December 7, 2012 § 15 Comments
Oregon voters! Where were you? Gone the pioneer spirit? Gone the 1970′s sheen from being the first to charge a deposit on bottles and cans? Washington State beat us to the punch and legalized marijuana.
We take the lead on this kind of thing. Remember?
- First to institute gas taxes to pay for roads,
- First to declare all beaches in the state open to the public,
- First to require land use planning by cities.
- We pioneered the Oregon Health Plan to cover uninsured people,
- We were the first to legalize physician-assisted suicide for the terminally ill,
- First to make elections vote-by-mail,
- First to make cold medicines (aka methamphetamine ingredients) prescription drugs.
Marijuana? Pah. We’ve always been out front in the battle to empty jails of tokers. We were first to decriminalize it, and second (after California) to legalize medical marijuana. Despite handwringing and predictions of doom, the world did not end. We’re royalty when it comes to states that pass scary, don’t-you-dare legislation. Or at least we were …
How could we let Washington (and Colorado!) take away the scepter?
This calls for a little motivation. Hmmm. I know! Brush off the Oregon State Song, to remind us what kind of stock we’re made of:
Oregon, My Oregon
Land of the Empire Builders, Land of the Golden West;
Conquered and held by free men, Fairest and the best.
On-ward and upward ever, Forward and on, and on;
Hail to thee, Land of the Heroes, My Oregon.
Land of the rose and sunshine, Land of the summer’s breeze;
Laden with health and vigor, Fresh from the western seas.
Blest by the blood of martyrs, Land of the setting sun;
Hail to thee, Land of Promise, My Oregon.
If that didn’t rouse the blood, here’s an inspiring rendition:
Never mind the part about ‘land of sunshine.’ We don’t need sunshine to be brave anyway. Just put on the galoshes and macintosh, and head down to the jail the next time a batch of violent criminals is let loose because the county has run out of money.
You can’t make something illegal that grows like a weed. Well OK, we did make it illegal, and KEPT it illegal (ahem), but it’s still the biggest industry in the state. You call that success? Get the smokers back to their bongs and out from behind bars so there is room for rapists, robbers and murderers.
I’m not saying marijuana is benign. It’s not. It’s a drug, like alcohol and nicotine are drugs. I’m not saying I’m a marijuana fan, either (tried it in college. YELCH!), but the state has better things to do than chase after potheads and people with cancer, and we Oregonians have a reputation to uphold.
November 3, 2012 § 10 Comments
Talking of patriotism, what humbug it is; it is a word which always commemorates a robbery. There isn’t a foot of land in the world which doesn’t represent the ousting and re-ousting of a long line of successive owners.
– Mark Twain
Who’s your favorite patriot?
It’s great to love your country (I do), but Patriotism, man, what a loaded word. Remember the flap about whether or not then-candidate Barack Obama lacked patriotic spirit because he didn’t have a flag pin on his lapel? Forevermore, we Americans will see flag pins on Presidents’ and Presidential candidates’ lapels!
Rah rah! Remember when true patriots only bought cars made in America? Kind of a shock when it came out that many parts under the hoods of our beloved American cars came from China. Remember Freedom Fries, when those naughty French refused to support the Iraq War in 2003? Representative Walter Ney led the charge to rename French Fries and French Toast, Freedom Fries and Freedom Toast, on the menus in the Congressional cafeterias. In 2006, the names were quietly changed back, and Walter Ney pleaded guilty to conspiracy and making false statements in the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal. Some patriot.
So, here’s my nomination for True Patriot. Son of a German immigrant brew-meister who was ridiculed by his peers during World War I because of his heritage. To prove his love of country, he joined the Boy Scouts and became a top salesman of Liberty Bonds. When former U.S. President Teddy Roosevelt came to town to award medals to the top ten bond sellers — oops — there were only nine medals, and none for the son of the German immigrant, who was hustled off the stage. He suffered from a fear of public speaking for the rest of his life.
