News posts from dpacheco's Archive

How Wall Street Looted Local Governments, and What We Can Do

Tuesday, May 25th, 2010

Author Les Leopold (The Looting of America: How Wall Street’s Game of Fantasy Finance Destroyed Our Jobs, Pensions, and Prosperity—and What We Can Do About It) has the perfect analogy for collateralized debt obligations, the financial WMD that Wall Street inflicted on the rest of America: they bought insurance on somebody else’s house, and when it burned down they collected the money.

From Capitol News Connection:

WASHINGTON — Although Senate passage of the sweeping financial reform bill promises increased protection against the banking abuses that triggered our economic meltdown, it does little for the state and local government victims of that fiscal catastrophe, says the author of a leading book on the subject.

Les Leopold is the author of the 2009 book The Looting of America: How Wall Street’s Game of Fantasy Finance Destroyed Our Jobs, Pensions and Prosperity, and What We Can Do About It.

He’s also a leading advocate for the local governments across the country whose budgets were cratered by exotic derivative deals gone bad.  ( See CNC Special Report: Derivative Disaster Spreads to Local Governments )

The just-passed Senate bill includes measures to regulate the trading of derivatives through exchanges and requires banks to spin off their derivative divisions. But is that enough?

‘Long way to go’
“We have a long way to go,” Leopold said in an interview with Capitol News Connection. “They sold billions of dollars of this crap to pension funds and state and local governments.”

By “they,” Leopold is referring to Wall Street and its major banks, as well as some foreign institutions.

The author is a 1975 graduate of Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and co-founded two non-profit educational institutes. He remains heavily involved in issues related to the economy, environment and occupational safety and health.

The lack of regulation of derivatives over the past decade, Leopold said, has created “an entire financial set of leveraging and pyramid schemes and new securities. I don’t think you can view it any way other as looting.”

Read the whole article here.

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Cheesemonger Gordon Edgar on The Splendid Table

Monday, May 24th, 2010

Cheesemonger Gordon Edgar explains how handcrafted cheeses are helping to save the small family dairy farm, and reflects on the intersection of artisan cheese, punk rock, and politics in this episode of NPR’s The Splendid Table.

Lynne takes us deep into the issues facing independent cheese producers with Gordon Edgar, author of Cheesemonger, A Life on the Wedge.

Listen Now (The Cheesemonger segment begins at 13:25.) 

To download this episode visit The Splendid Table online.

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WATCH: The People v. Bush Author Charlotte Dennett Interview on Chelsea Green TV (Extended)

Monday, May 24th, 2010

Author and one-time candidate for Attorney General of Vermont Charlotte Dennett makes the case for the prosecution of former president George W. Bush for murder in this video interview with Chelsea Green Publishing.

It happened that a friend of mine put a copy of Vincent Bugliosi’s book in my hands, The Prosecution of George W. Bush for Murder, and there is a section in the book that says that any District Attorney or any Attorney General can prosecute Bush, and I thought, “I’m running for Attorney General.” I’d already decided to run before she even gave me the book. And i was considering what the issues were going to be, and then when I read that any Attorney General could do this I thought, “Well, I’m not an Attorney General yet, but I could make it part of my campaign.

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Psychiatric Drugs and Poor Kids

Monday, May 24th, 2010

A troubling article from the Journal of the American Medical Association reports the finding that poor children are significantly more likely to be prescribed tranquilizing, physically dangerous antipsychotics—even when there are no symptoms of psychotic behavior.

From the Huffington Post:

Children covered by Medicaid are far more likely to be prescribed antipsychotic drugs than children covered by private insurance, and Medicaid-covered kids have a higher likelihood of being prescribed antipsychotics even if they have no psychotic symptoms. This is reported in the May19, 2010 Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) article, “Studies Shed Light on Risks and Trends in Pediatric Antipsychotic Prescribing.”

