Archive for December, 2010

Dr. Paul Connett on “Toxic Tap Water”

Monday, December 13th, 2010

Davenport, Iowa’s The River Cities’ Reader interviewed Dr. Paul Connett on his new book, The Case Against Fluoride: How Hazardous Waste Ended Up in Our Drinking Water and the Bad Science and Powerful Politics That Keep It There, last week. Read the transcript of the interview below, or listen to the full audio file here.

Don’t Drink the Water? Author Paul Connett Wants People to Take a Fresh (or First) Look at Fluoridation

Written by Jeff Ignatius

If you’re approaching this article on water fluoridation with trepidation, Paul Connett knows how you feel.

“I didn’t want this issue,” said Connett, the co-author of the recently published book The Case Against Fluoride, in a phone interview last week.

“When my wife dumped a whole bunch of papers on my desk one afternoon in July 1996 and said, ‘Dear, would you read these papers?’” he recalled, “I said, ‘What is it? What’s it about?’ She says, ‘Fluoridation.’ I said, ‘Take it away. These people are crazy.’”

Connett already had a full-time job as a professor of chemistry at St. Lawrence University in Canton, New York. And for a decade he had been a vocal opponent of waste incineration, a cause that sent him around the world presenting lectures.“

I didn’t want a third issue,” Connett said. “I certainly didn’t want this one, which was stigmatized … as the province of a bunch of Flat Earth Society crazy people. And I’d succumbed to that same notion without doing any research.”

That night the Village of Canton was considering whether to continue fluoridation of the city’s drinking water. Connett said: “When I started to read the papers that she put there, my intention was as quickly as possible to find out where these crazy anti-fluoridationists had made some fundamental scientific mistakes and [determine] that there was nothing to worry about. … It didn’t take me long to realize that there were some very serious problems with that practice” of fluoridation.

He said he told his wife: “This is going to be easy. When they hear what I read this afternoon, there’s no way they’re going to continue fluoridation.”

Connett was wrong. The crusade to stop fluoridation of Canton’s drinking water took more than seven years after that first night. That initial meeting was what Connett called his “first shock. All the dentists and several doctors were lined up to give their complete, utter, confident assurance that this was the best thing since sliced bread. It was perfectly safe.”

After the meeting, Connett said, he approached one doctor who had spoken in favor of fluoridation and asked him to read three papers; the doctor said he didn’t have time. Connett replied, “You shouldn’t let these people believe that you’ve read the literature – and it’s your professional judgment that this is perfectly okay – when that’s obviously not the case.”

Yet that doctor was hardly alone in speaking without having reviewed the science behind fluoridation.“

That discussion on that night was a microcosm of what I was to see for the next 14 years – that local, state, and federal officials will go onto public platforms and make these absolutely, 100-percent-, 150-percent-confident statements that fluoridation is perfectly safe and perfectly effective,” Connett said. “And it’s almost to the point that they get some kind of commission every time they use the words ‘safe’ and ‘effective.’ It’s like a mantra – ‘safe and effective,’ ‘safe and effective.’ And they haven’t read the literature; they haven’t read it. And if they were to do so, they’d be utterly shocked at the way they’ve been corralled into supporting this nonsense.”

Continue reading this article at the River Cities’ Reader website.

The Case Against Fluoride by Paul Connett, James Beck, and Spedding Micklem, is available now.

George Lakoff: Untellable Truths

Saturday, December 11th, 2010

Democrats of all stripes have been so focused on details of policy that they have surrendered public political discourse to conservatives, and with it the key to the nation’s future.

Materialist Perspectives

The differences between Democratic progressives and the president over the tax deal the president has made with Republicans is being argued from a materialist perspective. That perspective is real. It matters who gets how much money and how our money is spent.

But what is being ignored is that the answer to material policy questions depends on how Americans understand the issues, that is, on how the issues are realized in the brains of our citizens. Such understanding is what determines political support or lack of it in all its forms, from voting to donations to political pressure to what is said in the media.

What policies are proposed and adopted depend on how Americans understand policy and politics. That understanding depends on communication. And it is in that the Democrats — both the president and his progressive critics — have surrendered. The Democrats have left effective communication to the conservatives, who have taken advantage of their superior communications all too well.

From the progressive viewpoint, the president keeps surrendering in advance — giving in to conservatives before he has to and hence betraying Democratic principles. From the president’s perspective he is not surrendering at all; instead he is a pragmatic incrementalist – getting the best deal he can for the poor and middle class one step at a time.

Progressives differ on the reasons for the president’s behavior. Either he has no backbone to stand up for what he believes in, or his actions define his beliefs and he is more conservative than those who voted for him thought.

The progressives’ economic policy arguments are sound: continuing reduced tax payments for the wealthy will not work as a serious economic stimulus and will greatly increase the deficit and make the economic picture worse. From a progressive moral perspective, it isn’t fair; it increases an economic disparity that is already much too large.

The president’s pragmatic incrementalist arguments seem reasonable from his perspective: He got more immediate money for the poor and middle class than he gave to the rich, and the poor and middle class need as much as possible now (pragmatism) and further incremental steps can be taken later (incrementalism).

Those are the materialist arguments among Democrats. I want to shift the frame to the major causal factor that is being ignored on both sides: the role of communication in shaping what Americans understand.

Helping the Other Side

As someone who studies how brains work and how language affects politics, I see things somewhat differently. From my perspective, there is a form of surrender in advance on both sides — a major communications surrender.

Let’s start with an example, the slogan “No tax cuts for millionaires.” First, “no.” As I have repeatedly pointed out, negating a frame activates the frame in the brains of listeners, as when Christine O’Donnell said “I am not a witch” or Nixon said “I am not a crook.” Putting “no” first activates the idea “Tax cuts for millionaires.”

Next, “millionaires.” Think of the tv show, “So you want to be a millionaire” or the movies “Slumdog Millionaire” and “How to Marry a Millionaire.” To most Americans, being a millionaire is a good thing to aspire to.

Then, there is “tax.” To progressives, taxes are forms of revenue allowing the government to do what is necessary for Americans as a whole — unemployment insurance, social security, health care, education, food safety, environmental improvements, infrastructure building and maintenance, and so on.

But the conservative message machine, over the past 30 years, has come to own the word “tax.” They have changed its meaning to most Americans. They have been able to make “tax” mean “money the government takes out of the pockets of people who have earned it in order to give it to people who haven’t earned it and don’t deserve it.” Thus, “tax relief” assumes that taxation is an affliction to be cured, and a “tax cut” is a good thing in general. Hence, conservatives make the argument, “No one should have their taxes raised.”

The conservative slogan activates the conservative view of taxes. But the progressive slogan “No tax cuts for millionaires” also activates the conservative view of taxes! The progressives are helping the conservatives.

The conservatives have a superior message machine: Dozens of think tanks with communications facilities, framing experts, training institutes, a national roster of speakers, booking agents to books their speakers in the media and civic groups, and owned medias like Fox News and a great deal of talk radio. Their audience will hear, over and over, “No one should have their taxes raised.”

There is no comparable progressive message machine. But even if one were to be built, the Democrats might still be using messages that are either ineffective or that help the conservatives. Why?

Language, The Brain, and Politics

When democratic political leaders go to college they tend to study things like political science, economics, law, and public policy. These fields tend to use a scientifically false theory of human reason — Enlightenment reason. It posits that reason is conscious, that it can fit the world directly, that it is logical (in the sense of mathematical logic), that emotion gets in the way of reason, that reason is there to serve self-interest, and that language is neutral and applies directly to the world.

The brain and cognitive sciences have shown that every part of this is false. Reason is physical, it does not fit the world directly but only through the brain and body, it uses frames and conceptual metaphors (which are neural circuits grounded in the body), it requires emotion, it serves empathic connections and moral values as well as self-interest, and language fits frames in the brain not the external world in any direct way.

Conservatives who are savvy about marketing their ideas are closer to the way people really think than Democrats are, because people who teach marketing tend to be up on how the brain and language work. And over the past three decades they have not just built an effective message machine, but they repeated messages that have changed the brains of a great many Americans.

Democrats can do effective messaging while being sincere and factual. But this takes insight into the nature of unconscious reason and the role of language.

It’s Complicated

I am often asked, “Is there a slogan I can use tomorrow that will turn things around?” Certainly there are better things that can be said tomorrow. But things don’t turn around so quickly. There is a lot do and to bear in mind over the long haui. Here is a brief list.

• Communication is a long-term effort. Political leaders rarely say anything that isn’t already in public discourse. That means that people who are not in office have to start effective communication efforts, including new ways of thinking and talking.

• All politics is moral. Policies are proposed because they are assumed to be right, not wrong. The moral values behind a policy always should be made clear.

• Conservatives and progressives have two different conceptions of morality.

• Democrats need to unite behind a simple set of moral principles and to create an effective language to express them. President Obama in his campaign expressed those principles simply, as the basis of American democracy. (1) Empathy — Americans care about each other. (2) Responsibility, both personal and social. We have to act on that care. (3) The ethic of excellence. We have to make ourselves better so we can make our families, our communities, our country and the world better. Government has special missions: to protect and empower our citizens to have at least the necessities. I don’t know any Democrats who don’t believe in these principles. They need to be said out loud and repeated over and over.

• Leaders need a movement to get out in front of. Not a coalition, a movement. We have the simple principles. Those of us outside of government have to organize that unified movement, and not be limited by specific issue areas. The movement is about progressivism, not just about environmentalism, or social justice, or labor, or education, or health, or peace. The general principles govern them all.

• Many people are “bi-conceptual,” this is, they have both conservative and progressive moral systems and apply them in different issue areas. These are sometimes called “independents,” “swing voters,” moderates,” “the center,” etc. They are the crucial segment of the electorate to address. Each moral system is represented by a circuit in their brains. The more one circuit is activated and strengthened the more the other is weakened. Conservatives have moved them to the right by repeating conservative moral messages 24/7. The Democrats need to activate and strengthen the progressive moral circuitry in their brains. That means using only progressive language and progressive arguments, and not moving to the right or using the right’s language. This is the opposite of “moving to the center.” There is no ideology of the center, just combinations of progressive and conservative views.

