Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Glen Beck Lacks Honor

David Weidner's Writing on the Wall
David Weidner
Aug. 31, 2010, 12:01 a.m. EDT

Glenn and me

Commentary: A Talking Heads moment with the controversial talk show host

By David Weidner, MarketWatch
NEW YORK (MarketWatch) -- Glenn Beck welcomed me with a big hello and a goofy grin. I liked him immediately.
It was April Fool's Day 2008, more than two years before his day in the Washington sun this past weekend. Bear Stearns Cos. had just been acquired by J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. (NYSE:JPM) . The financial industry was spinning, but much of the world was still living in the bubble economy. Housing prices were holding. Oil prices were still north of $100 a barrel.
Earlier that day, I had been invited on his show. It was still on CNN. Beck moved to Fox News later that year. The topic was the price of oil. A producer called for a pre-interview. I had done a lot of reporting and writing on the subject. My take was that Wall Street speculation was largely to blame, not the oil companies. Read 2008 column on oil speculation.
TV commentator Glenn Beck

TV commentator Glenn Beck waves to supporters at his Restoring Honor rally on the National Mall in Washington.
(Fox is a division of News Corp. (NASDAQ:NWS) , which also owns MarketWatch.)
Beck's producer was smart and asked good questions. I explained to her how Wall Street traders pushed up energy prices in Europe where there were fewer market limits and how Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (NYSE:GS) analysts were particularly influential in driving up prices by setting eye-popping price targets. It was a subject that had been under-covered by the media, in my opinion.
She explained to me that Beck wanted to know if oil companies were responsible. I said I didn't think so, and we made arrangements for my visit to the studio.

Made bigger by TV

At the time, I was familiar with Beck, but not a regular viewer. His billboards were ubiquitous on the sides of city buses. His interviews didn't make much of an impression on me, or at least I didn't remember anything if I saw one.
His monologues were the thing that really awed me. I didn't always agree with him -- rarely, actually -- but as someone who writes and talks commentary, I admired his skills. He's a fantastic and persuasive speaker in the way he uses cadence, pauses and nuanced words.
A radio guy at heart, Beck's transition to TV made him even more powerful. He isn't a handsome guy. He looks like your local insurance agent. But the folksy persona matches the message.

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When I arrived at the studio, I was ushered into the makeup room and that's where I first met Beck. In person, he's not much different than what you get on the tube. He is, perhaps, a little more rumpled. He was wearing Converse sneakers. I've bumped into him a few times here in the News Corp. building. I've never seen him in a suit.

On the show

After giving me his big hello, Beck rushed off to somewhere, probably his stage. I was sent to a dark small booth with a camera pointed at a tall chair. These "remote" studios aren't that unusual. They use them to save space on the main stage, or just create the illusion that someone is beaming in. But for Beck they served a purpose I would soon discover.
There was a monitor so I could watch the show. Beck was doing his monologue. Then, he interviewed someone on a different subject. Finally, he turned to the subject of oil prices.
My memory of what followed may not be perfect. I contacted CNN to get a clip of the show and they didn't respond. It's not on YouTube, which is surprising, since it seems everything is. But my conversation with Beck left a lasting impression.
Beck introduced me. A light on the camera turned red. I smiled. The light went off. Beck didn't begin with a question, but more of a statement. He said he knew that I thought speculation was to blame. He said he knew I thought Wall Street had a role. But wasn't, Beck said, the real problem Congress?
April Fool's Day, indeed. Beck bum-rushed me by dismissing the answers I had given to his producer earlier. He turned a discussion of the causes of high oil prices into a political debate, one I wasn't really interested in or prepared to talk about.
Disoriented, I probably didn't start my reply well, but when I got my wits about me, I argued that his thesis was wrong. I said it wasn't a political issue but a trading issue. My answer probably started to sound hostile.
And here's where Beck had what we all do from time to time, a Talking Heads moment. He stopped making sense.
Beck followed up with a question -- again it was more of a statement -- about how government policy was responsible for higher oil prices. It was a theme he would return to all summer as oil prices inched higher.
Again, I said I didn't see it that way and before I could elaborate, Beck began talking over me, that little red light went off and he turned to another guest in Washington who seemed to agree with him before my audio was turned off.
It was over. Gone in 30 seconds, if that.

'Restoring honor'

I was angry and disappointed. On one level, I understood. This was his show. It was his game. It was entertainment, not a real debate. It happens. Whether CNN, CNBC, MSNBC or Fox, shows are hosted in a way in which guests are brought on to simply break up the monotony.
We're fodder for the stars. Beck wanted a guest who played into his narrative that we shouldn't blame the oil companies for high prices; we should blame the government.
But on another level I was profoundly disturbed that Beck had used a news device -- interviews -- to advance an agenda.
The price of gas is pivotal to our economy. What influences its price is complicated. Yes, there's plenty of room for debate even over whether speculators are fueling the price. But the way Beck dealt with the subject was dishonest. Ours was a mock interview, perhaps designed to be contentious and keep the viewers watching.
What it wasn't, was an intelligent discussion. It wasn't even a discussion. Perhaps I was naive, but I still can't help but feel I was duped and set up. Small consolation: I watched a few of his shows and found I wasn't the only one.
And that's why when I saw my old friend Glenn Beck leading "restoring honor" marches on Washington as he did Saturday, I wondered what kind of "honor" he's talking about. Honoring guests? Honoring ideas? Honoring points of view?
Who knows? But knowing how Beck doesn't like things complicated, I'll make an observation and keep it simple.
Restoring honor? You have to have some to begin with.

