be allowed. U.S. District Judge James Robertson noted that Creekstone sought to use the same test the government relies on and said the government didn’t have the authority to restrict it.

The ruling was to take effect June 1, but the Agriculture Department said Tuesday it would appeal — effectively delaying the testing until the court challenge plays out.

Well, there is a good solution: if the beef can’t be tested just don’t eat any…

Condi had some interesting things to say while criticizing Hugo Chavez, who has, we should be reminded, actually won each and every of the elections he has stood in. The BBC reports this rather straightly, not indicating if Condi was even aware of the irony here:

“Freedom of speech, freedom of association and freedom of conscience are not a thorn in the side of government,” Ms Rice told OAS officials. “Disagreeing with your government is not unpatriotic and most certainly should not be a crime in any country, especially a democracy,” she said.

Well this “headline as a question thing” that I had mentioned in my post of May 15th seems to have caught on, or perhaps I have just become attuned to it so I notice it more, in the San Jose Mercury, Why U.S. doesn’t stop tainted food from China, (not technically a question, but it’s close) and in the Houston Chronicle, a wonderful article Are you what your pets eat?

I can’t believe one paragraph from the Houston Chronicle article by John E. Peck. I had to re-read it to make sure it was really published, and I wasn’t hallucinating:

Responsibility for this latest food scandal lies with runaway globalization, as well as the corrupting influence of corporate agribusiness on government oversight. As U.S. trade barriers came down and imports skyrocketed, corporations raked in unprecedented profits and consumers were left fearing the old Latin adage: “caveat emptor,” or buyer beware.

It is for that paragraphs like that I had created the category ‘finally.’ Links and further excerpts below the fold..
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Food Safety has become a hot topic, and it looks like it might play a role in the upcoming election, from some of the sound bites from Hillary. And not a moment too soon, as the long neglect coupled with the effects of our highly centralized (and ever increasingly globalised) food supply are ripe for disaster.

I love headlines that ask questions, because it just makes everyone want to ask whoever is in charge that question. Perhaps someday soon we will see GWB get asked some hard questions about food safety, or the lack of a working syndromic surveillance system. But, that would actually require a working Press Corps. Oh well, we can dream, right?

From the mother of a child who was nearly killed and still suffers kidney damage, there is this quote, which is telling, in that there is an expectation that someone is minding the store:

“You live in the United States of America and this isn’t supposed to happen. There is an assumption that everything is going to be O.K., that someone must have checked this out, but it is not the case.”

And then there is this great example of an industry association actually wanting stronger regulation, but the government not wanting to get involved when asked:

Dr. von Eschenbach [of the FDA] believes the agency can achieve its goals through voluntary guidelines. But the fresh-cut produce industry, hit hard by outbreaks in recent years, has been virtually begging for stronger intervention.

Tom Stenzel, president and chief executive of the United Fresh Produce Association, said the industry’s problems “can’t be solved without strong mandatory federal regulations.”

But after seven years of discussions about food safety advice on the farm, the agency has issued only voluntary guidelines; not even hand-washing is mandatory. After the E. coli outbreaks last year, sales of bagged spinach dropped 60 percent in October. Today sales are still down 20 percent.

It’s very simple: without regulation, there will be a few bad apples who won’t take food safety precautions, and will hurt the reputations of the entire industry. This is a classic example of the free rider problem, one of the basic types of market failures. But GWB doesn’t believe in market failures, so, therefore we have to suffer.

From the New York Times:
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A story in The Scientist by Katherine Eban about the woefully inadequate disease surveillance efforts in the USA. In particular, the media have started to play their necessary role, as discussed here.

In an earlier discussion I had started over at Freedom to Tinker about the lack of an effective syndromic surveillance system, it seemed that concern of most of the commentators to my post were centered on the privacy issues. But I am actually very little concerned with those issues, more concerned with the safety issues, and the intelligent design of such a system. Putting into place the necessary provisions so that if we had such a system and it worked, we would be able to address the disease that it might uncover is also neglected. Roger Brent had some very good ideas in his outlines of what a system should look like, and even more importantly, when such a system is needed (NOW)  That could be a separate post.

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The Green Party in the United States hasn’t made much progress at all. It is even seen by some as doing a favor to the Republicans, by displacing Democratic votes. But here it is in Canada, working with another mainstream party, and furthering it’s own goals, too. It’s high time for the Green Party in USA to do the same, and work in a way that doesn’t simply displce a Democrat with a Republican in a tight race. Being seen as the ‘spoiler’ will be the death of the Green Party in the USA. It’s time to work hard to overcome that perception.

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If an important story concerning an issue of manifest public concern shows up in the New York Times only five years after its been written about in many well-researched books, is it still really a newspaper? Don’t we maybe need another word? What about all those images in the popular culture of newspapers rushing to ‘scoop’ the competition, to be first with a breaking story?

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