Thursday, January 31, 2008

January 30:

1948 : Gandhi assassinated

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, the political and spiritual leader of the
Indian independence movement, is assassinated in New Delhi by a Hindu

Born the son of an Indian official in 1869, Gandhi's Vaishnava mother
was deeply religious and early on exposed her son to Jainism, a
morally rigorous Indian religion that advocated nonviolence. Gandhi
was an unremarkable student but in 1888 was given an opportunity to
study law in England. In 1891, he returned to India, but failing to
find regular legal work he accepted in 1893 a one-year contract in
South Africa.

Settling in Natal, he was subjected to racism and South African laws
that restricted the rights of Indian laborers. Gandhi later recalled
one such incident, in which he was removed from a first-class railway
compartment and thrown off a train, as his moment of truth. From
thereon, he decided to fight injustice and defend his rights as an
Indian and a man. When his contract expired, he spontaneously decided
to remain in South Africa and launched a campaign against legislation
that would deprive Indians of the right to vote. He formed the Natal
Indian Congress and drew international attention to the plight of
Indians in South Africa. In 1906, the Transvaal government sought to
further restrict the rights of Indians, and Gandhi organized his first
campaign of satyagraha, or mass civil disobedience. After seven years
of protest, he negotiated a compromise agreement with the South
African government.

In 1914, Gandhi returned to India and lived a life of abstinence and
spirituality on the periphery of Indian politics. He supported Britain
in the First World War but in 1919 launched a new satyagraha in
protest of Britain's mandatory military draft of Indians. Hundreds of
thousands answered his call to protest, and by 1920 he was leader of
the Indian movement for independence. He reorganized the Indian
National Congress as a political force and launched a massive boycott
of British goods, services, and institutions in India. Then, in 1922,
he abruptly called off the satyagraha when violence erupted. One month
later, he was arrested by the British authorities for sedition, found
guilty, and imprisoned.

After his release in 1924, he led an extended fast in protest of
Hindu-Muslim violence. In 1928, he returned to national politics when
he demanded dominion status for India and in 1930 launched a mass
protest against the British salt tax, which hurt India's poor. In his
most famous campaign of civil disobedience, Gandhi and his followers
marched to the Arabian Sea, where they made their own salt by
evaporating sea water. The march, which resulted in the arrest of
Gandhi and 60,000 others, earned new international respect and support
for the leader and his movement.

In 1931, Gandhi was released to attend the Round Table Conference on
India in London as the sole representative of the Indian National
Congress. The meeting was a great disappointment, and after his return
to India he was again imprisoned. While in jail, he led another fast
in protest of the British government's treatment of the
"untouchables"--the impoverished and degraded Indians who occupied the
lowest tiers of the caste system. In 1934, he left the Indian Congress
Party to work for the economic development of India's many poor. His
protege, Jawaharlal Nehru, was named leader of the party in his place.

With the outbreak of World War II, Gandhi returned to politics and
called for Indian cooperation with the British war effort in exchange
for independence. Britain refused and sought to divide India by
supporting conservative Hindu and Muslim groups. In response, Gandhi
launched the "Quit India" movement it 1942, which called for a total
British withdrawal. Gandhi and other nationalist leaders were
imprisoned until 1944.

In 1945, a new government came to power in Britain, and negotiations
for India's independence began. Gandhi sought a unified India, but the
Muslim League, which had grown in influence during the war, disagreed.
After protracted talks, Britain agreed to create the two new
independent states of India and Pakistan on August 15, 1947. Gandhi
was greatly distressed by the partition, and bloody violence soon
broke out between Hindus and Muslims in India.

In an effort to end India's religious strife, he resorted to fasts and
visits to the troubled areas. He was on one such vigil in New Delhi
when Nathuram Godse, a Hindu extremist who objected to Gandhi's
tolerance for the Muslims, fatally shot him. Known as Mahatma, or "the
great soul," during his lifetime, Gandhi's persuasive methods of civil
disobedience influenced leaders of civil rights movements around the
world, especially Martin Luther King Jr. in the United States.

General Interest
1948 : Gandhi assassinated

1649 : King Charles I executed for treason

1835 : Shots fired in the House of Representatives

1945 : Burma supply route cleared

1972 : Bloody Sunday in Northern Ireland


Scarier Than Fiction: Pediatricians Try To Censor ABC

Scarier Than Fiction: Pediatricians Try To Censor ABC

By David Kirby, Huffington Post. Posted January 28, 2008.

Will a TV show be canceled because it features an attorney who successfully argues that a mercury-containing flu vaccine caused autism in one kid?

