Friday, August 29, 2008

Trouble the Water

by Kenneth Turan
Los Angeles Times
August 22, 2008

Trouble the Water, a stirring documentary on Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, is more than a keenly dramatic look at how this country treats the poor and dispossessed. It's also a film that was hijacked by its subjects. They saw an opportunity, they took it, and the grand jury prize at Sundance was the result.

In fact, the opening scene of "Trouble" shows exactly how it happened. New York documentarians Tia Lessin and Carl Deal, longtime associates of Michael Moore, were in Alexandria, La., interviewing people at a Red Cross shelter when Kim Roberts and her husband, Scott, literally walked into the frame.

"I want to tell people what I been through," Kim says on camera about home movie footage she shot in New Orleans' Lower 9th Ward as the flood unfolded. "This needs to be worldwide. Nobody's got what I got." Which turned out to be both true as well as no more than half the story.

Kim Roberts' footage, shot with a video camera she'd bought on the street for $20 only the week before, gives a rare from-the-ground-up look at what it's like to be flooded out of your house. We watch in hypnotized horror as the waters rise so high they almost obliterate the corner stop sign, forcing the Roberts and their extended family to take precarious refuge in their attic.

Startling as that footage is, however, it takes up only about 15 minutes of "Trouble the Water." The documentary's best asset is not what Kim shot, but the woman herself.

With her buoyant, naturally dramatic personality (she ended up giving birth to a daughter in Utah just days before the Sundance award ceremony), bold, nervy Kim has the kind of intensely charismatic spirit documentary directors dream about. With her as our guide, "Trouble the Water" looks at the reality of New Orleans from the inside.

The tour starts before the flood does, with Kim showing us a hard-scrabble neighborhood of genuine poverty, but revealing the spirit and sense of community of "the world we had before the storm."

"Trouble" really kicks into gear after the flood, when the Roberts' experiences and those of family members and friends expose how things went down. As Danny Glover, one of the film's executive producers, has said, Katrina "did not turn the region into a Third World country. . . . It revealed one."

It's clear from those opening frames that Kim and Scott are not exactly babes in the woods. As Kim said at Sundance, "we're hustlers; we've done what we had to do to survive." But the magnitude of government incompetence and neglect, the way the citizens of New Orleans were simply abandoned, takes their breath away, as it will yours.

We see, courtesy of rarely broadcast network footage, the despairing looks of distraught and shell-shocked residents outside the Superdome, almost literally hung out to dry. We travel with the Roberts to Alexandria, where she has relatives, and then back to her New Orleans neighborhood, hearing stories along the way of the death of a grandmother in a city hospital ("people left behind like they were trash" someone says) and the trials of a brother all but abandoned by authorities in a local prison.

All of this is presented in the context of the war in Iraq, the place that is getting the resources -- as well as the National Guard troops -- that the New Orleans residents desperately need.

"It's like we're un-American, like we lost our citizenship," Kim laments, and a cousin puts it even more plainly: "If you don't have money, if you don't have status, you don't have the government."

What you do have, if you're fortunate, is a film like "Trouble the Water" to tell your story to the world.

Copyright 2008 Los Angeles Times

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

A Biblical Seven Years

by Thomas L. Friedman
The New York Times
August 26, 2008

After attending the spectacular closing ceremony at the Beijing Olympics and feeling the vibrations from hundreds of Chinese drummers pulsating in my own chest, I was tempted to conclude two things: “Holy mackerel, the energy coming out of this country is unrivaled.” And, two: “We are so cooked. Start teaching your kids Mandarin.”

However, I’ve learned over the years not to over-interpret any two-week event. Olympics don’t change history. They are mere snapshots — a country posing in its Sunday bests for all the world too see. But, as snapshots go, the one China presented through the Olympics was enormously powerful — and it’s one that Americans need to reflect upon this election season.

China did not build the magnificent $43 billion infrastructure for these games, or put on the unparalleled opening and closing ceremonies, simply by the dumb luck of discovering oil. No, it was the culmination of seven years of national investment, planning, concentrated state power, national mobilization and hard work.

Seven years ... Seven years ... Oh, that’s right. China was awarded these Olympic Games on July 13, 2001 — just two months before 9/11.

As I sat in my seat at the Bird’s Nest, watching thousands of Chinese dancers, drummers, singers and acrobats on stilts perform their magic at the closing ceremony, I couldn’t help but reflect on how China and America have spent the last seven years: China has been preparing for the Olympics; we’ve been preparing for Al Qaeda. They’ve been building better stadiums, subways, airports, roads and parks. And we’ve been building better metal detectors, armored Humvees and pilotless drones.

The difference is starting to show. Just compare arriving at La Guardia’s dumpy terminal in New York City and driving through the crumbling infrastructure into Manhattan with arriving at Shanghai’s sleek airport and taking the 220-mile-per-hour magnetic levitation train, which uses electromagnetic propulsion instead of steel wheels and tracks, to get to town in a blink.

Then ask yourself: Who is living in the third world country?

Yes, if you drive an hour out of Beijing, you meet the vast dirt-poor third world of China. But here’s what’s new: The rich parts of China, the modern parts of Beijing or Shanghai or Dalian, are now more state of the art than rich America. The buildings are architecturally more interesting, the wireless networks more sophisticated, the roads and trains more efficient and nicer. And, I repeat, they did not get all this by discovering oil. They got it by digging inside themselves.

I realize the differences: We were attacked on 9/11; they were not. We have real enemies; theirs are small and mostly domestic. We had to respond to 9/11 at least by eliminating the Al Qaeda base in Afghanistan and investing in tighter homeland security. They could avoid foreign entanglements. Trying to build democracy in Iraq, though, which I supported, was a war of choice and is unlikely to ever produce anything equal to its huge price tag.

But the first rule of holes is that when you’re in one, stop digging. When you see how much modern infrastructure has been built in China since 2001, under the banner of the Olympics, and you see how much infrastructure has been postponed in America since 2001, under the banner of the war on terrorism, it’s clear that the next seven years need to be devoted to nation-building in America.

We need to finish our business in Iraq and Afghanistan as quickly as possible, which is why it is a travesty that the Iraqi Parliament has gone on vacation while 130,000 U.S. troops are standing guard. We can no longer afford to postpone our nation-building while Iraqis squabble over whether to do theirs.

A lot of people are now advising Barack Obama to get dirty with John McCain. Sure, fight fire with fire. That’s necessary, but it is not sufficient.

Obama got this far because many voters projected onto him that he could be the leader of an American renewal. They know we need nation-building at home now — not in Iraq, not in Afghanistan, not in Georgia, but in America. Obama cannot lose that theme.

He cannot let Republicans make this election about who is tough enough to stand up to Russia or bin Laden. It has to be about who is strong enough, focused enough, creative enough and unifying enough to get Americans to rebuild America. The next president can have all the foreign affairs experience in the world, but it will be useless, utterly useless, if we, as a country, are weak.

Obama is more right than he knows when he proclaims that this is “our” moment, this is “our” time. But it is our time to get back to work on the only home we have, our time for nation-building in America. I never want to tell my girls — and I’m sure Obama feels the same about his — that they have to go to China to see the future.

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

What's So Heroic About Being Shot Down While Bombing Innocent Civilians?

by Liliana Segura
August 21, 2008

Confession: I have not yet read all six (short, illustrated, large type) chapters of Mike's Election Guide 2008, Michael Moore's latest work of jaunty political opinion. Am I supposed to discuss it with him on "Meet the Bloggers" tomorrow? Yes. But I'm not worried. It's a breezy read, has already made me laugh out loud, and besides, I may have already found the best part in Chapter One.

The title is "Ask Mike!" and in it ordinary voters, old and young, pose questions about politics and current events. Some are more serious than others ("If Iran has weapons of mass destruction, we should invade, right?"), which does not make Moore's answers any more subtle. ("Excuuuuuse me? Did you say the words, 'weapons of mass destruction?' Take it back. I SAID TAKE IT BACK!") Of course, the "questions" are really satirical jabs at the media -- "When a Republican wears a little American flag lapel pin, what is he trying to say?" "If Obama can't bowl, can he govern?" -- but there's one in particular that is worth paying attention to -- especially if you happen to be a member of the press and have been utterly unwilling to take McCain's supporters and opponents alike to task for perpetuating a narrative that would be central to a McCain victory, and which has already become a dominant theme in this election: The McCain as War Hero canard.

The "question" is posted thusly:

"Why did the Vietnamese shoot down John McCain and put him in prison for five years? He seems like such a nice guy."
ANSWER: I'm guessing, in spite of his anger management issues, he is a nice guy. He has devoted his life to this country. He was willing to make the ultimate sacrifice in the defense of our nation. And for that, he was tortured and then imprisoned in a North Vietnamese POW camp for nearly five-and-a-half years.
That's the set-up. It gets better. Moore proceeds, not to question, as Wesley Clark recently did to so many shrieks of criticism, whether McCain's capture really makes him qualified to be president of the United States -- the answer, any thinking person realizes, is "no" -- but whether the Vietnam war was a conflict that can really be said to have produced the breed of "American hero" McCain is so often celebrated as.