His father was a member of the Park Board in his hometown of Springfield MA, and while tagging along at the local zoo, he started a lifelong love of doodling animals, usually in an exaggerated fashion. He went on to squeak through Dartmouth and drop out of Oxford, to write ads for a pesticide company, all the while hoping to make a living drawing zany creatures. In 1937 while on a ship to Europe, he made up a limerick to go with the sound of the engines, that eventually became his first children’s book, To Think I Saw It On Mulberry Street. It was rejected 27 times by publishers who said they only wanted stories with morals, but finally picked up by a publisher, and the rest is history. He continued to write imaginatively and heroically, for the rest of his life. Oh The Places You’ll Go is one of the top gifts to graduates, and his protest against pollution, The Lorax, both raises hackles and inspires budding environmentalists to this day. We miss you Dr. Suess.
Patriotism isn’t wearing a symbol or singing a song at a baseball game. It’s working to give back to your country as much as it has given you, and in the end, helping the country give back to the world as much as it’s given us.
Who would you nominate for the honorable title of Patriot?
Written for the great GBE 2: Blog On, WEEK #76 (10-28-12 to 11-3-12): Patriotism. Join us!
October 3, 2012 § 2 Comments
In July, 2007, F.B.I. agents banged on William Binney’s door, pushed his son out of the way and demanded to know who leaked confidential information about U.S. surveillance programs to the New York Times. Mr. Binney was just stepping out of the shower.
“They went right upstairs to the bathroom and held guns on me and my wife, right between the eyes.” William Binney from “The Secret Sharer,” The New Yorker, 5/23/11
Mr. Binney was allowed to put his clothes on and they all went onto his back porch for a chat.
What was that all about?
Think your phone calls are private? Your electronic billing?
There is a flood of fantastical material on the Internet, in books and magazines about Big Brother spying on us. It’s hard to pick out what to be concerned about, and tempting to tune the whole thing out. What can an ordinary citizen do? Hope for the best and go back to updating Facebook? Don’t tune out. Ordinary citizens are about to get a peek behind the curtain, thanks in part to Mr. Binney and a few other brave whistle blowers.
William Binney worked for the National Security Agency (NSA) for 36 years, and was one of the best code breakers and mathematicians the NSA had. He supervised 6000 employees who analyzed intelligence, and in the years just before 9/11 helped design a program to streamline data, making it easier to pick out communications between bad guys. That was the idea anyway, to ferret out bad guys. In order to comply with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) which prohibits spying on citizens, Binney’s program automatically encrypted data that originated in the U.S. Unless a warrant was obtained, communications from from ordinary citizens, phone calls, e-mails, bills, etc., was protected. Binney’s program was code-named ThinThread.
It cost about $3 million.
At first (pre-9/11), NSA worried that ThinThread, despite its protections, was too invasive of privacy. Agency officials were also concerned that it wouldn’t work on a large scale (although tests indicated it would); so, in 2002 the agency signed a $280 million agreement with defense contractors to develop another program to do the same thing. The project was code-named Trailblazer.
In 2006 operation Trailblazer was declared a flop and abandoned. It cost $1.2 billion.
Meanwhile, 9/11 put the fear of God into the Bush Administration, who gave the NSA the go-ahead to spy on everyone, everywhere, including U.S. citizens, without a warrant. They created an agency, called it (George Orwell would be proud) Total Information Awareness.
Binney is pretty sure the NSA revamped the ThinThread program, cut out the encryption that protected U.S. citizens, and then used the raw technology to mine data, domestic and foreign, like never before. Private communications companies AT&T, Verizon, and BellSouth got in on the act, too, and secretly opened the electronic records of U.S. citizens to the government. Against the law, but this was an emergency, right?
Several people along the way tried to warn the Bush administration, the Supreme Court and the NSA that spying on people without a warrant is a violation of the privacy laws.
Alarmed, Binney quit his job.
The NSA barreled on, building one big “intercept center” after another as part of a monumental spying project dubbed “Stellar Wind.” The largest of these facilities, the “Utah Data Center,” is still under construction in Bluffdale Utah. When completed, the center will have a 10-to-the-24th yottabyte storage capacity. (A yottabyte, reportedly named for the Star Wars character, means a unit of information equal to one quadrillion gigabytes, so we’re talking a quadrillion, quadrillion gigabytes.) This center is scheduled for completion in Sept. 2013.
