Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Et tu, Cadbury?

Apologies for the rant but I've had it. As both a parent and a consumer I've had it with Chinese food production safety issues. It isn't enough that Mars' brand M&Ms and Snickers -- Snickers! -- are made in China, where recent product shipped to Indonesia contained melamine. No, I now come to learn that Cadbury, the venerable English chocolatier with a near-200-year history as a company, is pimping out production to a Chinese firm which cannot kick a melamine habit. And I'm reasonably certain these reports are just the tip of a food safety iceberg that's on a collision course with a U.S. food industry rushing headlong to China's shores to save a buck or billion.

But the worst part is that I have no easy way of knowing where much of my packaged and "fresh" food comes from. Where it's grown and processed. Sure, I'd like to buy nothing but locally-grown foods but that isn't realistic for the vast majority of Americans, no matter the current popularity of farmers' markets in California and elsewhere. In digging a little I was amazed to learn how lax our country is in terms of "Country Of Origin Labeling" (COOL) for foods, how little is required and how many exemptions are in place. Dammit, we label our toys with country of manufacture; I see no reason why we can't require the same for our food, inarguably the more important of the two imports for which to have this information.

So, rather than just rant passionately if ineffectually in this blog I decided to do something about the issue. I created an online petition which I plan to send to Congress if I get more than a few signatures, and I'm asking you, dear reader, to read and sign that petition:

Require Country of Origin Labels on all U.S. Foods

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Heard at the breakfast table this morning

My kids and I were at the breakfast table early this morning, eating cereal and chatting about those things that most interest a 6-year-old girl and 4-year-old boy, when my daughter began prattling on about her new secret diary, and after a few moments it became clear she was lording it over her younger brother, who has no such secret.

My son Tyler, who is becoming very much his own person these days, suffered this indignity with grace as long as he could before interjecting, "Katrina, I don't have a secret diarrhea, and I don't think I want one." To which Katrina replied in a confidential whisper, "Tyler, I have a secret diary, not diarrhea. Diarrhea is hard to keep secret because it's so noisy."

Monday, September 15, 2008

"Making America Stupid"

From today's New York Times Op-Ed section comes this sensible piece written by Thomas Friedman:

Imagine for a minute that attending the Republican convention in St. Paul, sitting in a skybox overlooking the convention floor, were observers from Russia, Iran and Venezuela. And imagine for a minute what these observers would have been doing when Rudy Giuliani led the delegates in a chant of “drill, baby, drill!”

I’ll tell you what they would have been doing: the Russian, Iranian and Venezuelan observers would have been up out of their seats, exchanging high-fives and joining in the chant louder than anyone in the hall — “Yes! Yes! Drill, America, drill!” — because an America that is focused first and foremost on drilling for oil is an America more focused on feeding its oil habit than kicking it.

Why would Republicans, the party of business, want to focus our country on breathing life into a 19th-century technology — fossil fuels — rather than giving birth to a 21st-century technology — renewable energy? As I have argued before, it reminds me of someone who, on the eve of the I.T. revolution — on the eve of PCs and the Internet — is pounding the table for America to make more I.B.M. typewriters and carbon paper. “Typewriters, baby, typewriters.”

Of course, we’re going to need oil for many years, but instead of exalting that — with “drill, baby, drill” — why not throw all our energy into innovating a whole new industry of clean power with the mantra “invent, baby, invent?” That is what a party committed to “change” would really be doing. As they say in Texas: “If all you ever do is all you’ve ever done, then all you’ll ever get is all you ever got.”

I dwell on this issue because it is symbolic of the campaign that John McCain has decided to run. It’s a campaign now built on turning everything possible into a cultural wedge issue — including even energy policy, no matter how stupid it makes the voters and no matter how much it might weaken America.

I respected McCain’s willingness to support the troop surge in Iraq, even if it was going to cost him the Republican nomination. Now the same guy, who would not sell his soul to win his party’s nomination, is ready to sell every piece of his soul to win the presidency.

