Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Since I'm Sure You Don't Read The Greenpeace Blogs

Here is my friend James talking about Lauren's confrontation with those Rand Paul thugs on Monday night. I'm warning you about the comment underneath his post up front. It's delusional at best. I believe this woman may have forgotten to take her medication. It's something similar to 'i want my country back from all you corporate whore Nazi's. yeah, i'm talking to you Greenpeace hippies who never take corporate money and carry non-violence pledges around.' It's a bit infrutiating, but James' rebuttal is another example of how violence (even in words) shouldn't ever be met with more violence.

And in case you didn't see Lauren on CBS this morning. Check her out. She's kind of amazing.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Tuesday Gumbo: Amazing-ness

Home: I arrived into the Bay area on Sunday afternoon. It was cold, grey and pouring rain. I hopped into a cab at the San Francisco airport. I just couldn't bare to take Bart all the way across the bay. And I thought I might as well have stayed in Amsterdam with this shitty weather.

$70 and 25 minutes later, I made it home. Sat on my couch, chatted with my roommate, took a much (much!) needed shower, and fell asleep by 6pm. I woke around 2am for a brief moment, then when 5am came around I ran around with my head cut off trying to get online to catch my European colleagues before they went home for the day. Mostly because there was much unfinished work for a report that was released today. No wireless. My roommates had switched internet companies while I was away and things had gone wrong. A little odd that the decision was made completely without me, but hey I just live here.

Breaking Bread: I made bread today! a flaky white loaf and an olive, rosemary and onion loaf. I can't believe it. It was so easy. I'm totally making bread instead of buying it from now on. Yay, me!

The Tea Party: I woke up this morning to a whirlwind of news articles about the Rand Paul debate last night. It seems that a friend of mine, a 23 year old woman, was thrown to the ground and step on by a number of grown men including Rand Paul's Bourbon County, Kentuky campaign coordinator because she was protesting against Rand Paul. So . .. let me get this right. . . Men in their 50's (I'm assuming from their photos) decided that the correct response to a 23 year old woman (she's tall, but its pretty obvious she's really young) protesting in a funny way (blonde wig and ironic yard sign) was such a threat to Rand Paul's safety that the only thing they could think of doing was throwing her violently to the ground and then stepping on her head. So violently that she received a concussion in fact. Watch the video. It's upsetting even if you don't know Lauren.

Lauren is an incredible activist. I've known her for many years. We've worked together in a number of different capacities. But its a conversation we had about four years ago over a couple beers after a 16 hour work day that best describes how gentle and young this woman is. A group of us were talking about how long term change happens. How do people stop deforestation of the rainforest for instance? I talked about campaign strategy and tactics that have been working. And she seemed confused that organizations had discussions on long term strategies of how to end deforestation. So I asked how she thought it happened. She said with a great smile and meek voice, "organically?" It was adorable. No, Lauren long term change to end deforestation doesn't happen organically. Here is the latest article on Lauren.

But all this makes me think once again. What is it that the Tea Party wants? Because it's hard to remember with all this violence and hate. Was Tim Profitt (the grown man who stepped on top of a 23 year old woman who was being held down against her will by two other grown men) trying to take his country back? Was he trying to put an outspoken woman in her place? Was he trying to discuss his perspective of the issues? Whatever it was, it was violent and those men were so riled up by hate and anger that they couldn't see what they were doing. What they were doing to a 23 year old woman who disagreed with them. I wonder if any of those men have daughters or nieces or sisters. I wonder what they would do if that had happened to one of the women in their families.

Juan Williams:
This is an amazing story that is digging deep into our national conversation on racism. The Atlantic has had some really good coverage of it. Is Juan Williams a bigot? Does it make a difference that he said his comments on Fox news given that he works for NPR? Does his comment belittle the work he has done on civil rights?

I don't believe that Juan Williams is a bigot. I think his comments were stupid, but I don't think he was expressing an uncertain and deeply held racism that needs to be punished by his employer. Unlike Rachel Maddow, I don't believe this was just one more comment that is inciting people like the Rand Paul thugs to be violent and racist. I can't believe I'm disagreeing with Rachel Maddow right now. For ten years we have been told that we need, for the sake of our lives and our country, to be scared when we get on a plane. That racial profiling is an appropriate way to deal with extremists. Our brothers and cousins and fathers are being sent to war to kill muslims or islamic extremists, depending on the news source. These are the images that we see and hear everyday. Mix this in with the rest of our historic and deeply held racism in our country and out comes irrational fear of normal everyday people who are brown and who might or might not be muslim. He expressed something sincere, but not something that should vilify him as a racist.

Racism is involved in every part of our social structure. It comes out in places and moments we don't expect and in places and moment we knew it would. That doesn't make each of us so racist that we should be fired if we speak these thoughts aloud. If we don't speak and think about the parts of our culture that are full of racism, how are we going to eradicate our society of them? NPR fucked up.

I'm going to eat the rest of my bread now. It's sooo good. You should come over and have some too.

Renee Claire

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Update: Kiddie Kollege and its Toxic Siting

The devil is beating his wife over here in Amsterdam. You know, its sunny and raining at the same time. Anyways, only a few more days until I can rest my head in my own bed. I'm so excited!

Parents whose children attended Kiddie Kollege, a nursery school that was inside an old thermator factory, settle the lawsuit for medical monitoring for their children. Yes, boys and girls someone opened a day care center with children in a building where people made thermametors with real live mercury. The story that follows is one with odd twists that include the legal system attempting to decide who is really at fault here. The people that sold the building, the people that bought the building, or the people who ran the day care center.

You can read my past posts on this story here.

I'm almost done with my book Bayou Farewell: The Rich Life and Tragic Death of Louisiana's Cajun Coast. It's a fantastic book about the wetlands loss on the Louisiana coast written by Mike Tidwell. He is a travel writer. I've never read any of his books before. Mostly I don't like travel writing. I don't know why. I just haven't found much that I enjoy. I prefer older fiction where the plot takes place in multiple locations that I have never traveled to. There is a difference.

Ok goodbye.
Renee Claire

Saturday, October 16, 2010

[Repost] Bad Editing or . . . huh?

I'm not lazy, I'm just misunderstood. Actually, I'm just really fucking behind at work. (Casey, please unremember the preceding and following sentences.) My trip to New Orleans was extremely fruitful but taking this trip and thinking I could do 2 jobs has eventually come at a price. I have this habit of foolishly thinking I can do anything. I'm not sure if you have noticed. It leads me to take wonderful risks and to believe that you just have to jump because the safety net will eventually appear, but sometimes it leads me to work from 9am until midnight on a Friday and all day on a Saturday and possibly all day on a Sunday too. And still be a week behind. Anyways, I have been absent to my devoted (and small) blog audience. I've reposted this oldie but goodie. Enjoy!

A colleague of mine sent me a link to an unedited version of the article I posted earlier today, "Wal Mart, The New FDA?". It seems that CNN is more of a money making machine than a journalism machine. After reading the article I posted earlier today, I couldn't stop thinking about it. On my bike racing through the terrorists scare in downtown DC (really . . . half the city's blocks were closed and road rage was out of control - this is dude in a truck was just screaming,no words, just screaming when he couldn't go on green quickly enough but that's a different post), in the bookstore when I kept getting text messages about the street closures, and sweating to the oldies at the gym, there was something really odd about that article. I kept doubting as to whether I understood it or not. Was he saying that consumer activism was bad for science? Was he saying that the chemical industry doesn't have enough power over the chemicals that they produce because environmentalist keep using the internet? Was he saying the internet is providing radical environmentalists with new ways to punish the free market? What the fuck was he saying?

Then I got this link.

And I realized he wasn't actually saying much of anything, because a whole bunch of industry lines had somehow fallen out of the ACC communications department and landed all over an article about an endocrine disruptor that is used in baby bottles. baby bottles. I'm sorry I don't think I mentioned that all this controversy is over a chemical that disrupts human endocrine systems and is used in products that hold infant formula. Just thought I'd mention that.

One thing is for sure, the edited version of the following article says a lot about how much power the chemical industry has in this country. How is it even possible that chemicals that is known to cause harm allowed in products that go into the mouths of children? I'm so confused right now how the people that work at these chemical companies think that is ok to argue against laws that protect their children's health. Because these aren't just 'companies', these are people who leave their families each morning and show up everyday to work in an office to make decisions on what chemicals get put into our computers, our shower curtains, and our children's car seats and they know that some of these chemicals are extremely toxic to their children's health. I'm sure some of the people that work in the chemical industry have children. And they know the effects of what they are doing. And they do it anyway. I'm just so confused.

