Rachel's Democracy & Health News #858
Thursday, June 8, 2006
From: Rachel's Democracy & Health News #858 ..........[This story printer-friendly]
June 8, 2006
THE CONTEXT OF OUR WORK: SLOW ECONOMIC GROWTH, PART 2
[Rachel's introduction: Here we pick up the thread from last week, examining the consequences of three decades of decelerating economic growth. The system's responses to slowed economic growth explain much of what passes for "the news" each day.]
By Peter Montague
Introduction: We began last week examining the effects of slowed economic growth on U.S. society. The argument is simple: since 1970, each decade has brought slower economic growth while at the same time there is a glut of capital seeking a decent return on investment. More capital accrues each year; that's what "economic growth" means. Each year it gets a little harder to find safe places to invest the ever- growing supply of capital to provide decent returns. As a result, corporate-governmental policies are increasingly aimed primarily at helping investors achieve their goals. Don't misunderstand: This is not about greedy individuals demanding to get rich -- this is about "system responses" from a complex system that cannot continue unmodified without a hefty rate of growth because, as the system is currently set up, the only alternative to substantial growth is recession or depression. The economy either grows or it stalls and goes into a decline -- a steady state is not an option. Those who are doing their best to pump up returns for investors believe that what they are doing is essential for saving the modern economy, and they may be right. Unfortunately, on a finite planet, perpetual growth of material production is impossible to sustain, so the current path is, without doubt, a dead end. Ecological limits have already begun to appear.
System response No. 13: Relax environmental standards
As growth slows, environmental standards are being relaxed on the assumption that they retard economic growth. This is the main force driving the current bipartisan move to extinguish all meaningful environmental regulations, to the extent that any ever really existed.
For reasons that escape me, environmentalists want to see environmental regulations as a partisan issue. Angry books have been written about the way the George W. Bush administration has relaxed environmental standards, so I won't go into it here. But let's not forget to examine the Clinton/Gore administration's fudging and waffling on environmental controls in the name of stimulating economic growth. And let's not forget that it was Republican Richard Nixon who created the EPA (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency).
Both Republicans and Democrats have an identical interest in returning the economy to historical rates of growth, and to the extent that protecting nature is seem as an impediment to growth, to that extent regulations to protect nature will be ignored, repudiated, reinterpreted or placed within the purview of a "regulatory" system the main purpose of which is to keep the public at bay, give the appearance that people's concerns are being addressed, and meanwhile leave corporations free to do what they need to do to make the economy grow.
Most importantly, let's ask ourselves whether the nation's labyrinth of environmental laws and regulations -- at least 12,000 pages of fine print in the Federal Register -- is adequate to resolve the problems it was presumably intended to fix. If we are honest, we will acknowledge that the regulations are hopelessly inadequate. An overwhelming body of scientific and medical evidence -- much of it available to every reader of a daily newspaper -- demonstrates that damage to nature and human health is steadily increasing. As Donella Meadows observed shortly before her death, the best that can be said after 40 years of environmental regulation is that things are growing worse at a slower rate.
System response No. 14: A Social Insecurity Program
The cumulative effect of the previous 12 system responses has been to stabilize and regularize American society by making middle- and working-class Americans more insecure, and at the same time busier, each passing year.
Insecure people do not start revolutions or even ask too many questions. They tend to assume that change will be for the worse -- and for at least three decades they have been right. As Eric Hoffer has observed, "Fear of the future causes us to lean against and cling to the present..."[30, pg. 19] And: "In a modern society, people can live without hope only when kept dazed and out of breath by incessant hustling."[30, pg. 24] In sum, keeping people insecure and ever-busier keeps them in line, holds them in thrall.
As a result of slow economic growth -- and the 14 system responses described above -- Americans are working longer hours for the same or less pay. They are traveling further in worsening traffic to find a tolerable job. They are borrowing more -- a lot more -- and taking extra work to pay off their loans. Many are not sure they will have a job next year; they are not even sure their employer will exist next year, perhaps the victim of a hostile takeover, perhaps simply moved to Mexico where labor is cheap and rules are few. For the U.S. workforce, benefits like health insurance and retirement benefits are getting scarcer. Overtime pay is under attack. Rollbacks and givebacks are demanded of the nation's workforce at every turn.