• Don’t use conservative language, since it will activate their moral system in the brains of listeners. Don’t try to negate their arguments. That will only make their arguments more prominent. Use your own language and your own arguments. Truth squads and wonk rooms are insufficient.

• Remember that in the conservative moral system, the highest moral principle is to preserve, defend, and extend the conservative moral system itself. For example, from their perspective, individual responsibility is moral; social responsibility is not.

• Learn the difference between framing and spin/propaganda. Framing is normal; we think in frames. If you want to formulate a policy that is understandable, the policy must be framed so it came be readily communicated. Framing precedes effective policy. When you use framing to express what you really believe and what the truth is, you are just being an effective communicator. Framing can also be misused for the sake of propaganda. I strongly recommend against it.

• Educate the press and the pollsters to all of these matters.

• Find a part to play in getting an effective communications system going!

For a detailed background, take a look at my book, The Political Mind.

Untellable Truths

The conservative message machine has so dominated political discourse that they have changed the meaning of words and made some truths untellable by political leaders in present discourse. It takes a major communication effort to change that.

Here are just a few examples of presently untellable truths:

• There is a Principle of Conservation of Government: If conservatives succeed in cutting government by the people for the public good, our lives will still be governed, but now by corporations. We will have government by corporations for corporate profit. It will not be a kind government. It will be a cruel government, a government of foreclosures, outsourcing, union busting, outrageous payments for every little thing, and pension eliminations.

• The moral missions of government include the protection and empowerment of citizens. Protection includes health care, social security, safe food, consumer protection, environmental protection, job protection, etc. Empowerment is what makes a decent life possible – roads and infrastructure, communication and energy systems, education, etc. No business can function without them. This has not been discussed adequately. Government serving those moral missions is what makes freedom, fairness, and prosperity possible. Conservatives do not believe in those moral missions of government, and when in power, they subvert the ability of government to carry out those moral missions.

• The moral missions of government impose a distinction between necessities and services. Government has a moral mission to provide necessities: Adequate food, water, housing, transportation, education, infrastructure (roads and bridges, sewers, public buildings), medical care, care for elders, the disabled, environmental protection, food safety, clean air, and so on. Necessities should never be subordinated to private profit. The public should never be put at the mercy of private profit. Public funds for necessities should never be diverted to private profit.

• Services are very different; they start where necessities end. Private service industries exist to provide services — car rentals, parking lots, hair salons, gardening, painting, plumbing, fast food, auto repair, clothes cleaning, and so on. It is time to stop speaking of government “services” and speak instead of government providing necessities. Similarly, “spending” does not suggest providing necessities. “Spending” suggests services that could just as well be eliminated or provided by private industry. Economists should drop the term “spending” when discussing necessities.

• The market is supposed to be “efficient” at distributing goods and services, and sometimes, with appropriate competition, it is. But the market is most often inefficient at proving necessities, because every dollar that goes to profit is a dollar that does not go to necessities. Health care is a perfect example.

• Public servant pensions have been earned. Public servants have taken lower salaries in return for better benefits later in life. They have earned those pensions through years of hard work at low salaries. Pensions were ways for both corporations and governments to pay lower salaries. Responsible institutions, public and private, took the money saved by committing to pensions and invested it so that the money would be there later. Those corporation and governments that took the money and ran are now going broke. Those institutions (both companies and governments) are now blaming the unions who negotiated deferred earnings in the form of pensions or benefits for the lack of money to pay pensions. But the institutions themselves (e.g., general motors) are to blame for not putting those deferred salary payments aside and investing them safely.

• Education is a public good, not a private good. It benefits all of us to live in a country with educated people. It benefits corporations to have educated employees. It benefits democracy to have educated citizens. But conservatives are only considering education as a means to make money and hence as a private good. This leads them to eliminate the public funding of education, which is a major disaster for all of us, not just those who will either be denied an education or who will be forced into unconscionable debt.

• Huge discrepancies in wealth are a danger to democracy and a cause for major public alarm. The enormous accumulation of wealth at the top of American society means unfair access to scarce resources, a restriction on access to necessities for many, and a grossly unfair distribution of power — power over the media and political power.

• Tax “cuts,” “breaks,” and “loopholes” sound good (wouldn’t you like one?) even for super-wealthy individuals and corporations. What they really mean is that money is being transferred from poorer people to richer people: The poor and middle are giving money to the rich! Why? Money that would otherwise go to their necessities: food, education, health, housing, safety, and so on is instead going into the pockets of super-wealthy people who don’t need it.

• Markets in a democracy have a fundamentally moral as well as economic function. Working people who produce goods and services are necessary for businesses and should be paid in line with profits and productivity. Salary scales in private industry are a matter of public, not just private concern. Middle-class salaries have not gone up in 30 years, while the income of the top 1 percent has zoomed upward astronomically. This is a moral issue.

• Carbon-based fuels — oil, coal, natural gas — are deadly. They bring death to people and animals and destruction to nature. We are not paying for their true cost because they are being subsidized: tens of billions of dollars for naval protection of tankers, hundreds of billions for oil leases, hundreds of billions in destruction of nature, as in the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska coast. Death comes from the poisoning of air and water through pollution and natural gas frakking. And global warming pollution destroys nature itself — the ice cap, the creation of violent storms, floods, deserts, the blowing up of hilltops. The salesmen of death — the oil and coal companies — are profiting hugely from our payouts to them via subsidies and high prices. And with the money ordinary citizens are giving to them in subsidies, they are corrupting the political process, influencing political leaders not to deal with global warming — our greatest threat. We are dependent on them for energy, to a large extent because they have politically blocked the development of alternatives for decades.

• What is called “school failure” is actually a failure of citizens to pay for and do what is needed for excellent schools: early childhood education, better training and pay for teachers, a culture of learning in place a culture of entertainment, a poverty-free economy.

• Taxpayers pay for business perks. Because business can deduct the costs of doing business, taxpayers wind up paying a significant percentage of business write-offs — extravagant offices, business cars and jets, first-class and business-class flights, meetings at expensive lodges and spas, and so on. Businesses regularly rip off taxpayers through tax deductions.

• The economic crisis and the ecological crisis are the same crisis. It has been caused by short-term greed. Thomas Friedman has described it well. The causes of both are the same: Underestimation of risk. Privatization of profit. Socialization of Loss. But that truth lies outside of public discourse.

• Low-paid immigrant workers make the lifestyles of the middle and upper classes possible. Those workers deserve gratitude — as well as health care, education for their kids, and decent housing.

Notice that it takes a paragraph to tell each of these truths. Each paragraph creates a frame required for the truth to be told. Words are defined in terms of such conceptual frames. Without the frames in common understanding, there are presently no simple commonplace words to express the frames. Such words have to be invented and will only come into common use when these presently untellable truths become commonplace truths. Try to imagine how public understanding would have to be enhanced for expressions like the following to come into normal public discourse:

• greed crisis in place of economic crisis

• blessed immigrants in place of illegal immigrants

• government for profit in place of privatization

• public theft in place of tax breaks

• failing citizens in place of failing schools

• corporate cruelty in place of profit maximization

• deadly coal in place of clean coal

Presidents can have a discourse-changing power if they know how to use it and care to use it. But they cannot do it alone.

If there is a teachable communication moment for President Obama, this is it. Bring back “empathy” — “the most important thing my mother taught me.” Speak of “empathy” for “people who are hurting.” Say again how empathy is basis of democracy (“caring for your fellow citizens”), how we have a responsibility to act on that empathy: social as well as personal responsibility. Bring the central role of empathy in democracy to the media. And make it clear that personal responsibility alone is anti-patriotic, the opposite of what America is fundamentally about. That is the first step in telling our most important untellable truths. And it is a necessary step in loosening the conservative grip on public discourse.
For videos of the president speaking about empathy, Google: Obama Empathy Youtube, and Obama Empathy Speeches.

Read the original article on The Huffington Post.

George Lakoff is the author of Don’t Think of an Elephant!

Bye Bye, Miss American Empire – Can We Talk About Seccession Now?

Friday, December 10th, 2010

The following is an excerpt from Bye Bye, Miss American Empire: Neighborhood Patriots, Backcountry Rebels, and Their Underdog Crusades to Redraw America’s Political Map, written by Bill Kauffman, that appeared originally on

Norman Mailer, the novelist and pugilist whose 1969 campaign for mayor of New York City was the most articulate and pugnacious and inspiring secession episode of the twentieth century, called himself a “left conservative.” He was not playing the goofy juxtaposition game. Rather, Mailer acknowledged that “the Left has been absolutely right on some critical problems of our times, and the conservatives have been altogether correct about one enormous matter — which is that the federal government has no business whatever in local affairs.”

For Mailer, secession is neither left nor right but a vivifying amalgam of both. Or maybe it is a refreshing embrace of neither. One cannot, after all, stand on two feet while listing badly to either side.

From Greenwich Village to Canarsie, Mailer preached the righteousness of local self-government to bemused urban leftists, who were not always receptive audiences. “Radicals seem forever unable to understand that states’ rights can be invoked and honored to create a Socialist community as well as to defend slavery (or other conservative and reactionary objectives),” wrote William Appleman Williams, exasperation rising from the page.2 So wed has the modern left been to centralized authority that it hesitates to use the most efficacious tools at hand to Fight the Power on a variety of fronts, from the deployment of oxymoronical state National Guards to desert sands to the federal nullification of state drug laws. In the 1990s, inspired by the magnificent dissolution of the Soviet Empire, Americans started asking hard but edifying questions about self-determination for places as diverse as Northern California, West Kansas, and Upstate New York. These corners of America were not seeking to leave the country. Instead, they wanted to redeem certain American promises whose redemption was not possible for citizens in, say, Yreka (population seven thousand), in a California of thirty-five-million-plus people.

