Archive for February, 2009


WATCH: Mark Schapiro Talks Carcinogens and BPA on The Lionel Show

Wednesday, February 25th, 2009

For years, chemical manufacturers have been on a 2-assembly-line system: one line for products used by US consumers, another for those destined for the EU and other countries with stricter product safety standards. The FDA has been lax in their duty to protect us: known carcinogens and mutagens have been allowed to sneak into plastics in our electronics, cosmetics, children’s toys—basically, anything made with plastic. Safer alternatives exist, yet we’re still exposed to these harmful chemicals daily.

In this interview, investigative journalist Mark Schapiro (Exposed: The Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Products and What’s at Stake for American Power) sits down with Air America’s Lionel to discuss the precautionary principle, the FDA, and the real meaning of “gives you cancer.”

An audio podcast of the entire interview can be found here:

Part 1

and here:

Part 2

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Jeffrey Smith on Healthy School Lunches

Wednesday, February 25th, 2009

Jeffrey Smith, author of Genetic Roulette, takes a look at the health effects of processed and gmo foods in school lunches, citing a slightly terrifying science experiment in which lab mice fed only junk foods basically lost their minds and tore each other apart. Scary.

Before the Appleton Wisconsin high school changed their cafeteria’s diet of processed foods to wholesome, nutritious food, the school was described as out-of-control. There were weapons violations, student disruptions, and a cop on duty full-time. After the change in school meals, the students were calm, focused, and orderly. There were no more weapons violations, and no suicides, expulsions, dropouts, or drug violations. The new diet and improved behavior has lasted for seven years, and now other schools are changing their meal programs with similar results.

Years ago, a science class at Appleton found support for their new diet by conducting a cruel and unusual experiment with three mice. They fed them the junk food that kids in other high schools eat everyday. The mice freaked out. Their behavior was totally different than the three mice in the neighboring cage. The neighboring mice had good karma; they were fed nutritious whole foods and behaved like mice. They slept during the day inside their cardboard tube, played with each other, and acted very mouse-like.

The junk food mice, on the other hand, destroyed their cardboard tube, were no longer nocturnal, stopped playing with each other, fought often, and two mice eventually killed the third and ate it. After the three month experiment, the students rehabilitated the two surviving junk food mice with a diet of whole foods. After about three weeks, the mice came around.

Sister Luigi Frigo repeats this experiment every year in her second grade class in Cudahy, Wisconsin, but mercifully, for only four days. Even on the first day of junk food, the mice’s behavior “changes drastically.” They become lazy, antisocial, and nervous. And it still takes the mice about two to three weeks on unprocessed foods to return to normal. One year, the second graders tried to do the experiment again a few months later with the same mice, but this time the animals refused to eat the junk food.

Across the ocean in Holland, a student fed one group of mice genetically modified (GM) corn and soy, and another group the non-GM variety. The GM mice stopped playing with each other and withdrew into their own parts of the cage. When the student tried to pick them up, unlike their well-behaved neighbors, the GM mice scampered around in apparent fear and tried to climb the walls. One mouse in the GM group was found dead at the end of the experiment.

It’s interesting to note that the junk food fed to the mice in the Wisconsin experiments also contained genetically modified ingredients. And although the Appleton school lunch program did not specifically attempt to remove GM foods, it happened anyway. That’s because GM foods such as soy and corn and their derivatives are largely found in processed foods. So when the school switched to unprocessed alternatives, almost all ingredients derived from GM crops were taken out automatically.

Does this mean that GM foods negatively affect the behavior of humans or animals? It would certainly be irresponsible to say so on the basis of a single student mice experiment and the results at Appleton. On the other hand, it is equally irresponsible to say that it doesn’t.

We are just beginning to understand the influence of food on behavior. A study in Science in December 2002 concluded that “food molecules act like hormones, regulating body functioning and triggering cell division. The molecules can cause mental imbalances ranging from attention-deficit and hyperactivity disorder to serious mental illness.” The problem is we do not know which food molecules have what effect.

Read the whole article here.

 

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Robert Kuttner: An Open Letter to David Axelrod

Wednesday, February 25th, 2009

In this open letter to Obama advisor David Axelrod, Robert Kuttner, co-founder of The American Prospect and author of Obama’s Challenge: America’s Economic Crisis and the Power of a Transformative Presidency, offers his insights into what the president must do, and what the president must appear to be doing, in order to rally public opinion and force Congress to take further, and more drastic, measures to prevent another Great Depression.

From the Huffington Post:

Dear David,

President Obama faces two huge challenges in the next few months. One is dealing with the reality of an impending depression. It will take much stronger medicine to avert a depression than the measures taken to date, and the president needs to rally public opinion if he is to persuade Congress to act at the necessary scale.

The related challenge is about appearances — about whether middle America feels that the federal outlays are trickling down to regular people. So far, bankers seem to be getting too much and Main Street too little.

The two challenges are related. If the solutions are not bolder, they won’t cure the crisis. If the public isn’t persuaded of the need, Congress won’t act. If the economy keeps sinking, the people will lose confidence in the president’s leadership.

And if President Obama doesn’t boldly address both challenges, his presidency is in trouble. I take heart from some of the subtle shifts in the president’s positioning in recent weeks, but he needs to go farther, and move faster.

At the core of both problems is the sinking economy and the fact that he hired a team of orthodox economic advisers to fix it. A radical crisis requires radical solutions, but the economic team has been far behind the curve in the remedies it has put forward, both in the reality and the optics.

The Reality: To prevent a slide into depression, you will need to spend roughly another three trillion dollars of public money in order to pay for a second stimulus package (at least a trillion) and to recapitalize the banking system (as much as two trillion.) Neither Congress nor public opinion is remotely prepared for that action yet. No one but the president is capable of the kind leadership necessary to move public opinion in this direction, and Barack Obama is a better teacher than most presidents. But that money needs to be understood as practical help for ordinary American families, not as more bailout for the culprits who created the mess.

Faced with three trillion dollars in additional needs, the administration has only $350 billion at its disposal — the as yet unspent TARP funds. Right now, the administration seems to be trying to spend that money several times over — first as an equity guarantee to anchor more borrowing from the Federal Reserve as the core of Tim Geithner’s latest bank rescue; then as a source of public funds for the auto restructuring; and again as part of the plan to refinance mortgages and prevent foreclosures. This string is more than played out. There are limits, financially and politically, to the use of the Fed as all-purpose piggy-bank. At some point very soon, Congress needs to be brought back in, because your efforts require both Congressional support and a lot more real money. And Congress will only act if the people understand the stakes.

The political reality is that the economy needs to be on the mend by mid-2010, or the Democrats will lose seats in the mid-term election. But most informed observers think that if present trends continue, the economy will not be in recovery by Election Day 2010. If the Republicans eat into what is now a bare working Congressional majority, you will face legislative gridlock. And the perception of a weakened presidency will become a reality — portending even worse political news for the president’s re-election in 2012.

Right now, the president has enlisted some Republican governors like Charlie Crist urging diehard GOP legislators to back his program. That’s a trifecta. It splits the opposition party, reinforces the perception of Republican obstructionism in Congress, and vindicates the president’s bipartisan overtures. Well done! But this will last only as long as President Obama’s program seems to be working.

Read the whole article here.

WATCH: Mark Schapiro on Regulating the Toxic Chemicals in Our Products

Tuesday, February 24th, 2009

Amy Goodman speaks to award-winning investigative journalist Mark Schapiro, author of Exposed: The Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Products and What’s at Stake for American Power in this segment from Democracy Now!. Schapiro writes, “The European-led revolution in chemical regulation requires that thousands of chemicals finally be assessed for their potentially toxic effects on human beings and signals the end of American industry’s ability to withhold critical data from the public.”

Watch now:

Sprout Today, Eat Healthy Tomorrow

Tuesday, February 24th, 2009

If you’re ready to start growing a portion of your own food, but you aren’t quite ready for something that requires a big time commitment or a lot of effort, this is a good place to start. Sprouts are easy to cultivate, mature very quickly, can be used in a variety of delicious dishes, and really pack a nutritional punch.

The following is an excerpt from Fresh Food from Small Spaces: The Square-Inch Gardener’s Guide to Year-Round Growing, Fermenting, and Sprouting by R. J. Ruppenthal. It has been adapted for the Web.

I have a confession to make. Early in the book, I make a claim that city residents with an average-sized apartment or condominium can raise up to 10 to 20 percent of their own fresh food. This, I confess, was a lie. You can actually grow an even higher percentage of your own fresh food, depending on what percentage of your diet can consist of fresh sprouts! There is an old saying that “man does not live by bread alone.” This is probably true of sprouts also, especially given that you would get weary of eating nothing but sprouts day in and day out (even though, nutritionally, you might meet most of your dietary needs this way). My point is this: If you wanted to grow enough sprouts to live on, using the space in your apartment or condo, you could probably do so. There is simply no other food that you can produce so much of, in so small a space, so quickly, and with such a potent nutritional output. With sprouts, the limiting factor is not space, or light, or soil, or even water. The limiting factor is: How many sprouts can you really eat?

