News posts from Shay's Archive


EPA drops ball on danger of chemicals to children

Monday, March 31st, 2008

Just when you think there are no more shoes to drop in the Bush Administration’s march to decimate any and all public protections …  Imelda Marcos stops by after a shopping spree.

In relation to a couple of recent posts related to Mark Schapiro’s book Exposed, where he is taken to task by some apologists for chemical companies, you read a story that shows that the Environmental Protection Agency has been stacking its review panels with scientists who are financially linked to chemical companies.

Take this pice of reporting from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

The Environmental Protection Agency is supposed to evaluate compounds in products such as flame retardants in mattresses and car seats to see if they are especially harmful to children.

But it doesn’t.

The EPA’s Voluntary Children’s Chemical Evaluation Program, which relies on companies to provide information about the dangers of the chemicals they produce, is all but dead.

Funding ran out last August.

If you think investigative reporting is dead, read on here.

This story only underscores a key point Schapiro raises in his book—if you think someone is paying attention to what chemicals companies are putting on and in kids’ products, think again.

Low Salmon numbers should spawn action

Monday, March 31st, 2008

If you’re not sufficiently PO’d or freaked out by the lede to this story in The San Francisco Chronicle:

The Central Valley fall run of chinook salmon apparently has collapsed, portending sharp fishing restrictions and rising prices for consumers while providing further evidence that the state’s water demands are causing widespread ecological damage.

Then read the whole, disturbing story here.

Turns out that pollution and other contaminant runoff, combined with new dams and water withdrawal, are sucking the life out of the state’s fisheries—literally.

George Lakoff hearts Obama

Monday, March 31st, 2008

George Lakoff, the master of all master debate framers, has a great piece up on OpenLeft called
“What Made Obama’s Speech Great.” Lakoff believes Obama’s speech was a turning point in U.S. politics, and was a broad sweeping look at the state of politics and people today, and not just on race as the media have portrayed it. Here is a sample of the greatness Lakoff sees in Sen. Barack Obama’s March 18th speech:

We are on the cusp of a new politics in America. It should be dated from March 18, 2008, the date of Barack Obama’s landmark speech, A More Perfect Union. The usual pundits have looked mainly at the speech’s surface theme: race. They weren’t wrong. It was indeed the most important statement about race in recent history.

But it was much more. It was a general call to a new politics and an outline for what it needs to be. Just as Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address was about much more than the war dead on that battlefield, so Obama’s speech-widely hailed as in the same ballpark as Lincoln’s-went beyond race to the nature of America, its ideals, and its future.

(…)

What makes this great speech great is that it transcends its immediate occasion and addresses in its form as well as its words the most vital of issues: what America is about: who are, and are to be, as Americans; and what politics should be fundamentally about.

The media has missed this. But we must not.

I know plenty of people are calling for Sen. Hillary Clinton to get out of the race for the good of the party, but part of me agrees with those who say that by staying in the race she is helping, not hurting, Obama, by making him hone his policies and message. It may be mathematically difficult, if not impossible, for her to win, and if she loses any more big contests, the pressure on her to get out will mount.

Building Green in Kansas

Monday, March 31st, 2008

This just in from our good friend and Chelsea Green author Dan Chiras and the efforts to rebuild Greensburg, Kansas as a sustainable community from the ground up. The community was nearly wiped off the face of the Earth by a tornado last year, and Chelsea Green has donated green building books to help the community develop a sustainable library—and has urged other book publishers to join us.

“Businesses are showing an outpouring of generosity,” notes Chiras, who’s leading a team of architects and builders to build two of the “greenest homes on the planet” in Greensburg.

Chiras’s team, EverGreen Design-Build Partnership, consists of green architect, James Plagmann of HumaNature Architecture in Arvada, Colorado; designer-builder, David Parker of Denver Colorado; and Brandon Dardanis, a builder and manufacturer of Tech Block, arguably the greenest insulating concrete form on the market today. The team plans to build two homes, one from Tech Block and another from straw bale.