"Sadly," he writes, "McCain's sacrifice had nothing to do with protecting the United States. He was sent to Vietnam along with hundreds of thousands of others in an attempt to prop up what was essentially an American colony, South Vietnam, which was being run by a dictator whom we installed."
Lest we forget, the Vietnam War represented a mass slaughter by the United States government on a scale that sought to rival our genocide of the Native Americans. The U.S. Armed Forces killed more than two million civilians in Vietnam (and perhaps another million in Laos and Cambodia). The Vietnamese had done nothing to us. They had not bombed or invaded or even sought to murder a single American. President Johnson and the Pentagon lied to Congress in order to get a vote passed to put the war in full gear. Only two senators had the guts to vote "no."
But the parallel between Iraq and Vietnam is not the only point Moore is making. He makes it personal.
John McCain flew 23 bombing missions over North Vietnam in a campaign called Operation Rolling Thunder. During this bombing campaign, which lasted for almost 44 months, U.S. forces flew 307,000 attack sorties, dropping 643,000 tons of bombs on North Vietnam (roughly the same tonnage dropped in the Pacific during all of World War II). Though the stated targets were factories, bridges, and power plants, thousands of bombs also fell on homes, schools, and hospitals. In the midst of the campaign, Defense Secretary Robert McNamara estimated that we were killing 1,000 civilians a week. That's more than one 9/11 every single month -- for 44 months.
What's not heroic about that? Is it any wonder all politicians speaking in public about John McCain are required to preface their remarks with a fawning admiration for his war service?

Alas, McCain does have some regrets about Vietnam. As Moore points out, in his memoir Faith of Our Fathers, McCain called it "illogical" and "senseless" that he was limited to bombing only military targets.
"I do believe," McCain wrote, "that had we taken the war to the North and made full, consistent use of air power in the North, we ultimately would have prevailed."

In other words, McCain believes we could have won the Vietnam War had he been able to drop even more bombs.
When McCain was shot down, on October 26, 1967, he was busy bombing what he would describe as a "heavily populated part of Hanoi."

What follows is a a rather entertaining passage in which Moore then asks what you would do to a man who "fell out of the sky" after dropping bombs on you or your children. But the most important question comes at the end:
John McCain is already using the Vietnam War in his political ads. In doing so, it makes not just what happened to him in Vietnam fair game for discussion, but also what he did to the Vietnamese … I would like to see one brave reporter during the election season ask this simple question of John McCain: "Is it morally right to drop bombs and missiles in a 'heavily populated' area where hundreds, if not thousands, of civilians will perish?"
Of course, no member of the "mainstream" media is going to ask John McCain that question. (And given his famous quips on "Bomb-bomb-bomb-ing Iran" or, when asked to comment on the U.S. exporting cigarettes to the country, on the speculation that "Maybe that's a way of killing them,", the answer may be too disturbing to bear.) Regardless, this is the same press that obligingly calls McCain a "maverick" and McCain's campaign bus the "Straight-talk Express." Going after his war hero credentials? Why, that would be ... un-American.

Luckily, in the absence of an effective media -- or one that takes its cues from Michael Moore -- there are some people who are uniquely qualified to ask tough questions about the war hero John McCain, and they can't all be considered "surrogates" for Barack Obama. One of them is a man named Phillip Butler, who, on AlterNet today, has an article whose point, really, is laid out in the title:
I Spent Years as a POW with John McCain, and His Finger Should Not Be Near the Red Button
Originally published on, it's a scathing, point-by-point indictment of McCain that punctures the war hero mythology he has so successfully insulated himself in.

It is part fact-check ("Was he tortured for 5 years? No. He was subjected to torture and maltreatment during his first 2 years, from September of 1967 to September of 1969"), part much-needed perspective ("Because John's father was the Naval Commander in the Pacific theater, he was exploited with TV interviews while wounded. These film clips have now been widely seen. But it must be known that many POW's suffered similarly, not just John. And many were similarly exploited for political propaganda"). But perhaps its most compelling characteristic is that it is written by a former POW of a misbegotten war, who has seen the death and destruction firsthand, and who is fearful of what McCain would do as commander in chief. "I can verify that John has an infamous reputation for being a hot head. He has a quick and explosive temper that many have experienced first hand. Folks, quite honestly that is not the finger I want next to that red button."

Now that's a quote. Maybe it's time for a new 3 AM ad.

© 2008 Independent Media Institute

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Oil and Gas Companies Pump Millions of Gallons of Highly Toxic Fluids Into the Ground

by Jim Moscou
August 20, 2008

Cathy Behr says she won't forget the smell that nearly killed her. An emergency-room nurse in Durango, Colo.'s Mercy Regional Medical Center, Behr was working the April 17 day shift when Clinton Marshall arrived complaining of nausea and headaches. An employee at an energy-services company, Weatherford International, Marshall, according to Behr, said that he was caught in a "fracturing-fluid" spill. [Fracturing chemicals are routinely used on oil and gas wells where they are pumped deep into the ground to crack rock seams and increase production.] The chemical stench coming off Marshall's boots was buckling, says Behr. Mercy officials took no chances. They evacuated and locked down the ER, and its staff was instructed to don protective masks and gowns. But by the time those precautions were enacted, Behr had been nursing Marshall for 10 minutes--unprotected. "I honestly thought the response was a little overkill, but good practice," says Behr, 54, a 20-year veteran at Mercy.

A few days later, Behr's skin turned yellow. She began vomiting and retaining fluid. Her husband rushed her to Mercy where Behr was admitted to the ICU with a swollen liver, erratic blood counts and lungs filling with fluid. "I couldn't breath," she recalls. "I was drowning from the inside out." The diagnosis: chemical poisoning. The makers of the suspected chemical, Weatherford, tell NEWSWEEK that they aren't sure if their brand of fracking fluid can be blamed for her illness.

Throughout the Rocky Mountain states, Behr's run-in with fracturing fluid is getting a lot of attention and exacerbating already frayed nerves. After nearly eight years of some of the most intense oil and gas development ever recorded in the American West, concerns over the environmental and health impacts are bubbling over. On Tuesday, Colorado's top oil and gas regulatory authority—the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC)—endorsed a sweeping set of rules that environmentalists call long overdue; industry warns of dire economic impacts.

And the stakes are getting higher. Last week, against public protests by much of the state's congressional leadership and governor, the federal Bureau of Land Management sold off drilling leases in a wilderness area called one of the region's most pristine ecosystems and which is home to enough natural gas to power Colorado for 34 years. "It's just huge," says Gwen Lachelt, executive director of the Oil and Gas Accountability Project (OGAP), a nonprofit regional watchdog group, of the recent oil and gas plays in the state. "All eyes are on Colorado right now."

These have been boom years for the West. From New Mexico to Montana, more than 33,000 new oil and gas wells have been approved since 2001. Last year, nearly 90 percent of onshore federal drilling permits were issued in the Rockies. In the heart of the rush is Colorado. A 2007 survey from the Fraser Institute, an energy think tank, put the state as the No. 1 global spot to explore and develop oil and gas.

Central to that development is the use of fracking fluids. Largely unregulated, they've been employed by the energy industry for decades and, with the exception of diesel, can be made up of nearly any set of chemicals. Also, propriety trade laws don't require energy companies to disclose their ingredients. "It is much like asking Coca-Cola to disclose the formula of Coke," says Ron Heyden, a Halliburton executive, in recent testimony before the COGCC. Despite its widespread use and somewhat mysterious mix, fracturing fluid was deemed in 2004 by the Environmental Protection Agency as safe for the environment and groundwater. Dave Dillon, the COGCC's top engineering manager, says nearly every one of Colorado's 35,600 wells are "fracked" and that a minimum of 100,000 gallons are used per well, resulting in millions of gallons pumped into the ground each year. And since it's typically pumped far below groundwater tables, Congress exempted fracking fluids from the Safe Drinking Water Act in 2005.

The chemical that was allegedly on Marshall when he arrived at the Mercy Regional Medical Center, was ZetaFlow, a chemical made by Weatherford. In a copy of its Material Safety Data Sheet—which details ingredients, health warnings, fire hazards and more—ZetaFlow contains methanol and two undisclosed "proprietary" compounds. The document also warned that ZetaFlow can be an "immediate" and "chronic" health hazard. Prolonged exposure can cause kidney and liver damage, irritate lung tissue, decrease blood pressure, and result in dizziness and vomiting—all symptoms Behr experienced according to her medical records. Her physician wrote that her symptoms were "entirely consistent with exposure [to ZetaFlow] from all the information we were able to gather." As for ZetaFlow's impact on the environment, according to its data sheet, "no product information is available."

© 2008 Newsweek, Inc.

