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Saturday, February 22, 2003

Unhappy Meals

At: | News

School lunches are loaded with fat -- and the beef and dairy industries are making sure it stays that way.

Every weekday at lunch, courtesy of the federal government, more than 27 million schoolchildren sit down to the nation's largest mass feeding. If we took a giant snapshot of their trays on a typical day -- say, Tuesday, September 24 -- here's what the continent-wide photo would look like:

In Lynnwood, Washington, we would see kids eating sausage with Belgian waffle sticks and syrup. In Clovis, California, bacon cheeseburgers. In La Quinta, California, Canadian bacon and cheese rolls. In Rexburg, Idaho, cheese nachos and waffles. In Fort Collins, Colorado, "homemade" pigs in a blanket. In Bryan, Texas, cheeseburgers, chicken-fried steak, and pizza. In Hot Springs, Arkansas, country steak with creamed potatoes. In Cedar Falls, Iowa, mini-corndogs. In Lafayette, Indiana, beef ravioli with cheesy broccoli. In Columbus, Ohio, egg rolls with tater tots. In Kingstree, South Carolina, sloppy joes with onion rings. In Richmond, Virginia, chili cheese nachos. In Gatesville, North Carolina, three-meat subs with Fritos. In Orwigsburg, Pennsylvania, cheese steak on rolls with buttered pasta. And in Fitchburg, Massachusetts, pretzels with cheese sauce.

Here and there, we'd also see baked chicken and salads. But by and large, school cafeterias coast to coast offer an artery-clogging menu of beef, pork, cheese, and grease. "Whenever I see children clinically, I ask them if they buy lunch at school or bring it from home," says Patricia Froberg, a nutritionist at Connecticut Children's Medical Center in Hartford. "If they say, 'I get it at school,' I cringe."

At a time when weight-related illnesses in children are escalating, schools are serving kids the very foods that lead to obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. That's because the National School Lunch Program, which gives schools more than $6 billion each year to offer low-cost meals to students, has conflicting missions. Enacted in 1946, the program is supposed to provide healthy meals to children, regardless of income. At the same time, however, it's designed to subsidize agribusiness, shoring up demand for beef and milk even as the public's taste for these foods declines.

Under the program, the federal government buys up more than $800 million worth of farm products each year and turns them over to schools to serve their students. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which administers the system, calls this a win-win situation: Schools get free ingredients while farmers are guaranteed a steady income. The trouble is, most of the commodities provided to schools are meat and dairy products, often laden with saturated fat. In 2001, the USDA spent a total of $350 million on surplus beef and cheese for schools -- more than double the $161 million spent on all fruits and vegetables, most of which were canned or frozen. On top of its regular purchases, the USDA makes special purchases in direct response to industry lobbying. In November 2001, for example, the beef industry wrote to Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman, complaining that a decline in travel after September 11, along with a lowered demand for beef in Japan, was suppressing sales of their product. The department responded two months later with a $30 million "bonus buy" of frozen beef roasts and ground beef for schools.

"Basically, it's a welfare program for suppliers of commodities," says Jennifer Raymond, a retired nutritionist in Northern California who has worked with schools to develop healthier menus. "It's a price support program for agricultural producers, and the schools are simply a way to get rid of the items that have been purchased."

By Barry Yeoman

Posted by Richard
2/22/2003 09:44:51 AM | PermaLink

Friday, February 21, 2003

Managing Activism: PR Advice for "Neutralizing" Democracy

Book Review by John Stauber

When I first picked up Denise Deegan's book, Managing Activism: A Guide to Dealing with Activists and Pressure Groups, I imagined a roomful of uniformed pest applicators at the Orkin company, sitting on benches like military aviators before a bombing mission, being briefed on the best tools available for eradicating cockroaches. I was a spy for the roaches--the pesty "activists" that Deegan works to "manage." Roaches don't generally read the "how to" manuals written by their would-be exterminators, but activists certainly should.

As someone who has spent the last decade investigating the seamy side of the "perceptions management" industry, I wish I could tell you that this book is a gold mine of revelation, but for me it is not. Still, I recommend that my fellow citizens read this book. It is written in classroom text-like fashion, and the author is careful to put the best face on her profession and not include advice that might offend the atypical reader. Nevertheless, it can help people working for democratic social change to understand the often successful ways in which we are targeted for defeat, especially the "good cop/bad cop" tactic for dividing and conquering activists through "partnering" and co-optation by industry. For activists, Deegan's book provides a primer on how to recognize these traps and hopefully avoid them.

