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Taxes and public investment: less intrusive than alternatives

Occasionally, as happened on one of my posts, someone will mention the early 20th century and before as a happy era when small government was the rule. These people are confusing low taxes with small government. Government has played a huge role in the U.S. since it became a nation. It's just that for much of its lifespan, the U.S. used military force to wipe out Native American nations and take their land. That extremely valuable land was then used to subsidize development. Trappers, loggers, cattle barons, settlers, and miners were all handed resource rights or land, the majority of …

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The Age of Asparagus dawned in Roman times, but the time to eat it is now

Asparagus may be associated with spring, but there's nothing new about it. It's been gracing tables -- to the joy of some diners and the horror of others -- for at least two thousand years. In the earliest known cookbook, De Re Culinaria (circa A.D. 100), proto-foodie Marcus Apicius recommends pounding asparagus tips with black pepper, lovage, coriander, savory, onion, wine, oil (presumably from olives), eggs, and a kind of fermented, fish-flavored sauce -- all then to be baked, then seasoned with more pepper. Look who's stalking. Photo: Kurt Friese Sounds like a sort of dip, ancient Rome's answer to …

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European biodiesel industry being bankrupted by loophole

They call them U-boats because they pull into a port just long enough to do a U-turn and head off to Europe. They stop just long enough to blend a touch of fuel into the tank so they can claim the government subsidy. Let's say you have a million gallons on board from, say, a palm oil plantation in Indonesia, or a soybean operation in South America. An hour or two after your arrival, your pockets are bulging with just short of a million U.S. taxpayer dollars. From the Guardian: ... the European Biodiesel Board, has uncovered the trade as …

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Farmworker Awareness Week is a chance to recognize the people whose labor means we can eat

This is Farmworker Awareness Week, a time to support the millions of farmworkers whose labor puts food on every American table, and who work and live in some of the worst environmental conditions in our nation. It's estimated that 2 to 3 million farmworkers plant, tend, and harvest American crops every year. Many farmworkers in the U.S. are migrants who move from place to place following the harvest. Where I live, in North Carolina, migrant farmworkers are the majority. The average annual income for a farmworker in the United States is about $11,000, or about $16,000 for a farmworking family …

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NYT op-ed: pesticides wiping out songbirds

When the little bluebird Who has never said a word Starts to sing Spring ... It is nature, that is all, Simply telling us to fall in love. -- Cole Porter, "Let's Do It" The immortal refrain of an old Cole Porter chestnut -- "birds do it; bees do it" -- has taken on an ominous ring. Evidently, songbirds have followed honeybees by engaging in a massive die-off. (Bats, whose mating rituals evidently didn't capture Porter's fancy, are dying off as well.) According to a New York Times op-ed by biologist Bridget Stutchbury: Bobolinks, called skunk blackbirds in some places, …

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Umbra on organic vs. natural foods

Dear Umbra, I'm trying to convince my sister that there is a difference between all-natural and organic products, and she doesn't think there is. I'm pretty sure there is a difference, I just don't know what it is. I look at the ingredients of some of the food she buys that she says are "natural" and I wonder how these products are able to claim that! What are the qualifications for something to be labeled all-natural, and how are these products different from organics? Julie Yorkville, Ill. Dearest Julie, You are correct, there is a difference. To speak broadly and …

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Soy, corn, and wheat prices puzzling economists

Just in case you weren't worried about rising food prices, The New York Times has an article out that makes the food markets seem even more volatile. Apparently, identical bushels of corn, wheat, and soybeans are selling for two different prices on the derivatives and cash markets. Now, I'm not an economist, but the first line of the article makes the whole thing sound freakish. From the article: Economists note there should not be two prices for one thing at the same place and time. Could a drugstore sell two identical tubes of toothpaste, and charge 50 cents more for …

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Biofuel boom leveling rainforest, Time reports

From an excellent article in Time: Indonesia has bulldozed and burned so much wilderness to grow palm oil trees for biodiesel that its ranking among the world's top carbon emitters has surged from 21st to third according to a report by Wetlands International. Malaysia is converting forests into palm oil farms so rapidly that it's running out of uncultivated land. But most of the damage created by biofuels will be less direct and less obvious. In Brazil, for instance, only a tiny portion of the Amazon is being torn down to grow the sugarcane that fuels most Brazilian cars. More …

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Gourmet magazine points the way toward a green and smart farm policy

In Thursday's Wall Street Journal, there's a detailed article about the farm-subsidy mess. It can be summarized as follows: 1) the government-engineered ethanol boom has driven up farm-commodity prices; 2) farm incomes are sharply up; yet 3) the government still makes subsidy payments in the billions per year; and thus 4) it's time to cut the subsidies. The logic is impeccable. And surely, payment caps should be much lower and blocked from going to high-income farmers and Rockefeller heirs, as the article implies. The Journal piece comes at a key juncture: the president and Congress are locked in contentious negotiations …

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Shara chats about animals, organics, and recycling

Check out this video of indie artist Shara Worden of My Brightest Diamond at South by Southwest as she chats about her love for animals, organic foods, and recycling: My Brightest Diamond at SXSWUploaded by NRDC

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