How Sweet It Isn’t

I’ve been seeing the new ads for high-fructose corn syrup, where they have renamed HFCS “corn sugar” and claim that your body can’t tell the difference between “corn sugar” and “cane sugar.” It sounds like they have medical claims to back up what they’re saying. And that would be lovely – HFCS is so cheap to produce, and with the ridiculous corn subsidies we have in the country, we have a steady supply of corn to keep it coming.

But guess who’s behind this latest PR push? A lobby started by money from Phillip Morris (the tobacco company that hoodwinked the country into believing that cigarettes were safe despite medical evidence to the contrary…sound familiar?) and sponsored by fast food restaurants like Arby’s and Wendy’s. As the article below says, so much for impartiality.

Please take a few minutes and read this great article written by the Alliance for Natural Health. It’s a little long, but it’s very informative and has a LOT of links to specific studies, medical journals, and other sources that directly contradict what the Corn Refiners Association wants us to believe.

http://www.anh-usa.org/how-sweet-it-isnt-cutting-through-the-hype-and-deception/

sweetner

How Sweet It Isn’t! Cutting Through the Hype and Deception

“Corn sugar”? It’s high-fructose corn syrup by any other name, and it’s dangerous. What sweeteners are safe? What’s not? You may be surprised at the latest research.

Last September, manufacturers of high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) asked the federal government for permission to sweeten its image with a new name: “corn sugar.” Their TV ads say, “Your body can’t tell the difference between corn sugar and cane sugar.” A popular website, Sweet Scam, purports to clear up the confusion, while condemning “activist groups like the Weston A. Price Foundation, Joseph Mercola, and the Naturopathy Movement, which have perpetuated unfounded myths about sweeteners [and] completely ignore the scientific and nutritional evidence to backup [sic] their outlandish claims.”

The website was created by the Center for Consumer Freedom, a lobby begun with $600,000 from the Philip Morris tobacco company, and is sponsored by restaurant and food companies like Arby’s, Tyson Foods, HMSHost Corp, and Wendy’s. So much for impartiality.

High-fructose corn syrup is a corn syrup that has undergone enzymatic processing to convert some of its glucose into fructose to produce a desired level of sweetness. But because of its processing, some brands of HFCS may contain mercury, a known neurotoxin.

Moreover, many studies have indicated that it suppresses the sensation of being full, causing people to eat more of it. Rats fed HFCS developed fatty liver disease and type 2 diabetes, while those on a fructose-free diet did not. And when they were given a high-fat diet, they gained more weight than those who had been on a fructose-free diet. Other studies suggest that HFCS directly causes obesity. (Of course, the American Medical Association and the American Dietetic Association side with the Corn Refiners Association in thumbing their nose at the mountain of evidence.) HFCS also causes cardiovascular disease, even in children and adolescents. And the American Society of Nephrology found that HFCS causes high blood pressure as well.

Fructose is commonly thought of as “fruit sugar,” but fruit also contains glucose—and fiber, sometimes a great deal of it, not to mention other nutrients. But studies indicate that fructose, processed and stripped of its co-factors, causes metabolic syndrome in animals. The metabolic processes involved in the breakdown of fructose can lead to a buildup of uric acid—which is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Fructose can raise blood triglyceride levels, which can trigger atherosclerosis, increases fat deposits around the viscera, and decreases insulin sensitivity in overweight people.

As Dr. David G. Williams writes in his Alternatives newsletter,

Cancer cells thrive on sugars, particularly fructose. It has been demonstrated that cancer cells actually metabolize glucose and fructose differently from other cells. While cancer thrives on both, it uses fructose specifically to proliferate. It’s no wonder that cancer has moved quickly up the list of killers in our society since we started adding high-fructose corn syrup to everything from sodas to bread. With such damning and irrefutable research, I still don’t understand why it hasn’t become standard practice to immediately put cancer patients on fructose-free diets to help disrupt cancer growth.

