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Tree Farmers, Watch Out for Psychics

The sordid tale begins ten years ago in the tiny town of Gaston, when Rachel Lee made the acquaintance of the farmer and eventually gained access ...Meaghan Agnew | 10/27/2014at 11:26 am

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Liquid Gold: New Sensor Can Tell If Your Olive Oil's Gone Bad

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Close Up: Cashews

A closer look at this popular, crescent-shaped nut.Charles McFarlane | 10/24/2014at 4:37 pm



12 Next-Level Fruit and Veggie Sculptures

If you see a face in your squash, blame food artist Shawn Feeney.Andy Wright and Rebecca Katzman | 10/24/2014at 12:20 pm

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Let's All tools for gardening Fry the Friendly Skies

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The Problem With Veggie Burgers So Real They Bleed

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Are You Cool Enough to Drink Switchel?

A colonial farm drink is fast becoming Brooklyn's hottest beverage.Monica Kim | 10/23/2014at 9:22 am

Politics News Headlines | Reuters

NEW YORK - Federal securities regulators are probing whether New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's administration improperly diverted funds from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey for use on transport projects in New Jersey, the publication Main Justice reported on Friday.

6:57pm EDT

WASHINGTON - Federal prosecutors intend to bring criminal charges against Michael Grimm, a Republican U.S. congressman from New York who has been under investigation for campaign finance violations, his lawyer said on Friday.

6:03pm EDT

PORTLAND, Oregon - Oregon, whose health insurance network has been dogged by technical glitches that have prevented even a single subscriber from enrolling online, will move its state health exchange to the federal system, officials said on Friday.

- Two senior Internal Revenue Service executives who were instrumental in the rollout of President Barack Obama's new healthcare law are retiring, according to an internal IRS memorandum obtained by Reuters on Friday.

6:16pm EDT

SEOUL - U.S. President Barack Obama said on Friday a "pause" might be needed in U.S.-brokered peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, suggesting leaders on both sides lacked the will to make the necessary compromises.

WASHINGTON - U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder plans to stay on through November's mid-term elections and has no timeline for an exit after that, a Justice Department official told Reuters on Friday.

10:49am EDT

CHICAGO/WASHINGTON - Football players at Northwestern University on Friday became the first U.S. student athletes to cast ballots in an election to decide whether to unionize.

TALLAHASSEE, Florida - Florida state legislators voted on Friday to pressure Major League Baseball into changing its rules so players in Cuba will be in a better bargaining position when dealing with professional teams in the United States.

DAVIDSON, North Carolina - North Carolina House Speaker Thom Tillis says national Democrats have spent millions attacking him because they are worried he will win the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate in the state's primary election on May 6 and take the seat in November.

MISSISSAUGA, Ontario - Canada remains confident Washington will ultimately approve the Keystone XL pipeline to the U.S. Gulf Coast, two prominent cabinet ministers said on Friday, adding that the latest U.S. delay is political and not based on environmental concerns.

12:52pm EDT

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A Look At Just How Much The US Is Isolated In Its TPP Demands

The e-commerce chapter also provides a very different picture. There is a clear United States/Japan/Mexico cluster, which Peru also joins. Canada is nearby, but Australia is not. Brunei and Vietnam, normally close pairs, are quite far apart in this chapter.

The competition/state-owned enterprises graph tells a very different story than the previous two graphs. Here we immediately see two clusters on either side of the centroid: a United States/Canada/Australia/New Zealand/Mexico cluster, and a Japan/New Zealand/Singapore/Brunei/Chile cluster. Peru, Vietnam, and Malaysia fall in the middle. Note that the relative level of disagreement when compared to other chapters is low, since the data source reports positions only on a single proposal (sub-national coverage).

As for what it means, I think it's fair to conclude that the TPP - unlike something like ACTA - is by no means an agreement amongst "like-minded countries." Now, contention and disagreement isn't always bad; on the contrary, it's part and parcel of any negotiation. But one has to wonder about which countries are going to end up shifting positions, and in what direction, in order to make consensus and a final text possible. I suspect it won't be the United States offering the compromises.

United States
New Zealand

Without access to the text, it's sometimes difficult to know exactly what the various proposals mean. However, what we do know is that in the majority of chapters for which we have data, the United States appears quite far from the centroid position, and often by itself. This isn't really news, but I think it's interesting to systematically consider the distances between negotiating positions, and to note that the distances and clusters vary significantly by chapter and issue.

