Could it be, in this marvelous melting pot we call “The United States of America,” that one’s religion or ethnicity can make all the difference between being labeled a charismatic politician or a media celebrity versus, say, a domestic terrorist?
Defining the T-Word
To a layman, the definition seems fairly clear-cut. According to the U.S.A. Patriot Act of 2001, under Section 802, titled, “Definition of domestic terrorism”:
(5) the term `domestic terrorism’ means activities that–
(A) involve acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State;
(B) appear to be intended–
(i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population;
(ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or
(iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping; and
(C) occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States.
NOTE: Regarding description (A) in the above, it is a violation of the U.S. Code to incite insurrection or to advocate the overthrow of the government by force or violence.
From what little we know of Jared Loughner, it appears that he doesn’t fit the definition of a domestic terrorist. Nor does it appear that he was involved in inciting insurrection or advocating the overthrow of the government.
It appears that Jared Loughner is, indeed, a profoundly disturbed individual who acted alone. This finding no doubt elicited a huge (albeit private) sigh of relief among the other players in the headlines — Sarah Palin, Sharron Angle, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Michele Bachmann and the rest of the tea bag party, not to mention the bulk of the Republican Party, which has benefited so richly from the tea party rhetoric. Having figuratively dodged the bullet, these folk were then free to wage a campaign of self-righteous indignation against those who suggested that they may have served as conduits to the tragedy, given the climate of lawlessness, hatred and violence they’ve been promoting for the past two years.
In the immediate wake of the Tucson shootings, there was a call for civility. Given the enormity of the national pain and grieving from the tragedy, such a call seemed almost superfluous. After all, who could be so crass, so brazen, so callous and heartless that they needed reminding to stop the political theater and take a break from the ugly words. Still — for those who did need reminding — there was that verbal call for civility. Surely no one would breach this, much less commit more violence.
Yet, within just three weeks of the tragedy, Sarah Palin threw the words, “blood libel” onto the table; Glenn Beck accused progressive Democrats of trying to “destroy” God; Michele Bachmann compared the tea bag party’s battle against Obama to the “perilous” battle of the marines at Iwo Jima to “beat back a totalitarian aggressor”; and in Spokane, Washington, a bomb was planted at a Martin Luther King, Jr. Day parade. I could easily site a dozen more.
While the media have floated the bombing attempt as a “possible hate crime,” the FBI has accurately termed it as a case of domestic terrorism, which makes the dearth of news coverage perplexing compared to, say, the Time Square incident, which received a full court media circus.
Less perplexing is the statement by Spokane police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick, who says that her department’s Central Intelligence Unit has reported an increase in hate literature and other white supremacist activity over the past two years. Two years? Interesting. This is the sort of information we should be scrutinizing, if we hope to prevent such attacks in the future. What is past is prologue.
It is at least a sign of progress that the Spokane bombing attempt — which was designed to inflict mass casualty of innocent men, women and children — has been labeled an act of domestic terrorism. True progress will come when the folk who incite such acts — no matter what their race, religion or ethnicity — are also called to task. Of course, after Sarah’s “blood libel” defense last week, it’s unlikely that the media or anyone else will be mentioning her name in the same sentence as the word “Spokane” any time soon.
No one ever accused Gov. George Wallace of throwing a bomb, but he was nonetheless widely blamed for creating the violent landscape in which the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham occurred in 1963, killing four innocent children and injured 22 others — and which occurred just one week after Wallace told the New York Times that, to stop integration, Alabama needed a “few first-class funerals.“
Wallace was asked, 23 years later, to comment on the blame he’d been assigned by so many at the time — including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who’d wired Wallace the day after the murders, “Your irresponsible and misguided actions have created in Birmingham and Alabama the atmosphere that has induced continued violence and now murder.” To this, Wallace replied:
“I had never made any statement, and you can look at any statement I have made, I’ve always said that God made us all and he loves us all and anyone who attempts to harm the hair on another man’s head in this matter is not on our side. I did not ever use any provocative, a, talk about civil right, I never talked provocative about Dr. King or anyone of that sort…. I spoke my vehemently against the federal government, not against people. I talked about the, the government of the United States and the Supreme Court. I never expressed in any language that would upset anyone about a persons race…. I don’t believe in a big strong federal government, I don’t believe in taking too many rights away from the people, same thing I always said…” George Wallace, in a 1986 interview
In the wake of the 1963 Birmingham church bombing, there was a nationwide call for civility, much like the call we’ve heard in the wake of the tragedy in Tuscon. One such call came from Wisconsin, where the editor of the Milwaukee Sentinel wrote a piece titled, “Nation’s Shame,” which read, in part:
“For the rest of the nation, the Birmingham church bombing should also serve to goad the conscience. The deaths [of the four children] in a sense are on the hands of each of us. They can only be atoned for by having everybody on all sides resolve to continue on in the search for human dignity.”
Two months later, George Wallace traveled to Dallas, Texas, arriving a few days before John F. Kennedy, about whom he’d recently said, “The President wants us to surrender this state [Alabama] to Martin Luther King and his group of pro-Communists who have instituted these demonstrations.“
Wallace’s agenda in Dallas during that fateful week in November 1963 was twofold: to reinforce his segregationist platform, in case anyone doubted it, and to announce his intention to challenge Kennedy for the Democratic Party nomination in 1964.
Again, George Wallace was never accused of throwing a bomb or pulling a trigger, nor were Sarah Palin, Sharron Angle or Glenn Beck. By the same token, Osama bin Laden did not personally fly two jets full of passengers into the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.
Walks like a duck, quacks like a duck
What if, instead of being white-skinned, Jared Loughner were an American of Arab descent? Or a Muslim? Would the first headlines after the Tucson tragedy have echoed the first headlines we saw after the Fort Hood tragedy, labeling the attacker — a man who was, like Jared, a profoundly disturbed individual who acted alone — a domestic terrorist, with some calling the Fort Hood tragedy America’s “mini 9-11″?
And what if the other players (e.g. Sarah Palin, Sharron Angle, Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh) were Muslims or Americans of Arab descent? More to the point, what is the net difference between this ilk of American politician/media celebrity versus, say, Islamic extremist, Anwar al-Awlaki, who officials quickly fingered as a conduit to the Fort Hood shootings, for preaching his “hateful ideology directed at inciting violence against the United States”?
We, as a country, seem to take comfort in the idea that bogeymen are a breed of people easily recognized by their color or religion. But history teaches us that the bad guys who’ve run amok on American soil promoting lawlessness, violence, terror and tyranny against the citizenry have nearly always been white and toted a King James under their arms.
At any point in this history, we, as a country, could have drawn enduring lessons from the most violent chapters in our past. But it doesn’t seem to be in our nature to do so, even when the lessons are spoon-fed to us, as they were in the Jim Crow lynching era, the McCarthy era, and in the wake of the Birmingham church bombing, which was followed just two months later with the assassination of John F. Kennedy, which was followed five years later by the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., which was followed just two months later by the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy.
We’ve come close a few times. In the wake of John F. Kennedy’s assassination, civil rights legislation was finally passed to mandate an end to segregation — granting equal access to the ballot box, equal rights to housing and equal access to public places, among other things. And likely none of this would have taken place, had ordinary citizens not spent the previous decade taking to the streets in non-violent protest — laying their lives on the line as they were variously arrested, beaten, lynched, shot at and bombed by a concert of law enforcement, the KKK and ordinary citizens, whose vision of democracy paid respect to the bullet over the ballot.
But even after civil rights legislation was passed, it would be still be years of non-violent protest before these rights trickled down to all citizens in the South. Indeed, it was a full 15 years after the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision before all school systems in the South were finally integrated. The lessons from these years, while they may be self-evident, were never really learned.
We came close to another teachable moment in the wake of 9-11, however, instead of serving to protect Americans from terrorists, the U.S.A. Patriot Act was used as a tool protect our leaders from accountability for the campaign of lawlessness, violence and tyranny they were about to undertake.
In the wake of the U.S.A. Patriot Act, national and international laws and treaties were broken; the Constitution and Bill of Rights were dismantled and, with them, went the constitutional rights of each and every American citizen. We were taken into two illegal wars that bled our national treasure dry and continue, still, to drive our economy into deeper destitution.
Nary a pip was heard from the fiscally conservative right, nor from the constitutional conservatives. And if the “taxed enough already” bag party noticed the alarming rise in the tab on their grandchildren’s futures, or the rising rates of unemployment and home foreclosures, they certainly didn’t think enough of it to take to the streets in armed protest until the fall of 2008.
Also in the wake of the U.S.A. Patriot Act, bogeymen around the world were herded up like cattle — based not on their actual words or deeds, but on the color of their skin, their religion their ethnicity — then tortured into making confessions and left to indefinitely rot in illegal prisons.
This was not our first trip to the proverbial rodeo. But my point here is not to take a trip down the Trail of Tears into our country’s history with ethnic cleansing, genocide, slavery, lynching, segregation, oppression, internment camps, torture and illegal detentions, even as the root causes for these are the same root causes that compel modern-day politicians, media celebrities and their followers to threaten assassinations, “second-amendment remedies” and other brands of terrorism against their political opponents.
Palling Around with Terrorists
Historically, assassinations and other second-amendment remedies do not occur without warning. The rhetoric during the Kennedy years was remarkably similar to the rhetoric 100 years earlier, in Lincoln’s day, which is remarkably similar to the rhetoric we heard in the years before Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy were assassinated, which is remarkably similar to the rhetoric we’ve been hearing ever since Obama became a serious contender for the presidency — and most especially since the fall of 2008, when Sarah Palin arrived on the scene.
It started out innocently enough, beginning with her first speech on the national stage:
“And a writer observed, ‘We grow good people in our small towns, with honesty and sincerity and dignity,’ and I know just the kind of people that writer had in mind…. They are the ones who do some of the hardest work in America … They love their country, in good times and bad, and they’re always proud of America.“ — Sarah Palin, in her acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention on Sept. 3, 2008
The writer to whom Sarah referred was none other than Westbrook Pegler — the racist, anti-semitic, pseudo-populist journalist/writer who openly wished for the assassinations of Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy and Robert Kennedy.
While many decried Sarah’s reference to Westwood Pegler, there were some whose ears perked up at the sound of that dog whistle. For those who missed that first, tentative bleat of the dog whistle, they caught it by the second or third try. Within a month of her first speech, Sarah Palin had escalated the rhetoric from labeling Obama as an ivory tower academic elitist to painting him as a socialist, Muslim, pro-terrorist, anti-American. Absent from the list was the n-word, which her crowds soon added to the list.
As the heat of her rhetoric grew, so did the size of her crowds. Palin’s response, or lack thereof, to the violent calls from her supporters left no doubt that it was safe to say outrageous things — even calling for the death of Obama — in her presence:
“Off with his head!”
“He’s an Arab!”
Such calls quickly became a staple item at McCain-Palin rallies, where neither candidate saw fit to moderate the language and, instead, allowed the rhetoric to escalate, without comment. For her part, Sarah kept raising the heat:
This is not a man who sees America as you see it and how I see America. We see America as the greatest force for good in this world…. Our opponent, though, is someone who sees America it seems as being so imperfect that he’s palling around with terrorists who would target their own country. — Sarah Palin, October 4, 2008
Early into her campaign, she was called upon to tone down the incendiary rhetoric — just as she and others who have since joined the chorus have been called to do in the wake of the Gabrielle Giffords shootings. One particularly eloquent call for civility came from Rep. John Lewis of Georgia — a man who literally put his life on the line during the Civil Right era:
“As one who was a victim of violence and hate during the height of the Civil Rights Movement, I am deeply disturbed by the negative tone of the McCain-Palin campaign. What I am seeing today reminds me too much of another destructive period in American history. Sen. McCain and Gov. Palin are sowing the seeds of hatred and division, and there is no need for this hostility in our political discourse.
During another period, in the not too distant past, there was a governor of the state of Alabama named George Wallace who also became a presidential candidate. George Wallace never threw a bomb. He never fired a gun, but he created the climate and the conditions that encouraged vicious attacks against innocent Americans who only desired to exercise their constitutional rights. Because of this atmosphere of hate, four little girls were killed one Sunday morning when a church was bombed in Birmingham, Alabama.
As public figures with the power to influence and persuade, Sen. McCain and Governor Palin are playing with fire, and if they are not careful, that fire will consume us all. They are playing a very dangerous game that disregards the value of the political process and cheapens our entire democracy. We can do better. The American people deserve better.”
Rather than consider the weight of the congressman’s words, McCain & Palin took it as a personal attack. Rather than consider their responsibility in the tone that had overtaken our national dialogue, McCain-Palin used their response to Rep. Lewis as an opportunity to issue yet another bleat of their dog whistle. Herein, they gave a firm wink to the “thousands of hardworking Americans” to signal that the language they’d been using at McCain-Palin rallies was not only still welcome, but downright American.
Congressman John Lewis’ comments represent a character attack against Governor Sarah Palin and me that is shocking and beyond the pale. The notion that legitimate criticism of Senator Obama’s record and positions could be compared to Governor George Wallace, his segregationist policies and the violence he provoked is unacceptable and has no place in this campaign.
I am saddened that John Lewis, a man I’ve always admired, would make such a brazen and baseless attack on my character and the character of the thousands of hardworking Americans who come to our events to cheer for the kind of reform that will put America on the right track.
And so the “debate” has continued for two years and counting. Whenever similar voices of reason have been raised to protest the violent rhetoric on the right, they’ve been drowned out with cries about liberal, socialist, communist democrats trying to stifle free speech and put their boot-heel on the neck of our democracy.
For their part, the media, in the interest of “balance,” has served as the bully pulpit for the violent rhetoric, while simultaneously parroting the talking point that the rhetoric on the left is just as violent as the rhetoric on the right.
In the wake of the violent campaign season of 2008, death threats were issued against the president, effigies were burned, and KKK membership soared to its highest numbers in decades.
But it was during the summer of 2009 health care wars when the rhetoric took a decidedly darker turn under the renewed leadership of Sarah — who had since resigned her governorship, so that she could begin laying the groundwork for her 2012 presidential run. By then, such rhetoric had become the native tongue of the Republican party, which now encompassed the tea bag party of citizens who took to the streets carrying guns — or photos and crude drawings of guns — their signs smattered with threats of violence against the entire Democratic party — all of whom were now accused of being socialists, communists and fascists with an agenda to install death panels.
The language continued from the summer of 2009, through the bill’s signing in March 2010, then into the campaign season in the fall of 2010, and into the present:
The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama’s ‘death panel’ so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their ‘level of productivity in society,’ whether they are worthy of health care. Such a system is downright evil.” – Sarah warns her followers of Obama’s Nazi-style health care plan on her Facebook page on August 7, 2009. This statement earned her the “Lie of the Year,” award by the St. Petersburg Times, home of Politifact, which was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for journalism in 2009 for its work in political fact-checking.
