Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Organically Grown Food Found to Be More Healthful

by Emily Dugan
The Independent
October 29, 2007

A £12m EU-funded investigation into the difference between organic and ordinary farming has shown that organic foods have far more nutritional value.

Up to 40 per cent more antioxidants, which scientists believe can cut the risk of heart disease and cancer, could be found in organic fruit and vegetables than in those conventionally farmed.

In the four-year Quality Low Input Food project, the biggest of its kind to date, a farm in north-east England grew conventional produce alongside organic varieties. Cattle were also farmed on the 725-acre plot, where it has been discovered that organic milk contains 60 per cent more antioxidants and desirable fatty acids than ordinary milk.

Professor Carlo Leifert, co-ordinator of the study said: "We have shown there are more of certain less nutritionally desirable compounds and less of the baddies in organic foods, or improved amounts of the fatty acids you want and less of those you don't want".

The study, whose overall findings will be published next year, is the first systematic comparison of farming techniques. Led by Newcastle University, 33 academic centres across Europe are analysing the information.

For the past seven years the organic food lobby has been trying unsuccessfully to persuade the Food Standards Agency (FSA) to acknowledge the benefits of organic food. The FSA says the "balance of current scientific evidence" does not support the view that organic food is safer or healthier.

The Soil Association, the UK's leading campaigning and certifying organisation on organic farming, said: "It is time the FSA caught up with the available science and adjusted its statements to reflect that science."

The FSA said: "We will be getting a consultancy to carry out a systematic review of the evidence, which will include this latest study."

The report's key findings

* Organic milk contains higher amounts of vitamin E, according to the EU study. The antioxidant contributes to a healthy circulatory system

* Potatoes, kiwi fruit and carrots were among the organic produce found to be higher in vitamin C than their chemically-farmed counterparts. The vitamin has been credited with boosting the immune system and helping to keep cancer and heart disease at bay

* Higher levels of minerals and antioxidants were found in organically- farmed lettuce, spinach and cabbage

© 2007 Independent News and Media Limited

NPR Gives Torture Credibility

October 30, 2007

Good journalists don't base their stories on highly dubious "facts." And they try to avoid reports that will encourage violence. Unfortunately, a recent segment on NPR's Morning Edition (10/26/07) violated both rules.

NPR Iraq correspondent Anne Garrels' report was based around the accounts of three men who were being held prisoner by Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's militia. The captives were supposedly "renegade" members of Sadr's militia who said "they were trained in roadside bombs and car bombings in Iran...to attack Americans and sow suspicion and violence between Shiites and Sunnis." The details of the prisoners' accounts made up much of Garrels' report, despite her noting that "the three detainees had clearly been tortured."

"There was blood all over their clothes," Garrels reported. "They were in such bad shape they couldn't walk. They had to be dragged onto the chairs, and one of them was just sobbing."

Given the brutal treatment of the three men, there is no reason to put any stock whatsoever in the claims they made in the presence of their captors. As Alfred W. McCoy writes in his book A Question of Torture: "The past two millennia are rich with examples that confirm, time again... the strong can resist torture and the weak will say anything to end their pain." Nevertheless, Garrels began recounting their statements in response to anchor Steve Inskeep's asking "the question that's on the minds of many Americans right now, which is what is Iran's role in all this violence?" Why does NPR believe that stories produced by torture help to answer that question?

The one note of skepticism came in a follow-up question from Inskeep: "Well, if the story that these tortured prisoners told was true--if it's true--how were they sowing suspicion between Shiites and Sunnis?" Garrels ignored the opportunity to stress the unreliability of information derived from torture, and instead continued to relate details of the captives' stories as though they were newsworthy.

Airing information whose veracity is utterly dubious is a clear disservice to NPR's audience; it's doubtful that the network would have taken the claims seriously had the U.S. government not been "making the same claim about Iran this week," as Inskeep noted in an introduction to the story. (Try to imagine NPR airing the claims of people who had been tortured by an Iraqi militia into "confessing" that they had conducted terrorism on behalf of the U.S. government.)

In addition to its journalistic worthlessness, NPR's report sets a terrible precedent. Garrels described how she was "invited to an interrogation session of three renegade Sadr militiamen, apparently to show us how the movement is cleaning up its ranks." By airing the Sadr militia's torture-based claims on an influential U.S. radio network, NPR invited other violent groups to use torture to extract whatever statements are deemed useful to attract international press coverage.

Please call on NPR's ombud to address the network's irresponsible reporting of torture-based confessions.

NPR Ombud
Email: ombudsman@npr.org

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Monday, October 29, 2007

White House Press Secretary Touts Health Benefits of Global Warming

by Tim Dickinson
Rolling Stone
October 25, 2007

Think Progress is taking Dana Perino to task for talking up the health benefits of global warming.

But we shouldn’t be surprised. How do you think Perino got this spin job in the first place.

Perino cut her teeth in the White House’s global warming denial unit as director of communications for the Council on Environmental Quality.

It was Perino, don’t forget, who told America that Phil Cooney, the infamous neuterer of federal global warming docs, “did a great job.”

The FOIA record also reveals Perino seeking friendship and enviro-tutelage at the arch-denialist think tank CEI. As well as forwarding talking points to Cooney from the denial group George C. Marshall Institute. And coordinating with Scott McClellan how to limit damage from a New York Times article on climate change censorship.

This is just Dana doing what Dana does best.

©Copyright 2007 Rolling Stone

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Rule of Law Under Attack

by Ralph Nader
Common Dreams News Center
October 27, 2007

Every law student promptly learns the national ideal that our country is governed by the rule of law, not the rule of men. Today, the rule of law is under attack. Such activities have become a big business and, not surprisingly, they have involved big business.

On October 25th, Secretary Condoleeza Rice officially recognized before a House Oversight Committee that, remarkably, there was no law covering the misbehavior of Blackwater Corporation and their private police in Iraq.

Any crimes of violence committed by Blackwater and other armed contractors commissioned by the Defense and State Departments to perform guard duty and other tasks, fell into a gap between Iraqi law, from which they have been exempted by the U.S. military occupation and the laws of the United States.

Since the United States government is ruled by lawless men in the White House who have violated countless laws and treaties, Bush and Cheney clearly had no interest in placing giant corporate contractors operating inside Iraqi jurisdiction under either the military justice system or the criminal laws of the United States.

Presidential power has accumulated over the years to levels that would have alarmed the founding fathers whose constitutional framework never envisioned such raw unilateral power at the top of the Executive branch. Accordingly, they only provided for the impeachment sanction. They neither gave citizens legal standing to go to court and hold the Presidency accountable, or to prevent the two other branches from surrendering their explicit constitutional authority-such as the war-making power-to the Executive branch. The federal courts over time have refused to adjudicate cases they deem “political conflicts” between the Legislative and Executive branches or, in general, most foreign policy questions.

Being above the law’s reach, Bush and Cheney can and do use the law in ways that inflict injustice on innocent people. Politicizing the offices of the U.S. Attorneys by the Justice Department, demonstrated by Congressional hearings, is one consequence of such Presidential license. Political law enforcement, using laws such as the so-called PATRIOT Act, is another widespread pattern that has drag netted thousands of innocent people into arrests and imprisonment without charges or adequate legal representation. Or the Bush regime’s use of coercive plea bargains against defendants who can’t afford leading, skilled attorneys.

Books and law journal articles have been written about times when government violates the laws. They are long on examples but short on practical remedies of what to do about it.

Corporations and their large corporate law firms have many ways to avoid the laws. First, they make sure that when Congress writes legislation, the bills advance corporate interests. For example, numerous consumer safety laws have no criminal penalties for the violations, or only the most nominal fines. The regulatory agencies often have very weak subpoena powers or authority to set urgent and mandatory safety standards without suffering years or even decades of corporate-induced delays.

If the laws prove troublesome, the corporations make sure that enforcement budgets are ridiculously tiny, with only a few federal cops on the beat. The total number of Justice Department attorneys prosecuting the corporate crime wave of the past decade, running
investors, pensioners and workers into trillions of dollars of losses and damaging the health and safety of many patients and other consumers, is smaller than just one of the top five largest corporate law firms.

Out in the marketplace, environment and the workplace, the corporations have many tools forged out of their unbridled power to block aggrieved people from having their day in court or getting agencies or legislatures to stand up for the common folk.

