Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Eden Avoids Toxins in Their Canned Foods

by Sandra K. Baker
Eden Foods
April 30, 2008

Eden cans have "crimped" seams, using no solder. Eden Organic Beans are packed in steel cans coated with a baked on oleoresinous (a natural mixture of an oil and a resin extracted from various plants, such as pine or balsam fir) c-enamel lining, that does not contain bisphenol-A.

These cans cost 14% more than the industry standard cans, which do contain bisphenol-A. Eden Foods learned through reading and customer feedback that bisphenol-A was an issue in Europe. Immediately upon learning of this we contacted our can manufacturers and settled on supply from the Ball Corporation, the only company to address this issue with a solution. To the best of our knowledge, to date we are the only US manufacturer doing so, and have been told this by Ball Corp.

Eden began using the BPA-free can lining for EDEN Organic Beans in 1999. Ball first made this can for us April 22, 1999. All Eden Organic Beans are produced at our AIB International 'Superior Rated' (the highest rating) kosher cannery, Meridian Foods in Indiana.

Products include:
12 varieties of EDEN Organic Unseasoned Beans in 15 ounce cans
4 varieties of EDEN Organic Unseasoned Beans in 108 ounce cans
6 varieties of EDEN Organic Refried Beans in 15 and 16 ounce cans
5 varieties of EDEN Organic Seasoned Beans in 15 ounce cans
6 varieties of EDEN Organic Rice & Beans in 15 ounce cans

Eden Organic Canned Tomatoes are packed by a co-packer. They are packed in steel cans coated with a baked on r-enamel lining. Due to the acidity of tomatoes, (to prevent the can from rusting) the lining is epoxy based and contains a minute amount of bisphenol-A. In extraction test on the r-enamel lined can bisphenol-A was found to be in the “non-detectable” range. The test was based on a detection limit of 5 ppb (parts per billion).

You Name It, and Exercise Helps It

by Jane E. Brody
The New York Times
April 29, 2008

Randi considers the Y.M.C.A. her lifeline, especially the pool. Randi weighs more than 300 pounds and has borderline diabetes, but she controls her blood sugar and keeps her bright outlook on life by swimming every day for about 45 minutes.

Randi overcame any self-consciousness about her weight for the sake of her health, and those who swim with her and share the open locker room are proud of her. If only the millions of others beset with chronic health problems recognized the inestimable value to their physical and emotional well-being of regular physical exercise.

“The single thing that comes close to a magic bullet, in terms of its strong and universal benefits, is exercise,” Frank Hu, epidemiologist at the Harvard School of Public Health, said in the Harvard Magazine.

I have written often about the protective roles of exercise. It can lower the risk of heart attack, stroke, hypertension, diabetes, obesity, depression, dementia, osteoporosis, gallstones, diverticulitis, falls, erectile dysfunction, peripheral vascular disease and 12 kinds of cancer.

But what if you already have one of these conditions? Or an ailment like rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, congestive heart failure or osteoarthritis? How can you exercise if you’re always tired or in pain or have trouble breathing? Can exercise really help?

You bet it can. Marilyn Moffat, a professor of physical therapy at New York University and co-author with Carole B. Lewis of “Age-Defying Fitness” (Peachtree, 2006), conducts workshops for physical therapists around the country and abroad, demonstrating how people with chronic health problems can improve their health and quality of life by learning how to exercise safely.

“The data show that regular moderate exercise increases your ability to battle the effects of disease,” Dr. Moffat said in an interview. “It has a positive effect on both physical and mental well-being. The goal is to do as much physical activity as your body lets you do, and rest when you need to rest.”

In years past, doctors were afraid to let heart patients exercise. When my father had a heart attack in 1968, he was kept sedentary for six weeks. Now, heart attack patients are in bed barely half a day before they are up and moving, Dr. Moffat said.

The core of cardiac rehab is a progressive exercise program to increase the ability of the heart to pump oxygen- and nutrient-rich blood more effectively throughout the body. The outcome is better endurance, greater ability to enjoy life and decreased mortality.

The same goes for patients with congestive heart failure. “Heart failure patients as old as 91 can increase their oxygen consumption significantly,” Dr. Moffat said.

Aerobic exercise lowers blood pressure in people with hypertension, and it improves peripheral circulation in people who develop cramping leg pains when they walk — a condition called intermittent claudication. The treatment for it, in fact, is to walk a little farther each day.

In people who have had transient ischemic attacks, or ministrokes, “gradually increasing exercise improves blood flow to the brain and may diminish the risk of a full-blown stroke,” Dr. Moffat said. And aerobic and strength exercises have been shown to improve endurance, walking speed and the ability to perform tasks of daily living up to six years after a stroke.

As Randi knows, moderate exercise cuts the risk of developing diabetes. And for those with diabetes, exercise improves glucose tolerance — less medication is needed to control blood sugar — and reduces the risk of life-threatening complications.

Perhaps the most immediate benefits are reaped by people with joint and neuromuscular disorders. Without exercise, those at risk of osteoarthritis become crippled by stiff, deteriorated joints. But exercise that increases strength and aerobic capacity can reduce pain, depression and anxiety and improve function, balance and quality of life.

Likewise for people with rheumatoid arthritis. “The less they do, the worse things get,” Dr. Moffat said. “The more their joints move, the better.”

Exercise that builds gradually and protects inflamed joints can diminish pain, fatigue, morning stiffness, depression and anxiety, she said, and improve strength, walking speed and activity.

Exercise is crucial to improving function of total hip or knee replacements. But “most patients with knee replacements don’t get intensive enough activity,” Dr. Moffat said.

Water exercises are particularly helpful for people with multiple sclerosis, who must avoid overheating. And for those with Parkinson’s, resistance training and aerobic exercise can increase their ability to function independently and improve their balance, stride length, walking speed and mood.

Resistance training, along with aerobic exercise, is especially helpful for people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; it helps counter the loss of muscle mass and strength from lack of oxygen.

In the February/March issue of ACE Certified News, Natalie Digate Muth, a registered dietitian and personal trainer, emphasized the value of a good workout for people suffering from depression. Mastering a new skill increases their sense of worth, social contact improves mood, and the endorphins released during exercise improve well-being.

“Exercise is an important adjunct to pharmacological therapy, and it does not matter how severe the depression — exercise works equally well for people with moderate or severe depression,” wrote Ms. Muth, who is pursuing a medical degree at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

Healthy people may have difficulty appreciating the burdens faced by those with chronic ailments, Dr. Nancey Trevanian Tsai noted in the same issue of ACE Certified News. “Oftentimes, disease-ridden statements — like ‘I’m a diabetic’ — become barricades that keep clients from seeing themselves getting better,” she said, and many feel “enslaved by their diseases and treatments.”

But the feel-good hormones released through exercise can help sustain activity.

“With regular exercise, the body seeks to continue staying active,” wrote Dr. Tsai, an assistant professor of neurosciences at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston. She recommended an exercise program tailored to the person’s current abilities, daily needs, medication schedule, side effects and response to treatment.

She urged trainers who work with people with chronic ailments to start slowly with easily achievable goals, build gradually on each accomplishment and focus on functional gains. Over time, a sense of accomplishment, better sleep, less pain and enhanced satisfaction with life can become further reasons to pursue physical activity.

“Even if exercise is tough to schedule,” Dr. Moffat said, “you feel so much better, it’s crazy not to do it.”

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company

The McCain-Clinton Disastrous Energy Policy

by Thomas L. Friedman
The New York Times
April 30, 2008

It is great to see that we finally have some national unity on energy policy. Unfortunately, the unifying idea is so ridiculous, so unworthy of the people aspiring to lead our nation, it takes your breath away. Hillary Clinton has decided to line up with John McCain in pushing to suspend the federal excise tax on gasoline, 18.4 cents a gallon, for this summer’s travel season. This is not an energy policy. This is money laundering: we borrow money from China and ship it to Saudi Arabia and take a little cut for ourselves as it goes through our gas tanks. What a way to build our country.

When the summer is over, we will have increased our debt to China, increased our transfer of wealth to Saudi Arabia and increased our contribution to global warming for our kids to inherit.

No, no, no, we’ll just get the money by taxing Big Oil, says Mrs. Clinton. Even if you could do that, what a terrible way to spend precious tax dollars — burning it up on the way to the beach rather than on innovation?

The McCain-Clinton gas holiday proposal is a perfect example of what energy expert Peter Schwartz of Global Business Network describes as the true American energy policy today: “Maximize demand, minimize supply and buy the rest from the people who hate us the most.”

Good for Barack Obama for resisting this shameful pandering.