We are constantly reminded that food and water are laced with cancer- causing chemicals, which corporate/governmental risk assessors assure us are "completely safe" (wink, wink). Everyone knows someone who has had, or now has, cancer. The cost of college tuition rises each year, at the same time we are told thriving in the "information age" will require a college degree. With libraries closing and most schools overcrowded and many downright dangerous, how will the kids survive in a world of unbridled competition? It's enough to keep you awake at night -- which may be the point.
In sum, the net result of the past 30 years is a huge increase in anxiety and insecurity. Perhaps in response, people are turning to crime or escaping into addictions (drugs, alcohol, TV) and apocalyptic visions of a divine end to earthly distress. In late 2004, a Newsweek poll found that one out of every six Americans -- some 51 million people -- now expect the world to end during their lifetime. Far from being a lunatic fringe, these people now form the electoral base of the ruling political party in the U.S. If the country is not run in a way that measures up to their other-worldly preconceptions, they threaten to turn the Republicans out of office, and most likely they have the power to do it. In deference to this contingent, both President Bush and Senator Hillary Clinton are presently stumping for a Constitutional amendment to outlaw burning the American flag as a political statement (while retaining the right of their wealthier, politically-satisfied supporters to blow their noses on American-flag cocktail napkins or kerchiefs).
Everyone knows the system is rigged against the average person. The people who run the system no longer even try very hard to hide that fact. The response of most people in the face of widespread corruption and cronyism is to withdraw into weariness, resignation, cynicism -- and flashes of anger.
That anger draws a response because its politically dangerous. There's now a whole industry devoted to deflecting that anger away from the Masters of Our Fate and onto "welfare queens" (shorthand for poor black single mothers and, by extension, all black women); "Willie Horton" (shorthand for black male criminals, and, by extension, all black men); physicians who perform abortions; homosexuals; so-called "liberal elites," and other scapegoats, now including most recently Muslims and foreigners, especially those with brown skin. The science of scapegoating -- which entered world consciousness via the work of Paul Joseph Goebbels, Hitler's minister of propaganda -- is now a very highly developed set of techniques. In the U.S. the science of scapegoating was refined to greatest effect by Lee Atwater, political advisor to Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, and by Atwater's best-known student, Carl Rove, political advisor to President George W. Bush. The lineage from Goebbels to Rove is direct and unlikely to be broken because these techniques really do work.
System response No. 15: Divide and Rule
As noted above, five percent of the population owns 2/3rds of all private wealth in the U.S., and the other 95% of the population makes do by divvying up the remaining one-third of the nation's private wealth.
Naturally this astonishing inequality in wealth gives rise to enormous disparities in income, quality of life (employment, health, education, leisure time, and life span), and overall opportunities. Each year these economic inequalities grow greater as the 5% become a little wealthier and the 95% a little less so. You can think of the U.S. economy now as a kind of Rube Goldberg conveyor belt, lifting money out of the pockets of the middle class and the working poor and moving it, by circuitous routes, into the pockets of the super rich. Lights flash, whistles shriek, gizmos pop and spin, gears and belts carry weights and buckets to and fro -- all highly amusing and distracting, as all of Rube Goldberg inventions were. But beneath it all runs a steady conveyor, relentlessly moving money from the have-lesses to the have-mores. It's not greed; it's the way the system functions in order to survive.
The first thing we might notice here is that, by definition, the super rich 5% are outnumbered 19 to 1 -- yet each year that tiny minority manages to retain (and even strengthen) social and economic policies that keep that conveyor belt chugging along, steadily transferring rewards upward.
Since the 95% could readily outvote the 5%, the only ESSENTIAL strategy for the 5% is divide and rule. If 54% of the 95% ever got together, rule by the 5% would end. Indeed, divide and rule, or divide and conquer, is really the ONLY thing the 5% have going for them. It is their lifeline, and therefore also their major vulnerability.