Anyways, that went into a spiel I wasn't prepared for. The bottom line is here is the real article, not some weird version fit for . . . who knows what happened there, but read this one. And if you have a minute tell me why you think there are two very different versions of this article.

Renee Claire

How Wal-Mart Became the New FDA"
by Mark Gunther

The plastics industry is dealing with a nightmare these days when it comes to potentially toxic chemicals. Because so many people no longer trust big business or federal regulators to protect them and their health—perhaps with reason, perhaps not—companies are vulnerable to campaigns by activist groups, politicians and trial lawyers who want to get alleged dangerous toxics off the market. The latest example: Bisphenol-A, the chemical used in polycarbonate bottles, including baby bottles, and in the linings of aluminum cans and in many, many other products.

I’ve spent a fair amount of time—more than I’d intended to—looking into the controversy around BPA. The result is a column that was posted today on and The FORTUNE websites is also running a video in which I talk about the issue. Originally, I had hoped that my research into BPA would develop into a much longer story for FORTUNE but the piece never really came together, in part because I found myself conflicted over the safety issues. Also, to be honest, it became clear to me that I don’t have the depth of experience reporting on the FDA or on toxic chemicals to write a definitive FORTUNE story about BPA.

Having said that, I’ve come to the conclusion that the BPA story is, in essence, about trust. It’s another bit of evidence to support my argument that it makes business sense in the long run for companies to be responsible and prudent, even if that costs them money today; regaining trust, once it’s been lost, is both terribly difficult and expensive. It also strikes me that industries that try to weaken government regulation or plant their own people inside regulatory agencies run the risk of getting burned in the end. That’s because when we lost trust in our regulators—as we seem to have lost faith in the FDA—we are left with mob rule, as manufacturers and retailers (i.e., Wal-Mart) come under pressure to stop making and selling perfectly legal products. Strong and predictable regulation, it seems to me, is better for business as well as for the rest of us than the chaos now surrounding BPA.

So feel free to look at the column which is a much abbreviated version of a longer draft that I will post below. Here’s how it begins:

How, exactly, did Wal-Mart become the new Food and Drug Administration?

The giant retailer, along with CVS and Toys ‘R Us, announced recently that it plans to stop selling baby bottles containing the chemical bisphenol-A.

The question is, why? Bisphenol-A has been widely used since the 1950s. The Food and Drug Administration, as well as Japanese and European regulators, have no problems with it. Canada is about to ban it from baby bottles, but officials term the move purely precautionary

And here, for those who want to know more, is my full story:

When did Wal-Mart become the new FDA?

The giant retailer, along with CVS and Toys ‘R Us, says it will stop selling baby bottles containing a controversial chemical called bisphenol-A. The California state Senate has voted to prohibit the use of BPA in children’s products. Nalgene, which makes water jugs, is phasing out BPA, too. And powerful Congressmen want BPA removed from cans of infant formula.

The question is, why? The FDA says bisphenol-A is perfectly safe. So do Japanese and European regulators, who tend to be more cautious. Even the government of Canada, which plans to ban the chemical from baby bottles, recently assured its citizens that this was done “as a precautionary measure.”

BPA, you should know, is everywhere. The chemical is used to make polycarbonate, a rigid, clear plastic used in bottles, bike helmets, CDs, DVDs and automobile headlights. It’s also used to make epoxy resins, which are used as coatings in food and drink cans as well as dental sealants. You’re probably carrying around some BPA right now: About 93% of Americans tested by the Centers for Disease Control had the chemical in their urine. About 6 billion pounds of chemical were made last year.

The trouble is, numerous studies of laboratory animals have linked small doses of BPA to breast cancers, prostate cancer, brain abnormalities and reproductive health problems. Other scientists argue that the chemical, which has been widely used since the 1950s, is perfectly safe. The fact is, there’s a good deal of scientific uncertainty about bisphenol-A. That’s not surprising, because we rely on animal studies to predict the effects of chemicals on humans, and extrapolating from mice to you and me isn’t easy.

