Blue Marble

Lawsuit Against Corcpork, Inc.'s Animal Cruelty Revived

| Fri Jan. 19, 2007 9:46 PM EST

Corcpork, Inc., a California company, confines breeding pigs in 2-foot cages for most of their lives. They cannot turn around, lie down, or stand on anything but slatted boards. They are constantly inseminated, and their lives are total torture and misery. Corcpork, not surprisingly, is in blatant violation of California's animal cruelty laws. However, a suit filed against Corcpork in 2004 by Farm Sanctuary was dismissed in 2005 because of California's Proposition 64, which substantially limits third-party lawsuits.

Despite the unfair restrictions of Proposition 64, there was nothing stopping the Attorney General of California (other than the obvious special interests) from going after Corcpork on his own. He did not, however, so Farm Sanctuary is arguing in court that unless it or a similar organization is allowed to speak on behalf of the animals, they have no protection from abuses of California law.

It has taken a long time, but Americans are slowing beginning to rebel against the extreme cruelty of factory farming, which is also an environmental threat. Both Florida and Arizona have gone after factory farms, and it is only a matter of time before other states do, and then, one hopes, Congress will act.

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Carbon Offsets... Buyer Beware

| Fri Jan. 19, 2007 5:17 PM EST

Carbon offsets are in. Everybody's doing it. And Wall Street knows it, which is why here and abroad companies from London's Marks & Spencer to Dell Computers are clamoring to make you, too, "carbon neutral." A crowded field of for-profit offset providers have sprung up, promising to do everything from reforesting the California redwoods to building solar powered greenhouses in India.

But if Expedia can make that flight from LaGuardia to Heathrow guilt free for only ten extra bucks, how is one to know whether the offsets one has bought are really making that cross-Atlantic trip carbon even-steven? At the moment, it's pretty much a crapshoot (with carbon offset prices ranging from $3.56 to $30 a metric ton). But the UK hopes to change that before the Greenland ice sheet melts into their precious gulfstream. The country's Ministry of Environment announced yesterday that it would set standards for rating the new club of carbon merchants. That way would-be-offsetters can distinguish between quality outfits and those just full of hot air.

The standards will be based on the same "system used to certify credits from the established Kyoto market." Ideally, this will mean the credits have a "clear audit trail" and be linked to real emission reductions, but don't go back to building your carbon-neutral beachfront villas just yet.

Even long-established projects, endorsed by the World Bank and certified for cap-and-trade under Kyoto's rules, don't always deliver their promised bang for the buck. Last week, The Wall Street Journal ran a great piece on the chemical industry in China. A particularly dire snippet:

"Regulators worry that the carbon market is encouraging companies in the developing world to make more of the underlying refrigerant than they otherwise would—so they can produce more of the global warming gas, destroy it, and sell the credits."

Kudos to the UK for holding the carbon traders to a higher standard, as the EU has in regulating the toxics industry. Still, for now, and for us unregulated Americans, riding a bike may be your best bet.

The Toxic Body of Evidence

| Fri Jan. 12, 2007 1:59 PM EST

In exchange for 14 vials of blood, science writer David Ewing Duncan had his body tested for no fewer than 320 different chemicals. Duncan wrote about the experience and about the nature of trace chemicals in the body for article in National Geographic and is on a speaking tour sharing fascinating tidbits:

-As a kid in Kansas, he rode his bike through clouds of DDT. Surprise, surprise, he still has a high "body burden" of its byproduct DDE, about 40 years later.

-His level of one particularly toxic PBDE, a flame-retardant, is 10 times the American average and 200 times the Swedish average. He attributes that to flying 200,000 miles last year; planes are "drenched in the stuff."

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In his article and subsequent speeches Duncan has steered clear of regulatory issues, instead calling for more research. But research often comes long after the damage is done. Take the history of lead:

In 1921, General Motors invented lead additives to gas, paving the way for modern high-power engines. Leaded fuel earned a nickname fast—"loony gas." But it wasn't until the 70s that the EPA started regulating it. And over the next decade, through 1986, the EPA dropped the threshold for lead content in gas by 98%. Uranium, CFCs, DDT—same story.

Shockingly, only a quarter of the 82,000 chemicals in use in the U.S. have ever been tested for toxicity, according to Duncan. How long will it take for us to trace the cause of modern epidemics? From the early 1970s through the mid-1990s, one type of leukemia was up 62%, male birth defects doubled, and childhood brain cancer was up 40%, he writes.

Only in the past few years have we developed machines precise enough to test the presence of some of these chemicals in the body, in parts per million, per billion, and even per trillion. It's like detecting a teaspoon of dye in an Olympic swimming pool, Duncan said, and some of the machines that do it cost a million dollars. Usually as many tests as Duncan had would cost $30,000. (For only $25 you can send a lock of hair in for a mercury test.)

That makes it hard to broadly survey the dangers of chemicals. And nearly impossible to prove in court that they have caused any illness.

In Europe, on the other hand, a new law "radically revises how companies must evaluate potential dangers." From now on there, new chemicals will not be presumed safe until proven dangerous, but must be proved safe before sale. With the new Congress, can we follow their lead?

