This sounds interesting, to put it mildly.
GREEN CHEMISTRY: Necessary Steps to a Sustainable Future
Tuesday, April 18, 7:30 PM
St. Johnâ€™s Church, 80 Mt. Auburn Street
A lecture by John C. Warner
Professor, Plastics Engineering and Professor, Community Health and Sustainability Director, Center for Green Chemistry, Univ. of Massachusetts Lowell
Admission Free, Refreshments Served
Sponsored by PURE (Pesticide Use Reduction and Education committee of Watertown Citizens for Environmental Safety)
Imagine a world where all segments of society demanded environmentally benign products! Imagine if all consumers, all retailers and all manufacturers insisted on buying and selling only non-toxic materials! The unfortunate reality is that, even if this situation were to occur, our knowledge of materials science and chemistry would allow us to provide only a small fraction of the products and materials that our economy is based upon. The way we learn and teach chemistry and materials science is for the most part void of any information regarding mechanisms of toxicity and environmental harm. Green Chemistry is a philosophy that seeks to reduce or eliminate the use of hazardous materials at the design stage of a materials process. It has been demonstrated that materials and products CAN be designed with negligible impact on human health and the environment while still being economically competitive and successful in the marketplace. This presentation will describe the history and background of Green Chemistry and discuss the opportunities for the next generation of materials designers to create a safer future.
For more information, email cherrylaura[at]hotmail.com.
As we are oft reminded, the devil is in the details. (See, and you thought he was in the White House.) This aphorism springs to mind not because I am working on my tax return but in response to my home state of Massachusetts passing landmark legislation that ostensibly provides for near universal health insurance coverage in the state. While this news may be cause for cautious optimism, I believe that it would be premature to break out the champagne and Cheez-its. There are still many details to be worked out, and only timeâ€”and a serious commitment to true health care reformâ€”will tell whether the promise of this legislation will be met. In any regard, in the event that you are unaware of this legislation and its provisions or canâ€™t be bothered because you are too busy playing Tetris on your cell phone, allow me to clue you in, courtesy of the Boston Globe:
BOSTONâ€”Lawmakers overwhelmingly approved a bill Tuesday that would make Massachusetts the first state to require that all of its citizens have some form of health insurance.
The planâ€”hailed as a national model and approved just 24 hours after the final details were releasedâ€”would dramatically expand access to health care over the next three years.
If all goes as the supporters hope, those already insured will see a modest drop in their premiums, lower-income residents will be offered new, more affordable plans and subsidies to help them pay for coverage, and those who can afford insurance but refuse will face increasing tax penalties until they obtain coverage. [full text]
Sounds good so far, right? Exciting. Innovative. Progressive. But hereâ€™s where it gets sticky. It remains decidedly unclearâ€”and, indeed, has yet to be determinedâ€”what will constitute an â€œaffordable planâ€? and what the minimum standards of coverage will be. Depending on what the various committees and task forces that will soon be assigned the challenging job of fleshing out the finer details ultimately decide (and how they are swayed by the bevy of lobbyists that will no doubt descend on them like a plague of hungry locusts), it remains to be seen whether this legislation will adequately meet the needs of the citizens of this commonwealth or simply provide universal health insurance coverage in name alone. Steffie Woolhandler and David Himmelstein, both of whom are physicians and associate professors at Harvard Medical School, raise three particular concerns about the Massachusetts legislation, in an article posted on the Common Dreams website:
First, the politicians assumed that only about 500,000 people in Massachusetts are uninsured. The Census Bureau says that 748,000 are uninsured. Why the difference? The 500,000 figure comes from a phone survey conducted in English and Spanish. Anyone without a phone or who speaks another language is counted as insured. The 748,000 figure comes from a door-to-door survey carried out in many languages (including Portuguese and Haitian Creole, common languages in Massachusetts). In sum, the reform plan wishes away 248,000 uninsured people who donâ€™t have phones or donâ€™t speak English or Spanish. It provides no funding or means to get them coverage.
Second, the linchpin of the plan is the false assumption that uninsured people will be able to find affordable health plans. A typical group policy in Massachusetts costs about $4500 annually for an individual and more than $11,000 for family coverage. A wealthy uninsured person could afford that â€“ but few of the uninsured are wealthy. A 25 year old fitness instructor can find a cheaper plan. But few of the uninsured are young and healthy. According to Census Bureau figures, only 12.4% of the 748,000 uninsured in Massachusetts are both young enough to qualify for low-premium plans (under age 35) and affluent enough (incomes greater than 499% of poverty) to readily afford them. Yet even this 12.4% figure may be too high if insurers are allowed to charge higher premiums for persons with health problems; only half of uninsured persons in those age and income categories report that they are in â€œexcellent health.â€?
