The Baltimore Sun

Doubts Remain About Anthrax Story


Survivors of the 2001 anthrax attacks and relatives of those killed by the deadly powder said yesterday that they want a full accounting from the FBI of its investigation to date, and they are not yet convinced that Bruce Ivins, the government scientist who killed himself last week, was responsible. Federal authorities are expected to meet this week with the victims' families in Washington to discuss their investigation, after which the FBI could close its nearly seven-year-old anthrax case and publicly release its findings. But with reports emerging that the case against Ivins is largely circumstantial, some wonder if real closure will ever come.

"I don't know whether this is the right person or not," said Maureen Stevens, the widow of Robert Stevens, a photo editor at the Sun, a supermarket tabloid, who was the first killed in the fall 2001 attacks. Stevens said she has gone to Washington twice before for meetings, but nothing came of them. She said she received an e-mail from the FBI informing her of this week's meeting.

"I don't know if we'll hear anything from them that will convince me that they've gotten to the bottom of it," Stevens said.

Ivins died last Tuesday after federal investigators had spent a year watching his house near Fort Detrick in Frederick, following him, and interviewing him and his colleagues at the U.S Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases. Ivins' lawyer has said the scientist was innocent.

"I think he's a convenient fall guy. They can say, 'OK, we found him, case closed, we're going home,'" said Dr. Kenneth W. Hedlund, the former chief of bacteriology at Fort Detrick who hired Ivins. "The FBI apparently applied a lot of pressure to all the investigators there [at Detrick], and they found the weakest link."

The FBI has not yet said how it was able to connect Ivins to the attacks.

But the Los Angeles Times and Wall Street Journal, relying in part on unnamed sources, reported that investigators employing new technology were able to find a genetic link between the specific anthrax strain recovered from the letters and the bodies of victims and the one found in an office and other "nonlaboratory space" where Ivins worked in 2001.

The New York Times reported that investigators intensively questioned his children, Andrew and Amanda, now both 24. One former colleague, Dr. W. Russell Byrne, said the agents pressed Ivins' daughter repeatedly to acknowledge that her father was involved in the attacks.

"It was not an interview," Byrne said. "It was a frank attempt at intimidation."

Byrne said he believed Ivins was singled out partly because of his personal weaknesses. "If they had real evidence on him, why did they not just arrest him?"

The Associated Press, quoting unnamed government sources, reported yesterday that Ivins had a lengthy obsession with the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority, which has a chapter house near the Princeton, N.J., mailbox from which the anthrax letters were sent. However, the report says the FBI can't place Ivins in Princeton the day the letters were mailed.

Hedlund said Ivins was a bacteriologist and lacked the expertise to convert the anthrax into the deadly form that was used in the 2001 mailings to government offices and newsrooms.

Rep. Rush Holt, who represents the central New Jersey district where the anthrax letters were mailed, said circumstantial evidence is not enough, especially after the series of mistakes made in this case. The FBI spent years investigating Steven J. Hatfill, another scientist who worked in the same lab as Ivins. The government recently agreed to pay a $5.82 million settlement to Hatfill.

Holt sent a letter to FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III asking that Mueller appear before Congress to provide an account of the investigation.

"One of the reasons they need to lay this out is so that the public can be confident that they are protected," Holt, a Democrat, said in an interview yesterday. "The post office workers, the general public, the local police - they are all owed an explanation. They would like to have closure."

David Hose, 65, contracted anthrax while working at a mail facility in Sterling, Va. He said he didn't believe Ivins was responsible for the attacks, nor does he have any faith in the FBI's ability to close the case.

"They just mumble and bumble around," he said. "It's like a TV show."

Sun reporter Frank Roylance contributed to this article.

Copyright 2008, The Baltimore Sun

Why Americans Keep Getting Fatter

A long-running contradiction in U.S. farm policy is fattening the waistlines of Americans and the profits of agribusiness at the same time. For the 30 years that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has been issuing dietary guidelines, there has been a stark inconsistency between the federal government's advice and its food funding.

True, the USDA has been doing more, over time, to promote health through dietary guidelines, food pyramids and other nutrition programs. And yet more than $20 billion yearly -- more than one-fifth its budget -- is sunk into a farm bill that supports many of the foods its recommendations warn against. At the same time, the department virtually ignores incentives to produce, promote and consume some of the healthiest foods: fruits and vegetables.

This contradiction may play a role in today's obesity epidemic and is in part driven by a counterintuitive farm policy, highlighted by the farm bill, which is up for renewal this year in Congress. This legislation began during the Depression to protect farmers against environmental disasters and plummeting crop prices but has evolved into a massive program of handouts, largely benefiting agribusinesses. Worse, it promotes vast overproduction of crops that are the building blocks of calorie-dense, nutrient-poor, processed junk foods. It has become a "food bill."

For a half-century, the farm bill served farmers and the public well by regulating supply and stabilizing food prices. In 1973, it was overhauled to significantly increase crop production. According to the USDA Economic Research Service, the U.S. food supply has since ballooned by 500 calories per person per day, and per capita food consumption has increased by more than 200 calories per day -- the equivalent of more than 20 pounds of fat per year.

This mammoth oversupply would be less egregious if it were spread equally among the food groups. Instead, most funding supports just a few crops, and those lay the foundation of the standard American diet: high in sugars and empty-calorie, refined grains; high in fats; low in whole grains and fiber; and low in fruits and vegetables.

Take corn, the most highly subsidized crop, which received $9.4 billion in 2005 -- nearly as much as all other crops combined. Corn production has more than doubled since the 1970s, and all this artificially cheapened corn is unloaded on the public, largely in the form of tasty but empty-calorie junk foods. Refined corn is the chief source of carbohydrates and calories in most processed foods, particularly snack foods. High-fructose corn syrup is the most widely used caloric sweetener in the United States. And corn meal is widely used as cheap animal feed to fatten factory-raised livestock.

Another example is soybeans, the fourth-most-subsidized crop. Although soy protein is a healthful meat substitute, soybeans are more commonly used in junk foods. Soybean oil accounts for 75 percent of the fat in processed foods and is commonly hydrogenated to create trans fats, which improve shelf life but are known to cause cardiovascular disease.

In contrast, healthful foods are grossly underfunded. USDA guidelines advise that fruits and vegetables make up at least one-third of daily intake, but just 5 percent of its food funding supports the fruit and vegetable industries. There is virtually no funding for public education and advertising encouraging fruit and vegetable consumption. At its peak, the "Five-a-day" campaign budget was just $3 million annually -- compared with the $11 billion spent yearly in the United States for fast food and junk food advertising. McDonald's spent $500 million just promoting its "We Love To See You Smile" campaign.

This is one reason Americans don't eat fruits and vegetables. Although some surveys suggest we eat about four servings daily, this number is greatly exaggerated because French fries and potato chips are counted the same as spinach, carrots or broccoli. In fact, 25 percent of vegetables consumed in the United States are fried potatoes, making the daily consumption of healthful fruits and vegetables closer to two servings -- and possibly lower in children and inner-city populations.

Farm policy is an ideal avenue to address the obesity epidemic at its roots.

As Congress considers this year's farm bill, it should rework the legislation so it meets the needs of today's food consumers, not agribusiness. The new farm bill should significantly shift funding to improve the availability, affordability and promotion of fruits, vegetables and other healthful foods.

In particular, it should include targeted investments to fruit and vegetable growers to increase the availability of fresh produce, support for the new "Fruits & Veggies -- More Matters" initiative, expansion of the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Pilot Program to all 50 states to promote the eating of fruits and vegetables in schools, creation of incentives for fresh fruit and vegetable purchases in the Food Stamp program, and support for organic farming.

These steps could signal that our government is ready to lead the fight against obesity and diet-related chronic disease by nurturing the health-conscious lifestyle it advocates by its dietary guidelines.

Building an Embassy Fit for an Empire

The headline reads: "Thousands of angry Iraqis pillage billion-dollar U.S. Embassy in Baghdad." The article details the ransacking of the grandiose American Embassy by Iraqi mobs.

This is the story I expect to read one day within the next decade.

In the 1950s, when I was in high school in Baghdad, my friends and I admired the technological advances of America and the West. But we resented the colonial tendencies of the West (especially, at the time, those of the British). Many demonstrations were held in front of the British and American embassies. The Iraqis are a proud people, and they resented foreigners meddling in their affairs. And the British were, in reality, running the country through a puppet regime.

You may call it false pride; you may call it a preoccupation with dignity; or you may simply call it an honest concern about sovereignty. In any case, this is what the culture of the region dictates.

So, with this in mind, why has Washington never taken the cultural context of the Iraqis into consideration? Instead, Congress has appropriated nearly $1 billion to build the largest embassy in the world. A significant portion of that money is for security infrastructure. This future "fortress" is housed in Saddam Hussein's former palace -- providing more bad symbolism to the Iraqis.

Why are we building such a mammoth embassy in the heart of Baghdad? The embassy complex is on 104 acres, with 21 buildings and facilities. It will eventually house a U.S. staff of 5,000. According to a recent report in the Washington Post, it has more than twice the staff and 20 times the budget of our Beijing embassy. The embassy will surpass all others in terms of size and staffing.

One would think that we would be more clever than that in camouflaging our occupation. Are we to believe that Iraqis will not take notice of this massive complex in the heart of Baghdad?

We will be attempting to legitimize our presence with a "negotiated" agreement with the government of Iraq. If that happens, the people of Iraq will know that their elected government no longer is representing them but rather has become another puppet government. More Iraqis will become radicalized and join foes of the government.

American forces left Saudi Arabia in order to reduce hostilities toward us and to prevent further recruitment by groups opposing the United States and the Saudi royal family. Why would our officials think that the same will not happen in Iraq?

The Roman Empire, which (depending on your definition) lasted from 1,000 to 1,500 years, was the longest-lasting empire in history. Empires are destined to decline. Despite our intentions to stay in Iraq for a long time, Iraqis will not allow their country to be an extension of the American empire.

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