Thursday, December 31, 2009

Thursday's Hot Plate: Divide and Conquer

It's New Years Eve! Its pretty damn cold out there and it has been grey and rainy all day. Not pleasant, but maybe it will keep the 20-somethings from Virginia out of the district tonight. . . . hmmm . . .

I just started a new book "The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela". Turns out I might be the last person on the planet to not have read this book. I first discovered it in Mae Sot, Thailand while I was helping to (badly) edit a document for one of the Burmese groups working on the border, Assistance Association of Political Prisoners Burma (AAPP). They help raise awareness about and get released Burmese political prisoners. I had brought a group of professors and college students to the Thai-Burma border to volunteer and learn more about the Burmese democracy struggle in order to raise awarenss on our own college campus'.

Bo Kyi, the man I was (badly) helping, was reading it. Volunteering in that office was a bit intense and a lot of times, more than anything else, they wanted us to stay out of the way until they finished their work, so we could all drink whiskey, play basketball, sing songs, and heatedly discuss democracy and freedom late into the night. Several times on the way to some house party one of the Burmese guys would get arrested and us volunteers, who felt pretty useless and in the way, would bribe the cops and get whoever it was released. At least we were productive in something.

Not too long ago I was speaking to a forest campaigner who worked in the Congo and she said that when they get stopped and asked for bribes it is pretty common to just refuse and stand there for hours until the cops calculate their cost benefit of the situation, cut their loses, and move on to someone that might be an easier target. Bribing customs throughout the world are pretty interesting.

Earlier this month there were a slew of articles popping up about the impacts of people, "crusaders" to quote one, demanding the elimination of chemicals in products such as toys. On December 4, The Good Guide, a non-profit consumer product rating organization, released chemical testing of the children's toy Zhu Zhu hamster, claiming that it contained unsafe levels of antimony. Antimony is a chemical being eliminated in many products and can lead to cancer and reproductive disorders.

The testing it turns out was not identical to the federal testing that said the toy's level of antimony was safe. Enter shit storm.

On December 7, The Good Guide posted "New Protocols to Enhance Product Testing" and published a press release to apologize and clarify their mission of testing and rating products. The blog post is simple, to the point, and acknowledges their mistakes and explains the steps they are taking to make sure it doesn't happen again. The comments and reaction are another story.

"when you claimed the ZHU ZHUs were unfae and toxic, why did tou have a link on where to buy the "toxic toys" COULD IT BE THAT IS YOUR REAL EXPERTISE, MAKING MONEY ON THE WEB?"

"DO THE RIGHT THING for once in your life and man up. Pay the company the millions of dollars you have cost them."

"are you going to test EVERY toy that is produced in the U.S.? Manufacturers do. How do you have any credibility when your criteria for selecting toys to test is obviously those, which if they fail the test, will give you the largest platform to promote yourself? This is probably one of the most shameful episodes in business in recent years. You have capitalized on fears and concerns to promote yourself."

These comments are an unfair reaction and . . . don't actually make any sense. Manufacturers test EVERY toy produced in the U.S? Have you watched the news over the past two years? Lead in toys, anyone? Do the right thing for once in your life and man up? Your real expertise, making money on the web?

What is going on here?

A couple months ago, I did an interview with a school board association journal about my efforts to help communities pass laws to prevent the building of schools on or near sources of pollution. The author wasn't sure where she was going to go with the article. Her editor had asked her to write something about crisis. H1N1, terrorism, whatever.

In her research, she saw a press release we put out about the EPA having found acrolein (very bad chemical found in exhaust, cigarettes and many other things) at a hundred times higher than levels deemed safe at 15 schools around the country. After a series of articles in USAToday testing air quality outside of over a 1,000 schools, EPA decided to test 63 schools in 22 states themselves over the past several months.

And this author thought . . . whoooaaa . . . crisis. We had a decent conversation where at one point she asked me if I thought people like me (enviros, non-profit, et al) were creating an atmosphere of fear in parents and communities. I hedged the question for a while and then said I don't know. What I do know is that I have information that can help communities, but it is up to communities to take that information and make the best possible decisions for their children. I believe that one thing communities can do to protect their children after hearing something like this is to make sure that schools are no longer built on or near sources of pollution.

