Monday, March 28, 2016

In a fog of fiction, Sanders offers truth

By Bob Gaydos
Bernie Sanders
Bernie Sanders

Thank god for Bernie Sanders.

You can make that an uppercase God if you prefer. Or keep it lowercase. You can take that sentiment ecumenically, evangelically, spiritually, atheistically, or any manner of religiously. But know this, wherever you place your faith, you must take that sentiment seriously.

Bernie Sanders is the saving grace in what has to be the most embarrassing, humiliating, disheartening and frightening presidential campaign, possibly in our nation's history.

Quite simply, Sanders is the only candidate in either party who is genuine. When he speaks, I believe him. Millions believe him, because he has no hidden agenda, he is beholden to no one, he has a long history of caring and working for people to whom life has not been kind and for challenging those who have always wanted more than their fair share. A mensch.

In comparison, the Republican campaign has featured a collection of liars, misfits, religious zealots, bigots, charlatans, incompetents and people who cannot spell, much less demonstrate, compassion. It has culminated in Donald Trump, one of the most dangerous, embarrassing figures to emerge in American politics. He is a fascist, racist, misogynist, bully, lawyer, buffoon, and con man. A reality TV show star with no idea how government works, but plenty of experience in driving businesses into bankruptcy. He is probably a certifiable narcissist. And apparently, there is no one in his life who has the guts to say any of this to his face.

His candidacy has allowed all the ugly elements in American society, many of whom reside in the Republican Party, to feel free to voice their hate publicly, to assault and threaten those they fear or those who disagree with them, and, incredibly, to believe that their candidate has any respect for them and their needs. Trump, who makes it up as he goes along, has admitted his supporters come from the least-informed element of society. His campaign, in fact, represents the culmination of decades of cynical posturing by and catering to this element, and now appears to be the demise of, the Republican Party as a responsible political party. It is long overdue.

Not one of the Republican candidates -- still standing or fallen by the wayside -- can hold a candle to Sanders and not one of them deserves a vote to be president of the United States of America. They are, in toto, a disgrace.

However, the real challenge to Sanders comes not from the Republicans, but from within his own party. The Democratic establishment long ago decided that Hillary Clinton should be its candidate for president this time and has done everything within its power to try to make that happen. This includes setting up a ridiculously limited and unattainable schedule of debates and lining up hundreds of superdelegates to announce their support for her even before a primary was held. 

This was undoubtedly done to try to overcome Clinton's well-known handicaps: 1) The fact that she is a lousy campaigner; 2) The reality that a lot of people don't trust her; and 3) The Clinton history of being very cozy with the people responsible for nearly ruining the nation’s economy.

Forget that, her supporters say. She gets things done. What it is she's gotten done is never mentioned.

Still, the fact is she leads Sanders in delegates won in the primaries so far and, even with her faults, she is still head and shoulders above any of the Republicans in the race.  This means, however much I respect and prefer Sanders as a presidential candidate, if Clinton is the Democratic Party nominee, I personally have to vote for her against any Republican. It also means I cannot write in a vote for Sanders or anyone else as a protest, because I honestly fear that taking votes away from a Democratic candidate could lead to something as disastrous as a Trump presidency or a Ted Cruz presidency or anyone-else-the-Republican-Party-settles-on presidency. I fear what will happen to this country if a Republican wins the presidency this year and I think the only way to get that message across to a party that has been in denial for decades is to thoroughly defeat it in November. Then let it figure out where to go from there.

It’s not a total sellout. Mitigating my vote for Clinton would be the fact that she actually knows how government works and, as president, she would have a working, viable, responsible political party behind her, a party still on working terms with compassion and science and equality and still dedicated to governing, not merely winning. And that party would have a Bernie Sanders and an Elizabeth Warren and plenty of others in Congress reminding a President Clinton of the promises she made during her campaign to convince all those young, disaffected voters that she could deliver what Bernie Sanders was promising.

Thankfully, though, this campaign is far from over. There are many primaries in northern and western and big states where Sanders has considerable support and could easily win enough delegates to capture the nomination. Bill Clinton did it. Barack Obama did it. Bernie Sanders can do it.

But he’s got another major challenge to overcome in addition to that from within his own party. That is the disrespect shown him by much of the major news media. Despite the tens of thousands who have attended his rallies and donated to his no-Pacs campaign, many news organizations have treated him as an afterthought and a Clinton campaign for president as a foregone conclusion.

That same media also gave Trump free rein to spew his vile hatred and nonsense for months before finally wising up to him. (And it’s not just Fox News that was guilty of this.) The media will have some soul-searching to do after this campaign as well.