To maintain the status quo, the 5% must divide the 95% (or convince them that voting will not change anything and is therefore pointless). This is the essential function of "social issues" like abortion rights, gun control, prayer in school, amendments to prohibit flag burning, women's liberation, "liberal elites," "pointy-headed intellectuals" (as former Vice President Spiro Agnew liked to call his adversaries), the "Eastern establishment," godless communists, Muslim evil-doers, bunny huggers, labor bosses, welfare queens, homosexuals -- name your favorite pariah. The reason your favorite pariah exists as an "issue" is to keep the pot boiling, to ensnare 48% of the 95% into voting with the 5% (or staying home on election day), so the 5% can continue to have their way with us all.
The divide-and-rule strategy has a noble lineage. The British discovered in 1610 that they could divide Ireland and thus finally bring it under British rule after 250 years of failed effort. King James I realized that he could split northen Ireland along Protestant- Catholic lines and thus allow a foreign power to dominate both Protestants AND Catholics who could never combine forces to confront their common enemy. It worked like a charm and thus entered the book of tricks used ever since by the few to rule the many.
The Brits went on to use "divide and rule" to subjugate India, Africa, and the Middle East. By pitting one group of subjects against another group (offering one group special privileges, for example) and constantly whipping up ethnic, religious and class or caste animosities, tiny numbers of Brits were able to dominate enormous numbers of colonials for 400 years, exacting tribute for the mother country all the while. The threat of violence by the British military always lay in the background during these colonial adventures but it was generally not needed. The Brits used a combination of carrots and sticks -- plus leadership jealousies, religious fractures, tribal disputes, regional differences, and cultural animosities -- to get half a population to help them subjugate the other half. I am reminded of the strategic advice given by U.S. financier and railroad businessman, Jay Gould: "I can hire one half of the working class to kill the other half."
Using nature as a toilet in the name of economic stimulus is not restricted to one political party or the other -- let us acknowledge that, to gain election, both parties must feed at the same trough and therefore serve the same master.
Some might say that real campaign finance reform is the only hope for fixing this. But it goes far deeper than that.
Given an economic system that derives investment capital from investors who have a right to expect a substantial annual return on investment, and given that such a system requires growth to produce the return for those investors, and given that environmental harm is roughly proportional to economic growth, it seems silly and naive to think that nature can be protected from this ever-growing juggernaut by a set of rules negotiated between the juggernaut and a central bureaucracy created by the juggernaut.
If I am entitled to a 7% annual return on my investment (or even a 3% return), that return must come from somewhere without much delay, and that requires stuff to be dug up or grown, moved, processed, moved again, packaged, promoted and sold, moved again, used, moved again, perhaps recycled a few times, and eventually discarded (at which point nature starts moving it once again, into waterways and food webs). The second law of thermodynamics tells us that each of these steps will inevitably be accompanied by waste, disorder and other disruptive unintended consequences. Environmental regulations are not going to change any of that, no matter who negotiates them.
The pattern of the U.S. regulatory system was designed by business interests in the early 20th century to serve business interests by stabilizing and regularizing the social/governmental environment within which business operates. Environmental regulation followed that same pattern when it evolved in the 1970s. As Tom Linzey and Richard Grossman point out, the social purpose of environmental regulation is not so much to regulate business as it is to restrict the objections that can be raised by dissenters (whether small business competitors or angry citizens). Regulation limits and channels the responses anyone can make to corporate harms and thus environmental regulations mainly serve to make citizens predictable and manageable. The same could be said of labor regulations, financial regulations, and all the other regulatory constraints placed on business enterprises. The purpose is the regularize and stabilize the business environment, which means restricting the responses of those who are (inadvertently or not) harmed, taken advantage of, shortchanged, cheated or otherwise abused.
Real protection of nature and human health will require reforms far more fundamental than trying to curb the flow of corrupt money into elections and creating bureaucracies in Washington to try to police the behavior of corporations that can operate in 120 countries on all continents simultaneously in outer space if they choose to. The simple fact is that the owners of capital want decent returns, this requires economic growth, and they will not be denied their due. Against this ever-growing juggernaut, regulations are powerless to protect nature or human health. Harm will be done, and it will be judged justifiable as the cost of doing business.
It is now clear that continued growth is incompatible with the need to protect the ecosystems on which all humans (and all other creatures) depend -- so human survival requires that growth must slow and then stop. In this essay, I have described 15 system responses to a slow- down in the rate of growth, so this should give us some idea of the task we face and the intensity of the opposition that will develop if we proceed down this road. It could easily turn ugly.
The global south needs growth (of roads, ports, and power plants) to give people the basics, and the global north already suffers from too much growth (and a glut of basics, which is one reason return on investment has diminished in recent decades). So growth in the north will need to stop -- or even go negative -- so that growth in the global south can proceed apace. Many in the investor class are unlikely to sit idly by as this unfolds, especially if they are made to feel unwelcome in the global south.
Perpetual growth on a finite planet is a logical and physical impossibility. In recent decades it has become indisputably clear that an irresistible force (the human-animal need to protect the Earth, its habitat) has met an immovable object (the need for economic growth to reward investors so that the modern economic system can survive unmodified). Let's at least acknowledge that this is the nub of "the environmental problem" and that the environmental movement hasn't yet begun to bark up this particular tree.
 Richard W. Stevenson, "The 2004 Campaign: The Issues: President Has Aggressively Pursued 'Pro-Growth' Ideas Nurtured in the Texas Oil Fields," New York Times Oct. 8, 2004, pg. A20. And see http://www.nrdc.org/bushrecord/
 For example, Donald C. Lord, Dubya: The Toxic Texan : George W. Bush and Environmental Degradation (N.Y.: iUniverse, 2005); ISBN 0595351034.
 Gabriel Kolko, The Triumph of Conservatism; A Reinterpretation of American History, 1900-1916. NY: The Free Press, 1963, describes the historical development of the regulatory system as a necessary adjunct to the growth of corporate influence over the nation's political, commercial, and cultural life.
 I have been documenting this since 1986 in Rachel's News (www.rachel.org).
 Eric Hoffer, The True Believer; Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements. NY: Harper and Row, 1951. Edition cited here is Mentor paperback published by New American Library, 1958.
 Kate Zernike, "Violent Crime Rising Sharply in Some Cities," New York Times February 12, 2006, pg. A1, reports, "Milwaukee -- One woman here killed a friend after they argued over a brown silk dress. A man killed a neighbor whose 10-year-old son had mistakenly used his dish soap. Two men argued over a cellphone, and pulling out their guns, the police say, killed a 13-year-old girl in the crossfire.
"While violent crime has been at historic lows nationwide and in cities like New York, Miami and Los Angeles, it is rising sharply here and in many other places across the country.
"And while such crime in the 1990's was characterized by battles over gangs and drug turf, the police say the current rise in homicides has been set off by something more bewildering: petty disputes that hardly seem the stuff of fistfights, much less gunfire"
 According to a Newsweek poll, 17 percent of Americans (one in every six) expect the world to end in their lifetime. Cited in Frank Rich "Now on DVD: The Passion of the Bush," New York Times Oct. 3, 2004.
 In his book, What's the Matter With Kansas (NY: Henry Holt, 2004; paperback 2005; ISBN 0-8050-7774X), Thomas Frank "reveals how the political right continues to win elections, despite the fact that its economic policies hurt the vast majority of ordinary people, by portraying itself as the defender of mainstream values against a malevolent cultural elite. The right 'mobilizes voters with explosive social issues, summoning public outrage which it then marries to pro- business economic policies. Cultural anger is marshaled to achieve economic ends." This is showmanship at its best. Politicians talk about 'traditional values," but their true loyalty is to economic policies intended to primarily benefit the wealthiest 5%: 'Vote to stop abortion; receive a rollback in capital gains taxes. Vote to stand tall against terrorists; receive Social Security privatization." It may seem far-fetched, but so far it's working." writes Paul Krugman, "Kansas on My Mind," New York Times Feb. 25, 2005.
