Archive for January, 2011


Read an Excerpt from Sex and the River Styx

Monday, January 31st, 2011

We’re delighted to share with you the Foreword to a new collection of essays written by Edward Hoagland entitled Sex and the River Styx.

Admired by a pantheon of America’s greatest writers and considered one of our most prolific essayists, Hoagland is in a class of his own. He came of age during our country’s literary heyday, learned to write the old-fashioned way — through direct experience in love, travel, and immersion in the natural world — and then dedicated decades of his life to prose that is not only powerful, but truly original. Now, more than fifty years after he first began publishing, Hoagland brings his acuity to bear in this latest collection of essays.

Read the Foreword to Sex and the River Styx, written by acclaimed Vermont author Howard Frank Mosher, below.

Edward Hoagland’s Sex and the River Styx will be released in February, and is available for pre-order now.

2013 Winter Conference Schedule

Sunday, January 30th, 2011

When the temperature drops and the soil is frozen solid, farmers head out to winter agriculture conferences.

This winter, Chelsea Green authors are appearing at several sustainable conferences around the country. Below is a full list of author appearances, complete with links to the conferences where you can find more information, register, and get directions.

These conferences are also a great place to browse Chelsea Green books in person. Just head to the conference bookstore.

NOFA-MA (January 12)

EcoFarm (January 23-26)

NOFA-NY (January 25-27)

NOFA NJ (January 26-27)

PASA (February 6-9)

NOFA-VT (February 15-17)

OEFFA (February 16-17)

MOSES (February 21-23)

The New Obama Narrative

Sunday, January 30th, 2011

The following article was written by George Lakoff, author of the New York Times Bestseller, Don’t Think of An Elephant.

For the first two years of his administration, President Obama had no overriding narrative, no frame to define his policymaking, no way to make sense of what he was trying to do. As of his 2011 State of the Union Address, he has one: Competitiveness.

The competitiveness narrative is intended to serve a number of purposes at once:

  1. Split the Republican business community off from the hard right , especially the Tea Party. Most business leaders want real economics not ideological economics. And it is hard to pin the “socialist” label on a business-oriented president. He may succeed.
  2. Attract bi-conceptuals — those who are conservative on some issues and progressive on other issues. They are sometimes mistakenly called “moderates” or “independents,” though there is no one ideology of the moderate or the independent. They make up 15 to 20 percent of the electorate, and many are conservative on economic issues and progressive on social issues. He attracted them in 2008, but not in 2010. He needs less than half to win in 2012. He may well succeed.
  3. Competitiveness has five natural metaphors: A war, a race, a competitive sport, a competitive game, and dog-eat-dog predation. The president’s “Sputnik moment” imposed the Cold War metaphor — one in which we are temporarily losing a worldwide economic war, but can catch up with mobilization.
  4. The president implicitly, if not explicitly, declared economic war (“win”), asking for a complete long-term (“future”) economic mobilization. So, when the conservatives say, “No, investment just means spending, his narrative makes them unpatriotic. In a war, we have to all work together. And he is the Commander-in-Chief. He gets the moral authority.
  5. As Commander-in-Chief, he gets to define how to win over the long haul. Here the race metaphor enters. We are “behind” other nations. We need to “catch up” in what is needed for long-term prosperity: education, infrastructure, research for innovation, clean energy. These aspects of the progressive agenda become a business agenda for defending the nation. This brings back his progressive base.
  6. War-like competitiveness fits conservative not progressive thought. But there is a form of competitiveness that does fit progressive thought: Personal best! The race with oneself. It is what Obama has called The Ethic of Excellence in his great Father’s Day speech of 2008, where he defined democracy in terms of empathy, social and personal responsibility and a demand for excellence.

Can Obama can make his competitiveness narrative fit sensible Republican businesspeople, the bi-conceptuals (“moderates” and “independents”), and his progressive base? Is it a narrative that will win his reelection? It may be.

