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Submitted by Justin Krebs on Wed, 05/21/2008 - 5:45pm.
Submitted by Justin Krebs on Tue, 05/20/2008 - 1:00pm.
(A quick word before you read on - the review below is the last in-house work by Amanda Milstein, our incredible winter intern and indispensable partner for the last several months. While we doubt this is the last you'll see of her work on Open Left, we want to wish her the best as she heads off to get a master's degree in public policy, including a stint at a think-tank this summer. Thanks, Amanda!)
Ray Bourhis, author of Insult to Injury, is an angry man. He has good reason to be—he is a lawyer that has spent much of his career attempting to get insurance companies to pay disabled people the money that they are owed, and has seen his efforts been thwarted again and again—and seen lives of many of his clients disintegrate as a result.
Bourhis describes the travails of people like Dr. Stuart Gluck, who had three disability insurance policies. He was diagnosed with HIV and also had a nervous system disorder ad triple coronary bypass surgery, sustained brain damage as a result of surgery—this was clearly a man who couldn't work anymore. UnumProvident, his insurance company, decided that despite all of this he should still be employed and they even threatened to demand some of the money they had already paid him back.
The book talks about the insurance industry focused through the case of Joan Hangarter, a chiropractor that needed to stop practicing when she developed extreme pain in her arm and neck. Her disability insurance was then cut off, forcing her and her children into destitution and onto foodstamps. Joan wins her trial, but UnumProvident is slow in paying her the money she was awarded—and does not change its behavior towards other policy-holders.
The book provides a passionate description of how the insurance industry is allowed to swindle clients out of money that they are entitled to. Through describing the personal stories of those whose lives have been destroyed by denied insurance claims and a painstaking description of Joan's trial, Bourhis paints a picture of a society that values the corporate bottom line more than the lives of disabled policy-holders.
Submitted by Justin Krebs on Mon, 05/19/2008 - 8:10am.
Isn’t it kind of odd for a culture that trumpets its ‘family values’ to treat its children like cattle, fattening them up on corn and soy by-products? We love our kids so much we’ve let Big Food turn them into cash cows for Big Pharma. A new study estimates that “about 1.2 million American children now are taking pills for Type 2 diabetes, sleeping troubles and gastrointestinal problems such as heartburn.”
Of course, they’re just aping their elders; as the study shows, we’re the most medicated people on the planet. Apparently, our blessed way of life is a risk factor for depression, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, erectile dysfunction, and any other malady for which Madison Avenue can find a market. Are parents counting on pills to compensate for their children’s lousy diet and lack of exercise? As Dr. Daniel W. Jones, president of the American Heart Association, told the AP:
Conservatives and liberals can’t agree on how to tackle this impending catastrophe. Remember Hillary Clinton’s book It Takes A Village? Its premise—that we have a collective stake in the well-being of every child—raised the hackles of the Let ‘Em Eat TastyKakes contingent and inspired a rebuttal from Republican Senator Rick Santorum entitled It Takes A Family.
What it really takes, though, is a family farmer to provide us with fresh, healthy produce. The more fresh fruits and vegetables we pile on our plates, the less pills we need from the medicine cabinet, as the New York Times noted last Tuesday in an article entitled Eating Your Way To A Sturdy Heart. And a study released last month by the California Center for Public Health Advocacy confirmed that people who lack access to fresh produce face “a significantly higher prevalence of obesity and diabetes regardless of individual or community income.”
But we haven’t got enough family farmers to keep our fridges filled, as chef Dan Barber noted in a recent New York Times op-ed:
Sadly, support for family farmers hasn’t exactly been a cornerstone of any of our presidential candidates’ campaigns.
But there’s another Hilary who’s made it her mission to champion local agriculture—Hilary Baum. Hilary’s the president of Public Market Partners, a non-profit whose goals include putting real food back in our school cafeterias and supporting the small family farmers who grow that food.
