Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Response to Addicted

This started originally as a comment, but I started bloviating, so I simply decided to post it. Enjoy my ramblings.

First, let me say, welcome to the Proving Ground. Second, I would lie to retract some of my statements regarding nadir that I made when you and I talked on the phone the other night. He certainly did not cause the downfall (too strong?) of this country. For want of a nail the kingdom was lost. Either way, I entirely blame Bru and his flip flopping ways – remember when you and Jonathan Green ganged up on me?

Anyways, I certainly agree with you that a third party system would be nice, but I never see that happening in this country. People have been trying since its inception, and have been failing since then. Not even Teddy Roosevelt could pull out the third party victory. The simple fact of the matter is, in order to bring about any sort of change, you have to operate within the established power structure. The established political parties, while certainly not permanent (Whigs, etc), are the avenues through which change is wrought. The entire political structure of this country (the senate committees based on seniority in the majority and minority party) perpetuates the two party system. When you are looking to get money for your community, who are you going to call – you local socialists or green party? No, they are not able to effectuate any change. Rather, you’re going to call your local Democrat or republican and likely vote for one of them. And, if you are really passionate about that issue, will likely vote for the political party that is in the majority to increase the odds of the individual piece of legislation’s passage.

Traditionally, as a third party rises in popularity, it merely replaces the outgoing party and the two party balance is restored – see the emergence of the republican party and the demise of the Whigs. But, as a practical matter, Americans will support the party that can actually bring about change. Ask some of the Nader supporters whether they would be willing to concede some corporate issues and support Gore, I have a feeling they would change their vote. It’s a simply matter of utility – the two major parties, can overall, accomplish the most things the individual will agree with, while limiting disagreeable issues. It’s simply a matter of how much people are willing to compromise. The Catholic brass, despite agreeing socially with Democrats/liberals, generally will not vote that way because of the abortion/stem cell/pre-birthing issues. And that is why the third party won’t work – you simply get nothing in return, and have to hope that the majority party is somewhat aligned with your beliefs. Unfortunately for Nader supporters, Bush has been the antithesis – big government, big business, conservative socially, and running on fear. I commend him for running, but I don’t think he should expect support simply because he is a third party candidate. I want action, not rhetoric, and that is all Nader has to offer.

Can Clinton Pull It Off?

San Antonio, Texas--Vermont has gone to Sen. Barack Obama. 3 delegates is a good start, but can he continue the streak?

Unlikely. Well, at least not completely.

Mrs. Clinton is ahead in Ohio and CNN is reporting that she holds a lead over several percentage points among Union households. Yes you read that correctly.

Apparently no lesson was learned from Nevada after the "coveted" culinary worker leadership supported Mr. Obama, but failed to deliver him a victory.

The accusations of his double-talk on NAFTA dissolved rather quickly in the national press, but if you caught the "60 Minutes" round table Sunday night you'll know that voters in Ohio are already apt to believe that Mr. Obama does not know the national anthem and that he asked to be sworn into office on a Koran.

As for Texas, Mrs. Clinton is leading among Latino voters, women and last minute decision makers. Of course the African-American vote is being cleanly deliver to Mr. Obama on a silver platter, but the Latino population in the Lone Star State is far greater.

Mr. Obama can certainly pack in the crowds wherever he goes, but does that deliver the votes?

We'll see.

The Call: Clinton wins Ohio and Texas.

Saturday, March 01, 2008


It occurred to me this morning.

I was woken up by the maid knocking at my door in a cheap hotel in Dallas--a hotel where everything is a front, it's all looks nice but nothing works--and I poured myself a belt of rum so I could sit back and enjoy an episode of The Wire.

For those of you that have not been privy to one of the few accomplishments of television, I suggest you take it for a test drive.

The show basically involves cops chasing heroin dealers in the Baltimore projects. The dealers dole out heroin to all the project junkies and sit back with their cigars and cognac, all the way laughing themselves to the bank.

You might say the same thing for the Republicans and Democrats, or as I like to say, the Republicrats.

I had been trying to think of a way to discuss the Nader candidacy in a manner that really got to the heart of the matter, and in drinking rum at 10 a.m. in a Dallas hotel and looking up the schedules on which candidate presentations I would have to suffer through on my Saturday and watching The Wire, it all suddenly made sense: we are addicted.

Just like the junkies and the misers, we are addicted. Addicted to the two party system. We are addicted to seeing any other party as a farce and an insult to our ideals. We are addicted to feeling the surge of pride when we talk about our favorite Democrat and how they are the one that will really change this country. We are addicted to the absence of the notion that we can think for ourselves and that we have a real choice. True Democratic ideals have become repugnant to us. The idea that nothing is inevitable and anything is possible has become a joke. A joke, that in the end, is only played on us.

The Democrats are as guilty as the Republicans for letting our country be swallowed by the interests of corporate boards, by the interests of those who make millions of dollars in a single day and by those who seek to keep it that way. Any example of Republican greed, misconduct or malfeasance can be countered by any number of examples of Democrats engaged in the same unscrupulousness. In reality, they are all conservatives, and if Hillary Clinton or Barrack Obama, or even Dennis Kucinich for that matter, really cared about the ideals they claim to represent, they would have never become Democrats in the first place. They simply lack the spine to stand out as an Independent.

Everyone I have spoken with since Ralph Nader, the 50 year consumer advocate and promoter of civil oversight of government, has adamantly expressed their hatred of Nader and his ridiculous attempts to run for president. They laugh at the prospect of Nader running and continue into the inevitable assertion that Nader "lost it for Gore."

For all you empiricists out there, Ralph Nader was not the sole cause of the Bush victory. Numerous studies have shown that to be the case (I apologize for not citing them as I do not have access to my office computer, I will post as soon as I return) and I suggest you stop making such an embarrassingly false argument.

But what Ralph Nader represents is a pincer movement of belief in popular democracy, a paradigm shift in mans belief about himself. He represents the dissent that bore this country; the dissent that had rotten vegetables thrown at it when it declares itself to be a new birth in the fight against man's burden upon himself; the dissent that was, in many ways, the birth of liberalism itself. But more importantly, he represents the notion that there lies something beyond himself.

He recognizes what he stands for and that what he stands for is currently unpopular. He knows that he will be made fun of, cursed at, called a lunatic and monster should the Republicans win in 2008. He will once again brave the gauntlet of the popular media; the media that will come down on him like a hammer does on a nail. And yet he goes on because his one belief is something that is so superior to our own wretched ignorance that, I can only image deep down, he is as disgusted with us as we are of him.

But he knows that we are easily fooled and that it isn't our fault for being so naive. Something we should probably be thanking him for.

Ralph Nader represents a man who has done nothing but selfless work his entire life. The man owns now home; he owns no property; he doesn't even own a car. He has done nothing for the majority of his life on earth but work to strengthen the capabilities of civil society to keep watch over its government. He is the Cato of American history.

He will not win in 2008 and he already knows it. Then why does he run? For the exact reason that he recognizes he will not live to see his dream. He will not live to see more than two parties dominating the American democratic system. But he also recognizes that what he aspired to do, to change, may embolden others to follow his path.

So you want to try and break the addiction? You want to talk about real hope? Then start talking Ralph Nader. Start talking the legacy of Ralph Nader. Anyone that has truly changed the world has never lived to see it and Ralph Nader will be no exception. So for all the junkies out there, high on the two-party system and looking for another fix, try entertaining the idea that your vote will not be wasted on Mr. Nader because there is something beyond yourself that, while you may not live to see it, will take your efforts to see it realized.