Hoping It’s Biden

by David Brooks
The New York Times
August 22, 2008

Barack Obama has decided upon a vice-presidential running mate. And while I don’t know who it is as I write, for the good of the country, I hope he picked Joe Biden.

Biden’s weaknesses are on the surface. He has said a number of idiotic things over the years and, in the days following his selection, those snippets would be aired again and again.

But that won’t hurt all that much because voters are smart enough to forgive the genuine flaws of genuine people. And over the long haul, Biden provides what Obama needs:

Working-Class Roots. Biden is a lunch-bucket Democrat. His father was rich when he was young — played polo, cavorted on yachts, drove luxury cars. But through a series of bad personal and business decisions, he was broke by the time Joe Jr. came along. They lived with their in-laws in Scranton, Pa., then moved to a dingy working-class area in Wilmington, Del. At one point, the elder Biden cleaned boilers during the week and sold pennants and knickknacks at a farmer’s market on the weekends.

His son was raised with a fierce working-class pride — no one is better than anyone else. Once, when Joe Sr. was working for a car dealership, the owner threw a Christmas party for the staff. Just as the dancing was to begin, the owner scattered silver dollars on the floor and watched from above as the mechanics and salesmen scrambled about for them. Joe Sr. quit that job on the spot.

Even today, after serving for decades in the world’s most pompous workplace, Senator Biden retains an ostentatiously unpretentious manner. He campaigns with an army of Bidens who seem to emerge by the dozens from the old neighborhood in Scranton. He has disdain for privilege and for limousine liberals — the mark of an honest, working-class Democrat.

Democrats in general, and Obama in particular, have trouble connecting with working-class voters, especially Catholic ones. Biden would be the bridge.

Honesty. Biden’s most notorious feature is his mouth. But in his youth, he had a stutter. As a freshman in high school he was exempted from public speaking because of his disability, and was ridiculed by teachers and peers. His nickname was Dash, because of his inability to finish a sentence.

He developed an odd smile as a way to relax his facial muscles (it still shows up while he’s speaking today) and he’s spent his adulthood making up for any comments that may have gone unmade during his youth.

Today, Biden’s conversational style is tiresome to some, but it has one outstanding feature. He is direct. No matter who you are, he tells you exactly what he thinks, before he tells it to you a second, third and fourth time.

Presidents need someone who will be relentlessly direct. Obama, who attracts worshippers, not just staff members, needs that more than most.

Loyalty. Just after Biden was elected to the senate in 1972, his wife, Neilia, and daughter Naomi were killed in a car crash. His career has also been marked by lesser crises. His first presidential run ended in a plagiarism scandal. He nearly died of a brain aneurism.

New administrations are dominated by the young and the arrogant, and benefit from the presence of those who have been through the worst and who have a tinge of perspective. Moreover, there are moments when a president has to go into the cabinet room and announce a decision that nearly everyone else on his team disagrees with. In those moments, he needs a vice president who will provide absolute support. That sort of loyalty comes easiest to people who have been down themselves, and who had to rely on others in their own moments of need.

Experience. When Obama talks about postpartisanship, he talks about a grass-roots movement that will arise and sweep away the old ways of Washington. When John McCain talks about it, he describes a meeting of wise old heads who get together to craft compromises. Obama’s vision is more romantic, but McCain’s is more realistic.

When Biden was a young senator, he was mentored by Hubert Humphrey, Mike Mansfield and the like. He was schooled in senatorial procedure in the days when the Senate was less gridlocked. If Obama hopes to pass energy and health care legislation, he’s going to need someone with that kind of legislative knowledge who can bring the battered old senators together, as in days of yore.

There are other veep choices. Tim Kaine seems like a solid man, but selecting him would be disastrous. It would underline all the anxieties voters have about youth and inexperience. Evan Bayh has impeccably centrist credentials, but the country is not in the mood for dispassionate caution.

Biden’s the one. The only question is whether Obama was wise and self-aware enough to know that.

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Russia Never Wanted a War

by Mikhail Gorbachev
The New York Times
August 19, 2008

The acute phase of the crisis provoked by the Georgian forces’ assault on Tskhinvali, the capital of South Ossetia, is now behind us. But how can one erase from memory the horrifying scenes of the nighttime rocket attack on a peaceful town, the razing of entire city blocks, the deaths of people taking cover in basements, the destruction of ancient monuments and ancestral graves?

Russia did not want this crisis. The Russian leadership is in a strong enough position domestically; it did not need a little victorious war. Russia was dragged into the fray by the recklessness of the Georgian president, Mikheil Saakashvili. He would not have dared to attack without outside support. Once he did, Russia could not afford inaction.

The decision by the Russian president, Dmitri Medvedev, to now cease hostilities was the right move by a responsible leader. The Russian president acted calmly, confidently and firmly. Anyone who expected confusion in Moscow was disappointed.

The planners of this campaign clearly wanted to make sure that, whatever the outcome, Russia would be blamed for worsening the situation. The West then mounted a propaganda attack against Russia, with the American news media leading the way.

The news coverage has been far from fair and balanced, especially during the first days of the crisis. Tskhinvali was in smoking ruins and thousands of people were fleeing — before any Russian troops arrived. Yet Russia was already being accused of aggression; news reports were often an embarrassing recitation of the Georgian leader’s deceptive statements.

It is still not quite clear whether the West was aware of Mr. Saakashvili’s plans to invade South Ossetia, and this is a serious matter. What is clear is that Western assistance in training Georgian troops and shipping large supplies of arms had been pushing the region toward war rather than peace.

If this military misadventure was a surprise for the Georgian leader’s foreign patrons, so much the worse. It looks like a classic wag-the-dog story.

Mr. Saakashvili had been lavished with praise for being a staunch American ally and a real democrat — and for helping out in Iraq. Now America’s friend has wrought disorder, and all of us — the Europeans and, most important, the region’s innocent civilians — must pick up the pieces.

Those who rush to judgment on what’s happening in the Caucasus, or those who seek influence there, should first have at least some idea of this region’s complexities. The Ossetians live both in Georgia and in Russia. The region is a patchwork of ethnic groups living in close proximity. Therefore, all talk of “this is our land,” “we are liberating our land,” is meaningless. We must think about the people who live on the land.

The problems of the Caucasus region cannot be solved by force. That has been tried more than once in the past two decades, and it has always boomeranged.

What is needed is a legally binding agreement not to use force. Mr. Saakashvili has repeatedly refused to sign such an agreement, for reasons that have now become abundantly clear.

The West would be wise to help achieve such an agreement now. If, instead, it chooses to blame Russia and re-arm Georgia, as American officials are suggesting, a new crisis will be inevitable. In that case, expect the worst.

In recent days, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and President Bush have been promising to isolate Russia. Some American politicians have threatened to expel it from the Group of 8 industrialized nations, to abolish the NATO-Russia Council and to keep Russia out of the World Trade Organization.

These are empty threats. For some time now, Russians have been wondering: If our opinion counts for nothing in those institutions, do we really need them? Just to sit at the nicely set dinner table and listen to lectures?

Indeed, Russia has long been told to simply accept the facts. Here’s the independence of Kosovo for you. Here’s the abrogation of the Antiballistic Missile Treaty, and the American decision to place missile defenses in neighboring countries. Here’s the unending expansion of NATO. All of these moves have been set against the backdrop of sweet talk about partnership. Why would anyone put up with such a charade?

There is much talk now in the United States about rethinking relations with Russia. One thing that should definitely be rethought: the habit of talking to Russia in a condescending way, without regard for its positions and interests.

Our two countries could develop a serious agenda for genuine, rather than token, cooperation. Many Americans, as well as Russians, understand the need for this. But is the same true of the political leaders?

A bipartisan commission led by Senator Chuck Hagel and former Senator Gary Hart has recently been established at Harvard to report on American-Russian relations to Congress and the next president. It includes serious people, and, judging by the commission’s early statements, its members understand the importance of Russia and the importance of constructive bilateral relations.

But the members of this commission should be careful. Their mandate is to present “policy recommendations for a new administration to advance America’s national interests in relations with Russia.” If that alone is the goal, then I doubt that much good will come out of it. If, however, the commission is ready to also consider the interests of the other side and of common security, it may actually help rebuild trust between Russia and the United States and allow them to start doing useful work together.

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company

Swimming as a Basic American Right

by Jay Walljasper
The Green Guide
August 11, 2008

It's a lovely afternoon with white popcorn clouds hovering in a bright blue sky--the kind of day in which anything in the world seems possible.

I snuck away from my desk here in Minneapolis for a bike ride around Lake Harriet, which was full of swimmers gleefully enjoying the water. Indeed, I'm planning to hit the beach myself right after finishing this blog.

Still basking with this summery optimism back at my desk, I am wondering why folks everywhere can't take a refreshing plunge into local waters on a warm summer day.

