John Stauber's News Articles

America's Mad Cow Crisis

Americans might remember that when the first mad cow was confirmed in the United States in December, 2003, it was major news. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had been petitioned for years by lawyers from farm and consumer groups I worked with to stop the cannibal feeding practices that transmit this horrible, always fatal, human and animal dementia. When the first cow was found in Washington state, the government said it would stop such feeding, and the media went away. But once the cameras were off and the reporters were gone nothing substantial changed.

San Francisco's Free "Organic Biosolids Compost" is Toxic Sludge, and Not Good For You!

Independent testing commissioned by the Food Rights Network found toxic contaminants in San Francisco's sewage sludge "compost." In the sludge product given away free to gardeners from 2007 to March 4, 2010, are contaminants with endocrine-disruptive properties including PBDE flame retardants, nonylphenol detergent breakdown products, and the antibacterial agent triclosan. The independent tests were conducted for the Food Rights Network by Dr. Robert C. Hale of the Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences.

Watch a CBS 5 KPIX August 10, 2010 report providing a startling story of how San Francisco is violating its own precautionary principle law by dumping toxic sludge on city gardens.

Gavin Newsom Hopes to Leave His Sludge in San Francisco

Last month, I wrote Chez Sludge, the first inside report on the sewage sludge scandal unfolding in San Francisco, based on internal documents obtained by the Food Rights Network and now online in the Toxic Sludge wiki on SourceWatch.

San Francisco, under its "green mayor" Gavin Newsom, has since 2007 perpetrated a greenwashing scam upon city gardeners. The city, known for its environmentally sound practices and commitment to a precautionary principle approach to dealing with environmental hazards, has deceptively and fraudulently been giving away free "organic Biosolids compost," that is actually nothing but toxic sewage sludge from San Francisco and eight other counties, "composted" by the giant waste handler Synagro.

Chez Sludge: Complaint Filed Regarding Francesca Vietor's Threat To the Guardian

The "Chez Sludge" scandal in San Francisco, involving the city giving away free toxic sewage sludge as "organic Biosolids compost" for gardeners, took another turn on July 13, 2010.

Chez Sludge: How the Sewage Sludge Industry Bedded Alice Waters

The celebrity chef Alice Waters is probably the world's most famous advocate of growing and eating local, Organic food. In February 2010 her Chez Panisse Foundation chose as its new Executive Director the wealthy "green socialite" and liberal political activist Francesca Vietor. Vietor's hiring created a serious conflict of interest that has married Waters and her Foundation to the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) and its scam of disposing of toxic sewage sludge waste as free "organic Biosolids compost" for gardens.

For the first time, thanks to an ongoing "open records" investigation by the Food Rights Network, the public and the press have easy online access to dozens of internal SFPUC files (SFPUC Sludge Controversy Timeline), documenting the strange tale of Chez Sludge, or how the sewage industry bedded Alice Waters.

Chef Alice Waters and Chez Panisse in a Toxic Sludge Protest

It is happening on April Fool's Day, but it is no joke. The Organic Consumers Association, upon whose Advisory Board I serve, is picketing chef Alice Waters' world famous Chez Panisse Restaurant, Cafe and Foundation offices in Berkeley, California, over the noon hour on April 1, 2010. The protest is a direct result of the growing controversy in the Bay Area where the City of San Francisco, through its Public Utilities Commission, has been giving away and selling thousands of tons a year of toxic sewage sludge to be put on farms and gardens. The nasty entropic stuff, filled with a potential stew of thousands of chemicals and microbes, has even been bagged by the PUC as "organic compost" and used by unsuspecting victims who would never have intentionally put sewage sludge on their home or school gardens.

What has this got to do with Alice Waters and Chez Panisse? Francesca Vietor, the Executive Director of the Chez Panisse Foundation, whose mission is to promote Edible Schoolyard organic gardens, is also the Vice President of the Public Utilities Commission.

Waiter, There Is Toxic Sludge in my Organic Soup!

(NOTE: Visit the SourceWatch Portal on Toxic Sludge)

Fifteen years ago, the Center for Media and Democracy in my book Toxic Sludge Is Good for You first exposed the deceptive PR campaign by the municipal sewage industry that has renamed toxic sewage sludge as "biosolids" to be spread on farms and gardens. Unfortunately, the scam continues to fool more people than ever, even in San Francisco which is often dubbed the country's greenest city.

I suspect that Bay area celebrity chef Alice Waters would never dump sewage sludge onto her own organic garden, nor serve food grown in sludge in her world famous natural foods restaurant Chez Panisse. The mission of her Chez Panisse Foundation is to create "edible schoolyards" where kids grow, prepare, and eat food from their own organic gardens. But Francesca Vietor, the new executive director of the Chez Panisse Foundation, is at the same time actively promoting dumping toxic sludge on gardens in her role as Vice President of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission.

