Thursday, August 23, 2012

Soylent Green Ain't the Only Thing That's People

In a recent discussion I told my husband that the problem that doing a research document is that on occasion you get to the end of the story and find it isn't something you wanted to know. Constantly tracking down rumours for the sake of entertainment, one often comes to the conclusion involving an individual or group's vivid imagination blown WAY out of proportion and carried along the internet waves by other people needing a cause for worry. So, I have been hearing the whispering for some time about Pepsi and other companies using "aborted fetal cells" in their products. This particular rumour has not died down over the last year - it persists. Let's have a look.

 The culprit of the uproar is the company Senomyx [1] and the HEK293 cells [2,3,4,5,] it is using to enhance the flavour receptors in food products. HEK stands for Human Embyonic Kidney - the cells are cloned, but did come from an aborted fetus, although many years ago.[6] HEK293 is valued for its ability to release proteins which stimulate both the sweetness and the umami (meat or savory) taste receptors making foods and drinks more palatable. Senomyx has patented this process for several reasons. [7] In several statements to the media, the company has denied using HEK293 for any purpose other than taste-testing products to find ways to make foods taste better. However, in their patent while Senomyx does state their goal to use the resulting proteins for screening foods and beverages, several of their objectives discuss the use of HEK293's proteins "as an ingredient in food and beverage compounds" or "for their ability to enhance, mimic, block and/or modulate sweet taste perception, in a mammal, preferably human" or worse, "to identify compounds that modulate the taste of animal feed formulations for use in, e.g., fish aquaculture." [7] Ok, eeww, that is enough of that.

But the question still remains, what link does Senomyx have with Pepsico or any other food industry? According to The Wall Street Journal and the Daily Market's Stock Exchange report,[8,9] Pepsico and Senomyx penned a multi-million dollar deal in 2010 for research and development, and according to the contract, gave Pepsico "exclusive rights to the Senomyx sweet flavor ingredients developed under the collaboration for use in its non-alcoholic beverages." After a stockholder request to cease using HEK293 based sweeteners due to a world-wide ban in late 2011,[10] Pepsico refused to succumb to pressure by tabling the matter for their meeting in January.[11] However, after increased fiscal pressure due to boycotting, Pepsico released a statement and changed their website policies in April of this year stating that neither they nor any third party would use HEK cell lines for their products. [12,13] I think it is acceptable to assume that Pepsico products are now satisfactory for those with conscience objections.

On September 16, 2011, Congress passed HR 1249, banning the patenting of human organisms, including fetuses or embryos, which reads, “Notwithstanding any other provision of this title, no patent may issue on a claim directed to or encompassing a human organism." [14] This prevents any new company with creating cells like HEK293 for human consumption, but it still leaves HEK293 and its generated protein enhancers on the market. You might be surprised just who is using Senomyx for research. In July of 2011, after the boycott with Pepsico became so vigorous, Senomyx brought down its main development website listing its goals and main business collaborators.[15] Two business collaborators, Solae and Campbell Soup have come forward to the media denouncing their ties with the company and vowing, similar to Pepsico, not to use HEK293 cell lines in their products. That leaves 1) Nestle, who denies their relationship with Senomyx but Senomyx states that before terminating their relationship in 2009 that Nestle had selected one of their ingredients for use in the coffee and coffee whitener and states on their updated site that although the collaborative period was over, "development activities are ongoing" and Nestle was listed on the 2011 fiscal statements for Senomyx. Interesting. [16,17] 2) Kraft, who is researching sweeteners in gum is doing so under the company Cadbury Adams and is also investigating medical confectioneries. [18] 3) Finally there is Ajinomoto, one of the world's largest suppliers of MSG and aspartame.[19,17] Yum! Yum!

At this point I would like to thank Coca-cola and other companies for realizing that linking up with Senomyx was a mistake and there were better ways to find the sweetness and savoriness they required. Yes, I do understand that by choosing Chromocell, they are using CHO [Chinese hamster ovary] and insect cell lines.[20,21,22] Still, given the choice between a hamster and Soylent Green, I think I'll take the hamster.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Doesn't anyone study math anymore?

According to the Census Bureau (government agency), the 2010 census enumerated 7.2 million teachers earning a national average of $50,758 annually (total cost, not adjusted for inflation: $365,457,600,000).  This is money coming directly from government coffers - money we are spending on quality education, right?  Huffington Post (liberal leaning electronic publication) reported that the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) ranked the United States 14th out of 34 OECD countries for reading skills, 17th for science and a below-average 25th for mathematics.”  These figures are available directly from the OECD, but I have no reason to dispute the rankings presented by Huffington Post.  If you asked every teacher to take a 20% pay cut, it would yield an annual savings of $73,091,520,000.  That’s $73.1 billion per year.  Unintended consequences would likely include reduced tax revenues (fewer teachers, employed at lower salaries) from this sector, higher unemployment, and a likely decrease in the quality of an already inferior product.  I’m aware that there are some excellent teachers out there, but the evidence indicates that the system, as a whole, is expensive and ineffective.

