Rachel's Democracy & Health News #842
Thursday, February 16, 2006

From: Rachel's Democracy & Health News #842 ..........[This story printer-friendly]
February 16, 2006


[Rachel's introduction: 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.]

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 Brockovich, 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 Brockovich 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 "perforated nasal septum," a classic symptom of chromium poisoning.

In the 1990s, thanks in part to Erin Brockovich, 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 away.

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- polluted water.

"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 weren't available.

** 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 chromium cleanups.

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 published 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.


From: In These Times .....................................[This story printer-friendly]
February 18, 2005


[Rachel's introduction: 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.]

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 "ownership society."

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 respects, irreversible.

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 they operate.

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 policymaking.

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 States."

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 corporate rule.

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 national passion."

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 believe.

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 corporations.

"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 market."

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 politics.

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 democracy."

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 nation."

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 any cost.

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.


From: Toronto Globe and Mail .............................[This story printer-friendly]
February 9, 2006


Industrial releases of toxic materials took off from 1998 to 2002, data show

[Rachel's introduction: 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.]

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 misplaced.

"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 pollution controls.

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.

Source: www.pollutionwatch.org



From: American Association for the Advancement of Science .[This story printer-friendly]
December 21, 2005


[Rachel's introduction: 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.]

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 obese.

"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


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.

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