On Monday, the American Academy of Pediatrics will release the contents of a foreboding letter sent last week to ABC/Disney executives, demanding they cancel the January 31 premiere of a new legal drama series, Eli Stone, because it features a family attorney who successfully argues in court that a mercury-containing flu vaccine caused autism in one child.

The letter, signed by AAP President Renee Jenkins, borders on near-hysteria over a fictional television entertainment. It ominously warns that ABC "will bear responsibility for the needless suffering and potential deaths of children from parents' decisions not to immunize based on the content of the episode."

Dr. Jenkins calls on ABC to cancel the episode but, anticipating a refusal, urges executives to run a disclaimer that "no scientific link exists between vaccines and autism," if the offending network "persists" in airing the show.

I share the AAP's concern that parents should not be driven away from protecting their children from dangerous, even deadly diseases. But parents are far too smart to base such an important decision as immunization on the "content of the episode" of a single drama on broadcast television.

In fact, if I were Dr. Jenkins, I would be far more concerned about real news happening in the real world -- events that not only suggest the possibility of some sort of link between mercury, vaccines and autism, but might alarm parents more than any fictional account written for ratings-grabbing mass entertainment.

If I were Dr. Jenkins, instead of fretting over a fake family engaged in a mock trial held in a make-believe court on some LA soundstage, I would be up at night wondering why the Federal Government recently conceded a real vaccine-autism lawsuit in a real court and will soon pay a real (taxpayer-funded) settlement to a real American family and a very real child with autism.

I would want to know why the Department of Justice agreed that mercury-containing vaccines "severely aggravated" the autism symptoms in at least one child, and I would wonder if research into what triggered that severe aggravation might provide at least some clues into the perpetual mysteries of the disorder and its causes.

And, if I were Dr. Jenkins, rather than wringing my hands and trying to censor a TV-show verdict, I would truly worry about what will happen when parents realize that the Federal Government's concession has been sealed -- preventing the public (and future plaintiffs) from viewing what could only be described as "evidence of harm." I would be nervous that this secretive action in an actual court (itself reminiscent of science fiction) might drive parents away from vaccination far more effectively than any scripted drama.

Furthermore, if I were the top pediatrician in America, I would not be asking television networks to make sweeping statements such as, "No scientific link exists" between autism and mercury or vaccines, when highly respected publications continue to publish new (and very real) data that roundly debunk what has now become, frankly, a tired piece of misinformation.

If I were the AAP, or ABC for that matter, I would feel downright silly stating that "no scientific link exists," so soon after the Journal of Child Neurology published a study titled, "Blood Levels of Mercury Are Related to Diagnosis of Autism: A Reanalysis of an Important Data Set." I would also worry about parental reaction to learning that researchers had done due diligence and reanalyzed data from a prior, hugely influential study that (erroneously) found zero connection between mercury levels and autism.

Instead of trying to silence the fictional words of "Eli Stone" co-creators Greg Berlanti and Marc Guggenheim, I would pay closer attention to the real words of Journal authors M. Catherine DeSoto and Robert Hitlan, who found a major flaw in the original study that found no link. In fact, they concluded, "a significant relation does exist between the blood levels of mercury and diagnosis of an autism spectrum disorder," and that "hair sample analysis results offer some support for the idea that persons with autism may be less efficient... at eliminating mercury from the blood," something that proponents of the mercury-autism hypothesis have long contended.


See more stories tagged with: american academy of pedia, abc, eli stone

David Kirby has been a professional journalist for over 15 years and has written extensively for The New York Times for the past eight years.

For FDA, a Major Backlog Overseas

By Gardiner Harris
The New York Times

Tuesday 29 January 2008

Washington - The Food and Drug Administration is so understaffed that, at its current pace, the agency would need at least 27 years to inspect every foreign medical device plant that exports to the United States, 13 years to check every foreign drug plant and 1,900 years to examine every foreign food plant, according to government investigators.

Computer systems at the drug agency are so inadequate that it can only guess the number of the plants, and it cannot produce a list of those that have not been inspected. The situation is particularly dire in China, which has more drug and device plants than any other foreign nation but where F.D.A. inspections are few.

These findings come from a series of reports by the Government Accountability Office - obtained by The New York Times - scheduled to be released Tuesday at a hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

The reports and a recent assessment by the agency's Science Board conclude that the F.D.A. is so overwhelmed by a flood of imports that it is incapable of protecting the public from unsafe drugs, medical devices and food.

"This is a fundamentally broken agency, and it needs to be repaired," said Peter Barton Hutt, a former top lawyer with the agency who will testify Tuesday before the committee.