Companies can wear down or deter plaintiffs from obtaining justice by costly motions and other delaying tactics. When people get into court and obtain some justice, the companies move toward the legislature to restrict access to the courts. This is grotesquely called “tort reform”– which takes away the rights of harmed individuals but not the corporations’ rights to have their day in court.

Lush amounts of campaign dollars grease the way for corporations in the legislatures in the fifty states and on Capitol Hill.

As if that power to pass their own laws is not enough, large corporations become their own private legislatures. You’ve been confronted with those fine-print standard form agreements asking you to sign on the dotted line if you wish to secure insurance, tenancy, credit, bank services, hospital treatment, or just a job.

Those pages of fine print are corporations regulating you! You can’t cross any of them out.

You can’t go across the street to a competitor- say from Geico to State Farm, or from Citibank to the Bank of America, because there is no competition over these fine-print contracts, with their dotted signature lines. Unless, that is, they compete over how fast they require you to give up your rights to go to court or to object to their unilaterally changing the terms of the agreement, such as in changing the terms of your frequent flier agreement on already accumulated miles

Oh, for the law schools that provide courses on the rule of men over the rule of law.

Oh, for the time when there will be many public interest law firms working just on these portentous dominations of concentrated power to deny open and impartial uses of the laws to achieve justice and accountability.

© Copyrighted 2007 www.commondreams.org

What Part of ‘Illegal’ Don’t You Understand?

by Lawrence Downs
The New York Times
October 28, 2007

I am a human pileup of illegality. I am an illegal driver and an illegal parker and even an illegal walker, having at various times stretched or broken various laws and regulations that govern those parts of life. The offenses were trivial, and I feel sure I could endure the punishments — penalties and fines — and get on with my life. Nobody would deny me the chance to rehabilitate myself. Look at Martha Stewart, illegal stock trader, and George Steinbrenner, illegal campaign donor, to name two illegals whose crimes exceeded mine.

Good thing I am not an illegal immigrant. There is no way out of that trap. It’s the crime you can’t make amends for. Nothing short of deportation will free you from it, such is the mood of the country today. And that is a problem.

America has a big problem with illegal immigration, but a big part of it stems from the word “illegal.” It pollutes the debate. It blocks solutions. Used dispassionately and technically, there is nothing wrong with it. Used as an irreducible modifier for a large and largely decent group of people, it is badly damaging. And as a code word for racial and ethnic hatred, it is detestable.

“Illegal” is accurate insofar as it describes a person’s immigration status. About 60 percent of the people it applies to entered the country unlawfully. The rest are those who entered legally but did not leave when they were supposed to. The statutory penalties associated with their misdeeds are not insignificant, but neither are they criminal. You get caught, you get sent home.

Since the word modifies not the crime but the whole person, it goes too far. It spreads, like a stain that cannot wash out. It leaves its target diminished as a human, a lifetime member of a presumptive criminal class. People are often surprised to learn that illegal immigrants have rights. Really? Constitutional rights? But aren’t they illegal? Of course they have rights: they have the presumption of innocence and the civil liberties that the Constitution wisely bestows on all people, not just citizens.

Many people object to the alternate word “undocumented” as a politically correct euphemism, and they have a point. Someone who sneaked over the border and faked a Social Security number has little right to say: “Oops, I’m undocumented. I’m sure I have my papers here somewhere.”

But at least “undocumented” — and an even better word, “unauthorized” — contain the possibility of reparation and atonement, and allow for a sensible reaction proportional to the offense. The paralysis in Congress and the country over fixing our immigration laws stems from our inability to get our heads around the wrenching change involved in making an illegal person legal. Think of doing that with a crime, like cocaine dealing or arson. Unthinkable!

So people who want to enact sensible immigration policies to help everybody — to make the roads safer, as Gov. Eliot Spitzer would with his driver’s license plan, or to allow immigrants’ children to go to college or serve in the military — face the inevitable incredulity and outrage. How dare you! They’re illegal.

Meanwhile, out on the edges of the debate — edges that are coming closer to the mainstream every day — bigots pour all their loathing of Spanish-speaking people into the word. Rant about “illegals” — call them congenital criminals, lepers, thieves, unclean — and people will nod and applaud. They will send money to your Web site and heed your calls to deluge lawmakers with phone calls and faxes. Your TV ratings will go way up.

This is not only ugly, it is counterproductive, paralyzing any effort toward immigration reform. Comprehensive legislation in Congress and sensible policies at the state and local level have all been stymied and will be forever, as long as anything positive can be branded as “amnesty for illegals.”

We are stuck with a bogus, deceptive strategy — a 700-mile fence on a 2,000-mile border to stop a fraction of border crossers who are only 60 percent of the problem anyway, and scattershot raids to capture a few thousand members of a group of 12 million.

None of those enforcement policies have a trace of honesty or realism. At least they don’t reward illegals, and that, for now, is all this country wants.

Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company

Friday, October 26, 2007

U.N. Warns of Rapid Decay of Environment

by James Kanter
The New York Times
October 26, 2007

The human population is living far beyond its means and inflicting damage to the environment that could pass points of no return, according to a major report issued Thursday by the United Nations.

Climate change, the rate of extinction of species, and the challenge of feeding a growing population are putting humanity at risk, the United Nations Environment Program said in its fourth Global Environmental Outlook since 1997.

“The human population is now so large that the amount of resources needed to sustain it exceeds what is available at current consumption patterns,” Achim Steiner, the executive director of the Environment Program, said in a telephone interview.

Many biologists and climate scientists have concluded that human activities have become a dominant influence on the Earth’s climate and ecosystems. But there is still a range of views on whether the changes could have catastrophic impacts, as the human population heads toward nine billion by midcentury, or more manageable results.

Over the last two decades, the world population increased by almost 34 percent, to 6.7 billion, from 5 billion. But the land available to each person is shrinking, from 19.5 acres in 1900 to 5 acres by 2005, the report said.

Population growth combined with unsustainable consumption has resulted in an increasingly stressed planet where natural disasters and environmental degradation endanger people, plants and animal species.

Persistent problems include a rapid rise of “dead zones,” where marine life no longer can be supported because pollutants like runoff fertilizers deplete oxygen.

But Mr. Steiner, of the Environment Program, did note that Western European governments had taken effective measures to reduce air pollutants and that Brazil had made efforts to roll back some deforestation. He said an international treaty to tackle the hole in the earth’s ozone layer had led to the phasing out of 95 percent of ozone-damaging chemicals.

“Life would be easier if we didn’t have the kind of population growth rates that we have at the moment,” Mr. Steiner said. “But to force people to stop having children would be a simplistic answer. The more realistic, ethical and practical issue is to accelerate human well-being and make more rational use of the resources we have on this planet.”

Mr. Steiner said parts of Africa could reach an environmental tipping point if changing rainfall patterns turned semi-arid zones into arid zones and made agriculture much harder. He said another tipping point could occur in India and China if Himalayan glaciers shrank so much that they no longer supplied adequate amounts of water.

He also warned of a global collapse of all species being fished by 2050, if fishing around the world continued at its current pace. The report said that two and a half times more fish were being caught than the oceans could produce in a sustainable manner, and that the level of fish stocks classed as collapsed had roughly doubled over the past 20 years, to 30 percent.

In the spirit of the United Nations report, President Nicolas Sarkozy of France outlined plans on Thursday to fight climate change.

He said he would make 1 billion euros, or $1.4 billion, available over four years to develop energy sources and maintain biodiversity. He said each euro spent on nuclear research would be matched by one spent on research into clean technologies and environmental protection.

Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

NBC Boots Mike Gravel from Presidential Debates

by Mike Gravel
The Huffington Post
October 22, 2007

In the past year, I have attended 11 national Democratic debates of which two were sponsored by corporate media giant NBC. However, last week, the network suddenly conjured up arbitrary polling and fundraising requirements specifically designed to exclude me. None of the previous debates I attended held such requirements.

When my staff called NBC directly to find out why I was now barred from attending, Chuck Todd, NBC news' political director, told us that there were three criteria we did not meet, namely that I had not campaigned in New Hampshire and/or Iowa at least 14 times in the past year, that I was not polling at 5% and that I hadn't raised $1 million.

It is abundantly clear that NBC just wants me out of the race. This was made evident by the fact that NBC did not even inform me of its arbitrary criteria before making the decision to stifle my campaign. NBC's Todd waited until 5 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 19, to inform my staff that I was not invited to the Oct. 30 debate at Drexel University in Philadelphia.

