Friday, April 24, 2015

Food Watch: "Herbing up" with Ellie Krieger


Ellie is interviewed by Family First's Marijo Tinlin.

by Ken

Since we were just talking about food in my 3pm PT post, from the New Fulton Fish Market, I thought this might be a good opportunity to slip in this latest mailing from Ellie Krieger, a registered dietitian who's an interesting combination of a nutritionist who's serious about both nutrition and food (I've got two of her cookbooks). Ellie has had her own Food Network show, Healthy Appetite with Ellie Krieger, which I enjoyed a lot, and she maintains an active website (not to mention the usual Facebook and Twitter stuff, which I won't mention) in addition to sending out periodic nutrition-themed food bulletins to her mailing list, which is definitely worth signing up for. (She's also scorching hot, but that's neither here nor there, right?)

In addition, as Ellie's Washington Post bio says, she's
a healthful eating columnist for The Washington Post's Local Living section, and writes a weekly Nourish recipe for The Washington Post’s Food section. She is a registered dietitian, nutritionist and author. Her most recent cookbook is Weeknight Wonders: Delicious, Healthy Dinners in 30 Minutes or Less."
Ellie's subject this time out is "Ten Ways to Herb Up," which links to a WaPo column of hers, "The health benefits of herbs," with tips on buying and storing fresh herbs as well as these herbing-up tips.
10 ways to herb up

Using fresh herbs is a great way to add both flavor and health to your food. While there are plenty of inspiring herb-centric recipes from all over the world to explore, like pesto, Tabbouleh salad, or chimmichurri sauce, you don’t need any special instructions or culinary skills to get more herbs into your life. When you move beyond thinking of herbs as a mere garnish and start to see them as the major culinary player they can be, a whole world of healthy taste opens up to you. You can simply add them to foods you are already making. Here are ten ways to get you started:

* Add chopped fresh or dried parsley or dill to your scrambled eggs.
* Tuck a few leaves of mint and/or basil into your ham or turkey sandwich.
* Pile fresh cilantro leaves onto your turkey or veggie burger.
* Toss handfuls of fresh tender herbs—parsley, basil, cilantro, mint-- into your basic green salad,  treating them more like a lettuce than a seasoning.
* Add a generous pinch of dried oregano or thyme to your vinaigrette-type salad dressing.
* Mix a handful of fresh Italian parsley or dill into your boiled or mashed potatoes.
* Rub a mix of dried rosemary and thyme onto your chicken breast before grilling
* Muddle some fresh mint or basil leaves in a glass then fill with iced tea or sparkling water and a twist of citrus.
* Spruce up jarred pasta sauce with a handful of fresh chopped basil leaves.
* Stir fresh basil, parsley or mint leaves with grilled zucchini or sautéed green beans.

Click here to learn about the health benefits of herbs and buying and storing tips.

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To market, to market! Or: Daybreak over the (New) Fulton Fish Market


Photo courtesy of the NYC Economic Development Corp. (NYCEDC)
Set your alarm clock early for a trip to the New Fulton Fish Market with OHNY and New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC), where you’ll see the principal wholesale market for seafood in the New York City area in full swing. Learn about the history of the market, located in the historic South Street Seaport area until 2005, on the bus ride there, and then walk the massive market shed with Security Director Victor Seguinot. Talk to vendors, jobbers, buyers, and other market regulars and hear about life in the city’s food hub.
--the description of today's Open House New York tour, in
the series The Final Mile: Food Systems of New York
by Ken

It was, chronologically speaking, about as an unusual outing as I can recall ever undertaking. I tore out of my apartment building in Washington Heights a little after 2:45am on whichever day it was (yesterday? today?) and ambled back in the downstairs door in broad daylight a little before 8:30 that (this?) same morning.

The "little after" 2:45 is important, because according to what I'd gleaned from the MTA's online schedule information, there should be a train coming through my station about 2:56. Of course, that didn't mean there'd be a train at exactly 2:56, so I'd hoped to make it a little earlier just in case, because the information I tended to trust more from what I'd gleaned was that at that hour the train was running every 20 minutes, and while I probably would have been okay with a hypothetical train coming through at 3:16, that would be cutting it close. After all, I still had to do a change of trains at Times Square.

The time I was aiming for was the start of check-in at the office of Open House New York, at Broadway and 26th Street, at 3:45am, but if I could be screwed if I didn't make it by 4am, at which time the bus was supposedly leaving for sure for the trip up to the Hunts Point peninsula of the South Bronx for our visit to the (New) Fulton Fish Market. Meaning that if I'd been out of the house really and truly at 2:45, I should have had a fairly easy time catching a train that passed through at 2:56. But the few minutes I lost to slow-motionness with the three hours' sleep I'd notched put that schedule in jeopardy. Hence the "tearing out" of my building.

Where there's a will there's a way, sometimes, and I actually got to the platform a good minute before the train, which actually arrived maybe a minute early! Score! According to the station countdown clocks, the next train was indeed 20 minutes away. The rest looked to be easy, and it was. I had placed myself almost perfectly on the train to head up the stairs at Times Square for the walk to the southbound BMT platform and even made a good connection to an N train that was indeed making local stops (in the event of an express, I was prepared to walk the distance from 34th Street), and a little after 3:35 I approached a cluster of people outside a bus parked at the sidewalk, with the OHNY people on the job to check me in and pass me through to board the bus!

For the outing we were given excellent "dress code" instructions, which called for "hard-soled, closed-toed shoes that you don't mind getting a little dirty" ("the fish market will be at its most active during our visit, so it may be a little messy") and included this advisory:
The fish market is, as you might imagine, a pungent place. You may want to bring a change of clothes if you are planning to go directly to work after the tour. According to people we've spoken with who've been to the market before, the smell of fish will linger on your clothes.
Luckily, I had cleared the day from work and didn't plan to continue on to the job, in either smelly old or fresh new clothes.

Of course the bus didn't leave on the dot at 4, but not that much after we indeed had our busload of hardy nocturnal adventurers in place, and we rolled out in time to roll into the parking lot not much after 5 for the final stage of the day's market activity. They get going, we learned, at midnight, and for a good part of that time there's a lot of activity, as the day's procession of buyers -- wholesalers, retailers, restaurateurs, brokers, even the odd retail buyer -- arrive to inspect the offerings of the more than two dozen purveyors lining the two sides of the well-refrigerated indoor grand allée that is the (New) Fulton Fish Market, make their choices, and have their purchases loaded onto forklifts for conveyance out to their waiting trucks for the trip on to, well, wherever the chosen fish and seafood -- most of it on ice but still fresh is destined.

It's an incredibly complex symphony, this meeting up of sellers and buyers, as buyers choose when during those hours of market to arrive for their hoped-for optimal combination of ultimate freshness, choice, and pricing. The sellers are, as they have been since the Fulton Fish Market came into existence down on South Street, and certainly since the new market at Hunts Point opened in 2005, in competition with each other, and the most obvious thing they have to compete with during each day's market is price. All of the buyers know what they're looking for, and what they're looking at. At the end of each day's market everyone packs up and prepares to do it all again the next day.

Which is how, if I got the figure right, some 50 percent of the fish and seafood coming into the Greater New York area, is passed on in the chain from the fishermen who made the catch to the consumers who eat it. I believe that was Victor the security director mentioned in the tour description who accompanied us on the tour, but we were led by the manager of the market, on behalf of the company that runs it on lease from the city.

En route to Hunts Point we had been briefed on the history and operation of the food-oriented markets and other facilities occupying the city-owned Hunts Point campus by the alarmingly well-informed Julie from the NYC Economic Development Corporation, a nonprofit org whose board is appointed by the mayor, and whose many functions include overseeing the Hunts Point operations, including the Produce Market (of which there will be an OHNY tour on May 28; see below), the cooperative-run Meat Market (which is very differently organized and not amenable to tour visitation), and the Baldor Specialty Foods facility (of which there will be an OHNY tour on June 10; see below), and a host of others.

