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Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Lost Source: A Globalization Thriller

By Stephanie Kraft

Outsourcing, industrial spying, product piracy: they’re the stuff news is made of, and now they’ve been made into a very readable novel, Lost Source, by John Martin (iUniverse, Inc.; 339 pages, $20.95).

Martin, a one time a machinist and organizer for the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers in South Boston, makes a page-turner of his story of John Shay, a union leader whose friend and colleague dies in a mysterious car accident as their union strikes against a firm that makes automobile interiors.

As a character, Shay is grounded, credible. Not just an action piece, the novel introduces the reader to his inner life in passages like this: “He was glad he worked those years as a machinist. He felt that he had captured something—something hardy, precise, gruff—through the work. The years in the plants had settled him stretched and strengthened his mind. Put something inside him he liked.”

But such reflections don’t slow the pace. It’s on to Germany and then to China as Shay goes to visit the plant the company is building there, gathering clues about his friend’s murder along the way. He’s ably backed by Hannah, a firebrand organizer whose worries about her early symptoms of Parkinson’s disease don’t quell her passions either for labor organizing or for the men who do it. In China, Shay finds his life at risk as he receives revelations that take him far beyond his original, simplistic assumptions about the misbehavior of the auto interiors company.

The novel is not only great fun; it’s a painless, enjoyable way of learning about a galaxy of issues related to labor and globalization. Those issues come alive in this exciting yarn, which is topped off with a union organizer’s dream: a worldwide workers’ demonstration.•

 

Amherst Legislator Pushes for Food Labeling Law

By Maureen Turner

State Rep. Ellen Story (D-Amherst) is sponsoring a bill that would require labeling of genetically modified food in the state.

Story’s “Genetically Engineered Food Right to Know Act” would require the food’s packaging to include the label: “This product contains a genetically engineered material, or was produced with a genetically engineered material.” It defines “genetically engineered” processes to include cell fusion and genetic alteration, among others, but not “traditional breeding, conjugation, fermentation, hybridization, in vitro fertilization, or tissue culture.”

State Reps. Tricia Farley-Bouvier (D-Pittsfield), Peter Kocot (D-Northampton), Paul Mark (D-Peru) and John Scibak (D-South Hadley) have signed on as co-sponsors of Story’s bill.

The proposed law reflects a national push to require labeling of GE foods. Several surveys have shown that the vast majority of Americans favor such labels, which are already required in more than 60 countries, according to the advocacy group Just Label It. But large corporations such as Monsanto, maker of genetically modified seeds, have lobbied aggressively to defeat such requirements, most notably killing a California ballot question in 2012. And the federal Food and Drug Administration has long maintained that genetically modified foods are “substantially equivalent” to conventional foods and therefore do not require labeling.

Last week, the Joint Committee on Public Health held a hearing on Story’s bill as well as two similar ones filed by other legislators. One of those bills, filed by state Rep. Michael Moran (D-Brighton), refers to concerns over the potential health and environmental risks genetic engineering of food could pose and argues that mandatory labeling would “provide a critical method for tracking” negative effects.

That’s crucial, says the Massachusetts chapter of the Northeast Organic Farming Association, because it makes the case that the government has a compelling interest in requiring labels on GE foods. Courts have held that without such a compelling interest, label requirements amount to a violation of the producers’ First Amendment rights.

Earlier this month, Connecticut legislators, by a vote of 134 to 3, became the first in the nation to pass a state law requiring labeling of all GE foods. (Alaska has a more limited law that applies to fish only.) But, under an agreement between lawmakers and Gov. Dannel Malloy, the law will not go into effect unless and until four other states pass similar laws, including at least one that borders Connecticut.

More than 20 states are considering labeling bills, according to the New York Times, including Vermont and Maine. A labeling bill in New York was defeated recently after intense corporate lobbying.•

 

Long-Awaited Victory for Emergency Contraception

The protracted battle over access to emergency contraception took another twist last week, when the Obama administration announced it was dropping its fight to impose limits on the drug’s over-the-counter availability—a move that Leslie Tarr Laurie, executive director of Valley-based Tapestry Health, said will help reduce the number of abortions.

Emergency contraception (known, alternatively, as EC, Plan B or the “morning-after pill”) is a high dose of hormones found in regular birth control pills which, if taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex, can prevent pregnancy. That short window of time, reproductive rights advocates have long argued, makes easy access to the drug crucial. But conservative groups—including some that consider the drug a form of abortion—have lobbied to restrict access, in particular to teenagers.

That political pressure was enough, apparently, to persuade both the George W. Bush and Obama administrations to fight the drug’s availability over the counter, citing concerns about its effects on teens—this despite a recommendation from the Food and Drug Administration that it be made available, without a prescription, to women and girls of any age. In December, 2011, Kathleen Sebelius, Obama’s secretary of health and human services, took the unprecedented step of overturning the FDA recommendation, in what critics saw as an attempt to appease conservatives as Obama headed into the 2012 election.