In order to disguise the fact that the core of his campaign is to continue the same Bush policies that have led 80 percent of the country to conclude we’re on the wrong track, McCain has decided to play the culture-war card. Obama may be a bit professorial, but at least he is trying to unite the country to face the real issues rather than divide us over cultural differences.

A Washington Post editorial on Thursday put it well: “On a day when the Congressional Budget Office warned of looming deficits and a grim economic outlook, when the stock market faltered even in the wake of the government’s rescue of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, when President Bush discussed the road ahead in Iraq and Afghanistan, on what did the campaign of Senator John McCain spend its energy? A conference call to denounce Senator Barack Obama for using the phrase ‘lipstick on a pig’ and a new television ad accusing the Democrat of wanting to teach kindergartners about sex before they learn to read.”

Some McCain supporters criticize Obama for not having the steel in his belly to use force in the dangerous world we live in today. Well I know this: In order to use force, you have to have force. In order to exercise leverage, you have to have leverage.

I don’t know how much steel is in Obama’s belly, but I do know that the issues he is focusing on in this campaign — improving education and health care, dealing with the deficit and forging a real energy policy based on building a whole new energy infrastructure — are the only way we can put steel back into America’s spine. McCain, alas, has abandoned those issues for the culture-war strategy.

Who cares how much steel John McCain has in his gut when the steel that today holds up our bridges, railroads, nuclear reactors and other infrastructure is rusting? McCain talks about how he would build dozens of nuclear power plants. Oh, really? They go for $10 billion a pop. Where is the money going to come from? From lowering taxes? From banning abortions? From borrowing more from China? From having Sarah Palin “reform” Washington — as if she has any more clue how to do that than the first 100 names in the D.C. phonebook?

Sorry, but there is no sustainable political/military power without economic power, and talking about one without the other is nonsense. Unless we make America the country most able to innovate, compete and win in the age of globalization, our leverage in the world will continue to slowly erode. Those are the issues this election needs to be about, because that is what the next four years need to be about.

There is no strong leader without a strong country. And posing as one, to use the current vernacular, is nothing more than putting lipstick on a pig.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Sex, Drugs, and Rocks and Oil

It comes as absolutely no surprise during the Bush presidency -- unquestionably the worst in the history of the United States -- when we uncover the kind of corruption in our government employees like that described below. The entire federal government is in bed with the oil and gas industries, and prostitutes itself with impunity, no less! From CNN:
WASHINGTON -- Key government officials overseeing the energy industry had sex with, used illegal drugs with, and accepted gifts from representatives of oil and gas companies they were supposed to be regulating, according to a report issued Wednesday by the Department of the Interior's inspector general.

The $5.3 million investigation "uncovered recreational marijuana and cocaine use" by "a handful" of Interior Department staff, and found two federal employees "engaged in brief sexual relationships with representatives from companies doing business" with the department.

Two Interior Department employees "received combined gifts and gratuities on at least 135 occasions from four major oil and gas companies with whom they were doing business -- a textbook example of improperly receiving gifts from prohibited sources," Inspector General Earl Devaney says in a letter to Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne accompanying the report.

Randall Luthi, head of the Minerals Management Service at the Interior Department, said the public had not suffered financial losses as a result of the employees' behavior.

Some of the government employees tried to hide their close association with the industry they were supposed to be regulating, the report says.

The investigation turned up e-mails in which MMS employees "preparing to attend industry events used such language as 'this trip is to be kept quiet,' or were asked to RSVP 'in private' by their supervisor," the report says.

"When we asked we these one of these employees why they needed to avoid discussing their social activities with industry, he responded with a slight chuckle, 'They might have, you know, contacted the [inspector general],' " the report says.

The investigation appears to have been prompted by an internal whistle-blower's report in 2006, and concerns activity from 2002 to 2006.

The report alleges inappropriate behavior by 19 members of the Royalty in Kind program -- about one-third of the department. Some have since left the department, making it unclear what kind of disciplinary action they could be subject to.