Unlike the other Hillary--who’s banking on bigotry to prop up her presidential prospects--my Hilary’s a community builder, not a coalition crusher. Admittedly, she does belong to a dynasty, and one with ties to the CIA. The Culinary Institute of America inducted her father, Joe Baum, the legendary restaurateur who founded The Four Seasons and Windows on the World, and restored The Rainbow Room, into its Hall of Fame.
He could have rested on his laurels, but to borrow a Clinton theme song, Joe Baum never stopped thinking about tomorrow. So he founded the Joe Baum Forum of the Future, a seminar series that focused on the future of the food industry.
When he died in 1998, Hilary continued his legacy, organizing a series of historic conferences now known simply as the Baum Forum. These conferences bring together nutritionists, farmers, educators, public health advocates, chefs, community gardeners, greenmarket leaders, activists, and high-profile folks devoted to revitalizing our local food systems and feeding our children well, including Michael Pollan, Frances and Anna Lappé, Dr. Marion Nestle, Dr. Andrew Weil, and Alice Waters.
But the good food movement’s got a tough row to hoe when the food industry spends some $15 billion annually to market unhealthy foods to kids. And the latest version of that $300 billion bit of legislation we bucolically call the Farm Bill—which the House passed last week with enough votes to override President Bush’s threatened veto--continues to favor industrial agriculture while doing little to help small farmers.
This year’s Baum Forum, entitled Schools, Food & Community, was held last month at Teachers College Columbia University and kicked off with a discussion of the need to teach our children media literacy. As one of the speakers, Melinda Hemmelgarn, a nutrition and communications consultant, noted, the food industry has a positively predatory relationship to our kids, using every trick under the sun to make kids crave their crappy products. We need to teach our kids how to dissect these messages instead of swallowing them whole.
Hilary Baum’s prescription for our sedentary, overstuffed little spuds is to get ‘em while they’re young--put the garden back in kindergarden and instill a lifelong appreciation of fresh fruits and vegetables and the gardeners and farmers who grow them.
At last year’s Baum Forum, I heard several stories about kids who were utterly disconnected from nature; one community gardener talked about instructing a child to locate a tomato plant where it would get full sun, only to discover that the kid had never realized that the light changes depending on the time of day. Another urban ag advocate talked about how he had to provide kids with plastic bags to protect their precious sneakers before they’d deign to set foot in the garden.
At this year’s Baum Forum, Jane S. Park, a curriculum specialist with Sesame Street, announced that the venerable kids’ show is devoting its next two seasons to reconnecting kids with nature. I’m not sure how powerful Big Bird is compared to Big Ag, but I’m glad to see someone in the mainstream media—even if it’s only the Muppets--doing something to save a generation of kids who don’t know how food is grown and think that dirt is, well, dirty. Because that’s a really unnatural state of affairs. Almost as unnatural as putting your kids on drugs in the name of making them healthy.
Submitted by Justin Krebs on Fri, 05/16/2008 - 12:00am.
Drinking Liberally Shot of Truth
We just couldn't let the week pass without posting this - this past Saturday, Living Liberally celebrated its 2nd annual celebration & fundraiser in New York City. And while we were fortunate enough to be joined in person by some incredible guests such as Congressman Jerry Nadler and State Senator Eric Schneiderman, we had another very special guest via video:
Howard Dean's video congratulations is part of a very big month for our chapters and our supporters - you can expect more videos like that one in the next few weeks, and here's why:
All of which our 2nd annual celebration was meant to kick off, and we'd like to take this opportunity to thank the national partners with whom we couldn't have done any of this: Credo Mobile, Media Matters For America and Young People For, and our event sponsors AlterNet, Brave New Films, the Center for Independent Media, DCTV, MoveOn, Progressive Book Club and the SEIU.
And a final shout-out to our honoree, and the first recipient of the annual Putnam award, the Political Director of Credo Mobile/Working Assets, Becky Bond. Becky has done some of the most important behind-the-scenes work building progressive infrastructure and opposing telecom community and illegal wiretapping, not to mention that she has been a crucial and consistent supporter of Living Liberally, and she delivered a rousing address on the importance of the work that progressive activists do day in, day out. Congratulations, Becky!
Submitted by Justin Krebs on Tue, 05/13/2008 - 12:00am.