The new Fulton Fish Market, we learned, was built to house 30 vendors from the old Fulton Street site, which was impossibly cramped, unhygienic, and without temperature controls or loading faciilities. Some 70 percent of those original vendors remain tenants; there has been steady turnover (and, yes, vacancies) in the rest of the space.


The New Fulton Fish Market tour description I've put atop this post continues:
The Final Mile: Food Systems of New York is a year-long series of public programs, organized by Open House New York as part of its ongoing Urban Systems Series. The Final Mile is intended to shed light on New York City’s dynamic and multi-layered food economy while introducing and exploring approaches to render this invisible system more tangible.
The linked Final Mile page expands on this:
Why are we doing it?

In the age of superstorms, rapidly rising inequality, and global distribution systems, we are all increasingly aware of the connections between food, public health, and environmental stewardship. The Final Mile helps New Yorkers to better understand how food shapes the city in critical ways that all too often go unnoticed.

How can you participate?

The Final Mile will be comprised of a series of tours and events over the course of 2015. Tickets for individual programs will become available two weeks in advance. Watch the Schedule for updates and details as they become available, or subscribe to OHNY’s Mailing List. You can also follow our Blog to learn more about how the city’s food system operates.


The announced plan is:

Spring 2015: Industrial-Scaled Distribution in the Global City
Summer 2015: Uncovering the Remnants of Historic Food Systems
Late 2015: Exploring New Models for a Sustainable Future

Already scheduled are:

Lecture-discussion: How Great Cities Are Fed
Wednesday, April 29, 6:30pm
SVA Theatre, Chelsea, Manhattan
"A very special public talk and discussion to kick off The Final Mile," featuring Karen Karp ("New York-based food systems expert, president of Karp Resources") and Robert LaValva ("founder and president of the New Amsterdam Market").

Free for OHNY members, OHNY volunteers, and students; $10 for general admission. Registration in progress.

Tour: Hunts Point Produce Market
Thursday, May 28, 8am
A cooperative market through which 60% of the produce consumed in the New York Metropolitan Area passes every day. On this morning tour, you’ll walk one of the four massive “row” buildings, each a third of a mile long, then visit a variety of packaging plants within the facility. Afterwards, market manager Myra Gordon will lead a group discussion of the role that the produce market plays in the city’s food system.

Tickets go on sale at 10am on May 14.

Tour: Baldor Specialty Foods
Wednesday, June 10, time TBD
Tour the facility of Baldor, a major regional food distributor that started off as Balducci’s Fruit Stand in the Village in 1946, to better understand how private firms fit into the mix in the Hunts Point Food Distribution Center. Explore the sprawling warehouse with food systems expert Johanna Kolodny, who works directly with suppliers to expand the company’s diverse offerings to the New York market. Participants will learn how the company keeps track of the thousands of varieties of fresh food on-site, and how they bring food from a thousand partners around the world to plates across the five boroughs.

Tickets go on sale at 10am on May 27.
For the tours, OHNY members are likely to get a discounted price, and registration as close as possible to the start of the on-sale time is advisable; my guess is that they'll fill up fast. For the other Hunts Point tours, as with today's Fulton Fish Market one, round-trip bus transportation is provided from OHNY's office at 1133 Broadway (at 26th Street).


It's called Monographs in Motion>, and it's a series of events "that highlights the work of firms that have had a significant impact on New York City's built environment through public tours of the firm's most exemplary projects." First up is the architectural firm FXFOWLE, and we've already toured the substantial renovation and major expansion of the Juilliard School at Lincoln center undertaken by the firm in collaboration with Diller Scofidio + Renfro and a host of outside experts in a host of fields.


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Senate Finance Comm. Approves Wyden-Hatch Fast Track Bill


Ron Wyden, one second prior to saying
F-U to progressives who oppose TPP

by Gaius Publius

In a late afternoon and evening session, the Senate Finance Committee has approved the Wyden-Hatch Fast Track bill, 20-6. The bill now goes to the Senate floor. The Hill has the story (my emphasis):
Senate panel approves trade bill

The Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday approved a bill that would streamline passage of global trade deals through Congress.

The panel approved, on a 20-6 vote, a long-awaited trade promotion authority (TPA) ["Fast Track"] measure with the support of seven Democrats, sending the measure to the Senate floor, where it will face another tough test in the coming weeks.

The Democrats who voted to approve were Sens. Ron Wyden (Ore.), Maria Cantwell (Wash.), Ben Cardin (Md.), Bill Nelson (Fla.), Tom Carper (Del.), Mark Warner (Va.) and Michael Bennet (Colo.).

The lone Republican to oppose was Sen. Richard Burr (N.C.).
So, again, your pro-corporate betrayers of American workers are:
  • Ron Wyden — Ranking Member and Lead Perp
  • Michael Bennet — Former head of DSCC who ... well, just read; also here
  • Maria Cantwell — Who just erased any good she's ever done
  • Ben Cardin
  • Tom Carper
  • Bill Nelson
  • Mark Warner — Whom Schumer just brought into Dem Senate leadership
In the same session, the committee voted down an amendment that might have made this tragedy slightly less tragic, by starting to maybe begin to address currency manipulation by the Chinese:
In the most contentious vote of the day, Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) lost their bid — on an 11-15 vote — to include an amendment in the legislation that would have required the White House to include enforceable currency manipulation provisions in international trade agreements.

Five Democrats — Cantwell, Nelson, Carper, Bennet and Warner — and 10 Republicans opposed the amendment.
If three more Democrats had voted with the Democrats, the amendment would have passed. Again, note the pro-corporate perps.

Maria Cantwell, by the way, turned up on another false progressives list — this one — when she voted both ways on last year's Continuing Resolution. She voted Yes to kill the Warren filibuster, then No on the floor when it was obvious the bill would pass anyway (and the big TV lights were on). That's called voting progressive "for show."

Keep in mind that TPP is mainly written by now. Most Fast Track bills precede negotiation on trade treaties. This Fast Track follows its treaty, and grandfathers what's already been agreed to. In other words, any attempt by any committee or house of Congress to modify TPP as written or about to be written will kill the treaty. Good.

Also, good to know. If Congress passes anything in Fast Track legislation that forces modification of TPP, they've effectively destroyed the treaty. Thus, the vote on the Portman-Stabenow amendment was a vote whether or not to kill TPP. The amendment failed, as it had to, if you're on the corporate side.

House Democrats Still Seeking a Path to Yes

When the show eventually moves to the House, Pelosi and House Democrats will attempt to triangulate their "path to yes" with a substitute Fast Track bill:
House Dems back alternative trade bill

House Democratic leaders are coalescing around a fast-track alternative they say would address the outstanding issues in a trade deal spanning from Latin America to the Pacific Rim.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said she will back the trade promotion authority (TPA) option that Rep. Sandy Levin (D-Mich.) is planning to offer in the House’s markup of the legislation on Thursday.

House Democratic leadership met earlier on Wednesday and decided they will all back Levin’s substitute amendment, according to a Pelosi spokesman.

“The leaders agreed to all support the Levin substitute in an effort to try to improve the TPA bill,” the aide said.

Levin, the House Ways and Means Committee’s ranking member, is staunchly opposed to the fast-track bill backed by the leaders of the Senate Finance Committee and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.).
"The leaders agreed." No word on whether House Progressives will back this substitute.

I'm in the progressive camp that says we don't need another billionaire-serving "free trade" agreement. So anything that will kill TPP is fine with me. If the House Democrats craft a "path to yes" that throws a wrench into the TPP deal, that works for me — so long as the new House bill is moot and TPP never gets introduced. But I, like the rest of us, will have to watch this play out. Maybe Democratic "leaders" will find a way to mitigate, say, 3% of the poison in a very bad trade deal. After all, that is a path to yes, and a path frequently taken by Democrats.