The legislation promises that the uninsured will be offered comprehensive, affordable private health plans. But thatâ€™s like promising chocolate chip cookies with no fat, sugar or calories. The only way to get cheaper plans is to strip down the coverage â€“ boost copayments, deductibles, uncovered services etc.
Hence, the requirement that most of the uninsured purchase coverage will either require them to pay money they donâ€™t have, or buy nearly worthless stripped down policies that represent coverage in name only.
Third, the legislation will do nothing to contain the skyrocketing costs of care in Massachusetts â€“ already the highest in the world. Indeed, it gives new infusions of cash to hospitals and private insurers. Predictably, rising costs will force more and more employers to drop coverage, while state coffers will be drained by the continuing cost increases in Medicaid. Moreover, when the next recession hits, tax revenues will fall just as a flood of newly unemployed people join the Medicaid program or apply for the insurance subsidies promised in the reform legislation. The program is simply not sustainable over the long â€“ or even medium â€“ term. [full text]
Another concern posed by the legislation is its mandatory nature, complete with financial penalties for those (in the more modest income brackets and above) who are unable or unwilling to comply. Steve LeBlanc touches on this issue in an article in the Boston Globe:
It’s the most innovative — or radical — portion of Massachusetts’ sweeping health care reform bill, but the proposal requiring everyone in the state have health insurance is coming under fire.
The most vocal objections are coming from those who say the new requirement, known as the “individual mandate,” is an unacceptable expansion of the power of the state.
“This is the first time in the country’s history where simply by virtue of living somewhere you are mandated to purchase a product,” said Michael Tanner, of the Cato Institute, a Washington-based think tank.
Supporters of the idea, including Republican Gov. Mitt Romney, say the mandate is a key pillar of the health plan because it forces individuals to take responsibility for their health careâ€¦.
Romney, a possible candidate for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination, has compared the individual mandate to car insurance. The state requires everyone who owns a car to buy insurance. Massachusetts, under the bill, will require everyone to have health insurance.
That’s a false comparison, according to Tanner. “Driving has always been seen as a privilege that can be revoked,” he said. “This is making me buy a product simply by virtue of breathing.” [full text]
Such mandates raise uneasy questions about the rights and responsibilities of individuals versus the rights and responsibilities of the state. Further examination of this aspect of the legislation is needed. Indeed, I believe the whole bill needs to be critically examined and the citizens of the commonwealth need to remain vigilant and vocal so as to ensure that universal health insurance coverage is truly attained and we do not find ourselves bedeviled with yet another empty and costly promise. Stay tuned.
It might be time to revise the constitution and put out there what we’re really about in America — stop hiding behind idealistic abstractions like happiness, and just call a spade a spade. I remember reading that in the original drafting of the constitution, “life, liberty, and the pursuit of property” was one suggestion for the ending line. Sometimes I think we would have been closer to the mark if we had gone with that, since happiness involves an intangible kind of promise about life — unlike that new yard decoration you just bought at Ocean State Job Lot, which is ever-so tangible.
Buying stuff does make you feel good, doesn’t it? I’m willing to admit that it makes me feel good, but I am also careful to remember that it is a small part of the constitution of my life, and what also makes me feel good is living in a country that is respectful of working people, compassionate about those less fortunate, and committed to improving things socially and economically for everyone. All that stuff is part of my personal struggle for “happiness,” and one that I often feel is not adequately nourished by our society. The reason? An overemphasis on consumption, to the exclusion of these other important values.
As consumers, we’re in pursuit of cheap products. As employers, we’re in pursuit of cheap labor. In the short term, these both feel like good things. But this dual pursuit of cheapness has driven many jobs out of the US. And the pursuit of cheap labor is driving employers still here to skirt the law in order to find the least expensive worker willing to bust his or her hump. If none of these workers were available, employers would have to take their lumps and invest a larger share of their profits in wages. But cheap workers are available in the form of undocumented immigrants.
There has been an overwhelming amount written on the liberal blogs about immigration since the March rally in Los Angeles where lots of people showed up. The numbers at that rally are actually one source of much discussion on the blogs, with estimates ranging from 200,000 to half a million. The fact that many Mexican flags were waved at that rally is also a source of much discussion, since some claim it will result in a reactionary backlash against Mexican immigrants, while others regard it as a great sign of cultural solidarity and strength.
