Sunday, May 31, 2009

Green Promise Seen in Switch to LED Lighting

by Elisabeth Rosenthal and Felicity Barringer
The New York Times
May 29, 2009

To change the bulbs in the 60-foot-high ceiling lights of Buckingham Palace’s grand stairwell, workers had to erect scaffolding and cover precious portraits of royal forebears.

So when a lighting designer two years ago proposed installing light emitting diodes or LEDs, an emerging lighting technology, the royal family readily assented. The new lights, the designer said, would last more than 22 years and enormously reduce energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions — a big plus for Prince Charles, an ardent environmentalist. Since then, the palace has installed the lighting in chandeliers and on the exterior, where illuminating the entire facade uses less electricity than running an electric teakettle.

In shifting to LED lighting, the palace is part of a small but fast-growing trend that is redefining the century-old conception of lighting, replacing energy-wasting disposable bulbs with efficient fixtures that are often semi-permanent, like those used in plumbing.

Studies suggest that a complete conversion to the lights could decrease carbon dioxide emissions from electric power use for lighting by up to 50 percent in just over 20 years; in the United States, lighting accounts for about 6 percent of all energy use. A recent report by McKinsey & Company cited conversion to LED lighting as potentially the most cost effective of a number of simple approaches to tackling global warming using existing technology.

LED lighting was once relegated to basketball scoreboards, cellphone consoles, traffic lights and colored Christmas lights. But as a result of rapid developments in the technology, it is now poised to become common on streets and in buildings, as well as in homes and offices. Some American cities, including Ann Arbor, Mich., and Raleigh, N.C., are using the lights to illuminate streets and parking garages, and dozens more are exploring the technology. And the lighting now adorns the conference rooms and bars of some Renaissance hotels, a corridor in the Pentagon and a new green building at Stanford.

LEDs are more than twice as efficient as compact fluorescent bulbs, currently the standard for greener lighting. Unlike compact fluorescents, LEDs turn on quickly and are compatible with dimmer switches. And while fluorescent bulbs contain mercury, which requires special disposal, LED bulbs contain no toxic elements, and last so long that disposal is not much of an issue.

“It is fit-and-forget-lighting that is essentially there for as long as you live,” said Colin Humphreys, a researcher at Cambridge University who works on gallium nitride LED lights, which now adorn structures in Britain.

The switch to LEDs is proceeding far more rapidly than experts had predicted just two years ago. President Obama’s stimulus package, which offers money for “green” infrastructure investment, will accelerate that pace, experts say. San Jose, Calif., plans to use $2 million in energy-efficiency grants to install 1,500 LED streetlights.

Thanks in part to the injection of federal cash, sales of the lights in new “solid state” fixtures — a $297 million industry in 2007 — are likely to become a near-billion-dollar industry by 2013, said Stephen Montgomery, director of LED research projects at Electronicast, a California consultancy. And after years of resisting what they had dismissed as a fringe technology, giants like General Electric and Philips have begun making LEDs.

Though the United States Department of Energy calls LED “a pivotal emerging technology,” there remain significant barriers. Homeowners may balk at the high initial cost, which lighting experts say currently will take 5 to 10 years to recoup in electricity savings. An outdoor LED spotlight today costs $100, as opposed to $7 for a regular bulb.

Another issue is that current LEDs generally provide only “directional light” rather than a 360-degree glow, meaning they are better suited to downward facing streetlights and ceiling lights than to many lamp-type settings.

And in the rush to make cheaper LED lights, poorly made products could erase the technology’s natural advantage, experts warn. LEDs are tiny sandwiches of two different materials that release light as electrons jump from one to the other. The lights must be carefully designed so heat does not damage them, reducing their lifespan to months from decades. And technological advances that receive rave reviews in a university laboratory may not perform as well when mass produced for the real world.

Britain’s Low Carbon Trust, an environmental nonprofit group, has replaced the 12 LED fixtures bought three years ago for its offices with conventional bulbs, because the LED lights were not bright enough, said Mischa Hewitt, a program manager at the trust. But he says he still thinks the technology is important.

Brian Owen, a contributor to the trade magazine LEDs, said that while it is good that cities are exploring LED lighting: “They have to do their due diligence. Rash decisions can result in disappointment or disaster.”

At the same time, nearly monthly scientific advances are addressing many of the problems, decreasing the high price of the bulbs somewhat and improving their ability to provide normal white light bright enough to illuminate rooms and streets.

For example, many LEDs are currently made on precious materials like sapphire. But scientists at a government-financed laboratory at Cambridge University have figured out how to grow them on silicon wafers, potentially making the lights far cheaper. While the original LEDs gave off only glowing red or green light, newer versions produce a blue light that, increasingly, can be manipulated to simulate incandescent bulbs. And researchers at dozens of universities are working to make the bulbs more usable.

Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company

Friday, May 29, 2009

The Empathy Issue

by David Brooks
The New York Times
May 28, 2009

The American legal system is based on a useful falsehood. It’s based on the falsehood that this is a nation of laws, not men; that in rendering decisions, disembodied, objective judges are able to put aside emotion and unruly passion and issue opinions on the basis of pure reason.

Most people know this is untrue. In reality, decisions are made by imperfect minds in ambiguous circumstances. It is incoherent to say that a judge should base an opinion on reason and not emotion because emotions are an inherent part of decision-making. Emotions are the processes we use to assign value to different possibilities. Emotions move us toward things and ideas that produce pleasure and away from things and ideas that produce pain.

People without emotions cannot make sensible decisions because they don’t know how much anything is worth. People without social emotions like empathy are not objective decision-makers. They are sociopaths who sometimes end up on death row.

Supreme Court justices, like all of us, are emotional intuitionists. They begin their decision-making processes with certain models in their heads. These are models of how the world works and should work, which have been idiosyncratically ingrained by genes, culture, education, parents and events. These models shape the way judges perceive the world.

As Dan Kahan of Yale Law School has pointed out, many disputes come about because two judges look at the same situation and they have different perceptions about what the most consequential facts are. One judge, with one set of internal models, may look at a case and perceive that the humiliation suffered by a 13-year-old girl during a strip search in a school or airport is the most consequential fact of the case. Another judge, with another set of internal models, may perceive that the security of the school or airport is the most consequential fact. People elevate and savor facts that conform to their pre-existing sensitivities.

The decision-making process gets even murkier once the judge has absorbed the disparate facts of a case. When noodling over some issue — whether it’s a legal case, an essay, a math problem or a marketing strategy — people go foraging about for a unifying solution. This is not a hyper-rational, orderly process of the sort a computer might undertake. It’s a meandering, largely unconscious process of trial and error.