But this story isn’t fundamentally about science. It’s about the politics of BPA. More broadly, it’s about how we, as a society, make decisions about health and safety, at a time when we no longer trust the government or industry to protect us. Because we’ve lost faith in those big institutions, battles over a slew of products and processes—genetically modified foods, the irradiation of meat, or phthalates in cosmetics or children’s toys—are being fought in the court of public opinion, for better or worse.

In the case of BPA, the market for hard-plastic baby and sport bottles collapsed suddenly this spring because of a hard-hitting campaign against the chemical by activist groups, concerned scientists, politicians, and trial lawyers. They spread fears about BPA that eventually convinced nervous retailers to turn away from children’s products containing the chemical. As an expert in crisis PR noted, wryly, “Wal-Mart is the new FDA.”

For companies that make chemicals or use them in consumer products, this is a real worry. It’s a whole lot easier to frighten people than it is to reassure them, especially when talking about kids. “The science can’t compete with the emotion,” says Steve Hentges, a chemist and a lobbyist with the American Chemistry Council, an industry group that lately has been on the losing end of the BPA battles.

If the most determined opponents of BPA get their way and drive the chemical out of the food supply, consumers will pay the costs. Some BPA-free plastic bottles sell for $10 each, more than twice the price of bottles with BPA. Baby bottles made of glass can break, potentially causing injury. Replacing BPA in the lining of aluminum cans would mean retooling all that packaging, and it’s not clear that there are safe alternatives.

Those costs are worth paying to protect our health, environmentalist say. They argue that if government regulators can’t or won’t do the job of regulating potentially toxic chemicals, then it makes perfect sense for advocacy groups, politicians, an aggressive media and even Wal-Mart to step in.

“The federal regulatory system for chemicals is broken,” declares Richard Liroff, the executive director of the Investor Environmental Health Network, a nonprofit that works with companies on issues of toxics. “We have largely incapacitated the government to make the kinds of decisions that we ought to be able to look to government to make. So there’s a lot to be said for having big companies slice through the knot and say we have to make decisions for our good, for our customers’ good and for the good of society.”

If nothing else, the BPA battles underscores how rapidly markets can by reshaped by activist campaigns and consumer sentiments, both magnified by the Internet. A handful of companies emerged as winners this spring: Whole Foods Market, which pulled BPA baby bottles and cups off its shelves several years ago; Eastman Chemical, which introduced a plastic alternative called Triton last year; and Born Free, a private company started in 2006 specifically to provide BPA-free baby bottles. Others, including SABIC Innovative Plastics, which was formerly the plastics division of GE and is now the U.S.’s biggest manufacturer of BPA, presumably saw sales decline. (SABIC declined to comment on the financial impact.) Baby-bottle makers including Avent America, Evenflo and Gerber Products are now being sued because they sold products made with BPA.

This spring’s BPA battles were fought like a political campaign, complete with catchy soundbites, press releases, personal attacks, and warring websites. One prominent and controversial crusader is Dr. Frederick vom Saal, who has been researching BPA for more than a decade. Vom Saal has testified before state legislatures and appeared on such TV programs as PBS’s Frontline and ABC’s 20/20 to denounce BPA in terms that gloss over scientific uncertainty. Referring to the fact that BPA is a mild estrogen, he says things like “the idea that you’re using sex hormones to make plastic is just totally insane.”

Vom Saal has contempt for the chemical industry. He accuses a Dow Chemical executive of trying to bribe him, a charge the company strongly denies. “The willingness to be dishonest seems to be the criteria for these people being hired and representing the chemical industry,” vom Saal says.

The chemical industry, in turn, wants to discredit vom Saal. One industry source showed FORTUNE a video news release produced by Born Free, which makes BPA-free baby products, in which vom Saal warns of the dangers of BPA. “We know it causes breast cancer and prostate cancer when exposure occurs in early life,” he declares. He also consulted with the New York-based law firm of Robert Weiss, which has filed three class action lawsuits against baby bottle manufacturers, according to the firm’s website.

Asked about this, vom Saal says he has not taken any money from any company or law firm, although he may testify as an expert witness, as many academics do, if the class-action suits against BPA go to trial. He notes—accurately—that it was only after lawyers brought civil actions against the tobacco industry and asbestos makers that we learned the full truth about the dangers of their products, and how the industries failed to protect the public health.

