Featured stories in this issue...
Is It Possible to Regulate Dangerous Technologies?
The story of Erin Brockovich centered around chromium pollution,
and it seemed to tell of a great victory for people who had been
harmed. But underneath that story lies a deeper tale of the
systematic corruption of science for the purpose of undermining the
U.S. system of chemical regulation -- and this is not a story of
victory by the people. Despite heroic work by dedicated citizen
activists, the corporations may be winning.
Controlling Corporations and Restoring Democracy
The combined impacts of super-sized corporations (companies bigger
than countries) corporate personhood (giving companies the same
constitutional protections as citizens), and money-in-politics
combined with unbridled consumerism can explain the erosion of our
democracy. The solutions proposed here by Lee Drutman and Charlie Cray
would invigorate our democracy, clean up politics with publicly
funded elections and take steps to limit corporate power.
Great Lakes Pollution Is a Bigger Problem Than You Might Think
Despite decades of effort cleaning up the Great Lakes, industrial
discharges of water pollutants into the lakes are rising in both
Canada and the United States, according to a new report from
Environmental Defence and the Canadian Environmental Law Association.
The Global Rise of Chronic Disease
Chronic disease from unhealthy diets, physical inactivity and the
use of tobacco is causing the premature deaths of up to 35 million
people worldwide -- in all social classes -- according to scientists
at a recent conference sponsored by the AAAS (American Association for
the Advancement of Science). In America, 75 percent of us will soon
achieve a body weight that negatively affects our health.
From: Rachel's Democracy & Health News #842, Feb. 16, 2006
IS IT POSSIBLE TO REGULATE DANGEROUS TECHNOLOGIES?
By Peter Montague
During 2005, in a four-part series of front-page articles, the Wall
Street Journal (WSJ) blew the whistle on the utterly-broken system for
regulating chemicals in the U.S. In recent weeks, we have examined
the first three parts of the WSJ series (see here, here, and
here). Today we examine part 4 -- in many ways the most profoundly
troubling article of all.
In part 4 of its series, WSJ reveals that U.S. regulatory standards
for a potent cancer-causing chemical, chromium-6, were substantially
relaxed as a direct result of a 20-year plan devised and carried out
by a small group of "hired gun" consultants who intentionally planted
false information about chromium-6 in the scientific literature,
misled regulators, and violated most of the ethical standards upon
which the credibility of science itself rests. Instead of being
punished for these profoundly anti-social acts, the consultants were
given lucrative contracts by the U.S. Department of Energy and the
president of the firm was appointed to an advisory board of the
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta.
This story has been thoroughly investigated and fully documented not
only by Peter Waldman in the Wall Street Journal, but also by hard-
hitting, gutsy reports by the Environmental Working Group in
Washington, D.C., and by the Newark (N.J.) Star-Ledger's top
environmental reporter, Alexander Lane, who broke the story first.
The story begins with Erin Brockovitch, the paralegal played by Julia
Roberts in the movie named after her. For years PG&E, a California
utility, dumped large quantities of chromium-6 into unlined pits in
the ground, which subsequently leaked chromium-6 into underground
drinking water supplies in the town of Hinkley. Many people grew ill.
Chromium-6 (or "hexavalent chromium") is a very toxic form of the
shiny metal ("chrome") used for plating automobile bumpers, making
stainless steel, and so on. The other form, Chromium-3 is a relatively
benign species of chromium (in tiny amounts it is an essential
nutrient for humans). Chromium-6 on the other hand is a potent
carcinogen -- some say it is the second most potent carcinogen after
dioxin, causing lung cancer and perhaps nasal cancer, stomach cancer,
lymph cancer, and cancer of the blood-forming cells.
As the Erin Brockovitch story unfolded in California, a related story
unfolded on the other side of the continent, in New Jersey, where
three firms had spent the first half of the 20th century dumping
millions of tons of chromium wastes in Hudson and Essex Counties, just
across the Hudson River from New York City. According to the
companies, these wastes were 86% chromium-3 mixed with 14% chromium-6.
During the '50s and '60s, as awareness of toxic waste began to grow,
the three firms got rid of their toxic problem by donating chromium
waste free to anyone who showed up with a dump truck. As a result,
chromium waste was used to shape foundations, pave roads, fill
wetlands and build sewers. Little league ball fields and school yards
were covered with it. High-end golf courses were contoured with it.
Housing developments were built on it. In Hudson and Essex Counties,
at least 189 sites are contaminated with chromium-6. Many of those
sites are now inhabited by poor people and people of color. Did the
companies know chromium-6 was toxic? Old timers tell how they used to
show new guys a trick -- they would put a dime in one nostril and pull
it out the other. Chromium had eaten away the cartilage between their
nostrils, which a doctor would call "performated nasal septum," a
classic symptom of chromium poisoning.
In the 1990s, thanks in part to Erin Brockovitch, PG&E was facing
hundreds of millions of dollars in liability suits from 650 plaintiffs
who believed they had been made sick by chromium-6. So lawyers for
PG&E hired a man with science degrees -- one would hesitate to call
him a scientist -- named Dennis Paustenbach, who runs a company
called Chemrisk. Chemrisk comes to the aid of large firms when they
get caught poisoning people with toxic chemicals. Across the continent
in New Jersey, the chromium polluters in New Jersey hired the same
Dennis Paustenbach to help them evade liability for their misdeeds.
In California, despite Mr. Paustenbach's best efforts, PG&E settled
the case with 650 Hinkley residents for $333 million in 1994. and just
a few weeks ago PG&E settled with a second group of Hinkley
residents for $295 million.