Since I announced my candidacy for the Democratic Nomination for President of the United States on April 17, 2006, I have certainly traveled to New Hampshire and Iowa at least 14 times. And, according to a recent CNN poll, I am tied with Joe Biden, Dennis Kucinich and Chris Dodd.

NBC claims I haven't raised enough money to qualify. I'm proud of the fact that I don't collect millions from special interests (or fugitives like Norman Hsu). The reason why Senator Hillary Clinton seems to have a fundraising scandal every month is because money has corrupted our democracy. By stifling my voice on the basis of fundraising dollars, NBC is reinforcing the power of money over our national political discussion and our freedom.

But why has NBC suddenly come up with "requirements" designed to exclude me from the debate?

NBC's decision is proof that our corporate media do not want a genuine debate over our impending war with Iran. During the last debate I was the only one to aggressively confront Senator Clinton over her vote to label the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization. Had I not brought up the subject, seasoned NBC commentator Tim Russert, the moderator of the Sept. 26 debate, would not have even asked about it.

Most Americans still don't appreciate the gravity of that vote and they don't understand that our government is intentionally raising roadblocks to diplomacy. Corporate media have once again failed to investigate how Bush and a compliant congress have set us on the warpath. Instead the media simply parrots the demonization of Iranian President Ahmadinejad and the administration's unproven accusations against Iran. NBC and the other corporate media have jumped on the war bandwagon and they are determined to shut up anyone who tries to stop it.

The fact that NBC is owned by General Electric, one of the world's leading military contractors, is frightening and certainly smacks of censorship directed at the most outspoken critic of the influence that the military-industrial complex holds over this great nation. In the past decade, GE has benefited financially from the global war on terrorism and currently holds almost $2 billion in military contracts.

So I ask that anyone, who is as concerned as I am about the power of the mainstream media and the military-industrial complex, speak out in support of my campaign today. And, even if you support another candidate, surely you understand the implications of NBC's decision for our democracy and the future peace and security of our nation.

And since the powers that be now require that I raise $1 million in order to participate in the debates, please make a donation to my campaign. Unlike my fellow candidates, I am not focused on raising million of dollars; I am focused on fixing representative government. Help us reach that arbitrary threshold, and I will continue to fight for democracy and peace.

Copyright © 2007 HuffingtonPost.com, Inc.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Environmental Disaster of America's New Iron Curtain

by Glenn Hurowitz
The Grist Magazine
October 16, 2007

The bobcat turned, looked at me, and jumped into the mesquite brush. It was the first day of a three-day visit to South Texas, and I was exploring the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge along the Rio Grande River. Seeing the bobcat was a treat for me -- but the kind of treat that could become increasingly rare if the Bush administration and Congress go ahead with plans to build between 370 and 700 miles of double-layered concrete wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

The efficacy of this plan to keep out "unwanted" foreigners is dubious at best, and highly controversial. But one thing is sure: it is likely to be the last nail in the coffin of some of the most extraordinary, and extraordinarily vulnerable, wildlife of the American Southwest.

Most of the wildlife of the border region has already been battered by more than a century of hunting, fencing, ranching, and agriculture. Ocelots, for instance -- a kind of small, but equally spotted version of a leopard -- once reached their northern limit in Arkansas and Louisiana. Now the 80 to 120 individuals still surviving in the United States cling to life along a small corridor of brush and forest along the Rio Grande -- the last 5 percent of wild land in South Texas that hasn't been cleared to make way for cotton, sorghum, and shopping malls.

Like jaguars, pronghorn antelope, and other endangered creatures of the Southwest threatened by the wall, ocelots need to reach the larger breeding populations south of the border to maintain the viability of their species. But they're unlikely to be able to climb over the wall planned under last year's Secure Fence Act. The wall's scale will equal or even dwarf some of the great human-made natural disasters of the past: perhaps the greatest similarity is to the railroads that divided the Great Plains bison into northern and southern herds that hastened their near-total destruction.

And this is no hypothetical barrier: Contractors have already built over 150 miles of it in Arizona and California. Later this year, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff plans to break ground on the Texas portion of the wall. And Senate Democrats are using $3 billion in funding for additional border wall construction to lure enough Republican votes to override President Bush's expected veto of the Homeland Security appropriations bill.

If you haven't heard about this great wildlife disaster in the making, it's not that you haven't been paying attention: despite the severity of the impact, until recently the nation's largest environmental groups have been nearly silent about it. When you ask officials from those groups to explain the lack of email alerts, television ads, media blitzes, town hall meetings, and finely orchestrated lobbying pushes that have become the hallmark of a modern national environmental campaign, they usually say on the record that they're still studying it.

But there's more to the story.

Read more at The Grist.

©2007 Grist Magazine, Inc.

Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide Levels Show Huge Increase

by the BBC
October 23, 2007

Carbon dioxide (CO2) levels in the atmosphere have risen 35% faster than expected since 2000, says a study.

International scientists found that inefficiency in the use of fossil fuels increased levels of CO2 by 17%.

The other 18% came from a decline in the natural ability of land and oceans to soak up CO2 from the atmosphere.

About half of emissions from human activity are absorbed by natural "sinks" but the efficiency of these sinks has fallen, the study suggests.

The research, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), was carried out by the Global Carbon Project, the University of East Anglia, UK, and the British Antarctic Survey.

It found that improvements in the carbon intensity of the global economy have stalled since 2000, leading to an unexpected jump in atmospheric CO2.

"In addition to the growth of global population and wealth, we now know that significant contributions to the growth of atmospheric CO2 arise from the slow-down of natural sinks and the halt to improvements in the carbon intensity of wealth production," said the study's lead author, Dr Pep Canadell, executive director of the Global Carbon Project.

Global sink

The weakening of the Earth's ability to cope with greenhouse gases is thought to be a result of changing wind patterns over seas and droughts on land.

"The decline in global sink efficiency suggests that stabilisation of atmospheric CO2 is even more difficult to achieve than previously thought," said report co-author Dr Corinne Le Quere of the British Antarctic Survey.

"We found that nearly half of the decline in the efficiency of the ocean CO2 sink is due to the intensification of the winds in the Southern Ocean."

The declining power of the seas to soak up industrial pollution is not only being recorded in the southern hemisphere, however.

According to a separate 10-year study published recently, the effect is also being seen in the North Atlantic.

Copyright BBC 2007

Five Easy Ways to Go Organic

by The New York Times
October 22, 2007

Switching to organic is tough for many families who don’t want to pay higher prices or give up their favorite foods. But by choosing organic versions of just a few foods that you eat often, you can increase the percentage of organic food in your diet without big changes to your shopping cart or your spending.

The key is to be strategic in your organic purchases. Opting for organic produce, for instance, doesn’t necessarily have a big impact, depending on what you eat. According to the Environmental Working Group, commercially-farmed fruits and vegetables vary in their levels of pesticide residue. Some vegetables, like broccoli, asparagus and onions, as well as foods with peels, such as avocados, bananas and oranges, have relatively low levels compared to other fruits and vegetables.

So how do you make your organic choices count? Pediatrician Dr. Alan Greene, whose new book “Raising Baby Green” explains how to raise a child in an environmentally-friendly way, has identified a few “strategic” organic foods that he says can make the biggest impact on the family diet.

1. Milk: “When you choose a glass of conventional milk, you are buying into a whole chemical system of agriculture,'’ says Dr. Greene. People who switch to organic milk typically do so because they are concerned about the antibiotics, artificial hormones and pesticides used in the commercial dairy industry. One recent United States Department of Agriculture survey found certain pesticides in about 30 percent of conventional milk samples and low levels in only one organic sample. The level is relatively low compared to some other foods, but many kids consume milk in large quantities.

2. Potatoes: Potatoes are a staple of the American diet — one survey found they account for 30 percent of our overall vegetable consumption. A simple switch to organic potatoes has the potential to have a big impact because commercially-farmed potatoes are some of the most pesticide-contaminated vegetables. A 2006 U.S.D.A. test found 81 percent of potatoes tested still contained pesticides after being washed and peeled, and the potato has one of the the highest pesticide contents of 43 fruits and vegetables tested, according to the Environmental Working Group.