If vom Saal were the only scientist warning about the dangers of BPA, he could be marginalized. But dozens more are sounding alarms. Sarah Janssen, a scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council, is a medical doctor with who a master’s in public health and a PhD in reproductive biology. She won’t let her 10-month-old daughter be exposed to BPA through baby bottles, sippy cups or infant formula. “For peace of mind,” she says. “really what we need is a comprehensive ban.”

Fenton Communications, a Washington, D.C. PR firm, is another key warrior against BPA. Fenton’s clients have included Born Free and its BPA-free bottles; an activist group called the Environmental Working Group that has led the fight against BPA for years; and trial lawyers. Fenton also works for liberal advocacy groups like MoveOn that support Democrats in Congress—New York Senators Charles Schumer and Hillary Clinton, among others—who have sponsored legislation to ban BPA from children’s products..

Sometimes these groups appear to work in concert. Last year, the Environmental Working Group tested canned foods for BPA and found that “many Americans are exposed to BPA above levels shown to be harmful in laboratory studies.” This year, a congressional investigation led by Reps. John Dingell and Bart Stupak asked manufacturers of infant formula (including Hain-Celestial Group Inc., Mead Johnson & Company, Nestle USA, Abbott and Wyeth Nutrition) to provide information on their use of BPA in the lining of cans. The companies said the linings did contain BPA (as everyone knew by then) and that the cans were safe to use. Nevertheless, Dingell and Stupak subsequently asked the infant formula companies to voluntarily remove BPA from their cans. They declined. All this generated headlines—and worry.

The chemical industry has tried to get its message out, too. See the websites and , which come up at the top of Google’s search offerings to offer a defense of BPA. But the industry is often depicted as a “special interest group,” while environmentalists and politicians are seen as serving the “public interest.” It isn’t that simple, of course. Controversy helps the green groups raise money, Democratic politicians look for ways to find fault with the Bush administration. And the trial lawyers sense a big payday.

The problem for the chemical industry is that its track record doesn’t inspire confidence. The Dingell-Stupak investigation of BPA looked at what the congressmen call “science for sale,” and uncovered embarrassing documents. One target: The Weinberg Group, a Washington, D.C., consulting firm that has made a business out of defending products that are under attack. (Its clients included the American Chemistry Council.) In a 2003 letter to DuPont, a Weinberg consultant wrote that, “We will harness … the scientific and intellectual capacity of our company with one goal in mind – creating the outcome our client desires.” Needless to say, this is not how science is supposed to work.

David Michaels is a George Washington University professor and the author of new book called Doubt is Their Product, about the misuse of science by industry. Corporate efforts to manipulate science and avoid regulation are now backfiring, he argues, because all science funded by industry has come under a cloud. “The work of mercenary scientists hurts the credibility of all scientists,” Michaels says.

This became a key element of the attack on BPA. When an FDA executive told Congress that the agency had relied on two industry-funded studies in its analysis of BPA, Dingell pounced. “This raises serious concerns about whether the science FDA relied on to approve the use of Bisphenol A was bought and paid for by industry,” he said. The problem is, the FDA does not have the money to conduct independent studies of the thousands of chemicals on the market. It has to rely on industry research. “It’s industry that’s required to do the testing, and then FDA reviews that,” says Hentges, of the chemistry industry group.

In April, all the news had turned bad for BPA. Media reports stoked fears. “There is no safe level of BPA,” declared Dr. Nancy Snyderman, an NBC medical reporter, on the Today show. (Maybe NBC is the new FDA?) The Canadian government recommended its ban on baby bottles with BPA. A lengthy draft report from the National Toxicology Program, a federal body that is part of the National Institutes of Health, found “some concern” about the effect of BPA on fetuses, infants and children at current exposure levels and concluded that “the possibility that bisphenol A may alter human development cannot be dismissed.” The NTP report (available at ) is a model of clarity in the sea of uncertainty surrounding BPA. But it is too long and nuanced to be appreciated in the court of public opinion, where the BPA battle is being fought.

In the space of a few days, Wal-Mart, Toy ‘R Us and CVS said they will phase out baby bottles containing BPA. Nalgen and Playtex also said they will stop using the chemical.

