Monday, November 30, 2009

Book Reviews

By Al Hutchison

In the minds of those who enjoy reading, either for relaxation or self-improvement of one kind or another, books make excellent Christmas gifts.  It helps to know what kind of books a person likes, of course, because a devotee of science fiction may not fully appreciating finding even a superior a cookbook under the Christmas tree.

  Here are three recommendations, based on my own reading this past year:

1.  The Protest Singer: An Intimate Portrait of Pete Seeger, by Alec Wilkinson. This slim volume, which costs $22.95, captures the essence of one of the more enduring but controversial figures of the 20th century music scene in the United States.  Why was Seeger so controversial?  Because he believed – in his 90s, he still believes – in  the values we are taught to cherish in these United States and he sang about his beliefs to anyone who’d listen, including members of the Communist Party.  During the McCarthy Era, he famously offered to sing for the House Un-American Activities Committee, but he refused to answer the red-baiting politicians’ questions.

“He believes ardently in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.  His interpretation of them is literal,” Wilkinson writes.  His causes included workers’ rights, civil rights, the movement against the Vietnam war and the ecological movement.  Almost single-handedly, he was responsible for the cleaning up of his beloved Hudson River

  “People ask, is there one word that you have more faith in than any other word,” Seeger told Wilkinson, “and I’d say it’s participation. I feel this takes on so many meanings.  The composer John Philip Sousa said ‘What will happen to the American voice now that the phonograph has been invented? Women used to sing lullabies to their children.’ It’s been my life’s work to get participation, whether it’s a union song, or a peace song, civil rights, or a women’s movement, or gay liberation.  When you sing, you feel a kind of strength; you think, I’m not alone, there’s a whole bunch of us who feel this way.

For most of us, Seeger’s greatest contribution has been his music itself.  Read this book and you’ll want to sit down and listen to it for a few hours.  And you’ll want to do good, somehow, in your own way.

        You may not care about goats, but this book is a keeper. The author,    who lives on a 75-acre Vermont farm, takes his subjects – raising goats and making cheese from their milk – extremely seriously, and his writing skills could keep his readers happy on almost any topic.  

  Kessler, an experienced writer for New Yorker and other publications, respects his readers as much as he respects his goats and, ultimately, his homemade cheeses that the experts he consults proclaim them a smashing success.  That respect courses through a book that reflects the writer’s love not only of his expanding herd of goats but also of poetry, history and even religion.

   Did you know that in Sweden the goat herders were typically women, and that they sang while they looked after their goats?  On a quiz, could you explain the origins of the terms “scapegoat” and “bellwether”?  Read this book and you’ll ace the test.

  To read “Goat Song” is to learn that goats are among the most intelligent of farm animals. Compared to them, cows and sheep seem downright boring and dull-witted, although Kessler probably could make them seem exciting.

  “The longer I spent with our goats, the more complex and wondrous their emotional life seemed: their moods, desires, sensitivity, intelligence, attachments to place and one another, and us,” Kessler writes. “But also the way they communicated messages with their bodies, voices, and eyes in ways I can’t try to translate: their goat song.”

  3. In Late Winter We Ate Pears: A Year of Hunger and Love, by Deidre Heekin and Caleb Barber.  $25.

  Tucked into a tiny upstairs space in a cozy corner of tourist-friendly Woodstock, Vermont, is a rather unusual eating and drinking (wine) establishment called Osteria Pane e Salute.  It seats only 22 customers, serves its own bakery products and, given the owners’ penchant for travel, is as likely to be closed as open.

The owners are Caleb Barber and his wife, Deirde Heekin, and if they team up in their restaurant as smoothly and lovingly as they do in this book, then Vermont is blessed with two tremendous talents who are happy to share their success with their customers and with those fortunate enough to read this book and its companion volume (written by Heekin), “Libation: A Bitter Alchemy.”

  First, an explanation is in order: In an Italian tradition that’s no longer religiously observed, there were three levels of public dining. Of these, the most formal was a “ristorante” that typically would have linen tablecloths and other fancy touches. Next there’s the somewhat less elegant “trattoria” and, finally, the most casual “osteria.”  In Italian, by the way, “pane e salute” translates into “bread and health.” 

“Our restaurant has become a way to preserve not only part of our past, but a larger historical past that is still important to the present: Italy,” Barber, the chef in the family, explains. “So much of the western world can be illuminated and explained by what you will find in Italy, especially when it comes to art.”

And that’s where Heekin and Barber found the inspiration and the instructions that feed their restaurant’s menu. This is a couple that clearly is in love with Italy, where they frequently have gone to live (they once stayed an entire year) and to enthusiastically absorb the nation’s varied culinary history. They also love Vermont, where you seldom expect to encounter top-of-the-line cuisine at moderate prices.  The owners want their customers to be able to afford what they serve, so their prices are always within reach.

Heekin, a gifted writer who is blessed with the intellectual curiosity of a scholar or poet, provides the fast-moving narrative while Barber contributes intriguing recipes in a book that is neither travelogue nor cookbook yet a felicitous combination of both. This is a book to keep near the kitchen, yet it also makes for fine reading in an easy chair by a roaring fire on a cold winter’s night.

  Readers who already know and love Italy will be pleased to read Heekin’s descriptions of the couple’s travels through the rural countryside in search of authentic recipes and the peculiarly personal histories behind them. Those who have never had pleasure of spending time in an Italian village (or, even better, a trattoria or osteria) may feel they can skip around a bit without diminishing the rewards that come to the appreciative reader.

  What comes through, strong and clear, is the couple’s enduring affection for their chosen lifestyle and it’s contribution to their community.

“I think about Caleb working each day on a minimum of sleep, baking, cooking, paying bills, fixing a dripping faucet in the sink or an oven that’s gone on the blink,” Heekin writes. “I think about how late we stay up on Thursday nights planning the new dinner menu for every Friday, and I know why we do this.

