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These Popular Clothing Brands Are Cleaning Up Their Chinese Factories

| Wed Apr. 15, 2015 6:00 AM EDT

It's well known that the outsourcing of clothing manufacturing to countries with low wages and weak regulations has led to exploitative labor conditions. But many foreign apparel factories also create environmental problems. The industrial processes used to make our jeans and sweatshirts require loads of water, dirty energy, and chemicals, which often get dumped into the rivers and air surrounding factories in developing countries. Almost 20 percent of the world's industrial water pollution comes from the textile industry, and China's textile factories, which produce half of the clothes bought in the United States, emit 3 billion tons of soot a year, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

But a few basic (and often profitable) changes in a factory's manufacturing process can go a long way in cutting down pollution. That's the takeaway from Clean by Design, a new alliance between NRDC, major clothing brands—including Target, Levi's, Gap, and H&M—and Chinese textile manufacturing experts.

Starting in 2013, 33 mills in the cities of Guangzhou and Shaoxing participated in a pilot program that focused on improving efficiency and reducing the environmental impact of producing textiles. The results, released in a report today, are impressive. 

The 33 mills reduced coal consumption by 61,000 tons and chemical consumption by 400 tons. They saved 36 million kilowatts of electricity and 3 million tons of water (the production of one tee shirt takes about 700 gallons, or 90 pounds, of water). While mills often needed to invest in capital up front, they saw an average of $440,000 in savings per mill—a total of $14.7 million—mostly returned to them within a year.

How did they accomplish all this? Below are some of the measures that were implemented:

  • Upgrading metering systems to monitor water, steam, and electricity use (and identify waste)

  • Implementing condensation collection during the steam-heavy dying process

  • Increasing water reuse after cooling and rinsing (some clothes get rinsed as many as 8 times; the final rinses often leave behind clean water)

  • Investing in equipment for recovering heat from hot water used for dying and rinsing, and from machines

  • Stopping up steam and compressed air leakage to increase energy efficiency

  • Improving insulation on pipes, boilers, drying cylinders, dye vats, and steam valves to prevent wasted energy

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Lincoln Died 150 Years Ago Today and If He Were Still Alive He Wouldn’t Have Been a Republican

| Wed Apr. 15, 2015 12:03 AM EDT

On April 14, 1865, President Abraham Lincoln was shot by John Wilkes Booth while attending a play at Ford's Theater in Washington, DC. Lincoln died the following morning, just six days after General Robert E. Lee had surrendered and the Civil War, which lasted four years and killed an estimated 750,000 soldiers, officially ended.

JT Vintage/Glasshouse/Zuma

As the country commemorates the 150th anniversary of Lincoln's death, the debate over how the Republican Party has changed since then has been renewed. Lincoln, the first Republican president, has long been a source of pride for modern-day conservatives who still claim to be part of the "party of Lincoln." His legacy is regularly cited by GOP politicians when they find themselves having to defend the party against charges of gutting civil rights and holding racist attitudes towards minorities. But as Salon notes this week in a piece titled, "Abraham Lincoln would despise you all: Race, the South and the GOP’s most delusional fantasy," attempts to invoke Lincoln in present-day Republican ideology are ultimately futile. The party's staunch opposition to gay marriage, for example, clearly distances itself from Lincoln's to the fundamental "proposition that all men are created equal."

One perfect example of what the GOP once was and what it became can be seen in then-Senator Jim Jeffords' explanation of why he was moved to leave the party in 2001. In his speech, which came shortly after George W. Bush became president, Jeffords said his initial decision to declare himself a Republican was largely rooted in principles that aligned with the "party of Lincoln." But Bush's shifting principles ultimately changed that for him:

In the past, without the presidency, the various wings of the Republican Party in Congress have had some freedom to argue and influence and ultimately to shape the party's agenda. The election of President Bush changed that dramatically.

Looking ahead, I can see more and more instances where I'll disagree with the president on very fundamental issues—the issues of choice, the direction of the judiciary, tax and spending decisions, missile defense, energy and the environment, and a host of other issues, large and small.

Of course, Republicans aren't exactly pleased with this perspective. A peek into that mindset is offered in this editorial in the Wall Street Journal published on Tuesday:

On a Lincoln anniversary that will no doubt bring even more lectures about how the GOP has abandoned its first president, we do well to remember that Old Abe was a man who enforced his red lines (e.g., no expansion of slavery). Before that, he was a corporate lawyer who rose from poverty through hard work and ambition—and wanted an America where everyone had the chance to do the same.