Confused? Here’s a timeline:
- Shortly after 9/11: “Total Information Awareness” (TIA) project established by the Bush Administration
- 2002 Binney and two others signed a private complaint with the Pentagon Inspector General alleging that the NSA was wasting money on Trailblazer
- 2003 Congress voted to dismantle TIA because it violates privacy rules
- 2004 Attorney General John Ashcroft ruled that the NSA’s spying on citizens without a warrant was illegal. The Bush administration tried to get him to change his mind a couple of days later when he was in the hospital with pancreatitis, but to no avail. Bush reauthorized the program anyway.
- 2006, the New York Times published an article reporting that the government was illegally wiretapping citizens. The Bush Adminstration was outraged about the leak, and initiated an investigation to find the source. The F.B.I. was brought in to help.
That’s how the F.B.I. ended up at Binney’s house, and the homes of the two others who signed the 2002 complaint. None of them had anything to do with the New York Times leak.
Binney remembers telling the agents that if they were looking for criminal conspiracy, they should go after President Bush and NSA chief Michael Hayden for illegally wiretapping U.S. citizens. One of the agents said that kind of thing doesn’t happen in America, and Binney replied, “Oh really?”
- 2008, Congress amended FISA to expand NSA’s authority to wiretap without warrants.
Many hoped that President Obama would put a stop to warrantless wiretapping, but he has gone after whistle blowers as aggressively as Bush did.
Still, the issue is winding its way through the system at its own patient pace. At the end of this month, the Supreme Court will consider whether government has the authority to spy without a warrant on US citizens. OK, technically, the Supreme Court is considering whether the parties who brought suit have the right to challenge the government’s spying, but the real issue is the spying itself. See Clapper v. Amnesty International U.S.A.
In December, F.I.S.A. is due for renewal, and the amendments allowing warrantless wiretapping will be reconsidered.
And Mr. Binney? He’s retired and still living near the NSA headquarters, not far from Baltimore. He suffers from diabetes and has lost a leg to the disease, but he decided last year to speak out publicly. He says, the issue is “too serious not to talk about.” On the use of his code to spy on citizens he says, “I should apologize to the American people. It’s violated everyone’s rights. It can be used to eavesdrop on the whole world.”
OK, I know the new 007 movie is due out this month, but hey, we’ve got our own national cloak and dagger going on, and it debuts at the Supreme court, just a week later. Get out your popcorn.
August 28, 2012 § 4 Comments
Anyone else turning off the radio and TV when presidential campaign ads or stories come on? Seems like a waste, considering how much money is spent on campaigning these days, but the content is so empty and repetitive, it isn’t worth watching.
As awful as the process is, I’m having to remind myself that it works, and not always in favor of the people with the biggest checkbooks. Here’s a template from the not too distant past when Republicans and Democrats, loggers and conservationists, righties and lefties teamed up.
Opal Creek Wilderness Area
The Opal Creek Valley includes 50 waterfalls and the largest contiguous portion of low elevation old growth left in Oregon, a remnant of the forests which once covered the western part of the state.
Starting in the 1840′s, the area was mined for gold, copper, zinc, lead and silver.
It was included in the first Wilderness bill in Congress in 1967, but didn’t make it into the final version.
In 1980, a 6’8″ Bunyan-esque* District Ranger of the Detroit Oregon region, Dave “Chainsaw” Alexander, vowed to “cut Opal Creek.” Soon after, the Forest Service laid boundary markers to clear cut the area, but the sale was halted in 1982, when (future Mayor of Salem) Mike Swaim brought a lawsuit against it. Opal Creek was included in the 1984 Wilderness bill, then pulled at the last minute by Republican Senator Mark Hatfield. A 1989 fight to make Opal Creek an Oregon state park spurred the production of an Audubon video, “Rage Over Trees.”
