Monday, June 30, 2008

11 Most Healthful Foods Infrequently Chosen, But Common

by Tara Parker-Pope
The New York Times
June 30, 2008

Nutritionist and author Jonny Bowden has created several lists of healthful foods people should be eating but aren’t. But some of his favorites, like purslane, guava and goji berries, aren’t always available at regular grocery stores. I asked Dr. Bowden, author of “The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth,” to update his list with some favorite foods that are easy to find but don’t always find their way into our shopping carts. Here’s his advice.

  1. Beets: Think of beets as red spinach, Dr. Bowden said, because they are a rich source of folate as well as natural red pigments that may be cancer fighters.
    How to eat: Fresh, raw and grated to make a salad. Heating decreases the antioxidant power.
  2. Cabbage: Loaded with nutrients like sulforaphane, a chemical said to boost cancer-fighting enzymes.
    How to eat: Asian-style slaw or as a crunchy topping on burgers and sandwiches.
  3. Swiss chard: A leafy green vegetable packed with carotenoids that protect aging eyes.
    How to eat it: Chop and saute in olive oil.
  4. Cinnamon: Helps control blood sugar and cholesterol.
    How to eat it: Sprinkle on coffee or oatmeal.
  5. Pomegranate juice: Lowers blood pressure and loaded with vitamin C and other antioxidants.
    How to eat: Just drink it.
  6. Dried plums: Okay, so they are really prunes, but packed with cancer-fighting antioxidants.
    How to eat: Wrapped in prosciutto and baked.
  7. Pumpkin seeds: The most nutritious part of the pumpkin and packed with magnesium; high levels of the mineral are associated with lower risk for early death.
    How to eat: Roasted as a snack, or sprinkled on salad.
  8. Sardines: Dr. Bowden calls them “health food in a can.'’ They are high in omega-3’s, contain virtually no mercury and are loaded with calcium. They also contain iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper and manganese as well as a full complement of B vitamins.
    How to eat: Choose sardines packed in olive or sardine oil. Eat plain, mixed with salad, on toast, or mashed with dijon mustard and onions as a spread.
  9. Turmeric: The “superstar of spices,'’ it has anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties.
    How to eat: Mix with scrambled eggs or in any vegetable dish.
  10. Frozen blueberries: Even though freezing can degrade some of the nutrients in fruits and vegetables, frozen blueberries are available year-round and don’t spoil; associated with better memory in animal studies.
    How to eat: Blended with yogurt or chocolate soy milk and sprinkled with crushed almonds.
  11. Canned pumpkin: A low-calorie vegetable that is high in fiber and immune-stimulating vitamin A; fills you up on very few calories.
    How to eat: Mix with a little butter, cinnamon and nutmeg.

You can find more details and recipes on the Men’s Health Web site, which published the original version of the list last year.

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company

Sunday, June 29, 2008

It Was About Oil All Along

by Bill Moyers and Michael Winship
Common Dreams News Center
June 28, 2008

Oh, no, they told us, Iraq isn’t a war about oil. That’s cynical and simplistic, they said. It’s about terror and al Qaeda and toppling a dictator and spreading democracy and protecting ourselves from weapons of mass destruction. But one by one, these concocted rationales went up in smoke, fire, and ashes. And now the bottom line turns out to be… the bottom line. It is about oil.

Alan Greenspan said so last fall. The former chairman of the Federal Reserve, safely out of office, confessed in his memoir, “… Everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil.” He elaborated in an interview with the Washington Post’s Bob Woodward, “If Saddam Hussein had been head of Iraq and there was no oil under those sands, our response to him would not have been as strong as it was in the first gulf war.”

Remember, also, that soon after the invasion, Donald Rumsfeld’s deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, told the press that war was our only strategic choice. “… We had virtually no economic options with Iraq,” he explained, “because the country floats on a sea of oil.”

Shades of Daniel Plainview, the monstrous petroleum tycoon in the movie There Will Be Blood. Half-mad, he exclaims, “There’s a whole ocean of oil under our feet!” then adds, “No one can get at it except for me!”

No wonder American troops only guarded the Ministries of Oil and the Interior in Baghdad, even as looters pillaged museums of their priceless antiquities. They were making sure no one could get at the oil except… guess who?

Here’s a recent headline in The New York Times: “Deals with Iraq Are Set to Bring Oil Giants Back.” Read on: “Four western companies are in the final stages of negotiations this month on contracts that will return them to Iraq, 36 years after losing their oil concession to nationalization as Saddam Hussein rose to power.”

There you have it. After a long exile, Exxon Mobil, Shell, Total and BP are back in Iraq. And on the wings of no-bid contracts — that’s right, sweetheart deals like those given Halliburton, KBR, Blackwater. The kind of deals you get only if you have friends in high places. And these war profiteers have friends in very high places.

Let’s go back a few years to the 1990’s, when private citizen Dick Cheney was running Halliburton, the big energy supplier. That’s when he told the oil industry that, “By 2010 we will need on the order of an additional fifty-million barrels a day. So where is the oil going to come from? While many regions of the world offer great oil opportunities, the Middle East, with two-thirds of the world’s oil and the lowest cost, is still where the prize ultimately lies.”

Fast forward to Cheney’s first heady days in the White House. The oil industry and other energy conglomerates have been headed backdoor keys to the White House, and their CEO’s and lobbyists were trooping in and out for meetings with their old pal, now Vice President Cheney.

The meetings are secret, conducted under tight security, but as we reported five years ago, among the documents that turned up from some of those meetings were maps of oil fields in Iraq — and a list of companies who wanted access to them. The conservative group Judicial Watch and the Sierra Club filed suit to try to find out who attended the meetings and what was discussed, but the White House fought all the way to the Supreme Court to keep the press and public from learning the whole truth.

Think about it. These secret meetings took place six months before 9/11, two years before Bush and Cheney invaded Iraq. We still don’t know what they were about. What we know is that this is the oil industry that’s enjoying swollen profits these days. It would be laughable if it weren’t so painful to remember that their erstwhile cheerleader for invading Iraq — the press mogul Rupert Murdoch — once said that a successful war there would bring us $20 a barrel of oil. The last time we looked, it was more than $140 a barrel. Where are you, Rupert, when the facts need checking and the predictions are revisited?

At a congressional hearing this week, James Hansen, the NASA climate scientist who exactly twenty years ago alerted Congress and the world to the dangers of global warming, compared the chief executives of Big Oil to the tobacco moguls who denied that nicotine is addictive or that there’s a link between smoking and cancer. Hansen, who the administration has tried again and again to silence, said these barons of black gold should be tried for committing crimes against humanity and nature in opposing efforts to deal with global warming.

Perhaps those sweetheart deals in Iraq should be added to his proposed indictments. They have been purchased at a very high price. Four thousand American soldiers dead, tens of thousands permanently wounded for life, hundreds of thousands of dead and crippled Iraqis plus five million displaced, and a cost that will mount into trillions of dollars. The political analyst Kevin Phillips says America has become little more than an “energy protection force,” doing anything to gain access to expensive fuel without regard to the lives of others or the earth itself. One thinks again of Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood. His lust for oil came at the price of his son and his soul.

© Copyrighted

If Mugabe Were White

by Nicholas D. Kristof
The New York Times
June 29, 2008

Patson Chipiro, a democracy activist, wasn’t home when Robert Mugabe’s thugs showed up looking for him.

So they grabbed his wife, Dadirai, and tormented her by chopping off one of her hands and both of her feet. Finally, they threw her into a hut, locked the door and burned it to the ground.

That has been the pattern lately: with opposition figures in hiding, Mr. Mugabe’s goons kill loved ones to send a message of intimidation. Even the wife of the mayor-elect of Harare, the capital, was kidnapped and beaten to death.