“Our homes are two of dozen planned eco-lodges, places people can stay in when they come to visit and view the green building efforts of Greensburg,” says Chiras. “The two-bedroom 1,200-square foot state-of-the-art guest homes, powered entirely by wind and solar energy, will cost about $250,000 each.”

“These homes are models that will demonstrate what individuals in Greensburg and throughout the world can do — how green they can build their homes and how much this will save them—all the while helping combat global climate change that spawns vicious storms like the one that devastated their town in 2007,” Chiras adds. “My team members and I have donated a considerable portion of our time and energy to the project, worth an estimated $20,000 to $25,000 on each home.”

A number of businesses have either donated cash or products and services—or offered generous discounts on them—to help make the green dream homes a reality.

Here’s a rundown of who’s joined Dan’s team effort:

Eco-Structure magazine was first to join our team. As an official team partner, they are helping Ever Green Design-Build raise both awareness and money – efforts that have already begun to pay off.

Two of Chiras’ publishers Chelsea Green Publishers and New Society Publishers agreed to help publicize this work through their newsletters and blogs. Both publishers have donated numerous books on green building and sustainability to the citizens of the town and Chelsea Green has made a cash donation to our project.

Three wind turbine manufacturers, Entegrity, Endurance, and Abundant Renewable Energy, have offered discounts on their turbines. ICS, which manufactures a structural insulated panel that the team will use to build the roofs of their homes, is offering a discount on their product.

American Clay, which manufactures a natural earthen plaster, has donated 100% of the all-natural plaster and clay paints for the interior walls and ceilings of both homes.

Chiras’s long-time friend and associate, Gary Dillard of Red Pueblo Construction has volunteered to apply the interior plaster for both homes at a generous discount.

Hathmore Technologies, LLC, Blue Springs, MO has agreed to perform energy analysis, energy rating, and LEED certification at a discounted rate.

Harvest Solar Energy has volunteered to donate and install a solar electric system at a generous discount and, if necessary, help with wind turbine installations.

“The support extends beyond building trade,” notes Chiras. Linda Stuart who owns and operates Evergreen Candleworks, which makes all-natural, organic soy candles in Chiras’s hometown will donate cash to the project through candle sales.

The CU Continuing Education, through which Chiras offers workshops on green building and residential renewable energy, has donated two scholarships to residents or builders associated with Greensburg to attend three of Dan’s workshops on passive solar design, green building, and residential renewable energy.

Last but not least, Desiree Rengert, a students at SUNY Brockport, who heard about our efforts through a professor at her University, has volunteered to help raise money support our project.

For more information contact Dan Chiras, Ever Green Design-Build Partnership, at (303) 674-9688 or [email protected]

Keeping kids’ toys safe

Monday, March 31st, 2008

Journalist Mark Schapiro, whose book Exposed was recently the basis for a special feature on PBS’ NOW program that focused on phthalates—a hard-to-pronounce but damaging group of chemicals found in many children’s toys—is taking on the chemical industry’s apologists.

Elizabeth Whalen took him to task earlier this year on The Huffington Post, calling him an “activist,” which to journalists is about as slanderous as it gets. Schapiro took up Whalen’s outing and used what all journalists use when they write stories—facts—to show that his book and his reporting are on firm ground, not simply based on alarmist claims.

Check out Whalen’s post here and Schapiro’s riposte.

And, in case you were wondering phthalates make plastics soft and pliable and chewy for kids—the reason why a rubber ducky is so darn inviting.

Here’s a sample of the back-and-forth:

Whalen: Contrast the activist scare about phthalates with the scientific reality: there is no evidence whatsoever—not even a hint—of health problems from phthalates in any consumer products used by children or adults. That is the conclusion of esteemed scientists from the Food and Drug Administration, Consumer Product Safety Commission, and universities around the world — and a blue ribbon panel on phthalates and health chaired by former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop. The issue has been addressed and studied extensively.

Schapiro: Dozens of studies of rodents and, increasingly, of humans have demonstrated precisely that: the evidence suggests strongly that phthalates disrupt the developing endocrine system of infant boys (at this stage, most of the research does focus on boys because phthalates affect production of the male sexual hormone, testosterone). A study published last week in the journal Pediatrics found evidence of phthalates in every one of the 163 infants under thirteen months that a team of scientists tested for the synthetic substance. Why does this matter? Studies in Denmark concluded in 2006 that high levels of phthalates in mother’s breast milk contributed to lower levels of testosterone production in their male offspring in the first three months of life.

