Archive for August, 2009


Ted Kennedy Wanted the Public Option

Monday, August 31st, 2009

Much has been said and written about Ted Kennedy and his 46 year career in the US Senate. Many moving, emotionally stirring speeches have been made to honor this great man. But perhaps the most meaningful tribute would be to pass the health care bill created by his HELP committee—one that isn’t watered down in service of some imaginary bipartisan compromise. One that includes a strong public option to compete with private insurers and keep them from fleecing the American people.

Joe Conason of Salon.com writes:

It is true that Kennedy, the friendly warrior, excelled in bipartisanship. Nearly all of the domestic reforms mentioned here were sponsored by at least one Republican senator. But in every case, those stodgy conservatives were cajoled and whispered (and perhaps shamed) into venturing much closer to Kennedy’s perspective. He drew them toward him, invariably against their own habits, not by selling out his progressive goal, but by appealing to the decency he perceived in them.

Forty years ago he began the quest for universal healthcare that became the cause of his life when he introduced his first bill outlining that goal. His final bequest to the Senate is the Affordable Health Choices Act, his version of the Obama administration’s reform proposals, which was passed by the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee last month. Republicans now say that if Kennedy had not been forced by illness to relinquish the chairmanship of that committee, he would have negotiated away the strongest provisions of that bill to win passage.

Kennedy’s Republican friends should not make that disingenuous argument in his lamented absence. Lest there be any doubt about what he truly wanted, his bill includes a robust public option along with all the insurance reforms and cost controls that the president has endorsed since this process began.

How would he have handled the intransigence and dishonesty of the Republican opposition? We know that he could shout as well as whisper — and that he could be partisan as well as bipartisan. He believed that the time for incremental changes had passed. He was ready to fight. The tragedy of his death is not only that he didn’t see the triumph he had dreamed, but that he fell before he could lead the nation to that final victory. Now that victory will have to be won in his name.

Read the whole article here.

 

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LISTEN: Back to the Primitive—An Interview with Mat Stein

Monday, August 31st, 2009

What would you do if the energy grid failed tomorrow, shutting down all the things we take for granted? Perhaps that fancy iPhone could do some good converted into some kind of, I don’t know, garden trowel? …but I kind of doubt it.

Matthew Stein spoke to the Holistic Survival Guide’s Jason Hartman about what to do when technology fails. In fact, you could say Mat wrote the book on it. It’s called When Technology Fails, Revised and Expanded: A Manual for Self-Reliance, Sustainability, and Surviving the Long Emergency, and it’s the bible for emergency preparedness, with a heaping helping of advice on green and healthy living.

Listen Now

 

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On Creating an Intellectual Community Hub (Or, Why We Are So Money)

Sunday, August 30th, 2009

We must be doing something right, I guess.

You know how we hate to toot our own horn. I mean, sure, we’ve become something of a social media sustainability juggernaut, blazing a trail across the blogosphere (and the Twitterverse, and the Facebook…um, galaxy) with nothing but a staff of three dedicated team members, a couple of laptops, a coffee maker, and a ceaseless flow of “that’s what she said” jokes (mostly from our resident “she,” Makenna Goodman), but we don’t let it go to our heads.

Really, we owe it all to our readers and the wonderful green community, linking hands across cyberspace. Take it away, Gabriel!

It’s rare to find a content-producer that produces content in heaps of different topics, and yet, through them all, carries a theme that appeals to me. Take, for example, Your Favorite Band (which is undoubtedly cooler than My Favorite Band). My guess is that they have a common theme, something you really jive onto, that runs throughout their music. That theme is what makes even the duds tolerable.

This theme, of having an overall “good”-ness, is why I’ve been digging publisher Chelsea Green. I began exploring their books a while ago, and wrote a blog post on The Gort Cloud. As I dug deeper, I realized that this publisher, whose tagline is “The Politics and Practice of Sustainable Living,” is like My Favorite Band: a miss here and there, but by and large, an amazing repository of community engagement around sustainable living. I’ve short-listed below a couple “must-read” books I’ve really enjoyed.