But in New Jersey the outcome was different. A 15-year campaign by Mr.
Paustenbach and his colleagues at ChemRisk paid off handsomely for the
polluters and for their friends within N.J. state government, where
the political leadership (both Republican and Democrat) always seemed
to side with the chromium polluters against the citizens, according to
an investigative series by reporter Alex Lane of the Newark Star-
Ledger (available here: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.)
When Mr. Paustenbach and his toxic trouble-shooters began work in New
Jersey, the allowable standard for chromium-6 in N.J. soil was 10
parts per million (ppm). When they finished, the N.J. standard was
6,100 parts per million -- the most lax standard anywhere in the U.S.
Mr. Paustenbach proudly estimates that he saved the New Jersey
polluters $1 billion in cleanup costs. In return for this boon, the
three firms only had to contribute $400,000 in perfectly-legal bribes
and blandishments intended to influence N.J. political officials. So
for every dollar invested in corrupting the N.J. political process,
these firms received $2500 in reduced liability for their chromium
wastes. By any measure, this is an excellent return on investment.
Some of the politicans involved made out like bandits, too. At the
same time Mr. Paustenbach was buying favors for his three chromium
clients (Honeywell, PPG Industries, and Maxus Energy Corp.) N.J.
officials were using some of Mr. Paustenbach's ideas to devise a
comprehensive plan for dealing with the 12,000 toxic wastes sites that
dot N.J. like a bad case of the measles. Starting with Governor Jim
Florio (Democrat), accelerating under Governor Christie Todd Whitman
(Republican), and continuing under governor James McGreevey
(Democrat), N.J. decided to "solve" its embarrassing and costly toxic
waste problems by "capping" them with a plastic tarp, a thin layer of
asphalt, a sidewalk, a school, a low-cost housing project -- whatever
provided the quickest and cheapest way of hiding toxicants in plain
site. Actual removal of toxicants was out, sweeping toxicants under
the rug was in -- and still is.
All the states "developers" were exceedingly grateful for the wisdom
displayed by N.J. state officials and the developers expressed their
gratitude through the perfectly-legal bribes known as "campaign
contributions." As the "capping" solution to toxics made all kinds of
new land available for re-development, the developers generously cut
the politicians in on their deals. Since leaving office, the two
Democratic ex-governors have been engaged in helping people build on
contaminated sites (which are officially no longer defined as
"contaminated" because the contaminants have been hidden beneath a
plastic tarp or some other fig leaf). And of course the White House
itself recognized Christie Todd Whitman for her service to developers
-- she was appointed head of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
where she reprised her friendly-to-polluters performance on a national
scale. She has since parlayed that prestigious national job into a new
career in N.J. where she is now an "environmental consultant" to
developers. One hand washes the other but the dirt never seems to go
Of course such political shenanigans are nothing new. What's new is
the way Dennis Paustenbach's crew chose to change the science of
chromium toxicity. As described by the Wall Street Journal and the
Environmental Working Group, Mr. Paustenbach set out to "salt" the
peer-reviewed scientific literature with falsehoods about chromium,
and he succeeded.
The WSJ told the story Dec. 23, 2005:
"During China's Cultural Revolution 40 years ago, a city doctor named
Zhang JianDong was banished to the countryside of northeastern China.
He arrived to a public-health emergency.
"A giant smelter was spilling large amounts of chromium waste into the
groundwater. Well water was turning yellow. People were developing
mouth sores, nausea and diarrhea. Dr. Zhang spent the next two decades
treating and studying the residents of five villages with chromium-
"In 1987, he published a study saying they were dying of cancer at
higher rates than people nearby. He earned a national award in China
for his research. In America, federal scientists translated it into
English, and regulatory agencies began citing it as evidence that a
form of the metal called chromium-6 might cause cancer if ingested.
"Then in 1997, Dr. Zhang, in retirement, appeared to retract his
life's work. A "clarification and further analysis" published under
his name in a U.S. medical journal said there was no cancer link to
chromium in the villages after all. This new conclusion, like the
earlier one, soon found its way into U.S. regulatory assessments, as
evidence that ingested chromium wasn't really a cancer risk."
What an extraordinary story -- a Chinese researcher documents cancer
from chromium-6 drinking-water exposures in five villages. He wins an
award from the Chinese government for his work. His study is
translated into English and begins to influence regulatory decisions
in California, New Jersey and Washington, D.C. Then suddenly 10 years
later, without collecting any new data, the Chinese researcher
recants, saying that his data really showed no cancer attributable to
chromium-6 exposures. Gullible U.S. regulators breathe a sigh of
relief because now they can stop worrying about chromium-6
contaminaing drinking water -- a serious concern in at least 37 states
across the U.S.
The only problem with this story is that the Chinese researcher did
not write the second study, WSJ tells us, even though it was published
under his name. The second study, recanting the first, was
"conceived, drafted, edited, and submitted to medical journals" by
Chemrisk, Dennis Paustenbach's hired-gun consulting firm.
Under the leadership of governor Christie Todd Whitman, New Jersey
environmental officials accepted the bogus study without question, and
went on to give away the store to the chromium polluters, changing New
Jersey's allowable chromium-6 level in soil from 10 ppm to 6100 ppm.
California officials on the other hand smelled a rat. In its study,
"Chrome-Plated Fraud," the Environmental Working Group (EWG) reports
that a California government scientist, Jay Beaumont, found "several
notable limitations and oddities in the" 1997 recantation paper.