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Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Billionaires Bankrolling the Tea Party

The Billionaires Bankrolling the Tea Party

ANOTHER weekend, another grass-roots demonstration starring Real Americans who are mad as hell and want to take back their country from you-know-who. Last Sunday the site was Lower Manhattan, where they jeered the “ground zero mosque.” This weekend, the scene shifted to Washington, where the avatars of oppressed white Tea Party America, Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin, were slated to “reclaim the civil rights movement” (Beck’s words) on the same spot where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. had his dream exactly 47 years earlier.
Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times
Vive la révolution!
There’s just one element missing from these snapshots of America’s ostensibly spontaneous and leaderless populist uprising: the sugar daddies who are bankrolling it, and have been doing so since well before the “death panel” warm-up acts of last summer. Three heavy hitters rule. You’ve heard of one of them, Rupert Murdoch. The other two, the brothers David and Charles Koch, are even richer, with a combined wealth exceeded only by that of Bill Gates and Warren Buffett among Americans. But even those carrying the Kochs’ banner may not know who these brothers are.
Their self-interested and at times radical agendas, like Murdoch’s, go well beyond, and sometimes counter to, the interests of those who serve as spear carriers in the political pageants hawked on Fox News. The country will be in for quite a ride should these potentates gain power, and given the recession-battered electorate’s unchecked anger and the Obama White House’s unfocused political strategy, they might.
All three tycoons are the latest incarnation of what the historian Kim Phillips-Fein labeled “Invisible Hands” in her prescient 2009 book of that title: those corporate players who have financed the far right ever since the du Pont brothers spawned the American Liberty League in 1934 to bring down F.D.R. You can draw a straight line from the Liberty League’s crusade against the New Deal “socialism” of Social Security, the Securities and Exchange Commission and child labor laws to the John Birch Society-Barry Goldwater assault on J.F.K. and Medicare to the Koch-Murdoch-backed juggernaut against our “socialist” president.
Only the fat cats change — not their methods and not their pet bugaboos (taxes, corporate regulation, organized labor, and government “handouts” to the poor, unemployed, ill and elderly). Even the sources of their fortunes remain fairly constant. Koch Industries began with oil in the 1930s and now also spews an array of industrial products, from Dixie cups to Lycra, not unlike DuPont’s portfolio of paint and plastics. Sometimes the biological DNA persists as well. The Koch brothers’ father, Fred, was among the select group chosen to serve on the Birch Society’s top governing body. In a recorded 1963 speech that survives in a University of Michigan archive, he can be heard warning of “a takeover” of America in which Communists would “infiltrate the highest offices of government in the U.S. until the president is a Communist, unknown to the rest of us.” That rant could be delivered as is at any Tea Party rally today.
Last week the Kochs were shoved unwillingly into the spotlight by the most comprehensive journalistic portrait of them yet, written by Jane Mayer of The New Yorker. Her article caused a stir among those in Manhattan’s liberal elite who didn’t know that David Koch, widely celebrated for his cultural philanthropy, is not merely another rich conservative Republican but the founder of the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, which, as Mayer writes with some understatement, “has worked closely with the Tea Party since the movement’s inception.” To New Yorkers who associate the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center with the New York City Ballet, it’s startling to learn that the Texas branch of that foundation’s political arm, known simply as Americans for Prosperity, gave its Blogger of the Year Award to an activist who had called President Obama “cokehead in chief.”
The other major sponsor of the Tea Party movement is Dick Armey’s FreedomWorks, which, like Americans for Prosperity, is promoting events in Washington this weekend. Under its original name, Citizens for a Sound Economy, FreedomWorks received $12 million of its own from Koch family foundations. Using tax records, Mayer found that Koch-controlled foundations gave out $196 million from 1998 to 2008, much of it to conservative causes and institutions. That figure doesn’t include $50 million in Koch Industries lobbying and $4.8 million in campaign contributions by its political action committee, putting it first among energy company peers like Exxon Mobil and Chevron. Since tax law permits anonymous personal donations to nonprofit political groups, these figures may understate the case. The Kochs surely match the in-kind donations the Tea Party receives in free promotion 24/7 from Murdoch’s Fox News, where both Beck and Palin are on the payroll.