The mind tries on different solutions to see if they fit. Ideas and insights bubble up from some hidden layer of intuitions and heuristics. Sometimes you feel yourself getting closer to a conclusion, and sometimes you feel yourself getting farther away. The emotions serve as guidance signals, like from a GPS, as you feel your way toward a solution.

Then — often while you’re in the shower or after a night’s sleep — the answer comes to you. You experience a fantastic rush of pleasure that feels like a million tiny magnets suddenly clicking into alignment.

Now your conclusion is articulate in your consciousness. You can edit it or reject it. You can go out and find precedents and principles to buttress it. But the way you get there was not a cool, rational process. It was complex, unconscious and emotional.

The crucial question in evaluating a potential Supreme Court justice, therefore, is not whether she relies on empathy or emotion, but how she does so. First, can she process multiple streams of emotion? Reason is weak and emotions are strong, but emotions can be balanced off each other. Sonia Sotomayor will be a good justice if she can empathize with the many types of people and actions involved in a case, but a bad justice if she can only empathize with one type, one ethnic group or one social class.

Second, does she have a love for the institutions of the law themselves? For some lawyers, the law is not only a bunch of statutes but a code of chivalry. The good judges seem to derive a profound emotional satisfaction from the faithful execution of time-tested precedents and traditions.

Third, is she aware of the murky, flawed and semiprimitive nature of her own decision-making, and has she accounted for her own uncertainty? If we were logical creatures in a logical world, judges could create sweeping abstractions and then rigorously apply them. But because we’re emotional creatures in an idiosyncratic world, it’s prudent to have judges who are cautious, incrementalist and minimalist. It’s prudent to have judges who decide cases narrowly, who emphasize the specific context of each case, who value gradual change, small steps and modest self-restraint.

Right-leaning thinkers from Edmund Burke to Friedrich Hayek understood that emotion is prone to overshadow reason. They understood that emotion can be a wise guide in some circumstances and a dangerous deceiver in others. It’s not whether judges rely on emotion and empathy, it’s how they educate their sentiments within the discipline of manners and morals, tradition and practice.

Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

New York Times' Pentagon Propaganda

May 27, 2009

While former Vice President Dick Cheney has been front and center in the media debate over the current White House's national security policies, he's not the only one trying to challenge the White House's message. The New York Times published a front-page article (5/21/09) that bolstered the notion that former Guantánamo prisoners "return" to terrorist activity.

The remarkably credulous Times story, under the headline "1 in 7 Freed Detainees Rejoins Fight, Report Finds," was based on a Pentagon report leaked to the paper before its release yesterday evening. The article emphasized the notion that former prisoners "returned to terrorism or militant activity"--without adequately explaining the definition of either term, or examining whether those former detainees were ever "terrorists" in the first place.
And as Talking Points Memo has noted (5/26/09), the Times' front-page headline claiming that "1 in 7" detainees had returned to the fight glossed over the DOD's own distinction between "confirmed" and "suspected" cases.

And missing from Times reporter Elisabeth Bumiller's account was a full explanation of the Pentagon's long history of releasing similar studies, which have been widely challenged and debunked. Attorney H. Candace Gorman, who represents some Guantánamo detainees, has challenged the Pentagon's findings (Huffington Post, 3/13/07), as has journalist and terrorism analyst Peter Bergen (CNN, 1/24/09). As one prominent critic, Mark Denbeaux of Seton Hall, explained (Washington Independent, 1/23/09):
Every time they have been required to identify the parties, the DOD has been forced to retract their false IDs and their numbers. They have included people who have never even set foot in Guantánamo--much less were they released from there. They have counted people as "returning to the fight" for their having written an op-ed piece in the New York Times and for their having appeared in a documentary exhibited at the Cannes Film Festival. The DOD has revised and retracted their internally conflicting definitions, criteria, and their numbers so often that they have ceased to have any meaning--except as an effort to sway public opinion by painting a false portrait of the supposed dangers of these men.

The Times quoted Denbeaux deep in its May 21 piece, but those comments failed to convey the serious problems with the Pentagon's previous reports on Guantánamo.

More fundamentally, can the Times be sure that the Pentagon knows that the detainees were ever "terrorists" to begin with? As Denbeaux explained in one report (12/10/07 [PDF]), "Implicit in the Government's claim that detainees have 'returned to the battlefield' is the notion that those detainees had been on a battlefield prior to their detention in Guantánamo." He concluded, based on reviewing the Pentagon's own Combatant Status Review Tribunal records, that just 4 percent of the available summaries "alleged that a detainee had ever been on any battlefield." Only one detainee was actually captured by U.S. forces on a battlefield. And, of course, fighting U.S. forces on a battlefield is not in itself an act of "terrorism."

Even Bumiller seemed to distance herself from some of the language in her piece. Appearing on MSNBC (5/21/09), she noted that "there is some debate about whether you should say 'returned' because some of them were perhaps not engaged in terrorism, as we know--some of them are being held there on vague charges." The Times went on to make significant changes to the report on its website (TPM Muckraker, 5/21/09). The new headline is "Later Terror Link Cited for 1 in 7 Freed Detainees," and the piece reported that the former detainees "are engaged in terrorism or militant activity"--as opposed to "returned to terrorism or militant activity."

Times Washington bureau chief Dean Baquet (Politico, 5/21/09) responded by arguing that the changes were not all that significant:
The story was about the estimate of the number of people who ended up, by DOD's account, as being engaged in terrorism or militant activity after leaving Gitmo. That still stands. The change was an acknowledgment that some assert that not everyone in Gitmo is truly a terrorist. Some critics have said that Gitmo is also filled with people who aren't truly terrorists.

This is disingenuous, at the very least. The story was about people "returning" to the "fight," based on the latest in a series of misleading and contradictory Pentagon reports on the topic--which should have led the Times to treat the leak with more skepticism in the first place. The paper noted in the article that the report's "conclusion could strengthen the arguments of critics who have warned against the transfer or release of any more detainees as part of President Obama's plan to shut down the prison by January." That is precisely the effect it had (conservative MSNBC host Joe Scarborough gave the paper a "tip of the hat"--5/21/09), thanks entirely to the way the Times mishandled the story.

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Friday, May 22, 2009

Obama Must Confront Medical-Industrial Complex

by Paul Krugman
The New York Times
May 21, 2009

That didn’t take long. Less than two weeks have passed since much of the medical-industrial complex made a big show of working with President Obama on health care reform — and the double-crossing is already well under way. Indeed, it’s now clear that even as they met with the president, pretending to be cooperative, insurers were gearing up to play the same destructive role they did the last time health reform was on the agenda.