Researchers at Rutgers University and Columbia University found that children and adolescents covered by Medicaid were four times as likely as those with private insurance to receive an antipsychotic in 2004. Among those aged six to 17 years who were covered by Medicaid, 4.2 percent were prescribed at least one antipsychotic drug. In contrast, among those in this same age group who had private insurance, less than 1 percent were prescribed an antipsychotic. Nearly half of these Medicaid-covered pediatric patients receiving antipsychotic drugs had nonpsychotic diagnoses of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or some other disruptive behavior disorder. In contrast, of the privately insured pediatric patients receiving antipsychotics, about one fourth were diagnosed with ADHD or some other disruptive behavior disorder.

Read the whole article here.

Related Articles: Digital One-Room Schoolhouse; Summer Camp

Sunday, May 23rd, 2010

By Anya Kamenetz

Two models I’ve come across in my travels:

A woman named Rochele Hirsch came to my talk at the Carter Center and passed me a 1-page summary of her proposal for a “Digital One-Room Schoolhouse.” The next day I ended up tossing around the idea at TEDxAtlanta onstage in the Q&A with Gever Tulley of the Tinkering School and Michael Levine of the Cooney Center (Sesame Street digital learning folks).

Basic idea: home school kids in small neighborhood groups using digital resources to expand the virtual boundaries of the classroom while preserving a strong community feeling and peer-to-peer relationships.

“- 14 kids (multi-age) in a neighborhood classroom (walk to school)with

- 2 “Learning Process Facilitators” (not “teachers”) whose job includes connection with students — and ensuring they are learning, that the equipment is working well for them, that they are paid attention to in a learning environment.
- Distance Education provided, multi-media, interactive teaching/learning through the computer with EXCELLENT teachers/lecturers and an EXCELLENT curriculum: The student moves as rapidly as they can or want to through the required basics — and then on to advanced work as they choose — with constant feedback, reinforcement and “extra” opportunities.
- Phone-center “tutors” (all over the country) who are available to answer questions and engage the thinking process either through the phone or through chat as the student is moving through the education module.
- Older students provide tutoring to younger students as part of their own learning and reinforcement
- Parents are more involved — because they are close by to the neighborhood “distance education classroom” and would be conspicuously absent if not involved.
- Further socialization can be accomplished through arts / music / sports — with modules on one-two days / week — with larger groups
- The school day runs longer (say 8 to 6:00) — to support family needs, study time, exercise, extra optional studies and socialization.”

Summer camp is another awesome educational model for kids and adults. It’s immersive, a strong community, tailored to a single passion. I had amazing experiences taking college level courses in three weeks at “nerd camp” as a middle schooler. The Tinkering School is a summer camp for playing with power tools, learning about physics, and making and repairing things. I also got an invite from ITP at NYU yesterday for this:

“For the first time this June we are inviting non-students, working professionals, to come to ITP on weekends and evenings to make stuff, hear speakers on the cutting edge, collaborate with people from diverse disciplines…It’s a mash-up of an artist residency and a summer camp for adults…We’re creating a flexible structure, an Un-University, that will be responsive and supportive to the group we select. The structure is based on “unconferences” such as foocamp or barcamp, where presentations and discussions form in response to participants’ interests and projects. ITP’s facilities––its faculty, resident tutors, and equipment––will be at your service…During the school year ITP is a two year graduate program in the Tisch School of the Arts at NYU where students from both artistic fields and technological ones explore innovative possibilities. On our web site we say we are a Center for the Recently Possible.”

They are asking me to post a session–what do you think?

Visit to comment.

The Food Movement, Rising: The New York Review of Books

Saturday, May 22nd, 2010

Chances are you probably already know that some of the brightest luminaries in the food movement are also authors published or distributed by Chelsea Green. That’s not bragging—that’s just the way it is. (Well, maybe it is bragging. A bit.) We’ve got Carlo Petrini, Shannon Hayes, Joan Gussow, Joel Salatin, and numerous other small farmers and food producers who are leading the way toward a more sustainable agriculture.

This article from The New York Review of Books brings together the seemingly disparate threads of the growing (no pun intended) food movement, focusing on a few folks who are bringing not just responsibility into the conversation on food politics, but also one critical ingredient: flavor.