Industry opponents got advertisers to boycott the film, so Ted Turner showed it 6 times on his network, without commercials.
Local activists like George Atiyeh (nephew of Republican Governor Victor Atiyeh), Michael Donnelly and Jerry Rust worked to keep the issue alive, and were joined by Republicans like Oregon Logger of the Year, Tom Hirons. As public pressure grew, Mark Hatfield arranged for a group of conservationists to meet with industry representatives and a mediator from Willamette University. The upshot was a Hatfield-sponsored bill designating Opal Creek a Wilderness area. It passed in 1996.
Tens of thousands visit every year. The Opal Creek Forest Center runs education programs, an outdoor school and backpacking trips for kids, and old logging camp cabins are available to the public for rent.
It is spectacular.
If you have stories about political successes, or just want to commiserate about the politics this season, I’d love to hear from you.
July 26, 2012 § 8 Comments
This summer brought to light a hole in my enlightened, broad minded, magnanimous, social democrat’s mind:
I don’t like scrub jays. They are noisy and aggressive, don’t belong here, dive bomb juncos and finches and take over other birds’ nests. So I was told. I think. A long time ago (age 14 or so), I was a card-carrying member of the Society for Oregon Avian Research, and one of my fellow members dissed scrub jays as invaders from the south. I have repeated this as gospel ever since.
So, last year when a jay started eying the blueberry bushes, yapping when anyone or anything went near them and making off with berries in its beak, one by one as soon as they were ripe, I had no compunction about taking action.
I got a big net and covered all five of the bushes in the yard.
It was a pain. The net stuck to itself and the bushes. It was hard to pick berries because netting was in the way, and pulling it off ripped leaves and berries and twigs off too.
Worse, even though I staked the net down, the jay figured out how to get underneath it. About once a week, he’d get in there and flap around, feathers, leaves and berries flying. Trying to help him out made things worse, so I would just go away and hope for the best.
One afternoon, I found him on the patio, wings flattened and eyes closed. Familiar with that sense of dread upon discovering a dead animal you know you will have to remove?
Only the jay wasn’t dead. As soon as I made a move, the eyes opened. He popped up and flew away, a blueberry still in his beak. Score one for the jay.
This year as berry season approached, the jay again took up his post. I hauled out the net and considered it, and then had an imaginary conversation with the jay that went something like this (my part spoken aloud):
Me: “Get away from my berries.”
Bird: “Your berries?”
Me: “Yeah, my berries. I planted them, fertilized them, watered them.”
Bird: “Whoa. YOU planted them?”
Me: “OK, someone planted them for me.”
Bird: “And advised you which kinds of plants to buy, and picked them up wholesale for you and set up the irrigation system, so you don’t actually have to do any watering yourself. And you know darn good and well blueberries don’t like fertilizer.”
Bird: “And since you worked so hard to produce these berries, you aren’t willing to share even one with a poor, hardworking bird. For shame.”
I threw in the towel and left the net bundled in the garage. Let the stupid bird have the berries.
My reward? This year there is a bumper crop. The bushes are falling over with berries, so many we can hardly pick them all. The jay comes in of course, carefully avoids me, snatches a berry and zips back into the trees. Watching this balletic move, my better half pointed out that for a jay one berry is as big as an apple. How many can he eat, anyway? Not very many, it turns out.
And that stuff I’ve been telling people about scrub jays all these years? Bogus. True, scrub jays are moving north and their numbers rising, but does that mean they don’t belong here? I moved here from somewhere else and the population of my species is increasing, too. Take over other birds’ nests? Nyet. They make their own, in a joint effort with a partner. It takes ten days. They are smart. Their body to brain mass ratio rivals that of chimpanzees, and they are the only non-primate known to plan for the future. They watch other birds bury acorns and then dig the acorns up and steal them. It’s true that they are aggressive defenders of their territory, but so are hummingbirds and dogs. So … what was it I didn’t like about jays?