Managing Activism is written for PR practitioners whose clients engage in risky businesses (fossil fuels, pesticides, genetically engineered foods, nuclear waste, toxic dumps, animal testing) and who therefore become the targets of "activist groups" including "environmentalists, workers' rights activists, animal rights groups and human rights campaigners." Don't expect much sympathy for the activists. Deegan is a battle-hardened PR veteran and a committed soldier in the war against activists who "in an increasingly pluralistic society" present what she calls "a growing threat to organizations of all shapes and sizes. And because activists employ a wide range of aggressive tactics such as generating bad publicity, seeking government and legislative intervention, encouraging boycotts, etc., they can cause severe disruption, including damage to reputation, sales, profitability, employee satisfaction and, of course, share price."

The picture that Deegan paints is undoubtedly a chilling scenario if you are an executive or major share holder in companies like Monsanto or DuPont that have long histories of worldwide trade in everything from nuclear weapon components to pesticides and genetically modified crops. What's a besieged CEO to do?

"Fortunately, if dealt with in the right manner, activists have been shown to change their approach from aggressively confrontational to cooperative," Deegan promises. "Learning to manage activists involves learning about activists. Who are they? What do they want? What will they do to achieve their objectives? And most importantly, what is the best way to deal with them?"

Deegan's recommendations are similar to the advice which comes from Peter Sandman, E. Bruce Harrison, James Lukaszewski, Paul Gilding and other "crisis management" experts whom Sheldon Rampton and I cover in our work for PR Watch.Unfortunately, this entire area of PR--how to defeat activism--is insufficiently scrutinized by the citizens who need most to be aware of it, the activists themselves. Until we "cockroaches" understand the strategies of the exterminators," the PR roach hotels built by corporate crisis management practitioners will continue to entrap movements for democracy, ecological sustainability, fair trade, human rights, social justice, and all those other extreme threats to the corporate bottom-line. Social activists like to believe that we are too committed to our causes, too worldly and aware to be sweet-talked into unwitting submission by sitting down and partnering with the enemy. As Deegan reiterates, however, industry continues to regard this sort of "dialogue" as its most effective method for managing activists.

Deegan's book tries to put the best face on the practice of "managing activism," which may explain why she avoids mentioning the Washington-based PR firm of Mongoven, Biscoe and Duchin (MBD), one of the worldwide leaders in this particular PR subspecialty. As we have documented previously, MBD grew out of the successful effort by one of its founders, Jack Mongoven, to defeat the large religious-lead boycott campaign aimed at the Nestle corporation for its deadly promotion of infant formula in the third world. In activist lore this boycott is touted as a major victory, but in the corporate world it is understood that industry really won the day by pulling the rug out from the campaign. By making selective concessions to the activists, Nestle succeeded in negotiating an end to the boycott. Later, activists were dismayed to discover that its infant formula marketing practices are continuing with only token changes. Third world children continue to die, but today their plight receives little attention, and activists have found that a boycott, once terminated, is not easily turned back on.

MBD is a sort of spy operation. Its dozens of employees relentlessly compile dossiers on activists of all sizes and shapes the world over, advising industry how to defeat them. Their favorite method is a "divide and conquer" strategy heavily dependent on co-optation: First identify the "radicals" who are unwilling to compromise and who are demanding fundamental changes to redress the problem at hand.

Then, identify the "realists"--typically, organizations with significant budgets and staffs working in the same relative area of public concern as the radicals. Then, approach these realists, often through a friendly third party, start a dialogue and eventually cut a deal, a "win win" solution that marginalizes and excludes the radicals and their demands. Next, go with the realists to the "idealists" who have learned about the problem through the work of the radicals. Convince the idealists that a "win-win" solution endorsed by the realists is best for the community as a whole. Once this has been accomplished, the "radicals" can be shut out as extremists, the PR fix is in, and the deal can be touted in the media to make the corporation and its "moderate" nonprofit partners look heroic for solving the problem. Result: industry may have to make some small or temporary concessions, but the fundamental concerns raised by the "radicals" are swept aside.

This, in a nutshell, is the strategy that Deegan recommends in what she calls "one of the first books to offer a 'how to . . .' format to help people cope with the threat of activism." I especially recommend her chapters on "relationship building, negotiation and conflict resolution" and "media relations." Reading these chapters should help drive home the realization that activist efforts are being deliberately targeted for defeat by corporate funding, partnership and co-optation. These may seem like unusual weapons, but PR crisis managers have taken to heart the advice of military strategist Carl Von Clausewitz: "We see then that there are many ways to one's object in War; that the complete subjugation of the enemy is not essential in every case."

Activist readers should remember that Deegan's book only offers part of the story, the sanitized version. It does not go into all the real-world ways in which nasty, smear attacks against activists are waged and funded by the same corporations and industries offering the outstretched hand of partnership. For the "rest of the story," also read Secrets and Lies: The Anatomy of an Anti-Environmental PR Campaign, by Nicky Hager and Bob Burton. Secrets and Lies is included in Deegan's "recommended reading" list. Based on a mother lode of leaked documents, its revelations of anti-environmental dirty tricks in New Zealand proved so shocking to citizens there that its publication contributed to the political downfall of the head of state.

Posted by Richard
2/21/2003 07:46:53 AM | PermaLink

Thursday, February 20, 2003

Internet is King of Environmental News

Read w/ links at USC Annenberg

According to an October poll, the Internet is the best place to get environmental news, BBC News reports. The online survey, conducted by the Andreas Papandreou Foundation of Greece in conjunction with the UN World Summit on Sustainable Development, showed that 38% of respondents said the Internet is the best place to get news about the environment. The survey found that 17% get their environmental-news fix via newspapers or television. The online poll involved 25,000 respondents from 175 different countries and was promoted by media conglomerates AOL/Time Warner and the BBC, along with software giant Microsoft. Organizers sent the poll to President George W. Bush, who, according to the article, has not yet responded.

Posted by Richard
2/20/2003 11:58:24 AM | PermaLink

Info-tech and Virtual Road to Ruin?

Again and again we hear about the potential environmental benefits of information technology with respect to the substitution of motorways by data highways, about dematerialisation such as the "paperless office," etc...But in reality we observe an increase of transportation of goods and persons, and we have mountains of poisonous electronic waste. Why is there such a difference between theory and practice?

There is a fundamental error in the "dematerialisation" (i.e. virtualization) theories. The information society does not SUBSTITUTE the industrial one, it is ADDED on top of it.

Trends and mechanisms are examined in a new study "The Sustainable Information Society" (by Dr. Thomas Schauer) which can be downloaded directly at from the Global Society Dialogue website (

There are also paper copies available which can be ordered free of charge via request to

The Global Society Dialogue is an important global project that is examining info-tech in its various capacities re: sustainability. There is much more information located at the website. The dialogue itself involves a range of respectable groups from around the world -- this is information that needs to be dealt with and taken seriously.

Posted by Richard
2/20/2003 08:14:43 AM | PermaLink

About D.U. (Depleted Uranium) from A to Z

"A Treatise on Military Weapons Containing the Radioactive Material: Depleted Uranium"

This following is a link to a copious and up-to-the-minute document put out by three of the leading D.U. activist experts in the world. This is a pretty thorough accounting of the situation as they know it, and any questions regarding the use of D.U. weapons (and the economy of lies surrounding them) deserves to be checked with this document first.
Atomic secrecy has corrupted American democracy. And the rationale for this corroding secrecy has always been national security, the need to keep powerful information from falling into the hands of the current US enemy. Nuclear scientists even today regard the Q security clearance as a badge of honor, even while it signifies a determination not to spill the truth.

But now secrecy has mutated into an instrument of self-preservation not for the security of the nation but for the profits of the nuclear industry. The [keeping] of secrets has evolved into the telling of lies. And the deception is being perpetrated not on the enemies of the US but on its tax-paying citizens, whose contributions finance US atomic atrocities and line the coffers of nuclear profiteers.

The reason for this secrecy and deception has also changed. The nuclear industry's greatest fear is no longer of an "enemy." It fears instead that the truth about the environmental and health effects of radiation, if fully conveyed to the American people, will result in the collapse of the nuclear industry with its obscene profits. It especially fears what will happen when the American public learns the truth about depleted uranium (DU) munitions.

Read the Entire Piece

Posted by Richard
2/20/2003 07:48:55 AM | PermaLink

Wednesday, February 19, 2003

Water Philosophy

A big piece from Gary Sauer-Thompson at his Philosophy blog in which he maps the Australian relationship to water -- it's access, control, and consumption. The guiding call for a critical theory of the present moment that can apply the historical insights of how humans and the wasting of natural resources co-construct one another runs throughout the piece. Vegan Blog approves, but would insist that the notion of "our liberal Enlightenment" project be further decentered and displaced by a more radical reconstructive vision. The current terrain is not ruled by Enlightenment values, though liberalism is rampant. Still, there is contest everywhere -- and that's "my" project.


