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While You Were Sleeping: December 

click to enlarge Reuters / Cortes
  • Reuters / Cortes
Organic food is healthier than conventional agricultural methods, according to a European Union–funded study, the largest of its kind. The $24.8 million, fouryear project found organic produce contained as much as 40 percent more antioxidants, believed by scientists to reduce risks of cancer and heart disease. Organic milk contained 90 percent more antioxidants than that produced by regular herds. Researchers grew produce and reared cattle on two adjacent organic and nonorganic lots on a 725-acre farm attached to Newcastle University, and in sites across Europe. Tomatoes grown in Greece show higher levels of antioxidants, including flavonoids said to reduce coronary heart disease. The results of the study are under review by the British Food Standards Agency, which has refused to recognize the health benefits of organically produced food.
Source: Sunday Times (UK)

According to the Internal Revenue Service, the richest 1 percent of Americans earned 21.2 percent of all US income in 2005, indicating the widest class gap in 25 years. The top 1 percent earned at least $364,657. The top 50 percent of Americans earned 87.17 percent of the nation’s income in 2005, also an alltime high.
Source: Reuters

The eight Great Lake states and two Canadian provinces proposed a regional water compact to strengthen a ban on diverting water outside of the Great Lakes Basin. The lakes account for nearly 20 percent of the world’s fresh surface water and are home to 40 million Americans and Canadians. Waukesha, a Milwaukee suburb, wants water from Lake Michigan because its groundwater is contaminated by cancer-causing radium. However, Waukesha is just outside of the Great Lakes Basin and any water piped there would drain outside the regional aquifer, slowly depleting the basin. If an exception is made for Waukesha, only 10 or 15 miles outside the basin, the door would open to allow piping to the thirsty western and southern states with diminishing water supplies.
Source: Chicago Tribune

The Namibian government deported two Americans said to be recruiting as many as 4,000 Namibians as guards for the US operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The two were charged with violating Namibian laws against hiring citizens to work as mercenaries and security guards in foreign conflicts without the government’s written permission. Their company, Special Operations Consulting-Security Management Group is allied with a South African firm. Because of the large numbers of former soldiers who fought in regional conflicts in the 1980s and ’90s, Southern Africa is a top region for the recruitment of mercenaries and security guards. Despite the UN Security Council and General Assembly’s opposition to the use of mercenaries, hiring foreign soldiers by one country for use in a third is only illegal in the 30 countries that ratified a 1989 treaty against it—neither the US nor Iraq signed. Over the past 14 months experts visited Ecuador, Peru, Chile, and Fiji to investigate recruiting and training methods of private security contractors. Large numbers of former soldiers and policemen were hired as security guards but many were carrying out military functions. The private soldiers in US conflict zones hail from Latin America, Spain, Portugal, Russia, South Africa, the Philippines, Fiji, and more. Under national laws, once in areas of armed conflict private military and security forces are granted immunity and only accountable to the company that pays them. After the deaths of 17 Iraqi civilians at the hands of Blackwater USA personnel, the immunity for what otherwise might constitute a war crime has become a concern for UN officials.
Sources: The New York Times and Associated Press

Nearly 19,000 Americans died in 2005 from infection by drug-resistant bacteria acquired at healthcare institutions, according to the most thorough study conducted on the topic. In 2005, according to the data, 94,360 patients developed an infection and 18,650 of them died—almost one in five. If the findings are correct, the number of deaths by methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) exceeds those caused by AIDS, Parkinson’s disease, emphysema, or homicide each year. The researchers, who work for the Centers for Disease Control, were surprised to learn serious infections occur at a rate of 32 cases per 100,000 people. The study concluded that 85 percent of MR SA infections were associated with healthcare treatment. A patient without symptoms can carry MRSA into a hospital and pass it on just by brushing the lab coat of a doctor who treats another patient with compromised immunity. A Virginia teenager died in October when an MRSA infection spread to his kidneys, lungs, liver, and the muscle around his heart. His death prompted local officials to close 21 schools for thorough cleaning.
Source: The New York Times

According to a new report, excess body weight is linked to higher incidences of cancer and eating processed meat raises the risk. “People forget body fat is no an inert glob that we are carrying around on the waistline and thighs,” said Karen Collins, a cancer institute nutrition advisor. “It’s a metabolically active tissue that produces substances in the body that promote the development of cancer.” Risk of colorectal cancer is increased by 21 percent for every 1.7 ounces of processed meat eaten daily. Processed meats contain nitrates and extra salts that may be the contributing risk factor. To prevent colorectal cancer, limit red meat intake to 18 ounces of cooked meat a week, advises Collins. In addition, alcohol consumption is linked to cancer of the mouth, throat, larynx, esophagus, breast, colon, and liver.
Source: USA Today

Consumers International, a federation of 220 consumer organizations in 115 nations, presented International Bad Product Awards recognizing corporate breaches in consumer trust at its World Congress in Sydney in late October. The top dishonor went to Takeda Pharmaceuticals, a Japanese drug firm whose US subsidiary used images of chalkboards, school buses, and children as a back-to-school advertisement for their sleeping drug, Rozerem. Mattel received the bad toy award for the recall of over 21 million lead paint–tainted and hazardously designed toys worldwide in 2007. The bad drink marketing award was given to soft drink giant Coca-Cola. Despite claims of “purity” and “crisp, fresh taste,” Dasani bottled water is actually repackaged tap water from local municipal sources. Kellogg’s took home the prize in the bad food category for the use of cartoons, tie-ins with movies, and online social networking to market highsugar, high-salt food products to children.
Source: Consumers International Press Briefing

In a third attempt to bolster the ineffective Afghan police force, American military officials are carrying out a $2.5 billion overhaul that will include retraining the entire force of 72,000 officers and embedding 2,350 American and European advisors in police stations across the country. For two-and-a-half years Germany trained police in Afghanistan using only 40 advisors while the US focused its efforts and spending on the Afghan military. In 2005, the Pentagon took charge of the Afghan police force and the State Department steadily increased funding. An improved police force is key to combating the Taliban, say military officials, but some American and Afghan officials warn that corruption, drug trafficking, and lawlessness pose even greater threats to the government than the Taliban.
Source: The New York Times

Twelve percent of high schools across the nation are considered “dropout factories”—schools where no more than 60 percent of students who enter as freshmen make it to senior year. Large cities and poverty-stricken rural areas in the South and Southwest, both with higher minority populations, have the highest concentration of the nation’s 1,700 dropout factories. Florida and South Carolina have the highest percentage of dropout factories, while Utah, with few minorities and less poverty, is the only state without such a high school. The No Child Left Behind education law is generally geared to assist younger children, but federal lawmakers are setting their sights on high schools. Currently, laws measure a school’s performance by test scores instead of graduation rates. Faculty and administration are removed from schools when their students do not perform to par. Teachers and administrators indirectly benefit when low-scoring students dropout altogether. Legislators propose making schools report graduation rates by racial, ethnic, and other subgroups so they aren’t only graduating white students by high numbers; having states build data systems to track students through their academic career; uniforming the formulas that calculate graduation rates for all states; and creating strong progress goals with matching sanctions.
Source: Associated Press

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