But to really bring in the business community, he has to be convincing in what he does, not just what he says. Enter William Daley as chief of staff, and Jeff Immelt of GE running his jobs commission. Lowering the corporate tax rate (conservatives cheer), making up for it by cutting off oil subsidies and tax loopholes (progressives cheer), but evening the playing-field for most corporations that didn’t get subsidies and loopholes (conservative). Working on the deficit: A five-year freeze on “annual domestic spending” — red meat for conservatives (but not technically a “cut”). It’s “only” 12 percent of the budget. Cuts in the defense budget (progressive) but not very big or significant (conservative).

This is Obama’s old promise — no red states or blue states, only red, white, and blue states. An economic cold war to wave the flag and declare unity of purpose.

Maybe.

The hard right won’t buy it — when Democrats say investment they hear spending. Of course, they are not really interesting in cutting deficits per se. It is for them a means to an end, and the end is making the nation and the world fully conservative, eliminating social responsibility in favor of personal responsibility alone, eliminating empathy, increasing militarism, establishing an unregulated purely laissez-faire free market, and maintaining a dominance hierarchy of western over nonwestern culture, Christian over non-Christian, white over non-white, straight over gay, male over female. The hard right talks jobs, spending and the deficit, but their economics is based on the culture war. That’s why the culture war is back. Legislation to end any support for abortion, defund NEA, NEH, and NPR, end public education.

Will the sensible Republican business community split off from such ideologically based economics and government, and support a pragmatic Democratic president on a national commitment to competitiveness?

For progressives who are listening seriously, there is of course a dark side. The competitiveness frame excludes half of what progressives care about. Abortion rights, under attack nationally by conservatives, don’t help competitiveness, nor does gay marriage, worker rights, clean air and water, saving species and preserving natural environments, public financing of elections, helping the homeless, ending the war in Afghanistan, arts and humanities education, helping immigrants who are not well-educated, and on and on. Can these be made to fit the competitiveness frame?

Maybe.

Can you have unity without equality? Can you have productive industries without fair wages and organizing rights? Can you have long-term prosperity while destroying nature? Can you be economically productive without good health? Can you maximize production without women’s rights? Can you educate a population without educating them in empathy and introspection and a vibrant sense of the aesthetics of life?

Can these be made to fit the competitiveness narrative — competing on democratic principles of equality, fairness, and empathy? Or should we have to make them fit a competitiveness narrative?

Think for a moment of what the president did not say.

He failed to say that Social Security has a two-and-a-half trillion dollar surplus and that it is earned, not given away. What is called a “cut” would actually be theft from those who have paid into it over a lifetime. He needs to go on the offensive on Social Security, not be defensive. The same on Medicare. He failed to mention that it works and has the lowest operating cost of any form of health care by far. He failed to say that pensions are delayed earned payments for work already done, and that the conservative move to allow states and cities to declare bankruptcy is really a move to eliminate pensions for public employees and eliminate as much of public service as possible. He failed to say that “privatization” doesn’t eliminate government, but institutes government by corporation for corporate profit not the benefit for citizens. He failed to say that we should have gratitude for immigrants — with or without papers, educated or not — who work hard at low pay to make possible the lifestyles of the middle and upper classes. He failed to defend the right to unionize as the foundation of fair working relationships.

These omissions are disturbing, especially since they can perfectly well fit a competitiveness narrative.

On the positive side, Democrats should long ago have recognized that they should be the party of small business, and this may help get them there.

Unfortunately, the president’s address puts progressive Democrats in a terrible position. They may agree on issues like Social Security, medicare, education, and infrastructure, but they have serious concerns about gun control, women’s rights and abortion, the war in Afghanistan, the right to unionize, housing for the poor, art and humanities education, and many other issues that don’t fit competitiveness as usually understood.

I think progressive Democrats should speak out on these issues and try to provide a movement the president can get out in front of. But with the economic war metaphor controlling the political discourse, Democratic candidates supporting these issues will have a harder time fitting the narrative if it catches on. Though there are sufficient issues to support the president on, progressive Democrats will most likely run into trouble on much of what they do, and should, care about.

It is crucial to have a progressive movement that is really progressive. But what will its narrative be if the president’s competitiveness pre-empts it?

Read the original article on The Huffington Post.

George Lakoff’s book, Don’t Think of An Elephant, is available now.