So here’s the question: Will Mr. Obama gloss over the reality of what’s happening, and try to preserve the appearance of cooperation? Or will he honor his own pledge, made back during the campaign, to go on the offensive against special interests if they stand in the way of reform?

The story so far: on May 11 the White House called a news conference to announce that major players in health care, including the American Hospital Association and the lobbying group America’s Health Insurance Plans, had come together to support a national effort to control health care costs.

The fact sheet on the meeting, one has to say, was classic Obama in its message of post-partisanship and, um, hope. “For too long, politics and point-scoring have prevented our country from tackling this growing crisis,” it said, adding, “The American people are eager to put the old Washington ways behind them.”

But just three days later the hospital association insisted that it had not, in fact, promised what the president said it had promised — that it had made no commitment to the administration’s goal of reducing the rate at which health care costs are rising by 1.5 percentage points a year. And the head of the insurance lobby said that the idea was merely to “ramp up” savings, whatever that means.

Meanwhile, the insurance industry is busily lobbying Congress to block one crucial element of health care reform, the public option — that is, offering Americans the right to buy insurance directly from the government as well as from private insurance companies. And at least some insurers are gearing up for a major smear campaign.

On Monday, just a week after the White House photo-op, The Washington Post reported that Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina was preparing to run a series of ads attacking the public option. The planning for this ad campaign must have begun quite some time ago.

The Post has the storyboards for the ads, and they read just like the infamous Harry and Louise ads that helped kill health care reform in 1993. Troubled Americans are shown being denied their choice of doctor, or forced to wait months for appointments, by faceless government bureaucrats. It’s a scary image that might make some sense if private health insurance — which these days comes primarily via HMOs — offered all of us free choice of doctors, with no wait for medical procedures. But my health plan isn’t like that. Is yours?

“We can do a lot better than a government-run health care system,” says a voice-over in one of the ads. To which the obvious response is, if that’s true, why don’t you? Why deny Americans the chance to reject government insurance if it’s really that bad?

For none of the reform proposals currently on the table would force people into a government-run insurance plan. At most they would offer Americans the choice of buying into such a plan.

And the goal of the insurers is to deny Americans that choice. They fear that many people would prefer a government plan to dealing with private insurance companies that, in the real world as opposed to the world of their ads, are more bureaucratic than any government agency, routinely deny clients their choice of doctor, and often refuse to pay for care.

Which brings us back to Mr. Obama.

Back during the Democratic primary campaign, Mr. Obama argued that the Clintons had failed in their 1993 attempt to reform health care because they had been insufficiently inclusive. He promised instead to gather all the stakeholders, including the insurance companies, around a “big table.” And that May 11 event was, of course, intended precisely to show this big-table strategy in action.

But what if interest groups showed up at the big table, then blocked reform? Back then, Mr. Obama assured voters that he would get tough: “If those insurance companies and drug companies start trying to run ads with Harry and Louise, I’ll run my own ads as president. I’ll get on television and say ‘Harry and Louise are lying.’ ”

The question now is whether he really meant it.

The medical-industrial complex has called the president’s bluff. It polished its image by showing up at the big table and promising cooperation, then promptly went back to doing all it can to block real change. The insurers and the drug companies are, in effect, betting that Mr. Obama will be afraid to call them out on their duplicity.

It’s up to Mr. Obama to prove them wrong.

Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Flawed Logic of The Cap-and-Trade Debate

by Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger
Yale Environment 360
May 19, 2009

In early May, anxiety among climate activists about the fate of cap-and-trade legislation erupted into a full-throated roar with the release of a scathing open letter by Dr. James Hansen. In it, the NASA scientist called a bill by Representatives Henry Waxman and Ed Markey a “temple of doom,” savaging it for being complex, corrupt, and “a minor tweak to business-as-usual.” Hansen called for a carbon tax in its place, one that would establish a “substantial and rising price on carbon emissions.”

Hansen was right about Waxman-Markey. It will do little to reduce U.S. emissions, will transfer billions to incumbent energy interests in the form of free pollution permits, and will send billions more to timber, agriculture, and other interests, here and abroad, in the form of dubious “offsets.” But Hansen’s analysis of why climate legislation has gone so terribly off the rails is wrong.

Hansen argues that the problem has to do with the mechanism by which Waxman-Markey would establish a carbon price — a cap-and-trade system. In this, Hansen is joined by many other greens and economists, who argue that cap-and-trade is a cumbersome and economically inefficient means of establishing a carbon price, one that is particularly vulnerable to manipulation by polluters and politicians.

On the other side of this debate stand many business interests, some prominent climate scientists, and green groups like the Environmental Defense Fund and the Natural Resources Defense Council. They argue that cap-and-trade is a superior approach, because it guarantees certainty of actual emissions reductions, and a more pragmatic one, because it does not require politicians to vote for a new tax on pollution. They say taxes are just as prone to manipulation by politicians and polluters and that simple carbon taxes exist only in the ivory tower equations of academic economists, not in the real, rough-and-tumble world of politics and legislating.

The truth is, however, that neither of these approaches will lead to significant reductions in carbon emissions, and for a basic reason: Both Hansen and those he criticizes focus on pollution regulation and pricing to make fossil fuels more expensive, rather than on innovation to make clean energy cheap. This approach ignores the history of technological breakthroughs, which has primarily been driven by public investment. And public investment in clean energy is what is needed today, because no effort to achieve deep reductions in carbon emissions, domestic or international, will succeed as long as low-carbon energy technologies cost vastly more than current fossil fuel-based energy.

For more than a decade, the cap vs. tax debate has taken on a ritual quality, with carbon tax advocates conveniently ignoring the reality that the reason that capping and trading carbon has been so ineffectual has been the unwillingness of politicians to establish a high price on carbon. Similarly, cap-and-trade advocates have ignored the fairly obvious fact that carbon caps are not binding and provide no certainty of reductions if policies substantially limit the maximum amount that emitters will be required to pay to reduce greenhouse gases.

Ironically, both sides share the same pollution paradigm, which views the massive transformation of the global energy economy as fundamentally the same as past pollution battles over acid rain and air pollution. In fact, the debate pits one central objective of that paradigm, the establishment of strict pollution caps, against another, making industries pay to pollute.

But the debate between carbon tax and cap-and-trade proponents is a false one. The problem is that no government in the world so far has been willing to establish and sustain a high price on carbon, whether through taxes or caps. This is due to at least four substantial and interlinked issues: the political power of incumbent energy interests, low consumer tolerance for high energy prices, the economic impacts that substantially raising energy prices will have on key energy-intensive sectors of the economy, and — most importantly — the substantial price gap that continues to exist between fossil fuels and clean-energy alternatives.