I think the Good Guide serves an important purpose and I think the reaction to their mistake shows how valuable product testing is to the elimination of toxic chemicals, even if at some moments it looks like it's creating unnecessary fear. Because it scares the shit of industry, which is evident in that industry roams from town hall meeting to town hall meeting trying to beat back local and statewide ordinances that promote precaution.

On December 16, the Wall Street Journal released an article called "Chemical Crusaders Target Christmas". It talks about how the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) passed last year includes a temporary ban on phthalates. Phthalates are a group of chemicals that softens plastics such as PVC blood storage bags, rubber ducks, and medical tubing. It is an endocrine disruptor. The article then goes on to list studies and scientists and governmental agencies who say all this worry over the introduction of tens of thousands of chemicals that nobody knows anything about their long term impacts is "hogwash".

Tens of thousands of chemicals that nobody knows anything about their long term impacts being introduced into our waters, land, and bodies . . . isn't a concern?

Articles like this Wall Street Journal and the comments that say The Good Guide (a non-profit) is only interested in gaining money from its product testing and people from the chemical industry showing up at small town hall meetings to testify against communities taking control of what chemicals are ingested by the children are proof that the chemical industry knows that we are right. That having tens of thousands of chemicals that nobody knows anything about their long term impacts is a big fucking problem. And that we shouldn't and we aren't going to stand by and let industry control our water, our land, and our bodies anymore. We aren't going to let them divide us with fear mongering about fear mongering. These are tactics and they are designed to make you question what you believe.

And those of us using studies and reports to make our case will continue to be aware of what we are doing and how we are doing it in order to make sure our tactics are on the side of protection.

And as one of my favorite people on this planet said, "We must not allow ourselves to become like the system we oppose. We cannot afford to use methods of which we will be ashamed when we look back, when we say, '...we shouldn't have done that.' We must remember, my friends, that we have been given a wonderful cause. The cause of freedom! And you and I must be those who will walk with heads held high. We will say, 'We used methods that can stand the harsh scrutiny of history." (Desmond Tutu)

Ciao and Happy New Year,
Renee Claire

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Monday Gumbo: Consequences. And Grumpy

Back in the district. . .

I'm sitting at one of my favorite coffee shops sipping a coffee and bailey's and finishing up all those things you get to do when on holiday, like getting $400 of charges off my credit card from my storage unit who has absolutely no record of any of them at all. And not being in the mood for small talk about my new years eve plans while you can't find my money. Give me my money, bitches!

I'm almost done with 'Stones into Schools'. I've read over 300 pages in the past couple days. It's not a book for those with little time on their hands, that's for sure. As my cousin has less than a week before his next deployment, the chapters on the US military and their relationships with rural Afghani villages has been especially interesting to me.

'During these encounters, I was struck by the realization that some of the values held by cadets, officers, and enlisted personnel seemed to mirror my own. For example, many of these people displayed genuine humility, as well as a deep respect for other cultures. After spending time with them, it was also clear to me that their patriotism was rooted in, among other ideals, a reverence for tolerance and diversity. . . .

'Eventually, I came to understand that a group of people who wield enormous power happen, oddly enough, to espouse some of the very same ideals imparted to me by people in Africa and central Asia who have no power at all. The reason for this, in my view, is that members of the armed forces have worked on the ground - in many cases, during three or four tours of duty - on a level that very few diplomats, academicians, journalists, or policy makers can match. And month other things, this experience has imbued soldiers with the gift of empathy.'

I will not pretend for one second that this is true across the board. People are unique and come to situations with their own life experiences that make them react and understand the situation before them differently. These sections also seem to be more about softening the divide between those that fight in this war and those that are suffering the consequences. But I believe that he has met people that feel this way and probably more than I believe he has. I also think, from having read his books and interviews, that he is an exceptional man with a large, tolerant and patient heart. Things we all deserve to see in those we meet.