Thomas Greco: The World’s Ominous Reckoning

Saturday, January 29th, 2011

In a recent Washington Post article titled Europe’s ominous reckoning, economist Robert Samuelson correctly argued that “Ireland’s economic crisis is … not about Ireland.” What he seems to not recognize is that “Europe’s ominous reckoning” is not about Europe. The reckoning will be global because the money and banking regime is global — and deeply flawed.

Discussions about possible solutions to the debt crisis tend to degenerate into ideological bickering because ideologies provides an inadequate framework in which to understand the nature of the problem and discover real effective solutions. Fiscal conservatives want to cut social spending so as to avoid raising taxes on the rich and privileged class. Political liberals have largely caved in to the same interests because they think that supporting the privileged class’s agenda is their only hope of gaining power. They will pay lip service to a social agenda and throw a few crumbs to the masses in an attempt to get elected, but they will ultimately advance the same elitist agenda, as have Presidents Clinton and Obama. Progressives argue that budgets can be balanced by cutting the military budget and raising taxes on the rich, but they remain impotent because political power has been so thoroughly centralized that popular progressive agendas have not a prayer of being implemented. Even if they were, they would simply make matters worse because under the present money and banking regime, a balanced government budget is not possible. How can the debate move beyond ideologies, and common ground be found?

Samuelson, like almost all conventionally trained economists, blames the woes of Ireland, and every other country, on failures in policy. He says, “Most European economies suffer from the ill effects of some combination of easy money, unsustainable social spending and big budget deficits,” but he fails to address the deeper questions of why? Why has money been easy? Why is social spending unsustainable? Why have budget deficits been too big?

It is not only a problem of European economies, it is a problem for virtually all national economies. As Samuelson points out, even the most prosperous countries have accumulated enormous debts. The governments of Germany and France, for example, have, respectively, gross debts of 76 percent and 86 percent of GDP (GDP is a measure of total economic output). The debt of the United States government is projected to exceed 100% of GDP within the next couple of years. And this picture does not even include the debts of lower levels of government — states, counties, and municipalities — or all of the private sector debt that burdens companies and individuals.

If the world has become so prosperous and productive, why all this debt, and why does it continue to grow ever more rapidly?

It is not a matter of policy, i.e., how we operate a flawed system. The problem is structural and systemic. The system is designed to create debt, and ever more of it. Like a pernicious cancer, debt is a parasite that is killing us, and in the end a parasite will die along with its host. How much of our well-being shall we sacrifice to keep feeding this cancer? Are we willing to starve ourselves and our children, to endure cuts in spending for education and public services, to sacrifice our hard-won freedoms, in order to sustain a system that despoils the earth, destroys the social fabric,  and creates ever greater economic inequities?

A few have been calling for “debt forgiveness,” a remedy analogous to cancer surgery. That may be a good start, but even that does no go far enough. We can excise the cancer, but if we do not recognize and eliminate its fundamental cause it will simply grow back. We can restart the game of Monopoly, but the outcome of the next round will be very much like that of the previous round unless we change the rules — or choose to play a different game.

The fact is, there is a debt imperative that is built into the global system of money and banking, and debt is eating us alive. As I wrote in my first book more than 20 years ago, our money system, based as it is on banks’ lending money into circulation at compound interest, requires debt to grow with the passage of time. Virtually all of the money today is created when banks make “loans.” The compounding of interest on these loans means that debt must grow as time goes on, not slowly, but at an accelerating rate. Ever greater amounts of money must be borrowed into circulation for this system to continue. When the private sector debt can no longer be expanded, government assumes the role of “borrower of last resort.” That is why government budget deficits have become chronic and continue to grow. In the latest cycle of Bubble and Bust, governments are rescuing the banks by taking “toxic” debt off their hands and giving them government bonds in return. In this way, the system can be sustained a little bit longer, but at costs that have yet to be tallied.

The current global predicament is the late-stage symptom of this fundamental flaw. Every political currency collectivizes credit. It is our credit that supports each national currency. We have allowed the banks to control our credit and we pay them interest for the “privilege” of accessing some of it as bank “loans.”