Elizabeth Warren Says No TPP Unless It's Made Public

Yet another monkey wrench rears its head (so to speak), and we're thankful to Senator Warren for raising it. This requirement is impossible to fulfill if the treaty is to stay alive. Warren has found the sweet spot of opposition — make the text public:

A simple request, and simple to understand. But if TPP's creators have to choose between releasing the text to the general public or trashing this crack at billionaire rule and moving on to the next attempt, it's a no-brainer. TPP will disappear like a bad dream.

I'll have more on the Warren angle as this moves to the Senate floor. Remember: This is open rebellion from Elizabeth Warren. Does she bring others along? And if Wyden's Fast Track bill is clearly going to pass on the floor, how many votes against it will be "for show"?

This should be over soon; the rush is on, so stay tuned. (If you're interested, all of my TPP coverage is collected here.)


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Will The Adelsons Buy Marco Rubio The Oval Office?


Overall, Jeb Bush is winning the Republican Party big money primary, some say by stretching the definition of what's legal and outsourcing his whole campaign to his Super PACs. He may be hauling in the most cash from multimillionaires but that hasn't translated-- at least not yet-- to popularity among base voters. And now other candidates are starting to show they can raise substantial campaign cash as well.

Among the GOP's biggest sugar daddies, Sheldon Adelson and the Koch brothers seem to be getting behind, respectively, Marco Rubio and Scott Walker (although the Kochs say that Bush, Rand Paul, Rubio and Ted Cruz are still in the running, along with Walker, for their help). Yesterday, Alex Isenstadt reported that the Adelsons, who spent $100 million in the 2012 campaign, are going to finance Rubio. Rubio's total subservience to right-wing Israeli politics is exactly what Adelson is looking for in a candidate.
Winning the backing of the 81-year-old Adelson would give Rubio a serious boost in his quest for the 2016 Republican nomination. His campaign is predicated on the idea that he can appeal to a broad swath of primary voters and stay in the race long enough to outlast well-funded establishment favorites like former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. To do so, he’ll need the support of deep-pocketed contributors like Adelson, whose $32 billion net worth makes him the nation’s 12th-richest person, according to Forbes.

...Adelson’s attraction to Rubio is in no small part centered on the Florida senator’s outspoken support for Israel, an issue near and dear to the billionaire’s heart. Rubio has reached out to Adelson more often than any other 2016 candidate, sources close to Adelson say, and has provided him with the most detailed plan for how he’d manage America’s foreign policy.

Since entering the Senate in 2011, Rubio has met privately with the mogul on a half-dozen occasions. In recent months, he‘s been calling Adelson about once every two weeks, providing him with meticulous updates on his nascent campaign. During a recent trip to New York City, Rubio took time out of his busy schedule to speak by phone with the megadonor.

The connection is also personal. Adelson, whose father emigrated from Lithuania and worked as a cab driver, has come to admire Rubio, the son of a bartender and a hotel maid, for his compelling life story. On March 2, the two had a private dinner at Charlie Palmer, a posh steakhouse at the foot of Capitol Hill. There, they talked for hours about their families and personal lives. “It lasted quite a while,” said one source close to Rubio.

...During the 2012 campaign, Adelson made his voice heard loud and clear. Of the $100 million he spent on Republican causes, about $15 million was devoted to supporting Gingrich, his favored candidate in the primary. His benevolence enabled the former House speaker, who was waging a long-shot campaign, to remain in the primary until late April.

This election, though, Adelson’s advisers say he’s determined to get behind a more mainstream candidate who has a better chance of becoming the party’s nominee. “He doesn’t want the crazies to drive the party’s prospects into the ground,” said one person close to him.

He’s held private meetings with most of the Republican candidates, many of whom have courted him with fervor. But he’s become particularly fond of Rubio, who attended last year’s RJC meeting but who will not be present this year. He has told some friends that the senator would offer the party a freshness that most other contenders, including Bush, cannot.

In private, Adelson, who’s had labor disputes with workers at his Venetian property, has also said positive words about Walker and that he admired how Wisconsin governor handled his 2011 clash with organized labor.

But Adelson’s desire to get behind an electable candidate may also mean that others with whom he has close ties will be left by the wayside. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who shares many of Adelson’s foreign policy views, and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, who last year sponsored an anti-Internet gambling bill that the casino magnate supported, will be appearing at the RJC confab on Saturday in hopes of winning the mogul’s support.

But, Adelson’s advisers say, there remain questions about whether either will be able to establish the kind of broad national following that would be needed to win the presidency.

For another 2016 hopeful, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, it’s not about winning Adelson’s endorsement-- it’s about making sure he doesn’t come after him.

During an appearance on a Jewish-themed radio program last month, Paul, who’s come under fire from the neoconservative wing of his party for his more isolationist foreign policy views, said he’d recently had a private meeting with Adelson and his wife, Miriam, and asked him about a report that he was considering funding a campaign against him.

“They assured me there was no truth to that,” Paul said.
Even if Sheldon and Miriam aren't going to directly fund a series of attacks on Paul, others already are. Lindsey Graham says he's running so that he can debate Paul and warn Republicans how dangerous he is. And his best bud, John McCain, has also been out on the warpath against Paul, claiming he's the worst Republican in the field on matters pertaining to national security.
"Sen. Paul is the worst possible candidate of the 20 or so that are running on the most important issue, which is national security," McCain told Fox News' Neil Cavuto. "The record is very clear that he simply does not have an understanding about the needs and the threats of United States national security."

McCain was responding to Paul's Tuesday comment that McCain and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) were Obama's "lapdogs."

And even though McCain relentlessly mocked Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) earlier this week, he said he'd prefer Cruz over Paul.

"Ted Cruz has a much better handle on our national security issues," McCain said.

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Thursday, April 23, 2015

Earth Day report: Man goes for swim in Gowanus Canal, lives to tell tale (so far)


Anyone for a swim? Popular Science labeled this photo by Dan Bracaglia: "A Swirl of . . . Something."

"We don't really know what's in there, we don't know what's in the soil and air around it, and we don't know how it affects the tens of thousands of people who live within a few blocks of it. . . .

"The EPA recommends people avoid the canal water, the land around it, the air above and adjacent to it, and anything that swims or crawls in it."

-- Popular Science's Dan Nosowitz
on the Gowanus Canal (October 2013)

by Ken

Not the winter just past but the one before that, on what turned out to be an exceptionally frigid day (single-digit temps) Francis Morrone led a never-say-uncle band of winter-walking warriors on a stroll around, of all things, the Gowanus Canal, which he explained he has been happily traipsing around through all the various decades he's lived in NYC.

Of course not everyone who had registered showed up -- for one of Francis's tours it's a good guess that the full complement of 30 tourers had signed up, and we certainly didn't have any 30 people on hand. But amazingly the people who did show up stuck it out to the frigid end. It was even crazier for me, because I had just come from doing a whole other walking tour, also in Brooklyn, of Bushwick, with Joe Svehlak, who had been amazed that anyone showed up in that bitter cold. In fact, we'd had a pretty decent-size group there too, and there too most everyone who showed up stuck it out to the end. We can be tough, us Gothamites.

Since then I know Francis has done the Gowanus Canal jaunt again, in presumably less crazy weather, and I would have loved to revisit the sights with him, but I had a schedule conflict. I bring up the subject of this tour, though, because it was either on that tour or one of the others I've done with Francis which put us in close proximity to the canal that he read us terrifying excerpts from an article about one of North America's most polluted waterways which had been published recently in Popular Science (by coincidence a journalistic alma mater of mine).