Editor’s note: It’s interesting to compare the similarities between the above prediction and one made 46 years earlier by George Wallace — a prediction that never came true, even as many people fervently believed it would: “This civil rights bill will wind up putting a homeowner in jail because he doesn’t sell his home to someone that some bureaucrat thinks he ought to sell it to.“
This cannot pass. What we have to do today is make a covenant, to slit our wrists, be blood brothers on this thing. This will not pass. We will do whatever it takes to make sure this doesn’t pass. — Rep. Michele Bachmann railing against the dangers of health care reform during an Independence Institute fundraiser in Denver on August 31, 2009
Well, I qualified for my CCW [permit to carry a concealed weapon] with a Dirty Harry cannon, so maybe that tells you a little bit. But, you know, our Founding Fathers, they put that Second Amendment in there for a good reason and that was for the people to protect themselves against a tyrannical government. In fact, Thomas Jefferson said it’s good for a country to have a revolution every twenty years. I hope that’s not where we’re going, but you know, if this Congress keeps going the way it is, people are really looking toward those Second Amendment remedies. They’re saying, ‘My goodness what can we do to turn this country around’ and I’ll tell ya, the first thing we need to do is take Harry Reid out.” – Sharron Angle in a conservative talk radio interview, January 14, 2010
“Break their windows. Break them NOW. We can break their windows Before we have to resort to rifles to resist their “well-intentioned” tyranny. … The time has come to take your life, your liberty and that of your children and grandchildren into your own two hands and ACT. It is, after all, more human than shooting them in self-defense. And if we do a proper job, if we break the windows of hundreds, thousands, of Democrat headquarters across this country, we might just wake up enough of them to make defending ourselves at the muzzle of a rifle unnecessary.” –Excerpt from Mike Vanderboegh’s missive to “All Modern Sons of Liberty,” to break the windows of Democrat headquarters and offices during the week the health care bill was due to be signed into law. In the wake, windows and doors were smashed across the country. Vanderboegh’s missive was posted on March 19, 2010, just two days before the door and window of Rep. Gabrielle Gifford’s Tucson office were smashed by vandals.
“We are 3 percent of American gun owners. That‘s the muzzles of 3 million rifles who can be, if required, pointed directly at the hearts of anyone who wants to be a tyrant in this country.” – A byline posted on the website of Mike Venderboegh — a man who, interestingly enough, lives off the government dole with his monthly SSI checks and also enjoys the “well-intentioned tyranny” of government-run Medicare.
Commonsense Conservatives and lovers of America: “Don’t Retreat, Instead — RELOAD!” Pls see my Facebook page. – Sarah Palin’s twitter on March 23, 2010, the same day that Obama signed the health care bill into law. Fans who visited her Facebook page arrived to find a rifle-scope map (below), with Gabrielle Gifford’s district in the #4 slot on Sarah’s list.
Ya’ll don’t need to worry about getting re-elected on November. But you’d better be moving out of GA (whole and all) before November because ya’ll getting what’s coming for ya. SIC SEMPER TYRANNIS.” — Anonymous letter received by Rep. David Scott of Georgia, addressed to “David Scott & Family,” March 29, 2010 The phrase, “Sic Semper Tyrannis” was famously shouted by John Wilkes Booth as he assassinated President Lincoln. This phrase has more recently been adopted by some in the tea party movement. While these words are often translated as “death to the tyrant,” the literal translation is, “Thus always to tyrants.” Similar language was used in the threats issued to Democrats across the country in the wake of the health care bill.
David Scott, you’re nothing but a nigger. None of your colored constituents are going to be able to save you because we don’t want this socialized Obamacare you’re pushing because you Negroes are too lazy to take care of yourselves. — Another anonymous, March 2010 letter sent to Rep. David Scott of Georgia, the last words of which strike at the heart of the real reason citizens took to the streets in arms against health care reform.
It is a special irony that the racial component of health care reform was manufactured by the corporations and their paid political footmen, whose profit margins were threatened by health care reform. Like most tea baggers, the writers of the above letters were clueless to how easily and shamelessly their strings were pulled by corporate America, which spent many millions of dollars on a slick campaign to paint health care reform as the new welfare, to equate the Democratic Party with the Nazi Party, and to bankroll the necessary speakers to deliver these messages to America, to scare as many people as possible into believing that they were embroiled in a life-and-death struggle against the evil Democrats and their death panels.
And when the bill was finally signed, and the dire warning about death panels proved false, the health care bill was then morphed from being a baby-and-grandma killer to being a job killer. The talking points may have changed just a bit to suit the scenery, but the message is still the same: They’re trying to kill us!
The terror induced by these messages has been matched only by the urgency of the remedy proposed by the tea bag party that was spawned from this slick corporate campaign: Rise up, ye patriotic Americans! Take up arms to protect yourselves, your children and grandmaw from the communists! The socialists! The elitists! The scientists! The anti-Americans! The death panels! Get your guns and get your ammo before it too late! Save yourselves from the tyranny of your own government! Water that tree of liberty with the blood of the tyrant!
The tea bag party, like Timothy McVeigh, have presumed much by removing Jefferson’s quote out of context and then embracing it as the slogan for their cause — beginning with the presumption that they even remotely understand what Jefferson was talking about. Better the tea bag party should learn the history and politics surrounding Shay’s Rebellion, then return to Jefferson’s letter and actually read the thing — word for word, line by line — in its entirety. Only then might they glimpse the sublime irony that a group of people bereft of the historical facts would take Jefferson’s words out of context, make a lie of them, and then repeat the phrase ad nauseam to somehow legitimize their threats of assassination and insurrection.
This would all be silly if not for the fact that these folk genuinely believe they are standing on the shoulders of our country’s founders, and that these founders are somehow cheering them on in their cause. The Joe Wilson “You Lie” machine gun receiver offered for sale in January 2011, just before the Tucson massacre, is but one of many souvenirs we can add to the roster of blatant calls we’ve seen over the past two years to commit violence against the Democratic party, in general, and the president in particular.
Again, we’ve been to this rodeo before. We know that, once the bombs have been thrown, the guns fired and the innocents killed, folk like Sarah Palin, Sharron Angle, Michele Bachmann, Glenn Beck and all those who flock to their message can always claim, the same way Gov. George Wallace did after his call for a “few first-class funerals”: “We never, ever, ever intended….”
Still further down the road, some 50 years, we can look back, shake our heads in disbelief and wonder: How did so many people become so deluded?
“Don’t Retreat, Instead — RELOAD!”
In both Kennedy’s and Lincoln’s day, patriotic, God-fearing Americans were called to take up arms against a federal government accused of overstepping its bounds with (take your pick) slavery/integration — issues that were fed by the existing hatred among certain swaths of whites for immigrants and other races, religions and ethnicities, all of whom were plotting, according to the fiery rhetoric of the day, to use these federal mandates to subjugate freedom-loving, white Christian Americans. For its part, the federal government was plotting — according to the fiery rhetoric of the day — to use these mandates as a ruse to funnel money out of the pockets of “hardworking Americans” as part of their tyrannical agenda to impose (take your pick) socialism/fascism/communism.
Today, patriotic, God-fearing Americans have been called to take up arms against a federal government accused of overstepping its bounds with (take your pick) immigration reform/health care reform/anything-reform under a black president — issues that are fed by the existing hatred among certain swaths of whites for immigrants and other races, religions and ethnicities, all of whom are plotting, according to the fiery rhetoric of today, to use these mandates to subjugate freedom-loving, white Christian Americans. For its part, the federal government (loosely defined as liberals, from Obama on down) is plotting — according to fiery rhetoric of today — to use these mandates as a ruse to funnel money out of the pockets of “hardworking Americans” as part of their tyrannical agenda to impose (take your pick) socialism/fascism/communism.
The call to RELOAD and repeat history has been implicit and relentless. If not Tucson, then where? If not now, then when? And if not Gabrielle Giffords, then who?
Rep. Frank Kratovil — who was hung in effigy?
Rep. Alan Grayson — who has received a file full of death threats, both overt and covert, with the latter including Sarah Palin’s advice to her fellow tea-baggers to “take him out”?
Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz — whose opponent, Robert Lowry, held a rally at a target range, where he shot at a human silhouette with Rep. Wasserman-Shultz’s initials printed beside the head?
Rep. Ron Klein — whose Palin-endorsed opponent, Allen West, told his fellow tea-baggers, “You’ve got to make the fella scared to come out of his house,” and “If you’re here to stand up-to get your musket, to fix your bayonet, to charge into the ranks-you’re my brother and sister in this fight,” and “Nothing personal Ron, but I plan to beat you like you stole something dear to me…. Matter of fact you are, My Country!”?
Rep. Emanuel Cleaver — who was spat on and — along with several of his colleagues — called a nigger by tea bag party-goers within just minutes of a Michele Bachmann “Code Red” rally on Capitol Hill ?
Rep. Bart Stupak — who, like many of his colleagues during the health car wars, received death threats?
Rep. Russ Carnahan — who had a coffin left in front of his home?
Tom Perriello — who was hung in effigy?
Rep. Tom Perriello’s brother — whose gas line was cut?
Rep. Louise Slaughter – who not only received death threats against herself, but received a message that snipers were being deployed to kill children of those who voted for health care overhaul?
If not Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, then who?
Those in the media and political mainstreams, who have spent the past 2 years calling for such a tragedy, whether blatantly or by polite suggestion, can breathe a huge sigh of relief that it was a mentally ill man, and not one of their own, who ultimately pulled the trigger. As for the rest of the Democrats whose names — or whose children’s names — have been placed on the various hit lists issued by the radical political right, it may be a few years before they can breathe so easy.
The stage was similarly set in the before Kennedy’s assassination in November of 1963. Days before his arrival in Dallas, the American Bible Society placed an anti-Kennedy advertisement in the local newspaper, urging the citizenry to be vigilant against the march of “Godless Communism.”
Faux FBI-style wanted-posters were circulated, accusing Kennedy of treason for, among other things, appointing “Anti-Christians [Jews]to Federal office” and for giving “support and encouragement to the Communist inspired racial riots.”
White supremacists painted swastikas on Jewish stores, and Gov. George Wallace — whose contempt for the Kennedy family made him somewhat of a folk hero among segregationist southerners — arrived in Dallas that same week, his plane blazed with Confederate flags. While there, Wallace spoke on the issue of segregation, saying that, while he had nothing against “Negroes,” he was against the mixing of races and resented “Washington telling us how to run our schools.”
Texans engaged in a parlor game where folk deliberated over which Kennedy they hated the most: John? Jackie? Joseph? Bobby?
Bumper stickers throughout Dallas echoed the words flaunted on Confederate flag festooned billboards throughout the South: KO the Kennedys. Perhaps in retrospect — that is, after Kennedy had been shot in the head — some of the folk who flaunted those bumper stickers might have claimed, as Sarah Palin is now claiming, “We never ever, ever intended it to be gun sights.”
Remarkably, there were those who actually applauded the assassination, while some even expressed regret that Jackie, too, had not been killed. Such was the heat generated from the political rhetoric of the day.
That said, history has yet to agree on the facts surrounding Kennedy’s assassination. This much is known: We had enough warning before the fall of 1963 to know that — among certain politicians and citizens who considered themselves patriotic, freedom-loving, hard-working Americans — the idea of murdering children and assassinating the president of the United States seemed like a good idea.
We can keep pretending that bombs and bullets are fired from a vacuum, independent of the cultural climate and the political rhetoric. Or we can acknowledge what we already know: no one is really surprised when the violent rhetoric of the day actually produces fruit.
Crafting the Perfect Storm
A friend of mine, who is no longer living, was a nuclear physicist who worked, for a time, with fault tree and root cause analyses, which are used to predict the likelihood of bad events. The idea is to prevent bad events by studying the various factors that either have either caused bad events in the past or which would, in theory, cause such an outcome. I found the topic fascinating: What would happen if this went wrong, then this went wrong or, alternately, that went wrong?
As much as scientific inquiry is eschewed in the current political climate, there is a science to how and why bad events — from nuclear accidents to failed car brakes — occur. To give an over-simplified, real-life scenario of such a fault-tree analysis: What would happen if, say, an earthquake of this particular magnitude occurred 120 miles away at the precise moment that a nuclear reactor was at this particular stage of operation while, simultaneously, this worker was distracted and/or this mechanism, this gauge, and/or this system failed?
In other words: How to create, on paper, the perfect storm? The fault tree analysis does this by studying theoretical disasters, whereas the root cause analysis studies real-life disasters that have already occurred.
William Duke, in discussing the root cause analysis of the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf, offered some interesting insights, which may be worth considering in the wake of the murders in Tucson:
Humans have a deep need to seek retribution against those that harm us. This is not irrational. Nor is the desire to seek justice for those harmed by disasters. But, this need often preoccupies and distracts us from the more compelling need to understand why such things happen. We cannot prevent what we do not understand. We can address an individual committing the same mistake by taking away their ability to do it. We can address an organization from repeating mistakes by punishing it or imposing tighter controls and oversight. But, in doing so we are not addressing the most fundamental “Why,” the true root causes of such disastrous events. We live in a complex world where small events can have colossal effects. We tend to think that in such a complex world there are an infinite, or nearly infinite, number of root causes. This is not true. Research over the past few decades demonstrates that root causes fall into a very few categories and that these root causes, unfortunately, recur frequently.
Interestingly, as Duke went on to explain, there has been much study and research into understanding how some complex organizations in “high-risk environments” (e.g. U.S. Navy aircraft carriers) have managed to operate for many years with very few bad events.
From these studies, the term “mindfulness” emerged. In a nutshell, mindfulness encompasses five basic characteristics which, combined, enable organizations to — among other things — study root causes and learn from failure, so as to prevent future bad events. Sounds simple enough. But how does an organization go about cultivating “mindfulness”? Duke addressed this in his paper:
The question remains, however, how does an organization actually develop these characteristics when mindfulness is, at heart, a cultural phenomenon? Organizational culture is very difficult to change. Weick and Sutcliffe offer some sage advice. They assert that, in order to change your culture, you should act your way into what you want to become. But, if it’s about acting, where’s the script?
One ubiquitous presence in nearly every violent chapter of our country’s history has been the rise to power by the lowest common denominator — the underbelly of our society.
The underbelly is distinguished by their words and deeds — not by color, religion, ethnicity, wealth or social station. Be they velvet-gloved racists, nativists, charismatic cult leaders or extemporaneous folk heroes, their rise to power is always generated by fear — fear of economic hardship, fear of attack, fear of the bogeyman. And the more fear they can generate, the more power they have to influence ordinary people to do the unthinkable.
This does not happen overnight. Sarah Palin did not introduce herself on the world stage in September 2008 by accusing her opponent of “palling around with terrorists.” That would have shocked the sensibilities of most Americans. Better to start small. Just a little bleat:
“‘We grow good people in our small towns, with honesty and sincerity and dignity,’ …. They are the ones who do some of the hardest work in America … They love their country, in good times and bad, and they’re always proud of America.”