Iron Man is a good superhero movie. Really. If you like that kind of thing, you should probably check it out.
For this genre, the acting is great. Robert Downey Jr. and Jeff Bridges are pretty much flawless at turning well-drawn, larger than life (see: Jeff Bridges' shaved head and big-time beard) comic book characters into real people...or, at least, real characters. The special effects are top notch. The science-fiction element of the movie, including the design technology used by Downey Jr. as weapons manufacturer and designer Tony Stark, and the glowing electromagnet that keeps his heart going, is really cool.
And then there's the politics of Iron Man: any movie that includes middle eastern terrorists and American weapons manufacturers double-dealing under the table is bound to raise a few political questions. So where do Iron Man's politics stand?
There are liberal aspects to the film. Stark Industries is basically a takeoff on Lockheed Martin, similar logos and all. Jeff Bridges's character Obadiah Stane (what a name) represents many of the problems of the American military-industrial complex, basically that a company making dangerous weapons and also thirsting for profit cannot always be trusted and might even work to promote war or help the enemies to keep a steady cash flow.
The key transformation of the film occurs when the debonair and amoral Tony Stark finds himself imprisoned in a cave in Afghanistan after being captured by terrorists who somehow have tons of Stark Industries weapons. He then builds his Iron Man prototype suit, escapes from the cave and swears off weapon making forever - as Rolling Stone puts it, "a switch to peace politics."
Here's the part that I don't get: Stark swears off evil weapon making and proposes to fight for peace... by building a better weapon, the Iron Man suit. The line that best summarizes Tony Stark's original (pre-cave) political views, goes something like: "Peace means having the biggest stick." I just don't see how this post-transformation approach is any different.
By comparison, the liberal stuff is developed in a downright superficial way compared to the spirit of vigilantism that pervades throughout the core of the movie. One could even argue that Iron Man's true message is that instead of depending on the clueless military or the corrupt businessmen to fight terrorism, we should just suit up and take 'em on ourselves.
Anyway, while Iron Man's political sentiments range from Super-Liberal to NRAesque, it's a darn good action movie, and worth ten bucks.
Oh, and when you see it: STAY UNTIL AFTER THE CREDITS. I won't say why, just do it.
Submitted by Justin Krebs on Mon, 05/12/2008 - 12:00am.
For a free country, we’ve got an awfully tyrannical food chain. Our current system of food production is really founded on a contempt for life; it pummels the planet and exploits migrant farm workers, defying the laws of both nature and man. If we truly are what we eat, I guess that makes us a nation of nature-hating misanthropes.
We’ve shoehorned corn into every corner of Iowa, and shoveled it into every cow--or so it seemed to me as I watched the screening of King Corn that Eating Liberally co-hosted this week at the Tank with our friends from the Green Edge Collaborative. We’ve taken the already fertile soil of our heartland and jacked it up on steroids, to grow a bazillion bushels of a variety of corn you can’t even eat till it’s been processed into some sort of by-product.
We coax an astonishing amount of corn from each monocropped acre by saturating this precious topsoil with fertilizers and herbicides, and then we convert this nutritionally bankrupt bounty into high fructose corn syrup, or feed for cows whose digestive systems literally can’t stomach it (hello, E. coli), or the eco-disaster we call corn-based ethanol.
As King Corn’s food court jesters Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis discovered in their pilgrimage to our feedcorn fiefdom, this ultra-efficient method of growing corn has created ever larger farms run by fewer and fewer farmers, draining the soul of our rural communities even as it depletes the soil (and drives our diabetes epidemic, and fuels global warming, and makes cheap spaghetti sauces sickeningly sweet, and--oh, nevermind.)
And this is the model of agriculture that Wall Street, K Street, and Main Street all celebrate as a shining example of good ol’ American know-how that the rest of the world would do well to emulate. Feedcorn is on the march!
