Saturday, July 21, 2007

China closes chemical plant and factories which produced tainted pet food, cough syrup and toothpaste

Damage control
ASSOCIATED PRESS - July 21, 2007
BEIJING -- China moved to sharpen its product safety image yesterday, shutting down a chemical plant linked to dozens of deaths in Panama from tainted medicine and closing two companies tied to pet deaths in North America.

The measures come as Beijing fights to reassure global customers that it takes food and drug safety seriously amid concerns over chemicals and toxins that have been found in its products.

The closures come months after links between the companies' products and the deaths became known but only days ahead of high-level visits by U.S. and European officials.

EU Consumer Commissioner Meglena Kuneva arrives next week and has said she will press China to be much more vigilant about product safety. On July 31, a five-day meeting between officials of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and China's food safety agency begins in Beijing. Chinese officials have said the sides will discuss setting up a collaborative food safety mechanism.

Two of the companies that had their licenses revoked and offices shut by China's product safety watchdog were the Xuzhou Anying Biologic Technology Development Co. Ltd. and Binzhou Futian Biology Technology Co. Ltd.

Products from both were implicated in the deaths of dozens of pets in North America. Reports of the deaths and links to China emerged in March.

The third company closed was the Taixing Glycerin Factory, which has been accused of selling what it called industrial "TD glycerin," a mix of 15 percent diethylene glycol and other substances. The diethylene glycol, a thickening agent found in antifreeze, was passed off as harmless glycerin, a more expensive sweetener commonly used in drugs.

It eventually ended up in Panamanian cough syrup and other medicines that killed at least 94 persons. The deaths were first reported last October, with the link to China emerging in early May.

Chinese quality officials have said "TD glycerin" is a misleading label because it could be mistaken for glycerin. But they also said the bulk of the blame lies with Panamanian merchants they accused of fraudulently mislabeling the "TD glycerin" as medical glycerin.

Gabriel Pascual, leader of a group of families who lost loved ones after they were poisoned by the tainted cough syrup and other medicines, applauded the closure of the Chinese chemical company. But, he added: "We will continue demanding justice in Panama."

While the government has announced the detention of an unspecified number of managers from Xuzhou Anying and Binzhou Futian, yesterday's action was the most definitive yet against the manufacturers linked to melamine-tainted wheat gluten blamed for the pet deaths.

The General Administration for Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine also said police were investigating the two companies, but did not elaborate.

Following the pet-food deaths, U.S. authorities have turned away or recalled toxic fish, juice containing unsafe color additives and popular toy trains decorated with lead paint. Chinese-made toothpaste containing diethylene glycol has also been rejected or recalled in North and South America, Asia and Europe.

Xuzhou Anying, located in Jiangsu province, "unlawfully added melamine in some of its products which could not meet the protein content requirement set in the contracts," the quality administration said. "This behavior of adulteration severely violated the feed quality and safety standards."

Binzhou Futian, headquartered in neighboring Shandong province, "added melamine in some of its products which could not meet the protein content requirement ... constituting severe adulteration," the statement said.

Melamine, used in plastics, fertilizers and flame retardants, has no nutritional value but is high in nitrogen, making products to which it is added appear to be higher in protein — a way to cut costs for the manufacturer.

Bates Gill, a China specialist at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, said yesterday's actions struck him as "too little, too late."

"This problem of poor quality and lack of oversight has been around for a decade or more," he said. "What's different this time is how the shoddiness of their factories has become apparent to the world."

Read more/ see photos in The Washington Times

Senate Democrats foil attempt to bar 'Fairness Doctrine'

By Kara Rowland - The Washington Times - July 20, 2007
Senate Democrats last night beat back a Republican attempt to attach an anti-Fairness Doctrine bill as an amendment to education legislation.

The doctrine, a former requirement that broadcasters present opposing points of view on political issues, was scrapped in 1987 by the Federal Communications Commission, which said the policy restricted journalistic freedom. The bill by Sen. Norm Coleman, Minnesota Republican, would prevent the FCC from reinstating the doctrine.