On December 22 2008, a Tennessee Valley Authority's Kingston Plant suffered a catestrophic coal ash spill of 5.4 million cubic yards (enough to flood 3,000 acres about a foot deep) that drowned nearby communities. It has been called the worst environmental disaster in the United States. Coal ash has been given away by some companies as a way to fertilize land even as coal ash regulation is being considered by the US Environmental Protection Agency. Administrator Jackson stated that regulation would be put into place by the end of 2009, though this has been pushed back due to the "complexity of the analysis'. During the past year, it was found that there exists 584 other coal ash waste sites, 49 of them are high hazard and have the potential to kill those that nearby. EPA, in its advice to those receiving coal ash waste for their land, states it is not hazardous to crops, surface water or humans. You're confusing me, Lisa Jackson!

There are remaining questions as to whether TVA explained all the dangers to those living near the ash pond, after having comparing the dangers of coal ash waste to table salt, and stated in a report that throughout 2009 the company had learned the 'importance of listening'. Donald Smith, a local TVA neighbor, explained days after the spill, “It was nice that they came by to talk to us. They’re making an effort. But what upsets me is they didn’t have a plan in place. Why hadn’t anybody thought, ‘What happens if this thing bursts?’”

The TVA coal ash spill isn't just impacting those that live nearby however. There are consequences to those that live in Perry County, Alabama where the waste is being shipped. Most governmental officials welcomed the dumping because of the jobs it would bring by expanding the landfill, but many in the communities that live near the landfill are opposed to this new hazard. Given TVA's new found learning of the importance of listening, you would think that security around the Alabama landfill wouldn't be so tight and those in charge wouldn't be refusing to give interviews on the situation. Its true listening isn't the same as providing information, but then whats the fucking use of listening in the first place?

(First F-word of the day. See mom, I don't always use profanity! Though my friend's brother at Christmas dinner whose face was red for most of our conversation on health care reform might disagree. I was quite impressed with my colorful language I have to admit.)

Anyways, consequences. . . . The spill happened in Tennessee is being shipped to Alabama and 49 other cities have been warned about the fact this too could happened to their town and now you know about it. What are you going to do with this new information?

New consequences: The other night, my friend's cousin casually mentioned, completely unprovoked, during dinner that he hates gay people because they flaunt their sexuality and that he has never met a gay person that didn't. Something just clicked at that moment for me and I decided that I'm tired to being tolerant of people that hate people they have never met. I actually was so fucking tired of having to talk about why two people should be allowed to love one another and that being a christian means loving people unconditionally, that I stood up and walked out. I didn't return to say goodbye or say it was nice meeting you, because I no longer meant it. And I'm tired of having to say things I don't mean.

My friend said that she wanted to talk to him and make him understand that gay people aren't evil and bad and its ok to live your life and let them live their lives. Good on you, girl. Because I'm fucking done caring about bigotted, ignorant, selfish assholes that want to take basic human rights away from people because of who they love. Because they believe a person that beats the shit out of their family deserves more respect than someone that dedicates their entire life to loving one person who happens to be the same sex as them. Done.

Oh . . I'm grumpy today. I need to head outside and walk in the sunlight.

Renee Claire

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Stones Into Schools and The Importance of Healthy Educated Girls

I just started the book 'Stones into Schools'. I had it shipped to my friend's house so I could read it over the holidays. I've only read a few pages but it's so intensely inspiring, I could sit here all day long. My mom reads books like that. I'll buy her a book and by evening time she'll hand it back to me finished.

In the introduction Greg Mortenson writes about the importance of educating girls . . .

" Why do so many Americans seem to care so deeply about people who live in a place that is so far away? Despite everything that has happened, how can our anger and our fear be transcended so consistently by our decency? And what is it about the promise of educating children - especially girls - that so often, and with such fervor, seems to evoke what is best in all of us?"

"No other factor even comes close to matching the cascade of positive changes triggered by teaching a single girl how to read and write. . . .