Implementing the Buffett Rule (That’s the Millionaire’s Tax) at 6% (not 3% as suggested in this picture) would only raise $37 billion per year, as demonstrated by the Atlantic Magazine (Left leaning print publication).  So, at 3% that would be half, or $18.5 billion per year.  That’s not money the government is spending, but rather money coming out of company coffers and individual wallets.  A survey of wealthy people conducted by PNC Wealth Management in 2008 indicates that of those who have investable income of $500,000 or more, 89% acquired that wealth through their own labor, while only 11% inherited their wealth. From that same report, of those who earned their wealth, 37% of their wealth was directly attributable to investment in or ownership of business (vice salary). So 37% of 89%, or 33%, of the wealth of wealthy people is driven directly by business.  If we multiply the additional $18.5 billion in tax by the percent that was derived directly from doing business, we find that there would be $6.1 billion fewer dollars participating in business, on top of what is already the highest corporate tax of any country in the world, as reported by the Tax Foundation (right leaning think tank)  from OECD data.  Unintended consequences of implementing the Buffet Tax would likely include greater unemployment (some portion of that $6.1 billion is used to employ people), reduced investment in American companies, and movement of money and jobs off-shore.

Both solutions are likely to increase unemployment, and neither solution will increase revenues as much as projected, since both will reduce revenues through other mechanisms.  Reducing teacher salaries by 20% has a much greater effect on the individual taxpayer than does the 3% increase in taxes on individuals subject to the Buffet rule, but also has a much greater (though still insignificant) effect on federal budget deficits.  In short, neither solution is sufficient or effective, unless included in a much larger budget reduction/revenue increasing measure.  Combine them... increase the millionaire tax by 6% instead of 3%, even - and you come up with an additional $110 billion in the first year.  Collect that for ten years and you an almost pay for a single year of budget deficit... you know, the amount we borrow each year to pay for more entitlements.

This picture is about spinning people up emotionally, for a political purpose. Oh... and it's about demonstrating why we're 25th of 34 in mathematics.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Two of These Things are Kind of the Same

I do hate cheating, but once in a while, you come across something so well thought out and documented it warrants posting or linking to its entirety. I came across an article on The American Dream titled "40 Points That Prove That Barak Obama and Mitt Romney Are the Same Candidate." I love that word. PROVE. It just makes me sit up and pay attention. After all the griping, moaning and groaning so many people I know [self included] have done about what a terrible choice this election is, [I have seen Facebook images supporting Cthulhu, Hypnotoad and Odin so far] someone actually went and put in the research hours! Bravo!

I have to admit, after the first few points, I was hooked. Each point has it's linked documentation in either article and/or video format. Of course, there are those who will say, "But my candidate is better because he..." Let's face it, trivialities will mean nothing in the day to day running of Washington D.C. These 40 points ARE the issues facing our country; Economy, Healthcare, Gun Control, Personal Rights, Environment, Taxes...if these core values aren't different between the 2 candidates, what can one possibly hope to change? Or do we truly believe author and presidential mentor [Clinton] Carol Quiggle when she says,

"The argument that the two parties should represent opposed ideals and policies, one, perhaps, of the Right and the other of the Left, is a foolish idea acceptable only to the doctrinaire and academic thinkers. Instead, the two parties should be almost identical, so that the American people can “throw the rascals out” at any election without leading to any profound or extreme shifts in policy.”

I sincerely hope not. Please click below for an excellent read.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Sexism AND Abuse of Power?

As I peruse the articles [1,2,3,4] and the court document [5] regarding the lawsuit filed against Department of Homeland Security [DHS] Secretary Janet Napolitano by James Hayes, former ICE director and now a special agent in Immigrations and Enforcement, I get a really creepy feeling. In part, because these articles are quite shocking and reveal a sexual harassment that goes beyond a glance, brush, or a word said in private where circumstantial might be your best evidence, to brash, in-your-face public humiliation that is easily documented by many. The other reason that my stomach sinks is the lengths to which the attempts to cover this sexism went. Everyone [as always] should take a good hard look at what is contained in Hayes V. Napolitano Case 1:12-cv-00825-ABJ [5]. The attempts to punish this individual fiscally and mentally for trying to report sexist behaviours were not only inexcusable, but again, easily documented.