Because one hundred years from now when elections are based on preference, when multiple parties represent a multiple of interests in Congress and when people power comes to govern itself, there will be one man who people remember and his name will be Ralph Nader.

Comments? andrew.geisthardt@gmail.com

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Botox, dangerous, seriously?!?

According to the FDA, "Botox and Botox Cosmetic (Botulinum toxin Type A) and Myobloc (Botulinum toxin Type B) have been linked in some cases to adverse reactions, including respiratory failure and death, following treatment of a variety of conditions using a wide range of doses." (Science Daily). And it continued to say, "The FDA is not advising health care professionals to discontinue prescribing these products."

Wow, this comes as quite the surprise. Botulism, one of the more deadly toxins, used cosmetically, is actually dangerous. Personally, I did not see this coming. Seriously, who would have expected that a toxin designed to paralyze muscles in a vain attempt to look younger, could possibly cause some sort of harm.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

S-CHIP Defeated

A CBS poll shows that 81% of Americans approve of expanding the S-CHIP program. So why does Bush see this as a victory? Hopefully Congress can still get this through.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Bush, a bleeding heart liberal?!?

In his first press conference since February, President Bush made a plea to all Americans to think of the children. When discussing the war in Iraq, he said, “They are a threat to your children, David [Gregory, NBC reporter], and whoever is in that Oval Office better understand it and take measures necessary to protect the American people” (Whitehouse). He later said, “It's a danger to your children, Jim.” Have we already forgotten the lessons of 9/11? September the 11th forced us to prioritize the way we think and act on the global stage. As a result of 9/11, we realized that we need to think of the children. Somehow, we forgot that and are complacent again. When terrorists attack again, as the did on that calm, serene morning of September 11th, who will protect David's, Jim’s or your children?

Also from the press conference: if you ever doubted President Bush’s credibility, you were mistaken. He put all credibility issues to rest when he emphatically stated: “I'm credible because I read the intelligence.” President Bush cannot be held accountable for his egregious and deadly mistakes, he is simply a conduit for the American people. He receives intelligence telling him Iraq has WMDs, and he, quite rightfully so leads us into war with Iraq. He received no intelligence in August warning of an imminent attack by Osama bin Laden using airplanes, so he did nothing, and nothing occurred. Wait, there was a briefing that described bin Laden’s plan to attack the US and the Iraq war intelligence Bush read said Iraq had no WMDs. Now I’m confused…

Thursday, April 12, 2007

From Medieval Plunderers to Plunderers of Climate Science

Good Heavens. I posted the piece on medieval plunderers in Belgium to add a little color -- a lighter side, if you will -- to the Proving Ground's stellar, Pulitzer-caliber political reporting and analysis. It was meant to have its 15 minutes of fame and then slip quietly into the archives, to live out the rest of its days humbly and contentedly.

Little did I know that it would be the feature article for a week, causing our legions of readers to mistakenly believe this is a blog about Belgium, or Maximilian I.

Well, the article is not one to hog the stage, so it hereby passes the torch to the latest George Monbiot article, which picks apart the incredible lunacy and hypocrisy of climate skeptics thinking that they are the ones being censored.

The Real Climate Censorship - I'm not going to pull out any quotes. Read the whole thing.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

"When I am a medieval plunderer, I can do what I want"

I couldn't pass this up. The International Herald Tribune reports that some Belgians are going medieval.
During the week, Ivonne Janssens, 57, is a hospital cleaner. But come the weekend, she climbs the narrow steps of a three-story medieval tower and turns into a 14th-century duchess with a faux-emerald necklace, a linen headdress, a leather satchel full of fake gold coins, and a retinue of mercenaries to fend off invading French knights.

Her husband, Daniel Grandjean, a 50-year-old furniture maker with a pot belly and bushy beard, becomes an axe-wielding soldier-for-hire.


Across this country of 10 million, a growing number of Belgians are trading in their jeans for suits of armor. They are rubbing stones together to make fire, eating their dinners out of cauldrons, re-enacting heroic battles and participating in mock hangings.


For Pol Malfait, an affable 53-year-old postal clerk from Ghent, the Middle Ages is not just a historical era but a state of mind. Every week, he becomes De Nevelaar, a 14th-century Flemish soldier who fought for the king of England against the French crown during the Hundred Years War and then became a full-time plunderer. His wife, Jeanne, a 49-year-old secretary, becomes a peasant woman.

"When I am a medieval plunderer, I can do what I want and I love the freedom," he says, showing off the chain-metal outfit he puts on before setting out on fictional rampages.

"You can be in big trouble if both you and your partner aren't into being medieval,"
Yeah, I'll bet. I wouldn't want to be returning from grocery shopping, only to be waylaid by a sword-wielding marauder.

Other Belgians, of course, are suggesting not taking this too far.
Not everyone here has embraced the medieval trend. Eduard Van Ermen, a professor of medieval history at the University of Leuven - who confesses he once pretended to be Emperor Maximilian I - argues that Belgians who idealize the medieval period are underestimating its challenges. These, he says, include an average life span of 40 years, the Black Plague, potato famines, torture for minor transgressions and the constant threat of bloody wars.
Plague, Schmague. Long live Maximilian I!

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

What a difference a year makes

At the annual Radio and Television Correspondents' Dinner, President Bush opened with a clever joke:

“A year ago, my approval rating was in the 30s, my nominee for the Supreme Court had just withdrawn, and my Vice President had shot someone. Ahhh, those were the good old days.” (Whitehouse)

How else have things changed over the course of a year:

March, 2006
Well, on 20 March 2006, President Bush spoke of the successes in Iraq that the media never covers. At his speech in Cleveland, Ohio he stated:

“Today I'd like to share a concrete example of progress in Iraq that most Americans do not see every day in their newspapers and on their television screens. I'm going to tell you the story of a northern Iraqi city called Tal Afar…See, if you're a resident of Tal Afar today, this is what you're going to see: You see your children going to school and playing safely in the streets…You see markets opening, and you hear the sound of construction equipment as buildings go up and homes are remade. In short, you see a city that is coming back to life.” (Whitehouse)

March, 2007
On March 28th, however, a truck bomb exploded in a Shiite neighborhood killing 83 people and wounding more than 185. The predominantly Shiite police force responded by systematically targeting Sunni homes. The police officers went “house to house in a Sunni neighborhood, dragged people into the street and shot them in the head.” All told, the retaliatory violence resulted in 70 people executed, 40 kidnapped and 30 wounded. Iraqi doctor, Salih Qaddaw, described the situation at his hospital:

“So many bloodied corpses were brought in on Tuesday night that the entry hall could not be kept clean,” he said. “If you would have a look inside the hospital yesterday, it would have looked as if it were painted red despite all our efforts to clean the entry. But the influx of casualties kept growing bigger.” (NYT)

If that was not enough to make your blood curdle (or after reading the entirety of Bush’s speech and visualizing the absolute horror Tel Afar citizens experience daily), more than 100 people were killed in Baghdad after a series of attacks, including two bombings at a busy street market (NYT). Absurdly, many conservatives and Iraqis consider this a positive step and a sign that the escalation is working because only 100 people, as opposed to 150 died on March 30.

Update: After writing this on Saturday March 31, Senator John McCain returned from Iraq touting the success of the escalation and the resulting increase in Baghdad security. Despite these proclamations, many more bombs exploded over the weekend (after the Tal Afar bombings, which were the deadliest of the war to this date), killing 50 and several US soldiers.