Take the issue that many in the West would consider to be the most pressing of all. "Jihad" is an Arabic word referring to a 'struggle' that is undertaken as means of perfecting oneself, improving society, or defeating the perceived enemies of Islam. In Muslim societies, a person who has been manipulated into believing in a extremist violence or terrorism often seeks the permission of his mother before he may join a militant jihad - an educated women, as a rule, tend to withhold their blessing for such things. Following 9/11, for example, the Taliban's forces suffered from significantly increased desertions; as a countermeasure, they began targeting their recruitment efforts in regions where female literacy was especially low."

When discussing the importance of passing laws to prevent schools from being built on top of sources of pollution, one fact often is able to put the issue into its true perspective. Little girls are born with their entire life supply of eggs, all their potential children rest within their bodies at birth. If you send a little girl to a school that sits on top of a former landfill or 300 yards from a coal waste silo, her lifetime supply of eggs will be dosed with toxic chemicals. The impacts of this will be felt not only to her own body and psychological well-being but to the quality of life of her family and entire community for generations. In other words, the success of your community rests with how well you take care of your daughters.

As I have mentioned before, a common tactic from the chemical industry is to put polluting facilities in communities that do not have the resources to prevent them from doing so. A poor neighborhood, usually of color, whose inhabitants are too busy trying to pay bills to have time to organize to stop the permitting and construction process of chemical facility. This is no different than what Greg Mortenson states in 'Stones into Schools' when speaking of fundamentalists targeting communities where female literacy is low.

I'm currently in the process of thinking through a series of articles and photo essay's that I would like to create that compares contaminated communities in Europe with similar ones in the United States. I'm struggling with the exact perspective from which these articles could speak. Maybe the impact on chemical contamination on female populations could be interesting and have a wider impact. Need to think about it a little more.

Alright, I'm heading back to the book and another cup of coffee.

And fresh off the presses: Taliban Blows Up Girls School

Renee Claire

Friday, December 18, 2009

B.R.O.M.I.N.A.T.E.D. stuff

I'm heading back to the states on Monday and just when the sun has come out! I won't be gone long though, just three itty bitty tiny weeks. All of which reminds me of polybrominated diphenylethers. Not really. . . but there have been some interesting developments on these chemicals over the last couple weeks and how this impacts the future of our health and communities.

I first mentioned PBDE's to you in March of 2008 when Dr. Rice, an EPA scientist, was fired for her studies on brominated flame retardants. And then again with Representative Dingell opened a congressional investigation on the incident. Dr. Rice might have been fired for her outspoken (-ness?), but the negative impact on communities by brominated flame retardants hasn't gone away that easily . . . thanks to a bunch of really skilled and pissed off people who are bent on eliminating toxic chemicals from our bodies and environment, including Environmental Health Fund, International Association of Fire Fighters, and moms and dads who have asked companies from whom they purchase products to eliminate toxic chemicals.

Rice was fired in 2008 and yesterday, EPA announced along with Albemarle Corporation and Chemtura Corporation, and the largest U.S. importer, ICL Industrial Products, Inc, announced the phase out of decabrominated diphenylethers in the United States.

Ready for a quick science and vocabulary lesson before moving on? Alright, here we go . . .

polybrominated diphenylethers (PBDE) - members of a class of brominated chemicals used as flame retardants

brominated flame retardants (BFR) - chemicals used in products like cigarettes, mattresses, and curtains to prevent fire

decabrominated diphenylethers (decaBDE)- a type of polybrominated dipheylethers that are widely used in curtains and cushions

octabrominated diphenylethers (octaBDE)- a type of polybrominated dipheylethers that are widely used in computers and appliances

why am I wasting your blog reading time with this crap: These chemicals are poisonous to humans, animals, and the environment throughout its production, use and disposal. When thinking about why these chemicals should be phased out of products we should think about the true impact of them throughout their entire lifecycle. Since they are additives to products, they breakdown over time and throughout the use of a product. So as I type on my cute little MacBook my hands are touching plastic that is slowly breaking down the longer I use it and that's when additivies like octaBDE gets into my body. (However, all new Apple products are all BFR free!) I don't want octaBDE in my body because it has been known to cause thyroid toxicity, liver toxicity, and neurodevelopmental toxicity.