It is tempting to expand this little object lesson to the political arena, to make acid comments about, say, Mitt Romney’s poster self made man Brian Maloney of Middlesex Truck and Coach who told the press “The government didn’t help — at all” him start his business, well, except for a startup bond and a $560,000 federal contract to overhaul ten buses — but I won’t. I’m the one who spread untruths about jays and tried to take credit for work I didn’t do. It was me who stuck up nets as a quick fix to keep out unwanted aliens. Mr. Maloney could probably drive one of his trucks through my blind spots, but no need to get nasty. Hey, I got my blueberries, the jay got his, and the dang net is getting deep-sixed. Here’s to hard work and resourcefulness, small businesses and small birds, acknowledging the help we get and sharing the bounty. Meanwhile, I wonder if my jay isn’t a little more resourceful than I give him credit for? Truckload of Blueberries Ripped Off
July 10, 2012 § 10 Comments
THIS IS A JOKE. Get it? (photo and joke credit John Gapper)
I suspect there are a lot of other people like me who aren’t keyed into banking scandals. 2008 left us shaking our heads and shrugging our shoulders like babushkas in Stalin’s Russia. Corruption! What can you do? The economic sector blew up. People are out of work, can’t pay their mortgages, pension funds are imploding. We scrabble through. Ho hum. Life goes on.
But oh no. Life just keeps nudging. We aren’t in Stalin’s Russia. We are in the democratic west, and we must fight corruption. But it’s too hard to understand! Are you reading what I’m reading about Barclays bank and the LIBOR scandal? Not Barclays! Not the heroic bank that bought Lehman Brothers in 2008 and saved the world from being sucked into a black hole?
LIBOR? What’s LIBOR???
London Interbank Offered Rate. It’s what 18 big banks charge each other to make loans to each other. Very official. Closely governed. It’s the incantation uttered every day to stir markets gone stale. It’s the twitching hand on Mammon’s robe: the fabric swirls and shivers right down to us. Right. Holy stuff.
What has LIBOR to do with us? Companies everywhere use LIBOR to help price returns to investors. Banks use LIBOR to set interest rates on adjustable mortgages, student loans, car loans. Still too abstract? How about this? In the State of Ohio, 60% of the prime adjustable rate mortgages and 100% of the subprime mortgage rates are tied to LIBOR. About $10,000,000,000,000 (ten trillion if you’re not into counting zeroes) in loans are based on LIBOR. It underpins the world economy.
So we hope and trust that the LIBOR rates are tied to real money, real value, real markets, but dang it! The top three bankers at Barclay’s just resigned in disgrace because apparently LIBOR was manipulated. How could this happen? On paper it sounds like a good, corruption-proof system. Here’s how it works:
Every morning the bankers report what they are paying in interest to the British Bankers Association. To weed out cheaters, I mean anomalies, the rates at the highest and lowest end are tossed out. A number somewhere in the middle is determined as the day’s rate, and every day at 11:00 a.m., it is announced to the world. Ta Da. Trillions of dollars in loans are adjusted accordingly. The rate moves frequently, up a little, down a little. Very market-like. Self-correcting and all that.
Ooops. Turns out, back in mid to late 2000′s, it wasn’t always the market that was tweaking interest rates. It was sometimes also bank traders, who were trying to look a little better than they actually were. They also scratched each others’ backs, within banks and between banks to help keep LIBOR rates friendly to themselves. They called and emailed each other, saying things like, hey dude, if the rate is just a hinchy bit lower tomorrow, my boss will be really happy, and I might just get that $2 million holiday bonus. Think I’m pulling your leg? Here are some e-mail transcripts: “Done .. for you big boy.” “Dude I owe you big time. Come over one day after work and I’m opening a bottle of Bollinger.”
Thank you Chrisroubus.com
Yep, looks like the interest rate that is central to everyday functioning of the economy was rigged.
Where were the regulators!?! Aren’t they supposed to be watching out for us? They were on the case. It’s taken this long to line things up. You don’t just go out on flimsy rumors and accuse the most powerful and richest people in the world of fraud. Now the case is finally laid however, and heads are rolling. Boy are they. Rumored to be next in the firing line: Royal Bank of Scotland, Citigroup, HSBC, JP Morgan Chase, Lloyds, Bank of Tokyo.