My Green Guide colleagues in New York should be able to stroll over to a beach after a long day at the office. Harried secretaries in downtown Boston ought to be able to cool off while doing the backstroke in Boston Harbor. Workers in the factories along Lake Michigan deserve beachfront parks where they can splash around after punching out.

This is not an impossible dream. Actually, it's the law of the land.

In 1972 Republican president Richard Nixon signed the Clean Water Act, which stipulated that all American waterways should be "swimmable and fishable" by 1983.

Sadly, 57 percent of facilities governed today by the Clean Water Act exceed their pollution permits, which generally aim lower than the fishable, swimmable standards of the original law. And those facilities don't include the non-point sources of pollution, where toxic chemicals and troublesome organic matter trickles in from farm fields, lawns, parking lots, feedlots and storm sewers.

We're 25 years late on that promise to America's swimmers, anglers, boaters, waders, splashers and sand-castle builders. But that's no reason to give up on this worthy goal.

Think what a difference it would make if nearly every community across the land had access to clean, natural swimming and fishing holes. In my mind, that would come pretty close to describing "the pursuit of happiness"--Thomas Jefferson's memorable phrase in the Declaration of Independence, which changed the world with the stroke of a pen. Until then, happiness had never figured much in political discussions.

Now is the time, 232 years after the Declaration of Independence and 36 years after farsighted Congress members passed the Clean Water Act, to undertake a serious campaign to clean up our lakes, rivers, oceans, creeks, bays and gulfs.

It's an important element of the American Dream: life, liberty and the pursuit of splashing.

© The Green Guide 2008

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Caroline: Pull a Cheney!

by Michael Moore
August 19, 2008

Dear Caroline,

We've never met, so I hope you don't find this letter too presumptuous or inappropriate. As its contents involve the public's business, I am sending this to you via the public on the Internet. I knew your brother John. He was a great guy, and I know he would've had a ball during this thrilling and historic election year. We all miss him dearly.

Barack Obama selected you to head up his search for a vice presidential candidate. It appears we may be just days (hours?) away from learning who that choice will be.

The media is reporting that Senator Obama has narrowed his alternatives to three men: Joe Biden, Evan Bayh and Tim Kaine. They're all decent fellows, but they are far from the core of what the Obama campaign has been about: Change. Real change. Out with the old. And don't invade countries that pose no threat to us.

Senators Biden and Bayh voted for that invasion and that war, the war Barack ran against, the war Barack reminded us was the big difference between him and Senator Clinton because she voted for the war and he spoke out against it while running for Senate (a brave and bold thing to do back in 2002).

For Obama to place either of these senators on the ticket would be a huge blow to the millions that chose him in the primaries over Hillary. He will undercut one of the strongest advantages he has over the Hundred-Year War senator, Mr. McCain. By anointing a VP who did what McCain did in throwing us into this war, Mr. Obama will lose the moral high ground in the debates.

As for Governor Kaine of Virginia, his big problem is, well, Obama's big problem -- who is he? The toughest thing Barack has had to overcome -- and it will continue to be his biggest obstacle -- is that too many of the voters simply don't know him well enough to vote for him. The fact that Obama is new to the scene is both one of his most attractive qualities AND his biggest drawback. Too many Americans, who on the surface seem to like Barack Obama, just don't feel comfortable voting for someone who hasn't been on the national scene very long. It's a comfort level thing, and it may be just what keeps Obama from winning in November ("I'd rather vote for the devil I know than the devil I don't know").

What Obama needs is a vice presidential candidate who is NOT a professional politician, but someone who is well-known and beloved by people across the political spectrum; someone who, like Obama, spoke out against the war; someone who has a good and generous heart, who will be cheered by the rest of the world; someone whom we've known and loved and admired all our lives and who has dedicated her life to public service and to the greater good for all.

That person, Caroline, is you.

I cannot think of a more winning ticket than one that reads: "OBAMA-KENNEDY."

Caroline, I know that nominating yourself is the furthest idea from your mind and not consistent with who you are, but there would be some poetic justice to such an action. Just think, eight years after the last head of a vice presidential search team looked far and wide for a VP -- and then picked himself (a move topped only by his hubris to then lead the country to near ruin while in office) -- along comes Caroline Kennedy to return the favor with far different results, a vice president who helps restore America to its goodness and greatness.

Caroline, you are one of the most beloved and respected women in this country, and you have been so admired throughout your life. You chose a life outside of politics, to work for charities and schools, to write and lecture, to raise a wonderful family. But you did not choose to lead a private life. You have traveled the world and met with its leaders, giving you much experience on the world stage, a stage you have been on since you were a little girl.

The nation has, remarkably (considering our fascination with celebrity), left you alone and let you live your life in peace. (It's like, long ago, we all collectively agreed that, with her father tragically gone, a man who died because he wanted to serve his country, we would look out for her, we would wish for her to be happy and well, and we would have her back. But we would let her be.)

Now, I am breaking this unwritten code and asking you to come forward and help us in our hour of need. So many families are hurting, losing their homes, going bankrupt with health care bills, seeing their public schools in shambles and living with this war without end. This is a historic year for women, from Hillary's candidacy to the numerous women running for the House and Senate. This is the year that a woman should be on the Democratic ticket. This is the year that both names on that ticket should be people OUTSIDE the party machine. This is the year millions of independents and, yes, millions of Republicans are looking for something new and fresh and bold (and you are the Kennedy Republicans would vote for!).

This is the moment, Caroline. Seize it! And Barack, if you're reading this, you probably know that she is far too humble and decent to nominate herself. So step up and surprise us again. Step up and be different than every politician we have witnessed in our lifetime. Keep the passion burning amongst the young people and others who have been energized by your unexpected, unpredicted, against-all-odds candidacy that has ignited and inspired a nation. Do it for all those reasons. Make Caroline Kennedy your VP. "Obama-Kennedy." Wow, does that sound so cool.

Caroline, thanks for letting me intrude on your life. How wonderful it will be to have a vice president who will respect the Constitution, who will support (instead of control) her president, who will never let her staff out a CIA agent, and who will never tell her country that she is "currently residing in an undisclosed location."

Say it one more time: "OBAMA-KENNEDY." A move like that might send a message to the country that the Democrats would actually like to win an election for once.

Michael Moore

Monday, August 18, 2008

Running on Wind and Sun

by Wren Farris
July/August 2008 issue

When the wind comes up the mesa, which it often does, there is a particular rusted-out old car nearby that whispers the same eerie, long-toned question every time: “Whoooooo?”

I sometimes think: “Us.”

Out in this remote part of the American Southwest lies the closest thing I have seen to an answer to how to actually live sustainably on the planet.

With groundwater too deep for wells, we harvest rain off tin roofs and collect it in cisterns for sparse use all year. With no plumbing, outhouses and even composting toilets or living-machine-style waste recycling systems are the standard. A landscape with a complete absence of power lines means small solar setups, use of solar gain in building design, or just going without. Heat is wood. This year everyone is burning the dead-standing pinyon pine that got hit by a bark beetle infestation.

Many people out here live on what the rest of the country would call literally nothing—some on less than a few hundred dollars a month. At the tiny local store you can buy small bags of the most beautiful tricolored popping corn grown by a woman down the way, or the local furniture maker Robert’s dry-farmed beans. There’s nothing lavish about this life, except the vast beauty of the sky, the fine tracks of kangaroo rats traced in arroyo sand on morning walks, and a secret knowledge that you live the good life. I have often met some of the roughest-looking folks who end up confessing: “Yeah, I’ve been out here twenty-five years, I used to be a CEO, now I haul water and use an outhouse and I couldn’t be happier! If you trade your whole life for money, what do you really have?”

Yesterday, while a neighbor and I spent two hours digging her truck out of the mud, she stopped and commented, “Did you see the sunset last night? The geese should be migrating soon, I can feel it!” The next morning, by god, I heard the first of the honking calls of the geese moving north.

What I mean to say here is: sure, join organizations, shop more consciously at sustainable businesses, use all the right organic body-care products, but none of this is hitting the mark if we want to talk about the real changes Americans need to make in order to continue to exist in the delicate balance of our now threadbare ecosystems. I fear I see a trend that is urging people who care about the fate of life on the planet to transfer their same over-consumptive habits and over-dependence on comfort merely to a “greener” version of the same unsustainable thing.

If the system as we know it collapsed tomorrow, some of us would still be out here, running on wind and sun—rugged, near-moneyless, land- and sky-loving desert dwellers in whose lives I see the possibility of human survival.

Wind Companies Bring Whiff of Corruption

by Nicholas Confessore
The New York Times
August 17, 2008

Everywhere that Janet and Ken Tacy looked, the wind companies had been there first. Dozens of people in their small town had already signed lease options that would allow wind towers on their properties. Two Burke Town Board members had signed private leases even as they negotiated with the companies to establish a zoning law to permit the towers. A third board member, the Tacys said, bragged about the commissions he would earn by selling concrete to build tower bases. And, the Tacys said, when they showed up at a Town Board meeting to complain, they were told to get lost.

