Monday, September 24, 2007

Commuting vs. Communing

by Kerry Trueman
The Huffington Post
September 24, 2007

The average American commute is growing ever longer, according to a study released last week:

Despite high gas prices - $2.66 in Atlanta on Tuesday - 9 of 10 Americans still drive to work each day, the vast majority of them alone, according to census figures released in June. What's more, the average commute in America has lengthened by a minute a year since 2000, now topping out at 38 minutes, according to the report.

"The big picture is we see congestion increasing in cities of all sizes," says Tim Lomax, an author of the study.

It's not just cars that have wear and tear, experts say. Robert Putnam, a political scientist at Harvard University, found that every 10 minutes added to a person's commute decreases by 10 percent the time that person dedicates to their family and community.

Longer commutes eat into mealtime, too; with more of us leaving the house at the crack of dawn and coming home later in the evening, we're too rushed, even, for a bowl of cereal in the morning, much less a home-cooked meal in the evening.

And those obliged to drive to work miss out on the opportunity to incorporate a bit of physical activity into their workday, unlike folks who are lucky enough to live within walking or biking distance of their jobs.

Do we really need to read another study to figure out that all this eating on the run and endless driving is eroding our quality of life? The automobile has not lived up to its promise; it doesn't provide us with true autonomy or mobility. It's enslaved us to fossil fuels from foreign countries while depriving most Americans of any alternative means of transport. And all this commuting is a driving force behind climate change, too.

Mass transit, regarded as a common good that merits serious investment in most developed nations, is considered by many American planners and politicians to be as quaint and outmoded as, say, the Geneva Convention.

Plenty of people still consider proximity to public transportation a selling point, judging by the property values of older suburban enclaves that offer the convenience of commuter trains. But somewhere along the line, we started to put all our eggs in one combustible basket, and now we've hatched a whole flock of problems.

Many people would dearly love to live closer to their jobs, but can't afford the high cost of housing near their workplace. Parents who might prefer to raise their kids in a more densely populated, culturally diverse, mixed-use kind of neighborhood find themselves forced to move to the 'burbs because the public schools are better, the streets are safer, or the property taxes are lower.

But there's a sizable percentage of folks who'd rather live in a bigger house on a larger lot no matter how far from their place of work, for whom the long daily drive seems a reasonable trade-off -- or even a pleasure. Their commute gives them precious "alone" time, or a chance to listen to their favorite author's latest book, or an opportunity to multitask on their cell phones (hands free, we hope.)

So if these so-called extreme commuters are happy with their way of life, why should anyone else frown upon it?

It depends on whether you regard global warming as a problem. If you don't, well, then, there's not much I can say to persuade you that the exurbs are inherently unsustainable. But as U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon just told a roomful of world leaders at today's Climate Summit, "the time for doubt has passed...inaction now will prove the costliest action of all in the long term."

And another report issued last week, from the Urban Land Institute, points out that choosing to live closer to work is, in fact, a more effective way to fight climate change than switching to a hybrid car.

Unfortunately, our land use policies historically have encouraged exactly the opposite phenomenon, with federal, state and local policies that actively encourage sprawl and make it seem inevitable. And there are plenty of people willing to defend our ever expanding exurbs. As James Burling, the litigation director for the Pacific Legal Fund, a conservative group that dismisses environmentalists' concerns over sprawl and global warming, told The Los Angeles Times:

"So long as people ardently desire to live and raise children in detached homes with a bit of lawn, there is virtually nothing that government bureaucrats can do that will thwart that," he said.

Ah, the proverbial bit of lawn, that precious American birthright. Who cares about greenhouse gases, as long as we can have our own bit of green? When it turns brown from drought, will the suburbs lose their luster, or will extreme commuters even notice, since they leave their homes before dawn and return after dark?

In the meantime, I'm off to hear Dr. Cynthia Rosenzweig, head of the Climate Impacts Group at NASA's Goddard Institute, give a lecture on the impact of climate change on agriculture and food in the Hudson Valley.

Lucky for me, the venue hosting the event is within walking distance, because Manhattan is going to suffer from major gridlock today, thanks to the UN's Climate Summit. Featured speakers include Al Gore, Arnold Schwarzenegger, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Bush couldn't make it, but he condescended to send Condi. Guess he's busy prepping for his own two-day climate summit on Thursday and Friday, which will call for the usual voluntary measures and other pie-in-the-sky solutions. Brace yourselves for more hot air.

Copyright © 2007, Inc.

Demonizing the Iranian President

by Juan Cole
September 24, 2007

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's visit to New York to address the United Nations General Assembly has become a media circus. But the controversy does not stem from the reasons usually cited.

The media has focused on debating whether he should be allowed to speak at Columbia University on Monday, or whether his request to visit Ground Zero, the site of the Sept. 11 attack in lower Manhattan, should have been honored. His request was rejected, even though Iran expressed sympathy with the United States in the aftermath of those attacks and Iranians held candlelight vigils for the victims. Iran felt that it and other Shiite populations had also suffered at the hands of al-Qaida, and that there might now be an opportunity for a new opening to the United States.

Instead, the U.S. State Department denounced Ahmadinejad as himself little more than a terrorist. Critics have also cited his statements about the Holocaust or his hopes that the Israeli state will collapse. He has been depicted as a Hitler figure intent on killing Israeli Jews, even though he is not commander in chief of the Iranian armed forces, has never invaded any other country, denies he is an anti-Semite, has never called for any Israeli civilians to be killed, and allows Iran's 20,000 Jews to have representation in Parliament.

There is, in fact, remarkably little substance to the debates now raging in the United States about Ahmadinejad. His quirky personality, penchant for outrageous one-liners, and combative populism are hardly serious concerns for foreign policy. Taking potshots at a bantam cock of a populist like Ahmadinejad is actually a way of expressing another, deeper anxiety: fear of Iran's rising position as a regional power and its challenge to the American and Israeli status quo. The real reason his visit is controversial is that the American right has decided the United States needs to go to war against Iran. Ahmadinejad is therefore being configured as an enemy head of state.

The neoconservatives are even claiming that the United States has been at war with Iran since 1979. As Glenn Greenwald points out, this assertion is absurd. In the '80s, the Reagan administration sold substantial numbers of arms to Iran. Some of those beating the war drums most loudly now, like think-tank rat Michael Ledeen, were middlemen in the Reagan administration's unconstitutional weapons sales to Tehran. The sales would have been a form of treason if in fact the United States had been at war with Iran at that time, so Ledeen is apparently accusing himself of treason.

But the right has decided it is at war with Iran, so a routine visit by Iran's ceremonial president to the U.N. General Assembly has generated sparks. The foremost cheerleader for such a view in Congress is Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., who recently pressed Gen. David Petraeus on the desirability of bombing Iran in order to forestall weapons smuggling into Iraq from that country (thus cleverly using one war of choice to foment another).