What must be done? The answer is simple, but few have been willing to hear it: interest must be eliminated from the money system to put an end to the growth imperative. To modern economists, such a proposition is heresy, foolish even, unthinkable! Interest to them is an essential inducement to save and invest and a necessary means of regulating credit and the economy. Nonsense, I say, a gross error and delusion fostered by incessant propaganda, media hype, and financial mumbo-jumbo. In an economy that is free from inflation, preservation of one’s capital is sufficient motivation for saving, and return on productive investments can be had in the form of ownership shares (so called equity investment) instead of interest on debt. Such equity investments share both the rewards and the risks inherent in a productive enterprise, making the relationship between the user of funds and the provider of funds more harmonious and fair. As for regulating credit, we don’t need interest to do that; we can merely decide to withhold or offer credit, to whom, for what purpose, and in what amounts.

We need to learn to play a different game. We need to organize an entirely new structure of money, banking, and finance, one that is interest-free, decentralized, and controlled, not by banks or central governments, but by businesses and individuals that associate and organize themselves into cashless trading networks. This is a way to reclaim “the credit commons” from monopoly control and create healthy community economies.

In brief, any group of traders can organize to allocate their own collective credit amongst themselves, interest-free. This is merely an extension of the common business practice of selling on open account — “I’ll ship you the goods now and you can pay me later,” except it is organized, not on a bilateral basis, but within a community of many buyers and sellers. Done on a large enough scale that includes a sufficiently broad range of goods and services spanning all levels of the supply chain from retail, to wholesale, to manufacturing, to basic commodities, such systems can avoid the dysfunctions inherent in conventional money and banking and open the way to more harmonious and mutually beneficial trading relationships that enable the emergence of sustainable economies and promote the common good.

This approach is no pie-in-the-sky pipedream, it is proven and well established. Known as mutual credit clearing, it is a process that is used by scores of commercial “barter” companies around the world to provide cashless trading for their business members. In this process, the things you sell pay for the things you buy without using money as an intermediate exchange medium. It’s as simple as that. According to the International Reciprocal Trade Association (IRTA), a major trade association for the industry, “IRTA Member companies using the “Modern Trade and Barter” process, made it possible for over 400,000 companies World Wide to utilizetheir excess business capacities and underperforming assets, to earn anestimated $12 billion dollars in previously lost and wasted revenues.”

Perhaps the best example of a credit clearing exchange that has been successful over a long period of time is the WIR Economic Circle Cooperative. Founded in Switzerland as a self-help organization in 1934 in the midst of the Great Depression, WIR provided a means for its business members to trade with one another despite the shortage of official money in circulation. Over three quarters of a century, in good time and bad, WIR has continued to thrive. Its more than 60,000 members throughout Switzerland trade about $2 billion worth of goods and services annually.

Yes, it is possible to transcend the dysfunctional money and banking system and to take back our power from bankers and politicians who use it to abuse and exploit us. We do it, not by petitioning politicians who are already bought and paid for by an ever more powerful elite group, but by using the power that is already ours to use the resources we have to support each other’s productivity and to give credit where credit is due.

This article appeared originally on Reality Sandwich.

Thomas Greco’s latest book, The End of Money and the Future of Civilization, is available now.

What If Mr. Schmidt Testified in Washington – The Video

Friday, January 28th, 2011

The following article was written by Jamie Court, author of The Progressive’s Guide to Raising Hell.

Google got honorable mention in the State of the Union as an innovator, but the flip side of corporate “innovation” is sometimes an offense to society’s core values, like privacy, and then the government has to step in to demand answers.

It’s high time that Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt was called to Congress to testify about Google’s big offense — when its Google Maps “street view” cars collected wireless data from tens of millions of homes in 30 nations. The ” Wi Spy” scandal was the largest wire-tapping scandal in world history, yet Congress has not held a single hearing. With the help of animators, that hearing has been digitally mastered using Schmidt’s actual words.

Consumer Watchdog’s new animated satire, “Mr. Schmidt Goes to Washington,” debuted today on the streets of Washington, DC, to make the case for why Congress should call Google CEO Eric Schmidt to testify under oath about the Wi-Spy scandal and other online privacy issues.

The avatar-style animation is being displayed on a mobile digital advertising truck equipped with stereo sound that will travel for one week across Capitol Hill, downtown, and busy District thoroughfares. The animation shows Google’s CEO testifying before Congress using real-life, creepy quotes from Schmidt about privacy to make the case for why Congress should question him.

