Greener Times

Promoting a sustainable society…one day at a time.

June 8 – 14

Posted by Trey Smith on June 7, 2009

Greener Times for the Week of June 8 – 14
Volume 4 No. 8
an e-publication for Greens anywhere and everywhere

Greener Times Collective: Maryrose Asher, Duff Badgley, Tom Herring and Trey Smith (Editor)

In This Week’s Issue
* The Radioactive Cheese Grater
* Energy and Weapons in 2009: How Do We Assure a Sustainable, Nuclear-Free Future?
* Thoughts By the Way: A Rogue Wave
* Our Climate Crisis: Jatropha, More Biofuel Poison
* Un-Spinning the Spin: But, We Don’t Have the Votes
* This Week in History
* Pencil Shavings: Just Call Me a Pessimist
* News You May Have Missed

The Radioactive Cheese Grater
by Dan Shapley of The Daily Green

As if we didn’t have enough to worry about with lead, Bisphenol A, phthalates, pesticides and mercury, now, a new investigation finds that many common products are radioactive — even one cheese grater.

A must-read Scripps News investigation found that radioactive waste is being mixed with other metals in scrap yards and recycling facilities, often overseas, and then shipped into the U.S. in a range of consumer products. The Daily Green urges readers to check out the whole report, but below are the chief findings:

* Imports aren’t checked for radioactivity: The U.S. has no regulations specifying how much radioactivity is acceptable, and U.S. agents don’t screen cargo containers entering the U.S.

* Radioactive materials contaminate U.S. scrap: U.S. metal recyclers and scrap yards aren’t required to test or report the presence of radioactive waste, and there is a strong financial incentive for facilities to dump them or mix them in with clean products, since the cost of proper disposal is steep. Facilities in 36 states currently have no option for properly disposing of radioactive waste. A U.S. program designed to collect the most radioactive waste has a “two-year waiting list and a 9,000-item backlog.”

* The scale of the problem or health risk isn’t known: No federal agency is responsible for testing, tracking or reporting the presence of radioactivity in consumer goods or raw materials.

Worse, there’s very little consumers can do to protect themselves, according to the report. While exposure to low-level radioactivity is a fact of life, there’s a scientific debate about the medical implications for chronic low-level exposure, and there’s no telling whether or not some common products are delivering doses high enough to cause acute health issues. This is a “tip of the iceberg” story we’ll have to watch.

Energy and Weapons in 2009: How Do We Assure a Sustainable, Nuclear-Free Future?
submitted by Idil Levitas, Program Assistant, Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility

Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility presents: Energy and Weapons in 2009: How do we assure a sustainable, nuclear-free future?
An Evening with Bob Alvarez

Town Hall Seattle, Wednesday, June 10 | 7:00 PM, Doors at 6:30 PM

To achieve the peace and climate stability required to reverse global warming the U.S. government must abandon its fascination with nuclear chain reactions. But does President Obama understand that nuclear energy thwarts our chances to heal the planet? Bob Alvarez, the Former Senior Policy Advisor to the Secretary and Deputy Assistant Secretary for National Security and the Environment in Washington, D.C. will be speaking just one night in Seattle! Please join us for an engaging presentation and discussion as Bob Alvarez considers our current energy and weapons policies, and where we are headed under a new administration.

More info: http://www.wpsr.org, idill@wpsr.org, 206-547-2630. This event is free and open to the all.

Thoughts By the Way: A Rogue Wave
Tom Herring is a Community Council member on Vashon Island. Catch more of Tom’s thoughts on his blog.

Tom will be out of the country for the next 2 weeks, so this will be his last column until the June 29th edition of GT.

The heights of ocean waves driven by wind have been studied by patient scientists in an effort to locate the origin of unusually big ones. “Unusually big” means over twice as big as the average of the largest third of a sample. One finding is that these are more common than the name “rogue wave” would connote. A fascinating but probably irrelevant discovery is that once in a great while one comes along that is another factor bigger than the rogue, the “freak” wave. A freak wave has a trough just in front so deep that a ship, any ship, caught there does not reappear. Back then to the rogue wave, if you can paddle away from that image, the question is what causes unusually big waves. The possibilities are intriguingly myriad, but positive interference between opposing tendencies is favored, similar in a way to a beat note between out of tune guitar strings. Meanwhile, back in Detroit a decadent car culture is about to “collide” with an umpteen trillion dollar derivatives bubble.