Yet so powerful has been the mental model imposed by the pollution paradigm that neither party to the tax vs. cap debate has much acknowledged either the ways in which the climate crisis differs from past environmental problems or the larger socio-political context in which any climate policy must function. Clean energy technologies cost much more than fossil fuels. Binding caps requiring deep and rapid reductions in carbon emissions must allow carbon prices to rise to whatever level they must (read: very high) in order to comply with the cap. As a result, no society has been willing to establish high carbon prices, regardless of the mechanism.

The serial failures of the European Emissions Trading System, the recent rollback of emissions reduction commitments in Australia, and the looming passage of the Waxman-Markey legislation in the United States are evidence not that carbon trading is the “temple of doom,” but rather that most political economies are highly resistant to high carbon prices. Yet when confronted with this reality, proponents of traditional cap-and-trade or tax schemes have had three responses. The first has been to produce a blizzard of economic models that downplay the economic impacts of high carbon prices. But even when these models show that long-term benefits outweigh the costs, someone will still have to pay in the short-term, and those interests — whether consumers or industries — are well-represented in the U.S. Congress.

Others, such as Peter Barnes of CapandDividend.Org, have proposed refunding to consumers all revenues generated by auctioning pollution allowances, under the assumption that doing so would blunt consumer opposition to high carbon prices and the energy price increases they bring. But there is no evidence that rebates would have this effect. Moreover, the strategy would do nothing to soften the impacts on regional economies and energy intensive industries.

Another strategy, prominently championed by author Bill McKibben, argues that it will be necessary to build a much more powerful movement to mandate the deeper emissions reductions and higher carbon prices needed to stabilize the climate. But there is strong evidence that as long as such a movement is predicated on deeply cutting carbon emissions, no matter the cost, such a political tipping point is unlikely to arrive — at least not before climate catastrophe is so close at hand that substantial mitigation actions will be largely beside the point.

All three strategies have been offered with the best of intentions, but have allowed greens and others to ignore the ways in which economic and political realities constrain carbon pricing. Greens have sunk enormous political and intellectual capital into an emissions reduction framework that simply can’t succeed — at least as long as the price gap between fossil fuels and clean alternatives remains large and so requires the maintenance of high carbon prices to close. This is what we identified in 2007 as “global warming’s Gordian Knot”: price carbon too high and provoke political backlash that results in the evisceration of emissions caps and other policies to reduce emissions; price it too low, and you don’t have a sufficiently high price to drive the innovation and technology investment necessary to make the transition to clean energy alternatives.

For this reason, we argue that environmentalists must shift from looking to high carbon prices to drive private sector energy innovation to using low carbon prices to fund public sector research, development, and deployment of clean energy technologies.

Rather than focusing on emissions reduction targets and timetables, a new framework will establish price declines in the real, unsubsidized costs of clean energy technologies. Rather than attempting to establish high carbon prices globally in order to create sufficient incentives for private interests to invest in energy technology innovation, this new framework focuses on establishing very modest and politically sustainable carbon prices in developed economies to fund very large public investments in technology innovation and to help bring competitive technologies to market. Rather than viewing private interests and markets as the primary driver of technology innovation, this framework recognizes public investment as the most effective method of driving technology innovation. Rather than insisting that developed economies “go first” by achieving symbolic but largely irrelevant emissions reductions, the new framework sees developed economies as critical laboratories that will finance and invent the low-cost technologies that will make deep global emissions reductions possible.

The serial contortions of cap-and-trade programs around the world result from the political necessity of containing the costs and price impacts while maintaining the fiction that strict pollution caps are being enforced. Offsets promise cheaper reductions somewhere else. The liberal distribution of free pollution allowances to energy interests and industry promises to ameliorate the impacts of high carbon prices. The various schemes to borrow allowances from future compliance periods promise to keep carbon prices from rising too high. When all is said and done, what we get is a program where costs are intentionally opaque, implementation is corrupt, and benefits are few. Little wonder that Rep. Rick Boucher (D-VA), who represents a coal-dependent state, recently told reporters that he expected cap-and-trade legislation to “create the opportunity for increasing coal production.”

Far better to accept that the price for carbon won’t be high and implement a simple and transparent program to establish a stable and low price. Such an approach is compatible with either a carbon tax or cap-and-auction with hard price caps and floors. Because the impacts of the price on end users, consumers, and businesses are small, this approach does not require figuring out how to refund the proceeds to consumers, buy off impacted industries, or flood the market with cheap offsets, which is what Rep. Waxman and Rep. Markey have spent the last month doing. And this approach allows all the revenues generated by the program — $30 billion or more annually, even with a low carbon price — to be dedicated to the development and deployment of clean energy technologies and infrastructure.

This approach will not offer certainty of emissions reductions. But neither will carbon taxes or cap-and-trade, as Europe has proven. What it will do is explicitly direct climate and energy policy toward the single variable that holds the key, both politically and economically, to achieving deep reductions in global carbon emissions: the broad availability of low-cost, low-carbon energy technologies.

The Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade legislation represents the final absurd expression of the failed pollution paradigm that has defined climate policy for over a decade. The long obsession with pollution caps, targets, and timetables has produced legislation that, in the name of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent by 2020, will allow regulated industries to emit as much as a third more carbon in 2012 than they did in 2005 and close to 10 percent more in 2020.

This program will have little, if any, impact on U.S. emissions. But it will allow President Obama to arrive in Copenhagen next fall touting a mandatory U.S. program to cap and reduce its carbon emissions, thereby returning the U.S. to the community of good global citizens that have made such commitments without discernibly altering the actual trajectory of their growing emissions. What all share with the United States is an unwillingness to establish carbon prices high enough to drive significant emissions reductions.

Meanwhile, soaring rhetoric from greens and Democrats about the importance of bold public investments to build a clean energy economy has proven empty. The Waxman-Markey bill would, under the rosiest of scenarios, invest just $9 billion annually in technology innovation, defined broadly, compared to a whopping $41 billion to buy off utilities and heavy industries and $19 billion for offsets. If the price of carbon dioxide is only $5 per ton — a level Waxman-Markey supporters like the Center for American Progress’s Joe Romm says it could reach — there would be just $3 billion for energy technology and just $250 million for R&D. That level is only a five percent increase over current energy R&D spending, and one-sixtieth of the $15 billion annually in new clean energy R&D investment President Obama has consistently promised. In the end, greens supporting this bill have chosen weak caps, riddled with loopholes and giveaways, over serious investment in clean energy technologies.