American hawks are beating the war drums loudly because they are increasingly frustrated with the course of events. They are unsatisfied with the lack of enthusiasm among the Europeans and at the United Nations for impeding Tehran's nuclear energy research program. While the Bush administration insists that the program aims at producing a bomb, the Iranian state maintains that it is for peaceful energy purposes. Washington wants tighter sanctions on Iran at the United Nations but is unlikely to get them in the short term because of Russian and Chinese reluctance. The Bush administration may attempt to create a "coalition of the willing" of Iran boycotters outside the U.N. framework.

Washington is also unhappy with Mohammad ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency. He has been unable to find credible evidence that Iran has a weapons program, and he told Italian television this week, "Iran does not constitute a certain and immediate threat for the international community." He stressed that no evidence had been found for underground production sites or hidden radioactive substances, and he urged a three-month waiting period before the U.N. Security Council drew negative conclusions.

ElBaradei intervened to call for calm after French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said last week that if the negotiations over Iran's nuclear research program were unsuccessful, it could lead to war. Kouchner later clarified that he was not calling for an attack on Iran, but his remarks appear to have been taken seriously in Tehran.

Kouchner made the remarks after there had already been substantial speculation in the U.S. press that impatient hawks around U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney were seeking a pretext for a U.S. attack on Iran. Steven Clemons of the New America Foundation probably correctly concluded in Salon last week that President Bush himself has for now decided against launching a war on Iran. But Clemons worries that Cheney and the neoconservatives, with their Israeli allies, are perfectly capable of setting up a provocation that would lead willy-nilly to war.

David Wurmser, until recently a key Cheney advisor on Middle East affairs and the coauthor of the infamous 1996 white paper that urged an Iraq war, revealed to his circle that Cheney had contemplated having Israel strike at Iranian nuclear research facilities and then using the Iranian reaction as a pretext for a U.S. war on that country. Prominent and well-connected Afghanistan specialist Barnett Rubin also revealed that he was told by an administration insider that there would be an "Iran war rollout" by the Cheneyites this fall.

It should also be stressed that some elements in the U.S. officer corps and the Defense Intelligence Agency are clearly spoiling for a fight with Iran because the Iranian-supported Shiite nationalists in Iraq are a major obstacle to U.S. dominance in Iraq. Although very few U.S. troops in Iraq are killed by Shiites, military spokesmen have been attempting to give the impression that Tehran is ordering hits on U.S. troops, a clear casus belli. Disinformation campaigns that accuse Iran of trying to destabilize the Shiite-dominated Iraqi government -- a government Iran actually supports -- could lay the groundwork for a war. Likewise, with the U.S. military now beginning patrols on the Iran-Iraq border, the possibility is enhanced of a hostile incident spinning out of control.

The Iranians have responded to all this bellicosity with some chest-thumping of their own, right up to the final hours before Ahmadinejad's American visit. The Iranian government declared "National Defense Week" on Saturday, kicking it off with a big military parade that showed off Iran's new Qadr-1 missiles, with a range of 1,100 miles. Before he left Iran for New York on Sunday morning, Ahmadinejad inspected three types of Iranian-manufactured jet fighters, noting that it was the anniversary of Iraq's invasion of Iran in 1980 (which the Iranian press attributed to American urging, though that is unlikely).

The display of this military equipment was accompanied by a raft of assurances on the part of the Iranian ayatollahs, politicians and generals that they were entirely prepared to deploy the missiles and planes if they were attacked. A top military advisor to Supreme Jurisprudent Ali Khamenei told the Mehr News Agency on Saturday, "Today, the United States must know that their 200,000 soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan are within the reach of Iran's fire. When the Americans were beyond our shores, they were not within our reach, but today it is very easy for us to deal them blows." Khamenei, the actual commander in chief of the armed forces, weighed in as well, reiterating that Iran would never attack first but pledging: "Those who make threats should know that attack on Iran in the form of hit and run will not be possible, and if any country invades Iran it will face its very serious consequences."

The threat to target U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and the unveiling of the Qadr-1 were not aggressive in intent, but designed to make the point that Iran could also play by Richard M. Nixon's "madman" strategy, whereby you act so wildly as to convince your enemy you are capable of anything. Ordinarily a poor non-nuclear third-world country might be expected to be supine before an attack by a superpower. But as Mohammad Reza Bahonar, the Iranian deputy speaker of Parliament, warned: "Any military attack against Iran will send the region up in flames."

In the end, this is hardly the kind of conflagration the United States should be enabling. If a spark catches, it will not advance any of America's four interests in the Middle East: petroleum, markets, Israel and hegemony.

The Middle East has two-thirds of the world's proven petroleum reserves and nearly half its natural gas, and its fields are much deeper than elsewhere in the world, so that its importance will grow for the United States and its allies. Petro-dollars and other wealth make the region an important market for U.S. industry, especially the arms industry. Israel is important both for reasons of domestic politics and because it is a proxy for U.S. power in the region. By "hegemony," I mean the desire of Washington to dominate political and economic outcomes in the region and to forestall rivals such as China from making it their sphere of influence.

The Iranian government (in which Ahmadinejad has a weak role, analogous to that of U.S. vice presidents before Dick Cheney) poses a challenge to the U.S. program in the Middle East. Iran is, unlike most Middle Eastern countries, large. It is geographically four times the size of France, and it has a population of 70 million (more than France or the United Kingdom). As an oil state, it has done very well from the high petroleum prices of recent years. It has been negotiating long-term energy deals with China and India, much to the dismay of Washington. It provides financial support to the Palestinians and to the Lebanese Shiites who vote for the Hezbollah Party in Lebanon. By overthrowing the Afghanistan and Iraq governments and throwing both countries into chaos, the United States has inadvertently enabled Iran to emerge as a potential regional power, which could challenge Israel and Saudi Arabia and project both soft and hard power in the strategic Persian Gulf and the Levant.

And now the American war party, undeterred by the quagmire in Iraq, convinced that their model of New Empire is working, is eager to go on the offensive again. They may yet find a pretext to plunge the United States into another war. Ahmadinejad's visit to New York this year will not include his visit to Ground Zero, because that is hallowed ground for American patriotism and he is being depicted as not just a critic of the United States but as the leader of an enemy state. His visit may, however, be ground zero for the next big military struggle of the United States in the Middle East, one that really will make Iraq look like a cakewalk.

Copyright © 2007 Salon Media Group, Inc.

In Search of a Congress

by The New York Times
September 21, 2007

If you were one of the Americans waiting for Congress, under Democratic control, to show leadership on the war in Iraq, the message from the Senate is clear: “Nevermind.” The same goes for those waiting for lawmakers to fix the damage done to civil liberties by six years of President Bush and a rubber-stamp Republican Congress.

