SMOKINCHOICES (and other musings)

May 29, 2010

Laundry Detergents +/-‘s

Organic Consumers Association

Nurturing more than 350 North American organic family farms

OCA and Allies Expose Best, and Worst, Laundry Detergents with 1,4-Dioxane Contamination

One of the major issues being tackled by consumer watchdog groups this year is the presence of 1,4-dioxane, a synthetic petrochemical carcinogen, in consumer products. Since hair care products, cleaning formulas and laundry detergents are all susceptible to containing this toxic chemical byproduct, which is not listed on product labels, David Steinman from the Green Patriot Working Group (GPWG) began a study in 2007 to see which consumer products are the worst offenders. This year, his organization along with the Organic Consumers Association (OCA), released the results of a portion of the study conducted last year on laundry detergents.

When cleaning products and detergents are processed using ethoxylation, a cheap technique that lessens the severity of the harsher ingredients, 1,4-dioxane is created. Since it is considered a byproduct of ethylene oxide reacting with other ingredients, 1,4-dioxane is technically considered a contaminant and thus does not have to be included on product labeling. As a result, consumers are largely unaware of its presence in major household products.

For the study, Steinman evaluated 20 different laundry detergents from both conventional and “natural” brands. Evoxa, an independent, third-party laboratory that is highly respected for its rigorous methods and high standards, conducted all product testing. The results are as follows:

Conventional brands:
1. Tide (P&G) – 55 parts per million (ppm)
2. Ivory Snow Gentle (P&G) – 31 ppm
3. Tide Free (P&G) – 29 ppm
4. Purex (Dial Corp.) – 25 ppm
5. Gain 2X Ultra (P&G) – 21 ppm
6. Cheer BrightClean Detergent (P&G) – 20 ppm
7. Era 2X Ultra (P&G) – 14 ppm
8. Arm & Hammer (Church & Dwight Co.) – 5.0 ppm
9. Wisk 2X Ultra (Sun Products Corp.) – 3.9 ppm
10. Woolite Complete Detergent (Reckitt Benckiser) – 1.3 ppm
11. All laundry detergent (Unilever) – 0.6 ppm
12. Dreft powdered detergent (P&G) – non-detectable (ND)
13. Sun Burst (Sun Products Corp.) – ND

(Comment:  I am stunned to learn that the brand I have been using for years is rated highest on the list!  This is really incredible.

I know that I have  posted about Green Virgin Products (in my Blogroll) in the past and enthused how I was looking forward to trying their “Soap Nuts.”   As it happens, a couple weeks ago, I finally bought the kilo bag and I must tell you, they beat my expectations.    Theoretically, one can get approximately 330 wash loads with this amount, though as you can imagine, it would depend greatly on how big the wash loads are and I suppose the hardness of one’s water.   These little ‘soap nuts’ grow on trees and come from the Himalayas – they are from the plant world – – not chemical at all.   That story was part of the charm.  That they would not harm anyone at all, would be so huge – – our population is so riddled with sensitivities.  At a cost around $26.00 for this amount, that would be quite a savings.  Even greater when you factor in that I don’t have to buy Downy any more.  My stuff comes out of the dryer smelling good, feeling soft and absolutely delightful.  So glad I switched.

Don’t know if a company like Green Virgin Products is just too small to be included in this study or simply that it only included usual compounds known to be used for cleaning – who knows?   Just thought I would mention my personal satisfaction with the Soap Nuts.         Jan.)

May 27, 2010

Hello, Avon?

Filed under: Lead in lipstick — Jan Turner @ 6:51 pm
Tags: , ,

FDA: Lead in lipstick not a threat

Manufacturers need to do better, leery critics say

By Stacey Singer

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — We women love our lipstick.    We twist it, glide it, paint it on, and suddenly we feel attractive, composed, sexy and ready for the world. Drenched in shades of sangria, dahlia, ruby, cherry and garnet, our lipstick-stained mouths exude health.    But looks can deceive.

Tests conducted by the FDA last year on 22 red lipsticks found lead, a neurotoxin, in every single lipstick sample studied. The highest levels were in three well-known and common brands: CoverGirl, Revlon and L’Oreal.

While the FDA says it’s continuing lead research on additional cosmetic brands and colors, it’s reassuring consumers that the lead levels it found in the red lipsticks are very small and not a health threat.