Then there is the reignited discussion of “the wall” or “the fence.” To this, Molly Ivins gives this response:
The Fence will not work. No fence will work. The Great darn Wall of China will not work. Do not build a fence. It will not work. They will come anyway. Over, under or through.
3. Build the freakin’ wall already. And build it at the Canadian as well as Mexican border. It’s a great government works program. And if we have unions with prevailing wages, and hire American born or naturalized citizens, we create wealth through spreading wealth. Note who in the US is against the wall: The Chamber of Commerce and the Wall St. Journal. That’s also the same crew who support a “guest worker” program, which is just legalizing illegal immigration and codifying the lowering of wages. Separate question: Will the wall work to keep out illegals? It won’t be perfect, especially if we don’t have guards to check out tunnels. But really, the wall will work well enough if we…
But these issues are all side dishes. The main course, the source of the immigration problem, is the fact that American jobs pay better than Mexican jobs, or jobs in many other countries. This is where Mitchell Freedman is going in his post, and so I will continue on with points 4 and 5 of his 5-point plan to address immigration issues:
4. Increase sanctions against businesses that tend to hire illegal immigrants. Make the agricultural, restaurant, and construction industries, for starters, actually check social security numbers. The technology is there. Just make ‘em use it, dammit. If the businesses get caught, fine ‘em and if they are repeat offenders, jail time for the business leaders will be a fine example of deterrence.
5. Aid to Mexico–especially if it elects, as president, Lopez Obrador of the PRD. Why? Because he’s a New Dealer at heart. Most Mexican immigrants, for example, don’t want to leave their homes when first deciding to go “el Norte.” They leave home because the Mexican economy continues to suck after 10 or more years of the NAFTA. A nation that buys what it makes and makes what it buys is more stable than one that imports its basic products…
Points 1 and 2 of the Freedman Five are also noteworthy and are, in a nutshell, give amnesty to everyone already here, and make it easier for workers to form and join unions.
Molly Ivins also argues that until we start sanctioning businesses for employing illegal immigrants, we will not get at the driving force of the problem. David Sirota, an authorative voice on issues of labor standards and corporate influence on US government, gives no shortage of emphasis to these points on his blog. Sirota points to Time Magazine as the first mainstream media outlet to draw attention to free trade as the source of the problems with immigration. From the article:
President Bush spent the past four years snubbing and otherwise alienating his supposed amigo, Mexican President Vicente Fox, because Mexico didnâ€™t back Bushâ€™s invasion of Iraq. So Bushâ€™s critics in this hemisphere find it fitting that heâ€™s now knee-deep in a policy mess over illegal Mexican immigration into the U.S., looking to Fox for any help he can provide. But when Bush, Fox and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper meet today in CancÃºn to discuss the continentâ€™s dysfunctional immigration situation, they might consider that one solution lies not so much in guest-worker programs or a 2,000-mile-long border fence, but in tradeâ€”namely, a revision of NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Perhaps they should ask why NAFTAâ€”which took effect 12 years ago amid promises to raise the fortunes of Mexicoâ€™s beleaguered workersâ€”hasnâ€™t done more to reduce desperate labor migration over the U.S. border. That illegal flow, about a million migrants a year, is as heavy as ever. (Just ask CNN’s Lou Dobbs, whoâ€™s broadcasting live from CancÃºn this week because heâ€™s so aggravated about it.) NAFTA has not been an altogether bad deal for Mexico; it has buoyed the economy and improved opportunities for workers in the more technologically advanced north. But it has only exacerbated their plight in the nationâ€™s south and midsectionâ€”states like Oaxaca and Zacatecas that are hemorrhaging workers to California lettuce fields, North Carolina poultry plants and Chicago restaurants.
US business has become heavily dependent on cheap labor, to the point where Republicans — traditionally the party of the Chamber of Commerce — are having a hard time reconciling their pro-business stance with the host of other issues that come with uncontrolled immigration. Tom Tancredo has taken a strong position on this, as quoted in the latest edition of Business Week:
At the Conservative Political Action Conference in February, Representative Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.) won a standing ovation for skewering companies that profit from imported labor. “The conservative movement can either be the voice of principle or it can be the voice of the Chamber of Commerce,” Tancredo roared. “But it cannot be both.”