Beaumont eventually learned of the whole sorry fraud and itemized 13
ways in which Mr. Paustenbach's Chemrisk firm committed ethical or
scientific breaches, including:
** Failure to disclose who wrote the manuscript: The 1997 recantation
was composed by hacks employed by Paustenbach, but Dr. Zhang and and
one of his colleagues were identified as the sole authors.
** Failure to disclose that the study was funded by PG&E.
** Falsely stating in the published paper that stomach cancer rates
weren't available for the province surrounding the 5 villages. The
data were in fact readily available but they inconveniently showed
that chromium-6 was tightly associated with elevated cancer levels, so
Mr. Paustenbach's minions omitted the data, then lied saying the data
** Basing analysis on the level of contamination detected in the wells
in 1965, knowing that by the end of that year the picture of
contamination in the wells had dramatically changed.
** Ignoring useful data that were readily available. Misrepresenting
the study design in several ways to make it seem stronger.
** Failing to disclose key facts about the data presented.
The Environmental Working Group goes on to say, "The lies, errors, and
misrepresentations in the 1997 JOEM [Journal of Occupational and
Environmental Medicine] article don't stop even there. EWG's review of
court documents and depositions show that several of the high
chromium-6 concentrations reported in Zhang's original 1987 study were
left out of the 1997 paper. Worse, a graphic reporting chromium-6
concentrations in the wells of the Chinese village most affected by
chromium contamination also erroneously shows the chromium-6 levels of
the wells in a different, less contaminated village."
Even after the story of the scientific deception broke, New Jersey DEP
failed to act. The then-DEP-Commissioner Bradley Campbell did his
best to keep the lid on. For example, after the Newark Star-Ledger
broke the story of the Paustenbach's scientific deception, Campbell
would not allow reporters to talk to DEP staff responsibile for
But eventually citizen pressure built up to intolerable levels and
Campbell had to act. Between them, the Newark Star-Ledger and the
Interfaith Community Organization in Jersey City put such heat on
Campbell that he finally relented and appointed a 24-member scientific
study group to evaluate the chromium mess in northern New Jersey. The
commission eventually concluded that, yes, DEP had allowed the three
chromium polluters to leave unsafe levels of chromium all across
Hudson and Essex Counties. But Campbell then refused to take further
action. It got so bad that two members of the commission lodged a
formal complaint with U.S. EPA [Environmental Protection Agency],
asking the federal government to step in to protect New Jersey
citizens from chromium. Fortunately, when the new governor was
elected, Campbell was not re-hired as DEP Commissioner, so there's
still hope that something can be done to force the chromium polluters
to do a proper cleanup, returning N.J. to natural background levels of
chromium in soil.
But of course the issues raised by this sordid tale go far beyond mere
political manipulation of scientific advisory committees. If this
were an isolated story, we might chalk it up to one individual
committed to undermining the scientific enterprise for personal gain.
This would be comforting. But it isn't the case. If you have been
reading a newspaper during the past 5 or 6 years, you know that
scientific fraud has become common. It has now become standard
operating procedure for corporations to ghost-write medical and
scientific papers, then pay scientists or physicians to allow the
work to be poublished under their name. The Food and Drug
Administration (FDA) and the National Institutes of Health are
riddled with scientists who have conflicts of interest -- they are
making money from companies whose financial wellbeing depends on
research being conducted by their agencies. In 2004, the U.S.
Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) received a record number
of complaints of scientific misconduct -- 50% higher than the number
of complaints in 2003. As we documented in Rachel's News #824 and
#825, manipulating scientific information for the purpose of
manufacturing doubt -- intending to paralyze the reglatory system --
is now an industry unto itself.
This story raises the possibility that corporate scientific
malfeasance has now grown so bold, so well-financed and so generally-
accepted as standard operating procedure that no unit of government
can muster the will, the staff, the effort or the courage it would
take to set things right. Maybe corporate power has now outstripped
the ability of any government to rein it in.
As a result, we must now ask ourselves whether, under modern
conditions, it is possible to imagine a workable system of regulation
to protect public health from the chemical industry -- or any other
industry premised on dangerous technologies (biotech, nanotech,
weapons in space, nuclear power, etc.)
Is a workable system of regulation even imaginable under modern
conditions? If you think the answer is "yes," we'd like to hear your
ideas. If the answer is "No," then many of us would have to
acknowledge that we have been wasting our time devising new regulatory
approaches that could never, in fact, work within the current
framework of political power. Therefore we would have to admit we have
been -- and are -- working on the wrong problem(s). And I include my
own work in this.
This is a troubling prospect, but one supported by a very large and
rapidly growing body of evidence.
Return to Table of Contents
From: In These Times, Feb. 18, 2005
THE PEOPLE'S BUSINESS
Controlling corporations and restoring democracy
By Lee Drutman and Charlie Cray
[DHN introduction: This essay is adapted from The People's Business
(ISBN 1576753093) by Lee Drutman (Citizen Works) and Charlie Cray
(Center for Corporate Policy).]
One does not have to look far in Washington these days to find
evidence that government policy is being crafted with America's
biggest corporations in mind.
For example, the Bush administration's 2006 budget cuts the
enforcement budgets of almost all the major regulatory agencies. If
the gutting of the ergonomics rule, power plant emissions standards
and drug safety programs was not already enough evidence that OSHA,
EPA and FDA are deeply compromised, the slashing of their enforcement
budgets presents the possibility -- indeed, probability -- that these
public agencies will become captives of the private corporations they
are supposed to regulate.
This should come as no surprise to anybody familiar with the streams
of corporate money that flowed into Bush campaign coffers (as well as
the Kerry campaign and all races for the House and Senate) in the 2004
election. The old "follow the money" adage leads us to a democracy in
thrall to giant corporations -- a democracy that is a far cry from the
government "of the people, by the people, and for the people" that
Lincoln hailed at Gettysburg.