When the white supremacist regime of Ian Smith oppressed Zimbabweans in the 1970s, African countries rallied against it. Eventually, even the white racist government in South Africa demanded change and threatened to cut off electricity supplies if it didn’t happen.

Yet South African President Thabo Mbeki continues to make excuses for Mr. Mugabe — who is more brutal than Ian Smith ever was — out of misplaced deference for a common history in the liberation struggle. Zimbabweans suffered so much for so many decades from white racism that the last thing they need is excuses for Mr. Mugabe’s brutality because of his skin color.

Life expectancy in Zimbabwe has already dropped from the low 60s to the high 30s. It’s true that he has created more trillionaires than any other country, but that’s only because inflation may be as much as 10 million percent. Anyone with $90 is a trillionaire in Zimbabwean dollars, and buying a small loaf of bread costs one billion Zimbabwean dollars.

When I grew up in the 1970s, a central truth was that Ian Smith was evil and Mr. Mugabe heroic. So it was jolting on my last visit to Zimbabwe, in 2005, to see how many Zimbabweans looked back on oppressive white rule with nostalgia. They offered a refrain: “Back then, at least parents could feed their children.”

Africa’s rulers often complain, with justice, that the West’s perceptions of the continent are disproportionately shaped by buffoons and tyrants rather than by the increasing number of democratically elected presidents presiding over 6 percent growth rates. But as long as African presidents mollycoddle Mr. Mugabe, they are branding Africa with his image.

To his credit, Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa has taken the lead in denouncing Mr. Mugabe’s abuses, and Nelson Mandela bluntly deplored Mr. Mugabe’s “tragic failure of leadership.” Mr. Mandela could also have been talking about Mr. Mbeki’s own failures.

The United States doesn’t have much leverage, and Britain squandered its influence partly by focusing on the plight of dispossessed white farmers. (That’s tribalism for Anglo-Saxons.) But there is a way out.

The solution is for leaders at the African Union summit this week to give Mr. Mugabe a clear choice.

One option would be for him to “retire” honorably — “for health reasons” after some face-saving claims of heart trouble — at a lovely estate in South Africa, taking top aides with him. He would be received respectfully and awarded a $5 million bank account to assure his comfort for the remainder of his days.

The other alternative is that he could dig in his heels and cling to power. African leaders should make clear that in that case, they will back an indictment of him and his aides in the International Criminal Court. Led by the Southern African Development Community, the world will also impose sanctions against Mr. Mugabe’s circle and cut off all military supplies and spare parts. Mozambique, South Africa and Congo will also cut off the electricity they provide to Zimbabwe.

If those are the alternatives, then the odds are that Mr. Mugabe will publicly clutch his chest and insist that he must step down. There will still be risks of civil conflict and a military coup, but Zimbabwe would have a reasonable prospect of again becoming, as Mr. Mugabe once called it, “the jewel of Africa.”

Some people will object that a tyrant shouldn’t be rewarded with a pot of cash and a comfortable exile. That’s true. But any other approach will likely result in far more deaths, perhaps even civil war.

How do we know that sanctions will work? Well, we have Mr. Mugabe’s own testimony.

In a 1987 essay in Foreign Affairs, Mr. Mugabe called on the U.S. to impose sanctions on white-ruled South Africa for engaging in a “vicious and ugly civil war” against its own people. Mr. Mugabe demanded that the world “accept the value of sanctions as a means of raising the cost” of brutal misrule.

If only Mr. Mugabe were a white racist! Then the regional powers might stand up to him. For the sake of Zimbabweans, we should be just as resolute in confronting African tyrants who are black as in confronting those who are white.

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company

Friday, June 27, 2008

Hawaii Requires Solar Heaters in New Homes

by The Associated Press
June 27, 2008

Hawaii has become the first state to require solar water heaters in new homes. Gov. Linda Lingle, a Republican, has signed into law a bill requiring the energy-saving systems in homes starting in 2010. The new law prohibits issuing building permits for single-family homes that do not have solar water heaters. Some exceptions will be allowed, like for houses in forested areas.

Feds Put Brakes on Solar Projects While Fasttracking Oil and Gas Development

by Dan Frosch
The New York Times
June 27, 2008

Faced with a surge in the number of proposed solar power plants, the federal government has placed a moratorium on new solar projects on public land until it studies their environmental impact, which is expected to take about two years.

The Bureau of Land Management says an extensive environmental study is needed to determine how large solar plants might affect millions of acres it oversees in six Western states — Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah.

But the decision to freeze new solar proposals temporarily, reached late last month, has caused widespread concern in the alternative-energy industry, as fledgling solar companies must wait to see if they can realize their hopes of harnessing power from swaths of sun-baked public land, just as the demand for viable alternative energy is accelerating.

“It doesn’t make any sense,” said Holly Gordon, vice president for legislative and regulatory affairs for Ausra, a solar thermal energy company in Palo Alto, Calif. “The Bureau of Land Management land has some of the best solar resources in the world. This could completely stunt the growth of the industry.”

Much of the 119 million surface acres of federally administered land in the West is ideal for solar energy, particularly in Arizona, Nevada and Southern California, where sunlight drenches vast, flat desert tracts.

Galvanized by the national demand for clean energy development, solar companies have filed more than 130 proposals with the Bureau of Land Management since 2005. They center on the companies’ desires to lease public land to build solar plants and then sell the energy to utilities.

According to the bureau, the applications, which cover more than one million acres, are for projects that have the potential to power more than 20 million homes.

All involve two types of solar plants, concentrating and photovoltaic. Concentrating solar plants use mirrors to direct sunlight toward a synthetic fluid, which powers a steam turbine that produces electricity. Photovoltaic plants use solar panels to convert sunlight into electric energy.

Much progress has been made in the development of both types of solar technology in the last few years. Photovoltaic solar projects grew by 48 percent in 2007 compared with 2006. Eleven concentrating solar plants are operational in the United States, and 20 are in various stages of planning or permitting, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.

The manager of the Bureau of Land Management’s environmental impact study, Linda Resseguie, said that many factors must be considered when deciding whether to allow solar projects on the scale being proposed, among them the impact of construction and transmission lines on native vegetation and wildlife. In California, for example, solar developers often hire environmental experts to assess the effects of construction on the desert tortoise and Mojave ground squirrel.

Water use can be a factor as well, especially in the parched areas where virtually all of the proposed plants would be built. Concentrating solar plants may require water to condense the steam used to power the turbine.

“Reclamation is another big issue,” Ms. Resseguie said. “These plants potentially have a 20- to 30-year life span. How to restore that land is a big question for us.”

Another benefit of the study will be a single set of environmental criteria to weigh future solar proposals, which will ultimately speed the application process, said the assistant Interior Department secretary for land and minerals management, C. Stephen Allred. The land agency’s manager of energy policy, Ray Brady, said the moratorium on new applications was necessary to “ensure that we are doing an adequate level of analysis of the impacts.”

In the meantime, bureau officials emphasized, they will continue processing the more than 130 applications received before May 29, measuring each one’s environmental impact.

While proponents of solar energy agree on the need for a sweeping environmental study, many believe that the freeze is unwarranted. Some, like Ms. Gordon, whose company has two pending proposals for solar plants on public land, say small solar energy businesses could suffer if they are forced to turn to more expensive private land for development.

The industry is already concerned over the fate of federal solar investment tax credits, which are set to expire at the end of the year unless Congress renews them. The moratorium, combined with an end to tax credits, would deal a double blow to an industry that, solar advocates say, has experienced significant growth without major environmental problems.

“The problem is that this is a very young industry, and the majority of us that are involved are young, struggling, hungry companies,” said Lee Wallach of Solel, a solar power company based in California that has filed numerous applications to build on public land and was considering filing more in the next two years. “This is a setback.”