  “We do this for Roberto at the Window Table, for Olga, who is a stranger in an unfamiliar land, for the Turkish man, the French woman, and all the other faces we see and to whom we smile and say, Good day,” she explains.

  Oddly enough, the college-educated authors had dreamed of becoming professional dancers but their love of Italy and of Italian cuisine got in their way. Their book expresses, in somewhat sensual terms, their love affair with their chosen careers.  And if you think you know your pizza, think again.  As told by Heekin, the history of that popular dish is an intriguing one most of us know almost nothing about.
  The book’s 80 recipes are separated by season and while Barber’s writing is somewhat less poetic than Heekin’s, it is a pleasure to read. More important, his recipes are simple, straightforward and a clear invitation, even an inducement, to chefs, amateur or otherwise, to get cooking.

   “We believe cooking is an art form like any other: you learn the techniques, you learn what those techniques feel like, and then you learn by intuition, instinct, repetition, and your senses,” Barber writes.

  Finally, a note about the title: It comes not from Italy but from Quebec City and it alludes to a recipe in danger of disappearing.  Leave it to Heekin and Barber to keep it alive.

  (The above review first was published in The Rutland Herald and The Times Argus of Barre, Vt.)
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Saturday, November 28, 2009

Back to the Drawing Board on Climate Legislation?

the 44th President of the United States...Bara...Image by jmtimages [off] via Flickr

Climate Change Reset Needed

by Mike Tidwell
Tomorrow is not an option.
Those ought to be the words coming from the White House right now on global warming. Never again can we tolerate a year like 2009, when attempts to cap carbon pollution go nowhere. Already this month, President Barack Obama has confirmed two painful truths. First: Congress will not complete work on a global warming bill in 2009. And second, the corollary blow: There will be no international climate deal in Denmark next month, dashing years of international hopes.
So Mr. Obama should move quickly from explaining failure to achieving real success. He should travel to the Copenhagen climate conference in December and guarantee drastic action from the U.S. in 2010, even if it means blowing everything up in Congress and starting over. If a "cap and trade" bill won't fly in the Senate in 2010, then let the Environmental Protection Agency explore maximum-strength carbon regulations while, legislatively, we switch back to Mr. Obama's original presidential campaign plan: "cap and rebate."
Apologists, of course, are rushing to defend the president, explaining away the now-official climate failures of 2009. There was never enough time, they say, to fix in a few months all the global warming harm George W. Bush created in eight long years.
Maybe so. But we can't blame Mr. Bush forever. What's the plan for 2010? The only strategy the Democrats seem to have is borrowed from 2009: Get the Senate to finally pass the cap and trade bill. That would be the 1,400-page bill narrowly approved by the House in June and loaded with subsidies for "clean coal" and likely big profits for Wall Street traders. It's been stagnating in the Senate for most of the autumn.
Centrist Democrat Jim Webb of Virginia - a vitally important vote - all but condemned the cap and trade bill last week in a news conference. What if the bill simply never passes? What will Mr. Obama take to the international treaty talks in Germany in June 2010 or in Mexico next December?
As long as Mr. Obama sticks to a principle of "Act now, not tomorrow," then Plan B should become relatively clear. Allow the EPA to move rapidly forward with its court-sanctioned ability to require carbon reductions across the economy under the Clean Air Act. This has always been the shotgun in the closet. No one really wants to proceed this way, unleashing messy regulations from a bureaucratic agency. But if the Senate won't act, then the EPA must - and Mr. Obama has full power to make it happen.
And while the EPA door is opening, we should all ask why the Senate has had trouble acting. The most obvious (but least discussed) problem is the concept of "cap and trade" itself. The bill treats our life-giving global atmosphere as if it were the property of private corporations. Up to 85 percent of the pollution permits under the bill would be given away free to polluters, on top of loopholes that allow, for example, coal companies in America to avoid carbon reductions by paying faraway Zambian farmers to stop tilling their fields. Two prominent EPA attorneys - both with extensive experience implementing federal pollution regulations - have recently asserted that the cap and trade measure before Congress simply won't work and shouldn't be tried.
So what will work? For starters, we must rightly view the atmosphere as a shared resource belonging to all people, not as a commodity owned by polluters. Mr. Obama had this idea in mind when he campaigned for president. His global warming proposal then would have required all polluters to pay for emissions permits. And at least 80 percent of the money raised would be rebated to American households. The rest - more than $10 billion per year - would be invested in clean-energy projects.
By rebating almost all the permit money to American households, this policy approach robs Republicans of their cherished ability to call a carbon cap a "carbon tax." And by making all polluters pay, the approach relieves many Democrats of their nervousness over corporate welfare. These features alone will provide a fresh and popular boost to the climate debate should the cap and trade approach stall completely in 2010. A rebate approach - especially one that gives all Americans an equal refund every month - would also create the political space necessary for the kind of deep emissions cuts scientists say are needed to save the climate.
Unfortunately, after Mr. Obama's election, thanks to big lobbying from Big Oil and Big Coal, Congress went down the dubious trading path that now finds the clock running out in 2009. But if Mr. Obama wants to succeed as a politician and truly earn his Nobel Peace Prize, he'll again embrace what the Rev. Martin Luther King called "the fierce urgency of now" and move the country toward his better, original instincts in the new year.
Mike Tidwell is director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network.
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Friday, November 27, 2009