So, I look forward to Sanders winning some big states (Hello, California!). And I expect Trump to continue to behave as Frank Bruni put it in the New York Times recently -- like an addict who only wants more and more and more attention and will do or say anything to get it. That was my impression of Trump a while back, but Bruni beat me to it in putting it in writing. I agree wholeheartedly with him.

Indeed, I think of Trump as the guy sitting next to you in a bar who turns to you and says, "Hold my beer. Watch this." He then proceeds to wreck the joint and bloody every person in the place. He exits with a triumphant grin, claiming it was the other guy's fault.

Clinton, of course, wouldn't be caught dead in a bar, much less drinking beer. She would be found sipping wine or martinis in an Upper East Side penthouse with some Wall Street types who are funding her campaign. They're talking about how to get the vote of the common folk.

Sanders? He walks into a bar and says, "Hey, let me buy you a beer. Let's sit down. What can I do for you?"

If I were a drinking man, that's the guy I would want in the White House.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

GMOs: Food fight becomes war of words

The Savvy Shopper

By Bob Gaydos
The non-GMO label is showing up
 on more food products.
The most contentious food-fight on the planet has been transformed into a war of words. Actually, letters. Three of them: GMO. They stand for genetically modified organism.
The battle is being waged in Congress, state legislatures and via social media. The question -- whether food producers should be required to put those three letters on labels of products that have been genetically modified.
Boiled down, the argument goes like this:
  • Producers of genetically modified seeds and companies that use GMOs in the foods they produce say extensive scientific research has shown the food to be as nutritious as non-GMO foods and safe for human and non-human consumption, so there is no need to label them.
  • A diverse coalition, which includes organic farmers, scientists, doctors, Consumers Union, community organizations, and a host of internet sites devoted to nutrition, healthful eating, food safety, and the public’s right to know, say GMO science is still too new to be decreed safe in the long term. Besides, they ask, if it’s safe, why not give consumers a conscious choice in what they eat by labeling genetically modified food?
A lot of money has been spent lobbying members of Congress to  
oppose mandatory labeling of GMOS, and even to prohibit farmers from suing Monsanto, the largest producer of GMO seeds, over its requirement that farmers buy new GMO seeds from the company every year. Last year, the House of Representatives passed what labeling proponents dubbed the DARK Act (Deny Americans the Right to Know Act). Local Reps. Sean Maloney, D-18th District, and Chris Gibson, R-19th District, both opposed the bill, which would have preempted a state’s right to require labeling of GMOs. However, under pressure in December to get a budget bill passed to avoid another government shutdown, the House did not include the GMO measure in its final omnibus budget bill. With the Senate also approving the budget bill and President Obama signing it into law, advocates of GMO labeling took this as a victory in the ongoing battle.
In yet another victory for the advocates of mandatory labeling, Campbell Soups, a major food company, recently announced it would no longer oppose such labeling, It said it has withdrawn from the food industry campaign for voluntary labeling and is urging a national standard, to avoid confusion for consumers. CEO Denise Morrison said the company is not “disputing the science of GMOs or their safety.” But, she added, GMOS have become a major issue with consumers and, “We have always believed that consumers have the right to know what’s in their food.” She said if a federal standard isn’t established “in a reasonable amount of time,” Campbell’s would begin labeling its own products, which include Pepperidge Farm, Prego, Swanson and SpaghettiOs.
Meanwhile, the legal status quo remains and states are free to pass laws requiring labeling of GMO foods. Vermont is the only state to have enacted such a law. Maine and Connecticut have passed similar laws that go into effect when enough neighboring states do likewise. Vermont’s law is scheduled to go into effect in July. Labeling laws are currently being considered in many other states and the issue is also far from dead in Congress.
So, what’s a health-conscious, label-reading shopper to do in the meantime when the label may be no help on GMOs? For one thing, get enough information about the subject. That can help make for more-informed choices at the supermarket or farmer’s market, no matter what the politicians do. The following may help.
  • What are GMOS? GMOs are seeds whose genes have been altered in a laboratory to change certain properties. Generally, proponents of GMOs say they are more resistant to extreme weather and pesticides, are able to produce a higher yield in smaller acreage and have a longer shelf life. The Food and Drug Administration has approved a GMO apple that supposedly won’t turn brown when sliced and a potato that resists bruising. These are not in wide use. (The FDA also recently approved a GMO salmon. See sidebar.) Opponents say they are concerned about GMOs contaminating nearby conventional crops or posing serious health problems since they contain the chemical pesticide to which they have been made resistant. They also say GMOs allow for wider use of pesticide spraying of crops.
  • How much of our food is genetically modified? Lots. Maybe 90 percent of the corn and soybeans grown in the United States are genetically modified. Other major GMO crops are cotton, squash, canola, papaya and sugar beets. Since several of these crops are common ingredients in packaged foods, it’s estimated that 75 percent or more of processed food products in the U.S. contain GMOs. More food companies have begun to voluntarily include “Non-GMO” or other similar information on their labels.
  • Do other countries require labeling of GMO foods? Yes. Australia, Russia, most of Europe, Iceland, Saudi Arabia and Turkey have stringent labeling laws, according to the Center for Food Safety. Others that have labeling requirements include  Brazil, China, Japan, South Africa and South Korea.
  • How do I tell what’s true about GMOs and what’s not if I check on the Internet? Good luck. This debate changes every day, with major corporations spending millions of dollars in advertising, lobbying and research grants to scientists to bolster their arguments and organic food organizations and consumer groups spending considerably less money, but no less energy, in an effort to counter them. This is why labeling has become the focal point of the controversy.  
Maire Ullrich is the go-to GMO person at Cornell Cooperative Extension in Middletown, N.Y. As agriculture program leader, she offers interested groups a 40-60 minute talk on GMOs. She says the agency takes no position on GMOs. “There’s no good data that says it’s not safe,” she says, “but you still have a choice to be an educated consumer. People need to be really wise to the back of the package, not just read the labels on the front” if they want to know what they’re eating,
For example, she cited a product label boasting of non-GMO oil. But that oil was only 5 percent of the oil in the can. The other 95 percent was canola, which was modified.
Ullrich says most of the produce at local stores and farmers markets is non-GMO (“there are no GMO onions”) because of “the pushback from consumers.” She says farmers are more reluctant to grow GM crops. “Of course, if it’s labeled organic, you know it’s not GMO.”
“Part of what I teach is that if you want to use labels, you have to be scientific in your argument,” she says. “Is it your right to know growing practices and ingredients? Argue for consumer knowledge and transparency. If you don’t like the economics behind GMOs, it’s OK to say so.”
As for that GMO potato, “It’s been an abject failure,” she says. “McDonald’s wouldn’t buy it.” The non-bruising GMO apple? Ullrich says, “If McDonald’s won’t buy a GMO potato, do you think they’ll buy a GMO apple for a kiddie meal?” Both will wind up being processed for other, less obvious, uses.
Meanwhile, the food fight continues.