"We live in an age of satellite radio, of broadband, of blogs, of Internet, of cable TV, of broadcast TV. There is no limitation on the ability of anyone from any political persuasion to get their ideas set forth," Mr. Coleman argued in support of the Broadcaster Freedom Act of 2007. "The public in the end will choose what to listen to."

By a vote of 49-48, senators voted not to consider Mr. Coleman's amendment after Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, raised a point of order. Senate rules require 60 votes to waive a point of order.

An attempt by Mr. Coleman last week to attach his bill as an amendment to a defense authorization bill was similarly blocked by Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat.

In a swipe at Mr. Coleman, Mr. Kennedy accused sponsors of unrelated amendments of delaying passage of the education bill and "basically insulting the families of this country."

Mr. Coleman countered by linking a prohibition of the Fairness Doctrine to education.

"This bill is about educating young people," he said. "Well, let them have unfettered access to information."

The Fairness Doctrine has been a hot topic in the last month after a liberal think tank on June 20 concluded that political talk radio is "dominated" by conservatives 9-to-1. The report, by the Center for American Progress, said the talk-radio landscape does not serve all Americans.

Air America, a prominent liberal talk-radio network, was bailed out of bankruptcy in January by real estate tycoon Stephen L. Green.

Days after the release of the Center for American Progress report, Sen. James M. Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican, shared a conversation he said he overheard three years earlier between Democratic Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Barbara Boxer of California, in which the women called for a "legislative fix" to counter the influence of "extremist" talk-radio hosts. Mrs. Clinton and Mrs. Boxer denied the conversation took place.

While the current Republican-led FCC poses no threat of reinstating the Fairness Doctrine, Republicans in both the House and Senate were quick to introduce bills that would prohibit a future Democrat-led agency from doing so. In the House, Rep. Mike Pence, Indiana Republican, has 135 co-sponsors of his version of the Broadcaster Freedom Act.

Mark S. Fowler, the former FCC chairman who led the charge to shelve the doctrine prior to its later repeal, said calls for its revival are "unacceptable."

Asked whether there is any viable chance of the policy being reinstated, Mr. Fowler told editors and reporters at The Washington Times yesterday: "I don't think so; I hope not."

"The electronic press that uses electrons and airwaves should be as free as the press that uses ink and paper, period," he said.

He asserted that lawmakers who say the doctrine is in the public interest are "politicians trying to control part of the press. To say the airwaves belong to the people — all these reasons they use to regulate are excuses. They're not reasons."

Meanwhile yesterday, the Senate Committee on Science, Commerce and Transportation approved the "Protecting Children From Indecent Programming Act," a bill that reaffirms an FCC policy on so-called "fleeting expletives."
Under the bill — sponsored by Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV, West Virginia Democrat — the commission can penalize broadcasters for airing a single indecent word or image. The legislation comes more than a month after a federal court invalidated the policy as an "arbitrary and capricious" departure from previous policy and instructed the agency to either show further justification for it or eliminate it.

Mr. Rockefeller said he plans to introduce legislation to curb violent programming on broadcast, cable and satellite television. The FCC only has authority over broadcast content.
Read more/ see photos

Thursday, July 19, 2007

An Earned Tribute to Laura Miller

By Faith Chatham - July 18, 2007
This is being posted here because I believe in balance. I've devoted a lot of space recently to the Trinity Park/Toll Road in Dallas. Laura Miller has been a major player in the Trinity Commons Foundation pushing for the toll road through the park. Laura Miller has ended her tenure as Mayor of Dallas. Some like her. Some detest her. Whatever the assessment, she's never been a fence-sitter. She looks things over and makes up her mind. When she has made up her mind, she moved to make things happen. I personally wish she'd been more flexible on the Trinity Park issue. As it evolved from a park with a road on the levee to a park with a toll road through most of the park, she probably could have "inspired" planners to come up with a better plan. Instead Angela Hunt emerged and Mayor Miller ended her term covered in referumdum dust.