But here’s what’s scary: our problem is so much worse than you think. We have no energy strategy. If you are going to use tax policy to shape energy strategy then you want to raise taxes on the things you want to discourage — gasoline consumption and gas-guzzling cars — and you want to lower taxes on the things you want to encourage — new, renewable energy technologies. We are doing just the opposite.

Are you sitting down?

Few Americans know it, but for almost a year now, Congress has been bickering over whether and how to renew the investment tax credit to stimulate investment in solar energy and the production tax credit to encourage investment in wind energy. The bickering has been so poisonous that when Congress passed the 2007 energy bill last December, it failed to extend any stimulus for wind and solar energy production. Oil and gas kept all their credits, but those for wind and solar have been left to expire this December. I am not making this up. At a time when we should be throwing everything into clean power innovation, we are squabbling over pennies.

These credits are critical because they ensure that if oil prices slip back down again — which often happens — investments in wind and solar would still be profitable. That’s how you launch a new energy technology and help it achieve scale, so it can compete without subsidies.

The Democrats wanted the wind and solar credits to be paid for by taking away tax credits from the oil industry. President Bush said he would veto that. Neither side would back down, and Mr. Bush — showing not one iota of leadership — refused to get all the adults together in a room and work out a compromise. Stalemate. Meanwhile, Germany has a 20-year solar incentive program; Japan 12 years. Ours, at best, run two years.

“It’s a disaster,” says Michael Polsky, founder of Invenergy, one of the biggest wind-power developers in America. “Wind is a very capital-intensive industry, and financial institutions are not ready to take ‘Congressional risk.’ They say if you don’t get the [production tax credit] we will not lend you the money to buy more turbines and build projects.”

It is also alarming, says Rhone Resch, the president of the Solar Energy Industries Association, that the U.S. has reached a point “where the priorities of Congress could become so distorted by politics” that it would turn its back on the next great global industry — clean power — “but that’s exactly what is happening.” If the wind and solar credits expire, said Resch, the impact in just 2009 would be more than 100,000 jobs either lost or not created in these industries, and $20 billion worth of investments that won’t be made.

While all the presidential candidates were railing about lost manufacturing jobs in Ohio, no one noticed that America’s premier solar company, First Solar, from Toledo, Ohio, was opening its newest factory in the former East Germany — 540 high-paying engineering jobs — because Germany has created a booming solar market and America has not.

In 1997, said Resch, America was the leader in solar energy technology, with 40 percent of global solar production. “Last year, we were less than 8 percent, and even most of that was manufacturing for overseas markets.”

The McCain-Clinton proposal is a reminder to me that the biggest energy crisis we have in our country today is the energy to be serious — the energy to do big things in a sustained, focused and intelligent way. We are in the midst of a national political brownout.

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Dr. Bronner's Files Suit Against Companies With False Organic Claims

April 28, 2008

The family owned Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps filed a lawsuit in California Superior Court today against numerous personal care brands to force them to stop making misleading organic labeling claims. Dr. Bronner's and the Organic Consumers Association (OCA) had warned offending brands that they faced litigation unless they committed to either drop their organic claims or reformulate away from main ingredients made from conventional agricultural and/or petrochemical material without any certified organic material. OCA has played the leading role in exposing and educating consumers about deceptive organic branding.

David Bronner, President of Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps says, "We have been deeply disappointed and frustrated by companies in the 'natural' personal care space who have been screwing over organic consumers, engaging in misleading organic branding and label call-outs, on products that were not natural in the first place, let alone organic." Dr. Bronner's has determined, based on extensive surveys, that organic consumers expect that cleansing ingredients in branded and labeled soaps, shampoos and body washes that are labeled "Organic", "Organics" or "Made with Organic" will be from organic as distinct from conventional agricultural material, produced without synthetic fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides, and free of petrochemical compounds.

For example: The major cleansing ingredient in Jason "Pure, Natural & Organic" liquid soaps, body washes and shampoos is Sodium Myreth Sulfate, which involves ethoxylating a conventional non-organic fatty chain with the carcinogenic petrochemical Ethylene Oxide, which produces caricinogenic 1,4-Dioxane as a contaminant. The major cleansing ingredient in Avalon "Organics" soaps, bodywashes and shampoos, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, contains conventional non-organic agricultural material combined with the petrochemical Amdiopropyl Betaine. Nature's Gate "Organics" main cleansers are Disodium Laureth Sulfosuccinate (ethoxylated) and Cocamidopropyl Betaine. Kiss My Face "Obsessively Organic" cleansers are Olefin Sulfonate (a pure petrochemical) and Cocamidopropyl Betaine. Juice "Organics", Giovanni "Organic Cosmetics", Head "Organics", Desert Essence "Organics", and Ikove "Organic" all use Cocamdiopropyl Betaine as a main cleansing ingredient and no cleansers made from certified organic material. Due to the petrochemical compounds used to make the ingredient, Cocamidopropyl Betaine is contaminated with traces of Sodium monochloroacetate, Amidoamine (AA), and dimethylaminopropylamine (DMAPA). Amidoamine in particular is suspected of causing skin sensitization and allergic reactions even at very low levels for certain individuals. Organic consumers have a right to expect that the personal care products they purchase with organic branding or label claims, contain cleansing ingredients made from organic agricultural material, not conventional or petrochemical material, and thus have absolutely no petrochemical contaminants that could pose any concern.

Dr. Bronner's products, in contrast to the brands noted above, contain cleansing and moisturizing ingredients made only from certified organic oils, made without any use of petrochemicals, and contain no petrochemical preservatives. The misleading organic noise created by culprit companies' branding and labeling practices, interferes with organic consumers ability to distinguish personal care whose main ingredients are in fact made with certified organic, not conventional or petrochemical, material, free of synthetic preservatives.

Copyright 2008 Dr. Bronner's

Monday, April 28, 2008

The Angry Hungry

by Raj Patel
The Guardian
April 28, 2008

If Josette Sheeran, head of the United Nations World Food Programme, is to be believed, the current food crisis is "a silent tsunami which knows no borders, sweeping the world".

That's just wishful thinking.

If the tsunami were really silent, then it'd be much easier for cretins to propose trade liberalisation as a remedy, or for Gordon Brown to support genetically modified crops as a way of responding to the disaster.

If the tsunami were silent, these ideas would float unopposed and uncontested. Indeed, it'd be far more convenient for the governments and aid agencies involved if the catastrophe of hunger and poverty were silent, and especially if the hungry didn't keep piping up with their own ideas about what they'd like to see happen. But they do, and their ideas are often at odds with those proposed by the development industry.

If the tsunami were really silent, the fairytales of the international development cabal could be told in nothing louder than a whisper. In these stories, the world's poor people aren't very articulate, and it requires an almost magical skill to divine their needs. The poor like are puppies with tummy aches, whose mute suffering is knowable only to those trained in the art of looking into those big brown eyes and feeling their pain.

I should know. As a graduate student, I participated in just such an exercise for the World Bank as a contributor to a publication entitled The Voices of The Poor: Can Anyone Hear Us?

Billed as a way of "gathering the voices of 40,000 people from the Bank's own assessments", and favourably blurbed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the document is an attempt at an epistemological get-out-of-jail-free card, for no one knows the poor like the World Bank.

It is, of course, an execrable piece of work and one that gets savaged in a number of places, including here (by one of the report's other co-authors and me).

But the tsunami has been noisy for decades. Some of the poorest people on earth have been extremely vocal, ever since the dawn of modern development policies. Via Campesina, one of the world's largest movements of poor people with membership estimates as high as 150 million, has been warning of the dangers of handing over agriculture to the private sector ever since its inception in the early 1990s.

They've long been campaigning for things that aren't on the policy table at the moment - things like state-led land reform. Like grain stores and income support for the poor. Like equal access to natural resources. Like government investment to develop new and sustainable agro-agricultural technologies, as opposed to GM crops - a position recently vindicated by a venerable panel of experts at the IAASTD.

Above all, they demand democracy so that their voices might count. Those voices are articulate and audible. The International Day of Peasants' Struggle happened last week, with protests in over 60 countries, commemorating the massacre of 19 landless people by government forces in Brazil in 1996. Those protests were rich with ideas for food sovereignty.

But the voices have so far been ignored. The most common agricultural response to the demands of landless people and the hungry urban poor is for officials to plant their fingers in their ears.

Meanwhile, the private sector is rubbing its hands at the prospect that this crisis too might be an arena for them to practice a new brand of disaster capitalism.

The tsunami is loud and clear. Perhaps the global wave of food riots their policies have engendered will help to clear the soil out of the development industry's ears.