The market access chapter is what most people typically think of when discussing trade agreements. Here, we see a wide variety of positions, representing significant disagreement. However, yet again, the United States appears farthest from the centroid. As noted above, the U.S. is the lone holdout on the proposal to eliminate agricultural subsidies. A recent Washington Post article on the U.S. sugar industry suggests that such subsidies aren't going anywhere. I suppose that's why the TPP is called a "partnership agreement", rather than a "free trade agreement."

In the remainder of this section, I consider each leaked chapter in alphabetical order.

The leaked table of negotiating positions lends itself perfectly to MDS. In fact, the hardest part was probably retyping the scanned Wikileaks document. I coded an "accepted" position as 1, a rejected" position as a 0, and a "reserved position" as 0.5. Note that coding is somewhat arbitrary; e.g., I could have chosen 1, -1, and 0 instead. Different coding will affect the nominal distances, but not the relative distances (unless, Atlantic City Restaurants the coding employed unequal intervals).

Please share widely and repost with attribution. This content is licensed CC BY-SA 3.0. Comments, suggestions, and criticism are welcome.Originally posted at To Promote the Progress?
Following up on my previous post, which analyzed the leaked intellectual property chapter by using network graphs, in this post I analyze overall negotiating positions across the entire agreement, as well as in each individual chapter. This analysis is based on the leaked table reporting negotiating positions.

The following graphs take the approach of plotting negotiating "distances" between countries. That is, the more dissimilarity there is between two countries' negotiating positions, the further apart the countries will appear on a graph. Distances are derived directly from the leaked position table. The centroid is given by the origin point (0,0). In most cases, both axes used the same scale, but in a few cases (which I note) they are different. Scales are not comparable between graphs. All the graphs use "jitter," which helps avoid overlapping labels, but makes distances slightly inexact. For technical details, see the "Nuts and Bolts" section towards the end.
Nuts and Bolts

With respect to trade in services, the United States and Canadian positions are identical, but farthest from the centroid. Peru and Chile are also peripheral, while all other parties cluster together near the centroid. The U.S. and Canadian positions are defined by their rejection of the "necessity test" proposal. Necessity tests require domestic regulation of services to be limited to only what is "necessary" to achieve a party's policy objectives. Peru's position is defined by its rejection of the open skies (air travel regulation) proposal.

Rules of origin are rules defining where a product is deemed to come from. Given that anything other than the simplest products will incorporate materials or parts from multiple countries, such rules are critically important in determining what products benefit from tariff reductions. We can see significant disagreement between most parties, with the United States position yet again farthest from the centroid.

The dist function creates a distance matrix. The MASS library provides the isoMDS function. isoMDS chokes when cases are identical (zero distance), so I had to add a nominal amount of distance between otherwise identical negotiating positions. Plotting is done with ggplot2, which makes adding jitter very easy. I adjust jitter on a case-by-case basis in order to avoid misleading distortions in the graphs. Most of the graphs use identical X and Y axes, but in a few cases the Y axis would have been highly compressed, so I expand it to make visual differentiation possible. Note carefully the scale changes between graphs.

These graphs use ISO standard 2 letter country codes, but for reference, here is a legend:

On labor issues, Australia and the United States cluster together far from the centroid. Mexico is also quite distant. Malaysia and Canada form a pair, but closer to the centroid. Mexico's peripheral position is due to its rejection of the proposal on forced labor. The other two proposals concern sub-national coverage and dispute settlement.

The environment chapter also shows a distant United States position. Canada, Australia, Japan, Mexico, and Brunei cluster together quite close to the centroid, while Peru, Chile, Vietnam and Malaysia (all lower-income and middle-income countries) appear on the other periphery.

The comments are brief, but well worth reading, as they indicate a degree of frustration with the lack of progress during the Salt Lake City round, and explicitly charge the United States with intransigence (e.g., on the topic of agricultural export subsidies, the author writes "All TPP countries except the U.S. commit to eliminate them"; likewise, with respect to financial services, he/she writes "United States shows zero flexibility.")

Data and code available upon request. I'm currently in South Africa, so between the time difference and sporadic access to the Internet, I might not get back to you quickly, but I will do so eventually.

TBT stands for technical barriers to trade. Such provisions in trade agreements are designed to ensure that regulations, standards, and testing or certification requirements do not unduly burden free trade. Australia and the United States are clustered near one another, but this time it is a Peru/Chile cluster that is farthest from the centroid. All the Asian members plus New Zealand also form a cluster.