Tea Party Money-Bomb Elects Scott Brown, Blows-Up Obamacare

Six months ago, the vocal factions of the Tea Party revolt organized among anti-Obama right wingers were mostly an annoyance to the Democratic Party. Today, the Congressional Democrats are scared for their political lives after Scott Brown, with the help of a Tea Party-organized online "money bomb" and get-out-the-vote campaign, won back for Republicans Ted Kennedy's former Massachusetts senate seat. The "money bomb" is a tactic borrowed from MoveOn and the liberal netroots movement through which the Tea Party activists raised way over one million dollars online in 24 hours for Scott Brown. Even though the Republicans have only reduced the still large fifty-nine member Democratic senate majority by one person, the fact that Brown ran an uphill campaign that came from nowhere and steamrolled to victory means that all the Congressional Democrats are now looking over their right shoulders, fearing a similar populist attack as the 2010 electoral season heats up.

The Tea Party money bomb has also blown up Obamacare, the President's muddled health care reform plan. While many pundits point to local issues that helped Brown win, the fact is that Brown ran hardest against Obama's health care bill, and won despite personal appearances in Massachusetts by Obama and Bill Clinton, and despite a desperate but failed Democratic effort to beat back the insurgency.

Where's the Outrage Over Obama's Health Care Propagandist, Jonathan Gruber?

US News and World Report blogger Peter Roff is comparing the Obama Administration's payments to Jonathan Gruber to the the pundit payola scandal of the Bush Administration paying Armstrong Williams.

In January 2005, USA Today revealed that a U.S. Department of Education contract paid Williams to promote Bush's No Child Left Behind legislation on his TV show and to ask other African American journalists to do likewise. Democrats and media activists were appropriately outraged at such blatant and hidden government propaganda. A January 7, 2010, report by Marcy Wheeler on her Firedoglake blog exposed the similar failure of the Obama Administration and influential MIT economist Jonathan Gruber to fully and consistently reveal Gruber's role in receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars as a paid consultant to the Obama Administration, while promoting Obama's health care legislation.

Roff, a long-time Republican activist and right wing pundit, notes that in the William's payola scandal "senior Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives wrote to President George W. Bush expressing their outrage. In one of those letters, then-House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Reps. Henry Waxman, George Miller, David Obey, and Elijah Cummings denounced the payments made to Williams under a government contract as 'illegal covert propaganda' intended to influence the American electorate."

What a difference partisanship makes now that Obama is president. In the Gruber scandal prominent liberals including New York Times columnist Paul Krugman have attacked the messenger, Marcy Wheeler and Firedoglake, rather than criticizing the lack of disclosure and the money changing hands, and digging further into the relationship between Obama and his paid health care advocate Jonathan Gruber.

Support CMD's Fight Against King Coal

Perhaps you are making some year-end decisions to donate money in a way that makes a real difference. If you have not contributed recently, I would urge you to support SourceWatch and the work of the Center for Media and Democracy. Here is one more reason why: your donation makes possible CMD's crucial work on global warming and the fight to stop the destructive and dangerous use of coal.

My friend, author and activist Ted Nace, is CMD's partner in the CoalSwarm wiki inside SourceWatch. Ted has written a new book titled Climate Hope: On the Front Lines of the Fight Against Coal, his most recent since his much-lauded Gangs of America. Climate Hope tells a dramatic story:

When US power companies revealed plans to build over 150 new coal-fired power plants, climate scientists sounded the alarm. If this wave of massive plants were built, there would be little chance of preventing greenhouse gases from reaching truly dangerous levels. In response to the crisis, hundreds of local and regional groups, along with a handful of national groups, rose to the challenge of blocking the wave of proposals. Through courageous action on a variety of fronts -- from sit-ins at coal mines to blockades at big-city banks -- the anti-coal movement succeeded ins stopping over 100 power plant proposals, bringing the coal boom largely to a halt.

The Center for Media and Democracy is playing a crucial role in this struggle through our partnership with Ted in creating the CoalSwarm wiki. Ted tells this story in his book, excerpted below. It's a success story that many other activists and organizations working on other issues could also repeat if they would follow Ted's example and partner with CMD to create their own wiki inside SourceWatch.

As you read this excerpt below, please consider donating to CMD's important work maintaining SourceWatch. As you see, it is a dynamic online information system that is invaluable to environmental, social justice and democracy activists, as well as journalists and the public at large. Success like this, often unheralded, is only possible with your ongoing support.

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