At a public hearing in Golden, Colo., on Monday, one of a series by the Bureau of Land Management across the West, reaction to the moratorium was mixed.

Alex Daue, an outreach coordinator for the Wilderness Society, an environmental conservation group, praised the government for assessing the implications of large-scale solar development.

Others warned the bureau against becoming mired in its own bureaucratic processes on solar energy, while parts of the West are already humming with new oil and gas development.

Craig Cox, the executive director of the Interwest Energy Alliance, a renewable energy trade group, said he worried that the freeze would “throw a monkey wrench” into the solar energy industry at precisely the wrong time.

“I think it’s good to have a plan,” Mr. Cox said, “but I don’t think we need to stop development in its tracks.”

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company

Thursday, June 26, 2008

PVC Shower Curtains Spew Over 100 Toxic Chemicals

by the Center for Health, Environment & Justice
June 12, 2008

Results from a two-phase study released today by the Center for Health, Environment & Justice, a non-profit organization dedicated to preventing environmental health harms caused by chemical threats, show that shower curtains made with polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic contain many harmful chemicals including volatile organic compounds (VOCs), phthalates and organotins; these PVC shower curtains are potentially toxic to the health of consumers. Vinyl shower curtains and shower curtain liners release chemicals into the home that are most easily identified by that “new shower curtain smell” and are routinely sold at major retail outlets. Results of this study show that PVC shower curtains can release toxic chemicals into the air that may lead to adverse health effects including respiratory irritation, central nervous system, liver and kidney damage, nausea, headaches and loss of coordination. The Work Group for Safe Markets is a co-sponsor of this report.

Across the nation many consumer and environmental health organizations join CHEJ and other experts in calling for safeguards to prevent harm from exposure to toxic PVC shower curtains. For a list of state events and/or to read the full report, Volatile Vinyl: The New Shower Curtain’s Chemical Smell –

Key Report Findings

• 108 different volatile organic compounds were released from the shower curtain into the air over twenty-eight days.
• After one week, 40 different VOCs were detected in the air; after two weeks, 16 VOCS; after three weeks 11 VOCs and; after four weeks, 4 VOCs.
• The level of Total VOCs measured was over 16 times greater than the recommended guidelines for indoor air quality established by the U.S. Green Building Council, violating these guidelines for seven days.
• Just one new PVC shower curtain will release Total VOCs that exceed the typical Total VOCs residential level for four days.
• The concentration of Total VOCs in the Wal-Mart tested shower curtain was so high that the analytical equipment was saturated and further testing had to be halted so that lab equipment would not be damaged.
• All five curtains tested in phase one contained phthalates DEHP and DINP, chemicals banned in children’s toys in California, Washington, and the European Union.
• This testing did not replicate temperature and humidity conditions typically found in a shower, which would likely increase the concentrations of volatile pollutants released from a PVC curtain into the air of a bathroom; concentrations of these chemicals are likely to be even greater during and after a shower than those reported in this study.

“The release of so many volatile organic compounds, many of which are toxic, raises serious questions about the risks PVC shower curtains pose to families, especially young children exposed to these vapors. Every effort should be made to eliminate PVC shower curtains from homes and to replace them with safer alternatives,” said CHEJ Science Director and report co-author, Stephen Lester. On June 10th, CHEJ's Science Director Stephen Lester testified at the U.S. House Energy and Commerce committee hearing on phthalates and bisphenol A about the growing market movement away from phthalates in consumer products such as PVC shower curtains.

CHEJ is the first non-governmental organization (NGO) to conduct a study of this type on PVC shower curtains. These test results mirror and expand upon those first conducted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In 1991, the EPA studied emissions of a broad range of VOCs found in a new PVC shower curtain, detecting decane, a VOC also found in CHEJ’s study. In 2002, the EPA focused its study on emissions of four chemicals – toluene, phenol, ethylbenzene and methyl isolbutyl ketone (MIBK) – from a PVC shower curtain. The results found elevated levels of the chemicals evident beyond one month. The concentrations of these four chemicals were among the five highest found in CHEJ’s current results. PVC is the second largest commodity plastic in production in the world today; with nearly 15 billion pounds being produced annually in the U.S.

“Six years after the EPA found that PVC shower curtains continue to release toxic chemicals into the air we breathe for a month or longer, our study shows that nothing has changed. Something must be done to protect consumers from any potential harm these toxic chemicals cause. Wal-Mart and other retailers need to phase out these toxic chemicals. As Congress is considering a variety of chemical policy reforms, it must address the reality that no legal authority currently exists to enable the federal government to regulate consumer products which release toxic chemicals into the air inside our homes – air our children breathe every day,” said CHEJ founder and Executive Director Lois Gibbs.

PVC shower curtains’ life cycle of potential harm.

Workers, consumers, and those living in communities nearby to where PVC is made, or ultimately discarded, are at risk of harm from the toxic chemicals within the PVC. Three chemicals are at the core of manufacturing PVC. First, chlorine gas is used to produce ethylene dichloride (EDC). Second, the EDC is converted into vinyl chloride monomer (VCM). Finally, the VCM is converted into the PVC. VCM and EDC are extremely hazardous, with vinyl chloride causing a rare form of liver cancer, damaging the liver and central nervous system. The U.S. EPA classifies vinyl chloride as a known human carcinogen. When PVC is manufactured by workers, or burned when discarded,
numerous dioxins are formed and released into the air and water. Dioxins are a highly toxic group of chemicals that build up in the food chain and can cause cancer, as well as harm the immune and reproductive systems.

Health Implications.

This study found that PVC shower curtains release elevated levels of toxic chemicals into the air and contribute significantly to indoor air pollution. Seven of the chemicals found are classified as hazardous air pollutants by the EPA under the Clean Air Act. VOCs can also cause eye, nose and throat irritation, headaches, loss of coordination and nausea. Key symptoms associated with VOC exposure include eye irritation, nose and throat discomfort, difficulty breathing, allergic skin reaction, headache, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, dizziness and nose bleeding. Phthalates have been linked to reproductive problems including shorter pregnancy duration and sperm damage in males.

"The brain is a major target for VOCs, causing everything from headache and loss of concentration to learning disabilities in children whose mothers were exposed before their birth, as shown in a recent Canadian study. Since there are safe alternatives to vinyl shower curtains, such exposures should always be avoided," said David O. Carpenter, M.D., of the Institute for Health & The Environment at the University at Albany, SUNY.

Recommendations to protect consumers, workers & communities from PVC:

• The Federal Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) is 30 years old and must be updated to regulate consumer products which contribute to indoor air pollution and cause health harm.
• The Consumer Product Safety Commission should immediately recall all PVC shower curtains from store shelves.
• Manufactures and retailers should switch to safer products such as organic cotton shower curtains.
• Government at all levels should act quickly to ban the use of PVC in shower curtains.
• Consumers should avoid purchasing shower curtains made with PVC, and should not buy shower curtains that are not labeled with their content.

“The new shower curtain smell may be toxic to your health,” said Michael Schade, report co-author and CHEJ PVC Campaign Coordinator. “The good news is that families can take simple steps to protect their health by avoiding shower curtains made with PVC and choosing healthier products.”

To date, Bed Bath and Beyond, JC Penney, Sears/Kmart, Macys, and Target have all developed plans to offer more PVC-free shower curtains, but not all have set 100 percent PVC-free phase out plans and goals, while Ikea and Marks and Spencer have.

California Develops Emissions Plan to Help Save the World

by Felicity Barringer
The New York Times
June 26, 2008

California will introduce a detailed plan on Thursday to cut greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels in 12 years by requiring more energy-efficient appliances and buildings, lowering vehicle emissions and generating 33 percent of its energy from renewable sources.