Detroit’s vulnerability was created by decisions to make too many freak cars for an imagined market at a time of intense competition. Without the bubble Detroit soon would meet its maker anyway.

Wall Street’s huge bubble of debt money had been blown up using two or three inventions by Larry Summers and friends. Bypassing the few regulations and oversight tools remaining after Bill Clinton’s ditching of the Glass-Steagall act, players in the derivatives market made out like bandits while putting their institutions at risk. Throwing the need for reserves to the wind, fast dollars were plucked. Don’t take my strained analysis, here’s the US Comptroller of the Currency reporting on the fourth quarter of 2008:

The notional value of derivatives held by U.S. commercial banks increased $24.5 trillion in the fourth quarter, or 14%, to $200.4 trillion, due to the migration of investment bank derivatives business into the commercial banking system.

U.S. commercial banks lost $9.2 billion trading in cash and derivative instruments in the fourth quarter of 2008 and for the year they reported trading losses of $836 million. The poor results in 2008 reflect continued turmoil in financial markets, particularly for credit instruments.

Net current credit exposure increased 84% from the third quarter to a record $800 billion, and much of this is attributable to the sharp decline in interest rates in the fourth quarter.

Derivative contracts remain concentrated in interest rate products, which comprise 82% of total derivative notional values. The notional value of credit derivative contracts decreased by 2% during the quarter to $15.9 trillion. Credit default swaps are 98% of total credit derivatives.

Without the subprime crisis, the machinations just described would have hit the fan soon anyway, likely this fall. Given the subprimes, it happened sooner, just in time to coincide with Detroit’s surging vulnerability. The result for Detroit was sudden beyond our ability to comprehend the implications, a rogue wave of shock.

Nothing new here except maybe you did not know about those waves, so is there a point to this amateur take on Detroit’s problem? There is, and it belongs to New America Foundation globalists Leo Hindery Jr. and Donald Riegle Jr. In the April 20 issue of The Nation, they tell what Obama should be doing, which is exactly opposite to giving me and my wife $500 dollars to spend on things made in China. They advise rebuilding US infrastructure, and providing jobs by deficit spending just like Roosevelt did in his first term. My father made it through the depression with the Civilian Conservation Corps. Obama could just this once do right by the enormous pool of skill now being trashed in Detroit, and fund conversion of Motown’s factories to make any of several things this country really needs.

Our Climate Crisis: Jatropha, More Biofuel Poison
Duff Badgley is the leader of the One Earth Climate Action Group and was a candidate for Governor as a Green in 2008. He can be reached at 206-283-0621.

Jatropha—touted as biofuel ‘wonder plant’– is another biofuel poison.

At our One Earth table during the recent EPA rally in Seattle, a man on a bike vigorously defended biofuels by claiming jatropha works well as a biofuel. This is a person who volunteers for an organization ostensibly dedicated to preserving our rainforests. And who, by the way, drives a biodiesel-powered car when he drives.

You say, “Huh? I thought all crop-based biofuels destroy rainforests via land use change.” Biofuels do exactly that — trigger rainforest destruction by displacing agriculture into native ecosystems.

Here’s University of Minnesota professor David Tilman, lead author the 2008 biofuels study that documented how viciously destructive biofuels are to our shared Livable Planet.

“We looked at all of the current biofuels that are being made around the world and asked if they were causing native ecosystems to be turned into land that would be used to grow the crop. Essentially, all of them are doing that.”
David Tilman, lead author of the “Land Clearing and the Biofuel Carbon Debt” study published in SCIENCE, February, 2008. Quote is from the March 14, 2008 issue of Newsweek,  “Doing It Wrong”.

Here’s a direct quote from the “Land Clearing and the Biofuel Carbon Debt” study:

“Converting rainforests, peatlands, savannas, or grasslands to produce food crop–based biofuels in Brazil, Southeast Asia, and the United States creates a “biofuel carbon debt” by releasing 17 to 420 times more CO2 than the annual greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions that these biofuels would provide by displacing fossil fuels.”

That makes crop-based biofuels 17-420 times worse than petrol in emitting GHGs.