Wasserman Criticizes Washington Post Nuke Coverage

Color photograph of the Three Mile Island nucl...Image via Wikipedia

The WaPo's "Nuclear Power Regains Support" is a Big Lie

by Harvey Wasserman
Yet another "perfectly safe" release at Three Mile Island has irradiated yet another puff of hype about alleged "green" support for new reactors.
The two are inseparable.
In 1979, when TMI's brand new Unit Two melted, stack monitors and other critical safeguards crashed in tandem. Nobody knows how much radiation escaped, where it went or who it harmed. Cancers, leukemia, stillbirths, malformations, asthma, sterility, skin lesions and other radiation-related diseases erupted throughout central Pennsylvania. Some 2400 families sued, but never got a full public hearing in federal court.
Unit Two had operated just three months when it melted. By a 3-1 margin, three central Pennsylvania counties then voted that TMI-One, which opened in 1974, stay shut. But Ronald Reagan tore down that wall.
This week TMI's owners were forced to evacuate 150 workers when radioactive dust "unexpectedly blew out of a pipe being cut by workers." Exelon was "trying to determine exactly how and why it happened."
As always, official announcements emphasize that the public was "in no danger." That was an epic lie in 1979. This time Exelon's Ralph DeSantis said things were rapidly "back to normal."
DeSantis then said radiation could be quickly wiped off protective outfits, while "it takes two to three days for radiation to naturally leave the body of anyone who breathed it in."
This is a ghastly lie. Among other isotopes, alpha and beta emitters - especially from radioactive dust - can easily lodge in the lungs and other internal organs long enough to damage cells and cause numerous forms of cancer, often lethal.
Ditto the hype about alleged green support for new reactors. Latest is a carefully contrived piece of industry fluff from one Anthony Faiola, whose "Nuclear Power Regains Support" has just been featured atop the Washington Post. This wafer thin installment in the "former environmentalists deem nukes green" series features a Brit named Stephen Tindale who recently left Greenpeace under strained circumstances.
Greenpeace is as anti-nuke as ever. Like Patrick Moore, another former Greenpeacer now hiring out to the nuclear industry, Tindale's tenure with the organization was stormy, and his defection unsurprising to many still with the group.
But once again the turn of a single activist was a sufficient hook on which to hang a breathless feature.
Faiola cites "only muted opposition" to new reactors in the US while ignoring the inconvenient reality that none are yet licensed for construction. The thousands of No Nukes arrests in the 1970s and ‘80s came at reactor sites like Seabrook, New Hampshire and Diablo Canyon, California, where construction was already under way.
In fact, today's safe energy opposition is far beyond corresponding stages when the first reactors were just being proposed. Its decisive advantage comes from true green renewable and efficiency technologies that are four decades further along, and that have all but priced atomic energy wholly out of the marketplace. Only this media-based stab at federal handouts keeps the prospect of new reactors on life support.
Faiola crows that the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission "is reviewing applications for 22 new nuclear plants from coast to coast." Unmentioned is Toshiba-Westinghouse's flagship AP-1000 design, which the NRC says can't withstand an earthquake, hurricane or tornado. Also missing are devastating safety critiques from regulators in Finland, France and Great Britain of the "standardized" reactor being pushed by France's taxpayer-financed AREVA.
Failoa does cover Al Gore's harsh assaults on the economic and proliferation problems of atomic energy. He briefly mentions the catastrophic AREVA fiasco at Finland's Olkiluoto, where construction costs have soared by at least $3 billion. That project is also more than three years behind schedule, with no firm completion date in sight.
Failoa omits the escalating Texas-sized turmoil in San Antonio, whose city council was set to sign on to the construction of a new nuke when it learned the price had jumped by $4 billion - long before the license has been granted.
The story completely skips the DC-based Nuclear Information & Resource Service, which sponsored a statement signed by more than 850 other environmental groups opposing new reactor construction as a proposed means of addressing the climate crisis.
Like this vast core of green groups, Moody's, Standard & Poor, Citibank and a powerful cohort of financial analysts see atomic power as a horrific investment that can only be described as, well, radioactive. The risks of building a new reactor, says a recent Citibank report, "are so large and variable that individually they could each bring even the largest utility company to its knees."
But as sure as radiation continues to pour from Three Mile Island, the hype about "green" support for atomic power will continue to spew, while the core of the environmental movement remains staunchly anti-nuke, especially as the price of Solartopian technologies continues to plummet.
"We can meet climate goals with efficiency and renewable technologies that are cheaper and much less risky than new reactors," says Michele Boyd of Physicians for Social Responsibility.
Nuclear power, adds Anna Aurilio of Environment America, "takes us backward."
Harvey Wasserman's SOLARTOPIA! OUR GREEN-POWERED EARTH, A.D. 2030, is at He is senior advisor to Greenpeace USA and the Nuclear Information & Resource Service, and writes regularly for, where this article first appeared.
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Greening Greenfield Press Release for Nov. 27

Greenfield Business Association and Sandri Companies
Join Greenfield 10% Challenge

GREENFIELD, MA – The Greenfield Business Association (GBA) and The Sandri Companies have joined the Greenfield 10% Challenge to help the Town meet the goal of reducing its energy use by 10% by the end of 2010. The 10% Challenge was launched last April by the Greening Greenfield campaign.

“Reducing energy use is good for business and for the environment” said Becky George, coordinator of the GBA “We are proud to take the challenge. We are urging our members to join the 10% Challenge and reduce their energy use, and promote the Challenge to their employees and customers.” 

The Sandri Companies, a GBA member, has taken the challenge in a big way. As a local energy provider they have long held the belief that offering products that increase efficiency—and reduce the amount of energy it takes for people to heat their home—is the right thing to do. Taking the 10% Challenge for their own business and promoting the concept to their customer base is a natural extension of what they already try to get their home heating customers to recognize.

“We explain that reducing the amount of energy you use is the best way to cut your heating bills and reduce your environmental impact,” says Skip Dunnell, heating service manager of Sandri’s Home Comfort division. “We encourage an annual tune-up for your heating system to keep it running at peak efficiency, and replacement of outdated equipment with one of our many energy-star rated units when the time comes.”     

