Sunday, May 21, 2017

Poison at Your Farmers Market?

What Does Kill You Won’t Make You Stronger…

My wife washes lemons with soap and water.  Oranges and limes too.  Grapes and avocados sit in soapy water and await their final rinses after an hour or so. 

“Even if we don’t eat the skin or surface part,” she warns with her wagging Buddhist forefinger, we are handling those parts of the fruit where pesticides or insecticides have been applied or contacted during the journey to the local store or farmers market. Wash them and your hands too.” 

In fact, any fruit or tree nut that is consumed totally is given the treatment – and that’s quite a few spring and summer items we put into our mouths, isn’t it?

News Release from the EPA on 3/29/2017:

WASHINGTON -- Today, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt signed an order denying a petition that sought to ban chlorpyrifos, a pesticide crucial to U.S. agriculture.

“We need to provide regulatory certainty to the thousands of American farms that rely on chlorpyrifos, while still protecting human health and the environment,” said EPA Administrator Pruitt. “By reversing the previous Administration’s steps to ban one of the most widely used pesticides in the world, we are returning to using sound science in decision-making – rather than predetermined results.”

“This is a welcome decision grounded in evidence and science,” said Sheryl Kunickis, director of the Office of Pest Management Policy at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). “It means that this important pest management tool will remain available to growers, helping to ensure an abundant and affordable food supply for this nation and the world.  This frees American farmers from significant trade disruptions that could have been caused by an unnecessary, unilateral revocation of chlorpyrifos tolerances in the United States. It is also great news for consumers, who will continue to have access to a full range of both domestic and imported fruits and vegetables. We thank our colleagues at EPA for their hard work.”

The Market name for the insecticide Mr. Pruitt has allowed back into the food chain is Vulcan, the god thrown from heaven by Zeus/Jupiter for failing to reveal the end of his dominion.  Ironically, especially in this case, bug-killers like Vulcan will be the likely end of our dominion over earth.

The Trump EPA decision supposedly “grounded in evidence and science,” as Director Kunickis blithely points out, is in fact just the opposite.  According to a recent Mother Jones article: “Stephanie Engel, an epidemiologist at the University of North Carolina and a co-author of the Mount Sinai paper, says the evidence that chlorpyrifos exposure causes harm is "compelling"—and is "much stronger" even than the case against BPA (bisphenol A), the controversial plastic additive. She says babies and fetuses are particularly susceptible to damage from chlorpyrifos because they metabolize toxic chemicals more slowly than adults do. And "many adults" are susceptible, too, because they lack a gene that allows for metabolizing the chemical efficiently, Engel adds.

A ban on the use of Chlorpyriphos was finally achieved during the Obama Administration after a decade-long review of its use and the concerns on those who worked with the insecticide, manufactured by an Agri-Scientific sub company of Dow Chemical called MANA (not the Biblical succor that falls from the sky).   A Federal Appeals Court demanded a final stop to the use of the chemical at the end of March 2017; Vulcan was outlawed for use by the general population in 2000.    Note Pruitt’s timely intervention on March 29th. 

Reprise 2017?
Chlorpyriphos is classified as an organochloride insecticide.  If you’re old enough, you might remember the generous smells of DDT on warm evenings as village trucks rolled down the avenues spraying the treetops for mosquitoes.  If you’re younger, you might recall the decimation of various animals and especially bird species whose eggs were compromised by the shell-thinning effects of DDT and the later behavioral aberrations caused by PCB’s. 

Both of these chemicals were banned, of course, but it’s early in the Pruitt/Trump Administration. 

According to the EPA Release: “The public record lays out serious scientific concerns and substantive process gaps in the proposal. Reliable data, overwhelming in both quantity and quality, contradicts the reliance on – and misapplication of – studies to establish the end points and conclusions used to rationalize the proposal.

The USDA disagrees with the methodology used by the previous Administration. Similarly, the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture also objected to EPA’s methodology. The Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) Scientific Advisory Panel (SAP) also expressed concerns with regard to EPA’s previous reliance on certain data the Agency had used to support its proposal to ban the pesticide.

And, of course, we didn’t have to wait too long.  On May 15, 2017, in Bakersfield, California, more than 50 workers were exposed to Vulcan sprayed upwind of them while they were picking cabbages in their fields.  The orchard next to the cabbage pickers was sprayed, but the drift of the insecticide affected the many workers.   The spray had been applied the night before, but like many persistent insecticides, the residual amount was lifted into the air during winds the next day and arrived on top of the workers in the fields.  Vulcan is considered toxic by ingestion, inhalation or even touch.