I just dug out what I'm guessing must be the article in question, "What Would Happen if You Drank Water from the Gowanus Canal?" by Dan Nosowitz, posted in October 2013., and here's a sample:
[T]he Gowanus is one of the most creatively and massively pathogenetic waterways on the planet. We know some things; we know that the quantity of fecal matter, usually measured in parts per million, can be measured in parts per hundred in the Gowanus. But the Gowanus isn't any one thing; water taken from different parts of the canal, from different depths, will have totally different levels of contaminants, microbes, radioactive materials, or carcinogenic materials. I took a sample, pictured throughout this article, by hanging off of some scaffolding underneath the Union Street bridge--but that's surface water, in the shade, near shore ("shore" in this case being foul, reddish mud), in one part of the canal.

That water is polluted and dangerous as hell, but it's polluted and dangerous in an entirely different way than most other water in the Gowanus. This is what happens when you have a huge, 1.8-mile waterway that's completely stagnant: you get micro-environments, because there's hardly any interaction between the water I grabbed and, say, water a few inches above the muck in the center of the canal.

The other, bigger problem is that there's essentially no funding for testing. We don't really know what's in there, we don't know what's in the soil and air around it, and we don't know how it affects the tens of thousands of people who live within a few blocks of it.
Here's another chunk (links onsite):
Nasreen Haque, a microbiologist who has studied--or attempted to study--the microbial makeup of the Gowanus, was teaching at the City University of New York a few years ago. As an exercise, she decided to have her students test for microbes in water she assumed would have some--the Gowanus. "We found that everything we threw at it, every kind of imaginable pathogen, was growing there," she told me. But here's where it gets nuts: in the stagnant water of the canal, fed by chemicals from raw sewage, tar, and rotting garbage in the sludge at the bottom of the canal, they're breeding and evolving into new forms we've never seen before, in concentrations seen in few other places on Earth. It was only in 2008 that Haque conducted a study revealing the white clouds of "biofilm" that float just above the sludge at the bottom of the canal. The clouds aren't microscopic; they're giant clumps of white gunk that nobody had ever seen before, because hardly anyone has ever been submerged in the canal, because Jesus Christ, why would you go in the canal.

Microbes shouldn't be able to survive in the Gowanus; it's estimated that the oxygen levels are at 1.5 parts per million due to the lack of circulation, less than the 4 parts per million needed to sustain a healthy population of marine life. And yet they're thriving, mutating into new forms. "Nobody is researching the microbial makeup of the Gowanus," said Haque. But it might even be to their benefit; the purpose of her study was to see if these mutated microbes could hold the key to new antibiotics. As you can see in this sampling (PDF), taken by the EPA shortly after Hurricane Sandy, there's basically no test at all for microbial content. The test for Enterococcus you see there is basically a canary in a mineshaft; that particular bacterium is believed to have a strong correlation with the concentration of other pathogens in a body of water. If a body of water tests highly for Enterococcus--and boy, does the Gowanus test highly--it's a pretty good sign that there's a whole bunch of other nasty stuff going on in there too.

Haque only discovered the white clouds of biofilm because she is one of very few to have dived beneath its surface. Hardly anyone has every actually gone into the water; the Urban Divers Estuary Conservancy is about the only organization that does it (Haque made her dive with the help of the Urban Divers). The testing itself is very difficult for an environment as dense and varied and unknown as the Gowanus. "Normally, you'd get a sample, bring it to the lab, and try to grow it, but you'll only see the microbes that best respond to the nutrient you provided," says Haque. "If you put in ten different nutrient types, you'd grow ten different types of bacteria."
And, oh yes, we can't leave out this:
There's very little data on the microbial makeup of the Gowanus, but the EPA, the Department of Environmental Protection, and other governmental and non-governmental groups have measured other dangers lurking in (and beneath) the water: heavy metals, carcinogens, congeners, and more.

The EPA recommends people avoid the canal water, the land around it, the air above and adjacent to it, and anything that swims or crawls in it. There are highly carcinogenic materials in the land and water, including polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are found (and banned) in some plastics, or in the charred parts of grilled food. There is literally liquid coal tar in the Gowanus, bubbling up from the muck towards the surface. There are also high concentrations of heavy metals, like arsenic, lead, iron, manganese, cadmium, and zinc. Those aren't toxic immediately, and indeed humans need a small amount of some of those metals, but they're all rated at an unsafe level in the Gowanus. If they get into your system and build up, they become highly carcinogenic. Let's start off with a real easy one: arsenic.

"Arsenic at ten locations with maximum concentrations of 8.2 µg/L and 7.8 µg/L for dissolved and total concentrations, respectively, compared to the human health screening value of 0.14 µg/L," reads one EPA Gowanus report. Arsenic is a poison, plain and simple, and the dissolved concentration of arsenic in the Gowanus reaches nearly 60 times the human health screening value, which is the point at which exposure becomes unsafe. Arsenic needs to build up in the system, so one glass won't have too much of an effect--but a glass of that hyper-arsenic-filled water will lift your arsenic levels dramatically. Keep it up and you'll end up with drowsiness, then confusion, then severe diarrhea, then convulsions and cramping, then blood in the urine, and soon enough, a coma and death. Cool."
Cool indeed, Dan! And remember, this is just the arsenic component, one of about a zillion toxic substances known to lurk in the canal. So whaddaya say, everyone in the water? Last one in's . . . well, a candidate for drowsiness, then confusion, then severe diarrhea, then convulsions and cramping, then blood in the urine, and soon enough, a coma and death -- just to pick one among the known canal toxins.


At this point you should be sufficiently primed for a story you may have heard about, where some crazy person announced that he was going to take a swim in the canal, and then did it! Our pal Mai Armstrong, the blogger for the Working Harbor Committee, filed this report (with more pictures onsite):
He Actually DID Swim In It

There he is! The tiny yellow blob! Photo by Mai Armstrong

by Mai Armstrong for the Working Harbor Committee

Yesterday, I went to watch clean water advocate Chris Swain’s earth day swim in the heavily polluted Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn. Word was he would swim the entire toxic length.

Heading for the 3rd Street Bridge, I set myself up in the Whole Foods Market parking lot pocket-park – coffee and restrooms close by! – along with dozens of news media outlets, buzzing helicopters overhead, and a few bewildered local shoppers with their dogs.

It had rained the previous day, and I wondered how much raw sewage had been freshly discharged into the waterway.

We waited for a looong time. The reporters started to thin out, and eventually the helicopters left. My companion started to fidget so we abandoned the effort, and decided lunch on the outdoor roof deck at Whole Foods was in order.

At some point, the swimmer came into view, and I snapped a couple of shots of him splashing in the water before he climbed ashore. I was kind of glad not to be too close, I didn’t want any of that water on me!

I gathered from my fellow gawkers, that the swim had been cut short by the impending weather, and sure enough the skies darkened and the wind picked up as I wound my way home.

Did he accomplish his goal to raise awareness? The media were there… but I got the impression they were there to see a guy swim in poop. What do you think? Noble or reckless? Irresponsible or dedicated? Brave or stupid? Let me know in the comments.


It's a double-header May 31st: Newtown Creek from 11am to 1pm (with our pal Mitch Waxman, the Newtown Creek Alliance's official historian, providing commentary); Gowanus Bay and the Gowanus Canal from 1:10 to 3:10pm. Both depart from and return to East River Pier 11 (Wall Street), and tickets are $30, $25 for seniors. I've done a WHC "cruise" up Newtown Creek, but I signed up for this one as soon as it was announced. Thanks to the following boat trip, it should get me back in time to make my 2pm MAS

Newtown Creek
Sunday, May 31, 11am-1pm
Come explore Newtown Creek by boat with The Working Harbor Committee with Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman as your guide. Boarding begins at 10:30 a.m., and departs at 11:00 a.m. sharp. A 2-hour, fully narrated, round-trip excursion on a NY Waterway vessel.