Given the recent flag-pin flak that preceded that speech, who would dare find fault with the lovely portrait that Sarah painted of America, even if it was the work of Westwood Pegler?
In the days following that speech, Sarah expanded on this portrait by dividing the country into two different kinds of people: people who love America and people who don’t, with the Obamas falling into the latter category.
From here — and with the serendipitous arrival of Joe the plumber who, being just an average Joe, couldn’t be called to task for testing the waters with the word “socialist” — the staple rhetoric at team McCain-Palin quickly grew to encompass socialist, communist, Muslim, terrorist.
After the election, the rhetoric only escalated, with much of this coming from the folk at Fox News, who echoed Palin’s labels and added some of their own. By the summer of 2009, with the advent of the corporate-funded, Palin-led tea party, Obama had morphed into a Nazi tyrant dictator, intent on imposing fascist rule — complete with death panels to kill babies and old people.
Throughout the summer and fall of 2009, the tea bag party-goers — many of them scared shitless by this point — bought unprecedented number of guns and ammo. They began defiantly carried their guns to rallies, many of them also carrying signs with the Thomas Jefferson quote: The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.
Somehow, and for reasons we have yet to agree on, a lot of ordinary people across the country — including the built-in statistic of mentally disturbed people that exist in any population — had come to believe that insurrection, overthrowing the government and assassinating the president were good ideas.
But it didn’t stop with the president. As the bill came closer to being signed, the rage and the threats came to encompass every politician in favor of health care reform, which included most of the Democrats on Capitol Hill. These folk, according to Sharron Angle, had gotten the American people, ” really looking toward those Second Amendment remedies,” a solution that was echoed in Sarah Palin’s gun sights map in the spring of 2010.
Where does one escalate the rhetoric from here? What is the next step, after successfully convincing a huge swath of American citizens that the president and over half of Congress are pro-terrorist, fascist, Nazis who are trying to kill us? Once you’ve championed the death of the president and half of Congress, what’s left to say?
The calls for civility, for toning down the rhetoric have been ongoing since the fall of 2008. But, rather than consider their responsibility in setting the violent tone, Palin, Angle, Limbaugh, Bachmann, Beck and the rest have not only ignored these calls, but have painted them as a plot by the tyrant and his minions to silence dissent. It was only after the bloody massacre in Tucson that any of them saw fit to respond to the calls for civility. And in the case of Sarah Palin, in particular, the focus of her response has been to deny culpability and express her own personal outrage at being victimized by the tragedy.
Addressing her new-found victimhood, Sarah Palin chose the incendiary term “blood libel.” This was a test balloon, to be sure, and was designed — just like her Westwood Pegler quote — to send out a signal, to test the temperature, to rally her base to her defense. Sarah’s “blood libel” strategy backfired in a really big way, indeed offending the sensibilities of most Americans. In response, Palin offered a second defense, phrased in milder terms, and has since been uncharacteristically silent.
But fellow teabagger, Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, has since picked up the ball and released another test balloon. When asked to comment on the calls to tone down the rhetoric, Lee said:
“The shooter wins if we, who’ve been elected, change what we do just because of what he did.”
Even tho this was a direct rip-off from the Bush playbook (e.g. The terrorists win if Americans don’t go back to normalcy) it, too, failed to take flight.
But there will be more test balloons. We can be sure of that. And over time, as the visceral horror from Tucson massacre gradually recedes into the past, we can be equally sure that one of these test balloons will succeed.
Crafting the Perfect Storm
Lee Atwater has been given the lion’s share of credit for the art of honing old hatreds into a political movement, but it was the Jim Crow era, the McCarthy era, the integration era, the assassinations of the Kennedys and Martin Luther King, and the legacies of men like George Wallace, Joseph McCarthy, Westwood Pegler and Harry Dent that gave Atwater the tools for drafting the blueprint that was used by Reagan for making political hay out old ignorance, old fears and old hatreds.
By today’s standards, however, Atwater’s blueprint seems almost naive, having since been refined by men like Karl Rove, Steve Schmidt, Charles Black and Dick Cheney, who turned the science of fear into a commodity. Working in coalition with corporate titans, these guys bankroll the fear-peddlers, and they fill the coffers of the politicians. to and they tend to the coffers of receptive politicians, which includes . Political hay is little more than a petty-case expenditure in the real business influencing, exploiting and re-writing the laws of the land so that these corporations can bilk billions of corporate dollars from the American economy — sucking the marrow from the middle class and driving the poor into deeper destitution.
How to make such an agenda popular with the American people?
Convince them that it is their patriotic duty to be good capitalists. Convince them that everything from Social Security, to public schools, to Medicare, to police and fire departments & public works will be cheaper and more efficiently run once turned over to private, for-profit business. Convince them Medicare = socialism and Social Security = socialism. Convince them that there are only two alternatives to health care: Nazi death panels or the private, for-profit insurance industry.
Convince them that government regulation kills jobs. Convince them that, because the free market is self-adjusting, corporations will eventually put safety over the profit margin when it comes to our food supply, our water, our air, our health, worker rights and consumer protections. Convince them that, because the free market is self-adjusting, the titans will eventually using Wall Street as their private gambling parlor and will one day, or their own accord, stop plundering the American people to fill their pockets.
In other words, convince them that there is no such thing as moderation or bipartisanship or a middle ground. It’s all or nothing, folks. Kill or be killed. The titans know precisely when, where and how to set the tremor; how to sidestep the checks and balances; how to evade accountability, and how to raise the heat to dangerous levels.
The problem is that rational, respectful, civil human beings do not promote violence as a remedy to the democratic process. For this purpose — and this alone — Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, Glenn Beck, Sharron Angle and the rest have been good investments.
As for that business in Tucson, we are reminded that, after all, Sarah’s finger was not on the trigger. Nor was Sharron’s, or Glenn’s or Michele’s or Rush’s or Bill’s or anyone else’s. The sole responsibility for the violence belongs to the person who pulled the trigger. But if we accept this, then we must also accept that the only persons responsible for 9-11 were the 19 hijackers on the planes.
And if we are unwilling to accept this, then we need to change our laws to reflect the reality on the ground. Change the wording in the U.S.A. Patriot Act and the U.S. Code to state, for the record, exactly which races and religions are allowed, under law, to engage in terrorism, insurrection and violent overthrow of the government. And while we’re at it, we should also re-write the Constitution to define treason as anything that is, on the say-so of anyone, treason. This way, patriotic Americans will have license to water the tree of liberty every time they disagree with the outcome of an election or any other contentious aspect of democracy.
At this point, we can then declare that — in this marvelous melting pot we call “The United States of America” — democracy is an antiquated ideal, a quaint relic from a bygone era that was sold to the highest bidder in the early 21st century and replaced with a plutocracy, where the dirty work of silencing dissent is subcontracted to violent mobs, rogue politicians and other madmen.
Of course there are — as there always have been — other tools at our disposal. After all, the same science that has been used to demonize politicians from Franklin D. Roosevelt to John F. Kennedy to Gabrielle Giffords could be used to accomplish the opposite. We could choose to cultivate our political and cultural landscape from a place of strength instead of weakness. The same science that has been used to prevent another Chernobyl or Three Mile Island could be used to help prevent bloody massacres and political assassinations. William Duke spoke about when he wrote:
“… in order to change your culture, you should act your way into what you want to become.”
We’ve already seen what we become when we act from a place of weakness, where our best ideas are generated from fear, ignorance, rage and violence. But what might we become if, instead, we acted from a place of strength? What would happen if our best ideas were generated from a place of mutual tolerance, enlightenment, respect and human kindness — in a word: civility? Could it be that that if we chose to act as if we were this wonderful melting pot of people, all united under a civil democracy, that we might become just that?
by Ed Sparrow for the canarypapers
Remember the good old days — circa last month — when conscientious parents could shell out the extra bucks for organic fruit juices in the hope of reducing the number of pesticides, heavy metals and other toxins that their children — all of our children — eat, drink and breathe each and every day?
Turns out that — at least when it comes to apple juice, grape juice, canned peaches, canned pears, and baby foods that contain these fruits — it makes no difference where lead contamination is concerned. Which means that we can now safely add both organic and conventionally-grown fruit juices to the overlong list of drinks — a list that includes milk, water and soy — that are no longer safe for our children to drink.
According to the recently released results of a study by the Environmental Law Foundation (ELF), out of the 146 juice and canned fruit samples they tested in an EPA lab (see the complete list below), 125 contained toxic levels of lead. In fact, a single serving of these juices or fruits is toxic enough that, by law in California, these products should carry warning labels. (For more info on lead exposure and children, read the foundation’s FAQ sheet).
Of course, the focus on the ELF study was lead — a heavy metal for which no safe level exists; a heavy metal that accumulates in the body with each exposure, beginning before birth (via their mother’s blood) and continuing into early childhood from myriad environmental and food exposures; a heavy metal that is especially dangerous to young children, whose bodies absorb it more quickly, and who are at the highest risk of brain damage, cancers and developmental/behavioral disorders from lead exposure. But what about the pesticide levels in those same fruit products — leaded and unleaded alike? For this information, you could look here, where you’d find that it makes little difference whether you buy U.S. or foreign-grown agricultural products. It’s a complete crap shoot, as both are likely to be tainted with heavy metals and pesticides.
Now for Some Good News
Once you weed out the fruit juices with lead contamination and the fruit juices likely to have pesticide contamination, there is (until we hear otherwise) a grand total of one “safe” juice on the Environmental Law Foundation’s list. Tentative kudos to R.W. Knudsen Organic Apple Juice for this precarious honor, which may be nothing more than dumb luck on their part because, come next week or next month or next year — depending on which supplier they buy their apples from — the story might be entirely different. As good news goes, we could aspire to better.
As anyone who’s been paying attention could tell you, the ELF study comes as no real surprise. Lead contamination is just the tip of the iceberg. The bad news about our food chain has been rolling out for years — especially over the past decade, as more and more of our food is sourced from China, Taiwan, Korea, Vietnam and other countries that provide dirt-cheap produce, meats, seasonings, supplements and vitamins, courtesy of their lax-to-non-existent standards on food, environmental and worker safety.
Concurrent to this, the U.S. has eased its own standards — giving the green light to corporate American growers and manufacturers to do whatever they jolly well please with our food supply, while simultaneously putting up road blocks to smaller growers of integrity. The hope of the politicians who steer such policies is to kill what little competition remains to their corporate benefactors.
At the same time, the budgets have been slashed to the agencies empowered with protecting American consumers from eating foods tainted with pesticides, heavy metals and other toxic substances. As a consequence, there is little to no oversight on most of the food grown and produced in the U.S. The inspection process is equally lacking on imported foods, as a mere ½ of 1% of the food entering this country is ever tested for these contaminants, much less for pathogens, decay, filth, bacteria, odors, mystery additives, missing ingredients, unidentified objects and the myriad other findings that might prompt the FDA to refuse import into the U.S.
Lacking any real oversight, our ports wait with open arms and a blind eye turned to the roughly 50 million metric tons of food imported into the U.S. each year. It is only through a combination of dumb luck, the vigilance of other countries, and the research of independent food safety advocates — or, as is too often the case, by the trail of sick people and dead bodies — that we become enlightened to the existence of melamine-tainted chocolates, dog food and milk, drug-laced seafoods, and everything from vitamins to rice, garlic and tea contaminated with a mix of pesticides, lead, cadmium and arsenic. Add to this mix the myriad pathogens, such as salmonella, listeria and E. coli that have become staple contaminants in our food supply — both imported and domestically produced. Given our track record in recent years, we can hardly wag our finger at China.
The ConAgra Solution
One wonders: How the hell does this stuff get into the food chain? There are as many answers to that question as there are tainted products on the market. Here’s but one.
To speed up the drying process, they would lay the tea leaves out on a huge warehouse floor and drive trucks over them so that the exhaust would more rapidly dry the leaves out. And the problem there is that the Chinese use leaded gasoline, so they were essentially spewing the lead over all these leaves. — from a 2007 NPR interview with former FDA commissioner, William Hubbard.
Of course, tea is a single ingredient. Once somebody bothers to test it, the trail is easy enough to follow. But what if that tainted product happens to be a processed food containing, perhaps, dozens of ingredients from a dozen different countries? You’d think that, by testing each ingredient, the answer could be pieced together.
Problem is, the suppliers of those dozens of ingredients change from day to day, depending on which supplier from which country offers the cheapest flour, cheapest peanuts, cheapest garlic, cheapest beef, cheapest spinach, cheapest grapes, and so on. This was the conundrum faced last year by the frozen food industry giants (e.g. ConAgra, General Mills and Nestle, who peddle brands such as Healthy Foods, Swanson, Hungry Man and Banquet).
These manufacturers knew for a fact that their products were contaminated with salmonella and other food-borne pathogens, but they couldn’t pinpoint the source. Was it today’s ground pepper from China? Yesterday’s pepper from India? Last week’s pepper from Vietnam?
What to do? ConAgra took the lead and decided that, since they couldn’t find the source of the salmonella, much less get rid of it, they’d pass the buck to the consumer. Other companies followed suit. They accomplished this by adding an advisory to their pot pie packaging, which told the consumer, in so many words, how to go about killing those deadly pathogens: “Internal temperature needs to reach 165° F as measured by a food thermometer in several spots”.
Got that, American consumer? Keep your food thermometer handy, and should you fail to check several spots to make sure your food heats to a consistent 165° F, you’ll have no one but yourself to blame if you die from salmonella poisoning.
The Kellogg Solution
Problem is, some foods (e.g. spinach salad, breakfast cereal, granola, cookies, crackers, peanut butter) aren’t compatible with the ConAgra method and would taste downright awful if heated to an internal temperature of 165° before eating. To this end, some larger manufacturers, such as Kellogg, have hired private investigators to inspect their suppliers. But even that’s no guarantee.
A supplier unscrupulous enough to knowingly pass food contaminated with salmonella, E. coli and possible bovine spongiform encephalopathy (mad cow disease) pathogens onto consumers is certainly not above greasing the palms of these 3rd-party inspectors, as Kellogg discovered, when their products were drawn into the huge dragnet of recalled products in the wake of the Georgia peanut scandal. Such scandals are ongoing — both in our food supply and in the consumer products we use every day. But, unless we make a point to frequent the USDA and CPSC websites, along with consumer advocate and safety websites, we’re none the wiser.
But at least some of the peanut stories made the news. Usually such stories pass, like ships in the night, with little to no fanfare on the evening news.
