Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Myth of Free Enterprise

wag the tailImage by gorgeoux via Flickr

Published on Saturday, May 29, 2010 by
'Business Good. Government Bad.'

by Bruce Luske
I just read Arthur C. Brooks' precious recent Washington Post polemic, "America's new culture war: Free enterprise vs. government control," and I want to comment on his one-size-fits all libertarian prescription for every conceivable social ill. As political scientist David Michael Green observed, it can be expressed in a bumper sticker:

"Business good. Government bad."

Please join me in repeating this line aloud twice, making sure to punctuate each rendition with a parrot's whistle.

You've got it! Simple, isn't it?

This ubiquitous "master narrative" has prevailed for over 30 years as the exact cause of our current economic meltdown and overall societal disintegration; namely, a run-amock thoroughly deregulated so-called "free market."

I want to go on record here by saying that I and virtually all Americans love Brooks' grand IDEA of huge numbers of small businesses imaginatively innovating and competing in every area of American life.

But the problem with this exceedingly attractive proposition (in the abstract) is that as an empirical matter the "Biggest Fish" (transnational corporations) have long since eaten most of the "little fish" (small and medium businesses).

The alluring libertarian dream of the "free market" no longer exists--indeed, never has existed--since the matter of which businesses thrive and expand and which do not has always been a product of governmental policy. A good historic case in point are the railroads in the 19th century.

Today's "free market" is in reality an oxymoron as a wholly owned and controlled creature (Frankenstein?) of the largest international corporations served by the federal government as the "corporate state."

A simple metaphor: The corporations are the "dog" and the federal government is the "tail." The right, Tea Partiers, their assorted allies, and a largely misled populace refuse to acknowledge and/or to understand this dominant truth of contemporary American society.

I can't think of a more poignantly compelling example than the federal government's utter dependency on the BP corporation that caused the Gulf catastrophe to control attempts to plug the gusher as well as the accompanying narrative fed to the corporate media in the attempt to "spin" the disaster in the least damaging way for BP as possible.

But it ain't gonna work this time. Now even the Gulf state Bubbas who used to fish and swim in the Gulf are starting to get it.
Bruce Luske has been the resident sociologist at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, New York since 1993, and welcomes all responses to this piece -

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Friday, May 28, 2010

Texas Board of Disinformation

The first general issue stamp of the Confedera...Image via Wikipedia

Published on Friday, May 28, 2010 by
For Texas Ed Board: Ignorance is Bliss

by Linn Washington Jr.

Let's give credit where credit is due.

The Texas Board of Education, in a press release announcing its revision of the public school history curriculum, states that those revisions include explaining "instances of institutional racism in American society."

So are critics reacting unfairly in charging that Texas board with embedding bigotry within its emphasis on presenting America as a Christian and conservative nation?

Well, let's point out that this mention of "institutional racism" comes right after that same press release highlights how Texas school students will now study the ideas of Confederate States' President Jefferson Davis alongside those of Abraham Lincoln and will examine misconceptions about church-state separation in the US Constitution.

Now, given the rigid-right dictates driving the Texas Board's revisions, it's unlikely students will really receive accurate instruction about the contours of institutional racism in the Lone Star state or other locales around America.

It is unlikely students will receive Education Board sanctioned instruction about the May 1916 lynching on the Waco, TX City Hall lawn that was attended by 15,000 spectators, some of whom cut off body parts of the black victim for souvenirs.

Texas does have the dubious distinction of having had the third highest number of lynching deaths in the U.S. between the mid-1880s to the 1950s, ranking behind Georgia and Mississippi.

Another unlikely classroom lesson for Texas students: the institutionally racist refusal of Texas' two U.S. Senators (both Republicans like the Ed Board's majority) to support the U.S. Senate's June 2005 apology for that body's despicable, decades-long failure to pass anti-lynching legislation.

As with lynching, there's little likelihood of illuminating instruction on two pivotal U.S. Supreme Court rulings involving inequities in Texas that helped expand educational opportunity nationwide.

The high court's June 1951 ruling barring Texas from denying Blacks admission to its prestigious UT Law School was an important decision on the legal road to that court's seminal 1954 outlawing racial segregation in public schools that hammered institutional racism across America.

The Supreme Court applied the spirit of its 1954 decision in a 1975 ruling striking down a Texas statue denying educational funding to children of undocumented immigrants.

Given the good-ole-days view sought by the Board's majority it's doubtful either ruling ranks as Texas history meriting classroom examination.

Evidence of the Board's ideological bent is obvious in its pushing for lessons on organizations like the Moral Majority and the Heritage Foundation, both of which defend privileges arising from institutional racism, while blotting from classroom review information about organizations like the League of United Latin American Citizens - a group that has challenged institutional racism.

Majority members of the Texas Board are committed to countering what they contend is liberal bias infecting education, like presenting facts in classrooms about minorities having made productive contributions to the "American Exceptionalism" Board members extol.

The Board that wants students to learn about conservative moment icon Phyllis Schlafly blows-off mention of the first Hispanic to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court Justice, Sonia Sotomayor.

Learning about Sotomayor's historic elevation could inspire the Latino students who comprise 48% of the public school pupils in Texas.

"Rewriting history in the name of national pride isn't patriotic, it's ignorant," the Texas NAACP noted, reacting to the conservative dogma driving the curriculum revisions.

The Texas Board of Education is not the only official body gripped by neo-Neanderthalism when it comes to race and racism in America.

Officials in Arizona recently approved legislation eliminating ethnic studies programs in public schools, a measure that specifically targets African-American studies, Native-American studies and especially Chicano studies in a state where nearly half of the students are Latino.

The claims of Arizona State Superintendent of Schools Tom Horne that ethnic studies promote hate and anti-Americanism are as ridiculous as Texas Ed Board member Don McLeroy contending the civil rights moment led to "unrealistic expectations for equal outcomes."

The civil rights struggles of persons of color across America seek equitable access to opportunity pledged in the U.S. Constitution, not special preferences as conservatives falsely contend.

Dismissing the racially regressive educational practices in Arizona and Texas as understandable antics of former Confederate States (Arizona issued an Ordinance of Secession in 1861) misses the larger, more ominous reality that on matters of race most Americans prefer the comforting mental massage of myths.

Take Philadelphia, the nation's original capital city, where revered historic legacy remains tainted by myths.

For decades the U.S. National Park Service suppressed information about America's first president, George Washington, keeping slaves in his official residence then located around the corner from the hallowed Independence Hall in downtown Philadelphia.

Park Service officials defended this suppression of historic fact as not wanting to offend the sensitivities of visitors to Independence Historic Park, who themselves are steeped in the national mythology.