Agave, which is derived from the agave cactus (which also produces tequila), sounds like an ideal alternative, but some health advocates like Dr. Joseph Mercola have some serious concerns about it, and say its acceptance is the result of deceptive marketing. They say that most of the agave sweeteners you find on supermarket shelves are not natural products and are not organic. What is clear is that it is not low-calorie and does not have a low glycemic index. It is 50% to 90% fructose.

All this has led many people to go back to “good old sugar.” But is that wise?

Sugar is an ingredient in 70% of manufactured food, according to The Economist. But sugar and simple carbs (refined grains, high-fructose corn syrup, etc.) may adversely affect blood lipids, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association, increasing your risk for heart disease and stroke through fat accumulation, metabolic syndrome, obesity, premature aging, and type 2 diabetes. Sugar molecules bond with proteins to create AGEs (advanced glycation end-products)—which can wreak havoc on blood vessels, including those of the heart and kidneys. AGEs appear to be responsible for many of the long-term complications of diabetes.

Dr. David Williams again: “There is no ‘maybe’ about the connection between sugar and heart disease. I can’t put it more plainly: sugar kills.” (Alternatives, June 2010)

George Mason University professor of economics Walter E. Williams points to powerful sugar companies whose massive political donations—millions of dollars to both parties—ensure that Congress keeps tariffs high on foreign sugar so the US sugar industry can charge higher prices. According to one study, one politically connected sugar-manufacturing family alone earns about $65 million a year from congressional protectionism. The Archer Daniels Midland company makes similarly huge donations, because higher sugar prices benefit ADM, who produces corn syrup (fructose), which is a sugar substitute. When sugar prices are high, sugar users (soda, candy, and food processors) turn to corn syrup as a cheaper substitute sweetener.

What about artificial sweeteners, then? Surely they’re better for you than sugar!

Aspartame (Equal and NutraSweet), which is used in more than 6,000 diet products, beverages, and pharmaceuticals, has remained a battleground. Despite FDA officials describing aspartame as “one of the most thoroughly tested and studied food additives the agency has ever approved” and its safety as “clear cut,” in March 2006, Environmental Health Perspectives (from the National Institutes of Health) published the first compelling experimental evidence for the carcinogenic effects of aspartame at a dose level within range of human daily intake. A second animal study by the same research team now indicates that the carcinogenic effects of aspartame are magnified when exposure begins during fetal life. One packet of Equal contains 33 mg. of aspartame; one can of Diet Coke (355 ml.) contains 131 mg. of aspartame; and one-half cup of Jello Light contains 40 mg. of aspartame, according to the Canadian Diabetes Association. A 44-pound (20-kg.) child would only have to consume 400 mg., about the equivalent of three Diet Cokes per day, to reach the carcinogenic 20 mg./kg. bodyweight dose.

Jonathan V. Wright, MD (who contributed last week’s article on antioxidants), notes that 10% of aspartame is methanol, which is converted to formaldehyde which, in turn, is converted to formic acid—which is used to strip epoxy! The other 90% is composed of phenylalanine and aspartic acid. These amino acids are normally harmless, but in isolation they are neurotoxic. He also revealed in the August 2009 issue of his Nutrition and Healing newsletter that aspartame decreases the availability of tryptophan and reduces the brain’s level of serotonin. However, it should be noted that Dr. Wright himself uses aspartame—to get rid of carpenter ants!

Diet Coke contains aspartame. Yet in 1985, as a member of the National Soft Drink Association, Coca-Cola opposed the FDA approval of aspartame for beverages. The company’s own objections—running to several pages in the Congressional Record—included the assertion that aspartame is uniquely and inherently unstable and breaks down in the can. It decomposes into formaldehyde, methyl alcohol, formic acid, diketopiperazine, and other toxins. In a study on seven monkeys, five had grand mal seizures and one died, a casualty rate of 86%.