The Italian-born organization Slow Food, founded in 1986 as a protest against the arrival of McDonald’s in Rome, represents perhaps the purest expression of these politics. The organization, which now has 100,000 members in 132 countries, began by dedicating itself to “a firm defense of quiet material pleasure” but has lately waded into deeper political and economic waters. Slow Food’s founder and president, Carlo Petrini, a former leftist journalist, has much to say about how people’s daily food choices can rehabilitate the act of consumption, making it something more creative and progressive. In his new book Terra Madre: Forging a New Global Network of Sustainable Food Communities, Petrini urges eaters and food producers to join together in “food communities” outside of the usual distribution channels, which typically communicate little information beyond price and often exploit food producers. A farmers’ market is one manifestation of such a community, but Petrini is no mere locavore. Rather, he would have us practice on a global scale something like “local” economics, with its stress on neighborliness, as when, to cite one of his examples, eaters in the affluent West support nomad fisher folk in Mauritania by creating a market for their bottarga, or dried mullet roe. In helping to keep alive such a food tradition and way of life, the eater becomes something more than a consumer; she becomes what Petrini likes to call a “coproducer.”

Ever the Italian, Petrini puts pleasure at the center of his politics, which might explain why Slow Food is not always taken as seriously as it deserves to be. For why shouldn’t pleasure figure in the politics of the food movement? Good food is potentially one of the most democratic pleasures a society can offer, and is one of those subjects, like sports, that people can talk about across lines of class, ethnicity, and race.

The fact that the most humane and most environmentally sustainable choices frequently turn out to be the most delicious choices (as chefs such as Alice Waters and Dan Barber have pointed out) is fortuitous to say the least; it is also a welcome challenge to the more dismal choices typically posed by environmentalism, which most of the time is asking us to give up things we like. As Alice Waters has often said, it was not politics or ecology that brought her to organic agriculture, but rather the desire to recover a certain taste—one she had experienced as an exchange student in France. Of course democratizing such tastes, which under current policies tend to be more expensive, is the hard part, and must eventually lead the movement back to more conventional politics lest it be tagged as elitist.

Read the whole article here.

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Under the Radar, HUD Moves to Privatize All of America’s Public Housing

Friday, May 21st, 2010

Author George Lakoff (Don’t Think of an Elephant: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate) unearths some troubling new legislation coming out of Housing and Urban Development. If PETRA passes, says Lakoff, it would be a big victory for onservatives and a huge blow to progressive values of fairness and good government. Taxpayers will be on the hook, tenants’ rights will be trampled, and private companies make out like bandits.

From BuzzFlash:

The Obama Administration’s move to the right is about to give conservatives a victory they could not have anticipated, even under Bush. HUD, under Obama, submitted legislation called PETRA to Congress that would result in the privatization of all public housing in America.

The new owners would charge ten percent above market rates to impoverished tenants, money that would be mostly paid by the US government (you and me, the taxpayers). To maintain the property, the new owners would take out a mortgage for building repair and maintenance (like a home equity loan), with no cap on interest rates.

With rents set above market rates, the mortgage risk would be attractive to banks. Either they make a huge profit on the mortgages paid for by the government. Or if the government lowers what it will pay for rents, the property goes into foreclosure. The banks get it and can sell it off to developers.

Sooner or later, the housing budget will be cut back and such foreclosures will happen. The structure of the proposal and the realities of Washington make it a virtual certainty.

The banks and developers make a fortune, with the taxpayers paying for it. The public loses its public housing property. The impoverished tenants lose their apartments, or have their rents go way up if they are forced into the private market. Homelessness increases. Government gets smaller. The banks and developers win. It is a Bank Bonanza! The poor and the public lose.

And a precedent is set. The government can privatize any public property: Schools, libraries, national parks, federal buildings — just as has begun to happen in California, where the right-wing governor has started to auction off state property and has even suggested selling off the Supreme Court building.

The rich will get richer, the poor and public get poorer. And the very idea of the public good withers.