The legal chapter includes a variety of topics such as the medicines "transparency" annex (i.e., the U.S. taking aim at foreign drug price controls), provisions exempting tobacco regulations from challenge, the "cultural exception" (bonjour Quebec!), and issues concerning when the agreement will enter into force, inter alia. Interestingly, we have almost a circle of positions around the centroid, with the exception of the United States, which is again farthest from the centroid.

In the customs chapter, we see agreement amongst all parties except Japan (who has a "reserved position") and the United States (who is the only party accepting the proposal). Again, the relative level of disagreement when compared to other chapters is low, since the data source reports positions only on a single proposal (a de minimis exception of $200).

There are important issues at stake in the TPP negotiations, affecting access to medicines, national health policies, and national sovereignty inter alia. Yet the negotiating parties are being pushed to come to an agreement within the next two months. I won't delve into any more detail here about the substantive issues, other than to recommend this Guardian guide to the most contentious issues in the TPP negotiations.

Early Monday morning, Wikileaks released a second set of documents pertaining to the ongoing Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations. Unlike the previous leak, this one does not contain a draft text, and instead consists of a series of comments and analysis by an unidentified negotiating party (clearly not the U.S.), as well as a table reporting each negotiating party's position on specific issues in each chapter. The documents come from the Salt Lake City round of negotiations, which took place from November 19 to November 24, 2013.

This first graph represents the overall negotiating position distances between countries across all available chapters. There is a striking separation between the United States and all other TPP negotiating parties. Australia comes closest to the U.S. position, although it is not any further from the centroid than Peru. Overall, this graph serves to provide a simple visual confirmation of the leaked comments and other news reporting on TPP negotiations: the U.S. position is quite distant from the consensus point of all other countries.

The approach I use here is called multidimensional scaling (MDS) which visualizes similarity and differences between cases as distances in N-dimensional space. I have to give a hat tip to Zhou Fang, who suggested this approach to me.

Visualizing Negotiating Positions

Since my area of interest is intellectual property, I look at the IP chapter next. The results suggest my previous analysis was relatively accurate. The U.S. position in the intellectual property chapter is again farthest from the centroid. Australia is also quite far from the centroid, but also far from the U.S. All the other parties are clustered relatively close together, although we can still see differences within this cluster: e.g., Vietnam and Brunei are quite near one another, as are Canada and Malaysia (I had noted both these connections in the previous analysis).
A Look At Just How Much The US Is Isolated In Its TPP Demands | Techdirt

In government procurement, Mexico and Malaysia are the outliers. Both have rejected the proposal for sub-national coverage of this chapter. Relative distances are still small, given that there are only two proposals shown in the source table.

An additional round of negotiations was held from December 7 to December 10 in Singapore. We learned yesterday that contrary to previous expectations, the TPP will not be concluded by year's end, and instead at least one additional meeting will be held in January 2014.

In the investment chapter, the United States appears again as the country furthest from the centroid. Japan is also relatively distant. Australia/Canada/Mexico cluster together, as do Brunei/New Zealand/Peru/Malaysia/Chile. One of the biggest debates in this chapter surrounds so-called investor-state dispute settlement, which would permit foreign firms to sue governments over alleged trade agreement violations. This type of provision is what has permitted tobacco company Philip Morris to sue the Australian government over its plain packaging legislation.

SPS refers to sanitary and phytosanitary measures, which deal with food safety and plant and animal health regulations. If you're wondering what this has to do with free trade, think of Japan or the European Union banning imports of U.S. beef: such bans may be motivated by legitimate health and safety concerns, but they may also simply provide a convenient cover for protectionism. The graph shows a significant amount of disagreement amongst most parties. In this chapter, the U.S. remains on the periphery, as does Japan, although there is no major consensus cluster amongst the other parties.

FDA can't find cause of pet poison, seeks help

A federal grand jury indicted two Chinese nationals and the businesses they operate, as well as the U.S, company ChemNutra Inc. and its CEO for their roles in importing the poisonous products. A class-action lawsuit awarded more than $12.4 million in compensation to pet owners whose pets died from the poisoned food.