© 2008-2009 Yale University

War’s Psychic Toll

by Bob Herbert
The New York Times
May 18, 2009

I couldn’t have been less surprised to read last week that an American G.I. had been charged with gunning down five of his fellow service members in Iraq. The fact that this occurred at a mental health counseling center in the war zone just served to add an extra layer of poignancy and a chilling ironic element to the fundamental tragedy.

The psychic toll of this foolish and apparently endless war has been profound since day one. And the nation’s willful denial of that toll has been just as profound.

According to authorities, John Russell, a 44-year-old Army sergeant who had been recognized as deeply troubled and was on his third tour in Iraq, went into the counseling center on the afternoon of May 11 and opened fire — killing an Army officer, a Navy officer and three enlisted soldiers. The three enlistees were 19, 20 and 25 years old.

This is what happens in wars. Wars are about killing, and once the killing is unleashed it takes many, many forms. Which is why it’s so sick to fight unnecessary wars, and so immoral to send other people’s children off to wars — psychic as well as physical — from which one’s own children are carefully protected.

The fallout from the psychic stress of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has been vast, but there was no reason for its destructive effects to have surprised anyone. There was plenty of evidence that this would be an enormous problem. Speaking of Iraq back in 2004, Dr. Stephen C. Joseph, who had been an assistant secretary of defense during the Clinton administration, said, “I have a very strong sense that the mental health consequences are going to be the medical story of this war.”

I remember writing a column about Jeffrey Lucey, a 23-year-old Marine who was deeply depressed and suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, or P.T.S.D., when he returned from Iraq after serving in the earliest months of the war. He described gruesome events that he had encountered and was harshly critical of himself. He drank to excess, had nightmares, withdrew from friends and wrecked the family car.

On the afternoon of June 22, 2004, he wrote a note that said, “It’s 4:35 p.m. and I am near completing my death.” He then hanged himself with a garden hose in the basement of his parents’ home.

Because we have chosen not to share the sacrifices of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the terrible burden of these conflicts is being shouldered by an obscenely small portion of the population. Since this warrior class is so small, the same troops have to be sent into the war zones for tour after harrowing tour.

As the tours mount up, so do the mental health problems. Combat is crazy-making to start with. Multiple tours are recipes for complete meltdowns.

As the RAND Corporation reported in a study released last year:

“Not only is a higher proportion of the armed forces being deployed, but deployments have been longer, redeployment to combat has been common, and breaks between deployments have been infrequent.”

Recent attempts by the military to deal with some of the most egregious aspects of its deployment policies have amounted to much too little, much too late. The RAND study found that approximately 300,000 men and women who had served in Iraq and Afghanistan were already suffering from P.T.S.D. or major depression. That’s nearly one in every five returning veterans.

The mass-produced tragedies of war go far beyond combat deaths. Behind the abstract wall of RAND’s statistics is the immense real-life suffering of very real people. The toll includes the victims of violence and drunkenness and broken homes and suicides. Most of the stories never make their way into print. The public that professes such admiration and support for our fighting men and women are not interested.

Other studies have paralleled RAND’s in spotlighting the psychic toll of these wars. A CBS News survey found that veterans aged 20 to 24 were two to four times as likely to commit suicide as nonveterans the same age. A Time magazine cover story last year disclosed that “for the first time in history, a sizable and growing number of U.S. combat troops are taking daily doses of antidepressants to calm nerves strained by repeated and lengthy tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

We’re brutally and cold-bloodedly sacrificing the psychological well-being of these men and women, which should be a scandal. If these wars are so important to our national security, we should all be engaging in some form of serious sacrifice, and many more of us should be serving.

But the country soothes its conscience and tamps down its guilt with the cowardly invocation: “Oh, they’re volunteers. They knew what they were getting into.”

Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company

Monday, May 11, 2009

World's Happiest Places

by Lauren Sherman
May 5, 2009

Where in the world do people feel most content with their lives?

According to a new report released by the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD), a Paris-based group of 30 countries with democratic governments that provides economic and social statistics and data, happiness levels are highest in northern European countries.

Denmark, Finland and the Netherlands rated at the top of the list, ranking first, second and third, respectively. Outside Europe, New Zealand and Canada landed at Nos. 8 and 6, respectively. The U.S. did not crack the top 10. Switzerland placed seventh and Belgium placed tenth.

The report looked at subjective well-being, defined as life satisfaction. Did people feel like their lives were dominated by positive experiences and feelings, or negative ones?

To answer that question, the OECD used data from a Gallup World Poll conducted in 140 countries around the world last year. The poll asked respondents whether they had experienced six different forms of positive or negative feelings within the last day.

Some sample questions: Did you enjoy something you did yesterday? Were you proud of something you did yesterday? Did you learn something yesterday? Were you treated with respect yesterday? In each country, a representative sample of no more than 1,000 people, age 15 or older, were surveyed. The poll was scored numerically on a scale of 1-100. The average score was 62.4.

Why did the northern European countries come out looking so good? Overall economic health played a powerful role, says Simon Chapple, senior economist from the Social Policy Division of the OECD, which put together the report.

While the global economic crisis has taken a toll on every nation, the countries that scored at the top still boast some of the highest gross domestic product per capita in the world. Denmark, which got the highest score, is not only a wealthy country, it's also highly productive, with a 2009 GDP per capita of $68,000, according to the International Monetary Fund. The United States' GDP per capita, by contrast, is $47,335. Though the U.S. got an above-average score of 74, it did not break the top 10.

Wealth alone does not bring the greatest degree of happiness. Norway has the highest GDP per capita on the list--$98,822--yet it ranked ninth, not first. On the other hand, New Zealand's happiness level is 76.7 out of 100 on the OECD list, but its 2009 GDP per capita is just $30,556.

According to a 2005 editorial, published in the British Medical Journal and authored by Dr. Tony Delamothe, research done in Mexico, Ghana, Sweden, the U.S. and the U.K. shows that individuals typically get richer during their lifetimes, but not happier. It is family, social and community networks that bring joy to one's life, according to Delamothe.

The OECD data shows that another important factor is work-life balance. While Scandinavian countries boast a high GDP per capita, the average workweek in that part of the world is no more than 37 hours. In China, which got a low score of just 14.8, the workweek is 47 hours and the GDP per capita is just $3,600.