3. Peanut butter: More acres are devoted to growing peanuts than any other fruits, vegetable or nut, according to the U.S.D.A. More than 99 percent of peanut farms use conventional farming practices, including the use of fungicide to treat mold, a common problem in peanut crops. Given that some kids eat peanut butter almost every day, this seems like a simple and practical switch. Commercial food firms now offer organic brands in the regular grocery store, but my daughter loves to go to the health food store and grind her own peanut butter.

4. Ketchup: For some families, ketchup accounts for a large part of the household vegetable intake. About 75 percent of tomato consumption is in the form of processed tomatoes, including juice, tomato paste and ketchup. Notably, recent research has shown organic ketchup has about double the antioxidants of conventional ketchup.

5. Apples: Apples are the second most commonly eaten fresh fruit, after bananas, and they are also used in the second most popular juice, after oranges, according to Dr. Greene. But apples are also one of the most pesticide-contaminated fruits and vegetables. The good news is that organic apples are easy to find in regular grocery stores.

For a complete list of Dr. Greene’s strategic organic choices, visit Organic Rx on his website.

Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

United States Stands Alone in Locking Up Teenagers for Life

by Adam Liptak
The New York Times
October 17, 2007

In December, the United Nations took up a resolution calling for the abolition of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for children and young teenagers. The vote was 185 to 1, with the United States the lone dissenter.

Indeed, the United States stands alone in the world in convicting young adolescents as adults and sentencing them to live out their lives in prison. According to a new report, there are 73 Americans serving such sentences for crimes they committed at 13 or 14...

Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company

Monday, October 15, 2007

Gore Derangement Syndrome

by Paul Krugman
The New York Times
October 15, 2007

On the day after Al Gore shared the Nobel Peace Prize, The Wall Street Journal’s editors couldn’t even bring themselves to mention Mr. Gore’s name. Instead, they devoted their editorial to a long list of people they thought deserved the prize more.

And at National Review Online, Iain Murray suggested that the prize should have been shared with “that well-known peace campaigner Osama bin Laden, who implicitly endorsed Gore’s stance.” You see, bin Laden once said something about climate change — therefore, anyone who talks about climate change is a friend of the terrorists.

What is it about Mr. Gore that drives right-wingers insane?

Partly it’s a reaction to what happened in 2000, when the American people chose Mr. Gore but his opponent somehow ended up in the White House. Both the personality cult the right tried to build around President Bush and the often hysterical denigration of Mr. Gore were, I believe, largely motivated by the desire to expunge the stain of illegitimacy from the Bush administration.

And now that Mr. Bush has proved himself utterly the wrong man for the job — to be, in fact, the best president Al Qaeda’s recruiters could have hoped for — the symptoms of Gore derangement syndrome have grown even more extreme.

The worst thing about Mr. Gore, from the conservative point of view, is that he keeps being right. In 1992, George H. W. Bush mocked him as the “ozone man,” but three years later the scientists who discovered the threat to the ozone layer won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. In 2002 he warned that if we invaded Iraq, “the resulting chaos could easily pose a far greater danger to the United States than we presently face from Saddam.” And so it has proved.

But Gore hatred is more than personal. When National Review decided to name its anti-environmental blog Planet Gore, it was trying to discredit the message as well as the messenger. For the truth Mr. Gore has been telling about how human activities are changing the climate isn’t just inconvenient. For conservatives, it’s deeply threatening.

Consider the policy implications of taking climate change seriously.

“We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals,” said F.D.R. “We know now that it is bad economics.” These words apply perfectly to climate change. It’s in the interest of most people (and especially their descendants) that somebody do something to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, but each individual would like that somebody to be somebody else. Leave it up to the free market, and in a few generations Florida will be underwater.

The solution to such conflicts between self-interest and the common good is to provide individuals with an incentive to do the right thing. In this case, people have to be given a reason to cut back on greenhouse gas emissions, either by requiring that they pay a tax on emissions or by requiring that they buy emission permits, which has pretty much the same effects as an emissions tax. We know that such policies work: the U.S. “cap and trade” system of emission permits on sulfur dioxide has been highly successful at reducing acid rain.

Climate change is, however, harder to deal with than acid rain, because the causes are global. The sulfuric acid in America’s lakes mainly comes from coal burned in U.S. power plants, but the carbon dioxide in America’s air comes from coal and oil burned around the planet — and a ton of coal burned in China has the same effect on the future climate as a ton of coal burned here. So dealing with climate change not only requires new taxes or their equivalent; it also requires international negotiations in which the United States will have to give as well as get.

Everything I’ve just said should be uncontroversial — but imagine the reception a Republican candidate for president would receive if he acknowledged these truths at the next debate. Today, being a good Republican means believing that taxes should always be cut, never raised. It also means believing that we should bomb and bully foreigners, not negotiate with them.

So if science says that we have a big problem that can’t be solved with tax cuts or bombs — well, the science must be rejected, and the scientists must be slimed. For example, Investor’s Business Daily recently declared that the prominence of James Hansen, the NASA researcher who first made climate change a national issue two decades ago, is actually due to the nefarious schemes of — who else? — George Soros.

Which brings us to the biggest reason the right hates Mr. Gore: in his case the smear campaign has failed. He’s taken everything they could throw at him, and emerged more respected, and more credible, than ever. And it drives them crazy.

Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company

Maternal Mortality Rates Remain High in U.S.

by Haider Rizvi
Inter Press Service
October 13, 2007

Despite its enormous wealth and highly advanced technology, the United States lags far behind other industrialised countries -- and even some developing ones -- in providing adequate health care to women during pregnancy and childbirth.

The U.S. ranks 41st in a new analysis of maternal mortality rates in 171 countries released by a group of U.N. public health experts on Friday. The survey shows that even a developing country like South Korea is ahead of the United States.

"Women are unnecessarily dying from pregnancy and childbirth complications because the U.S. is moving in a wrong direction," said Beneva Schulte of Women Deliver, a Washington-based group campaigning for women's reproductive rights and access to public health care.

Based on 2005 estimates, the U.N. analysis suggests that one in 4,800 women in the United States carry a lifetime risk of death from pregnancy. By contrast, among the 10 top-ranked industrialised countries, fewer than one in 16,400 are facing a similar situation.

The reason? According to experts, in many European countries and Japan in the industrialised world, women are guaranteed good-quality health and family planning services that minimise their lifetime risk.

Many independent experts and sympathetic legislators hold the current U.S. public health policy responsible for its dismal record because some 47 million U.S. citizens have no access to health insurance, most of them African Americans and other minorities.

"We must ensure that pregnant women are covered," Congresswoman Lois Capps, a California Democrat, told IPS. "Even if we have the best technology, not everyone has the access to health care."

Capps also said the scope of the problem could be even worse than it appeared. "We have to improve our data collection," she said. "I don't think we have all the data."

U.N. experts who prepared the analysis said they developed a new approach to estimating maternal mortality that seeks both to generate estimates for countries with no data and to correct available data for underreporting and misclassification.

They hold that inconsistency in data on deaths and on classification of those deaths creates broad uncertainties in many places, even in developed countries. But all estimates almost certainly understate the problem.

Responding to inquiries by IPS, a U.S. public health official identified "racial disparity" as the most significant factor underlying the high U.S. maternal mortality rate. "Black women are four times more vulnerable than whites," Eve Lackritz, chief of the Maternal and Infant Health branch of the Centres for Disease Control (CDC), told IPS.

In Lackritz's view, obesity and hypertension are two leading causes of pregnancy-related risks in the United States. "We have to be more responsive," she said. "This is one of our big problems."

The U.S. situation within the industrialised world aside, the other end of the spectrum shows there are 10 countries -- all of them in Africa except for Afghanistan -- where high fertility and shattered health care systems are causing extreme risks for pregnant women.

According to researchers, in countries like Somalia, Mali, Chad, and Niger, on average more than one in every 15 women is likely to die of pregnancy-related causes. In Niger, the estimate suggests that one out seven women is vulnerable to death during pregnancy.

Their analysis comes at a time when many development activists and U.N. officials are trying to evaluate how far the world has progressed in meeting the Millennium Development Goals agreed upon by the world leaders some seven years ago.

When the world leaders attended a summit in New York in September 2000, they agreed that the MDGs must be achieved by 2015. That commitment included policy initiatives to reduce maternal mortality by 75 percent.

Many experts believe that in the past seven years nothing much has changed for the millions of poor women with regard to their economic wellbeing and access to health care.

As reported by the British medical journal the Lancet this week, at the current pace, there is almost no hope that the world will be able to achieve the 75 percent target.