In line with signing on to the 10% Challenge, Sandri had an energy audit performed on their facility on Chapman Street. They have cut their energy use there by installing insulation, replacing an old roof, upgrading their lights to compact fluorescents (CFL) on timers, and consolidating numerous pieces of office equipment into a few multi-function machines. They estimate that these conservation measures will reduce their energy use by over 10% and have already begun to see a reduction in their electricity bills. “We recognize that energy efficiency is one of the quickest and most cost effective ways to reduce our environmental impact,” said Tim Van Epps, president of The Sandri Companies. “We also see the opportunities and logic of utilizing renewable energy where it makes sense. We are incorporating this technology into our own buildings and we’ve also begun to offer renewables to our customers.”

Sandri plans to replace their current heating system with an ultra-low emissions wood pellet-fired boiler, which their service department now installs for both residential and commercial applications. They also recently retrofitted the truck-wash that they use on a daily basis to maintain their fleet of 60 transport vehicles. “We replaced an oil boiler with an ultra low emissions wood pellet boiler from Maine Energy Systems and a 3 panel solar thermal system to preheat the water,” explains Mr. Dunnell. “Our goal was to reduce our own carbon footprint while also demonstrating that renewable energy technology can be used for a variety of applications, and that Sandri has the expertise to install and service solar hot water systems and pellet boilers.”
“While helping our customers use less oil may seem counterintuitive to our interests,” says Mr. Van Epps, “we feel it’s smart business.” Sandri’s service department has always embraced industry innovations in equipment efficiency and according to Van Epps renewables are logical addition to their business. “We’re working to reduce our carbon footprint at Sandri and we want to help others do the same.”

Sandri is also looking forward to helping train the “green workforce” of the future by offering internships to Greenfield Community College and the Franklin County Technical School students interested in energy efficiency and green energy career options.

The Greenfield Business Association (GBA) is a collaborative, community-minded membership organization. The GBA aims to develop, maintain, and promote the economic, environmental, and cultural assets of our classic New England Town, by serving the diverse and evolving business community, and improving the marketability of Greenfield to area residents and new businesses. In the last three years membership has tripled to 125 members.

“We are thrilled that the Greenfield Business Association has signed on to the Greenfield 10% Challenge,” said Becca King, co-creator of the Challenge and co-chair of the Greening Greenfield Energy Committee. “Sandri coming on board is an example of a GBA member that is not only taking the challenge for itself, but promoting the concept to its employees and customers.”

To find out more about the Greenfield 10% Challenge, go to Greening Greenfield’s web site at and click on the 10% Challenge logo, or call Becca at 773-7004.
#                      #                      #

The Greening Greenfield campaign is a joint effort of the citizen Greening Greenfield Energy Committee and the Town of Greenfield. The campaign aims to use “greening” as the inspirational and economic engine to build a sustainable Greenfield so that current and future generations can enjoy life in this beautiful abundant valley.

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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Amy Goodman Column

Books, Not Bombs

by Amy Goodman
California campuses have been rocked by protests this past week, provoked by massive student fee increases voted on by the University of California Board of Regents. After a year of sequential budget cuts, faculty and staff dismissals and furloughs, and the elimination of entire academic departments, the 32 percent fee increase proved to be the trigger for statewide actions of an unprecedented scale. With President Barack Obama's Afghanistan war strategy-which, according to one leak, will include a surge of 35,000 troops-soon to be announced, the juxtaposition of education cuts and military increases is incensing many, and helping to build a movement.
As I traveled throughout California this past week on a book tour, I was, coincidentally, in the midst of the regents' vote and the campus protests. At UC Berkeley, UC Santa Cruz, UC Santa Barbara, UCLA, Cal State Fresno, UC Davis and Cal State Chico, students approached me with stories of how the fee increases were going to price them out of school. Students were occupying buildings, marching and holding teach-ins. At UC Davis, several young women, among the 52 arrested, described to me how they had been attacked by campus police, shot with Tasers. Students there also protested the Saturday closure of the libraries, showing up at the president's university-provided house to study there, since the library was closed. He let them in to study rather than spark a confrontation that probably would have ended with police action and arrests.
Blanca Misse, a UC Berkeley graduate student and organizer with the Student Worker Action Team, was among those who've been organizing. She told me, "We are striking because we care a lot about public education, and we care about another kind of public education, maybe, than the one they offer, a real public education out of the corporate model."
Laura Nader (Ralph Nader's sister) is a professor of social cultural anthropology at UC Berkeley, where she has taught for nearly 50 years. Earlier this year she co-authored a measure approved by the UC Berkeley Academic Senate calling on the school's athletics program to become self-sufficient and stop receiving subsidies from student fees. She is a critic of the increasing power that corporations such as BP and Novartis have over the universities, and she has a long personal history fighting for public education. She teaches general-education classes that attract hundreds of students-noting that students these days, taught to take tests, "are great at choosing answers on a multiple-choice test, but have never heard of Hiroshima and Nagasaki." Her focus on the basics reflects her concern of the attack on public education in this country: "It isn't something that just happened, and it isn't something that was unplanned," she told me. "People really do adhere to the model that this shouldn't be a public good. And if we continue in this direction, there's going to be a two-class system: those who go to college are going to be those who can afford it, and those who don't are going to be the middle class."
The movement's centerpiece is a strong coalition that includes students, workers and faculty. Bob Samuels is president of the University Council-American Federation of Teachers, the union representing non-senate faculty and librarians of the University of California. Although California is facing a serious budget crisis, Samuels told me the UC system has more than sufficient funds: "It doesn't have to raise student fees. It doesn't have to fire faculty. It doesn't have to cut courses. They're talking about eliminating minors and majors. They're talking about moving classes online. They're doing these drastic things. And what we're seeing is just basically undergraduate students are subsidizing research, they're subsidizing administrators, they're subsidizing things that have nothing to do with undergraduate instruction."
During the Bush administration, military recruiting faced an all-time low. Now, after the economic collapse of late 2008, recruiters are having no problems. President Obama seems committed to increasing the size, and thus necessarily the duration, of the war and occupation in Afghanistan. One of the most popular university professors in California, Anaya Roy of UC Berkeley, offers a summary that Obama should heed: "In this context of inequality, one doesn't need radical instruments of redistribution. One only needs a few things, like decent public education or access to health care or some sort of reasonable approach that says enough of this massive spending on war."
Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.
Amy Goodman is the host of "Democracy Now!," a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on 800 stations in North America. She was awarded the 2008 Right Livelihood Award, dubbed the “Alternative Nobel” prize, and received the award in the Swedish Parliament in December.
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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Dean Baker Column