But the EPA now allows it.
Here in the Midwest, we can expect the new “tool” from the EPA to provide Vulcan for use on soybeans and corn.  To the north, apples, peaches, asparagus, and other delicacies will be subjected. 

In 2012, product manager, Keith Miller, celebrated the possibilities and competitiveness of Vulcan. “With new formulations like Vulcan performing as well as or in some cases better than competitive EC based formulations, we’re determined to answer grower and retailer requests for continued use of highly-effective solutions like chlorpyrifos,” Miller says. “Through aggressive research and innovation work, we plan to launch eight new formulations of proven products currently in our portfolio by 2013.”
Chlorpyrifos is one of the most widely-used agricultural insect control solutions worldwide. First registered in the U.S. in 1965, it has been on the market for more than 40 years. Today, chlorpyrifos is registered in about 100 countries worldwide.

In fact, before 2000 Chlorpyrifos was the most widely used insecticide for family gardening.  By 2000, the then EPA had seen enough to ban its use for the general public. 

Not scared yet?

According to Tom Philpott’s article in Mother Jones: “In an analysis of the risks posed by chlorpyrifos released in November 2016, the EPA crunched data on residues found in food and compared them to the levels at which the chemical can harm the most vulnerable populations: kids and women of child-bearing age. The results (found on page 23 of the EPA doc) are startling. Natural Resources Defense Council researchers turned them into this handy graphic:”

If you’d like to place a call to Scott Pruitt, you can do so at this number:

“Hello, Mr. Pruitt.  The use of persistent and virulent organichlorides was a chapter in our natural history I do not care to return to again and one in which we cannot afford to do so.  We decimated populations of wildlife and likewise threatened ourselves with chemicals designed to increase production without concern for dangerous effects on our children and our planet.  Your decision to provide Vulcan for dusting the very fruit and vegetables that will be consumed by our families is unconscionable.  You should be ashamed as well as eventually held accountable.”

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Tier One Actives! Call NOW!


From We Are One Coalition
Call your State Representative TODAY to urge a NO vote on SB 16, HB 4027, HB 4045 or any other bill that cuts the pensions of public employees. Dial 888-412-6570 or Click to Call.
In recent years, the Illinois Supreme Court has twice found legislation reducing the pension benefits of active and retired public employees to be unconstitutional. So why does Governor Rauner keep pushing to cut public employee pensions—and why are some legislators going along with him?
It’s important to note that no legislation before the General Assembly would cut the pension benefits of current retirees. There is widespread acceptance that the court has flatly rejected any reductions in the pensions of those who have already retired. And it’s important to remember that, despite strong opposition from the unions of We Are One Illinois, the General Assembly acted in 2010 to significantly reduce the pension benefits of all those hired after January 1, 2011 (Tier 2 pension participants). The courts have consistently ruled that only the benefits of current employees and retirees are constitutionally protected. Benefit reductions—or even elimination—are legal for any employee not yet hired at the time changes to the pension code are made.
Rauner and some in the General Assembly are focused on finding ways to get around the constitutional prohibition against cutting the benefits of all employees hired before 1/1/2011 (Tier 1 participants). Relying on the principle of “consideration”, they argue that if employees are given something in return for the reduction in benefits, then the cuts would be constitutional. Senate Bill 16, House Bill 4027 and House Bill 4045 are all based on this “consideration” model, as are several other bills that have been introduced.
SB 16, HB 4027 and HB 4045 affect all Tier 1 active employees in the SERS, SURS, TRS and Chicago Teachers pension systems. Each requires employees to make an irrevocable choice between:
1. Accepting a delay and reduction in his/her cost-of-living annual adjustment when he/she retires; or
2. Agreeing that his/her pension benefit would be calculated using only his/her current salary, excluding all future pay increases from calculation of his/her benefit.
These bills attempt to compensate employees who choose Option 1 above by providing for a “consideration payment” of 10% of an employee’s past pension contributions and lowering the employee’s  future contribution rate by 10%.  However, the amount that the employee receives through this payment would be far short of the amount he/she would lose.
Union attorneys argue that this scheme does not meet the “consideration” standard but rather is an involuntary and forced diminishment because either choice represents a reduction of benefits. No matter which choice an employee makes, he/she would lose tens of thousands, or even hundreds of thousands, of dollars over the course of his/her retirement years.
Moreover, both bills threaten further harm to retirement security because they initiate a process of moving new employees out of all the state’s pension systems and placing them in a defined-contribution plan. This will have the effect of reducing contributions into the systems, thus exacerbating the underfunding that has consistently plagued all the systems.
Yesterday, the Senate passed SB 16 with bipartisan support and little debate. Click here to read a summary of the bill and here to see how senators voted.
Now the battle shifts to the House of Representatives. HB 4027 and HB 4045 (which have the same core provisions as SB 16) passed the House Pension Committee earlier this week, but a number of those who voted to allow them to move out of committee made clear they intend to vote against them on the floor.
At this time, we don’t know whether the House will vote on SB 16, HB 4027 or HB 4045. But one of these bills is very likely to come to the House floor in the next few days.
It’s critical that you call your State Representative TODAY to urge a NO vote on SB 16, HB 4027, HB 4045 or any other bill that cuts the pensions of public employees. Dial 888-412-6570 or Click to Call. Make clear that these bills are unconstitutional, unfair, and you expect your representative to OPPOSE them.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Impeaching Trump Now: Lawrence Tribe Speaks Out