© Guardian News and Media Limited

Carter Working for Peace Where Bush Refuses

by Jimmy Carter
The New York Times
April 28, 2008

A counterproductive Washington policy in recent years has been to boycott and punish political factions or governments that refuse to accept United States mandates. This policy makes difficult the possibility that such leaders might moderate their policies.

Two notable examples are in Nepal and the Middle East. About 12 years ago, Maoist guerrillas took up arms in an effort to overthrow the monarchy and change the nation’s political and social life. Although the United States declared the revolutionaries to be terrorists, the Carter Center agreed to help mediate among the three major factions: the royal family, the old-line political parties and the Maoists.

In 2006, six months after the oppressive monarch was stripped of his powers, a cease-fire was signed. Maoist combatants laid down their arms and Nepalese troops agreed to remain in their barracks. Our center continued its involvement and nations — though not the United States — and international organizations began working with all parties to reconcile the dispute and organize elections.

The Maoists are succeeding in achieving their major goals: abolishing the monarchy, establishing a democratic republic and ending discrimination against untouchables and others whose citizenship rights were historically abridged. After a surprising victory in the April 10 election, Maoists will play a major role in writing a constitution and governing for about two years. To the United States, they are still terrorists.

On the way home from monitoring the Nepalese election, I, my wife and my son went to Israel. My goal was to learn as much as possible to assist in the faltering peace initiative endorsed by President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Although I knew that official United States policy was to boycott the government of Syria and leaders of Hamas, I did not receive any negative or cautionary messages about the trip, except that it might be dangerous to visit Gaza.

The Carter Center had monitored three Palestinian elections, including one for parliamentary seats in January 2006. Hamas had prevailed in several municipal contests, gained a reputation for effective and honest administration and did surprisingly well in the legislative race, displacing the ruling party, Fatah. As victors, Hamas proposed a unity government with Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah as president and offered to give key ministries to Fatah, including that of foreign affairs and finance.

Hamas had been declared a terrorist organization by the United States and Israel, and the elected Palestinian government was forced to dissolve. Eventually, Hamas gained control of Gaza, and Fatah is “governing” the Israeli-dominated West Bank. Opinion polls show Hamas steadily gaining popularity. Since there can be no peace with Palestinians divided, we at the Carter Center believed it important to explore conditions allowing Hamas to be brought peacefully back into the discussions. (A recent poll of Israelis, who are familiar with this history, showed 64 percent favored direct talks between Israel and Hamas.)

Similarly, Israel cannot gain peace with Syria unless the Golan Heights dispute is resolved. Here again, United States policy is to ostracize the Syrian government and prevent bilateral peace talks, contrary to the desire of high Israeli officials.

We met with Hamas leaders from Gaza, the West Bank and Syria, and after two days of intense discussions with one another they gave these official responses to our suggestions, intended to enhance prospects for peace:

• Hamas will accept any agreement negotiated by Mr. Abbas and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Israel provided it is approved either in a Palestinian referendum or by an elected government. Hamas’s leader, Khaled Meshal, has reconfirmed this, although some subordinates have denied it to the press.

• When the time comes, Hamas will accept the possibility of forming a nonpartisan professional government of technocrats to govern until the next elections can be held.

• Hamas will also disband its militia in Gaza if a nonpartisan professional security force can be formed.

• Hamas will permit an Israeli soldier captured by Palestinian militants in 2006, Cpl. Gilad Shalit, to send a letter to his parents. If Israel agrees to a list of prisoners to be exchanged, and the first group is released, Corporal Shalit will be sent to Egypt, pending the final releases.

• Hamas will accept a mutual cease-fire in Gaza, with the expectation (not requirement) that this would later include the West Bank.

• Hamas will accept international control of the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt, provided the Egyptians and not the Israelis control closing the gates.

In addition, Syria’s president, Bashir al-Assad, has expressed eagerness to begin negotiations with Israel to end the impasse on the Golan Heights. He asks only that the United States be involved and that the peace talks be made public.

Through more official consultations with these outlawed leaders, it may yet be possible to revive and expedite the stalemated peace talks between Israel and its neighbors. In the Middle East, as in Nepal, the path to peace lies in negotiation, not in isolation.

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Evil Empire Opens World's Biggest Embassy

by Howard LaFranchi
The Christian Science Monitor
April 24, 2008

For the average American who will never see it, the new US Embassy in Baghdad may be little more than the Big Dig of the Tigris.

Like the infamous Boston highway project, the embassy is a mammoth development that is overbudget, overdue, and casts a whiff of corruption.

For many Iraqis, though, the sand-and-ochre-colored compound peering out across the city from a reedy stretch of riverfront within the fortified Green Zone is an unsettling symbol both of what they have become in the five years since the fall of Saddam Hussein, and of what they have yet to achieve.

"It is a symbol of occupation for the Iraqi people, that is all," says Anouar, a Baghdad graduate student who thought it was risk enough to give her first name. "We see the size of this embassy and we think we will be part of the American plan for our country and our region for many, many years."

The 104-acre, 21-building enclave – the largest US Embassy in the world, similar in size to Vatican City in Rome – is often described as a "castle" by Iraqis, but more in the sense of the forbidden and dominating than of the alluring and liberating.

"We all know this big yellow castle, but its main purpose, it seems, is the security of the Americans who will live there," says Sarah, a university sophomore who also declined to give her last name for reasons of personal safety. "I heard that no one else can ever reach it."

Among the Iraqi elites who have suffered so much in the chaos of the post-Hussein period – the professors, doctors, architects, and artists – the impact of the new American giant is often expressed more symbolically but sometimes using the same terms.

"Saddam had his big castles; they symbolized his power and were places to be feared, and now we have the castle of the power that toppled him," says Abdul Jabbar Ahmed, a vice dean for political sciences at Baghdad University. "If I am the ambassador of the USA here I would say, 'Build something smaller that doesn't stand out so much, it's too important that we avoid these negative impressions.' "

Yet while the new embassy may be the largest in the world, it is not in its design and presence unlike others the US has built around the world in a burst of overseas construction since the bombings of US missions in the 1980s and '90s. Efforts to provide the 12,000 American diplomats working overseas a secure environment were redoubled following the 9/11 attacks.

Designed according to what are called the "Inman standards" – the results of a 1985 commission on secure embassy construction headed by former National Security Agency head Bobby Inman – recent embassies have been built as fortified compounds away from population centers and surrounded by high walls.

In the case of larger embassies in the most dangerous environments, as in Baghdad, secure housing is included, along with some of the amenities of home – restaurants, gyms, pools, cinemas, shopping – that can give the compound the air of an enclave.

The US government cleared the new Baghdad Embassy for occupancy last week, with the embassy's 700 employees and up to 250 military personnel expected to move in over the month of May, according to Ambassador Ryan Crocker.

The $740 million compound – expected to cost more than $1 billion a year to operate – was originally expected to cost $600 million to build and was to open in September 2007. Design changes and faulty construction caused repeated delays.

Congress learned last fall of problems with the site's electrical system, and early this year reports surfaced of significant problems with the fire-fighting systems.

Nevertheless, embassy personnel have been anxious for the complex, with more than 600 blast-resistant apartments, to open and give them some refuge from the mortar fire that has increasingly targeted the Green Zone this year. Last month, a mortar slammed into one of the unfortified trailers where personnel now sleep, killing an American civilian contractor. At least two US soldiers have died from rocket fire on the Green Zone since then.

But even the embassy's opening may not be assuaging diplomats' concerns about assignments in Iraq. Last week, the State Department warned that it may start ordering employees to serve at the embassy next year if more volunteers do not come forward for the 300 posts expected to open.

The State Department announcement follows a similar warning last fall of a shortfall of volunteers for about 50 Iraq positions. Candidates were eventually found without any compulsory assignments for 2008, but the prospect of ordered assignments to a war zone caused tensions at the department.

Such challenges to the full manning of the new embassy have yet to reach Iraqi ears. Still, some Iraqis who condemn the imagery of the imposing new compound say they are even more critical of what, in an indirect way, it also tells Iraqis about their own leadership.

"What does it say to Iraqis that we cannot walk along a beautiful part of the river in our own land because of this big American place?" says Qasim Sabti, an Iraqi artist and Baghdad gallery owner. "But it shows us something else about our own government," he adds. "At least the Americans could build this thing, but we Iraqis have no new buildings or streets, everything is destroyed – but still the corruption is so great that the money goes into pockets before it can build something new."

Other Iraqis say the embassy highlights the long-term interests the US has in both Iraq and the region.

"If it is so big, it is a reflection of the size of the designs they have for Iraq and the Middle East," says Maimoon al-Khaldi, an actor and professor at Baghdad's Fine Arts Academy. "It is a sign of their energy agenda and of their security agenda in this region," he adds. "This building faces the Iraqis, yes, but also the Iranians they have declared to be their enemies."