So which is it going to be? My opinion: the sudden attention to immigration is similar to the “Little Bear” story where Little Bear keeps coming inside and complaining to Mother Bear that he is cold and she keeps giving him more things to put on, until he finally realizes that he has a fur coat and doesn’t need all those other things, and he stops complaining.
Like Little Bear already having a fur coat, we already have laws that protect American jobs and make citizenship a requirement of holding those jobs. We need to enforce those laws. Republicans and Democrats alike need to be willing to see hiring of non-Americans for what it is: a white collar crime that is driven by greed and lack of principle. They need to hold accountable those practicing this unscrupulous behavior under the existing laws.
And we need to reform NAFTA so that free trade supports the economic development of Mexico and other North American developing nations.
Then, maybe, we will be fostering the “pursuit of happiness,” both nationally and beyond.
Jennifer Windsor, executive director of Freedom House, an advocacy group that hosted a Bush speech last week, called the situation “a travesty” and said she is “appalled” that more is not being done. “This is the time to show that democracy promotion is more than holding an election. If the U.S. can’t see fit to fund follow-up democracy promotion at this time,” then it is making a mistake, she said.
“The commitment to what the president of the United States will say every single day of the week is his number one priority in Iraq, when it’s translated into action, looks very tiny,” said Les Campbell, who runs programs in the Middle East for the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, known as NDI.
NDI and its sister, the International Republican Institute (IRI), will see their grants from the U.S. Agency for International Development dry up at the end of this month, according to a government document, leaving them only special funds earmarked by Congress last year. Similarly, the U.S. Institute of Peace has had its funding for Iraq democracy promotion cut by 60 percent. And the National Endowment for Democracy expects to run out of money for Iraqi programs by September.
“Money keeps getting transferred away to security training. Democracy’s one of the things that’s been transferred,” said Thomas Carothers of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s project on democracy and the rule of law. “Without that, all the other stuff looks like just background work.”
The U.S. Institute of Peace faces similar cutbacks to its program. “It’s just vital,” said Daniel P. Serwer, an institute vice president. All the democracy programs in Iraq combined, he noted, cost less than one day of the U.S. military mission. “Am I absolutely sure that we will shorten the deployment time of American troops enough to justify the cost of the program? Yes,” he said.
Though there is still substantial cause to fear for the state of democracy in this country, it is heartening to have oneâ€™s day greeted by news that, in Wisconsin, â€œvoters in 24 of 32 communities approved referendums Tuesday calling for the immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.â€? Despite the non-binding nature of the referendums, the results speak to the growing chorus of voices challenging the Presidentâ€™s insistent rhetoric that the U.S. must â€œcomplete the mission in Iraq because the security of the American people is linked to the success in Iraqâ€? and decrying the tragic loss of life. As of this writing, 2343 U.S. troops have been killed in Iraq, with 15 perishing this month alone. Tens of thousands of civilians have died, as well. How many more must violently succumb before we raise our voices loud enough to be heard and protest that enough is enough? How many more?
Could Antiperspirants Raise Breast Cancer Risk?
Scientists believe aluminum salts found in antiperspirants could heighten breast cancer risk, but they caution that this theory requires further investigation.
According to the authors of a review in the April issue of the Journal of Applied Toxicology, chemicals that mimic the body’s natural hormone estrogen are known to affect breast cancer risk. And there’s increasing evidence that aluminum salts, which account for 25 percent of the volume of some antiperspirants, can get through the skin and into the body, where they can mimic estrogen.
“Since estrogen is known to be involved in the development and progression of human breast cancer, any components of the environment that have estrogenic activity and which can enter the human breast could theoretically influence a woman’s risk of breast cancer,” article author Dr. Philippa Darbre, of the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Reading in the U.K., said in a prepared statement.
Since antiperspirants are sprayed into the armpits, exposure to aluminum salts is concentrated near the breasts. Furthermore, women often apply antiperspirants immediately after shaving their armpits, which means the skin there is likely to be damaged and less able to keep out the aluminum salts.
“It is reasonable to question whether this aluminum could then influence breast cancer,” Darbre said.
Aluminum salts in antiperspirants aren’t the only concern, she noted. Smoking tobacco introduces the element cadmium into the body, and cadmium can collect in breast tissue. Cadmium can bind to estrogen receptors and influence their action. There is evidence that the accumulation of cadmium can increase breast cancer risk.
“Each of these agents on their own may not have a powerful effect, but we need to see what happens when a number of them act together — it could be that this would have a significant effect on diseases like breast cancer,” Darbre said.