The place where George Washington kept his slaves inside his Philadelphia residence is now, in a grand irony, literally on the doorstep of the pavilion housing the Liberty Bell, that fabled icon named by abolitionists (not the Founding Fathers as the national mythology would have it.)

Knowledge is power...and abundant history proves that what we don't know about race does hurt us as a nation.

One book that the Texas Board and like-minded conservatives certainly would like banned is Black Power: The Politics of Liberation in America co-authored by Stokely Carmichael, the man who coined the power phrase conservatives find so incendiary.

That small book published in 1967 contains quotes from a southern populist who in the 1890s once urged poor whites to unite with poor blacks against their common enemy: financial despotism. This populist rightly noted that "race antagonism perpetuates a monetary system which beggars both."

The rich and powerful of the 1890s exploited racism to undermine efforts at interracial unity in order to preserve their position.

Today, as journalist Robert Parry rightly notes, big corporations are pulling a "big con on common folks" - manipulating the rage of Tea Baggers into seeing their enemy as advocacy groups like the NAACP and the National Council of La Raza not Wall Street financiers and mega-corporations that are really beggaring them.

The Texas Board of Education has it wrong. What's un-American about education is restricting information.
LINN WASHINGTON is a Philadelphia journalist, Professor of Journalism at Temple University, and is a founding member of the new journalist-owned, journalist-run news collective and online newspaper Read his stories and stories by colleagues John Grant, Dave Lindorff and Charles Young at

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Thursday, May 27, 2010

Justice For Just Us?

Photo of Omar Khadr, copyright released into t...Image via Wikipedia

Published on Thursday, May 27, 2010 by
US Demands Civilian Trials -- Except in the US

by Glenn Greenwald

The Washington Post, [yesterday] (h/t Arkinsaw):

A judge granted parole Tuesday to Lori Berenson, the 40-year-old New York activist who has spent 15 years in Peruvian prisons on a conviction of aiding leftist rebels. . . . Berenson had for many years denied any wrongdoing, maintaining she was a political prisoner and not a terrorist. But her defense team said in papers submitted to the judge that she "recognized she committed errors in involving herself in activities of the MRTA" . . . .

Berenson was arrested in 1995 and initially accused of being a leader of the MRTA, which bombed banks and kidnapped and killed civilians but was nowhere near as violent as the better-known Shining Path insurgency. It is blamed for, at most, 200 killings. . . .

She was convicted of treason by a military court in 1996. But after an intense campaign by her parents. . ., she was retried in a civilian court in 2000. It convicted Berenson of the lesser crime and reduced her sentence to 20 years. . . . The U.S. State Department had pushed hard for the civilian trial, saying Berenson was denied due process by the military tribunal.

Washington Post, May 9, 2009 -- CNN, November 9, 2009 -- Washington Independent, April 27, 2010:

The Obama administration is preparing to revive the system of military commissions established at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba . . . [Attorney General] Holder also announced that five other detainees held at the U.S. military detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, will be sent to military commissions for trial. . . . Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has finally signed and issued a Manual for the Military Commissions Act of 2009. It's 7:30 p.m. as I write this. Approximately 13 and a half hours from now, Col. Pat Parrish, the military judge presiding over Omar Khadr's pre-trial hearing, will gavel the first full-fledged military commission proceeding of the Obama administration into order.

It's true that the Berenson military tribunal in Peru was filled with due process deficiencies. That's what happens when governments deny accused Terrorists a trial in a real court, and instead concoct ad hoc military tribunals: it's inevitable that grave injustices will occur, such as refusing even to provide the rules governing the proceedings until 13 hours before the tribunal begins, as just happened with the child soldier, Omar Khadr, at Guantanamo. As the Berenson conviction highlights, the U.S. previously protested military tribunals and demanded civilian trials even when it involved a foreign national credibly accused of involvement in a designated Terrorist group (as was true of Berenson in Peru). Now, we're the ones who deny civilian trials. We've gone from protesting the "justice system" of the Peruvian authoritarian Alberto Fujimori to (at best) following it.

In other related news, "the White House has been working with Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) to craft legislation that would restructure the amount of time interrogators can hold suspected terrorists domestically without reading them their Miranda rights." And the President's top Terrorism advisor, John Brennan, said today that it was both necessary and just that the U.S. hold detainees indefinitely without any charges of any kind -- not even before military commissions, a re-iteration of the Obama administration's previously expressed commitment to indefinite detention. But that's because, Brennan explained, we're now facing a "new phase" of Terrorism. Whatever that means, it evidently requires brand new rules of "justice" (Brennan said all that after he beat his chest and bellowed: "We will destroy Al Qaeda"). Somehow, it was a grave violation of due process for Peru to try accused foreign Terrorists before military tribunals, but not for us to hold them for as long as we want with no charges of any kind.

UPDATE: For more on what a complete mockery of justice these military commissions have become in general, and the Khadr tribunal specifically is, see Harper's Scott Horton:

The Gates Pentagon prepared the manual for the military commissions completely behind closed doors. It disregarded established procedures under which proposed procedural rules are disclosed for public comment and the views of the military bar itself are explicitly solicited. We now see that it turned to secrecy because it had something to hide: the rules were recognized as flawed and weak even within the Obama Administration, where they were subjected to appropriately sharp criticism. Had they been publicly aired, the Pentagon would have been forced to work out the contradictions in them. But it opted to keep the country and the bar in the dark.

Horton's whole analysis is worth reading. And remember: Peru denied due process to Lori Berenson by putting her before a military tribunal rather than a civilian court, just as the U.S. State Department -- in a prior incarnation -- long complained.
© 2010

Glenn Greenwald was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator in New York. He is the author of the New York Times Bestselling book "How Would a Patriot Act?," a critique of the Bush administration's use of executive power, released in May 2006. His second book, "A Tragic Legacy", examines the Bush legacy.

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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Sometimes Small Is Better re Bio Mass

Could Small-Scale Forestry Biomass Serve as an Economic Driver for the Region?

By Genevieve Fraser

While the debate rages over large-scale utility use of forestry biomass in Massachusetts, scant attention has been paid to the economic benefits of small scale biomass use as an economic driver. A centerpiece for this effort could be the creation of a no-waste, integrated wood products industrial park once envisioned by the now defunct Forest and Wood Products Institute based at Mount Wachusett Community College in Gardner, MA.

The “model” industrial park could contain a sawmill processing underutilized species and small logs. The waste would serve to power cogeneration turning biomass into electricity and thermal (heat) use. The centre could also include value-added functions such as flooring, furniture, cabinetry, boxes, pallets and an “incubator” such as a wood pellet manufacturer. However, with or without the sawmill component, any industrial park would be well served by the installation of a small scale cogeneration biomass plant.