Warnings about some of these problems have been sounded for years. And there have been fitful efforts at an overhaul. Last year, Congress passed and President Bush signed a law that changed the way the F.D.A. regulated the drug industry.

But recent disasters involving several of the agency's crucial responsibilities - a withdrawn painkiller, an unsafe implantable heart defibrillator, deadly pet food and contaminated spinach - led to multiple Congressional investigations that came up with the same finding: After decades of political neglect, the agency is near the breaking point. As a result, there are growing calls on Capitol Hill to provide the agency with substantially more money.

"Our investigation has found ample evidence that F.D.A. inspections across the board are sorely lacking," said Representative John D. Dingell, Democrat of Michigan, the chairman of the House committee. "How many more examples are needed to demonstrate that this agency is struggling and the public health is at risk?"

The Bush administration has reacted coolly to calls for more financing. Mr. Bush recently established an import safety working group to reform the system "within available resources."

An illustration of the agency's situation comes from a comparison of the allocated budgets of it and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 1987, the two had nearly identical budgets. Last year, the C.D.C. received nearly four times the amount given to the F.D.A.

In the last 14 years, the drug agency has lost 1,311 employees and nearly $300 million in appropriations to inflation while Congress has passed more than 100 laws defining or expanding its regulatory responsibilities. The agency now regulates about $1 trillion worth of goods, or 25 cents of every dollar spent by consumers.

The agency's field inspection force has suffered, particularly in the area of food. In 1973, the F.D.A. undertook 34,919 food inspections; in 2006, that number had dropped to 7,783.

As the share of imported food, drugs and devices has soared, the number of agency import inspectors has plunged, to 380 in 2006 from 531 in 2003. Although 80 percent of the nation's drug supply is now imported, the F.D.A. last year inspected only 30 of more than 3,000 foreign drug plants. It inspected 100 of 190,000 foreign food plants.

"I think we've had a cascade of serious warning signs that the levies are leaking," said Dr. Garret A. FitzGerald of the University of Pennsylvania, a member of the agency's Science Board. "We need to respond to these warnings before the hurricane hits."

Investigators for the Government Accountability Office found that, in many of its functions, the F.D.A. was unable to provide even basic information about its inspection responsibilities. For instance, one of the agency's computer programs estimates that 3,000 plants export drugs to the United States. Another entirely incompatible program pegs the number at 6,800.

The backlog of inspections is even more profound among foreign medical device and food plants. Over a six-year period, the agency inspected 64 of the nearly 700 medical device plants registered in China. Medical devices can include items like stents and spinal screws.


Roe Spurs Super Turnout Drive for Super Tuesday

By Molly M. Ginty
Women's eNews

Tuesday 29 January 2008

Threats to Roe v. Wade are spurring a pro-choice voter-turnout push ahead of Super Tuesday and lobbying for the Freedom of Choice Act. Last week the Planned Parenthood Action Fund launched a $10 million campaign focused on the election.

In Seattle, Amie Newman e-mailed friends and family, exhorting them to review candidates' stances on abortion before casting votes in the presidential primaries.

In Las Vegas, Mindy Browne knocked on strangers' doors, encouraging them to support pro-choice candidates in the Jan. 19 Nevada caucus.

In New York, Sonia Ossorio chaired a meeting where National Organization for Women members discussed how the elections could undermine abortion access, even in this "safe" state.

They are among thousands who are working to raise awareness of the presidential primaries' potential impact on reproductive rights. Acting as individuals or as part of coordinated efforts, women are rallying around this month's 35th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Jan. 22, 1973, Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion, as well as the early primaries, particularly Super Tuesday on Feb. 5, when presidential contests in 23 states are widely expected to pin down the Democratic and Republican nominees.

Because the next president could appoint Supreme Court justices who could overturn Roe v. Wade - along with lower court justices who could undermine it - abortion rights hang in the balance. Without a federal abortion guarantee under Roe, a woman's access to abortion would depend on her state's law.

"At this crucial juncture, we're focusing on the future of Roe v. Wade and the political primaries," says Kathryn Prael, deputy communications director for the Washington-based NARAL Pro-Choice America. "We're alerting voters that the leading Democratic contenders are all pro-choice, while the leading Republicans are all anti-choice."

The Planned Parenthood Action Fund is also making a major effort. Last week it launched a $10 million nationwide "Million Strong Campaign" that is raising awareness about reproductive health issues. The largest voter-mobilization in Planned Parenthood's history, it aims to bring 1 million pro-choice citizens to the polls in November.