Low unemployment also contributes to happiness. "One thing we know for sure," says the OECD's Chapple, "not having a job makes one substantially less satisfied." Denmark's unemployment rate is just 2%, according the C.I.A.'s World Factbook. Norway's is just 2.6%. The Netherlands: just 4.5%. Many economists concur that a 4% unemployment rate reflects a stable economy. The U.S. unemployment rate is currently 9%.

2009 LLC™

Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Death Penalty Club

by Jen Marlowe
Common Dreams News Center
May 10, 2009

It's a hard time for those who care about the fate of Georgia death row prisoner Troy Davis.

On April 16, Davis received the most recent blow to his case; the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected Davis's appeal based on innocence heard in court. Davis was convicted for the 1989 murder of off-duty police officer Mark MacPhail in Savannah. A great deal of possibly exonerating evidence has come to light since Davis's original trial, including affidavits by seven of the nine non-police witnesses, recanting or contradicting their trial testimonies, with claims of police coercion and intimidation further tainting the original testimonies. This is particularly significant as there was never any physical evidence linking Davis to the crime and of the two witnesses who did not recant, one is another potential suspect. No court has held a trial or hearing based on the new evidence. Nevertheless, the panel of three 11th Circuit judges rejected Davis's petition on procedural grounds in a 2-1 vote.

"To execute Davis, in the face of a significant amount of proffered evidence that may establish his actual innocence," wrote dissenting Judge Rosemary Barkett "is unconscionable and unconstitutional."

The Court granted Davis a thirty-day stay of his execution, which ends on May 15th.

Davis's case has become a lightening rod for debate, most of it focused on the impending execution of a possibly innocent man whom the system won't permit a second day in court. Even pro-death penalty advocates have spoken out against executing Davis. Former federal judge and FBI Director William Sessions, a supporter of capital punishment, wrote, "I believe that there is no more serious offense than the murder of a police officer. However, crucial unanswered questions surround claims of Davis' responsibility for this terrible crime, and I believe that the execution should not go forward until the courts address them and determine whether he is in fact guilty... To send a man to his death because procedural obstacles prevent the courts from considering the merits of his claim of innocence would, in my view, be a travesty."

There are, as Sessions writes, crucial unanswered questions surrounding claims of Davis's responsibility for the murder of MacPhail. And equally crucial is an examination of the practice of execution itself, in a national and international context too often sorely missing from the discourse.

From 1972-1976, the US Supreme Court suspended the death penalty as the Court examined whether capital punishment constitutes "cruel and unusual punishment" and is, therefore, unconstitutional. New death penalty laws were passed in 1976. The reliability of convictions that end in capital punishment remains highly contested; since the new laws were approved, 131 death row inmates have been exonerated. In fact, a Columbia Law School study in 2000 concluded that death sentences in the United States are "persistently and systematically fraught with error." Yet even with the overwhelming evidence that scores of innocent people end up on death row, some only exonerated posthumously, as well as substantial flaws in the argument that capital punishment is an effective deterrent, the majority of the country still accepts execution as a reasonable form of punishment. Capital punishment is currently legal in 35 states and there are over 3,000 prisoners on death row throughout the country.

Recently, however, there has been some light.

On March 18th, New Mexico became the fifteenth state in the US to abolish capital punishment.

And on April 21, the Colorado State Congress passed a measure to abolish the death penalty by a single vote. The bill now goes to the Colorado State Senate.

Unfortunately, these glimmers offer little comfort to current death-row prisoners, even ones in New Mexico, as the new law signed by Richardson is not retroactive. There is also little hope to grasp when considering the US's record in the international arena as well. The United States tries to portray itself as a global leader concerning human rights, but when stacked up against the rest of the international community, our record on this issue is abysmal.

The majority of the world has been moving towards abolishing the death penalty. Two thirds of all countries have abolished it in law or in practice-the most recent being Burundi . In all of Europe, Belarus is the only country that still practices capital punishment.

Even with the trend towards abolition, capital punishment remains a crucial global human rights issue, mostly due to a handful of egregious offender nations. In 2008, 2,390 prisoners were executed in twenty-five countries. 93% of those executions took place in China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, United States and Pakistan.

There are the only two countries in the world that have not ratified the UN Convention prohibiting the execution of children. They are Somalia and the United States. There are currently over sixty prisoners on death row in the US for crimes they committed as juveniles.

In April 1999, the United Nations Human Rights Commission passed its second Resolution Supporting Worldwide Moratorium on Executions, calling on countries which still practice capital punishment to restrict its use and not apply it to juveniles. Ten countries--including China, Pakistan, Rwanda, Sudan and the US--voted against the Resolution. A similar resolution was adopted by a large majority at the United Nations General Assembly in 2007, and once again this past December. Both times the USA was part of the small minority in dissent.

I don't know if Troy Davis ponders the fact that our global colleagues regarding capital punishment include China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Rwanda, Sudan and Somalia. But our membership in this infamous club should give all of us much pause.

There will all always be another Troy Davis, more and more possibly innocent prisoners on the chopping block, until the United States follows the lead of two-thirds of the world and fully abolishes the death penalty.

© Copyrighted 2009

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Single Payer Shut-out

by Ralph Nader
Common Dreams News Center
May 9, 2009

Among the giant taboos afflicting Congress these days is the proposal to create a single payer health insurance system (often called full Medicare for everyone).

How can this be? Don't the elected politicians represent the people? Don't they always have their finger to the wind?

Well, single payer is only supported by a majority of the American people, physicians and nurses. They like the idea of public funding and private delivery. They like the free choice of doctors and hospitals that many are now denied by the HMOs.

There are also great administrative efficiencies when single player displaces the health insurance industry with its claims-denying, benefit-restricting, bureaucratically-heavy profiteering. According to leading researchers in this area, Dr. David Himmelstein and Dr. Stephanie Woolhandler, single payer will save $350 billion annually.

Yet, on Capitol Hill and at the White House there are no meetings, briefings, hearings, and consultations about kinds of health care reforms that reform the basic price inflation, indifference to prevention, and discrimination of health insurers.

There is no place at the table for single payer advocates in the view of the Congressional leaders who set the agenda and muzzle dissenters.

Last month at a breakfast meeting with reporters, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) responded to a question about health care with these revealing and exasperating words: "Over and over again, we hear single payer, single payer, single payer. Well, it's not going to be a single payer."

Thus spake Speaker Pelosi, the Representative from Aetna? Never mind that 75 members of her party have signed onto H.R. 676-the Conyers single payer legislation. Never mind that in her San Francisco district, probably three out of four people want single payer. And never mind that over 20,000 people die every year, according to the Institute of Medicine, because they cannot afford health insurance.

