Three-day weekends -- particularly the three-day Labor Day weekend that brings with it the unofficial end of summer -- are traditionally low-news times. If there's any weekend to turn off cable TV news, it's during a long holiday weekend, when the same tired stories are likely to be rehashed over and over again by the second-string on-air personalities.
Part of the reason news is so scarce is that people just aren't paying attention. We're out grilling, hiking, back-to-school shopping or otherwise disconnecting from the 24-hour news cycle. In case this describes you, here are five stories you might have missed this weekend that are worth noting:
Easily the worst news of the weekend came Saturday when Van Jones, President Obama's special adviser on green jobs, stepped down under pressure from right-wing commentator Glenn Beck. Jones is a pioneering advocate for using green jobs programs like home weatherization to both clean up the environment and jump-start inner-city economies. His work in the field earned him one of our 2009 Heart of Green nominations. In politics, anything you say, ever, can come back to haunt you ... and in Jones's case, a single expletive directed at President George W. Bush, and his absent-minded signing of a conspiracy theorist 9/11 petition, was the fuel Beck needed to label him a radical. (Carl Pope, president of the Sierra Club, suggested that racism was key to the controversy that brought down Jones.)
Van Jones is a Yale-educated civil rights campaigner-turned-environmental jobs advocate. He's got a compelling boots-strap story, a head for big ideas and the get-up-and-go to make big things happen. Of course, politics is politics, and it seems obvious that the attacks on Jones were all about trying to dent Obama's reputation and ability to carry forward his agenda. It's more than a shame that politics, as practiced by a pundit who makes a career of outlandish and radical statements, has set back the career of one man trying to do some real good for the country and the environment.
On the other end of the political activism spectrum, environmental groups were busy this weekend criticizing Verizon for supporting what they call an alliance with "right-wing extremists in an anti-union event organized to oppose climate change legislation and to celebrate mountaintop removal coal mining."
That event, the Friends of America rally, of course, did not bill itself this way. But the purpose was to rally people in support of good jobs ... and against the "environmental extremists ... trying to destroy your job" by enacting a cap-and-trade regulation aimed at curbing the greenhouse gas emissions that fuel global warming.
Verizon, for its part, said it was not an expression of corporate policy to have a table at the event; it was just a sales initiative gone awry. The ralliers for their part, did not turn out in the numbers anticipated. (And in cooler mining news, there's an effort underway to convert old strip mines into honey bee habitat. How cool.)
Sigg, the maker of supposedly eco-friendly nontoxic reusable water bottles, had already taken a beating in the environmental community after admitting that it had been using the suspect chemical Bisphenol A in its bottle liners for years, while reaping PR benefits of appearing to be above the controversy on the side of green consumers. This weekend, Patagonia dropped a co-branding effort, and not without taking a shot at Sigg: "They told us there was no BPA in the liner of the bottle. Notice the key word there," Rick Ridgeway, Patagonia's vice-president of environmental initiatives, told Canada.com.
Meanwhile, Monday, Sigg's CEO apologized.
While still in the good graces of the Food and Drug Administration, Bisphenol A, of course, has been linked to a variety of health problems, from obesity to prostate cancer. And the industry is working with the same lobbyists who gave cigarette smoking such a good name.
You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but ...
In rosier toxic-chemical-in-common-product news, Health Canada, the government's health agency, has determined that 1,4-dioxane is not a hazard in personal care products like cosmetics and shampoos. The chemical -- which was found in 67% of U.S. brands tested by advocacy groups arguing for its regulation.
The chemical isn't typically added to these products, but shows up as a byproduct in the chemical production of other ingredients. It is suspected of causing cancer, but Health Canada determined the concentrations found in personal care products to be insignificant and not big enough to warrant regulation or warning labels. (No one shampoos 620 times a day, so stop worrying, was essentially the agency's message.)
Health Canada has been out in front of the U.S. regulatory agencies on a variety of similar issues. It has already regulated Bisphenol A in baby products, for instance, and was ahead of the U.S. in regulating phthalates in children's products. So it's decision should end the controversy, right?
Finally, in the best news of the weekend, Slow Food USA held its Time for Lunch campaign on Labor Day. The purpose was to lobby for better school lunch nutrition by:
While the event itself may not have registered with many people, it represents something important: "Clean" foods activists developing a platform and creating a movement with popular support. Both are big parts of the equation that leads to action from government, businesses and others.
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