What struck me was the fact that McCain earlier last month said on CNN, “General Petraeus goes out there almost every day in an unarmed humvee.” Then, on the Bill Bennett readio program, he said that there “are neighborhoods in Baghdad where you and I could walk through those neighborhoods, today.” However, when he toured the city, McCain traveled in a convoy of armored military vehicles and was accompanied by a large contingent of heavily armed soldiers. He wore body armor while they shopped and other precautions, described shortly, were taken. Obviously, the streets are not quite as safe as they appear. (NYT)

Adding to the idiocy, he and his travelling partners described the Shorja market as a safe place to peddle wares. Representative Mike Pence, an Indiana Republican, went so far as to say the Shorja market was “like a normal outdoor market in Indiana.” In today's New York Times, several Iraqis said what I assume most Americans already believe: he was flat wrong. From the Times article:

“What are they talking about?” Ali Jassim Faiyad, the owner of an electrical appliances shop in the market, said Monday. “The security procedures were abnormal!”

The delegation arrived at the market, which is called Shorja, on Sunday with more than 100 soldiers in armored Humvees — the equivalent of an entire company — and attack helicopters circled overhead, a senior American military official in Baghdad said. The soldiers redirected traffic from the area and restricted access to the Americans, witnesses said, and sharpshooters were posted on the roofs. The congressmen wore bulletproof vests throughout their hourlong visit.

“They paralyzed the market when they came,” Mr. Faiyad said during an interview in his shop on Monday.

“This was only for the media.”He added, “This will not change anything.”

Making matters worse, at very the same market these men callously compared to an American market, at least 61 Iraqis were murdered and scores more wounded as the result of two vehicle bombs and a roadside bomb. More recently, “snipers hidden in Shorja’s bazaar have killed several people.” I have never been to a market, much less a mall where I feared for my life; and for these men to compare anything in Iraq to the US not only insults my intelligence, but also marginalizes the horrors the Iraqis have thus far endured. (NYT)

Monday, April 02, 2007

Special Election Coverage: The Madison Mayoral Race

When you go to the polls next week to decide who will run the City of Madison for another four years, be sure to choose the best man. This will pose a problem though as it has become quite clear in the past few months that Ray Allen and incumbent Dave Ceislewicz would likely both do a decent job with city governance.

As a nine year veteran of the Madison School Board and Executive on the Board for Madison Area Technical College, Allen's real experience and mettle will be strong pressed to deliver on his initiatives. Allen’s philosophy centers on poverty. He has promised a Johnson-esc War on Poverty if elected, correctly pointing out that many of the cities issues with crime, unemployment and poor education stem from poverty. He does want to expand vocational programs to increase success in job placement, focus on overhauling the Metro system rather than spend money on trolleys and try to curb high rise construction in order to keep affordable housing in the downtown area. But he has also called for questionable programs in the past like 10-10 which would add ten new police officers to the Madison force every year. Allen is a strong candidate with a clear mission: nip problems at the bud by fighting the poverty that causes them.

Mayor Dave has enjoyed much success during his term as Madison’s Mayor. The smoking ban, municipal pool and incentives for housing low income renters have all been turned into reality. His plans over the next four years include further exploring a trolley system for Madison, ear mark funds to explore solutions in downtown safety and continuing to work with business to keep Madison’s economy healthy. Cieslewicz boasts much popular support and his ability to spearhead long term initiatives like committing to the Kyoto Protocol at the city level, has proved to be politically energizing as cities across the country are now signing on to similar agendas. As a foreword looking candidate Cieslewicz has support in and outside of Madison. Honestly, it’s a tough call.

From Andrew G, The Proving Ground Senior Election Correspondent.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Poor Ronald McDonald

Do you remember when McDonald's spokesman Ronald McDonald underwent a makeover and started promoting exercise and healthy living (ads with Ronald playing soccer, eating salad, skateboarding, etc.)? Well, those days are long gone. Apparently, Ronald could not ween himself from Big Macs and Double Quarter Pound meals.

Friday, March 30, 2007

WTF, Burma?

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The new capital of Myanmar (BBC News)

Dictator Ne Win ruled Burma (now called "Myanmar") with an iron fist from 1962 to 1988, sometimes employing a style that had the strangeness that still characterizes Burmese rule. He was heavy into astrology, and would make important policy decisions based on the whims of his astrologer(s). To avoid assassination, he allegedly follow a superstition of stomping on a slab of raw meat while shooting his visage in a mirror with a handgun. He even changed the Burmese currency (kyat) denominations to correspond with his lucky numbers, which, needless to say, caused a financial crisis in a country that has always been poor in its recent history.

To this day, Myanmar is ruled by a military junta that "came to power" in a 1988 coup during uprisings where thousands of protesters were murdered. The coup was really just the retention of power by the old dictatorship (but not the old dictator) under a different name. Oppressive regime, Mach II, claims to have embraced democracy, but it is really just a shell game. In 1990, a parliamentary election was held in which the real democratic party, the National League for Democracy, led by Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, won a vast majority of seats. The State Law and Order Restoration Council, as the junta endearingly called itself, simply declared the results void, claiming that it was not really an election. The SLORC has been ruling ever since (now calling themselves, even more endearingly, the State Peace and Development Council), the NLD has been kept under raps and not allowed to organize, Aung San Suu Kyi has spent much of her time under house arrest, and Myanmar is riddled with human rights abuses, forced labor, in-fighting, drug smuggling, severe poverty, and fear of government persecution.

It's hard to know exactly what is going on in Myanmar, though. Besides North Korea, it is perhaps the most secretive country on the planet. The media is largely state-run. It is hard for visitors to get far past the major city (and former capital) of Yangon (formerly Rangoon), and sanctions from most Western countries make it difficult anyway. If they do, it may very well be that they will be surveiled by government spies. The regime doesn't want to show outsiders what they already know: how poorly the country is faring in terms of economic and social indicators.

But now things may become even more secretive, because, in a move that has simply bewildered many observers, the regime is moving the capital from Yangon, on the coast of the Bay of Bengal, to near the town of Pyinmana, in the center of the country. More specifically, it is creating a new capital from scratch, called Naypyidaw.
Burma's decision to shift its seat of government has left many analysts at a loss to explain the move.

After all, why go to the huge trouble and expense of relocating thousands of officials to a remote mountainous region, when there is a well-established political infrastructure in the port city of Rangoon?


[Analysts] said the real reason was probably still a mystery, but it was possible the country's hard-line military rulers were worried about foreign invasion, or wanted more control over ethnic minorities in the border regions, or were even following the advice of fortune tellers.


Joseph Silverstein believes the most likely explanation for the relocation is advice by traditional Burmese fortune-tellers.

"Everybody listens to fortune-tellers in Burma," he said.

General Ne Win, who came to power in 1962, was totally dependent on their advice, Mr Silverstein added.

"He is once said to have decided to change the direction of traffic overnight [as a result of a fortune teller]. It caused a huge number of accidents," he said.
While all Myanmar government offices will be moving to Naypyidaw, diplomats and embassies have not been told to follow, which might pull the plug on the already tenuous awareness outsiders have of Burmese affairs.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

New EPA regulations and cleaner snowmobiles

The Environmental Protection Agency, oft maligned by liberals and environmentalists alike for their lax protection of the environment, recently took a step forward this past month by proposing an initiative to cut the emissions of smog and soot produced by diesel engine boats and trains (EPA). The announced program will take hold in 2007 and continue phased in initiatives though 2015 based on the size and model of the engine. All told, the EPA expects to reduce diesel engine particulate pollution from by 90 percent, smog-forming nitrogen oxides by 80 percent, and decrease the allowable levels of sulfur in fuel used in marine vessels by 99 percent.