“There were a couple of times when they told us to just shut up,” recalled Mr. Tacy, sitting in his kitchen on a recent evening.

Lured by state subsidies and buoyed by high oil prices, the wind industry has arrived in force in upstate New York, promising to bring jobs, tax revenue and cutting-edge energy to the long-struggling region. But in town after town, some residents say, the companies have delivered something else: an epidemic of corruption and intimidation, as they rush to acquire enough land to make the wind farms a reality.

“It really is renewable energy gone wrong,” said the Franklin County district attorney, Derek P. Champagne, who began a criminal inquiry into the Burke Town Board last spring and was quickly inundated with complaints from all over the state about the wind companies. Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo agreed this year to take over the investigation.

“It’s a modern-day gold rush,” Mr. Champagne said.

Mr. Cuomo is investigating whether wind companies improperly influenced local officials to get permission to build wind towers, as well as whether different companies colluded to divide up territory and avoid bidding against one another for the same land.

The industry appears to be shying away from trying to erect the wind farms in more affluent areas downstate, even where the wind is plentiful, like Long Island.

But in the small towns near the Canadian border, families and friendships have been riven by feuds over the lease options, which can be worth tens of thousands of dollars a year in towns where the median household income may hover around $30,000. Rumors circulate about neighbors who can suddenly afford new tractors or trucks. Opponents of the wind towers even say they have received threats; one local activist said that on two occasions, she had found her windshield bashed in.

“My sisters and brothers won’t even talk to me anymore,” said Mr. Tacy, who with his wife has become active in recent years in a network of people who oppose the wind companies. “They tear communities apart.” Opponents of the farms say their scenic views are being marred by the hundreds of wind towers already in place, some of which stand nearly 400 feet tall. They also complain of the irritating hum of spinning turbines and what they say are wasteful public subsidies to wind companies.

But corruption is a major concern. In at least 12 counties, Mr. Champagne said, evidence has surfaced about possible conflicts of interest or improper influence.

In Prattsburgh, N.Y., a Finger Lakes community, the town supervisor cast the deciding vote allowing private land to be condemned to make way for a wind farm there, even after acknowledging that he had accepted real estate commissions on at least one land deal involving the farm’s developer.

A town official in Bellmont, near Burke, took a job with a wind company after helping shepherd through a zoning law to permit and regulate the towers, according to local residents. And in Brandon, N.Y., nearby, the town supervisor told Mr. Champagne that after a meeting during which he proposed a moratorium on wind towers, he had been invited to pick up a gift from the back seat of a wind company representative’s car.

When the supervisor, Michael R. Lawrence, looked inside, according to his complaint to Mr. Champagne, he saw two company polo shirts and a leather pouch that he suspected contained cash.

When Mr. Lawrence asked whether the pouch was part of the gift, the representative replied, “That’s up to you,” according to the complaint.

Last month, Mr. Cuomo subpoenaed two wind companies, Noble Environmental Power, based in Connecticut, and First Wind, based in Massachusetts, seeking a broad range of documents. Both companies say they are cooperating with the attorney general.

Read more here.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce

by the Environmental Working Group

The Full List: 43 Fruits & Veggies




1 (worst) Peaches 100 (highest pesticide load)
2 Apples 96
3 Sweet Bell Peppers 86
4 Celery 85
5 Nectarines 84
6 Strawberries 83
7 Cherries 75
8 Lettuce 69
9 Grapes - Imported 68
10 Pears 65
11 Spinach 60
12 Potatoes 58
13 Carrots 57
14 Green Beans 55
15 Hot Peppers 53
16 Cucumbers 52
17 Raspberries 47
18 Plums 46
19 Oranges 46
20 Grapes-Domestic 46
21 Cauliflower 39
22 Tangerine 38
23 Mushrooms 37
24 Cantaloupe 34
25 Lemon 31
26 Honeydew Melon 31
27 Grapefruit 31
28 Winter Squash 31
29 Tomatoes 30
30 Sweet Potatoes 30
31 Watermelon 25
32 Blueberries 24
33 Papaya 21
34 Eggplant 19
35 Broccoli 18
36 Cabbage 17
37 Bananas 16
38 Kiwi 14
39 Asparagus 11
40 Sweet Peas-Frozen 11
41 Mango 9
42 Pineapples 7
43 Sweet Corn-Frozen 2
44 Avocado 1
45 (best) Onions 1 (lowest pesticide load)

Note: We ranked a total of 43 different fruits and vegetables but grapes are listed twice because we looked at both domestic and imported samples.

View Full Data Set

Why Should You Care About Pesticides?

There is growing consensus in the scientific community that small doses of pesticides and other chemicals can adversely affect people, especially during vulnerable periods of fetal development and childhood when exposures can have long lasting effects. Because the toxic effects of pesticides are worrisome, not well understood, or in some cases completely unstudied, shoppers are wise to minimize exposure to pesticides whenever possible.

Will Washing and Peeling Help?

Nearly all of the data used to create these lists already considers how people typically wash and prepare produce (for example, apples are washed before testing, bananas are peeled). While washing and rinsing fresh produce may reduce levels of some pesticides, it does not eliminate them. Peeling also reduces exposures, but valuable nutrients often go down the drain with the peel. The best option is to eat a varied diet, wash all produce, and choose organic when possible to reduce exposure to potentially harmful chemicals.

How This Guide Was Developed

The produce ranking was developed by analysts at the not-for-profit Environmental Working Group (EWG) based on the results of nearly 43,000 tests for pesticides on produce collected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration between 2000 and 2004. A detailed description of the criteria used in developing the rankings is available as well as a full list of fresh fruits and vegetables that have been tested (see below).

EWG is a not-for-profit environmental research organization dedicated to improving public health and protecting the environment by reducing pollution in air, water and food. For more information please visit

Creative Commons License Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce by Environmental Working Group is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

Prudence: A Green Virtue

by Jonathon Porritt
The Guardian
June 30, 2008

One of the standard accusations brought against the environmental movement is that it's irretrievably middle class. That environmental concern is a luxury for affluent Guardian readers who can afford to worry their heads about organic fair trade chocolate, while more than 2 billion people are living on less than a dollar a day. It's rubbish, but it's persistent.

Though it is not exactly surprising that the received opinion surrounding today's economic downturn is that environmental issues will disappear off the radar, and the politicians and business leaders will start back-pedalling or deferring any difficult or expensive initiatives. It is a seductively simple hypothesis, but by no means as done a deal as the usual suspects would have us believe. In testing this hypothesis, what can we learn from the past? There is not a huge amount of evidence to go on here as the number of years with very low or zero economic growth since the late 1960s have been quite few and far between – and by far the most significant was around 1990.

In 1989, the Green party won 15% of the vote in the European elections, and green issues were riding high in the polls. The recession kicked in shortly after, with high levels of unemployment, household repossessions and real economic hardship. The 1992 general election was dominated by economic issues, the Green party vote crashed, and environmental issues dropped out of the news. That, however, is only half the picture. As Ian Christie has written in an excellent paper for the Green Alliance, The Perfect Storm Warning:
It is not the case that green policies were dropped wholesale at that time. It is empirically not the case that there was a dramatic decline in green attitudes amongst citizens. The Department of the Environment's public attitude surveys do not indicate a sharp fall in public concerns after 1989; rather, they show a plateauing then a modest rise in interest in the late 1990s. In addition, in each survey carried out from 1986 to 2001, "environment/pollution" remained in the top five issues. It is therefore a mistake to conclude that immediate anxieties about economic conditions necessarily make people discard their concerns about the environment.
Although that is not today's "received opinion", there are other factors relating to the current downturn which should also be taken into account. Despite a relatively high media profile, green ideas in the late 1980s had relatively little traction below the surface. Whilst it was true that Margaret Thatcher's short-lived "green period" commanded a lot of attention, the Tory faithful didn't have a clue what she was banging on about, and, deep down, the Labour party in those days still subscribed to the view that the environment was indeed for middle-class elites, and therefore of near-zero relevance in their battle to resist the worst consequences of Thatcherism. That amazing Green party result in the European elections came and went like a migratory bird blown off course, and media commentators reverted all too quickly to their customary cynicism.

It isn't like that today. However difficult the mainstream parties might be finding the sustainable development agenda, they know that their own political destiny is being shaped by it more and more every year. Climate change, oil at $140 a barrel, food security issues, obesity, public health, infrastructure, housing – even if sustainable development isn't yet the "central organising principle" of contemporary politics, more and more of the agenda is framed by it.

And it is not that dissimilar for leading businesses. The late 1980s was a time of really "frothy" green consumerism, often driven by unscrupulous marketing departments happy to ride a wave whilst only too aware that it would have little staying power. An unprecedented number of consumers became interested for the first time, but it was all very brittle, with no deeper roots – and many of the new green products underperformed so badly that it wasn't long before the bubble burst.