Laurence Tribe, Carl M. Loeb University Professor and professor of constitutional law at Harvard Law School, has written an opinion in the Washington Post arguing that “NOW” is the time to impeach Donald Trump.
In fact, this appeal comes a day before the most recent charges that the President revealed classified information to Russian operatives and ambassadors in his Oval Office, information which may well endanger Americans and certainly threaten the lives of agents working for the United States in dangerous areas of the world populated by those who might wish the U.S. great harm. 
“The time has come for Congress to launch an impeachment investigation of President Donald Trump for obstruction of justice.
The remedy of impeachment was designed to create a last-resort mechanism for preserving our constitutional system. It operates by removing executive-branch officials who have so abused power through what the framers called "high crimes and misdemeanors" that they cannot be trusted to continue in office.
“No American president has ever been removed for such abuses, although Andrew Johnson was impeached and came within a single vote of being convicted by the Senate and removed, and Richard Nixon resigned to avoid that fate.”
An historical review of the questionable business practices of Donald Trump by David Cay Johnston, The Making of Donald Trump, follows his blemished career as a red-lining apprentice in his father’s real estate ventures in New York, his penchant for seeking adulation even in pretense when calling into media shows as John Barron in order to extoll his own greatness in third person, and his employment of the mob and lawyers like Roy Cohn to expedite deals and problems with immigrant workers razing Bonwitt-Teller during the night. 
As we are finding out: anything goes for Donald Trump.  As long as it all goes to Donald Trump and his close family.     
“Now the country is faced with a president whose conduct strongly suggests that he poses a danger to our system of government.
“Ample reasons existed to worry about this president, and to ponder the extraordinary remedy of impeachment, even before he fired FBI Director James Comey and shockingly admitted on national television that the action was provoked by the FBI's intensifying investigation into his campaign's ties with Russia.
“Even without getting to the bottom of what Trump dismissed as "this Russia thing," impeachable offenses could theoretically have been charged from the outset of this presidency. One important example is Trump's brazen defiance of the foreign emoluments clause, which is designed to prevent foreign powers from pressuring U.S. officials to stray from undivided loyalty to the United States. Political reality made impeachment and removal on that and other grounds seem premature.”
Trump’s flagrant disregard for the Constitution, its checks and balances, the rule of law, deference to respect and the weight of authority flash before us in an hourly display: the announcements by his sons that they have access to money through investors who are “Russian,” his son-in-law’s sister’s willingness to sell visas to those Chinese interested in spending significant sums for various enterprises by the family, or his shady involvement with oligarchs in Russian and other overseas deals requiring borrowing huge sums of money.
“No longer. To wait for the results of the multiple investigations underway is to risk tying our nation's fate to the whims of an authoritarian leader.
“Comey's summary firing will not stop the inquiry, yet it represented an obvious effort to interfere with a probe involving national security matters vastly more serious than the "third-rate burglary" that Nixon tried to cover up in Watergate. The question of Russian interference in the presidential election and possible collusion with the Trump campaign go to the heart of our system and ability to conduct free and fair elections.
“Consider, too, how Trump embroiled Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, despite Sessions' recusal from involvement in the Russia investigation, in preparing admittedly phony justifications for the firing on which Trump had already decided. Consider how Trump used the vice president and White House staff to propagate a set of blatant untruths — before giving an interview to NBC's Lester Holt that exposed his true motivation.
“Trump accompanied that confession with self-serving — and manifestly false — assertions about having been assured by Comey that Trump himself was not under investigation. By Trump's own account, he asked Comey about his investigative status even as he was conducting the equivalent of a job interview in which Comey sought to retain his position as director.
“Further reporting suggests that the encounter was even more sinister, with Trump insisting that Comey pledge "loyalty" to him in order to retain his job. Publicly saying he saw nothing wrong with demanding such loyalty, the president turned to Twitter with a none-too-subtle threat that Comey would regret any decision to disseminate his version of his conversations with Trump — something that Comey has every right, and indeed a civic duty, to do.”
Thus far, none of the Republican leadership seems willing or even interested in questioning the lack of leadership in the White House and even less the irreparable harm its has and will cause or position in the world’s stage.  Now, perhaps with lives at risk, American lives, McConnell and Ryan will do something which reflects their real concern for the country itself, although such action is sadly doubtful.
 “It will require serious commitment to constitutional principle, and courageous willingness to put devotion to the national interest above self- interest and party loyalty, for a Congress of the president's own party to initiate an impeachment inquiry. It would be a terrible shame if only the mounting prospect of being voted out of office in November 2018 would sufficiently concentrate the minds of representatives and senators today.”
Read the entire article here:

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Climate Change and Trump: 1359 Days To Go

100 Down 1359 To Go

My friends and yours stood in a bone-chilling downpour at the Federal Building this afternoon in downtown Chicago in affirmation of the importance of accepting climate change as one of the most serious issues we must deal with to save our future generations. 

I was called to work today, so I was unable to get down to the march. I know - poor excuse.

National Geographic, a significantly non-partisan group, issued a series of bullet points last month regarding climate change.

1.     The World Is Getting Warmer: “The heat in 2016 broke the historic rfecord set in 2015, which broke the one from 2014.”  Scientific instrumentation shows a nearly 2-degree increase in warming in this current century.  Current century?  That's 17 hears, People!
The images of the march, in wet and cold weather, prompted one of my co-workers to comment that it’s “cold for April, and that shows you are wrong on the whole climate thing.”  I countered that the graph of long term warming may show bumps and blips; however the long term chart indicates a serious warming which might adversely affect all of us. “Hell, I wish it would be warmer,” was the response.

An opening article in this month’s New Yorker by editor David Remnick takes up the entire section of Talk of the Town, normally a review of happenings and events around New York City and the arts, etc.   It’s worth a serious read.

More than an echo of an earlier and blistering  Op-Ed in the Los Angeles Times regarding their concerns about a Trump Presidency, Remnick’s  piece is less a call to danger and a more prescriptive overview of what we all feel and face, and how we might politically push back. 

“On April 29th, Donald Trump will have occupied the Oval Office for a hundred days. For most people, the luxury of living in a relatively stable democracy is the luxury of not following politics with a nerve-racked constancy. Trump does not afford this. His Presidency has become the demoralizing daily obsession of anyone concerned with global security, the vitality of the natural world, the national health, constitutionalism, civil rights, criminal justice, a free press, science, public education, and the distinction between fact and its opposite. The hundred-day marker is never an entirely reliable indicator of a four-year term, but it’s worth remembering that Franklin Roosevelt and Barack Obama were among those who came to office at a moment of national crisis and had the discipline, the preparation, and the rigor to set an entirely new course. Impulsive, egocentric, and mendacious, Trump has, in the same span, set fire to the integrity of his office.

According the The National Geographic, we have since the 1960’s increased the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere by nearly 50%.  Imagine, if you will, a perfectly thickening plastic blanket being pulled over our planet, holding in our exhalations at the expense of cooling gases. Like other silly resolutions on plastic bags:  "Please use caution especially around children, material may cause suffocation."

Meanwhile, Trump has flown to Pennsylvania to engage in a self-absorbed reaffirmation of his office, one he finds sadly not as much fun and more difficult than he had ever imagined as a TV reality star.  His warm-up act – Vice President Pence – has started dropping his g’s and describing his “leader” as “drivin’ them nutz” like a face frozen version of Sarah Palin or an understudy of Bruce Rauner. Forget anything more than continued divisiveness from this Administration.  