The New Yorker article stirred up the right, too. Some of Mayer’s blogging detractors unwittingly upheld the premise of her article (titled “Covert Operations”) by conceding that they have been Koch grantees. None of them found any factual errors in her 10,000 words. Many of them tried to change the subject to George Soros, the billionaire backer of liberal causes. But Soros is a publicity hound who is transparent about where he shovels his money. And like many liberals — selflessly or foolishly, depending on your point of view — he supports causes that are unrelated to his business interests and that, if anything, raise his taxes.
This is hardly true of the Kochs. When David Koch ran to the right of Reagan as vice president on the 1980 Libertarian ticket (it polled 1 percent), his campaign called for the abolition not just of Social Security, federal regulatory agencies and welfare but also of the F.B.I., the C.I.A., and public schools — in other words, any government enterprise that would either inhibit his business profits or increase his taxes. He hasn’t changed. As Mayer details, Koch-supported lobbyists, foundations and political operatives are at the center of climate-science denial — a cause that forestalls threats to Koch Industries’ vast fossil fuel business. While Koch foundations donate to cancer hospitals like Memorial Sloan-Kettering in New York, Koch Industries has been lobbying to stop the Environmental Protection Agency from classifying another product important to its bottom line, formaldehyde, as a “known carcinogen” in humans (which it is).
Tea Partiers may share the Kochs’ detestation of taxes, big government and Obama. But there’s a difference between mainstream conservatism and a fringe agenda that tilts completely toward big business, whether on Wall Street or in the Gulf of Mexico, while dismantling fundamental government safety nets designed to protect the unemployed, public health, workplace safety and the subsistence of the elderly.
Yet inexorably the Koch agenda is morphing into the G.O.P. agenda, as articulated by current Republican members of Congress, including the putative next speaker of the House, John Boehner, and Tea Party Senate candidates like Rand Paul, Sharron Angle, and the new kid on the block, Alaska’s anti-Medicaid, anti-unemployment insurance Palin protégé, Joe Miller. Their program opposes a federal deficit, but has no objection to running up trillions in red ink in tax cuts to corporations and the superrich; apologizes to corporate malefactors like BP and derides money put in escrow for oil spill victims as a “slush fund”; opposes the extension of unemployment benefits; and calls for a freeze on federal regulations in an era when abuses in the oil, financial, mining, pharmaceutical and even egg industries (among others) have been outrageous.
The Koch brothers must be laughing all the way to the bank knowing that working Americans are aiding and abetting their selfish interests. And surely Murdoch is snickering at those protesting the “ground zero mosque.” Last week on “Fox and Friends,” the Bush administration flacks Dan Senor and Dana Perino attacked a supposedly terrorism-tainted Saudi prince whose foundation might contribute to the Islamic center. But as “The Daily Show” keeps pointing out, these Fox bloviators never acknowledge that the evil prince they’re bashing, Walid bin Talal, is not only the biggest non-Murdoch shareholder in Fox News’s parent company (he owns 7 percent of News Corporation) and the recipient of Murdoch mammoth investments in Saudi Arabia but also the subject of lionization elsewhere on Fox.
No less a Murdoch factotum than Neil Cavuto slobbered over bin Talal in a Fox Business Channel interview as recently as January, with nary a question about his supposed terrorist ties. Instead, bin Talal praised Obama’s stance on terrorism and even endorsed the Democrats’ goal of universal health insurance. Do any of the Fox-watching protestors at the “ground zero mosque” know that Fox’s profits are flowing to a Obama-sympathizing Saudi billionaire in bed with Murdoch? As Jon Stewart summed it up, the protestors who want “to cut off funding to the ‘terror mosque’ ” are aiding that funding by watching Fox and enhancing bin Talal’s News Corp. holdings.
When wolves of Murdoch’s ingenuity and the Kochs’ stealth have been at the door of our democracy in the past, Democrats have fought back fiercely. Franklin Roosevelt’s triumphant 1936 re-election campaign pummeled the Liberty League as a Republican ally eager to “squeeze the worker dry in his old age and cast him like an orange rind into the refuse pail.” When John Kennedy’s patriotism was assailed by Birchers calling for impeachment, he gave a major speech denouncing their “crusades of suspicion.”
And Obama? So far, sadly, this question answers itself.