Mr. Jabbar says the Americans "surely have a right and duty to protect their delegation here." But he says he still wouldn't have built something so large.

"That is too much of a symbol," he says. "It sends a message to the Iraqis that says, 'Be careful, we removed Saddam Hussein and we can remove what has come after him anytime we want.'"

Copyright © 2008 The Christian Science Monitor

In Congress, It's Farm Politics as Usual

by David M. Herszenhorn
The New York Times
April 24, 2008

Americans are in sticker-shock over grocery prices, while people in developing countries are rioting over food shortages. And across the heartland, American farmers are enjoying record incomes, but losing sleep over rising expenses and turbulence in the commodity futures markets.

Here on Capitol Hill, though, it is pretty much farm politics as usual.

As Congress works toward final passage of the farm bill, it is poised to continue most of the existing farmer subsidy programs, including about $5.2 billion a year in so-called “direct payments” that will be disbursed even as net farm income is projected to hit a historic high in 2008.

The farm bill, which comes along once every five years and will cost upward of $300 billion, in fact will do little to address many of the most pressing concerns. It will not change biofuel mandates that are directing more corn to ethanol and contributing to a global rise in food prices.

It will do little to ease worldwide food shortages. And at a time of high volatility in the futures markets, it will not require tougher regulation.

In other words, Congress seems oblivious. And longstanding critics of American policy are piling on.

“It really is astounding,” said Representative Ron Kind, Democrat of Wisconsin, who has pushed for broad changes in farm subsidy programs. “It’s as if this farm bill is being negotiated in a vacuum.”

Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group, which maintains a database showing how farm subsidies mostly benefit a small number of wealthy producers, blamed Congressional leaders outside the agriculture committees.

“There really doesn’t seem to be any intervention that reflects these broader crises,” Mr. Cook said. “They are sound asleep at the leadership level.”

The White House, too, has joined the criticism, sharply criticizing Congress for proposing to spend $16 billion more than was initially allocated for the farm bill — mostly for increases in food stamps — at a time when high profits would seem to allow cuts in subsidies.

“With record farm income, now is not the time for Congress to ask other sectors of the economy to pay higher taxes, in order to increase the size of government,” the White House said in a statement Tuesday calling for a one-year extension of the current farm law.

Defenders of the bill say it makes a number of crucial improvements, including a roughly $10 billion increase in food stamps and other nutrition programs, as well as expanded land conservation and rural development programs and new aid for growers of fruits and vegetables, who have never gotten assistance from a farm bill.

But even strong proponents of the bill, like Senator Tom Harkin, Democrat of Iowa and chairman of the Agriculture Committee, concede that farm interests are deeply entrenched and that there is little appetite for change among many farm state lawmakers, especially when it comes to the direct payment program.

The direct payments are based on the amount of land that certain farmers own, and Mr. Harkin, who has sought to eliminate the payments, said that many recipients of the money then use it to acquire more land and qualify for more payments.

“It’s like the black hole in space that astronomers talk about: everything gets sucked in and nothing ever comes out,” he said. “This is the black hole of agriculture. It doesn’t make sense, but farmers continue to get it.”

Mr. Harkin said there was not much he could do because “I don’t have the votes,” adding, “People love free money.”

Defenders also say that expecting the huge farm bill to address current challenges is like asking a farmer to go out and grow corn for tonight’s supper.

Other bills — on energy, foreign aid, even economic stimulus — have the potential to be more nimble or, in some cases, to cause more harm.

The senior Republican on the House Agriculture Committee, Representative Robert W. Goodlatte of Viriginia, said Democrats were to blame for the jump in food prices because of mandates for higher ethanol production that they included in an energy bill last year.

“When corn prices go as high as they were going, people shift their production out of wheat into corn, out of soybeans into corn, out of rice into corn, even out of cotton into corn,” Mr. Goodlatte said. “The mandate basically says ethanol comes ahead of food on your table, comes ahead of feed for livestock, comes ahead of grains available for export.”

But as lawmakers trying to reconcile the House and Senate versions of the farm bill struggle to meet a Friday deadline when a short extension of the current law will expire, there is little in the bill to help slow the ethanol-driven price increases. In recent weeks, corn prices have hit record levels of $6 a bushel and more.

And lawmakers are fighting over whether to create a pilot program to buy $25 million in food grown locally in poor countries. Environmentalists and antipoverty experts say that would be a step toward a more effective food aid program than the current practice of shipping American products.

There is also no movement to require tighter regulation by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission of futures markets. Many farmers suggest that hedge fund money is building a speculative bubble in farm commodities and causing wide swings in futures prices, making it more expensive for them to use futures to lock in crop prices. Farmers fear that the bubble could burst, like in the housing market.

“It’s a train wreck waiting to happen,” said Tom Buis, the president of the National Farmers Union.

Many experts say the biggest step Congress could take would be to eliminate the direct payments in favor of a new revenue assurance program that would help farmers in times of need, but save money in boom years when crop yields are strong and prices high.

It is a step that even many farmers say would make sense.

“As a farm leader, I can’t justify why someone should receive a guaranteed payment from the federal government, with the high prices they are getting from the marketplace,” Mr. Buis said.

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Blind Spot

by James Howard Kunstler
April 21, 2008

I happened to be flying into Minneapolis the very day that Northwest Airlines announced its merger with Delta --Delta to be the more senior (more equal) partner -- in effect, to absorb Northwest and run its operations. Many observers are not optimistic that the merger will rescue these companies in any case, since both airlines are financial basket-cases, but it's a sort of last-ditch effort to save them both.

It was less than great news up around Minneapolis, Northwest's corporate headquarters. A lot of people I talked to were anxious that Delta would cut service to a lot of little cities in the upper Great Lakes and northern prairie region, places like Duluth, Grand Forks, Green Bay, Traverse City and many other towns. Instead of one or two flights a day, they may end up with one or two a week, or none at all, they feared.

The Northwest pilots were none too pleased, either, because Delta was making noises about their own pilots seniority counting for more than Northwest's pilot's seniority in terms of preferred assignments and scheduling. In fact, the Northwest pilots were so pissed off they threatened to scuttle the merger.

That part of the country is a big region of wide open spaces Things are very far apart. You wouldn't want to drive a car from Des Moines to Rapid City, even if gasoline was a good bit less than the $3.50 a gallon it is now. Driving around the prairie is especially tedious -- and dangerous because of the tedium. The landscape is boring. The roads are dead straight and mostly dead flat.

It happened, also, that I got a little guided tour of Minneapolis from the author-shlepping service that my publisher engaged. We rode past the old Minneapolis central train station. He said no trains stop there anymore (there's a dinky afterthought of a station next door in St. Paul). Anyway, the only train that comes through the Twin Cities is the pokey once-a-day Amtrak to Seattle.

In other words, this region of the country has next-to-zero railroad service. Can we pause a moment here to ask: exactly how far does America have its head up its ass? Do you get the picture? Can you connect the dots? The airline industry is dying and absolutely no thought is being given to how people will get around this big country -- except to make the stupid assumption that we can just drive our cars instead. Even during the several days I was around Minneapolis, no news media or politician raised the subject of reviving passenger railroad service.

In point of fact, these are exactly the kind of trips that would be better served by rail, anyway -- the towns that are less than five hundred miles apart. The travel time between trains and planes would be comparable, considering the two hours or so that you have to add to every airplane trip because of all the security crap, not to mention the delays. As a matter of fact, USA today ran a front page story two days after the Delta / Northwest announcement saying "Air Trips Slowest [now than] in Past 20 Years." Subhead: "Trend likely to persist as congestion worsens."

One big reason for the airport congestion, of course, is that the runways are cluttered up with planes making trips of only a few hundred miles. This has been a problem for quite a while. Periodically, it gets so bad that the media gets all excited and sometimes (last summer, for instance) the President makes a statement deploring it. Since the current president is a knucklehead, it apparently hasn't occurred to him to get behind a revival of the passenger rail system. But Mr. Bush is apparently not the only elected knucklehead in this country, because absolutely nobody is talking about this.

Now get this: we are sleepwalking into a transportation crisis. As I already said, the airline industry is dying. The price of petroleum-based aviation fuel is killing it. And forget the fantasies about running it on bio-diesel or used french-fry oil. Driving cars will not be an adequate substitute, either. It's imperative that this country gets serious about restoring the passenger rail system. We can't not talk about it for another year. We must demand that the candidates for president speak to this issue. If you who are reading this are active reporters or editors in the news media, you've got to raise your voices behind this issue.