Bob Gaydos is a freelance writer. He can be reached at

Is it really a salmon?
The $1.1 trillion budget bill passed by Congress in December also contained another significant victory for proponents of GMO labeling. In it, Congress instructed the Food and Drug Administration to prohibit the sale of GMO salmon until the agency creates labeling guidelines and a program to disclose to consumers whether a fish has been genetically altered. The FDA in November approved salmon as the first genetically modified animal safe for human consumption. It required no labeling of the Atlantic salmon produced by AquAdvantage.
The salmon contains a growth hormone from a Chinook salmon and a gene from the ocean pout. The modification reduces the time required for the fish to grow large enough for consumption to 18 months instead of the usual three years. The fish is also considerably larger than the average salmon.
Critics of the product and commercial fisherman raise the same questions posed about GMO vegetables and fruits: Is the fish safe to eat and what might happen if the fish escapes from its breeding tanks into the environment and mates with wild salmon?
AquAdvantage says the fish are safe to eat, are all sterile females and its land-based breeding areas are secure.
While it is unclear when the fish might be ready for sale, some food chains, including Whole Foods, Target, Trader Joe’s and Aldi, have said they will not sell it. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, who fought for the labeling language, said, "There's a question as to whether this fish should even be called a salmon. The FDA made no mandatory labeling requirement. Instead, they said it could be labeled voluntarily. But no manufacturer of a 'Frankenfish' is going to label it as such. ... At least now people will have the opportunity, the chance, to know what it is that they are purchasing."

More info
To schedule a talk on GMOs, Maire Ullrich, agriculture program leader at Cornell Cooperative Extension, Orange County, can be reached at:

-- (845) 344-1234

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Speaking out in support of recovery