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Friday, August 27, 2010

Money Talks, Corporations Walk

Mug shot of Rod Blagojevich.Image via Wikipedia

Two-Faced Corporate Personhood: Elected and Convicted

by Donna Smith
Forgive me for being a tad confused.  I am finding it difficult to understand why one person goes to jail for privately selling an appointment for elected office while others have a legal right to buy their elected positions.  The U.S. Supreme Court says corporations are persons in terms of exercising free speech through political contributions.  Other persons who behave more like corporations than persons are spending personal fortunes buying positions of power in the public sector. 
Meg Whitman is working hard to buy the governorship of California.  Rick Scott is doing the same in Florida.  Millions and millions of dollars of their own personal fortunes have already been spent in their primary battles and both plan to spend "whatever it takes" to win.  In both states, the good that could be accomplished with what these two corporate born and bred candidates are spending to win their elections points to how insane our election process has become.
In contrast, former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich faces another trial and millions in public funds will be spent trying to convict him of selling his favor in the appointment of a new U.S. Senator to Barack Obama's seat after the 2008 Presidential election. 
We call selling a political office a crime; we don't seem to mind buying those same seats.
Don't get me wrong, I don't like what Blagojevich purportedly did. In fact, I am annoyed beyond what is probably reasonable that the former governor of my home state of Illinois makes the appointment process seem so ugly and tawdry.  Illinois just doesn't need any more corruption scandals.  There are millions of wonderful, honest people in Illinois who deserve the best of governance.
Is it acceptable if a corporation contributes huge amounts of money with the intent of gaining political and policy favor?  It certainly is legal.  In fact, the Supreme Court said we violate the "corporate person's" First Amendment rights to free speech if we limit their spending on campaigns and issues.
But wait.  Suggest that the same political or policy favor will be granted during a private phone conversation and you may go to prison? 
Is it just that we object to being left out of the secret transactions?  Do we think the public purchase of our democracy by corporate persons like Whitman and Scott is somehow more ethical? 
Meg Whitman didn't care enough about the political process to vote much at all over the past three decades.  Many California women are offended by that after women fought and suffered to secure the right to vote in this nation just 90 years ago.  See one report about the action in Sacramento during which thousands of women expressed their views on the non-voting Whitman: http://www.vcstar.com/news/2010/aug/26/nurses-spotlight-womens-right-to-vote-and-voting/
Whitman has admitted her registration and voting history is terrible but says talking about it now is a distraction.  And furthermore, she's showing up now, so what's the problem?  Her disconnect with the people of California and the way they have to work and live is appalling and her disregard for the seriousness of being an active participant in one's own governance through exercising the right to vote shows a level of arrogance and cynicism that is nauseating.
Rick Scott is a self-funded, rich candidate of quite another sort.  He wants to govern Florida.  He was at the helm of a huge healthcare corporation at a time when that corporation perpetrated the most serious Medicare fraud in this nation's history.  Do I need to repeat?  He was in charge of a company that profited illegally by defrauding the federal Medicare program.  Some of the personal wealth he is using now to buy the Florida governorship was acquired while his corporation was bilking the taxpayers of Florida and of the nation.
Scott takes no personal responsibility for the Medicare fraud discovered under his corporate watch.  Does that give the people of Florida a clue as to what kind of responsibility he'll take for ethical governance of their state or for any policy failings?  He expresses disdain for anything government -- especially government healthcare.  That's interesting in that he sure loved the Medicare dollars that helped him amass his own fortune.  Medicare dollars are taxpayer dollars -- government dollars.  Scott's arrogance, his belief that voters are too stupid to connect the dots between his "I-hate-big-government" propaganda and his "I-love-big-government money" financial success story, and his cynicism are nauseating.
What are we doing?  Could we explain how money works in this political process to any other sane society?  Buy an office?  Legal.  Sell an office?  Go to prison.  Tell us you will buy our votes?  Legal.  Actually pay us for our votes?  Illegal.  Corporate personhood?  The right to unlimited free speech protected by the Constitution.  Private personhood?  Taken for a fool.
Donna Smith is a community organizer for National Nurses United (the new national arm of the California Nurses Association) and National Co-Chair for the Progressive Democrats of America Healthcare Not Warfare campaign.
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Thursday, August 26, 2010

Rotten Eggs and Our Broken Democracy

PARK CITY, UT - JANUARY 27:  TV personality Am...Image by Getty Images via @daylife

Rotten Eggs and Our Broken Democracy

What do a half-billion eggs have to do with democracy? The massive recall of salmonella-infected eggs, the largest egg recall in U.S. history, opens a window on the power of large corporations over not only our health, but over our government.
While scores of brands have been recalled, they all can be traced back to just two egg farms. Our food supply is increasingly in the hands of larger and larger companies, which wield enormous power in our political process. As with the food industry, so, too, is it with oil and with banks: Giant corporations, some with budgets larger than most nations, are controlling our health, our environment, our economy and increasingly, our elections.
The salmonella outbreak is just the most recent episode of many that point to a food industry run amok. Patty Lovera is the assistant director of the food-safety group Food & Water Watch. She told me: “Historically, there’s always been industry resistance to any food-safety regulation, whether it’s in Congress or through the agencies. There are large trade associations for every sector of our food supply, starting from the large agribusiness-type producers all the way through to the grocery stores.”
The salmonella-tainted eggs came from just two factory farms, Hillandale Farms and Wright County Egg, both in Iowa. Behind this outbreak is the egg empire of Austin “Jack” DeCoster. DeCoster owns Wright County Egg and also owns Quality Egg, which provides chicks and feed to both of the Iowa farms. Lovera describes DeCoster as “a poster child for what happens when we see this type of consolidation and this scale of production.”
The Associated Press offered a summary of DeCoster’s multistate egg and hog operation’s health, safety and employment violations. In 1997, DeCoster Egg Farms agreed to pay a $2 million fine after then-Labor Secretary Robert Reich described his farm “as dangerous and oppressive as any sweatshop.” In 2002, DeCoster’s company paid $1.5 million to settle a lawsuit filed by the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on behalf of Mexican women who reported they were subjected to sexual harassment, including rape, abuse and retaliation by supervisors. Earlier this summer, another company linked to DeCoster paid out $125,000 to the state of Maine over animal-cruelty allegations.
Despite all this, DeCoster has thrived in the egg and hog business, which puts him in league with other large corporations, like BP and the major banks. The BP oil spill, the largest in the history of this country, was preceded by a criminally long list of serious violations going back years, most notably the massive Texas City refinery explosion in 2005 that killed 15 people. If BP were a person, he would have been imprisoned long ago.
The banking industry is another chronic offender. In the wake of the largest global financial disaster since the Great Depression, banks like Goldman Sachs, flush with cash after a massive public bailout, subverted the legislative process aimed at reining them in.
The result: a largely toothless new consumer-protection agency, and relentless opposition to the appointment of consumer advocate Elizabeth Warren to head it. She would give the banks as much oversight as the new agency would allow, which is why the bankers, including President Barack Obama’s appointees like Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and economic adviser Larry Summers, are believed to be opposing her.
The fox, you could say, is watching the henhouse (and the rotten eggs within). Multinational corporations are allowed to operate with virtually no oversight or regulation. Corporate cash is allowed to influence elections, and thus, the behavior of our elected representatives. After the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which will allow unlimited corporate donations to campaigns, the problem is only going to get worse. To get elected, and to stay in power, politicians will have to cater more and more to their corporate donors.
There is hope. There is a growing movement to amend the U.S. Constitution, to strip corporations of the legal status of “personhood,” the concept that corporations have the same rights as regular people.
This would subject corporations to the same oversight that existed for the first 100 years of U.S. history. To restrict political participation just to people will take a genuine, grass-roots movement, though, since Congress and the Obama administration can’t seem to get even the most basic changes implemented. As the saying goes, if you want to make an omelet, you have to break a few eggs.
Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.
Amy Goodman is the host of "Democracy Now!," a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on more than 800 stations in North America. She is the author of "Breaking the Sound Barrier," recently released in paperback and now a New York Times best-seller.
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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A Month Without Monsanto