Buy tickets here.
Gowanus Bay and Canal
Sunday, May 31, 1:10-3:10pm
Come explore Gowanus Bay and Canal including Erie Basin & Sunset Park by boat with The Working Harbor Committee. Learn about Erie Basin, GBX Gowanus Bay Terminals, the Historic Ferry Yankee, the giant Slag Ship MV Loujaine, the Big Grain Elevator, the Gowanus Canal, Sunset Park and more! A 2-hour, fully narrated, round-trip excursion on a NY Waterway vessel.

Buy tickets here.


Dan Nosowitz himself allows that his title question, "What would happen if you drank a glass of water from the Gowanus?," is "flawed."
Even if the Gowanus is eventually repaired enough to pass EPA standards, the EPA has totally different standards for waterway water and for drinking water. You're not supposed to drink out of any canal, really. But it was my way to figure out what's going on in the canal. And it turns out that nobody really knows.
Still, everyone he asks the question comes back with, shall we say, an unencouraging reply. At the end of his piece he mans up and confronts the question. "For now," he says, the answer "seems to be a horrified 'nobody knows, but nothing good. And probably diarrhea.' "

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Cutting Up The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau... Bipartisan Affair?



Thanks to a tiny gaggle of reactionary Blue Dogs, Boehner's latest attempt to gut the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection can be called "bipartisan." H.R.1195 passed yesterday, 235-183, with 5 Republicans voting for the interests of their constituents and 4 faux-Democrats crossing the aisle in the other direction and voting with Wall Street and the GOP. The bill was sponsored by Bob Pittenger (R-NC), and among the co-sponsors was right-wing Arizona Blue Dog Kyrsten Sinema. The bill itself wasn't that controversial, but it includes an amendment that would cut the CFPB's budget by $45 million over the next five years and $100 million over the next decade. The Democrats who voted with the GOP yesterday:
Brad Ashford (Blue Dog-NE)
Henry Cuellar (Blue Dog-TX)
Collin Peterson (Blue Dog-MN)
Kyrsten Sinema (Blue Dog-AZ)
2016 will see aggressive DCCC efforts to raise money for the Democrats who vote with the GOP and have managed to alienate Democratic base voters. Brad Ashford, Kyrsten Sinema and other faithless Blue Dogs and New Dems will get millions of dollars from the DCCC, much of it from progressives who are unaware that the DCCC distributes their money to Democrats who vote as badly as some Republicans! If you want to contribute to progressives running for the House, never give to the DCCC. Always contribute directly to progressive candidates you'll find endorsed by Blue America, PCCC, DFA and like-minded organizations.

The other notable House vote yesterday was passage, 307-116, of a controversial new cyber info-sharing bill, H.R. 1650. Devin Nunes sponsored the bill, although a bunch of New Dems-- Patrick Murphy (FL), Jim Himes (CT), Terri Sewell (AL), Adam Schiff (CA) and Mike Quigley (IL)-- signed on as co-sponsors. Generally speaking, the progressives Blue America endorses and supports were the ones who voted against it, like:
Xavier Becerra (CA)
Matt Cartwright (PA)
Judy Chu (CA)
Donna Edwards (MD)
Keith Ellison (MN)
Alan Grayson (FL)
Raul Grijalva (AZ)
Mike Honda (CA)
Barbara Lee (CA)
Ted Lieu (CA)
Beto O'Rourke (TX)
Mark Pocan (WI)
Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ)
The above are all members whom Blue America backed and who all voted against the latest unconstitutional domestic spying bill (the 79 Democrats who voted "no" were joined by 37 Republicans). The bad Democrats we warned you about before the election include:
Pete Aguilar (New Dem-CA)
Brad Ashford (Blue Dog-NE)
Ami Bera (New Dem-CA)
Don Beyer (New Dem-VA)
Brendan Boyle (New Dem-PA)
Cheri Bustos (Blue Dog-IL)
Jim Cooper (Blue Dog-TN)
Jim Costa (Blue Dog-CA)
Joe Crowley (New Dem-NY)
Henry Cuellar (Blue Dog-TX)
John Delaney (New Dem-MD)
Tammy Duckworth (IL)
Gwen Graham (Blue Dog-FL)
Steve Israel (Blue Dog-NY)
Ann Kuster (New Dem-NH)
Sean Patrick Maloney (New Dem-NY)
Donald Norcross (NJ)
Scott Peters (New Dem-CA)
Kyrsten Sinema (Blue Dog-AZ)
Privacy advocates blasted the legislation. "These bills do little to protect the Internet, but rather reward companies who undermine the privacy of their customers," said Nathan White, senior legislative manager at the advocacy group Access Now, in a statement. The Blue America-endorsed candidates stand strong for Net Neutrality and cyber-privacy, and last night Alex Law wasn't surprised when he saw Norcross voting with the conservatives-- again. 

"Yet again," Law told us, "we have a clear difference between myself and my opponent in the Democratic primary in NJ-01. Today, Donald Norcross voted in support of the Protecting Cyber Networks Act, a bill that is a surveillance bill disguising itself as a cyber-security bill. This bill gives companies a significant expansion in their ability to monitor customers' online activities. It allows them to share vaguely defined 'cyber threat indicators,' which then automatically go to the NSA. The NSA is then authorized broad law enforcement rights that could stretch beyond cyber-security.This chain of events is a slippery slope. I totally disagree with the structure of this bill. We must stand up for individual privacy. What we have in this bill is a wolf in sheep's clothing, and if I were in Congress, I would have voted against it like other progressives such as Alan Grayson and Judy Chu."

If you'd like to help make sure progressives like Alex do get into Congress in 2016, please consider contributing here.

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U.S. Trade Rep Says Murdering Union Leaders Not a Violation of U.S. "Trade" Agreements


Operators are standing by: (202) 225-3121.
Seriously. Please call.

by Gaius Publius

You can't make this stuff up; it invents itself faster than you can find and print it. Two quick points, both about TPP and Ron Wyden's Fast Track sell-out.

First, AFL-CIO leader Richard Trumka testified before the Senate Finance Committee in opposition to Wyden and Hatch's Fast Track bill. (For its toxic and deceptive provisions, see here.) Like almost every progressive leader and follower you can name, he's opposed to it. Because he represents the largest labor organization in the U.S., the AFL-CIO, he's strongly opposed and for good reason. (By the way, just because someone is from the AFL-CIO doesn't mean they're "right" on labor. AFL-CIO was complicit in Reagan's destruction of the Air Traffic Controllers union. But Trumka is very "right" on labor.)

From Trumka's testimony via Huffington Post (my emphasis everywhere):
AFL-CIO's Trumka: USTR [U.S. Trade Representative] Told Us Murder Isn't A Violation Under U.S. Trade Deal

Defenders of the White House push for sweeping trade deals argue they include tough enforcement of labor standards. But a top union leader scoffed at such claims Tuesday, revealing that administration officials have said privately that they don’t consider even the killings of labor organizers to be violations of those pacts.

Richard Trumka, the president of the AFL-CIO, testified to that claim at a Senate Finance Committee hearing on legislation to grant President Barack Obama so-called fast-track authority to cut at least two new enormous trade agreements with Pacific Rim nations and the European Union. It appears to be the first time anyone has revealed such a stance on the part of a U.S. government that has been touting its efforts to improve wages and working conditions among its trading partners, relying in part on trade agreements. ...

“When you say, ‘Oh these are some standards, they’re better than no standards,’ we were told by by the [United States Trade Representative] general counsel that murdering a trade unionist doesn’t violate these standards, that perpetuating violence against a trade unionist doesn’t violate these agreements,” Trumka said, directing his remarks to Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), who backs the deals.
The article verified Trumka's claim; click to read how.