Inquiries into the Nature of Slow Money: Investing as if Food, Farms, and Fertility Mattered - My bible, by a guy who knows better, Woody Tasch. This book, written by the former chairman of Investors’ Circle, addresses a “fiduciary responsibility that is not stuck in the industrial concepts of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, but which reflects the new economic, social and environmental realities of the 21st century.” Needless to say, with the problems being experienced across the economy the last year plus, these ideas could not come at a better time. Some of the ideas explored in the book include the notion of localized investments (something I’ve also explored in past posts, including on CSAs and community-supported businesses), and an investment fund with a much broader understanding of its desired return on investment (for example, adding “soil quality” into the mix). I am saddened that I shall miss the first national congress of Slow Money, taking place in September (if you go – let me know how it was!).

Read the whole article here.

 

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This Is Why Natural Beekeeping Is So Important

Sunday, August 30th, 2009

Scientists are finding that a number of factors are to blame for Colony Collapse Disorder, the affliction that’s been wiping out bees in the US and Europe. Unsurprisingly, industrial agriculture practices are a big culprit. The big smoking gun is the residue of multiple pesticides, which build up inside a honeycomb over time, as well as a weakened resistance to mites and other diseases.

PULLMAN, Washington, July 29, 2009 (ENS) — A microscopic pathogen and pesticides embedded in old honeycombs are two major contributors to the bee disease known as colony collapse disorder, which has wiped out thousands of beehives throughout the United States and Europe over the past three years, new research at Washington State University has confirmed.

Working on the project funded in part by regional beekeepers and WSU’s Agricultural Research Center, entomology professor Steve Sheppard and his team have narrowed the list of potential causes for colony collapse disorder.

“One of the first things we looked at was the pesticide levels in the wax of older honeycombs,” Sheppard said. Using combs contributed by U.S. Department of Agriculture, Sheppard found “fairly high levels of pesticide residue.”

Bees raised in those hives “had significantly reduced longevity,” he said.

One easy solution is for beekeepers to change honeycombs more often. In Europe, for example, apiarists change combs every three years.

“In the U.S., we haven’t emphasized this practice and there’s no real consensus about how often beekeepers should make the change,” said Sheppard. “Now we know that it needs to be more often.”

Many researchers are investigating colony collapse disorder because domestic honeybees are essential for a variety of agricultural crops in the United States. Beekeepers truck their hives cross country to pollinate almond groves in California, field crops and forages in the Midwest, apples and blueberries in the Northeast and citrus in Florida.

Read the whole article here.

 

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WATCH: Howard Dean & Rep. Moran Health Care Town Hall in Reston, VA

Saturday, August 29th, 2009

Howard Dean spoke with Rep. James Moran (D-VA) at a health care town hall in Reston, VA, and C-Span’s cameras were there to capture it.

Thousands of people descended on the town hall—protestors from both sides of the debate (those who want to fix health care, and those who don’t). Many of the protestors got loud and raucous, alternately jeering and applauding the former Governor. Dean was able to articulate his vision for health care reform without getting rattled by some of the uglier chants, and in the end he may have changed some minds and brought the issue into greater focus. (But who can say with the Fox-news, kill-granny, death-panels, don’t-socialize-my-social-security crowd?)

Look, change is hard. The reason that the Europeans have the system they have is because basically their health care system was destroyed during World War II, and it was put back together…by the government. The system in Britain was actually put in by one of the most conservative Prime Ministers in Britain’s history, Winston Churchill. And the reason was that when the system was destroyed in the bombings, they commandeered all the hospitals and put them all together to try to get people through the war, and they did. And so they started from a different place. We started from an employer-based system…

It is hard to change. A lot of this debate is about change. And the one thing that any doctor can tell you about change is that you never make real changes until the pain of staying the same exceeds the fear of change. And I think the pain of staying the same has exceeded the fear of change.

Watch Now

Howard Dean Remembers Ted Kennedy’s Charm and Grace

Saturday, August 29th, 2009

Howard Dean sent a reminiscence to Talking Points Memo earlier this week on the occasion of Senator Ted Kennedy’s Death. In it, he recalls the late Senator’s charm and grace, and his ability to win people over—even political enemies.

