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Had a bit of a dust-up here yesterday as MNB user Dustin Stinett argued against the MNB policy of endorsing canvas bag usage. He wrote, in part:

Isn’t it fabulous that, someday, plastic bags—the vast majority of which are made in the United States—will be banned throughout the country thus saving the planet from certain doom! Isn’t it fabulous that, soon, they will be replaced by canvas bags—the vast majority of which are imported from China! Isn’t it fabulous that the environmentally concerned folks behind this initiative are the same people who claim to be concerned about the outsourcing of American jobs! Isn’t it fabulous that these people don’t see the hypocrisy of their own warm-fuzzy feel-good actions!

My response:

I happen to think that cutting back on the amount of crap that goes into landfills is a worthwhile enterprise…not to be derided with the obviously sarcastic “saving the planet from certain doom.” Not only does it have environmental advantages, but it also can save retailers money, which goes to their bottom line.

Furthermore, one can be concerned about the outsourcing of American jobs and come to the conclusion that what this really means is that we have to do a better job here about being competitive. But it strikes me as oxymoronic to suggest that one of the ways to save American jobs is to follow policies that result in more crap in landfills.

This isn’t an exact science. People are trying to do the right thing, and sometimes that’s complicated by a kind of domino effect…and you have to start making choices and examining repercussions.

But that doesn’t make these people “hypocrites,” and it certainly doesn’t mean that their efforts ought to dismissed as “warm-fuzzy feel-good actions.”

Now, Dustin Stinett follows up (these are just excerpts; the actual email was well over a thousand words):

Boy, you sure told me, didn’t you?!?

Too bad your comments are based on feelings and not facts. Sadly (and I take no joy in writing this, but I will not sugar-coat it—you certainly didn’t and your soapbox is a public one), that makes you either ignorant, disingenuous, or both. I suspect the latter.

Clearly you honestly believe the hysteria—launched in the ‘90s and still perpetuated today by the irresponsible media—that we are going to run out of landfill space soon. This notion is unsupported by the facts. Rudimentary math disproves this canard. We have plenty of landfill space. Professor A. Clark Wiseman calculated that the waste produced in the US over the next millennium will fit into a space 120 feet deep and 44 miles square (U.S. Wastepaper Recycling Policies: Issues and Effects). And how have the extremists answered Prof. Clark? With hard-hitting facts like, “He’s anti-recycling.” (He’s not, by the way.) That’s pretty much the best they can do because there is no refuting the math (which does take into consideration population growth, etc.). Damn those pesky facts!

Apparently, though, you—and the local councils jumping on the anti-plastic bag bandwagon—choose to believe the rhetoric of environmental extremists like David Wood who calls landfills a “cancer” and believes in the absurdity of “Zero Waste”—an absolute scientific and economic impossibility; except perhaps in Fantasy Land. Mr. Wood—and you—need to spend some time with Dr. J. Winston Porter, the man who pushed the US toward recycling in the 1980s when he was an administrator at the EPA. His knowledge of this subject is above reproach, and he even argues that higher than 50% recycling is economically and, yes, environmentally unsound.

The problem is that extremists do not care about an economic balance. I know this firsthand since I was a card carrying member of Greenpeace, the Sierra Club, as well as other environmental organizations. I went to the meetings and I read the materials; their agenda is anti-business. You often write about government transparency; these groups need to be looked at with a critical eye as much if not more so. Regardless of what you might think, I do care about this planet; I’m just not an idiot who takes these people’s word at face value. This is because I have a background in science and I know that they purposely distort the facts to fit their plan. That’s why I left them …

Here is just some of what the man who founded Greenpeace has to say about environmentalism today:

“Compromise and co-operation with the involvement of government, industry, academia and the environmental movement is required to achieve sustainability. It is this effort to find consensus among competing interests that has occupied my time for the past 15 years.

“Not all my former colleagues saw things that way. They rejected consensus politics and sustainable development in favor of continued confrontation and ever-increasing extremism. They ushered in an era of zero tolerance and left-wing politics … Environmental extremists are anti-human. Humans are characterized as a cancer on the Earth. To quote eco-extremist Herb Hammond, "of all the components of the ecosystem, humans are the only ones we know to be completely optional". Isn't that a lovely thought?