Second, union leaders are frequently murdered in Colombia, a country with whom we have a strong "trade" agreement. Trumka again:
Trumka pointed specifically to the Colombia trade pact that was signed in 2006, but passed by Congress in 2011. Trumka said that even after the Obama administration crafted an agreement to tighten labor protections four years ago, some 105 labor organizers have been killed, and more than 1,300 have been threatened with death.

“Excuse me. Excuse me if I’m not willing to accept that standard.” Trumka said.
And Coca-Cola, the mega-wealthy global corporation, is complicit in those killings:
A lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Florida accuses the Coca-Cola Company, its Colombian subsidiary and business affiliates of using paramilitary death squads to murder, torture, kidnap and threaten union leaders at the multinational soft drink manufacturer’s Colombian bottling plants. The suit was filed on July 20 by the United Steelworkers of America and the International Labor Rights Fund on behalf of SINALTRAINAL, the Colombian union that represents workers at Coca-Cola’s Colombian bottling plants; the estate of a murdered union leader; and five other unionists who worked for Coca-Cola and were threatened, kidnapped or tortured by paramilitaries.  ...
Not directly, of course; that's unregulated what right-wing militias are for. What's not to love about "free trade" if you're the killer Coke company? TPP — Alan Grayson calls it the Fast Track to Hell. He's right. Click to play the video above to see why.

About Ron Wyden's Betrayal of Progressive Values

This is only "bipartisan" — Obama's characterization — because of Ron "I'm the designated Democratic Party Perp on this one" Wyden. If you'd like to explain yourself to Mr. Wyden, here's all you need to know. And here's how to contact him:

Senator Ron Wyden
221 Dirksen Senate Office Bldg.
Washington, D.C., 20510
Tel (202) 224-5244

Suggested messages: "Thanks to your betrayal of progressive values, I'll close my checkbook to any of your appeals for funds."

And for the very bold in Oregon: "Thanks to your betrayal of progressive values, I'll vote against Mr. Wyden, even in the general election. TPP is that bad for my state and its wood products industry."

(Hint: You can decide later how to vote. You can decide now what to say to Ron Wyden's staff.)


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Climate Solutions Act-- Doing Something About Climate Change


Last year, during the crowded primary battle over the seat Henry Waxman was giving up, I brought a Capitol Hill staffer to a small dinner with then-state Senator Ted Lieu. My friend the staffer asked Ted why he would even want to go to Washington since it's so difficult to get anything done. He was impressed by Ted's record of accomplishment in Sacramento and warned him it would be a lot rougher in DC. Ted said he wanted to go to Congress for his young children-- because if we don't address climate change it may be too late for our children. Yesterday Congressman Ted Lieu introduced the Climate Solutions Act.

"Rising sea levels, extreme weather events, and an increasingly hotter climate prove that climate change is an existential threat to humankind," said Congressman Lieu. "That’s why, to commemorate Earth Day, I have introduced the Climate Solutions Act. The Act tackles climate change by focusing on three areas: slashing carbon pollution, implementing bold renewable portfolio standards, and setting landmark energy efficiency standards. History books will one day say that America led the way on addressing climate change and saving our planet-- or there will be no history books. We must act on climate now."

In explaining his new bill to his constituents, Lieu complained that "Climate change is a defining issue of our time, but there is no debate in Congress on the issue. In contrast, leaders in business, health and faith are calling for an end to the pollution that is damaging our land, water and climate." This is the analysis he sent CA-33 residents:

Investing in and developing renewable energy sources is the key to America’s success in the 21st Century Economy. Title I empowers the Department of Energy to set a renewable energy portfolio goal of 40% of all electric energy  to  come  from  renewable  sources  by  2030  and  80%  by 2050.


It’s time to produce more energy-saving appliances for our homes and machines for our businesses, designed and manufactured by American workers. Title II allows the Department of Energy to increase energy efficiency savings targets, starting in 2018 and increasing each year after until 2028.


Increasingly dangerous and destructive levels of carbon pollution account for practically all of global climate change. The Climate Solutions Act instructs the EPA to set historic targets for reducing carbon pollution: 40% below 1990 levels by 2035 and 80% below 1990 levels by 2050.

Climate Change science is not only real; it’s the key to protecting the health of our families and the safety of planet Earth. The Climate Solutions Act empowers the National Academies of Science and National Research Council to recommend increasingly bold and innovative solutions to tackle Climate Change.

In order to meet these carbon pollution reduction goals, EPA is empowered to issue regulations that cut carbon  pollution. Title III sets a starting point for states to reduce carbon pollution and thereby doesn't impede more ambitious action on the state level.

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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

A grand tour of NYC art deco sites includes a close encounter with the All American strain of Talibanism


"Recent restoration efforts, most notably the uncovering of the interior mural 'Flight,' have further enhanced the architectural significance of the building, which is not only a major example of a new building type in the 1930s, but also a superb example of the Art Deco style."
-- from the November 1980 LPC Designation Report on the
"Marine Air Terminal, LaGuardia Airport" -- designated
that year as both an individual and an interior landmark

by Ken

NYC's Mr. Art Deco
I don't usually go looking for trouble across the decades, but sometimes the trouble finds you. So it was for me Sunday at one stop on a monumental all-day art deco hunt promoted by the Art Deco Society of New York as part of its contribution to the celebration of the 50th birthday of New York City's Landmarks Preservation Commission, which as it happens happened on Sunday. It hardly seems necessary to add that presiding over the epic journey was architectural historian Anthony W. Robins, because while Tony put in 20 years at the LPC (serving as director of the Survey department and deputy director of Research), and among his many writings are books about the World Trade Center (both the original 1987 edition and an updated 2012 one) and Grand Central Terminal (2013), to a lot of people he's NYC's Mr. Art Deco. (I myself have done a bunch of deco-themed Municipal Art Society walking tours with him.) For Sunday's odyssey he had plotted art deco targets in all five boroughs, which we reached by bus.

It was an undertaking that by its very nature was bound to enmesh us in a clash of decades, since while all of our sites dated back to the art deco heyday of the '30s, in the history of buildings time never stands still. We saw some that -- some with and some without the benefit of landmarking, and with various combinations of stalwart upkeep and committed restoration -- have stood proudly over those decades, notably apartment buildings on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, in the West Bronx, in the Brighton Beach section of Brooklyn (including the vast Brighton Beach Gardens complex, which offered hot and cold running water not just of the regular kind but of saltwater as well, via pipes tapping into the nearby ocean), and even on Staten Island (the Ambassador Apartments, sitting not just surprisingly but comfortably on the slopes of St. George).

This eye-catching entrance graces the modest-size but beautiful art deco apartment building at 711 Brightwater Court in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn.

We also saw the really fine recent rehab and rebuilding job done by the Parks Department on the sprawling McCarren Play Center and swimming pool in Brooklyn, one of 11 such centers built citywide in the '30s by then-Parks Commissioner Robert Moses. It was finally landmarked in 2007, but by then had suffered decades of neglect -- before being restored to glorious function in 2012 servicing the Williamsburg and Greenpoint communities.

But we also saw buildings that had endured only unkindness at the hands of time, like the former Knickerbocker Laundry building in Woodside, Queens, once proclaimed the most beautiful industrial building in Queens, of which a section remains visible buried under a monstrosity of a building erected on top and around it as a headquarters of the Korean Presbyterian Church of New York.