Aspartame is another glaring example of crony capitalism at work. The sweetener was discovered in 1965 by the G.D. Searle chemical company. In 1980 an FDA Board of Inquiry comprised of three independent scientists confirmed that aspartame “might induce brain tumors” and banned it. On January 21, 1981, the day after Ronald Reagan’s inauguration, Searle re-applied to the FDA for approval to use aspartame in food sweetener, and Reagan’s new FDA commissioner, Arthur Hayes Hull, Jr., appointed a five-person Scientific Commission to review the Board of Inquiry’s decision.

It soon became clear that the panel would uphold the ban by a 3-to-2 decision, but Hull installed a sixth member on the commission, and the vote became deadlocked. He then personally broke the tie in aspartame’s favor. Hull later left the FDA under allegations of impropriety, served briefly as Provost at New York Medical College, then took a position with Burston-Marsteller, the chief public relations firm for both Monsanto and G.D. Searle. Searle was purchased by Monsanto in 1985.

Neotame is a version of aspartame made by NutraSweet which is between 7,000 and 13,000 times sweeter than table sugar and 30 to 60 times sweeter than aspartame. It was approved by the FDA in 2002. According to Dr. Mercola, “Judging by the chemicals used in its manufacturing, it appears even more toxic than aspartame, although the proponents of neotame claim that increased toxicity is not a concern, because less of it is needed to achieve the desired effect.” It is chemically very similar to aspartame but with the addition of 3-dimethylbutyl, which is listed on the EPA’s most hazardous chemical list. While it is not currently in wide use, it is attractive to food manufacturers for two reasons: it would greatly lower the cost of production compared to using sugar or high fructose corn syrup due to the lower quantities needed to achieve the same sweetening; and it is approved for use in a wider array of food products, including baked goods, because it is more stable at higher temperatures.

Saccharin (marketed as Sweet’N Lo), which is much sweeter than sucrose but has a bitter or metallic aftertaste in high concentrations, became mired in controversy in 1977, when a study indicated that the substance might contribute to bladder cancer in rats. But in 2000, the chemical was officially removed from the federal government’s list of suspected carcinogens once scientists learned that rodents have high pH, high calcium, and high protein levels in their urine, and this combines with saccharine to cause tumors. As this does not happen in humans, there is no elevated bladder cancer risk, so it appears to be one of the safer artificial sweeteners.

However, it still contributes to obesity and even the development of type 2 diabetes, despite its lack of calories.

The reason, as Science News points out, is that there are taste cells in the stomach, intestine and, evidence suggests, the pancreas, colon and esophagus. When the taste sensors in the gut encounter something sweet, they send a “prepare for fuel” message that results in cranked-up insulin levels in the blood. This, in turn, causes sugar cravings, and the cycle keeps repeating.

This means that even no-calorie sweeteners like saccharine can trigger the release of insulin and cause weight gain—all because of their sweet taste.

Sucralose (Splenda) alters the microflora in the intestine and “exerts numerous adverse effects,” according to Duke University study, including an increase in body weight (not quite what a “diet aid” is supposed to do!), and an elevation of liver enzymes, which negatively affects the bioavailability of nutrients. And as our colleagues at ANH-Europe note, sucralose is an organochloride compound. Most of the derivatives of this type of compound are insecticides, herbicides, and pesticides—not something you’d put in children’s lunch boxes. In an article entitled “The Lethal Science of Splenda, a Poisonous Chlorocarbon,” Dr. James Bowen warns that “any chlorocarbons not directly excreted from the body intact can cause immense damage to the processes of human metabolism and, eventually, our internal organs. The liver is a detoxification organ which deals with ingested poisons. Chlorocarbons damage the hepatocytes, the liver’s metabolic cells, and destroy them.”

Is nothing safe?

Bearing in mind what we noted above, that all sweet tastes raise insulin, which causes overeating and sets the stage for type 2 diabetes, there are some alternatives you might consider.