The Budget Deficit Crisis: The Blame Is Bipartisan

by Dean Baker
The country is being bombarded with stories claiming that record budget deficits threaten our children's future and jeopardize the credibility of the dollar. These stories are a serious problem -- they have hugely confused the public about the nature of the country's economic crisis. And both parties share the blame.
Starting with the reality behind the scare stories -- trillion-dollar deficits are really huge relative to the money that any of us will ever see in our lifetime. But this is an absurd measure. The United States is a country with more than 300 million people. It doesn't matter that a trillion dollars is a huge amount to any of us individually. What matters is the size of the deficit and the debt relative to the size of the economy.
Only people who want to deceive the public would talk about the deficit or debt in "trillions" of dollars. This is a very simple lie-detector test since honest economists and policy analysts always refer to these sums relative to the size of the economy.
Relative to the size of the economy, the deficits that we are running are large and the debt that we are projected to incur is substantial, but the deficit level is still not coming close to the levels hit in World War II. Nor is the debt level projected to reach post-war peaks or the levels sustained by countries like Italy and Japan. The idea that we are near some debt-driven crisis is absurd on its face.
The United States had the strongest period of growth in its history in the three decades following World War II. This undeniable fact should put to rest the idea that our debt levels will threaten the prosperity of future generations. We hand our children a whole economy and society. If we give them a bad education, a decayed infrastructure, a ruined environment, then we will be jeopardizing our children's economic well-being. However, the debt levels we are currently projecting aren't even large enough to make it to the list of serious problems.
The claim that the dollar faces an imminent crisis because of the budget deficit or national debt is readily refuted by the example of Japan. Japan already has a debt to GDP level that is far larger than we are projected to have by the end of the next decade. In spite of this debt burden, investors are willing to hold ten-year Japanese government bonds at just a 1.5 percent interest rate. If these debt burdens are supposed to make Japan a high risk, someone forgot to tell the people who are putting billions of dollars on the line by holding Japanese government bonds.
There is another side of this Japan story that makes the idiocy of the deficit scare stories even more apparent. According to the deficit fear mongers, the dollar has been falling in recent months because investors are becoming increasingly worried about the U.S. government's ability to pay off its debt. But one of the currencies that the dollar has fallen against is the yen. Are investors who are worried about the U.S. government's ability to pay off its debt selling dollars to buy the bonds of the Japanese government, which has an even higher debt burden?
Let's face it: The deficit hawks will say anything to advance their agenda. Even worse, the media will print it.
This deficit nonsense should have been put to rest long ago, but both parties have hyped it to advance their ends. Currently, the Republicans are making headway in the polls by blaming the Obama administration for a deficit that is primarily the result of economic mismanagement during the Bush years.
But Republicans don't have a monopoly on demagoging the deficit. During the Bush years, many Democrats spoke of the Bush deficits in cataclysmic terms. This was absurd. The deficits were larger than was desirable during part of the Bush administration (large deficits in 2002 and 2003 were helpful in boosting the economy), but they were not hugely out of line. There is certainly no story that can pass the laugh test in which these deficits are responsible for the collapse of the housing bubble and subsequent recession.
There were plenty of grounds to attack President Bush for the economy's performance under his watch. Most importantly, he let an $8 trillion-dollar housing bubble grow unchecked, and giving big tax cuts to the wealthy is not the way to create an educated workforce and a modern infrastructure.
But the Democrats often hyped the deficit -- it was the easiest way to score political points. That helped to give us a situation in which tens of millions of people somehow think the deficit is the cause of the economy's problems when in reality it is the only thing keeping it afloat. In short, the Democrats are paying the price of their own political opportunism. Unfortunately, so is the rest of the country.
Dean Baker is the co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR). He is the author of The Conservative Nanny State: How the Wealthy Use the Government to Stay Rich and Get Richer ( and the more recently published Plunder and Blunder: The Rise and Fall of The Bubble Economy. He also has a blog, "Beat the Press," where he discusses the media's coverage of economic issues. You can find it at the American Prospect's web site.
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Press Release From Candidate Oscar Arce

I am originally from Costa Rica; I came to the US in 1984 and have been a Greenfield resident since 1999. Through this time, I have built a record of community outreach, organizing and advocacy, including political and social campaigns committed to empowering individuals of diverse cultural and economic backgrounds.  
I have had the opportunity to meet and work with inspiring community leaders on behalf of many different issues, and the common denominator has consistently been focused on making a difference to improve the quality of life for local residents.
In this role, I have worked with colleagues of differing political philosophies, but we recognize that in joining efforts we can accomplish more by working together and motivating others to get involved as well.  This is how we achieve success in a democratic society.
I am committed to community service; it is a passion and an honor to have the opportunity to work on behalf of neighbors and residents in the community and to advance social and civic issues.
Now I would like to represent the Second District in Massachusetts. I will advocate tirelessly for this community, working with the local leaders, listening to their concerns, and facilitating a voice for local constituents at the State level. If chosen to represent the Second District in the State House, it becomes my duty to bring the Government back to the community, meaning that people have the right to know what issues are being addressed and express their feelings directly to me so I may represent the collective interests of the community.