Freedom of Choice Act

With many states positioned to ban abortion if Roe falls, pro-choice activists are rallying behind the Freedom of Choice Act, first introduced in Congress in 2004 by Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif. It prohibits government interference with a woman's right to have an abortion and would guarantee reproductive rights regardless of who is president. Spurred on by the National Organization for Women, activists across the United States are encouraging voters to lobby their representatives to pass it.

Activists are also reaching out to single women, who have been turning out more heavily than usual in primary elections so far.

They are also targeting independent and pro-choice Republican women, who can safeguard abortion only by switching parties or supporting fourth-ranking Republican candidate Rudolph Giuliani, the former New York City mayor whose pro-choice commitment is considered wobbly by some.

Some Roe initiatives are local, such as the 80,000 calls NARAL Pro-Choice America's members made to New Hampshire independents before that state's primary. Recipients heard a prerecorded message that urged them to support Democrats, not Republicans.

Some efforts have worked at the grassroots level, like the communal "blog for choice" that NARAL members created on the Roe. v. Wade anniversary. More than 500 participants wrote messages explaining why abortion should remain legal, combining them to create a massive online essay.

Potluck Lunches and Dinners

Activists also organized potluck luncheons and dinners on the Roe anniversary in towns across the country. Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, gave a commemorative speech in Texas, where the group considers reproductive rights to be so imperiled that it gave the state an F on its most recent report card.

The entrenched anti-choice stance of most of the Republican candidates has energized female voters, activists say.

Arizona Sen. John McCain has spent 25 years in Congress. On 128 abortion measures he cast 124 anti-choice votes, according to NARAL Pro-Choice America. He supported a federal abortion ban that prohibits a procedure used after 12 weeks of pregnancy even when they are medically necessary. The ban makes no exceptions to protect a woman's health, and was sanctioned by the Supreme Court in April 2007.

During Mike Huckabee's 14 years as lieutenant governor and then governor of Arkansas, he denied Medicaid-funded abortion services to a 15-year-old incest survivor. He also signed a law that criminalizes some abortion services, with no exception to protect a woman's health.

While serving as Massachusetts governor for four years, Mitt Romney reversed his previously pro-choice stance. During a 1994 senatorial bid, he told voters, "I believe abortion should be safe and legal in this country." During recent campaigning, he said, "I believe abortion is wrong except in cases of incest, rape and to save the life of the mother."

Rudolph Giuliani, the trailing Republican candidate, is considered the only pro-choice GOP contender, but Susan Cohen, director of government affairs for New York-based Guttmacher Institute, questions his commitment.

"As mayor of New York City, Giuliani was firmly pro-choice," she says. "But recently he hinted that overturning Roe might be acceptable, and he says he most admires judges in the mold of Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia, who are both anti-choice."

All the leading Democratic presidential contenders have staunch pro-choice platforms, their campaign Web sites and public records show. They have voted against anti-choice bills in Congress and blasted the Supreme Court for upholding the federal abortion ban.

NARAL Backs All the Democrats

"Senators Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards have all done tremendous work as abortion rights advocates," says Elizabeth Shipp, NARAL Pro-Choice America's political director. "We endorse them all equally, because in this regard, there's not a hair's breadth of difference between them."

While activists may not agree on which Democrat is best for reproductive choice - or what to make of Giuliani - interviews for this article found unanimity on the fear of losing Roe rights. Sources pointed out that on the federal level access has never been more threatened. Many reproductive rights advocates consider the court to be split 5-4, with a pro-Roe majority that could shift. Rumors are swirling that three pro-choice justices may be nearing retirement.

Since 1995, more than 500 anti-choice measures have been enacted in the states, according to NARAL Pro-Choice America. These restrictions enforce mandatory waiting periods, require young women to notify their parents before having abortions and limit providers by regulating the size of their waiting rooms and subjecting them to rules not applied to other doctors.

Twenty-two states have laws that could outlaw abortion as early as 12 weeks that do not include exceptions to protect a woman's health, according to NARAL Pro-Choice America. Four other states ban an abortion procedure without a health exception.

Thirty states could pass legislation that prohibits abortion in the wake of Roe being overturned, notes the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights. South Dakota nearly outlawed abortion in November 2006, when a ban that allowed an exception only to save the life of the woman was defeated by a margin of 56 to 44 percent in the polls.

With 2.7 million unplanned pregnancies in the United States each year, 22 percent of pregnancies ending in abortion and Gallup polls showing most Americans support reproductive rights, pro-choice advocates are sending a call to action to women in Super Tuesday states: Vote.