How difficult is sprouting and how much time does it take?

Sprouts can grow with no soil or light, and they will be ready within 4 to 10 days, depending on what kind of seeds you sprout. So, basically, the process itself is very quick and you can produce fresh vegetables in just days instead of months. In terms of your time commitment, it will require a few minutes each day to rinse the sprouts to prevent mold. If you decide to invest in an automatic sprouting system, then this will keep your sprouts well rinsed; you will just need to change the water every day or so to keep it fresh. Home sprouting in your own controlled environment allows you to avoid contamination risks associated with commercially-grown sprouts. In terms of equipment, you can either start with what you have at home or purchase a more specialized sprouting device. To use readily available materials and save money, you can start with either a glass jar or a plastic seedling tray. A cloth bag that is wet, warm, and filled with bean seeds also can work if you rinse it regularly. Regardless of what kind of equipment you use, all of it should be well washed beforehand and you should plan to rinse your sprouts about three times per day as they grow. (It will take less than one minute each time.)

A glass jar is by far the easiest way to experiment with sprouting seeds. To sprout in a glass jar, you will need to cover it with something that can hold in the seeds when you rinse them. A screen held on with a rubber band should work well. First, put a handful of the seeds you want to sprout (alfalfa, mung beans, etc.) in the bottom of the jar. Fill the jar partway with cool water, and allow the seeds to soak for about 8 hours. Then pour out the water through the screen and refill it with enough water to rinse the seeds. Repeat the rinsing part again, and try to drain out as much of the water as possible. Leave the seeds to sprout and return to rinse them this way about three times each day. In only a few days, you should have some yummy sprouts!


Fried oyster bean sprout stir-fry.

Growing on a seedling tray requires that you use some type of growing medium that mimics soil. Actually, there is no rule against using soil itself, which can provide both support and a little nutrition to the sprouts. Stick to sterilized soil, or put some in the microwave and cook on high power for two minutes to kill any pathogens. Other soilless mediums for sprouting can include perlite or asbestos-free vermiculite, which may be available at your local garden center. Theoretically, you can use a wet paper towel or sponge as a base, but the sprouts won’t be able to get any traction this way and thus will be very weak. Finally, it’s helpful to cover the tray with something, which could be another plastic tray or a cutting board—anything flat that can help keep it from drying out. Otherwise, follow the same basic instructions as the glass jar method for soaking and rinsing. You also can rinse seedling-tray sprouts by spraying them regularly with a spray bottle and dumping out the excess water from the edges. Wheatgrass, which takes a few days longer than eating sprouts, will require some extra nutrition to grow to its full potential. The best growing supplement for any of these methods is kelp extract. Dilute it to a very low strength and spray it on the sprouts to increase their rate of growth and nutritional value.

What can you grow into sprouts?

Here is an incomplete list.

GRAINS: wheat, barley, rye, popcorn, quinoa, and others.

LEGUMES: lentils, peas, adzuki beans, black beans, garbanzo beans, mung beans, soybeans, and others.

GREENS: alfalfa, broccoli, clover, canola, radish, buckwheat, sunflower, and others.

OTHERS: Some people sprout nuts such as almonds and peanuts, micro-greens such as lettuce and arugula, and plants with stronger flavors such as fenugreek and onion.

You can order seeds over the Internet from sprouting seed sources or can simply try your luck in the bulk section of your local health food store. You can mix seeds, but it is usually better to start with separate amounts of each seed type you want to grow, because some take longer to mature than others. Make sure that the seeds are organic or at least untreated. If you are ordering seeds online, then look for ones that are specifically labeled as “sprouting seeds.” These should be fresh and have been tested for a high germination rate; they are not always the same seeds that would grow big plants in your garden. Several quality online retailers are the Sprout People, with a wealth of information on their Web site; Mumm’s Sprouting Seeds; Sunrise Seeds; and Wheatgrass Kits. Also, try your local health food store’s bulk section; you might get lucky and find some good, fresh seeds. I found my best batch of sprouting soybeans this way, which were far more productive for me than any soybeans I have ordered online.