However, General Electric, the nation’s largest locomotive producer, wrote the EPA and asked for weaker smog standards because they lacked the technology to meet the new standards. (This is the same company that joined a consortium of scientists and businesses asking for stronger CO2 emission standards.) Despite their objection, a recent study projected the cost of upgrading diesel engines are estimated at $600 million, or an additional 3 percent to the cost of the locomotive and at most 3.6 percent to the price of boats.

On the other hand, the “health benefits are estimated at $12 billion by 2030, including 1,500 fewer premature deaths, 1,100 fewer hospitalizations and 170,000 more work days by people breathing easier.” According to Bill Becker, executive director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies, “We estimate the emissions benefits will be equivalent to taking three-quarters of a million diesel trucks off the road each year” (MSNBC).

Although this does not affect all pollution emitting engines, a new program is underway to produce a zero-emission snowmobile. Currently, Yellowstone National Park phased out the usage of snowmobiles because of their detrimental affect on the environment (MT Department of Environmental Quality). How bad exactly are snowmobiles for the environment? According to a National Park Service revised 2001 report on Impacts of Snowmobiles in National Parks:

The two-stroke engines produce amounts of unburned HC and CO similar to that produced by automobiles before the 1970 Clean Air Act. These two-stroke engines still produce significant amounts of fine (PM-2.5) particulate matter emissions due to the method of scavenging, leaving the exhaust and fuel inport ports open at the same time. The best estimates available comparing snowmobile emissions to average automobile emissions conclude that a traditional snowmobile produces ten to 70 times more CO and between 45 and 89 times more unburned HC than an average car. (Peaks to Prairies, for more in depth studies, see Lab Testing of Snowmobile Emissions prepared for the National Park Service).”

This year, four National Science Foundation- supported teams competed at the Society of Automotive Engineers Clean Snowmobile Challenge. The teams, consisting of college and university members of the SAE, were each given $10,000. The teams are not only attempting to reduce emissions, but also reduce their noise level and overall impact on the environment. The winning group will go to Greenland to work directly with the NSF’s research and development of a cleaner snowmobile. (Science Daily)

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

A Blow to Good Old Idealism

These articles make me disappointed more than anything else:

The Guardian - The web works for the grassroots, but political power still lies with the few
It suits the mythology of meritocracy that remains so central to American identity to have young children walking around in T-shirts saying "Future president of America". But the truth is if your kid really does stand a chance at the top office, he'll already be wearing more expensive attire. America's class system is now more rigid than most in Europe, and that sclerosis is given full expression at the highest levels of politics. Teamsters leader Jimmy Hoffa, Chicago mayor Richard Daley and Southern Christian Leadership Conference head Martin Luther King all carry the names and job titles of their fathers. Each year the richest quarter per cent make 80% of all political donations. The last time there was not a Clinton or a Bush on the presidential ticket was 1976. This is not democracy, it is dynasty.
AP - Republicans frosty on Gore's global warming warnings

"You're not just off a little; you're totally wrong," said Texas Rep. Joe Barton, the leading Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, as he challenged Gore's conclusion that carbon dioxide emissions cause rising global temperatures.

Barton and Gore's exchange grew testy at one point -- Barton demanding that Gore get to the point and Gore responding that he would like time to answer without being interrupted.

"Global warming science is uneven and evolving," Barton said.

Gore insisted that the link is beyond dispute and is the source of broad agreement in the scientific community.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

TimesSelect Free with .edu address

TimesSelectI was just skimming the New York Times Web site and they've changed their policy so that anyone with a .edu e-mail account can gain free access to their subscriber-only content online.

Sign up here

There's some extra incentive to go to grad school right there.

Friday, March 16, 2007

George Will's Traffic Congestion Solution: Repackaging the Status Quo

x-post: Brudaimonia

George Will has a keen ability to package ill-informed nonsense in a shiny wrap of apparent erudition.

Not that I disagree with all of the points in his recent article on traffic congestion entitled "Fighting the Real Gridlock." I am in favor, for example, of dynamic tolling on highways and reforming transportation pork. It's just that the spirit of the whole article contradicts itself by reaffirming the status quo it purports to shatter.

It starts off well by recognizing the costs of traffic congestion: monetary costs, family time, time for civic engagement, and so forth. (Will's occasional mention of transportation secretary Mary Peters, perhaps some politically-motivated hat tip, is awkward, as she is not really essential to the article.) Will notes that
[i]n the past 20 years, congestion in the 85 largest cities has caused the number of hours lost each year by the average driver in rush hours to increase from 16 to 47. In the 13 largest cities, drivers are stuck in traffic the equivalent of nearly eight workdays.
But then comes the call for "fresh thinking and departures from the status quo." Since the status quo has been building new highways and adding new lanes to old highways, it's exciting to hear what this "fresh thinking" might be.
There must be new highways and new lanes on some old ones.
Aw, what a letdown. The psychology of prior investment affects even the most erudite among us, for even they can't let go of the infrastructure that currently makes possible nearly half the world's automotive carbon emissions.
But there also must be new ways -- made possible by new technologies -- of using lanes.
No doubt we must forge ahead with new technologies to reduce congestion on existing highways, yet Will's big solution is just a refurbishing of the status quo. Or, as James Howard Kunstler would call it, "a desperate wish to keep the cars running by any conceivable means, at all costs."

To make this tired old scheme justifiable, Will must brush aside the formidable objection that is the theory of "induced travel": adding more car lanes to a highway only increases demand to drive on it.
The usual scolds -- environmentalists, urban "planners," [ouch, those quotation marks sting deep] enthusiasts for public transit (less than 5 percent of the workforce uses it) -- argue that more highways encourage more driving ("induced demand") and hence are self-defeating. But as Ted Balaker and Sam Staley respond in their new book on congestion, "The Road More Traveled," among the 10 largest metropolitan areas, Los Angeles has the least pavement per person; Dallas has twice as much per person and half as much congestion.
Responding to conservative misinformation is like playing "Find the Fallacy." Here Will uses a single, flawed comparison, cited from a book by two conservative libertarians, in an attempt to disprove induced travel and implicitly argue against the fact that highway-heavy, transit-poor cities are recipes for congestion. Dallas does indeed have less congestion than Los Angeles, yet Will presents no evidence that it is because of its pavement levels. The fallacy is implied causality in the presence of mere correlation. In reality, there are many, many factors that contribute to, or mitigate, traffic congestion.

A simple look at the numbers casts doubt on Balaker and Staley's claim. According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, in the 21-year period from 1982 to 2003, congestion in both Dallas and Los Angeles increased. But Dallas's congestion increased at a rate 61% higher than that of Los Angeles. This is because Dallas's congestion index increased 46 points over that time period, while Los Angeles's congestion index increased only 28 points. In fact, Los Angeles has held its congestion relatively steady since 1990, while Dallas's congestion index has risen 23 points.

What has been happening in Los Angeles to keep its congestion steady over the last 17 years? It might have something to do with mass transit, the real gridlock fighter. Los Angeles's Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) opened the region's first light rail line in 1990, its first heavy rail line in 1993, and another light rail line in 1995 (Wikipedia). MetroLink, the regional rail system, began service in 1992. The Antelope Valley Transit Authority, covering the exurbs of Lancaster and Palmdale, was formed in 1992. And these are not all of the transit additions Los Angeles made in the early 90s.