And it makes these same biofuels rob land from food-producing acreage, triggering global hunger, starvation and food riots. Biofuels have caused widespread reduction in acreage dedicated to human food production. This, in turn, has created global food shortages, raising the prices of food staples beyond the reach of huge numbers of people in poor countries.

Link to 2008 World Bank biofuels/food cost rise study.

Largely because of crop-based biofuels, food riots in 2008 broke out in Egypt, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Madagascar, the Philippines and Haiti. In Pakistan and Thailand, army troops were deployed to avoid seizing of food from the fields and from warehouses. In China, exports of rice were frozen because of runs on domestic supplies sparked by soaring prices.

So what about jatropha?

Are biofuel fanatics — one of my fellow activists calls them “biofools” — now hiding behind jatropha in their desperate search for a fuel alternative to petrol? Are they willfully blinding themselves to the certain knowledge that any crop-based biofuel will be vastly worse than petrol and massively worsen our Climate Crisis?

You bet.

The skinny on jatropha — like switchgrass, another debunked so-called ‘wonder biofuel’ — is that it can be grown on land that some biofuel fanatics call “marginal” or “wastelands”. So, the desperate argument goes, jatropha is not supposed to force land use change and displace farms and ranches into rainforests.

Well, guess again.

For the moment, let’s set aside the definition of “wastelands” and who declares this land to be “waste”. (We know that declaring land to be “wasteland” is one of the most hideous scams foisted on the globe by carbon trading and so-called “carbon offset” schemes.) Let’s just focus on jatropha as a crop-based biofuel. It’s a shrubby tree best suited to the tropics. It produces seeds that can be harvested for oil as biofuel feedstock. It can be grown on land that may, or may not, already be used for agriculture.

Rob Bailis, an assistant professor at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, along with Yale Ph.D. candidate Jennifer Baka, has launched the first detailed life cycle environment assessment of jatropha as a biofuel.

“If you plant (jatropha) trees in a marginal area, and all they do is just not die, it doesn’t mean you’re going to get a lot of oil from them,” Bailis says.

It also means you’re not going to get a lot of money from them.

“ ‘If you grow jatropha in marginal conditions, you can expect marginal yields,’ says Vincent Volckaert, the Africa regional director for D1 Oils. D1, a U.K.-based biofuels technology company, has more than a half-million acres under (jatropha) cultivation, much of it in India.” — Ibid.

So, does this mean that large-scale commercial development of jatropha will proceed on better, “non-marginal” lands—lands that are already planted with crops dedicated to human food production? And does this also mean jatropha will be the latest, inevitable addition to the list of all crop-based biofuels that cause rainforest destruction and global starvation?

You bet, on both counts.

India has plans to plant 27 million acres in jatropha for biofuel. That’s the size of Switzerland. Protests have already erupted in India “over a government scheme to reclassify village commons lands — widely used for grazing livestock — as ‘wastelands’ targeted for biofuel production, primarily jatropha.” —Ibid.

In the Phillipines, “protests erupted in late 2008, with indigenous leaders insisting that jatropha plantations had begun to displace needed crops of rice, corn, bananas, and root vegetables.” — Ibid.

Under the military dictatorship in Myanmar, “a predominantly agrarian country where child malnutrition is rampant, entire jatropha plantations have sprung up where food crops once grew.” — Ibid.

Malaysia, Malawi, and Brazil are also pushing large-scale jatropha-for-biofuel development.

Jatropha has joined the wantonly destructive ranks of crop-based biofuels. It is already causing widespread displacement of agricultural lands—that’s called ‘land use change’. This displacement causes: (1) GHG emissions vastly worse than petrol; and (2) widespread hunger and starvation, called “A Crime Against Humanity” by the United Nations.

Link to U.N. declaring biofuels “A Crime Against Humanity”.

To my bike-riding, biodiesel-burning friend I say, “Stay on your bike. Leave your car at home. Don’t burn petrol or biofuel. Jatropha Kills.”

Un-Spinning the Spin: But, We Don’t Have the Votes
Maryrose Asher is a former Chair of the Green Party of Washington State and a tireless activist of many causes.

The vote on another wartime supplemental funding bill comes up next week in the House.

A few years back, a group of us participated in the Occupation Project.  This was a national effort by the peace movement to stop supplemental funding for the Iraq War by “sitting in” at the offices of our elected representatives to demand they cut war funding.  Representatives of Senators Murray and Cantwell would only say that the Democrats, as the minority party, did not have the votes to stop the funding and gave assurances, if more Democrats were elected, this would change.