But the greatest source of reductions would come from capping emissions from utilities, industrial facilities and other businesses, while allowing them to use permits to emit authorized amounts of pollutants. The companies could buy and sell these permits with their counterparts in seven Western states and three Canadian provinces.

These are the broad details of the plan by state regulators to meet the goals of California’s groundbreaking 2006 law requiring reductions in carbon dioxide and other emissions that contribute to climate change.

Since the probable death of national climate-control legislation after a brief Senate debate this month, the California plan is the most comprehensive effort in the country to devise an economy-wide program to reduce heat-trapping gases.

The plan does not , however, offer details about some politically delicate questions, including the costs it will impose on various industries, among them automobile manufacturers and electric utilities, which together contribute 61 percent of these emissions.

Rather than assessing the costs that will be borne by industry, Mary D. Nichols, who heads the California Air Resources Board, said the agency’s “macroeconomic analysis” had shown that the state’s gross domestic product would increase by 1 percent when the plan was fully put into place.

The plan also assumes that the federal Environmental Protection Agency will reverse itself and allow the state to impose stringent emission standards on cars.

A final version of the plan, which makes a 28 percent cut in the 596 million tons of greenhouses gases the state would emit in 2020, is scheduled for adoption by California regulators by the end of the year.

The plan does not propose a formal mechanism for distributing the emissions permits, although it speaks favorably of an auction system.

In general, those companies that produce or use energy largely generated by burning coal have greater emissions and would need more emission allowances than competitors that use different energy sources.

Auctions tend to favor the low-emission companies, while free distribution favors those with substantial greenhouse gas emissions.

California utilities are divided among those that use little coal, like Pacific Gas and Electric in Northern California, and those heavily dependent on it, like the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, and the coal-dependent municipal utilities have been strongly opposed to a plan that seemed likely to favor their investor-owned counterparts.

H. David Nahai, chief executive of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, said Wednesday: “What we’ve said is the considerable investments we’re making in reducing our greenhouse gas emission footprint should be allowed to continue. We should not be put in the position of having potentially hundreds of millions of dollars” diverted to pay for allowances in a cap-and-trade market.

“This document recognizes that and recognizes that utilities such as ours are doing the right thing by increasing their renewable energy investments.”

About 46 percent of his utility’s output is fueled by coal and 30 percent by natural gas; renewable sources now provide 8 percent of the energy, up from 3 percent when California’s climate-change law was passed two years ago.

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company

Sunday, June 22, 2008

More Addicted to Oil

by Thomas L. Friedman
The New York Times
June 22, 2008

Two years ago, President Bush declared that America was “addicted to oil,” and, by gosh, he was going to do something about it. Well, now he has. Now we have the new Bush energy plan: “Get more addicted to oil.”

Actually, it’s more sophisticated than that: Get Saudi Arabia, our chief oil pusher, to up our dosage for a little while and bring down the oil price just enough so the renewable energy alternatives can’t totally take off. Then try to strong arm Congress into lifting the ban on drilling offshore and in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

It’s as if our addict-in-chief is saying to us: “C’mon guys, you know you want a little more of the good stuff. One more hit, baby. Just one more toke on the ole oil pipe. I promise, next year, we’ll all go straight. I’ll even put a wind turbine on my presidential library. But for now, give me one more pop from that drill, please, baby. Just one more transfusion of that sweet offshore crude.”

It is hard for me to find the words to express what a massive, fraudulent, pathetic excuse for an energy policy this is. But it gets better. The president actually had the gall to set a deadline for this drug deal:

“I know the Democratic leaders have opposed some of these policies in the past,” Mr. Bush said. “Now that their opposition has helped drive gas prices to record levels, I ask them to reconsider their positions. If Congressional leaders leave for the Fourth of July recess without taking action, they will need to explain why $4-a-gallon gasoline is not enough incentive for them to act.”

This from a president who for six years resisted any pressure on Detroit to seriously improve mileage standards on its gas guzzlers; this from a president who’s done nothing to encourage conservation; this from a president who has so neutered the Environmental Protection Agency that the head of the E.P.A. today seems to be in a witness-protection program. I bet there aren’t 12 readers of this newspaper who could tell you his name or identify him in a police lineup.

But, most of all, this deadline is from a president who hasn’t lifted a finger to broker passage of legislation that has been stuck in Congress for a year, which could actually impact America’s energy profile right now — unlike offshore oil that would take years to flow — and create good tech jobs to boot.

That bill is H.R. 6049 — “The Renewable Energy and Job Creation Act of 2008,” which extends for another eight years the investment tax credit for installing solar energy and extends for one year the production tax credit for producing wind power and for three years the credits for geothermal, wave energy and other renewables.

These critical tax credits for renewables are set to expire at the end of this fiscal year and, if they do, it will mean thousands of jobs lost and billions of dollars of investments not made. “Already clean energy projects in the U.S. are being put on hold,” said Rhone Resch, president of the Solar Energy Industries Association.

People forget, wind and solar power are here, they work, they can go on your roof tomorrow. What they need now is a big U.S. market where lots of manufacturers have an incentive to install solar panels and wind turbines — because the more they do, the more these technologies would move down the learning curve, become cheaper and be able to compete directly with coal, oil and nuclear, without subsidies.

That seems to be exactly what the Republican Party is trying to block, since the Senate Republicans — sorry to say, with the help of John McCain — have now managed to defeat the renewal of these tax credits six different times.

Of course, we’re going to need oil for years to come. That being the case, I’d prefer — for geopolitical reasons — that we get as much as possible from domestic wells. But our future is not in oil, and a real president wouldn’t be hectoring Congress about offshore drilling today. He’d be telling the country a much larger truth:

“Oil is poisoning our climate and our geopolitics, and here is how we’re going to break our addiction: We’re going to set a floor price of $4.50 a gallon for gasoline and $100 a barrel for oil. And that floor price is going to trigger massive investments in renewable energy — particularly wind, solar panels and solar thermal. And we’re also going to go on a crash program to dramatically increase energy efficiency, to drive conservation to a whole new level and to build more nuclear power. And I want every Democrat and every Republican to join me in this endeavor.”

That’s what a real president would do. He’d give us a big strategic plan to end our addiction to oil and build a bipartisan coalition to deliver it. He certainly wouldn’t be using his last days in office to threaten Congressional Democrats that if they don’t approve offshore drilling by the Fourth of July recess, they will be blamed for $4-a-gallon gas. That is so lame. That is an energy policy so unworthy of our Independence Day.

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company

Friday, June 20, 2008

Big Green Purse

by Sarah Van Schagen
June 20, 2008

Mary Poppins may have had a giant carpetbag from which she could pull coat racks and potted plants. But author Diane MacEachern has something even better: A big, green purse that, she says, carries the power to influence the marketplace to "create a cleaner, greener world."

The concept behind MacEachern's book Big Green Purse is built on the fact that women shell out 85 cents of every dollar spent in the marketplace, and the notion that big business responds faster to consumer demand than any other market force. She says women's consumer power -- they collectively earn $2.7 billion a day, and manage billions more for their households, workplaces, and volunteer organizations -- exceeds the economy of Japan. That's quite the powerful pocketbook.

On her website, MacEachern -- author of the best-selling Save Our Planet: 750 Everyday Ways You Can Help Clean Up the Earth, co-founder of Vanguard Communications, and a longtime conservationist -- urges women to sign up for her One in a Million campaign, a pledge to shift at least $1,000 of the yearly household budget to more sustainable goods. That's a shift, she emphasizes, not an additional expenditure: When choosing fruit, go for organic apples; when buying a bottle of lotion, find one without phthalates or parabens; if you must buy a car, find one that fits your needs but is fuel efficient. Still, her first piece of advice is always buy less.

© Grist Magazine, Inc.