In the Capitol today, the march for Action Against Climate Change (and Trump) brought thousands of protestors to the main drive into the Capitol Building.  See pictures:

3.     The first studies of global warning were projected as a positive by Swedish physicist Svante Arrhenius because coal burning “would help warm the planet.”  He saw this as a good outcome, but the debate is still on with those who will disagree with its deleterious affects. 

“There is frustration all around. During his first hundred days in office, Trump has not done away with populist rhetoric, but he has acted almost entirely as a plutocrat. His Cabinet and his cast of advisers are stocked with multimillionaires and billionaires. His positions on health care, tax reform, and financial regulation are of greatest appeal to the super-wealthy. How he intends to improve the situation of the middle class remains obscure. A report in Politico described thirty staffers holed up in a conference room in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, attempting a “rebranding” of this first chapter of the Trump Administration. The aides furiously assembled “lists of early successes” on whiteboards.(Remnick)

4.     While we march in Chicago, “Arctic Sea Ice is Shrinking, and glaciers are retreating worldwide.  Seas could rise by three feet by 2100. – or maybe more.” 

One fellow in the crowd outside the Federal Building wore a Polar Bear outfit.  He seemed sad and somewhat resigned in the deluge of rain.  But as a legitimate Polar Bear, he might have expressed the same feelings as he waved forlornly.  The continued loss of sea ice will spell the loss of seals breeding on ice flats and an ability to survive in the climate for much longer.  The possibility that Trump might concern himself with the bleak futures for Arctic creatures like the Polar Bear or Harp Seal, or the many other hundreds is doubtful.  

“On Inauguration Day, at the Capitol, Trump no longer affected any awe of the task before him or respect for his predecessors. He furiously rebuked the elected officials seated behind him and the international order that they served. Using the language of populist demagogues, from Huey Long to George Wallace to Silvio Berlusconi, the new President implied that he, the Leader, was in perfect communion with the People, and that together they would repair the landscape of “American carnage” and return it to its prelapsarian state of grace. In this union, it seemed, there was no place for the majority of the electorate, which had voted for Hillary Clinton. African-Americans, Muslim Americans, Latinos, immigrants—it was hard to tell if Trump counted them as the People, too. More likely, they remained the objects of anxiety, fear, and disdain that they had been during the campaign. As George W. Bush was leaving the grandstand, according to New York, he was heard to say, That was some weird shit.’(Remnick)

Weather is wreaking havoc.  Climate related disasters have more than tripled since just 1980.

Thirty years ago, when we moved into our small house along the edge of a creek which became eventually another larger creek which ran along the southern edge of towns heading into the city, we were pleased.  Foxes birthed their kits in the hollows of our culverts, the wet weather that trickled along our creek invited many birds – wrens, chickadees and Coopers Hawks .  Once we had a rain that overfilled the banks and brought water streaming just past the footprint of our house. The old guy – now 90+ - who lived kitty corner from us said, “That’s a once in a decade flood, Neighbors.”  That was back in '87.  Since then, the monsoons have occurred more and more frequently.  We’ve have had four this past two months. 

6.     47% of species have vanished (are now extinct) as a result of warming affecting their range in this LAST YEAR!

I am buoyed that my friends and family resist this dark force residing momentarily in the White House:

“Trump forces us to recognize the fragility of precious things. Yet there are signs that Adams and the doomsayers of democratic values will be proved wrong. Hope can be found in the extraordinary crowds at the many women’s marches across the country on the day after the Inauguration; in the recent marches in support of science and a more compassionate, reasonable immigration policy; in the earnest work of the courts that have blocked the “Muslim ban” and of various senators and House members in both parties who, unlike Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan, have refused to put cynicism and expedience before integrity; in the exemplary investigative journalism being done by traditional and new media outlets; in the performance of anti-Trump candidates in recent congressional races in Kansas and Georgia.”

7.     Trump and Pence may crow about bringing back coal, but the truth is more natural.  In the future, the people will deny and turn away from coal and fossil fuels, and instead turn to renewables.  The cost of solar and wind will become more and more economical and scientifically worthy – two areas in which neither Trump or Pence have any faith or comprehension.

We are jolted from one crisis to another – North Korea, Syrian blasted under Tomahawk missiles, a fence and no fence, a China enemy and then friend – we are subjects now to whims, many determined in the wee hours of the morning by a sorry child-man wandering alone in the hallways of an historical building, his children hired to help prevent his emotional outbursts from throwing us all into some disaster or, worse, a nuclear Armageddon.