The Democrats don’t have, or can’t summon, the political strength to make sure Congress does what it is supposed to do: debate profound issues like these and take a stand. The Republicans are simply not interested in a serious discussion and certainly not a vote on anything beyond Mr. Bush’s increasingly narrow agenda.

On Wednesday, the Senate failed to vote on two major bills. One would have restored basic human rights and constitutional protections to hundreds of foreigners who are in perpetual detention, without charges or trial. The other was the one measure on the conduct of the Iraq war that survived the Democrats’ hasty retreat after last week’s smoke-and-mirrors display by Gen. David Petraeus and President Bush.

There were votes, of course, but not on the bills. They were cloture votes, which require 60 or more Senators to agree to cut off debate, eliminating the possibility of a filibuster, so Senators can vote on the actual law. In both cases, Democrats were four votes short, with six Republicans daring to defy the White House.

We support the filibuster as the only way to ensure a minority in the Senate can be heard. When the cloture votes failed this week, the Democrats should have let the Republicans filibuster. Democratic leaders think that’s too risky, since Congress could look like it’s not doing anything. But it’s not doing a lot now.

The country needs a lot more debate about what must be done to contain Iraq’s chaos and restore civil liberties sacrificed to Mr. Bush’s declared war on terrorism. Voters are capable of deciding whether Republicans are holding up the Senate out of principle or political tactics.

The current Republican leadership, now in the minority, has organized its entire agenda around the filibuster. In July, the McClatchy newspaper group reported that Republicans were using the threat of filibuster more than at any other time in the nation’s history.

Remember, this is the same batch of Republican senators who denounced Democrats as obstructionist and even un-American and threatened to change the Senate’s rules when Democrats threatened filibusters in 2005 over a few badly chosen judicial nominees. Now Republicans are using it to prevent consideration of an entire war.

If anything was clear from General Petraeus’s testimony and the president’s prime-time speech, it was that Mr. Bush has no idea how to end the war in a way that salvages as much as possible of America’s treasury, blood and global image while limiting the chaos that would follow any withdrawal, whether it comes quickly or slowly. Mr. Bush’s only idea is to keep the war going until he leaves office, and that means that other co-equal branch of government, the Congress, will have to lead the way out.

Democrats and Republicans who oppose the war have a duty to outline alternatives. Those who call for staying in Iraq have a duty to explain what victory means and how they plan to achieve it. Both sides are shirking an obligation to deal with issues that must be resolved right now, like the crisis involving asylum for Iraqis who helped the American occupation.

Congress is the first place for this kind of work. Right now, it seems like the last place it will happen.

Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company

The New Students for a Democratic Society

by Christopher Phelps
WireTap Magazine
April 3, 2007

Twenty-year-old Will Klatt, wearing a green knit hat, baggy jeans and black jacket pulled over a hoodie, stands before a Civil War monument at the center of Ohio University's main campus in Athens. Although a February snow is falling steadily, more than a hundred students have turned out for this rally called by a new organization with a very familiar name: Students for a Democratic Society (SDS).

"Many of us at Ohio University have taken classes on the principles of democracy, on justice, on ethics," says Klatt, "and with the presumption that we will use this knowledge, acquired in our classes, to become more informed citizens. Yet this knowledge we acquire is nothing if we do not put it into practice."

The students, including frat boys and jocks, clap and whistle. They are here in protest against new fees, elimination of four varsity sports programs and increased administrative bonus pay. Each decision, organizers say, reflects a lack of student power on campus--as do "free-speech zones" confining student protest to irrelevant corners of campus. "We are talking," says Klatt, "about the corporatization of our university."

Angry at the Iraq debacle, emboldened by the Bush-Cheney tailspin, a new student radicalism is emerging whose concerns include immigrants' rights, global warming and the uncertainties facing debt-ridden graduates. Such considerations distinguish the new SDS from its historical namesake, which took shape in a very different context of economic affluence and establishment liberalism.

The original SDS, formed in 1960, sought "a participatory democracy," the involvement of all in running society from the bottom up, as elaborated in the Port Huron Statement of 1962. Frustrated with conventional liberalism, inspired by the civil rights movement and sustained by opposition to the Vietnam War, SDS grew to perhaps 100,000 members before disintegrating in a shower of fratricidal sparks in 1969.

The notion of re-creating SDS was the brainchild of Jessica Rapchik and Pat Korte, high school students in North Carolina and Connecticut, respectively, who met on an antiwar phone hookup in the fall of 2005. Upon discovering their mutual dissatisfaction with the existing left, they hit upon the notion of reviving SDS. One of the original SDSers they first contacted was Alan Haber, president of SDS from 1960 to 1962, now a woodworker in Ann Arbor, Michigan, who had independently suggested "re-membering" SDS at a historians' conference in 2003. Once the call to relaunch SDS went public in January 2006 with a new website, campus chapters began popping up, from Florida to Colorado. Today, there are more than 100 college chapters and dozens more in high schools.

By laying claim to an old name, contemporary students risked that 1960s veterans might disapprove of new wine being made in their bottle. Sociologist Todd Gitlin, SDS president from 1963 to 1964, is one such skeptic. "What was often brilliant about SDS," he says, "was that it was attuned to its moment. It didn't recycle the Old Left. It was the New Left." Maurice Isserman, who joined SDS at Reed College in 1968, recently published a sharply critical piece about the new SDS in the Chronicle of Higher Education. In an interview, he said of the group's revival, "As a historian, I found it a little offensive. It's like, could I be in the Sons of Liberty tomorrow if I started it, claimed lineal descent from Sam Adams?"

The new SDSers have few such qualms. They seek continuity with radical history but value the name Students for a Democratic Society as much for the future it projects as for its fabled past. They find it a compelling name for an inclusive, multi-issue student group seeking social transformation. Emerging from a post-Seattle, direct-action culture defined by negation--"anticapitalist," "antiwar"--they value its forthright, positive aim of democracy. The new SDSers admit, however, that the name does not always evoke the associations they intend. "Oh," said a friend to Yale University senior Micah Landau, 21, "so you want me to join the guerrillas?"

What most links the new SDS to the old is the principle of participatory democracy. SDSers consider that ideal, both as a social aim and a guide to present-day practice, to be the quintessence of their project. They seek to combine the expansive vision of liberation from oppression, empire and capitalism characteristic of SDS in the late 1960s with the commitment to participatory democracy typical of the movement in the early '60s. The tone at meetings is honest, searching, respectful. Although the group has informal leaders, no one is a "heavy."