Establishment liberals and empire-minded conservatives–which is to say the entire spectrum of permissible opinion in the land of the fee–were not amused. Secession, lectured Peter Overby of Common Cause, “leads down a dead-end alley, falsely promising escape from a world plagued by lousy schools, higher taxes, rising crime and racial tensions.” The compulsively coercive communitarian sociologist Amitai Etzioni said that secessionists “selfishly promote a smaller community.” Only a man who is part of no community at all would use such phraseology.

Yet if the captive nations of the Eastern Bloc could throw off centralized tyranny, why not Chemung County, New York? The Soviet Constitution had provided that “each Union Republic shall retain the right freely to secede from the USSR.” This was the meaningless paper guarantee to end all meaningless paper guarantees, but the fifteen Soviet republics did indeed secede in 1990-91. Gorbachev was no Abe Lincoln, that’s for sure. Lithuanians are forever grateful.

Somehow the fact that Latvia and Estonia and the Soviet Muslim-stans seceded from the USSR never quite penetrated the American dome. After all, secession is bad. Besides, other red devils had learned well the lessons of the Civil War. Zhu Rongii, Chinese premier, responding to a question about China’s intentions toward Taiwan at an April 8, 1999, press conference with President Clinton, said, “Abraham Lincoln, in order to maintain the unity of the United States . . . resorted to the use of force . . . so, I think, Abraham Lincoln, president, is a model, is an example.” That is a jujitsu master.

Secession may be an act of desperation but at its best it is animated by passion and enlivened by wit. For what good is ever accomplished without laughter and joy? Grave ideologues and humorless commissars of acceptable thought will never be among secession’s constituency. They are the prison guards keeping the rabble from watering the tree of liberty with the blood of tyrants, in Mr. Jefferson’s sanguinary and sanguine image.

We are a country born in secession against a distant colonial power. The Declaration of Independence asserts that “Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed,” and that “whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it.” This does not imply the perpetuity of established states; should a government commit “a long Train of Abuses and Usurpations,” the people have not only the right but the duty to throw it off. To secede means to withdraw. It is not self-effacement; the seceding party does not disappear. It simply removes itself from an arrangement it no longer finds satisfactory and sets up another.

While the Constitution does not expressly forbid the secession of a state from the union, it doesn’t make a provision for breaking away, either. The Berlin-born legal scholar Francis Lieber told the people of his adopted state of South Carolina in 1851 that the “absence of all mention of secession” in the Constitution “must be explained on the same ground on which the omission of parricide in the first Roman penal laws was explained–no one thought of such a deed.” Perhaps. Or maybe the entrance into a compact implies the right of exit, which need not be codified.

Thus the legal confusion, not to mention carnage, of 1861, when the Civil War erupted over the South’s desire to secede–in order, it must be said, to protect slavery. Happily for the future states of West New York and Jefferson, however, Article IV, Section 3, of the US Constitution makes state partition a straightforward affair:

New states may be admitted by the Congress into this union; but no new state shall be formed or erected within the jurisdiction of any other state; nor any state be formed by the junction of two or more states, or parts of states, without the consent of the legislatures of the states concerned as well as the Congress.

Four states have been formed in this way: Vermont out of New York, Kentucky out of Virginia, Maine out of Massachusetts, and, most recently, West Virginia, which was sliced from the Old Dominion in 1863. The birth of West Virginia was problematic, if illuminating. Shall we take a quick spin down those country roads toward Almost Heaven?

The western part of Virginia, mountainous and inhospitable to slavery, was conservative unionist territory. Neither abolitionist nor secessionist, its “peasantry of the West” had voted by a margin of about three to one against the Virginia Ordinance of Secession. (The margin of rejection was closer–34,000 to 19,000–in the counties, not all of them northwestern, that eventually made up the state of West Virginia.)

Western Virginia unionists organized a ramshackle government and sent representatives and senators to the US Congress, which recognized them as the rightful delegates from Virginia. The mountaineers petitioned Washington for admission as a new state. The proposed boundaries were highly questionable: Half the counties of what became West Virginia had supported the secession ordinance and therefore belonged in the Confederate State of Virginia.

Attorney General Edward Bates advised President Lincoln that the creation of West Virginia was clearly unconstitutional, for the legislature of Virginia had not given its consent. Thaddeus Stevens, the South-hating Pennsylvania Radical Republican who got off one of the all-time deathbed lines (“It is not my appearance but my disappearance that troubles me”), agreed with Attorney General Bates but supported admission: “I say then that we may admit West Virginia as a new state, not by virtue of any provision of the Constitution but under our absolute power which the laws of war give us. I shall vote for this bill upon that theory and upon that alone, for I will not stultify myself by supposing that we have any warrant in the Constitution for this proceeding.”

The “absolute power which the laws of war give us”: Muzak to imperial ears! War is a warrant–a limitless warrant. Abraham Lincoln took the Stevens view. When bullets fly, constitutional niceties go with them. “The division of a state is dreaded as a precedent,” explained the president–but why? Two states instead of one made sense. Surely God intended West Virginia, else He would not have put the Allegheny Mountains betwixt it and Virginia. Moreover, if Virginia’s rebellion against the union were successful, its western counties would have been transferred, against their will, into a confederacy to which they had not given their assent.

“It is said that the admission of West Virginia,” wrote President Lincoln, “is secession, and tolerated only because it is our secession. [Undeniably true, by the way.] Well, if we call it by that name, there is still difference enough between secession against the constitution, and secession in favor of the constitution.” This is Abe at his most, ah, flexible.

West Virginia came into the union as the thirty-fifth state on June 20, 1863, “the bastard child of a political rape” as former Virginia governor and Confederate general Henry A. Wise crudely observed. It wasn’t pretty, but if mountaineers could do it, why not Yoopers and other outnumbered outliers today?

Contra Lincoln, the secission of states is a profound affirmation of the American ideal of local self-government. Bigness is just not compatible with self-rule. Thomas Jefferson wrote James Monroe in 1786: “Considering the American character in general . . . a State of such extent as one hundred and sixty thousand square miles [roughly the size of California] would soon crumble into little ones.” That California, for example, has not crumbled suggests a sorry decline in the “American character in general” to which Jefferson adverted.

Now, as for states leaving altogether . . .

Just what is so eternal about the American union anyway? As Paul C. Nagel wrote in his study of the idea of union in antebellum America, “What Americans of the late eighteenth century considered to be simply one means for confronting common problems gradually became an end, an ultimate, an embodiment of society.” Union began as a strategic imperative. It became, in President Lincoln’s seraphic design, a perpetual design to be preserved by “the better angels of our nature.” Nary a cherubim had been present three-quarters of a century earlier at Independence Hall in Philadelphia. The undying and indivisible nature of the American union was not a subject anyone at all dwelled upon during the Constitutional Convention of 1787, when fifty-five delegates convened to revise the Articles of Confederation — the first American constitution, the “firm league of friendship” that the thirteen American states had formed during the Revolution — but scrapped the Articles altogether in favor of the Constitution, which Patrick Henry called “the most fatal plan that could possibly be conceived to enslave a free people.” The brilliant and bibulous Maryland delegate Luther Martin, appalled at the consolidationist scheme offered by James Madison and the Virginians, said that “he had rather see partial confederacies take place, than the plan on the table.”

Madison replied that partial confederacies or a “total separation” from one another “would be truly deplorable, & those who might be accessory to either, could never be forgiven by their Country, nor by themselves.” Piling on, New York’s Alexander Hamilton added that one consequence of “a dissolution of the Union” would be a North America forever at war with itself, as its various confederacies made alliances with rival European powers. As if to validate Hamilton, Gunning Bedford of Delaware warned the larger states that unless they acquiesced in the matter of equal representation of states in the national legislature, “the small ones will find some foreign ally of more honor and good faith, who will take them by the hand and do them justice.” A North America of two or more confederacies was not regarded on all hands as a dread eventuality to be avoided at all costs, but the overwhelming sentiment of the Constitutional Convention was for a union of the thirteen states as well as the inevitable western additions. The matter of a state withdrawing from the union was never brought up in Philadelphia. Yet to assert the union’s perpetuity would have seemed risibly presumptuous. As Richard Weaver wrote of the states, “Had they been told they were entering a door which could never be opened again, it is questionable whether a single one would have entered.”

Nathaniel Gorham of Massachusetts, an advocate of the new Constitution, conceded that “the States as now confederated have no doubt a right to refuse to be consolidated, or to be formed into any new system.” He hoped they would see the light and come together, but such linkage could hardly be expected to last until the end of time. He asked the Constitutional Convention on August 8, 1787, “Can it be supposed that this vast Country including the Western territory will 150 years hence remain one nation?” Impossible! Surely the continent would fracture into republics of a manageable size; no leviathan could span the endless America. It did remain one nation, of course — but at the cost of half a million dead.

Read the original excerpt on

Bill Kauffman’s Bye Bye, Miss American Empire is available now.

Bruce Levine: 5 Myths About Depression Treatments – Good News for Critically Thinking Depression Sufferers

Thursday, December 9th, 2010

A warning: for people satisfied with their standard depression treatments, debunking myths about them may be troubling. However, for critically thinking depression sufferers who have not been helped by antidepressants, psychotherapy, or other standard treatments, discovering truths about these treatments can provide ideas about what may actually work for them.

Critical thinkers have difficulty placing faith in any depression treatment because science tells them that these treatments often work no better than placebos or nothing at all, and if one lacks faith in adepression treatment,it is not likely to be effective. In fact, it is belief and faith—or what scientists call “expectations” and the “placebo effect”—that is mostly responsible for any depression treatment working. Critical-thinkers can find a way out of depression when their critical thinking about depression treatments is validated and respected, and they are challenged to think more critically about their critical thinking.