By contrast, today's leading companies are well into their own sustainable development or corporate responsibility journeys. These are long-term commitments, not the product of fly-by-night opportunism, and though some initiatives might now move forwards a little more cautiously, they'll keep on moving forward.

There are two additional factors that will keep both government and the private sector focussed on their green commitments. The first is the high cost of energy. Even if you don't have an environmental bone in your body, and are amongst the 80% of people in this country (according to the latest Guardian/Mori poll) who still aren't persuaded that climate change is caused by our greenhouse gas emissions, the prospect of reducing energy bills by anything from 10% to 50% has to make a lot of sense.

By the same token, as food prices continue to rise, the first and most obvious response (from a consumer point of view) is to eliminate unnecessary food purchases, seek out real value for money, cut down on luxury treats, and make sure that everything bought actually gets eaten. (The recent study by Wrap showing that around 30% of all purchased food gets thrown away unused shows just how much people have taken cheap food for granted over the last few years.) All these things are better for people and for the environment, and as long as food retailers keep focussed on "making the sustainable affordable" it won't be the end of the world for them either

Secondly, although it is true that a downturn will change lots of things, some things carry on regardless. Legislation will not be undone just because we're going through a period of low growth. The landfill tax, for instance, will continue to rise by another £8 a tonne next year and the year after, reinforcing the increasingly clear message that generating unnecessary waste is just seriously stupid, let alone bad for the environment. Local authority recycling targets will remain as challenging as ever. And whereas the government may think of deferring the next increase in fuel taxes later this year (given the huge hike in the price of petrol and diesel), it is unlikely to give way on vehicle excise duty – a further incentive for car owners to downsize, save money and pollute less.

On all these counts, environmentalists should therefore hold their nerve, and work with politicians, business leaders and the media to demonstrate that living more sustainably is one of the most sensible and practical ways of avoiding the worst effects of any economic downturn.

© Guardian News and Media Limited 2008

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Eight Strikes and You’re Out

...and yet another post from the New York Times, a paper with perhaps a shade of green?

by Thomas L. Friedman
The New York Times
August 12, 2008

John McCain recently tried to underscore his seriousness about pushing through a new energy policy, with a strong focus on more drilling for oil, by telling a motorcycle convention that Congress needed to come back from vacation immediately and do something about America’s energy crisis. “Tell them to come back and get to work!” McCain bellowed.

Sorry, but I can’t let that one go by. McCain knows why.

It was only five days earlier, on July 30, that the Senate was voting for the eighth time in the past year on a broad, vitally important bill — S. 3335 — that would have extended the investment tax credits for installing solar energy and the production tax credits for building wind turbines and other energy-efficiency systems.

Both the wind and solar industries depend on these credits — which expire in December — to scale their businesses and become competitive with coal, oil and natural gas. Unlike offshore drilling, these credits could have an immediate impact on America’s energy profile.

Senator McCain did not show up for the crucial vote on July 30, and the renewable energy bill was defeated for the eighth time. In fact, John McCain has a perfect record on this renewable energy legislation. He has missed all eight votes over the last year — which effectively counts as a no vote each time. Once, he was even in the Senate and wouldn’t leave his office to vote.

“McCain did not show up on any votes,” said Scott Sklar, president of The Stella Group, which tracks clean-technology legislation. Despite that, McCain’s campaign commercial running during the Olympics shows a bunch of spinning wind turbines — the very wind turbines that he would not cast a vote to subsidize, even though he supports big subsidies for nuclear power.

Barack Obama did not vote on July 30 either — which is equally inexcusable in my book — but he did vote on three previous occasions in favor of the solar and wind credits.

The fact that Congress has failed eight times to renew them is largely because of a hard core of Republican senators who either don’t want to give Democrats such a victory in an election year or simply don’t believe in renewable energy.

What impact does this have? In the solar industry today there is a rush to finish any project that would be up and running by Dec. 31 — when the credits expire — and most everything beyond that is now on hold. Consider the Solana concentrated solar power plant, 70 miles southwest of Phoenix in McCain’s home state. It is the biggest proposed concentrating solar energy project ever. The farsighted local utility is ready to buy its power.

But because of the Senate’s refusal to extend the solar tax credits, “we cannot get our bank financing,” said Fred Morse, a senior adviser for the American operations of Abengoa Solar, which is building the project. “Without the credits, the numbers don’t work.” Some 2,000 construction jobs are on hold.

Roger Efird is president of Suntech America — a major Chinese-owned solar panel maker that actually wants to build a new factory in America. They’ve been scouting the country for sites, and several governors have been courting them. But Efird told me that when the solar credits failed to pass the Senate, his boss told him: “Don’t set up any more meetings with governors. It makes absolutely no sense to do this if we don’t have stability in the incentive programs.”

One of the biggest canards peddled by Big Oil is that, “Sure, we’ll need wind and solar energy, but it’s just not cost effective yet.” They’ve been saying that for 30 years. What these tax credits are designed to do is to stimulate investments by many players in solar and wind so these technologies can quickly move down the learning curve and become competitive with coal and oil — which is why some people are trying to block them.

As Richard K. Lester, an energy-innovation expert at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, notes, “The best chance we have — perhaps the only chance” of addressing the combined challenges of energy supply and demand, climate change and energy security “is to accelerate the introduction of new technologies for energy supply and use and deploy them on a very large scale.”

This, he argues, will take more than a Manhattan Project. It will require a fundamental reshaping by government of the prices and regulations and research-and-development budgets that shape the energy market. Without taxing fossil fuels so they become more expensive and giving subsidies to renewable fuels so they become more competitive — and changing regulations so more people and companies have an interest in energy efficiency — we will not get innovation in clean power at the scale we need.

That is what this election should be focusing on. Everything else is just bogus rhetoric designed by cynical candidates who think Americans are so stupid — so bloody stupid — that if you just show them wind turbines in your Olympics ad they’ll actually think you showed up and voted for such renewable power — when you didn’t.

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company

A Rare Concept for Modern Times: Beneficial Trees

by Jim Robbins
The New York Times
August 11, 2008

Diana Beresford-Kroeger pointed to a towering wafer ash tree near her home. The tree is a chemical factory, she explained, and its products are part of a sophisticated survival strategy. The flowers contain terpene oils, which repel mammals that might feed on them. But the ash needs to attract pollinators, and so it has a powerful lactone fragrance that appeals to large butterflies and honeybees. The chemicals in the wafer ash, in turn, she said, provide chemical protection for the butterflies from birds, making them taste bitter.

Many similar unseen chemical relationships are going on in the world around us. “These are at the heart of connectivity in nature,” she said.

Ms. Beresford-Kroeger, 63, is a native of Ireland who has bachelor’s degrees in medical biochemistry and botany, and has worked as a Ph.D.-level researcher at the University of Ottawa school of medicine, where she published several papers on the chemistry of artificial blood. She calls herself a renegade scientist, however, because she tries to bring together aboriginal healing, Western medicine and botany to advocate an unusual role for trees.

She favors what she terms a bioplan, reforesting cities and rural areas with trees according to the medicinal, environmental, nutritional, pesticidal and herbicidal properties she claims for them, which she calls ecofunctions.

Wafer ash, for example, could be used in organic farming, she said, planted in hedgerows to attract butterflies away from crops. Black walnut and honey locusts could be planted along roads to absorb pollutants, she said.

“Her ideas are a rare, if not entirely new approach to natural history,” said Edward O. Wilson, a Harvard biologist who wrote the foreword for her 2003 book, “Arboretum America” (University of Michigan Press). “The science of selecting trees for different uses around the world has not been well studied.”

Miriam Rothschild, the British naturalist who died in 2005, wrote glowingly of Ms. Beresford-Kroeger’s idea of bioplanning and called it “one answer to ‘Silent Spring’ ” because it uses natural chemicals rather than synthetic ones.

But some of Ms. Beresford-Kroeger’s claims for the health effects of trees reach far outside the mainstream. Although some compounds found in trees do have medicinal properties and are the subject of research and treatment, she jumps beyond the evidence to say they also affect human health in their natural forms. The black walnut, for example, contains limonene, which is found in citrus fruit and elsewhere and has been shown to have anticancer effects in some studies of laboratory animals. Ms. Beresford-Kroeger has suggested, without evidence, that limonene inhaled in aerosol form by humans will help prevent cancer.

David Lemkay, the general manager of the Canadian Forestry Association, a nonprofit group that promotes the sustainable use of Canada’s forests, is familiar with her work. “She holds fast to the notion that if you are in the aura of a black walnut tree there’s a healing effect,” Mr. Lemkay said. “It needs more science to be able to say that.”

Memory Elvin-Lewis, a professor of botany at Washington University in St. Louis and co-author, with her husband, Walter H. Lewis, of “Medical Botany: Plants Affecting Human Health” (2003, John Wiley & Sons), said such a role for trees could be true. In India, she said, compounds from neem trees are said to have anti-inflammatory and antiviral properties and are planted around hospitals and sanitariums. “It’s not implausible,” Dr. Elvin-Lewis said; it simply hasn’t been studied.