Low-calorie alternatives:

Stevia is a South American herb that is estimated to be some 150 to 400 times sweeter than sugar. Since the mid-1980s, the FDA has labeled stevia as an “unsafe food additive” and has gone to extensive lengths to keep it off the US market—including initiating a search-and-seizure campaign and full-fledged “import alert”—despite the fact it has been used by millions of people around the world, in some locales for hundreds of years, with no ill effects.

So adamant has the FDA remained on the subject that even though stevia can now be legally marketed as a dietary supplement under legislation enacted in 1994, any mention of its possible use as a sweetener or tea was strictly prohibited—that is, until 2007, when Coca-Cola announced plans to obtain approval for their stevia-derived sweetener, Rebiana, for use as a food additive. FDA approved it in 2008. Coca-Cola announced intentions to release stevia-sweetened beverages shortly thereafter.

Sugar alcohols like xylitol and erythritol seem to be safe, though some people find that xylitol has a laxative effect. Xylitol was originally isolated from birch sap. Erythritol occurs naturally in fruits and fermented foods. And Xylitol, used as mouth rinse, prevents cavities very effectively. It is especially good for children, particularly those who have not had their teeth treated with a tooth sealant that contains BPA.

Inulin, which is isolated from Jerusalem artichoke, is available as a powder or as Jerusalem artichoke syrup. Inulin is a long-chain polysaccharide that is mostly too long a sugar to absorb into the blood stream, though too much inulin intake can cause digestive distress in some people.

Higher-calorie alternatives:

Honey (raw, organic) is always the natural sweetener of choice. Look for wild honey because it is lower in free fructose and higher in trace mineral content, especially the richer dark varieties.

Maple syrup is the only sustainably-harvested, large-scale, forest sweetener in the world. Maple is one of the richest source of minerals found in any sweetener. Look for organic maple syrup and maple crystals as an ingredient.

Unsulfured, organic sugarcane molasses is fairly rich in vitamins and minerals and has been purported (like fresh sugar cane) to have “anti-stiffness factors” that break down detrimental calcification.

Coconut palm sugar is now available as a sweetener. It is usually heat-processed, so try to find raw coconut palm sugar

Lo Han Guo is a non-glycemic sweetener made from a type of wild cucumber. It is used in Traditional Chinese Medicine to treat cough and laryngitis.

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Iron Chef America at the White House

I hesitate to get into politics here, but I will just say that THIS is exactly why I voted for Obama. I am endlessly impressed with the White House vegetable garden’s existence to begin with; I think it sends all kinds of great messages. But THEN they shot an episode of Iron Chef America where the secret ingredient was anything from the WH garden, and the first lady made an appearance. ON THE FOOD NETWORK. Bobby, Emeril, and Mario got to traipse around in the garden, gather vegetables, and then go cook with them for the competition (yes, I know the actual vegetables weren’t used for taping in NY, but that’s not the point). In the kitchen, they paired the vegetables with proteins grown/raised within 100 miles of Kitchen Stadium.

[Photos are from foodnetwork.com]

This episode had me glued to the TV. But I think I’m mostly impressed that there is a place on the U.S. government’s website to communicate with citizens why it’s important to create and support local food systems. (I am not giving you a free pass, USDA – you have big issues – but this is a step in the right direction.) Bush did some great things – I’m not saying he didn’t – but this is an important issue for me, and it’s one that his administration didn’t care about, and I love that the Obama administration followed through on their campaign promises to support it. Say what you will about their position on health care reform or the expense of supporting environmentally-friendly policies; if more people grew food in their own communities, understood the ramifications of what they were eating on any given day, and took control – even a little – over their own food supply, there would be cleaner air (no need to overnight those bell peppers from Holland before they spoil) and healthier people to begin with, hence less need for expensive health care and environmental legislation. Call me naive if you like – but small choices like these add up in a big way, and I’m so very glad our President is paying attention.