Posted by Richard
2/19/2003 09:45:35 PM | PermaLink

A Kick in the Grass, from Beyond Grass

Lawn Statistics: 27,000 gallons of water are needed each week to maintain an acre of lawn...


Posted by Richard
2/19/2003 08:50:34 PM | PermaLink

Computers and the Environment -- Waste Not, Want Not Should be the Credo?

The questions have hardly been looked at, but the studies are beginning to come out in earnest this year -- what is the relationship between the new Internet computer culture and the environment? We know other industries are doing serious damage -- from energy to transportation to lumber -- but how does the hi-tech industry stand up?

Partly because of an unconsciousness about environmental issues generally, but probably more so b/c tech industries were able to parade themselves as clean, efficient, and futuristic producers (with liberal progressive workforce notions), the big chip, computer, and peripheral manufacturers have been able to basically pollute unscathed for over a decade, doing tremendous harm in the process. Further, with absolutely no campaign or initiative on their part to educate consumers as to the deleterious effects of "throwing out" their equipment every two years (this continues to be encouraged in fact as the race towards Moore's Law next-new thing chugs along), the industry allowed consumers to construct a serious environmental disaster in their own right.

Such disasters are now being exported to nations willing to take on the toxic garbage of advanced capitalist lifestyle for a price, thereby polluting their own lands in the process. Of course, such pollution is land-filled in the lowest-tech fashion, and delivered unto the poorest communities in these nations. Thus, America's hi-tech lifestyle comes with immediate costs locally, as chip makers turn their work areas into Super Fund sites, and globally, as toxic waste is affordably displaced onto the international poor and voiceless in what amounts to clear environmental racism and injustice.

Industry personages, certainly, but average Internet-lifestyle consumers too, need to wake up and smell the garbage that seeps out of their cyber-freedom. If they do not do so soon, then the worst critics of the Internet may have their glory yet -- a culture of people so out of touch with place and community that they easily shit where they sleep, an industry so dizzy with profit-making and boom-time lifestyling that it reduces environmental disaster and globalized pollution to an operating cost.
TVs, PC monitors should be recycled, says L.A. official
By Reuters

LOS ANGELES — A proposal that would require electronics retailers to set up recycling for discarded televisions and computer monitors, the first proposed law of its kind in the United States, has been introduced by a Los Angeles city official.

Concerned about toxic waste from discarded TVs and monitors, Los Angeles City Councilmember Ruth Galanter introduced a motion before the council recently requiring any retailer who sells TVs or monitors to take back or arrange for the return of "hazardous electronic scrap" as of Jan. 1, 2004, a spokeswoman said Thursday.

The Consumer Electronics Association, the nation's largest trade group representing the industry, has condemned similar proposals but could not be immediately reached for comment Thursday.

Under the Los Angeles proposal, the retailers would be responsible for the proper recycling of the "e-waste," which a spokeswoman for Galanter said would be the first program of its kind in the nation.

The California Department of Toxic Substances Control already prohibits landfills from accepting certain components of TVs and monitors because of the presence of elements like lead, cadmium, and mercury that can pose health risks.

At a press conference Wednesday, Los Angeles councilman Eric Garcetti said electronic waste from Los Angeles was making its way to China, where he said workers were being paid $1.50 a day to dismantle the scrap without protective gear.

In early 2002 Californians Against Waste estimated that between 50 percent and 80 percent of the "e-waste" collected for recycling in the western United States was placed on container ships and sent to places like China for recycling.

Galanter's motion also noted that the proper disposal of e-waste can cost anywhere from $800 to $1,000 per ton, with the city often bearing those costs.

Late last year California Gov. Gray Davis vetoed a bill that would have added a tax to the sale of certain electronic devices to cover their eventual disposal and recycling.

The city council passed an ordinance last year supporting the bill and calling for a city ordinance on e-waste recycling if the state bill did not become law.

The Consumer Electronics Association, the nation's largest trade group representing the industry, condemned the bill and said at the time it was working on alternatives.

"Our industry is working hard to provide Californians with several immediate options to help with the creation of a recycling infrastructure," CEA Chief Executive Gary Shapiro said in October.