Cruel and Unusual History

by Gilbert King
The New York Times
April 23, 2008

The Supreme Court concluded last week, in a 7-2 ruling, that Kentucky’s three-drug method of execution by lethal injection does not violate the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. In his majority opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts cited a Supreme Court principle from a ruling in 1890 that defines cruelty as limited to punishments that “involve torture or a lingering death.”

But the court was wrong in the 19th century, an error that has infected its jurisprudence for more than 100 years. In this nation’s landmark capital punishment cases, the resultant executions were anything but free from torture and prolonged deaths.

The first of those landmark cases, the 1879 case of Wilkerson v. Utah, was cited by Justice Clarence Thomas, in his concurring opinion in the Kentucky case. The court “had no difficulty concluding that death by firing squad” did not amount to cruel and unusual punishment, Justice Thomas wrote.

Wallace Wilkerson might have begged to differ. Once the Supreme Court affirmed Utah’s right to eradicate him by rifle, Wilkerson was let into a jailyard where he declined to be blindfolded. A sheriff gave the command to fire and Wilkerson braced for the barrage. He moved just enough for the bullets to strike his arm and torso but not his heart.

“My God!” Wilkerson shrieked. “My God! They have missed!” More than 27 minutes passed as Wilkerson bled to death in front of astonished witnesses and a helpless doctor.

Just 11 years later, the Supreme Court heard the case of William Kemmler, who had been sentenced to death by electric chair in New York. The court, in affirming the state’s right to execute Kemmler, ruled that electrocution reduced substantial risks of pain or “a lingering death” when compared to executions by hanging. Kemmler, had he lived through the ensuing execution (and he nearly did), might too have disagreed.

After a thousand volts of current struck Kemmler on Aug. 6, 1890, the smell of burnt flesh permeated the room. He was still breathing. Saliva dripped from his mouth and down his beard as he gasped for air. Nauseated witnesses and a tearful sheriff fled the room as Kemmler’s coat burst into flames.

Another surge was applied, but minutes passed as the current built to a lethal voltage. Some witnesses thought Kemmler was about to regain consciousness, but eight long minutes later, he was pronounced dead.

Perhaps the most egregious case came to the court more than 50 years later. “Lucky” Willie Francis, as the press called him, was a stuttering 17-year-old from St. Martinville, La. In 1946, he walked away from the electric chair known as “Gruesome Gertie” when two executioners (an inmate and a guard) from the state penitentiary at Angola botched the wiring of the chair.

When the switch was thrown, Francis strained against the straps and began rocking and sliding in the chair, pleading with the sheriff and the executioners to halt the proceedings. “I am n-n-not dying!” he screamed. Gov. Jimmie Davis ordered Francis returned to the chair six days later.

Francis’ lawyers obtained a stay, and the case reached the Supreme Court. Justice Felix Frankfurter defined the teenager’s ordeal as an “innocent misadventure.” In the decision, Louisiana ex rel. Francis v. Resweber, the court held that “accidents happen for which no man is to blame,” and that such “an accident, with no suggestion of malevolence” did not violate the Constitution.

Fewer than 24 hours before Francis’ second scheduled execution, his lawyers tried to bring the case before the Supreme Court again. They had obtained affidavits from witnesses stating that the two executioners from Angola were, as one of the witnesses put it, “so drunk it would have been impossible for them to have known what they were doing.” Although the court rejected this last-minute appeal, it noted the “grave nature of the new allegations” and encouraged the lawyers to pursue the matter in state court first, as required by law.

Willie Francis was executed the next morning. Because his case never made it back to the Supreme Court, the ruling lingers, influencing the decisions of today’s justices. In his majority opinion last week, Chief Justice Roberts called Louisiana’s first attempt at executing Francis an “isolated mishap” that “while regrettable, does not suggest cruelty.”

Justice Clarence Thomas, writing separately, also mentioned the Francis case: “No one suggested that Louisiana was required to implement additional safeguards or alternative procedures in order to reduce the risk of a second malfunction.” In fact, Louisiana did just that. Two weeks after the botched execution of Willie Francis, its Legislature required that the operator of the electric chair “shall be a competent electrician who shall not have been previously convicted of a felony.” This law would have prohibited both executioners from participating in Francis’ failed execution.

The court’s majority opinion in the Willie Francis case acknowledged, “The traditional humanity of modern Anglo-American law forbids the infliction of unnecessary pain in the execution of the death sentence.” Yet the Supreme Court continues to flout that standard.

In its ruling last week, the court once more ignored the consequences of its rulings for men like Wallace Wilkerson, William Kemmler and Willie Francis. The justices cited and applied Wilkerson’s and Kemmler’s cases as if their executions went off without a hitch.

And 60 years after two drunken executioners disregarded the tortured screams of a teenage boy named Willie Francis, the Supreme Court continues to do so.

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Inmate Count in U.S. Dwarfs Other Nations

by Adam Liptak
The New York Times
April 23, 2008

The United States has less than 5 percent of the world’s population. But it has almost a quarter of the world’s prisoners.

Indeed, the United States leads the world in producing prisoners, a reflection of a relatively recent and now entirely distinctive American approach to crime and punishment. Americans are locked up for crimes — from writing bad checks to using drugs — that would rarely produce prison sentences in other countries. And in particular they are kept incarcerated far longer than prisoners in other nations.

Criminologists and legal scholars in other industrialized nations say they are mystified and appalled by the number and length of American prison sentences.

The United States has, for instance, 2.3 million criminals behind bars, more than any other nation, according to data maintained by the International Center for Prison Studies at King’s College London.

China, which is four times more populous than the United States, is a distant second, with 1.6 million people in prison. (That number excludes hundreds of thousands of people held in administrative detention, most of them in China’s extrajudicial system of re-education through labor, which often singles out political activists who have not committed crimes.)

San Marino, with a population of about 30,000, is at the end of the long list of 218 countries compiled by the center. It has a single prisoner.

The United States comes in first, too, on a more meaningful list from the prison studies center, the one ranked in order of the incarceration rates. It has 751 people in prison or jail for every 100,000 in population. (If you count only adults, one in 100 Americans is locked up.)

The only other major industrialized nation that even comes close is Russia, with 627 prisoners for every 100,000 people. The others have much lower rates. England’s rate is 151; Germany’s is 88; and Japan’s is 63.

The median among all nations is about 125, roughly a sixth of the American rate.

There is little question that the high incarceration rate here has helped drive down crime, though there is debate about how much.

Criminologists and legal experts here and abroad point to a tangle of factors to explain America’s extraordinary incarceration rate: higher levels of violent crime, harsher sentencing laws, a legacy of racial turmoil, a special fervor in combating illegal drugs, the American temperament, and the lack of a social safety net. Even democracy plays a role, as judges — many of whom are elected, another American anomaly — yield to populist demands for tough justice.

Whatever the reason, the gap between American justice and that of the rest of the world is enormous and growing.

It used to be that Europeans came to the United States to study its prison systems. They came away impressed.

“In no country is criminal justice administered with more mildness than in the United States,” Alexis de Tocqueville, who toured American penitentiaries in 1831, wrote in “Democracy in America.”

No more.

“Far from serving as a model for the world, contemporary America is viewed with horror,” James Q. Whitman, a specialist in comparative law at Yale, wrote last year in Social Research. “Certainly there are no European governments sending delegations to learn from us about how to manage prisons.”

Prison sentences here have become “vastly harsher than in any other country to which the United States would ordinarily be compared,” Michael H. Tonry, a leading authority on crime policy, wrote in “The Handbook of Crime and Punishment.”

Indeed, said Vivien Stern, a research fellow at the prison studies center in London, the American incarceration rate has made the United States “a rogue state, a country that has made a decision not to follow what is a normal Western approach.”

Read more here.

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company

Media Facilitate Iraq Propaganda Effort

April 22, 2008

A lengthy April 20 New York Times investigation of the Pentagon's program of feeding talking points to military pundits featured on TV newscasts raised disturbing questions about the media's role as a conduit for Pentagon propaganda.

According to the Times, the Pentagon recruited over 75 retired generals to act as "message force multipliers" in support of the Iraq War, receiving special Pentagon briefings and talking points that the analysts would often parrot on national television "even when they suspected the information was false or inflated." The Times even noted that at one 2003 briefing the military pundits were told that "We don't have any hard evidence" about Iraq's illicit weapons-a shocking admission the analysts decided not to share with the public.

The Times also documented that many of the analysts had ties to "military contractors vested in the very war policies they are asked to assess on air"--information that the media outlets did not disclose to viewers. The Times reported that the "analysts represent more than 150 military contractors either as lobbyists, senior executives, board members or consultants." The analysts themselves told the Times that "the networks asked few questions about their outside business interests," and "were only dimly aware" of the special Pentagon briefings they were receiving.