The House of Cards
Our lawmakers, for their part, have largely been asleep at the wheel, most of them drunk on lobbyist dollars from the corporations who peddle these toxic products. This symbiotic relationship — with corporations funding political campaigns and careers, and with politicians creating loopholes, laws, subsidies and tax breaks to benefit their corporate benefactors (turning a blind eye to infractions and felonies alike, as needed) — has created a house of cards. Only, unlike our economy, this house of cards won’t fall all at once. It will fall little by little, child by child, and with little fanfare from our news or lawmakers until, perhaps, their own children or grandchildren succumb to illness or disease, putting the issue of food safety squarely into their own laps.
For now, these politicians and the corporations who fund their careers will stick to their battle cries of, “The free market is self-correcting!” and “Keep big government out of business!” To this end, the only way for U.S. growers and manufacturers to keep pace with China — who we now depend on to feed us — is to craft our environmental, worker and food safety standards to mirror theirs, then sell this corrupt bill of goods to the American consumer.So far, so good.
The good news for these politicians and their benefactors is that, over the past 10 years, U.S. standards indeed come to resemble those in China, so that today the average agricultural product (not to mention toys, dishes, clothing, furniture, household products and cleaners) produced in the U.S.A. is just as likely to be grown or manufactured with slave-wage labor and contaminated with pesticides, lead and other heavy metals as the average product from China. Fancy that.
But, again, this is just the tip of the iceberg. I’ve not even broached the topic of the genetically modified organisms (built-in pesticides and such) that have been contaminating our food supply, both domestic and foreign, for years. There’s more than arsenic and old lead lurking in that bowl of rice.
Choose Your Poison Wisely
Even as some of us have been watching this house of cards being erected year by year — all the while writing letters and protesting as these food safety standards have fallen one by one — it’s still alarming, dismaying and downright depressing to learn the results of the ELF study on lead. Of course, we can continue buying organic in the hope of avoiding — or at the very least reduce our children’s exposure to the carcinogens, neurotoxins, hormone disruptors and developmental/reproductive toxicants already known by the USDA to exist in most of the conventionally-grown grape juices, apple juices, canned peaches and canned pears that the ELF tested for lead. But now we’re left with an impossible choice: pesticides or lead?
The choice is easier for those parents who rely on the evening news to enlighten them as to what they’re feeding their children: both.
Enlightened or not, the rule of thumb for children in the U.S. (not to mention adults) is this: nothing is safe. The old rules of thumb for travelers abroad now apply to us. When in the U.S., don’t drink the water, don’t eat the food, don’t use the dishes, don’t wear the clothes, don’t breathe the air, stay off the grass and, for god sakes, don’t play with the toys. Perhaps this is all right with you. As Thomas Gray famously said, “Where ignorance is bliss, tis folly to be wise.”
I can attest to the truth of Gray’s words, as I’m always happier before I learn that my grandchildren — despite their organic vegetarian diets and all the care that is taken to buy safe products — have nonetheless been eating, drinking and breathing arsenic, lead, cadmium, Cobalt 50, mercury, BPA, phthalates, formaldehyde, melamine, antibiotics, hormones, pathogens and the residuals of hundreds of pesticides lurking everywhere you look.
I’m always happier before learning that — despite all the care taken to ensure their safety and well-being — that the odds have just grown that my grandchildren’s number might be called to pay the price for exposure to these toxins: cancer, neurological disorders, endocrine & reproductive disorders, behavioral disorders, asthma, skin afflictions and countless other diseases.
Because, see, we don’t live in the good old days. In the good old days, businessmen like Mr. Potter were the bad guys in movies with titles like, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” In the good old days, politicians whose consciences could be bought and paid to turn a blind eye to poisoning children were fewer and far-between. In the good old days, you’d be hard-pressed to find any but the most ignorant of souls who would scoff at the most rudimentary commonsense knowledge (not to mention the mountains of scientifically drawn evidence) that feeding children arsenic, lead and poison is bad for their health.
Our entire food chain has been poisoned from start to finish: from the growers, to the processors, to the manufacturers, to the inspectors, to the laws that govern the ethics of these interests, to the food on our tables.
The problem, you see, is that no one’s minding the store. No one except for the scoundrels and you, if you so choose.
by Mantis Katz for the canarypapers
TO TAKE ACTION:
From What’s in My Food? website: a petition for Safe, Fair and Green Food
From the Make Our Food Safe Coalition website: Tell Your U.S. Senators: Make Our Food Safe NOW!
From the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families blog: Tired of Toxics? Give Congress a Jingle
From the Environmental Working Group website: Babies are born pre-polluted with hundreds of toxic chemicals. Sign this petition to demand that Congress take action to make chemicals in consumer products kid-safe.
From the Physicians for Social Responsibility website: a petition to support the Lautenberg Plan: Protect Americans from Toxic Chemical Exposure
FOR MORE READING:
Environmental Working Group website:
- EWG Supporters Push Chemicals Act Reform
- Kid-Safe Chemicals: The Cost of Inaction
- Page on Health/Toxics: Children’s Health
The Washington Post:
Physicians for Social Responsibility
- The Need for Chemical Reform in the United States (Excerpt: During the past 30 years the incidence of childhood cancer, asthma, autism, infertility, premature births, birth defects, and a range of other problems has increased. For example, from 1976 to 1994, there was a 30 percent increase in the incidence of all types of cancers for children under the age of one….)
The Providence Journal:
Report finds gaps in food safety, FDA powers (this article speaks on the difficulty of tracing the pinpointing the country-of-origin on salmonella-tainted ground pepper)
The Raleigh Telegram:
NOTE: The above two links illustrate but one angle being used by corporate growers and their political hacks to exploit the food safety bill to drive small farmers out of business.
THE LISTS FROM THE ENVIRONMENTAL LAW FOUNDATION LEAD STUDY:
Below are the lists of fruit product brands that were tested in the ELF’s lead study. To make the list more reader-friendly, I’ve highlighted the lead-tainted products in red, and the unleaded brands in green. The organic brands are in bold font. The original report can be seen in this pdf form on the ELF website. See also: Lead in Children’s Foods: Frequently Asked Questions
Apple JuiceFor the following products, one or more samples exceeded the Prop 65 limit of 0.5 micrograms of lead per serving:
- Beech Nut 100% Apple Juice
- Earth’s Best Organics Apple Juice
- First Street 100% Apple Cider from concentrate
- First Street Apple Juice from concentrate 100% juice
- Full Circle Organic Apple Juice
- Gerber 100% Juice Apple Juice
- Great Value 100% No Sugar Added Apple Juice
- Hansen’s Natural Apple Juice
- Kroger 100% Juice Apple Juice
- Langers Apple Juice 100% Juice
- Minute Maid Juice Apple – 100% Apple Juice
- Motts 100% Apple Juice
- O Organics Organic Unfiltered Apple Juice Not From Concentrate
- Old Orchard 100% Apple Juice
- Parade 100% Juice Apple
- Raley’s Premium 100% Apple Juice not from Concentrate
- Safeway 100% Juice Apple Cider
- Safeway 100% Juice Apple Juice
- Stater Bros. 100% Juice Apple Juice
- Sunny Select 100% Apple Juice
- Trader Joe’s Certified Organic Apple Juice, pasteurized
- Tree Top 100% Juice Apple Cider
- Walgreens Apple Juice from concentrate 100% juice
- Walnut Grove Market 100% Apple Juice
- Great Value 100% Apple Juice not from concentrate
- Harvest Day 100% Apple Juice from Concentrate
- Kirkland Fresh Pressed Apple Juice Pasteurized
- Martinelli’s Gold Medal Apple Juice 100% pure from US grown fresh apples
- R.W. Knudsen Organic Apple Juice unfiltered
- Raley’s Everyday 100% Apple Juice
- Sunny Select 100% Unfiltered Apple Juice
- Trader Joe’s Fresh Pressed Apple Juice all natural pasteurized, 100% juice
- Tree Top 100% Apple Juice
- Tree Top Three Apple Blend 100% Fresh Pressed Juice
Grape JuiceFor the following products, one or more samples exceeded the Prop 65 limit of 0.5 micrograms of lead per serving:
- 365 Everyday Value Organic 100% Juice Concord Grapes
- First Street Grape Juice from concentrate 100% juice
- Gerber 100% Juice – White Grape Juice
- Great Value 100% Grape Juice
- Kedem Concord Grape Juice 100% pure grape juice
- Kroger Grape Juice 100% Juice
- Langers Grape Juice (Concord)
- Langers Red Grape Juice
- O Organics Organic Grape Juice from concentrate
- R.W. Knudsen Just Concord Grape Juice
- R.W. Knudsen Organic Just Concord
- Raley’s 100% Grape Juice
- Safeway 100% Juice Grape Juice
- Safeway Organic Grape Juice
- Santa Cruz Organic Concord Grape Juice
- Stater Bros. 100% Juice Grape Juice
- Stater Bros. 100% Juice White Grape Juice
- Sunny Select 100% Grape Juice
- Trader Joe’s Concord Grape Juice made from fress pressed organic concord grapes
- Tree Top 100% Juice, Grape
- Valu Time Grape Drink from Concentrate
- Walgreens Grape Juice from concentrate 100% juice
- Walnut Acres Organic Concord Grape
- Walnut Grove Market Grape Juice
- Welch’s 100% Grape Juice (from Welch’s Concord Grapes)
- Welch’s 100% Red Grape Juice from Concentrate
- Old Orchard Healthy Balance Grape (Unfortunately, the only “safe” grape juice happens to be sweetened by Splenda).
Packaged PearsFor the following products, one or more samples exceeded the Prop 65 limit of 0.5 micrograms of lead per serving:
- Best Yet Bartlett Pear Halves in Heavy Syrup
- Del Monte Diced Pears in Light Syrup
- Del Monte Pear Halves in Heavy Syrup
- Del Monte Pear Halves, Bartlett Pears in 100% real fruit juice from concentrate
- Dole Pear Halves in Juice
- First Street Diced Pears
- First Street Sliced Bartlett
- Full Circle Organic Bartlett Pear Slices
- Gerber 3rd Foods Pears [Baby Food]
- Great Value Bartlett Pear Halves in 100% Juice
- Great Value Bartlett Sliced Pears in Heavy Syrup
- Market Pantry Diced Pears in Light syrup
- Maxx Value Pear Pieces in Light Syrup
- Polar Pear Halves in light syrup
- S&W Natural Style Pear Slices in Juice
- S&W Sun Pears Premium
- Safeway Lite Bartlett Pear Halves in Pear Juice
- Safeway Pear Halves in Light Juice
- Sunny Select Pear Halves in Pear Juice
- Trader Joe’s Pear Halves in white grape juice
- Truitt Brothers Pacific NorthWest Bartlett Pear Halves, in pear juice from concentrate
- Valu Time Irregular Bartlett Pear Slices
- Walnut Grove Market Natural Pear Halves in Heavy Syrup
- Eating Right Kids Diced Pears Fruit Cups
- Stater Bros. Diced Pears Snack Bowl
Packaged PeachesFor the following products, one or more samples exceeded the Prop 65 limit of 0.5 micrograms of lead per serving:
- Best Yet Yellow Cling Peach Halves in Heavy Syrup
- Del Monte Freestone Peach Slices in 100 % Juice
- Del Monte Sliced Yellow Cling Peaches in 100 % Juice
- Del Monte Sliced Yellow Cling Peaches in heavy syrup
- Dole Diced Peaches, Yellow Cling in light syrup
- First Street Yellow Cling Peaches in heavy syrup
- Gerber 3rd Foods Peaches [Baby Food]
- Golden Star Peach Halves in Heavy Syrup
- Great Value Yellow Cling Sliced Peaches
- Libby’s Yellow Cling Peach Slices No Sugar Added (Sweetened with Splenda)
- Market Pantry Diced Peaches in light syrup
- Polar Peach Slices
- Raley’s Sliced Yellow Cling Peaches in Heavy Syrup
- S&W Natural Style Yellow Cling Peach Slices in Lightly Sweetened Juice
- S&W Premium Peach Halves Yellow Cling Peaches in light syrup
- Safeway Diced Peaches in Light Syrup
- Safeway Yellow Cling Peach Slices in Pear Juice
- Simple Value Yellow Cling Peaches in light syrup
- Stater Bros. Yellow Cling Peach Halves
- Stater Bros. Yellow Cling Sliced Peaches in heavy syrup
- Sunny Select Yellow Cling Sliced Peaches in Pear Juice
- Trader Joe’s Yellow Cling Peach Halves in while grape juice
- Valu Time Yellow Cling Peach Slices
- Walnut Grove Market Natural Peaches Sliced Yellow Cling in Light Syrup
- Dole Diced Peaches, Cling in Light Syrup
- Dole Diced Peaches, Freestone in Light Syrup
- Dole Sliced Peaches
- Eating Right Kids Diced Peaches in Extra Light Syrup
- Stater Bros. Diced Peaches Snack Bowl
Fruit CocktailFor the following products, one or more samples exceeded the Prop 65 limit of 0.5 micrograms of lead per serving:
- Best Yet Chunky Mixed Fruit in Pear Juice
- Chef’s Review Fruit Cocktail
- Del Monte 100% Juice Fruit Cocktail
- Del Monte Chunky Mixed Fruit in 100 % Juice (peach, pear, grape, etc.)
- Del Monte Fruit Cocktail in Heavy Syrup (peach, pear, grapes)
- Del Monte Fruit Cocktail No Sugar Added
- Del Monte Lite Fruit Cocktail in Extra Light Syrup
- Dole Mixed Fruit in Light Syrup
- Eating Right Fruit Cocktail packed in Sucralose
- Eating Right No Sugar Fruit Cocktail
- First Street Fruit Cocktail in heavy syrup
- Golden Star Mixed Fruit in Light Syrup (peach, pineapple, pears)
- Great Value No Sugar Added Fruit Cocktail
- Kroger Fruit Cocktail in Heavy Syrup
- Kroger Lite Fruit Cocktail in Pear Juice
- Kroger Value Fruit Mix (Peaches, pears, grapes)
- Libby’s Fruit Cocktail No Sugar Added (Sweetened with Splenda)
- Market Pantry Mixed Fruit in light syrup
- Maxx Value Fruit Mix in Light Syrup (peach, pear, grape)
- Mrs. Brown’s Fruit Cocktail in Heavy Syrup (peaches, pears, grapes)
- Polar Mixed Fruit
- Raley’s Fruit Cocktail in Heavy Syrup
- S&W Natural Style Fruit Cocktail in Lightly Sweetened Juice
- Safeway Fruit Cocktail in Heavy Syrup
- Safeway Light Sugar Fruit Cocktail
- Safeway Lite Fruit Cocktail in Pear Juice
- Stater Bros. Fruit Cocktail in Heavy Syrup
- Sunny Select Fruit Cocktail in Juice
- Del Monte Mixed Fruit
And, hey, as long as we’re talking toxin, you may as well know which veggie burgers contain the neurotoxin, hexane, and which don’t:
Hexane burgersJust because a product is “made with organic ingredients” does not mean it is made with organic soy. And, chances are, if the soy in your soy milk, energy bar or soy burger came from China, Vietnam, Taiwan or Korea, that organic certification means absolutely nothing.