On a more solid scientific footing, Ms. Beresford-Kroeger is also concerned about the fate of the Northern forests because of overharvest and the destruction of ecosystems. Federal scientists estimate more than 93 percent of old growth has been cut. As forests are fragmented, they dry out, losing wildlife and insect species. As a result, subtle relationships, the nerve system of biodiversity, are breaking down before they have been studied.

“In a walk through old growth forest, there are thousands if not millions of chemicals and their synergistic effects with one another,” she said. “What trees do chemically in the environment is something we’re only beginning to understand.”

Trees also absorb pollutants from the ground, comb particulates from the air and house beneficial insects.

Some studies support a role for trees in human health. A recent study by researchers at Columbia found that children in neighborhoods that are tree-lined have asthma rates a quarter less than in neighborhoods without trees. The Center for Urban Forest Research estimates that each tree removes 1.5 pounds of pollutants from the air. Trees are also used to remove mercury and other pollutants from the ground, something called phytoremediation. And, of course, trees store carbon dioxide, which mitigates global warming.

Dr. Wilson, at Harvard, said that more research into the role of trees in the ecosystem was imperative and that it was alarming how little was known. “We need more research of this kind to use the things we have, such as trees, to their fullest,” he said.

Both Dr. Wilson and Ms. Beresford-Kroeger proposed using stock from old-growth forests for planting new forest in the hopes of taking advantage of good genetics. “There’s an enormous difference between old-growth forests and tree plantations,” Dr. Wilson said.

Ms. Beresford-Kroeger is famous in Canadian horticulture circles for her sprawling gardens, which she maintains with her husband, Christian Kroeger, and are often open to the public. She has 60,000 daffodils, more than 100 rare hellebores from Turkey and Iran and extremely rare peonies from China that are dark brown with red leaves and smell like chocolate.

And she grows more than 100 types of trees, including rare fir trees and Siberian cherry trees, and disease-resistant chestnuts, elms and butternut.

Ms. Beresford-Kroeger recently completed the book “Arboretum Borealis” about the boreal forest in Canada, which cuts across the northern half of the country. Canadian officials have recently announced plans to preserve 55 million acres — roughly half. “Trees are a living miracle,” Ms. Beresford-Kroeger said. “Leaves can take in carbon dioxide and create oxygen. And all creatures must have oxygen.”

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Putting the Park in Park Avenue

by The New York Times
August 11, 2008

Mayor Michael Bloomberg has not had an easy time trying to unclog New York City’s gridlocked streets. Most notably, he lost a high-profile political battle a few months ago over congestion pricing. Now, though, the mayor has found a clever way to free at least some of the city’s streets some of the time.

Last weekend, Mr. Bloomberg and his commissioner of transportation, Janette Sadik-Khan, unveiled an innovative program called Summer Streets. Nearly seven miles of Manhattan streets, from the Brooklyn Bridge to Central Park at East 72nd Street in Manhattan — including a large stretch of Park Avenue — were shut off to car traffic for six hours on Saturday. They will be car-free again for the next two Saturdays this month.

Without honking horns and speeding taxis, the streets became serene parks, open to throngs of cyclists, in-line skaters and strollers. Yoga and fitness classes added to the therapeutic feel. Cyclists and walkers mostly seemed to respect each other, and people found themselves doing something decidedly un-New York: meandering.

Rerouted cars, meanwhile, did not seem to be terribly inconvenienced. Hundreds of police officers were on hand to direct them around the impromptu park.

New York is not the first city to temporarily transform its traffic-clogged streets. It has been tried, with great success, in Bogotá, Colombia, where car-free Sundays and holidays are called Ciclovía, and in Paris. Mayor Bloomberg has said that if these early experiments with Summer Streets are a success, he would like to do it again, and perhaps extend it to other parts of the city. If Saturday was any indication, New Yorkers are voting with their feet — in favor of more chances to displace the cars, trucks and taxis for a day, and go for a stroll.

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company

Monday, August 11, 2008

Another Failure of American Justice

by Adam Liptak
The New York Times
August 11, 2008

Judge Denver D. Dillard was trying to decide whether a slow-witted Iowa man accused of acting as a drug mule was competent to stand trial. But the conclusions of the two psychologists who gave expert testimony in the case, Judge Dillard said, were “polar opposites.”

One expert, who had been testifying for defendants for 20 years, said the accused, Timothy M. Wilkins, was mentally retarded and did not understand what was happening to him. Mr. Wilkins’s verbal I.Q. was 58, the defense expert said.

The prosecution expert, who had testified for the state more than 200 times, said that Mr. Wilkins’s verbal I.Q. was 88, far above the usual cutoffs for mental retardation, and that he was perfectly competent to stand trial.

Judge Dillard, of the Johnson County District Court in Iowa City, did what American judges and juries often do after hearing from dueling experts: he threw up his hands. The two experts were biased in favor of the parties who employed them, the judge said, and they had given predictable testimony. “The two sides have canceled each other out,” Judge Dillard wrote in 2005, refusing to accept either expert’s conclusion and complaining that “no funding mechanism exists for the court to appoint an expert.”

In most of the rest of the world, expert witnesses are selected by judges and are meant to be neutral and independent. Many foreign lawyers have long questioned the American practice of allowing the parties to present testimony from experts they have chosen and paid.

The European judge who visits the United States experiences “something bordering on disbelief when he discovers that we extend the sphere of partisan control to the selection and preparation of experts,” John H. Langbein, a law professor at Yale, wrote in a classic article in The University of Chicago Law Review more than 20 years ago.

Partisan experts do appear in court in other common-law nations, including Canada, Singapore and New Zealand. But the United States amplifies their power by using juries in civil cases, a practice most of the common-law world has rejected.

Juries often find it hard to evaluate expert testimony on complex scientific matters, many lawyers say, and they tend to make decisions based on the expert’s demeanor, credentials and ability to present difficult information without condescension. An appealingly folksy expert, lawyers say, can have an outsized impact in a jury trial.

Some major common-law countries are turning away from partisan experts. England and Australia have both adopted aggressive measures in recent years to address biased expert testimony.

Both sides in Mr. Wilkins’s case said the American approach to expert testimony was problematic.

“One’s biased for the defense,” said Rockne O. Cole, Mr. Wilkins’s lawyer. “The other’s biased for the state. I think it’s who’s signing their paycheck.”

Anne M. Lahey, an assistant prosecutor in Johnson County in Iowa, largely agreed. “They’re usually offsetting as far as their opinions are concerned,” she said of expert testimony.

Judge Dillard ruled that Mr. Wilkins was not competent to stand trial, a decision an appeals court reversed last year, though it accepted the judge’s conclusion that the experts had canceled each other out. Since it is the defense’s burden to prove incompetence, the appeals court said, the tie went to the state. The case against Mr. Wilkins was dismissed in October for reasons unrelated to his competency, said Janet M. Lyness, the prosecutor in Johnson County. A confidential informant crucial to the case against Mr. Wilkins could not be found, she said.

Dr. Frank Gersh, the defense expert in the case, did not respond to a request for comment. But Dr. Leonard Welsh, the psychologist who testified for the state, said he sometimes found his work compromising.

“After you come out of court,” Dr. Welsh said, “you feel like you need a shower. They’re asking you to be certain of things you can’t be certain of.”

He might have preferred a new way of hearing expert testimony that Australian lawyers call hot tubbing.

In that procedure, also called concurrent evidence, experts are still chosen by the parties, but they testify together at trial — discussing the case, asking each other questions, responding to inquiries from the judge and the lawyers, finding common ground and sharpening the open issues. In the Wilkins case, by contrast, the two experts “did not exchange information,” the Court of Appeals for Iowa noted in its decision last year.

Australian judges have embraced hot tubbing. “You can feel the release of the tension which normally infects the evidence-gathering process,” Justice Peter McClellan of the Land and Environmental Court of New South Wales said in a speech on the practice. “Not confined to answering the question of the advocates,” he added, experts “are able to more effectively respond to the views of the other expert or experts.”

American Exception: Articles in this series examine commonplace aspects of the American justice system that are virtually unique in the world.

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company

Sunday, August 10, 2008

US Falling Behind in Energy Efficiency

by Thomas L. Friedman
The New York Times
August 9, 2008

The Arctic Hotel in Ilulissat, Greenland, is a charming little place on the West Coast, but no one would ever confuse it for a Four Seasons — maybe a One Seasons. But when my wife and I walked back to our room after dinner the other night and turned down our dim hallway, the hall light went on. It was triggered by an energy-saving motion detector. Our toilet even had two different flushing powers depending on — how do I say this delicately — what exactly you’re flushing. A two-gear toilet! I’ve never found any of this at an American hotel. Oh, if only we could be as energy efficient as Greenland!