Of course, back in the day, Los Angeles used to have an excellent streetcar before it was slowly killed by General Motors, Standard Oil, Firestone Tire and Rubber Company, and other corporations seeking to force Angelenos to use their products to get around.

Today, the city is fighting the legacy of smog and congestion created by auto-dependent infrastructure and is embracing increased transit capacity and smart growth strategies. It has a long way to go, but LA has a chief planner, Gail Goldberg, and a mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa, who recognize the importance of smart growth.

Public transportation, not selling toll roads to private companies, is what will relieve America's congestion, and Americans are beginning to recognize this, even if George Will doesn't. In 2006, 10.1 billion trips were taken via public transportation, the largest public transportation ridership in 49 years.
Public transit use is up 30 percent since 1995. That is more than double the growth rate of the population (12 percent) and higher than the growth rate for the vehicle miles traveled on our roads (24 percent) during that same period. In 2006, public transit ridership grew 2.9 percent over 2005.
The article noted that light rail use increased by the highest percentage (5.6 percent). Madison officials may want to take note of that figure, as the city considers building its own light rail line. Minneapolis's new light rail line continued its ridership success with an 18.4 percent increase. This is a rail line that was opposed tooth-and-nail by then--State House Majority Leader (and now Governor) Tim Pawlenty. Even Dallas residents are tiring of all that pavement: bus ridership in the city was up 8.3 percent in 2006.

And this is all only 1.5 years removed from the passage of SAFETEA-LU, the infamous pork-laden transportation bill steered primarily by Alaska Republicans, lopsided by massive highway allocations, including the notorious "Bridges to Nowhere," and relatively scant public transit and bicycle rations.

Besides relieving congestion, the huge benefit of public transit is the gas it saves. The APTA found that transit's record ridership saved 1.4 billion gallons of gasoline, which is enough to fill gasoline cans that could stretch to the moon (PDF). Traffic congestion, on the other hand, wastes 2.3 billion gallons of gasoline (FHWA).

Yes, there are some things we can do on the highways to relieve congestion, but focusing solely on highways misses the larger solution of increased alternative transportation. But seeing that solution will require actual fresh thinking and freedom from the pavement status quo.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Update to SCHIP Program

On March 15th, Senators Hillary Clinton and John Dingell offered a bill expanding Children's Health Insurance Program. They want to triple spending over the next 5 years by at least $50 billion. As a result nearly all uninsured children will have some access to federally subsidized health insurance. This is important because several studies have shown children with health insurance in general miss less school due to illness. Hopefully President Bush will not insist on cutting the budget of the program, and veto this bill.

Source: New York Times

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

No, Ethanol Can't Cure Cancer

A recent Associated Press article questions recent predictions by ethanol advocates that the biofuel is a miracle cure for eliminating America's dependence on foreign oil and reducing carbon emissions.

This Q&A-style article lays out the basics of ethanol and questions the perfect-fuel scenario being put forth by ethanol advocates. Right now, most of the media's focus is on the potential advantages of ethanol, but there isn't much discussion of the realities behind its creation.

The article has answers that may surprise people. For example:
But aren't there environmental benefits to ethanol?

If you make ethanol from corn, the environmental benefits are limited. When you consider the greenhouse gases that are released in the growing and refining process, corn-based ethanol is only slightly better with regard to global warming than gasoline. Growing corn also requires the use of pesticides and fertilizers that cause soil and water pollution.
The environmental benefit of corn-based ethanol is felt mostly around the tailpipe. When blended into gasoline in small amounts, ethanol causes the fuel to generate less smog-producing carbon monoxide. That has made it popular in smoggy cities like Los Angeles.

Paul Peterson, a field supervisor for the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation wrote a letter to the La Crosse Tribune last week promoting the use of ethanol. He claims that, "if every car in America would burn 10 percent ethanol, it could eliminate our dependence on foreign oil." This statement immediately prompts a few questions like, "where would we get the other 90% of our auto fuel" and "where would we get all of the ethanol from"? Just the title of his letter (which may have been given by the Tribune), is just plain wrong.

I realize that there is a strong contingent in this country who would love it if the demand for corn kept increasing, but they shouldn't be bending the truth to fit their economic agenda.

To restate an observation that's been made on this blog before, further development in ethanol, especially with crops that have a higher energy efficiency, like sugar cane, can be a part of the
renewable energy equation, but it most certainly isn't, "the answer."

When hippies attack...

…usually nothing goes right. Precisely this occurred last week when three hippies (or possible GOP operatives) ambushed and filmed Wisconsin Rep. David Obey. In doing so, they embarrassed themselves, trivialized the Iraq War issue, and forced Obey to apologize (PFD). Although I do not feel that he even needed to apologize, thankfully he did not back down from his position. This group, for some unbeknownst reason, attacked one of the leading critics of the war who, unlike Kerry or Clinton, did not initially vote for the war. As Bru linked to in a previous post, he is not only against the escalation, but wants to end our involvement as soon as possible. This group would have been better served confronting John McCain of Joe Libbermann (especially given their proclivity to filibustering). Please enjoy watching these three make fools of themselves.

Republicans responded by alleging he used "the worst cuss words in the book" and dubbed him "Dirty Mouth Dave." They even went so far as to say that for Obey to use his "foul mouth on the taxpayer dime is a disgrace to the office" (JSonline.com) What would make that Dick Cheney then ("Go F*** yourself)"?

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Madison Walks the Walk

x-post: Brudaimonia

In a nation with so many cities held hostage by car-dominated infrastructure, I am proud to say that Madison, Wisconsin has just been named the U.S.'s most walkable city by the American Podiatric Medical Association, aka foot doctors. (Actually, the APMA's title is "Best Fitness-Walking Cities," which I'll comment on later.)

Madison is reaping the benefits of its walker-friednly plan adopted 10 years ago. From the perspective of someone who has visited Madison many times yet never lived there, it really is enjoyable to walk around the city. Its walkability no doubt feeds off of its culture. UW obviously plays a big role. It has a strong local progressive mindset. It has one of the best local food systems in the country.

But its walkability also contributes to its culture. Try having a Halloween celebration like Madison's in Orange County, or Detroit, or Tuscon. You can't show off your Royal Tenenbaums costumes while driving an SUV on a collector road in suburban Atlanta.

Or...Miami? That's right, the warm-weather hub and home of New Urbanist pioneers Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk somewhat ironically is 98th, or third-last, on the list. I say "somewhat" because no doubt the percentage of elderly residents influences its low walkability. But come on, Miami, 98th?

The rest of the bottom five list sends a few shivers down urban planners' spines:
100. Newark, NJ: Has a high crime rate, few parks, and few people who take mass transit—as well as the third smallest percentage of people who walk for exercise.
99. Laredo, TX: Poor air quality and the least amount of people taking mass transit.
98. Miami, FL: The fifth highest crime rate may explain why very few people walk for health.
97. Hialeah, FL: Very few parks and schools per square mile and had the second to last number of people who walk for health.
96. Detroit, MI: With a high rate of pedestrian fatalities and high crime rates, is it any wonder Motor City had the smallest percentage of people who walk for health?
The crime rate--walkability causality goes both ways. High crime rates tend to discourage walking, for obvious reasons, but the contrapositive is also true: more walkable communities tend to have less crime. It's harder to get away with a crime when there are a lot of people walking around; the criminal's ideal setting is a dark, unpopulated street.

Madison's walkability no doubt contributes to its "friendliest city in the Midwest" ranking by Midwest Living in 2003.
Madison is no stranger to No. 1 rankings. People still talk about Money Magazine naming it the best place to live in 1998, although that ranking dropped to 53rd last year. Outside Magazine named it the best road biking city in August, and other high rankings have come for its being vegetarian-friendly, gay-friendly, environmentally friendly, and, well, according to Midwest Living in 2003, the overall friendliest city in the Midwest.


