Monday, January 25, 2010

Obama Bashing vs Broken Promises

I took a lot of flack from people yesterday and this morning for yesterday's post.  There are a couple of reasons for this:

First, I used a ploy that many people did not pick up on.  I set up two stereotypes the Dems maintain, the first about Republicans and the second about themselves.  I used these stereotypes to show "us" (and by "us" I mean my fellow Democrats), that here we are, in control in D.C., and we not only are not "saving the day," but we are even participating in some villainous behavior. It was a set-up for Bob Herbert's article entitled, "They Still Don't Get It."   And by "they" he meant the "power elite," who, at the moment happen to be Democrats.

Some readers, however, thought I was making blanket factual claims about the Republican party.  Or Big Business.  Or both.

My favorite:  My Republican facebook friend Ann E.W. Stone said,

Sandy this blogger is bogus...weak and unsubstantiated conclusions..." 

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.  I told her, "Ann, the blogger is me."  

Just last week she apparently endorsed the same blogger by posting one of my blog posts on her facebook wall!   Well, maybe I shouldn't use the word endorse too casually.  Let's just say she found the article an interesting example of a Dem's disallusionment with the man she routinely refers to as POTUS.  I suggested she read yesterday's post more closely, and she would see that I was simply framing what Bob Herbert had to say against two common Democrat stereotypes.  She responded that she obviously was very tired!  It was late, but Ann is one of the most astute women I know.  So I'm thinking the problem was mine and not hers.

My grad school pal Elaine Needham chided me this way,

"Sandy, check your stats because the last time I checked it was not "big" business that is owned by Republicans. Rather Republicans are "small" business owners..."

Again, I parlayed with the fact that this was not held out to be fact.  It was simply a stereotype.  To which she replied, "Thanks, Sandy. It always helps to read the entire article:-)..."

I am tempted to point out that it is likely that both small business owners and big business majority shareholders may be overwhelmingly Republican.  Actually, I just did point it out, but if I were really going to make a point of it, I would have Googled it to find out whether it's in fact true, and I'm not going to do that now. 

The more important thing to stress, instead, is that my gimmick failed.  From this I learned that readers are tired, may not read far enough into the post to figure out what you're doing, or may just react from the gut to something they don't like, assuming the worst. 

The second type of "flack" I got for the article is from friends on the right who have mistaken my calls to Obama to step back, assess, regroup and return to his base as Obama bashing.  These friends are beginning to add me to mailing lists or send me links to the kind of off-base, picayune, spin-happy complaints about Obama behavior that people who are salivating at the idea of an Obama failure just feed upon. 

I need to make one thing perfectly clear. 

I am all over President Obama for broken promises that I perceive as hurting America's chances for change, but I am not Obama bashing.  There are broken promises, and then there is Obama-bashing.  I will never be into the latter.   He's our president.  And the main reason I'm all over the broken promises is because I fear he got to the White House and encountered a steep learning curve.   It appears to me that his has been a relatively easy political rise.  He was targeted by elders in his political environment who saw a brilliant, charismatic, ambitious politician, a rising star, and decided to give him a deserved boost up the ladder.  I imagine that had he had to scrape his way up, he might have been somewhat more prepared for what awaited him on the Hill.

But our President is a really smart man.  I want to believe that if enough chatter focuses on his campaign promises and the disallusion of his base, he will regroup.  Whether he regroups, like the Republican pundits are saying Massachusetts should teach him, to become "more centrist" (which I would read as a fall back to the same old beltway ways), or whether he returns to his campaign strengths and reinvigorates his base, is yet to be seen.

But he is my President, and yours, and I have not given up hope for change.

So, my apologies to all those whom I threw for a loop, and who then punished me for it.  I learned a lesson.  And my thanks to my friend/dentist David Weiss, whose statement about the power of the independent middle rings true to me:

"..wrestled w this. best i could come w is the community that the ends of the spectrum are comfortable w ...
 lefties think success is possible w the community at large, inclusion.....righties feels that resources are dwindling and feel a necessity to hoard, not share; "conserve"... the independent middle gets a buffet of strategies and none of the blame.

both extremes wish success for themselves, families, then things get hinky."

And especially to my friend Mike Altman, who had only this to say,


Sunday, January 24, 2010

Nobody Gets It

There's a particularly elitist stereotype that sticks to Republicans: 

Republicans support Big Business because they are the primary (and wealthy) owners of said businesses, while ingenuously claiming that keeping Big Business healthy guarantees the health and well-being of the Small American - the Working Stiff. 

Given this purported Republican love affair with Corporate America, one might not expect the Republicans to actually "get it" - to get what it's like to be poor and struggling.   The stereotype has been cemented by incidents small in deed but large in implication.  For example, the Senior President Bush was so out of touch with the real folk that he didn't recognize a bar code in a grocery market (  Or consider the footage snagged and replayed by Michael Moore in the Movie, "Farenheit 911," when the Junior President Bush addresses a ballroom full of dressed-to-the-teeth campaign donors this way:

"This is an impressive crowd.  The haves......and the have-mores.  Some people call you the elite.  I call you my base."

I had to go through most of the movie script to find that quote.

(Caveat - I should admit I felt stinky writing that.  I don't begrudge anyone for dressing to the teeth, even Republicans.  I rather like dressing up, myself.  In fact, if anyone wants to take me to a fancy dinner, just say the word.  And more to the point, I don't think all Republicans are wealthy and out of touch any more than I think all Jews are wealthy.  But I do kinda think those special Republicans, the ones in power along with the Bushes, were rather partial to their corporate pals.)

But Democrats?  What about their stereotype?  Isn't it the exact opposite of the Republican stereotype?  Don't they eschew wealth for wealth's sake, and chase power only in order to be strong enough to set things right again for working class America?  Isn't the Democrat Party synonymous with populist ideals?  And won't they stand against corporate carnage?  And spread America's overly-consolidated wealth like peanut butter across adequate education and medical care for all?  And step in to rescue the middle and lower income Americans who are being ravaged by the economic winds of our times?  Isn't President Barak Obama the Democrats' own Underdog?  Here to save the day?!?