The FDA does not regulate lead in finished cosmetics, only in colors added to the products. None of the products exceeded the 20 parts per million limit on colors, the agency said.

An industry trade group, the Personal Care Products Council, said manufacturers don’t intentionally add lead.    “Because lead is found naturally in air, water and soil, it may also be found at extremely low levels as a trace contaminant in the raw ingredients used in formulating cosmetics, just as it is in many thousands of other products,” the group said.

The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics isn’t buying it.

The lead found in CoverGirl Incredifull Lipcolor Maximum Red was 34 times as high as the lead found in the lowest-scoring lipstick, Avon’s Ultra Color Rich Cherry Jubilee. Clearly, the manufacturers are capable of doing better, said Stacy Malkan of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. CoverGirl’s media center at Procter & Gamble did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Studies suggest the average woman inadvertently consumes about 4 pounds of lipstick over the course of her life. The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics is calling on the FDA to require cosmetics manufacturers to reduce lead to the lowest achievable levels, a policy the FDA already has adopted for candy.    “The reason we’re worried is that lead builds up in the body over time,” Malkan said. “Even small levels of lead, recent science shows, is dangerous at any level to developing children.”

Studies suggest that while most lead we encounter is cleared from our bodies, some of it is incorporated into bones. During pregnancy, breast-feeding, and again after menopause, a woman’s blood levels of lead rise as stored calcium — and bone lead — is released.

How much lead is dangerous? The Mayo Clinic says 10 micrograms of lead per deciliter can cause brain damage in children. Lower levels have been linked to developmental delays, aggression, attention and learning problems.

“There is no safe level of lead in blood,” Florida’s Department of Health says in a report on lead poisoning.

Alert – protect that Liver!

Filed under: Alli and Xenical — Jan Turner @ 5:10 pm




Two weight-loss drugs must add label warnings

The Food and Drug Administration said yesterday that it’s ordering a revision of the labels of the weight-loss drugs Xenical and Alli to warn of the risk of very rare cases of severe liver damage associated with their use.

The agency said it had identified 13 cases of severe liver damage associated with the drugs: one in the United States and 12 abroad. Two of the patients died of liver failure, and three others required liver transplants. The FDA said it could not positively say that the drug caused the damage because there was insufficient data in most of the cases.

May 26, 2010

Autism study seeks proof

Filed under: Oregon U study,Vit D Council — Jan Turner @ 11:23 am

(Glad to participate,  Dr. Cannell – – hope this helps.   This is great!    Jan)


Autism Professor Needs Help

Professor Gene Stubbs of the University of Oregon needs help with his study about vitamin D and autism. He is testing the theory that a mother with one child with autism will not have another if the mother takes vitamin D during her pregnancy. Women no longer need to come to the University of Oregon but can participate at a distance. Professor Stubbs writes:

“Can anyone assist us in recruiting mothers who already have children with autism and the mother is pregnant again before her third trimester? We are giving the mothers 5000 IU D3/day. So far every mother who has delivered has delivered within 1 week or on the date of expected delivery, and the babies are well within normal birth weights. They have not progressed far enough in age for us to screen for autism, but so far, the babies are interactive, have eye contact, are vocal etc..

However, we need more research families to participate. We have recruited other doctors to help us recruit and we have recruited doctors on the Vitamin D Council sites to help us recruit. We still need more families to participate to make our results significant. The families no longer have to come to our site to participate. If you know of any families who potentially might be eligible for our research, please give them my research assistant’s phone number, 503-351-9255.”

Thank you,

John Cannell, MD

The Vitamin D Council

1241 Johnson Ave., #134

San Luis Obispo, CA 93401

May 25, 2010

Calcium, arthritis, Paget’s disease

(Here I go again showing that my disagreement with the standard protocol is too strong to ignore. Hopefully, it will be understood that I think Dr Donohue seems to be a respectable and concerned physician – – otherwise, why would he be trying to help people?  But since it is my nature to question so many things; and my good fortune to have read plenty of Dr. McDougall and Loren Cordain (Paleo Diet),  well I just gotta speak up.  Later – – at the end of article.  Jan)


Paget’s disease often isn’t treated


Dr. Donohue answers letters only in his North America Syndicate column but provides an order form of available health newsletters. Write him at P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475.