Though the “model” industrial park has yet to materialize, the college did convert their heating system to biomass and have saved approximately $300,000 per year. The Athol-Royalston Regional High School also converted to a wood chip biomass system and saves about $20,000 annually. Hospitals are considered ideal candidates for biomass cogeneration due to their thermal (heating, cooling, cooking, sterilization) and electrical loads which operate 24/7 throughout the year. After reviewing the advantages, Cooley Dickinson Hospital installed a 230 kW Advanced Biomass Combined Heat and Power generation system at its Northampton Hospital site.

The US Environmental Protection Agency claims that biomass does not contribute to greenhouse gases because it recycles carbon already in the natural carbon cycle. No new CO2 is added to the atmosphere as long as the forests from which the wood came are sustainably managed. In addition, forest biomass contains only trace amounts of sulfur oxides as opposed to significant amounts contained in fuel oil and acid rain producing coal.

Currently, three electricity generation plants totaling 165 MW have been proposed for the state based on an abundant stock of low-quality wood in Massachusetts forests. Aside from traffic, air quality and water use issues, concerns have been raised that large scale or industrial forestry would tip the balance away from sustainability. But small scale biomass facilities could revitalize the region and serve as a powerful incentive for business and industry to locate in an area that can provide inexpensive, sustainable fuel.

At the June 2009 joint meeting of the Technical Steering Committee (TSC) and the Advisory Group of Stakeholders (AGS) for the Department of Conservation and Recreation’s Forest Futures Visioning Process, the point was made that “the concept of ‘buy local’ has worked to strengthen the farming sector in the Commonwealth and could work for the forestry sector as well.”

“The Commonwealth still has several dozen mills that can process wood locally. DCR hopes that the Technical Steering Committee will consider in developing its recommendations strategies that could help re-vitalize local mills, help the climate (by reducing transportation carbon inputs) and replace plastic, concrete, steel, etc in buildings, bridges etc., thereby reducing the Commonwealth’s collective carbon emissions.”


Genevieve Fraser is an Independent candidate for state representative for the 2nd Franklin District. She is the recipient of a Massachusetts Environmental Commendation for her work as the organizer of the Acid Rain Awareness Weeks in 1984-85 and has worked as an Environmental Technical Writer.
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War Makes Us Poor

M777 Light Towed Howitzer in service with the ...Image via Wikipedia

Published on Tuesday, May 25, 2010 by The Nation
Grayson's Smart Calculus Makes War Cost Real for Taxpayers

by John Nichols
Congressman Alan Grayson is at it again. This time, the Florida Democrat who shook up the health-care debate by saying Republicans were the real death-panel party and who shook up the bank reform debate by leading (with Texas Congressman Ron Paul) the “Audit the Fed” fight, is shaking up the debate about so-called “emergency” supplemental spending to fund the occupations of foreign lands.

Grayson’s mad because the Pentagon and its allies in the White House (be they Bush and Cheney or Obama and Biden) keep demanding tens of billions in additional allocations to fund the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. And they do so in a manner that makes debate difficult and dissent rare.

But Grayson is out to provoke a debate – and he is definitely dissenting.

“What George Orwell wrote about in 1984 has come true. What Eisenhower warned us about concerning the ‘military-industrial complex’ has come true,” the congressman argues. “War is a permanent feature of our societal landscape, so much so that no one notices it anymore.”

Grayson proposes to change this circumstance with a bill he has introduced: “The War Is Making You Poor Act.”

“The purpose of this bill is to connect the dots, and to show people in a real and concrete way the cost of these endless wars,” he explains.

To make the cost of war real for working Americans, Grayson performs a simple calculus:

“Next year's budget allocates $159,000,000,000 to perpetuate the occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq. That's enough money to eliminate federal income taxes for the first $35,000 of every American's income. Beyond that, (it) leaves over $15 billion to cut the deficit.

“And that's what this bill does. It eliminates separate funding for the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, and eliminates federal income taxes for everyone's first $35,000 of income ($70,000 for couples). Plus it pays down the national debt.”

The congressman is betting – with good reason –that the key to opening up a real debate about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is to make real the cost of these occupations to American families.

“The costs of the war have been rendered invisible. There's no draft. Instead, we take the most vulnerable elements of our population, and give them a choice between unemployment and missile fodder. Government deficits conceal the need to pay in cash for the war,” explains Grayson, with a reference to the mounting trade deficit with China. “We put the cost of both guns and butter on our Chinese credit card. In fact, we don't even put these wars on budget; they are still passed using 'emergency supplemental'. A nine-year 'emergency.’”

If Americans recognize what they are personally paying to maintain occupations of distant lands, Grayson argues that Americans will tell Congress: “the cost of these wars is too much for us.”

It’s a good bet.

In the first 72 hours after Grayson introduced his legislation, more than 22,000 Americans signed an online petition endorsing it.

© 2010 The Nation
John Nichols is Washington correspondent for The Nation and associate editor of The Capital Times in Madison, Wisconsin. A co-founder of the media reform organization Free Press, Nichols is is co-author with Robert W. McChesney of The Death and Life of American Journalism: The Media Revolution that Will Begin the World Again and Tragedy & Farce: How the American Media Sell Wars, Spin Elections, and Destroy Democracy. Nichols is also author of Dick: The Man Who is President and The Genius of Impeachment: The Founders' Cure for Royalism.
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Sunday, May 23, 2010

Too Big To Fail Means Too Big

Cover of "Disaster and the Politics of In...Cover via Amazon

Andrew Lakoff

Our Energy Production System: Too Big to Fail

The eerie timing of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, just a month after the Obama administration announced plans to expand offshore drilling, has been widely noted. But a second coincidence is equally striking. The Congress is currently debating legislation developed in response to another man-made disaster: the financial meltdown of 2008. As attention turns to the regulatory reforms necessary to avoid the next environmental catastrophe, what can we learn from the debate over financial reform?

As in other disasters, the initial response to the financial meltdown was to find the guilty parties. And there were many candidates: the collapse of an inflated housing market, irresponsible lending practices, the negligence of governmental regulators, nefarious investment schemes. The search for such culprits helps only in demanding redress, but also in narrating the significance of the event. However, such a narrow purview distracts attention from a bigger issue: the characteristics of the overall system that made it vulnerable to these specific failures.

In the case of the financial disaster, legislators have finally turned to this latter question. One of the prominent features of the financial reform bill currently under consideration is a focus on "systemic risk." In the context of finance, this term refers to the idea that our collective well-being depends on a complex and fragile system that is potentially vulnerable to catastrophic failure.