A day later, I flew back to Denmark. After appointments here in Copenhagen, I was riding in a car back to my hotel at the 6 p.m. rush hour. And boy, you knew it was rush hour because 50 percent of the traffic in every intersection was bicycles. That is roughly the percentage of Danes who use two-wheelers to go to and from work or school every day here. If I lived in a city that had dedicated bike lanes everywhere, including one to the airport, I’d go to work that way, too. It means less traffic, less pollution and less obesity.

What was most impressive about this day, though, was that it was raining. No matter. The Danes simply donned rain jackets and pants for biking. If only we could be as energy smart as Denmark!

Unlike America, Denmark, which was so badly hammered by the 1973 Arab oil embargo that it banned all Sunday driving for a while, responded to that crisis in such a sustained, focused and systematic way that today it is energy independent. (And it didn’t happen by Danish politicians making their people stupid by telling them the solution was simply more offshore drilling.)

What was the trick? To be sure, Denmark is much smaller than us and was lucky to discover some oil in the North Sea. But despite that, Danes imposed on themselves a set of gasoline taxes, CO2 taxes and building-and-appliance efficiency standards that allowed them to grow their economy — while barely growing their energy consumption — and gave birth to a Danish clean-power industry that is one of the most competitive in the world today. Denmark today gets nearly 20 percent of its electricity from wind. America? About 1 percent.

And did Danes suffer from their government shaping the market with energy taxes to stimulate innovations in clean power? In one word, said Connie Hedegaard, Denmark’s minister of climate and energy: “No.” It just forced them to innovate more — like the way Danes recycle waste heat from their coal-fired power plants and use it for home heating and hot water, or the way they incinerate their trash in central stations to provide home heating. (There are virtually no landfills here.)

There is little whining here about Denmark having $10-a-gallon gasoline because of high energy taxes. The shaping of the market with high energy standards and taxes on fossil fuels by the Danish government has actually had “a positive impact on job creation,” added Hedegaard. “For example, the wind industry — it was nothing in the 1970s. Today, one-third of all terrestrial wind turbines in the world come from Denmark.” In the last 10 years, Denmark’s exports of energy efficiency products have tripled. Energy technology exports rose 8 percent in 2007 to more than $10.5 billion in 2006, compared with a 2 percent rise in 2007 for Danish exports as a whole.

“It is one of our fastest-growing export areas,” said Hedegaard. It is one reason that unemployment in Denmark today is 1.6 percent. In 1973, said Hedegaard, “we got 99 percent of our energy from the Middle East. Today it is zero.”

Frankly, when you compare how America has responded to the 1973 oil shock and how Denmark has responded, we look pathetic.

“I have observed that in all other countries, including in America, people are complaining about how prices of [gasoline] are going up,” Denmark’s prime minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, told me. “The cure is not to reduce the price, but, on the contrary, to raise it even higher to break our addiction to oil. We are going to introduce a new tax reform in the direction of even higher taxation on energy and the revenue generated on that will be used to cut taxes on personal income — so we will improve incentives to work and improve incentives to save energy and develop renewable energy.”

Because it was smart taxes and incentives that spurred Danish energy companies to innovate, Ditlev Engel, the president of Vestas — Denmark’s and the world’s biggest wind turbine company — told me that he simply can’t understand how the U.S. Congress could have just failed to extend the production tax credits for wind development in America.

Why should you care?

“We’ve had 35 new competitors coming out of China in the last 18 months,” said Engel, “and not one out of the U.S.”

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Diagnosing Dana: Linking Dental Amalgam With Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

by Dana Herbert
July 19, 2008

On March 18, 2002, I saw an infectious disease specialist, Richard Zweig, M.D., to rule out any infectious cause for my Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. I had been experiencing a lot of irritable bowel syndrome symptoms and sharp abdominal cramps over the last year and a half, as well as menorrhagia, hematuria and low back pain. He ordered an abdominal x-ray and CT scan for me. While undergoing these procedures, the radiology technician asked me if I had ever had any surgery performed in my abdominal cavity or had my appendix removed. I told her that I had not.

Dr. Zweig called me a few days later to report that the radiology studies were normal.

Not convinced, I drove to Bristol Radiology about two weeks later to pick up the reports and scans and take a look for myself:

What did the radiologist mean when he said that these findings were not "significant"? I was experiencing debilitating symptoms that caused me to seek out an abdominal x-ray in the first place and look for any clues as to what might be causing these symptoms.

Is it normal to have sclerotic bone changes in the spine?

Is it normal to have two pieces of metal stuck in your appendix??

Do heavy metals cause sclerotic bone changes?

Dr. Zweig assured me that I did not have an infectious disease. Then shouldn't these sclerotic bone changes be biopsied to check for cancer?

The last time I can remember swallowing pieces of metal was when the amalgam filling next to one of Dr. Theresa F. Keefe's nickel crowns cracked and broke off in two places, while eating, shortly after she placed the crown. I remembered thinking, wow, she just placed these two beautiful crowns on #20 and #21, and now #19 looks terrible because it is broken. (This was because nickel crowns should never be placed next to teeth filled with amalgam! The dissimilar metals will cause galvanic currents that cause the amalgam to weaken and crack.)

This means that the two pieces of metal had been in my appendix for at least two years by the time my appendix was removed in August 2002.

After picking up the scans, I went onto the internet and googled "metal fillings in appendix" to see if perhaps those pieces of metal were responsible for, at the very least, my current IBS symptoms.

The first website that I clicked on was this one:

"Amalgam Illness: Diagnosis and Treatment"

I was absolutely shocked by what I read! Going through my entire medical history, I have had at one time or another almost every symptom of mercury poisoning. I did not know that dental amalgam contained mercury! I have had at least 20 fillings placed, drilled out and replaced during my lifetime, most when I was in high school and college, and I can remember going to classes immediately after a dental appointment and feeling extremely dizzy, as if I were going to pass out in class!

I also suffered from extreme shyness, anxiety/panic attacks and fine motor tremors that began in my early teens. I had my first four fillings placed when I was nine years old, and by the time I was 15, I had at least 10 of them in my mouth. Big ones. Most of my back molars looked like they were metal crowns, they had that much amalgam filling in them.

I was also very shocked to read about how the dental establishment denies that mercury poisoning from dental amalgam exists by claiming that mercury becomes stable when mixed with other metals and that the vapor released from amalgams is too miniscule to matter.
This is not true.

Why would they make these crazy false claims??

Is it because the dental establishment is in bed with the medical establishment and the pharmaceutical industries to cause illnesses that can be managed by prescription drug use?

Are dentists also causing or contributing to our alarmingly high rates of cancer?

Check out this disturbing "Smoking Tooth" video on the IAOMT website:

Does this mean that anyone with amalgam fillings in their mouth is a smoker, whether they smoke cigarettes or not? Can you imagine if the Philip Morris company forced us all to smoke cigarettes? Our society would never allow it, especially now that we are informed about the health consequences of smoking. But that is basically what your own health care providers, your dentists, the people you trust your life to, are doing when they put mercury (or any other toxic or carcinogenic metal) in your mouth without informed consent.

Had I not had this abdominal x-ray done and were it not for the internet, I would have never found out about mercury amalgam poisoning and it's connection to so many illnesses! And I probably would have never believed it if it hadn't happened to me. If the installation of that dental work and the swallowing of those mercury fillings hadn't coincided with a such a sudden and dramatic decline in my health, I would probably have been very skeptical of "mercury poisoning" and just continued to trust whatever my conventional doctors and dentists told me.

I immediately sent an email to Dr. Keefe, asking her if my Chronic Fatigue Syndrome might be caused by mercury amalgam poisoning.

If so, would she please help me remove all of my toxic fillings?

I was extremely motivated to get to the root cause of my chronic health problems, remove all toxic, carcinogenic and allergenic metals from my mouth, and get my life back.

And if it was true that mercury amalgam poisoning caused or contributed to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, I wanted to help other people get their lives back too. I wanted to "help save the world."

She never responded to my email...

Mercury Poisoning Symptoms
Mercury Causes Tumors
Dental/Cancer Connection.
Mercury Linked To Breast Cancer and Leukemia.
Mercury Dental Fillings Not As Safe As Once Thought.
What Mercury Does To You.
Your Next Visit To The Dentist Might Not Be As Innocent As You Think!
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome or Chronic Mercury Poisoning? and
How Mercury Converts To Methylmercury In The GI Tract.
Mercury Causes Hypercoagulation and Hyperfibrinolytic Condition.
Hypercoagulability Seen In All Cancer Patients.
The Dangerousness of Mercury Vapor (1926).
Cancer Victors News
Toxic Metals: The Reason You Still Feel Sick
Mercury Toxicity, Gut Wall Infection, and Fatigue and
Mercury Accumulates in the Brain and Spinal Cord
The Dumpling's Secret Life With Dentists

The Klinghardt Neurotoxin Elimination Protocol