(Well, I stopped believing this - if I ever actually did - after I watched the sausage-making negotiations of the Health Care Bill.  And again, I'm talking about some shameless activity on the Hill, not about my many "commoner" Democrat friends.)

Well, step forward, Bob Herbert, award winning political and urban columist for The New York Times.  He says, "Forget it."  Nobody gets it. Not even Barak.

"[T]he president and his Democratic allies on Capitol Hill, seem not just helpless to deal with the crisis, but completely out of touch with the hardships that have fallen on so many."

Herbert cites a new study by the Brookings Institute demonstrating the extent of the downturn impact.  The study suggests the fastest growing population of poor people are suburban, with an increase of poverty by a whopping 15.4 percent by the end of 2008.  Herbert believes the American people are and will continue to be left in the dust by Washington's Pretty Party People - both Parties.   

I will pray Herbert's wrong, but I think his column is worth considering. I hope you will read it.  I hope President Obama is reading, too:

Friday, January 15, 2010

When nobody's going organic because they've already gone!

I've just walked into the house from CVS, where I spent far too long crawling through label after label of hair spray looking for a natural, organic alternative.  I tend not to make the long drive to Whole Foods unless I'm already headed that direction for school, but the times they are a-changin', (with apologies for mixing musical metaphors here).  I was hopeful I'd find something at CVS. 

Checking my email, I discovered a note from my wonderful cousin Denise Yonemoto, urging me to read the latest story about a lawsuit over greenwashing.  The suit, brought by the Organic Consumers Association, Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps, Intelligent Nutrients, and Organic Essence, disparaged the misleading use of the term "organic" in the labeling of personal care products.  Imagine my chagrine to see on the list the maker of some of the hopeful products I'd just encountered at CVS.  Although not culpable until proven guilty, the plaintiffs claim the following companies advertise products as "organic," when in fact the products contain raw materials of non-organic origins.

From the news release posted by one of the co-plaintiffs, the Organic Consumers' Association:

“Consumers who pay a premium for high-end organic products expect the main cleansing and moisturizing ingredients of a product labeled “Organic” to be made from certified organic agricultural material produced on organic farms, and not from petrochemicals or pesticide and herbicide-intensive conventional farming,” explains Horst Rechelbacher, founder of Intelligent Nutrients (and founder and previous owner of Aveda Corp.)

The corporations named in the complaint are The Hain Celestial Group, Inc.; Kiss My Face Corporation; YSL Beaute, Inc. (“YSL”); Giovanni Cosmetics, Inc. (“Giovanni”); Cosway Company, Inc. (“Cosway”); Country Life, LLC (“Country Life”); Szep Elet LLC (makers of Ilike Organic Skin Care); Eminence Organic Skin Care, Inc.; Physicians’ Formula Holdings, Inc. (makers of Organic Wear); Surya Nature, Inc.; Organic Bath Company, Freeman Beauty Division of pH Beauty Labs, Inc. (makers of Freeman Goodstuff Organics)."

According to the news release, which you can read in its entirety here, , the USDA is rather lax about policing personal care labeling, while much more strict about food products.  I couldn't tell from the article whether that's because the law actually only regulates food labeling and not toiletries, or whether it's just a resource allocation choice made by the feds.

Either way, I think it's quite fair to expect that raw materials in a product labeled organic do, in fact, have organic origins.  And, I sometimes do spend more to get that benefit.  And I do feel misled by these companies, if, in fact, the law suit's claims are accurate.

Having said all that, I recently complained on my facebook wall about another organic purchase dilemma.  I was looking for eggs that were all things good.  Regional.  Organic. Vegetarian fed.  Free range.  High omega-3.  No hormones.  Etc.  And I found them, but they were in a PLASTIC container.  Drat!  What are those purveyors thinking?  I imagine they're thinking tensile strength, because - not sure if you've seen this - the plastic egg cartons actually have a third layer of plastic nestling the eggs, between the eggs themselves and the top of the plastic carton.  Eventually I opted for non-organic eggs from Good Natured Family Farms [GNFF], because they were everything else I wanted, and sold in a recycled paper carton.  My friend Kaye Johnston, who is very into the local food scene here in Kansas City, left a note on my fb wall that Good Natured Family Farms is, in effect, producing organically, but had opted out of the organic certification process because of the overburdening expense associated with certification. 

Although I don't doubt Kaye, I am left wondering how exact their organic practices are compared to those required for certification.  Their website, link here,   On the other hand, if their practices are truly organic, I really don't care whether they've paid for the certification or not.  I just care if I'm getting good, local, organic produce.  If certification is out of reach financially, especially for the type of small- to medium-size farm that is often at the forefront of organic agriculture, then I want to accept their produce and support their practices.  The last thing I want to do is have these farms put out of business due to the price of certification.  And honestly, the price for those GNFF eggs was within the realistic range for the non-wealthy among us.  If certification is pushing the price of organics into the luxury range, that's totally counter-productive.  By the way, the 6.7 oz. bottle of Intelligent Nutrient Organic Hairspray (top right) retails for a whopping $29.  Organic needs to become the norm, not the luxury alternative it is now.

Yes, I get that the certification assists consumers in being confident, and thwarts greenwashing and deceptive marketing practices. And to prove the point, I recently took a great walking tour of a four-generation family-owned vineyard in Sonoma (Kunde) where I heard a lot about sustainable practices, and was shown row upon row of large, covered compost heaps piled up on the hill.   But then we walked by a large fertilizer tank, and I suddenly realized that I had not once heard the term "organic," and while they were busy hawking what was good and green, they had opted for half-measures.  I felt a little hoodwinked.

So, the jury is out as of yet on the defendant companies named above.  Are they supporting growers like GNFF, or are they misleading the public like Kunde?  

Although really, I'm not sure I want to rag on Kunde.  They're moving in the right direction, which is better than most.  I live for the day when nobody's going organic, because they've a-a-l-r-e-a-d-y gone!

Read here about Kunde's sustainability practices:
More about Good Natured Family Farms,

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Do You Know Where Your Cat Is?