Schmidit is expected to be in Davos this week where Google is throwing a lavish party for hundreds of the world’s economic elite. Innovation and Obama’s bow to the company, with which his administration and campaign treasurer have cozy ties, will no doubt be the toast of Davos. The bar rooms in Washington will get their treat as well with “Mr. Schmidt,” the sequel to a wildly popular animation, “Don’t Be Evil,” that had about 400,000 views online after making its debut on a Times Square Superscreen.

In the new animation, CEO Schmidt dons “Wi-Spy” glasses that allow him to see the personal details of the Senator questioning him. The animation was donated by artists and consultants concerned about Google’s practices who want to remain anonymous out of concern about retribution against them.

Google spent $5.2 million lobbying last year — up from $4.03 million in 2009 — to convince Congress that nothing is wrong. The company has repeatedly refused to answer questions about its activities — making no response to Consumer Watchdog reports, rejecting multiple invitations appear at our recent privacy conference with officials representing the Federal Trade Commission and Commerce Department, and even failing to comply with a subpoena by the state attorneys general. Clearly Google’s executives won’t answer tough questions until they come from Congress.

What does the public deserve to know? Questions like: Why did Google gather data from the Wi-Fi networks? What plans were there to use the data? Who authorized the project and supervised it? Who at Google has used, analyzed or otherwise accessed payload data and for what purpose? If the data was collected “by accident,” why did Google seek a patent on the process that was used to gather the data?

If you agree Congress should act, take a moment and send a free message to Congress at this page. It’s one thing to innovate by being creepy with tens of millions of people’s private information. It’s another thing when Congress refuses to find out the truth.

And, yes, “Mr. Schmidt” was posted on YouTube just to see what owner Google might do with it.

Read the original article on The Huffington Post.

Jamie Court’s book, The Progressive’s Guide to Raising Hell, is available now.

Announcing: The Color of Atmosphere by Maggie Kozel

Thursday, January 27th, 2011

We proudly announce the release of a new memoir by Maggie Kozel called The Color of Atmosphere: One Doctor’s Journey In and Out of Medicine.

The book details Maggie’s story and the route of her medical career with warmth, humor, and above all, honesty. As we follow her from her idealistic days as a devoted young pediatrician, through her Navy experience with universal health coverage, and on into the world of private practice, we see not only Maggie’s reverence for medical science, and her compassion for her patients, but also the widening gap between what she was trained to do and what is eventually expected of her.

“A rare, intimate portrayal of one pediatrician’s journey to become a doctor and her heart-wrenching decision years later to eventually leave medicine. Told with candor and wit, Maggie Kozel’s memoir is a powerful reminder of the complex forces that shape medical practice today.”—Eliza Lo Chin, MD, MPH, President, American Medical Women’s Association, and Editor, This Side of Doctoring: Reflections from Women in Medicine

“Dr. Kozel captures perfectly the malaise that has struck American medicine in general and primary care in particular. The chronicle of this intelligent and committed physician—who is frustrated at every turn as she tries to find satisfaction in a profession to which she had expected to dedicate her life—is a powerful indictment of our current system of medical care. We should have done better by her.—Beach Conger, MD, physician and author, Bag Balm and Duct Tape: Tales of a Vermont Doctor

Watch a video, below, of Maggie describing her journey and discussing the book:

Check out The Color of Atmosphere in our bookstore now.

Library Journal Reviews The Resilient Gardener

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011

Take a look at what Library Journal had to say about Carol Deppe’s new book, The Resilient Gardener: Food Production and Self-Reliance in Uncertain Times.

“Resilient” gardeners adapt to challenging health, dietary, weather, or financial situations to produce food that can sustain a family through adverse times. In this guide to becoming such a gardener, plant breeder Deppe (Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties) details her methods for safe and reliable food production—and covers more than strictly gardening—no matter your state of health or what climate you are in. She focuses on five crops with calorie, nutrient, and storage values: potatoes, corn, beans, squash, and, yes, duck eggs. In each chapter, Deppe describes her experiences with specific varieties of crops (with particular reference to her own climate in coastal Oregon), specific techniques for success, and unusual recipes suited to the varieties she grows (all are designed for those with gluten intolerance). VERDICT: Deppe’s idiosyncratic personality shines through her writing—this is as much a series of personal anecdotes by a lifelong expert gardener as a gardening book that will appeal to readers of a similar bent. Ideal for dedicated, independent gardeners who want to focus on food production despite dietary challenges, poor health, or other issues.—Margaret Heller, Dominican Univ. Lib., River Forest, IL

Read the original review here.