http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2009/12/16/planting-winter-garden

Hee Hee

I’m not sure what side I fall on regarding the torture issue, quite honestly, but I thought this was funny. From CNN’s “Quote of the Day” webpage:

Wednesday, May. 13, 2009

“You give me a waterboard, Dick Cheney and one hour, and I’ll have him confess to the Sharon Tate murders.” – JESSE VENTURA, Minnesota governor, sharing his views on torture with CNN talk-show host Larry King

Texas Secession and Michelle’s Organic Garden

So I just found out that the Mid American CropLife Association sent Michelle Obama a letter in response to her planting an organic garden with children at the White House. They apparently objected to the subversive “don’t-use-harmful-chemicals-on-your-food” message. You’ve just got to read this to believe it. And also, Stephen Colbert did a segment on the letter. There’s a link to clip of it below, along with a jab at Rick Perry’s allusions to Texas seceding from the Union over the stimulus money offered to our state.

Last week, “conventional” agriculture advocates at the Mid America CropLife Association took umbrage at Michelle Obama’s organic garden on the White House lawn. After a couple of MACA staff members shuddered at the thought, they sent her a courteous and outrageously absurd email that starts out by congratulating her on having a garden, then spends the next several paragraphs explaining to her just why she shouldn’t have a garden, or for HEAVEN’S SAKE at LEAST not an organic one.

The email denies that how food is grown could be related to its quality: “Much of the food considered not wholesome or tasty is the result of how it is stored or prepared rather than how it is grown.” (Don’t worry, Mom—I’m sure MACA didn’t mean to call you a bad cook.) At this point, it seems like we should be past that debate.

And as Mary Ann Lien points out in her article in the Examiner, the use of the word “conventional” to describe pesticide-based agriculture (and the practice itself) has only developed in the past century or so, while the methods humans have known for thousands of years have somehow morphed into being seen as elitist and fancy. It’s actually a pretty amazing marketing trick when you think about it: it’s now elitist not to buy some extra chemicals to put on your crops, and to do things the way our great-great grandparents did.

The email goes on to explain carefully (and with maximum possible evocations of American-ness): “Many people, especially children, don’t realize the extent to which their daily lives depend on America’s agricultural industry. For instance, children are unaware the jeans they put on in the morning, the three meals eaten daily, the baseball with which they play and even the biofuels that power the school bus are available because of America’s farmers and ranchers.” It’s a cool sentiment, I think: let’s think about how everything we do is connected with the land and the people who work it. But wouldn’t growing a garden be a good thing for all those kids, so they can learn firsthand about the labor involved, and better appreciate the work of farmers? Also, as Mrs. Obama is not a child, I’m not exactly sure of the reason for that emphasis.

Obviously the establishment here is feeling a little threatened. And Mrs. Obama’s steps to plant an organic garden at the White House definitely carry significant symbolic value. But how could NOT using toxic pesticides—oh sorry, crop protection technologies—hurt anyone? Oh. Right. It could hurt someone’s profits. Sorry, agribusiness! Looks like the First Lady ain’t afraid a’ you!

–Erica Schuetz

http://www.colbertnation.com/the-colbert-report-videos/224922/april-20-2009/tip-wag—texas-secession—maca

A Word on Coexistence

When it comes to my own car, I have never been a big fan of bumper stickers. I have had a small, tasteful Apple computer sticker on in the corner of the back window for many years, because I was so very exuberant and proud about owning my own Mac back in 2003 that I just had to put it on to share my happiness with the world! It wasn’t until last year that I decided (after much hesitation) to make the leap into statement-based bumper stickers with the addition of the “COEXIST” sticker. The letters of the word are made up of religious, gender- and ideologically-related symbols.

coexist

If my car is going to make a statement to the world, I think it’s a simple, straightforward and worthy one: let us all – with our varying opinions, creeds, sexual orientations, political beliefs, and general styles and states of individual existence – find a way to peacefully live alongside each other. It seems quite simple to me, and a sentiment I imagine most of us share on some level. But over the last 6 months or so, I’ve gotten so many derisive reactions and snide comments about it. I have to say that I’m surprised, especially considering the educated, city-dwelling individuals in question.