This is central to the conservative dream, in which there is no public good — only private goods. And it is a nightmare for democracy.

To read the rest of the article and find out what you can do to help, visit BuzzFlash.

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A Savory Spring Treat: Chef Caleb Barber’s Recipe for Fresh Tomatoes in Tuna Mayonnaise

Friday, May 21st, 2010

Summer is tomato season and nothing beats a ripe, home-grown tomato. And after putting so much work into nurturing and growing your own tomatoes, you’ll want to do something special with them.

Chef Caleb Barber (co-author of In Late Winter We Ate Pears: A Year of Hunger and Love) has a few ideas about that. Here’s one of them.

From Vermont Life Magazine:

Pomodori Heirloom Tonnati or Fresh Tomatoes in Tuna Mayonnaise

Chef Caleb Barber, Pane e Salute, Woodstock

In Barber’s twist on the classic Italian Vitello Tonnato — veal in tuna mayonnaise — slices of fresh tomato stand in for the meat and are drizzled with a briny, creamy sauce. It makes a perfect light lunch with good crusty bread or a lovely first course for an al fresco summer dinner. Barber and his wife and restaurant co-owner Deirdre Heekin grow many of the restaurant’s tomatoes, and for this recipe, he says, the tomatoes should be quite firm, possibly even a touch green as Italians sometimes prefer.

Serves 4-6 as an appetizer, side salad or light lunch course.

3 large egg yolks

Juice of 1 lemon

2 or 3 pinches of salt, plus more to

½ cup plus additional olive oil as

1 (5-ounce) can Italian tuna packed in
oil, drained and squeezed of excess

1 Tablespoon capers, drained

1 anchovy filet

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

6-8 large fresh tomatoes, cored and
sliced ¼-inch thick

In a food processor (or in a medium-sized bowl and using a whisk), beat the yolks, lemon juice and salt together. Slowly beat in the olive oil, a few drops at a time if you are working by hand, or gradually by a thin drizzle with the blade running if you are working with the food processor, until the desired texture of a light mayonnaise is achieved. (Start with ½ cup olive oil in a steady stream and stop the blade as soon as the oil is finished.) If the mayonnaise is not thick enough, drizzle in a little more oil, taking care not to overmix. (If overmixed, the emulsion may break apart and no longer suspend the oil.)

Pour 23 of this simple mayonnaise into a separate bowl and set aside. Add the tuna, capers and anchovy to the mayonnaise in the food processor. Process together until smooth, then fold in reserved mayonnaise until a saucy texture is reached, neither stiff nor runny. Taste and season with salt and pepper as desired. Spoon the mayonnaise over the tomato slices and serve. Any remaining mayonnaise can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 10 days. (Recipe first published in “Pane e Salute: Food and Love in Italy and Vermont” by Deirdre Heekin and Caleb Barber, Invisible Cities Press, 2002.)

Read the whole article here.

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It’s National Bike to Work Day! (Did You?)

Friday, May 21st, 2010

It’s National Bike to Work Day! If you haven’t biked to work in a while and you’re a little intimidated, or you just need a quick refresher, here’s a handy guide to get you started.

The following is an excerpt from Biking to Work by Rory McMullan. It has been adapted for the Web.

As the old phrase goes, “It’s like riding a bike”: once you learn you never forget. Most of us had bikes as children and can still ride one. Is there anything that adults need to learn about riding a bike?

There are more cars on the road than ever before, and surveys show that the biggest barrier to taking up riding a bicycle is the perception of danger. Confident cyclists who have good road position and excellent control of their bikes are the safest. If it has been several years since you were last on a bike, and the prospect of riding on a busy road is daunting, then a few hours of training with experienced riders will do wonders for your confidence and safety.