A Quaker Bears Witness in Palestine and Israel

by Cherice Bock
Quaker Oats Live
June 16, 2008

I got back a week ago from Israel/Palestine with Christian Peacemaker Teams. This was a first exploratory step for me, to learn about what CPT does there, the situation and culture(s), and to see if I want to be involved with CPT in the future...

We spent the first couple of days in Jerusalem, then went to Hebron, down to At Tuwani, back to Hebron, Bethlehem and back to Jerusalem. We visited with many organizations working for peace in these areas, as well as individuals who told us their stories. We experienced amazing hospitality from people whose lives have been devastated in many ways...

My overall sense is that the Palestinians are not terrorists any more than Americans are terrorists--and probably even less. There are of course individuals in every culture who use terror as a weapon to try to get their way, but the Palestinians have been painted by the media as a culture that as a whole breeds terrorists, and this is not the case. We met amazing people who are working nonviolently for basic human rights. We met patient people who refuse to be treated as sub-human, and have a high value for human life. These people are not terrorists: they are individuals like you and me who want a decent life for themselves and their children. And this decent life is by and large not being allowed them.

I can see the situation from the Israeli side to some degree. The Jews have been mistreated by so many other groups for so long that now that they have the chance to have a homeland they are not going to give up that chance for anything. This is a place where they can supposedly be safe to live as they please. The problem is, there were already people living on this land when the rest of the world gave it to them. So what do they do with those other people? They do what the European nations did to the native people living in the Americas: they push them out, they legislate inhumane treatment of them, they vilify them so it is easier not to feel guilty about ridding the world of them...

And as I see it, as long as there are people who are suffering and who are in dire need of basic necessities, there will always be a security threat. There will always be desperate individuals and groups who will do anything to get rid of the opposing force. Imagine if another country came into the United States and took over more and more land, kept Americans from getting access to education, food and transportation, and put their military in control of entire areas. Would Americans not fight back? Would Americans sit around and acquiesce to whatever this occupying force wanted them to do? Of course not! Americans would fight back using whatever tactics necessary to gain our freedom back. And yet, when Palestinians use such tactics, the world calls them terrorists...

Israel has the 5th most powerful military in the world for a country the size of Rhode Island, I believe. They have all the conventional weaponry including nuclear bombs. Their military kills many more Palestinians each year than Palestine's puny attempts at harming Israel. And yet, they are not seen as terrorists because their government is "legitimate" and these attacks are military endeavors. What we fail to notice is that Palestine is not given the right to have a "legitimate" government (when they had democratic elections in 2006 and elected Hamas leaders, the world refused to recognize this "terrorist" government), and they are not allowed to have an army. So they resort to guerrilla tactics, as most people would. I'm not saying these tactics are right, but they are certainly understandable.

So to me, one of the main issues here is the worldwide media picture of this people as a huge group of terrorists. This is just not true, unless we're willing to face the fact that our own governments are terrorist organizations that are much more effective and lethal than the Palestinian "terrorism." There are many Palestinians actively and nonviolently working for peace, and a majority of Palestinians just want to be left alone to live their lives. The media is encouraging the dehumanization of the Palestinian people in order for western ideals of conquest, capitalism and wealth to gain more ground. This is cloaked as a religious battle, but really it is a battle of cultures, with the front line in the Holy Land of three ancient religions.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Yes, We Will Have No Bananas

by Dan Koeppel
The New York Times
June 18, 2008

Once you become accustomed to gas at $4 a gallon, brace yourself for the next shocking retail threshold: bananas reaching $1 a pound. At that price, Americans may stop thinking of bananas as a cheap staple, and then a strategy that has served the big banana companies for more than a century — enabling them to turn an exotic, tropical fruit into an everyday favorite — will begin to unravel.

The immediate reasons for the price increase are the rising cost of oil and reduced supply caused by floods in Ecuador, the world’s biggest banana exporter. But something larger is going on that will affect prices for years to come.

That bananas have long been the cheapest fruit at the grocery store is astonishing. They’re grown thousands of miles away, they must be transported in cooled containers and even then they survive no more than two weeks after they’re cut off the tree. Apples, in contrast, are typically grown within a few hundred miles of the store and keep for months in a basket out in the garage. Yet apples traditionally have cost at least twice as much per pound as bananas.

Americans eat as many bananas as apples and oranges combined, which is especially amazing when you consider that not so long ago, bananas were virtually unknown here. They became a staple only after the men who in the late 19th century founded the United Fruit Company (today’s Chiquita) figured out how to get bananas to American tables quickly — by clearing rainforest in Latin America, building railroads and communication networks and inventing refrigeration techniques to control ripening. The banana barons also marketed their product in ways that had never occurred to farmers or grocers before, by offering discount coupons, writing jingles and placing bananas in schoolbooks and on picture postcards. They even hired doctors to convince mothers that bananas were good for children.

Once bananas had become widely popular, the companies kept costs low by exercising iron-fisted control over the Latin American countries where the fruit was grown. Workers could not be allowed such basic rights as health care, decent wages or the right to congregate. (In 1929, Colombian troops shot down banana workers and their families who were gathered in a town square after church.) Governments could not be anything but utterly pliable. Over and over, banana companies, aided by the American military, intervened whenever there was a chance that any “banana republic” might end its cooperation. (In 1954, United Fruit helped arrange the overthrow of the democratically elected government of Guatemala.) Labor is still cheap in these countries, and growers still resort to heavy-handed tactics.

The final piece of the banana pricing equation is genetics. Unlike apple and orange growers, banana importers sell only a single variety of their fruit, the Cavendish. There are more than 1,000 varieties of bananas — most of them in Africa and Asia — but except for an occasional exotic, the Cavendish is the only banana we see in our markets. It is the only kind that is shipped and eaten everywhere from Beijing to Berlin, Moscow to Minneapolis.

By sticking to this single variety, the banana industry ensures that all the bananas in a shipment ripen at the same rate, creating huge economies of scale. The Cavendish is the fruit equivalent of a fast-food hamburger: efficient to produce, uniform in quality and universally affordable.

But there’s a difference between a banana and a Big Mac: The banana is a living organism. It can get sick, and since bananas all come from the same gene pool, a virulent enough malady could wipe out the world’s commercial banana crop in a matter of years.

This has happened before. Our great-grandparents grew up eating not the Cavendish but the Gros Michel banana, a variety that everyone agreed was tastier. But starting in the early 1900s, banana plantations were invaded by a fungus called Panama disease and vanished one by one. Forest would be cleared for new banana fields, and healthy fruit would grow there for a while, but eventually succumb.

By 1960, the Gros Michel was essentially extinct and the banana industry nearly bankrupt. It was saved at the last minute by the Cavendish, a Chinese variety that had been considered something close to junk: inferior in taste, easy to bruise (and therefore hard to ship) and too small to appeal to consumers. But it did resist the blight.

Over the past decade, however, a new, more virulent strain of Panama disease has begun to spread across the world, and this time the Cavendish is not immune. The fungus is expected to reach Latin America in 5 to 10 years, maybe 20. The big banana companies have been slow to finance efforts to find either a cure for the fungus or a banana that resists it. Nor has enough been done to aid efforts to diversify the world’s banana crop by preserving little-known varieties of the fruit that grow in Africa and Asia.

In recent years, American consumers have begun seeing the benefits — to health, to the economy and to the environment — of buying foods that are grown close to our homes. Getting used to life without bananas will take some adjustment. What other fruit can you slice onto your breakfast cereal?

But bananas have always been an emblem of a long-distance food chain. Perhaps it’s time we recognize bananas for what they are: an exotic fruit that, some day soon, may slip beyond our reach.

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Cluster Bombs: We're #1

by Common Dreams

The United States is the largest producer, stockpiler, and user of cluster bombs in the history of the world.