Dora Schriro
 While many lawsuits might contain statement involving hearsay or events that are extremely difficult to prove or counter, Hayes V. Napolitano lists approximately 75 line items of sexual discrimination by Janet Napolitano, Dora Schriro and Suzanne Barr including but not limited to: replacing Hayes with the less qualified Schriro who had no federal law enforcement experience, moving three DHS male offices including their nameplates to the men's restrooms, promoting and rewarding men for participating in sexually charged games, using a subordinate's phone to call a high-ranking female employee that he had a "crush" and "fantasized" about her, screaming sexual obscenities at a male employee in a hotel room. While some may be more difficult to prove than others, many of these are going to be pretty simple to pin down in today's era of high tech and documentation. I found it interesting that the response of Brian P. Hale, the Director of Public Affairs for ICE, the people hit hardest by the suit, was to state that the sexism suit is "unfounded." [6,7] One news magazine has even reminded us that Dora Schriro was the Director of Corrections for both Arizona and Missouri, thus had law experience. However, the lawsuit clearly states that Schriro was unqualified because she had no FEDERAL law experience.[5,6]

Suzanne Barr
  The remainder of the 170 plus lines of  Hayes V. Napolitano lists the severe consequences befalling James Hayes once he suggested he was being discriminated against. As with the allegations of sexual discrimination, although some may be difficult to prove, many of these accusations should be extremely easy to document. The main complaints include: threatening to send the plaintiff to be employed in San Juan on a conference call, trying to demote Hayes within the agency, telling him that jobs in the agency were not available when they were open and less skilled persons were permitted to take them, telling Hayes not to attend a Leadership Council Meeting because "it would be awkward for everyone involved," within 30 days of stating his wishes for an EOE complaint, Napolitano filed or re-opened six investigations of conduct on the plaintiff - all of which were eventually resolved as either "no substance" or "insufficient evidence," intimidation by superiors, loss of finances, and forced removal to another agency at a lesser position in New York. One would think if you were going to be so bold as to be on either side of this fence you would cover your behind. Evidently, Hayes has covered his. His lawsuit reads like a documentary - names, dates, cases files. It also reads like a horror novel. We are trained in our work places that the EOE, sexual discrimination education and other grievance procedures will keep us safe from this type of upper echelon behaviour. How terribly ironic that the government we expect to enforce those laws is accused of committing by far one of the worst abuses of power I have seen in years.

Having recently written and discussed misogyny in US politics, let me assure you, I am no believer that a woman cannot compete in the workplace. However, as the old adage goes, if it looks like a duck...and this certainly looks not just like sexism [male or female it is all sexism], but plain, old abuse of power. In some ways, sexism can be an abuse of power, but Hayes v. Napolitano takes it much further. Intimidation, fiscal loss, and during one of Hayes' ICE investigations an investigator even termed it a "witch hunt." In this instance, I am afraid that Hayes may not only be entitled to his discriminatory suit, but since he filed with the EOE within the proper time frame, he could also rank "whistleblower"[8] status if ICE and DHS push him too hard or this becomes a federal investigation.

James Hayes
Finally, what this brings to light is, that if these allegations are correct, James Hayes is not the only individual experiencing this sort of discrimination. Will others come forward or not? Time will tell, I suppose, along with what evidence ICE has to provide. Still, since the DHS isn't talking and Hayes has outlined his case so explicitly, I would say the odds at this time are definitely in his favour.

[Addendum: You may have noticed the absence of some major networks - CNN, ABC, NBC and CBS from this blog. I did go to each site with the intent of perusing their articles and/opeds on this topic, but NONE of them had a single article after an extensive search.]

Friday, August 3, 2012

It's not about the Sandwich

I did not have a sandwich at Chick-Fil-A yesterday.  If I had, it would not have been to snub the LGBT community.  I encourage the LGBT community to shop at establishments that promote their social agenda, and to refuse to patronize establishments that do not.  Exercising economic power is often an effective way to sway the opinions of those who rely on us for their livelihoods.

Had I gone, it would have been to challenge the municipal governments that threatened to punish Chick-Fil-A because their founder exercised rights granted by the first amendment to the Constitution.  Censorship is a double edged weapon - Whether Mr. Cathy's speech was hurtful to us or not, silencing him through government action opens the door for others to silence you and me, because they don't like what we're saying. 

"First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out -- Because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out-- Because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out--Because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me--and there was no one left to speak for me." - Martin Niemöller (A Lutheran Pastor)

I encourage all of us to speak out for Christians AND the LGBT community (AND EVERYONE ELSE!), not one at the expense of the other.  We all have a right to speak here, unless we give that right away.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

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