Myth 1: Antidepressants Are More Effective than Placebos

Many depressed people report that antidepressants have been effective for them, but do antidepressants work any better than a sugar pill? Researcher Irving Kirsch (professor of psychology at the University of Hull in the United Kingdom as well as professor emeritus at the University of Connecticut and author of The Emperor’s New Drugs) has been trying to answer that question for a significant part of his career.

In 2002, Kirsch and his team at the University of Connecticut examined 47 depression treatment studies that had been sponsored by drug companies on the antidepressants Prozac, Paxil, Zoloft, Effexor, Celexa, and Serzone. Many of these studies had not been published, but all had been submitted to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), so Kirsch used the Freedom of Information Act to gain access to all the data. He discovered that in the majority of the trials, antidepressants failed to outperform sugar pill placebos.

“All antidepressants,” Kirsch reported in 2010, “including the well-known SSRIs [selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors], had no clinically significant benefit over a placebo.” While in aggregate, antidepressants slightly edge out placebos, the difference is so unremarkable that Kirsch and others describe it as “clinically negligible.”

Why are so many doctors unaware of the lack of superiority of antidepressants as compared to placebos? The answer became clear in 2008 when researcher and physician Erick Turner (currently at the Department of Psychiatry and Center for Ethics in Health Care, Oregon Health and Science University) discovered that antidepressant studies with favorable outcomes were far more likely to be published than those with unfavorable outcomes. Analyzing published and unpublished antidepressant studies registered with the FDA between 1987-2004, Turner found that 37 of 38 studies having positive results were published; however, Turner reported, “Studies viewed by the FDA as having negative or questionable results were, with 3 exceptions, either not published (22 studies) or published in a way that, in our opinion, [falsely] conveyed a positive outcome (11 studies).”

Myth 2: If the First Antidepressant Fails, Another Antidepressant Will Likely Succeed

In The Noonday Demon, the popular 2001 book about depression, writer and depression sufferer Andrew Solomon repeated the then urban legend that “more than 80 percent of depressed patients are responsive to medication.” Solomon accurately cites a journal article that states this statistic; however, following the “reference trail,” I discovered that the journal article that Solomon cited refers to a second article for evidence of this statistic, but this second journal article mentions nothing about 80 percent of depressed patients responding to some medication.

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) was aware that there was no research to back up the assertion that 80 percent of depressed patients improve if they keep trying different medications, so NIMH funded “Sequential Treatment Alternatives to Relieve Depression” (STAR*D), the largest ever study of sequential depression treatments. STAR*D results were published in 2006.

In Step One of STAR*D, all depressed patients were given the antidepressant Celexa, and in Step Two, patients who failed to respond to Celexa were divided into different groups and received other treatments (mostly different drug treatments) in place of or in addition to Celexa. If their second treatment failed, there was a third and, if necessary, a fourth treatment step.

In every STAR*D treatment step, remission rates were either equal to or significantly lower than the customary placebo performance in other antidepressant studies, but to the exasperation of many scientists, there was no placebo control in this $35 million U.S. taxpayer funded STAR*D study. (STAR*D researchers disclosed receiving consulting and speaker fees from the pharmaceutical companies which manufacture the antidepressants studied in STAR*D.)

In March 2006, NIMH triumphantly announced that 50 percent of depressed people saw remission of symptoms after the first two STAR*D steps. However, NIMH failed to mention in its press release that in the same time it took to complete these first two steps—slightly over 6 months—previous research shows that depressed people receiving no treatment at all have a spontaneous remission rate of 50 percent.

In November 2006, following the completion of all four STAR*D steps, STAR*D authors claimed a 67 percent cumulative remission rate, which again exasperated many scientists because this number failed to incorporate STAR*D’s extremely high relapse and dropout rates. In an American Journal of Psychiatry editorial that accompanied STAR*D authors’ report, J. Craig Nelson, M.D, stated, “I found a cumulative sustained recovery rate of 43 percent after four treatments, using a method similar to the authors but taking relapse rates into account.” However, even 43 percent turns out to be an inflated rate.

Separate analyses of STAR*D in 2010 by psychologist Ed Pigott and medical reporter Robert Whitaker revealed that STAR*D researchers had inflated remission numbers by switching mid-study to a more lenient measurement, and also by including patients who were not depressed enough at baseline to meet study criteria. But even taking the STAR*D data as is, Pigott’s analysis revealed that less than 3 percent of the entire group of depressed patients who began the STAR*D study can be ascertained as having a sustained remission (i.e., actually participated in the final assessment without relapsing and/or dropping out).

Myth 3: Electroconvulsive Treatment (ECT) is an Effective Last Resort

Andrew Solomon in The Noonday Demon alsostates, “ECT seems to have some significant impact between 75 and 90 percent of the time. About half of those who have improved on ECT still feel good a year after treatment.” Is ECT really that effective?

In 2004, researcher Joan Prudic, M.D. and her team at New York State Psychiatric Institute conducted a major study of ECT, which involved 347 patients at seven hospitals. Reported were both the immediate outcomes and the outcomes over a 24-week follow-up period. With respect to immediate outcomes, Prudic reported: “In contrast to the 70 to 90 percent remission rates expected with ECT, remission rates, depending on criteria, were 30.3 to 46.7 percent.” Even worse for ECT advocates, Prudic noted that, “10 days after ECT, patients had lost 40 percent of the improvement.”

There are also studies comparing ECT with a placebo (called “sham ECT”). In sham ECT, patients receive muscle-relaxing and anesthetizing drugs that routinely accompany ECT, and they are hooked up to the ECT apparatus, but they receive no electric voltage. Psychiatrist Colin Ross reports, “No study has demonstrated a significant difference between real and placebo (sham) ECT at 1 month post-treatment.”

Myth 4: Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) is the Best Psychotherapy for Depression

First, the good news about CBT. The only non-drug treatment examined in STAR*D was a form of cognitive therapy (which was not fully detailed by STAR*D authors and only administered in Step Two). Among those who failed Celexa in the first step, three groups in Step Two switched from Celexa to one of three antidepressants, and their remission rates ranged from 25 to 26.6 percent; but one group in Step Two switched from Celexa to cognitive therapy, and its remission rate was 41.9 percent. STAR*D researchers did not assess whether any differences in treatment effectiveness were statistically significant.

Another group in Step Two maintained Celexa and added cognitive therapy, and this “Celexa plus cognitive therapy” group’s remission rate was 29.4 percent, not as high as the group that received cognitive therapy without medication. This begs the question: Is it also a myth that “antidepressants plus psychotherapy” works better than either treatment alone? Research psychologist David Antonuccio at the University of Nevada School of Medicine reports, “Combined psychotherapy and drug treatment do not appear to be superior to therapy or drug treatment alone.”

What psychotherapy is best for depression? While Americans hear most about CBT, it turns out that CBT or some form of cognitive therapy is no more effective for depression than any of several other types of psychotherapy. In 2008, psychologists Pim Cuijpers and Annemicke van Straten at the University of Amsterdam reported on a meta-analysis of 53 studies, each of which compared two or more different types of psychotherapy for depression. Included were varieties of “cognitive-behavior therapy,” “psychodynamic therapy,” “behavioral activation therapy,” “social skills training,” “problem-solving therapy,” “interpersonal therapy,” and “nondirective supportive therapy.” The major finding? “No large differences in efficacy between major psychotherapies for mild to moderate depression.”

So, if psychotherapy technique is not all that important, what is? Psychologist Bruce Wampold at the University of Wisconsin reviewed the psychotherapy outcome literature, examining hundreds of studies and meta-analyses, for his book The Great Psychotherapy Debate. Wampold unequivocally states that outcome effectiveness does not depend on the specific techniques of psychotherapy but instead depends on so-called “non-specific” factors such as the nature of the alliance between therapist and their client, and clients’ confidence in the therapy and in their therapist. “Simply stated,” Wampold concludes, “the client must believe in the treatment or be led to believe in it.”

Myth 5: No Treatment for Depression Works

In April 2002, an NIMH-funded study on the antidepressant Zolof, the herb St. John’s wort, and a placebo had some curious results. The findings were that 32 percent of placebo-treated patients experienced remission, better than the 25 percent remission for the Zoloft-treated patients or the 24 percent remission for the St. John’s wort-treated patients. Most scientists would say that this study shows that neither Zoloft nor St. John’s wort worked, but those subjects who had positive outcomes with these two treatments would disagree. So, does this study show that antidepressants and St. John’s wort are not helpful, or does it show that “expectations,” belief,” and “faith” are the likely factors that make all treatments work?

When assessing whether a specific treatment is effective, scientists are trained to rule out the effect of expectations. Researchers evaluate a depression treatment as effective if, in a controlled study, the treatment outcome is significantly better than a placebo. However, the reality of depression treatments is that expectations, faith, belief, and the placebo effect are—far and away—the most important reasons why anything works.

In 2004, Heather Krell, M.D. and her group at the University of California in Los Angeles examined the influence of patient expectations on the effectiveness of an experimental antidepressant. They found that among those depressed patients expecting that the medication would be very effective, 90 percent had a positive response; while among those expecting the medication would be somewhat effective, only 33 percent had a positive response. No depressed people were included in this study who expected the experimental drug to be ineffective, but such nonbelievers, in my experience, rarely report a positive response with antidepressants. All treatments can work, but rarely do so if one doesn’t believe in them.

A Path for Treatment Resisters: Critical Thinking about Critical Thinking

Critical thinking and an absence of self-deception are crucial for success in many areas of life, but these same talents can be problematic with respect to depression. A more accurate notion of how truly powerless one is in a situation (such as family, an organization, or society) can result in a greater feeling of helplessness, pain, and depression.