The belief systems of SDSers range tremendously. Variations on anarchism and socialism are commonplace, but each chapter has a distinct character. At Choate Rosemary Hall, the Connecticut prep school, Paul Gault, 18, says "a lot of students wanted just an outlet for their voice," making the chapter "by SDS standards not too radical." But since the new SDS has spread most rapidly on regional campuses and at community colleges, not elite institutions, a more typical chapter--both demographically and ideologically--might be Mt. San Antonio Community College in Walnut, California. There the four SDS members identify themselves as Marxist-libertarian, libertarian socialist, anarcho-syndicalist and communal anarchist, the differences between them being "zilch," they report. Ohio's Klatt says that many people in SDS are "anarcho-something-or-other, but they feel like anarchist organizations are so unorganized that they haven't been effective in creating systemic change." At the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, however, the ten core SDSers are all liberals, while at the University of North Alabama the thirteen to fifteen core SDSers are mostly liberals, with a sprinkling of socialists. "Anarchy isn't really our deal," says Andrew Walker, 23, a journalism major.

While SDSers are extraordinarily skillful at dissecting race, gender, class and sexuality in their personal lives, they show less aptitude, as yet, for economic research and political analysis. Most SDSers would have an easier time defining "heteronormativity" than corporate liberalism. Their knowledge of the labor movement all too often begins and ends with the Industrial Workers of the World. However, the new SDS's sensitivity to group dynamics is light-years--or several decades--ahead of its '60s predecessor. Women compose 40 percent or more of the membership and often exert chapter leadership. Sarah McGarity, 20, a political science and women's studies major, helped create the Ohio University chapter and believes women are for the most part equals within SDS. "Women definitely have the opportunities that weren't necessarily given to them in the '60s," she says.

Race today is not quite the study in black and white that it was in the '60s. Now as then, there are few African-Americans in SDS, but proportions vary. Of the five who started Wayne State's chapter in Detroit, two were African-American, one Asian and one Latina, says Carmen Mendoza-King, 21. If SDS is not as heavily white as it was in the '60s, this is mostly a result of subsequent waves of Asian and Latin American immigration. Hunter College senior Daniel Tasripin, 24, whose father was Indonesian and mother Polish-Jewish and French, argues that SDS should recognize affirmative action, the curriculum and the "basic justice of the university in relation to the surrounding community" as issues not specific to people of color but reflective of "the universal need for a university that represents all the people."

SDS is loose, more movement than organization. Anyone can sign up online. The group now claims more than 2,000 members, but it is hard to tell what that means. There are no dues, and therefore no funds, no staff, no office and no national publication apart from the website. The group has no elected national leaders and no basis for national decision-making. Paradoxically, these weaknesses provide some strength. The very elan of SDS is anti-bureaucratic. SDS enables regional and national linkages while preserving local control. Its appeal is that it is self-creating, do-it-yourself, free from centralized discipline or external control.

© 2007

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Encouraging Children to Explore Their Wild Side

by Paul Grondahl
Albany Times-Union
September 23, 2007

Chris Mercogliano was nursing a black eye.

He got the shiner playing in an over-50 basketball league game. He drove the lane and got clocked by a beefy guy's forearm. He went down hard.

"I saw stars," he says, "but I made the shot."

Yep, certified wild man.

Mercogliano, graying ponytail intact, is just the messenger to deliver a manifesto against what he calls "the domestication of childhood."

An alternative education advocate and teacher at Albany Free School for three decades, Mercogliano has written a new book, "In Defense of Childhood: Protecting Kids' Inner Wildness." It's published by Beacon Press in Boston.

He recently left on a seven-week, 7,000-mile book tour that will take him coast-to-coast to speak at alternative schools, progressive colleges and independent bookstores.

His message: Childhood needs a Sierra Club-styled conservation movement.

Allowing kids to be kids is going the way of the dodo bird, Mercogliano argues.

Where are today's Tom Sawyers and Pippi Longstockings? They'll be gone forever unless there's a sustained effort to preserve what Mercogliano sees as a child's inner wildness -- the spark of impromptu creativity and joyful play that might be termed the soul.

Mercogliano hopes to prevent the endangered species of wild child from becoming extinct in the face of overstructured school days, too many hours spent in front of the TV and computer, a lack of unfettered play time and the end of solitude.

On the book tour, he'll be driving a diesel VW Jetta wagon converted to burn used cooking oil. He gets his local supply from a Chinese restaurant around the corner from his house in the Mansion neighborhood. On the road, he'll beg for dregs from any greasy spoon he passes.

Mercogliano is 53 and still stoking the fires of his inner wildness. A mantra of sorts might be found in the title of his first book, "Making It Up As We Go Along," a history of Albany Free School.

It's been a family journey. Mercogliano's wife, Betsy, is a childbirth educator who once taught at the school. They have two daughters: Lily, a teacher at Brooklyn Free School, and Sarah, a senior at Ithaca College majoring in special education.

In the new book, his fourth on the philosophy of education, Mercogliano builds his argument on mainstream scientific research, particularly a long-range study on self-determination by University of Rochester researchers.

"My research confirmed my belief that it's OK to trust children," Mercogliano says.

He stresses the notion of daimon, a Greek concept popular with some contemporary psychologists. In essence, daimon is a determining power akin to fate or providence, which guides children as well as adults, Mercogliano believes.

Mercogliano relied heavily on mythology and archetypes in his previous work, but was careful to base his beliefs about what he sees as a crisis facing childhood in scientific terms.

"I have consciously broken away from the box of being this guy who teaches at a strange alternative school," said Mercogliano, who wanted to spend more time writing and stepped down last June from Albany Free School after 35 years there as teacher, director and guiding spirit.

The Free School practices self-determination with its students, allowing them to choose what to study, how to settle their own disputes and how to approach other matters.

"This book is not mystical or '60s or New Age," Mercogliano said. "Self-determination is not fringe. The problem is, it's not practiced in our traditional educational system."

He dismisses critics who say the world is a much more dangerous place today and children left unsupervised are not safe. He says the statistics on crimes against children do not bear that out. That perception is the result of overheated media reports about sex offenders and childhood abductions, he says.

Mercogliano writes in his book's introduction: "When it is their choice, children will devour good books and stories and keep asking for more. But if you try to force them when the desire and excitement are missing, that is when the trouble begins."

Mercogliano says the loss of childhoods rich in personal freedom and free time for play has resulted in other problems, particularly a rising obesity rate in children.

Mercogliano says nearly one in four kids in the U.S. today is overweight or obese. That's because play today typically involves sedentary activities such as TV and video games in place of tramping through woods, riding bikes, playing pickup basketball and other free-form games, he says.

Living in Albany's inner city, Mercogliano is pleased to see basketball courts and playgrounds near his home used by kids who aren't on hyper-competitive travel teams or in structured sports leagues.

"But there aren't as many kids playing out there, that's for sure," he said.

Mercogliano writes from experience. He grew up in Washington, D.C., and dropped out of Washington and Lee University in Virginia after his freshman year. "I felt my own inner wildness being choked," he recalled.

He worked in construction for a time and convinced Betsy, who also dropped out of college, to drive to Albany to volunteer at the newly opened Free School.

That was 1973. Mercogliano is still making it up as he goes along, the wild child entering middle age.