The Resilient Gardener is available now in our bookstore.

New Videos on Efficient Transportation, Holistic Orcharding, and Poultry Raising!

Tuesday, January 25th, 2011

Amory Lovins and Rocky Mountain Institute just published this video from their Reinventing Fire project.

Learn all about the future of transportation:

Michael Phillips is the author of forthcoming book The Holistic Orchard: Tree Fruits and Berries the Biological Way, as well as The Apple Grower. He’s the subject of a recent New York Times article on apples, and an all ’round lovely guy.

We just shared a new video, in which he explains a little bit about how he got started, and what his new book will contain:

Harvey Ussery would describe himself as “an old hick with chicken shit on my boots.” We think of him as a chicken whisperer, a poultry pacifier, the ultimate avian ally! He’s the author of the recently released book The Small-Scale Poultry Flock, and here are a few videos where he shares his wisdom about integrating your birds into the larger life of your farm:

Integrated Systems

Natural Feed

Broody Hens

BP’s Promise Versus What BP Really Means

Tuesday, January 25th, 2011

Some Insights on Making People Hole (Whole) and Just Us (Justice) in the Gulf
by Riki Ott, author of Not One Drop: Betrayal and Courage in the Wake of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill.

Santa Rosa Beach, Florida. When Louisiana fisherman Michelle Chauncy called the BP claim office (Kenneth Fineberg’s Gulf Coast Claims Facility) last Friday to check on the status of her claim for Michelle’s Crab Shack, the office couldn’t find her claim. It had vanished.

Michelle had filed her claim in October along with bank statements and records to support the loss of her wholesale/retail crab business of eighteen years. BP/Fineberg denied her claim in November and, because it was under $250,000, she couldn’t appeal.

According to BP/Fineberg’s rules, the little claims that support thousands of little businesses across the Gulf are too bothersome to deal with; many are simply being dropped. The Fineberg claims process manifests BP’s disregard of the “small people living in the Gulf,” so-called by BP Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg.

Michelle had appealed her claim anyway, because she had no other choice. After a night of stewing on her dilemma, she called the BP claim office again on Saturday as our car caravan prepared to move to Fort Walton to meet with the next group of community liaisons. Our small group was sharing information and coordinating efforts to deal BP’s “Making It Right,” or as it’s known in the Gulf, “Making It Disappear” campaign.

Florida fisherman Kathy Birren’s daughter, eight-year-old Mandy Birren, had tried to cheer the normally vivacious Michelle as we loaded the cars. Michelle apologized to the child, explaining that she was aggravated. “Everyone who talks to them gets aggravated,” said Mandy, who had already seen and heard too much for being only eight.

Mandy’s parents, Kathy and Ron, filed damage claims for their Hernando Beach Seafood business in November. BP/Fineberg denied their business claim and Ron’s personal claim, but paid Kathy’s claim, even though their personal claims were exactly identical. BP/Fineberg also denied the personal and business claims of Louisiana shrimp fishermen Tracy Kuhns, who was part of our caravan, and her husband. The blatant unfairness of the process, the helplessness of the situation, and the growing family debt, were sledgehammers of stress, pounding on both Tracy’s and Kathy’s marriages.

As a plaintiff in the Exxon Valdez case, I experienced first-hand this same treatment by Exxon and the U.S. “justice” system. For twenty years, Exxon, then ExxonMobil, used its billions to manipulate the legal system to ultimately deny justice for 22,000 claimants — and thousands of others whose legitimate spill losses had been discarded on legal technicalities before trial. Instead of making us “whole,” ExxonMobil had made us “hole,” leaving a trail of broken marriages, suicides, lost livelihoods, foreclosures, bankruptcies, and insurmountable debt. In the process, ExxonMobil had saved its shareholders billions of dollars. Since the process had worked so well for ExxonMobil, BP was now repeating it — including using a U.S. government-sanctioned process as cover for legitimacy.