A Month Without Monsanto

April Dávila wondered what it would take to cut the GMO giant out of her family's life. She found that it was far more entrenched than she'd ever realized.

Crop dusting, photo by Roger Smith
Photo by Roger Smith
In January of this year, while procrastinating on Facebook, I followed a link to an article reporting on evidence that there may be health effects associated with consuming Monsanto’s genetically modified (GM) corn. Clicking on that link was one of those moments on which I look back and laugh. I had no idea how my life was about to change.

Monsanto’s Reach

The article I stumbled onto concerned a study done in 2009 by a group of French scientists investigating the safety of genetically modified food. Their results, as published in the International Journal of Biological Sciences, pointed toward kidney and liver damage in rats fed GM corn.
I began to research where exactly Monsanto corn appeared in my family’s diet. With a little online sleuthing, I learned that in addition to producing the genetically modified corn, Monsanto produces several other genetically modified crops such as soy, sugar beets, and cotton. Many of these crops form the foundation of our diets: 70 to 80 percent of American processed foods contain genetically engineered ingredients, according to the Grocery Manufacturers of America. A large percentage of the cotton in our clothes and homes begins in Monsanto's labs.
By day two of my attempt to remove Monsanto from my life, I realized I was in way over my head.
Probing a little deeper, I was surprised to learn that a company specializing in genetically modified plant crops also had an enormous influence on America’s meat industry. Sixty percent of genetically modified corn goes to feed America’s beef cattle. Additionally, Monsanto’s recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH) is used to increase milk production in many dairy cows.

Tracing Foods Back to their Source

I decided to see if I could go the entire month of March without consuming any Monsanto products. I committed to an all organic, vegan diet, and reluctantly invested in a small organic cotton wardrobe. It was an experiment born of curiosity: I wanted to know just how deeply my life was influenced by Monsanto, a company I knew little about before that click of my mouse in January.
Belo Horizonte 1The City That Ended Hunger
Belo Horizonte, Brazil did—and it wasn't that hard.
By day two of my attempt to remove Monsanto from my life, I realized I was in way over my head. For the past 10 years Monsanto has bought up seed companies around the globe. They now own a majority of the seed lines in America, including a large percentage of organic seeds. For everyday purposes, a Monsanto seed that is grown organically is still organic, but in my attempt to avoid Monsanto, I was left without any easy way of knowing what foods fit my experiment. I retreated to subsisting on wild-caught fish while I dug deep to try to figure out where exactly my foods came from.
With the help of sustainable food advocate Cassie Gruenstein, I got in touch with dozens of health food stores and manufacturers to ask where they sourced their products. I spent hours at the farmers’ market asking farmers what seed companies they bought from, googling on my iPhone before making purchases. It took several weeks, but I slowly built a somewhat normal Monsanto-free existence.
There is no easy way to avoid Monsanto. It requires talking with the person who grew your food—every ingredient of every bite.
Unfortunately, with the exception of a few national brands (check out Annie’s, Inc. Massa Organics, and Lundberg Farms for a good start), there is no easy way to avoid Monsanto. It requires talking with the person who grew your food—every ingredient of every bite.

Good First Steps

While it’s extremely difficult to entirely avoid Monsanto, there are some basic guidelines that anyone can use to minimize the genetically modified organisms in their lives.
  1. Avoid processed foods. In particular, eliminate High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) from your diet and be sure to read labels. HFCS appears in everything from sodas to wheat bread.
  2. Consider going vegetarian, limiting your meat consumption, or buying grass-fed varieties. Over 60 percent of genetically modified corn goes to feed cattle on polluting concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) in America.  
  3. Buy organic dairy products to make sure animals weren't given Monsanto’s recombinant bovine growth hormone.
  4. Buy organic cotton when you can. Monsanto is a major player in the cotton industry. Even though cotton makes up only 2.5 percent of the world’s crops, it is doused with 16 percent of the world’s pesticides. Cotton pesticides, most of which are listed as “extremely hazardous” by the World Health Organization, turn up regularly in water sources around the globe.
What most amazed me during my month without Monsanto was the influence that one corporation had in my daily life—without me knowing anything about it. Once I started looking, Monsanto was everywhere. Once I started making the effort to avoid it, I found something else that surprised me: the confidence that comes from really knowing what I’m eating.