Think it won’t make any difference to ordinary people? Maybe not. Things are pretty bad already. But consider this. If banks aren’t functioning properly, not lending, not borrowing, not juicing up the economy, or if investors aren’t investing because they don’t trust the banks, things will slow down even more. That could be bad news for Obama, who many on the R side of the fence already blame for the slowdown. Think Romney’s immune? One of his biggest fundraisers, known in the business as a “bundler”, is Bob Diamond (not Jamie Dimon, the recently disgraced head of JP Morgan Chase), the just-resigned CEO of Barclay’s Bank. Mr. Diamond has considerately resigned from Romney’s campaign.
Defenders of the bankers are already saying, hey interest rates go down a little, they go up a little, over time it evens out. You can’t prove that anyone was hurt. For instance, Barclay’s is accused of pressuring the banks to lower LIBOR, so that it looked like Barclay’s was healthy, able to borrow cheaply, not desperate for cash. This meant that interest rates everywhere dropped, so mortgages and student loans and all the rest were lower. Good, right?
No. Barclay’s wasn’t healthy and shouldn’t have been pretending it was. That’s how investors get burned. Plus, LIBOR rates were still much higher at the time than what Barclay’s and the other big banks were paying to the U.S. Treasury for loans from US. Got that? We were loaning them U.S. money at like 1%, so that they could loan us money for houses and cars and stuff at 16%. Do I have that straight? Actually, I’m not sure. It took the US Justice Department, the CFTC and FSA five years to unravel it. For me, it’s a little like trying to keep my eye on the pebble under the cup.
The irony, however, is not hard to get. Barclay’s Bank monkeyed with LIBOR to make itself look trustworthy. Feeling trusting yet? Hang on. We might be in for another wild ride.
March 13, 2012 § 7 Comments
What’s on your bookshelf/kindle/Ipod this month?
Here are my February/March reads:
Nonfiction: Nomi Prins “It Takes A Pillage.” Prins, who worked for investment banking firms for ten years (Goldman Sachs, Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers), is a rollicking muckraker now. If you want insider information about the run-up to, as she calls it, the Second Great Depression, this is pretty good. It’s practically an encyclopedia of who did what and when. She is a self-proclaimed liberal who believes in wealth distribution, which sounds bad if you’re a Republican, but her 5-point plan for reforming the banking system has even conservatives nodding their heads in agreement that she’s got it about right.
Her new book is an historical novel based on the first Great Depression:
(It’s on my reading list.)
Escapist Fiction: Justin Cronin’s “The Passage”, an absorbing page-turner, if you have the time (800 pages). How to describe it? A “Twilight” book for adults? Inspired by his daughter’s request that he write about a girl who saves the world, Cronin’s book has the feel of legend, in a post-apocalyptic, sci-fi adventure setting. It’s not as dark as a Cormack McCarthy novel, but the first 100 pages were bleak enough that I almost put it down. Glad I didn’t.
What’s your book of the month? I love feedback and suggestions and am always looking for a good read.
March 5, 2012 § 7 Comments
Oh ye plastic baggers, the day of reckoning approacheth?
The other day I dutifully brought cloth bags to the grocery store. While I was chatting with the checkout clerk, a bagger packed things up. ”Have a nice day!” she said and smiled, setting the groceries in a cart.
Everything, including my cloth bags, were bagged in plastic.
Serves me right you say? I should bag my own damn groceries? All right. Let’s not anybody not get their danders up. I smiled back and said, “Thank you.”
But there we have it, the plastic grocery bag, icon of American wealth and folly. There is momentum toward banning them. City councilors in our town of 150,000 recently gave the go-ahead for a draft ordinance banning single-use plastic bags. Portland, Oregon, the nearest big city, recently enacted their own plastic bag ban. Others in the club: San Francisco, Austin, the big Island in Hawaii …
… And there is a veritable storm of anger, science, art and righteousness coalescing to defend or do away with the polyethylene prince.