Q #1: I am a 75-year-old woman who was treated for breast cancer in 2008. What I am concerned about is that my oncologist tells me I have Paget’s disease. I asked how he knows I have it. He said from my X-rays and bone scans.

I went on my computer, and the information I found tells me to have an alkaline phosphatase test. Should I?

Q #2: Will you write about Paget’s disease? My son-inlaw has it, and it has brought pain in his left leg. He went from being an active roofer to requiring a wheelchair. He is in great pain. Do you know anything that could help?

A: Bones are in a state of constant flux. That entails bone breakdown followed by bone buildup.

With Paget’s disease, for reasons that are not clear, bone breakdown goes ballistic. Rebuilding tries to happen, but the new bone is often deformed and easily broken.    Quite often, the new bone is limited to a few small areas and causes no symptoms. It’s discovered when an X-ray or bone scan is done for an unrelated reason. Paget’s disease is found in 3 percent of people older than 40, but few need treatment.

Alkaline phosphatase is an enzyme found in bones. With Paget’s disease, its level in the blood rises and is proof of disease activity. (ya think something might be wrong here?) If an oncologist thought a test was necessary, he would have ordered it.    The pelvis, the backbones, the skull, the femur (upper-leg bone) and the tibia (lower-leg bone) are the ones most often targeted by Paget’s disease.

As treatment, the same drugs used for osteoporosis are used for Paget’s disease. Pain control might be difficult but should be achievable. Perhaps a consultation with a pain clinic would help the son-in-law.
The best friend that Paget’s disease patients have is the Paget Foundation. Call the foundation at 1-800-23-PAGET or visit

Q: What is the difference between regular table salt and sea salt? I always thought salt is salt and, used in excess, something bad for health. I understand that regular table salt has a place in health because it provides iodine.    According to a Hollywood star, sea salt is supposed to be good for you. She claims that it lowers blood pressure. What is your take on this?

A: Sea salt comes from the evaporation of salt water. It has trace amounts of magnesium, copper and iron but not enough to be a health benefit. It can be considered the same as table salt without iodine.

As promised, starting with that pain from the bones.  First, to extrapolate from Cordain at Paleo Diet:

Though calcium intake in our country  is about the highest in the world,  nevertheless,  we also have one of the highest rates of  osteoporosis or  bone demineralization unlike any other country.    As Loren Cordain of the Paleo Diet says,  bone mineral content is dependent not just upon calcium intake but upon net calcium balance (calcium intake minus calcium excretion).  Most nutritionists focus upon the calcium intake side of the calcium balance equation, however few realize that the calcium excretion side of the equation is just as important.

Dr Ccrdain goes on to state that bone health is substantially dependent on dietary acid/base balance.  Foods upon digestion  are seen by the  kidney as either acid or base.  When the diet yields a net acid load (such as low-carb fad diets that restrict consumption of fruits and vegetables), the acid must be buffered by the alkaline stores of base in the body. Calcium salts in the bones represent the largest store of alkaline base in the body and are depleted and eliminated in the urine when the diet produces a net acid load.  The highest acid-producing foods are hard cheeses, cereal grains, salted foods, meats, and legumes, whereas the only alkaline,  base- producing foods are fruits and vegetables.  Because the average American diet is overloaded with grains, cheeses, salted processed foods, and fatty meats at the expense of fruits and vegetables, it produces a net acid load and promotes bone demineralization. By replacing hard cheeses, cereal grains, and processed foods with plenty of green vegetables and fruits, the body comes back into acid/base balance which brings us also back into calcium balance.  The goal is to avoid a net acid load on your kidneys. (Thank you Dr. Cordain, this could not be clearer)

Next, just touching on Dr. McDougall and remembering some of the things he teaches, one does not need to supplement with calcium as the body gets all the substance it needs from the plant food and through its marvelous genius, generates enough calcium from the raw materials of green leafy plants to build and sustain substantial bone structure. (just like the big animals doeating the growing plants of the land available to them.) McDougallers and most vegans do not consume dairy (and its not necessary for good bones!)  He has much more to say in a post I did  – – “I worry about Sally Field” (2-25-09)  Just scroll thru my rambling til you get down to Dr Mc Dougall.