We will miss Senator Ted Kennedy as a nation, and I will miss him as a human being. Over the next few months, as we debate his life’s passion, which was Universal Health Care, we will feel his presence everywhere. He will be in the Senate Chamber, in the committee rooms, in the White House, and in the minds of most of the reporters old enough to have witnessed the trajectory of this extraordinary generation of America’s First Family from it’s beginning. Much has been written about Ted Kennedy already. He was indeed extraordinary. My mother, who was a solid Upper East Side Republican until 2004, once happened to sit next to him at a wedding of a mutual friend. She had never met him before. I’m sure the exchange was lively, and being a Dean, I doubt my mother gave him much quarter. A week later, a beautiful, kind, and very personal handwritten letter arrived from Ted Kennedy. My mother, like so many other Americans, was hooked by the Kennedy charm and grace.

Read the whole article here.

 

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David Goldhill: How American Health Care Killed My Father

Friday, August 28th, 2009

There’s another big problem with American health care, and it’s not the reform legislation that’s been grabbing all the headlines lately.

Hospital-borne infections (that’s infections that patients pick up at the hospital) kill more people every year than automobile accidents. Few people are aware of the breadth of the problem, and even fewer are lobbying for change.

David Goldhill, in The Atlantic, explains:

Almost two years ago, my father was killed by a hospital-borne infection in the intensive-care unit of a well-regarded nonprofit hospital in New York City. Dad had just turned 83, and he had a variety of the ailments common to men of his age. But he was still working on the day he walked into the hospital with pneumonia. Within 36 hours, he had developed sepsis. Over the next five weeks in the ICU, a wave of secondary infections, also acquired in the hospital, overwhelmed his defenses. My dad became a statistic—merely one of the roughly 100,000 Americans whose deaths are caused or influenced by infections picked up in hospitals. One hundred thousand deaths: more than double the number of people killed in car crashes, five times the number killed in homicides, 20 times the total number of our armed forces killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Another victim in a building American tragedy.

About a week after my father’s death, The New Yorker ran an article by Atul Gawande profiling the efforts of Dr. Peter Pronovost to reduce the incidence of fatal hospital-borne infections. Pronovost’s solution? A simple checklist of ICU protocols governing physician hand-washing and other basic sterilization procedures. Hospitals implementing Pronovost’s checklist had enjoyed almost instantaneous success, reducing hospital-infection rates by two-thirds within the first three months of its adoption. But many physicians rejected the checklist as an unnecessary and belittling bureaucratic intrusion, and many hospital executives were reluctant to push it on them. The story chronicled Pronovost’s travels around the country as he struggled to persuade hospitals to embrace his reform.

It was a heroic story, but to me, it was also deeply unsettling. How was it possible that Pronovost needed to beg hospitals to adopt an essentially cost-free idea that saved so many lives? Here’s an industry that loudly protests the high cost of liability insurance and the injustice of our tort system and yet needs extensive lobbying to embrace a simple technique to save up to 100,000 people.

And what about us—the patients? How does a nation that might close down a business for a single illness from a suspicious hamburger tolerate the carnage inflicted by our hospitals? And not just those 100,000 deaths. In April, a Wall Street Journal story suggested that blood clots following surgery or illness, the leading cause of preventable hospital deaths in the U.S., may kill nearly 200,000 patients per year. How did Americans learn to accept hundreds of thousands of deaths from minor medical mistakes as an inevitability?

Read the whole article here.

 

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New Study Suggests Smoking Marijuana Does Not Cause Lung Cancer

Friday, August 28th, 2009

In study after study, the causal relationship between cigarette smoking and lung cancer has been firmly established. Less so with marijuana. Smoking marijuana does damage cells in the lungs and airways—however, the damaged cells die rather than reproduce. They fail to become malignant.

In a 2005 study at UCLA, Professor Donald Tashkin’s research actually suggested that those who smoked marijuana as well as tobacco had a slightly lower risk of developing lung cancer than those who smoked tobacco only.

From Alternet:

One in three Americans will be afflicted with cancer, we are told by the government (as if it’s our immutable fate and somehow acceptable). Cancer is the second-leading cause of death in the U.S. and lung cancer the leading killer among cancers.

You’d think it would have been very big news in June 2005 when UCLA medical school professor Donald Tashkin reported that components of marijuana smoke — although they damage cells in respiratory tissue — somehow prevent them from becoming malignant. In other words, something in marijuana exerts an anti-cancer effect!