While the Times article focused on the role of the Pentagon, the parties that arguably have most to answer for are the media organizations that relied on these Pentagon analysts and failed to disclose blatant conflicts of interest posed by their ties with defense contractors.

The military analysts' ties with military contractors and pro-war advocacy groups had been documented as far back as 2003, when The Nation (4/21) reported that prominent analysts like NBC's Barry McCaffrey and Wayne Downing were among the pundits who "have ideological or financial stakes in the war. Many hold paid advisory board and executive positions at defense companies and serve as advisers for groups that promoted an invasion of Iraq." As the Nation reported, McCaffrey told MSNBC viewers early in the war, "Thank God for the Abrams tank and... the Bradley fighting vehicle." Unbeknownst to viewers, McCaffrey was sitting on the board of a company called IDT, which received multi-million dollar contracts related to both of those pieces of military hardware.

As the Times story made clear, NBC was hardly the only offender. As a former Pentagon official told the Times, "CNN failed to disclose the fact that, "for nearly three years" on-air military analyst James Marks "was deeply involved in the business of seeking government contracts, including contracts related to Iraq."

This is not to suggest that there are no ethical standards at the networks--at least one military analyst has been sanctioned for inappropriate behavior. In May 2007, retired Army Major General John Batiste was fired as a CBS News consultant for appearing in a VoteVets television ad that criticized George W. Bush. A CBS vice president justified Batiste's firing by invoking standards that seem to have been entirely missing in the case of the retired generals:
"When we hire someone as a consultant, we want them to share their expertise with our viewers. By putting himself front and center in an anti-Bush ad, the viewer might have the feeling that everything he says is anti-Bush. And that doesn't seem like an analytical approach to the issues we want to discuss."
Of course, the Pentagon's propaganda plan would have little effect if not for the enthusiastic participation of the corporate media. As a former Pentagon official told the Times, "We were able to click on every single station and every one of our folks were up there delivering our message."

The Times likened the program to "other administration tactics that subverted traditional journalism," but that would seem to discount the fact that the media have for decades demonstrated a preference for featuring retired military officials in their war coverage, with little if any serious efforts to offer balancing perspectives. The run-up to the Iraq invasion was no different. As former CNN chief news executive Eason Jordan explained (4/20/03):
"I went to the Pentagon myself several times before the war
started and met with important people there and said, for instance, at CNN, 'Here are the generals we're thinking of retaining to advise us on the air and off about the war,' and we got a big thumbs-up on all of them. That was important."
Media executives have historically rationalized their disproportionate reliance on analysts from within the ranks of the military by claiming that they are on the air to share independent expertise about military affairs-something that need not be balanced. As former CNN vice President Frank Sesno stated to journalist Amy Goodman in 1999, "Generals are analysts, and peace activists are advocates."

In light of the fresh documentation that many of the media's military analysts were Pentagon advocates, it is time for the media to rethink this assumption.

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Clueless in America

by Bob Herbert
The New York Times
April 22, 2008

We don’t hear a great deal about education in the presidential campaign. It’s much too serious a topic to compete with such fun stuff as Hillary tossing back a shot of whiskey, or Barack rolling a gutter ball.

The nation’s future may depend on how well we educate the current and future generations, but (like the renovation of the nation’s infrastructure, or a serious search for better sources of energy) that can wait. At the moment, no one seems to have the will to engage any of the most serious challenges facing the U.S.

An American kid drops out of high school every 26 seconds. That’s more than a million every year, a sign of big trouble for these largely clueless youngsters in an era in which a college education is crucial to maintaining a middle-class quality of life — and for the country as a whole in a world that is becoming more hotly competitive every day.

Ignorance in the United States is not just bliss, it’s widespread. A recent survey of teenagers by the education advocacy group Common Core found that a quarter could not identify Adolf Hitler, a third did not know that the Bill of Rights guaranteed freedom of speech and religion, and fewer than half knew that the Civil War took place between 1850 and 1900.

“We have one of the highest dropout rates in the industrialized world,” said Allan Golston, the president of U.S. programs for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. In a discussion over lunch recently he described the situation as “actually pretty scary, alarming.”

Roughly a third of all American high school students drop out. Another third graduate but are not prepared for the next stage of life — either productive work or some form of post-secondary education.

When two-thirds of all teenagers old enough to graduate from high school are incapable of mastering college-level work, the nation is doing something awfully wrong.

Mr. Golston noted that the performance of American students, when compared with their peers in other countries, tends to grow increasingly dismal as they move through the higher grades:

“In math and science, for example, our fourth graders are among the top students globally. By roughly eighth grade, they’re in the middle of the pack. And by the 12th grade, U.S. students are scoring generally near the bottom of all industrialized countries.”

Many students get a first-rate education in the public schools, but they represent too small a fraction of the whole.

Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft, offered a brutal critique of the nation’s high schools a few years ago, describing them as “obsolete” and saying, “When I compare our high schools with what I see when I’m traveling abroad, I am terrified for our work force of tomorrow.”

Said Mr. Gates: “By obsolete, I don’t just mean that they are broken, flawed or underfunded, though a case could be made for every one of those points. By obsolete, I mean our high schools — even when they’re working as designed — cannot teach all our students what they need to know today.”

The Educational Testing Service, in a report titled “America’s Perfect Storm,” cited three powerful forces that are affecting the quality of life for millions of Americans and already shaping the nation’s future. They are:

• The wide disparity in the literacy and math skills of both the school-age and adult populations. These skills, which play such a tremendous role in the lives of individuals and families, vary widely across racial, ethnic and socioeconomic groups.

• The “seismic changes” in the U.S. economy that have resulted from globalization, technological advances, shifts in the relationship of labor and capital, and other developments.

• Sweeping demographic changes. By 2030, the U.S. population is expected to reach 360 million. That population will be older and substantially more diverse, with immigration having a big impact on both the population as a whole and the work force.

These and so many other issues of crucial national importance require an educated populace if they are to be dealt with effectively. At the moment we are not even coming close to equipping the population with the intellectual tools that are needed.

While we’re effectively standing in place, other nations are catching up and passing us when it comes to educational achievement. You have to be pretty dopey not to see the implications of that.

But, then, some of us are pretty dopey. In the Common Core survey, nearly 20 percent of respondents did not know who the U.S. fought in World War II. Eleven percent thought that Dwight Eisenhower was the president forced from office by the Watergate scandal. Another 11 percent thought it was Harry Truman.

We’ve got work to do.

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company

Monday, April 21, 2008

My Vote's for Obama (If I Could Vote)

by Michael Moore
April 21, 2008

I don't get to vote for President this primary season. I live in Michigan. The party leaders (both here and in D.C.) couldn't get their act together, and thus our votes will not be counted.

So, if you live in Pennsylvania, can you do me a favor? Will you please cast my vote -- and yours -- on Tuesday for Senator Barack Obama?

I haven't spoken publicly 'til now as to who I would vote for, primarily for two reasons: 1) Who cares?; and 2) I (and most people I know) don't give a rat's ass whose name is on the ballot in November, as long as there's a picture of JFK and FDR riding a donkey at the top of the ballot, and the word "Democratic" next to the candidate's name.

Seriously, I know so many people who don't care if the name under the Big "D" is Dancer, Prancer, Clinton or Blitzen. It can be Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Barry Obama or the Dalai Lama.

Well, that sounded good last year, but over the past two months, the actions and words of Hillary Clinton have gone from being merely disappointing to downright disgusting. I guess the debate last week was the final straw. I've watched Senator Clinton and her husband play this game of appealing to the worst side of white people, but last Wednesday, when she hurled the name "Farrakhan" out of nowhere, well that's when the silly season came to an early end for me. She said the "F" word to scare white people, pure and simple. Of course, Obama has no connection to Farrakhan. But, according to Senator Clinton, Obama's pastor does -- AND the "church bulletin" once included a Los Angeles Times op-ed from some guy with Hamas! No, not the church bulletin!

This sleazy attempt to smear Obama was brilliantly explained the following night by Stephen Colbert. He pointed out that if Obama is supported by Ted Kennedy, who is Catholic, and the Catholic Church is led by a Pope who was in the Hitler Youth, that can mean only one thing: OBAMA LOVES HITLER!

Yes, Senator Clinton, that's how you sounded. Like you were nuts. Like you were a bigot stoking the fires of stupidity. How sad that I would ever have to write those words about you. You have devoted your life to good causes and good deeds. And now to throw it all away for an office you can't win unless you smear the black man so much that the superdelegates cry "Uncle (Tom)" and give it all to you.

But that can't happen. You cast your die when you voted to start this bloody war. When you did that you were like Moses who lost it for a moment and, because of that, was prohibited from entering the Promised Land.

How sad for a country that wanted to see the first woman elected to the White House. That day will come -- but it won't be you. We'll have to wait for the current Democratic governor of Kansas to run in 2016 (you read it here first!).

There are those who say Obama isn't ready, or he's voted wrong on this or that. But that's looking at the trees and not the forest. What we are witnessing is not just a candidate but a profound, massive public movement for change. My endorsement is more for Obama The Movement than it is for Obama the candidate.

That is not to take anything away from this exceptional man. But what's going on is bigger than him at this point, and that's a good thing for the country. Because, when he wins in November, that Obama Movement is going to have to stay alert and active. Corporate America is not going to give up their hold on our government just because we say so. President Obama is going to need a nation of millions to stand behind him.

I know some of you will say, 'Mike, what have the Democrats done to deserve our vote?' That's a damn good question. In November of '06, the country loudly sent a message that we wanted the war to end. Yet the Democrats have done nothing. So why should we be so eager to line up happily behind them?

I'll tell you why. Because I can't stand one more friggin' minute of this administration and the permanent, irreversible damage it has done to our people and to this world. I'm almost at the point where I don't care if the Democrats don't have a backbone or a kneebone or a thought in their dizzy little heads. Just as long as their name ain't "Bush" and the word "Republican" is not beside theirs on the ballot, then that's good enough for me.

I, like the majority of Americans, have been pummeled senseless for 8 long years. That's why I will join millions of citizens and stagger into the voting booth come November, like a boxer in the 12th round, all bloodied and bruised with one eye swollen shut, looking for the only thing that matters -- that big "D" on the ballot.

Don't get me wrong. I lost my rose-colored glasses a long time ago.

It's foolish to see the Democrats as anything but a nicer version of a party that exists to do the bidding of the corporate elite in this country. Any endorsement of a Democrat must be done with this acknowledgement and a hope that one day we will have a party that'll represent the people first, and laws that allow that party an equal voice.

Finally, I want to say a word about the basic decency I have seen in Mr. Obama. Mrs. Clinton continues to throw the Rev. Wright up in his face as part of her mission to keep stoking the fears of White America. Every time she does this I shout at the TV, "Say it, Obama! Say that when she and her husband were having marital difficulties regarding Monica Lewinsky, who did she and Bill bring to the White House for 'spiritual counseling?' THE REVEREND JEREMIAH WRIGHT!"

But no, Obama won't throw that at her. It wouldn't be right. It wouldn't be decent. She's been through enough hurt. And so he remains silent and takes the mud she throws in his face.

That's why the crowds who come to see him are so large. That's why he'll take us down a more decent path. That's why I would vote for him if Michigan were allowed to have an election.

But the question I keep hearing is... 'can he win? Can he win in November?' In the distance we hear the siren of the death train called the Straight Talk Express. We know it's possible to hear the words "President McCain" on January 20th. We know there are still many Americans who will never vote for a black man. Hillary knows it, too. She's counting on it.

Pennsylvania, the state that gave birth to this great country, has a chance to set things right. It has not had a moment to shine like this since 1787 when our Constitution was written there. In that Constitution, they wrote that a black man or woman was only "three fifths" human. On Tuesday, the good people of Pennsylvania have a chance for redemption.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Carter Calls Gaza Blockade a Crime and Atrocity

by Jonathan Wright
April 18, 2008

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter called the blockade of Gaza a crime and an atrocity on Thursday and said U.S. attempts to undermine the Islamist movement Hamas had been counterproductive.

Speaking at the American University in Cairo after talks with Hamas leaders from Gaza, Carter said Palestinians in Gaza were being "starved to death", receiving fewer calories a day than people in the poorest parts of Africa.

"It's an atrocity what is being perpetrated as punishment on the people in Gaza. it's a crime... I think it is an abomination that this continues to go on," Carter said.

Israel has been blockading Gaza most of the time since Hamas took control of the impoverished coastal strip in June last year, allowing only basic supplies to enter.

Israel has not accepted Hamas proposals for a truce including an end to Hamas rocket attacks on Israel and to Israeli attacks on Hamas personnel in Gaza and the West Bank. Israeli officials say a truce would enable Hamas to rearm.

Carter said Israel and its ally the United States were trying to make the quality of life in Gaza markedly worse than in the West Bank, where the rival Fatah group is in control.

"I think politically speaking this has worked even to strengthen the popularity of Hamas and to the detriment of the popularity of Fatah," he added. The United States has been trying to achieve the opposite outcome.

Carter, who helped make peace between Egypt and Israel while president in the 1970s, said the Hamas leaders he has met so far told him they would accept a peace agreement with Israel negotiated by Mahmoud Abbas -- the Fatah leader and Palestinian president -- if the Palestinians approved it in a referendum.

Israel and the United States say they refuse to deal with Hamas as long as the Islamist movement does not recognize Israel's right to exist and renounce violence.

But Carter said Hamas, which won Palestinian parliamentary elections in 2006, had to be involved in any arrangements that could lead to peace.

"One of the reasons I wanted to come and meet with the Syrians and Hamas was to set an example that might be emulated by others... I know that there are some officials in the Israeli government that are quite willing to meet with Hamas and maybe that will happen in the near future," he added.

Carter's talks in Cairo were with former Palestinian Foreign Minister Mahmoud al-Zahar and former Interior Minister Saeed Seyam, who did not speak to reporters.

Zahar and Seyam came to Cairo on Wednesday after the Israeli authorities refused to let Carter into Gaza from the Israeli side. Carter has already met a West Bank leader from Hamas and is expected to meet overall leader Khaled Meshaal in Damascus.

© Reuters 2008

An Open & Shut Case

by Dr. Cyril Wecht
April 20, 2008

When one reviews and objectively analyzes the infamous murders of prominent political leaders throughout the world since World War II, it becomes frustratingly evident that insofar as those cases are concerned in which the perpetrator was not immediately and clearly visualized, there was a paucity of forensic scientific evidence that was identified, preserved, and tested in order to identify the assailants.

The assassinations of President John F. Kennedy and Reverend Martin Luther King are the foremost examples of such instances that have regrettably resulted in perpetual, seemingly insoluble controversies.

The investigation into the assassination of Senator Robert F. Kennedy should have been different. Solid incontrovertible scientific evidence was available for thorough examination by competent, experienced forensic pathologists, criminalists, and ballistics experts. The results of all those tests and analyses would have unequivocally proven that Sirhan Sirhan did not fire the fatal shots that killed Robert Kennedy. Tragically, such meticulous, objective studies were either performed by less than scrupulous and experienced forensic scientists, or not undertaken at all.

Phil Van Praag and Robert Joling have done an outstanding job in putting together An Open & Shut Case that unequivocally confirms this premise. These authors have painstakingly revisited all the physical and forensic evidence in the RFK case, and they have established an air-tight case. It is extremely regrettable that this kind of investigation was not conducted in 1968. Nevertheless, there are many reasons why it remains important and necessary to establish the truth, albeit four decades later.

An Open & Shut Case is a must read, not only for forensic scientists and trial attorneys, but for all Americans who care about the criminal justice system, as well as the honor and dignity of our great country.

© 2008 An Open & Shut Case, LLC

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Nalgene Polycarbonate Bottles Nixed Due to Consumer Health Concerns

Victory for Consumer Health Advocates
(such as Green Prudence!)

by Ben Dobbin
The Associated Press
April 18, 2008

Hard-plastic Nalgene water bottles made with bisphenol A will be pulled from stores over the next few months because of growing consumer concern over whether the chemical poses a health risk.

Nalge Nunc International, a division of Waltham, Mass.-based Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc., said Friday it will substitute its Nalgene Outdoor line of polycarbonate plastic containers with BPA-free alternatives.

"We continue to believe that Nalgene products containing BPA are safe for their intended use," Steven Silverman, general manager of the Nalgene business, said in a statement. "However, our customers indicated they preferred BPA-free alternatives and we acted in response to those concerns."

With more than 6 million pounds produced in the United States each year, bisphenol A is found in dental sealants, baby bottles, the liners of food cans, CDs and DVDs, eyeglasses and hundreds of household goods.

The U.S. government's National Toxicology Program said this week that there is "some concern" about BPA from experiments on rats that linked the chemical to changes in behavior and the brain, early puberty and possibly precancerous changes in the prostate and breast. While such animal studies only provide "limited evidence" of risk, the draft report said a possible effect on humans "cannot be dismissed."

Highly durable and lightweight, resistant to stains and odors, and able to withstand extremes of hot and cold, screw-cap Nalgene bottles have been marketed as an environmentally responsible substitute for disposable water bottles.