Even more poignantly, we saw the surviving shell of the once-beautiful Fire Service Pumping Station on the northern (i.e., land-facing) shore of Brooklyn's Coney Island, abandoned by the Fire Department in the early 1970s and never repurposed by the city. It was actually calendared for landmark consideration by the LPC in 1980, but before its hearing time came it suffered a siege of vandalism so extensive that the commissioners were left with really nothing landmarkable -- though it was at least possible to rescue the stone lions that had once watched over the entrance, which despite damage were intact enough to warrant safe removal from the site and are now housed in the Brooklyn Museum, forlornly awaiting a likely never-to-come return to their home, which seems doomed to continue deteriorating to the point where there's no practical alternative to demolition.

The wretched wreck of Coney Island's abandoned Fire Service Pumping Station

It was a wonderful trip through time as well as geography, and also through urban values and priorities. But the site that left the most indelible mark for me was the interior of the Marine Air Terminal of LaGuardia Airport, on Flushing Bay in Queens, home at the time of its opening to the might Clipper planes that crossed the world's oceans in added safety thanks to their design as seaplanes. It's a beautiful little art deco building in its own right, the Marine Air Terminal, well worthy of the landmark status it received in 1980. But at that time it was designated not just as an individual landmark but also as a much rarer interior landmark, largely on the basis of the wonderful WPA-sponsored murals called Flight, painted by James Brooks in 1939-40, the last mural project commissioned and completed under the WPA, filling almost 360 degrees' worth of the second level of the interior wedding-cake-shaped main portion of the building.

The art deco exterior of LaGuardia Airport's Marine Air Terminal

Which brings us to a clash of decades that is first appalling and later somewhat hope-restoring, though it's the appalling one that has lodge in my memory, because it's the sort of Tallibanesque act of official vandalism that seems to me quintessentially American and perfectly in tune with the Talibanesque impulses of the American Right of the 2000s. Here's how Harriet Baskas tells the story in an October 2013 post based on Glenn Palmer-Smith's then-new book Murals of New York City: The Best of New York’s Public Paintings from Bemelmans to Parrish:
Flight was the last and largest mural produced under the auspices of the WPA and is 237 feet long by 12 feet high and, appropriately enough, tells the story of the history of flight.

Here’s Palmer-Smith’s description:
The narrative flows from the mythology of Icarus and Daedalus to the genius of da Vinci and the Wright brothers. Pre–World War II aerial navigators are shown plotting their routes with paper maps and rulers. The culmination of man’s dream arrives at the golden age of the "flying boat," when glamorous Pan Am Clipper seaplanes would land on water after a flight from Lisbon, Rio, or any city with a sheltered harbor, and taxi up to the Marine Air Terminal dock.
In 1952, after being on the wall for just a decade, the mural was painted over. It was the height of the McCarthy era and officials at the Port Authority thought the imagery somehow looked too socialist.

“In particular, these self-appointed art critics took exception to the mural’s suggestion that air travel would be available one day for ordinary people and not just the military and the rich,” notes Palmer-Smith.

Lucky for us, the mural had been sealed in varnish and was eventually discovered, restored and finally rededicated in 1980. It’s now listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
When I shared a hasty, hashed version of this story with Howie, he brought up the famous case of the Diego Rivera murals originally installed in the lobby of Rockefeller Center's grand skyscraper, 30 Rock, which were destroyed on orders of John D. Rockefeller Jr. This was appalling too, especially since discussions were underway to remove the murals, which John D. Jr. found so upsetting (for understandable reasons, he really did find them communistic), and relocate them offsite. But it's also different. John D. Jr. had commissioned and paid for those murals, as part of the large quantity of art he commissioned for display around Rockefeller Center, a totally private site. No, he didn't have to destroy the murals, but the fact is, they were his property, and it wasn't hard to see why he didn't want them displayed on his premises.

The WPA murals, however, were paid for by the public and belonged to the public, and were displayed in a public space. Yet some gutless ignoramus of a bureaucrat saw fit to "improve" the Marine Air Terminal by blacking out James Brooks's work. Does anyone believe that such a course of action would be displeasing to the titans of imbecility and intolerance who now constitute the thinkers and seers of the American Right?

The redeeming part of the story came as the Marine Air Terminal was slogging its way through the landmark consideration process. Largely by dint of the efforts of a heroic advocate, aviation historian Geoffrey Arend, and then with the help of money from Laurance Rockefeller -- yes, a Rockefeller! -- and Reader's Digest's DeWitt Wallace, it was determined that the Flight murals could be restored, and by gosh they were restored! By great good fortune James Brooks was still around four decades after he finished the murals, and after a quarter-century in which his work was presumed gone for good, he, along with Mayor LaGuardia's widow, Marie, was able to attend its rededication on September 18, 1980. (In the photo Brooks is seen between then LaGuardia Airport manager Tim Peirce and Geoffrey Arend.)

It's an unexpectedly, even miraculously happy ending to an awful story that for me has deeply disturbing relevance to the America of the 2010s.


Food Watch: What do you get when you cross a blondie with a s'more? (Besides a mess)


Kelsey's s'mores bars: You notice that marshmallow creme oozing all over the place? Don't say I didn't warn you. But again, it could have been worse!

by Ken

In fairness, it's not as bad as I was thinking when I first saw the link to a combination of a blondie and a s'more. Which was kind of a relief, because I noted that the concoction comes from Cooking Channel's Kelsey Nixon, and I like Kelsey, and don't think of her as a purveyor of mindless food excess.

These days, though, I dread hearing of yet more drastic combinations seeking to cram as many of the foods known to man into a single pile of crap. You know, like the slice of pizza topped with a slab of moussaka nestled between two eight-ounce ground-brisket burgers slathered with sautéd mushrooms and onions and three kinds of cheese, all sandwiched between two chocolate-chip-banana waffles -- battered and deep-fried, of course. And served with a side of fried chicken.

I realize that even as I'm straining to be outrageous, the likely response is a yawning, "That sounds so day-before-yesterday."

Whereas if you look at what Kelsey has done, she has merely reconfigured the thing, of a cookie- or cake-like nature, on which the chocolate and marshmallow have to rest to constitute a s'more in the first place. And you could fault the logic of nudging your standard blondie in the direction of s'moredom by tossing in a cup of graham-cracker crumbs along with a cup and a half of flour to make the "crust." Or, as she puts it:
Just because there isn't a fire doesn't mean you can't enjoy s'mores. Try these fantastic bars that include everything in a classic s'more: graham crackers, mallow creme and chocolate. Think of these as s'mores just packaged differently!
I don't happen to be a s'mores person myself. I never encountered them growing up, and to a grown-up sensibility they seem to me way more mess than they're worth. And while Kelsey's bar format might seem to mitigate the mess factor, with that marshmallow creme oozing in mid-bar, I'm not so sure.

You'll note in the recipe that when it comes, first, to laying down the marshmallow layer, the instruction is to "spread the marshmallow creme in an even layer, using a rubber spatula that has been sprayed with nonstick spray," and then when it comes to laying the upper half of the dough on top of this, you're instructed first to roll it out on a premeasured square of wax or parchment paper and then "working carefully, place the dough on top of the marshmallow layer." No, I don't think so, thank you.

But don't let me stop you. At least it's not sitting atop a key-lime tart and topped with a banana split. Unless you choose to do so, that is.


Right-wingers starve the IRS and then make up stories about why it can't collect taxes


Right-wingers like to make up stories about who's playing politics with the IRS. It's easier when you've bestowed upon yourself an unlimited license to lie.

by Ken

Throughout tax season we kept hearing horror stories about normal IRS help being unavailable to taxpayers, thanks to the ravages of right-wing budget-cutters. These are, of course, the liars and lunatics who spend their delusional waking hours railing against government waste. Tax collection, of course, isn't government waste. Properly funded, the IRS collects healthy multiples of the money it spends. And while none of us likes paying taxes, they're the price we pay for civilization -- and for the greatest country on earth these worthless slugs keep blithering about.