In one corner, the (villainous?) plastics manufacturers …
… represented by Stephen Joseph, who points out that because most reusable bags are made overseas and most plastic bags are made in America, bag bans kill American jobs. He doesn’t believe that consumers use reusable bags as often as they should. The bags get dirty, so people don’t want to use them for food. Also, while plastic is a huge problem on land and sea, it is only a tiny portion of the total waste stream. http://www.sfgate.com/cgiin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2011/12/03/INC81LA627.DTL#ixzz1oHFunur4
In the other corner, the bring-your-own baggers …
… like Andy Keller, founder of a multimillion dollar company, ChicoBag, which sells trendy reusable shopping bags. In the photo above Andy is wearing his Monster Bag outfit, made of 500 bags, about the number used per person per year in the US. He tracks laws banning bags and publicizes information about the harm they cause to the environment.
Mr. Keller was recently sued by three plastic bag companies, Hilex Poly Co. LLC, Superbag Operating LTD. and Advance Polybag Inc. for “irreparable harm” to their business. He is philosophical. ”When you get sued for trying to make a difference in the world,” Keller says, “you must be doing something right.”
There are controversial studies like this one:
“…a draft report by the Environment Agency, obtained by the Independent on Sunday, has found that ordinary high density polythene (HDPE) bags used by shops are actually greener than supposedly low impact choices.
“HDPE bags are, for each use, almost 200 times less damaging to the climate than cotton hold-alls favoured by environmentalists, and have less than one third of the Co2 emissions than paper bags which are given out by retailers such as Primark.” 2/20/11, http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/green-living/plastic-fantastic-carrier-bags-not-ecovillains-after-all-2220129.html?action=Popu
The researchers studied seven types of bags and the pollution caused by each of them via extraction of raw materials, production, transportation and disposal. They concluded that cloth bags are less damaging to the environment than plastic if you use them 171 times, but that most use their cloth bags only 51 times. Paper bags? You have to use them four times. This report was scheduled for publication in 2007 but is sidelined while it is peer-reviewed, or perhaps, as bag lovers claim, because of a conspiracy by environmentalists who can’t take the truth.
- There is a question of money. If grocery stores stop offering plastic bags, they will have to have reusables available. Should they charge a lot, making people value them less and thus more likely to throw them away before their 171 uses? Or charge more, and make people mad?
- We can go around and around about public policy and economics, but in the end, common sense must prevail.
We don’t need a new plastic bag for every apple we buy. Most of us have access to washing machines, and can keep cloth bags sanitary. We are, like it or not, part of a waste stream.
Here’s the rule: Use grocery bags 172 times. Yikes! Really? Really. No excuses. Use them for about a year and a half. Nobody is going to be counting for you, not if we want to keep the American Way strong and healthy. Need something for dog poop? Use compostable poop bags. Five bucks for 50. If you can afford a dog, you can afford these.
Need something to line the garbage pail in the kitchen? Newspaper works fine. So does no lining at all.
It’s not easy. Most things ahead of us aren’t. We had a great run with our plastic bags. They are light and convenient and just disappear into the garbage trucks at the end of the week — right to the landfills and the treetops and into albatross gullets.
No need to wait for a city ordinance. Attach yourself to some fine quality bags, and use them. Keep in mind though, you might have to help with the bagging.
February 21, 2012 § 5 Comments
If you’re like me, you’d rather not know the gloomier facts about how food gets to us. I like to buy food at a good price and just eat it.
Sometimes though the hard facts leak through. Take chocolate. It’s practically a staple at our house and I’d prefer not knowing anything dark about chocolate except its color. 72% dark is ideal, but I’ll go all the way to 85.
It was hard to hear that the industry uses child slaves. The reporter of this sad fact was one of our children, a middle schooler at the time, who’d been assigned to study the country Burkina Faso.
One of the poorest countries in the world (average per capita income $300), Burkina Faso, along with other poor countries in the region, is a source for child slaves for the cocoa business.
