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Edwards’ Campaign Says He’s Running For President Again December 27, 2006

Posted by notapundit in Politics, US News.
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WASHINGTON (AP)–Former Democratic vice presidential nominee John Edwards is running for president for a second time, his campaign said Wednesday.

Edwards plans to formally announce his candidacy Thursday from New Orleans’ Lower 9th Ward, which was hard hit by Hurricane Katrina. But his campaign got a little ahead of itself Wednesday and announced his intentions online.

“Better a day earlier than a day late,” said Jennifer Palmieri, Edwards’ adviser.

On the eve of his announcement, Edwards visited the site of that announcement Wednesday for a photo opportunity. He did yard work at home Orelia Tyler, whose home was completely gutted by Hurricane Katrina and is close to being rebuilt.

Edwards’ announcement in the wake of President Gerald Ford’s death was prompted when his campaign accidentally launched his campaign Web site a day early, then shut it back down.

Edwards didn’t cancel his plans for a formal announcement because of President Ford’s death late Tuesday. He issued a statement saying he was deeply saddened by the news and calling Ford a “true leader.”

“He called on us to never lose faith that we can change America,” Edwards said.

FDA Poised To Approve Food From Cloned Animals Thursday December 27, 2006

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WASHINGTON (AP)–Federal scientists have concluded there is no difference between food from cloned animals and food from conventional livestock, setting the stage for the government to declare Thursday that cloned animals are safe for the human food supply.

The Food and Drug Administration planned to brief industry groups in advance of an announcement. The agency indicated it would approve cloned livestock in a scientific journal article published online earlier this month.

The agency “concludes that meat and milk from clones and their progeny is as safe to eat as corresponding products derived from animals produced using contemporary agricultural practices,” FDA scientists Larisa Rudenko and John C. Matheson wrote in the Jan. 1 issue of Theriogenology.

Also, the FDA believes that no special labels are needed for food from clones or their offspring, the scientists wrote. Consumer groups say labels are a must, because surveys have shown people to be uncomfortable with the idea of cloned livestock.

“Consumers are going to be having a product that has potential safety issues and has a whole load of ethical issues tied to it, without any labeling,” said Joseph Mendelson, legal director of the Center for Food Safety.

Carol Tucker Foreman, director of food policy at the Consumer Federation of America, said the FDA is ignoring research that shows cloning results in more deaths and deformed animals than other reproductive technologies.

The consumer federation will ask food companies and supermarkets to refuse to sell food from clones, she said.

“Meat and milk from cloned animals have no benefit for consumers, and consumers don’t want them in their foods,” Foreman said.

The FDA scientists wrote that by the time clones reached 6 to 18 months of age, they were “virtually indistinguishable” from conventionally bred animals.

Final approval of cloned animals for food is months away; the FDA will accept comments from the public after issuing a risk assessment on Thursday.

Those in favor of the technology say it would be used primarily for breeding and not for steak or pork tenderloin.

Cloning lets farmers and ranchers make copies of exceptional animals, such as pigs that fatten rapidly or cows that are superior milk producers.

“We clone an animal because we want a genetic twin of that animal,” said Barb Glenn of the Biotechnology Industry Organization.

“It’s not a genetically engineered animal; no genes have been changed or moved or deleted,” she said. “It’s simply a genetic twin that we can then use for future matings to improve the overall health and well-being of the herd.”

Thus, consumers would mostly get food from their offspring and not the clones themselves, Glenn said.

Still, some clones would end up in the food supply. As with conventional livestock, a cloned bull or cow that outlived its usefulness would probably wind up at a hamburger plant, and a cloned dairy cow would be milked during her breeding years.

That’s unlikely to happen soon, because FDA officials have asked farmers and cloning companies since 2001 to voluntarily keep clones and their offspring out of the food supply.

The informal ban would remain in place for several months while the FDA accepts comments from the public.

Approval of cloned livestock has taken five years because of pressure from big food companies nervous that consumers might reject milk and meat from cloned animals.

To clone, scientists replace all the genetic material in an egg with a mature cell containing the complete genetic code from the donor. Cloners argue that the resulting animal is simply the donor’s twin, containing an identical makeup. Yet there can be differences between the two because of chance and environmental influences.

Some surveys have shown people to be uncomfortable with food from cloned animals; 64% said they were uncomfortable in a September poll by the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology, a nonpartisan research group.

A dairy industry spokeswoman said last week it would be reassuring if the FDA concluded there were no safety issues.

“It remains to be seen whether dairy farmers will even choose to use it,” said Susan Ruland, spokeswoman for the International Dairy Foods Association, which represents such brands as Kraft Foods Inc. (KFT) and Dannon, owned by Groupe Danone (DA).

“There are very few cloned dairy cows in this country – only about 150 out of the 9 million total U.S. dairy cows, and many of these are show animals,” Ruland said.

Ex-President Ford’s State Funeral To Begin Friday In California December 27, 2006

Posted by notapundit in US News.
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WASHINGTON (AP)–Gerald R. Ford’s state funeral will begin Friday in his beloved California, with the late president then to lie in state in the U.S. Capitol over the weekend, a family representative said Wednesday.

Giving the first details of funeral arrangements for the 38th president, family representative Gregory D. Willard said events will last until Wednesday next week, when Ford will be interred in a hillside tomb near his presidential museum in his home state of Michigan.

Ceremonies begin Friday, with a private prayer service for the family at St. Margaret’s Church in Palm Desert, Calif., visitation by friends and a period of public repose.

On Saturday, Ford’s body will be flown to Washington in late afternoon, his hearse pausing at the World War II memorial in joint tribute to the wartime Navy reserve veteran and his comrades in uniform, Willard said.