Now, I’m not a hippie. I went to SMU. My parents are Republicans. I’m not trying to say with this sticker that I agree with everything symbolized here – I don’t. I’m not trying to say that I find them all equally true – I don’t. But what I am saying is that we, in our differences, NEED to find a way to maintain our individual belief structures while peacefully coexisting alongside each other. That’s all. I have beliefs and opinions, many of which are set in the stone of my heart and mind. I also fully recognize that many people I love fully disagree with certain aspects of those beliefs and opinions. AND THAT IS OKAY. You don’t have to agree with me for me to love you or live next door to you or drive you to the hospital or work with you toward a common goal. I’d certainly hope that you are able to have people in your life who disagree with you on issues you hold dear, because although it may be uncomfortable, it can also be such a rich source of blessing. I am a Christian, and I truly, firmly believe that, were Jesus here, he would call for some peaceful coexistence right now – in this city, this country, and this international community. I’m really not trying to get preachy, because I have my own lenses through which I see the Other, and I know that (although I’m working on it). I’m just processing this bumper-sticker issue out loud, because it has taken me by surprise, and I feel like it’s important to talk about these things in order to resolve them.

I heard some of President Obama’s speech to the Turkish Parliament this morning as I was getting ready for work, and his words were such a relief to me. They underscore for me the reason I continue to keep this sticker on my car despite the rude comments, eye rolls and snide remarks. These were his words to a predominantly Muslim, democratic nation:

“Let me say this as clearly as I can: The United States is not, and will never be, at war with Islam.

In fact, our partnership with the Muslim world is critical not just in rolling back the violent ideologies that people of all faiths reject, but also to strengthen opportunity for all its people.

I also want to be clear that America’s relationship with the Muslim community, the Muslim world, cannot, and will not, just be based upon opposition to terrorism. We seek broader engagement based on mutual interest and mutual respect. We will listen carefully, we will bridge misunderstandings, and we will seek common ground. We will be respectful, even when we do not agree. We will convey our deep appreciation for the Islamic faith, which has done so much over the centuries to shape the world – including in my own country. The United States has been enriched by Muslim Americans. Many other Americans have Muslims in their families or have lived in a Muslim-majority country – I know, because I am one of them…

…Our focus will be on what we can do, in partnership with people across the Muslim world, to advance our common hopes and our common dreams. And when people look back on this time, let it be said of America that we extended the hand of friendship to all people.”

In the News

I found some great stuff online recently that I thought I’d share.

1. http://acomplaintfreeworld.org/aboutus.html

There’s a non-profit organization dedicated to the pursuit of a complaint-free world! They send out purple bracelets like the yellow LiveStrong ones to help people remind themselves not to complain, to encourage positive cooperation. How great is that? Yes, I know there’s a colored bracelet for every cause under the sun, but I think this is a great use of an over-used phenomenon. If that makes me a dirty hippie, so be it! Here’s a quote from their FAQ page:

“Complaining spreads negative energy and negative energy cannot create a positive outcome. Martin Luther King, Jr. didn’t stand before thousands in Washington, DC and shout, “Isn’t it awful how we’re being treated?” No. He shared his dream of a day when all children of all races would play and live together in peace and harmony. His vision galvanized our country and created positive change. For you to affect change, paint a bright vivid picture of the problem already solved and share this with as many people as you can.”