At a time when our democracy appears to be so thoroughly under the
sway of large corporations, it is tempting to give up on politics. We
must resist this temptation. Democracy offers the best solution to
challenging corporate power. We must engage as citizens, not just as
consumers or investors angling for a share of President Bush's
The problem of corporate power
Unfortunately, the destructive power of large corporations today is
not limited to the political sphere. The increasing domination of
corporations over virtually every dimension of our lives -- economic,
political, cultural, even spiritual -- poses a fundamental threat to
the well-being of our society.
Corporations have fostered a polarization of wealth that has
undermined our faith in a shared sense of prosperity. A corporate-
driven consumer culture has led millions of Americans into personal
debt, and alienated millions more by convincing them that the only
path to happiness is through the purchase and consumption of ever-
increasing quantities of material goods. The damage to the earth's
life-supporting systems caused by the accelerating extraction of
natural resources and the continued production, use, and disposal of
life-threatening chemicals and greenhouse gases is huge and, in some
Today's giant corporations spend billions of dollars a year to project
a positive, friendly and caring image, promoting themselves as
"responsible citizens" and "good neighbors." They have large marketing
budgets and public relations experts skilled at neutralizing their
critics and diverting attention from any controversy. By 2004,
corporate advertising expenditures were expected to top $250 billion,
enough to bring the average American more than 2,000 commercial
messages a day.
The problem of the corporation is at root one of design. Corporations
are not structured to be benevolent institutions; they are structured
to make money. In the pursuit of this one goal, they will freely cast
aside concerns about the societies and ecological systems in which
When corporations reach the size that they have reached today, they
begin to overwhelm the political institutions that can keep them in
check, eroding key limitations on their destructive capacities.
Internationally, of the 100 largest economies in the world, 51 are
corporations and 49 are nations.
How Big Business got to be so big
Corporations in the United States began as quasi-government
institutions, business organizations created by deliberate acts of
state governments for distinct public purposes such as building canals
or turnpikes. These corporations were limited in size and had only
those rights and privileges directly written into their charters. As
corporations grew bigger and more independent, their legal status
changed them from creatures of the state to independent entities, from
mere business organizations to "persons" with constitutional rights.
The last three decades have represented the most sustained pro-
business period in U.S. history.
The corporate sector's game plan for fortifying its power in America
was outlined in a memo written in August 1971 by soon-to-be Supreme
Court Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr. at the behest of the U.S. Chamber of
Commerce. The "Powell Memorandum," drafted in response to rising
popular skepticism about the role of big business and the
unprecedented growth of consumer and environmental protection laws,
was intended as a catalytic plan to spur big business into action.
Powell argued that corporate leaders should single out the campuses,
the courts and the media as key battlegrounds.
One of the most significant developments that followed Powell's memo
was the formation of the Business Roundtable in 1972 by Frederick
Borch of General Electric and John Harper of Alcoa. As author Ted Nace
has explained, "The Business Roundtable... functioned as a sort of
senate for the corporate elite, allowing big business as a whole to
set priorities and deploy its resources in a more effective way than
ever before.... The '70s saw the creation of institutions to support
the corporate agenda, including foundations, think tanks, litigation
centers, publications, and increasingly sophisticated public relations
and lobbying agencies."
For example, beer magnate Joseph Coors, moved by Powell's memo,
donated a quarter of a million dollars to the Analysis and Research
Association, the forerunner of the massive font of pro-business and
conservative propaganda known today as the Heritage Foundation.
Meanwhile, existing but tiny conservative think tanks, like the Hoover
Institute and the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy
Research, grew dramatically in the '70s. Today, they are key players
in the pro-business policy apparatus that dominates state and federal
According to a 2004 study by the National Committee for Responsive
Philanthropy, between 1999 and 2001, 79 conservative foundations made
more than $252 million in grants to 350 "archconservative policy
nonprofit organizations." By contrast, the few timid foundations that
have funded liberal causes often seem to act as a "drag anchor" on the
progressive movement, moving from issue to issue like trust fund
children with a serious case of attention-deficit disorder.
>From analysis to action
The vast majority of people, when asked, believe that corporations
have too much power and are too focused on making a profit. "Business
has gained too much power over too many aspects of American life,"
agreed 82 percent of respondents in a June 2000 Business Week poll, a
year and a half before Enron's collapse. A 2004 Harris poll found that
three-quarters of respondents said that the image of large
corporations was either "not good" or "terrible."
Corporations have achieved their dominant role in society through a
complex power grab that spans the economic, political, legal and
cultural spheres. Any attempt to challenge their power must take all
these areas into account.
There is a great need to develop a domestic strategy for challenging
corporate power in the United States, where 185 of the world's 500
largest corporations are headquartered. Although any efforts to
challenge corporations are inevitably bound up in the global justice
movement, there is much to do here in the United States that can have
a profoundly important effect on the global situation.
By understanding the origin of the corporation as a creature of the
state, we can better understand how we, as citizens with sovereignty
over our government, ultimately can and must assert our right to hold
corporations accountable. The task is to understand how we can begin
to reestablish true citizen sovereignty in a country where
corporations currently have almost all the power.
Developing the movement
To free our economy, culture and politics from the grip of giant
corporations, we will have to develop a large, diverse and well-
organized movement. But at what level should we focus our efforts:
local, state, national or global? The answer, we believe, is a balance
of all four.