Dust or no dust, she dialed her way to heroine status on another issue. She noted an agenda item that smelled and took time to give Joe Blow citizen who doesn't frequent City Hall and isn't into the political scene a call. Jim Schutze of the Dallas Observer, who has frequently been on Mayor Miller's case, covered the fiasco in several articles in the the DALLAS OBSERVER. He concluded it with "THE GOOD LAURA or How Bill Blaydes locked up the Bastard of the Year Award" in the May 31st issue of the Dallas Observer.

Schutze wrote about Jack Pierce, who took over his father's business, Hollywood Doors, which has operated from the same location since 1938. Schutze describes it as "a series of metal barns on nine acres down in a hollow near Walnut Hill and White Rock Trail, in a little leftover remnant of countryside swallowed up by the city." His neighbors are a small equestrian center and a DART train track and Jackson Branch creek. Schutze says "You could pass this place a thousand times and never know it's there."

A developer tried to buy Jack Pierce's nine acres and he turned down the offer. "Over the last seven decades, his family has developed a good regional trade based in part on having the business right where it is." ... his "company employs 40 people, and it makes a product, which it actually sells to other people."

I'm pulling most of this directly from Jim Schutze's article. I'll leave some of the quotes unattributed. They come from Jim Schutze.

Then he gets a letter. An official letter. A City Hall letter. It appears that Bill Blaydes, the council person for that area, wants to call a hearing to see whether the city should yank the man's zoning out from under him, which would force him to sell.

Pierce, part owner with his brother and sister of Hollywood Door, told the city council last week:
"The first time I became aware of this item was when I received notice in the mail.

"I called for additional information and was told that Councilman Blaydes had placed this item on the agenda. So I spoke to Mr. Blaydes.

"I was informed that it was time for our company to move out. I was informed that since I had previously rejected discussing the sale of our property, they decided they might get my attention by putting this item on the agenda.

"I was informed that the process which starts today will end up removing us from our property. This was the first time I ever spoke to Mr. Blaydes."

Jim Schutze comments:
Stunning, what? But get this. Blaydes doesn't even deny it. With Pierce standing down there at the microphone, quaking in his boots like Charlie Chaplin in front of Big Brother, Blaydes gives this speech that is Gomer-Pyle-meets-Tony-Soprano:

I mean, are you still with me here? The guy's been on the property since the 1950s. His business is almost invisible from the road, emits no smoke or noise, generates very light traffic. But Commissar Blaydes comes along with his letter and pretty much tells him to get the hell off his own property.

And even worse in my book: While Pierce is standing there at the microphone looking up at the mighty councilpersons with his life and his family's business in his hand, Councilman Ed Oakley, one of two candidates for mayor in the June 16 runoff election, launches into this big, sleazy package of lies aimed at pushing him into giving up.

Talking in his trademark incomprehensible used-car-salesman-on-crank cadence, Oakley says to Pierce: "Let me just ask you hypothetically if you were to go through this process and the process and the staff would allow you to have your area that allowed the use that you have there today which is a manufacturing facility and in addition to that it was created into a p.d. or sub-district that allowed for the other uses such as mixed-use or whatever the neighborhood would determine but you were allowed to be legal and conforming but along with that some of the obnoxious uses that maybe the neighborhood would be fearful of such as a recycling plant or something would be left out of that and would allow you to continue the family business in perpetuity which would be legal which would be a given zoning which would allow you to use that specific use but then the additional uses would allow for residential or mixed-use development or office or retail which aren't allowed there today which actually gives you more land-use rights than what you would have today giving up some of the things that would be obnoxious would you be amenable to sitting down having that conversation?"

Pierce gave the perfect answer. He said, "Sir, I am out of my depth here today."

That would be, ah, no. Just like when the guys offered to buy his land. No. Two little letters.

Schutze said he wasn't at the meeting but listened to a tape the next day in the City Secretary's office which left him speechless. That in itself would probably be enough reason to bring this issue to the forefront. Schutze is rarely speechless. He was referring to Ed Oakley's speech. Schutze described it:
Not one word Oakley said to that man was even distantly related to the truth. Pierce would have been a pathetic fool to give up the zoning designation he already holds and jump into the political carjacking that Oakley was proposing.