- Amy’s Kitchen
- Boca Burger, conventional
- Franklin Farms
- Garden Burger
- It’s All Good Lightlife
- Morningstar Farms
- President’s Choice
- Taste Above
- Trader Joe’s
- Yves Veggie Cuisine
Hexane-Free (yay!) BurgersAs a rule of thumb, USDA certified organic soy is not going to contain hexane. But, again, if that soy comes from China, it’s a crap shoot. As luck has it, there are still a few hexane-free burgers on the market:
- Boca Burgers “Made with organic soy”
- Helen’s Kitchen
- Morningstar “Made with organic”
- Superburgers by Turtle Island
While you’re chewing on the topic of soy, you may as well check out the complete Cornucopia Institute’s Organic Soy Report Scorecard on the various brand name soy products — from soymilk to veggie burgers to tofu to baby formula — to see which ones were (as of May 2009) still safe to consume. Also see the studies on Infant Formulas.
Like everything else, soy is a crap shoot. You never know from one week to the next which company’s been swallowed up by a conglomerate and/or succumbed to the China syndrome for sourcing their ingredients.
If so, chances are you’ve also “got” the pesticides Diphenylamine (DPA), DDE, Dieldrin, Cyhalothrin, Endosulfan sulfate, 3-hydroxycarbofuran, Permethrin, Bifenthrin, Cyfluthrin, Tetrachlorvinphos, Carbaryl and Dimethoate, plus a host of hormones, antibiotics, vaccine residues, pus and possible pathogens.
Think you can escape these hazards by buying organic? Think again. According to the Cornucopia Institute, which continually updates their Organic Dairy Brand Ratings Scorecard as part of their ongoing effort toward Maintaining the Integrity of Organic Milk, if you’ve been buying any of the following “organic” brands of milk, you may want to reconsider:
Alta Dena (Dean Foods)
Aurora Organic Dairy
Back to Nature
Good Heart Organics
- Back to Nature (Kraft)
- Good Heart Organics (Rockview)
- Hain Celestial (Earth’s Best)
- Horizon (Dean Foods)
- Organic Cow (Dean Foods)
- PMB Nutiritionals (private-label infant formula including Wal-Mart)
- Noris Dairy/Noris Organic Life
- Natural Prairie
- Shamrock Farms
- Rockview Farms
- Wholesome Valley (Galaxy Foods)
- Greenbank Farms/ Stonefelt Cheese Co.
LAST WORDS: Heck, I could keep writing on this post and, five years from now, I’d still be writing. I could link to a thousand web pages of dedicated individuals and groups who are working to restore some integrity to our food supply. Either you care about such things or you don’t.
If you do, please do something, even if it’s just to take a few moments to give a few clicks to the mouse to sign your name to a petition. Many hands make light work.
But it you don’t care, please don’t waste your time sending me impassioned comments about how poisons and heavy metals are our friends, or on how the human body has miraculously adapted to lead contamination, or on how tree hugging alarmists are exploiting these dangers to kill our economy. And while you’re at it, spare me the thinly-veiled racist missives on big government take overs. I’ll just delete them.
Granted, when Obama entered office, he inherited an all-but-irredeemable mess:
- a country being run into the ground by the greed, fraud and corruption of the financial, defense, oil & gas, pharmaceutical and insurance industries;
- the legislative and judicial branches of government, long ago bought and paid for by these industries;
- a country whose laws, regulations and standards had been written by these same industries;
- and a malcontent citizenry, mad as hell at… someone.
It was all but irredeemable. But there remained this tiny thread of possibility that, given the right leadership, we could restore piece by piece — the same way it was dismantled — our democracy. And, no, I’m not talking tea party slogans about guns, communist take-overs and other xenophobic agendas, all written by the invisible hands from the above industries. I’m talking about Democracy with a capital D.
I’m talking about the same Democracy that established the separation of church and state; the Democracy that, albeit centuries late, passed the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act; the Democracy that created the OSHA and Environmental Protection Agency; the Democracy that gave women the right to vote and passed Roe v. Wade. I’m talking about certain truths that are self-evident, even when — and especially when — its citizenry takes to the streets in arms, convinced that there is a communist behind every bush, or a religion, race, color or creed in need of subjugating.
By the fall of 2008, it was all but irredeemable. But, still, there was this hope, much like the hope that seemingly arrived out of the blue in 1933, when FDR — just one month after taking office — began an effort that pulled our country from the brink of collapse.
After all, the blueprint had already been drafted for Obama — a blueprint that took FDR only a month to draft and put into action. Millions of people were put to work restoring the millions upon millions of acres of forest and agricultural lands that been destroyed over the previous century and had culminated in the Dust Bowl. Millions were put to work improving our country by building our infrastructure, by building national parks, by building roads and improving flood and fire control. Millions more were saved from starvation. And millions more, still, continue to benefit from the Social Security Act, signed just 2-1/2 years after FDR took office.
And this says nothing of FDR’s swift action on financial and banking industry reforms and regulations, to rein in the fraud and corruption of the financial industry and the corporate giants who were feeding from this cesspool. FDR’s reforms not only helped deliver our economy from the grave, but they have endured as some of our most important checks and balances for ensuring the integrity of these industries. Or, at least, they endured until the Reagan era. Just long enough, perhaps, for some people to forget.
Perhaps FDR could have responded to the Dust Bowl the way Obama has with the Gulf oil disaster. He could have visited the devastated lands, given a few speeches and then, with the full weight of his office, orchestrated a show to force someone — say, the timber industry — to compensate the farmers for their lost lands. Had FDR been an unremarkable man, and an even less remarkable president, he could have taken a short-term view and slapped a few band-aids on the cancer. But he didn’t, and because of that, this country has spent the better part of the last 75 years reaping the fruits of FDR’s courage, conviction and foresight.
But Obama is no FDR. Only the most naive and uninformed of Democrats still see Obama as anything but a sham president — a man made impotent by his own lack of courage, conviction, foresight and moral compass.
All that campaign rhetoric about ending torture, illegal detentions, extraordinary renditions?
A shell game.
All the promises to restore habeas corpus, restore our Constitution to its pre-Bush Era integrity, to rein in Israel, to end our wars for oil and, with them, our farce of a war on terror?
Just a mirage.
All the soaring rhetoric about repairing our infrastructure, “growing” our economy and restoring our manufacturing sector by getting a jump-start on cutting-edge, green technologies?
All those vows to restore environmental laws and protections, to upgrade our educational standards, to restore out relationship with the sciences, to reform our sham of a health care system?
All lies. All of it, just for show.
So it comes as no surprise to those of us who have been paying attention that BP and the parasites (politicians, industry and businesses alike) who feed off the oil industry are running the show in the Gulf, the same way the oil and defense industries have been running the show in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, Colombia…. . It comes as no surprise — as we watch sea gulls, pelicans, sharks, fish, turtles and myriad other life forms washing up on shore, or alternately suffocating unseen in the depths, or being incinerated alive in the sea water — that Obama’s concern is the small picture, the tiny, narrow-minded short-term view: How to keep the oil folk, the shrimpers & fishermen, and the tourist industry happy?
But let’s get real. No one — not Obama, not the legislative branch, not the judicial branch, and certainly not the industries who line their pockets — is ready, just yet, to end the age of oil. As such, it remains necessary to keep the focus of this disaster on money, jobs and the economy. There is a concert of industries and individuals — from Obama, to BP, to a judge in Louisiana — working night and day to conceal and distract our attention from the environmental armageddon that has been spawned from this disaster — just long enough to get the propaganda machine cranked up and running, to spin this whole disaster into yet another Democratic plot to thwart industry and jobs.
Yesterday’s ruling by the federal judge to overturn Obama’s *cough* moratorium on deep water drilling is just the impetus necessary to get the ball rolling. As of yesterday — lifeless oceans, suffocating pelicans, torched turtles and tar balls aside — unless someone can prove that deep water drilling is unsafe, it’s unfair for government to put its boot-heel on the neck of industry. Here, the judge (a shareholder, himself, in the oil industry) drew a line in the sand, so to speak. So tell us, Mr. President: Are you pro-American or anti-American?
It’s only a matter of time before industry provides the tea baggers with their slogans and scripts. It’s only a matter of time before it becomes not only acceptable, but laudable and almost mandatory for politicians to rally on behalf of BP, to save them from the evil liberals who would conspire to put them out of business.
I predicted this at the start and, from all signs, it appears to going according to plan. After all, the blueprint had already been drafted for Obama. Reagan drew up the first crude draft; Cheney finessed it. So long as there is one drop of oil left to be drilled, or one ounce of precious minerals left to be extracted from this good earth, we will drill baby drill and — if the ends so justify the means — kill baby kill.
Rev. Wright got it right. Obama’s just another politician. He says and does what politicians say and do. Which means that, so long as we sit dumbly watching from the sidelines, our chickens will continue to come home to roost on our putrid, corrupt shores. And, so long as the sun still rises, the show will go on.
Although the quote has been attributed to Einstein, no one knows who said it first. But, whoever it was, their words were indeed genius:
Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.
Case in point: In the month of May, alone, nearly 25,850 defective children’s sweatshirts and jackets have been recalled, because their drawstrings created a strangulation hazard. In April, there were 24,300. In March, a staggering 50,295. But February wins the prize for insanity, with 227,200 of these sweatshirts and jackets recalled.
Actually, this goes beyond insanity. Consider this: In 1994, in response to 17 child deaths and 42 serious accidents, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) presented evidence to the garment industry that these drawstrings, “could kill children.” The neck drawstrings could – and had killed children by strangulation, when the drawstrings got caught on slides and fences where children played, or on their crib rails. The waist drawstrings could — and had killed children by getting unknowingly caught in school bus or car doors, then dragging the children until they fell under the wheels of the moving vehicle. These drawstrings could – and had killed children whose drawstrings got entangled and pulled them into death matches with escalators, farm machinery, ski lifts….
The garment industry “promised that garments without these drawstrings would be available to consumers beginning with the Spring or Fall 1995 clothing lines.” What they didn’t promise, however, was to stop making them entirely.
In 1996, the CPSC again presented their evidence to the garment industry, only this time, they provided written guidelines (see the hood/neck guideline, below), hoping that the garment industry would voluntarily comply and stop using drawstrings. The following year, in 1997, the ASTM (the American Society for Testing and Materials, in charge of testing children’s clothing for safety) adopted the CPSC guidelines as part of their “voluntary consensus standard” titled, ASTM 1816-97, for the clothing industry. Mind you, neither the CPSC or the ASTM ever breathed the words, “ban” or “mandatory” in their guidelines and standards. They left it to the discretion of the garment industry to stop making clothing that “could kill children.”
Nearly 10 years later, and in the wake of more deaths and serious injuries, the CPSC decided in 2006 to post a letter on its website “to the manufacturers, importers and retailers of children’s upper outerwear, citing the fatalities and urging them to comply with the industry standard, ASTM F 1816-97. The letter explained that the CPSC staff considers children’s upper outerwear with drawstrings at the hood or neck area to be defective and to present a substantial risk of injury under section 15(c) of the Federal Hazardous Substances Act (FHSA), 15 U.S.C. 1274(c).” To give teeth to their pleas, the CSPC also advised that they would slap these manufacturers, retailers and importers with civil fines if they continued making defective clothing. Of course, the CPSC has rarely followed through on this threat.
Is it any wonder, then, that in the year 2010, these drawstring garments continue to be manufactured by the billions and recalled by the millions each year? Is it any wonder that, since the CPSC issued its first warning in 1994, another dozen children — ages 2 through 14 — have been strangled or maimed or pulled into machinery or dragged under the wheels of moving vehicles in accidents caused by these drawstrings?
Here, it’s difficult to know who to blame. Do we blame the manufacturers (dozens of them in 2010, alone, hailing from all over the globe, from China to Mexico, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Peru, Pakistan, India and the U.S.) who have spent the past 16 years thumbing their nose at the evidence that their garments “could kill children”? Or should we blame the CPSC and the ASTM for their milquetoast response to these deaths? Or should we blame the retailers (e.g. various department stores & boutiques, but especially Burlington Coat Factory, which carries the bulk of these recalled garments) for repeatedly stocking their shelves with these sweatshirts, jackets and coats? Or do we blame the consumers, who keep the law of supply and demand alive by continually buying these defective clothes?
Whoever is to blame, the fact remains that — in 2010 alone — there have been 327,645 children’s garments recalled because they were made with built-in hangman’s nooses. Granted, the short-term remedy is simple enough. Remove the drawstrings or, if they’re sewn in, cut the strings off before allowing the child to wear the garment. But this really isn’t enough. After all, this same insanity has been playing out for years with other children’s products — from toys to jewelry to furniture & accessories.
During the first 5 months of 2010, for instance, there have been over 1.5 million cribs recalled due to suffocation and strangulation hazards. This is just a fraction of the 7 million that have been recalled over the past 5 years — a toll that doesn’t even take into account the number of recalled Simplicity brand cribs sold over the past decade or so, whose numbers are unknown and, according to the CSPC, can’t be counted. Since 2000, forty-six children have been killed in defective cribs. Many more have been injured, some suffering permanent brain damage.
Just this month, the CSPC again issued a “warning” to parents against using drop-side cribs (a warning that encompasses just about any crib brand or manufacturer you could name: Storkcraft, Graco, Simplicity and Fisher Price, along with a slew of “boutique” brands). The parents got a warning, while the manufacturers still have carte blanche to keep making them until the proposed ban on the sale of these cribs takes effect at year’s end.
In response, some, but not all crib manufacturers have promised to stop making drop-side cribs real soon, no kidding. Of course, drop-sides are not the only dangerous flaw to crib designs. The manufacturers know this, and so do the CPSC and ASTM. One design flaw, which I personally found present among the inventory of every single crib retailer I recently visited (from elite boutiques to department stores, and from $150 cribs to $1500 cribs) were corner posts and design elements on the upper crib rail that extended over 1/16″ in height — a potentially deadly flaw that is nothing short of criminal on the part of the crib manufacturers. They know better.
For their part, the ASTM has announced plans to introduce tougher guidelines on cribs by year’s end, which will hopefully be tougher than their existing standards and testing, which gave a green light to most of the 7 million cribs that have been recalled over the past 5 years. Not to mention the millions of drawstring garments that have been recalled since the ASTM issued their voluntary standards 13 years ago.
On a related note, the CPSC is still hard at work on those drawstrings. Sixteen years ago, the CPSC described their efforts to stop the sale of these garments as a “fiery determination and creativity to solve the problem.” Today, the CPSC is poised to make a rule that will “enhance understanding in the [garment] industry about how the Commission views such garments.” Reading that line, I can almost hear Scarlett O’Hara breathing those words into Rhett’s ear, using her sultriest southern accent. The CPSC’s goal is modest. They simply want to rephrase their earlier plea to the garment industry, changing the verbiage to reflect this truth: children’s clothing with drawstrings “constitutes substantial product hazards.”