Across the country, many local communities continue to organize in
resistance to giant chain stores like Wal-Mart, predatory lenders,
factory farms, private prisons, incinerators and landfills, the
planting of genetically modified organisms, and nuclear power plants.
Local communities are continuously organizing to strengthen local
businesses, raise the living wage, resist predatory marketing in
schools, cut off corporate welfare and protect essential services such
as water from privatization. Local struggles are crucial for
recruiting citizens to the broader struggle against corporate rule.
Unfortunately, examples of grassroots movements that have succeeded in
placing structural restraints on corporations are not as common as
they should be. One of the ways we can accelerate the process is by
organizing a large-scale national network of state and local lawmakers
who are interested in enacting policies that address specific issues
or place broader restraints on corporate power.
Just as the corporations have the powerful American Legislative
Exchange Council (ALEC) to distribute and support model legislation in
the states, so we need our own networks to experiment with and advance
different policies that can curb and limit corporate power. The
National Caucus of Environmental Legislators -- a low-budget coalition
of state lawmakers established in 1996 in response to the Republican
takeover of Congress and several state legislatures -- is a model that
could be used to introduce and advance innovative legislative ideas at
the state level. The New Rules Project has also begun to analyze and
compile information on these kinds of laws. Additionally, the U.S.
PIRG network of state public interest research groups and the Center
for Policy Alternatives have worked to promote model progressive
legislation, as has the newly founded American Legislative Issue
Campaign Exchange (ALICE).
Moving the movement
Despite their many strengths, many major movements of the past few
decades (labor, environmental, consumer) have all suffered from
internal fractures and a lack of connection to the broader society.
The result is that they have been increasingly boxed into "special
interest" roles, despite the fact that the policies they advocate
generally benefit the vast majority of people.
Cognitive linguist George Lakoff puts it this way: "Coalitions with
different interest-based messages for different voting blocks [are]
without a general moral vision. Movements, on the other hand, are
based on shared values, values that define who we are. They have a
better chance of being broad-based and lasting. In short, progressives
need to be thinking in terms of a broad-based progressive-values
movement, not in terms of issue coalitions."
If there is one group at the center of the struggle to challenge
corporate power, it is organized labor. As a Century Foundation Task
Force Report on the Future of Unions concluded, "Labor unions have
been the single most important agent for social justice in the United
Labor is at the forefront of efforts to challenge excessive CEO pay,
corporate attempts to move their headquarters offshore to avoid paying
their fair share of taxes, and the outsourcing of jobs. Labor also has
played a leading role in opposing the war in Iraq and exposing war
profiteers benefiting from Iraq reconstruction contracts.
As AFL-CIO President John Sweeney has written, unions need to start
"building social movements that reach beyond the workplace into the
entire community and offer working people beyond our ranks the
opportunity to improve their lives and livelihood." This is beginning
to occur more frequently. Union locals and national labor support
groups like Jobs With Justice have been a key force in building cross-
town alliances around economic justice battles such as living wage
campaigns and the new Fair Taxes for All campaign.
These union-led, cross-community alliances have in turn supported some
of the strongest union organizing campaigns, including the nearly two-
decades-old Justice for Janitors campaign that the Service Employees
International Union (SEIU) and its allies successfully organized in
Los Angeles and other cities across the country.
Clearly, labor unions, along with community-based organizations and
churches, will be central to the construction of lasting local
coalitions that can serve as organizing clearinghouses to challenge
Constructing a new politics
To challenge corporate power we must also value and rebuild the public
sphere, and draw clear lines of resistance against the expansion of
corporate power, such as the current push by Bush to convert Social
Security into individual investment accounts that will allow Wall
Street to rake off billions of dollars in annual brokerage fees. Most
importantly, we must work to change the rules instead of agreeing to
play with a stacked deck.
In our hyper-commercialized culture, we spend far more time and energy
thinking about what products we want to buy next instead of thinking
about how we can change our local communities for the better, or
affect the latest debates in Washington, D.C. or the state capitol.
And when so much energy is spent on commercial and material pursuits
instead of on collective and political pursuits, we begin to think of
ourselves as consumers, not citizens, with little understanding of how
or why we are so disempowered.
The restoration of democracy requires us to address the backstory
behind this process of psychological colonization. It requires us to
address the public policies and judicial doctrines that treat
advertising as a public good -- a tax-deductible business expense and
a form of speech protected by the First Amendment. It's been so long
since we have seriously addressed such fundamental questions that, as
a result, the average American is now exposed to more than 100
commercial messages per waking hour. As of October 2003, there were
46,438 shopping malls in the United States, covering 5.8 billion
square feet of space, or about 20.2 square feet for every man, woman
and child in the United States. As economist Juliet Schor reports,
"Americans spend three to four times as many hours a year shopping as
their counterparts in Western European countries. Once a purely
utilitarian chore, shopping has been elevated to the status of a
A consequence of the hyper-commercialization of our culture is that
instead of organizing collectively, we often buy into the market-based
ideology of individual choice and responsibility and assume that we
can change the world by changing our personal habits of consumption.
The politics of recycling offers a minor but telling example of how
corporations manage to escape blame by utilizing the politics of
personal responsibility. Although recycling is a decent habit, the
message conveyed is that the onus for environmental sustainability
largely rests upon the individual, and that the solutions to pollution
are not to be found further upstream in the industrial system.