During the drive to Fort Walton, I rode with Michelle to spare the children. Southern gentility has its limits. “You don’t understand,” Michelle firmly told the claims person. “I have been on my own since I was sixteen. I would gladly have worked for this money. You are forcing me to beg for a handout. I can’t pay my bills. I am losing my home; I am losing my business; and I am about to lost my mind!”

An hour later, as we pulled into Fort Walton, a Fineberg supervisor informed Michelle that her claim had suddenly been found. When Michelle hung up, she looked at me. “I need a good drink,” she said.

Instead, we joined the next gathering. There, as in other communities along our coastal route, people’s concerns about their Fineberg claims, personal and family health issues, and seafood safety all tossed together in an unlikely mix. But the concerns all hinged on BP’s massive release of oil and dispersants into the Gulf: People couldn’t pay for medical expenses (many weren’t even seeking treatment) because they had no money — their BP claims had been denied or stalled; people couldn’t afford to move out of harms way, even though they believed their families were suffering and ill from the dispersant use in coastal areas; and if dispersants were making people sick, what was it doing to seafood and why were fisheries opened?

It turns out that dispersants are not — and never were — explicitly banned within three miles of the coast or in less than ten meters of water (the “nearshore environment”) as federal officials with the USCG, EPA, NOAA, and others staunchly maintained. The Coast Guard and states can approve dispersant use in the nearshore environment on a case-by-case basis across the Gulf if the incident commander decides the toxic chemicals were “expected to prevent or minimize substantial threat to the public health or welfare, or to mitigate or prevent environmental damage” — a statement that appears in both of the official Regional Response Team dispersant policies. In fact, neither of the policies for Region IV (Alabama, Mississippi, and Florida) or Region VI (Louisiana) have any areas where dispersant use is expressly banned. Louisiana even has an expedited process for requests to spray dispersants in the nearshore environment.

Watch Video (Youtube): Planes fly at night over beach-front homes, spraying chemicals that made Lorrie Williams and her child sick. Lorrie Williams, Davis Bayou, MS October 2010.

When it comes to oil, the Coast Guard’s priority is to “remove it” — not assess impacts on the ecosystem or human health. And they have tried to remove it — from the open Gulf all the way to the coasts and bayous.

The Louisiana Bayoukeeper has requested that the State of Louisiana provide documentation of dispersant spraying and experimental release of bio-engineered bacteria in nearshore areas under the Freedom of Information Act. Organizations in Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida would be wise to do the same. This information is critical for understanding health and ecological impacts as well as economic harm.

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BP’s oil mixed with Corexit fluoresces bright orange at night under high-powered ultra-violet lights, revealing areas where beach sand is coated with the mixture that is invisible under daylight conditions. Photo by Rip Kirby.

This article appeared originally on The Huffington Post.

Riki Ott’s latest book, Not One Drop, is available now.

Robert Kuttner: Fatal Triangles

Monday, January 24th, 2011

In the wake of the Tucson shootings, President Obama has launched his latest version of post-partisanship. It seems to be serving him well. His approval ratings are up, Republicans have slightly toned down the rhetoric, and the President is in his favorite stance as the man who bridges differences.

Obama has gestured right by appointing centrists to top positions and embracing a pro-business rhetoric decrying regulatory excess, but also appeased the Democratic base by wisely rejecting calls to put Social Security on the chopping block. Based on his video to supporters, he will call both for deficit reduction in the long term but increased anti-recession spending now, knowing that Republicans won’t give him a nickel.

All this will help position him to win re-election in 2012. Having frothing-at-the-mouth Republicans control the House may well be better for Obama than having to deal with a frustrated Democratic Congressional majority.

If you liked Bill Clinton as Triangulator, you will love the era of Triangulation II. The danger, of course, is that the man at the apex of the triangle fares better than his party.

He is now Mr. Reasonable Centrist — except that in substance there is no reasonable center to be had.

A well funded and tightly organized right wing has been pulling American politics to the right for three decades now. And with a few instructive exceptions, Democrats who respond by calling for a new centrism are just acting as the right’s enablers.