When 111 nations gathered recently to draft a treaty to ban these horrific weapons, the United States was conspicuously absent.

Once again, the President of the United States came down on the wrong side of international peace.

On January 20, 2009, the world will watch with hope as this country inaugurates a new President. A president who has the potential to undo the damage George Bush has done. A president committed to joining the world community in its struggle for a more peaceful future.

So far, the leading presidential candidates, Barack Obama and John McCain, have been silent on whether they will endorse this new treaty banning cluster bombs. We need a President who will do the right thing.

Click here to ask all the presidential candidates to commit to sign the global cluster bomb ban.

Cluster bombs are designed to open in mid-air, dispersing hundreds of smaller "bomblets." The resulting blasts kill indiscriminately, spraying over an area roughly the size of three football fields. Approximately 30% of ordnance from each bomb will fail to explode on impact, creating virtual minefields that will kill and maim innocent civilians for decades to come.

A recent example: By a United Nations count, Israel fired 822 cluster bombs at Lebanon in a 2006 conflict, killing thousands. A blanket of 60,000 unexploded bomblets killed more than 200 civilians in the year after the ceasefire. One third of the casualties were children. Cleanup efforts continue to this day in Lebanon with many areas still uninhabitable.

One US commander reportedly refused to use cluster munitions in Iraq, citing mortal danger to his troops. If knowledgeable soldiers are at risk, what will be the fate of an 8-year-old child who, indulging her natural inclination to explore, stumbles upon a small, colorful metal ball in the sand?

Ask the presidential candidates to do the right thing and sign the ban.

The Bush Administration refused to participate in cluster bomb treaty negotiations last month. President Bush has been short-sighted and unilateralist from the beginning. Ignoring the Kyoto Protocol. Refusing to join the international war crimes court. Tearing up the ABM treaty. Trashing the Geneva Conventions. Our next President must begin to rejoin the US with the world community by signing on to the global cluster bomb ban.

Thankfully, the US is about to usher in new leadership just as the rest of the world is saying "NO!" to cluster bombs. The question is: Will the next President do the right thing and join them?

Thanks for taking action. Together, we can change our world!

Matt Reading

Online Organizer

© Copyright 1997-2008 Common Dreams

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Dry Cleaning That Isn't Hazardous to Your Health

June 10, 2008

It was good news for Manhattan this week when Green Apple Cleaners bought its second state-of-the-art Solvair Cleaning System. Dry cleaning's "green revolution," the Solvair technology uses liquid CO2 and is the only technology designed from start to finish to achieve better cleaning while minimizing impact on the environment.

Solvair Cleaning Systems use a closed loop system designed to eliminate emissions to the atmosphere and ensure maximum reclamation of recyclable materials. A biodegradable cleaning formula helps remove dirt and stains. One element of this formula, chosen for its safe profile and cleaning ability, is a propylene glycol ether that is completely and readily biodegradable into water and CO2. These propylene glycol ethers should not to be confused with ethylene glycol ethers, the variety found in products like anti-freeze.

"As dry cleaners struggle to meet environmental regulations that require costly new equipment, misleading "organic" and "natural" claims by some traditional cleaners keep customers guessing about what is really green," says David Kistner, the CEO of Green Apple Cleaners. "Solvair is the real deal."

Liquid CO2 in a pressurized machine is used to wash the cleaning formula from the clothes. This CO2 has been captured from other emission sources, thus avoiding green house gas release. The eco-safe formula is attracted to and thoroughly removed by the liquid CO2, and continually recovered, recycled and reused within the machine for maximum efficiency. Clothes float in liquid and CO2 vapor, cushioned from tumbling damage. The pressure in the machine is then reduced until the liquid CO2 evaporates. Clothes dry completely and instantly leaving clothes free of stains, dirt and residue from other dry cleaners. This gentle process noticeably helps prolong the life of the garment.

According to David Kistner, reduction in energy consumption is a welcome side effect. "We've seen a 52% reduction in our utility costs since we started using Solvair."

CO2 technology is just the tip of the iceberg for Green Apple Cleaners.

The only two Solvair Cleaning Systems in the New York Metro area are both owned and operated by Green Apple Cleaners, founded by eco-entrepreneurs David Kistner and Christopher Skelley. This New Jersey based company has served Manhattan and select areas of New Jersey with environmentally friendly CO2 and Wet Cleaning services since 2006. The two new Solvair Cleaning Systems cost more than $150K each, but Green Apple Cleaners thinks they are well worth it. "We set out to offer our customers premium care and cleaning of garments and other items they entrust to us. Customers trust us to treat the world around them carefully as well. We chose Solvair machinery not just because it gets clothes cleaner, but because it is the only process to integrate environmental stewardship into its design."

Green Apple Cleaners as a company is eco-conscious throughout its entire operation. Their fleet of bio-diesel ready trucks and smart cars is a welcome sight in Manhattan, where they pick up and deliver garments in their signature garment totes to over 450 residential and commercial buildings, and 10,000 clients. Though the bulk of their business is pickup and delivery, they have already opened two storefront locations in NYC and two in New Jersey with seven more planned this year. For more information or to sign up for services, visit or call 1-888-I-LUV-CO2 (1-888-458-8262).

©2008 CSRwire, LLC.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Justice Reigns Supreme, But Barely

by the Albany Times Union
June 14, 2008

In affirming the right to a civilian court hearing for detainees at Guantanamo Bay naval base, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy eloquently summed up the issue facing a nation founded in liberty and dedicated to the rule of law. "Liberty and security can be reconciled," he wrote, "and in our system they are reconciled within the framework of the law. The Framers decided that habeas corpus, a right of first importance, must be a part of that framework, a part of that law."

But that's not what President Bush wanted to hear Thursday. While he grudgingly agreed to abide by the court's 5-4 ruling, he also held out the hope that he could convince Congress to enact legislation that would render it moot. Fortunately, Mr. Bush's days in office grow ever shorter, and the chances of getting Congress to act before he leaves the White House seem remote at best.

In his nearly eight years in office, Mr. Bush has used the war on terror as an excuse to run roughshod over basic liberties. He has defended holding terror suspects in secret prisons abroad, where they face torture, and denigrated the Geneva Conventions. And he has trampled on the rights of American citizens, too, by spying on their e-mails and phone calls without first obtaining a warrant as required by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

The detainees at Guantanamo, while not U.S. citizens protected under the Constitution, are nonetheless being held on U.S. property, some for as long as six years without access to civilian courts. Mr. Bush has declared them enemy combatants, and thus not entitled to civilian courts. Instead, he has argued that the detainees should be tried by military tribunals, where, among other things, they would not be allowed to see evidence against them. Regrettably, Mr. Bush was able to prevail on a weak-kneed Congress to indulge him in this charade.

The administration's argument against granting habeas corpus, had it been upheld, would have given any president the power to deny basic rights to anyone, foreign or citizen, simply by declaring them enemies of the state. In effect, a president would have dictatorial powers.

The majority ruling rightly rejected military tribunals as inadequate to uphold the rights of the accused. That will deny the White House the chance to have the detainees tried in secret. Instead, it must persuade an open civilian court that the charges against the detainees are warranted and that continued confinement is justified.

Regrettably, Justice Antonin Scalia, one of the four dissenters, chose the low road in his attempt to rebut the majority ruling by claiming it will "almost certainly cause more Americans to be killed."

No. The Americans who are fighting and dying in Iraq and Afghanistan are placing their lives on the line to defend the high ideals this country stands for. On Thursday, five Supreme Court justices upheld those ideals with honor.