Got it? Good . . . let's keep moving.

Industry was scared enough about the loss of their power to continue poisoning communities that Dr. Rice was fired, people like Arlene Blum (best science teacher ever!) have been campaigning around the world, and companies have been announcing the phase out of brominated flame retardants in the products we use everyday like cell phones and laptops means that we are getting closer to overhauling our country's antiquated chemical policies.

Oh yeah, the United States has a really shitty chemical policy meaning that we currently have 80,000 chemicals most of which we know NOTHING about. Yep, companies can put chemicals in baby toys of which nobody understands their short or long term environmental health consequences. Kind of like how we medicate hyperactive children instead of buying them a pair of cleets and signing them up for a soccer team. This is what disgusts me the most about people like Cal Dooley. His job is to defend these dirty practices.

EPA's announcement is a great step. It's one more way to see that people all over the country are standing up and taking action against marginalizing and institutional poisoning by profit driven corporations. Profit over people is not an economic scheme that works.

To learn a little more about flame retardants check out Health Care Without Harm.

It's sooooo sunny outside! Yea Amsterdam!

Renee Claire

P.S. T.I. may be getting out jail early.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Dudes that Believe in God

Nope this isn't a personal ad, but I do want to quickly provide a couple links to some dudes that believe in god talking about climate change.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Quite possibly the cutest dude to believe in god I've ever seen. I once missed a lecture by him at my university and I regret it everyday. I don't even know what I decided to do instead, but it wasn't important. It was probably to hang out with my boyfriend at the time, who was very religious and would make me go to church with him. Then ask me questions about the service to see if I had actually been paying attention. . . I hadn't. But did you know that Lutherns provide wine only every other service?

Last weekend Desmond Tutu spoke at a rally in Copenhagen. He talked about god looking down on all the people standing up for climate change solutions and smiling. I saw another clip of him discussing the bible, where he said that people should not believe in everything the bible says, pointing to the acceptance of slavery as an example of how to approach this book. I kind of have a big giant crush him. Watch this fantastic clip.

The Pope. Yeah, I know. But for the World Day of Peace he sent a note with a theme about the importance of protecting the environment in order to promote peace. He stated, "Our present crises, be they economic, food-related, environmental or social, are ultimately also moral crises, and all of them are interrelated." And said that too often environmental problems are put aside for "myopic economic interests". Here is the full text.

I would like to discuss this a little more, but I am too tired. I was woken by children running and screaming through the streets at way too early an hour this morning because Amsterdam had its first snowfall of the season overnight. Off for more coffee!


Renee Claire

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

"Bla Bla Bla. We Need Action."

Cal Dooley, President of American Chemistry Council, was just listed on ICIS's Top 40 Players in the chemical industry as 35, just below Lisa Jackson, US EPA Administrator.

Last week EPA announced that greenhouse gas emissions posed a hazard to human health, which puts the country in a good position to pass some real climate legislation. You know, if that was something that congress would ever want to do.

Today Cal Dooley did a little ditty about how this ruling was going to stall our economy and ruin the chemical industry. Oh Cal, you're so . . . out of touch.

I found it a little odd that he didn't mention the communities that have been ruined by toxic pollution or how bulching, dirty and out of date chemical facilities with poor infrastructure cause lowered IQ scores, escalated rates of attention deficit disorders, and reproductive disorders to name just a few other things that hurt local and national economies. But hey, this guy is known for missing the details. He stated not too long ago that the only thing he sees upsetting about the fact that one in four children are on food stamps is because it's a signal that families are no longer purchasing plastic products as often or in the same quantity as before.

"Wall Street may be paying out $bns in bonuses. But in the rest of the USA, rising unemployment and foreclosure are having a major impact.

In a new analysis, the New York Times reveals that the Federal food stamp programme "now helps feed one in eight Americans and one in four children".

