Even your sofa isn’t safe

Yet another example of just how fucked we are.

The problem with flame retardants is that they migrate into dust that is ingested, particularly by children playing on the floor. R. Thomas Zoeller, a biologist at the University of Massachusetts, told me that while there have been many studies on animals, there is still uncertainty about the impact of flame retardants on humans. But he said that some retardants were very similar to banned PCBs, which have been linked to everything from lower I.Q. to diabetes, and that it was reasonable to expect certain flame retardants to have similar consequences.


“Despite all that we have learned about PCBs, we are making the same mistakes with flame retardants,” he said.


Linda Birnbaum, the top toxicologist at the National Institutes of Health, put it to me this way: “If flame retardants really provided fire safety, there would be reason for them in certain circumstances, like on an airplane. But there’s growing evidence that they don’t provide safety and may increase harm.”


Arlene Blum, a chemist at the University of California, Berkeley, told me, “For pregnant women, they can alter brain development in the fetus.” Her research decades ago led to the removal of a flame retardant, chlorinated Tris, from children’s pajamas. But chlorinated Tris is still used in couches and nursing pillows (without any warning labels).


The European Union has banned one common flame retardant, Deca BDE, and has generally been more willing to regulate endocrine disruptors than the United States. Why the difference?


“The money is jingling,” notes Senator Frank Lautenberg, a Democrat of New Jersey. Lautenberg has introduced legislation, the Safe Chemicals Act, that would tighten controls — but it has gotten nowhere.


It’s not easy for a democracy to regulate technical products like endocrine disruptors that may offer great benefits as well as complex risks, especially when the hazards remain uncertain. A generation ago, Big Tobacco played the system like a violin, and now Big Chem is doing the same thing.


This campaign season, you’ll hear fervent denunciations of “burdensome government regulation.” When you do, think of the other side of the story: your home is filled with toxic flame retardants that serve no higher purpose than enriching three companies. The lesson is that we need not only safer couches but also a political system less distorted by toxic money.

Cory and the money men

It’s no secret in my part of the world that Cory Booker is a very ambitious man, whose horizons stretch far beyond New Jersery. (Until the election of Barack Obama, many observers thought he would be the first black president.)

This might explain his fondness for Bain Capital – their employees were among his earliest financial backers:

A ThinkProgress examination of New Jersey campaign finance records for Booker’s first run for Mayor — back in 2002 — suggests a possible reason for his unease with attacks on Bain Capital and venture capital. They were among his earliest and most generous backers.

Contributions to his 2002 campaign from venture capitalists, investors, and big Wall Street bankers brought him more than $115,000 for his 2002 campaign. Among those contributing to his campaign were John Connaughton ($2,000), Steve Pagliuca ($2,200), Jonathan Lavine ($1,000) — all of Bain Capital. While the forms are not totally clear, it appears the campaign raised less than $800,000 total, making this a significant percentage.

He and his slate also jointly raised funds for the “Booker Team for Newark” joint committee. They received more than $450,000 for the 2002 campaign from the sector — including a pair of $15,400 contributions from Bain Capital Managing Directors Joshua Bekenstein and Mark Nunnelly. It appears that for the initial campaign and runoff, the slate raised less than $4 million — again making this a sizable chunk.

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Attacking the press

In Chicago:

Tracey Pollock, a credentialed photographer for The UpTake, is attacked by police in Chicago during an anti-NATO protest on Saturday. Before the attack, police were using their bicycles as weapons to force back the crowd which was staging a march without a permit.


Police had formed a barricade; as you can see from the video, there was some sort of incident along the barricade. Pollock tried to get closer to see what was happening when a police officer reached up, grabbed her lens and tried to rip her camera away. The officer then pushed her over some bicycles.


Pollock was wearing a large press badge and as you can hear from the audio, even bystanders could tell she was part of the press. Protesters behind the bicycles pulled her to safety.


Pollock was bruised in the incident but not seriously injured. She says she never crossed the police barricade.

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