The state funeral will be conducted in the Capitol Rotunda that evening and after that, the public will be able to file in to pay last respects. Ford was expected to lie in state until Tuesday morning.

In a departure from tradition meant to highlight Ford’s long service in Congress, his body will lie in repose outside the main door of the House and, later, outside the main doors of the Senate chamber.

Indiana Governor Signs $1.16 Billion Welfare Privatization Contract December 27, 2006

Posted by notapundit in Politics, US News.
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INDIANAPOLIS (AP)–Gov. Mitch Daniels on Wednesday signed a controversial $1.16 billion contract to pay an IBM Corp.-led (IBM) team to help run programs for food stamps, Medicaid and other assistance for the needy.

The contract calls for the state to pay the team the money over 10 years to help process applications for the programs and lend technical support to the state’s Family and Social Services Administration, which now handles the work.

The decision to move forward with the plan comes after months of discussions and review and strong criticism by some Democrats, caseworkers, union representatives and advocates for the needy.

“For taxpayers, a billion dollars of savings,” Daniels said in a news release. “For recipients, better service and a better chance to escape welfare for the world of work and self-reliance. No decision we’ve made is more clearly in the public interest.”

Critics have said the state shouldn’t outsource services for the needy to a for-profit company.

They worry that Indiana might encounter some of the same problems as other states that opted for private vendors. That includes Texas, where some applicant benefits have been delayed.

The administration has defended the plan, saying it will help the state meet new federal standards for progress in moving welfare recipients into jobs, avoiding tens of millions in financial penalties. FSSA Secretary Mitch Roob also has said it would help turn a cumbersome, paper-driven system into one that is more accessible through computers.

The plan envisions improving delivery of the public safety-net benefits system received by one in six Hoosiers by making it easier to apply through the Internet and telephone call centers. It also aims to use computers to drive the process with self surveys, instead of time-consuming interviews, to ease case workers’ paperwork and reduce error and fraud.

Out of about 2,200 current FSSA employees now performing the work, about 700 would be retained by the agency. The remaining 1,500 FSSA employees were guaranteed jobs with the IBM group for two years at no less than equal pay and benefits.

Each of Indiana’s 92 counties would retain an office where people could apply in person for benefits, and all final eligibility determinations would be made by state employees.

Rep Frank Rebukes SEC Over Executive-Pay Changes December 27, 2006

Posted by notapundit in Congress, Politics, US News.
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WASHINGTON (Dow Jones)–The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is coming under congressional criticism for a last-minute decision to reverse course last week and loosen executive-pay disclosure rules.

Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., the incoming chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, said in a statement Wednesday that he is “very disappointed with both the substance and the procedure used to reach the SEC’s Christmas Eve decision to loosen reporting requirements for the pay of the top executives of public corporations.”

The SEC late Friday announced new rules that would lower the amount of total compensation that companies will disclose paying to top executives next year. The rules would spread out the value of options and restricted stock awards over a number of years, rather than in the year in which the options were granted. Businesses had lobbied for the change, but the SEC originally hadn’t agreed.

“Backtracking by the SEC on this important matter of stock options reinforces my determination that Congress must act to deal with the problem of executive compensation that is now unconstrained by anything except the self restraint of top executives, a commodity that is apparently in insufficient supply,” said Frank.

An SEC spokesman wasn’t immediately able to comment.

Executive pay is becoming an increasingly hot-button political issue amid a widening gap in pay between rank-and-file employees and top executives. Amid investor concern, the SEC earlier this year approved rules that will provide more information about the pay and perquisites granted to top executives. The new pay details will be released mostly in early 2007, when companies file annual proxy statements.

SEC rules require companies to report the total compensation for the chief executive, chief financial officer, and the three other most highly paid employees, all in a single number representing total compensation. Originally, the total compensation would have reflected the value of stock options on the date of the grant. Now, the total compensation will reflect the value of only those stock options that have vested.

Companies will still have to disclose elsewhere in the proxy filing the number of stock options granted to top executives. Those figures simply won’t be fully reflected in total compensation.

“At least it’s disclosed somewhere,” said Ann Yerger, executive director of the Council of Institutional Investors. Still, she said, the changes the SEC announced last week will muddy what was supposed to be “a very clear snapshot of what the package was for the executive during the year.”

The SEC had justified its decision as an effort to align the value of stock-options awards disclosed in financial statements and the value of executive stock-option grants disclosed to investors.

Companies treat stock options as costs in their financial statements as the options become exercisable. The SEC rules had previously required companies to issue executive-compensation tables that included the value of stock options awards on the date of the award, before an executive could exercise the options. The result was a difference in the treatment of options in executive-pay tables and in financial statements.

“The new disclosure requirements will be easier for companies to prepare and for investors to understand,” SEC Chairman Christopher Cox said on Friday.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce had complained that the earlier rules would create the appearance of giant pay packages even when options, stock, or other awards wouldn’t vest – or pay out – for a number of years.

On Friday, when it changed its rules, the SEC took the unusual approach of announcing that the new rules for stock options would take effect almost immediately. The result is to limit the opportunity for public comment, in effect rendering moot the SEC’s plans to have a 30-day comment period on an already approved rule.

“The problem of executive pay that is both greatly excessive and deliberately obscured is a grave one,” Frank said. “I had been encouraged when the SEC recognized this problem in its initial proposal, and while that continues to provide improvements in the relevant rules, this slippage is regrettable both substantively and for not having been open to more public discussion.”

By Siobhan Hughes, Dow Jones Newswires