If America's progressives wish to embrace this Lincoln legacy, more power to them.

One hundred fifty years later, it's understandable why both parties are eager to claim Lincoln's legacy.

Republicans Like Class Warfare—So Long As It's Against Hillary Clinton

| Tue Apr. 14, 2015 4:18 PM EDT

How do you go about redefining Hillary Clinton? As one of the most well-known political figures in modern history, just about everyone in America already has a opinion of her.

After months in the lab and out in the field polling voters and testing messages, Republicans believe they have the answer they need to help prevent another four years of a Democratic presidency. As Politico reports today, the GOP plans to depict Clinton as an out-of-touch one-percenter, who doesn't drive her own car or pump her own gas, who owns multiple large houses and commanded a six-figure fee for her pre-campaign speaking gigs, who can't grasp the daily life of a working-class family. As Politico's Eli Stokols puts it, the GOP plans to "Mitt Romnify" Clinton:

The out-of-touch plutocrat template is a familiar one: Democrats used it to devastating effect against Republican Mitt Romney in 2012. While Hillary Clinton's residences in New York and Washington may not have car elevators, there's still a lengthy trail of paid speeches, tone-deaf statements about the family finances, and questions about Clinton family foundation fundraising practices that will serve as cornerstones of the anti-Clinton messaging effort.

"She's admitted she hasn't driven a car for decades; she probably doesn't ever go into a coffee shop and talk to regular people unless it's for a staged photo-op," said American Crossroads CEO Steven Law, alluding to Clinton's portrayal in her campaign's launch video on Sunday. "She really has lived the life of a 1-percenter these last several years, and it shows.

"We know her team is working to rebrand her as a relatable, regular person; the question is, can she actually perform in a way that convinces people she is that person? We think that's going to be hard for her."

The outlines of the effort to Mitt Romnify Hillary Clinton are still being sketched. Crossroads, the super PAC that spent $70 million in 2012 mostly on television ads attacking President Barack Obama, is in the middle of an extensive research project analyzing voters' existing perceptions of Clinton and their reactions to a number of potential critiques. But the Republican National Committee has done focus groups that suggest Clinton is more vulnerable to charges of being imperious and bending the rules than anything else tested against her.

"The most potent message against Clinton is that she doesn't live an average life, she's out of touch and doesn't play by the same set of rules," said the RNC's research director, Raj Shah. "[T]hat resonates more deeply than some of the policy hits, the ethical hits."

Soon after Stokols' story was published, Crossroads GPS, the GOP establishment's leading dark-money group, released its own polling data from 15 battleground states highlighting what it called Clinton's "major hurdles." Based on a poll of one thousand likely voters conducted in late March, Crossroads found that 95 percent of respondents had a fully formed opinion of Clinton; her popularity was evenly split, with 49 percent favoring her and 46 percent opposing. Crossroads also claims that some of the "most potent concerns" voiced by respondents were Clinton's "record of scandals" at the State Department, as well as doubts that the former first lady "is honest and trustworthy."

The data here aren't that surprising—after all, this was a poll commissioned by a Republican shop. But what caught my eye was Crossroads founder Steven Law's statement in the press release accompanying his group's findings: "A staged van tour," he said, "can't erase the legacy of scandals and luxury lifestyle that are ingrained in Americans' view of who Hillary really is." Right there Law shows his hand—luxury lifestyle. That's on top of his "one-percenter" jab to Politico.

In other words, get ready for 18 months of ominous, grimly narrated attack ads about out-of-touch plutocrats and the lifestyles of the rich and politically famous. Except this time the target isn't Mitt Romney; it's Clinton, the Democrat trying to run as the "champion" of "everyday Americans."

The FDA Has Some Bad News About Your Kind Bars

| Tue Apr. 14, 2015 2:41 PM EDT

Depressing news for all you Kind bar fans: The popular nut and fruit snack, which bills itself as a "healthy and tasty" treat, is actually kind of not healthy at all.

According to a letter from the Food and Drug Administration to the makers of Kind, the bars "do not meet the requirements for use of the nutrient content claim 'healthy’ on a food label" under the law.