Tashkin has special credibility. He was the lead investigator on studies dating back to the 1970s that identified the components in marijuana smoke that are toxic. It was Tashkin et al. who published photomicrographs showing that marijuana smoke damages cells lining the upper airways. It was the Tashkin lab’s finding that benzpyrene — a component of tobacco smoke that plays a role in most lung cancers — is especially prevalent in marijuana smoke. It was Tashkin’s data showing that marijuana smokers are more likely than non-smokers to cough, wheeze, and produce sputum.

Tashkin reviewed his findings in April 2008, at a conference organized by “Patients Out of Time,” a reform group devoted to educating doctors and the public (as opposed to lobbying politicians). Some 30 MDs and nurses got continuing medical education credits for attending the event, which was held at Asilomar, on the Monterey Peninsula.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse, which supported Tashkin’s marijuana-related research over the decades, readily gave him a grant in 2002 to conduct a large, population-based, case-controlled study that would prove definitively that heavy, long-term marijuana use increases the risk of lung and upper-airways cancers.

What Tashkin and his colleagues found, however, disproved their hypothesis. (Tashkin is to marijuana as a cause of lung cancer what Hans Blix was to Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction — an honest investigator who set out to find something, concluded that it wasn’t there, and reported his results.)

Read the whole article here.

 

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VT Senator Bernie Sanders Statement on the Bernanke Nomination

Friday, August 28th, 2009

The Fed was asleep at the wheel as our country skidded off the highway and into the trough that’s come to be known as the Great Recession. The government—meaning the George W. Bush administration as well as the current one—then rewarded the huge corporations whose financial schemes and gambling got us into this mess in the first place by giving them few-strings-attached-bailouts and virtually no regulation or oversight: a dangerous return to the status quo.

To paraphrase a former President: Heck of a job, Bernanke!

Well, one Independent Senator isn’t happy. VT Senator Bernie Sanders blasted out this press release chastising the administration for continuing to choose someone who puts the interests of giant corporations above the interests of the working class.

BURLINGTON, Vt. – Aug. 25 – Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) today issued the following statement on the nomination of Ben S. Bernanke for another term as chairman of the Federal Reserve:

“As a result of the greed, irresponsibility and illegal behavior of Wall Street our country has experienced the worst economic decline since the Great Depression. Mr. Bernanke was head of the Fed and the nation’s chief economist as this crisis, driven by reckless speculation, developed. Tragically, like the rest of the Bush administration, he was asleep at the wheel during this period and did nothing to move our financial system onto safer grounds.

“As the middle class of this country continues to shrink, we need a chairman of the Federal Reserve who is more concerned about expanding the productive economy – increasing decent-paying jobs for all Americans – than continuing to fan the flames of Wall Street greed and outrageous compensation packages.”

Well said, Senator Sanders.

 

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Eliot Coleman on The Problem With Local Food

Thursday, August 27th, 2009

There’s a conference in Maine aimed at tackling the economics of local food. It’s more expensive than the cheap eats trucked in from Califronia, for one thing. But according to Mainer Eliot Coleman, farmer and author of The New Organic Grower, Four-Season Harvest and The Winter Harvest Handbook, local food is more expensive because it’s better. Which means spending more money on it now will save you money down the road.

From CommonDreams.org:

Only rich people can afford to eat locally grown, organic food. Have you heard that one before? I have, and it’s sure to come up during the “Can Maine Feed Itself?” keynote discussion taking place at next month’s Maine Fare festival in the midcoast.

The panel brings together a number of movers and shakers from Maine’s food scene for a conversation centered on how the state can become more self-reliant when stocking our grocery stores and filling our dinner plates.

According to well-known organic Maine farmer and author Eliot Coleman, who farms year-round in unheated greenhouses and will participate in the panel, the No. 1 barrier preventing more Mainers from eating food grown and raised locally is the competition from cheap eats trucked in from California.

A whole book could be written (and has been) about the reasons factory farms and agribusinesses can produce food that costs so little. However, the simple answer, as Coleman pointed out, includes physical scale, illegal immigrant laborers, polluting farm practices and government subsidies.

At the same time, the idea that only the well-off can eat fresh, locally grown eats ignores the obvious and inexpensive solution of growing your own garden. You can’t get any more local than food grown steps from your kitchen. And with seeds that sell for pennies apiece and with compost an essentially free fertilizer that anyone can make from table scraps and dried leaves, it becomes clear that price alone is not the true issue. [...]

Read the entire article here.


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