For More Information:

Women's eNews Spotlight on 2008 Presidential Election:

NARAL Pro-Choice America, 2008 Presidential Candidate Choice Statements:

NARAL Pro-Choice America's Nancy Keenan, speech on the 35th anniversary of Roe v. Wade
[PDF format]:

Molly M. Ginty is a freelance writer based in New York City.


As Dollar Falls, Migrants Feel Pinch

By Tom A. Peter
The Christian Science Monitor

Tuesday 29 January 2008

Their earnings don't stretch as far for family overseas, so many are working extra hours.

Cambridge, Massachusetts - Working in the kitchen at a mid-priced restaurant in Cambridge, Mass., Jose Lucas managed to cover all the expenses of his wife and three kids in his native Brazil. But that changed when the real appreciated 60 percent against the US dollar in the past three years.

"I had to get more hours at work so I could send more money," says Mr. Lucas. "I used to work 40 hours a week. Now, I work 56." So far, the extra hours have made up the difference.

Across the US, the falling dollar value has sent ripples through immigrant communities that send money to family overseas. As some currencies for developing countries have risen substantially against the dollar, many immigrant workers are increasing their workweek by up to 20 hours or taking second jobs. If the dollar's slide continues, the US may become less attractive to migrant workers, analysts say.

Although it's too early to tell whether this will cause a major shift in immigration, a number of migrants in Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia are already choosing Spain over the US.

"You'd be hard pressed, if you don't already have close relatives in the United States, to make a rational case, if you're in those countries and thinking of emigrating, to come to the United States," says Donald Terry, a senior official at the Inter-American Development Bank. "The clincher would be: Do you want to send home $300 or 300 euros?"

The monthly or weekly payouts provide healthcare, schooling, food, and other items for the migrants' families back home. "Remittances are the best kind of foreign aid we've got," says Dan Griswold, a trade and immigration expert at the Cato Institute, a nonprofit public-policy research foundation in Washington. "It goes family to family with minimal cut by middlemen."

Yet the experiences of two other migrants living in Massachusetts illustrate the recent challenges. As a certified nursing aid working near Quincy, Arlene Schwartz has been paying for her sister's schooling, including college, back in the Philippines. However, the Filipino peso has appreciated nearly 27 percent against the US dollar in the past three years. Her native country has also seen marked inflation.

"Because the dollar kept going down and college is more expensive, I had to send more money. $200 became $500," she says. Sometimes Mrs. Schwartz, who also sends her family large packages of food, has worked 24 to 32 hours of overtime a week to comfortably make up the difference.

Four years ago, Ricardo Machado, a Brazilian who lives in Allston, could support his daughter, his sister-in-law, and her three children with only $650 a month. Today, the regular payment has jumped to $1,200. Aside from working an additional 20 hours a week, he has had to cut virtually all luxury expenses. "I used to come to [a local Brazilian restaurant] twice a week, but I had to stop," says Mr. Machado, who has a full-time position at a car dealership and also does odd jobs.

In all, about 150 million migrant workers worldwide labor outside their countries of origin and send money home. Last year saw an estimated $240 billion in remittances – a record – reach the developing world, with roughly $90 billion from the US alone. These estimates are probably much smaller than the actual value of remittances, since many immigrants are illegal or send money through unofficial channels.

The greatest effects of the remittance strain will strike lower-income families overseas who depend on the money for survival. "A 20 percent hit for a rich man is probably tolerable ... but for poor people, a 20 percent income hit is a very big hit, and they would be hard pressed to adjust to it," says Dilip Ratha, a senior economist at the World Bank who specializes in remittances and migration.

While these families are not likely to go hungry, they will probably simplify their diets to subsist on a bare minimum, Dr. Ratha says. They're also likely to cut back on clothing purchases and limit any medical treatment to emergency situations.

As migrants look to cut costs, some businesses that cater to immigrant needs are starting to feel the pinch. Take Alberto Gomes's Superior Supermarket, a small Portuguese and Brazilian grocery store in Cambridge. In years past, Mr. Gomes, who is originally from Portugal, attracted a number of area Brazilians by stocking his shelves with goods from Brazil and Portugal. But when the dollar began to fall, the cost of goods soared, and Gomes had to raise prices.

"I do about half of the business [I used to]," he says. Currently, his operation is in the red. "I take it day by day and see how America's going to do," he says.

For some countries, however, mainly Mexico, the exchange rate remains favorable, and the economic incentives for working in the US continue. Yet in any case, it can be difficult to draw hard and fast conclusions about remittance flows, given the undocumented status of many people in the migrant workforce, says Simon Reich, director of the Ford Institute for Human Security at the University of Pittsburgh.