I think even the Harvard Business School would have advised Pierce, given Oakley's proposal, to wave his shotgun over his head and scream, "GIT OFFA MAH LAND!"

According to Schutze, Pierce had not intended to attend the meeting. He's been advised by an "well-known high-dollar zoning lawyer" that it was futile to fight it; "they would not be able to prevaile against Blaydes."

Then Laura Miller enters the scene:

"Out of the blue, on my cell phone I get, 'Hi, this is Laura Miller.'

"And I said, 'WHO?' Because I tell you, I'm not political.

"And she gave me 30, 45 minutes. I explained my legal advice. She said, 'Well, Mr. Pierce, you must throw that attorney away.' She said, 'You come down.' She encouraged me to come down. She helped me with advice. 'Wear your working clothes. Just tell us what you just told me.'

"And it was really her encouragement that made me come down. She said, 'Don't worry, you come down.' And I had faith, so I did what she said."

Schutze wrote:
I could tell even on tape that the effect of his appearance was riveting on both the council and the audience, who were there for other issues and knew nothing about his case.

Council member Angela Hunt said, "I, for one, am extremely troubled that we are moving to authorize a hearing to rezone property out from under the property owner.

"This is remarkable to me. One piece of property. That to me seems extremely overreaching."

In his typically very decorous way, council member Mitchell Rasansky took out his razor-edged saber and whacked both Blaydes and Oakley into sushi.

"Let's don't play in fairy-land talk here," he said. "We know how this works." He told Pierce that if he gave up his zoning and threw himself into "the process" at City Hall, as Oakley suggested, he would be dead meat.

Schutze continued:
But the real hero of the day? Hey, no question. It was Miller. She was everything the city voted for her to be as mayor.

He said: "I ran into the mayor in the city secretary's office. Our relations have been strained of late. But you know, two veterans of the newspaper business can still talk about a good story."

It's worth posting this here because it is about a journalist turned politician following the hunch and making a positive difference.

Since I'm only recanting what Jim Schutze wrote in his column, I'll conclude with his summary of Laura Miller:

She saw that little item way down on the agenda, that odd blurry snippet of bureaucratic lingo. Her years as a reporter came back; her nose twitched; she smelled smoke. She picked up the phone and called that guy, way the hell out on Walnut Hill at White Rock Trail, way down in that hollow by Jackson Branch where nobody even noticed him. That guy who wasn't political. That guy who couldn't even get the slick City Hall lawyers to take his money. That guy who had been told not to even show up at City Hall.

She said, "Come on down." He had faith.

And he won. Ten to three.

Hollywood Door won. They should have won. They shouldn't have even been pursued by the overreaching arm of agressive city council people and their developer friends. But they were. It's important that they won because this story is a little bit about all of us. It's another verse of the same eminent domaine for public development/private gain saga with a familar twist. Greedy "visionary" covents neighbors property and entices elected officials to utilize the law against the rightful owner. Others in the community get wind of the shady dealings and urge the citizen to stand up and fight. Other officials react as they should .. and vote down the agressors.

Members Blaydes, Steve Salazar and Ron Natinsky voted to screw him. Oakley switched over when he saw how the wind was blowing and voted against Blaydes. Then Oakley left the dais, went down into the audience and spoke with Pierce. Pierce told me Oakley told him he really probably shouldn't give up his zoning after all.

On the tape when the votes were counted and Pierce won, the chamber erupted in applause. Sitting in his office amid jumbled files and door parts a day later, I asked him who had cheered.
He looked up from his desk and shook his head in amazement. "All those people," he said. "Everybody. All those people who came down there for other things. They knew nothing about my case. They all cheered."

In conclusion I'll end this with a cheer for Laura Miller. This one is to you for this and other times you smelled a rat and made a phone call. May you continue using your nose and staying on the right side of issues in the future. You've just ended your tenure as mayor. You haven't gone away. You'll continue finding things that are "off kilter" and finding ways to change them. You did before you were Mayor of Dallas so you'll probably find ways to nudge things the way you think they should go as "citizen, Laura Miller."