The personal choices we make are important. But we shouldn't assume
that's the best we can do. We need to understand that it can't truly
be a matter of choice until we get some more say in what our choices
are. True power still resides in the ability to write, enforce and
judge the laws of the land, no matter what the corporations and their
personal-choice, market-centered view of the world instruct us to
Rebuilding the public sphere
With increased corporate encroachment upon our schools and
universities, our arts institutions, our houses of worship and even
our elections, we are losing the independent institutions that once
nurtured and developed the values and beliefs necessary to challenge
the corporate worldview. These and other institutions and public
assets should be considered valuable parts of a public "commons" of
our collective heritage and therefore off limits to for-profit
"The idea of the commons helps us identify and describe the common
values that lie beyond the marketplace," writes author David Bollier.
"We can begin to develop a more textured appreciation for the
importance of civic commitment, democratic norms, social equity,
cultural and aesthetic concerns, and ecological needs.... A language
of the commons also serves to restore humanistic, democratic concerns
to their proper place in public policy-making. It insists that
citizenship trumps ownership, that the democratic tradition be given
an equal or superior footing vis-a-vis the economic categories of the
Changing the rules Much citizen organizing today focuses on
influencing administrative, legislative and judicial processes that
are set up to favor large corporations from the very start. Put
simply, many of the rules are not fair, and until we can begin to
collectively challenge this fundamental unfairness, we will continue
to fight with one hand tied behind our backs. Instead of providing
opportunities for people to organize collectively to demand real
political solutions and start asking tough questions about how harmful
policies become law in the first place, many community-based
organizations seem content to merely clean up the mess left behind by
failed economic policies and declining social services.
The most successful organizing happens when it is focused on specific
demands. Two crucial reforms have great potential to aid the
movement's ability to grow: fundamental campaign finance reform and
media reform. Together, these could serve as a compelling foundation
for a mass movement that challenges corporate power more broadly.
The movement for citizen-controlled elections, organized at the local
level with support from national groups such as the Center for Voting
and Democracy and Public Campaign, provides a useful framework for
action for the broad spectrum of people who currently feel shut out of
Media reform is also essential. With growing government secrecy and a
corporate-dominated two-party political system, the role of
independent media is more critical than ever. As Bill Moyers suggested
in his keynote address at the National Conference on Media Reform in
2003, "If free and independent journalism committed to telling the
truth without fear or favor is suffocated, the oxygen goes out of
The media have always been and will continue to be the most important
tool for communicating ideas and educating the public about ongoing
problems. Thomas Paine wrote more than 200 years ago:
"There is nothing that obtains so general an influence over the
manners and morals of a people as the press; from that as from a
fountain the streams of vice or virtue are poured forth over a
History is replete with examples that show how critical the media's
role has been in addressing the injustices of our society. For
instance, many Progressive Era reforms came only in response to the
investigative exposes of corporate abuses by muckraking journalists
like Upton Sinclair and Ida Tarbell. Writing in popular magazines like
Collier's and McClure's, these writers provided a powerful public
challenge to the corruption of the Gilded Age.
Because of increased corporate consolidation of the media, coverage of
all levels of government has been greatly reduced. When people are
kept ignorant of what is happening in their communities, in their
states, in Washington, D.C. and in the world, it becomes much easier
for large corporations to overwhelm the political process and control
the economy without citizens understanding what is happening. Though
media reform is a complex subject, one approach bears mentioning --
establishing and strengthening nonprofit media outlets.
The long-term vision
Though campaign finance reform and media reform offer useful starting
points, ultimately, there is much more to be done. We need to get
tough on corporate crime. We need to make sure markets are properly
competitive by breaking up the giant corporate monopolies and
oligarchies. We need to make corporations more accountable to all
stakeholders and less focused on maximizing shareholder profit above
all. We need to stop allowing corporations to claim Bill of Rights
protections to undermine citizen-enacted laws.
Ultimately, we need to restore the understanding that in a democracy
the rights of citizens to govern themselves are more important than
the rights of corporations to make money. Since their charters and
licenses are granted by citizen governments, it should be up to the
people to decide how corporations can serve the public good and what
should be done when they don't. As Justices Byron White, William
Brennan and Thurgood Marshall noted in 1978: "Corporations are
artificial entities created by law for the purpose of furthering
certain economic goals... . The State need not permit its own creation
to consume it."
The people's business
The many constituencies concerned with the consequences of corporate
power are indeed a diverse group, and although this diversity can be a
source of strength, it also makes it difficult to clearly articulate a
vision for the struggle. What principles, then, can unite us?
One abiding faith that almost all of us share is that of citizen
democracy: that citizens should be able to decide how they wish to
live through democratic processes and that big corporations should not
be able to tell citizens how to live their lives and run their
communities. The most effective way to control corporations will be to
restore citizen democracy and to reclaim the once widely accepted
principle that corporations are but creatures of the state, chartered
under the premise that they will serve the public good, and entitled
to only those rights and privileges granted by citizen-controlled
governments. Only by doing so will we be able to create the just and
sustainable economy that we seek, an economy driven by the values of
human life and community and democracy instead of the current suicide
economy driven only by the relentless pursuit of financial profit at
Therefore, we must work assiduously to challenge the dominant role of
the corporation in our lives and in our politics. We must reestablish
citizen sovereignty, and we must restore the corporations to their
proper role as the servants of the people, not our masters. This is
the people's business.
Return to Table of Contents
From: Toronto Globe and Mail, Feb. 9, 2006
POLLUTION IN GREAT LAKES RISING DESPITE CLEANUP EFFORT, STUDY SAYS
Industrial releases of toxic materials took off from 1998 to 2002,
By Martin Mittelstaedt
TORONTO -- Despite decades of effort cleaning up the Great Lakes,
industrial discharges of water pollutants into the lakes are rising in
both Canada and the United States, according to a new report.
The upswing has been pronounced, with the amount of dangerous
pollutants soaring 21 per cent between 1998 and 2002. Discharges rose
23 per cent at U.S. companies and 13 per cent at Canadian ones, said
the report by Environmental Defence and the Canadian Environmental
Law Association. In 1998, more than 4,000 tonnes were discharged,
while in 2002, slightly over 5,000 tonnes entered the lakes.
The largest releases were of corrosive nitric acid and nitrates,
compounds that trigger algae and seaweed growth. But the discharges
also included ethylene glycol, a poisonous solvent, and metals,
including nickel, chromium and manganese.
The finding is unexpected because companies have spent billions of
dollars trying to clean up the environment, and water quality in the
lakes has improved dramatically since the late 1960s and early 1970s.
But environmentalists say the new figures suggest that complacency
about the health of the lakes, the largest body of fresh water in the
world and the source of drinking water for about 24 million people, is
"We have not solved the water-pollution problem," said Paul Muldoon of
the Canadian Environmental Law Association.
The reasons are not clear. The report, which is being made public
today, suggested its figures underestimated the amount of pollution
entering the lakes because not all companies must divulge their
releases. Because Canada and the United States have different
disclosure laws, the figures did not include emissions from municipal
sewage plants, another large source of contaminants.
Mr. Muldoon said a likely factor behind the increase is that
industries released more pollutants as their output grew.
He said that if rising economic output is behind the increase,
companies should have to invest some of their extra revenue in
The largest water polluter on the lakes in 2002 was a U.S. Steel Corp.
plant in Gary, Ind., that discharges effluent into Lake Michigan. The
largest Canadian polluter was an Imperial Oil refinery in Sarnia that
discharges into the St. Clair River.
The groups say their report is the first comprehensive look at
industrial pollution trends in the Great Lakes region in about a
decade. Environment Canada undertook a similar study based on data
from the early 1990s.
Governments stopped extensive monitoring of pollutant releases because
the Great Lakes were believed to be returning to good health. But if
discharges are rising again, the lack of scrutiny is misplaced,
according to one of those who worked on the report.
The failure of governments to compile this data is "a real indictment
of the lack of attention being paid to Great Lakes issues," said Rick
Smith, executive director of Environmental Defence.
He said governments should track the pollution trends and not leave
this work to non-profit agencies with limited budgets. The Joyce
Foundation financed the report.
Environment Canada officials did not return calls.
The pollution trends were based on publicly available data on
discharges of harmful substances that companies must file with the
U.S. and Canadian governments.
The largest air polluter on the lakes was Ontario Power Generation's
Nanticoke coal-fired power station on Lake Erie.
Sidebar: Troubling tally
A new report finds that the amount of dangerous pollutants being
discharged into the Great Lakes basin is on the rise, soaring 21 per
cent between 1998 and 2002. Discharges rose 23 per cent at U.S.
companies and 13 per cent at Canadian ones.
Lake Superior basin
Canadian facilities: 3,351
United States facilities: 791
Lake Huron basin
Canadian facilities: 5,778
United States facilities: 2,732
Lake Ontario basin
Canadian facilities: 13,708
United States facilities: 7,363
Lake Michigan basin
Canadian facilities: 0
United States facilities: 19,012
Lake Erie basin:
Canadian facilities: 20,388
United States facilities: 26,344
The 15 facilities with the largest releases of water pollutants into
the Great Lakes basin, 2002 in descending order
1.U.S. Steel Corp., Gary, Ind.
2.Anheuser-Busch Inc., Baldwinsville, N.Y.
3.Imperial Oil, Sarnia, Ont.
4.Eastman Kodak Co., Rochester, N.Y.
5.Parmalat Canada, Winchester, Ont.
6. Fort James Operating Co., Green Bay, Wis.
7.Jungbunzlauer Canada Inc., Port Colborne, Ont.
8.Domtar Inc., Espanola, Ont.
9.Abitibi-Consolidated Co. of Canada, Thorold, Ont.
10.Escanaba Paper Co., Escanaba, Mich.
11.Great Lakes Cheese of N.Y. Inc., Adams, N.Y.
12.Stelco Inc., Hamilton, Ont.
13.Dunkirk Steam Station, Dunkirk, N.Y.
14.Huntley Generating Station, Tonawanda, N.Y.
15.Cytec Canada Inc., Niagara Falls, Ont.
Return to Table of Contents
From: American Association for the Advancement of Science, Dec. 21, 2005
EXPERTS PONDER THE GLOBAL RISE OF CHRONIC DISEASE
By Paul Recer
A growing global epidemic of chronic disease, such as heart disease,
stroke, cancer and diabetes, will cause at least 35 million deaths
this year, costing the world economy billions of dollars, even though
medical science has identified the principal causes and knows ways to
prevent it, experts said at a AAAS seminar in Washington, D.C.
Speakers at the first Philip Hauge Abelson Advancing Science Seminar
said that twice as many premature deaths are caused worldwide by
chronic diseases as by all infectious diseases, maternal and perinatal
conditions and nutritional deficiencies combined. And while the toll
from infectious diseases is declining globally, deaths from chronic
disease are expected to increase by 17 percent in the next 10 years.
The 8 December seminar included speakers from the World Health
Organization (WHO), from pharmaceutical and medical device
manufacturers and from university research labs. It was the inaugural
event in a series named for Abelson, a researcher in physics, biology
and other sciences, and the editor for 22 years of Science, which is
published by AAAS. Abelson died last year at the age of 91.
Alan I. Leshner, AAAS chief executive officer and executive publisher
of Science, said the seminar series would address major societal
challenges and focus on the frontiers of science and technology.