I want to engage with other State representatives to build coalitions, share information and support one another’s goals in order to find effective solutions to the needs of our communities.
We are going through tough economic times. We must gauge public opinion to address the needs of the community and engage the people and resources necessary to resolve the most pressing issues. This must be presented to the constituency in a manner that is accessible to all and easily understood, and the outcomes easily measured.
As a member of the Executive Committee of the Massachusetts Democratic Party, I have the know-how to represent this community:
  • I am a member of the affirmative action committee, working to advance opportunities and training for minorities.
  • I am on the board of the Massachusetts Stonewall Democrats, working on behalf of our LGBT community.
  • I am on the board of the Greater Falls Discovery Center in Turners Falls, helping to educate the public about the Silvio O. Conte National fish & wildlife refuge.
I am involved with many civic causes because as a social activist and community organizer I recognize that it is our responsibility to work trying to improve the quality of life in Greenfield and surrounding communities.

Do your best for those that defend us, Many thanks,..........................................Oscar
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Monday, November 23, 2009

Time for us to Call Our Senators

U.S.Image via Wikipedia

Before You Carve that Turkey: All In for Bernie Sanders

by Donna Smith
Those millions of us who support a Medicare for All, single-payer, reform for the healthcare crisis in this nation have some work to do over the next few days.  Senators are on their way to their home states for the one-week Thanksgiving recess - and they need a little up close and personal constituent attention before dinnertime on Thursday.
Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont is a stalwart supporter of doing the right thing for his state, our healthcare system and this nation - and he has said repeatedly that moving toward a just and economically sound system is possible through Medicare for All, single-payer.  In the purest sense of giving patients control over their own healthcare, single-payer gives us all control over our choice of providers - and it gives our healthcare professionals the freedom they need to advise us on the basis of health rather than payment source.
So, even though the current Senate bill is not what we want - Senator Sanders will offer an amendment that would be a substitute for that bill and is mirrored on S. 703, The American Health Security Act.
We need to make it clear before our Senators are immersed in their own holiday events and then in traveling  back to Washington, DC, that we want them to support Senator Sanders' amendment. 
Call today, call tomorrow and keep calling until the home offices of the Senators close for the holidays - and many will stay open until Wednesday at noon.  Tell the staff you want to talk turkey about the Senate effort.
Time is drawing short for our Senators to hear from us.  Debate will begin on November 30 on the current Senate bill.  Senator Sanders needs support.  He has already told us that he does not expect a win on his amendment.  But we are all laying groundwork for this nation to move in the right direction before long - we know that the current bills do not "bend the cost curve" enough and we know they certainly do not bend the death or bankruptcy curve nearly enough to make the bills what this nation needs.
Additionally, we want the legislation to contain language that will allow states that opt in to a single-payer system to be able to do so with the appropriate waivers from federal legal provisions which might otherwise present obstacles to doing so.
So, the ask of our Senators - each and every one, liberal, centrist or conservative - is two-fold and urgent:
1.       Vote with and for Sanders' S. 703 substitute amendment; and
2.       Support state single-payer enabling language in the final bill.
Calls to DC won't be effective this week.  We can all return to that effort next week.  Thanksgiving week calls must go to your Senators' offices in your state.  Look them up here, using your zip code:
Tell friends, neighbors and relatives.  This year, talk a little turkey about healthcare.  Ask folks how thankful they would be to have healthcare as a basic human right for their neighbors and for themselves.  And then help them look up their Senators' contact information and tell them how easy it really is to call and log your concerns and your expectations for an affirmative vote for the Sanders' amendment.
Oh, and don't forget to thank one another for caring enough to join in the struggle.  It matters.   Everybody in, nobody out.  Thank you all for believing that together we can change this, because we can.
Donna Smith is a community organizer for the California Nurses Association and National Co-Chair for the Progressive Democrats of America Healthcare Not Warfare campaign.
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Some Single Payer Advocates To Oppose Health Bill

Single Payer Activists to Congress: Defeat Democratic Health Bill

by Russell Mokhiber
The Democratic health care bill is a massive bailout of the private health insurance industry.
It is convoluted and complicated.
And it should be defeated.
That's the take of a number of leading single payer activists.
They will hold a press conference the day before Thanksgiving.
And call on Congress to defeat the more than 2,000 page bill.
Start from scratch.
And pass single payer, Medicare for all, national health insurance.
The press conference will be held in the Murrow Room at the National P ress Club in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, November 25, 2009 at 10 a.m.
The press conference is being organized by Single Payer Action.
Speakers include:
Mokhiber, Flowers, Zeese and Paris are four of the Baucus 8 - the eight protesters who were ordered arrested and charged with "disruption of Congress" by Senator Max Baucus (D-Montana) in early May 2009 after they rose to ask Baucus why single payer was taken off the table by the Democrats.
Baucus had scheduled 41 health care experts to testify over three days of hearings of the Senate Finance Committee.
Not one of the 41 experts was an advocate for a single payer system.
This despite national polls showing a majority of Americans and a majority of doctors support a Canadian-style, Medicare-for-all single payer system.
On Wednesday, the Baucus Four will call on single payer supporters in the Congress - like Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) - and the 88 members of the House who are sponsors of HR 676 - the single payer bill - to stand with Congressmen Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) and Eric Massa (D-New York) - and vote against the pending legislation.
HR 676 is about 30 pages in length.
It's simple.
It covers everyone.
And it saves money.
Kucinich and Massa were the only single payer supporters in the House who voted last week against Obama and the Democratic leadership.
Kucinich called the Democratic bill "a bailout under a Blue Cross."
Massa said the bill would "enshrine in law the monopolistic powers of the private health insurance industry."
"The Obama health care legislation is a 2,000-page turkey," said Mokhiber. "It should be defeated and served up to the American people as an example of what happens when corporate lobbyists hijack Congress."
Dr. Marcia Angell, former editor-in-chief of the New England Journal of Medicine, earlier this month called on Congress to do nothing instead of passing the Democratic bill.
"Is the House bill better than nothing?" Angell asked. "I don't think so. It simply throws more money into a dysfunctional and unsustainable system, with only a few improvements at the edges, and it augments the central role of the investor-owned insurance industry. The danger is that as costs continue to rise and coverage becomes less comprehensive, people will conclude that we've tried health reform and it didn't work. But the real problem will be that we didn't really try it. I would rather see us do nothing now, and have a better chance of trying again later and then doing it right."
Healthcare-Now! - a coalition of labor unions and other single payer activists - adopted a resolution earlier this month at its national strategy conference in St. Louis - calling on Congress to defeat the legislation.
The Healthcare-Now! board is co-chaired by Leo Gerard, president of the United Steelworkers Union, Rose Ann DeMoro, executive director of the California Nurses Association, Dr. Quintin Young of Physicians for a National Health Program, and Jim Winkler of the United Methodist Church.
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Sunday, November 22, 2009