"The vast majority of money is going to migrants' families in Mexico and Central America," says Dr. Reich. "This means that the vast majority of migrants have not been affected by [the falling dollar value]."

Ratha, however, foresees changes if the US economy continues to struggle. "There will be in a year, [or several] years' time, effects on migration patterns ... that will probably span the whole spectrum from high-skilled to low-skilled workers," he says.


Stimulus Deal: The Bane of Bipartisanship

By Robert Borosage
Campaign for America's Future

Friday 25 January 2008

Barbara Ehrenreich memorably called the talk about the stimulus "clitoral economics." And that was before we got screwed.

The stimulus deal just announced is being praised more for its existence than its content. Much lamented partisan bickering was overcome; bipartisan cooperation that got it done. With Wall Street bankers in panic, better something than nothing. So the parties came together and split the difference and created an agreement (which still has to survive the minefield called the U.S. Senate).

It's worth taking a look under the hood. Despite approval ratings rivaling those of Idi Amin, President Bush set the terms: Tax cuts only. No spending on public works (that is, nothing for stuff we need that actually puts people to work). No increase in food stamps. No strengthening of our tattered unemployment system. (That is, no money to those who we know will spend it on basic needs). Must include a big package of business tax breaks (tax write-offs for investments that would be made anyway, according to any reputable economic study). No money for states that are about to be forced to cut billions to balance their budgets, largely by cutting education and Medicaid spending and deferring basic infrastructure spending. (Remember the bridge that collapsed in Minneapolis or the sewage valve that shut down lower Manhattan?)

Democrats, despite having the majority in both Houses, accepted those terms. They demanded, sensibly enough, that the tax cuts include 45 million in low-income families that the president would have excluded. They demanded the president take extending his tax cuts beyond 2010 off the table. They got some help for imperiled homeowners through the Federal Housing Authority and Fannie Mae.

So only $40 billion of the $150 billion package gets squandered on business tax boondoggles. The rebates - what Jesse Jackson calls Wal-Mart gift certificates - will get handed out by August at best. It might help a bit, although if the economy is still in bad shape in August, people are more likely to be paying down credit-card debt than buying a new TV made in China.

But $40 billion isn't the largest cost. The real price is the continued misdirection of the economy and miseducation of the country.

We need what the stimulus package excludes. We need long term investment in rebuilding America - spending money on mass transit, on basic sewers and water disposal, on the electric grid, on renewable energy, on a green rebuilding of our urban areas, on schools and teachers, pre-K and affordable college. We need to stop squandering money abroad in misbegotten wars - now approaching $1 trillion spent on Iraq. We need to revive progressive taxation so at the very least hedge fund billionaires stop enjoying a lower tax rate than their secretaries. We need to develop a national strategy for the global economy, ending our addiction to oil, curbing the casino speculation that will eventually bring down the house, and balancing our trade with the mercantilist nations while capturing the new green industries of the future.

None of this, needless to say, is in the stimulus package. Instead we're taught the wrong lessons: tax cuts are good, particularly business tax breaks; lower interest rates are a free lunch; the "fundamentals," as the president constantly says, "are good."

In fact, the foundation in crumbling. A fundamental change of economic strategy and priorities is vital. And the economic titillation of this bipartisan "stimulus" package will benefit the politicians with their press far more than the economy with its perils.


Renewables From the Bottom Up

By Craig Morris
t r u t h o u t | Perspective

Tuesday 29 January 2008

While Germany empowers citizens, the US protects corporations.

If you live in the US, do your power provider a favor: spend $20,000 putting solar panels on your roof. Then your poor utility will not have to buy so much power on the expensive spot market. Your utility may even thank you by taking some of the solar power you generate off your hands for free!

Not tempted? Obviously, this arrangement (called "net-metering") is good for utilities, and we would expect solar advocates to oppose it. Just do the math: the utility benefits from your investment, not you. In net-metering, you offset your consumption; the power meter sometimes runs backwards. Your retail electricity rate may be around 10 cents, but since you are generating most of your power in the afternoon your utility may be saving big money by buying from you rather than on the spot market during peak consumption. In other words, your solar panels not only offset your own consumption, but also peak power for your utility. If you got paid the spot price for your solar power, your investment in solar might eventually pay for itself. At the retail rate, it never will.