The concept of systemic risk points to the regulatory problem posed by the existence of firms whose failure could provoke a collapse of the entire system: firms that are "too big to fail." It is now recognized that the problem of systemic risk requires new forms of government regulation. The goal of such regulation is to provide the financial system with resilience against unexpected shocks so that catastrophic failures such as the 2008 meltdown are not repeated.

What would it mean to apply this lesson to energy and environmental regulation in the wake of the Gulf spill? So far, most attention has been focused on the search for specific culprits. Questions are asked mainly about proximate causes of the disaster: Did the cementing techniques used by Halliburton lead to the initial explosion? Did Transocean fail to install the necessary blowout prevention equipment? Did government regulators neglect to insist on further back up systems for shutting off the flow of oil? Was BP underprepared for a disaster of this magnitude?

The search for a specific culprit in this environmental catastrophe is necessary insofar as it helps us pinpoint who is responsible for the costs of immediate clean up and for the remediation of direct damages. However, it should not be the sole object of inquiry as we reflect on what the spill means for the future of energy production in the US. The danger is that we will focus only on the correction of narrow regulatory lapses and on technological fixes that will allow the expansion of offshore drilling plans to go forward.

Rather, the same broad lessons that were learned from the financial meltdown should be applied to this environmental disaster. New regulatory mechanisms and public investments should focus on the mitigation of systemic risks - that is, on forms of energy production that pose the danger of catastrophic failure to the broader ecological - and economic - system.

In the Gulf Coast, we are learning that the ecosystems in which energy production takes place are complex, interdependent and vulnerable to catastrophic shock. Brown pelicans, sea turtles, bluefin tuna and other endangered species depend on a functioning Gulf ecosystem. The marshlands, coral reefs, and sea-grass meadows that support coastal life are imperiled by ecological shocks such as major oil spills. And the livelihoods of fisherman and resort operators in turn are threatened by the disaster. Offshore drilling in the Gulf is best understood as a systemic risk to these fragile ecologies and local economies.

Our response to disasters is too often limited in extent and duration. Typically the onset of an emergency situation makes it possible to galvanize resources and provide immediate relief, whereas earlier proposals for preventive measures could not muster support. During a disaster, there is a search for the proximate cause in order to attribute blame and seek redress, while the deeper structural causes remain unaddressed. And then, with time, the sense of urgency to deal with the crisis fades, and it becomes more difficult to implement reforms that would reduce vulnerability to future catastrophe.

As we continue to watch the disaster in the Gulf unfold, and seek out its culprits, it is worth attending to the bigger questions the event provokes about the vulnerabilities of our ecosystems, and about the systemic risks posed by our methods of energy production. The energy bill Congress is about to debate is a perfect opportunity to address these risks and vulnerabilities. Building a concern with mitigating systemic risk into the energy bill means investing in resilient forms of energy production, and avoiding sources of energy - such as offshore drilling and nuclear power - that may seem viable in the short term but that threaten environmental catastrophe in the long term.

Andrew Lakoff is associate professor of anthropology, sociology and communication at the University of Southern California, and the editor of Disaster and the Politics of Intervention (SSRC/ Columbia University Press, 2010).
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Saturday, May 22, 2010

Take More Vitamin D

Day 155/365.v2Image by Perfecto Insecto via Flickr

Mark Hyman, MD

Practicing physician and pioneer in functional medicine
Posted: May 22, 2010 08:00 AM

Vitamin D: Why You Are Probably NOT Getting Enough and How That Makes You Sick

What vitamin may we need in amounts up to 25 times higher than the government recommends for us to be healthy?

What vitamin deficiency affects 70-80 percent of the population, is almost never diagnosed and has been linked to many cancers, high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, depression,(i) fibromyalgia, chronic muscle pain, bone loss and autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis?(ii)

What vitamin is almost totally absent from our food supply?

What vitamin is the hidden cause of much suffering that is easy to treat?

The answer to all of these questions is vitamin D.

Over the last 15 years of my practice, my focus has been to discover what the body needs to function optimally. Vitamin D, a nutrient (more of a hormone and gene modulator) is a critical, essential ingredient for health and optimal function. The problem is that most of us don't have enough of it because we work and live indoors, use sun block and can't get enough from our diet--even in fortified foods.

Two recent studies in the journal Pediatrics found that 70 percent of American kids aren't getting enough vitamin D, and this puts them at higher risk of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and lower levels of good cholesterol. (iii) Low vitamin D levels also may increase a child's risk of developing heart disease later in life.

Overall, 7.6 million, or nine percent, of US children were vitamin-D deficient, and another 50.8 million, or 61 percent, had insufficient levels of this important vitamin in their blood.

The average blood level of vitamin D was 25 ng/dl for Caucasians and 16 ng/dl for African Americans. The optimal level is 45 ng/dl and requires about 3000-4000 IU a day of vitamin D3 -- 10 times current recommendations. If our whole population achieved a minimum level of 45 ng/dl, we would have 400,000 fewer premature deaths per year. There would be a reduction of cancer by 35 percent, type 2 diabetes by 33 percent and all causes of mortality by seven percent. (iv)

The economic burden due to vitamin D insufficiency in the United States is $40-$53 billion per year. This can be corrected for pennies a person per day.

Over the last five years, I have tested almost every patient in my practice for vitamin D deficiency, and I have been shocked by the results. What's even more amazing is what happens when my patients' vitamin D status reaches optimal levels. Having witnessed these changes, there's no doubt in my mind: vitamin D is an incredible asset to your health.

That is why in today's blog I want to explain the importance of this essential vitamin and give you six tips on how to get optimize your vitamin D levels.

Let's start by looking at the massive impact vitamin D has on the health and function of every cell and gene in your body.

How Vitamin D Regulates Your Cells and Genes

Vitamin D has a dramatic impact on the health and function of your cells. It reduces cellular growth (which promotes cancer) and improves cell differentiation (which puts cells into an anti-cancer state). That makes vitamin D one of the most potent cancer inhibitors--and explains why vitamin D deficiency has been linked to colon, prostate, breast and ovarian cancer.

But what's even more fascinating is how vitamin D regulates and controls genes.

It acts on a cellular docking station called a receptor that then sends messages to our genes. That's how vitamin D controls so many different functions--like preventing cancer, reducing inflammation, boosting mood, easing muscle aches and fibromyalgia and building bones.

Vitamin D also helps prevent the flu and colds and infections. In an observational study of Finnish soldiers, those with 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels higher than 16 ng/mL (40 nmol/L) had fewer respiratory infections than those with lower levels.(v) More recently, in a double-blind randomized controlled trial involving school girls, supplementation with 1200 IU/d of vitamin D3 during the wintertime significantly reduced influenza A infections.(vi)

These are just a few examples of the power of vitamin D. When we don't get enough it impacts every area of our biology, because it affects the way our cells and genes function. And many of us are deficient for one simple reason ...