What exactly is the beneficial substance of this centrism? Just how far right do we have to go for Republicans to cut any kind of deal? Isn’t the mirage of a Third Way a series of moving targets — where every compromise begets a further compromise?

Democrats once played this game well, in reverse. In the period when Democrats dominated and set the national agenda, it was Republicans who moved to the center.

Eisenhower (who was seriously considered as a possible Democratic presidential candidate) accepted the New Deal, and launched large new spending programs like the interstate highway system. Nixon proposed a guaranteed annual income law, sponsored a national health program slightly to the left of Obama’s, and signed one bill after another expanding health, safety and environmental regulation. Democrats defined the center.

But for at least two decades, Republican themes — privatize, deregulate, shrink government, cut taxes, liberate business — have been ascendant, while life for regular people has become more precarious, and too many Democrats have embraced Republican-lite.

If you look back over the past several administrations, in most bipartisan compromises it was usually the Democrats who got rolled. The last major policy compromise where the right gave serious ground was the Social Security rescue of 1983.

The 1986 tax reform was supposed to cut rates and close loopholes, but at the end of the day the tax code became less progressive and the business elite went right on inventing new loopholes. If President Obama proposes another tax reform in this spirit, watch out.

The 1996 welfare reform, a bipartisan compromise so punitive that three of Clinton’s sub-cabinet experts resigned in protest, cut the welfare rolls, but inflicted huge hardship on poor people. As long as there was full employment, the damage was disguised. With unemployment in excess of nine percent, the massive hole in the safety net stands revealed.

No Child Left Behind was a massive case of bait-and-switch. Bush II offered Democrats more federal spending in exchange for higher national standards. The real result was a plague of teach-to-the-test requirements, the better to bash public schools and soften up public opinion for voucher schools — and not nearly enough federal aid.

Even the one epic case widely held to be a success story of bi-partisan compromise, the Earned Income Tax Credit, is trickier than it seems. Yes, the EITC does transfer a lot of money to the working poor. But by disguising an income transfer as a tax credit, the provision adds fuel to the ideology that the best thing government can do for you is cut your taxes.

Under Bush II, progressives managed to save Social Security from privatization not by seeking compromise, but by standing their ground. The array of progressive bills enacted in the last hundred hours of the late, Democratic 111th Congress became law not because Democrats scuttled to the center, but because they hung tough and remembered what they stood for.

In Sunday’s New York Times, there is a full page, characteristically fatuous ad by the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, with the coy headline, “There is no ‘D’ or ‘R’ in ‘Solutions.’” Get it? Partisanship just stands in the way of technical solutions that should be obvious to all people of good will. It just happens that the Peterson Foundation’s “apolitical” solutions are deeply conservative, whether on cutting Social Security and Medicare, or tying government’s hands when it comes to recovery spending.

In case you missed it, there is a fierce debate going on. One side, which now controls the House and effectively can block legislation in the Senate, disparages science, wants America to be close to a theocracy, craves a return to Wild West gun-slinging, would gut social insurance, and repeal most of the affirmative gains of social investment and public-interest regulation since the New Deal.

The other side recognizes the value of public spending in a deep recession and beyond, wants a progressive tax code, defends Social Security, Medicare and the new health reform, wants the financial economy to be servant of the real economy, supports regulation that benefits workers and consumers, and accepts evidence-based science when it comes to climate change and other issues.

Unfortunately, this other side describes only about half the Democratic Party

Give the Republicans this: they know what they stand for. A good chunk of the Democratic Party today doesn’t quite.

But where exactly is the middle ground, except in pundit-pleasing gestures like lions sitting together with lambs? How do you compromise with True Believers?

Based on early reports, the President’s State of the Union Address will be better than some progressives feared. They can take some credit for warning him off Social Security cuts. And good for Obama for calling for more public investment and letting Republicans jeer, revealing the emptiness of the Republican recovery program.

When he finishes, Rep. Paul Ryan, chair of the House Budget Committee, will give the Republican response. Let’s hope we don’t feel that someone should get equal time to give a Democratic response.

Read the original article on The Huffington Post.

Robert Kuttner’s latest book, A Presidency In Peril, is available now.


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