Aging Nuke Plants Never Die

Seal of the United States :en:Nuclear Regulato...Image via Wikipedia

Zombie Nuke Plants

by Christian Parenti
Oyster Creek Generating Station, in suburban Lacey Township, New Jersey, opened the same month Richard Nixon took office vowing to bring "an honorable peace" to Vietnam. This nuke plant, the oldest in the country, was slated to close in 2009 when its original forty-year license was ending. It had seen four decades of service, using radioactively produced heat to boil water into high-pressure steam that ran continuously through hundreds of miles of increasingly brittle and stressed piping.
If constructed today, Oyster Creek would not be licensed, because it does not meet current safety standards. Yet on April 8 the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC)--the government agency overseeing the industry--relicensed Oyster Creek, extending its life span twenty years beyond what was originally intended.Seven days later workers at the plant found an ongoing radioactive leak of tritium-polluted water. Tritium is a form of hydrogen. In August workers found another tritium leak coming from a pipe buried in a concrete wall. Radiation makes metal brittle, so old pipes must be routinely switched out for new ones. The second leak was spilling about 7,200 gallons a day and contained 500 times the acceptable level of radiation for drinking water.
That leaking pipe had erroneously--or perhaps fraudulently--been listed in paperwork as replaced. How this error occurred remains unclear. What seems likely is that the plant's previous owner, GPU Nuclear, was deliberately skimping on maintenance as it approached the end of the plant's license. Then Oyster Creek was sold to Exelon and won relicensing. How many other mislabeled, brittle, old components remain in the plant's guts is impossible to determine without a massive audit and investigation. Unfortunately, stories like this are all too common: crumbling, leaky, accident-prone old nuclear plants, shrouded in secrecy and subject to lax maintenance, are getting relicensed all over the country.
In the face of climate change, many people who are desperate for alternatives to fossil fuels are considering the potential of nuclear power. The government has put up $18.5 billion in subsidies to build atomic plants. As a candidate for president, John McCain called for forty-five new nuke plants.
Environmentalists have rightly pointed out the dangers this would entail. But new nukes are not the issue. As laid out in these pages last year [see Parenti, "What Nuclear Renaissance?" May 12, 2008], new atomic plants are prohibitively expensive. If enough public subsidies are thrown at the industry, one or two gold-plated, state-of-the-art, extremely expensive nuclear power stations may eventually be built, at most.
The real issue is what happens to old nukes. The atomic power industry has a plan: it wants to make as much money as possible from the existing fleet of 104 old, often decrepit, reactors by getting the government to extend their licenses. The oldest plants, most of which opened in the early 1970s and were designed to operate for only forty years, should be dead by now. Yet, zombielike, they march on, thanks to the indulgence of the NRC.
More than half of America's nuclear plants have received new twenty-year operating licenses. In fact, the NRC has not rejected a single license-renewal application. Many of these plants have also received "power up-rates" that allow them to run at up to 120 percent of their originally intended capacity. That means their systems are subjected to unprecedented amounts of heat, pressure, corrosion, stress and embrittling radiation.
These undead nukes are highly dangerous. But constant, careful (and expensive) inspection and maintenance would mitigate the risks. Unfortunately, the NRC does not require anything like that. And the industry often operates in a cavalier profit-before-safety style.
At the heart of the matter is the culture of the NRC. During his campaign Obama called the NRC "a moribund agency...captive of the industry that it regulates." Unfortunately, since then Obama's position has softened considerably.
The NRC is run by a five-member commission. When Obama came to office he inherited one open seat; another opened soon after. Filling those seats with safety-conscious experts not in thrall to the industry would have done much to change the culture of the NRC.
The president's first move was a good one: he made commissioner Gregory Jaczko chair of the commission. Jaczko has openly questioned the safety culture of both the NRC and the industry and is respected among environmentalists as a serious and safety-oriented regulator.
But in October Obama nominated two people for the open seats. In classic fashion, he cut it down the middle. The relatively decent appointment, in the view of environmentalists, is George Apostolakis, a professor of nuclear science and engineering at MIT. He sits on a safety oversight board within the NRC. His academic specialty is probabilistic risk assessment of complex technological systems, risk management and decision analysis.
"He is safety-minded," says Ed Lyman, senior staff scientist for the Union of Concerned Scientists. "But I worry that his approach might be a little too theoretical, too academic. He might not be ready to really regulate the industry."
The other nominee, William Magwood, is described by environmentalists as a disaster. Magwood worked at the Department of Energy as the director of its nuclear energy program. In that capacity, he acted as a booster for the industry. He's made numerous public speeches promoting atomic energy. And most recently he worked as a consultant for the nuclear industry.
Because the NRC is an independent regulatory agency, the president's nominees must be confirmed by the Senate. A key player there--notorious climate-science denier Senator James Inhofe, ranking member on the Environment and Public Works Committee--greeted the appointments with a backhanded compliment to the president: "At the very least, the selection of these individuals indicates President Obama understands the importance of the NRC in rebuilding our nation's nuclear capabilities." Given the source, this was damning praise indeed.
Lax safety culture at the NRC is at least in part a result of the revolving door between the atomic power business and the commission, including both middle- and upper-level staff. The most prominent example of this involved commissioner Jeffrey Merrifield, who championed accelerated licensing and other major policy initiatives that directly benefited the Shaw Group, the self-described "largest provider of commercial nuclear power plant maintenance and modifications services in the United States." Twelve days after Merrifield left the NRC, in 2007, he became a top executive at--yes--the Shaw Group. Then, in late October of this year, after pressure from public interest groups, the NRC's Office of the Inspector General found that Merrifield had violated government ethics rules by courting industry while still at the NRC.