April Dávila
April Dávila wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. April is a freelance writer living and working in Los Angeles. Find out more about her at AprilDavila.com.
YES! Magazine encourages you to make free use of this article by taking these easy steps. Dávila, A. (2010, August 24). A Month Without Monsanto. Retrieved August 26, 2010, from YES! Magazine Web site: http://www.yesmagazine.org/planet/a-month-without-monsanto. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License Creative Commons License
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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Chauvette comments on the Greenfield "Big Box Store and Virtual School"

Chauvette comments on the Greenfield "Big Box Store and Virtual School" 
Lee Chauvette, of Athol a Democratic candidate for State Representative has issued his opinion on two issues that he has been asked about most frequently besides the proposed biomass project for Greenfield. Chauvette stated that over the past couple of weeks the issues of the proposed "big box store" and the Greenfield Public School's "K12 Virtual School" have been on the minds of the voters.
"First on the issue of the "K12 Virtual School, I as an immediate past member of a regional school committee have concerns about leaping so quickly into a contract with a single source bidder of something as important as the delivery of education to students. In the business we are all are used to single source bids on matters such as bus transportation from local companies that bid more frequently then out of the area providers. The other issue here of concern is the fact that the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education in Massachusetts has been delaying formulating regulations for such virtual school approaches. The DESE is still researching and reviewing the overall issues with virtual schools. Hopefully the system did not act hastily."
"I am supportive of alternate ways of delivering quality education to students and I am a strong supporter of trying to combat the tides of school choice and making local districts attractive once again to enhance the return of students that have left. The "virtual school" is definitely a policy issue and must be monitored to ensure that the education offered is in the best interest of the students and that the overall process benefits the Greenfield Public Schools."
"On the subject of the proposed plan for a "big box" retail store for the community of Greenfield, I have spoken with opponents, supporters and middle of the road voters on this issue. I do state that I have seen more "middle of the road" people on this store. The "middle of the road" voters are those who have signed a petition to ask the Planning Board to conduct an unbiased Community Impact Assessment. This assessment would look at impacts on traffic, business, neighborhoods etc. This assessment could look at what size store would provide the least negative impact on the community. This study would show the positives and negatives up front."
"I personally believe that the route of the Community Impact Assessment makes the most sense and hope that the Planning Board and the local government of Greenfield will seriously consider this action as part of their decision making process. There is room to debate and look at what fits the needs of Greenfield, local businesses and the residents prior to making decisions on this store. This upfront study and working together may alleviate the stress and tense situations that were seen throughout the biomass process during local governmental meetings."

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Fraser Returns To The Race

Fraser Returns to 2nd Franklin District
Campaign for State Rep

Genevieve Fraser, an Orange resident and Independent candidate for state representative for the 2nd Franklin District has announced that she will be returning to active campaigning, following an earlier withdrawal due to health concerns.  According to Secretary of State William Galvin’s Office, Fraser’s name will appear on the November 2nd ballot.

“Over a year ago, I was diagnosed with a debilitating form of inflammatory arthritis and was put on a very effective medicine which restored me to full mobility.  However, there was a warning that I forgot about once my symptoms ‘miraculously’ disappeared.  I was to avoid prolonged exposure to direct sunlight,” Fraser explained.  

“After months of heavy campaigning, including one session that lasted for over 12 hours in direct sunlight, I experienced a variety of symptoms that sent me scrambling to doctors for tests.  Since then, the symptoms have cleared,” Fraser continued.  “But I now observe the warning and cover-up, and limit exposure to sunlight.”

“I look forward to resuming campaign activities and providing an independent voice regarding the many issues that face voters in the district,” Fraser stated.
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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Corporate America Speaking Out

Cover of "Swim against the Current: Even ...Cover via Amazon

Corporate America Speaking Out

Congressional Republicans have spent the first two years of the Obama administration as the rock-solid party of "no," "uh-uh," "no way," "forget about it," "nothing doing," "we're-against-it-and-we'll-kill-it." This is one reason their job approval rating is lower than that of BP executives.
But now, GOP leaders in the House say they are shifting from pure negativity. Instead, they intend to step forward with their own bold policy ideas. Terrific! What are some of those ideas? "Uh ... um ... well," say the leaders, "we don't know yet, but that's why we've launched an exciting new campaign that we call America Speaking Out. We'll go directly to the grassroots people, asking for their ideas, giving them a voice and letting them shape 'the new Republican agenda.'"
Again, terrific! Where are you starting your grassroots campaign? "Uh ... um," stumble the leaders, before mumbling: "Washington, D.C."
Indeed, only six weeks after America Speaking Out was introduced as "an unprecedented initiative to listen to the American people," ASO did not rush out to hold open policy-crafting town hall forums in places like Fargo, Fresno and Freeport. Instead, they held a closed session in the snug confines of House minority leader John Boehner's Capitol Hill office.
And just who were the plain folks the GOP leader invited? His e-mailed solicitation went to 20 top lobbyists representing big corporations and such business front groups as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers. Apparently, this is the bunch Republican leaders consider to be their real "grassroots" constituency.
Well, sniffed an ASO spokesman, it's important to "receive input" from the nation's largest employers.
Bovine excrement! These corporate lobbyists give their input every day, usually with campaign donations attached. They're the problem, not the solution, and ASO is just more of the same - listening to the money interests at the top rather than the workaday majority of Americans who are barely scraping by.
Speaking of corporate campaign spending, the dam was dynamited back in January by the Supreme Court's infamous decision in the Citizens United case, and the deluge is now upon us.
By decreeing that corporations are now free to spend unlimited sums of cash from their vast treasuries to elect or defeat anyone they want, the court is allowing these narrow special interests to swamp America's elections, displacing our democracy with their plutocracy.
You might recall that the five-man judicial majority that pulled off this black-robed coup argued disingenuously that there was no evidence that corporate spending would even increase under the court's ruling, much less flood the process. Nice theory, but - look out! - here comes the flood.
In addition to unfathomable sums that corporations will pour directly into this fall's congressional elections, they are also channeling unparalleled amounts of cash into assorted front groups. For example, in 2008, a presidential year, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce put $36 million into elections, which was the most ever by a corporate organization. This year the chamber intends to more than double that, funneling $75 million into campaigns, with practically every penny going to corporate-hugging Republicans.
American Crossroads, a new corporate outlet run by former Bush operative Karl Rove, collected more than $8 million in June alone and expects to put $52 million into this year's elections. Various laissez-faire, anti-government extremist groups will also add to the rising tsunami, including $45 million from Americans for Prosperity, $25 million from American Action Network, $24 million from The Club for Growth and $5 million from FreedomWorks.
With such gross levels of spending, moneyed corporations intend to overpower America's democratic process and purchase a government that'll do their bidding. To stop them, We the People must repeal the Supreme Court's malicious, anti-democratic ruling. To help, connect with a grassroots campaign pushing for a constitutional amendment that will overturn the Citizens United decision. Find them at www.freespeechforpeople.org.
National radio commentator, writer, public speaker, and author of the book, Swim Against The Current: Even A Dead Fish Can Go With The Flow, Jim Hightower has spent three decades battling the Powers That Be on behalf of the Powers That Ought To Be - consumers, working families, environmentalists, small businesses, and just-plain-folks.
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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Say Goodbye to Green Lawns