We now have a Democratic President and the Democrats hold the majority of the seats in House and the Senate and now they are the ones pushing the $100 billion supplemental wartime funding bill, bringing the fiscal year 2009 defense budget to more than $800 billion (see chart below).

The Republicans, the minority party, are expected to vote as a block against the supplemental and, if joined by liberal Democrats, the bill is expected to fail.

What irony there is in this turn-about!  Seems the Republicans, whether in the majority or minority, know how to manipulate Congress either through the filibuster or voting as a block.  We can only conclude that the Democrats, on the other hand, are a party of inept politicians and/or simply bold-faced liars.

Both parties are now exposed.  The Republicans no longer care about “abandoning the troops” by voting against wartime funding.  As far as the Democrats being the Party who would get us out of the war in Iraq, it is now very clear they never planned to make good on their promises, especially now that they have the power to do so.

The major obstacles for passage are:

  1. This bill funds illegal and immoral wars (seems some liberal Democrats haven’t forgotten).
  2. It funds the International Monetary Fund.  Senate Democrats, at Obama’s request, attached a $108 billion bailout for the IMF—a bailout for European banks in Eastern Europe, the international version of the Wall Street bailout (main reason for planned Republican veto.)
  3. It bans the release of torture photos and videos from the Bush-Cheney administration (legalizes Obama’s decision not to release photos.)

To try to get the necessary votes, there is talk congressional Democrats may attach legislation known as “cash for clunkers” to the war funding.  This would offer vouchers to Americans so they can trade in their gas-guzzlers for more full-efficient cars.

Why is the IMF bailout, ban on releasing torture photos, and even car vouchers being attached to a war funding bill?  Is this the “transparency” in government promised by Obama?

For a breakdown on the FY 2009 Defense Budget, posted below is information from the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation: Recap of the FY 2009 Defense Budget http://www.armscontrolcenter.org/policy/securityspending/articles/022609_fy10_topline_fy09_recap/:

Even though a final FY 2009 budget figure cannot be stated precisely at this time because Congress has not yet completed its FY 2009 budget work, it appears that final FY 2009 spending on national defense will be approximately $687 billion (Note:  $795 billion with IMF funding).

Table 1. Breakdown of FY 2009 Defense Budget Authority
(in billions of constant FY09 dollars)

FY09 Funding

Allocated to?

513

DOD base budget passed in 2008

23

Non-DOD base budget (e.g. nukes) funded at FY08 levels by CR

68.5

First war supplemental passed in 2008

75.5*

Second war supplemental expected to be passed in 2009

6.5

DOD funding in stimulus

687**

Estimated total FY09 defense spending budget authority

Table Notes: Author’s estimate based on Congressional Research Service, Department of Defense, and media reports

*Add $108 billion for IMF funding
**With IMF funding, total = $795 billion

Update:  As of June 4, 2009, the second war supplemental was at $96.7 billion, without the $108 billion to the IMF included as it is unknown at this time whether it will be included in bill.  If we add in the IMF bailout, this potentially brings the FY09 defense spending up to $837 billion.

It should be interesting to watch the vote this next week.  Will the Republicans do in the first six months of Obama’s administration what the Democrats failed to do in eight years under the Bush administration and veto supplemental war funding?

Stay tuned.

Referenced articles:
It’s the president calling – David Rogers – POLITICO.com
Democrats postpone action on war bill – David Rogers – POLITICO.com
JFP News, 6/3: With IMF Money, War Supplemental Could Be Defeated in the House | Just Foreign Policy
Ban on Releasing Torture Photos and Videos Included in War Supplemental | AfterDowningStreet.org
Democrats may add car vouchers to war fund bill | Reuters

This Week in History
This Week in History, published by Carl Bunin and edited by Al Frank, is a collection designed to help us appreciate the fact that we are part of a rich history advocating peace and social justice. While the entries often focus on large and dramatic events there are so many smaller things done everyday to promote peace and justice. Find more info at http://www.peacebuttons.info/E-News/thisweek.htm.