Before you ride on the road

Before jumping on the bike and launching yourself onto the open road, here are a few tips:

Have a roadworthy bike A bike bought from a bike shop should be ready to ride. If you already have a bike, seek the advice of a mechanic at a bicycle shop or use the checklist below:

  • Brakes Look to see if the brake pads look worn. Lift the front wheel, spin it, and pull the front brake: the wheel should immediately stop turning. Repeat with the rear wheel.
  • Tires Test with your thumb to see that the tires are firm, if not, pump them up.
  • Wheels Check that the wheels are true: lift the front wheel and spin it to make sure it is not impeded, and repeat with the rear wheel. Check that the wheels are clamped securely.
  • Handlebars Hold the front wheel between your legs and wiggle the handlebars to ensure they are tight and aligned correctly.
  • Saddle height You should be able to sit in the saddle and touch the ground with your toes.
  • Test ride Before venturing onto a road, the final check should be a test ride. Find a safe, car-free area and take a ride, operating the brakes and gears, and making sure the bike is comfortable. Do not ignore strange noises or jumping gears, as they probably indicate a problem.

If you have any doubts about the mechanical safety of your bicycle, seek help from your local bike shop.

If you have never ridden a bike before, consider starting with a ladies’ bike with a low, step-through frame. Stand with legs astride the bike, hold the handlebars, put one foot on a pedal, push forward with the other foot and start pedaling. You may wobble a bit at first, but the faster you go the less you will wobble.

Steering To get used to steering your bike, try practicing maneuvering between some obstacles, and making U-turns.

Signaling and communication Probably the most important part of riding on the road is good communication with other road users. Before you take to the road you should practice riding with one hand, and looking behind while signaling. Before you maneuver, make sure there are no obstacles in front, and then look behind you and try to make eye contact with approaching drivers. Always clearly signal what you are going to do.

Braking There are two brakes on a bike, front and back; the back brake is usually operated by the left hand and the front brake by the right hand. Both levers are on the handlebars. These are the most important part of the bike, so get used to the brake setup and to operating it.

Practice in a car-free area, and get used to riding with your fingers on the brake levers. If this is very uncomfortable, or if you find the brakes are not working well, seek the advice of a mechanic at a bike shop.

Use the back brake to slow down, and both front and back brakes together to stop.

Emergency stops To stop quickly, simultaneously pull hard on the back and front brakes, shift your weight backwards, moving your posterior toward the back of the saddle while stiffening your arms. It sounds more difficult than it is; practice a few times.

  • Avoid skidding Pulling the back brake hard will lock the rear wheel, which will cause you to skid. Like ABS in cars, brakes work most effectively when the wheels are still turning. If you start to skid, release the brake lever slightly.
  • Do not pull the front brake on its own suddenly as this could throw you over the handlebars. When using the front brake, shift your weight toward the back of the bike.
  • Never turn the handlebar while pulling hard on the front brake—the front wheel will skid, and you could lose control.

Operating the gears Many bikes have gears, which make it both easier to climb hills and get high speeds on the flat. Unless you live in a very hilly area you are unlikely to need more than a few gears for everyday use. Most gears are controlled from the handlebar either as grip shifters or as EZ-fire (buttons that are pressed by thumb and forefinger), or incorporated into the brake levers.

There are two main types of gears—derailleur and hub—which are operated differently. Each has advantages and disadvantages.

With derailleur gears, you change gear while pedaling forward. The front derailleur is controlled from the left-side shifter, the rear derailleur from the right shifter. Different gear speeds are achieved from combinations of the front and rear derailleurs.

On the front, the largest sprocket is the highest gear, while on the back the smallest is the highest gear. A 27-speed bike will have 3 speeds on the front and 9 on the rear, giving 27 possible combinations. However, try to avoid the gears that make the chain cross over at an extreme angle; these “criss-cross” gears are bad for the chain and sprockets. Especially bad is to combine the inside (small) front sprocket with the outside (small) rear sprocket; this combination is noisy, inefficient, and causes the chain to wear out prematurely.

With hub gears you briefly stop pedaling to change gear. A hub gear only has one external cog, and the speed is controlled through cogs inside the hub of the wheel. There are fewer gears, usually between 3 and 7, but this system is easier to operate and the ratio between the highest and lowest gear is usually the same as a 27-speed derailleur system.