Out of Fashion: Green Lawns

by Laura Vanderkam
Diane Faulkner's lawn was always causing her trouble. This Jacksonville, Fla., resident traveled frequently, and in her absence, her thirsty, fussy grass would go brown or otherwise run afoul of her neighborhood association's rules. She hated returning home to a $50 fine, but the last straw was when her travels took her to rural Kenya. Immersed in local life, she'd wake up at dawn with the villagers to walk miles along a dried-up river toward a water source, then return with a few gallons for cooking and washing.
"That was their whole morning," she says. As soon as she got on the plane back to America, she had a thought: "How many gallons of water do I waste on that stinking lawn?" And more broadly, why did she even have a lawn in the first place?
It's a question a growing number of sweaty Americans are asking as they push (or ride) their lawnmowers in the August heat. While a field of green, closely cropped grass is the default landscape for a "nice" neighborhood, there's no reason it has to be. And there are plenty of reasons it shouldn't be - at least if we value the planet and our time.
21 million acres
Historians aren't exactly sure why lawns became as closely tied to the American dream as homeownership itself. Perhaps early suburban sorts wished to mimic the look of British castle grounds (minus the sheep that were responsible for the close cropping). The fad spread, the lawn care industry grew, and now 21 million acres of the USA are covered with grasses that wouldn't grow well here if left to their own devices.
The fight to maintain this unnatural state exacts a toll. "It's essentially like pushing a boulder up a hill," notes Ted Steinberg, an environmental historian at Case Western Reserve University and author of American Green: The Obsessive Quest for the Perfect Lawn.
According to Stephen Kress of theNational Audubon Society, homeowners apply 78 million pounds of pesticides a year to lawns,often to kill "weeds" such as dandelions and clover, perhaps not noticing that these plants look just as green as grass when you mow them.
Mowing itself requires fuel, just like our cars, with a similar impact on the environment. And all these woes are before you even get to the issue of water. According to Kress, maintaining non-native plants requires 10,000 gallons of water per year per lawn, over and above rainwater. That water doesn't just show up by itself; it requires energy to get to your hose. In California, for example, the energy required to treat and move water amounts to 19% of total electricity use in the state.
In short, lawns are incredibly inefficient, and not just from an environmental perspective. Maintenance requires time and money, which people usually claim are in short supply. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics' American Time Use Survey, the average father of school-aged kids spends 1.6 hours a week on lawn and garden care - more time than he spends on reading, talking, playing or doing educational activities with his kids combined.
Shaming away a trend
For all these reasons, there's a growing backlash against suburban seas of green. "The perfect lawn is in peril," reports Steinberg. Big chunks of Canada have banned certain lawn pesticides. In the U.S., municipalities such as Los Angeles and Raleigh, N.C., regulate how many times a week homeowners can turn on the sprinklers.
That said, while rationing water during droughts has merit, I don't think policymakers should start regulating lawns broadly. Deploying inspectors to count the square footage of grass vs. wild plants is a waste of resources when states are cutting teachers and cops. The best approach is for all of us to start thinking of lawns as a fashion - a fashion like wearing the feathers of rare birds in hats was once a fashion. Fashions can change when enough people decide they are ridiculous or wasteful. Few parents would light a cigarette at a playground anymore, even if it's not illegal, and we should start treating the presence of a vast, green, cropped grass lawn in the middle of summer the same way: as a weird and antisocial thing.
Certainly, there are options.
"You don't have to trade off the lawn for some hideous alternative," notes Penny Lewis, executive director of the Ecological Landscaping Association. First, ask "how much lawn do you have and how much do you really need?"
Some homeowners keep a small patch of grass around the house and turn parts of the lawn into a meadow that attracts birds and butterflies. Others simply swear off pesticides and let the grass go dormant in the summer.
Faulkner, on the other hand, went all-in. She redid her lawn with rocks and hearty plants such as Confederate Jasmine, arranged to look like an English garden. Because all her plants grow well in Florida, they require no upkeep. "I don't have to mow, I don't have to water, I don't have to trim," she reports. Her water bill has gone from $80-$90/month to $20.
Her only lawn headache now? Figuring out what to do with the time and money she's saving - a problem let's hope more homeowners have soon.
Laura Vanderkam, author of 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think, is a member of USA TODAY's Board of Contributors.
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Saturday, August 14, 2010