Copyright 2007 Capital Newspapers Division of The Hearst Corporation

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Vote With Your Appetite

by The Green Guide
September 14, 2007

Twenty-two years strong, Willie Nelson's annual Farm Aid concerts are still the family farmer's greatest ally, regularly drawing new eyes to a shrinking, aging, David-like industry that's constantly fighting the Goliath of politically influential agribusinesses that not only feed a majority of the country's populace but also eat up a huge chunk of federal farm subsidies. But while we wandered around Randall's Island, coated in a thin layer of locally grown New York City dust drinking Peak Organic Beer and eating humanely raised, antibiotic- and hormone-free pork from Patchwork Family Farms, it was hard to ignore a major issue behind this year's Farm Aid, the massive 2007 Farm Bill just passed by the House of Representatives (subscription required) in all its controversial glory.

In a press conference before the event, Farm Aid board member John Mellencamp uttered a few choice words for our current lobbyist-friendly agriculture system. "Everywhere we look," he said, "the small guy is getting screwed." Mellencamp may have overlooked the provision in the House version of the bill that ended subsidies for farmers that earn over $1 million per year, but his sympathies are well founded. If the bill were friendlier to small farmers, not only would they benefit but we could solve quite a few of the problems in our current food supply. More small farms would promote the sort of de-centralized food system that people have been asking for ever since E.coli-tainted spinach from a single California farm appeared on store shelves nationwide a year ago this week. Despite promises from the FDA that the agency would act quickly to resolve problems, all legislative attempts to require regular food inspections have failed to pass at either the state or federal levels. Industry leaders fearing a drop in consumer confidence have attempted self-regulation, but given the recent recalls in lead-painted toys, we're all aware that industry self-regulation may be more pipe dream than viable alternative. Why buy from a huge faceless farm when your local farmer can offer you reassurances that his crops are untainted?

Nevertheless, what the bill does offer for the first time is money for organics, whether from small or industrial-sized farms. "We're barely a slice of the farm bill pie," says Bob Scowcroft, executive director of the Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF), referring to organic farming. "But if you know the Byzantine hallways that the Farm Bill lives, you'd be encouraged," he adds, noting that the mere existence of Congressional committees with the term "organic" in their titles "is revolutionary." As it currently stands, the bill has allocated $5 million in mandatory funding for organic agriculture research, with an additional $25 million available for discretionary funds (OFRF had originally pushed for $25 million in mandatory funds).

What's more, the bill allocates $5 million per year for the next three years, and $10 million for 2011 an 2012, for farmers' markets, roadside stands, CSAs and other farmer-to-consumer marketing opportunities. If used for farmers' markets, at least 10 percent of that has to go to electronic-bank-transfer equipment to provide food-stamp users access to farm-fresh food.

As with any piece of legislation, the Farm Bill draws about as much criticism as it does support, and despite Farm Aid's best efforts, it doesn't look like politicians are going to do much in the immediate future to anger powerful agriculture lobbyists. But we average Americans can still vote with our dollars. The one law that politics can't change is that of simple economics. Businesses supply what people want, and if we demand local food, that's what we'll get. You just have to be as active with businessmen as you would with politicians. One way to do that is to write a letter to your local grocery store manager and ask them to stock food from family farms. If your local grocer complains too loudly about lack of access to local farms, here's a few reassuring statistic: The number of small family farms (those making less than $10,000 in annual sales) has increased by 121,000 over the past ten years. There's bound to be one nearby.

At the same time, don't let up on your grassroots political efforts. Fortunately, the internet is making it easier to do. Voice whatever opinions you might have about the Farm Bill to your senator, especially if your senator is on the Senate Agriculture Committee, before the bill goes before the Senate in October. And start making plans to attend next year's Farm Aid.

© The Green Guide 2007

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Iraq War Is the Death of History

by Robert Fisk
Common Dreams News Center
Published September 17, 2007 by The Independent

2,000-year-old Sumerian cities torn apart and plundered by robbers. The very walls of the mighty Ur of the Chaldees cracking under the strain of massive troop movements, the privatisation of looting as landlords buy up the remaining sites of ancient Mesopotamia to strip them of their artefacts and wealth. The near total destruction of Iraq’s historic past - the very cradle of human civilisation - has emerged as one of the most shameful symbols of our disastrous occupation.

Evidence amassed by archaeologists shows that even those Iraqis who trained as archaeological workers in Saddam Hussein’s regime are now using their knowledge to join the looters in digging through the ancient cities, destroying thousands of priceless jars, bottles and other artefacts in their search for gold and other treasures.

In the aftermath of the 1991 Gulf War, armies of looters moved in on the desert cities of southern Iraq and at least 13 Iraqi museums were plundered. Today, almost every archaeological site in southern Iraq is under the control of looters.

In a long and devastating appraisal to be published in December, Lebanese archaeologist Joanne Farchakh says that armies of looters have not spared “one metre of these Sumerian capitals that have been buried under the sand for thousands of years.

“They systematically destroyed the remains of this civilisation in their tireless search for sellable artefacts: ancient cities, covering an estimated surface area of 20 square kilometres, which - if properly excavated - could have provided extensive new information concerning the development of the human race.

“Humankind is losing its past for a cuneiform tablet or a sculpture or piece of jewellery that the dealer buys and pays for in cash in a country devastated by war. Humankind is losing its history for the pleasure of private collectors living safely in their luxurious houses and ordering specific objects for their collection.”

Ms Farchakh, who helped with the original investigation into stolen treasures from the Baghdad Archaeological Museum in the immediate aftermath of the invasion of Iraq, says Iraq may soon end up with no history.

“There are 10,000 archaeological sites in the country. In the Nassariyah area alone, there are about 840 Sumerian sites; they have all been systematically looted. Even when Alexander the Great destroyed a city, he would always build another. But now the robbers are destroying everything because they are going down to bedrock. What’s new is that the looters are becoming more and more organised with, apparently, lots of money.

“Quite apart from this, military operations are damaging these sites forever. There’s been a US base in Ur for five years and the walls are cracking because of the weight of military vehicles. It’s like putting an archaeological site under a continuous earthquake.”

Of all the ancient cities of present-day Iraq, Ur is regarded as the most important in the history of man-kind. Mentioned in the Old Testament - and believed by many to be the home of the Prophet Abraham - it also features in the works of Arab historians and geographers where its name is Qamirnah, The City of the Moon.

Founded in about 4,000 BC, its Sumerian people established the principles of irrigation, developed agriculture and metal-working. Fifteen hundred years later - in what has become known as “the age of the deluge” - Ur produced some of the first examples of writing, seal inscriptions and construction. In neighbouring Larsa, baked clay bricks were used as money orders - the world’s first cheques - the depth of finger indentations in the clay marking the amount of money to be transferred. The royal tombs of Ur contained jewellery, daggers, gold, azurite cylindrical seals and sometimes the remains of slaves.