2. http://thesapling.tumblr.com/post/82957081/i-have-an-idea

In the same vein, check out this awesome post from “the sapling tumbles” on the power of positive thinking during the economic downturn. Here’s an excerpt:

“Hey, how ‘bout instead of telling each other how bad everything is all the time, we cut that out? What good is it doing? I mean, sure it’s good to be informed as to what’s going on, but the constant speculation that life as we know it is about to come to an end, and surely what will come after this will be horrible, and also, it’s the apocolypse and we’re all gonna die, are not helpful. If anything, the constant talking about it only adds fuel to the fire, doesn’t it? I feel like we’re all enabling each other to go ahead and panic. Let’s just stop it, shall we?”

3. http://www.cnn.com/2009/POLITICS/03/03/endangered.species.act/index.html

President Obama (that’s still fun to say) just moved to reverse some of the ridiculous and dangerous damage the Bush administration did recently to the Endangered Species Act! This is a big deal, and it’s a policy change that will save countless species and aid our planet’s biodiversity, which will help keep us alive, too. And that’s a good thing. This is EXACTLY why I voted for this man. Score one for science and rational thought:)

“Under the Bush administration rule, there was no need for a federal agency to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Marine Fisheries Services if that agency determined that no harm would come to an endangered species as a result of its project. But the determination of what ‘no harm’ meant rested with agency bureaucrats instead of scientists. Obama issued a memorandum that effectively suspends the regulation while ordering a review to determine whether it promotes ‘the purposes of the [Endangered Species Act].’

“‘The work of scientists and experts in my administration, including right here in the Interior Department, will be respected,’ Obama said. ‘For more than three decades, the Endangered Species Act has successfully protected our nation’s most threatened wildlife, and we should be looking for ways to improve it, not weaken it.'”

Speech

I know that everyone and their dog has put up a post about Obama and his inaugural speech, but there were a couple of parts I really liked, and I thought I’d add my take on it to the pile. I know not all who read this blog voted for him, and in fact, some are quite fearful/angry/doubtful/choose-your-own-incendiary-adjective over his election. These are just some parts of the speech I found personally inspiring, should he follow through on them (although the fact that someone in his position is saying them at all is partly enough for me).

“Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions, who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short, for they have forgotten what this country has already done, what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose and necessity to courage. What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them, that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long, no longer apply.”

I’ve been receiving a subscription to Ode Magazine for several years now, and their self-proclaimed audience is “intelligient optimists.” It’s story after story of invention, ingenuity, compassion, and reporting on the positive news across the world – people who are finding innovative solutions to overarching, persistent problems, rather than just reporting the problems themselves. That’s what this quote reminds me of – “what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose and necessity to courage.”

“The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our gross domestic product, but on the reach of our prosperity; on the ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart — not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good.”

I liked this one because I’ve been thinking a lot lately about globalization, with its pros and cons. What we do on one side of the earth affects people on the other side, be it pollution, conservation, consumption, operation of a free press, black markets, factory farming or sustainable agriculture, etc. I don’t know that I buy into the traditional idea of karma, but I am coming to understand that what we put out into the world, be it positive or negative, really does matter somewhere along the line to someone, be it in a large or small way, and that in turn enhances or detracts from our common experience. When one suffers, we all suffer, and not just in an emotional or spiritual sense. We are all connected, like it or not, and I’m glad this is being recognized and talked about by our new leader.

“For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and nonbelievers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth. And because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.”

I know that this was written in part by a speech-writer, and I know that there is nothing new under the sun, and that these are career politicians we’re talking about. I put absolute trust in none of it. But I have to say that I am very impressed that these discussions, these ideals, this outlook on our economy and the nature of our country and the way we relate to the rest of the world, are being talked about from day one of this administration, and that much of it has already been set in motion in only a couple of weeks.

As I’ve said before, I’m not a Democrat, and I’m not a Republican. I know very little about economics, taxes, stocks or international finance, although I am trying to learn. I know I have a lot to learn. I know that not everything one promises on the campaign trail will come to pass. But I do find these parts of Obama’s speech encouraging, in that these things I have come to care about over the last few years – economic sustainability, environmental responsibility, and compassionate, active citizenship – are being championed by the President of the United States.