I want to discuss one more subject that I believe can help us all understand in a larger picture just how important it is to eat plenty of the healthful,  organic, unpolluted, chemical free foods we can find.  The words are “FULVIC ACID” and most will not even have heard of this before.  One can go online and google the “Fulvic Acid report”  – – I did and down-loaded it and will now extrapolate just a little to make a point. (The report is around 50 pages):

Fulvic Acid

Although the majority of research and experimentation that has been done on fulvic acid is in relation to plants; it is important to realize that human beings have been ingesting fulvic acid complexes regularly for over 60 years in supplemental form, and for thousands of years from natural food and plant sources. The new discoveries involving fulvic acid are very similar in nature to the recent important discoveries of valuable phytochemicals in vegetables that have always existed, but were hitherto unknown. Fulvic acid has always occurred naturally in organic plants and soils, yet its recent discovery and tremendous value is now just beginning to be recognized.

Fulvic acid is an organic natural electrolyte that can balance and energize biological properties it comes into contact with.  An electrolyte is a substance that is soluble in water or other appropriate medium that is capable of conducting electrical current.   When the electrolyte potential was taken away during the test, the cell ruptured and disintegrated into the surrounding fluid causing death. Upon reintroducing electrical potential the cell reconstructed and became active and healthy.

Fulvic acid has proven to be a powerful organic electrolyte, serving to balance cell life. If the individual cell is restored to its normal chemical balance and thereby in turn its electrical potential, we have given life where death and disintegration would normally occur within plant and animal cells. Fulvic acid has the outstanding ability to accomplish this objective in numerous ways

Enhances Nutrients

Fulvic acid enhances the availability of nutrients and makes them more readily absorbable. It also allows minerals to regenerate and prolongs the residence time of essential nutrients. It prepares nutrients to react with cells. It allows nutrients to inter-react with one another, breaking them down into the simplest ionic forms chelated by the fulvic acid electrolyte.

Fulvic acid has been discovered to be one of the most important natural miracles related to life itself. Fulvic acid is part of the humic structure in rich composting soil It is an acid created in extremely small amounts by the action of millions of beneficial microbes, working on decaying plant matter in a soil environment with adequate oxygen.  It is of low molecular weight and is biologically very active. Because of its low melecular weight, it has the necessity and ability to readily bond minerals and elements into its molcular structure causing them to dissolve and become mobilized fulvic complexes. Fulvic acid from humic deposits usually carries 60 or more minerals and trace elements dissolved into its molecular complexes. These are then in ideal natural form to be absorbed and interact with living cells. plants roots and cells readily absorb high amounts of fulvic acid, and maintain it in their structure. In fact it has been discovered that these fulvic acid complexes are absolutely essential for plants to be healthy

Fulvic Acid is Lacking in Food Crops

It seems obvious that most of the agricultural and food crops of today would also contain adequate amounts or at least some fulvic acid and its related mineral complexes, but few do. As human beings it would be reasonable to assume that we should be consuming fulvic acid complexes in the plants we eat, and consequently have fulvic acid in our systems. It is obvious that this is the way nature intended it. But this not the case, nor has it been for a long time.

Our soils are sick from poor agricultural practices, pesticides, chemical fertilizers, erosion, and mineral depletion as well as sterile conditions brought on by these practices, that prohibit microbial activity. Because of this our plants are sick, containing very little nutrition, especially minerals. For generations adequate fulvic acid that should have been contained in the plants we eat has been missing from our diets, yet it is essential for our cell metabolism. Scientists have found that nutritionally we need 90 different nutrients in our diets. Over 60 of these are minerals and trace elements. We are simply not getting them today from the plants we eat.

Re-mineralization of soils would be of little benefit without fulvic acid and return to better farming practices. Re-mineralization of our bodies without the fulvic acid that should be contained in the plants we eat, has proven just as useless. People are sick with degenerative and deficiency related diseases now more than ever. With fulvic acid supplementation and return to proper diet and farming practices these situations have the potential to be reversed.

There is much information in the Report – hard to pick and choose.  Wanted only to give you an idea of it and if you are interested, check it out yourself.  This coincides with current displeasure with Agri-business and the depletion of the soil, the genetic modification of favorite foods to the point that we can no longer eat them in good conscience and of course, the GMO seeds – no end in sight.

Natural  Celtic Sea Salt is not refined, or demineralized

Finally, the last point – – that of SALT.  Dr Donohue is really off the mark here.  Salt is not all alike.  I used to belong to the Grain and Salt Society and paid what I thought was exorbitant prices for their salt.  Happily, I find it available at Whole Foods and popular usage seems to have brought the price down.