The issue is numbingly complex. The drivers of the cocoa business, Cargill, Archer Daniels Midland (ADM, Fortune 500), Barry Callebaut and Saf-Cacao, buy from local traders who mix beans from many growers, so it’s difficult to (cheaply) source where beans come from.
70% of the world’s cocoa is grown in Western Africa, mainly in Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Ghana and Cameroon. Much of it comes from small family farms where children work alongside their parents.
Many child workers, however, are not family. Some arrive voluntarily, looking for better lives. Some, about 200,000 a year (2002 Sustainable Tree Crops Program of the Institute of Tropical Agriculture of Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea and Nigeria report), are brought forcibly from neighboring poorer countries like Mali, Burkina Faso, Togo and Benin. Most are paid poorly or not at all. Conditions can be horrific.
“The children work under inhumane conditions and extreme abuse, working with sharp machetes and poisonous sprays, from 6 in the morning, till 6 at night…One ex-child slave said 18 children were locked into a 24 X 20 foot room, sleeping on a wooden plank. A small hole was just big enough to let in some air, but they were forced to urinate in a can.” http://www.tropicpost.com/child-slave-labour-and-the-chocolate-industry/
A boy who was beaten after he tried to escape:
In 2001 Congress passed a law requiring that US companies voluntarily stop buying from farms that use slave labor.
Several companies jumped on board.
Others dragged their feet:
It’s tempting to lay all the blame on the corporations who bring us chocolate, but as long as people like me opt for cheap stuff and ignore how it gets to us, the big companies will also keep ignoring where it comes from.
Thanks to steadfast pressure from political activists, including thousands of bloggers, there is progress. After being threatened by the International Labor Rights Forum with exposure on the Superbowl Jumbotron this year January, Hershey’s declared it would certify its Bliss chocolate bars under Rainbow Alliance standards.
Let’s keep it up. If you can afford it, try Trader Joe’s Fair Trade chocolate:
Rather than its unsourced Belgian chocolate:
Look for chocolates with the Fair Trade label:
Note that there are several levels of “fair trade” ratings. For instance, the Rainbow Alliance certification that Hershey’s opted for with its Bliss chocolate is only a level 3 certification: it prohibits use of slave labor, but doesn’t protect worker rights to organize, doesn’t agree to a price floor and only 30%of the ingredients need to be certified.
Here’s a handy chart to figure out what all the “fair trade” labels mean and what brands are most likely to have come from farms that use slave labor:
For inspiration, watch this January 2012 special report (excerpt below):
The more I know, the easier it is to dig deeper into the pocketbook rather than reach for the cheapest thing on the shelf.
What is your favorite chocolate? What is the best Fair Trade chocolate? Have you struggled with the issue of sourcing food or have first-hand reports on the child-slavery/chocolate connection? I’d love to hear your stories and learn more.
December 14, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Attended a party this week hosted by a warm and generous friend in her beautiful home, packed with friends, love and anticipation of the season.
First thing I did? Got into a discussion with another guest about politics, even though we know darn good and well we are on opposite sides of the fence.
It was not like this:
We cordially covered several topics like health care, economic uncertainty, job prospects for young people. We danced nimbly, used words calculated to not inflame, feeling for common ground; but we eventually hit a wall.
She dismissed the Occupiers.
Did I ask her why she didn’t like the movement? Did I offer why someone might?
I imagined her thinking something like this:
In other words, as soon as her words were out, my insides curled like a salted slug’s.
Defenses went up, judgment came down. She probably saw compressed lips, probably knew she hit a nerve .
Later I complained to my husband. OK, maybe gossiped is a better word. (To read comic below, click on image, hit back arrow to return)
So it goes. Two women in enviable circumstances, skimming across the political moat like waterbugs, two people with much to hang on to, tip-toeing around a movement about people with nothing to lose. It wasn’t the best time or place, but out came the words, which must be just millimeters below the skin, ready to fly off our tongues.
This is a time to think and question, even for friends, even during the holidays.
Shortly after, we made our excuses and moved to the cookie table to sample the feast.