From several classic studies, we know that moderately depressed people are, in a sense, more critically thinking than are nondepressed people. These studies show that depressed people are more accurate than are nondepressed people in both their assessment of control over events and in judging people’s attitudes toward them. Researchers Lauren Alloy and Lyn Abramson at the University of Pennsylvania in 1979, studying nondepressed and depressed subjects who played a rigged game in which they had no actual control, found that depressed subjects more accurately evaluated their lack of control when either losing or winning. And researcher Peter Lewinsohn at the University of Oregon in 1980, found that depressed subjects judge other people’s attitudes toward them more accurately than nondepressed subjects.

Critical thinking also creates a problem for depression treatment, as skepticism makes one stubbornly resistant to much of what helps others. Specifically, to the extent one has uncritical faith in a treatment, it is far more likely to be experienced as successful; but to the extent that one is more skeptical about the effectiveness of treatment, one is less likely to have expectations that it will be effective, and this becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy.

Before modern research borne out this problematic relationship between depression and critical thinking, the American psychologist and philosopher William James (1842-1910) recognized this reality based on his personal experience. James had a history of severe depression, which helped fuel some of his greatest wisdom as to how to overcome depression.

In The Thought and Character of William James, Ralph Barton Perry’s classic biography on his teacher, in the chapter “Depression and Recovery,” we learn that James at age 27 described himself as going through a period of a “disgust for life” in which Perry describes as an “ebbing of the will to live. . . . a personal crisis that could only be relieved by philosophical insight.” What was James’s transformative insight?

James was a critical thinker and had no stomach for smiley-faced positive thinking, but he also concluded that his pessimism might just destroy him. With his critical thinking, he came quite pragmatically to “believe in belief.” He continued to maintain that one cannot choose to believe in whatever one wants (one cannot choose to believe that 2 + 2 = 5); however, he concluded that there is a range of human experience in which one can choose beliefs. He came to understand that, “Faith in a fact can help create the fact.” So, for example, a belief that one “has a significant contribution to make to the world” can keep one from committing suicide during a period of deep despair, and remaining alive makes it possible to in fact make a significant contribution.

Critical thinkers are skeptics who have difficulty with belief and faith, but depression treatments work to the extent that one has faith in them. Instead of viewing themselves as failures for not improving with standard treatments, depressed critical thinkers can logically acknowledge the downside of their temperament. Myth busting about standard treatments enables critically thinking treatment resisters to release their pain over “treatment failure.” The pain of failure is one of the many pains that results in depression as well as substance abuse and other compulsions that are fueled by a need to shut down one’s pain. Releasing any pain, including the pain of treatment failure, can be helpful.

When critically thinking treatment resisters discover that there have been others like themselves who have escaped this conundrum by finding something that they could believe in without giving up their critical thinking, this can be a jump start for them in finding their own particular antidote to depression. William James ultimately let go of his dallying with suicide, remained a tough-minded thinker with scientific loyalty to the facts, but also developed faith that, “Life shall be built in doing and suffering and creating.”

Read the original article on CounterPunch.

Bruce Levine’s book, Surviving America’s Depression Epidemic, is available now. Watch for his new book, Get, Up, Stand Up, in March 2011.

Robert Kuttner: What Now for the Democrats?

Wednesday, December 8th, 2010

Let’s imagine the political possibilities of the next two years and beyond. So far, President Obama’s response to the drubbing of the mid-term has confirmed the progressive community’s worst fears. Astonishingly, he still seems to believe the following:

The American people care more about bipartisan compromise and budget cuts than about ending the economic crisis.

If he just compromises a little more, the Republicans might still meet him halfway. The recipe for economic recovery has something to do with reducing the short term federal deficit.

All three of these premises are disastrously wrong — as politics and as economics.

Gestures like freezing federal pay levels and cutting the government workforce only play into the rightwing mantra that the government is the problem. Politically, they signal weakness.

This move makes no significant impact on the deficit, reduces employment and purchasing power; and, characteristically, Obama got nothing in return. The Democratic National Committee, disgracefully, even used the Organizing for America email list to try to drum up support for a Democratic president freezing worker pay during a deep recession.

The Bush tax cuts expire on December 31. Most Democrats are beating on the Republicans for refusing to spare 98 percent of Americans a tax hike, so that the top 2 percent can continue to get lower rates. Most Democrats are whacking the Republicans for letting unemployment insurance expire at a time of increased joblessness. But the message gets blurred because of Obama’s mixed signals.

And instead of drawing a line in the sand and making clear that Democrats will not cut Social Security, Obama encouraged Democrats to support the scheme of the deficit commission, which was an anti-government, anti-social insurance blueprint that had very little public support and no constructive impact on the economic recovery that the country needs, and robbed Democrats of their most potent issue — that Democrats defend Social Security and Republicans don’t.

To add insult to injury, Obama just proposed yet another Bush-style trade deal with South Korea, which is likely to be a net job loser for the U.S. The widely expected appointment of investment banker and Robert Rubin protege Roger Altman as Obama’s chief economic adviser to succeed Larry Summers will continue the Wall Street dynasty at the White House.

The problem, however, is not Obama’s advisers. It is the man who appointed them — and his failure to know how to fight and lead as a progressive.

Let’s stop pretending. Barack Obama is a disaster as a crisis president. He has taken an economic collapse that was the result of Republican ideology and Republican policies, and made it the Democrats’ fault. And the more that he is pummeled, the more he bends over.

So what exactly are our prospects and alternatives?

Absent radically different policies, an economic depression will continue indefinitely. This is not a “Great Recession” in the New York Times’ cute pun. It’s a depression, made up of persistently high unemployment, reduced consumer purchasing power, damaged banks, and business unwillingness to invest, just like the 1930s. Unemployment is not quite as severe, but measured properly it is around 18 percent. And unlike in the 1930s, we don’t have a strong Democratic president using activist government to dig our way out.

With Congress deadlocked, the second best course in these circumstances is to offer progressive policies that will cure the depression, and beat the stuffings out of the Republicans for blocking them. But that is simply not going to happen because that is not who Obama is. His style is not to draw bright lines, but to blur them.

Absent that kind of leadership, the Republicans going onto 2012 will succeed in blaming the continuing crisis on Obama and the Democrats. Obama is rapidly becoming our Herbert Hoover. As you will recall, Hoover’s legacy was Democratic dominance of American politics for a generation.

The 2012 election is especially bleak because redistricting, with the increased Republican control of statehouses, gives the Republicans a likely pickup of ten to twenty House seats independent of other electoral trends. On the Senate side, just 10 Republican-held seats are up for re-election compared to 23 Democratic ones. The arithmetic alone suggests a Republican Congress.

So the choices boil down to these:

*Let Obama continue to undermine the economy, the real Democratic Party, and the New Deal-Great Society legacy.

*Do a ton of grass roots organizing to put pressure on the administration to change course and in the meantime to back real progressive leaders. The one time in recent memory that something like this worked was in the successful campaign to have Elizabeth Warren appointed interim head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The trouble is that the Warren appointment was something of a one-off. Though progressive pressure can produce an occasional decent appointment, it is not capable of compelling Obama to grow a spine.
*Run a progressive candidate against Obama in the 2012 primary. At a recent meeting of the Democracy Alliance, most of whose private donors and trade union backers were big Obama supporters, the two White House emissaries were ripped apart. AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka was so withering in his criticism of the White House failure to promote a real jobs and recovery program that his co-panelist, White House economic adviser Austan Goolsbee, stepped down from the panel.

Since the mid-term rout, some progressive donors who were big Obama supporters in 2010, have been meeting on the issue of trying to topple Obama in favor of a Democrat who would be able to fight the 2012 election as an economic progressive with clean hands, challenging the failures of both Obama and of the Republicans. Names that have been mentioned include Howard Dean, Russ Feingold, and Byron Dorgan.

My initial reaction was that this idea is both premature and far-fetched. Ted Kennedy’s run against Jimmy Carter in 1980 only softened up Carter for Ronald Reagan in the general election. On the other hand, toppling LBJ was the right thing to do. Had Bobby Kennedy not been murdered or had Hubert Humphrey displayed just a bit more nerve, the Democrats could well have held off Richard Nixon in 1968, and emerged as a more effective governing progressive party.

The labor movement is just disgusted with Obama. Young people who rallied to him are turned off. Progressives in Congress are seething. Obama could well head into 2012 with little of his base intact, save the African American community. A serious primary challenger could easily win Iowa, where it all began. And a primary fight is a terrific organizing tool. It could force the media to take note of a progressive message about the economy.

Even if this doesn’t come to pass, it is salutary that serious conversations are occurring, because it gets the attention of the White House, and raises the possibility, however faint, of a more progressive Obama.

There is also the likelihood in 2012 of a centrist independent candidate, perhaps Michael Berlusconi — oops, I mean Bloomberg — the billionaire martinet mayor of New York. What — is Obama not centrist enough? Do we really need three candidates from Wall Street?

If things proceed as they have been going, here is what’s likely:

Republicans take both Houses in 2012. Obama may barely hold on to the presidency, in which case a continuing depression becomes even more of his responsibility and we have an eight-year Herbert Hoover that the Republicans can run against for a generation.

Alternatively, Obama loses in 2012, Republicans become the governing party, do incredible damage, but don’t cure the depression. And there is a shot that a progressive Democrat wins in 2016.

We could be in for a period like the late 19th century, of festering economic and social problems, failed one-term presidencies, and partisan oscillation in Congress.

To be clear: I am not rooting for a wall-to-wall Republican win is 2012 on the faint hope that it will set the stage for a Democratic comeback for years later. I am too mindful of the pitiful slogan of German leftists in 1933 — “After Hitler, Us.” Palin is not Hitler, but there is never a good tactical reason to root for the far right.

Yet if we are to be spared an awful decade, both economically and politically, either Obama needs to grow a backbone; or some other Democrat could well challenge him in 2012. Either course will require the progressive community to stop crying in our beer and to get out and organize.

Read the original article on The Huffington Post.

Robert Kuttner is the author of A President in Peril and Obama’s Challenge, both available now.