This spring, a federal court in New York overturned the ban on OTC sales to women under 18, calling it “a strong showing of bad faith and improper political influence.” The administration initially appealed that ruling before deciding last week to drop the effort.

Laurie said she suspects the administration realized it didn’t have a strong case and was reluctant to fight the matter all the way to the Supreme Court.

While Laurie cheered the latest development, she also expressed dismay that for so many years the science demonstrating the safety and effectiveness of emergency contraception was drowned out by political considerations. “So many people unwittingly were hurt by this becoming a political rather than a health issue,” she said.

Laurie added that EC is available at Tapestry clinics, which offers sliding-scale fees and lower costs than pharmacies.• —MT

 

Come High Water

How high will the oceans rise in this century? How far inland will coastlines move? How will all this affect coastal infrastructure, property values, the economy, and people living inland?

John Englander, an internationally recognized expert on oceanography and the author of High Tide on Main Street: Rising Sea Level and the Coming Coastal Crisis, will speak on changing sea levels at the Academy of Music in Northampton on June 25. Englander was an associate of Jacques-Yves Cousteau whom Cousteau himself made head of the Cousteau Society before his death, and is a special advisor on climate to Friends of the United Nations. He has done field work in the polar regions to study the melting of ice—including participating in research dives under the polar ice cap—and will show slides from the Arctic and Antarctica to illustrate his presentation.

Englander will also speak on the reshaping of the American coastline. That reshaping, he predicts, will become more and more evident in this century, as coastal infrastructure and property are endangered, and more dramatic in the next. The banking and insurance structure will be affected, and so far the only mitigations being discussed, such as building sea walls and subsidizing flood insurance, have been extremely shortsighted, he points out.

What’s needed, Englander says, is a long view that embraces coming centuries of coastal realignment, and “intelligent adaptation” to the conditions the encroachment of the oceans will bring.

His talk will be followed by a question and answer session, and he will sign copies of High Tide on Main Street.

Englander speaks at the Academy of Music on Tuesday, June 25 at 7 p.m. There is a charge of $10 for general admission and $12 for reserved seats. Buy tickets by calling the Academy of Music Box Office between 3 and 6 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, or on line at http://academyofmusictheatre.tix.com.• —SK

 

Incineration Controversy Continues

The Patrick administration has lifted a 23-year-old moratorium on the building of new waste incineration plants in Massachusetts to allow gasification plants (“As the Trash Piles Up, Will Incineration Come Back?”, May 15, 2013, www.valleyadvocate.com). Traditional incinerators will still be banned.

Gasification is a process that uses steam and/or oxygen to convert materials to carbon monoxide, hydrogen and carbon dioxide by heating them, without combustion, to extremely high temperatures. Gov. Deval Patrick has said that lifting the moratorium to allow gasification will help pave the way for the development of yet more advanced technologies for disposing of solid waste.

But critics of the action the state has taken in reversing the moratorium point out that large volumes of recyclable material such as paper, cardboard, bottles and cans are still being disposed of in solid waste facilities, though state regulations require them to be recycled.

The DEP agrees; in 2009, Massachusetts had a recycling rate of 42 percent, one of the highest in the country, according to a 2012 DEP report on the progress of its solid waste master plan, but the recycling rate has not grown since then.

And pressing on toward the goal of zero waste, moratorium supporters say, will not only be better for the environment but will do more to encourage job growth in the state than modifying the ban on incineration. The decision to allow gasification plants “means jobs going up in smoke,” says Lynn Pledger, who studies solid waste issues for Clean Water Action.

Again, the environmentalists’ case is supported by state figures; the 2012 report notes, “Material recovery facilities create 10 times more jobs than disposal facilities for the same amount of material. Materials reuse operations create even more jobs, between 28 and nearly 300 times the number of jobs as disposal facilities.”• —SK

 

Lowest Payers Entrenched in the Valley

Sweatshops and hole-in-corner businesses that don’t pay a living wage we think of as urban, far removed from the Valley.

But when we go out to shop or eat along Rte. 9, Rte. 10, Boston Road, Chicopee’s Memorial Drive or Rte. 5 from Greenfield down to West Springfield, we’re likely being served by the lowest-paid workers in the country except for human-trafficked illegals.

Here is a list of the 20 lowest-paying companies in the U.S. according to the National Employment Law Project—and many of them are quite familiar here. They’re listed in order based on the size of their U.S. workforces.

 

• Walmart

• Yum! Industries (Kentucky Fried

Chicken, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut)

• McDonald’s

• Target

• Sears holdings

• Doctor’s Associates (Subway)

• Burger King holdings

• ARAMARK Corp.

• Starbucks

• DineEquity, Inc. (Applebees, IHOP)

• Compass Group PLC

• Macy’s

• Wendy’s

• Darden Restaurants (Olive Garden,

Red Lobster)

• J.C. Penney’s

• Kohl’s Corp.

• Dunkin’Brands (Dunkin’ Donuts,

Baskin-Robbins)

• TJX Companies (Marshall’s, T.J. Maxx)

• Sodexo S.A.

• Domino’s Pizza

—SK

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