"One in five coyote scats contain domestic cat."

Below you'll find a few paragraphs from an article posted at Scientific American online, and a link to the remainder of the article.  I found it to be fascinating and informative.  If you're in the mood for a little Wild Kingdom style reading, please indulge.  Nice break from yesterday's political rant.

Could Re-Wilding Avert the 6th Great Extinction?

By Caroline Fraser  (exerpted from Fraser's book Rewilding the World).

Over the years, coyotes ate many of Michael Soulé’s cats. For most people, this might have been the end of the story, a nasty reminder of nature’s darker proclivities. But Michael Soulé is not most people.

Soulé is a biologist. At the time, he was a professor at the University of California at San Diego, living in the chaparral canyons outside the city. He had grown up in the canyons, poking around in the leaf litter, catching lizards. When the boy became a biologist, he recognized that the chaparral was a unique ecosystem, with its own suite of interdependent plants and animals, the coastal sage scrub home to fox and bobcats, wrentits and spotted towhees, cactus mouse and California quail. But to real estate developers, the canyons were empty wasteland, waiting to be turned into homes.
 As he watched the progressive paving of the canyons, Soulé found himself even more distressed about the big picture, the loss of the ecosystem, than about the cats. Recent breakthroughs in biology had suggested that fragmentation of habitat inevitably threatened species. As developers carved the canyons into suburban lots, leaving behind islands of isolated brush, Soulé was alarmed enough to investigate that theory, and he sent students to compile data on the disappearance of birds from 37 forlorn chaparral islands. He also had them collect data on local carnivores, to see if predation was a factor. After two years, as expected, data showed that the number of birds and other species in each patch was diminishing.

But the data revealed something else, something counterintuitive. In canyons with coyotes, a greater diversity of birds survived. Canyons without coyotes supported fewer species. Having seen ample evidence that coyotes were responsible for his disappearing pets—cats flying through the cat door as if “chased by the devil”— Soulé had a theory: more coyotes meant fewer cats. Fewer cats meant more birds. Coyotes were eating not only cats but also other midsized predators, such as foxes. Coyotes were acting as a control. Without that control, the midsized carnivores ran wild in an orgy of predation that Soulé termed “mesopredator release.” Another study confirmed it: one in five coyote scats contained domestic cat.

Before long, scientists were realizing that much of the country was suffering from a bad case of mesopredator release. The artificial absence of wolves and other large predators gave cats, dogs, raccoons, and foxes license to grow fat on wild birds from the beaches to the mountainsides. Soulé had observed just one manifestation of a crucial new scientific discovery: predators do not merely control prey. They control other predators, and by doing so, they regulate species with which they never directly interact. They regulate biological processes down the food chain.

As scientists study the unbalanced and fragmented systems humans create as they alter the environment, they are realizing how interdependent species are. In a way, all of us are now living in a scientific experiment similar to that which San Diego developers created by carving up the canyons. We have unleashed forces we are still struggling to comprehend.

This global experiment is comparable to the one Americans unwittingly set in motion in the 1950s by sowing the land with toxic pesticides. In the fable that opens Silent Spring, Rachel Carson described a “strange blight” settling over a town. Birds fell silent, bees vanished. There was no pollination, no fruit. “Everywhere,” she wrote, “was a shadow of death.” Carson helped keep that pall from settling over the whole country by inciting a national debate that led to the banning of DDT.

But the shadow has fallen again. This time the problem is neither as concentrated nor as easily tackled as that of pesticides or pollution. This time the problem is the disappearance of nature itself.

Biodiversity loss is now lining up to be the greatest man-made crisis the world has ever known. Biologists call it the Sixth Great Extinction, or the Holocene extinction event, after our current geologic time period. (The five previous extinction events all came before the evolution of Homo sapiens, apparently triggered by a cataclysmic event or combination of events, such as a fall in sea level, an asteroid impact, volcanic activity.) Mass extinctions are different in kind from what specialists term “background” extinctions, the rare but regular loss of between one to ten species per decade. Two hundred and fifty million years ago, the most catastrophic, “the Great Dying” of the Permian age, wiped out over 90 percent of all species in the oceans and70 percent on land. It took tens of millions of years for life to recover.

The current extinction rates are alarming enough. Preeminent biologist E. O. Wilson believes we stand to lose half of all species by the end of this century. Of the 45,000 species evaluated in the 2008 Red List, issued by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, 17,000, or nearly forty percent, may vanish. Conservative estimates suggest that the extinction rate in the modern era has reached a hundred to a thousand times normal.

Read the rest of the article here:

Monday, January 11, 2010

Ghost of Promises Past

Open letter to President Obama.  You promised change. You promised a powerful new transparency to return government to the people by keeping it open and honest.  You promised something far better than the old Bush-Cheney-behind-the-scenes style of wheeling and dealing.  You're breaking your promises.  It's not too late to turn it around.

Mr. President, I implore you.  Back up.  Turn around.  Remember the politics of the people, that wave of people you motivated brilliantly to carry you into the White House.  It's not too late.  Please let me show you the error of your ways, by focusing on just one mistake you've made - a mistake that will impact the well-being of the American people, undermines our trust in your governance, and set a terrible precedent for future dealings. 

Think of me as the Ghost of Promises Past.  I ask you, how different might America, your ratings, and the health care bill be right now if you hadn't set expectations for all the wheeler-dealers in D.C. by cutting an early backroom deal with Big Pharma?  (Anyone not familiar with this deal, a must read: 

Yes, plenty of other deals have since been cut to get this bill through, and the Big Pharma deal was cut almost so long ago (June 2009), you might wonder why I am whining about it now, Mr. President. But in my mind, this deal is the axis around which the rest of the bill was negotiated, and the first place you blatantly undermined your own popularity with your once-loyal supporters.  Like Dickens' Ghost of Christmas Past, I hope I can help you see the error of your ways while there is yet time in your administration to turn things around.