 

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TTBOOK Web-exclusive Podcast: Woody Tasch and Intentional Investing

Tuesday, February 24th, 2009

Venture capitalist turned “nurture capitalist” Woody Tasch (Inquiries into the Nature of Slow Money: Investing as if Food, Farms, and Fertility Mattered) spoke to Jim Fleming, host of PRI’s To the Best of Our Knowledge, about slowing down our money as an antidote to the destructive fast-money approach of Wall Street firms and financial institutions that helped land the US in a great big financial crisis.

Don’t get the wrong idea—”slow money” isn’t anti-profit. Rather, it’s about responsibly investing in small startups that are sustainable and contribute to the local community and economy by giving them a chance to grow—expecting a 5% rate of return on your investment rather than 20%—and allowing them to stay an “appropriate size.”

Tasch: What we’re talking about is a proactive way of using money that would direct it intentionally to local food communities and local economies. And the concept of “slow” is becoming easier for people to understand simply against the excesses of “fast,” and if you just think of what’s happened in the credit markets as being a consequence of money that is too fast and disconnected from places, you can intuitively begin to get an idea of what we mean by “slow.”

Fleming: It’s the creating the capital market for slow money that I think is going to startle a lot of people. Those are not words that go together. “Venture capital.” “Slow.”

Tasch: You’re absolutely right. We’re turning on its head the idea that to be a venture capitalist, to support an early-stage company, you have to have a mindset that says “I will only provide you the capital if I can make a 20% rate of return,” or some very high rate of return, and I would suggest a phrase for people as we approach this that’s useful, and that’s “nurture capital,” which, when I first used it, I was using it somewhat playfully as a kind of a direction, and I’ve noticed that it really is sticking with people. That venture capitalism is about high-tech, high growth—very important: this is not against venture capital, it’s very important to say that. For certain kinds of technology, that’s what you need to do. But for the thousands of small, local-first, independent businesses that we want to support and allow to stay appropriate-scale and stay rooted in their communities, we need to think differently, and that’s—that paradigm we can call “nurture capital” and it’ll start leading us in the right direction.

Listen now.

 

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Matador Life Interviews Master of Disaster Matthew Stein

Tuesday, February 24th, 2009

Most people don’t consider what would happen to them if a disaster struck and they were without electricity or water for five days. Or seven days. Or longer. But it certainly could happen, and if you’re not prepared you could be forced to drink dirty, untreated water out of a ditch to stay alive.

So pack your grab-and-run emergency kit, and then come back and read the Matador Life interview with Matthew Stein, author of When Technology Fails: A Manual for Self-Reliance, Sustainability, and Surviving the Long Emergency.

Released in 2008 , When Technology Fails has quickly become the definitive guide to surviving a long-term disaster.

[...]

You probably learned much more than you wanted to know about the way the world was going.

Yes. The internal voice said that I had to focus on The Future Of the World chapter, and that these trends will all end in collapse of the natural systems on this planet, if we do not start doing things differently. If we continue with business as usual most of the people on the planet will die. But it can be shifted and changed.

The average American really doesn’t think that an event could have an impact on their life beyond one week. How wrong are they?

They’re totally wrong. History has shown huge events that have been civilization-busters, that have caused massive unrest. The thing is that America is soft because we haven’t had a war on our land since The Civil War. We’ve gotten used to everything working very well in our country. When things collapse here, we’ve got a lot further to fall.

Hopefully it won’t happen. Given the ecological trends, the chances are really high that we’re going to see some huge disruption in central services for a month, six months, a year. I’m hoping that all of the right things happen in this new government and that we make the shift to sustainability.

I’m hopeful that we can avoid out-and-out collapse. But if we don’t do the right things, in my mind, it’s a guaranteed recipe for collapse.

What happens to us after day five of a major emergency, when systems start breaking down and when water starts becoming a huge commodity?

Most of us can last at least a month without food. Without water, in a hot climate, in three days people are going to start dying. If the water stops flowing then you’re going to be drinking out of the local ditch, if that’s all that is around.

If you’re prepared, you’ve got your little grab and run kit with a backcountry filter that removes bacteria and viruses from the water. If you’re really prepared you’ve also got a Steripen and fifteen seconds later it’s been zapped free of viruses.

Read the whole article here.

Photo by quiplash

 

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10 Tips to Lower Your Carbon Footprint When You Shop

Monday, February 23rd, 2009

It’s a fact of modern life that we have to buy Stuff—most of us aren’t farmers, for example, and even farmers have to buy Stuff to keep their farms going. That Stuff we buy has a carbon footprint. We can’t eradicate it, but we can do our darndest to shop responsibly and make sure the Stuff we buy leaves the smallest carbon footprint possible.