Granted, the wording isn’t quite as strong as it was 16 years ago, when the CPSC advised the garment industry that such clothing “could kill children.” But, heck, maybe the CPSC is onto something. Maybe that’s the key: tone down the verbiage, and quit prattling on about dead children. Try that, and see if those manufacturers don’t stop making products that could kill children. If that doesn’t work, heck, ten years down the road, you can always consider a law to ban the things outright.
There’s a word for people who do the same thing over and over and expect a different result. It’s called insanity. But I wouldn’t necessarily accuse manufacturers of dangerous children’s clothing, cribs, jewelry and toys as being insane, just soulless. They’ve done the math. The payout in potential lawsuits for wrongful deaths and injuries pales in comparison to the killing they can make selling defective items. And apparently business is good enough that — even with billions of recalled products each year — there’s still big money in manufacturing dangerous products. The retailers, such as Burlington Coat Factory, have done the math, too. They know that — even with the occasional $600,000 civil penalty for selling hazardous products — there’s a killing to be made retailing defective goods. For their part, the CPSC and the ASTM are, at best, impotent to fulfill their roles as the vanguards of product safety; at worst, they’re in the pockets of industry, just like everyone else.
But the consumers who knowingly buy these defective products over and over and over — they’re the ones who sustain the demand for defective products. Whether it’s a hangman’s noose, a death trap disguised as a crib, a pretty trinket laced with cadmium and lead, or a toy with small parts that even a monkey could see would choke a child, the consumers keep buying them.
The sane thing would be to stop buying defective products. Stop buying drop-side cribs, clothing with drawstrings, cheap children’s jewelry from China, toys with small parts. Then, like magic, the manufacturers would stand up and do the right thing. They’d stop making them faster than you can say show me the bottom line. They might even roll out a campaign, patting themselves on the back for taking the initiative to stop selling dangerous products for children. Let them do this. The important thing is that the children — past, present and future — who are killed by these products do not die in vain.
For more information or to take action:
CLOTHING SAFETY: Read CPSC’s documentation and proposed new rule, dated May 17, 2010 and titled, “The Determination That Children’s Upper Outerwear in Sizes 2T to 12 With Neck or Hood Drawstrings and Children’s Upper Outerwear in Sizes 2T to 16 With Certain Waist or Bottom Drawstrings Are a Substantial Product Hazard.”
- From this same webpage, you can also access the Federal eRulemaking Portal, where you can submit your own comments on the CPSC’s proposed rule. To leave a comments, simply follow the link to the Federal eRulemaking Portal, then enter the CPSC document number CPSC-2010-0043 into the keyword/ID space on this page and click “search.” This will take you to a page where you can leave a comment. A sample comment might read: As a member of the American public, which your agency serves to protect from dangerous products, I would demand that the CPSC set aside this latest effort to urge voluntary compliance with the garment industry. I would ask that you put an immediate end to 16 years of ineffective CPSC guidelines and, instead, institute an outright mandatory ban on the types of drawstring garments you describe in your proposed rule. To do any less pays a grave disrespect to the painful lessons left by the children who were killed by these dangerous products.
PRODUCT RECALLS: To keep up to date on current product recalls, make regular visits to the CPSC Recall pages, where you can also observe an insane pattern, as the same types of dangerous products get recalled over and over and over again. While you’re at it, you may as well also visit the FDA Recalls pages, where you can see the latest food and drug recalls. Here, you will also observe a similarly insane pattern, as the same types of dangerous products get recalled over and over and over again.
The latest food recall, according to the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), involves “140,000 pounds of fully cooked assorted meat products because they contain an undeclared allergen, wheat starch.” My gripe today isn’t so much with the “undeclared” ingredient, even as this could pose a serious health risk for someone with wheat allergies. I”ve pretty much come to accept that most of the food we eat comes with “undeclared” ingredients, with China winning the prize for frequency and the level of danger.
No, my gripe today is with the utter absence of mention in the official recall notice of the country of origin on these meat products:
- 14-ounce packages of “GIO LUA TAY HO PORK MEAT LOAF WRAPPED IN BANANA LEAVES FULLY COOKED.”
- 13-ounce packages of “BO VIEN TAY HO BEEF MEAT BALL FULLY COOKED.”
- 14-ounce packages of “DOI GIO HEO TAY HO CURED PORK HOCK SAUSAGE WITH ONION WRAPPED IN PORK SKIN FULLY COOKED.”
- 15-ounce packages of “CHA CHIIEN TAY HO FRIED PORK PATTIE FRIED IN VEGETABLE OIL FULLY COOKED.”
- 13-ounce packages of “BO VIEN GAN TAY HO BEEF MEAT BALL WITH BEEF TENDON FULLY COOKED,”
We know this much: this meat was distributed by Westlake Food Corporation, which is variously listed as being “based in” or an “establishment of” Santa Ana, California. But where in the hell were these 140,000 pounds of meat actually processed?
A little digging tells me that Westlake Food Corporation is actually called West Lake Food Corporation. A little more digging tells me that West Lake Food Corporation does not actually process this meat, but is merely an importer/buyer of meats and other meat-like products (including something called “artificial chicken flavor powder”) from Taiwan and China . A little more digging tells me absolutely nothing. My hunch is that, even I held one of these packages of meat in my hands, I’d still not know where it came from, even as I can pretty much bet the bank that the meat was raised and processed in China or Taiwan.
Usually, questions about country of origin can be resolved by contacting a company directly and asking them straight out, as this info is almost never given on their website. In the case of West Lake Foods, however, there is no website. I’ve written the USDA and asked that they begin noting the country-of-origin (who actually made the crap?) with their recall notices. That and a dollar will get me a cup of coffee.
My final gripe on the West Lake recall is that the USDA lists the West Lake meats as being “produced” between April 15 of last year and April 14, 2010. That could very well be true, but I doubt it. Chances are slim to none that the same meat frozen last Wednesday in China has already arrived in port, via a slow boat to USA, and been distributed in the course of 4 days. Would a little better accuracy be too much to ask from the USDA?
UPDATE 4/19/2010 (only 1 hour after writing this post): The USDA responded to my query and informed me that Westlake/West Lake Foods is, indeed, the official processor of these meets at their facility in Santa Ana. (I still beg to differ, as I’ll explain in a moment). This same USDA employee also advised me that the country-of-origin of any company can be found via this page on the USDA website by simply looking up the company’s name or their designated establishment number. Here, I found that Westlake is officially designated as THE processor of the recalled meats. I have yet to be convinced that West Lake/West Lake Foods (also doing business as Tay Ho Foods),an food importer, actually processes these meats, themselves, except to the extent they may buy tons of already-processed meat from China or Taiwan (such as “Cured Pork Ear and Snout” or “Beef Meat Balls with Beef Tendon,” or “Pork Meat Paste”) then RE-package these products at the Westlake/West Lake/Tay Ho facility in Santa Ana. If that’s the case, it seems there should be a distinction between processing and re-packing products that have already been processed. If it’s not the case, I’d love to be enlightened. Any takers?
With this in mind, I have 3 pieces of advice for the American consumer:
Find out where your food comes from. If you can’t find the information, chances are, it came from China.
- If it came from China, don’t buy it and don’t eat it. (I know, this really isn’t possible anymore, but it’s something to aspire to. At the very least, however, you should know where it came from.)
- By the same token, you can’t really trust stuff from anywhere, including the USA — especially meat. So it’s a really good idea to avoid all meat (Americans eat too much of it, anyway) and to keep yourself updated on the latest recalls, most of which we never hear about.
Keep in mind that less than 1/2 of one-percent of products entering this country (e.g. food, drugs, cosmetics, toys, dishes, furniture, electronics, appliances, fabrics, etc.) are inspected or tested before being passed onto the consumer. An equally miniscule number of products ever undergo testing by the USDA, FDA or CPSC. And — no matter what the country-of-origin — shoddy, dangerous or toxic products are not usually discovered until after the fact, once they’ve already been sold to and used by consumers. Here are two ordinary recalls from March/April of this year — a mere fraction of the contaminated items that may be on our store shelves at any given time:
- Salmonella in upwards of 20 million pounds of Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein made since September 2009, courtesy of Basic Food Flavors Inc in Las Vegas, Nevada. Although this recall took place in March, it’s not old news just yet, and won’t be for a while. If you’re a consumer of even an ounce of food that you didn’t grow yourself, you’ll want to take a closer look at this recall, which encompassed a slew of products. And don’t think you’re safe if you’re a vegan, vegetarian or organics-only consumer. This recall affects a complex chain of distributors, which will likely never be fully known. Here is but a tiny sampling of the known brands/retailers: Trader Joes, Kroger, Publix, McCormick, Durkee, French’s, Pringles, Safeway, Weber, T. Marzetti, National Pretzel Company. Have you bought any of these (or anything that contained any of these) in the past 6 months?
- Bouillon Products
- Dressing and Dressing Mix Products
- Flavoring Base and Seasoning Products
- Frozen Food Products
- Gravy Mix Products
- Prepared Salad Products
- Ready-to-Eat Meal Products
- Sauce and Marinade Mix Products
- Snack and Snack Mix Products
- Soup/Soup Mix and Dip/Dip Mix Products
- Spread Products
- Stuffing Products
If so, you’ll want to check out the official roster of brands, products and retailers. Because you might still have some of these products in your cabinets or freezer. That is, if you haven’t already eaten them and wondered, the next day, why your GI tract was all messed up. Perhaps you came down with fever, diarrhea (possibly with blood) nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain. Or maybe a mysterious heart infection. Or arthritis. Hopefully, this didn’t happen to any elderly people, young children or individuals with compromised immune systems, as it may have killed them. That Basic Food Flavors, Inc. knew about this salmonella contamination for several months before the actual recall seems criminal, but I’m no lawyer. Here’s another recall:
- Whole beef heads from North Dakota, which contain a “prohibited” ingredient. It seems that the good folk at North American Bison Co-Op forgot to remove the tonsils. And eating tonsils is as good a way as any to catch mad cow disease. According to the USDA, tonsils are considered a “specified risk material (SRM) and must be removed from cattle of all ages in accordance with FSIS regulations. SRMs are tissues that are known to contain the infective agent in cattle infected with Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), as well as materials that are closely associated with these potentially infective tissues. Therefore, FSIS prohibits SRMs from use as human food to minimize potential human exposure to the BSE agent.” Note the word, ‘minimize.” The fact is, eating any beef from any country is the best way to date for playing Russian roulette with this disease, which will not hit you til years down the road, by which time, you’ll hard-pressed to guess which hamburger, which steak, which soup was the culprit. The only way to truly “minimize” your risk for catching mad cow disease is to not eat any beef at all, period.
But BSE isn’t the only danger lurking in meat. Even if you’re not savvy or particularly concerned about issues such as factory farming and the depletion/destruction of the earth’s resources, species and eco-systems, it’s a good idea, from the standpoint of personal safety, to cut out all meat — whether fish, fowl, pork or beast of burden. Either that, or keep your finger poised over the link to USDA recall bulletins as they arrive, because E. coli, Salmonella and Listeria (not to mention the various other unintentional or “undeclared” ingredients) are regular arrivals to the list. And with such a tiny percentage of contaminated products ever recalled, (and this, usually only once the meat has been distributed throughout the country) you are playing Russian roulette with any meat product you eat. Which is certainly your right, if that’s what you want.
Fool you once….
Here’s a list of recalled Current Recalls & Alerts from the USDA website. Includes all recalls from the past year that are still active.
Here’s the USDA’s list of Archived Recalls (recalls that have been officially completed) which is a kind of creepy list, if you compare the number of pounds that were recalled vs. the number of pounds actually recovered.
And while you’re at it, you may as well check out the April 2010 product recalls by the Consumer Product Safety Commission for the list of products recalled due to various contaminations (e.g. lead) or to manufacuring flaws ranging from faulty manufacturing to insanely dangerous. May as well also check out March and February and January. If you’re the observant sort, you might detect a pattern on these lists, as the same products seem to get recalled over and over again.
Fool you twice, shame on you
On this note, EARTH TO PARENTS: Since manufacturers (particularly those in China) can’t seem to learn from the experiences of the many parents who have suffered the most painful heartbreak imaginable from the injury, poisoning or death of their child from dangerous and inferior products, it’s up to you to be the guardian of your children and avoid buying products that, over and over, have shown to be dangerous. Here are a few tips:
Quit buying jewelry from China for your children. Very little of it gets tested, and a ridiculous amont of it is tainted with lead, cadmium, radioactive waste and whatever else is in the waste dumps they melt down to make into cheap jewelry.
Don’t buy toys, books and clothes from China. They’re likely to include anything from lead to arsenic, cadmium, formaldehyde, phthalates, radioactive waste and a host of other dangerous things.
Use your noodle and don’t buy toys for younger children that have small parts (anything smaller than 1-3/4″, aka anything that would fit inside a cardboard toilet-paper tube). These are choking hazards, and there’s no glue, screw or bolt that you can trust with the life of your child.
Don’t buy toys, clothes or books with small magnets smaller than the above-mentioned dimensions.
Don’t buy cribs with drop down-sides. They’re death traps.
Don’t buy any of these new sleeping apparatuses for children that have hit the market, such as playpen-bassinet combos. These are also death traps. Use your noodle. Research cribs, playpens, bassinets and cradles. Buy something safe, and steer away from newly-designed contraptions, which have been inadequately tested for safety, with living children being the lab rats in these experimental designs.
Avoid like hell mini-blinds from China and Taiwan, which are nearly always contaminated with lead and other heavy metals, which are dispersed into the air as dust.
And, for godsakes, don’t leave mini-blind cords where a child can be hung by them. Cut the damned things off, if that’s what it takes.
If you must buy jackets, sweatshirts and hoodies with ties around the neck or waist, cut the cords/strings off before you allow your child to wear them. Do you know that this is an accident waiting to happen? In my own town, within the span of 10 seconds, a 4-year old child went down the slide at his preschool and had his neck snapped, just like that. Dead in 10 seconds, no saving him. Avoid waist cords, too, which can get caught in, say, a school bus door, and become a bizarre accident and a parent’s worst nightmare.
There’s a sea of water bottles to choose from out there, but the list grows really short, once you cast out all the bottles made in China. While the ideal portable water bottle may be stainless steel, you’ll not find one on my list (below) of recommended bottles. This is because, without exception, all stainless steel water bottles are made in China. According to one manufacturer I contacted, who’d recently added a line of stainless steel bottles to their line:
Stainless is literally impossible to manufacture in the US unless you can charge $100 per bottle. There were only 2 factories in the entire US that entertained the idea. One eventually said they couldn’t do it, and the other could do it but for a price nobody would pay.