Even with 40,000 students mostly walking to and from class — and bars at night — Madison has a remarkable bike trail system, with more than 30 miles of trails and 110 miles of bike lanes even on the busiest of streets. Not to mention the 6,000 acres of parkland. [AP article]
Here's the APMA's complete top ten list:
Top 10 Best Fitness-Walking Cities of 2007:

1. Madison, WI: Adopted a walker-friendly plan 10 years ago, and it shows.
2. Austin, TX: 50 trails, from a quarter to 10 miles long.
3. San Francisco, CA: The most parks per square mile.
4. Charlotte, NC: 40% of its residents walk for exercise.
5. Seattle, WA: Gorgeous views of Puget Sound and snowcapped mountains.
6. Henderson, NV: With an average yearly rainfall of 4.5 inches, you can walk every day.
7. San Diego, CA: A unique choice of beach, desert and mountain routes.
8. San Jose, CA: Perfect walking weather; average temp 61 degrees and low humidity.
9. Chandler, AZ: 6.5 miles of traffic-free walking on its Paseo Trail.
10. Virginia Beach, VA: A low crime rate and a boardwalk allow safe, fun strolling.
Austin may properly be called the "Madison of the South," and no doubt UT plays a similar role there as UW does for Madison. Henderson, San Jose, and Virginia Beach probably win on weather alone.

Which brings up a major flaw with this list: such factors as weather (which makes Madison's ranking all the more impressive) and athletic shoe sales say little about how walkable the community actually is. (I bet you there are tons of athletic shoe sales in the big box supercenters in Blaine, Minnesota, a sprawling Twin Cities exurb known for its gigantic athletic complex.)

That explains why a city like Las Vegas, which is about as walkable as the surface of Venus, reached #15 on the final rankings (PDF). Even on the Strip, where, of course, there are always a lot of people walking, you can't even cross a cross-street on the ground level. You are ushered up an elevator, across a skywalk, and down again to the other side.

The fact that Colorado Springs (13) is ahead of both Minneapolis (32) and St. Paul (26) is a joke. And Wichita (38) edging out New York (39)? Anchorage (18) beating Portland, OR (19)? The fact that Anchorage is in the top 20, much less the top 90, shows that this survey really doesn't get at the holistic concept of "walkable community." The Tony Knowles Coastal Trail notwithstanding, Anchorage, like Fairbanks, is a poster boy for auto-sprawl.

Actual walkable cities (Madison, Austin, San Francisco, Seattle, Portland) can do well on this list, and some walker-unfriendly cities are indeed ranked low (Newark, Miami, Detroit, Toledo, Tuscon, St. Petersburg, Oklahoma City, Houston, Tulsa) but other walker-unfriendly urban areas (Colorado Springs, Anchorage, Las Vegas, Phoenix (!), Reno) seem to be able to crack this list's top ranks just as easily as walkable communities. So this list has some use to it, but don't take every ranking at face value.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Go Big Green

Sustainable energy isn’t going to become the standard until it makes economic sense for people to turn from fossil fuels to renewable sources. One way to bring down costs is to use economies of scale to produce energy from renewable sources in large proportions.

The idea is similar to the way we produce energy from fossil fuels right now. People don’t have coal-burning generators behind their homes; they are connected by wires to a power plant. There are definitely more opportunities to capture clean energy in small batches via solar panels, but there’s no reason that communities can’t take advantage of large-scale energy production projects. The costs of individual solar panels or a wind turbine are still prohibitively expensive and geographically unfeasible for most people. A central source of renewable energy makes sense can make sense for individuals, communities, businesses, and institutions.

In today’s New York Times, Matthew Wald takes a look at large-scale alternative energy projects.

It’s all about the economics.

Monday, March 05, 2007

I mean seriously, what's wrong with a good ol' gook joke?

As a graduate of a Catholic high school, I am glad this man represents both the school and Catholics in general.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

More on Organics

As Bru touched upon, organic and natural foods, now a $15 billion industry, is a major trend in United States. At the vanguard of organic grocery stores, Whole Foods, continually experienced robust profits and growth. Last week, they announced the purchase of its top rival, Wild Oats Markets, for $500 million. Although Whole Foods only recently opened a store in Madison, John Mackey and his girlfriend actually founded the company over 25 years ago. Just last week, the NPR program Marketplace, interviewed Whole Foods John Mackey. The short interview not only provides the inspiration for starting an organic food store, but also its history and future trends.

John Mackey Interview

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Third Party Organic Certifiers

Cross-post: Brudaimonia

Bru's Note: This was originally posted as a diary on Daily Kos, as part of the excellent Recipe for America series started by Kossack OrangeClouds115. Recipe for America, along with OrangeClouds's popular Vegetables of Mass Destruction series, seeks to inform citizens about how to transform our food system into a sustainable one. They are some of Daily Kos's most useful and informative diaries, in my opinion, offering advice that can be carried out immediately to make the world a better place in which to live. I also recommend the Recipe for America website, which cross-posts the Daily Kos diaries and has a lot more juicy information.

Nearly 100 third party certifiers do the leg work behind that familiar green seal on the organic food you buy. They are farmers' associations, nonprofits, state departments of agriculture, businesses, and other organizations. They are accredited to certify different steps of the organic food production process.

Each organization is different. Their job qua certifier is to ensure that growers and producers stay chemical fertilizer- and pesticide-free, but that doesn't necessarily say anything about their positions on other food issues: source of food, treatment of workers, and so forth.

Below the fold is an introduction to third party certifiers.

Meat Beets and Potatoes Info

The USDA calls third party organic certifiers Accredited Certifying Agents (ACAs). There are 95 total ACAs: 55 from the US and 40 foreign. Thirty-six different US states have at least one ACA. California alone, not surprisingly, has 13, almost 1/4 of all US ACAs, and they're all in Berkeley...juuuust kidding. The agriculture departments of 14 states (Colorado, Iowa, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Montana, New Hampshire, Nevada, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, and Washington) are ACAs. In two other states, different government entities are certifiers: the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management and the New Mexico Organic Commodity Commission.

One organization, Integrity Certified International (Nebraska), which became accredited (PDF) April 29, 2002, surrendered its accreditation October 31, 2006. I couldn't find any information on why they did this, but it could just be that they decided to focus on priorities other than running a certification program.

Another organization, American Food Safety Institute International (Wisconsin), had its accreditation revoked, the first revocation in the history of the NOC. AFSII "allowed an organic farm to use banned chemicals and broke several other federal regulations" (Dallas Morning News - PDF). More:

A report from the [National Organic Program] investigation said the company certified a seed farm that was treated with banned chemicals even after another certifier turned the farm down for that reason.

It also allowed a bottled-water company to use the USDA Organic label despite federal rules against designating water as organic.

Whoops! Now what kind of company would do stupid things like that?

American Food Safety is a four-person company overseeing about 30 organic operations in seven states and Mexico, according to USDA records.

It is part of the High Sierra Group, which also owns companies that make specialty chemicals for the food industry. [Ibid]

I'm not going to turn this into an investigative diary on a chemical company, but there are a few odd things about AFSI that I couldn't pass up. It was run out of the founder's car as late as 1999. In 2000, when its headquarters were finally located in something without wheels, AFSI (not to be confused with AFSII, which was separate) gave birth to The High Sierra Chemical Company. (Source: link below)

Now, the group could be a decent organization apart from its organic certification noncompliance -- I'm not going to pull a Seymour Hersh here and write a 10,000-word article on it -- but it certainly violated its own core principles on this one:

Be honest, forthright and candid with each customer. The customer may not always be right - we are straight forward!