Your body makes vitamin D when it's exposed to sunlight. In fact, 80 to 100 percent of the vitamin D we need comes from the sun. The sun exposure that makes our skin a bit red (called 1 minimum erythemal dose) produces the equivalent of 10,000 to 25,000 international units (IU) of vitamin D in our bodies.

The problem is that most of us aren't exposed to enough sunlight.

Overuse of sunscreen is one reason. While these product help protect against skin cancer--they also block a whopping 97 percent of your body's vitamin D production.

If you live in a northern climate, you're not getting enough sun (and therefore vitamin D), especially during winter. And you're probably not eating enough of the few natural dietary sources of vitamin D: fatty wild fish like mackerel, herring and cod liver oil or porcini mushrooms.

In addition, aging skin produces less vitamin D--the average 70-year-old person creates only 25 percent of the vitamin D that a 20 year-old does. Skin color makes a difference, too. People with dark skin also produce less vitamin D. And I've seen very severe deficiencies in Orthodox Jews and Muslims who keep themselves covered all the time.

With all these causes of vitamin D deficiency, you can see why supplementing with enough of this vitamin is so important. Unfortunately, you aren't really being told the right amount of vitamin D to take.

The government recommends 200 to 600 IU of vitamin a day. This is the amount you need to prevent rickets, a disease caused by vitamin D deficiency. But the real question is: How much vitamin D do we need for OPTIMAL health? How much do we need to prevent autoimmune diseases, high blood pressure, fibromyalgia, chronic muscle pain,(vii) depression, osteoporosis and even cancer?

The answer is: Much more than you think.

Recent research by vitamin D pioneer Dr. Michael Holick, Professor of Medicine, Physiology, and Dermatology at Boston University School of Medicine, recommends intakes of up to 2,000 IU a day -- or enough to keep blood levels of 25 hydroxy vitamin D at between 75 to 125 nmol/L (nanomoles per liter).(viii) That may sound high, but it's still safe: Lifeguards have levels of 250 nmol/L without toxicity.

Our government currently recommends 2,000 IU as the upper limit for vitamin D -- but even that may not be high enough for our sun-deprived population! In countries where sun exposure provides the equivalent of 10,000 IU a day and people have vitamin D blood levels of 105 to 163 nmol/L, autoimmune diseases (like multiple sclerosis, type 1 diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, rheumatoid arthritis and lupus) are uncommon.

Don't be scared that amounts that high are toxic: One study of healthy young men receiving 10,000 IU of vitamin D for 20 weeks showed no toxicity.(ix)

You might have seen a recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association that shows that a single high dose of 500,000 Units of vitamin D3 (one year's worth of vitamin D) increased the risk of falls and fractures in elderly woman.(x) Does this mean that vitamin D doesn't prevent fractures or falls? Absolutely not!

The design and logic of the study were completely wrong. As a friend once said, "The well meaning are often ill doing."

Imagine a study that gave people a year's worth of vitamin A, or iron (both are nutrients that are stored in the body like vitamin D) in one dose. The vitamin A would cause immediate liver failure and death. In fact, the way the Inuit used to kill explorers in the Arctic was to feed them polar bear liver, which gave them toxic doses of vitamin A. A year's worth of iron in one dose would cause severe intestinal problems and iron poisoning.

Biologically we understand why a single high dose of vitamin D may cause problems. A single high dose induces protective mechanisms that reduce the available vitamin D by increasing the activity of enzymes that cause the vitamin D to be broken down by the body. (xi) The body requires a balance of the right nutrients at the right dose at the right time. No one would eat a year's worth of anything in one day and expect it to be healthy.

The question that remains is: How can you get the right amounts of vitamin D for you?

6 Tips for Getting the Right Amount of Vitamin D

Unless you're spending all your time at the beach, eating 30 ounces of wild salmon a day, or downing 10 tablespoons of cod liver oil a day, supplementing with vitamin D is essential. The exact amount needed to get your blood levels to the optimal range (100 to160 nmol/L) will vary depending on your age, how far north you live, how much time you spend in the sun and even the time of the year. But once you reach optimal levels, you'll be amazed at the results.

For example, one study found that vitamin D supplementation could reduce the risk of getting type 1 diabetes by 80 percent.(xii) In the Nurses' Health Study (a study of more than 130,000 nurses over 3 decades), vitamin D supplementation reduced the risk of multiple sclerosis by 40 percent.(xiii),(xiv)

I've seen many patients with chronic muscle aches and pains and fibromyalgia who are vitamin D deficient--a phenomenon that's been documented in studies. Their symptoms improve when they are treated with vitamin D. A Danish study of Arabic women with fibromyalgia found significant vitamin D deficiency and recovery with replacement of vitamin D.(xv)

Finally, vitamin D has been shown to help prevent and treat osteoporosis. In fact, it's even more important than calcium. That's because your body needs vitamin D to be able to properly absorb calcium. Without adequate levels of vitamin D, the intestine absorbs only 10 to 15 percent of dietary calcium. Research shows that the bone-protective benefits of vitamin D keep increasing with the dose.

So here is my advice for getting optimal levels of vitamin D:

1. Get tested for 25 OH vitamin D. The current ranges for "normal" are 25 to 137 nmol/L or 10 to 55 ng/ml. These are fine if you want to prevent rickets -- but NOT for optimal health. In that case, the range should be 100 to 160 nmol/L or 40 to 65 ng/ml. In the future, we may raise this "optimal" level even higher.

2. Take the right type of vitamin D. The only active form of vitamin D is vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol). Look for this type. Many vitamins and prescriptions of vitamin D have vitamin D2 -- which is not biologically active.

3. Take the right amount of vitamin D. If you have a deficiency, you should correct it with 5,000 to 10,000 IU of vitamin D3 a day for three months--but only under a doctor's supervision. For maintenance, take 2,000 to 4,000 IU a day of vitamin D3. Some people may need higher doses over the long run to maintain optimal levels because of differences in vitamin D receptors, living in northern latitudes, indoor living, or skin color.

4. Monitor your vitamin D status until you are in the optimal range. If you are taking high doses (10,000 IU a day) your doctor must also check your calcium, phosphorous and parathyroid hormone levels every three months.

5. Remember that it takes up to 6 to 10 months to "fill up the tank" for vitamin D if you're deficient. Once this occurs, you can lower the dose to the maintenance dose of 2,000 to 4,000 Units a day.