Of Big Banks and ShoreBank

Ralph Nader signing books at Barnes & Noble Un...Image via Wikipedia

Of Big Banks and ShoreBank

The Obama Administration’s treatment of its current majority ownership of bailed out General Motors and its standoffishness toward the pioneering but troubled ShoreBank, a community bank based in Chicago, are lessons in how the Big/Bad fare in Washington, D.C., as compared with the Good/Small.

Having shed its bad assets and abandoned its common shareholders, the new GM emerged from bankruptcy in 2009 with a clean balance sheet and lots of taxpayer cash. For the first two quarters of 2010, it has signaled a comeback by reporting over $2 billion in profits.

In return for a federal infusion of well over $50 billion, the government took a 61 percent ownership stake. The Canadian government received 10 percent ownership for its financial assistance, and the United Auto Workers received 17.5 percent ownership in return for major concessions and a two-tier salary scale starting at $14 an hour.

The Obama administration exercises its trust duties on behalf of the taxpayers by repeatedly saying it would not use any powers of majority ownership at all. The Obama administration is urging GM to issue stock sooner than later so that the government can sell its stock and get out of the company completely.

GM’s CEO Edward E. Whitacre Jr., former CEO of AT&T, agrees. In recent weeks, he has been telling the press that GM is losing sales because of its moniker “Government Motors.” Not known for his graciousness, he did not add that without the government a bankrupt General Motors would not have any sales at all.

There are serious consequences for Obama’s absentee management style. First, he did not prohibit GM from lobbying, as was required for the bailouts of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. As a major member of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, GM has been part of a lobbying force that seeks to weaken auto safety legislation now moving through the House and the Senate. Historically, GM has been the most strident in its opposition to mandatory pollution control, fuel efficiency and safety standards. The company’s strategy for decades has been to defeat, delay or weaken efforts to clean your air, safeguard your motor vehicle and get you more miles per gallon of gasoline.

Now, when the government, as a majority owner, can at last tell GM to support long established national policies in these three areas, Obama is hands off. The new GM is free to return to its old obstructive ways.

Moreover, GM’s recovery is just beginning. It has cut its costs very significantly so that its breakeven mark is at a low production volume by historical standards. Starting from nearly rock bottom sales volume, GM is making money in the U.S. and booming in China. So why would Obama want to sell the government’s share so early when waiting a couple of years will make a nice profit for the taxpayers and, in the meantime, restrain GM’s opposition to innovation-driven regulations for the health, safety and economic well-being of consumers?

Now, consider ShoreBank’s predicament. This bank broke ground since its founding in 1973 by providing loans for lower-income homebuyers, apartment building owners and small businesses. Year after year, this community bank proved it could make money by opening up markets that the big banks chose to red-line in Chicago and later in Detroit and Cleveland. Hundreds of articles and news reports heralded its success.

Then the Wall Street-produced recession struck the country. Through little fault of its own, many of its hard-pressed lower-income debtors began to miss or default on their loans. ShoreBank started to register losses--$119 million in 2009. Unlike the big banks, ShoreBank did not deal in risky speculative derivatives—like credit default swaps, collaterized debt obligations or subprime mortgage lending.

Washington is drawn irresistibly to bail out the big banks’ wildly speculative, toxic paper investments with no redeeming social value. George W. Bush took the taxpayers to levels of corporate welfare beyond the dreams of corporate avarice.

Neil M. Barofsky, the valiant special inspector general for the Treasury Department’s Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) reported that the giant AIG bailout ($182 billion) gave its trading partners—bonus-rich Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch, Societe Generale and other banks—100 cents on the dollar for their notorious credit default swaps. Had AIG defaulted, it would have been a fraction of that sum.

Barofsky’s report denounced the Federal Reserve for not negotiating strongly with the banks. Incredibly, the Fed gave the banks $27 billion in taxpayer cash and let them keep $35 billion more in collateral already posted by AIG. Barofsky declared that these vastly overpaid sums were way “above [these contracts’] market value at the time.”

Compare these amounts to what ShoreBank needs in additional investment to provide liquidity and adequate capital reserves to ride out the recession. It projects losses of about $200 million before returning to black ink and another $300 million or so to support future operations.

The community bank has raised $150 million in pledges from several Wall Street firms—a little p.r. redemption here—and it needs $75 million in TARP funds from the Obama administration.

At this writing, Washington is balking and the Bank, willing to shink down further, finds its hopes dimming.

The Chicago Tribune editorial “Still Worth Saving” put it well: “ShoreBank, for many years, showed that operating honorably in low-income neighborhoods could pay off for everybody. One way or another, we can’t let its shining example disappear.”
Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer, and author. His most recent book - and first novel -  is, Only The Super-Rich Can Save Us. His most recent work of non-fiction is The Seventeen Traditions.
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