Posted by Richard
2/19/2003 08:16:39 AM | PermaLink

Tuesday, February 18, 2003

Offsetting Environmental Damage by Planes


Do you feel guilty about global warming every time you get behind the wheel of your car? If you are a frequent flier, start feeling more guilty. On a round trip from New York to London, according to the calculations of the Edinburgh Center for Carbon Management in Scotland, a Boeing 747 spews out about 440 tons of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas. Harry Rijnen of the New York Times reports.

Posted by Richard
2/18/2003 09:44:33 AM | PermaLink

Monday, February 17, 2003

Goodbye Dolly -- First Cloned Mammal Ages Prematurely to Half Normal Lifespan

DOLLY the sheep, the world's first cloned mammal, has been put down after being diagnosed with progressive lung disease.

Scientists at the Roslin Institute in Midlothian, where Dolly was born six years ago, announced yesterday they decided to "euthanise" following a veterinary examination.

Dr Harry Griffin, the institute's acting director, said: "Sheep can live to 11 or 12 years of age and lung infections are common in older sheep, particularly those housed inside. A full post-mortem is being conducted and we will report any significant findings."

Dolly was born in July 1996 after being cloned from the udder cell of a six-year-old adult ewe, and named after the singer Dolly Parton.

The cloning process to create Dolly involved transferring genetic material to an egg in the laboratory, where it was developed into an embryo and implanted into the womb of a female sheep.

Dr Ian Wilmut, who led the cloning team, was awarded the OBE in 1999 and named innovator of the year in the Scotsman of the Year awards in 2001.

Dolly, a Finn Dorset, gave birth to six healthy lambs, but developed signs of premature ageing a year ago, with arthritis in one leg. An expert on the ethics of human cloning, Dr Patrick Dixon, said the nature of Dolly's death would have a huge impact on possibility of producing a cloned human baby.

"The real issue is what Dolly died from, and whether it was linked to premature ageing," he said. "There have been suspicions that Dolly had not been as healthy as has been hoped and that she had developed severe arthritis. She was not old - by sheep standards - to have been put down."

Dolly's body has been promised to the National Museums of Scotland and will be displayed in Edinburgh.

Posted by Richard
2/17/2003 12:52:10 PM | PermaLink

Midnight Riders

Republicans slid a host of anti-environmental riders into the final text of the $397.4 billion spending bill passed by Congress yesterday. One rider blocks appeals against a pending decision on whether to expand protection for Alaska's Tongass National Forest. Others cut funding for land conservation, weaken the national organic labeling standard, and expand a pilot forest thinning program that environmentalist decry as a further subsidy for timber companies. "Congress just bought smaller, more degraded forests and open spaces," said Bonnie Galvin, director of budget and appropriations for The Wilderness Society, a national conservation organization based in Washington, DC.


Posted by Richard
2/17/2003 12:49:10 PM | PermaLink

How to Save the World

Got contacted by Dave Pollard who is doing some eco-blogging through Salon's blog community...his blog is at:

He's got a huge paper there called "How to Save the World" that I recommend you take a peek at -- even if only to marvel at his colorful flow-chart of activist ideas at the very end. This is some imaginative organizational thinking on Dave's part -- whether you would see it that way or not. Anyhow, for your interest...

Posted by Richard
2/17/2003 10:33:26 AM | PermaLink

Sunday, February 16, 2003

Lawsuits May Be Allowed When Pets Are Abused

Interesting, this story which points out Colorado's progressive move towards recognizing some semblance of animal rights -- though at this stage simply recognizing that family animals have a familial status worthy of compensation equal to that of a person -- was listed in Reuters under "Oddly Enough." Goes to show how far we still have to go...

DENVER (Reuters) - People who abuse cats and dogs could find themselves in serious legal trouble if a bill passes in Colorado that would allow pet owners to sue for up to $100,000 for "loss of companionship," the measure's sponsor says.

"I want to hold people responsible who are intentionally cruel to animals," state Rep. Mark Cloer said Monday.

Cats and dogs are now considered "property" and with most not worth more than $50, it makes no sense to sue someone who tortures or kills a pet, the Republican lawmaker from Colorado Springs said.

Local media said the companionship measure would be the first of its kind in the country. Colorado already is one of 14 states that allow pets to "inherit" from their owners.

Posted by Richard
2/16/2003 01:13:52 PM | PermaLink