"Your website states, 'There’s healthy. There’s tasty. Then there’s healthy and tasty' and 'all of our snacks are pretty much the nirvana of healthful tastiness.' In addition, your webpage for the Kind Peanut Butter Dark Chocolate + Protein product states 'KIND Peanut Butter Dark Chocolate + Protein is a healthy and satisfying blend of peanuts and antioxidant-rich dark chocolate.' However, none of your products listed above meet the requirements for use of the nutrient content claim 'healthy' that are set forth in 21 CFR 101.65(d)(2)."

The FDA said the bars have too much saturated fat to justify the term "healthy," and also don't measure up to their "antioxidant-rich" claim. Bloomberg reports Kind is "moving quickly to comply" to edit its labels.

More disappointment for people who thought cheerfully labeled snacks and drinks (a la Vitamin Water) could actually make them fitter.

(h/t Bloomberg)

Hair Update

| Tue Apr. 14, 2015 12:35 PM EDT

Huh. My hair is starting to fall out in clumps. That's not supposed to happen until after the chemo next week. I wonder what's going on?

Worst. Logo. Ever.

| Tue Apr. 14, 2015 11:45 AM EDT

I've kept my distance from the nearly insane volume of reaction to Hillary Clinton's presidential announcement this weekend, including the tens of thousands of turgid words deconstructing her allegedly revolutionary announcement video. (Please.) It's a routine announcement, folks. We all knew it was coming. We all knew approximately what she'd say.

What's more, I nearly always stay out of discussions about logos. I have no artistic sense, so who am I to judge? And yet....holy cow. I have to go along with the nearly unanimous stunned reaction to Hillary's campaign logo. It's hideous on so many levels it's hard to even marshal my thoughts about it. Seriously, WTF were they thinking?

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This CEO Just Raised His Company's Minimum Salary to $70,000 a Year

| Tue Apr. 14, 2015 11:04 AM EDT

Inspired by research suggesting that the emotional well-being of many of his employees could be improved by a raise, the owner of a Seattle credit card payment processing company has just announced that he will boost their minimum salary to $70,000.

The New York Times reports Gravity Payments founder Dan Price will slash his own $1 million salary to $70,000 and use a majority of the company's forecasted $2.2 million profits this year to help pay for the bold move. Many of the workers affected by the raise include sales and customer service representatives.

Of the company's 120 employees, 30 will see their salaries almost double.

"The market rate for me as a CEO compared to a regular person is ridiculous, it's absurd," Price told the Times. "As much as I'm a capitalist, there is nothing in the market that is making me do it."

In the rest of the country, the wage gap between top executives and well, everyone else, is staggering: In 2014, Wall Street bonuses alone amounted to nearly double the combined income of all Americans working full-time minimum-wage jobs.

Publicity stunt or not, Price's plan is a unique story about one CEO's effort to directly address income inequality and create liveable wages for his workers. If successful, we can only hope this turns into a Times trend piece.

No, the Poor Are Not Squandering Public Money on Filet Mignon

| Tue Apr. 14, 2015 10:53 AM EDT

Are the poor blowing their food stamps in wild bacchanalias of filet mignon and lobster thermidor? Is this something that we ought to keep a closer look on as protectors of the public purse?

You can probably figure out the answer already, but, um, no. Here are some relevant monthly figures for food spending among the poor, as collected by the Consumer Expenditure Survey:

  • Meat and fish: $48
  • Fruits and vegetables: $42
  • Alcohol: $15

Pretty obviously, there's a lot more baloney and chicken breasts here than steak and lobster. And this doesn't change a lot as you move up the income scale. The numbers above are for the poorest tenth of consumers, but they stay about the same even when you move slightly up the income ladder. The entire poorest third spends only about $323 total on food per month.

Should we encourage better nutrition and better food choices among the poor? Less McDonald's and more broccoli? For all sorts of reasons, of course we should. But should we be worried that public money is being squandered on prime rib or fresh Pacific swordfish? Nope. There's just no evidence that it's happening except as the occasional scary anecdote. It's a non-problem.

Max Ehrenfreund has more details here if you want some comparisons between rich and poor in various categories of consumer expenditures.

Half of Emails Are Answered in 47 Minutes or Less

| Tue Apr. 14, 2015 9:25 AM EDT

Many people seem to agree that email sucks, and almost as many of us are annoyed by "inbox zero" coworkers telling everybody in earshot how damn productive they are. We get it.

But while we all agree that email is slow, tedious, annoying, and perhaps impersonal, it turns out that many of us are actually pretty decent at returning the messages we need to. According to a new study by the folks at Yahoo Labs on how quickly emails get answered, about 90 percent of emails are returned within a day. In fact, half of emails are answered within 47 minutes, with the most likely return time being just about two minutes. (Of course many of those replies are short, coming in at about five words.)

The study—which, as the largest ever of its kind, analyzed more than 16 billion email messages sent between 2 million (randomized and opt-in) Yahoo! email users over a several month period—went a little deeper than reply times. It also studied how extended email threads play out (the longer the thread, the quicker the replies come until there's a measurable pause before a concluding message); what time of day is best for getting a long response (morning); and demographics. Teens work the reply button the fastest, with a median reply time of about 13 minutes. Adults 20 to 35 years old came in at about 16 minutes. Adults aged 36 to 50 took about 24 minutes, and "mature" adults, aged 51 and over, took the longest at about 47 minutes. Gender seems to make less of a difference than age, with males replying in about 24 minutes and women taking about 28 (insert joke about women being more thoughtful here).

As you might expect, all those numbers go out the window when an attachment is involved: it takes emailers almost twice the time to respond to messages containing additional files. Another not-so-surprising tidbit from the study suggests that we're quickest to reply from our phones, then our tablets, and finally our desktops. And predictably the more emails you get, the fewer you actually respond to: the data indicates that people receiving 100 emails a day may answer just five.

The FDA Just Released Scary New Data on Antibiotics And Farms

| Tue Apr. 14, 2015 6:00 AM EDT
A close-up of the methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) bacteria, which is commonly found on supermarket pork.

Back in April 2012, the Food and Drug Administration launched an effort to address a problem that had been festering for decades: the meat industry's habit of feeding livestock daily low does of antibiotics, which keeps animals alive under stressful conditions and may help them grow faster, but also generates bacterial pathogens that can shake off antibiotics, and make people sick.

The FDA approached the task gingerly: It asked the industry to voluntarily wean itself from routine use of "medically important" antibiotics—those that are critical to human medicine, like tetracycline. In addition to the light touch, the agency plan included a massive loophole: that while livestock producers should no longer use antibiotics as a growth promoter, they're welcome to use them to "prevent" disease—which often means using them in the same way (routinely), and at the same rate. How's the FDA's effort to ramp down antibiotic use on farms working? Last week, the FDA delivered an early look, releasing data for 2013, the year after it rolled out its plan. The results are … scary.

FDA

Note that use of medically important antibiotics actually grew 3 percent in 2013 compared to the previous year, while the industry's appetite for non-medically import drugs, which it's supposed to be shifting to, shrank 2 percent. A longer view reveals an even more worrisome trend: between 2009 and 2013, use of medically important drugs grew 20 percent.And the FDA data show that these livestock operations are particularly voracious for the same antibiotics doctors prescribe to people. Farms burn through 9.1 million kilograms of medically important antibiotics vs. 5.5 million kilograms of ones not currently used in human medicine. That means about 62 percent of their total antibiotic use could be be helping generate pathogens that resist the drugs we rely on. (According to Natural Resources Defense Council's Avinash Kar, 70 percent of medically important antibiotics sold in the US go to farms.)

The report also delivers a stark view into just how routine antibiotics have become on farms.

FDA

Note that 74 percent of the medically important drugs being consumed on farms are delivered through feed, and another 24 percent go out in water. That means fully 95 percent is being fed to animals on a regular basis, not being given to specific animals to treat a particular infection. Just 5 percent (4 percent via injection, 1 percent orally) are administered that way.

Anyone wondering which species—chickens, pigs, turkeys, or cows—get the most antibiotics will have to take it up with the FDA. The agency doesn't require companies to deliver that information, so it doesn’t exist, at least not in publicly available form. The FDA only began releasing any information at all on livestock antibiotic use in very recent years, after having its hand forced by a 2008 act of Congress.

Meanwhile, at least 2 million Americans get sick from antibiotic-resistant bacteria each year, and at least 23,000 of them die, the Centers for Disease Control estimates. And while all of that carnage can’t be blamed on the meat industry's drug habit, it does play a major role, as the CDC makes clear in this handy infographic.

CDC