“They are anti-science and technology. All large machines are seen as inherently destructive and unnatural. Science is invoked to justify positions that have nothing to do with science. Unfounded opinion is accepted over demonstrated fact.

“Environmental extremists are anti-trade, not just free trade but anti-trade in general. In the name of bioregionalism they would bring in an age of ultra-nationalist xenophobia. The original "Whole Earth" vision of one world family is lost in a hysterical campaign against globalization and free trade.

“They are anti-business. All large corporations are depicted as inherently driven by greed and corruption. Profits are definitely not politically correct. The liberal democratic, market-based model is rejected even though no viable alternative is proposed to provide for the material needs of 6 billion people. As expressed by the Native Forest Network, "it is necessary to adopt a global phase out strategy of consumer based industrial capitalism." I think they mean civilization.

“And they are just plain anti-civilization. In the final analysis, eco-extremists project a naive vision of returning to the supposedly utopian existence in the Garden of Eden, conveniently forgetting that in the old days people lived to an average age of 35, and there were no dentists. In their Brave New World there will be no more chemicals, no more airplanes, and certainly no more polyester suits …”

The bottom line here is that this hysteria about landfills is a myth, and weakening and perhaps destroying an industry in this country in the guise of “environmentalism” is misguided and dangerous. These actions are playing right into these extremists’ plan for America.


Now, where I believe you are being disingenuous is in your comment that the US needs to “do a better job here about being competitive.”

Oh, please! How can US workers compete with a country that allows its workers to be paid slave wages, has virtually no environmental restrictions on its manufacturing (and you can bet that the dyes and other chemical waste in making those bags there are just wonderful for the planet you care so deeply about), and a currency that is kept artificially devalued by its government? (Double digit growth and the yuan remains weak? How does that happen?)

How about YOU give ME a break on that one; I’m not as stupid as you clearly think I am.

Gosh. I thought that I was advocating the use of canvas bags because less garbage is a good thing – no matter how much landfill space there may be, it has to be finite, right? – and it ends up I was being anti-trade, an environmental radical, anti-science, anti-business and even anti-civilization.

For the record, I did not object to your opinion, nor did I suggest that you were stupid. I cheerfully admit to not being smart enough to be able to be the ultimate judge of what is the ‘right” decision; I don't think I’m ignorant or disingenuous or even a hypocrite…but I’m probably not the best judge of that. Maybe I’m all three and just too dumb to know it.

(I’ll be reinforcing my stupidity this weekend when I dive into the new Thomas L. Friedman book, “Hot, Flat and Crowded: Why We Need A Green Revolution And How It Can Renew America.” God knows how dumb I’ll be by the time I get to page 421 of this screed by a prominent member of the irresponsible media.)

I suspect that there are as many respected scientists who would disagree with your conclusions as would agree. (Maybe more. Who knows?) I objected to the way you put down people who disagree with you.

On this same subject, another MNB user wrote:

Obviously Mr. Stinett was being very sarcastic, yet pointed, in his expressed views, saying basically that with any eventual "win" of canvas over plastic, there will inevitably also come the "loss" of more imports to be coming our way from China, and more American manufacturing jobs being given up as a result. The gist of your reply, I think, included the thought that maybe what we (Americans) need to consider to make this transformation a win-win for America is simply to "do a better job here about being competitive." In a "what-if sense", I agree entirely; why not, in fact?! In what seems to me to be the more likely real-world sense, however, I don't think we, as Americans, ever will do a better job at becoming competitive, and so in the end, if the canvas-over plastic conversion is ultimately successful, it will indeed have come about with the by-product being some loss of domestic jobs. Not saying here, net net, that this is necessarily a good thing or a bad thing. Just a thing.

While I agree with your dusting Mr. Stinett off a little bit over his sarcastic tone on the issue, I also feel your "let's just compete better" suggestion is a little ivory tower in nature. (For example, we have had 35 years lead-time to wean ourselves off foreign oil imports, and clearly have done a deathly job there; same deal with domestic auto production.) Your comment about competing better reminded me of an old joke about how an economist without a can opener might go about opening a can of beans on a deserted island. Punch line goes, "Well, let's first assume we have a can opener...."

