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Trigger Happy With Toxins

For many years, genetically engineered crops were said to be environmentally responsible.

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Toxic Weed Killer Showing Up in Some of the Most Commonly Eaten Foods in America

From beer to wine to breakfast food, the pesticide glyphosate is showing up in a lot of places that consumers don’t expect to find it. The chemical, a key ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup weed killer, was declared a “probable carcinogen” by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer last year. Since then, a number of food and environmental activist groups have started testing for it in an array of products and finding it—albeit in small amounts—almost everywhere. Now a group of consumers are suing Quaker Oats, which is owned by PepsiCo, over the glyphosate that testing paid for by the plaintiffs found in the company’s Quick 1-Minute oats product.

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Some California Residents Exposed to Multiple Airborne Pesticides, Says New Study

A new report by scientists at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) reminds us that we have a lot to learn about the risks of exposure to multiple pesticides at a time. Hmmmm. "Exposure to multiple pesticides at a time" — isn't that what we face in the real world? Yes, it is. Read on.

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A Despicable Ploy by Monsanto and Other Biotech Giants Increased U.S. Pesticide Use by Over 500 Million Pounds in Just 5 Years

According to industry data, most of the genetically engineered (GE) crops planted worldwide are designed for use with chemical herbicides, contain insecticides — or both.

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If America Only Knew How Much Arsenic Ends Up on the Average Dinner Plate

This article was published in collaboration with GlobalPossibilities.org.

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50 Years After 'Silent Spring' We Have Ignored Rachel Carson’s Findings to Our Peril

The following piece appears in the current issue of the Washington Spectator. For more great stories, check out their site. 

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Revealed: World's Most Predatory Company is Poisoning You

Although I generally refrain from posting on Big Ag, I have a special interest in Monsanto. Last year, I had wanted to devise a list or ranking of top predatory companies, but could not find a way to make the tally sufficiently objective to be as useful in calling them out as it ought to be. Nevertheless, no matter how many ways I looked at the issue, it was clear that any ranking would put Monsanto as number 1. Monsanto has (among other things) genetically engineered seeds so that they can’t reproduce, denying farmers the ability to save seeds and have a measure of financial independence. In 2009, Vandana Shiva estimated that 200,000 farmers in India had committed suicide since 1997, and Monsanto was a major culprit:

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Is Weed Killer in Drinking Water Dangerous? Govt. Is Letting the Chemical Industry Come Up with the Answer

Companies with a financial interest in a weed-killer sometimes found in drinking water paid for thousands of studies federal regulators are using to assess the herbicide’s health risks, records of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency show. Many of these industry-funded studies, which largely support atrazine’s safety, have never been published or subjected to an independent scientific peer review.

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Thanks to EPA You May Be Unknowingly Drinking Water Contaminated With Weed Killer

One of the nation's most widely-used herbicides has been found to exceed federal safety limits in drinking water in four states, but water customers have not been told and the Environmental Protection Agency has not published the results.

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Your Phone Is Phun

Telephones are starting to be cool again. When I was first getting into computers, there were a whole bunch of dorks in the not-so-illustrious cracker scene who liked to "phreak" – which mostly meant they figured out ways to finagle free long distance out of phone companies. Either they used a piece of technology that emitted the precise tone required to get a long-distance connection in a phone booth, or they went online and stole phone company codes for free long-distance calling.

Sadly, the phone system has changed a lot since I was 14; it's more highly regulated in several ways, and a lot harder to hack. Plus, the Internet became such an obvious target for hackers that the whole phreaking thing seemed beside the point.

But now phones are part of the Internet. The latest evolution in phone technology is something called "Voice-over Internet Protocol" (VoIP for short), which refers to a bunch of hardware and software that send phone calls over the Internet. You can use a VoIP phone, which means your call is sent over the Internet from end to end (and, by the way, is completely free of all long-distance and out-of-country charges, mwah ha ha). Or you can use VoIP to create a bridge between a VoIP phone and a regular phone – software already exists to bridge the gap between the phone network and the Internet.

Of course, Congress is already waging battles over how the damn things will be regulated. The problem is VoIP straddles the line between two realms the Federal Communications Commission never believed would meet: the realm of "information services" and that of "telecommunications services." These two areas are regulated quite differently – indeed, there's even a question about whether information services should fall under the FCC's purview at all. And VoIP is a telecommunications service that uses an information service (the Internet) to do its thing.

Sen. John Sununu (R-N.H.) has proposed a bill, the VoIP Regulatory Freedom Act, that would bar states from taxing and regulating VoIP – presumably so policy makers could come up with an overarching federal standard for these bastard children of telecom and information technologies. Sununu's bill is in committee and could hit the Senate floor before the end of the year.

Meanwhile, the feds are freaked out about VoIP because (start the sad violins) it's just so darn hard to wiretap. Several law enforcement agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Drug Enforcement Administration, recently petitioned the FCC to add VoIP to an already existing law called the Communications Assistance to Law Enforcement Act. Currently CALEA forces telecom companies to comply with a set of regulations that make it quite simple for law enforcement agents to tap telephones. The law mandates that phone companies build backdoors into the telephone system so that listening in on your conversations is as easy as flipping a switch.

But if you're talking over VoIP, flipping that switch is a lot harder. It's not impossible, mind you; it just means Jane Fed will have to exercise her techno-brain a little bit more to listen in on your conversations. One VoIP provider, a European company called Skype, does end-to-end Internet phone calls that don't interact with telecom networks at all. Phone calls done with Skype are routed peer-to-peer-style across the Net and are also completely encrypted. Good luck trying to intercept a Skype phone call and figure out what the people are saying without spending a few weeks working on it. Other providers, such as Vonage, route calls from the phone network to Internet routers and back. Their system might be a bit easier to tap. The same old players, of course, are ponying up their own Internet telephony crap: über-ISP Earthlink is working on a VoIP service, as is über-telco AT&T. I'm guessing these guys, already accustomed to working with the feds, are going to figure out a way to make VoIP into a surveillance-friendly system.

But in the meantime, everybody else is coming out to play! A phreaker calling himself Lucky 225 has a nifty little device that allows him to use VoIP to spoof phone numbers. He can make caller ID programs think he's calling from anywhere; he can also unmask the phone numbers people try to hide with caller ID blocking. One use for such a device, aside from personal amusement, is to activate someone else's credit card. Since most credit card companies authenticate your identity by requiring you to call from your home number to activate a card, Lucky's trick could turn out to be quite tricky indeed.

Bruce Schneier, a computer security expert, recently wrote an article in which he worried that VoIP spoofing might lead to attackers hijacking phone calls and sending them to the wrong place. Or it could lead to denial-of-service attacks in which somebody cuts off all your incoming calls without your knowledge. Yup, the phreakers are back in town. Crank calls are about to go cyber on your ass.