US officers have repeatedly said a large American base built at Babylon was to protect the site but Iraqi archaeologist Zainab Bah-rani, a professor of art history and archaeology at Columbia University, says this “beggars belief”. In an analysis of the city, she says: “The damage done to Babylon is both extensive and irreparable, and even if US forces had wanted to protect it, placing guards round the site would have been far more sensible than bulldozing it and setting up the largest coalition military headquarters in the region.”

Air strikes in 2003 left historical monuments undamaged, but Professor Bahrani, says: “The occupation has resulted in a tremendous destruction of history well beyond the museums and libraries looted and destroyed at the fall of Baghdad. At least seven historical sites have been used in this way by US and coalition forces since April 2003, one of them being the historical heart of Samarra, where the Askari shrine built by Nasr al Din Shah was bombed in 2006.”

The use of heritage sites as military bases is a breach of the Hague Convention and Protocol of 1954 (chapter 1, article 5) which covers periods of occupation; although the US did not ratify the Convention, Italy, Poland, Australia and Holland, all of whom sent forces to Iraq, are contracting parties.

Ms Farchakh notes that as religious parties gain influence in all the Iraqi pro-vinces, archaeological sites are also falling under their control. She tells of Abdulamir Hamdani, the director of antiquities for Di Qar province in the south who desperately - but vainly - tried to prevent the destruction of the buried cities during the occupation. Dr Hamdani himself wrote that he can do little to prevent “the disaster we are all witnessing and observing”.

In 2006, he says: “We recruited 200 police officers because we were trying to stop the looting by patrolling the sites as often as possible. Our equipment was not enough for this mission because we only had eight cars, some guns and other weapons and a few radio transmitters for the entire province where 800 archaeological sites have been inventoried.

“Of course, this is not enough but we were trying to establish some order until money restrictions within the government meant that we could no longer pay for the fuel to patrol the sites. So we ended up in our offices trying to fight the looting, but that was also before the religious parties took over southern Iraq.”

Last year, Dr Hamdani’s antiquities department received notice from the local authorities, approving the creation of mud-brick factories in areas surrounding Sumerian archaeological sites. But it quickly became apparent that the factory owners intended to buy the land from the Iraqi government because it covered several Sumerian capitals and other archaeological sites. The new landlord would “dig” the archaeological site, dissolve the “old mud brick” to form the new one for the market and sell the unearthed finds to antiquity traders.

Dr Hamdani bravely refused to sign the dossier. Ms Farchakh says: “His rejection had rapid consequences. The religious parties controlling Nassariyah sent the police to see him with orders to jail him on corruption charges. He was imprisoned for three months, awaiting trial. The State Board of Antiquities and Heritage defended him during his trial, as did his powerful tribe. He was released and regained his position. The mud-brick factories are ‘frozen projects’, but reports have surfaced of a similar strategy being employed in other cities and in nearby archaeological sites such as the Aqarakouf Ziggarat near Baghdad. For how long can Iraqi archaeologists maintain order? This is a question only Iraqi politicians affiliated to the different religious parties can answer, since they approve these projects.”

Police efforts to break the power of the looters, now with a well-organised support structure helped by tribal leaders, have proved lethal. In 2005, the Iraqi customs arrested - with the help of Western troops - several antiquities dealers in the town of Al Fajr, near Nasseriyah. They seized hundreds of artefacts and decided to take them to the museum in Baghdad. It was a fatal mistake.

The convoy was stopped a few miles from Baghdad, eight of the customs agents were murdered, and their bodies burnt and left to rot in the desert. The artefacts disappeared. “It was a clear message from the antiquities dealers to the world,” Ms Farchakh says.

The legions of antiquities looters work within a smooth mass-smuggling organisation. Trucks, cars, planes and boats take Iraq’s historical plunder to Europe, the US, to the United Arab Emirates and to Japan. The archaeologists say an ever-growing number of internet websites offer Mesopotamian artefacts, objects anywhere up to 7,000 years old.

The farmers of southern Iraq are now professional looters, knowing how to outline the walls of buried buildings and able to break directly into rooms and tombs. The archaeologists’ report says: “They have been trained in how to rob the world of its past and they have been making significant profit from it. They know the value of each object and it is difficult to see why they would stop looting.”

After the 1991 Gulf War, archaeologists hired the previous looters as workers and promised them government salaries. This system worked as long as the archaeologists remained on the sites, but it was one of the main reasons for the later destruction; people now knew how to excavate and what they could find.

Ms Farchakh adds: “The longer Iraq finds itself in a state of war, the more the cradle of civilisation is threatened. It may not even last for our grandchildren to learn from.”

© 2007 The Independent

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Congress Could Give Peace a Chance, But It Won't

September 13, 2007

Following a pattern set when Congress passed supplemental funding for the Iraq War last May (FAIR Media Advisory, 6/1/07), major media outlets continued to "explain" the politics of the war in incomplete and misleading ways.

The point made by these media outlets again and again is that the Democrats have little power to affect policy in Iraq because it would be difficult to pass legislation over a potential Republican filibuster, and even harder to pass a bill over a presidential veto. This sentiment is also voiced by many Democratic politicians, many of whom consider themselves opponents of the war. But passing a filibuster- or veto-proof bill is not their only option.

As the Washington Post's Shailagh Murray and Dan Balz (9/10/07) put it: "Because of a Senate rule requiring 60 votes to shut off debate and 67 votes to overturn a veto, [Senate Majority Leader Harry] Reid faced an almost impossible challenge. Even if all his troops stood together, he started with just 49 votes."

Newsweek's Howard Fineman declared that the Democrats' powerlessness was built into the constitutional system on NBC's Chris Matthews Show (9/2/07):

Politically, what the president has been trying to do is to keep discipline among the Republicans because as long as he can keep most of the Republicans in the Senate, in the House with him, there's no way to overturn the policy because of the way the Constitution reads.... I hate to keep coming back to the Constitution. Sixty votes to stop a filibuster, 67 to overturn a presidential veto in the Senate.

This sort of analysis was used to explain the Democrats' need to compromise with Republicans, watering down a firm withdrawal date in the hopes of winning bipartisan support. "Senior Democrats now say they are willing to rethink their push to establish a withdrawal deadline of next spring if doing so will attract the 60 Senate votes needed to prevail," reported the New York Times' Carl Hulse (9/5/07). "Democrats would need to lure the 60 senators in order to cut off a likely Republican filibuster."

This approach was endorsed in an Associated Press report (9/11/07) by Matthew Lee:

If Republican support for the war holds, as it might for now, Democrats would have to soften their approach if they want to pass an anti-war proposal. But they remain under substantial pressure by voters and politically influential anti-war groups to settle for nothing less than ordering troop withdrawals or cutting off money for the war--legislation that has little chances of passing.