What is more remarkable is that many more than the 75 members of the House privately believe single payer is the best option. Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Ted Kennedy, and Nancy Pelosi are among them. But they all say, single payer "is not practical" so it's off the table.

What gives here? The Democrats have the procedures to pass any kind of health reform this year, including single payer. President Obama could sign it into law.

But "it's not practical" because these politicians fear the insurance and pharmaceutical industries-and seek their campaign contributions-more than they fear the American people. It comes down to the corporations, who have no votes, are organized to the teeth and the people are not.

So, when Senator Baucus, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and a large recipient of health insurance and drug company donations, held a public roundtable discussion on May 5, fifteen witnesses were preparing to deliver their statements. Not one of them was championing single payer.

As Senator Baucus started his introductory remarks, something happened. One by one, eight people in the audience, most of them physicians and lawyers, stood up to politely but insistently protest the absence of a single payer presentation.

One by one, the police came, took them out of the hearing room, arrested and handcuffed them. The charge was "disruption of Congress"-a misdemeanor.
They call themselves the "Baucus Eight". Immediately, over the internet and on C-Span, public radio, and the Associated Press, the news spread around the country. You can see the video on

To the many groups and individuals who have labored for single payer for decades, the Baucus Eight's protest seemed like an epiphany.

Dr. Quentin Young, a veteran leader for single payer and a founder of Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP) e-mailed his reaction: "For our part, when the history of this period is written, we believe your action may well be noted as the turning point from a painful, defensive position to a more appropriate offensive position vis-à-vis Senator Baucus and his health industry co-conspirators."

Webster's dictionary defines "taboo" as "a prohibition against touching, saying, or doing something for fear of a mysterious superhuman force." For both Democrats and Republicans in Congress it is a fear of a very omnipresent supercorporate force.

However, moral and evidential courage is coming. On May 12, 2009, Senator Baucus is having another roundtable discussion with thirteen more witnesses, including those from the business lobbies and their consultants. Word has it that the Senator is about to invite a leading single payer advocate to sit at the table.

Here come the people! Join this historic drive to have our country join the community of western, and some third-world, nations by adopting a state of the art single payer system.

Visit and break the taboo in your region.

© Copyrighted 1997-2009

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Hate Speech, Media Activism and the First Amendment

by Candice O'Grady
FAIR Extra!
May 2009

In just over a month last winter, two Latino men were beaten to death in New York state while their attackers shouted racial slurs and epithets (Philadelphia Inquirer, 1/25/09). Such hate crimes, motivated by anti-immigrant prejudice and other bigotries, have spurred a media justice campaign to reveal the potential human costs of hate speech.

When the FBI reported that hate crimes against Hispanics had increased by an astonishing 40 percent between 2003 and 2007 (FBI: Hate Crime Statistics, 2003 and 2007), UCLA professor Chon Noriega began to ask “whether the media plays a role in the persistence of hate speech and hate crimes.” In a pilot study that attempts to quantify hate speech in commercial radio, Noriega tracked language on the Lou Dobbs Show, Savage Nation and the John & Ken Show (Latino Policy and Issues Brief, 2/09). On these programs he found “systematic and extensive use of false facts, flawed argumentation, divisive language, and dehumanizing metaphors that are directed toward specific vulnerable groups”—which results, Noriega argued, in marginalized populations being “characterized as a direct threat to the listeners’ way of life.”

While deeply unsettling, Noriega’s findings should come as little surprise. Last August, San Francisco–based shock jock Michael Savage unleashed this xenophobic tirade (Savage Nation, 8/4/08):
We need to get our troops out of Iraq and put them on the streets of America to protect us from the scourge of illegal immigrants who are running rampant across America, killing our police for sport, raping, murdering like a scythe across America.…The Statue of Liberty is crying, she’s been raped and disheveled—raped and disheveled by illegal aliens.
Savage is hardly alone in advocating violence against immigrants in recent years. Montana radio host John Stokes said of non-English speakers (John Stokes Show, 9/1/07): “Romans 15:19 says that if they break into your country, chop off their leg. We have to forcibly get rid of them.” (Actually, the verse cited says nothing of the kind.) Rush Limbaugh (Rush Limbaugh Show, 3/27/06) cast all Mexicans as a “renegade, potentially criminal element.” MSNBC’s Tucker Carlson agreed on-air with radio host Mark Williams (Tucker, 10/16/06) that illegal immigrants are mainly “drug runners, human traffickers” and “people who engage in slavery and prostitution.” Meanwhile, in 2007 alone, Lou Dobbs connected crime to illegal immigrants on 94 episodes of his television show (Media Matters, 5/21/08). (For further examples, see FCC Petition for Inquiry: In the Matter of Hate Speech in the Media, 1/28/09.)

This kind of racist rhetoric is endemic to the mainstream press and requires urgent attention, says National Hispanic Media Coalition president Alex Nogales. In response, Nogales and his colleagues filed a petition with the Federal Communica-tions Commission (FCC), asking the regulatory agency to investigate the scope and consequences of hate speech. (FAIR has signed on to this petition.) His organization believes that the issue must be identified and understood so that it can be addressed. “We want a spotlight put on this problem, on the people that are doing it…and the companies that are allowing it to go on.”

This has been a controversial move in some media circles. Opponents say that by its nature, an FCC inquiry leads to regulation and inevitably to a chilling of First Amendment rights. Moreover, argues University of Syracuse information studies professor Milton Mueller, “it seems to assume that there is some unambiguous, clearly defined thing called ‘hate speech’ and that we all recognize it when we see it. I don’t think that is the case.… Is it just expression that one group considers offensive or insulting? If so, we cannot regulate that without stifling all manner of expression.”

Nogales counters that hate speech is incendiary, comparing it to a person yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theater. Scapegoating Latinos for the country’s social and economic problems in a time of crisis is deeply irresponsible on the part of commercial media and merits investigation, he says.
We need to be able to discuss immigration and all of us arrive at a consensus about what we’re going to do. But that’s a far cry from just blaming a specific community for the ills of this nation and, in many ways, creating an environment where hate crimes are being committed against a community.
NHMC hopes that with heightened public awareness and criticism, media corporations will choose to distance themselves from the personalities espousing racist views. While the group also supports bringing a greater balance of perspectives onto airwaves and television screens, it does not want to reintroduce the Fairness Doctrine, a regulation—supported by FAIR—that required broadcasters to allow a limited amount of space for dissenting opinions on pressing public issues (Extra!, 1–2/05). Nogales said it led to “dull programming.” The group does not have a specific suggestion for what kind of regulation, if any, could take its place.