OK, my penchant for tangents has manifested itself here. Back to the basic information on international certifiers.

The 40 foreign ACAs come from 19 different countries. (Keep in mind these are only certifiers accredited by the USDA.) Here is the breakdown by country, ordered by most to least ACAs:

Germany - 8
Italy - 6
Argentina - 4
Canada - 4
Australia - 2
Spain - 2
Switzerland - 2
Austria - 1
Bolivia - 1
Brazil - 1
Chile - 1
Costa Rica - 1
Greece - 1
Guatemala - 1
Israel - 1
Mexico - 1
Netherlands - 1
Peru - 1
Turkey - 1


ACAs are responsible for (PDF):

1) Conducting certification activities according to the regulations.
2) Ensuring certified clients comply with all requirements of the NOP regulations.
3) Ensuring compliance with labeling requirements of products of operations they certify.
4) Approving organic systems plans for each operation they certify prior to onsite inspections.
5) Approving all inputs, ingredients, and other materials used by certified operations prior to their use.
6) Conducting annual onsite inspections of certified operations to verify implementation of an approved organic systems plan.
7) Issuing certification decisions and certificates in compliance with NOP regulations.
8) Issuing notices of noncompliance and suspending or revoking the certification of clients that do not comply with the NOP regulations.
9) Reporting adverse actions against certifiers to the NOP, including notices of noncompliance, proposed suspension, proposed revocation, suspension, revocation, or denial of certification to the AMS Compliance office.
10) Obtaining NOP approval for reinstatement of suspended or revoked operations prior to recertification.
11) Submitting annual updates of application information and annual reports of operations certified to the NOP.
12) Maintaining records as required in the NOP regulations.

Accreditation periods last for five years. Near the end of the period, the ACA must apply for renewal. ACAs must submit annual reports to the National Organic Program and correct any deficiencies found in their certification process. ACAs can become accredited to certify four different types of operations: crops, livestock, wild crop harvest, or handling (e.g. processing).

A Few Good Certifiers

Here are a few examples of popular organic certifiers.

Oregon Tilth

Oregon Tilth is a nonprofit research and education membership organization dedicated to biologically sound and socially equitable agriculture. Tilth's history begins in 1974, as an agricultural organization with a unique urban-rural outlook. Primarily an organization of organic farmers, gardeners and consumers, Tilth offers educational events throughout the state of Oregon, and provides organic certification services to organic growers, processors, and handlers internationally.

By including "socially equitable," Oregon Tilth addresses not only the growing process but also one of the issues discussed in OrangeClouds's recent VMD diary on organic standards. Here's more:

Oregon Tilth advocates sustainable approaches to agricultural production systems and processing, handling and marketing.

Oregon Tilth's purpose is to educate gardeners, farmers, legislators, and the general public about the need to develop and use sustainable growing practices that promote soil health, conserve natural resources, and prevent environmental degradation while producing a clean and healthful food supply for humanity.


We provide speakers for groups and organizations interested in the work of Oregon Tilth or in specific topics such as gardening, alternatives to pesticides, composting, and food safety. Oregon Tilth coordinates conferences, produces events locally, and makes presentations at fairs, educational events, and trade shows throughout the region.

Oregon Tilth's organic program (OTCO) also works with retailers and restaurants (who do not need certification to sell organic products as long as they are not also processors, but who must nonetheless follow certain regulations).

Quality Assurance International

With a name that is on the other side of the "earthiness" spectrum from "Tilth," the San Diego-based QAI is one of the largest certifiers in the world. Their client list includes 976 operations! Here you'll find some of the large agribusinesses and their subsidiaries -- ConAgra, Nestle, Odwalla (Coca Cola) -- though needless to say they also certify independently-owned companies like Amy's Kitchen and Nature's Best. Don't think they're too corporate, though: they still wear flip-flops to staff meetings (or at least one guy does). I guess you can do that in San Diego. (You can even train for Antarctic marathons there.)

Bru's Soapbox

Organic certification says nothing about distance the food travels from land to plate, nor how workers on farms are treated, nor size of farm. However, ACAs can choose which operations they certify, and they can establish their own standards for which operations are eligible for their certification. Oregon Tilth, for example, clearly places an emphasis on smaller farms. According to their 2000-04 farms and handling statistics the average US farm certified by OTCO was 211 acres. About 66% of the 412 US farms they certified were located in Oregon, and they had an average acreage of 141. The farm size range with the most OTCO certifications was 10 to 50 acres, which included 121 farms. The third-highest range was under 10 acres (93 farms). Only 46 farms they certified were over 500 acres.

The problem is that large processors who get produce from long supply lines will still be able to find a certifier even if some certifiers emphasize locally sold products and smaller farms. The onus will still be on us, the consumers, to scrutinize labels, if we want to push organic foods up to even higher standards.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Cal Thomas: the Voice of the Unelightened

In Cal Thomas’ recent column, “Congressional Indian Givers,” he equated the two most recent Iraq resolutions passed by Congress, as the title implies, to ‘Indian giving’. He writes,

How else should one interpret this "nonbinding" resolution when part one said,
"Congress and the American people will continue to support and protect the
members of the United States Armed Forces who are serving or who have served
bravely and honorably in Iraq," but part two negates part one: "Congress
disapproves of the decision of President George W. Bush announced on Jan. 10,
2007, to deploy more than 20,000 additional United States combat troops to
Iraq. This is like sending your love a valentine last week and this week
sending a note withdrawing the sentiment.

How should a discerning reader interpret this – as nonsense. I interpreted this column as a job posting for an editor, because it is obvious he lacks one. The entire premise of his article rests on the notion that disapproval of the Iraq War escalation is tantamount to abandoning or not supporting the troops. However, as anyone can clearly see, for his 'Indian Giver' or valentine analogy to work, supporting the troops and resisting the escalation must represent diametrically opposed concepts. They, in fact, do not negate each other, regardless of personal opinions on the war and surge. Actually, as Tim Ryan eloquently explicated in a previous post, supporting the troops means ending the war. Even if we reject that notion, supporting the troops does not automatically equate to supporting the escalation.

I think Mr. Thomas should have penned this several months, if not years ago, when the Congress failed to support our troops and our veterans. Where was Mr. Thomas when the Republican controlled Congress cut funding for the research and treatment of brain injuries caused by bomb blasts – the signature injury of the war (USA Today)? Did he admonish the administration for not supporting the troops when some soldiers resorted to ‘hillbilly armor’ because the pentagon did not provide sufficient protection for the vehicles? How come, more than two years after Secretary of Defense responded to equipment concerns by stating, “As you know, you go to war with the Army you have. They're not the Army you might want or wish to have at a later time,” has the situation not improved? I did not notice an article condemning the administration for not supporting the troops. Nor did he comment on the lack of Congressional funding for Dr. Bob Meaders’ helmet upgrade. It took 3 years and Cher testifying before the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Tactical Air and Land Forces in order to obtain helmet upgrades for our soldiers (Operation Helmet). But yet, opposing the troop surge shows a lack of support for our troops?