The problem with all these accounts is that Congress does not have to pass legislation to bring an end to the war in Iraq--it simply has to block passage of any bill that would continue to fund the war. This requires not 67 or 60 Senate votes, or even 51, but just 41--the number of senators needed to maintain a filibuster and prevent a bill from coming up for a vote. In other words, the Democrats have more than enough votes to end the Iraq War--if they choose to do so.

The Democratic leadership may believe--rightly or wrongly--that such a strategy would entail unacceptable political costs. But that's very different from being unable to affect policy. To insist, as many media outlets have, that the Constitution makes it impossible for Congress to stop the war obscures the actual choices facing the nation--by confusing "can't" with "won't."

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

The True Cost of Bottled Water

by Solvie Karlstrom
The Green Guide
July/August 2007 Issue

From childhood, we're told to drink at least eight glasses of water each day. Unfortunately more and more Americans drink those eight glasses out of plastic bottles—a convenience that stuffs landfills, clogs waterways and guzzles valuable fossil fuels.

Last year Americans spent nearly $11 billion on over 8 billion gallons of bottled water, and then tossed over 22 billion empty plastic bottles in the trash. In bottle production alone, the more than 70 million bottles of water consumed each day in the U.S. drain 1.5 million barrels of oil over the course of one year.

Banning the Bottle

Though the sale and consumption of bottled water is still on the rise, certain policy makers and activists have taken steps to reduce it. San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom signed an executive order in June that bars city government from using city money to supply municipal workers with bottled water, and New York City launched an ad campaign this summer encouraging residents and tourists to forego the bottled beverage for the city's tap, long considered some of the best water in the country. "New York waste and pollution is on a massive scale," says Michael Saucier of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection. "Considering that the average New Yorker consumes nearly 28 gallons of bottled water each year, New York clearly hasn't been doing enough to encourage residents to drink tap."

Even restaurateurs are doing their part to keep water bottles out of landfills. Upscale eateries in Boston, New York and San Francisco have taken bottled water off the menu, offering filtered tap instead. At the Italian restaurant Incanto in San Francisco, carafes used to serve filtered tap water are refilled 2,000 times on average before they're cracked and retired. Owner Mark Pastore explains that leaving bottled water off the menu is "a tiny thing that we can do to be a little more sustainable."

Avoiding Chemical Intruders

Not only does bottled water contribute to excessive waste, but it costs us a thousand times more than water from our faucet at home, and it is, in fact, no safer or cleaner. "The bottled water industry spends millions of dollars a year to convince us that their product is somehow safer or healthier than tap water, when in fact that's just not true," says Victoria Kaplan, senior organizer with Food and Water Watch, a nonprofit that recently launched a Take Back the Tap campaign to get consumers to ditch bottled water. "As much as 40 percent of bottled water started out as the same tap water that we get at home," she adds. A 1999 Natural Resources Defense Council study found that, with required quarterly testing, tap water may even be of a higher quality than bottled, which is only tested annually.

Water aside, the plastic used in both single-use and reusable bottles can pose more of a contamination threat than the water. A safe plastic if used only once, #1 polyethylene terephthalate (PET or PETE) is the most common resin used in disposable bottles. However, as #1 bottles are reused, which they commonly are, they can leach chemicals such as DEHA, a known carcinogen, and benzyl butyl phthalate (BBP), a potential hormone disrupter. According to the January 2006 Journal of Environmental Monitoring, some PET bottled-water containers were found to leach antimony, an elemental metal that is an eye, skin, and lung irritant at high doses. Also, because the plastic is porous you'll likely get a swill of harmful bacteria with each gulp if you reuse #1 plastic bottles.

While single-use water bottles should never be used more than once, some reusable water bottles simply shouldn't be used. The debate continues over the safety of bisphenol A (BPA), a hormone-disrupting chemical known to leach out of the #7 polycarbonate plastic used to make a variety of products, including popular Nalgene Lexan water bottles. New studies keep cropping up that don't bode well for BPA, demonstrating that even extremely low doses of the chemical can be damaging. Recent research has linked the chemical to a variety of disorders, including obesity and breast cancer, and one chilling 2007 study, published in the journal PLoS Genetics, found that BPA exposure can cross generations. Pregnant mice exposed to low levels of BPA led to chromosomal abnormalities, which possibly cause birth defects and miscarriages, in grandchildren.

Yet, in spite of mounting evidence, polycarbonate water bottles don't seem to be losing popularity. A 2006 Green Guide reader poll found that roughly a third of respondents still preferred the Nalgene Lexan over other reusable bottles. If you're partial to the brightly colored containers, Nalgene does manufacture safer alternatives made from #2 high density polyethylene (HDPE).

Avoid the perils of plastic altogether with a metal water bottle that can handle a variety of liquids, including acidic fruit juices, and won't leach chemicals into your beverage. Klean Kanteen's stainless steel bottle is lightweight, durable, and entirely chemical free. Avoid detergents that contain chlorine when cleaning Klean Kanteens; chlorine can corrode stainless steel. Another attractive alternative to plastic is the aluminum Sigg bottle with a taste-inert, water-based epoxy lining. Independent lab tests commissioned by the company found that the resin leached no detectable quantities of BPA, while other unlined aluminum and polycarbonate bottles subjected to the same conditions did.

Noting that the federal share of funding for water systems has declined from 78 percent in 1973 to 3 percent today, Kaplan urges consumers to "support public policies that promote safe, affordable, public tap water for future generations." Visit and take the pledge to take back the tap, promising to choose tap water over bottled whenever possible and to support policies that promote clean public tap water for everybody. And meanwhile, invest in a safe, reusable bottle.

Better Bottles

Kleen Kanteen stainless steel water bottle w/ cap, 27 fluid ounces ($17.95;
MLS Stainless Steel Thermos Bottle, 1 liter ($22.16;
Nissan Thermos FBB500 Briefcase Bottle, 1pt ($35;
Sigg resin coated aluminum sport bottle, 25 ounces ($19.99;
Platypus #5 polypropylene 2+collapsible water bottle, 2.4 liters ($9.95;
Nalgene HDPE Loop-Top Bottle, 16 ounces ($4.53;

For more suggestions, see our Plastic Containers Product Report.

Picnic Perfect Plastics
by Danielle Masterson
The Bisphenol-A Debate: A Suspect Chemical in Plastic Bottles and Cans
by Catherine Zandonella, M.P.H

© 2007 National Geographic Society.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

The Rise of Disaster Capitalism

by Vit Wagner
Toronto Star
September 4, 2007

The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, a painstakingly detailed analysis of how corporations manipulate natural and manmade disasters to line their pockets and further their privatizing agenda, is not a marginal, academic treatise by a lefty think tank targeted at a small, like-minded audience.

It is a book by a bestselling writer and activist who also happens to be one of the anti-globalization movement's most recognizable faces. It's also a book that comes with its own promotional documentary, a short directed by Alfonso Cuarón (Children of Men) premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival.