Another tool activists are using to combat the negative impacts of hate speech is media literacy—learning to decode how news is framed. “[The news] works to reinforce this idea that its ‘us’ and ‘them,’” says Andrea Quijana, executive director of the New Mexico Literacy Project. Those on the “us” side of that divide, she adds, get the message that they have no responsibility for finding solutions because vulnerable groups bring these problems on themselves, while those on the “other” side get the message they have no power to bring about solutions.

In her community, the news media have fallen under heavy criticism for their reporting on the bodies found in Albuquerque of 12 women, mostly women of color, characterized as drug-addicted prostitutes (, 3/2/09; AP, 4/3/09). The way the story has been told leads viewers to think, “That’s what happens when you’re a drug addict or a prostitute,” she says. Coverage has been so dehumanizing that Quijana and the members of a local women of color group, Young Women United, have begun media monitoring, writing op-eds and meeting with elected officials.

The corporate media’s continued sanctioning of programs that regularly broadcast hate speech is, at the very least, fueling racial animosity in an already volatile time. In Quijana’s words, “There’s no opportunity in the framework that [the news media are] using to actually challenge the system.… Instead, they’re turning it into a Law and Order Special Victims Unit episode every time we’re watching the news.”

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Friday, May 01, 2009

Paying a Price for Loving Red Meat

by Jane E. Brody
The New York Times
April 27, 2009

There was a time when red meat was a luxury for ordinary Americans, or was at least something special: cooking a roast for Sunday dinner, ordering a steak at a restaurant. Not anymore. Meat consumption has more than doubled in the United States in the last 50 years.

Now a new study of more than 500,000 Americans has provided the best evidence yet that our affinity for red meat has exacted a hefty price on our health and limited our longevity.

The study found that, other things being equal, the men and women who consumed the most red and processed meat were likely to die sooner, especially from one of our two leading killers, heart disease and cancer, than people who consumed much smaller amounts of these foods.

Results of the decade-long study were published in the March 23 issue of The Archives of Internal Medicine. The study, directed by Rashmi Sinha, a nutritional epidemiologist at the National Cancer Institute, involved 322,263 men and 223,390 women ages 50 to 71 who participated in the National Institutes of Health-AARP Diet and Health Study. Each participant completed detailed questionnaires about diet and other habits and characteristics, including smoking, exercise, alcohol consumption, education, use of supplements, weight and family history of cancer.

During the decade, 47,976 men and 23,276 women died, and the researchers kept track of the timing and reasons for each death. Red meat consumption ranged from a low of less than an ounce a day, on average, to a high of four ounces a day, and processed meat consumption ranged from at most once a week to an average of one and a half ounces a day.

The increase in mortality risk tied to the higher levels of meat consumption was described as “modest,” ranging from about 20 percent to nearly 40 percent. But the number of excess deaths that could be attributed to high meat consumption is quite large given the size of the American population.

Extrapolated to all Americans in the age group studied, the new findings suggest that over the course of a decade, the deaths of one million men and perhaps half a million women could be prevented just by eating less red and processed meats, according to estimates prepared by Dr. Barry Popkin, who wrote an editorial accompanying the report.

To prevent premature deaths related to red and processed meats, Dr. Popkin suggested in an interview that people should eat a hamburger only once or twice a week instead of every day, a small steak once a week instead of every other day, and a hot dog every month and a half instead of once a week.

In place of red meat, nonvegetarians might consider poultry and fish. In the study, the largest consumers of “white” meat from poultry and fish had a slight survival advantage. Likewise, those who ate the most fruits and vegetables also tended to live longer.

Anyone who worries about global well-being has yet another reason to consume less red meat. Dr. Popkin, an epidemiologist at the University of North Carolina, said that a reduced dependence on livestock for food could help to save the planet from the ravaging effects of environmental pollution, global warming and the depletion of potable water.

“In the United States,” Dr. Popkin wrote, “livestock production accounts for 55 percent of the erosion process, 37 percent of pesticides applied, 50 percent of antibiotics consumed, and a third of total discharge of nitrogen and phosphorus to surface water.

A question that arises from observational studies like this one is whether meat is in fact a hazard or whether other factors associated with meat-eating are the real culprits in raising death rates. The subjects in the study who ate the most red meat had other less-than-healthful habits. They were more likely to smoke, weigh more for their height, and consume more calories and more total fat and saturated fat. They also ate less fruits, vegetables and fiber; took fewer vitamin supplements; and were less physically active.

But in analyzing mortality data in relation to meat consumption, the cancer institute researchers carefully controlled for all these and many other factors that could influence death rates. The study data have not yet been analyzed to determine what, if any, life-saving benefits might come from eating more protein from vegetable sources like beans or a completely vegetarian diet.

The results mirror those of several other studies in recent years that have linked a high-meat diet to life-threatening health problems. The earliest studies highlighted the connection between the saturated fats in red meats to higher blood levels of artery-damaging cholesterol and subsequent heart disease, which prompted many people to eat leaner meats and more skinless poultry and fish. Along with other dietary changes, like consuming less dairy fat, this resulted in a nationwide drop in average serum cholesterol levels and contributed to a reduction in coronary death rates.

Elevated blood pressure, another coronary risk factor, has also been shown to be associated with eating more red and processed meat, Dr. Sinha and colleagues reported.

Poultry and fish contain less saturated fat than red meat, and fish contains omega-3 fatty acids that have been linked in several large studies to heart benefits. For example, men who consume two servings of fatty fish a week were found to have a 50 percent lower risk of cardiac deaths, and in the Nurses’ Health Study of 84,688 women, those who ate fish and foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids at least once a week cut their coronary risk by more than 20 percent.

Choosing protein from sources other than meat has also been linked to lower rates of cancer. When meat is cooked, especially grilled or broiled at high temperatures, carcinogens can form on the surface of the meat. And processed meats like sausages, salami and bologna usually contain nitrosamines, although there are products now available that are free of these carcinogens.

Data from one million participants in the European Prospective Investigation Into Cancer and Nutrition trial found that those who ate the least fish had a 40 percent greater risk of developing colon cancer than those who ate more than 1.75 ounces of fish a day. Likewise, while a diet high in red meat was linked to an increased risk of prostate cancer in the large Selenium and Vitamin E Cancer Prevention Trial, among the 35,534 men in the study, those who consumed at least three servings of fish a week had half the risk of advanced prostate cancer compared with men who rarely ate fish.

Another study, which randomly assigned more than 19,500 women to a low-fat diet, found after eight years a 40 percent reduced risk of ovarian cancer among them, when compared with 29,000 women who ate their regular diets.

Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company