6. Try to eat dietary sources of vitamin D. These include:

• Fish liver oils, such as cod liver oil. 1 TBSP (15 ml) = 1,360 IU of vitamin D
• Cooked wild salmon. 3.5 oz = 360 IU of vitamin D
• Cooked mackerel. 3.5 oz = 345 IU of vitamin D
• Sardines, canned in oil, drained. 1.75 oz = 250 IU of vitamin D
• One whole egg = 20 IU of vitamin D
• Porcini mushrooms 4 ounces = 400 IU of vitamin D

You can see now why I feel so passionately about vitamin D. This vitamin is critical for good health. So start aiming for optimal levels--and watch how your health improves.

Now I'd like to hear from you ...

Have you experienced any symptoms of vitamin D deficiency?

Do you think you are not getting enough sun?

Have you experienced any health benefits from getting more sun or correcting a vitamin D deficiency you may have had?

Please let me know your thoughts by leaving a comment below.

To your good health,

Mark Hyman, M.D.


(i) Wilkins C.H., Sheline Y.I., Roe C.M., et al. (2006) Vitamin D deficiency is associated with low mood and worse cognitive performance in older adults. American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry. 14(12):1032-1040.

(ii) Holick, M. (2004). Sunlight and vitamin D for bone health and prevention of autoimmune diseases, cancers and cardiovascular disease [published online]. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. (80)suppl:1678S-88S.

(iii) Kumar, J., Muntner, P., Kaskel, F., et al. (2009). Prevalence and associations of 25-hydroxyvitamin D deficiency in US children: NHANES 2001-2004. Pediatrics. 124(3):e362-e370.

(iv) Grant, W. (2009). In defense of the sun: An estimate of changes in mortality rates in the United States if mean serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels were raised to 45 ng/mL by solar ultraviolet-B irradiance. Dermato-Endocrinology. (1)4: 207-214.

(v) Laaksi I., Ruohola J.P., Tuohimaa P. et al. (2007). An association of serum vitamin D concentrations < 40 nmol/L with acute respiratory tract infection in young Finnish men. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 86(3):714-717.

(vi) Urashima, M., Segawa, T., Okazaki, M., et al. (2010). Randomized trial of vitamin D supplementation to prevent seasonal influenza A in schoolchildren. American Journal of Clinical Nutriton. 91(5)1255-1260.

(vii) Atherton, K., Berry, D.J., Parsons, T., et al. (2009). Vitamin D and chronic widespread pain in a white middle-aged British population: Evidence from a cross-sectional population survey. Annals of the Rheumatic Disease. 68(6):817¬-822.

(viii) Holick, M. (2006). Vitamin D deficiency. New England Journal of Medicine. 357(3):266.281. Review.

(ix) Heaney, R.P., Davies, K.M., Chen, T.C., et al. (2003). Human serum 25-hydroxycholecalciferol response to extended oral dosing with cholecalciferol. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 77(1):204-210.

(x) Sanders, K.M., Stuart, A.L., Williamson, E.J., et al. (2010) Annual high-dose oral vitamin D and falls and fractures in older women: A randomized controlled trial. Journal of the American Medical Association. 303(18):1815-1822.

(xi) Dawson-Hughes, B., Harris, S.S. (2010) High-dose vitamin D supplementation: Too much of a good thing? Journal of the American Medical Association. 303(18):1861-1862.

(xii) Hyppönen, E., Läärä, E., Reunanen, A., et al. (2001). Intake of vitamin D and risk of type 1 diabetes. A birth-cohort study. Lancet. 358(9292)1500-1503.

(xiii) Munger, K.L., Zhang, M., O'Reilly, E. (2004). Vitamin D intake and incidence of multiple sclerosis. Neurology. 62:60-65.

(xiv) Munger, K.L., Levin, L., Hollis, B., et al. (2006). Serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels and risk of multiple sclerosis. Journal of the American Medical Association. 296(23):2832-2838.

(xv) Glerup, H., Mikkelsen, K., Hass, E., et al. (2000). Commonly recommended daily intake of vitamin D is not sufficient if sunlight exposure is limited. Journal of Internal Medicine. 247(2):260-268.

Mark Hyman, M.D. practicing physician and founder of The UltraWellness Center is a pioneer in functional medicine. Dr. Hyman is now sharing the 7 ways to tap into your body's natural ability to heal itself. You can follow him on Twitter, connect with him on LinkedIn, watch his videos on Youtube and become a fan on Facebook.

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Friday, May 21, 2010

Monsanto Offers Trojan Horse to Haiti

Monsanto / Designing our worldImage by Rétrofuturs (Hulk4598) / Stéphane Massa-Bidal via Flickr

Published on Thursday, May 20, 2010 by
Haitian Farmers Commit to Burning Monsanto Hybrid Seeds

by Beverly Bell

"A new earthquake" is what peasant farmer leader Chavannes Jean-Baptiste of the Peasant Movement of Papay (MPP) called the news that Monsanto will be donating 60,000 seed sacks (475 tons) of hybrid corn seeds and vegetable seeds, some of them treated with highly toxic pesticides. The MPP has committed to burning Monsanto's seeds, and has called for a march to protest the corporation's presence in Haiti on June 4, for World Environment Day.

In an open letter sent of May 14, Chavannes Jean-Baptiste, the Executive Director of MPP and the spokesperson for the National Peasant Movement of the Congress of Papay (MPNKP), called the entry of Monsanto seeds into Haiti "a very strong attack on small agriculture, on farmers, on biodiversity, on Creole seeds..., and on what is left our environment in Haiti."1 Haitian social movements have been vocal in their opposition to agribusiness imports of seeds and food, which undermines local production with local seed stocks. They have expressed special concern about the import of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

For now, without a law regulating the use of GMOs in Haiti, the Ministry of Agriculture rejected Monsanto's offer of Roundup Ready GMO seeds. In an email exchange, a Monsanto representative assured the Ministry of Agriculture that the seeds being donated are not GMO.

Elizabeth Vancil, Monsanto's Director of Development Initiatives, called the news that the Haitian Ministry of Agriculture approved the donation "a fabulous Easter gift" in an April email.2 Monsanto is known for aggressively pushing seeds, especially GMO seeds, in both the global North and South, including through highly restrictive technology agreements with farmers who are not always made fully aware of what they are signing. According to interviews by this writer with representatives of Mexican small farmer organizations, they then find themselves forced to buy Monsanto seeds each year, under conditions they find onerous and at costs they sometimes cannot afford.