In a nutshell, Mr. President, you brokered a bad deal in secret for dubious reasons - completely the opposite of your promises to the American public - and then tried to sell us the deal.  You tried to make us think the deal was good for us by saying it will save us $80 billion dollars.  That was engaging in serious spin.  Spin, Mr. President, is the opposite of what we expect from you.  Spin is the kind of thing you promised to get rid of.  Let the Ghost of Promises Past take you back in time.  Do you remember saying this?

Wasn't that campaign ad specifically aimed at Mr. Billy Tauzin, Big Pharma's chief lobbyist?  And isn't he the epitome of "business-as-usual" you promised to change?  How do you think it looks that your first deal was cut with a guy who stepped right from the chairmanship of the House committee that regulates the pharmeceutical industry into the drug industry's top lobbying job?   Wow, chickens guarding the hen house again.

And what did you end up getting for us from Mr. Tauzin?  It turns out that what's in it for us is nothing more than a cap on the rate at which drug companies will raise future prices.  We're not actually reducing $80 billion off the current exhorbitant pricing.  We're avoiding $80 billion in additional future costs.   And by the way, that's $80 billion out of a total of $3.6 trillian, or a mere 2 percent future discount on inflation.  You call a 2 percent reduction in future profits "on-board with health care reform," Mr. President?   As I've reported here in the past, the U.S. is already paying enormously higher prices for pharmaceuticals than most of the other countries in the world.  In  otherwords, your deal locks in the current prescription drug pricing structure, and simply slows down the rate at which those prices will rise in the future!  In fact, according to Sam Stein,, quoting Huffington Post, "IMS Health, a company that supplies the pharmaceutical companies with sales data, predicts that new health reform legislation -- combined with a projected upswing in the economy -- will result in a net gain of more than $137 billion in total market sales over the next four years." 

Wow.  I guess we should all be buying stock in pharmaceuticals.

And in exchange for creating guaranteed profits for Big Pharma, you agreed to oppose any legislation to give Americans an option of buying our pharmaceuticals legally and less-expensively in Canada, and you gave up our ability to use federal buying power to leverage down the cost of drugs for Medicare patients.

Clearly, Mr. President, the bargain doesn't make any sense from a pure consideration standpoint.  We gave up the ability to negotiate what might have amounted to thirty percent or more real decrease in drug costs in exchange for an approximate two percent savings on future price increases.  I'm guessing  - no, I know because Mr. Tauzin said straight out - speaking straight, by the way, is something I expected from you, not them - that the real consideration for selling our leverage down the river was to get the pharmeceutical industry to stand quietly in the back of the room while the rest of the health care game was being played:

“We were assured: ‘We need somebody to come in first. If you come in first, you will have a rock-solid deal."

Again, Mr. President, I suggest that this deal was the precedent-setting move that undermined your ability to push anything through without giving away the store. And too, this deal didn't have to happen, had you simply been brave enough to force your own ideas into the negotiation mix - making good on your promise of transparency could have protected us all from this, and the shameful deals you cut that left us with no serious public option, limits abortion coverage for insureds, forces everyone to purchase health insurance or face fines (another windfall for industry), fails to cover illegals (a foolhardy and costly decision I've covered here) and more - and of course add to that all the individual pork you had to grant to your 60 Democrats to get the bill passed, Doesn't it bother you that you had to twist the arms of your own troups? You've set a bad precedent, Mr. President. I'm sorry.  Consider this a lesson. It was not a smart move.

Of course, you're not alone in this, Mr. President.  But the people who are guiding you are not setting a good example for you.  They are shameless.  In the end, the bill earned the title "Cash for Cloture" bill.  At one point when the criticism was flowing most heavily, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced that any Congress person who failed to extract his or her pound of flesh wasn't doing their job. What?!? Specifically,Mr. Reid said this:

"I don't know if there's a senator that doesn't have something in this bill that was important to them, and if they don't have something in it important to them, then it doesn't speak well of them."

Mr. President, once again, let the Ghost of Promises Past remind you of your own words:

I suppose there is some consolation, Mr. President, that the price of a vote seemed to at least be related tangentially to the medical care industry.  There were $100,000 benefits to Louisiana and Nebraska in the form of extra Medicaid money (Nebraska also carved out special lower insurance rates for its residents), a $100 million set-aside for building a medical center in Connecticut, a preservation for Florida Medicare recipients of perks slated to be cut everywhere else in the country, a special Medicare break for workers exposed to asbestos, but only if you've been exposed to asbestos in Libby, Montana, and more.  Read the entire list here: Do you remember, Mr. President, your promise to shame -  not indulge - elected officials with their hands in the cookie jar? Your looking the other way on all these pork specials is tantamount to saying the end justifies the means. It's hard to respect that. 

Mr. President, there may have been no need to rationalize, had you simply kept your promise to keep us, the people, involved.  To make us your secret weapon in motivating elected officials everywhere to do the right thing.  Starting with your promise to air all the real negotiatons on C-Span, in the light of day.  Please don't think you can now pass off town hall vent sessions as publicly aired negotiations.  We know the difference between a town hall meeting and actual deal negotiations.  Check this out, Mr. President.  This is you, making us a promise:

Now, check this out, Mr. President.  This is you, weaseling.  You don't sound gallant, dynamic, charming or convincing.  It is painful to watch.

I know this has been a tough night of revisiting your own past. To sum this up for tonight, I believe, Mr. President, that you've lost sight of the horse you rode in on - a populace wave of American voters whom you roused into believing might join with you to make democracy meaningful once again.  Damn, were we excited.

Mr. President, I believe there is still a chance that you could make amends with this bunch, climb back on the horse, and save our dream before it is too late.

Paul Hogarth, in the L.A. Progressive, remembers this:

"Barack Obama always said “change” would only come if we demand it. His campaign was inspiring because he said it was more than about himself. Like FDR told activists in 1933 to “make me do it,” Obama would keep his volunteers engaged after the election – and would mobilize the base to help him, and make him pass a successful progressive agenda."

Simply carry out your own great ideas, Mr. Obama.  Don't you want to turn those popularity numbers back around?  Think of what you might achieve if you put the same people who orchestrated your grass roots ride into the White House in charge of orchestrating your transparency efforts.  Turn around and make future negotiations public on C-Span, so that legislators would be "shamed" (your own words!) into behaving in ways that demonstrated that they care about America, not just their personal cache of voters? 