They’re right, of course. While there are apparently many consumers who’d think nothing of shelling out $100 or $200 for a $2 canvas or nylon Juicy Couture or a Burberry bag made in China, (or, say, $300 for a purple nylon Prada cosmetics bag no bigger than an index card, and which was, in all likelihood, secretly made in China for less than a penny on the dollar) – these same people would rail at the idea of paying $100 for a stainless steel water bottle. Particularly for a water bottle that — come next year — might be just as un-trendy as last year’s $200 handbag. This arrangement works out just fine for trend-savvy consumers, who demand their water bottles not only hydrate them, but make a fashion statement as well. Fact is, most reusable water bottles are really only so for a short time before they fall apart, spring a leak, develop a yucky taste or are found to be toxic.
Those manufacturers were also right about the cost to manufacture that $100 stainless steel water bottle. This isn’t due, as we’ve been told, to the evils of unions and industry regulations & standards in the USA. It’s because, in the real world, that’s how much it costs to manufacture a stainless steel water bottle. Germany knows this. Japan knows it. Canada knows it. Switzerland knows it. France knows it. Otherwise, they’d all be making their own stainless steel bottles, instead of setting up shop in China. And why shouldn’t they? After all, China is cranking them out by the millions for a fraction of the real world cost.
Case in point: Until Thermos shipped their operations over to China, the price for a 32 oz. stainless steel Thermos bottle was keeping pace (just like the cost of sugar, cotton, iron, steel and labor) with the Consumer Price Index of the BLS. So, yes, according to the BLS calculator, the $15 price tag on that 1960 stainless Thermos bottle would now be just over $100. That is, were the bottle still being made in the USA — or for that matter in any developed country where workers are paid fair wages, and where a modicum of industrial, environmental, worker and product safety standards are observed.
Yet, a stainless steel water bottle can easily be bought today for a mere $5 – a third of what they cost 50 years ago! The lack of a lifetime guarantee — or even a guarantee that, a year down the road, this same bottle won’t be found to contain toxic materials — seems to be no impediment to the lure of goods made in China.
All of which goes to explain the absence of stainless steel water bottles on my list. That leaves just glass and plastic, neither of which I’d recommend buying from China. The glass bottles I recommend are made in either the USA or Italy (with the latter made by Bormioli Rocco, the renowned maker of pharmaceutical, food-grade and fine glassware vessels). The plastic bottles are all made in the USA, with two partial exceptions to the rule, which are boldly noted in my descriptions, below.
But first, an update on BPA and phthalates….
All of the plastic bottles below are advertised as being free of the more famous endocrine disruptors — BPA and phthalates – with which most consumers are now familiar. However, the emerging science, which we’ll be hearing about soon enough, indicates that BPA and phthalates (such as DEHA and DEHP), are only a few of the hundreds of endocrine disrupting, estrogenic-active (EA) chemicals used in plastic manufacturing. And because EA chemicals tend to accumulate in the body with repeated exposures, and because they may also be associated with health issues ranging from from birth defects, low birth weight, diabetes, obesity, genetic damage and learning disorders, to male sterility and reproductive cancers, this seems an important factor for anyone — but particularly those with health problems or a compromised immune system – to consider when purchasing plastic products for personal use. To date, only one company, Hydrapak, has taken a pioneering role in addressing this concern and made a plastic water bottle certified to be EA-free. For this reason, Hydrapak’s PureBot water bottle tentatively (until the science tells us otherwise) earns the number one slot among plastic water bottles. But the number one choice for water bottles is glass which, after 3,000 years, is still the cat’s pajamas.
- HercuGlass Water Bottles (the almost unbreakable water bottle)– Face it, cold water just tastes better out of a glass bottle. If you grew up in the 1950s-60s, like me, and your mom kept one of those classic green glass bottles in the fridge, you know what I’m talking about. While there’s no such thing as break-proof glass, HercuGlass is designed to withstand drops that would shatter most glass. (Watch some trial drops in this YouTube video). These water bottles are available in 3 basic styles — flasks, sports bottles and the classic European mineral water bottle shape. The capacities range from 8 ounces to 34 ounces. Because they’re glass, all you taste is pure water. Plus, you can also drink fruit juices or add a lemon slice without fear of it interacting with the plastic. The manufacturing process on HercuGlass is a little different than most glassware, as the bottles undergo an additional ion-strengthening process, developed at the New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University. The end result is a line of high-strength glassware — from beer steins to canning jars to water bottles — tested to withstand up to 7-foot drops without breaking. (But just to be safe, the company also sells $6 zip-up Koozies with their water bottles for insulation and as added protection against breakage.) While hikers, cyclists, campers and college students reportedly use HercuGlass water bottles without incident, there’s no getting around the fact that glass does require extra precaution to carry, which may be too impractical for some people and some situations. For those people, this bottle would still make a fine water bottle for home use, bed-side hydration and lighter-duty travels — perfect occasions for setting aside the plastic bottle which, no matter how you spin it, is inferior to glass in every way, except portability. Average price $8.45 to $14.95, depending on size/style. Made in either the USA or Italy, depending upon which bottle style you choose.
- PureBot Aside from being certified EA-free, the PureBot is durable, dishwasher safe, and reasonably priced. I’ve tried this bottle myself and found it to be leak-proof, lightweight, with no off-taste from the plastic. I like the pull-up sports top, which means it’s simple to get a drink of water — no unscrewing of lids, no sucking like a hamster, no ingenious contraptions to fall apart. (I could wish for an attached dirt/germ cover of some sort, but I’m not complaining). I also like the wide-mouth lid, which makes it easy to fill with ice cubes. It’s made of recyclable #4 plastic and comes in only two color-design choices (a grassy scene and a blue squiggly design), which may be a bummer if you’re the sort who also demands a fashion statement from your water bottle. This bottle is available in only a few select fitness/athletic stores, which means that most of us will have to buy it online, via Hydrapak. At this reasonable price, it may be worth taking up a pool and buying several to save on shipping costs. Average cost $9.99 for a 24 oz. bottle. Made in Texas, USA.
- Platypus Soft Bottle The first thing you need to know about the Platy, as it’s users affectionately call this water bottle, is that this is not really a bottle at all, but a bag that looks remarkably similar to an IV bag. As such, it is almost guaranteed to draw questions and comments from curious onlookers. The reviews of seasoned Platypus users are nearly always glowing. For starters, the Platy is astoundingly durable and featherlight — a huge plus for campers and hikers. While I don’t personally recommend heating plastic — ever — Platy users routinely freeze or boil the bag, using it for anything from from ice water to hot coffee (hence its double-duty as an ice pack or a hot water bottle). Most users report that it leaves no off-taste and rarely springs a leak — even after up to 10 years of heavy-duty use. And because it’s a bag, its shape conforms, unlike hard bottles, to fit inside purses, totes, luggage and backpacks when full. And when empty, you hardly know it’s there. Simply fold it and slip into your pocket or bag. The drawbacks? Some bag designs require a longer attention span to fill with water, and — although you can put it into the dishwasher — the only way to really cleaning the bag is to swish soapy water around the inside, then rinse. The larger bags require two hands to hold while drinking. Plus, if you’re the sort who likes to make a fashion statement, there’s nothing like sucking on an IV bag to convey the message, “I’m too sexy for my water.” Sizes range from a .5 liter (17 ounce) bag to 1 liter (about a quart) to a whopping 3 liter or even a gallon bag (for campers and such). There are several drinking apparatuses available — the hyper-flow bite valve, the push-pull sports cap, and the closure cap (a generic bottle lid, just like the ones on disposable water bottles). Average price $7.95 and up, depending on size. Made by Cascade Designs in the USA.
OTHER NOTES: I’m not sure what the Platypus is made of, as the company site (Cascade Designs) is down. According to one (likely incorrect) product description, it is made of “welded, triple-layer plastic laminate lined with food-grade polyethylene.” Another description — likely the correct one — reports that the Playpus is made of “#5 polypropylene plastic”. If I remember to, I’ll update this info once the Cascade Design site returns. For now, we at least know that, unlike some of the plastic bottles on this page, the Platypus is genuinely recyclable
- Thermos Tritan Copolyester Intak water bottles (EXCEPTION TO THE RULE: The lid on this bottle was made in China. The bottle itself is made in the USA). The Thermos line of Intak bottles is made from Tritan CoPolyester, which is rigid, clear and claims to be BPA-free. The Intak offers 3 drinking apparatus designs — the screw-off lid, the straw, and the pop-up lid with spout. The first two designs (both 18 oz. bottles) have problems. The screw-off lid is a pain in the neck. The straw design is worse, as the water tends to sneak and wick up the straw between drinks, then dribble out (or, alternately, will create a geyser-effect and spray you when you open the straw). But I can highly recommend the pop-up lid design, which I’ve tried. I like the way it keeps the drinking spout covered between drinks — an important consideration for anyone working or playing in the dirt, or for those who might be using their bottle in germ-ridden places, esp. hospitals and doctor’s offices. There are two caveats. One, this bottle must be carried upright, as it may leak if carried sideways or upside-down. The Thermos company acknowledges this as the trade-off to creating this spiffy, easy-to-use drinking apparatus. The second caveat is about the little plastic seal in the lid of the cap. Don’t lose it. According to some users, this seal falls off, gets lost and renders the bottle terribly leaky. I’ve not had this problem — the seal seems quite secure — but, then, I always hand-wash plastic. I don’t put it into a dishwasher, which I suspect may play a role in making these seals more prone to falling off. Average price $8 to $12, widely available. Bottle made in the USA, lid made in China.
OTHER NOTES: Tritan Copolyester is a #7 plastic, which means that — until further notice — it is not recyclable in most municipalities. Lastly, according to the Thermos representative I contacted, all of their products are made in China, except for their plastic bottles.
- Nalgene water bottles Nalgene offers 3 lines of bottles that claim to be BPA-free: Tritan Copolyester, HDPE (high-density polyethylene) and LDPE (low-density polyethylene). Within these three lines are many sizes/colors/styles/drinking apparatuses from which to choose. I have not tried these bottles but — like the Thermos Intak (above) — people seem to either love or hate them. This is primarily a matter of personal preference for one design/configuration over another. Amazon is a good place to read consumer reviews regarding the pros and cons on any given design/configuration to see what will best suit you. Average price $5 to $12, depending on size/design. According to the person I contacted at Nalgene, the bottle and lids are both made in New York, USA.
OTHER NOTES: Nalgene is phasing out its line of polycarbonate bottles, which do contain BPA. All of their standard water bottles are recyclable except for the Tritan Copolyester — a #7 plastic which is, again, not recyclable in most municipalities. Nalgene also carries a water bottle (bag) similar to the Platypus, however, it is made in China.
- Polar Bottles (EXCEPTION TO THE RULE: The foil liners on these bottles are made in China. The rest of the bottle is made in the USA). Designed for cyclists, these nifty plastic bottles are made of LDPE and have an insulating outer cover, which keeps water cold and also helps prevent sweating. The drinking valve is made of urethane, which may or may not be an issue. I’m no chemist. I’ve not used this bottle, but it generally gets rave reviews from users, although (because this is a squeeze-type bottle) some complain about the amount of pressure necessary to squeezing water out. This may be an important consideration for younger folk (with smaller hands) or for anyone whose hand strength is not up to par. The Polar Bottle is BPA-free, recyclable, and offers a diverse color selection, with prices ranging from $9 to $12. Except for the outer liner, the bottle is made in Colorado, USA.
OTHER NOTES: Why did I made exceptions on the no-China rule with the Polar Bottle and Thermos Tritan components? Mainly to offer more choices, as there are really so few bottles being made in the USA. Here, it’s reasonable to expect that — since the bottles themselves are made in the USA, and because the liner and cap are not in constant contact with the drinking water — there may be less opportunity for leaching.
Bio Plastic Bottles There are several companies in the U.S. making water bottles from so-called “green” or bio plastics, which are variously made of corn and other vegetable matter (some of them GMO) and/or have additives in the plastic to help them biodegrade within just a few months or years, rather than the 1,000 for conventional plastics. Good idea. But the emphasis seems to be on biodegradability, with little attention paid to personal safety, in terms of what these plastics may be leaching into drinking water. This question is particularly pertinent to bio plastics with applied colors and designs – a matter than has yet to be raised in the drinking-water community, but which has been raised in the medical industry, during their trial efforts to use (and apply labeling to) these plastics. Also, while these bottles claim to be sustainably made and recyclable, they’re all #7 plastics, so they’re not really recyclable just yet. Users report off-putting tastes in these bio-plastics just as often as in conventional plastic. Bio plastics may or may not be a step in the right direction, in terms of sustainability, but in terms of their safety as drinking vessels, I’ve not found the research and testing to back this up. So I can’t give a thumbs-up, just yet, to bio plastics.
Aluminum or stainless steel water bottles — The only metal bottle not being made in China is the Siggs aluminum water bottle, made in Switzerland, which continues draw concerns — not only because of the questionable safety of drinking from aluminum, but from the ongoing concerns over the unknown safety of the resin liners in these bottles. Responding to these concerns, Siggs recently introduced their Steelworks line of stainless steel bottles, made in (where else?) China.
And speaking of China…
Because China has a proven track record of manufacturing steel products contaminated with everything from lead to cadmium, asbestos, Cobalt-60 and other radioactive wastes, I wouldn’t recommend any stainless steel water bottle from China, no matter how heroic the safety measures and guarantees, such as this one from a manufacturer of children’s stainless steel water bottles:
“We are an American company however our products are manufactured in China. We have done everything to ensure our factories, worker conditions and products are up to our standards. To do so, we visit our factories frequently. The factories are very clean, orderly and humane. Most importantly, they are ISO (International Standards of Operation) certified which is very difficult to attain and comes from an outside agency that audits for manufacturing processes and standards. Finally, we have the independent testing lab, STR, test all elements of our products from the steel and plastic compounds, to FDA and European child safety standards, to the durability of the stainless steel body – just to make sure.”
Just to make sure, I could ramble off a list of other manufacturers who, just a few years ago, were making similar claims claims about doing “everything to ensure our factories, worker conditions and products are up to our standards,” in the manufacturing of their brands of baby food, baby formula, baby furniture, children’s toys & jewelry, apple juice, cookies, dishes, exploding frying pans, dog food, rice, tea, chocolates, toothpaste, shampoo, clothing and drywall, that were later discovered (doh!) to contain melamine or dangerous levels of lead, arsenic, cadmium, formaldehyde and/or a host of other contaminants.
Yet, American companies continue to tell us that the costs are too prohibitive to manufacture goods in the U.S.A. It’s somehow cheaper to do it in China — even with all the extra effort and manpower necessary “just to be sure” that their products don’t fall prey to the China-recall syndrome. Perhaps it’s the lack of environmental regulations. Or the lack of worker safety standards. Or the cheap ingredients. Or the shoddy workmanship. Or the slave-wage labor (12-cents an hour will buy you a lot more sweat than the living wages paid in the U.S.). Whatever it is, it must be worth it, because American companies continue to flock like lemmings to China, assuring us as they go that they are doing “everything” to assure the safety of these products.