Morton’s salt is a refined product,   is an acid substance and is not healthy.  It contributes to an acid state in the body.  Whereas the Celtic Sea Salt is fully, naturally mineralized with 82 trace minerals and is actually an alkalinizer.  No supplementation can equal the wealth of minerals, in the right balance, found in natural sea salt.

Okay,  I just don’t have common sense anymore – – I’m up too late again!  G”night     Jan

May 23, 2010

Too ACID? try this

Move over Dr. Tullio Simoncini  (Cancer is a FUNGUS  August 9, 2008),  . . . . . ARM and HAMMER has a few other tricks up it’s sleeve.

As I crawled into bed last night (hours too late), I mentally scolded.   .   .   ‘the body is entitled to respect and I was upsetting it’s normal, natural rhythms by ignoring it’s need for sleep.   Shame.   I had begun to cough, but had been paying little attention to it and now as I was nestled, comfortably – – it thundered into awareness – what’s wrong with my THROAT?   As I continued to cough, I realized the presence of the old familiar deep “tickle” behind the cough.  Oh no!  This is generally how my pulmonary afflictions show up  (I’ve been prone to lung/chest problems most of adult life – – afflicted Gemini Moon).  It’s been so long since I’ve had a problem that it caught me off guard.  Drat.

Though I was really tired,  almost 4:00 a.m., the throat tickle continued.  It crossed my mind that this could be a very bad night.  Got up and took 1/4 tsp  of Vitamin C crystals (over 1000 mg) in bit of water.  Since I had no other symptoms, decided that I didn’t need Oregano as well.   Back in bed, the tickle continued.  Not thinking clear,   what am I missing?  So, lying abed, I’m  tapping. . . I need my rest. . . .release this. . . .tap, tap, tap for 2 or 3 rounds.  Crosses my mind that diet wasn’t great today, not enough green, leafy.  Diet?   Possible?   So fast?  What is this – instant karma?  OK.     Maybe I need to quickly balance my acid/base levels. . . . .right!     Up again, back to kitchen,  grab the ARM and HAMMER from the frig. . . .  small glass, 1/2 tsp baking soda, water – stir, drink, back to bed, head on pillow. . .  .  sleep overtakes.

All right,  I’m not so bright-eyed or bushy-tailed today, but you know what?  My throat is fine.   No cough.   Body is good.

So glad my sometime sluggish memory is still serving me this well.  I knew about the efficacy of baking soda (in a bit of water) to  quickly restore alkalinity (especially when you know you have “sinned”)  No question that a plant based diet or at least one heavily concentrated toward green and leafy is preferable to “fixes”  but one must go with the flow at times.   Also, no question that acidity of the body is one of the leading causes of “any” illness.  So this is THE  reason we must endeavor to maintain that alkaline/acid balance to the best of our ability.   That is why the McDougall diet is so profitable.   This is why the Paleo diet plan respects those percentages as well (tho of course with the inclusion of animal protein)

Anyway, just wanted to share with you.    Be happy,  stay well.           Jan

Vit D & organized sports

Vitamin D Council

May 23, 2010

The Chicago Blackhawks are the first vitamin D team in modern professional sports history.

According to my sources, the Chicago Blackhawk team physicians began diagnosing and treating vitamin D deficiency in all Blackhawk players about 18 months ago. Apparently, most players are on 5,000 IU per day.

After many losing seasons, last year the Blackhawks came out of nowhere to get to the Western conference finals. This year they are playing even better.

According to my sources, improved athletic performance is only one of the benefits for the Blackhawk players. The other is a reduction in the number and severity of colds and flu and a reduction in the number and severity of repetitive use injuries.

Six months ago, Runner’s World published a story on vitamin D and physical performance.

Asp K. Running on D: The “sun vitamin” may boost performance, but you probably aren’t getting enough. Runners World, December 2009.

A year ago, the flagship journal of the American College of Sports Medicine was the first journal to publish the theory that vitamin D would improve athletic performance.

Cannell JJ, Hollis BW, Sorenson MB, Taft TN, Anderson JJ.  Athletic performance and vitamin D. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2009 May;41(5):1102-10.

However, readers of this newsletter first learned about it in 2007:

Cannell, JJ. Peak Athletic Performance and Vitamin D. Vitamin D Council Newsletter, March 2007.

I can only hope that, if the Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup this year, other teams, from high school to professional, may start paying attention to the vitamin D status of their players. That would be a big boost to the Council’s goal of educating the world about the importance of vitamin D.

John Cannell, MD

The Vitamin D Council

1241 Johnson Ave., #134

San Luis Obispo, CA 93401

May 22, 2010

Family in CANCER Crisis

From Columbus Dispatch May 20,2010

Family who resisted chemo for son faces cancer again

By Bob von Sternberg and Maura Lerner

SLEEPY EYE, Minn. — First the son, now the father.

Anthony Hauser, whose son Daniel went on the run last spring to avoid treatment for cancer, is himself battling a rare and aggressive form of leukemia — and is refusing conventional treatment..

Hauser, 55, said he began feeling ill in February and had his cancer diagnosed in April by an oncologist at a Mankato hospital. He said he is determined to fight the disease with dietary and natural treatments, though he is not ruling out chemotherapy later. The family said that Daniel, who underwent court-ordered chemotherapy last year and is now using dietary treatments, seems to have recovered and is doing well..

They said, however, that the family is suffering “severe financial hardships” because Anthony’s illness has forced him to take a leave of absence from work and go easy on farm chores. In addition, the couple had their ninth child two months ago.

The question of Daniel’s treatment triggered a sprawling debate over medical ethics last year, but as an adult, Anthony Hauser has every right to refuse treatment for himself, as long as he is of sound mind, said Dr. Steven Miles, a bioethicist at the University of Minnesota.   “No matter how much we disagree with his decision, no matter how much we think it is irrational … it’s his decision, not ours,” Miles said.    But the parents did not have the same right to impose their values on their son, he said. The parents, citing medical and religious objections, had refused to allow him to undergo chemotherapy to treat his Hodgkin’s lymphoma.   “They were claiming that Danny, who at the time was 13, was essentially their property,” Miles said.

Daniel Hauser spent a week on the run with his mother in a case that became a national sensation.

What a heart-breaking circumstance;  we can all remember just months ago when  Mrs. Hauser fled with her son Danny to keep him  from the mandated  traditional cancer treatment which was being forced on them.    The success rate of conventional treatment being what it is – – I don’t criticize  their  mindset.
When my  husband died with inoperable cancer of the brain,  the only treatment open to him was chemotherapy and he tried to endure it, but could not and thus, chose to accept his fate.  Seeing what Marty went through,  it is easy to understand why a loving parent would choose not to subject a child to this .  I can see validity on both sides of the  issue.
We presently have a greater range of choices, especially within the “alternative medicine” field and that is what I want to address here.  Apparently this is much more common knowledge than I  realized.   God bless the internet!  For instance,  there is a book by the name of  “OUTSMART YOUR CANCER”  written by Tanya Harter Pierce.  It’s modern, up to date and very helpful.  One can go to  for a real rundown on the process;  how to acquire the  Protocel formula and/or  to self administer;  listen to testimonials of various survivors  of all kinds of cancers and how they did it (18 month old babies up to octogenarians).  This lady discusses various options open to cancer sufferers which to my mind is quite something for she isn’t tied into only one method, or selling you something. . .well, there IS the book, but hey. . .   .     .     .     .    . Jan

May 21, 2010

Jobs that Vanish Forever




Recession speeds up permanent changes in workforce


JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Many of the jobs lost during the recession are not coming back. Period. For the past two years, the weak economy has provided an opportunity for employers to do what they would have done inevitably anyway: dismiss millions of people — such as file clerks, ticket agents and autoworkers — who have become displaced by technological advances and international trade. The phasing out of these positions might have been accomplished through less painful means: attrition, buyouts or more incremental layoffs. But because of the recession, winter came early.

The tough environment has been especially disorienting for older and more experienced workers such as Cynthia Norton, 52, an unemployed administrative assistant in Jacksonville.    “I know I’m good at this,” says Norton. “So how the hell did I end up here?”

Administrative work has always been Norton’s “calling,” she says, ever since she started work as an assistant for her aunt at 16, back when the uniform was a light blue polyester suit and a neckerchief. In the ensuing decades she has filed, typed and answered phones for just about every breed of business, from a law firm to a strip club. As a secretary at RAND Corp., she once even had the honor of escorting Henry Kissinger around the building.
But since she was laid off from an insurance company two years ago, no one seems to need her well-honed office know-how.


Norton is one of 1.7 million Americans who were employed in clerical and administrative positions when the recession began, but were no longer working in that occupation by the end of last year. There have also been outsize job losses in other categories that seem unlikely to be revived during the economic recovery. The number of printing-machine operators, for example, was nearly halved from the fourth quarter of 2007 to the fourth quarter of 2009. The number of travel agents fell by 40 percent.

This “creative destruction” in the job market can benefit the economy.    Pruning relatively less-efficient employees such as clerks and travel agents, whose work can be done more cheaply by computers or workers abroad, makes American businesses more efficient. Year over year, productivity growth was at its highest level in more than 50 years last quarter, pushing corporate profits to record highs and helping the economy grow.

  • But a huge group of people is being left out of the party.

Millions of workers who already have been unemployed for months, if not years, will most likely remain that way even as the overall job market continues to improve, economists say. The occupations they worked in, and the skills they possess, are never coming back in style. And the demand for new types of skills moves a lot more quickly than workers — especially older and less mobile workers — are able to retrain and gain those skills.

  • There is no easy policy solution for helping the people left behind. The usual unemployment measures — such as jobless benefits and food stamps — can serve as temporary palliatives, but they cannot make workers’ skills relevant again.

Norton has sent out hundreds of resumes without luck. Twice, the openings she interviewed for were eliminated by employers who decided, upon further reflection, that redistributing administrative tasks among existing employees made more sense than replacing the outgoing secretary.    One employer decided this shortly after Norton already had started showing up for work.

Norton is reluctant to believe that her three decades of experience and her typing talents, up to 120 words a minute, are now obsolete. So she looks for other explanations.    Employers, she thinks, fear she will be disloyal and jump ship for a higher-paying job as soon as one comes along.    Sometimes she blames the bad economy in Jacksonville. Sometimes she sees age discrimination. Sometimes she thinks the problem is that she has not been able o afford a haircut in awhile. Or perhaps the paper her resume is printed on is not nice enough.

The problem cannot be that the occupation she has devoted her life to has been largely computerized, she says. “You can’t replace the human thought process,” she says. “I can anticipate people’s needs. Usually, I give them what they want before they even know they need it. There will never be a machine that can do that.” And that is true, up to a point: Human judgment still counts for something. That means some of the filing jobs, just like some of the manufacturing jobs, that were cut during the recession will return. But a lot of them probably will not.  Offices, not just in Jacksonville but all over the country, have found that life without a secretary or filing clerk is actually pretty manageable.
After all, the office environment is more automated and digitized than ever. Bosses can handle their own calendars, travel arrangements and files through their own computers and increasingly ubiquitous BlackBerrys. In many offices, voice-mail systems and doorbells — not receptionists — greet callers and visitors.    And so, even when orders pick up, many of the newly de-clerked and un-secretaried might not recall their laid-off assistants. At the very least, any assistants they do hire will probably be younger people with different skills.
  • Economists have seen this type of structural change, which happens over the long term but is accelerated by a downturn, many times before. “This always happens in recessions,” says John Schmitt, a senior economist with the Center for Economic and Policy Research. “Employers see them as an opportunity to clean house and then get ready for the next big move in the labor market. Or in the product market as well.”
Economists such as Erica Groshen at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York have argued that bigger structural job losses help explain why the last two economic recoveries were jobless — that is, why job expansion lagged far behind overall growth.
But there is reason to think restructuring might take a bigger toll this time. The share of unemployed workers who were permanently let go (and so will not be recalled by their former employers) has hovered at a record high of more than 50 percent for several months. Additionally, the unemployment numbers show a notable split in the labor pool, with most unemployed workers finding jobs after a relatively short period of time, but a sizable chunk of the labor force unable to find new work even after months or years of searching. This group — generally older workers — has pulled up the average length of time that a current worker has been unemployed to a record high of 33 weeks as of April. The percentage of unemployed people who have been looking for jobs for more than six months is at 45.9 percent, the highest in at least six decades.
  • And so the question is what kinds of policy responses can help workers like Norton who are falling further and further behind in the economic recovery and are at risk of falling out of the middle class.
Norton has spent most of the last two years working part time as a Walmart cashier, bringing home about a third of what she had earned as an administrative assistant. Besides the hit to her pocketbook, she grew frustrated that the work has not tapped her full potential.    “A monkey could do what I do,” she says of her work as a cashier. “Actually, a monkey would get bored.”
Norton says she cannot find any government programs to help her strengthen the “thin bootstraps” she intends to pull herself up by. Because of the Walmart job, she has been ineligible for unemployment benefits, and she says she made too much money to qualify for food stamps or Medicaid last year.