And frankly, Mr. President, while health care is critical, that deal is cut and more or less dried.  But restoring the nation's confidence in government is more important than ever.  Starting with restoring our confidence in you.  Let's turn this government back into an institution by and for The People.  Together.  Just the way you promised.

Some people will call me naive for thinking it possible, especially after the health care bill.  But why not?

I am praying, Mr. Obama, that you don't brush off your falling popularity numbers. That you don't let the gains that you did achieve on the health care bill blind you to what went wrong there, to the broken promises of transparency, to the half-ass deals cut with the pharmaceutical and insurance industries, and to the total losses like the abortion restriction piece. 

I am praying that you remember where you came from, step back and rethink.  I am praying that you publicly and humbly announce that this didn't go down as planned, but that you learned a whole bunch and are going to regroup and reconstitute the troups.  While there's still time to achieve the most important goal of all -retrieving the system from the special interests and returning it to its rightful beneficiaries - The People. 

There's still time for you, Mr. President, to keep your promises.  It's not too late.

Sandy Price


Is Monday Laundry Day?

The Good Human is a website that "aims to be a destination that encourages people to be better humans through working to clean up the environment, being active in political issues, and being more aware of one's life and surroundings."  Interestingly enough, this is a pretty good description of what I had in mind for my own blog.  I seem to have veered toward the thoughtful and only occasionally produce the useful.  Obviously thinking is a great first step, but acting has to follow.  I want to introduce you to The Good Human, where you can more immediately get some fresh utilitarian ideas. 

The Good Human has a series that's a take off on the idea of making one change, or doing one pro-active thing.  Since I'm harping on utility today, I thought I'd start with laundry.  We all do it, or maybe pay someone else to do it.  But it has to be done.  The Good Human has several ideas for reducing the negative impacts of doing laundry:

1. Dry loads of clothes back to back  (the heat element stays warm and doesn't need to re-heat)

2. Give up the dryer sheets (basically unnecessary, they produce unnecessary CO2 impact, and are usually made with animal tallow)

3. Wash your clothes less often (unless you got them filthy, do you really need to wash each wear?  save water, detergent, and wear on your clothes)

4. Clean out the lint filter (saves electricity & wear on your dryer, as clothes dry faster)

5.  Line-dry your clothes (saves electricity - might wanna wait for spring on this one)

Please check out The Good Human.  I know you'll find a bunch of great ideas that you can easily put into practice right now!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Letter from Congressman Dennis Moore, D-KS

Representative Moore,

Thank you for the update. I support your continued advocacy for the Health Care Bill, in all it's sausagey glory. I hope, however, that you will work for process change. The making of this bill has been so ugly, so secretive (despite our president's promises to the contrary) and the result so wrong in so many ways, even though I have concluded that it is better than no bill at all.

Please, if there is still any opportunity, advocate for putting all people who live within our nation's borders, citizens or not, into this bill. It is penny-wise and pound-foolish to think that we are not using tax-payer dollars to support the medical care of illegals by leaving them out of this bill. In fact, we will continue to pay a price many times as illegals use tax-payer subsidized emergency services, wait to get care until disease is far-progressed and more expensive to treat, and of course, disrupt American businesses where they work due to absences and illness-related issues because they do not have adequate preventative and immediate care.

Thank you,

Sandy Price
Leawood, KS 66224

Dear Sandy:

Thank you for sharing with me your support for and ideas regarding pending health insurance reform proposals, including a competitive alternative to private health care insurance such as the public option. I appreciate hearing from you.

I am supportive of a public option - which should be available to those who cannot afford private insurance, who are unemployed, students dropped from their parents' coverage, the uninsured, or those who are not happy with their current private insurance. It would simply be another insurance option. If you are satisfied with your current insurance, like I am, there would be no reason to purchase the public option.

A public health care insurance option based on current Medicare fee-for-service reimbursement rates would not provide a level playing field for private insurance companies. For this reason, I support reforming the fee-for-service reimbursement system by which physicians, hospitals and other health care providers are paid. The fee-for-service system incentivizes physicians to give patients more tests and treatments for which the Medicare reimbursement rate is higher. Instead, we should be incentivizing good outcomes, managed care, and prevention - and transitioning our "sick care" system to a "well care" system.

Our current health care system contains a lot of inefficiencies. I support health care reform legislation that seeks to correct these problems through regulation, modernization, and restructuring the payment systems to providers. Making these changes will save billions of dollars (to both patients and the insurance providers, whether public or private), reduce medical errors, and increase the health and well-being of Americans. For example, full implementation of Health Information Technology would give patients a complete electronic file of their medical history, to which they could give their physicians access. This would reduce duplicative testing by multiple physicians because the health record indicates which tests the patient has already had, saving time, money, and hardship in the process. Not having access to a complete medical record often results in the duplication of expensive tests. The Institute of Medicine estimates that one-third of health care spending is wasted on treatments and tests that accomplish nothing.

Reform should also include incentives for hospital care management, to reduce readmittance and hospital acquired infections. It should also specifically reform the Medicare Advantage payment system, and home health payment rates, and increase rebates from pharmaceutical manufacturers to make drugs more affordable. Health care reform should also include rigorous incentives to recruit primary care physicians, nurses, and other health care professionals into the workforce, as they are in short-supply now and additional professionals will be desperately needed in order to provide care to an additional 47 million Americans.

As you may know, the House, with my support, approved health care reform legislation on November 7, 2009. H.R. 3962, the Affordable Health Care for America Act, offers both public and private insurance as an option, providing coverage to all Americans regardless of pre-existing conditions, providing coverage for (1) primary care and prevention; (2) prescription drugs; (3) emergency care; and (4) mental health services.