Copyright 2008 Capital Newspapers Division of The Hearst Corporation

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Articles of Impeachment Listing Bush's 35 Crimes Ignored by U.S. Media and Buried by Congress

by Gore Vidal
June 11, 2008

On June 9, 2008, a counterrevolution began on the floor of the House of Representatives against the gas and oil crooks who had seized control of the federal government. This counterrevolution began in the exact place which had slumbered during the all-out assault on our liberties and the Constitution itself.

I wish to draw the attention of the blog world to Rep. Dennis Kucinich’s articles of impeachment presented to the House in order that two faithless public servants be removed from office for crimes against the American people. As I listened to Rep. Kucinich invoke the great engine of impeachment—he listed some 35 crimes by these two faithless officials—we heard, like great bells tolling, the voice of the Constitution itself speak out ringingly against those who had tried to destroy it.

Although this is the most important motion made in Congress in the 21st century, it was also the most significant plea for a restoration of the republic, which had been swept to one side by the mad antics of a president bent on great crime. And as I listened with awe to Kucinich, I realized that no newspaper in the U.S., no broadcast or cable network, would pay much notice to the fact that a highly respected member of Congress was asking for the president and vice president to be tried for crimes which were carefully listed by Kucinich in his articles requesting impeachment.

But then I have known for a long time that the media of the U.S. and too many of its elected officials give not a flying fuck for the welfare of this republic, and so I turned, as I often do, to the foreign press for a clear report of what has been going on in Congress. We all know how the self-described “war hero,” Mr. John McCain, likes to snigger at France, while the notion that he is a hero of any kind is what we should be sniggering at. It is Le Monde, a French newspaper, that told a story the next day hardly touched by The New York Times or The Washington Post or The Wall Street Journal or, in fact, any other major American media outlet.

As for TV? Well, there wasn’t much—you see, we dare not be divisive because it upsets our masters who know that this is a perfect country, and the fact that so many in it don’t like it means that they have been terribly spoiled by the greatest health service on Earth, the greatest justice system, the greatest number of occupied prisons—two and a half million Americans are prisoners—what a great tribute to our penal passions!

Naturally, I do not want to sound hard, but let me point out that even a banana Republican would be distressed to discover how much of our nation’s treasury has been siphoned off by our vice president in the interest of his Cosa Nostra company, Halliburton, the lawless gang of mercenaries set loose by his administration in the Middle East.

But there it was on the first page of Le Monde. The House of Representatives, which was intended to be the democratic chamber, at last was alert to its function, and the bravest of its members set in motion the articles of impeachment of the most dangerous president in our history. Rep Kucinich listed some 30-odd articles describing impeachable offenses committed by the president and vice president, neither of whom had ever been the clear choice of our sleeping polity for any office.

Some months ago, Kucinich had made the case against Dick Cheney. Now he had the principal malefactor in his view under the title “Articles of Impeachment for President George W. Bush”! “Resolved, that President George W. Bush be impeached for high crimes and misdemeanors, and that the following articles of impeachment be exhibited to the United States Senate.” The purpose of the resolve is that he be duly tried by the Senate, and if found guilty, be removed from office. At this point, Rep. Kucinich presented his 35 articles detailing various high crimes and misdemeanors for which removal from office was demanded by the framers of the Constitution.

Update: On Wednesday, the House voted by 251 to 166 to send Rep. Kucinich’s articles of impeachment to a committee which probably won’t get to the matter before Bush leaves office, a strategy that is “often used to kill legislation,” as the Associated Press noted later that day.

Copyright © 2008 Truthdig, L.L.C.

U.S. Using Iraq as a Nuclear and Chemical Waste Dump

by Ali al-Fadhily and Dahr Jamail
Inter Press Service
June 12, 2008

Babies born in Fallujah are showing illnesses and deformities on a scale never seen before, doctors and residents say.

The new cases, and the number of deaths among children, have risen after "special weaponry" was used in the two massive bombing campaigns in Fallujah in 2004.

After denying it at first, the Pentagon admitted in November 2005 that white phosphorous, a restricted incendiary weapon, was used a year earlier in Fallujah.

In addition, depleted uranium (DU) munitions, which contain low-level radioactive waste, were used heavily in Fallujah. The Pentagon admits to having used 1,200 tonnes of DU in Iraq thus far.

Many doctors believe DU to be the cause of a severe increase in the incidence of cancer in Iraq, as well as among U.S. veterans who served in the 1991 Gulf War and through the current occupation.

"We saw all the colours of the rainbow coming out of the exploding American shells and missiles," Ali Sarhan, a 50-year-old teacher who lived through the two U.S. sieges of 2004 told IPS. "I saw bodies that turned into bones and coal right after they were exposed to bombs that we learned later to be phosphorus.

"The most worrying is that many of our women have suffered loss of their babies, and some had babies born with deformations."

"I had two children who had brain damage from birth," 28-year-old Hayfa' Shukur told IPS. "My husband has been detained by the Americans since November 2004 and so I had to take the children around by myself to hospitals and private clinics. They died. I spent all our savings and borrowed a considerable amount of money."

Shukur said doctors told her that it was use of the restricted weapons that caused her children's brain damage and subsequent deaths, "but none of them had the courage to give me a written report."

"Many babies were born with major congenital malformations," a paediatric doctor, speaking on condition of anonymity, told IPS. "These infants include many with heart defects, cleft lip or palate, Down's syndrome, and limb defects."

The doctor added, "I can say all kinds of problems related to toxic pollution took place in Fallujah after the November 2004 massacre."

Many doctors speak of similar cases and a similar pattern. The indications remain anecdotal, in the absence of either a study, or any available official records.

The Fallujah General Hospital administration was unwilling to give any statistics on deformed babies, but one doctor volunteered to speak on condition of anonymity -- for fear of reprisals if seen to be critical of the administration.

"Maternal exposure to toxins and radioactive material can lead to miscarriage and frequent abortions, still birth, and congenital malformation," the doctor told IPS. There have been many such cases, and the government "did not move to contain the damage, or present any assistance to the hospital whatsoever.

"These cases need intensive international efforts that provide the highest and most recent technologies that we will not have here in a hundred years," he added.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) expressed concern Mar. 31 about the lack of medical supplies in hospitals in Baghdad and Basra.

"Hospitals have used up stocks of vital medical items, and require further supplies to cope with the influx of wounded patients. Access to water remains a matter of concern in certain areas," the ICRC said in a statement.

A senior Iraqi health ministry official was quoted as saying Feb. 26 that the health sector is under "great pressure", with scores of doctors killed, an exodus of medical personnel, poor medical infrastructure, and shortage of medicines.

"We are experiencing a big shortage of everything," said the official, "We don't have enough specialist doctors and medicines, and most of the medical equipment is outdated.

"We used to get many spinal and head injures, but were unable to do anything as we didn't have enough specialists and medicines," he added. "Intravenous fluid, which is a simple thing, is not available all the time." He said no new hospitals had been built since 1986.

Iraqi Health Minister Salih al-Hassnawi highlighted the shortage of medicines at a press conference in Arbil in the Kurdistan region in the north Feb. 22. "The Iraqi Health Ministry is suffering from an acute shortage of medicines...We have decided to import medicines immediately to meet the needs."

He said the 2008 health budget meant that total expenditure on medicines, medical equipment and ambulances would amount to an average of 22 dollars per citizen.

But this is too late for the unknown number of babies and their families who bore the consequences of the earlier devastation. And it is too little to cover the special needs of babies who survived with deformations.

Copyright © 2008 IPS-Inter Press Service

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Safety of C8 (PFOA) Substitutes Questioned

by Ken Ward Jr.
The Charleston Gazette
June 10, 2008

More than two years ago, federal regulators and the chemical industry announced plans to phase out the use of the toxic chemical C8 in cookware, waterproof clothing and grease-resistant food packaging.

Since the January 2006 announcement, companies such as DuPont and 3M have rushed to find substitute products and get those products on the market. The industry says these new chemicals are safe and effective.