Why do US environmentalists not criticize this scheme? First, they would have to admit that solar still costs several times the retail rate in most places, making it harder to explain that solar pays for itself if seen as peak power even without environmental considerations. (In fact, you, dear reader, may even be having a hard time understanding the message now.) Second, US solar advocates spent a lot of time getting utilities to accept solar in some way, and net-metering is the compromise they reached. It is thus their baby, and they will fight to protect it.

Utilities also like net-metering because it imposes an artificial cap on the size of systems. In other words, it keeps the competition small. If your meter runs backward for the year, you may not even get the full retail rate for the excess power you produced, if you get anything. So if you conserve electricity at home, make sure you do not put too many panels on your roof lest you get nothing for your investment.

No wonder solar is moving slowly in the US. What we need is fair competition between energy providers and citizens - as cloudy Germany has. As a result of different legislation, Germans are not only the world leader in wind power, but also in solar, and their biomass sector grew by 55 percent in 2006. They don't use net-metering for solar or a tax credit for wind as we do. Rather, the secret to their success is that they empower citizens to compete with utilities eye-to-eye.

Remember deregulation? Where we failed, Germany succeeded. Since 1999, Germany's electricity and gas markets have been "liberalized," i.e. open for competition not only between corporations, but between corporations and citizens. Retail rates have remained stable, not skyrocketed, and there have been no rolling brownouts. On the contrary, Germany has only around 20-30 minutes of power outages on average each year - among the lowest blackout figures in the world. Renewables now make up 13 percent of the country's electricity supply - and this share is rising by around two percent per annum.

The German system does not pander to the vested interests of powerful utilities. Rather, utilities have to pay citizens a "minimum price" (floor price) set by the government for renewable power. The price is based on what power from a typical renewables generator would cost (cost of system divided by probable output); the retail rate on which net-metering is based is irrelevant here. Germans need only make sure that their systems are well designed and properly installed to turn a profit on their investments.

To Americans, Germany's "minimum-price" scheme sounds like state regulation and price controls. We prefer things like tax credits for wind because we want to reduce state intervention in "free" markets. But in practice, our policies merely serve to protect the monopolies of utilities. In wind energy, our Production Tax Credit is mainly something that profitable corporations can benefit from; after all, the larger your profit, the more you benefit from a tax credit.

As a result, the US has the largest wind farm in the world, almost eight times larger than Germany's biggest, though Germany has twice the installed windpower capacity. In contrast, German communities often come together to put up a handful of wind turbines, often on farms, funded by citizen co-ops. In the US, if wind farms are installed on farmland, chances are that a company like John Deere funds the operation because only a profitable corporation can take full advantage of the tax credit. Americans have a hard time investing directly in wind as Germans do because corporations, not communities, decide where wind turbines are put up in the US.

Although Germany's minimum-price scheme unleashes citizen involvement in the renewables revolution, Americans think US policies are better market mechanisms. The American Wind Energy Association approvingly writes that government involvement in US Renewable Portfolio Standards is "limited to certifying Credits, monitoring compliance, and imposing penalties if necessary." Sounds good, but Germany's market mechanism does without credits, monitoring and penalties altogether. Germans do not need to plead with their utilities to invest in renewables; they just buy systems and expertise on the market and become profitable power producers themselves.

So here we have the real reason why the US will not adopt minimum pricing: we let corporations run the country. The German system places a priority on renewables; distributed green power producers force utilities to ramp down their central power plants. You have priority over your utility.

In December of 2005, the EU Commission declared the obvious: the minimum-price policies used in Germany, Spain and Denmark are more successful than the quota schemes used in Britain (and the US). Smaller than Texas, Spain has more wind power than the entire US. Britain, with the best wind conditions in Europe by far, has a tenth of Germany's installed capacity. Did I mention that the British "market-based" system involves a system of "submissions", "approvals" and "refusals," none of which exist in Germany? Check out the BWEA's website for yourself: And while the US installed more wind power in 2006 than any other country, we only matched Germany's annual average since 2001.

Polls repeatedly show that people all over the world want renewables more than coal, gas, oil and nuclear. Germany allows ordinary people to put their money where their mouth is. So, my fellow Americans, when will we switch?

Craig Morris is the author of "Energy Switch: Proven Solutions for a Renewable Future" (2006). He can be reached at


Polar Bears Could Be Weeks From "Endangered" Listing

By Erika Bolstad
McClatchy Newspapers

Monday 28 January 2008

Bush administration adamant about issuing oil and gas leases in animals' shrinking Alaskan habitat.

Washington - The Bush administration is weeks away from a decision that most likely will designate polar bears as a threatened species, but it said it won't budge on issuing new oil and gas leases in their shrinking Alaskan habitat.