Laura Miller, this one is "to you!"

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

TXU Buyout - Questions raised over disclosure

By R.A. DYER - Star-Telegram Staff Writer - Tue, Jul. 17, 2007
AUSTIN -- TXU and the investors purchasing it have moved to block regulatory review of their much-touted commitments to cut rates and coal-plant construction, consumer advocates say.

TXU, together with the private-equity firm buyers Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. and TPG, formerly Texas Pacific Group, promised to cut rates 15 percent and forgo building eight of 11 proposed coal-fired plants when the transaction closes.

But AARP policy analyst Tim Morstad said that many questions remain about those promises and that company lawyers are arguing against further disclosures during a proceeding at the Texas Public Utility Commission.

"KKR/TPG took the air out of strong legislation involving the buyout by promising to put all its commitments into writing [and] make them legally binding -- [but] they have failed to do what they promised," said Morstad, referring to company commitments during this year's legislative session.

TXU spokeswoman Lisa Singleton said that the companies will follow through with the commitments but that many of the questions raised by consumer groups fall outside the purview of an ongoing regulatory proceeding at the PUC.

The companies' commitments "are detailed out in the PUC filing; they're detailed out in the testimony that was given and the other commitments that have been made publicly several times," Singleton said.

TXU and KKR promised to cut rates and suspend plans to build the coal plants just as lawmakers were considering bills that could have further restricted the $47 billion transaction. The bills failed, in large part, because of those promises and heavy lobbying by the companies, Morstad and others said.

Company attorneys and those representing customer groups have been involved since April in a proceeding at the PUC in which the agency is reviewing the buyout. If the commission finds the buyout is not in the public interest, it can order changes and, in theory, block part of the transaction.

Jim Boyle, an attorney representing several municipalities before the PUC, says a provision of House Bill 624, which was adopted during the legislative session's final minutes, lets the PUC hold TXU and KKR to its promises.

"But we don't know what the commitments are without knowing the details," Boyle said. "We don't know the details of the commitment to the power plants, whether it's for one year or one month or two years and what the exceptions are."He also noted that Don Evans, future nonexecutive chairman of the new TXU, wrote in a recent op-ed piece that the PUC should hold the company to its commitments.

"Any argument ... against having the commission review the price cut commitment or the coal unit reduction commitment have been totally undermined by the admissions made by Mr. Donald Evans," Boyle wrote in a filing at the PUC on behalf of various municipalities.

Looking ahead

But TXU's Singleton said the promised rate cuts and the proposed coal-plant cancellations fall outside its regulated transmission business, which is the only part of the business for which the PUC has authority in the ongoing proceeding.

But she said the company will still keep its promises.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Farmers upset over Perry veto of eminent domain bill

By BETSY BLANEY - Associated Press - Tuesday, July 3, 2007
LUBBOCK - One Central Texas farmer said he was "dumbfounded" by Gov. Rick Perry's veto of an eminent domain bill designed to protect landowners when the state wants to take their property.

Robert Fleming is not alone in an area worried about the massive Trans Texas Corridor proposal. The planned route cuts through Fleming's Bell County farms. He's bewildered by Perry's veto.

"We were so close to getting something done," Fleming said. "We've worked hard trying to get private property rights."

Perry vetoed the bill, and 48 others, June 15.

In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Kelo et al v. City of New London that cities can seize homes under eminent domain for use by private developers. Texas Farm Bureau spokesman Gene Hall said the ruling also said that states that want it otherwise can craft laws to do so. That's what the bill Perry vetoed would have done, he said.

Perry in 2005 named the eminent domain issue as an emergency item in a special session, Perry spokesman Robert Black said.

"The bill Governor Perry vetoed would have had little impact on rural Texas. It was targeted at high-growth urban areas," Black said.

The Trans Texas Corridor is the plan kick-started several years ago by Perry to build 4,000-plus miles of tollways and railways that would incorporate oil and gas pipelines, utility and water lines and broadband data lines.