June 10, 1937: The mayor of Monroe, Michigan, organized a citizens’ posse of some 1400 vigilantes armed with batons and baseball bats to combat the union organizing drive at local Newton Steel. The mob threw a dozen of the picketers’ cars into the Raisin River. The 120 picketing steelworkers and their supporters were working to form unions in the “Little Steel” companies which, unlike U.S. Steel, continued to resist unionization. Newton had just been purchased by Republic Steel.

June 11, 1963: Thich Quang Duc, a Buddhist monk from the Linh-Mu Pagoda in Hue, Vietnam, burned himself to death (self-immolation) in front of the U.S. embassy in downtown Saigon to protest the the South Vietnamese regime the U.S. supported, and the war the Americans were waging.

June 12, 1964: Nelson Mandela, a 46-year-old lawyer and a leader of the opposition to South Africa’s racially separatist apartheid system, was convicted of sabotage in the Rivonia Trial and sentenced to life imprisonment. From Mandela’s statement to the court prior to sentencing: “I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

Pencil Shavings: Just Call Me a Pessimist
Pencil Shavings appears in this space most weeks and solely represents the opinions of the publisher. If you’d like to read more of Trey’s ruminations, visit The Rambling Taoist.

After spending most of the past 15 years within progressive activist circles, I’ve dropped out. Gone are the days of running for political office on the Socialist or Green Party ticket. I no longer organize conferences, rallies, protests or vigils opposing the war or the rape of our environment. You won’t find me testifying at state, county or city government meetings. Heck, I rarely write letters to the editor anymore. About the ONLY thing I do that is remotely like my former life is to continue publishing GT.

The chief reason I decided to drop out is not because I’ve lost my passion or commitment to progressive causes; it’s more because I’m simply tired of trying to motivate an unenthusiastic populace. I simply grew tired of various activities and events that drew the same members of the choir.

Let’s face it. By and large, the average American is spiritually bankrupt. As long as gas is relatively cheap, there’s a Starbucks or a mall within driving distance and their favorite sports team is in town or on the telly, they don’t want to be bothered with contemplating ecological destruction, social injustice or dead/maimed Iraqi nobodies. Sure, they might tell you they oppose the wars or that they support sustainability, but that same person will turn around to climb into their gas guzzler and drive away.

American life is too comfy, even during these dark days of economic calamity. While it’s true that many families are suffering in this country due to the sharp financial downturn, we obviously aren’t suffering enough to motivate ourselves to get off our butts to demand change. We’re giving away the store to the moneyed interests and yet about the most any citizen will do is write one of those letters to the editor or scream profanities on talk radio.

I wish I could say that the situation is poised for the Green (or some other progressive) Party to move to the fore, but I just don’t see it. Around the country (with a very few exceptions), the Green Party is becoming more irrelevant than it’s ever been. Even worse, I don’t envision any other progressive or radical political party moving up to fill the void.

The anti-war movement seems to have died a silent death DESPITE the fact we’re still fighting in the same two wars and defense spending continues to go up. The environmental movement — with exceptions like the heroic work of people like Duff — is even more invisible.

So, call me a pessimist. It seems to be like the bottom would have to completely fall out before more than a handful of Americans would even consider taking to the streets. Yes, that’s a really sad commentary, but I don’t see it changing anytime soon.

News You May Have Missed

War Is Sin
The crisis faced by combat veterans returning from war is not simply a profound struggle with trauma and alienation. It is often, for those who can slice through the suffering to self-awareness, an existential crisis. War exposes the lies we tell ourselves about ourselves. It rips open the hypocrisy of our religions and secular institutions. Those who return from war have learned something which is often incomprehensible to those who have stayed home. We are not a virtuous nation. God and fate have not blessed us above others. Victory is not assured. War is neither glorious nor noble. And we carry within us the capacity for evil we ascribe to those we fight…

Shredded Tires on Play Surfaces Could Be Toxic, EPA Admits
The Obamas have installed it as a surface for their children to play on at the White House, and it is used on playgrounds and playing fields across the nation, but the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is rethinking its endorsement of shredded tires as cushioning material to reduce injuries from falls…

Coal Mountain Elementary
An elementary school curriculum designed by the American Coal Foundation suggests that students learn about the costs and benefits of coal mining by using toothpicks and paper clips to “mine” chocolate chips out of cookies. They also go about “reclaiming” the “land” damaged in the process by tracing the cookies’ outline on graph paper. Costs are to be calculated by the amount of time spent per chip and the expanse of graph paper that needs to be reclaimed…

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