After challenging Whalen’s claims, Schapiro has found a new foe in Trevor Butterworth, who offers a counter-argument Schapiro’s counter-argument here. Here’s a snippet:

But there’s a problem: if you are going to muckrake with science, you need to be able to refute scientific evidence which doesn’t agree with your hypothesis. That’s how science works. Posit a theory, find evidence (or find data and posit a theory), test that evidence and theory against everything else out there.

This, Shapiro doesn’t do. He takes only the evidence that supports his position and avoids addressing the problems with it, even though these problems are substantial.

OK, Mark, the squishy phthalate-soaked ball is in your court.

Rethinking Limits to Growth

Monday, March 31st, 2008

When Limits to Growth was published nearly 35 years ago by the Club of Rome, critics scoffed at its interpretations of data, arguing that its view of the world was skewed. Today, however, as we come to realize that “peak everything” is not an illusion, many are rethinking some of the basic assumptions laid out LTG.

Earlier this year, Cameron Smith, a columnist for the Toronto Star, had this to say:

Ever since the Club of Rome published Limits to Growth 35 years ago, the path to global collapse has been mapped. But few paid attention: The threat was far off, the steps toward it seemed easy to accommodate, there was no sense of urgency.

Now, however, a perfect storm is on the not-too-distant horizon. Global warming and “peak everything” are meshing at every turn, and the list of possible consequences is fearsome.

Our friends to the north never cease to amaze us with their powers of perception and awareness to the reality  that surrounds us, but imagine our surprise when the Wall Street Journal opened the same dialog on its front page.

In fact, they point out that one economist who dissed the original argument in Limits to Growth, is now alarmed by the rate at which humans are depleting the world’s resources:

As a young economist 30 years ago, Joseph Stiglitz said flatly [of Limits to Growth]: “There is not a persuasive case to be made that we face a problem from the exhaustion of our resources in the short or medium run.”

Today, the Nobel laureate is concerned that oil is underpriced relative to the cost of carbon emissions, and that key resources such as water are often provided free. “In the absence of market signals, there’s no way the market will solve these problems,” he says. “How do we make people who have gotten something for free start paying for it? That’s really hard. If our patterns of living, our patterns of consumption are imitated, as others are striving to do, the world probably is not viable.”

Dennis Meadows, one of the authors of “The Limits to Growth,” says the book was too optimistic in one respect. The authors assumed that if humans stopped harming the environment, it would recover slowly. Today, he says, some climate-change models suggest that once tipping points are passed, environmental catastrophe may be inevitable even “if you quit damaging the environment.”

Indeed.

Cities leave US behind on climate accord

Monday, March 31st, 2008

With the Bush Administration continuing to keep its head in the proverbial sand when it comes to global warming, many states are taking action and leaving the US as a whole in the dust, and are inviting key European allies here to talk about new strategies, according to a new report in Bloomberg.

States are moving toward mandatory, rather than voluntary action, the news report said, citing officials from the Pew Center on Global Climate Change. More than a dozen states are working on everything from cap-and-trade regulations to tightening up standards on vehicle tailpipe emissions.

Bloomberg’s report comes just days after Pres. George W. Bush delivered his final State of the Union address.

Here is a quick read of the story:

“The clear message from the states is that we need mandatory action,” said Elliot Diringer, director of international strategies at the Pew Center on Global Climate Change. “There appears to be consensus within the U.S. and abroad that we need to move beyond the voluntary approach.”

(…)

In his State of the Union address Monday, Bush committed $2 billion to deploy clean-energy technologies in developing countries. He failed to endorse climate change legislation under debate in Congress that would cap emissions.

“American business and the American public are calling for mandatory federal action,” Eileen Claussen, president of the Pew Center, said in a statement. “The White House must go much further if it wants to be seen as a leader on climate action.”

Clinton vs. Clinton

Monday, March 31st, 2008

Since we’ve put up the rather moving speech by Sen. Barack Obama, I wanted to put up a couple of items related to the other Democratic candidate, Sen. Hillary Clinton.

Former Vermont Governor and Ambassador to Switzerland Madeleine Kunin makes the argument in a leading Vermont Sunday news magazine recently that Sen. Hillary Clinton is the right candidate to bring about the change many in this country seek.

She does raise some themes that you’ll find in her forthcoming book, Pearls, Politics, and Power, but this is a great overview of the choices facing Democrats now and in November.

Here is the opening salvo of her column:

We are living in revolutionary times. For the first time in our history a woman and an African American are the top choices for the democratic nomination for president. Back in 2006 no one predicted this would happen in 2008.

This does not mean that either sexism or racism has disappeared, but it does mean that they are no longer impenetrable barriers to the presidency.

With two such strong, qualified candidates, how can we choose?

The media has framed the choice as one between change and experience.

Those words fit neatly into a headline; the facts are more interesting and complex. Both Sen. Hillary Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama represent change. Foremost, they represent change from the domestic and foreign policies of George W. Bush. Both represent change if we envision their portraits hanging in the White House next to the white men who have preceded them.

Read more of it here.

She’s working on an even stronger piece right now taking a look at gender in politics, and recently got into a nice little dust-up with Sen. Patrick Leahy, a leading Obama supporter, and his call for Sen. Clinton to step aside for the good of the party.

For those who don’t buy this argument, not to fret.

In preparation of the launch of our new website, we had some cleaning up of our old blog archives. While going over hundreds of blog posts, we found this gem: Markos Moulitsas in The Washington Post saying Hillary Clinton’s biggest problem was, well, she’s a Clinton Democrat.

Hillary Clinton: Too Much of a Clinton Democrat?

By Markos Moulitsas
Washington Post; Sunday, May 7, 2006; B01

Hillary Clinton has a few problems if she wants to secure the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination. She is a leader who fails to lead. She does not appear “electable.” But most of all, Hillary has a Bill Clinton problem. (And no, it’s not about that. )

Moving into 2008, Republicans will be fighting to shake off the legacy of the Bush years: the jobless recovery, the foreign misadventures, the nightmarish fiscal mismanagement, the Katrina mess, unimaginable corruption and an imperial presidency with little regard for the Constitution or the rule of law. Every Democratic contender will be offering change, but activists will be demanding the sort of change that can come only from outside the Beltway.

Hillary Clinton leads her Democratic rivals in the polls and in fundraising. Unfortunately, however, the New York senator is part of a failed Democratic Party establishment—led by her husband—that enabled the George W. Bush presidency and the Republican majorities, and all the havoc they have wreaked at home and abroad.

[...]

Our crashing of Washington’s gates wasn’t about ideology, it was about pragmatism. Democrats haven’t won more than 50 percent of the vote in a presidential election since 1976. Heck, we haven’t won more than 50.1 percent since 1964. And complicit in that failure was the only Democrat to occupy the White House since 1980: Bill Clinton.

Despite all his successes—and eight years of peace and prosperity is nothing to sneeze at—he never broke the 50-percent mark in his two elections. Regardless of the president’s personal popularity, Democrats held fewer congressional seats at the end of his presidency than before it. The Democratic Party atrophied during his two terms, partly because of his fealty to his “third way” of politics, which neglected key parts of the progressive movement and reserved its outreach efforts for corporate and moneyed interests.

While Republicans spent the past four decades building a vast network of small-dollar donors to fund their operations, Democrats tossed aside their base and fed off million-dollar-plus donations. The disconnect was stark, and ultimately destructive. Clinton’s third way failed miserably. It killed off the Jesse Jackson wing of the Democratic Party and, despite its undivided control of the party apparatus, delivered nothing. Nothing, that is, except the loss of Congress, the perpetuation of the muddled Democratic “message,” a demoralized and moribund party base, and electoral defeats in 2000, 2002 and 2004.

Those failures led the netroots to support Dean in the last presidential race. We didn’t back him because he was the most “liberal” candidate. In fact, we supported him despite his moderate, pro-gun, pro-balanced-budget record, because he offered the two things we craved most: outsider credentials and leadership.

And therein lie Hillary Clinton’s biggest problems. She epitomizes the “insider” label of the early crowd of 2008 Democratic contenders. She’s part of the Clinton machine that decimated the national Democratic Party. And she remains surrounded by many of the old consultants who counsel meekness and caution.

[...]

Afraid to offend, she has limited her policy proposals to minor, symbolic issues—such as co-sponsoring legislation to ban flag burning. She doesn’t have a single memorable policy or legislative accomplishment to her name. Meanwhile, she remains behind the curve or downright incoherent on pressing issues such as the war in Iraq.

On the war, Clinton’s recent “I disagree with those who believe we should pull out, and I disagree with those who believe we should stay without end” seems little different from Kerry’s famous “I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it” line. The last thing we need is yet another Democrat afraid to stand on principle.

In person, Clinton is one of the warmest politicians I’ve ever met, but her advisers have stripped what personality she has, hiding it from the public. Some of that may be a product of her team’s legendary paranoia, somewhat understandable given the knives out for her. But what remains is a heartless, passionless machine, surrounded by the very people who ground down the activist base in the 1990s and have continued to hold the party’s grassroots in utter contempt. The operation is rudderless, without any sign of significant leadership. And to top it off, a sizable number of Democrats don’t think she could win a general election, anyway.

Can Hillary Clinton overcome those impediments? Money and star power go a long way, but the netroots is now many times larger than it was only three years ago, and we have attractive alternatives to back (and fund), such as former governor Mark W. Warner and Sen. Russell Feingold.

Just as we crazy political junkies glimpsed the viability of the candidacy of an obscure governor from a small New England state three years ago, today we regard Hillary Clinton’s candidacy as anything but inevitable. Her obstacles are big, and from this vantage point, possibly insurmountable.

Markos Moulitsas is founder of the political blog Daily Kos and coauthor of Crashing the Gate: Netroots, Grassroots, and the Rise of People-Powered Politics

Investigative look at toxic toys

Friday, March 21st, 2008

The PBS show NOW is turning its news magazine prowess toward a topic near and dear to author Mark Schapiro’s own journalistic prodding—phtalates. What are those you ask? Nasty, for sure, and while they make toys and other fun little plastic gizmos fun and pliable, they also do a number on the chemistry of your own body (including causing infertility in males).

Get a preview of the show here.

And, NOW is also running a short excerpt from Mark’s book, Exposed: The Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Products and What’s at Stake for American Power, by clicking here.

Be sure to check your local PBS listings for when NOW will air in your town.

Teens aim to green the beauty industry

Sunday, February 17th, 2008

With constantly alarming news about the toxins contained in lipstick, and other beauty products, one group of teens continues to set its sights on banning such ingredients from personal care products.

The annual Teens for Safe Cosmetics conference was held recently, and according to an article in The San Francisco Chronicle, the group ended its weekend summit with a “plan for 2008: Continue working with lawmakers to ban lead in lipstick as well as phthalates, and create a manual to help others start chapters of Teens for Safe Cosmetics in their communities and online.”

At the conference, Chelsea Green author Mark Schapiro (Exposed: The Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Products and What’s at Stake for American Power, 2007), told the group that although these are big goals to achieve, that they shouldn’t let that deter their effort.

According to the Chronicle article, Schapiro said:

“The cosmetics industry is 10 times more scared of teens (than adult purchasers). They can’t arrest you if you show up at the front door of L’Oreal, and they can’t call you a bunch of crazy environmentalists. You are their future customers. You are a fountain of enormous energy for change.”

One attendee at the conference had this to say about why she joined the campaign, and the impact it has had on her life:

“When I realized I couldn’t even pronounce the ingredients in these (beauty) products, I became really scared,” said Kate Smith, a sophomore at San Domenico Upper School in San Anselmo. “When I joined the group, I would learn new facts and share them with my mom and my friends. I felt empowered sharing my knowledge.”

For more information about Teens for Safe Cosmetics, go to their website.


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