One reason Perry gave for vetoing the bill was that it would have expanded damages a landowner could recover to include diminished access to roads from remaining property when a portion of the property is condemned, according to a release from Perry's office.

Also, landowners would have been able to collect damages for factors that include changes in traffic patterns and a property's visibility from the road, which Texas courts have knocked down because of the added costs to public projects that taxpayers would have to pay, the release states.

After the bill passed both houses - 125 of 150 votes in the House and unanimously in the Senate - Perry's office heard from most fast-growing cities and counties asking him to veto the bill; the cost of constructing state and local projects would have increased by more than $1 billion, the release stated.

"As someone who grew up in rural Texas, and farmed our family's piece of land, I am a strong proponent of protecting private property rights," Perry said in the statement. "But the issue is one of fairness to taxpayers, who will get fleeced in order to benefit condemnation attorneys."

Perry supported the bill early on but had objections to amendments added later, the release states.

The eminent domain issue for portions of the corridor proposal currently is on a back burner, Texas Farm Bureau officials said.

"The more time we have to spread our story and to make an issue out of [eminent domain] is certainly going to help the property owners," said Fleming, who grows corn and wheat and raises cattle.

Bureau officials said they believed Perry wanted to fix Texas' eminent domain law, having met with him early in the session.

"The taking of private property has become far too easy in this state," Kenneth Dierschke, president of the bureau, said in a statement. "Obviously, there are many powerful interests that prefer it stay that way."

Fleming took aim at Perry, saying he has turned his back on agriculture and his veto makes that clear.

"I feel like he's let us down a little bit," Fleming said. "He's got big ag background but since he's become a politician, he's kind of left ag out."

Bureau spokesman Gene Hall said the group will work to revisit the issue when legislators next gather in regular session in 2009. And they will talk with Perry.

"All we can do now is talk with him and work with him," Hall said. "We are serious about this."
Read more in Land and Livestock

Sunday, July 15, 2007

The White House Has a Manual for Silencing Protesters and Demonstrations

By Matthew Rothschild - The Progressive - July 14, 2007
After a myriad of stories about people being excluded from events where the President is speaking, now we know that the White House had a policy manual on just how to do so.

So the truth comes out.

After a myriad of stories about people being excluded from events where the President is speaking, now we know that the White House had a policy manual on just how to do so.

Called the "Presidential Advance Manual," this 103-page document from the Office of Presidential Advance lays out the parameters for how to handle protesters at events.

"Always be prepared for demonstrators," says the document, which is dated October 2002 and which the ACLU released as part of a new lawsuit.

In a section entitled "Preventing Demonstrators," the document says: "All Presidential events must be ticketed or accessed by a name list. This is the best method for preventing demonstrators. People who are obviously going to try to disrupt the event can be denied entrance at least to the VIP area between the stage and the main camera platform. ... It is important to have your volunteers at a checkpoint before the Magnetometers in order to stop a demonstrator from getting into the event. Look for signs they may be carrying, and if need be, have volunteers check for folded cloth signs that demonstrators may be bringing."

In another section, entitled "Preparing for Demonstrators," the document makes clear that the intention is to deprive protesters of the right to be seen or heard by the President: "As always, work with the Secret Service and have them ask the local police department to designate a protest area where demonstrators can be placed, preferably not in view of the event site or motorcade route."

The document also recommends drowning out protesters or blocking their signs by using what it calls "rally squads." It states: "These squads should be instructed always to look for demonstrators. The rally squad's task is to use their signs and banners as shields between the demonstrators and the main press platform. If the demonstrators are yelling, rally squads can begin and lead supportive chants to drown out the protestors (USA!, USA!, USA!). As a last resort, security should remove the demonstrators from the event site."

The document offered advice on how to recruit members for such squads: "The rally squads can include, but are not limited to, college/young republican organizations, local athletic teams, and fraternities/sororities."

The document does contain a warning in bold, however: "Remember -- avoid physical contact with demonstrators." It also advises to make sure that whatever action is taken to drown out the demonstrators does not "cause more negative publicity than if the demonstrators were simply left alone."

See more

Matthew Rothschild is the editor of The Progressive

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