Renamed the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, it enables families and individuals to buy groceries, and averages $130 per recipient each month. Around 90% of those helped live below the poverty line ($22k for a family of 4). Blacks are worst hit, with 25% receiving aid. 15% of Latinos are being helped, and 8% of whites.

These are worrying statistics for chemical companies. Many products that we produce are discretionary rather than essential. And people who need help to buy food are focused on 'needs' rather than 'wants'. This will hold back the recent recovery in industry sales."

Don't guys like him ever need a little quiet time?

Renee Claire

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Koln.Kolhn.Cologne And a new chemical

This Saturday four of us (2 English girls, 1 Lebonese guy, and me) took an early morning train to Cologne, Germany. We arrived sleepy, a couple still a little tipsy from the night before, at Amsterdam Central Station and hopped on a 744am international train for some christmas market shopping.

At one point along the path, someone brought out some anti-bacterial hand wash. You know my position on this and of course when I was offered some for myself, I couldn't resist spewing a little info that I had learned for the book Good Germs, Bad Germs and all my work on the green cleaning campaign from my former job. Back in May I wrote a post about the Swine Flu hysteria and a little about how much I love this book. It's rather a long post, but about half way through I go into it all. Here is another post about the book.

I still love this poem by W.H. Auden that was reprinted:

A Very Happy New Year
to all for whom my ectoderm
is as Middle-Earth to me.

For creatures your size I offer
a free choice of habitat,
so settle yourselves in the zone
that suits you best, in the pools
of my pores or the tropical forests
of arm-pit and crotch,
in the deserts of my fore-arms,
or the cool woods of my scalp

Build colonies: I will supply
adequate warmth and moisture,
on condition you never
do me annoy with your presence,
but behave as good guests should,
not rioting into acne
or athlete's foot or a boil

We arrived in Cologne ready to visit some Christmas markets. We even took the christmas train around to four different markets! Ate the biggest leg of pork on the planet. Not all by myself . . . I shared. Drank some amazing Gluewein. Love me some mulled wine. And lit a candle at the Cathedral of Cologne for my cousins. I even did a little sign of cross with holy water when I walked in this amazing building. The cathedral is very similar to one in Vienna. It was hard to speak when I was outside looking up at the two towers. Just incredible. Of course my camera battery died on the train.

As I researching interesting things about Cologne, I came across some press releases about the closure of a Solutia rubber plant that makes tetramethylthiuramdisulfide (TMTD). Oh yeah. . . I haven't thrown out a 27 letter word in a while!

Tetramethylthiuramdisulfide (TMTD)is normally used as a fungicide, but is also used as a preservative in rubber products, such as gloves, mattresses, and condoms. Solutia is closing its Cologne plant because of tetramethylthiuramdisulfide (TMTD) is no longer economically viable for them to produce. It seems there are lower cost alternatives available. Haven't looked at that yet, though.

But let's talk tetramethylthiuramdisulfide (TMTD). It's chemical class is Dithiocarbamate and it is moderately to highly toxic to aquatic life. Health impacts include reproductive and developmental toxicity as well as being a neurotoxin. As a fungicide it is most often used on strawberries, peaches, and apples. It is highly toxic to both cold and warm water fish. I'm reading this Chemical Watch fact sheet on it and it's just two pages of toxicity to almost every organ, thyroid, overies, gastrointestinal tract . . .

Off to Bruges, Belgium this weekend and trying to get one more short trip in before I head back to the states for a couple weeks. Maybe Paris, though I'd prefer to go when it's snowing. Though if I want snow, I could stop by Houston, TX on my way to Vegas, I guess.

Renee Claire

P.S. oppps . . this was suppose to be a Sunday Gumbo. Next time.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

A New War President

I haven't watched the speech yet and I've only read a couple articles. But I have gotten word that one (of the many that could be any day now) of my cousins is part of this escalation, in fact he is probably part of this first wave that hits during Christmas time. This will be his second tour, not including his tour in New Orleans post Katrina. And he is one of my most favorite family members. And though I really have no idea what the answer is, that is making me really fucking angry. The last eight years were demeaning and infuritating I can't even think what another 4 years of war will do to communities who are on both ends of all this hate and greed.