The Affordable Health Care for America Act would provide significant benefits in the Third Congressional District of Kansas: up to 18,800 small businesses could receive tax credits to provide coverage to their employees; 9,700 seniors would avoid the donut hole in Medicare Part D; 1,200 families could escape bankruptcy each year due to unaffordable health care costs; health care providers would receive payment for $55 million in uncompensated care each year; and 47,000 uninsured individuals would gain access to high-quality, affordable health insurance. H.R. 3962 would provide:

o Help for small businesses. Under the legislation, small businesses with 25 employees or less and average wages of less than $40,000 qualify for tax credits of up to 50% of the costs of providing health insurance. In addition, the Blue Dog Coalition, of which I am a member, successfully doubled the small business exemption from the requirement to provide insurance to $500,000, with a phase-in of the penalty for failing to do so to $750,000. There are up to 18,800 small businesses in the district that could qualify for these credits.

o Help for seniors with drug costs in the Part D donut hole. Each year, 9,700 seniors in the district hit the donut hole and are forced to pay their full drug costs, despite having Part D drug coverage. The legislation would provide them with immediate relief, covering the first $500 of donut hole costs in 2010, cutting brand name drug costs in the donut hole by 50%, and completely eliminating the donut hole by 2019.

o Health care and financial security. There were 1,200 health care-related bankruptcies in the district in 2008, caused primarily by the health care costs not covered by insurance. The bill provides health insurance for almost every American citizen and caps annual out-of-pocket costs at $5,000 per year for individuals and $10,000 per year for families, ensuring that no citizen will have to face financial ruin because of high health care costs.

o Financial relief to hospitals and health care providers for uncompensated care. In 2008, health care providers in the district provided $55 million worth of uncompensated care, care that was provided to individuals who lacked insurance coverage and were unable to pay their bills. Under the legislation, these costs of uncompensated care would be virtually eliminated.

o Coverage of the uninsured. There are 87,000 uninsured individuals in the district, 13% of the district's residents under the age of 65. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that nationwide, 96% of all Americans will have insurance coverage when the bill takes effect. If this benchmark is reached in the district, 47,000 people who currently do not have health insurance will receive coverage.

o No deficit spending. The cost of health care reform under the legislation is fully paid for: half through making the Medicare and Medicaid program more efficient (through the payment reforms and waste reduction previously mentioned) and half through a surtax on the income of the top 0.3% wealthiest individuals. This surtax would affect only 1,320 households in our district. The surtax would not affect 99.61% of taxpayers in our district. According to the CBO, the bill would cut the deficit by over $30 billion over the next decade and would continue to create a budget surplus over the next 20 years.

I am quite certain that H.R. 3962 is not a perfect bill, but it provides a solid foundation for Congress to consider this year. What I do know is that inaction is not acceptable. The current health care system is bleeding us dry - families, businesses and the government alike. We have 47 million uninsured or underinsured American citizens who have no choice but to seek the most expensive health care there is - emergency care - and $1100 of each insured Kansas family's insurance premium covers that cost. In Kansas in 2007, approximately 278,000 adults and 58,000 children were uninsured (total of 336,000) and that was before the economic downturn. The situation has just gotten worse. We have college kids with chronic diseases who are dropped from their parents' plan, who can then not get insurance because of their pre-existing condition. We have 26 year old women being diagnosed with breast cancer, who just graduated and are looking for employment who find themselves caught with no insurance. In Johnson County, we have a 57 year old man, self-employed, married with 2 small children when he was diagnosed with bladder cancer. He was unable to continue treatment due to being uninsured and unable to afford cost of treatment and medications. The family now has thousands of dollars in medical debt. These are our neighbors, our coworkers, and our friends. What if next week, God forbid, you lose your job or insurance coverage?

Reform will provide coverage and choice in the free market. If you like what you have - your insurance plan, your doctor, your hospital - you can keep it. Would you be upset if your premiums went down? Because that is the likely outcome of insuring everyone - it widens the risk pool to include the young and healthy and reduces those expensive emergency room visits by the uninsured because they can now see a doctor before the health problem becomes an emergency. If you don't like your insurance, reform will allow you to comparison shop among plans so you can decide what plan is best for you and your family. Reform will make more tools available to doctors so that they can provide the best care. Many insurance companies now require that patients try the cheapest treatment option first, even if it's not shown to be the best option. Reform will put an end to insurance companies rationing care, and put the decisions back into the hands of physicians and patients.

For more detailed information about H.R. 3962, including the full bill text, please visit the health care section of my website:§iontree=6,35

As you may also know, on December 24, 2009, the Senate approved their version of health care reform legislation. H.R. 3590, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, differs in many ways from H.R. 3962, and does not contain a public health insurance option. The Senate and House will now have to reconcile their versions and create one unified bill. For more detailed information on the Senate bill, including the full bill text, please visit

Please know that as the health care reform legislation moves forward, I will work with my colleagues in Congress to ensure that it will improve the quality and length of life for Americans, while making citizens and the nation more financially secure.

Thank you again for contacting me. I hope you will continue to keep in touch and please feel free to let me know whenever I may be of assistance.

Very truly yours,

Member of Congress

Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Power Is In Us: Lifting Up the Holy Sparks

for Kate Otting
& John Martinson

We began by talking about kosher wines, and how they could possibly compete in taste if the method of koshering wines involved boiling the grapes, but somehow my friend Mike Altman and I veered from that to whether the Jews believe in an afterlife, and from that to the mitnagdim and the hasidim, two competitive Jewish sects that lived in Europe during the 18th Century. The mind does wander. 

The mitnagdim were traditional Jews, and the label, "mitnagdim," means "opponents," I believe. The thing they were opposed to was the sharp rise of new hasidic sects under a Jewish mystic affectionately called "The Baal Shem Tov," or "Master of the Good (Divine) Name."

The fight between the mitnagdim and the hasidim (which means pious) was, from time to time vicious. The crux of the fight was the primacy of mind versus heart as the path to God. The mitnagdim were very traditional, and stressed the intense study of Torah and Talmud (a Jewish text containing a cross-generational discussion among learned Jewish scholars enabling later generations to continue to learn from earlier scholars). Their founder, a rabbi from Vilna called the Vilna Gaon, had supposedly learned to recite the entire Talmud by seven years of age, and was said to have studied 18 hours daily. Over the years, it became custom for rich men to wed their daughters to prominent Torah scholars, and then to support the son-in-law's family so he could continue his studies. In poorer circumstances, wives sometimes worked to support the family so that the husband could forebear from work in order to continue to learn.