Robert Beaglehole, WHO's director of Chronic Diseases and Health
Promotion, said in the keynote address that the toll of premature
death from chronic disease is increasing worldwide principally because
of unhealthy diets, physical inactivity and the use of tobacco and the
aging of populations in almost all countries.
Diet and the lack of physical activity is contributing to a growing
pattern of obesity, a key risk factor for diabetes and early heart
disease. And it's not just happening in the rich countries, such as
the United States and South Africa, where recent reports show that 75
percent of women aged 30 and over are overweight. A "very frightening
statistic," said Beaglehole, is that in countries both rich and poor,
about 22 million children worldwide under the age of five are already
"We've done a lot to observe the emergence of this problem," he said.
"We have done practically nothing to solve it."
Beaglehole said that common misunderstandings about chronic disease
have affected policy decisions and slowed the worldwide response to
the emerging epidemic.
For instance, he said it's widely believed that premature heart
disease, stroke, diabetes and other chronic diseases are mostly a
plague among the elderly and among the rich in high-income countries.
Actually, said Beaglehole, 80 percent of deaths from chronic diseases
are in low- and middle-income countries. A WHO report found that poor
people, in all but the least developed countries, are more likely than
the rich to develop chronic diseases and are more likely to die early.
And it is not just the elderly who are victims. The WHO report found
that almost half of the deaths from chronic diseases occur in people
under 70 years old.
"A very dangerous misunderstanding is that chronic disease is the
result of unhealthy lifestyles under the control of individuals,"
Beaglehole said. "The reality is that poor people and children have
very limited choices, and it is unfair to blame them for the
environmental conditions in which they suffer."
There's also the belief by many that chronic diseases and premature
deaths cannot be prevented.
"The reality is that approximately 80 percent of premature heart
disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes is preventable, as are 40 percent
of all cancers -- many of which result from tobacco consumption," said
Beaglehole. "A few known risk factors explain the vast majority of
premature chronic disease deaths."
A global effort to attack the causes of chronic disease could reduce
death rates by 2 percent a year and save 36 million lives within a
decade, he said. Ninety percent of the lives saved, said Beaglehole,
would be in low- and middle-income countries. Slowing the epidemic of
premature death from chronic diseases will have to involve policy
issues beyond the health field, he said. For instance, farm subsidies
often affect the type of food available in some countries. An example:
The consumption of full fat milk is encouraged in schools in some
European countries because of subsidies, said Beaglehole. Excessive
fat, sugar and salt in the diet lead to obesity, type 2 diabetes,
heart disease and stroke.
Other specialists at the Abelson seminar reported recent findings that
offer new hope for treatment and management of heart disease, high
blood pressure, obesity, diabetes and cancer.
Eric J. Topol, provost of the Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of
Medicine, said studies of families with heart attack have demonstrated
specific genes that are causative or induce susceptibility. This will
allow strategies of lifestyle and individualized therapy early in life
to prevent heart attacks decades later.
The battle against the growing epidemic of obesity will require
fundamental changes in attitudes toward food and exercise, said Holly
Wyatt, the program director at the Centers for Obesity Research and
Education at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center. In
American society, she said, "we've had a lot of pressures to not
expend more energy than we have to and we had a lot of pressure to eat
more than we need."
To change the behaviors that lead to obesity will require
encouragement from virtually every element in society -- employers,
schools, churches, community centers and retail stores, she said. Such
programs have worked in the past to discourage tobacco use and
encourage using seat belts in cars. Without such an effort, Wyatt said
that by 2008 about 75 percent of Americans will be at a body weight
that negatively affects health.
Basic research on how the kidneys regulate salt in the body has given
medical science a new understanding of the causes of high blood
pressure, a major risk factor for heart attack, stroke and kidney
failure, said Rick Lifton, Sterling Professor and chairman of Genetics
atYale University School of Medicine. He said there are biological
pathways and gene mutations that cause the kidneys to sequester
sodium, leading to increases in blood pressure. Drugs to counter these
effects could lead to dramatically improved treatments for
hypertension, a disorder that affects a billion people world wide and
is linked to about 5 million deaths annually.
Dr. Gerald I. Shulman, an investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical
Institute and professor of internal medicine and cellular & molecular
physiology at Yale University, said that new, non-invasive studies
using magnetic resonance spectroscopy have demonstrated that the
development of insulin resistance in type 2 diabetes is directly
related to the build-up of fat inside muscle and liver cells where it
disrupts normal insulin signaling and action in these organs. Studies
in transgenic and knockout mice as well as in humans have shown that
removing this excess intracellular fat can restore insulin sensitivity
and cure type 2 diabetes. The results from these studies provide new
targets for novel therapies that might be developed to reduce
intracellular fat levels and reverse insulin resistance in patients
with type 2 diabetes, said Shulman.
Copyright 2005. American Association for the Advancement of Science
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Rachel's Democracy & Health News (formerly Rachel's Environment &
Health News) highlights the connections between issues that are
often considered separately or not at all.
The natural world is deteriorating and human health is declining
because those who make the important decisions aren't the ones who
bear the brunt. Our purpose is to connect the dots between human
health, the destruction of nature, the decline of community, the
rise of economic insecurity and inequalities, growing stress among
workers and families, and the crippling legacies of patriarchy,
intolerance, and racial injustice that allow us to be divided and
therefore ruled by the few.
In a democracy, there are no more fundamental questions than, "Who
gets to decide?" And, "How do the few control the many, and what
might be done about it?"
As you come across stories that might help people connect the dots,
please Email them to us at email@example.com.
Rachel's Democracy & Health News is published as often as
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