Bear Bears the Brunt of Global Warming

| Fri Jan. 5, 2007 7:34 PM EST

Most times, homeowners get scared and trigger-happy when a bear shows up on their porch. But not so with this befuddled bruin, which instead solicited sympathy from residents. blackbear.jpgThe bear--a mere 25-lb, orphan black bear cub--missed hibernation in October, and is instead scrounging for dog food, dead birds, anything it can find in Anchorage back yards.

Why is this "little guy" out and about, when he should be curled up into a ball of snoozing fuzz? It's possible that the cub didn't hibernate because he didn't have a mother to guide him, or because it was just too darn warm. It's not just polar bears whose habitats are being turned upside down by global warming. Now, the clime's climbing times may be disrupting bears' biological clocks, which rely on a combination of cold temperatures and scarce food to send them to their lairs. Says, the Alaska Zoo website "Bears will often wake up if disturbed or if temperatures become suddenly warmer. In some temperate areas where food remains available, bears may not even hibernate."

But naturalists are not giving up yet: this black bear cub will be taken to a more remote part of the state and introduced to a small, straw-lined shelter in hopes he will settle down for the ever-warmer winter.

—Jen Phillips


American Apparel Sells Out; Cashes In

| Tue Dec. 19, 2006 7:34 PM EST

American Apparel, the cotton t-shirt, underwear, and socks company made famous by risqué ads and forward-thinking labor practices, will be sold to Endeavor Acquisition Corp, reportedly for $382.5 million. After the transition to new ownership, American Apparel founder and president Dov Charney, who freely admits to sleeping with employees and hiring girls on the spot in nightclubs, will continue to manage the company's 145 stores.

American Apparel is a rare business success story among a field of still-born garment firms sporting decent labor practices. Other high-minded startups, such as worker-owned cooperative Sweat-X, which drew venture capital from Ben Cohen of Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream, have tried to upset the sweatshop model in recent years, to no avail. Sweat-X, for example, had to close their doors in 2004 after some bad luck and poor marketing, despite rules limiting compensation for managers at eight times the wages of those working the sewing machines. (See an interesting documentary called No Sweat for a comparison of the inner-workings of Sweat-X and American Apparel.)

If you have not been keeping tabs, American Apparel has a mixed social record at best. On the one hand, seamstresses are known to receive massages, low-cost health care plans, and free classes in English, but flamboyant owner Dov Charney has been criticized for hindering employee efforts to unionize and several employees have charged him with sexual harassment.

Indeed, sleazy owner-operator Charney seems to run the company as if it his own Bacchinalian bachelor pad: he personally photographs many of the company's young models in amateur-porn-like settings. He has given a vibrator to at least one female employee, has posted covers from Penthouse magazine on store walls, and famously masturbated while being interviewed by a reporter from Jane magazine. In photo shoots, Charney, not surprisingly, favors a fair share of crotch-shots. The recent sell-out is just the last of many signs that American Apparel is far more about satisfying the whims of its founder than making the garment industry more humane.

Whether one believes that Dov Charney has simply traded one form of the exploitation for another -- substituting his sexual reign for the tyranny of sweatshops -- American Apparel's legacy will be determined by Endeavor Acquisitions, which saw its stock shoot up 22 percent after announcing the buyout.

-- Jen Phillips and Koshlan Mayer-Blackwell

Not Exactly the Great Wall, but China Building a Fence along North Korean Border

| Mon Oct. 16, 2006 6:47 PM EDT

China has hastily erected new fences along its border with North Korea, the Yomiuri Shinbun reports today. The project was approved back in 2003, but construction seems to have picked up in the wake of North Korea's now-confirmed nuclear test with about 1,600 feet of fencing built in the past week. Made of 8 to 15 feet tall concrete barriers connected by barbed wire, the fence runs mainly along the banks of the 100-foot wide Yalu River, fertile land for local farmers. The two countries share an 880-mile border, a vital trade route for North Korea, which gets 90 percent of its oil from China.

Fencing seems to be all the rage, real or virtual. The House recently approved the construction of a fence along the Mexican border yet now Congress seems to favor a high-tech "virtual" fence for which Boeing will be paid $67 million to "build" out of the total $1.2 billion ear-marked for the project.

In other barrier news, last month Saudi Arabia approved $12 billion to build a fence along its 560-mile border with Iraq to block out terrorists and protect resources. And to keep out illegal immigrants the United Arab Emirates is building a wall along its border with Oman.

--Jen Phillips

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Its a great week for female anchors!

| Wed Aug. 30, 2006 5:44 PM EDT

As many of you already know, the blogosphere erupted yesterday as the now infamous CNN "mic snafu" clip made its merry way across the internet. If you were living under a rock you missed the lovely Kyra Phillips--better know as that blonde anchorwoman from CNN--forget to turn off her mic on a trip to the ladies room and proceed to insult several members of her family, not to mention President Bush's glorious Katrina-anniversary press conference on live TV. Truly amazing televison...er...I mean news.

But if that wasn't enough, CBS had to get in on the action by grossly photoshopping their new claim to fame, Katie Couric, for a piece in the September issue of CBS' own "Watch" Magazine. Originally flagged by a reader of TVNewser the first photo was "the official first-pic-of-Katie released by CBS at this year's upfront." Fast forward a few months later and lo and behold you have Katie in the same photo, same outfit, same smile, just 20 lbs. lighter. Way to go CBS! You've managed to insult women world-wide and piss off your prize anchorwoman before her show debuts on September 5th.