Be visible

Before you enter traffic you should ensure that you are visible: wear a reflective jacket or vest and have lights on your bike if you might be cycling in the dark.

On the road

Once you have learned to control your bike, and are confident with turning, braking, and changing gears, you are ready to ride on the road, but before you do you should be aware of the basics of road position.

There are two main positions for on-road cycling. You can ride in the traffic stream (the primary position) or to the right of it (the secondary position).

Primary position If riding in the middle of a lane you are part of the traffic, and are very visible to drivers because you are right in front of them. This position should be adopted in residential streets, especially when parked cars on either side may mean there is not enough room for safe passing. You are also doing drivers a favor by removing the decision from them as to whether or not there is room to squeeze past you.

Secondary position Riding to the right of the traffic stream, in the secondary position, is a concession to road users coming from behind at higher speeds, allowing them to pass. This position is usually adopted on main roads.

The distance from the curb depends on the width of the road, but as a rule of thumb leave at least three feet between yourself and the curb.

Inexperienced cyclists often ride too close to the curb. This is dangerous, because if you hit a bump, or a car door opens, or a pedestrian or pet runs out in front of you, you can only swerve into the traffic stream. But if you are further away from the curb and someone passing gets too close, you still have room to move back toward the right. Generally, cars will give you as much room as you give yourself.

Passing parked cars When passing parked cars, always be aware that a car door could open, so look to see if the cars are occupied.

Taking the lane There are occasions where you should move from the secondary to the primary position. This is called “taking the lane.”

Places where you should take the lane include:

  • passing parked cars
  • approaching and moving through an intersection
  • riding in a bus lane
  • moving through a narrowing road

—in fact whenever you want to ensure you are not going to be passed. To do so, plan well ahead, and look over your left shoulder to see if it is clear. If it is clear far enough behind so that no one will be affected, move left into the traffic stream. You may have to wait. Good communication and signaling should enable you to negotiate your way into the traffic stream.

Intersections Approaching traffic lights or an intersection where you must give way, position yourself in the primary position in the center of the lane. If when approaching an intersection there is a line of traffic, the least safe option is to pass on the right, so be very cautious and never pass a truck or large vehicle on the right. It is best to either wait your turn or consider passing on the left to get to the front, where there is often a reserved area for cyclists.

Clearly signal your right or left turn, and look behind to check that drivers are giving way. Then when it is clear, or the lights are green, move through the intersection maintaining your primary position in the center of the lane.

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Prosecuting George W. Bush: Charlotte Dennett on Santa Fe Radio Café

Thursday, May 20th, 2010

For a lot of people, what’s past is past. But there are some who still believe that if you break the law, you must be held accountable—no matter who you are. That’s the driving principle behind the accountability movement.

When Charlotte Dennett ran for Attorney General of Vermont, part of her platform was a promise to prosecute former-president George W. Bush for murder. The state of Vermont has good reason to be angry: we’ve sent a disproportionate number of soldiers to fight and die in the Iraq War that Bush waged under false pretenses. In this interview, Dennett discusses the movement and her book, The People v. Bush: One Lawyer’s Campaign to Bring the President to Justice and the National Grassroots Movement She Encounters Along the Way.

From Santa Fe Radio Café:

Mary-Charlotte: So you had an encounter which was the kind of archetypal “I read a book that changed my life” encounter with Vincent Bugliosi, whose book is called The Prosecution of George W. Bush for Murder. Tell us about that book and what followed, the chain of events that followed from it.

Charlotte Dennett: Well, a friend had told me about the book during the late summer of 2008. She knew that I had tentatively decided to run for Attorney General in Vermont, being a lawyer. I’m a member of the Progressive Party—there’s three parties in Vermont—and they needed someone to run for that position, so I tentatively accepted, and she put the book in my hands knowing that I was also a journalist, that I’d had some experience in the Middle East, and she said she thought I’d be very interested in this book, and then she said rather cryptically, “I think there’s something in there that we in our different separate states can do about the problem of Bush sending our troops to war on false pretenses.

Listen Now

Read the whole article here.

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