The hybrid corn seeds Monsanto has donated to Haiti are treated with the fungicide Maxim XO, and the calypso tomato seeds are treated with thiram.3 Thiram belongs to a highly toxic class of chemicals called ethylene bisdithiocarbamates (EBDCs). Results of tests of EBDCs on mice and rats caused concern to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which then ordered a special review. The EPA determined that EBDC-treated plants are so dangerous to agricultural workers that they must wear special protective clothing when handling them. Pesticides containing thiram must contain a special warning label, the EPA ruled. The EPA also barred marketing of the chemicals for many home garden products, because it assumes that most gardeners do not have adequately protective clothing.4 Monsanto's passing mention of thiram to Ministry of Agriculture officials in an email contained no explanation of the dangers, nor any offer of special clothing or training for those who will be farming with the toxic seeds.

Haitian social movements' concern is not just about the dangers of the chemicals and the possibility of future GMO imports. They claim that the future of Haiti depends on local production with local food for local consumption, in what is called food sovereignty. Monsanto's arrival in Haiti, they say, is a further threat to this.

"People in the U.S. need to help us produce, not give us food and seeds. They're ruining our chance to support ourselves," said farmer Jonas Deronzil of a peasant cooperative in the rural region of Verrettes.5

Monsanto's history has long drawn ire from environmentalists, health advocates, and small farmers, going back to its production of Agent Orange during the Vietnam war. Exposure to Agent Orange has caused cancer in an untold number of U.S. Veterans, and the Vietnamese government claims that 400,000 Vietnamese people were killed or disabled by Agent Orange, and 500,000 children were born with birth defects as a result of their exposure.6

Monsanto's former motto, "Without chemicals, life itself would be impossible," has been replaced by "Imagine." Its web site home page claims it "help[s] farmers around the world produce more while conserving more. We help farmers grow yield sustainably so they can be successful, produce healthier foods... while also reducing agriculture's impact on our environment."7 The corporations' record does not support the claims.

Together with Syngenta, Dupont and Bayer, Monsanto controls more than half of the world's seeds.8 The company holds almost 650 seed patents, most of them for cotton, corn and soy, and almost 30% of the share of all biotech research and development. Monsanto came to own such a vast supply by buying major seed companies to stifle competition, patenting genetic modifications to plant varieties, and suing small farmers. Monsanto is also one of the leading manufacturers of GMOs.

As of 2007, Monsanto had filed 112 lawsuits against U.S. farmers for alleged technology contract violations or GMO patents, involving 372 farmers and 49 small agricultural businesses in 27 different states. From these, Monsanto has won more than $21.5 million in judgments. The multinational appears to investigate 500 farmers a year, in estimates based on Monsanto's own documents and media reports.9

"Farmers have been sued after their field was contaminated by pollen or seed from someone else's genetically engineered crop [or] when genetically engineered seed from a previous year's crop has sprouted, or ‘volunteered,' in fields planted with non-genetically engineered varieties the following year," said Andrew Kimbrell and Joseph Mendelson of the Center for Food Safety.10

In Colombia, Monsanto has received upwards of $25 million from the U.S. government for providing Roundup Ultra in the anti-drug fumigation efforts of Plan Colombia. Roundup Ultra is a highly concentrated version of Monsanto's glyphosate herbicide, with additional ingredients to increase its lethality. Colombian communities and human rights organizations have charged that the herbicide has destroyed food crops, water sources and protected areas, and has led to increased incidents of birth defects and cancers.

Vía Campesina, the world's largest confederation of farmers with member organizations in more than sixty countries, has called Monsanto one of the "principal enemies of peasant sustainable agriculture and food sovereignty for all peoples.11 They claim that as Monsanto and other multinationals control an ever larger share of land and agriculture, they force small farmers out of their land and jobs. They also claim that the agribusiness giants contribute to climate change and other environmental disasters, an outgrowth of industrial agriculture.12

The Vía Campesina coalition launched a global campaign against Monsanto last October 16, on International World Food Day, with protests, land occupations, and hunger strikes in more than twenty countries. They carried out a second global day of action against Monsanto on April 17 of this year, in honor of Earth Day.

Non-governmental organizations in the U.S. are challenging Monsanto's practices, too. The Organic Consumers Association has spearheaded the campaign "Millions Against Monsanto," calling on the company to stop intimidating small family farmers, stop marketing untested and unlabeled genetically engineered foods to consumers, and stop using billions of dollars of U.S. taypayers' money to subsidize GMO crops.13

The Center for Food Safety has led a four-year legal challenge to Monsanto that has just made it to the U.S. Supreme Court. After successful litigation against Monsanto and the U.S. Department of Agriculture for illegal promotion of Roundup Ready Alfalfa, the court heard the Center for Food Safety's case on April 27. A decision on this first-ever Supreme Court case about GMOs is now pending.14

"Fighting hybrid and GMO seeds is critical to save our diversity and our agriculture," Jean-Baptiste said in an interview in February. "We have the potential to make our lands produce enough to feed the whole population and even to export certain products. The policy we need for this to happen is food sovereignty, where the county has a right to define it own agricultural policies, to grow first for the family and then for local market, to grow healthy food in a way which respects the environment and Mother Earth."

Many thanks to Moira Birss for her assistance with research and writing.

Beverly Bell has worked with Haitian social movements for over 30 years. She is also author of the book Walking on Fire: Haitian Women's Stories of Survival and Resistance. She coordinates Other Worlds,, which promotes social and economic alternatives. She is also associate fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies.

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Thursday, May 20, 2010

Avoid Getting Stuck In Tar Sands

Location of bitumen depoits ("tarsands&qu...Image via Wikipedia

Published on Thursday, May 20, 2010 by The Capital Times (Wisconsin)
Don’t Switch to Tar Sands and Other Dirty Fuels

by Bruce Nilles and Kate Colarulli

As we’ve watched the Gulf Coast clean up from the massive BP oil disaster, besides BP picking up its own PR mission to improve its image, we’ve also noticed another disturbing PR campaign: The coal industry and the tar sands industry are both starting to use this disaster to tout the supposed “cleanliness” of their respective energy sources.

There are more and more “clean” coal ads appearing alongside oil cleanup articles, and the tar sands (also known as oil sands) industry has already made the outrageous claim that it is “safer” than offshore drilling. One executive said “that while there can be failures with conventional oil and oil sands projects, the damage would be much smaller and more modest than with offshore spills.”

This could not be farther from the truth, of course. One could compare the tar sands industry in Canada to a massive and permanent oil spill on land. When the tar sands industry destroys the environment from the get-go, who needs a spill?

Here’s a fact for you: The Canadian tar sands operations are intending to expand to the size of Florida (and have already destroyed 200 square miles).

The mining and production of oil from tar sands creates three times the carbon emissions as that of conventional oil. As if its global warming pollution were not bad enough, tar sands mining also results in the destruction of the Canadian boreal forest, a vital carbon reservoir for 11 percent of the world’s carbon and a global nesting ground for 166 million birds. In other words, not only does tar sands development create vast quantities of new carbon emissions, it destroys the Earth’s natural ability to capture carbon through the forest.