Addiction and Recovery column

By Bob Gaydos

One of the rituals of the state Legislature is Advocacy Day, when groups from around the state descend on Albany to try to convince legislators to pass laws or allocate funds to aid the group’s particular cause. On such days, when time with legislators or their aides is at a premium, it pays to have a clear voice and a distinct mission.
But that’s not enough. On a recent trip to Albany, a new local group was told by one of the region’s legislators, “You don’t have a constituency.”
Cold, hard fact: A good cause isn’t enough to pry money or legislation out of the Legislature. You need a large enough group of citizens -- voters -- who support your cause.
For addicts, families and friends of addicts, people in the addiction treatment field, this constituency has been hard to come by. By and large, addiction (which includes alcoholism) has been looked upon as a behavioral issue or a crime issue, rather than a mental health issue. It is easy enough to get laws passed regulating the use of drugs, but extremely difficult to get laws passed and money dedicated to promoting treatment and recovery programs for those who become addicted to them.
It’s the stigma attached to the disease. Because of much of the harmful behavior associated with it -- symptoms of the disease -- addiction has until recently been treated in the shadows, something to be hidden, not talked about, cloaked in shame. Recovery, especially long-term recovery, has not even been part of the conversation. Many people not familiar with addiction don’t even know it is possible.   
The group that visited Albany recently is part of a movement that is trying to change all that. It’s called Friends of Recovery Orange. There are similar groups in nearby counties and a statewide Friends of Recovery New York. They are made up of people affected by addiction in one way or another who want to give voice to the idea that recovery is real and possible and, indeed, something to be celebrated in society.
At a recent meeting, some members discussed why they decided to join the movement. Elizabeth, from Port Jervis, said, “I have a child who is an addict. It started with pain killers. There’s been jail, drugs, a vicious cycle. I believe he was denied proper treatment in the beginning because insurance wouldn’t pay for it.”
Rob, a treatment professional, said people seeking treatment are often turned down because their insurance company won’t cover the cost.
Eliminating barriers to getting help -- including not letting insurance companies decide what level of treatment is appropriate -- is one of the goals of the group.
Lisa and Joe were there for a different reason. “We lost our son to an overdose a little over a year ago,” Lisa said. “We didn’t know what to do. He died within three months of us finding out about his addiction.”
The stated mission of Friends of Recovery Orange is: “To promote a positive view of recovery from addictions and to educate communities about the effective outcomes associated with receiving appropriate information, treatment and recovery support.”
It’s basic: The more people know about addiction and recovery, the fewer young people are likely to die of it.
Another cold, hard fact: The growing constituency for supporting recovery from addiction coincides with the sharp increase in deaths due to opiods and heroin. James Conklin, director of the Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Council of Orange County, is helping the group coordinate its efforts. He says an attempt to start such a movement was made six years ago, but went nowhere.
“I think the big difference today is what’s going on with opiates and heroin,” he said. “People are outraged; more people are dying.” And, the heroin epidemic “hit new neighborhoods, new families,” he said. Suddenly, everyone’s son or daughter was possibly at risk. And suddenly, politicians are more likely to listen to calls for treating addiction as a public health issue, eliminating barriers to getting help, creating a recovery system that engages and supports people to reclaim a meaningful life -- all part of FOR-NY’s mission
Going to Albany to advocate for money or legislation to help addicts recover is not an easy task. FOR-Orange members all have different stories to explain why they are doing it: Those who have a family member in long-term recovery; friends, employers or neighbors of people in recovery; family members whose loved one has not found recovery; persons in long-term recovery; and family members whose loved ones have died as a result of their addiction. They learn how to share their stories so that people in a position to help the cause of recovery do more than just empathize or sympathize with them.
FOR-NY believes that “everyone achieves recovery in his or her own way” and that “adequate resources and support are necessary for sustained recovery.” To this aim, among the things members encouraged legislators to support are:
  • Recovery community centers in each county, to help persons new to recovery to take the next steps. Often, people leave rehab with no plan on what to do next.
  • Recovery coaches in each county, to help those new to recovery make sober decisions.
  • Family recovery navigators in each county to help families on their new journey.
  • Expanded access to treatment paid by health insurance for anyone who wants treatment, when they want it.
  • Physician education on addiction and recovery.
  • Addiction counseling for patients on suboxone.
Conklin and all those associated with this movement recognize that achieving these goals will require reducing the stigma attached to addiction by educating and informing those not directly impacted by it. The belief is this will increase the visibility of recovery, thereby increasing the constituency for change.
Lori, another FOR-Orange member, said, “My family was impacted by the alcoholism of my great-grandfather. Everyone grew up with the results of his alcoholism. I have many family members in recovery today. A lot of people don’t know their families were involved in addiction. I want people who don’t have families in addiction to know that recovery can have positive outcomes.”
Those outcomes can add up to a sizable benefit for society.

To get  involved …
  • Friends of Recovery Orange meets at the offices of the Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Council of Orange County on the first Wednesday of every month at 6 p.m. 224A Main Street, Goshen, NY
  • (845) 294-9000 ext. 225
  • website:
  • (518) 487-4395

Bob Gaydos is a freelance writer. He may be reached at