In other words, instead of being consigned to pointy-headed discussion in unread academic journals, it is a book that has the potential to become a lightning rod of controversy and debate.

The distinction is not lost on the writer, Naomi Klein, the 37-year-old Toronto author of the momentous 2000 manifesto No Logo, an influential book that produced its share of detractors and converts. On the one hand, No Logo provoked a backlash from the editors of The Economist magazine, who devoted a 2002 cover story to refuting its Nike-bashing thesis. On the other, it inspired the popular rock band Radiohead to ban corporate signage from its shows.

"The usual response of the economic establishment is to ignore people like me and hope we go away," says Klein, during a recent interview in the Toronto offices of her Canadian publisher, Random House.

"That was the initial response to No Logo. It was either patronizing pats on the head or it was, `Ignore her. Don't encourage her.' It was only after No Logo sold a million copies that The Economist took it on."

The Shock Doctrine, published worldwide today in seven languages, will be an even tougher pill for Klein's detractors to choke down. In it, Klein assails the legacy of Milton Friedman, the late, Nobel Prize-winning Chicago economist beloved by conservatives for his unequivocal belief in the supremacy of the private sector, even as a means of delivering traditionally public services such as health care, education and drinking water. The book argues that since the public doesn't necessarily share the Friedmanite faith, corporations seize on the disorientation caused by situations of turmoil and upheaval to inflict their privatizing agendas.

Examples range from the way in which the Friedman doctrine was implemented in Chile after the 1973 coup that brought dictator Augusto Pinochet to power, to the more recent displacement of Sri Lankan fishers who were prevented by resort developers from returning to their villages in the aftermath of the 2003 tsunami.

Klein began connecting the dots in her own mind at the start of the Iraq War in 2003. At the time she and her husband, filmmaker and former TV host Avi Lewis, were living in Argentina, a country then emerging from its own period of economic shock therapy. She was struck by how closely the original reconstruction plans for Iraq conformed to the shock formula.

The 560-page argument, which also deals with the privatization of post-communist economies in Poland, Russia and China, the reliance of the Israeli private sector on security-related entrepreneurship and other subjects, is bolstered by nearly 70 pages of footnotes, citing more than 1,000 sources.

"I expect the release of the book to be a battle. And the endnotes are my body armour," says Klein, who will further defend her thesis during a public interview Thursday at the UofT's MacMillan Theatre.

"When you are introducing ideas that are new and in some cases quite radical, you need major backup if you want to reach beyond a small section of the population. Hopefully, the people who don't need as much convincing will bear with me because if the book were more anecdotal and less carefully sourced it would make it that much easier for the people who want to get me."

© Copyright Toronto Star 2007

Monday, September 03, 2007

Huge Dairy Flouts Organic Rules But Keeps Certification

by Andrew Martin
The New York Times
August 31, 2007

A huge Colorado organic dairy agreed yesterday to stop applying the organic label to some of its milk and make major changes in its operation after the Department of Agriculture threatened to revoke its organic certification for, among other problems, failing to provide enough pasture to its cows.

The dairy, Aurora Organic Dairy, which supplies private-label organic milk for many supermarket chains, must also remove some animals from the organic herd at its Platteville, Colo., farm, according to a Department of Agriculture statement released late yesterday that outlined the terms of a consent agreement with the dairy.

While the U.S.D.A. has taken action against other organic producers, the consent decree with Aurora represents a rare show of force against a leading supplier of products to the rapidly expanding market for organic foods.

“The organic industry is booming, and the National Organic Program is a high priority for the U.S.D.A.,” said Bruce I. Knight, under secretary for marketing and regulatory programs. “And through this consent agreement consumers can be assured that milk labeled as organic in the supermarket is indeed organic.”

In the last two years, Aurora’s large organic dairy farm has become a flashpoint in a vitriolic debate over what constitutes organic. Some critics charge that some entrepreneurs and major food companies have tried to cash in on an industry that has grown to $14 billion a year in sales, and have tried to weaken the organic standards in the process.

Organic milk costs as much as $6 a gallon; regular milk sells for about $3.80 a gallon.

Several large dairies like Aurora have sought to market organic milk while replicating the efficiencies of large conventional dairy farms. At one time, the Platteville farm had 4,200 milking cows; most organic dairy farms have fewer than 100 cows.

The Cornucopia Institute, a farm advocacy group in Wisconsin, initially filed a complaint against Aurora in 2005 contending that the company was not abiding by organic certification rules that required dairy cows to have regular access to pasture. The U.S.D.A. dismissed the complaint several months later, but the Cornucopia Institute filed a second complaint in 2006.

Mark A. Kastel, co-founder of the Cornucopia Institute, called the U.S.D.A.’s decision a vindication yesterday, but he complained that the company got off with light punishment. Mr. Kastel noted that Aurora had been able to build a commanding market share at the expense of smaller family farmers while flouting the organic rules.

Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company

Storm Warning

An Investigative Series by John McQuaid
Mother Jones
August 26, 2007

Eroding coastline, sinking land, rising seas; failing levees, poor evacuation planning; a city that would fill like a soup bowl if its flood defenses were breached. In 2002, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter John McQuaid coauthored a series in the New Orleans Times-Picayune, where he'd worked for more than 20 years, that predicted the fate that would befall New Orleans 3 years later. Now, in a three-part series for Mother Jones, McQuaid reports that the initial surge of attention to strengthening the Gulf Coast's defenses has ebbed, once again, to complacency. And residents of the Gulf Coast are not the only ones who should be worried. As McQuaid reports, it's not just the levees that are broken—it's the entire political system by which we create disaster defenses. Climate change will bring more storms, floods, fires, and tornadoes, but Washington has done very little to get us prepared. Will it take another Katrina before the government acts?
—The Editors

Part 1: The Unlearned Lessons of Katrina The Gulf Coast is a petri dish for the effects of climate change. What's happening there will show up in your neighborhood sooner than you think.
Part 2: What the Dutch Can Teach Us About Weathering the Next Katrina A 1953 storm that killed 1,835 people forced the Netherlands to change the way disaster protection is done. The same can't be said of the U.S., where innovation has been stymied by pork-barrel politics.
Part 3: Never Again? The Politics of Preventing Another Katrina The Bush administration's lackluster response to one of the largest natural disasters in the nation's history has been to rely on stopgap measures and incompetent contractors, rather than devising a national plan to protect the U.S. coastline. Will it take another Katrina for the government to act?

See also:
  • A Hundred Katrinas: Climate Change and the Threat to the U.S. Coast
  • Broken: The Army Corps of Engineers
  • Windfall: How Conservatives, Contractors, and Developers Cashed In on Katrina
  • Mother Jones' Full Coverage of Hurricane Katrina and its Aftermath

  • ©2007 The Foundation for National Progress