  • “If you’re not a minority, or not handicapped, or not a young parent, or not a veteran, or not in some other certain category, your hope of finding help and any hope of finding work out there is basically nil,” Norton says. “I know. I’ve looked.”
Of course, just as there is a structural decline in some industries, others enjoy structural growth (the “creative” part of “creative destruction”).
  • The key is to prepare the group of workers left behind for the growing industry.
“You can bring the jobs back for some of these people, but they won’t be in the same place,” says Thomas Anton Kochan, a professor of management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The White House has publicly challenged the idea that structural unemployment is a big problem, with Christina D. Romer, the Council of Economic Advisers chairwoman, instead emphasizing that stronger economic growth is what’s needed. Still, the administration has allocated dollars for retraining in both the 2009 stimulus package and other legislation, largely for clean technology jobs.
(This was an informative article, but it has left me feeling very sad – – for this story of Cynthia Norton is repeated across our nation over and over.  Surely the administration can’t be unaware of this being one of the biggest problems with the enormous dis-satisfaction with the status-quo.. . . .   the deep unrest roiling the waters for all who are on Main Street.

It is inconceivable that our leaders do not get this.  One cannot expect people who have lost everything, are unemployed or under-employed with little hope of insuring their own dreams or being able to afford to go to the doctor and utilize our wonderful new health care plans – – this is a really big majority, of every stripe and persuasion, lots of good people who have either lost or are losing their substance, way of life and choice in what they are able to do.  This used to be our proud “Middle Class,”  the back-bone and heart of our country.

Now I lay me down to weep – -hoping that tomorrow will bring fresh ideas.  [Boy, I really, really need to go tap myself out of this.  I realize that by me tapping for happier thoughts and better feelings doesn’t change the world one whit, but I shall be better able to face what is and handle what I need to.  Even that is a decent contribution as it effects the whole and how much better to offer acceptance and understanding over confusion and/or unhappiness.]   Jan)

May 19, 2010

Important bank reform X’d

Ban on credit-default swaps fails

Amendment to bank-reform bill defeated in Senate

By Ronald D. Orol

WASHINGTON — Senators yesterday rejected an amendment to a sweeping bank-reform bill that would have prohibited so-called naked credit-default swaps. Credit-default swaps are a form of insurance that institutions buy on bonds they have bought, as protection against those bonds going into default.

However, naked credit-default swaps are derivative investments set up by two investor groups that have no insurable interest but are betting on whether another bond will go into default.

The measure, introduced by Sen. Byron Dorgan, DN.D., would have been attached to a bank-reform bill under consideration in the Senate.   A measure banning naked credit-default swaps was approved by the House as part of a bank-reform bill it approved in December. “There is not one social or economic benefit to these investments,” Dorgan said.

The rejection comes after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., filed a procedural motion Monday that requires the chamber to vote by midday today to end debate on the bankreform bill working its way through the Senate.    It is unclear whether Democrats have the filibuster-proof 60 votes they need to end debate; they need the “aye” vote of at least one Republican to back the motion.   However, if they succeed today in ending debate, a vote on final passage of the underlying bill probably would likely take place late Thursday or Friday.

Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said yesterday that he expects four or five Republicans to vote to approve the bill.
Republicans blocked a measure yesterday that would have strengthened a provision in the underlying bill based on the so-called Volcker rule. The rule is named for former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, who is chairman of President Barack Obama’s economic advisory panel.    The measure, introduced by Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., would prohibit big banks from making speculative investments in stocks, bonds and derivatives.

It also would force big banks to sell their hedge funds and private-equity divisions.    The provision also would prohibit investment banks from packaging mortgage securities, selling them, and then betting against them.

The measure would be a significant expansion on the underlying bank-reform legislation, which instructs bank regulators to study the Volcker rule and require regulators to follow the recommendations made by the report.    Levin introduced the measure after completing an 18-month investigation into conflicts of interest between investment banks and credit-rating agencies.

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