Liberty Planet Weblog

Archive for May 2009

By Brett Winterford 
29 May 2009 05:53AM

From June, US Customs and Border Patrol will take a fingerprint scan of travellers exiting the United States from Detroit, while the US Transport Security Administration will take fingerprint scans of international travellers exiting the United States from Atlanta.

Biometric technology such as fingerprint scans has been used by US Customs and Border Patrol for several years to gain a biometric record of travellers entering the United States.

But under the Bush Administration, a plan was formulated to also scan outgoing passengers – including US citizens.

Michael Hardin, a senior policy analyst with the US-Visit Program at the United States Department of Homeland Security told a Biometrics Institute conference today that the DHS will use the data from the trial to “inform us as to where to take [exit screening] next.”

“We are trying to ensure we know more about who came and who left,” he said. “We have a large population of illegal immigrants in the United States – we want to make sure the person getting on the plane really is the person the records show to be leaving.”

The original exit scanning legislation planned by the Bush administration stipulated that airlines would be responsible for conducting the exit fingerprints.

But after much protest, Hardin said the new Obama administration re-considered this legislation two weeks ago and is “not as sold that private sector should be agency for exit fingerprints.”

“The new administration feels that perhaps it is more appropriate that Government should take that role.”

Mulling mobile biometrics

The exit fingerprint scanning is one of several fronts in which the DHS is using biometric technology to secure its borders.

Every day, the US-VISIT scheme uses fingerprint scans to enrol or verify the identity of 86,400 visitors to the United States.

These scans are conducted on a purpose-built, cube-shaped fingerprint scanner.

“We specified to vendors, it had to be no more than 6 x 6 x 6 inches – it had to fit on counter and light enough to walk around with,” Hardin said. “We also told them the reader light had to be green – people tend to think red is hot to touch.”

The DHS is testing whether it can adapt the same biometric technology to enrol or veify identities from remote locations using wireless connectivity.

Hardin said the DHS is seeking an identity verification system for the US Coast Guard, which tends to operate in a difficult environmental conditions.

“We’ll do this the way we did the Cube at customs – we will go to the industry with some specifications and say, if you build it we’ll buy it.”

RF identity cards trial on track

The DHS is also set to go-live with a trial of RF-enabled biometric identity cards on June 1, aimed at securing the border between the United States and Canada.

U.S. and Canadian citizens will be authenticated to travel between the two countries using identity cards fitted with radio-frequency embedded chips.

Hardin said Americans and Canadians have traditionally been able to travel between the two nations with little fuss.

But since the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington, the DHS has insisted on the use of a passport, passport card, drivers license or some other form of documentation approved by U.S. States or Canadian provinces to verify identity.

As of June 1, travellers crossing the border will be asked to carry an RF-enabled card which transmits a passport photo image and information about the traveller to border control staff systems, who can then check that photograph against the physical appearance of the traveller or their vehicle.


MONDAY, Jan. 26 (HealthDay News) — Almost half of tested samples of commercial high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) contained mercury, which was also found in nearly a third of 55 popular brand-name food and beverage products where HFCS is the first- or second-highest labeled ingredient, according to two new U.S. studies.

HFCS has replaced sugar as the sweetener in many beverages and foods such as breads, cereals, breakfast bars, lunch meats, yogurts, soups and condiments. On average, Americans consume about 12 teaspoons per day of HFCS, but teens and other high consumers can take in 80 percent more HFCS than average.

“Mercury is toxic in all its forms. Given how much high-fructose corn syrup is consumed by children, it could be a significant additional source of mercury never before considered. We are calling for immediate changes by industry and the [U.S. Food and Drug Administration] to help stop this avoidable mercury contamination of the food supply,” the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy’s Dr. David Wallinga, a co-author of both studies, said in a prepared statement.

In the first study, published in current issue of Environmental Health, researchers found detectable levels of mercury in nine of 20 samples of commercial HFCS.

And in the second study, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP), a non-profit watchdog group, found that nearly one in three of 55 brand-name foods contained mercury. The chemical was found most commonly in HFCS-containing dairy products, dressings and condiments.

But an organization representing the refiners is disputing the results published in Environmental Health.

“This study appears to be based on outdated information of dubious significance,” said Audrae Erickson, president of the Corn Refiners Association, in a statement. “Our industry has used mercury-free versions of the two re-agents mentioned in the study, hydrochloric acid and caustic soda, for several years. These mercury-free re-agents perform important functions, including adjusting pH balances.”

However, the IATP told the Minneapolis Star Tribune that four plants in Georgia, Tennessee, Ohio and West Virginia still use “mercury-cell” technology that can lead to contamination.

IATP’s Ben Lilliston also told HealthDay that the Environmental Health findings were based on information gathered by the FDA in 2005.

And the group’s own study, while not peer-reviewed, was based on products “bought off the shelf in the autumn of 2008,” Lilliston added.

The use of mercury-contaminated caustic soda in the production of HFCS is common. The contamination occurs when mercury cells are used to produce caustic soda.