Think BP’s bad behavior only crops up in oil? Think again -- BP is actively involved in the tar sands industry and has recently been cited for cutting corners on a tar sands project that would have impacted the drinking water for the 8 million people residing in the Chicago area.

In October, BP was caught trying to undercount the pollution that would result from a proposed expansion of its Whiting refinery in order to process tar sands. The tar sands expansion would increase the refinery’s discharges of ammonia into Lake Michigan by 54 percent and its discharges of suspended solids -- the byproducts of making gasoline -- by 35 percent. Surely the people of Chicago would thank BP for adding byproducts of making gasoline to their drinking water.

If that incident doesn’t scare you, one of BP’s tar sands operations, ironically named Sunrise, is situated above Canada’s biggest freshwater aquifer. Rick Boucher, vice president of the Metis Nation of Alberta, Region One, fears that “it’s just a matter of time before an accident causes injury or death, and pollution of this massive underground freshwater system.”

Instead of taking every precaution to protect this water resource, last month BP’s management successfully beat down “a resolution that would have required the company to report on the environmental, financial and reputational risks of developing Canadian tar sands projects.” The tar sands have been called “the greatest environmental crime in history,” yet BP is steadily increasing its involvement.

This BP oil disaster should be a turning point in our energy policy here in the U.S. We should not keep relying on dirty energy sources like coal, oil and tar sands. We have available technologies such as electric vehicles, solar and wind power that would allow us to get off oil. It’s time to make the switch.

There is no room in America’s future for coal, oil and tar sands -- don’t let the BP oil disaster help chain our country to more dirty energy.
© 2010
This is a recent blog post from Bruce Nilles, director of the Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign, co-written by Kate Colarulli of the Sierra Club Dirty Fuels Campaign. Nilles earned his bachelor’s and law degrees at the University of Wisconsin.

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Monday, May 17, 2010

Internet Inequality Affects Social Equality

Birth of the Internet plaque at the w:William_...Image via Wikipedia

Published on Monday, May 17, 2010 by Reclaim the Media
Urban Internet Inequalities Reinforce Social Inequalities

by Marcos Martinez

The message couldn't have been more clear last month when FCC staff sat in a crowded Seattle conference room with about 80 local folks, gathered to share our opinions on preserving a fair and open Internet. Even in the tech capital of Seattle, urban communities need broadband access that is more fair, more affordable, and more reliable--and we need consumer protections from Internet providers who would keep many of us stuck in Internet slow lanes rather than treating us all fairly.

This summer, the FCC is making a sensible move to strengthen its ability to improve Internet access across the country, in response to a recent court decision which questioned the agency's authority to hold companies like Comcast accountable to our community needs. FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski wants to make sure that the agency remains able to pursue the goals laid out in the National Broadband Plan released earlier this year; those goals include preserving Internet openness (net neutrality), and catching up with other industrialized countries in broadband speed and affordability.

Among the most important goals in that report is establishing broadband as a universal service. It's no secret that huge digital divides still exist between Internet haves and have-nots, as broadband access has been especially slow to reach many rural and tribal areas. But many urban areas are also afflicted by access problems—including some of the nation's supposed high-tech Meccas.

Few readers of Forbes were surprised last year when the business magazine ranked Seattle the nation's most tech-savvy city. Seattle is the center of a famously tech-rich area, with major software, high-tech and Internet-focused companies based in the region, and a high degree of utilization of information technologies ranging from smart phones to computers and cable television. In addition, the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis has ranked Seattle 17th in per capita income among 363 metropolitan areas, and the city also boasts among the highest rates of literacy and post-secondary graduates in the nation.

All this makes the persistence of digital divides in Seattle confounding and unsettling.

City government and community organizations have been engaged in studying the problem, and the city has created initiatives to close the gap and also researching the size and shape of the divide. The 2009 Seattle Technology Access and Adoption Report tracks the use of information technologies over time, and documents the digital divide.

“In an increasingly digital culture, the gap in [broadband] adoption threatens greater exclusion or marginalization, and sharper disparities in opportunities for education, civic participation, jobs and economic success.”

The city’s study was conducted using surveys and focus groups. Income and education were the most significant factors in determining digital exclusion, but age, ethnicity, language spoken and disability also were found to be significant in technology adoption. Focus groups conducted with immigrant communities also affirmed that those with language barriers are more disconnected.

One of the important uses of information technology in terms of civic affairs is the accessing of information about city services, policy-making and the opportunity to engage with elected or appointed officials. The city of Seattle, as an example, has an info-rich municipal website where users can not only pay their utility bills and report pot holes, but also send a message directly to the mayor, find out when a transportation planning meeting is taking place, and comment on policy issues that affect their daily living.

While the internet has many uses that are entertaining and could be considered frivolous, the ability to engage civically is one use where the exclusion of certain demographic groups can affect our democracy. If low-income residents are unable to access important services and information online, they are shut out of important opportunities to wield their civic power.

In addition, the success of students is increasingly determined by access to the information and resources that are available online, and which depend on the ability to connect at high speeds. Many low-income households in Seattle remain unable to afford home Internet access--that affects students' ability to complete homework, and parents' ability to communicate with teachers.

In the same way that policymakers implemented Universal Service for telephones in the last century, a similar initiative is needed today to insure that disparities of income and opportunity do not deepen the disenfranchisement of groups that are excluded from the digital revolution. We've got to make sure that the federal government, including the FCC, continues to follow this path.

In Seattle, our local Digital Justice Coalition, led by Reclaim the Media and other MAG-Net member organizations, is calling for both local and national solutions for expanding digital rights. We're pushing our city government to build a publicly-owned fiber broadband network, in order to provide affordable, fast broadband to every home/office in Seattle. This build-it-ourselves solution would go a long way towards erasing local digital divides, equalizing technology access across neighborhoods for the first time. In addition, a publicly-accountable open network would guarantee open access and net neutrality.

But for the long term, federal policies are needed to protect our digital rights--not just in tech centers like Seattle, but in all urban and rural communities. That's why MAG-Net member organizations across the country are continuing to push the FCC and our elected officials to enact policies that make high-quality broadband access truly universal, maintain a fair and open Internet, and encourage all people to become fully engaged participants in our digital democracy.
© 2010 Reclaim the Media
Marcos Martinez is executive director of Entre Hermanos, a nonprofit devoted to HIV prevention in Seattle's Latino community. He is also board president of the Minority Executive Directors Coalition, and a board member of the Youth Media Institute. Marcos was a featured speaker at Reclaim the Media's April community forum with the FCC, "Speaking Up for a Fair and Open Internet." Listen to Marcos' testimony from that event here.

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