This corrupt symbiosis between the industry and NRC is even found at the level of language. Critics say the staff habitually defers to the industry, rarely double-checking corporate assertions about safety. During relicensing, the NRC has used industry language verbatim in its reports. A recent random sampling of NRC relicensing reports conducted by its Office of the Inspector General found that almost half the language in the documents had been lifted verbatim or nearly so from industry applications. In other words, not only is the NRC failing to conduct its own research; it can't even rewrite the nuke industry's boilerplate self-justifications when issuing new licenses.
"Politically, the nuclear industry is very effective," says Richard Webster, legal director of the Eastern Environmental Law Center, which represents five citizens' groups fighting Oyster Creek. "If only they ran nuclear plants as well as they lobby."
This cozy relationship is helped by the fact that the nuclear power industry's drive for profit coincides with the NRC's bureaucratic will to survive. If all the old plants were mothballed, the raison d'ĂȘtre of the NRC (and maybe much of the bureaucracy itself) would disappear.
Environmentalists describe the relicensing and up-rate process as highly opaque, rigged in the industry's favor, designed to exclude public participation and marginalize opposition. They say safety is closely linked to transparency--which is in short supply.
Over the past two decades the NRC has also promulgated rules that effectively exclude from consideration many of the grounds on which the public could intervene to oppose relicensing. For example, the public cannot raise the issue of terrorism. Nor can it question maintenance plans, or waste storage plans, or even evacuation procedures.
The NRC's Office of the Inspector General found that its own agency had "established an unreasonably high burden of requiring absolute proof of a safety problem, versus lack of reasonable assurance of maintaining public health and safety, before it will act to shut down a power plant."
The parameters for relicensing are sometimes shockingly permissive. For example, Oyster Creek, only fifty miles from Philadelphia, lacks a reactor containment shell strong enough to withstand a jet crash. And the geography around the plant isn't possible to evacuate: originally built in a rural area, the plant is now surrounded by sprawl. But the NRC takes none of that into account.
Even more amazing, Oyster Creek's relicensing process did not require testing metals in the plant's core for embrittlement. The containment shell, such as it is, was found to have been corroded down to half its intended thickness. Citizens' groups had to file a lawsuit just to get the NRC to hold a public hearing that would yield a ruling. And that was the first one the NRC had held during more than forty-five relicensing processes.
Indian Point, forty miles north of Times Square, is also applying for a new license. It too leaks radioactive water like a sieve: tens of thousands of gallons of radioactive, tritium- and strontium 90-laced water from one of its spent fuel pools have polluted groundwater and the Hudson River. The first of several leaks was discovered in 2005, but the plant's owner, Entergy, failed to report the problem for almost a month.
Vermont Yankee, also owned by Entergy, has one of the worst operating records in the country, runs at 120 percent capacity because of a 2006 power up-rate, and is well on its way to being relicensed. As detailed in these pages last year, Vermont Yankee has recently suffered a number of almost comical problems: a fire set off emergency mobilizations in three states; a cooling tower collapsed; a crane dropped a cask of atomic waste; parts of a fuel rod even went missing. To save money Entergy has been caught skipping routine maintenance and not hiring needed staff. This year the plant has been battling what seem to be unending leaks: in February the water cleanup system leaked, in May a condenser tube leak was identified but not repaired, in June there was a leak in a service water pipe. Then a recirculation pump unexpectedly reduced power and locked up, preventing the operators from changing its speed. And in August Entergy announced that it was not doing all of the required monthly radiological monitoring of its spent fuel.
FirstEnergy's Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station in Ohio also wants a new twenty-year license. In 2002 that plant came very close to calamity. Largely by chance, staff discovered a six-inch-deep hole in the reactor vessel head; only three-eighths of an inch of metal remained. This barrier protects against a reactor breach and a possible chain of events that could have led to a reactor meltdown. The hole could have been found and fixed earlier, but the plant's owner, FirstEnergy, requested that the NRC allow it to delay a mandated inspection. In October 2008 Davis-Besse workers also discovered a tritium leak.
This fleet of poorly regulated zombie plants is the real story of nuclear power. Building hundreds of new nukes to save us from climate change is a pipe dream--the time and expense necessary for that would be impossible to overcome in the decade or two remaining. And so the debate about the future of atomic power in the age of climate change functions mostly as a smoke screen behind which these old, leaky, crumbling plants are being pushed to the limit of their endurance. Half the fleet has already been relicensed and many up-rated to run at more than 100 percent of their designed capacity. To avoid dangerous accidents over the next two decades, the industry must be subject to real oversight. For that to happen, the NRC must be reformed.
There will likely be one more opening on the commission. If the risk of a real nuclear disaster is to be diminished, Obama must nominate a robust safety- and transparency-minded commissioner who will stand up to the powerful companies that own the zombie nuke fleet.
Christian Parenti, a Nation contributing editor and visiting scholar at the CUNY Graduate Center, is the author of The Freedom: Shadows and Hallucinations in Occupied Iraq (New Press), and is at work on a book about climate change and war.
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