I watched Larry King Live yesterday and Jesse Ventura was part of the panel. He said that Americans need to feel the pain of war more in order to get angry enough. He proposes that we impose a war tax, Ben Stein lost it at that point of course.

Michael Moore wrote an open letter to President Obama on Monday. I'm not going to summarize it for you, but here are some highlights.

- "Choose carefully, Mr. President. Your corporate backers are going to abandon you as soon as it is clear you are a one-term president and that the nation will be safely back in the hands of the usual idiots who do their bidding. That could be Wednesday morning."

- "Don't be deceived into thinking that sending a few more troops into Afghanistan will make a difference, or earn you the respect of the haters. They will not stop until this country is torn asunder and every last dollar is extracted from the poor and soon-to-be poor. You could send a million troops over there and the crazy Right still wouldn't be happy."

- "President Obama, it's time to come home. Ask your neighbors in Chicago and the parents of the young men and women doing the fighting and dying if they want more billions and more troops sent to Afghanistan. Do you think they will say, "No, we don't need health care, we don't need jobs, we don't need homes. You go on ahead, Mr. President, and send our wealth and our sons and daughters overseas, 'cause we don't need them, either."

- "When we elected you we didn't expect miracles. We didn't even expect much change. But we expected some. We thought you would stop the madness. Stop the killing. Stop the insane idea that men with guns can reorganize a nation that doesn't even function as a nation and never, ever has."

Yesterday, Greg Mortenson's new book hit the stores. 'Stones into Schools' is the follow up to 'Three Cups of Tea'. It's a story about how Greg Mortenson has been helping rural Pakistani and Afghani communities build schools and teach both their kids to read, especially their girls. It's an incredible story and really gets to the heart of how we CAN get out of this. Buy his book, unless you are a Blanchard or a Fiore, because there is a good chance there may be one in your mailbox this week. (Merry Christmas!)

This is the email that Greg sent out yesterday morning:

"Today, my book, Stones Into Schools, will be releasing just as President Obama makes his historic decision on troop deployment to Afghanistan. This also coincides with you receiving our Journey of Hope III 2009 publication with updates on our 2009 work in Pakistan, Afghanistan and USA.

We feel it is essential that the voice of those, who were never considered in the decision-- the Afghan tribal shura (elders)-- be heard. It is not politics that will bring peace, ultimately, only people bring peace. The decision to deploy more than 30,000 troops to Afghanistan (bringing the total to 100,000) was made behind closed doors and in secrecy, with no public debate, no testimony on Capital Hill, or no discussion from the media. For a democracy to progress, secrecy is not productive.

Promote Peace Through Books

Over the last six months, Central Asia Institute has been instrumental in helping dozens of Afghan shura (elders) from many rural provinces meet with the U.S. military commanders, without compensation or any benefit to CAI, other than to promote peaceful dialogue. This gave a chance for the shura's vital voice be heard and recognized in making critical decisions that will determine the fate of their own country.

Stones into Schools

Please read our new book, Stones into Schools, for more information about the region today. Please contact your Senators and Congressional leaders to encourage them NOT to meet in secrecy behind closed doors about decisions that involve the American public and deployment of further troops. And please encourage our leaders strongly to invest in education and literacy, which is the greatest hope of all the communities we serve and work with, so that future generations of children have the right to attend schools."

We have to believe that there is another way to secure our nation than killing innocent people and ruining our communities by sending all our boys and girls away to kill even more innocent people. There has to be a way to love our nation and protect the Afghani people from fundamentalists that don't represent their way of life.

In three years, when President Obama achieves his goals in Afghanistan (which is highly doubtful), the country will be more of a mess, thousands more people will be dead, and he will be up for re-election. Kind of sounds like 2004 to me, except Democrats don't tow the line as well as Republicans, more Americans will be bankrupt, we will be even more torn apart by the climate change, health care, and financial system fights.. . . Unless a real miracle happens, that is.

Renee Claire

P.S. That was so depressing, here are some pictures of cute kittens.