“The bad news is that nobody knows whether or not their soda or snack food contains HFCS made from ingredients like caustic soda contaminated with mercury. The good news is that mercury-free HFCS ingredients exist. Food companies just need a good push to only use those ingredients,” Wallinga said in his prepared statement.

More information

The U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry has more about mercury and health.

SOURCE: Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, news release, Jan. 26, 2009

Sun affect our climate…… way!  Yes, way!

Please visit The Osgood File transcript at: 9:25 AM


The Osgood File. I’m Charles Osgood.

I know you’ve already got a lot to worry about as it is, but something rather odd is going on — on the Sun.

The Sun normally undergoes an 11-year cycle of activity — and last year, it was supposed to have heated up — and, at its peak, would have a tumultuous boiling atmosphere, spitting out flares and huge chunks of super-hot gas.

Instead, it hit a 50-year low in solar wind pressure, a 55-year low in radio emissions, and a 100-year low in sunspot activity. Right now, the sun is the dimmest it’s been in nearly a century.

Did you know that? It’s true. Astronomers are baffled by it, but has the press covered the story? Hardly at all. Is the government doing anything about it? No, it’s not even in the Obama budget or any Congressional earmarks. 

But, sooner or later, I bet it will turn out to be our fault — yours and mine. And in Washington, where everything is political, they’ll note that it began before President Obama took office — perhaps “another example of the failed policies of the Bush Administration.”

At an upcoming meeting of astronomers in the United Kingdom, they’ll be studying new pictures of the Sun taken from space, looking for any hint that the Sun will start heating up again and acting up again, the way it’s supposed to. But there is no sign of that, so far.

In the mid-17th Century, there was a quiet spell on the Sun — known as the Maunder Minimum — which lasted 70 years, and led to a mini-Ice Age here on Earth.

Right now, global warming is a given to so many, it raises the question: Could another minimum activity period on the Sun counteract, in any way, the effects of global warming? 

Hush, child! You’re not even supposed to suggest that. The only thing that can change global warming is if we human beings — we Americans, especially — completely change our ways and our way of life.

I’m sure you’ll be hearing more about this solar dimming business, now that the story is out. Remember, you heard it here first…

The Osgood File. Transcripts, podcasts, and Mp3’s of all these programs can be found at I’m Charles Osgood on the CBS Radio Network.

The Osgood File. April 21st, 2009.

Gov. Sanford cites Bloomberg statistic that the U.S. has “spent, lent or committed” nearly $13 trillion to blunt the recession

South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford has been highly critical of the Obama administration for spending too much on the economic stimulus. Recently, Sanford cited a statistic compiled by the Bloomberg news service, that “our government has now ‘spent, lent, or committed’ $12.8 trillion in its attempt to blunt the recession.”

It’s a figure Sanford used in a commentary for Human Events, a conservative publication, and again in a letter to the editor of the State Journal-Register in Springfield, Ill.

It is taken from a March 31, 2009, Bloomberg story that begins, “The U.S. government and the Federal Reserve have spent, lent or committed $12.8 trillion, an amount that approaches the value of everything produced in the country last year, to stem the longest recession since the 1930s.”

At the bottom of the story is a chart breaking down how the number was derived. The lion’s share – $7.7 trillion – comes from money lent or committed by the Federal Reserve for such things as credit discounts, debt purchases and bailouts of several financial institutions. Another $2 trillion relates to the FDIC, including liquidity guarantees and the purchase of risky bank assets.

And lastly is the money the federal government is spending through the two stimulus packages (the $168 billion stimulus under President Bush and the $787 billion stimulus under President Obama), as well as the $700 billion Troubled Assets Relief Program, or TARP, used to buy toxic assets, the mortgage-backed investments that triggered the nation’s financial crisis.

Economists caution that the government is not necessarily “out” all of that money.

In the case of TARP money, for example, “the estimates are that we will get most of the money back,” said Jim Horney, director of federal fiscal policy at the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. And in the case of collateral extended to the Federal Reserve and FDIC, “that’s basically pledging to back up the operations of those organizations. We’re pledging this money as collateral for that organization.”

It doesn’t mean the money will ever be spent. And in the case of things like auto company bailouts, for example, the federal government got company stock and it’s too early to know how much the government will get back on that. But presumably some. “At the end of the day, a large portion of that won’t end up getting spent,” Horney said.

We had initially set out to fact-check Sanford for comment he made in may 13 Fox Business Network interview when he said, “This stimulus package, this federal effort…At some point you know we spent about 20 percent of world GDP on this thing. You look at about $13 trillion last year and it’s almost like you know Soviet-era grain quotas are saying you will produce this amount of grain in Kazakhstan, never mind the realities of what is going on, on the ground.”

He’s right that $13 trillion represents about 20 percent of the world GDP, but he left out the all-important qualifiers for the $13 trillion number, that it is money “spent, lent or committed,” instead characterizing all of it as money the federal government “spent.”

Economists hopped all over him for that one.

“If you are talking about an FDIC line of credit, there’s a huge difference between that and spending X amount of dollars,” Horney said. “Calling it spending is just wrong.”