View gallery."This Sept. 2013 image provided by Patricia Cassidy ...This Sept. 2013 image provided by Patricia Cassidy shows an impression of her dog Doodles' paw print ...
"I grew up watching 'Quincy' and 'CSI' and they have given us this look at forensics " you put samples in and answers come out the other end," said Dr. Tina Wismer, medical director of the Animal Poison Control Center of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. It doesn't work that way."
"Some say it's a single serving, some say the whole bag," she said. Her advice is to avoid jerky treats if the label says it comes from China. There are all kinds of healthy treat substitutes, including apples, uncooked green beans and carrots, she added.
The jerky mystery is the worst case of tainted pet food from China since 2007 when there was a nationwide recall of food made by Menu Foods and 1,950 cats and 2,200 dogs died. Kidney failure caused all of those pet deaths and the poison was found to be tainted melamine from plastic packaging in the wheat gluten. About 150 brands of dog and cat food were recalled and included some of the biggest names in pet food.
Testing is complicated because the poison may have come from the manufacturing plant, shipping, transportation or anywhere along the way. Scientists have to know what they're looking for to test for it.
The FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine has run more than 1,200 tests, visited pet treat manufacturing plants in China and worked with researchers, state labs and foreign governments but hasn't determined the exact cause of the illness.
Within hours of eating the suspect jerky, pets lost their appetite, became lethargic, vomited and had diarrhea and other symptoms. The strips made of chicken, duck, sweet potatoes or dried fruit were sold under a variety of brand names.
FDA can't find cause of pet poison, seeks help - Yahoo News
LOS ANGELES (AP) " All that's left of Doodles are his ashes, a clay impression of his paw and a whole lot of questions owner Patricia Cassidy has about his mysterious death.

Hobbies & Personal ActivitiesPetsFood and Drug AdministrationChina
Writer Mary Clare Jalonick reported on this story from Washington.

Veterinarians can only tell pet owners they don't know what's causing their animals to get sick and that's hard to do, said Dr. Karl Jandrey, an emergency and critical care vet at the Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital at the University of California, Davis. They have treated several dogs for what they believe was poisoning from the treats, but no patient has died, he said.
Imported pet food is inspected when it arrives in the United States but only randomly and to check for things like mold, Wismer said.

Food and Drug Administration statement
In April, Dexter started throwing up and couldn't stop. He spent the night at an emergency clinic and the next day at the vet's. Test after test was inconclusive. The dog was given an IV and anti-nausea medicine and sent home. That's when Phillips saw the package of chicken jerky treats and knew that was the cause. "We were lucky we caught him quick," Phillips said. Dexter had only had about two of the treats and has been fine ever since that night.

Dr. Barry Kellogg, senior adviser to the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association, called for increased testing and stricter guidelines on labeling of imports. If only part of a product is from China and it is put together here, labels don't have to say made in China, he said.
No one knows how many treats a pet has to eat before it starts getting sick, said Dr Amy Bowman, regional medical director for Banfield Pet Hospital in Reston, Va.

"He was such a loving little guy and so cute. Every day my daughter will say, 'Mom, I don't know when the holes in our hearts will be repaired.'"


There was a decrease in 2007 after some products were voluntarily removed from the market, but the FDA said it didn't want to conduct a recall without a definitive cause. Those products included Milo's Kitchen Chicken Jerky Treats and Chicken Grillers, made by Del Monte, and Waggin' Train and Canyon Creek Ranch dog treats, made by Nestle Purina.

View gallery."This July 2013 image provided by Patricia Cassidy shows ...This July 2013 image provided by Patricia Cassidy shows Cassidy with her dog, Doodles, at the veteri ...
Cassidy promised Doodles she would wage war as long as it took to get the products off store shelves or, at the very least, labeled so people know it might be deadly.
That's little consolation to Cassidy in Chattanooga, Tenn. Doodles died Sept. 9 at the age of 6. In just three months, he turned from a vibrant 16-pound shih tzu into a frail, 6-pounder who couldn't eat or drink and had so little left in him he could only vomit yellow bile.
View gallery."This July 2013 image provided by Patricia Cassidy shows ...This July 2013 image provided by Patricia Cassidy shows her dog Doodles, in Chattanooga, Tenn. Doodl ...

Doodles is believed to be one of 580 dogs in the U.S. that have died in the past six years from eating pet jerky from China. Baffled by the cause and seeing another surge in illnesses, the Food and Drug Administration reached out to owners and veterinarians Tuesday to help it find the poison behind the sickening of at least 3,600 dogs and 10 cats since 2007.
But in the years since, the FDA has gotten complaints from pet owners and veterinarians who have seen repeated cases of kidney failure, gastrointestinal bleeding, and a rare kidney disorder, the FDA said.
Dexter, a 3-year-old, 19-pound miniature schnauzer also survived, but it cost owner Rich Phillips of North Richland Hills, Texas, about $1,200, he said.

A lot of pet owners transfer food and treats into other containers at home to keep pets and pests out, but Wismer suggested keeping labels with lot numbers and manufacturers.