The transparent reusable sports accessory is made at a factory in suburban Rochester that employs about 900 people.

Nalge Nunc was founded in 1949 by Rochester chemist Emanuel Goldberg. The lab-equipment supplier's product evolved in the 1970s after rumors spread about its scientists taking hardy lab vessels on weekend outings. That led the company to form a water-bottle consumer unit targeting Boy Scouts, hikers and campers.

In 2000, a new sports line of Nalgene-brand bottles offered in red, blue and yellow hues quickly became the rage in high schools and on college campuses.

Earlier this week, Wal-Mart Canada and other major retailers in Canada began removing BPA-based food-related products such as baby bottles and sipping cups from store shelves. Canadian health regulators were expected to announce the results of a preliminary review on BPA later Friday.

"I think the writing's on the wall for this chemical," said Aaron Freeman, policy director of Toronto-based Environmental Defence Canada. "You've got major retailers with huge market clout pulling BPA products ... and you've got consumers in droves who are opting for alternatives. They're a big late to the game, but they are responding to that consumer demand."

Citing multiple studies in the United States, Europe and Japan, the chemicals industry maintains that polycarbonate bottles contain little BPA and leach traces considered too low to harm humans.

But critics point to an influx of animal studies linking low doses to a wide variety of ailments _ from breast and prostate cancer, obesity and hyperactivity, to miscarriages and other reproductive failures.

An expert panel of 38 academic and government researchers who attended a National Institutes of Health-sponsored conference said in a study in August that "the potential for BPA to impact human health is a concern, and more research is clearly needed."

© 2008 The Associated Press

Friday, April 18, 2008

Seven Ways to Celebrate Earth Day

by the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy
April 18, 2008

Celebrate Earth Day with Rails-to-Trails Conservancy

This coming Tuesday, April 22, Earth Day signifies a growing global commitment to environmental action and change. People from all backgrounds and beliefs, and every corner of the planet are becoming passionate about preservation. At Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC), Earth Day is a perfect opportunity to celebrate one of America's most unique and creative recycling projects: the rail-trail.

When RTC opened its doors in 1986, there were only 250 known miles of rail-trail. Today, the United States has more than 15,000 miles with another 11,000 in development. Rail-trails now provide communities with safe outlets to bicycle, walk, run, ski, skate, ride horses and enjoy the outdoors. From recreation and fitness to transportation, these pathways can have a powerful impact on the health of the American public and the world's climate—and can help us make the lifestyle changes that Earth Day inspires.

So on a day devoted to environmental citizenship and a healthy, sustainable planet, we encourage you to join RTC in expressing your eco-voice on rail-trails.

Organize a fun walk, run or bicycle ride.
Use Earth Day as an opportunity to educate community members on the benefits and versatility of local trails. Rail-trails have a generally flat and even grade, suit a full range of ages and levels of physical ability, and are ideal for all sorts of outdoor activities. Trail rides or walks provide a natural atmosphere for socializing and promoting neighborhood pathways, all while enjoying a fun spring morning or afternoon's exercise outdoors—activism at its most active. So visit Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's to find the perfect rail-trail near you.

Support a local farmer's market
Produce grown in the United States travels an average of 1,500 miles to reach your store's shelves. Buying locally at neighborhood farmer's markets helps you save tons of carbon from entering the atmosphere through long-distance transporting. So call your local trail organization (which you can look up on Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's to ask about markets close to pathways, like the year-round farmer's market in the City Hall parking lot of Falls Church, Va., less than a mile from the 45-mile Washington & Old Dominion Trail (W&OD).

Make Earth Day a car-free day
Take more control of your carbon output and energy use by spending your Earth Day without using a motorized vehicle. Then take RTC's Burn Calories, Not Carbon!™ pledge, and encourage others to do so, and join a growing movement of people who have committed to using active, healthier modes of transportation for trips within three miles—and leave a softer carbon footprint on your plant.

Rediscover your natural world
Rail-trail corridors are often perfect for touring and exploring a wide range of wildlife habitats. Keep an eye out for coyotes and rattlesnakes on Kansas' Mill Creek Streamway Park, or enjoy the thousands of migratory birds that make their home around San Diego's Bayshore Bikeway. The Bikeway, in particular, gives visitors a firsthand tour of a restored tidal wetlands and mudflat ecosystem, once nearly lost in the 1970s from sewage discharge and industrial growth. (Find other rail-trails at Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's

Stay informed and active
Register for e-mail updates from Rails-to-Trails Conservancy.Registrants receive monthly e-newsletters, as well as more time-sensitive opportunities to express their voice on urgent state and federal initiatives affecting active transportation, trails, walking and biking. It's a great way stay up- to-date on policies affecting rail-trails and active transportation all around the country.

Volunteer to clean up or landscape a local trail
Whether managed by state or nonprofit organizations, rail-trails often depend on the responsible care and efforts of volunteers to stay groomed and welcoming to visitors year-round. So visit Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's to find trail contact information or a link to trail Web sites, and discover how best to contribute to your local pathways. Many organizations around the country plan projects from trailside plantings in the spring to snow clearing in the winter.

Chip in

Make a financial commitment to sustaining trails, walking and biking by donating to Rails-to-Trails Conservancy or a local trail organization. Already, the support RTC members has helped put more than 15,000 miles of rail-trails on the ground, securing the future of rail-trails and enhancing America's communities and countryside.
Your donation can help us do even more!

Make Every Day Earth Day!

Copyright © Rails-to-Trails Conservancy

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Green Pirates Claim Victory on Whaling

by Mike Nizza
The New York Times
April 16, 2008

A day after our post on Indonesia’s declaration of victory against pirates, environmentalists who cultivate their own pirate image were claiming a victory over Japan.

The Japanese whaling fleet returned after a 5-month hunt with only half of what they hoped to catch, ostensibly in the name of science, though the meat ends up in the market. But this was no unlucky-fisherman tale, as a Japanese official told CNN. “This year’s mission was disrupted intensively by Greenpeace and Sea Shepherd, who use violent means for disturbance,” said Hajime Ishikawa, chief of Japan’s whaling mission.

A day later, the head of Shepherd, Paul Watson, sounded trumphant. “I think it is safe to say that the Sea Shepherd crew seriously affected their profits this season,” he said in a news release. “My crew and I are elated that 484 whales are now swimming free that would otherwise have been viciously slaughtered. And we are especially pleased that not a single Fin or Humpback died, and that is a complete victory.”

His deputy, Peter Hammarstedt, promised another round. “We hope to hurt them even harder next year,” he said.

This year, Japan reported several nasty attacks on its boats as they were whaling in Antarctic waters. In March, the government labeled Sea Shepherd as a “terrorist group” after an attack involving more than 100 bottles of smelly acid. The Japanese crew responded to another attack around that time using flash grenades.

But the Japanese ships were apparently not rammed by the Sea Shepherd’s vessels, Mr. Watson’s “signature tactic,” according to an excellent New Yorker profile. Statements by Mr. Watson and Mr. Ishikawa suggested that it wasn’t for lack of trying.

In January, Mr. Watson threatened to ram the Japanese whalers but was unable to catch up with them. “I think they’re running scared, really,” he told Agence France-Press. “When we found them originally, they were down by the icebergs, and as we were moving in, they started running, and they’ve been running ever since.”

Today, Mr. Ishikawa suggested that the Japanese mariners were not intimidated, just trying to avoid anyone getting hurt on either side: “Putting aside our own safety, their action put their own lives in danger,” he said of the Sea Shepherd crew. “Therefore, we had to stop whaling a total of 31 days.”

In the past, Japan accused Sea Shepherd and Greenpeace of piracy, a charge that Mr. Watson sarcastically accepted in a January op-ed article in the British newspaper The Guardian:

I stand in honorable company as a modern-day pirate, though I’ve not shot anyone, burned any ships, looted any cargoes or kidnapped anyone. We are also pirates with a sense of humor and a moral code of non-violence. In 30 years of eco-piracy we have never injured a single poacher, though we’ve sent nine whalers to the bottom. Instead of cannon balls, our guns shoot coconut cream and chocolate pie-filling. We toss stink bombs instead of grenades and we are so non-violent we don’t even eat meat or fish on our ships. No fish, fowl or mammals have died in the making of our high seas campaigns.

What we do is defend the whales from illegal slaughter by ruthless and merciless killers. If people want to call us pirates for that, we’re proud to be so. We have whales to save and Japanese ships to attack.

They are pirates all right, he intimated, but far from the ruthless kind that plague ships off Somalia and Nigeria these days. “Pirates of compassion” would be the correct term, he wrote.

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company