We were fortunate to have Ian Cheney on hand at our screening to do a Q & A, and the questions were pretty much the same ones people peppered Michael Pollan with at an Omnivore’s Dilemma reading I attended in April of 2006 (Pollan, an advisor to the King Corn crew, appears in the film expounding on the evils of industrial agriculture against the backdrop of his own abundant veggie garden, including a suitably monstrous patch of dinosaur kale!)
What folks want to know, after reading Pollan’s books or seeing a film like King Corn, is “What can we do about this awful food system?”
The knee-jerk response is, of course, to endorse community supported agriculture and farmers’ markets, but Cheney noted that we run the risk of creating an alternative food chain that serves only those fortunate enough to live in the more affluent communities where farmers’ markets and upscale stores like Whole Foods thrive.
Living at the Ethicurean epicenter of NYC, it’s easy for me to opt out of our crappy food chain; I can walk to Union Square and shop at the Greenmarket four days a week all year round, and whatever I can’t find there I can get at the Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s that are a stone’s throw from the Greenmarket. There are several mom-and-pop health food stores in our neck of the woods, too.
So it’s easy for me to follow Pollan’s advice to stay out of the supermarkets. But a few miles north of us, in East Harlem, they’ve hardly got any supermarkets left to stay out of. As the New York Times reported last Monday:
To us farmers’ market fanatics, the very notion of a New York supermarket as a source for fresh, healthy food seems laughable; the typical supermarket is a food desert to us, with aisle after aisle of mysterious food-like substances encased in plastic and no grass-fed anything. But when your only sources for food are bodegas and fast food joints, a supermarket that actually sells fresh--though far-traveled--fruits and vegetables is a step up.
No wonder more and more city dwellers are becoming urban farmers, as another New York Times article noted yesterday; communities decried as food deserts are creating their own oases by reclaiming unused lots where they grow fruits and vegetables for themselves and even sell the surplus to others.
The Times article heralds the revival of urban agriculture that’s taking root all around the country, with the help of organizations like Milwaukee’s Growing Power, and NYC’s own GreenThumb and Just Foods, two groups who’ve done so much to support our community gardeners and local farmers. I had the pleasure of hearing Growing Power’s founder, Will Allen, speak at the Food & Society conference in Arizona last week and came away convinced that Growing Power’s one-acre farm represents the future of urban agriculture.
As the Times notes, this “one-acre farm crammed with plastic greenhouses, compost piles, do-it-yourself contraptions, tilapia tanks and pens full of hens, ducks and goats…grossed over $220,000 last year from the sale of lettuces, winter greens, sprouts and fish to local restaurants and consumers.”
Allen’s model demonstrates that city dwellers do have the capacity to produce at least some of their own food in an eco-friendly, socially responsible manner. And as more and more folks become aware of the rampant abuse that’s a hallmark of industrial agriculture, from cruelly confined chickens to Florida’s enslaved migrant farm workers, people are seeking alternative food chains untarnished by institutionalized exploitation and environmental degradation.
For a really comprehensive and inspiring look at the enormous potential of this movement to provide less privileged folks with an abundance of fresh, affordable produce while building community, preserving open space and creating an environmentally beneficial habitat, check out “Vitalizing the Vacant” from Thoughts On The Table blogger Annie Myers, who never ceases to astonish me with her clear, beautiful prose and even clearer observations.
Annie’s one of a dozen or so twenty-somethings I’ve met who blow me away with their commitment to changing our world; I was too cynical and alienated when I was that age to do much more than mouth off about our decaying culture. I’m doing that still, while folks like Annie and the Real Food Challenge students and “Greenhorns” filmmaker Severine Von Tscharner Fleming are running around remaking the world the way they want it to be. Considering how badly we've messed things up, it’s the least we can do to cheer them on.
Submitted by Justin Krebs on Thu, 05/08/2008 - 12:00am.
Eating Liberally Food For Thought
It’s a safe bet that diabetics outnumber crackheads in the U.S. by a big fat margin, but the corn cartel’s got carte blanche to fill us (and our gas tanks) with their Beltway-blessed by-products. So U.S. drug policies focus more on coke addicts than Coke addicts, despite the fact that soda’s the more abused substance.