Of course, I wasn't there, but stories about The Baal Shem Tov say he offered Jewish mysticism to the masses as a substitute for intense study. He did this because many of the people realized they would never be in a position to pursue the sort of intense dedication to study that mitnagdim rabbis said was necessary for a true and meaningful relationship with God.   The Baal Shem Tov roused his followers through music, dance, meditation, stories of miracles and other rituals into spiritual states, similar in effect to the sufi whirling ceremony or the sun dance ceremony of certain native american groups. 

The mitnagdim believed that the Ba'al Shem Tov's ideas would cause Jews to cease to pursue the texts, weakening the very foundation of the religion over time. Mysticism, for the mitnagdim, was to be limited to the very few truly righteous among them. In fact, the practice of mysticism among the mitnagdim was almost cultish, in a Free Mason sort of way. To participate, one had to be very learned, righteous, married, over 40 and have a sponsor/teacher. The feud was, in some cases, truly bitter.

There are still descendents of the two groups. I may be wrong, but I believe Aish, a strong Jewish outreach organization, has its theological roots in the mitnagdim, while the Lubovitch, a sect of hasidim with an outpost in nearly every city and on nearly every campus, are descendents of The Ba'al Shem Tov. Interestingly, these two groups today have nearly identical goals - reaching out to Jews who are somewhat lost or disconnected from Judaism - and have moved closer to each other theologically, as the study of the texts has taken a more prominent place in the Hasidic teachings. Even so, Aish, like the mitnagdim of the 18th Century, eschews mysticism for all but a select few, while the Lubovitch still make the rudiments of mysticism available in the form of stories, music, meditative practices, to all.

I give you this little bit of Jewish history because one of the more entertaining things (to me) about my own brain is the way it often connects seemingly disconnected things.  Below, I've shared with you a talk given by Jill Bolte Taylor, a neuroscientist. Several years ago, she suffered a stroke that basically disabled the left lobe of her brain, and left her functioning about 95 percent from her right lobe. The distinction between her left and right brain functions, as she describes this in the video, strikes me as much the same as the distinction between the mitnagdim and the hasidim.  The left brain ties the mind to the concrete and the rational, while the right brain "dissolves" into the broader universe in an intense, loving and spiritual way.  Jill Bolte Taylor, in describing her right brain experience, uses terms like peacefulness, euphoria, and "at one with all the energy that was." By the same token, she could not intellectually separate herself from her surroundings, could not identify or hold onto the meaning of words against the background noises in the space she physically occupied. Meanwhile, the five percent of her left brain function that remained kept abruptly emerging into consciousness long enough, in what she thought of as a "wave of clarity," to say, "hey, you've got to pay attention; something's wrong, you've got to get help."

Ultimately, she experienced these feelings of "expansiveness" and "enormity" and "peacefulness" as nirvana. And further, she realized that the right brain held the key to peace among humankind, if only we could work on harnessing it. But, aha! We need the left brain to do the harnessing and directing. 

My brain does another odd thing - it eventually ties together for me the two disparate ideas that seem crazy when I initially present them to myself as connected.  So bear with me while I explain the connection between the mitnagdim and the hasidim, Jill Bolte Taylor's left and right brain functions, Judaism, and world peace.  LOL (that's "laughing out loud," Mom).  Yes, it's all connected. 

At some level, I see in all this a metaphor for what it will take to accomplish human peace-making and even saving the planet from our greedier selves. Clearly for believing Jews, connection to the Holy is a key tenant of our religion. Our "job," as Jews, is tikkun olam, or healing the earth (that includes its occupants). An incredible Jewish mystic, Isaac Luria (1524 - 1572) explained the creation of the universe as an intentional creation by God, who previous to the creation existed as formless energy. God, according to Luria, wanted more - maybe needed more - and so created the physical world.  Metaphorically (it has to be metaphorical because otherwise how could we, simple mortals, grasp this?), God's creation is a "physical vessel" into which God poured Divine energy to bring it to life, so to speak. The problem is that the physical is no match for the energy of God, and the energy burst the vessel, spewing shards of vessel everywhere. These shards are imbued with sparks of Divine, the same Divine that was poured into the vessel, attaching themselves to the shards upon shattering. These shards became  material matter (remember, we are metaphoring), but because they are imbued with the sparks of Divine energy, they are also "of God" and holy.  It is our human job to live life in a way that enables us to gather these shards and "liberate" the sparks of holiness within them, to lift the sparks up to their former holy selves, so to speak. This is the task that, by another name, we call tikkun olam, or healing the world.

The urge to liberate and lift the sparks, while having genesis in the spiritual/mystical, must be actualized physically. Liberating and lifting the sparks can take many forms.  One such form of physical actualization is taught in one of the central prayers of the Jewish liturgy, the Ve'ahavta, from Deuteronomy 6. I wrote here,,  about the connection of the Ve'ahavta to tikkun olam/healing the world, but in a nutshell, the passage tells us that we need to keep all of our physical senses and abilities focused on the game all the time. The relevent passage is here:

"5 And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. 6 And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be upon thy heart; 7 and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thy house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. 8 And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thy hand, and they shall be for frontlets between thine eyes. 9 And thou shalt write them upon the door-posts of thy house, and upon thy gates."

Healing in the natural world is both physical and spiritual.  As a physical act of healing, it might manifest as something like cleaning up an environmental spill.  As a spiritual act of healing, one might empower a child to believe in her talents.  Sometimes, an act of healing can be both physical and spiritual, like when we participate in micro-funding programs that enable the poor in third world countries to become small-time entrepreneurs, giving physical sustainance, power in the material world and a spiritual lift for both the lender and borrower. In other words, these mystical concepts have very powerful real-world repercussions. Like Jill Bolte Taylor realized when she acknowledged that she needed her left brain to harness her right brain, it is important to realize that tikkun olam requires not just the mystical, spiritual urge to liberate the sparks from the shards and to heal the world, but the concrete teachings of the texts, like the Ve'ahavta, to help us know how to act.