The comment even drew rebuke from the conservative American Enterprise Institute.

“Saying $13 trillion has been spent is definitely misleading,” said Alan Viard, a resident scholar at AEI. “It’s not fair to combine all that with the word ‘spent.'”

The actual amount spent by the federal government to slow the recession is closer to $2 trillion, he said.

Sanford spokesman Joel Sawyer acknowledged that Sanford left out the “spent, lent or committed” qualifiers in the Fox interview. In TV interviews, he said via e-mail, “questions come fast and furious and it’s easy to leave out some words.” But, he said, it’d be unfair to judge Sanford on that lone response when he had twice cited the statistic correctly, in writing. We agree, although we’ll be watching carefully to make sure Sanford includes the proper caveats.

Economists may disagree with this $13 trillion figure. There are many ways to calculate the amount the U.S. has pledged to stem the recession. But we think the Bloomberg calculation is one legitimate way. And we think it was certainly fair for Sanford to cite it, so long as he includes those all-important qualifiers. And on two occasions at least, he did. So we rate his comment True.








Last week, two British High Court judges ruled againstreleasing documents describing the treatment of Binyam Mohamed, a British resident who is currently being held at Guantanamo Bay. The judges said the Bush administration “had threatened to withhold intelligence cooperation with Britain if the information were made public.”

But The Daily Telegraph reported over the weekend that the documents actually “contained details of how British intelligence officers supplied information to [Mohamed’s] captors and contributed questions while he was brutally tortured.” In fact, it was British officials, not the Americans, who pressured Foreign Secretary David Miliband “to do nothing that would leave serving MI6 officers open to prosecution.” According to the Telegraph’s sources, the documents describe particularly gruesome interrogation tactics:

The 25 lines edited out of the court papers contained details of how Mr Mohamed’s genitals were sliced with a scalpel and other torture methods so extreme that waterboarding, the controversial technique of simulated drowning, “is very far down the list of things they did,” the official said.

Another source familiar with the case said: “British intelligence officers knew about the torture and didn’t do anything about it.”

“It is very clear who stands to be embarrassed by this and who is being protected by this secrecy. It is not the Americans, it is Labour ministers,” former shadow home secretary David Davis said. But one unnamed U.S. House Judiciary Committee member told the Telegraph that if President Obama “doesn’t act we could hold a hearing or write to subpoena the documents. We need to know what’s in those documents.”

Mohamed remains at Guantanamo Bay and “is currently on hunger strike.” “All terror charges against him were dropped last year,” the Telegraph reported.UPDATEToday in San Francisco, “a little-publicised court case into the treatment of Mohamed will open” in federal court. Andrew Sullivan notes that “we’ll find out if the Obama administration intends to keep the evidence as secret as the Bush administration did.”



New estimates show that the Medicare trust fund, which pays for hospital care, will run out of money by 2017, and is already running at a deficit.

Social security funds for pensions will be exhausted by 2037, four years earlier than previously projected.

The news will increase the urgency of the need for health care reform.

The costs of these two government entitlement programmes has already reached $1 trillion (tn), or one-third of the entire Federal budget, and is expected to rise significantly as 80 million “baby boomers” reach retirement age over the next two decades.

The rising cost of providing health care – which is growing much faster than the overall growth rate of the economy – is also putting pressure on the Medicare budget.

Both Social Security and Medicare are funded by a tax taken from wages which is paid by workers and their employers, and the money raised is put into a trust fund that is supposed to build up a surplus big enough to pay all future claims.

The weaker economy, with more people out of work, has also reduced the payments received by the funds.

Currently 51 million people receive social security benefits, and 45.2 million are covered by Medicare.

The fund’s trustees project an increase of 30% in the number of Medicare beneficiaries, to 58 million, in the next two decades, but also an increase of 50% in the average cost of health care for each person insured.

President Obama has already signalled that containing health care costs, as well as expanding coverage to the 15% of the population that is uninsured, is one of his top priorities.

His Treasury Secretary, Timothy Geithner, said that the only way to make the system solvent in the future was “to control runaway growth in both public and private health care expenditures”.

There is bipartisan support for the effort to contain health care costs.

“We need to act now to address Medicare’s fiscal sustainability,” said Senator Charles Grassley, the leading Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, which oversees Medicare.

But there is less agreement on the overall approach to health care reform.

Senator Grassley attacked proposals by the Obama administration for a Federal-run health insurance plan to be made available to the uninsured in competition with private plans.

Meanwhile, some leading budget experts have suggested that in order to fund reform, health benefits paid by employers (which is the way most Americans receive their health care) should be taxable – something proposed by John McCain in the election campaign.

“I don’t see how you can put a package together… unless you touch the exclusions,” said Robert Greenstein, director of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

But other experts argue that ultimately, funding Medicare is going to require significant increases in payroll taxes.

“There is no way to balance Medicare without significant increases in taxes,” said Henry Aaron of the Brookings Institution.

With the Federal budget deficit already projected to reach $1.7tn this year, and President Obama having pledged to cut the deficit by half by the end of his first term, entitlement reform could become the biggest political issue of his administration.



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