Over a month ago, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Marine Corps General Peter Pace both testified to the House Armed Services Committee that a debate over the Iraq war does not undercut troop morale. General Pace:

As long as this Congress continues to do what it has done, which is to provide
the resources for the mission, the dialogue will be the dialogue, and the troops
will feel supported (ABC

Congress pledged to support and protect the members of the US Armed Forces; in essence, doing exactly what Pace and Gates asked for. Unfortunately, it only occurred after Democrats gained control and 3 years after the war started.

Although both Senators Olympia Snowe and Barak Obama support the Iraq War resolution, they introduced new legislation establishing mandatory mental health screenings for all returning combat veterans. Mr. Thomas, this bill epitomizes the notion of supporting the troops.

And just recently, the Washington Post discovered the deplorable conditions our troops endure while convalescing at Walter Reed Medical Center. Do we really want to increase troop levels just to see more wounded soldiers face neglect while recuperating in moldy, rat-infested hospital rooms?

Further, Mr. Thomas quoted Army Sgt. Daniel Dobson’s disgust concerning the debate, in both this article and a previous column entitled “A Letter from Mosul.” In the column, Sgt. Dobson commented:

The American military has shown a stone-cold professional veneer throughout the
seething debate raging over Iraq. Beneath that veneer, however, is a fuming,
visceral hatred. We feel as though we have been betrayed by Congress.

And again in the Indian Giver column, stating:

…it made me furious to see congressmen unashamedly proclaim their cowardice, but
the reaction of the soldiers tore my heart in two. The faces were that of men
that looked as if they were just told there is no United States to go home to.
The fury gives way to depression: the thought alone that our elected
representatives do not represent us anymore is more than depressing. We see
cowardice, sickening spineless cowardice and it makes soldiers sick.

Although I am almost positive he cherry picked soldiers who agreed with him, I will provide a quote from, not a hand picked soldier against the war, rather Secretary Gates. At the House Armed Services Committee, he said:

I think they're sophisticated enough to understand that that's what the debate's
really about.

Perhaps Sgt. Dobson is not sophisticated enough. Both General Pace and Secretary Gates understand the distinction between ending a war and not supporting our troops, maybe Mr. Thomas should as well.

However, despite a survey from the US Army, reported in the LA Times in December that shows “American soldiers who serve repeated tours of duty in Iraq are more likely to suffer from acute stress,” he supports the surge, which will decrease the time between deployments and increase the number of tours for more than 11,400 National Guard troops (Army, LA Times article, and NYT). If the primary means of supporting our troops is sending more into battle, should we not remain constantly at war, for ending war is tantamount to not supporting our troops.

Mr. Thomas, you are the Indian Giver. You sir, do not support the troops. Your desire to send more of America’s finest young men and women into battle ill-equipped and fatigued from shortened leaves and lengthened tours shows your contempt for the armed services.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Among Our Childhood Celebrities

I'll take Raffi over Pat Sajak.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

More Thoughts on Corn-based Ethanol

To add my thoughts to berg's and mike's recent posts...

It's time to put this matter to rest: There is no sustainable future in corn-based ethanol. Period. Even if all the farmland in the US was dedicated to growing corn for ethanol, it would currently only supply a small amount of our auto fleet's fuel demand. And then we'd have to import all of our food, using some kind of fuel to do so. We would do best to just forget about corn-based ethanol, even if the EROEI (energy received over energy invested) ratio is, in fact, above 1 (and I actually think it is, or could be made such, so don't consider me a devotee of the Pimentel/Padzek study).

The tragedy is that it is politically expedient to push it, given Iowa's role in presidential races. But expedience doesn't set you free. Nor can ethanol proponents hide the fact that, at present, it takes a lot of coal to produce. (See here and here.)

Corn-based ethanol is only a "bullet" in a too literal sense, as in, "We should try to avoid getting hit by one." Cellulosic ethanol, if it ever reaches beyond the experimental stage, could be used sustainably if on a small scale. In other words, don't think it will be the manna from heaven that nourishes or fuel-guzzling auto fleet. If made economically feasible, it could be useful in powering buses, paratransit, and emergency vehicles. But to think that ethanol will allow us to continue motoring well into the future with a smooth transition is the stuff of fantasy reserved for those who believe in a perpetual motion machine.

Democrats: Support Our Troops = No Escalation

Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH) delivers a courageous and bold speech that cuts through the haze of bullshit the Republicans have peddled on the Iraq war.

You can also see the strong speeches of Wisconsin Democratic Reps. Obey and Kagen at Nancy Pelosi's YouTube page.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Proving Ground News Alert: Anna Nicole Smith's Still Dead

In a Proving Ground exclusive, sources close to the Smith family told The Proving Ground, on a condition of anonymity, that Anna Nicole Smith is, in fact, dead. However, in a recent development, the court ordered the preservation of Smith’s body for an additional 10 days. It did so in order to perform DNA test to determine whether Ms. Smith is actually the mother of the child she recently birthed. Experts expect a contentious court battle as several women, including a Luxembourg princess, came forward last week proclaiming they were the mother of young Dannielynn. The Proving Ground will report any developments as they occur.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Promoting Sustainability in Milwaukee

I just received this update on Milwaukee's sustainability efforts from One Wisconsin Now, a progressive public policy institute based in Milwaukee:

Are Milwaukee's Leaders Ready to Go Green?

Recently the top scientists from around the world published a report stating what most people have come to already accept, climate change is real and human activity is making the matter much worse. Last week we published an Echo Chamber piece by James Rowen that stated, "Climate Change Report Should Spur Local Action." It appears that this advice was not lost on some public officials, namely Milwaukee County Supervisor Marina Dimitrijevic and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.

Supervisor Dimitrijevic proposed that Milwaukee County adopt higher environmental and conservation standards. In a press release she said, "Higher energy costs have put a major strain on departmental budgets within the County, which owns more than 800 buildings. Many of them have not been updated in decades. Modernizing the way we operate will pay dividends to our community over the long-term." Supervisor Dimitrijevic's plan includes the following items:

  • Create a Director of Sustainability position to oversee current and future energy efficiency and eco-friendly initiatives and help County departments comply with the Green Print.
  • Retrofit County buildings with high-performance, energy efficient technology.
  • Require all departments to perform an internal audit of ways to improve energy efficiency.
  • Direct the Public Works Director to purchase hybrid and alternative fuel powered vehicles.
  • Turn unused parkland back into native grassland and prairie reserve areas, which would require no maintenance or the burning of fossil fuels.
  • Manage storm runoff from County facilities and place recycling containers in all parks.
  • Examine the potential use of "gray water" where treated water may not be needed.
  • Require that all county supported construction projects meet Leadership in Energy and Environment Design (LEED) standards by 2008.
  • Examine the use of renewable energy sources such as wind and solar energy to power County buildings.

Earlier this week Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett gave his state of the city address in which he highlighted various green programs in the city. He touted the new office of Sustainability, and plans to reduce energy costs at City Hall by $35,000. He also committed to reduce total energy usage by 15 percent by 2012 in addition to pledging action on various other environmentally friendly initiatives.

To make a global impact on our climate change crisis, we need more actions taken by leaders locally. It was just on Sunday when the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that Wisconsin's carbon dioxide emissions levels have grown faster over the last 25 years than they have nationally. These newly energized efforts in Wisconsin's largest city is a major step in the right direction. Hopefully these things will be greeted with enthusiasm and support by other local leaders and officials throughout the state.

These are all great ideas to both save money for taxpayers and reduce Milwaukee's environmental footprint. Nothing in Supervisor Dimitrijevic's plan is revolutionary or especially expensive... it all takes advantage of existing technology and construction guidelines. The way to gain support for sustainability is to highlight the economic benefits and it looks like Milwaukee is taking the right approach.