A House of Representatives committee on global warming called on the Interior Department to hold off auctioning oil and gas leases in northwest Alaska's Chukchi Sea until the department decides whether to list polar bears as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service postponed the decision last week for at least another 30 days and a ruling isn't expected before the Feb. 6 oil and gas lease sale by the Minerals Management Service.

The agency estimates that the Chukchi Sea holds 15 billion barrels of oil and as much as 76 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

"Every time there is a choice between extinction and extraction in this administration, extraction wins," said the committee's chairman, Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass. "This must not be the case for the polar bear."

Scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey have said that restricting oil and gas development or the subsistence hunting of polar bears wouldn't be enough to prevent population declines.

The directors of both Fish and Wildlife and Minerals Management reiterated that finding earlier this month. All three agencies are within the Interior Department.

"We wouldn't be proceeding with this sale if we weren't comfortable that we had enough knowledge, enough data to say that we can adequately see that the polar bear is protected ... if the department makes a decision to list the polar bear," said Randall Luthi, director of the Minerals Management Service. "I'm serious about seeing that we do this right, and I believe we are doing it right."

But officials acknowledge that climate change has led to the loss of vast expanses of polar sea ice, which the bears need.

"We need to be doing something about climate change starting yesterday," said Dale Hall, director of the Fish and Wildlife Service. "There needs to be a serious effort to try to control greenhouse gases, which is probably the only thing we have control over."

Polar bears are considered marine mammals because they depend on sea ice for hunting seals, but they den on land. As sea ice has retreated, polar bears must swim farther and expend more energy to reach it.

A U.S. Geological Survey study issued this summer found that in the next 50 years, shrinking sea ice will leave only a small population of polar bears in the islands of the Canadian Arctic.

Two-thirds of the world's polar bears, including those along the coasts of Alaska and Russia, are projected to disappear. One-fifth of the estimated 20,000 to 25,000 polar bears in the world live on the coast of Alaska's Beaufort and Chukchi seas.

If polar bears are listed as threatened, it will be the first time that a species is placed on the endangered list because of the threat of global warming to its habitat.

Such a groundbreaking decision has taken longer than officials thought, Hall said.

"It's not just making the decision, it's making it clear and why," he said.

The congressional hearing hinted at the global impact of such a decision and its potential to turn polar bears into the main symbol of the effects of climate change.

The hearing drew a standing-room-only crowd of spectators and journalists. Several children dressed in fuzzy white polar bear costumes held up signs reading, "Oil greed destroying the world" and "Don't drill in my home."

After the hearing, Markey filed legislation that would force the Interior Department to delay selling the Chukchi Sea leases.

Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., along with nine other senators - seven Democrats and two independents - signed a letter to Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne asking that he delay the leases.

Kempthorne could "turn this upside-down decision right side up in a nanosecond if he wanted to," Markey said. "In the end, if this is not fixed, it is Mr. Kempthorne who is to blame. I hope he understands the importance of his decision."

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Suit Filed Over Alaskan Drilling
The Associated Press

Monday 28 January 2008

Environment groups fear harm to polar bear in Chukchi Sea.

Anchorage, Alaska - Conservation groups on Monday sued a federal agency over an offshore petroleum lease sale in the Chukchi Sea off Alaska's northwest coast, claiming the government has not disclosed documents that could show harmful effects to polar bears and other marine mammals.

The groups said the documents could reveal that the federal Minerals Management Service's plans for the outer continental shelf sale are ill-advised and possibly illegal.

"Hiding critical documents about the potential harm to polar bears from drilling their habitat is symptomatic of the administration's head-in-the-sand approach to global warming and the melting of the Arctic," said Brendan Cummings, ocean program director of the Center for Biological Diversity.

Christine Huffaker, MMS-Alaska Freedom of Information Act officer, said Monday she had not seen the lawsuit and could not comment.

The lease sale is scheduled for Feb. 6 in Anchorage.

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court of New York's Southern District by the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Center for Biological Diversity.

The lease sale will make available nearly 46,000 square miles for petroleum leases. The sale has been condemned by environmental groups that contend industrial activity will harm northern marine mammals. They say the sale in an area nearly the size of Pennsylvania was planned without information as basic as the polar bear and walrus populations.

The MMS is part of the Interior Department, as is the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which is considering listing polar bears as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

Conservation groups said they asked the MMS for documents pertaining to the lease sale for several months before resorting to a lawsuit.

Besides polar bears, the Chukchi is used by endangered bowhead whales, threatened eider ducks, gray whales, walrus, seals and marine birds.