I emailed Wal-Mart to ask why the company is removing a legal product, which may or may not be dangerous, from its shelves, while continuing to sell other products, like cigarettes, which are incontrovertibly harmful. Linda Brown Blakley, a company spokeswoman, replied: “We sell products our customers want to buy. Our customers are telling us they want this option.”

Now that the retailers have agreed to take baby bottles with BPA off their shelves, you can be sure they will come under pressure to get rid of infant formula cans lined with the chemical. Will cans of soup, soda and beer be next?

And is this any way to make judgments about public health?

“The market can’t solve this problem,” says David Michaels, the professor who has written extensively about science and regulation. (His website is “Wal-Mart and Target may stop selling the products, but I’ll bet you that the Dollar Store will keep selling them, just as they sold tainted toys from China.”

Hentges, the industry lobbyist, says: “You want qualified scientists making these decisions.” Well, sure, but qualified scientists disagree about BPA.

There’s an irony here. Traditionally, industries have opposed strong regulation. They don’t want the government looking over their shoulder or telling them what products they can and cannot sell. The BPA saga might be a reason for companies to rethink that position—because, at least in this case, the fact that the government regulators are perceived as weak or under-funded or too friendly to industry has helped create the nightmare the chemical industry is now living.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

A Festival Season of Travel

I'm only five hours into my ridiculously wastefully long voyage to Amsterdam. I woke (not sure if you can wake from not sleeping) at 4am, drove to the New Orleans airport at 5am, hopped on a flight to Houston at 7am, found a flight heading for San Francisco at 8am, and am now sitting at Firewood Cafe 2 (yes 2!) at the San Francisco airport enjoying a Pinot Grigio where I will wait for the next two hours until my 4pm flight to Amsterdam. Sunday IS my funday!

The last three weeks have been a whirlwind. I decided when I first arrived sleep is not my priority and so not much of it was had. I am tired. In fact, this may be the first time ever that I would prefer to go home to my own bed instead of continue exploring. Two weeks in Amsterdam sounds good only because I know there is a bed there, where I will have an excuse (just traveled a looooong time) to snuggle inside of it early tomorrow afternoon. Yes, I'm dreaming of my next sleep that won't arrive until tomorrow. I'm thinking a 5pm bedtime. If sleep doesn't come right away, a bottle of Jack Daniels has stowed away inside my running shoe just in case.

Sleep. I miss you.

I miss my very comfy bed in Oakland. I miss my bike. I miss 72 degree days where I drink my coffee on the front porch sunning my exceedingly white legs, that because of short dresses and South Louisiana heat are no longer white. I miss open windows and cool breezes. I miss Lake Merritt. I miss going to the gym. I miss my early morning runs. I miss thinking that if only I knew how to build a fire I would totally use my fireplace. I miss staring at the desk I have yet to complete building and thinking fuck I soooo don't want to finish building this desk. I miss my tiny closet that barely fits all my coats, much less dresses, shirts, the dozens of scarfs I've collected over the years, and my shoes. Oh I really miss all my shoes, especially the ones I use for sitting.

But mostly I miss sleep. Restful sleep. I miss my restful Oakland sleep.

Don't get confused when I mention all the things I miss. I happen to be at the very beginning of a deepening loss for New Orleans and Acadiana. I almost did not get on my flight this morning. I paused . . . just for a moment, but I paused and thought of staying.

There are many things I want to share about my trip to New Orleans. Darryl, Cyn, Manhattans, Biloxi, the gobs of oil I grabbed from the bottom of the Gulf, the New Iberia Gumbo Festival, the BP tent at the New Iberia Gumbo Festival, Oaklawn Manor, Franklin lamposts, St. John Elementary, the country of 601 Napolean Ave, that tiny little kid playing the accordian, Centerville Grocery, the PT cruiser, the Bayou, and a number of other fascinating things that I made me pause outside gate D3. But right now, I'm going to finish this second glass of wine, download the latest Rachel Maddow podcast, and get on my very long plane ride to Amsterdam.

au revior,

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Stories are Coming

Four more days in Southern Louisiana, then two weeks in Amsterdam. I have had so many wonderful experiences over the past three weeks, including a three day long working conference to develop gulf coast recovery priorities with the most incredible environmental and social justice leaders and countless pints of whiskeys.

More to come.