Confronting the Myths of Water Fluoridation Promoters

Tuesday, December 7th, 2010

The following excerpt from The Case Against Fluoride by Paul Connett, James Beck, and Spedding Micklem, appeared originally on last week.

Proponents of fluoridation have made a number of claims that have been effective with an ill-informed public. However, when those claims are examined carefully, they are found to have little merit. Although opponents have pointed out the weaknesses and fallacies in some of these “chestnuts” over the many years of this debate, they continue to crop up. Let’s take a look at them.

Claim 1: Fluoride is “natural.” We are just topping up what is there anyway.

Natural does not necessarily mean good. Arsenic, like fluoride, leaches naturally from rocks into groundwater, but no one suggests topping that up. Besides, there is nothing “natural” about the fluoridating chemicals, as they are obtained largely from the wet scrubbers of the phosphate fertilizer industry. The chemicals used in most fluoridation programs are either hexafluorosilicic acid or its sodium salt, and those silicon fluorides do not occur in nature. What is more, under international law they cannot be dumped into the sea, yet a dilution of about 180,000 to 1 is supposed to protect against all harm when the same chemicals are added to the domestic water supply. Yet the language used in a recent Q&A pamphlet from the Victoria (Australia) Department of Human Services is an effort to persuade citizens that the chemicals used in fluoridation are not hazardous waste products of the fertilizer industry.

Claim 2: Fluoridation is no different than adding iron, folic acid, or vitamin D to bread and other foodstuffs.

There is a world of difference:

1. Iron, folic acid, and vitamin D are known essential nutrients. Fluoride is not.
2. All of those substances have large margins of safety between their toxic levels and their beneficial levels. Fluoride does not.

3. People who do not want those supplements can seek out foods without them. It is much more difficult to avoid tap water.

Claim 3: The amount of fluoride added to the public water system, 1 ppm, is so small it couldn’t possibly hurt you.

Promoters use analogies such as 1 ppm is equivalent to one cent in $10,000 or one inch in sixteen miles to make it appear that we are dealing with insignifi cant quantities of fluoride. Such analogies are nonsensical without reference to the toxicity of the chemical in question. For example, 1 ppm is about a million times higher than the safe concentration to swallow of dioxin, and 100 times higher than the safe drinking water standard for arsenic; it is also up to 250 times higher than the level of fluoride in mother’s milk.

Claim 4: You would have to drink a whole bathtub of water to get a toxic dose of fluoride.

Here again, proponents are confusing a toxic dose with a lethal dose—that is, a dose causing illness or harmful effect as opposed to a dose causing death. Opponents of fluoridation are not suggesting that people are going to be killed outright from drinking fluoridated water, but we are suggesting that it may cause immediate health problems in those who are very sensitive and, with long-term exposure, persistent health problems in others.

Claim 5: Fluoridated water is only delivered to the tap. No one is forced to drink it.

Unfortunately, that is not a simple option, especially for families of low income who cannot afford bottled water or expensive fluoride filtration systems. Even those who can afford alternatives cannot easily protect themselves from the water they get outside the home. Fluoridated tap water is used in many processed foods and beverages (soda, beer, coffee, etc.).

Claim 6: Fluoridation is needed to protect children in low-income families.

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This is a powerful and emotional argument. However, it ignores the fact that poor nutrition is most prevalent in families of low income, and the people most vulnerable to fluoride’s toxic effects are those with a poor diet. Thus, while children from low-income families are a special target for this program, they are precisely the ones most likely to be harmed. Moreover, some of the many distressing newspaper accounts of children suffering from tooth decay are found in low-income areas located in cities that have been fluoridated for over thirty years. In fact numerous state oral health reports indicate the continued disparity in tooth decay between low-income and high-income families, even in states with a high percentage of the population drinking fluoridated water.

Claim 7: Fluoridation has been going on for over sixty years; if it caused any harm, we would know about it by now.

Such statements would start to be meaningful only if fluoridated countries had conducted comprehensive health studies of their fluoridated populations. Most have not. Only a few health studies have been performed in the United States, most many years ago; very few health studies have been performed in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, or the UK; and none has been performed in Colombia, Ireland, Israel, or Singapore (all coun tries with more than 50 percent of the population drinking fluoridated water).

Claim 8: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, fluoridation is one of the top ten public health achievements of the twentieth century.

Most journalists, newspaper editors, and officials who quote this claim have little or no idea how poorly it is supported by the report that supposedly justifies the statement.

Claim 9: For every dollar spent on fluoridation, $38 is saved in dental costs.

This statement is taken from another report written by members of the Oral Health Division of the CDC. Two of its three authors, Susan Griffin and Scott Tomar, also wrote the report mentioned in Claim 11 above.

Griffin et al. inflated the benefits of fluoridation and ignored the costs of any side effects, including the one effect no one can deny, dental fluorosis. Cosmetic veneer treatment for fluorosis costs upward of $1,000 per tooth. The CDC authors also allowed a loss of earnings of $18 an hour for time off work to get a dental filling. Not all people lose pay when they get dental treatment, and certainly children don’t.

Claim 10: The majority of the U.S. population drinks fluoridated water.

This statement is misused to put pressure on communities that do not fluoridate their water. They are led to believe that they are the odd ones out, behind the times, blocking progress. They are not. Only about 400 million people worldwide drink fluoridated water, and most of them live in North America. Globally, those who do are a distinct minority. Only eight countries have more than 50 percent of their population drinking fluoridated water; only 2 percent of the population of Europe drinks fluoridated water.

Claim 11: Every major dental and medical authority supports fluoridation.

Here we return to the dubious nature of endorsements not backed up by inde pendent and current reviews of the literature. Many of the major associations on the list frequently cited by the American Dental Association endorsed fluo ridation before a single trial had been completed and before the first health study had been published, in 1954.

Claim 12: When fluoridation is stopped, tooth decay rates go up.

There now have been at least four modern studies showing that when fluo ridation was halted in communities in East Germany, Finland, Cuba, and British Columbia (Canada), tooth decay rates did not go up.

Claim 13: Hundreds (or thousands) of studies demonstrate that fluoridation is effective.

On the contrary, the UK’s York Review was able to identify very few studies of even moderate quality, and the results were mixed.

Claim 14: Fluoridation reduces tooth decay by 20–60 percent.

The evidence found for fluoridation’s benefits is very weak. Even a 20 percent reduction in tooth decay is a figure rarely found in more recent studies. Moreover, we have to remember that percentages can give a very misleading picture. For example, if an average of two decayed tooth surfaces are found in a non-fluoridated group and one decayed surface in a fluoridated group, that would amount to an impressive 50 percent reduction. But when we consider the total of 128 surfaces on a complete set of teeth, the picture—which amounts to an absolute saving in tooth decay of a mere 0.8 percent—does not look so impressive.

Claim 15: Hundreds (or thousands) of studies demonstrate that fluoridation is safe.

When proponents are asked to produce just one study (a primary study, not a governmental review) that has convinced them that fluoridation is safe, they are seldom able to do so. Apparently, they have taken such assurances from others at face value, without reading the literature for themselves. The fact is, it is almost impossible to prove conclusively that a substance has no ill effects. A careful and properly controlled study may show that, under the conditions and limitations of the investigation, no harm is apparent. A hundred such studies may permit a considerable degree of confidence—but in the case of fluoridation, very few studies have even been attempted. As fluoride accumulates progressively in the skeleton and probably the pineal gland, studies need to extend over a lifetime. Meanwhile, fluoride at moderate to high doses can cause serious health problems, leav ing little or no margin of safety for people drinking fluoridated water.

Claim 16: Opponents of fluoridation do not have professional qualifications.

Some opponents of fluoridation do not have professional qualifications (of course); many do. Many highly qualified doctors, dentists, and scientists have opposed fluoridation in the past and do so today. Currently, over 3,000 indi viduals from medicine, dentistry, science, and other relevant professions are calling for an end to fluoridation worldwide. Furthermore, many opponents without professional qualifications have educated themselves on the science relevant to fluoridation and are qualified to evaluate many aspects of it.

Claim 17: Opponents of fluoridation get their information from the Internet.

No one denies that plenty of rubbish appears on the Internet. But just because a published study can be found using the Internet does not invalidate it. In fact, scientists now do much of their reading of the scientific literature online. The Fluoride Action Network maintains a Health Effects Database on its Web site, which provides citations, excerpts, abstracts, and in some cases complete pdf files of many published studies. Proponents would do well to read some of these papers, rather than trying to dismiss them because they are available online.

Claim 18: There is no evidence that fluoride at the levels used in fluoridation schemes causes any health problems.

There are three weaknesses to this argument. First, it does not make clear that fluoridating countries have done few basic health studies of populations drinking fluoridated water. Absence of studies does not mean absence of harm. Second, just because a study is conducted at a higher water fluoride level than 1 ppm does not mean that it is not relevant to water fluoridation. Toxicologists are nearly always extrapolating from high-dose animal experi ments to estimate safe doses for humans. In the case of fluoride, we have the luxury of a large number of human studies conducted in countries with moderate to high levels of exposure to naturally occurring fluoride. What is required here is a “margin-of-safety” analysis to see if there is a sufficient safety margin between the doses that cause harm and the doses likely to be experienced in fluoridated communities. In our view, there is not. And third, it is not true that there is no evidence of ill effects from fluoride at present levels of fluoridation.

Claim 19: There is no evidence that any individuals are particularly sensitive to fluoride’s toxic effects.

It would be far more accurate to state that governments practicing fluorida tion have shown no interest in testing scientifically the many anecdotal reports from citizens (along with case studies published by a number of authors) that they are sensitive to fluoride. Patients complain of a number of symptoms that disappear when the source of fluoride is removed and return when the source is reintroduced.

Claim 20: Dental fluorosis is only a “cosmetic” problem.