We’ve got a knack for waging the wrong wars, lately, and we can’t even keep our conflicts from conflicting. Just look at how the War on Terror has undermined the War on Drugs; last year, according to the Globe and Mail, Afghanistan’s poppy crops hit a historic high, if you will, providing more than 92 percent of the world’s opium and heroin. U.S. officials estimate that the Taliban derives anywhere from 20 to 40 percent of its income from opiate exports.
Poppy production skyrocketed after we invaded Afghanistan in 2001; at a time when shortages of rice and wheat are shaking things up all over the world, the Globe and Mail reports that this year’s poppy crop “will produce 40 per cent more than the world demand — which means that huge quantities will be stockpiled somewhere.”
Afghanistan’s farmers would actually prefer to grow onions than opiates, but the warlords and the Taliban have pretty much hijacked their fields, forcing them to grow poppies. Talk about a Catch 22—we can’t root out the poppies till we uproot the warlords, whose power is fueled by those fields of fuzzy pods.
And our proposed solution to this problem is to carpet-bomb Afghanistan with an herbicide called glyphosate, aka Roundup, a Monsanto-manufactured weed killer. Ah, the military-industrial complex-is there any world crisis that Monsanto can’t solve?
John McCain’s all in favor of using Roundup to rein in the poppy posse, but the locals look darkly on the prospect of being under a cloud of chemicals. American officials insist that glyphosate is “one of the world’s safest herbicides,” according to the New York Times, which cites a State Department fact sheet claiming that glyphosate is “less toxic than common salt, aspirin, caffeine, nicotine and even vitamin A.”
But Britain, which heads the anti-narcotics effort in Afghanistan, thinks this tactic’s toxic in more ways than one, as does the Afghan government. So the search for a solution drags on while the buds and the bad guys flourish.
OK, so we’re totally losing on the heroin/opium front in the Golden Crescent, but aren’t we making some progress in our efforts to curb South American coke production?
Well, funny story, actually; our campaign to convince South America to stop growing coca leaves and switch to legitimate crops hasn’t made a dent in the world’s cocaine supply, but it’s just about destroyed America’s asparagus farmers.
Sadly, the MSM’s too busy focusing on the follies of those other American Spears, Britney and Jamie Lynn, to soil its shallow soul by reporting that the American asparagus farmer is an endangered species. So it’s left to us lefty, dirt-encrusted bloggers to tell you about the superb “stalkumentary,” Asparagus!, which I’m delighted to announce is now available on DVD after reaping a bumper crop of prizes and plaudits; New York magazine called it “oddly brilliant.”
Asparagus! documents the alternately hilarious and heartbreaking saga of Oceana County, Michigan, which was the asparagus capital of the world for thirty years. Then came the Andean Trade Preference Act, which gave Peru the right to export its fresh asparagus into the U.S. tax-free as an incentive to discourage drug production and trafficking. Thanks to this obscure bit of legislation, Peru’s now overtaken Oceana to become “the world’s largest asparagus industry,” and the good farmers of Michigan are facing bankruptcy.
Filmmakers Anne De Mare and Kirsten Kelly put a poignant and compelling face on this freakish case of collateral damage, letting the local folks weave their tale of War On Drug-induced woe in an entertaining and infuriating film that will leave you shouting “S.O.S.”, as in Save Our Spears!
Ironically, there’s $15 million in aid to American asparagus farmers tucked into the current Farm Bill, in order to offset the unforeseen consequences of the Andean Trade Preference Act. See Asparagus!, and you’ll see why Bird’s Eye is right on target, while Wal-Mart misses the mark. Just say no, indeed! To Peruvian asparagus, that is.
Submitted by Justin Krebs on Wed, 05/07/2008 - 12:00am.
With McCain likely to face Obama in the general election, it appears his staff has realized they have an uphill marketing battle ahead of them. Obama has some of the best marketing money can buy: he has a brilliant logo, multiple slogans, a pretty face, and he's even laid claim to the words "change" and "hope." The following memo by a high level McCain staffer was accidentally leaked to the press, demonstrating the McCain campaign's struggle to find the perfect slogan.
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