A lively, highly informative exposé capped by trips to Kazakhstan and Bolivia, where Laufer settles his questions about the...

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ORGANIC

A JOURNALIST'S QUEST TO DISCOVER THE TRUTH BEHIND FOOD LABELING

Former NBC News correspondent Laufer (Journalism/Oregon Univ.; The Elusive State of Jefferson: A Journey through the 51st State, 2013, etc.) investigates the “need to know what we’re eating and how it came to our dinner plates.”

The author became suspicious when a package of ostensibly organic walnuts from Trader Joe's tasted rancid. Checking the label, he found that they were grown in Kazakhstan. When Trader Joe's refused to reveal their provenance, his “journalist’s radar kicked in.” As someone who had reported on “the culture of bribery and corruption that lingers in most former Soviet republics,” Laufer found it unlikely that Kazakhstan was supporting a well-regulated organic food industry. Some months later, a check on the label of a can of “organic” black beans revealed that they came from Bolivia. As someone who had covered the drug trade in that region, Laufer was skeptical again. His suspicions were reinforced when an American case of fraudulent labeling made headlines: Businessman Harold Chase was convicted of passing off 4 million pounds of conventional corn as organic. In the United States, the organic sector has become a big business “worth over two dozen billion dollars a year.” At that size, it is “ripe with opportunities for hustlers,” and the certification process is flawed. Laufer interviewed the U.S. Department of Agriculture official in charge of the National Organic Program, who informed him that, due to understaffing, prosecutions are rare. For comparison purposes, the author traveled to Europe to speak with officials there and found a more regulated food industry, but loopholes and opportunities for fraud still abounded.

A lively, highly informative exposé capped by trips to Kazakhstan and Bolivia, where Laufer settles his questions about the walnuts and black beans he purchased. Now, how to fix the situation so that not all foods labeled organic are “suspect”?

Pub Date: July 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-7627-9071-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Lyons Press

Review Posted Online: May 7, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2014

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A declaration worth hearing out in a time of growing inequality—and indignity.

ECONOMIC DIGNITY

Noted number cruncher Sperling delivers an economist’s rejoinder to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Former director of the National Economic Council in the administrations of Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, the author has long taken a view of the dismal science that takes economic justice fully into account. Alongside all the metrics and estimates and reckonings of GDP, inflation, and the supply curve, he holds the great goal of economic policy to be the advancement of human dignity, a concept intangible enough to chase the econometricians away. Growth, the sacred mantra of most economic policy, “should never be considered an appropriate ultimate end goal” for it, he counsels. Though 4% is the magic number for annual growth to be considered healthy, it is healthy only if everyone is getting the benefits and not just the ultrawealthy who are making away with the spoils today. Defining dignity, admits Sperling, can be a kind of “I know it when I see it” problem, but it does not exist where people are a paycheck away from homelessness; the fact, however, that people widely share a view of indignity suggests the “intuitive universality” of its opposite. That said, the author identifies three qualifications, one of them the “ability to meaningfully participate in the economy with respect, not domination and humiliation.” Though these latter terms are also essentially unquantifiable, Sperling holds that this respect—lack of abuse, in another phrasing—can be obtained through a tight labor market and monetary and fiscal policy that pushes for full employment. In other words, where management needs to come looking for workers, workers are likely to be better treated than when the opposite holds. In still other words, writes the author, dignity is in part a function of “ ‘take this job and shove it’ power,” which is a power worth fighting for.

A declaration worth hearing out in a time of growing inequality—and indignity.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7987-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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No one’s mind will be changed by Karl’s book, but it’s a valuable report from the scene of an ongoing train wreck.

FRONT ROW AT THE TRUMP SHOW

The chief White House and Washington correspondent for ABC provides a ringside seat to a disaster-ridden Oval Office.

It is Karl to whom we owe the current popularity of a learned Latin term. Questioning chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, he followed up a perhaps inadvertently honest response on the matter of Ukrainian intervention in the electoral campaign by saying, “What you just described is a quid pro quo.” Mulvaney’s reply: “Get over it.” Karl, who has been covering Trump for decades and knows which buttons to push and which to avoid, is not inclined to get over it: He rightly points out that a reporter today “faces a president who seems to have no appreciation or understanding of the First Amendment and the role of a free press in American democracy.” Yet even against a bellicose, untruthful leader, he adds, the press “is not the opposition party.” The author, who keeps his eye on the subject and not in the mirror, writes of Trump’s ability to stage situations, as when he once called Trump out, at an event, for misrepresenting poll results and Trump waited until the camera was off before exploding, “Fucking nasty guy!”—then finished up the interview as if nothing had happened. Trump and his inner circle are also, by Karl’s account, masters of timing, matching negative news such as the revelation that Russia had interfered in the 2016 election with distractions away from Trump—in this case, by pushing hard on the WikiLeaks emails from the Democratic campaign, news of which arrived at the same time. That isn’t to say that they manage people or the nation well; one of the more damning stories in a book full of them concerns former Homeland Security head Kirstjen Nielsen, cut off at the knees even while trying to do Trump’s bidding.

No one’s mind will be changed by Karl’s book, but it’s a valuable report from the scene of an ongoing train wreck.

Pub Date: March 31, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5247-4562-2

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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