RI Future has done a bang-up job of putting together a 25 question survey of the three Democratic candidates for US Senate in Rhode Island. You can view a .pdf file of the survey here. Two highlights:
Question: With the understanding that Rhode Island has the highest disapproval ratings of any state in the nation, as a Senator would you support Rep. John Conyersâ€™ efforts to impeach President Bush and/or Sen. Russell Feingoldâ€™s efforts to censure President Bush?
Answer from Brown: Based on well-documented evidence, there is no doubt in my mind that President George W. Bush has illegally wiretapped Americans. I agree with Sen. Feingold that he should be censured for these illegal acts.
Answer from Sheeler: [Does] our campaign’s Billboard with our Constitution in the background and “Be Patriotic Impeach Bush” mean anything? We have actively sought Congressmen Langevin & Kennedy’s support. We provided the RI General Assembly a draft resolution to pursue HR635 and send to the U.S. House floor, which requires it to be heard.
Answer from Whitehouse: As someone who has handled the weighty responsibility of leading investigations with the requirements of the Warrants Clause, I believe President Bushâ€™s warrantless wiretaps were unnecessary and illegal, and merit censure.
Question: If we were to look in your CD player right now, what 5 CDs would we find and why?
Answer from Brown: Johnny Cash – Ring of Fire, Bruce Springsteen – Darkness on the Edge of Town, Harry Belafonte – Pure Gold, Patsy Cline – The Patsy Cline Story, Van Morrison – Tupelo Honey. These are all great artists.
Answer from Sheeler: DePeche Mode, Dave Matthews, Enya, Sting and Moby. I like eclectic music with instrumental sounds. Most are ageless and unique. I like that.
Answer from Whitehouse: Most of the CDs youâ€™d find are mixes by my son Alexander â€“ Black Eyed Peas, Fall Out Boy, the Gorillaz, American Hifi… These days Iâ€™m also listening to Bob Dylan, Willie Nelsonâ€™s Stardust, the Traveling Wilburys, and Paul Simonâ€™s Graceland.
From this survey I also learned that Whitehouse opposes school vouchers ( “I believe that vouchers are a poor use of scarce federal dollars”), supports gay marriage, and would have called for a filibuster of Supreme Court Judge Samuel Alito. Questions also covered include campaign finance reform, immigration, and health care reform.
I don’t have a cell phone and even if I did, I can guarantee you I would never be a “heavy user” since phone chat is not my preferred mode of communication by a long shot. But to all you people who love to walk around the mall gabbing away, letting everyone know about your sister-in-law’s pick-up time from the hospital after her bunion surgery and you brother’s court date for his most recent DWI, you might want to pay heed to this new study.
Thanks to Worst Weather Ever for the heads up on this.
Not unexpected, since Whitehouse seems to be more active on the campaign trail and more vocal on key issues. However, it’s important to note that this is a campaign-sponsored poll, so while the pollsters are responsible for its validity, question-phrasing can skew the results.
The larger question is how Whitehouse will fare against the Republican primary-winner. Since the NRSC has done the Democrats the great favor of portraying Steve Laffey as a cartoon character from the bizarro world of Laffeyland, that most likely leaves Whitehouse with the mighty challenge of unseating incumbent Lincoln Chafee. Many Rhode Island Democrats have held their nose and voted for Chafee in the past, based on his stance on abortion, among other things. It’s important to remember that Chafee’s stance on abortion has been questioned in recent months, when he did not support a filibuster of the nomination of conservative Supreme Court Judge Samuel Alito.
According to a report in the April 1 edition of the Journal of the American Maniacal Association, researchers at the famed Lieberman Institute in Connecticut have developed an artificial spine for use in humans afflicted with the democracy-threatening disease, Spineless Bifida. In recent years, the disease has reached epidemic proportions on Capitol Hill, with dozens of politicians tranformed seemingly overnight into jelly-like invertebrates. Yesterday, several Democrats who sit on the Senate Judiciary Committee were suddenly stricken and thus unable to attend a hearing on Russ Feingoldâ€™s proposal to censure President Bush. After the hearing, Senator Feingold, who appears immune to the disease, told reporters that his â€œthoughts and prayersâ€? were with his colleagues and he â€œfervently hopedâ€? that the FDA would quickly approve human trials of the artificial spine. However, such trials are reportedly years away due to concerns that the spines will be rejected by their human hosts.