Annually, about 20 million women undergo unsafe abortions, which, according to the journal, is a major factor in maternal deaths and illness.

Reproductive rights activists say that governments must take drastic steps to reverse the situation if they are serious in meeting the MDGs on reducing the maternal mortality rates in the next seven years.

"We still have the situation we had 20 years ago," said Ann Starrs of the independent group Family Care International in a statement. "Half a million women die every year from the complications of childbirth."

A recent study by Harvard University professor Ken Hill found that between 1990 and 2005, maternal deaths did fall, but by less than one percent a year. Hill and many other researchers estimate that at least 10 to 20 million women suffer injuries from the complications of childbirth every year.

Experts say this suffering could be easily avoided if international donors contributed just 6.1 billion dollars over the next seven years.

On Oct. 18-20, more than 1,500 world leaders will convene in London for "Women Deliver", a global conference that will focus on creating political will and strengthening health systems to prevent the deaths of "one woman every minute of every day during pregnancy or childbirth".

Copyright © 2007 IPS-Inter Press Service

Egregious Violations of Clean Water Act Mark Its 35th Anniversary

by U.S. PIRG
October 11, 2007

More than 57 percent of industrial and municipal facilities across America discharged more pollution into our waterways than their Clean Water Act permits allowed in 2005, according to Troubled Waters: An analysis of Clean Water Act compliance, a new report released today by U.S. PIRG.

“As the Clean Water Act turns 35, polluters continue to foul our rivers, lakes and streams,” said U.S. PIRG Clean Water Advocate Christy Leavitt. “With so many facilities dumping so much pollution, no one should be surprised that nearly half of America’s waterways are unsafe for swimming and fishing. But we should be outraged.”

The goals of the 1972 Clean Water Act are to eliminate the discharge of pollutants into waterways and make all U.S. waters swimmable and fishable. Over the last three and a half decades, this landmark environmental law has made significant improvements in water quality, but the original goals have yet to be met.

Using the Freedom of Information Act, U.S. PIRG obtained data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on facilities’ compliance with the Clean Water Act in 2005. U.S. PIRG researchers found that:

  • Fifty seven percent of all major U.S. industrial and municipal facilities discharged more pollution into U.S. waterways than allowed by law at least once during 2005.

  • The average facility exceeded its pollution permit limit by 263 percent, discharging close to four times the legal limit.

  • The 3600 major facilities exceeding their permit limits reported more than 24,400 exceedances of their Clean Water Act permits in 2005. This means that many facilities exceeded their permits more than once and for more than one pollutant.

  • Nationally, 628 major facilities exceeded their Clean Water Act permits for at least half of the monthly reporting periods between January 1, 2005 and December 31, 2005. Eighty-five facilities exceeded their Clean Water Act permits during every reporting period.

  • The ten U.S. states with the highest percentages of major facilities exceeding their Clean Water Act permit limits at least once are Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Ohio, Connecticut, New York, North Dakota, California, and West Virginia.

  • The ten U.S. states with the most exceedances of Clean Water Act permit limits during 2005 period are Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Texas, California, Massachusetts, Louisiana, Tennessee, Alabama, and Florida.

Leavitt noted that the findings are likely “just the tip of the polluted iceberg,” since the data that U.S. PIRG analyzed includes only “major” facilities and does not include pollution discharged into waters by the thousands of minor facilities across the country.

“Although we have made enormous strides since the enactment of the Clean Water Act, efforts to clean up America’s waters have stalled -- even slipped -- under the stewardship of the Bush Administration. In the past several years, the Federal government has let down municipalities’ efforts to protect watersheds, provide safe drinking water, and make recreational water sources fishable and swimmable,” said Rep. James L. Oberstar (Minn.), Chairman of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. “We are at a turning point in history, and our responsibility to this generation and our legacy to future generations is to advance the cause of protecting the most precious of natural resources – clean water.”

Over the last six years, the Bush administration has proposed or enacted numerous policies that weaken the Clean Water Act. These include: two separate policies that eliminate Clean Water Act protections for streams and wetlands that feed and clean treasured lakes, rivers and bays; and funding cuts to EPA’s budget, including significant cuts to the Clean Water State Revolving Fund, the main federal funding source to help communities upgrade their sewage treatment systems.

U.S. PIRG called on the Bush administration to reverse policies that weaken federal clean water safeguards and strengthen enforcement of the Clean Water Act. In addition, the group called on Congress to pass the Clean Water Restoration Act, bipartisan legislation to ensure all U.S. waterways are protected by the Clean Water Act.

U.S. PIRG applauded Representatives Oberstar, Vernon Ehlers (Mich.) and John Dingell (Mich.) and Senator Russell Feingold (Wis.) for sponsoring the Clean Water Restoration Act. U.S. PIRG urged other Representatives and Senators to mark the anniversary of the Clean Water Act by cosponsoring this important clean water bill.

“Rather than holding polluters accountable, the Bush administration is allowing more—not less-- pollution to enter our waterways. Now more than ever, Congress should act to protect all of America’s waters and pass the Clean Water Restoration Act,” concluded Leavitt.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

A Nobel for Truth

by The Boston Globe
October 13, 2007

If the Academy Award didn't get the world to heed Al Gore on the threat of global warming, maybe the Nobel Prize will. The decision of the Nobel committee to award the 2007 peace prize jointly to Gore and the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change gives the former vice president his most exalted platform yet from which to speak the truth about how dangerously mankind is degrading the environment.

In recent years, the Nobel committee has expanded its vision of peacemakers beyond traditional heads of state to include citizen activists in various fields, such as the current Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus of Bangladesh, who promotes microlending, and the Kenyan Wangari Maathai, founder of the greenbelt movement, which combats desertification. Gore's award is firmly in this vein. But no one should doubt that global warming can affect world peace.

First, the dire effects of climate change are felt most severely in the poorest, least stable nations. Droughts, floods, desertification, and crop failures upend whole societies, creating refugee crises and resource wars. The horror of Darfur, in many ways a struggle over water and arable land, is just one example. In Haiti, degradation of the land also has contributed to violent strife.

If the problems of climate change cause civil conflict, its solutions often promote democracy and peace. From the grass roots to the corridors of power, reversing global warming demands cross-border cooperation and more equitable distribution of scarce resources.

Gore shares the prize with the UN panel, a group of 2,500 eminent scientists from 130 countries who for the last 20 years have defied skeptics and, in the committee's words, created "an ever-broader informed consensus about the connection between human activities and global warming." The world's 6 billion people must be made to accept global warming's hard truth and its even harder consequences, because serious behavioral changes will be required. "Action is necessary now," the committee warns, "before climate change moves beyond man's control."

The Nobel committee has seen the future of global conflict, and the environment is at the center of the effort to prevent war and promote peace. Gore yesterday called solving the climate crisis "a moral and spiritual challenge." It must now also be seen as a security imperative for the world.

© Copyright 2007 Globe Newspaper Company

Economics of Housing Full of Inequality

by Roger Markovics
The Albany Times-Union
October 14, 2007

The problem of empty buildings that are seemingly abandoned (but are almost privately owned) has grown to huge proportions in Albany in recent years. It's a problem common to most major cities and is not new.

Side-by-side with this phenomenon is the rapidly worsening problem of the lack of affordable housing for increasing numbers of working people. Obviously, something is very wrong when these problems fester simultaneously.

The economics of our housing system seem to work so well for the affluent that we tend to blame those of us earning less. This rings hollow once we take a much closer look at how this set of economic conditions has evolved.

Traditionally, a house has been primarily a home, a comfortable place to raise a family and a refuge from the rest of the world. An important part of what makes a home comfortable and secure is its affordability, including both the cost of initial acquisition and the build-up of equity over time.

This equation has shifted considerably as the development of equity has become paramount. Government-support programs have been scaled back or eliminated in favor of individual asset building and wealth creation as the alternative.

The results: Declining job security? Rely on home equity. Pension plans replaced by riskier stock market programs? Cash in on your home equity. Government safety-net programs dismantled? Tap the asset you've developed in your home. Health insurance inadequate? Use that home equity. College costs rising? Take out a home equity loan.

Because we rely on home equity, we don't want the poor living nearby; that threatens the value of our homes. Meanwhile, free-market gurus tout personal wealth creation in a philosophy of individual self-reliance that blames those of us earning less for not being able to make it.