And MNB user D. Bruce Frazier chimed in:

Before accepting that ‘plastic bags’ are as bad as they seem, I would think you would first need to look at the carbon footprint of the alternatives. Their heavier weight alone (even factoring in multiple uses) of the reusable bags would require significantly greater output of diesel exhaust from the trucks and ships that move them. The number of bags that fit into a case causes far more cardboard to enter landfills (if it is not recycled) not to mention the water used in recycling the fibers the reusable bags are made from and the dyes used to color the canvas like (most probably with a high plastic content) material.

I also believe that most plastic bags used today are made from waste resins used to make other plastic products so they are stopping those resins from being otherwise discarded. Eventually, those reusable bags wear out and are tossed in the landfills (no recycling is available unlike plastic bags) and it would not surprise me if their larger total mass more than makes up for the number of plastic bags they replaced.

“The God’s honest truth is it’s not that simple.”

You get points for quoting Jimmy Buffett. Big points.

Look, I’m not saying there aren’t divergent points of view. Part of the challenge of trying to do the right thing is that there can seem to be legitimate arguments on both sides, and those of us who are not scientists can have a hard time figuring out what our priorities should be.

For me, it is an easy choice. I’m trying, where possible, to be responsible in ways that seem to make sense. I’m hardly pure, and I’ll admit to probably even being hypocritical sometimes. But like a lot of people, I’m trying to do my best.

And at some level, that ought to be respected. Not ridiculed.

We’ve reported over the past few days about two Walmart Marketside stores scheduled top be opened in different parts of the San Diego market, which led MNB fave Glen Terbeek to weigh in:

Vista, CA (outside of San Diego) and the downtown San Diego baseball park location are very different markets. It will be interesting to see how or even if Walmart will vary their offerings in the two stores. Obviously, the smaller the store, the more selective the offerings need to be; small stores can't hold all the items for all the people, like a big store can.

Got the following email from MNB user Michael A. Levin:

Thank you for the blurb on Agribusiness' possible loss of the Orthodox Union kosher label.

After reading the New York Times piece, I thought about OU's responsibility in this mess. Where were OU's inspectors? Do they not know what children look like? Can they not spot unsafe working conditions? In a broader context, why do we expect Nike to know every detail about its contract manufacturers yet we (Jews) do not expect OU to know every detail about the products it certifies.

To turn a tag line from another Kosher product, shouldn't we hold the kosher labels to a higher standard?

Any one can create a kosher label including you or I. However, for a kosher label to gain acceptance by the community, it must create and maintain trust in the brand. If Jews do not trust your kosher brand, then your brand will lose legitimacy in the marketplace. In a secular context, many brands including Nike's face the same issue over trust and legitimacy. So, why not OU?

In the Times piece, another kosher label found nothing wrong with Agribusiness' business practices. Technically, that kosher label appears correct because they are sticking to the letter of the law. Agribusiness is slaughtering and processing their cows in accordance with the kosher laws set in the Torah.

However, the Torah carries additional laws about employee relations as well as how you treat your fellow man. Based on everything I have read about Agribusiness starting with the INS raid indicates that Agribusiness, at best, ignored the Torah on these commandments. In other words, the cows were treated more humanely than the employees.

That is not kosher! That is not Jewish! Shame on OU because they should know better. Shame on the media who fail to give OU the same scrutiny as Nike.

On the subject of the Corti Brothers store in California, and its viability in a changing marketplace, one MNB user wrote:

This is a unique niche store in an interesting old Italian neighborhood of Sacramento. The old fashioned nature of the store gives it a charm of sorts, and the staff and product quality/variety cannot be duplicated anywhere else in Sacramento. To those who do not quite understand this store, I really think a visit to the store might be in order. Visit the store, talk with the employees, observe their interactions with other customers, enjoy a sandwich from the deli, and perhaps you will learn why so many others have identified this as a very special store.

A store does not have to be "flashy" to sell. The performance over at Whole Foods as of late should be sending that message to the industry. Looks may be important, but they aren't everything. Taste and service are awfully important, and Corti has the taste and service cornered far better than any of the "flashy" operators.

I’m not sure anyone is arguing that Corti Brothers isn’t special. The question is whether enough people who think so also are doing their shopping there…and whether the store has done everything necessary to remain competitive for the 21st century.

KC's View: