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web posted December 6, 1999

Canada's McCain takes coward's way out

Admitting that no science proved that they were harmful, McCain Foods Ltd. says it will no longer process genetically engineered potatoes. The company says that although there is no evidence the potatoes are harmful, it fears a consumer backlash.

"We think genetically modified material is very good science [but] at the moment, very bad public relations," said Harrison McCain, chairman of the New Brunswick-based company.

"We've got too many people worried about eating the product and we're in the business of giving our customers what they want, not what we think they should have. We're going to drop that until the smoke clears away and until most people are at least reasonably satisfied that that's the right thing to do."

McCain said the decision, which takes effect next year, was made after months of pressure from consumers who fear genetic tampering could damage the environment and human health.

Environmentalists have been trying to stir up public concern about the safety of genetically engineered crops, which are derived from seeds produced when DNA from one plant is introduced into another in order to enhance its nutritional features or help it fight pests.

In Canada, 200 Health Department scientists signed a petition to Allan Rock, the Health Minister, saying they lacked the staff to examine potential health risks of genetically modified foods. Also, Greenpeace and the Sierra Club have been campaigning against them.

But the Consumers' Association of Canada has given a qualified endorsement to genetically engineered crops, and a group of Canada's leading scientists has formed a coalition to support biotechnology and convince Canadians it is based on sound science.

Edna Einsiedel, a University of Calgary communications researcher who has studied public attitudes toward genetically modified food, said the McCain decision is not a surprise. In the United States, she said, Heinz and Gerber have already done the same. She said the companies might be responding to concerns expressed by the grocery chains that sell their products, which have been hearing expressions of concern from their customers.

The move has angered some New Brunswick potato farmers, who have been growing potatoes genetically altered to produce a protein that acts as a natural insecticide to the Colorado potato beetle but does not harm animals or humans.

"It's not like we have something that has a disease," said Patton MacDonald, executive director of the New Brunswick Potato Agency.

"There's nothing wrong with it."

Except the cowardice of a few companies.

U.S. military presence in Panama ends after nearly 90 years...welcome China!

The U.S. military's 88-year presence in the former Canal Zone has ended.

Panamanian President Mireya Moscoso received a symbolic key on November 30 to the final U.S. Army base from Col. Edward D. Schumann.

As that key was passing hands, U.S. President Bill Clinton was dismissing the notion that a Chinese presence at the Panama Canal could harm U.S. national security. A Hong Kong-based company with ties to Beijing has won the rights to control the ports at both ends of the canal.

The symbolic key ceremony came a month before the canal itself becomes Panamanian property.

Schumann handed a white wooden key to Moscoso during the ceremony at Fort Clayton, which overlooks the Miraflores Locks near the Pacific side of the canal.

Children cheered, and the Stars and Stripes was lowered for the last time.

"A chapter of the Army in Panama closes, but the relations between the Army and the Panamanian people remain," Schumann said.

Moscoso told reporters she would not seek negotiations that would "mean the continuation of U.S. military presence in Panama." Polls show most Panamanians favor a continued U.S. presence because the bases have brought millions of dollars into the economy.

Fort Clayton, built in the 1920s, was the headquarters of U.S. Army South until July, when that operation moved to Fort Buchanan in Puerto Rico.

Fort Clayton is the last of 14 bases to be handed over to Panama since 1979 under the 1977 Panama Canal treaty signed by U.S. President Jimmy Carter and then-Panamanian strongman Omar Torrijos.

Transferred along with Clayton were neighboring installations at Corozal.

Only about 300 U.S. military personnel remain in Panama. They will gradually leave by the time of the final hand over of the canal at midday on December 31.

"This transfer is a recognition of nationalist struggles," Moscoso said. She added that a generation would now grow up "with absolute responsibility for the Panama Canal, free of foreign (military) presence."

At a news briefing in Washington, Clinton downplayed concerns about a Chinese presence at the canal.

Hutchison Whampoa, a Hong Kong-based company with ties to Beijing, has been granted lease arrangements to operate the canal's ports.

Earlier in the week , retired Adm. Thomas Moorer, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said China was plotting to take over the canal once the United States relinquishes control. He suggested China could use the area to launch a nuclear attack on America.

Clinton said, "I think the Chinese will in fact be bending over backward to make sure that they run it in a competent and able and fair manner." They run it?

The president went on to say, "This is like ... China coming into the World Trade Organization. I think they'll want to demonstrate to a distant part of the world that they can be a responsible partner.

"I would be very surprised if any adverse consequences flowed from the Chinese running the canal."

Clinton said he was confident the Panamanian government would run the canal in an appropriate fashion, and he reiterated his support for the hand over.

"I think it's the right thing to do," Clinton said. "I think that the new government of Panama is committed to maintaining the canal in an appropriate way and keeping it open, and working with us to do so and having good relations."

Formal ceremonies marking the hand over of the canal will be conducted December 14. The State Department said that Carter and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright will represent the United States at the event. Clinton will not attend.

The president told reporters he decided against attending because of the number of foreign trips he had already taken this year. He said the decision should not be seen as a snub of the event.

"The people of Panama should know that this president and our government strongly support both the treaty and the event," Clinton said.

State Department spokesman James Rubin said Carter's appearance at the hand over will be in recognition of his role in negotiating the transfer.

Rubin stressed that Hutchison Whampoa, which controls 10 percent of global maritime container traffic, had contracts to run the ports, not the canal itself.

"We have no reason to believe there's any risk of any problem as a result of (Hutchison Whampoa) running the ports," he told a news briefing.

At Fort Clayton, offices and barracks are set among lawns on 2 150 acres. The base includes 1 400 residences, a theater, fire and police stations, two schools, a hospital and recreation areas.

Panama plans to use 325 acres for a "Knowledge City" complex of schools and research institutions.

Clinton, Hollywood stars call for gun control

Actors Whoopi Goldberg and Gregory Peck joined President Clinton at a star-studded Beverly Hills fundraiser on November 30 in calling for tighter gun control laws.

A host of Hollywood stars and musicians donated up to $10 000 each to promote gun control and to celebrate the sixth anniversary of the Brady Bill, which imposed background checks on gun purchasers.

The law, named for former White House spokesman Jim Brady who was seriously injured in the 1981 assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan, has stopped 470 000 people from buying guns, according to Justice Department data.

Clinton has called for new gun-control measures this year following a string of schoolyard shootings, including the April killings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, in which two teenage gunmen killed 13 people and themselves.

"Can anyone doubt that there will be another Columbine ... Can anyone doubt that the clock is ticking?" asked Peck, who received an award from the Handgun Control group to recognize his efforts to reduce gun violence.

The White House has sought to seize on public dismay at the schoolyard shootings to mobilize the Republican-controlled Congress to pass a series of gun control measures this year.

These include: requiring background checks on gun show weapon sales, banning violent juvenile offenders from owning guns when they turn 21, requiring child safety locks to be sold with handguns and banning the import of high-capacity ammunition clips.

The right to bear arms is constitutionally guaranteed and none of the gun-control measures made progress in Congress.

Clinton, while hailing the Brady Bill and the assault weapons ban passed in 1994, called on Congress to do more.

"I've come here to say, you have to keep fighting," Clinton said, saying 12 children die every day from gun violence. "No one believes America is as safe as it should be or can be."

As Goldberg introduced Clinton at the dinner, which included musical performances by Paula Cole and Dweezil Zappa, she said one of her granddaughters recently asked if she might get killed at school.

"This was kind of chilling, because it wasn't even like I could say 'No, no, it's not going to happen,"' Goldberg said. "We should not ... be speechless when our children say: 'Am I going to make it to Christmas?"'

Gun rights group sues mayors over gun ownership issues

A gun rights group said it has filed a federal lawsuit against the mayors of 23 cities, accusing them of conspiring to erode the right of Americans to own firearms and defend themselves.

The Second Amendment Foundation said it sued to stop a string of lawsuits various cities and counties have filed against gun manufacturers, accusing them of selling defective products or marketing them in ways that increase the likelihood that they will fall into the hands of criminals.

The Second Amendment Foundation said it suspected the suits actually have been filed to financially injure gun manufacturers and owners.

"Now, they are being sued while their meritless and frivolous lawsuits are being dealt serious blows in the courts," Alan Gottlieb, founder of the Bellevue, Wash., based group, said in a written statement.

The defendants include the mayors of Los Angeles, San Francisco, Berkeley, California; Compton, California; Miami; Atlanta; New Orleans, Cleveland and Boston.

The U.S. Conference of Mayors also is named as a defendant in the suit, which was filed on November 30 in U.S. District Court in Washington, said the Second Amendment Foundation.

The suit said that: "The mayors have conspired together and with the USCM and its members to bring civil actions by the mayors' cities against federally licensed firearms manufacturers, distributors, retailers, and their trade associations for the purpose of bankrupting and otherwise harming such manufacturers, distributors, retailers, and their trade associations as a result of the litigation costs of defending such civil actions."

It said the cities' suits impose an undue burden on interstate commerce and violate the Constitution's first, second and ninth amendments.

"The mayors' legal challenges have already forced several gun makers to declare bankruptcy, severely downsize their product lines, and-or raise firearm prices, thus hurting consumers _ including taxpayer-funded federal, state and local law enforcement agencies -- all across the country," the foundation's statement said.

Gore backs off Love Canal claim. Maybe he should say he invented the shovel because the way he spreads it around...

US Vice President Al Gore is embroiled in another controversy because of claims he made in a speech in New Hampshire that he raised the national alarm about the crisis at the Love Canal in Niagara Falls 21 years ago.

Gore told high school students that he "found a little place in upstate New York called Love Canal" and that a hearing he had in Tennessee in October 1978 "started it all."

The problem with Gore's version of history is that his interest followed by two months a declaration made by President Jimmy Carter that Love Canal was a national environmental emergency, a presidential action that catapulted the story onto the world's front pages.

After Republicans jumped on the story, Gore moved quickly on December 1 into a damage control mode. He called the Associated Press in Buffalo to say he was sorry.

"If anybody got the misimpression that I claimed to do what citizens in Love Canal did, I apologize," Gore said.

Lois Gibbs, who organized the 1978 protest over problems associated with toxic wastes dumped in the Love Canal, called Gore's claims "pretty pathetic."

"If I had a nickel from everyone who said they discovered Love Canal," she said, "I'd be a rich woman, and I'm not."

"The vice president is stretching the truth to claim he invented Love Canal," said Tony Bullock, chief of staff to Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, D-N.Y. Moynihan supports Gore's rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, former Sen. Bill Bradley of New Jersey.

Gore told the AP: "I give credit to Lois Gibbs and her neighbors for raising Cain. Many people were stirred up - appropriately so - before I ever even found out about it."

It was Rep. John J. LaFalce, D-Tonawanda, who brought Love Canal to Carter's attention, Bullock said. Gore's version of the Love Canal story was another embarrassment for the vice president, who earlier this year stumbled by asserting he invented the Internet, that he grew up as a hardscrabble farm boy and served as the inspiration for the novel and film "Love Story."

Republican National Chairman Jim Nicholson said, "Next he'll be telling us he discovered Niagara Falls, how Tipper (Gore's wife) first navigated the Hudson River and how Hillary (Rodham Clinton) built the Erie Canal with no one but Naomi Wolf to help her." Wolf, a feminist, is an adviser to the Gore campaign. "He keeps reinventing himself," Nicholson said. "It's a pattern of phoniness, and it would be funny if it weren't also a little scary."

According to the New York Times, Gore said on November 30: "I found a little place in upstate New York called Love Canal. I had the first hearing on that issue. . . . But I was the one that started it all." Identical quotes were published in the Washington Post.

An Associated Press reporter released notes taken during the same session and quotes Gore as saying essentially what was quoted in the Times and the Post. Gore, according to the AP, said his hearing in Toone, Tenn., "was the one that started it all. . . . We made a huge difference."

Gibbs said: "He did not begin Love Canal. It was the governor banging on the federal government's door that got Gore involved."

Actually, it was LaFalce who talked Carter into issuing the declaration on Aug. 7, 1978, and making homeowners eligible for federal aid.

Gibbs said she never heard about a Gore hearing in October 1978, but did testify before Gore in April 1979.

"I think he ought to talk to the people who are writing his stuff. At least he ought to look it over before he reads it," she said.

Gore's call to the Buffalo AP office was reminiscent of efforts his campaign made in July to localize and defuse charges that his aides ordered a release of water on the Connecticut River so his canoe could be floated for a photo opportunity near Cornish, N.H.

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