But it's not natural law. All economic systems are man-made, and very flawed. Invariably, those who have prospered in any economic system use their success to engineer controls that reinforce and amplify their wealth. And the economics of our housing system are particularly insidious and unfair.

Case in point: the disparity between hidden subsidies for the upwardly mobile and inadequate subsidies for the rest of us. Compare home mortgage interest and property tax deductions on federal income taxes with the budget for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. For decades, the annual cost to the U.S. Treasury of the mortgage interest and property tax deductions has been approximately three times the annual congressional appropriation for HUD. Affluent property owners are the primary beneficiaries of these tax deductions, while the HUD budget is focused primarily on low-income tenants and homeowners.

Look closer: Who gets the home mortgage interest tax deductions? Every homeowner who takes out a mortgage is eligible, regardless of income or location. What is the maximum amount of the home mortgage interest tax deduction? The sky is the limit, including trophy homes.

And compare: Who gets a subsidy through a HUD program and how much? Eligibility requirements are based on strict income guidelines, requiring up-to-date proof of income and identity of all household members, all of which is verified annually. Moreover, only about a third of the low-income population nationwide actually receives HUD subsidies because congressional appropriations are too low to meet more than a fraction of the need.

A double standard? Absolutely. Unfortunately, we don't recognize it because it's cloaked in rhetoric about the poor and bootstraps, and pseudo-economic jargon about the unfairness of taxing the affluent because it would be a disincentive to work hard and after all they "earned" it.

Is this an anomaly? Other hidden subsidies that reward the affluent at taxpayer expense are embedded in the interstate highway system, restrictive zoning and building codes, and New York's funding for school systems that helped create and maintain suburban communities.

Economists and policymakers emphasize wealth aggregation without examining whether wealth is actually created or just transferred. Tax revenues could be better spent in creating a stronger safety net for economic security (including affordable housing). It is up to us, as a civilized society, to see that their collection and use are truly equitable for all in our community.

Copyright 2007 Capital Newspapers Division of The Hearst Corporation

Veteran's Administration Police Harass Muslim-American Journalist

by Matthew Rothschild
The Progressive
September 17, 2007

Mariam Jukaku is a 24-year-old graduate student in journalism at Syracuse University.

After her photography class on September 6, she started to do her homework, which was to take pictures around campus. She’s a Muslim American, and was wearing brown pants, long sleeves, and a brown scarf.

As she walked on the sidewalk toward her car, she passed the VA hospital, so she tried out her camera, taking pictures of the VA entrance and the flags hanging above it.

“I was there for about five or ten minutes,” says Jukaku, “and I was turning away to leave and a woman in a blue uniform came up to me really fast, and said, ‘You can’t take pictures here,’ in an authoritative, demanding voice. Before I could even get another word in, she said, ‘Give me your camera.’

“I must have said something like, ‘What?’ Because I didn’t even process it, and she said, ‘Give me your camera now!’

“So I gave her my camera, and she was kind of looking at it, and she didn’t know how to work it, and so she said, ‘Set this up so I can look at it.’

“I showed her the playback camera, it’s a digital, and I showed her how to scroll them. She looked at all of them, and then said, ‘Delete these in front of me right now.’

“They were the pictures of the flags and the entrance. At that point, I didn’t think it was a big deal, so I deleted them.

“Then she was asking me why I was taking pictures, and I told her I was taking photographs for my class. So she asked me for my student ID, which I gave to her.”

At that point, says Jukaku, another VA police officer arrived, this one a male.

“He asked for my driver’s license, so I gave him my driver’s license,” she says. “Then they took me inside into a small little office, with a sign on it that said ‘police,’ and they questioned me about what I was doing there and why I was taking pictures.

They photocopied both my student ID and my driver’s license. Then the
male officer asked whether I was a U.S. citizen.”

Jukaku said yes.

“The male officer was telling me it was illegal to photograph federal property, and he also said I couldn’t take pictures of veterans without permission,” says Jukaku, adding that they objected to the fact that there were people in the background of her photos.

“While I was in the office, the female officer deleted more of my pictures, and she didn’t tell me which ones,” Jukaku says.

After about 15 or 20 minutes, they gave her camera back to her and let her go.

“When she took my camera, I was kind of shocked,” Jukaku recalls. “And when they took me inside, I kind of got worried. Especially when they asked me if I was a U.S. citizen.”

After they let her go, Jukaku was distraught. A Newhouse fellow (essentially, an intern) with the Syracuse Post-Standard, she called the editors to tell them that she would be late for the meeting they were having. When she arrived and clued them in as to what happened, they told her to contact her journalism professor.

She did. “I called him, and I got really upset,” she says. “It was a traumatic incident.”

“She’s a very level-headed person, but at the end of the conversation, she was crying a little bit,” says adjunct professor Doug Wonders, who manages the photography department facilities. “It was really sad.” Wonders says the VA police had no right to delete her photos, and he calls it “extraordinary.” In the 12 years he’s been running the photo facilities, he’s never heard of anything like this.

“Knowing that she wears a headscarf, I had to shake my head and think whether or not this had any bearing on them approaching her,” he says.

In an e-mail to the South Asian Journalism Association forum, she wrote about that concern.

“When you’re a South-Asian Muslim woman wearing long sleeves and a headscarf on a 90-degree day in early September, the thought that security guards are overreacting solely based on your appearance tends to creep around in the back of your mind,” she wrote. “You tell yourself you’re just being paranoid. But then you get asked if you’re a U.S. citizen—and the creeping thought lands with a resounding thud.”

When the Syracuse Post-Standard first reported on this story on September 7, the VA backed off a bit. “Removing the images that she shot was inappropriate, so we apologize,” Gordon Sclar, the medical center’s public affairs officer, told the paper.
But then the medical center dug in.

“It is quite unfortunate that the actions of one SU student (i.e., taking unauthorized photographs while on VA property) who was not familiar with the longstanding policies/procedures became an issue (from the perspective of the student),” said James Cody, Syracuse VA medical center director, in a prepared statement e-mailed to me on September 17. “The verification of the student’s identification (a procedure which requires photocopying the forms of identification) established the innocence of the student’s intentions. The assessment of unauthorized photographs of patients’ faces elicited the request to delete these images from the camera’s memory card. The deletion of the remaining photographs was not requested, nor required. . . . The VA Medical Center’s police officers handled the matter according to accepted federal practices.”

The Syracuse Post-Standard saw things differently. “Note to VA: It’s Still a Free Country” was the headline on its September 9 editorial. “Hospital security overreacted throughout the incident,” the paper wrote, ‘curbing a journalist’s—or anyone’s—right to take pictures in a public place.” Calling their action “over the top,” the paper wrote: “The hospital needs to give its security guards a crash course on the rights of citizens in a free country.”

Don Cazentre, regional editor for the paper, says: “We don’t believe that the authorities have the right to dictate what someone standing on the sidewalk, as she was, does with a camera.”

Jukaku expressed her own beliefs in a column she wrote for the paper on September 16, entitled, “A question of guarding freedoms.”

“I am only asking to be treated like an American who lives in a country where we are free to practice our religion, free to speak, free to publish our ideas, and certainly free to take pictures in a public place,” she wrote. “This is the America I was raised in, the America I believe in, the America I challenge all of us to invest our hope in.”

©2007 The Progressive Magazine

Friday, October 12, 2007

Al Gore Donates Nobel Proceeds to Alliance for Climate Protection

by Al Gore
October 12, 2007

I am deeply honored to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. This award is even more meaningful because I have the honor of sharing it with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change--the world's pre-eminent scientific body devoted to improving our understanding of the climate crisis--a group whose members have worked tirelessly and selflessly for many years. We face a true planetary emergency. The climate crisis is not a political issue, it is a moral and spiritual challenge to all of humanity. It is also our greatest opportunity to lift global consciousness to a higher level.

My wife, Tipper, and I will donate 100 percent of the proceeds of the award to the Alliance for Climate Protection, a bipartisan non-profit organization that is devoted to changing public opinion in the U.S. and around the world about the urgency of solving the climate crisis.

Thank you,

Al Gore

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Jimmy Carter Does Not Hide Behind Walls

by The Associated Press
October 10, 2007

The U.S. tortures prisoners in violation of international law, former President Jimmy Carter said Wednesday, adding that President Bush makes up his own definition of torture.

"Our country for the first time in my life time has abandoned the basic principle of human rights," Carter said on CNN. "We've said that the Geneva Conventions do not apply to those people in Abu Ghraib prison and Guantanamo, and we've said we can torture prisoners and deprive them of an accusation of a crime."

Bush, responding to an Oct. 4 report by The New York Times on secret Justice Department memorandums supporting the use of "harsh interrogation techniques," defended the techniques Friday by proclaiming: "This government does not torture people."

Carter said the interrogation methods cited by the Times, including "head-slapping, simulated drowning and frigid temperatures," constitute torture "if you use the international norms of torture as has always been honored — certainly in the last 60 years since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was promulgated.

"But you can make your own definition of human rights and say we don't violate them, and you can make your own definition of torture and say we don't violate them," Carter said.

In an interview that aired Wednesday on BBC, Carter ripped Vice President Dick Cheney as "a militant who avoided any service of his own in the military."

Carter went on to say Cheney has been "a disaster for our country. I think he's been overly persuasive on President George Bush."

Cheney spokeswoman Megan Mitchell declined to speak to Carter's allegations.

"We're not going to engage in this kind of rhetoric," she said.

In the CNN interview, the Democratic former president disparaged the field of Republican presidential candidates.

"They all seem to be outdoing each other in who wants to go to war first with Iran, who wants to keep Guantanamo open longer and expand its capacity — things of that kind," Carter said.

He said he also disagreed with positions taken by Democratic Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, who have declined to promise to withdraw all U.S. troops from Iraq over the following four years if elected president next year.

Copyright © 2007 The Associated Press

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

America's Treatment of Its Children Is Its Shame

by Jesse Jackson
Chicago Sun-Times
October 9, 2007

Nine million children go without health insurance in this country. A broad bipartisan majority in both houses of Congress, including such rock-ribbed conservatives as Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah and Chuck Grassley of Iowa, voted to expand the children's health-care program to cover about half of those. Last week, President Bush vetoed the bill. In the Senate, enough Republicans will join Democrats to override that veto. The question is whether two-thirds support can be found in the House of Representatives. In partisan fervor, the Republican leadership has vowed to stand with the president.

There is little disagreement about basic facts. The president and conservative and liberal senators agree that the program works. Governors of both parties are lobbying for its expansion. This isn't about reckless spending; the expansion is paid for by an increase in taxes on cigarettes. All agree that insured children are healthier. And that saves money, reducing preventable diseases, lowering the cost for emergency-room services that result when treatments are put off, and reducing the risk of infection in other children.

So why veto the bill? President Bush warns that the expansion of the program would cover middle-income families. Given the cost of health care and the pressures on working families, it isn't clear what would be wrong with that. But in any case, it isn't true.

The bill would allow states to cover children of the near poor -- those who make up to twice the amount considered a poverty-level income. Experts say this will max out at about $41,000 for a family of four, with states having the discretion of whether to get to that limit, and the federal government able to stop states from going above it. Does anyone other than this president born of privilege have any doubt that families raising two children on $40,000 a year will struggle with health-care costs?

White House spokespeople say the main issue is an ideological one. This bill, the president charges, "is an incremental step toward the goal of government-run health care for every American." It's all part of a plot to move by small steps to what Rudy Giuliani burlesques as "socialized medicine."

Again, this wouldn't be so bad if it were true. There is no evidence that current recipients of government-sponsored health care -- those on Medicare and Medicaid, veterans health care, federal and state government employees insurance -- are less happy than those with private insurance. And with 44 million going without health insurance, this country must make a commitment to universal health care, giving everyone a choice of private insurance or a public program. But again, the president's claim is not true.

The fact is, as Harold Meyerson has noted, the multibillion-dollar insurance industry hasn't found a way to profit from providing health care to these poor children. That's why they don't have insurance. And that's why the private health insurance lobby, the American Medical Association and Big Pharma, the drug company lobby, are all supporting -- not opposing -- the bill. These are not exactly champions of "socialized medicine." The president is stiffing needy children to give private insurance companies customers they don't want.

This isn't partisan or ideological; it is moral. Most religious traditions tell us that, as the Bible says, we can only measure ourselves by how we treat the "least of these." Let the children come unto me, Christ taught.

It is America's shame that one-fifth of all children in this rich nation are raised in poverty. It is simply inexcusable that vulnerable children should be deprived of health care to make an ideological point. The insurance companies are enjoying record profits. The children are at risk and need the care.

© Copyright 2007 Sun-Times News Group

Monday, October 08, 2007

The Dangers of Consumer Products

by Eric Lipton
The New York Times
October 8, 2007

Walter E. Friedel’s plans to waterproof the tile floors of his hot tub room using Stand ’n Seal, a do-it-yourself product sold at his local Home Depot, promised to be a quick weekend project, one he could wrap up in time to catch the Giants football game on a Sunday afternoon.

The product offered “a revolutionary fast way” to seal grout around tiles and, its label boasted, any extra spray would “evaporate harmlessly.”

“It sounds like no big deal,” Dr. Friedel said, looking back.

But instead of watching football that afternoon, Dr. Friedel, a 63-year-old physician, ended up being rushed to the hospital, where he would spend four days in intensive care, gasping for air, his lungs chemically inflamed.

Dr. Friedel was the latest victim of a product whose dangers had become known months earlier to the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the companies that made and sold it. Before Dr. Friedel bought Stand ’n Seal, at least 80 people had been sickened using it, two of them fatally.

But even then, with the threat well-documented, the manufacturer, retailer and the commission had failed to remove the hazard from the shelves.

The task of getting dangerous products out of consumers’ reach is perhaps the most pressing challenge the Consumer Product Safety Commission faces in this era of surging recalls, particularly of products from China. It is an essential part of the agency’s mission, because premarket testing is not required for consumer products in the United States.

Nancy A. Nord, the commission’s acting chairwoman, said the agency was proud of its record of moving rapidly and forcefully to pull hazardous products off the market.

“The point is to get the recall out there, to get the consumer informed of what’s happening and then try to get the product out of consumers’ hands,” Ms. Nord said in testimony to a House panel in September. “I think a recall process works very well.”

But the Stand ’n Seal case is a powerful illustration of the commission’s failure to fully live up to its mission.

Court documents show that, as the case unfolded, the product’s maker, BRTT, appeared at times to be more concerned with protecting its bottom line than with taking steps to ensure that the hazard was removed. That meant that hazardous cans of Stand ’n Seal remained on the shelves for more than a year after the 2005 recall.

And the product that BRTT initially rushed to put in its place — and which Dr. Friedel and others bought — contained the same chemical that had apparently caused injuries in the first place, the company and Home Depot now acknowledge.

Critics say the Stand ’n Seal case demonstrates how the Consumer Product Safety Commission is too overwhelmed with reports of injuries and with new hazards to comprehensively investigate or follow up on many complaints. The agency’s laboratory is also so antiquated it did not have the equipment necessary to evaluate fully the remedy BRTT offered — leaving the agency to rely largely on the company’s promise that it would fix the problem.

And then, after receiving repeated complaints that the hazard persisted long after the recall, the agency failed to follow up adequately, documents show.

Even if the slip-ups were a result of companies having concealed important evidence, the commission still has a responsibility to use its enforcement powers to investigate and, if appropriate, to issue fines. To date, more than two years after the commission became aware of the problems with Stand ’n Seal, no fines have been issued.

“They did not get the job done that consumers expect, and people suffered as a result,” said R. David Pittle, who served on the commission for a decade after it was created in 1973, and later as technical director at Consumers Union, which publishes Consumer Reports.

The problem is compounded because consumers often ignore warnings about unsafe products, or simply never hear them, and continue to use flawed products even after recalls have been issued.

Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company

Monday, October 01, 2007

The Toxic Truth About Antibacterials

by P.W. McRandle
The Green Guide
October/November 2007 Issue

We live in fear of microbes to the point that we'll buy antibacterial soaps, body washes, toothpaste, even bath towels. And why shouldn't we? Would anyone prefer to suffer from gingivitis and plaque? Unfortunately, we may be getting more than we bargained for.

In a review of recent studies, researchers at the University of Michigan School of Public Health have found that the ingredient commonly used in these products, triclosan, provides no additional benefits beyond those of plain soap; it also may contribute to the rise of many different drug-resistant bacteria, including a relative of tuberculosis. In an earlier study, "We surveyed many different bacteria and found that many species on people's hands could survive in very high levels of triclosan," notes author Allison Aiello, Ph.D., assistant professor of epidemiology. As for drug resistance, "Even when bacteria in these lab studies are exposed to quite low levels of triclosan," Aiello says, "they can acquire traits that allow them to become cross-resistant to other bacteria." This held true for salmonella, E. coli, staph infections and bacteria that cause pneumonia.

Given that triclosan can also form the probable human carcinogen chloroform when exposed to chlorinated water, you may take pause lathering up with that antibacterial soap next time you shower. (Never mind the fact that triclosan has been found in rivers or that it can concentrate in fish tissues to be eaten by us later.) So what should you choose? Avoid soaps, body washes and other bathroom products (including towels!) that advertise themselves as "antibacterial" or "antimicrobial." The majority of products so labeled include triclosan or the similarly problematic compound triclocarban.

Product Picks

Check out these products free of antibacterials and other "dirty dozen" ingredients (see The Dirty Dozen Chemicals in Cosmetics):

Bath sets (one towel, one wash cloth, one hand towel): EcoBathroom pure bamboo ($45) and organic cotton twill sets ($50; www.ecobathroom.com); CB2 bamboo/conventional cotton set ($36.85; www.cb2.com, 800-606-6252).

Hand soap: Paul's USDA-certified organic soap ($10.60/bar; www.paulsorganic.com); Miessence liquid hand soap ($18.95/8.5 fl.oz.; www.mionegroup.com)

Body Wash: Miessence Sunflower Body Wash ($16.95/8.5 fl.oz.; www.mionegroup.com); Perfect Organics' Ultimate 3-in-1 Body Wash can be used as a shaving gel, shower gel and bath soak ($13.99; www.perfectorganics.com, 800-653-1078).

Toothpaste: Peelu toothpaste, made from the bark of the Arak tree ($3.74; www.amazon.com); Jason Power Smile, Healthy Mouth and Sea Fresh toothpastes ($5.69; www.drugstore.com).


* Alliance for the Prudent Use of Antibiotics: www.tufts.edu/med/apua/
* World Health Organization: www.who.int/health_topics/drug_resistance/en
* U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: www.cdc.gov/drugresistance

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Dry Right

© 2007 National Geographic Society

9/11 Has Made Us Stupid

by Thomas L. Friedman
The New York Times
September 30, 2007

Not long ago, the satirical newspaper The Onion ran a fake news story that began like this:

“At a well-attended rally in front of his new ground zero headquarters Monday, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani officially announced his plan to run for president of 9/11. ‘My fellow citizens of 9/11, today I will make you a promise,’ said Giuliani during his 18-minute announcement speech in front of a charred and torn American flag. ‘As president of 9/11, I will usher in a bold new 9/11 for all.’ If elected, Giuliani would inherit the duties of current 9/11 President George W. Bush, including making grim facial expressions, seeing the world’s conflicts in terms of good and evil, and carrying a bullhorn at all state functions.”

Like all good satire, the story made me both laugh and cry, because it reflected something so true — how much, since 9/11, we’ve become “The United States of Fighting Terrorism.” Times columnists are not allowed to endorse candidates, but there’s no rule against saying who will not get my vote: I will not vote for any candidate running on 9/11. We don’t need another president of 9/11. We need a president for 9/12. I will only vote for the 9/12 candidate.

What does that mean? This: 9/11 has made us stupid. I honor, and weep for, all those murdered on that day. But our reaction to 9/11 — mine included — has knocked America completely out of balance, and it is time to get things right again.

It is not that I thought we had new enemies that day and now I don’t. Yes, in the wake of 9/11, we need new precautions, new barriers. But we also need our old habits and sense of openness. For me, the candidate of 9/12 is the one who will not only understand who our enemies are, but who we are.

Before 9/11, the world thought America’s slogan was: “Where anything is possible for anybody.” But that is not our global brand anymore. Our government has been exporting fear, not hope: “Give me your tired, your poor and your fingerprints.”

You may think Guantánamo Bay is a prison camp in Cuba for Al Qaeda terrorists. A lot of the world thinks it’s a place we send visitors who don’t give the right answers at immigration. I will not vote for any candidate who is not committed to dismantling Guantánamo Bay and replacing it with a free field hospital for poor Cubans. Guantánamo Bay is the anti-Statue of Liberty.

Roger Dow, president of the Travel Industry Association, told me that the United States has lost millions of overseas visitors since 9/11 — even though the dollar is weak and America is on sale. “Only the U.S. is losing traveler volume among major countries, which is unheard of in today’s world,” Mr. Dow said.

Total business arrivals to the United States fell by 10 percent over the 2004-5 period alone, while the number of business visitors to Europe grew by 8 percent in that time. The travel industry’s recent Discover America Partnership study concluded that “the U.S. entry process has created a climate of fear and frustration that is turning away foreign business and leisure travelers and hurting America’s image abroad.” Those who don’t visit us, don’t know us.

I’d love to see us salvage something decent in Iraq that might help tilt the Middle East onto a more progressive pathway. That was and is necessary to improve our security. But sometimes the necessary is impossible — and we just can’t keep chasing that rainbow this way.

Look at our infrastructure. It’s not just the bridge that fell in my hometown, Minneapolis. Fly from Zurich’s ultramodern airport to La Guardia’s dump. It is like flying from the Jetsons to the Flintstones. I still can’t get uninterrupted cellphone service between my home in Bethesda and my office in D.C. But I recently bought a pocket cellphone at the Beijing airport and immediately called my wife in Bethesda — crystal clear.

I just attended the China clean car conference, where Chinese automakers were boasting that their 2008 cars will meet “Euro 4” — European Union — emissions standards. We used to be the gold standard. We aren’t anymore. Last July, Microsoft, fed up with American restrictions on importing brain talent, opened its newest software development center in Vancouver. That’s in Canada, folks. If Disney World can remain an open, welcoming place, with increased but invisible security, why can’t America?

We can’t afford to keep being this stupid! We have got to get our groove back. We need a president who will unite us around a common purpose, not a common enemy. Al Qaeda is about 9/11. We are about 9/12, we are about the Fourth of July — which is why I hope that anyone who runs on the 9/11 platform gets trounced.

Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company

Democrats Were Charged To End A War, Not Start One

by Mike Gravel
Common Dreams News Center
September 28, 2007

Hillary Clinton was either misinformed or economical with the truth in Wednesday night’s debate when she responded to my challenge to her by saying the Senate’s resolution earlier in the day on Iran was designed to permit economic sanctions against individual members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.

She and her staff should know the United Nations Security Council on March 24 already slapped economic sanctions on individual Guard Members. Like the Red Army in China, Iran allows Guard commanders to own and run private companies. Security Council Resolution 1747, which the United States voted for, froze financial assets held outside Iran on the seven military commanders, including General Mohammad Baqer Zolqadr and six other admirals and generals.

I know of no law dictating the State Department must first designate individuals or groups as terrorists before sanctions can be imposed on them. Dozens of countries have been under U.S. unilateral sanctions that are not designated as terrorist. The U.S. first imposed sanctions on Iran in 1979 over the hostages, not terrorism. The only possible purpose of the Senate resolution asking the State Department to designate the Revolutionary Guards a terrorist organization is to set it up for military attack in George Bush’s war on terror.

As Virginia senator Jim Webb valiantly said in the Senate, the United States has never before designated the military services of a sovereign state a terrorist group. Indeed, though there is international dispute over the definition of terrorism, there is little disagreement on the legal point that terrorists are non-state actors who target civilians, i.e., never members of a government. Governments can be guilty of war crimes, but not terrorism. And the resolution talks about attacks on American troops, not civilians.

The hypocrisy of Hillary and the 75 other senators who called for more unilateral sanctions on Iran, was exposed Monday by German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier who said, according to Spiegel Magazine, that American companies are violating existing U.S. sanctions by surreptitiously doing business with Iran through front companies in Dubai.

Joe Lieberman wrote the resolution authorizing the invasion of Iraq that was passed with Democratic support on October 11, 2002. Lieberman’s new resolution setting up a Bush-Cheney invasion of Iran passed by 76 to 22 with Democratic backing on September 26, 2007. These are two dates that will live in infamy in the 21st century. Led by Senator Clinton, it was another sad day for the Senate and for Senate Democrats, who were elected to the majority in November in order to end a war, not start a new one.

Mike Gravel is a former US Senator from Alaska and is currently running for the Democratic Nomination for President.

© Copyrighted 2007 www.commondreams.org