Fall 2013 Faculty Speakers Series

We hope you will join us for the Fall 2013 Faculty Speakers Series! All lectures are in the Cornell Seminar Room in the Cornell Library. Light Refreshments will be served and we will have time for lively discussion.

The series is co-sponsored by the Cornell Library and the Environmental Law Center.

September 10 | Laurie Ristino | The Method(s) Behind our Madness Professor Ristino discusses the strategy behind the Center for Agriculture and Food Systems’s (CAFS) approach to achieving its dual mission, including curriculum development, projects, outreach and related strategic planning and media.

October 8 | Zygmunt Plater | Lies, Damn Lies, and Tellico Dam: The True Story Behind the Landmark Case of TVA v. Hill
It’s often called “The Most Extreme Environmental Case Ever”—a tiny endangered fish, the “snail darter,” used (or mis-used) by environmentalists to halt the last of the Tennessee Valley Authority’s 68 dams. Still today, after 30+ years, it’s invoked as an icon of liberal foolishness by Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter, Antonin Scalia, George Will, and Bill O’Reilly, used to stigmatize environmentalists as “snail darter people” standing in the way of public welfare and human progress.

Prof. Zyg Plater, now teaching at Boston College, tells the intriguing story of how he and his students in Tennessee carried the case for six years up from Tennessee through the corridors of federal government and the Supreme Court, the subject of his new book from Yale U. Press.

The true story is quite different from its rightwing image: the dam was actually small, not hydroelectric, a land development scheme condemning 300+ family farms, mostly for resale by Boeing. Environmental alternatives far exceeded the dam’s economics. “Good ecology was good economics,” but the congressional politics were dominated by polarized pork. It’s a story that resonates today on many levels, calculated to intrigue and annoy just about everyone.

October 22 | Laurie Beyrandevand | Generally Recognized as Safe?: Analyzing Flaws in the FDA’s Approach to GRAS Additives
As consumer demand for natural food products with fewer ingredients grows, so does curiosity and concern about the many food additives approved for use in the United States. In the broadest sense, an additive is any substance that “may reasonably be expected to result, directly or indirectly, in its becoming a component or otherwise affecting the characteristics of any food,” and not all of them are worthy of concern. While additives have long held an important place in the food supply, due largely to their preservative and other beneficial functions, the legitimate concerns of advocates and consumers regarding the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) safety assessment and treatment of additives appear to be falling on deaf ears. This talk will address the ability of the FDA to reconsider its interpretation of safety under the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act to more adequately protect consumers from substances the agency has long considered “safe”, but which are proving to be dangerous to human health.

November 5 | Gus Speth | The Story of American Environmentalism: 45 Years in 45 Minutes
With roots in the 1960′s and earlier, American Environmentalism burst onto the scene with Earth Day in 1970, the year NRDC, EDF, CEQ, and others got cranking. One shudders to think how bad things would be without the environmental organizations and laws and their many accomplishments in the ensuing decades.
Fast forward to today, and it is a fair conclusion that while we have won many victories, we are still losing the planet. How did this happen, and what is to be done?

November 19 | Jennifer Taub | Other People’s Houses: How Government Helped Rogue Bankers Grow the Mortgage Crisis
Other People’s Houses reveals how decades of regulatory failure caused the mortgage crisis that began in 2007 and spread to a broader financial crisis in 2008, countering false claims that it was inevitable, “no one saw it coming,” and subprime borrowers were to blame. In this book, Taub chronicles how government officials helped bankers inflate the toxic-mortgage-backed housing bubble, and after it burst left homeowners largely to fend for themselves.

Taub traces from the 1980s to the present, the middle class homeowners and bailed-out banks from the Nobelman vs. American Savings Bank decision (which still prohibits mortgage modification through bankruptcy). Through this narrative, Taub shows that our recent crisis is a continuation of the Savings and Loan debacle of the 1980s. In both occurrences, operating under new names, the same reckless banks received government bailouts, and the same lax regulators overlooked fraud and abuse. In 2013, they continue on, now housed inside of new institutions with similar frailties. The regulators are just as lax, and the banks, that still gamble with tax-payer-backed, federally insured deposits are larger than ever.

Taub asserts that we should not view the S&L debacle as a mere analogy to the 2008 Crisis. Instead, the recent meltdown was just a more severe relapse of the same underlying disease. Due to insufficient financial regulatory reform, the Financial Crisis has not ended, but is merely in remission. Regulators captured by industry outnumber those who attempt to serve the public, and the top banks are still too big to manage and regulate, and too big to fail.

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