 Jill Bolte Taylor, by sharing her experience, seems to be offering us a kind of a knowledge gift from God, a living, scientific proof in Taylor's experience that healing the world is entirely possible - because the spiritual healing capacity is within us all - and if we can figure out how to harness it - peace is within our grasp.  To get the full possibility and power of what I mean when I say this, I urge you to listen to Jill Bolte Taylor's talk.

And one last thing.  I labeled this post "For Kate Otting and John Martinson." This is another of my odd connections, but I hope, Kate and John, you will both instantly know why I connect you with this post. But in case you don't, let me thank you here and publicly for being my friends, but more importantly, Kate, for your dedication to peace-making, and John, for somehow managing to effortlessly find and liberate sparks on a daily basis, seemingly without even trying. May I learn to emulate you both.

More about The Baal Shem Tov:
More about the mitnagdim:
More about Isaac Luria's Kabbalah:
Hasidic Stories:

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Not-So-Sweet Surprise

Isn't this the cutest little face?  I can hear my friend Stacey Mehl Hoffman say, "Give me a bite of that face!"  

Obesity is an epidemic around the world, even, apparently among children as young as 6 months old, and of course, continuing through adulthood.  I'm probably going to hear from the corn and cola lobbies, but I just finished watching a talk given by Dr. Robert Lustig, Professor of Clinical Pediatrics, in the Division of Endocrinology Director of the Weight Assessment for Teen and Child Health (WATCH) Program at University of California, San Francisco,,  It turns out that the chubbers epidemic is not mainly about lack of exercise or fat intake.  It's about carbohydrates. Specifically, fructose may be the true villain.  And we've put it into so many of our foods and beverages, because it's cheaper and sweeter than regular sugar.  

The funny thing is, I remember hearing people say, "fructose is not as bad as sugar because it's fruit sugar.If it's from fruit, it must be good for us.  And there's an entire advertising campaign out there right now sponsored by the corn refiners association designed to make you think anything you've heard about fructose being bad for you is, well, just plain ignorant.  You can see the ads in the video clip at the bottom of this  post. But guess what?  Fruit sugars naturally present in the fruit we eat do not have the same effect on us as eating fructose.  Fructose is processed differently by your body.  Here is a quote I admit that I lifted from Wikipedia,, (students, do not cite Wikipedia in your papers without chasing down the original citation and verifying it; even though I did this in my blog, I will grade you down for this!): 

"The medical profession thinks fructose is better for diabetics than sugar," says Meira Field, Ph.D., a research chemist at United States Department of Agriculture, "but every cell in the body can metabolize glucose. However, all fructose must be metabolized in the liver. The livers of the rats on the high fructose diet looked like the livers of alcoholics, plugged with fat and cirrhotic."[54] ...

"When fructose reaches the liver," says Dr. William J. Whelan, a biochemist at the University of Miami School of Medicine, "the liver goes bananas and stops everything else to metabolize the fructose." Eating fructose instead of glucose results in lower circulating insulin and leptin levels, and higher of ghrelin levels after the meal.[55] Since leptin and insulin decrease appetite and ghrelin increases appetite, some researchers suspect that eating large amounts of fructose increases the likelihood of weight gain.[56]

Excessive fructose consumption is also believed to contribute to the development of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.[57]"

 And the whole thing is made more complicated by the food industry, because it routinely combines fructose with other chemicals - salt and caffeine, for example - that leads both to weight gain through overconsumption of calories, but also something more nefarious -changes in our bodies' ability to process the calories we take in. 

Dr. Lustig does a good job of making a pretty complicated scientific topic readily accessible.  WARNING:  This video is an hour and a half long.  But put aside the time, or watch it while you're eating lunch, folding laundry or whatever.  PLEASE make the time to watch this video.

While you're at it, go ahead and watch this one, created by Advertising Age, deconstructing the ads by the corn syrup producers, and showing you the vast range of processed foods containing fructose.

54. Forristal, Linda (Fall 2001). "The Murky World of High-Fructose Corn Syrup". Weston A. Price Foundation.

55. Teff, KL; Elliott SS, Tschöp M, Kieffer TJ, Rader D, Heiman M, Townsend RR, Keim NL, D'Alessio D, Havel PJ (June 2004). "Dietary fructose reduces circulating insulin and leptin, attenuates postprandial suppression of ghrelin, and increases triglycerides in women". J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 89 (6): 2963–72. doi:10.1210/jc.2003-031855. PMID 15181085.

56. Swan, Norman; Lustig, Robert H. "ABC Radio National, The Health Report, The Obesity Epidemic". Retrieved 2007-07-15.

57. Ouyang X, Cirillo P, Sautin Y, et al. (June 2008). "Fructose consumption as a risk factor for non-alcoholic fatty liver disease". J. Hepatol. 48 (6): 993–9. doi:10.1016/j.jhep.2008.02.011. PMID 18395287.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Organic, Grain-Free Pet Food @ Kick-Ass Prices!

With apologies to my mother for the profanity, I'm so excited!   (That's Jewish guilt for you.  I don't think my mom even reads my blog).  Whatever.  I just discovered a brand new website with an amazing selection of organic and grain-free pet foods, treats, supplements, etc., at

Lucy, below, has digestion issues, and Simon, upper right, has that unattractive reddish-brown eye discharge that's supposedly attributable to red yeast in his system.  So, she needs salmon-based chow, and he needs less grain and more pro-biotics than typical grocery store fare. launched toward the end of November.  You can read customer reviews on Yahoo here,

This is what they say about themselves: "We focus our attention on unique foods, supplements, & mixers for the discriminating pet owner who will only accept the very best. is determined to supply only natural, species specific, dog and cat products. Specializing in organic pet foods, oils & supplements."

And, if you get there soon enough, use DFC15 for a New Year promotion of 15 percent off your entire purchase.  If you know how much good dog food costs, you know 15 percent makes a big difference.  For me, it basically covered the shipping.