But the replacement chemicals are very similar to C8, cause a "staggering array of health effects," and are shrouded in secrecy by industry and government, according to a new report by the nonprofit advocacy organization Environmental Working Group.

"Calling these replacement chemicals 'green' is like saying you're safer driving a car at 150 miles per hour instead of 200," said Olga Naidenko, a senior scientist with the group. "Just like the chemicals they're replacing, these new compounds are extraordinarily persistent in the environment, they're already found in people's blood, and they cross the placenta to contaminate babies before birth."

In West Virginia, C8 is a major issue because the water supplies for thousands of Parkersburg-area residents have been contaminated with the toxic chemical.

C8 is another name for ammonium perfluorooctanoate, or PFOA. DuPont has used the chemical since the 1950s at its Washington Works plant south of Parkersburg. C8 is a processing agent used to make Teflon and other nonstick products, oil-resistant paper packaging and stain-resistant textiles.

Around the world, researchers are finding that people have C8 and other perfluorochemicals, or PFCs, in their blood in low levels. Evidence is mounting about the chemical's dangerous effects, but regulators have not set a federal standard for emissions or human exposure.

© Copyright 1996-2008 The Charleston Gazette

McCain and Obama Tout Very Different Energy Policies

by Grist
June 10, 2008

While campaigning in different cities Monday, Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama managed to trade plenty of jabs on energy policy. At a rally in Raleigh, N.C., Obama called for a tax on oil-company windfall profits and declared, "At a time ... when we're paying more than $4 a gallon for gas, [McCain] wants to spend $1.2 billion on a tax break for ExxonMobil." McCain's economic adviser responded that the GOP candidate supports an "across-the-board corporate rate cut that's necessary to keep the American corporate sector competitive in the global economy." Obama also dismissed the idea of a gas-tax holiday as a gimmick, and continued to tout his vision of a green-job-driven economy, making no mention of nuclear power. McCain, at a fundraiser in Richmond, Va., reiterated his support for the gas-tax holiday; when a donor summarized his energy policy as "nuclear, and drill wherever we've got it," McCain replied, "You just gave my speech."

© Grist Magazine, Inc.

State Senate Candidate Calls for Moratorium on Gas Drilling

June 10, 2008
Contact: Michael Blaine, 607-278-9910

Citing environmental and land rights concerns, as well as disturbances to local communities, state Senate candidate Don Barber (D-Caroline) called for a moratorium on gas drilling and leasing in local counties today. Recent moves to purchase mineral rights lease agreements and develop wells in our region have created "a heightened awareness of our vulnerability," he said.

"A gold rush for land leases in our region is on, but comprehensive protections aren't in place," Barber said today. "The DEC and the legislature have to step up and address the concerns of residents who are worried about what will happen to their water and their land. They need to provide a pathway to allow for gas exploration that puts property owners and local governments on a level playing field with the gas drilling companies."

Barber noted that current drilling practices call for a process known as hydraulic fracturing that involves injecting millions of gallons of water and sand into these deep wells. "A permit must be required for this process due to the tremendous volume of water that is being used. Residents are concerned about contaminated drinking wells. The state needs to require a bond of the drilling company to supply potable water to those few landowners who end up without an adequate supply of this valuable resource as a result of the drilling process."

Barber also said that the DEC and the legislature should protect residents from the complicated contracts large gas companies are enticing them to sign. "You have these behemoth corporations bringing signing bonuses as they negotiate with financially-pressed homeowners. That's just not fair. The only ones who have the clout to deal with the broader environmental issues are the DEC and the legislature. We need a moratorium so all the environmental and financial issues of gas leasing and gas drilling can be worked out by the only level of government big enough to take on this issue-the state of New York."

Barber pointed out that local governments have been left out of the process. "Local infrastructure will come under intense pressure from this gold rush. Heavy truck traffic will damage local roads, and noise pollution during the drilling process is intense. Meanwhile, local governments have to pick up the tab for whatever happens to their infrastructure."

"We have to slow down and examine these issues very carefully until we can ensure an environmentally sensitive way to develop this resource," he said. "We shouldn't move forward until every protection for our environment and our communities is in place."

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Biomimicry Revolutionizes Industrial Design But Is a Tough Sell

by John Markoff
The New York Times
June 8, 2008

What if someone invented a better mousetrap and the world yawned?

Until now, that has been the fate of Jay Harman, an Australian naturalist who believes that he’s found a way to use fundamental properties of physics and biology to improve the design of everything from simple fans and pumps to hydroelectric dams and aircraft.

Almost every piece of machinery in the physical world has efficiency limits related to the flow of liquids and gases: pumps consume energy to move liquids; the amount of fuel used by airplanes and cars is based on their aerodynamic efficiency; and fans and wind turbines both consume and generate energy based on the efficiency of the shape of their rotating blades.

As a young boy, Mr. Harman saw that objects in nature seemed to abhor traveling in a straight line. Fluids and gases flow in languid spirals, and although he was not trained as a scientist, it struck him as obvious that there was a profound lesson in that motion.

Ultimately, he turned the source of his childhood fascination into something he believed would be practical. He surmised that he could exploit his observations about fluids to change the shape of propellers, fans and virtually anything that needs to move in a fluid or gas environment.

After informally studying vortexes for several decades, he went to his bathtub and, with a bit of cleverness, was able to create a cast from the vortex generated by water flowing down the drain. Then he used the cast to help redesign the rotating parts, or impellers, used in pumps and other devices to move fluids. Since then he has applied his approach more broadly to redesign all kinds of devices that move fluids and gases.

Two examples of intriguing possibilities show the range of his ambitions. If the vortexes created by the wing tips of jets could be reduced or eliminated, it would be possible to space commercial aircraft more closely together, greatly improving the efficiency of airplanes and airports. Mr. Harman believes he has a technological approach that does just that.

In an entirely different arena, Mr. Harman’s impeller can be used in combination with a solar-powered motor to create a ripple effect on the surface of a pool of stagnant water, changing the balance of nitrogen and oxygen in the pool. This makes it possible to interrupt the development of mosquito larvae, potentially reducing the threat of malaria and encephalitis.

Mr. Harman is a practitioner of biomimicry, a growing movement of the industrial-design field. Eleven years ago, he established Pax Scientific to commercialize his ideas, thinking that it would take only a couple of years to convince companies that they could increase efficiency, lower noise or create entirely new categories of products by following his approach.

It has been a longer and more circuitous path than he first imagined. Despite glowing publicity and a remarkably photogenic technology, Pax Scientific has not been an overnight success.

“When I started I thought that this would take 6 to 12 months,” Mr. Harman said. What he found instead were companies that had little interest in redesigning their products, even in the face of the promise of double-digit increases in efficiency.

His radical ideas have so far found a cautious reception in the aircraft, air- conditioning, boating, pump and wind turbine industries.

Mr. Harman’s experience is not unusual. Rather than beating a path to the door of mousetrap designers, the world seems to actively avoid them.

Indeed, one of his advisers, Paul Saffo, an independent Silicon Valley technology forecaster, often repeats this simple dictum: “Never mistake a clear view for a short distance.”

Even in fields such as the computer industry, which celebrates innovation, systemic change can be glacial.

“They’re looking for change in the mode they understand,” Mr. Harman said. New chips are an easy sell. The idea of reinventing the computer case from the ground up is a harder one.

Consider that Douglas Engelbart invented the mouse in 1964. It was obvious to many people that it was a better way to control a computer, yet it took two decades even to begin reaching a mass audience. Or consider the hyperlink, invented independently by Mr. Engelbart and the computing evangelist Ted Nelson in the mid-1960s. It took roughly three decades to reach the public in the form of the World Wide Web.

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company