Dental fluorosis is the one condition caused by fluoride that proponents do not deny. However, they commonly claim that the condition is not a health effect but merely a cosmetic effect. Fluoridation opponents, on the other hand, maintain that dental fluorosis—the result of fluoride’s interference with the growing tooth cells—is the first visible evidence that fluoride has had an adverse systemic effect on the body, and they wonder what other developing tissues may have been affected while the tooth cells were being damaged. Of particular concern are the skeletal system, the brain, and the endocrine system, where damage could be happening without visible telltale signs. Proponents offer no evidence that other tissues have not been affected while dental fluo rosis is occurring.

Nor are cosmetic effects necessarily trivial. Moderate dental fluorosis, which involves discoloration of 100 percent of a tooth surface and affects over 1 percent of children living in fluoridated communities, is likely to cause psychological damage to teenagers and is very expensive to treat.

Of some pertinence are the CDC’s stated objectives of the fluoridation program: “Adjusted fluoridation is the conscious maintenance of the optimal fluoride concentration in the water supply for reducing dental caries and mini mizing the risk of dental fluorosis” [emphasis added]. Regardless of whether the CDC’s first objective has been met, with 32 percent of American children now affected by dental fluorosis, the second objective has clearly not been.

Claim 21: Skeletal fluorosis is very rare in fluoridated countries.

It is difficult for promoters of fluoridation to deny that high natural levels of fluoride have caused severe bone damage in millions of people in India, China, and several other countries. However, proponents insist that skeletal fluorosis is a rare occurrence in countries with artificial fluoridation like the United States. What they really mean by this is that the crippling phase (stage III) of this condition is rare in the United States; they fail to recognize that the earlier phases (stage I and stage II) are associated with pains in the joints and bones, symptoms identical to the early symptoms of arthritis, a condition that affects many millions of adults in the United States.The 2006 NRC review recommends that stage II skeletal fluorosis be considered an adverse effect: “The committee judges that stage II is also an adverse health effect, as it is associated with chronic joint pain, arthritic symptoms, slight calcification of ligaments, and osteosclerosis of cancellous bones.” No fluoridating country has undertaken a study to see if there is a relationship between fluoridation and arthritis.

Claim 22: Opponents use “scare tactics.”

In reality, the potential that fluoride might be causing a number of harms (including osteosarcoma in young men; arthritis and hip fractures in the elderly; lowered IQ in children; and lowered thyroid function) in some of the 400 million people who are drinking fluoridated water daily is indeed worrying (see chapters 10–19). The risks for one individual may be small, but if millions of people drink fluoridated water, a small risk multiplies up to a lot of cases. If we suppose a risk of some harm to 1 in 1,000, that would mean 400,000 cases worldwide or 10,000 in a large city.


Proponents of fluoridation possess a wide repertoire of incorrect statements about the science and unfounded generalizations about those who disagree with them. We have reproduced and refuted some of the commoner ones in this chapter.

* * *

Read the original article on

The Case Against Fluoride is available now.

Holy Shit: The Secret Behind Creating Truly Sustainable Food

Monday, December 6th, 2010

The following Q&A between Chelsea Green’s Makenna Goodman and author Gene Logsdon, whose book is Holy Shit: Managing Manure to Save Mankind, originally appeared on

If you’re into food, you’ve got to embrace manure. Like it or not, the bowel movement after all, is the foundation upon which the sustainable food movement stands. When I moved to a farm in rural Vermont, I knew life would be a far cry from the New York literary world from whence I came. I knew even though plaid shirts, work boots, and waxed canvas coats cover the fashion magazines these days-life on a real farm has nothing to do with image or status. I do have to say, however, when I meet my old city friends on the streets of Brooklyn to hock eggs or pumpkins, I have been known to brag. Not about how amazing farm life is, or how well I can pitch hay, but rather, how familiar I am with shit these days. And how in awe I am of poop. I tell my friends about where my chickens leave their dollops, and how that’s actually money in the bank.

Shit rules my life-or at least it should, if I were a good farmer. Don’t be grossed out. If you’re into food, you’ve got to embrace manure. The bowel movement after all (human and animal), is the foundation upon which the sustainable food movement stands. Where do you think rich, delicious soil comes from? The healthiest soil is made not from synthetic fertilizers, but from the backsides of livestock. Indeed, manure is the golden nugget upon which sustainable food’s economy was founded. There is no movement without the movement. And who better to discuss either movement than Gene Logsdon, longtime farmer and author of the book Holy Shit: Managing Manure to Save Mankind. I talked with Logsdon about the real scoop on poop, society’s misconceptions of manure, and the future of farming.

Makenna Goodman: You’ve been farming for about 30 years. How important is manure to agriculture in your estimation?

Gene Logsdon: It would probably be more accurate to say that I have been pitching barn manure for something like 65 years and spreading a lot of bullshit the other 13 years, too. On a scale of one to ten, with ten at the top, I’d give manure an eleven. Manure just doesn’t fit on a scale of values. It encompasses the whole environment as inextricably as water and air. Trying to measure its worth suggests that we can take it or leave it. Manure is with us always whether we give it a value or not. The fact that it is a beneficial material is our salvation. If we and other animals started to excrete radioactive dust, then we’d have a problem. Manure is holy.

MG: What are the most prevalent misconceptions that society holds about manure?

GL: I have to answer that first by addressing a broader question: what are the most prevalent misconceptions that society holds about the whole natural process of life? One main misconception is that science and technology can deliver us complete safety, that is, a zero risk environment. This notion is driven by the insurance companies who dream of a world where people pay dearly for accident insurance but never have accidents. The misconception comes when humans decide that science and technology can make that happen without the personal, individual, ongoing involvement of every one of us. Examples abound of the impossibility of this kind of push button safety system. Science and technology have been hard at work delivering a ladder that will be safe even for total idiots to use. The rules and regulations governing ladders cover over a thousand pages. But every day people kill or maim themselves with ladders.

Danger lurks at all times. That is an inescapable fact of life. No matter how fail-safe we want someone else to keep our environment, our safety requires the use of our own intelligence and responsibility first and last. The more we try to make others responsible for our well-being, as for example, by supporting a monolithic pill-pushing industry, the sicker we seem to get.

Focusing on manure specifically, the misconception is not so much that bodily waste can cause disease, which can be true if people are totally stupid about it, but that society at present doesn’t understand how comparatively easy it is to avoid that danger. The chances of getting sick from contact with barn manure or properly handled human manure are negligible in the first place, but the point is that the hygienic harm associated with manure is easily avoided by individual involvement, intelligence, common sense, and proper management. People don’t want to accept that responsibility. They want to flush it and forget it. Just letting manure age for a year practically guarantees that it has no pathogens in it if it ever did. But of course there might always be that one chance in a billion when it still does. You take far more risk than that just eating in a restaurant, where, health inspectors have told me, they sometimes find more E. coli bacteria on the tabletops than on the toilet seats.

MG: What makes manure such an incredible fertilizer?

GL: First I want to be clear that by manure I mean not only the feces and urine itself, but the bedding or absorbent material mixed with it. The bedding, most commonly straw with animal manure or sawdust in human dry toilets, is nearly as important as the excrement since it reduces odor, soaks up the urine and adds bulk to the feces so that the material is easier to handle and preserves the plant nutrients better until the material is applied to farmland or garden.

Manure so defined can supply all the nutrients including trace elements that plants need to grow healthfully in most soils and situations, plus adding organic matter to become humus in the soil. It accomplishes soil enrichment safely. No commercial chemical fertilizer adds organic matter to the soil like manure does. For the farm that has its own livestock and chickens, manure is free for the loading and hauling. As purchased fertilizers become more and more pricey, this benefit alone makes manure incredibly valuable. It can keep a farm truly sustainable and a farmer less susceptible to outside forces seeking to take his money and his land away from him.

MG: Has our culture always been fearful of using manure as a soil enhancement or is this something more recent?

GL: Europeans settling America brought with them a respect for the value of manure and the management practices necessary to enhance that value. (In Switzerland, even in more recent times, farmers carefully aged their barn manure, along with their own manure, in big compost piles out in front of their barns where everyone could see it. The bigger and more neatly square or rectangular were the stacks, the richer and more successful the farmer was thought to be, sort of the way, in our culture, we leave the Porsche parked conspicuously in the driveway.) But in America, early farmers were under the delusion that the soil here was infinitely rich and did not need any kind of fertilizer. When that became obviously and painfully wrong, efforts were made to return to the careful stewardship of manure practiced in Europe and Asia. But at almost the same time, purchased chemical fertilizers became commonly available. Given the choice, and lacking the modern machines that make manure handling much easier, few farmers, beset with all kinds of tedious labor, opted for labor-intensive manure management. A leading farm magazine just a few decades ago ran an article declaring that manure was not worth the hauling. Some years later, the magazine contritely printed a retraction.

Only in an urban society removed completely from rural life did an irrational fear of barn manure develop. This kind of fear was and is part of our society’s paranoia about dirt and germs. In the countryside, the fear was about avoiding the labor of handling manure, and then, when the number of livestock on a farm started increasing dramatically without any advancement in good manure management, a fear of odor and flies.

MG: What role has technology and advances in industrialism played in the demise of our soil health?

GL: We can use technology well or use it badly. It is human nature making bad decisions about technology that is the problem. The question to ask is what role has greed and false economic assumptions played in influencing technology to work against soil health. Nor is industrialism of itself a negative force. Urban agriculture, now on the rise, is an industrial trend if it is anything. In a proper economy, industrialism can trend toward decentralized, more truly profitable farms and factories and away from bigger, cumbersome, consolidated farms and factories. The increase in the number and diversity of local farmers’ markets and farm fairs and the small manufacturers supplying the tools and equipment are very much an industrial process.

Technology can be used to promote good soil practices. Manure is now a more attractive alternative to chemical fertilizers than it used to be because we have tools like skid loaders to handle the stuff. A hoe in the hands of a man overtaken by greed will result in bad technology. A bulldozer in the hands of a man sensitive to improving the environment will result in good technology.