Here are 10 things you can do to fight climate change while you shop.

The following is an excerpt from Climate Change: Simple Things You Can Do to Make a Difference by Jon Clift and Amanda Cuthbert. It has been edited for the Web.

What does my shopping have to do with climate change?

  • Everything you buy has an effect on your carbon footprint — the amount of CO2 your lifestyle generates.
  • The kind of food and clothing you buy makes a difference. Artificial fertilizers and pesticides, used to grow most food and cotton, are derived from oil and natural gas, and their manufacture is energy-intensive and emits CO2.
  • When you buy anything made of timber from non-sustainable forests there is an additional impact on your carbon footprint. Trees are the “lungs” of our world — they transform CO2 into oxygen, thereby reducing the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere.
  • The number of miles your goods have traveled to get from their source to your home makes a difference. All else being equal, the greater the distance, the greater the CO2 emitted, especially if they have been transported by air.
  • Shopping trips by car add CO2 to the atmosphere.

Buying locally produced products = less CO2

What can I do about it?

  1. Buy locally grown food, in season, from your local markets and farm stands. Reduce your food miles — avoid food that has traveled a long way to reach you.
  2. Buy organic if possible: organic food and clothing will have been grown without the use of artificial fertilizers and pesticides.
  3. Buy furniture made from natural timber that has come from a sustainable source. Look for the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) symbol.
  4. Buy the most energy-efficient household appliances.
  5. Plan your shopping so that you do as much in one trip as possible.
  6. Use a bike or the bus for your shopping trips where possible.
  7. Share a car — shop with a friend.
  8. Buy secondhand whenever you can.
  9. Buy goods that will last.
  10. Buy less!

Obama’s Challenge Author Robert Kuttner on Deficit Hawks and Entitlements

Monday, February 23rd, 2009

With the budget deficit rising as the economic stimulus takes effect, deficit hawks—both the Republican and “Blue-Dog” Democrat varieties—are rolling out perennial target Social Security again. Robert Kuttner, co-founder of The American Prospect and author of Obama’s Challenge: America’s Economic Crisis and The Power of a Transformative Presidency, looks at the flaws in their argument against one of the most successful federal program in history in this article from the Washington Post.

What’s wrong with the story of entitlements wrecking the economy? Plenty.

For starters, the $56 trillion “unfunded liability” figure relies on creative accounting. Only about $6.36 trillion is the actual public debt, according to the U.S. Treasury. Most of the number Peterson cites is a combination of the 75-year worst-case projections for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

These three programs face very different challenges and remedies. Social Security’s accounts are actually near long-term balance. The Congressional Budget Office puts the 75-year shortfall at only about one-third of 1 percent of projected gross domestic product.

Social Security is financed by taxes on wages — and since the mid-1970s, wage growth has stagnated. If median wages rose with productivity growth, as they did during the first three decades after World War II, Social Security would enjoy a big surplus. Even without a raise for working America, Social Security needs only minor adjustments.

Medicare really does face big deficits. But that’s because Medicare is part of a hugely inefficient, fragmented health insurance system. It makes no sense to “reform” Medicare in isolation.

If we just cap Medicare, needy seniors would get bare-bones care while more affluent people could supplement their insurance out of pocket. The decent cure for Medicare’s cost inflation lies in comprehensive universal health insurance so that the entire system is more efficient and less prone to inflation. You don’t hear many budget hawks supporting that brand of reform.

Read the whole article here.

Image courtesy of guardian.co.uk.

WATCH: RealNews Interviews Obama’s Challenge Author Robert Kuttner

Monday, February 23rd, 2009

In this 2-part video interview, The RealNews Network talks to economist Robert Kuttner, whose prescient book, Obama’s Challenge: America’s Economic Crisis and the Power of a Transformative Presidency, warned of the economic crisis and the need for a massive stimulative outlay from the government—spearheaded by this charismatic, popular, and influential president—before other economists even recognized the scale of the problem (and, indeed, before Obama had clinched his party’s nomination).

In it, Kuttner talks about why the current stimulus is a decent start (if not nearly enough), how Tim Geithner’s plan to rebuild the economic system exactly as it was is misguided at best, and why drastic times call for drastic measures.

Watch part 1:

Watch part 2:


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