If these manufacturers were genuinely concerned about the health and safety of their customers (not to mention the health of the American economy), they’d pull up stakes and move shop back to the USA. And not to a private US-prison, with its own built-in slave labor work force, but to a genuine American factory, just like in the old days, when we had a viable economy. And they’d quit bellyaching about complying with environmental, industry, worker safety and product safety regulations and standards. Because, truth is, our hands aren’t so clean, either. The U.S.A. turns out its own share of toxic, shoddily constructed products. We just don’t hear about it.
The bottom line is this: The cost of manufacturing goods in China has long been too prohibitive to the health of the American consumer — not to mention our economy. These so called “American” manufacturers might be surprised to know just how many people would gladly shell out the extra bucks to buy a water bottle (or a yard of fabric, a crib, a toy, a book, a tube of toothpaste, a dress, a purse, a bag of dog food, a bicycle, a candy bar, a cell phone, a smoked salmon, a television, a desk, a bottle of vitamins, and most anything you can name) that was not grown, processed and/or manufactured in China.
If one of these manufacturers would be so bold as to try peddling integrity as well as Juicy Couture and Prada market vanity, they could make a handsome profit. It doesn’t take much googling to see that the world is full of people looking for products not made in China. They’re not looking for another $5 stainless steel bottle made in China. Just a product they can be reasonably certain will not poison them, injure them, or make them sick.
Spin the Bottle
Back when I was a kid, we used to dig really deep holes in the sandbox — going for bedrock because, rumor had it, if we kept digging, we might reach China. So imagine my surprise to find myself today — all grown up, and still digging my way to China. This seems to be the only way anymore to find out where a product was made: start digging and keep digging until you get there.
This has been the case whether researching water bottles, board games, cosmetics & toiletries, fabrics, furniture or toys. It seems that companies are getting more and more clever about dodging the topic or disguising the country-of-origin in their advertising and on their websites. Over time, I’ve learned to spot some of the red flags. Sometimes you have to read between the lines, such as:
- When a company brags about being “headquartered” or “based” in the US, or that its product was “developed in the US,” or “designed in the US,” yet makes no mention of where their product was manufactured….
- Or if a company boasts that they are in “close partnership” with their global team, or that they “adhere to the strictest quality standards in their manufacturing,” yet makes no mention of where their product was made….
- Or if a company proudly tacks the letters “USA” to the end of its name, yet is remiss in mentioning where their products are actually made….
- Or if a company brags overlong about its 100 year history — offering, perhaps, a detailed timeline, beginning with Grandpa’s drug store in Podunk, New York — yet neglects to mention in whose third-world basement this product is now being made….
- Or if a company gushes green over their concern for the health of the planet and its people — and has a artfully laid out website, complete with a with a tasteful, minimalist line of products to back up their claim (and may even be involved in noble, charitable works to bring clean water to impoverished people) — yet makes no mention of where their oh-so sustainable, green, recycled, recyclable, responsibly manufactured products are being manufactured, you can bet the bank that they’re being made in China.
Still, it’s a basic human kindness to give them the benefit of a doubt. When in doubt, ask. Give them a call or write a short, polite email. Most, but not all companies will write you back. The usual explanation goes, “We found it prohibitive to manufacture this product in the USA.” But sometimes you may be pleasantly surprised to hear the voice on the other end of the phone tell you, “Yes, we make all of our products in the USA!”
Still, all this digging makes me a bit tired and soul-weary. I’ve dug my way to China more times than I can count, and I’m here to tell you its not as enchanting as I envisioned back in my sandbox days. But I made it, and I’m back to report that there are a lot of water bottles being made on the other side of the world. Here are a few:
- Bean Canteen
- Charity Bottle
- Contigo (Made by Ignite USA)
- Crocodile Creek
- DAJO Adventure Gear
- Fit & Fresh LivPure
- Good Life Gear
- Great American Products
- Guyot Designs
- Klean Kanteen
- Lifeline (including an extensive line of “Pink Ribbon Breast Cancer Awareness” stainless steel water bottles)
- Liquid Logic
- Lock & Lock
- Nalgene Canteen
- New Wave
- PMCI (Penn Marketing Co, Inc.)
- PMI (Pacific Marketing International)
- Pure Hydration
- Shinzi Katoh
- Siggs (Stainless Steel bottles only)
- Thermos (all lines but the plastic)
- Together Bottles
- US Canteen
So long as we keep buying them, these manufacturers will keep giving us exactly what we demand — millions of cheap, pretty bottles that may or may not be hazardous to our health. Chances are, we’ll never know.
submitted by L. Lance
Last week I got the news that my 17 year old niece’s liver is “shot.” Tests are pending to determine how this diagnosis will effect the potential of a bright, intelligent, beautiful young woman who, until last week, believed that the greatest challenge before her was financing her college education. According to her doctor, the liver damage is the result of “unintentional overdosing” on Tylenol + allergy medications.
Most of us have heard at least a few of these stories about people who inadvertently took “too much” Tylenol — stories about people who unknowingly and unintentionally overdosed by taking Tylenol + other medications that contain acetaminophen: stories about perfectly healthy people who, out of the blue, developed acute liver failure and died.
There are some who would like us to believe that liver damage from acetaminophen is entirely self-inflicted — the result of suicide attempts, or a by-product of alcoholism or pain-killer addiction. While these may account for a large number of the cases, research has also been revealing, for years now, that a surprising number of cases involve people who were taking the recommended dose — or less — or who unknowingly took several medications containing acetaminophen. And it doesn’t take years or even weeks to deliver a fatal dose to your liver. It takes only a few days. Just a few days of accidentally doing the wrong thing.
According to a July 2009 LA Times piece, acetaminophen overdose is the #1 cause of acute liver failure in the United States. And, unlike other forms of liver failure that take years to develop, such as with alcoholism and disease, acute liver failure from acetaminophen overdose can develop in just 48 hours. In California, alone, of the nearly 8,000 cases of actual acetaminophen overdose in 2008, 4,368 were unintentional.
This has grown to be such a problem that other countries, such as the UK (whose evil socialist government “runs” health care and therefore — unlike the U.S. — has a financial stake in the health and well-being of its citizens) have made changes to the dosage, packaging and marketing of acetaminophen in an effort to put the brakes on what had become an epidemic of acute liver failure due to acetaminophen overdose. These efforts have cut back dramatically on the incidence of acute liver failure from unintentional acetaminophen overdoses.
The U.S. tried something similar last year. The title to the June 2009 ABC news report pretty well summed up the impetus: FDA Panel Urges Cuts in Acetaminophen Dosage: Concerns Over Unintentional Overdose Hazards May Change How Drug Is Marketed
Here, history seems to be repeating itself. In 1977, an FDA advisory panel issued an urgent recommendation that Tylenol labels be required to carry this warning: “Do not exceed recommended dosage because severe liver damage may occur.” The emerging science concurred, as seen in this 1979 news article:
It took nearly 30 years of ignoring the science and millions in wrongful death lawsuits against Tylenol, but the FDA finally heeded the panel’s urgent recommendation. As of 2006, Tylenol labels began warning that taking more than 8 Extra Strength Tylenol tablets can cause severe liver damage. Last year’s urgent recommendations to the FDA have been similarly left to collect dust. For the record, the panel’s four recommendations were as follows:
- Lowering the maximum total daily dose of nonprescription acetaminophen for adults, which is currently set at 4,000 mg. per day [which makes sense, considering that, according to the warnings info on the Tylenol website, 4,000 mg. per day is safe, but anything over this may cause "severe liver damage," which seems an awfully tight rope to walk, considering that one pill per day too much can mean the difference between a "safe" dose and severe liver damage].
- Reducing the maximum single dose of non-prescription acetaminophen for adults to 650 mg from the current maximum of 1,000 mg [which also makes sense, considering that one could dutifully follow the label directions on Extra Strength Tylenol to take "two caplets every 4 to 6 hours" -- perhaps overlooking or downplaying the importance of the warning to not exceed 8 caplets in 24 hours -- only to unintentionally overdose (6 doses x 1000 mg. = 6,000 mg per day) to the tune of 2,000 mg. over the safe limit per day].
- Making this 1,000 mg. adult single dose by prescription only [Reminder for those terrified of big government intrusion into your lives: this regulation wouldn't prohibit determined people from doubling up and taking as many over-the-counter mgs. as they please; it would only make the dispensing of this higher risk dosage less haphazard than it currently is.]
- Eliminating acetaminophen from combination prescription products.” [Another reminder for folk terrified of big government take-overs: this regulation would not take away your Vicodin and Percocet. It would only remove acetaminophen from these products, to help avoid the potential for overdosing on acetaminophen. There would be nothing preventing you from taking over-the-counter acetaminophen with your Vicodin and Percocet].
In response to these recommendations, the makers of Tylenol — McNeil Consumer Healthcare – released a statement:
“While we share the FDA’s mutual goal of preventing and decreasing the misuse and overdose of acetaminophen, we have concerns that some of the FDA recommendations could discourage appropriate use and are not necessary to addressing the root causes of acetaminophen overdose.”
At first read, it’s difficult to pin down exactly what the folks at Tylenol hoped to convey in this statement.
Is their goal to spare others the fate of, say, my 17-year old niece? If so, then it would have behooved them to extrapolate a bit on the terms, “appropriate use” and “root causes of acetaminophen overdose.” Otherwise they run the risk of appearing to be more concerned about their profit margin than the margin of safety for those who use Tylenol.
But since they didn’t extrapolate — and since the advice of the FDA panel has yet to be followed — I’ll seize the mantle. Allow me to extrapolate because, according to the FDA, “about half of the deaths associated with taking painkillers containing acetaminophen are due to unintended overdoses.” Allow me to extrapolate, so that I may enlighten the average American consumer to what I wish my sister-in-law had known 17 years ago — back when the makers of Tylenol were still arguing with science and stonewalling efforts to post warnings on their labels — back when my sister-in-law first started medicating my niece with Tylenol in conjunction with various allergy and cold medications, many of which also contained acetaminophen. Allow me to extrapolate.
By my math, if a parent dutifully follows these instructions, then — over the period of 24 hours — they will have dispensed 7 doses of Tylenol to their child, which is, if you bother to read the accompanying warning on the package, two doses too many — precisely enough to cause, according to the package, “severe liver damage.”
One could hardly blame parents — preoccupied with the needs of their sick child — for not doing the math, for failing to notice that the dosing instructions are utterly contradicted by this warning: “Severe liver damage may occur if your child takes more than 5 doses in 24 hours.”
The packaging for Regular Strength Tylenol for adults contains a similar mathematical sleight of hand, as adults are advised to take “2 tablets every 4 to 6 hours” (which could equate to 14 tablets per day), even as their warning utterly contradicts this advice: “Severe liver damage may occur if adult takes more than 12 tablets in 24 hours.”
If the folk at Tylenol were genuinely interested in “addressing the root causes of acetaminophen overdose,” they might have opted to be more clear in the instructions on their Children and Adult Tylenol packages by simply directing: “Take every 6 hours.”
The problem is — and we all know this — Tylenol tends to wear off in 4 hours. To someone in pain, or to a parent with a feverish child, the implicit permission to dose every 4 hours is not only a blessing, it’s a necessity. Six hours is just too long. The folks who peddle acetaminophen know this. We all know this. How to market a product with this built-in flaw — where the de facto effective dose is also enough to potentially cause acute liver failure?
The answer seems to be this: Give 2 sets of contradictory instructions, then put the onus of noticing the discrepancy onto the consumer. Riddle consumers with a mystery wrapped inside an enigma, then tell them, “We’ve told you, in so many words, what to do. If you screw up and heed the wrong set of instructions, don’t say we didn’t warn you.”
To this end, the folk at Tylenol waged an ad campaign telling their customers, “If you’re not going to take Tylenol properly, we’d rather you didn’t take it at all.”
A math-savvy consumer could counter this with, “If you’re not going to tell your customers how to properly take Tylenol, we’d rather you didn’t sell the stuff.”
NOTE: For practical advice on avoiding accidental acetaminophen overdose, Medicine.net has some sound guidelines to follow, including the advice to not exceed the recommended maximum dose per day, which seems the safest bet, given the ambiguities of the label directions on every single acetaminophen package I’ve consulted.
Because, earth to acetaminophen peddlers, no matter how carefully you follow the letter of the law — carefully protecting yourself from liability by printing mathematical enigmas on your packaging, which are supposed to suffice as warnings — the fact is that most people think of Tylenol as an entirely safe drug, never suspecting that, given the perfect storm of circumstances, the threshold between a “safe” dose and a potentially liver-damaging dose may be as little as one pill per day over the course of a few days.
Equally disconcerting are the factors that go into making this perfect storm — such as being sick with the flu and not eating or drinking normally for a few days. This, in itself, is enough to tip the “safe” dose into the liver-damaging category, which Tylenol sort of, kind of hints at on their site in so many words.
HOW MANY DAYS IS IT “SAFE” TO TAKE TYLENOL? (The translation)
According to the warnings on the Tylenol site for the Children’s Tylenol:
- Pain gets worse or lasts more than 5 days.
- Fever gets worse or lasts more than 3 days.
- It is not safe for a child to take Tylenol for longer than 5 days, (10 days for an adult) unless directed by a doctor.
- A sick child (or adult or anorexic), who may not be eating or drinking normally, should not take Tylenol for more than 3 days.
The latter point was more authoritatively stated by Dr. Robert Squires, clinical director of the Division of Pediatric Gastroenterology at the University Pittsburgh School of Medicine. As written in the above-mentioned ABC news article from last June:
“While four grams per day for a day is safe, [NOTE: 4 grams = the 12-tablet maximum dosage on the adult Tylenol package] there may be circumstances that would make this dose problematic,” he said. These circumstances, he said, could include cases in which acetaminophen pills are taken with other acetaminophen medication, taken with alcohol, or taken in association with the prolonged fasting one might experience when they are sick.
It would surely come as a surprise to many Tylenol users to know that — should they be off their feed for a few days while sick with, say, the flu while simultaneously taking Tylenol according to label instructions — they might be “unintentionally overdosing” on acetaminophen. All the worse if they are also taking other medications for cold, cough or sinus symptoms that contain acetaminophen. Too, you’d hardly think that just a few days of taking the recommended dose of Tylenol could have such dire effects.
Or, in the case of my niece, that you could be engaged in everyday teenage pursuits — learning to drive, going to the beach with friends, planning college, arguing with your mother, sneaking text-messages in class, over-obsessing about your imperfections — only to be told, seemingly out of the blue, that your liver is “shot.”