In my opinion, the real engine driving the decline in soil health is an economic system based on too much borrowed money and manipulated money interest. When I sell a bushel of potatoes for, say, four dollars, the money I receive is what I call real money. It actually represents something of real value. But if I put that four dollars in the bank, and the bank tries to increase it along with other real money, with hedge funding and derivatives and all that financial rattlesnake oil that tries to make pieces of paper reproduce themselves, the economy cannot help but collapse eventually. This kind of unreal money eventually affects good farming practices negatively. Farmers, deep in debt or barely able to stay in the black, feel forced to keep up “cash flow” by doing what seemingly brings in the most money here and now, even when they know that long term, the land is going to suffer and the number of landless people increase. An ear of corn grows at its own sweet pace, not by manipulated interest rates. Trying to make farming dance to an economy blind to the common good is what brings about the demise of soil health.

MG: What is the most important dilemma that modern farmers face when it comes to small-scale farming?

GL: Small scale farming as an American business can be saved as soon as government stops subsidizing quantity instead of quality and our schools start teaching the danger of excessive money borrowing. This assumes that economists can define what is excessive and government can agree on a definition of quality–both of which I exceedingly doubt can happen. It would be better just to stop subsidies altogether and for small businesspeople to listen to their own minds, not public opinion. Stay away from borrowed money to begin with. To resist borrowing as much as possible, to shun government “help” unless it really is help for the common good, sounds impossible but there are many quiet, shy, stubborn, fiercely determined people out there who are doing just that.

The real dilemma is that few people want to make the sacrifices that come when one renounces fat salaries and keeping up with the Joneses. They feel forced by society to acquire, as quickly as possible, everything for themselves and their children that society deems proper for the well-regulated life. They have not been taught, as many of us oldsters were taught, that one can forego much of what is considered necessary in modern lifestyles and be quite happy-especially if we love our little farms and the life it engenders. Why can’t more people see that? That is the dilemma.

MG: Are you an organic farmer and what does that term mean to you?

GL: Now that the government and some organic farm leaders have co-opted the power to define organic in ways that allow very large farms and food delivery systems to call themselves “organic,” the term has become much less meaningful to me. Part of my definition of “organic” is that the farm should be comparatively small and sell primarily to local markets. If the operation is large and national or international, I don’t think it is necessarily bad, in fact it might be just as good as what the small operation offers. But it just isn’t organic to me.

My early reasons for championing organic farming were economic, not environmental. For me it was a way to farm without high overhead. I am uneasy now with the way “organic” has become sort of like an institutional religion where, if one does not follow sometimes-arbitrary rules absolutely and purely, one is headed for environmental hell. Why not just tell one’s customers exactly how you produce your food including when, if ever, you use non-organic materials. Then let the customer decide. This can work effectively on a small scale where a farmer is selling his or her own personal food to his own regular customers. As soon as the larger company is selling food from many sources, that kind of verification is not trustworthy to me no matter how many rules and regulations are supposed to be in effect.

MG: Do you see young people effecting change in current farming practices that is revolutionary or exciting?

GL: Oh yes. My favorite example is pasture farming, sometimes called grass farming or graze farming. The idea and ideal here is to produce meat, dairy products, eggs-all animal products-by allowing the animals to graze freely. The animals do most of the work themselves, harvesting the pasture by eating it and spreading their manure for fertilizers. Graze farming eliminates the high cost and destructive results of annual cultivation of grains.

Pasture farming is gaining adherents and momentum all over because it makes economic sense as well as environmental sense. A notable scientific development aiding and abetting the trend is the work of Wes Jackson and his staff at his Land Institute in Kansas. These revolutionaries are developing perennial grains-grains that will come up year after year without annual cultivation, like grass. Wes recently gave me a sample of flour from his improved perennial wheatgrass plantings. We made pancakes with it and they were very tasty. When pasture farmers have perennial grain grasses to plant with their clovers, there will be no reason at all to grow annual grains for animal feed.

Another exciting development is urban farming. If you have driven through Detroit in the last decade or so, you know how many parts of it look about like Dresden after World War II. Now city leaders are talking about transforming several hundred acres of abandoned buildings and rundown ghetto land into a farm. There are problems with this idea-perhaps it will never happen-but it is historically significant that urban people are even suggesting it. They are suggesting it because all over, gardening and market gardening and even animal agriculture are coming increasingly into all cities. Some suburbs are even getting rid of regulations that forbid chickens in backyards. Hooray. When the day finally comes when urban farmers figure out how to use human manure for fertilizer, then you will see the new age rising.

For more information on Holy Shit, go here.

Read the original Q&A on Alternet.

Support The Efforts of Transition U.S.!

Sunday, December 5th, 2010

Our revered friends at Transition U.S. – a nonprofit organization devoted to the development of Transition initiatives across the country – recently shared a neat opportunity with us. (See Rob Hopkins’ The Transition Handbook to learn more about the Transition movement).

By donating to Transition U.S. now through December 12th, your dollars will be quadrupled by generous matching donors. What a terrific way to support the Transition movement and help communities across the nation become more resilient and sustainable!

Here’s the full scoop from Transition U.S.’s website:
Turn your $1 into $4! When one donor heard about our $100,000 Challenge Grant, she made a tremendous pledge – she’s offered to match every dollar we raise dollar for dollar up to $5,000, through midnight on Sunday, December 12. Give $25, and she’ll match it. And then that $50 will be matched again by our Challenge Grant, turning your gift of $25 into $100 for the Transition Movement. That’s two matches in one, which means each dollar you give over the next ten days will be quadrupled as we move within striking distance of our $100,000 goal! Donate online here.

As always, we thank you deeply for your support and for all you do to make the world a better place.

About Transition U.S.
Transition US is a nonprofit organization that provides inspiration, encouragement, support, networking, and training for Transition Initiatives across the United States. We are working in close partnership with the Transition Network, a UK based organization that supports the international Transition Movement as a whole.

The Transition Movement is a vibrant, grassroots movement that seeks to build community resilience in the face of such challenges as peak oil, climate change and the economic crisis. It represents one of the most promising ways of engaging people in strengthening their communities against the effects of these challenges, resulting in a life that is more abundant, fulfilling, equitable and socially connected.

We believe that we can make the transition to a more sustainable world. We hope that you will join us.

To learn more, visit

The Transition Handbook by Rob Hopkins is available now.

Cooking Mushrooms with Greg Marley

Saturday, December 4th, 2010

Author Greg Marley shared his extensive knowledge of mushrooms on the Community Kitchens program of Portland, Maine’s Community Television Network in November.

He displayed and discussed several varieties of Amanita, which are poisonous, and described the ritualistic use of fungi throughout history. He also shared numerous edible and medicinal mushroom varieties, and cooked up a delicious-looking Black Trumpet Mushroom and Chicken Sauté with host Candice Lee.

Greg’s book is Chanterelle Dreams, Amanita Nightmares: The Love, Lore, and Mystique of Mushrooms. Have a look at the video episode below to learn more.

Chanterelle Dreams, Amanita Nightmares is available now.

Holy Shit in The Atlantic

Friday, December 3rd, 2010

The following excerpt from Gene Logsdon’s Holy Shit: Managing Manure to Save Mankind, first appeared on the website of The Atlantic Magazine on December 2nd.

Why Farmers Are Flocking to Manure

I half-jokingly suggested about a year ago that animal manure—used livestock, horse, and chicken bedding—was going to be the hottest commodity on the Chicago Board of Trade one of these days. Shortly after that I got a call from a close acquaintance who manages an awesome business of growing 8,000 acres of corn and soybeans—which he knows I consider insane. He wanted to tell me something I never expected to hear from him: He was thinking of going into the feedlot beef business. I reminded him that this is rarely profitable in Ohio except as a tax shelter, but he said he didn’t care if it only broke even. It was the manure that he was after, for fertilizer. And he had not read what I had been writing in that regard. Holy shit. I almost dropped the phone. Most of the farmers in my neck of the cornfields agree with what one of them told me over a martini one day: “The only shit that is going to drop on this farm is mine and my wife’s.” He much preferred fertilizing with anhydrous ammonia (one whiff of which could kill him and his wife).

My 8,000-acre friend is no fool, believe me. There are indications now that such a seemingly absurd prediction about manure might not be so absurd after all. Even the agricultural colleges (almost always among the last to recognize either agricultural or cultural shifts) are scheduling what Ohio State University calls Manure Science Review days. The main reason that manure is suddenly seen as a science is that chemical fertilizer prices are on the rise. Yes, they rise and fall with every paranoid scuttlebutt of the marketplace, but the general direction is definitely north. The price of a specialty fertilizer like ammonium polyphosphate is nearly $1,000 a ton as I write. Deposits of potash in Canada, which we have long relied on for potassium fertilizer, are dwindling, and there is no other known supply as readily available. There is much talk of opening a huge phosphorus mining operation in the South American rain forest, which will hardly be hailed with joy by environmentalists. Natural gas, the major source of commercial nitrogen fertilizer, is rising in cost as other users compete for it. In fact, there are reasons to believe that the era of reliance on manufactured and mined fertilizers is passing. A society so utterly urban-ized as ours may not want to face up to what that means, but the end of cheap chemical fertilizer would be almost as earth-shaking as a nuclear bomb.

If we run out of cheap sources of commercial fertilizer, there will be no way to avoid a precipitous decline in crop yields, no matter how rapidly farmers try to switch to organic methods. And as they switch, the demand for organic fertilizers will also rise precipitously. It has taken us about 100 years to reduce soil organic matter to dangerously low levels—from about 5 percent, on average, to below 2 percent—and experts say it might take at least that long to build them back up again using organic methods on a large scale. Getting all the manure and other organic wastes needed to maintain yields high enough to support rising populations without a full complement of commercial fertilizers would be an enormous challenge requiring new agricultural and cultural attitudes.

Read the full excerpt at The

Holy Shit: Managing Manure to Save Mankind is available now.

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