But are too cheap and thieving to pay for. As we know, they don't like taxes, and neither do the corporate overlords who put and keep them in office. So they make it impossible for the government to collect what it's owed, in order to keep functioning. Of course they don't like government either. Oh, many of the benefits they like fine, but even those they don't like paying for. So they concoct stories making Obamacare the villain. After all, to right-wingers the truth is the enemy. They believe Americans are entitled to the best lies money can buy.

Choose your image: the clowns taking over the circus, or the inmates taking over the asylum. Incredibly, brain-challenged voters have allowed these thieves, predators, and just plain morons not just a hand but a controlling hand in the running of our government. I say, they should all be indicted as part of the criminal conspiracy. I'm thinking death penalty.

Now we begin to get a proper reckoning of the job the scumbags did to cripple American society. The AP's Stephen Ohlemacher reports today, in "8 million phone calls to IRS went unanswered as agency diverted money from taxpayer services":
The IRS' overloaded phone system hung up on more than 8 million taxpayers this filing season as the agency cut millions of dollars from taxpayer services.

For those who weren't disconnected, only 40 percent actually got through to a person. Many of those people had to wait on hold for more than 30 minutes, IRS Commissioner John Koskinen said Wednesday.

A new staff report by Republicans on the House Ways and Means Committee says the IRS diverted millions from taxpayer services and other areas to pay for President Barack Obama's health law.

At a hearing Wednesday, Koskinen blamed budget cuts approved by Congress. The agency's budget has been cut by $1.2 billion since 2010.

"Customer service, both on the phone and in person has been much far worse than anyone would want," Koskinen told a Ways and Means subcommittee. "It's simply a matter of not having enough people to answer the phones and provide service at our walk-in sites as a result of cuts to our budget."

Koskinen said the agency is required by law to implement the health law, leaving him with few other places to cut. He said the agency requested a total of $600 million over the past two years for computer upgrades to implement the health law as well as a new law requiring foreign banks to report information about U.S. account holders.

"In both years the Congress gave us zero dollars so we had no choice but to look elsewhere," Koskinen said.

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Will Trade Policy Become A Campaign Issue?


Obama and congressional Republicans barely ever find any common ground. But last week they sure did when it came to making a deal for Trans-Pacific Partnership Fast Track authority. Just the way Bill Clinton delivered NAFTA for Wall Street, Obama is determined to give them the TPP. Progressives are dismayed.
Trade unions, populist activists and many Democratic lawmakers are rallying against the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal. They say the secretive treaty is harmful to US workers, the economy and environmental policies.

Social justice activists from more than 30 states marched in downtown Washington, DC, on Monday, chanting “This is what hypocrisy looks like!” and carrying signs such as “Dump TPP: Don’t trade away our future.” They called on Congress to vote against giving President Barack Obama the authority to 'fast-track' the treaty.

...[M]uch of the trade pact was written by and for corporate lobbyists, who would reap any benefits while leaving the workers and taxpayers to shoulder all the expenses. Only five of TPP’s 29 chapters are about trade, while others focus on patent protection, financial deregulation, internet privacy restrictions and litigation.

“It is absurd that a trade agreement of such enormous consequence has had so little transparency,” said Senator Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent and keynote speaker at Monday’s protest. He also warned that the TPP would give foreign corporations the right to challenge US laws in special courts, endangering public health and environmental initiatives.

...It isn’t just the unions and independents bucking the White House lead on the TPP. Last week, top Democratic lawmakers spoke out against the trade pact at a protest outside the Capitol.

“We’ve had, I hate to say this, a sellout government,” said Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.). Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) called the TPP a “huge shift from democratically elected governments to corporations all over the world.” Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) described it as "the bad sequel of bad sequels, the ‘Sharknado 2’ of trade.” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a populist favorite, pumped her fist and shouted, “No more secret trade deals!”
Congresswoman Donna Edwards is running for the open Maryland Senate seat. (Blue America has endorsed her.) She has been a consistent opponent of unfair trade policies and she has been a loud, clear voice in opposition to both Fast Track and the TPP. This week, she sent this note to her supporters:
A bill just introduced in the Senate would give the President “fast track” trade authority to push through a disastrous trade agreement, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which will ship American jobs overseas with little to no public debate.

I’ve seen enough of these “free trade” deals to know how this goes.

Giant, multinational corporations write the bill with their best interests in mind, and then try to sell the public pipe dreams of jobs and economic growth that never materialize.

I’m going to fight tooth and nail to stop this bill, but I need your help. Will you stand with me against this deal and say no to fast track and the TPP? If progressives stand up and show we are willing to fight for American workers, we can stop this anti-worker bill in its tracks.

...We’ve seen this story before. “Free trade” deals that promise to grow our economy and create jobs end up making big corporations richer, while American jobs disappear.

Even worse, this bill was written in secret, away from the eyes of the public and Congress.

I know a bad deal for workers when I see it. That’s why I’ve fought to stop these job-killing agreements every time they come up in Congress.
Blue America has made two Senate endorsements so far-- Alan Grayson and Donna Edwards-- and both have been stalwart fighters against the TPP and against Fast Track. We need more like them in the Senate.The contrast between Donna Edwards and Chris Van Hollen on trade is clear and undeniable. She's an advocate for working families and he stands up for multinational companies. Yesterday's Baltimore Sun spotlighted the differences.
Hitting on an issue that is closely followed by the state's politically powerful unions, the Edwards campaign criticized Rep. Chris Van Hollen for his past votes in favor of trade agreements with Colombia, South Korea and Panama-- deals that were all opposed by Edwards and a majority of House Democrats.

Edwards' decision to criticize Van Hollen's record on the issue underscores the effort she is making to run to the left of the Montgomery County Democrat, who has managed to secure more endorsements and campaign cash in the race to replace retiring Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski.

The agreements, which set policies on tariffs, quotas and other trade barriers, are generally opposed by liberal groups.

"In yet another stunning election time conversion, Congressman Van Hollen has changed yet another position," Edwards campaign spokesman Benjamin Gerdes told the Baltimore Sun. "Maryland families deserve a senator with firm convictions, not one who goes whichever way the political winds are blowing or who makes decisions based on the next election."

...Van Hollen surprised some this week by opposing the fast-track bill before it was publicly released. Because he is a senior member of the House with close ties to Democratic leaders, his announcement was viewed as a victory for groups fighting the measure.

But Edwards saw inconsistency.

Her campaign noted Van Hollen voted for the last three trade deals in 2011-- with Colombia, Panama and South Korea. On the Colombia vote, Van Hollen was one of 31 House Democrats to join a majority of Republicans to support the bill. The rest of the Democratic caucus-- 158 members-- voted against it.

Van Hollen supported six other trade agreements-- with Chile, Singapore, Morocco and Peru, among others-- since entering Congress in 2003. He voted against a multilateral trade agreement with Central American countries in 2005 and an agreement with Oman in 2006.

"This is the one issue where there's really just a bright-line difference between them," said Lori M. Wallach, director of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch, which has opposed the deals.

"Congresswoman Edwards had consistently voted against these job-killing agreements and actually helped to lead the fight to stop them."

Legislation to fast-track trade measures is a separate issue from the deals themselves. But in this case the effort to speed approval is linked directly to a landmark agreement the Obama administration is negotiating with 11 other Pacific Rim countries.

Many believe the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal-- a possible centerpiece of Obama's economic legacy-- will not pass without fast-track authority.

"It's no secret that past trade deals haven't always lived up to their promise, and that's why I will only sign my name to an agreement that helps ordinary Americans get ahead," Obama said in a statement Thursday as details of the legislation emerged.

Since Edwards announced her candidacy, she has sought to lay claim to the progressive wing of the party-- pitching to the liberal voters who are most likely to show up in a Democratic primary election.
You can contribute to Donna's campaign here, on the Blue America Senate page.

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