From: The Nation .........................................[This story printer-friendly]
June 7, 2006
CITIZENS 1, CORPORATIONS 0
[Rachel's introduction: On June 6, 2006 the voters in Humboldt County, California approved a new law prohibiting corporations headquartered outside the county from making contributions to electoral campaigns within the county.]
By John Nichols**
In states across the country Tuesday, primary elections named candidates for Congress, governorships and other important offices. But the most interesting, and perhaps significant, election did not involve an individual. Rather, it was about an idea.
In Northern California's Humboldt County, voters decided by a 55-45 margin that corporations do not have the same rights -- based on the supposed "personhood" of the combines -- as citizens when it comes to participating in local political campaigns.
Until Tuesday in Humboldt County, corporations were able to claim citizenship rights, as they do elsewhere in the United States. In the context of electoral politics, corporations that were not headquartered in the county took advantage of the same rules that allowed individuals who are not residents to make campaign contributions in order to influence local campaigns.
But, with the passage of Measure T, an initiative referendum that was placed on the ballot by Humboldt County residents, voters have signaled that they want out-of-town corporations barred from meddling in local elections.
Measure T was backed by the county's Green and Democratic parties, as well as labor unions and many elected officials in a region where politics are so progressive that the Greens -- whose 2004 presidential candidate, David Cobb, is a resident of the county and a active promotor of the challenges to corporate power mounted by Democracy Unlimited of Humboldt County and the national Liberty Tree Foundation -- are a major force in local politics.
The "Yes on T" campaign was rooted in regard for the American experiment, from its slogan "Vote Yes for Local Control of Our Democracy," to the references to Tuesday's election as a modern-day "Boston Tea Party," to the quote from Thomas Jefferson that was highlighted in election materials: "I hope we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial by strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our country."
Just as Jefferson and his contemporaries were angered by dominance of the affairs of the American colonies by King George III and the British business combines that exploited the natural and human resources of what would become the United States, so Humboldt County residents were angered by the attempts of outside corporate interests to dominate local politics.
Wal-Mart spent $250,000 on a 1999 attempt to change the city of Eureka's zoning laws in order to clear the way for one of the retail giant's big-box stores. Five years later, MAXXAM Inc., a forest products company, got upset with the efforts of local District Attorney Paul Gallegos to enforce regulations on its operations in the county and spent $300,000 on a faked-up campaign to recall him from office. The same year saw outside corporations that were interested in exploiting the county's abundant natural resources meddling in its local election campaigns.
That was the last straw for a lot of Humboldt County residents. They organized to put Measure T on the ballot, declaring, "Our Founding Fathers never intended corporations to have this kind of power."
"Every person has the right to sign petition recalls and to contribute money to political campaigns. Measure T will not affect these individual rights," explained Kaitlin Sopoci-Belknap, a resident of Eureka who was one of the leaders of the Yes on T campaign. "But individuals hold these political rights by virtue of their status as humans in a democracy and, simply put, a corporation is not a person."
Despite the logic of that assessment, the electoral battle in Humboldt County was a heated one, and Measure T's passage will not end it. Now, the corporate campaign will move to the courts. So this is only a start. But what a monumental start it is!
Sopoci-Belknap was absolutely right when she portrayed Tuesday's vote as nothing less than the beginning of "the process of reclaiming our county" from the "tyranny" of concentrated economic and political power.
Surely Tom Paine would have agreed. It was Paine who suggested to the revolutionaries of 1776, as they dared challenge the most powerful empire on the planet, that: "We have it in our power to begin the world over again. A situation similar to the present hath not happened since the days of Noah until now. The birthday of the new world is at hand, and a race of men, perhaps as numerous as all Europe contains, are to receive their portion of freedom from the events of a few months."
It is time to renew the American experiment, to rebuild its battered institutions on the solid foundation of empowered citizens and regulated corporations. Let us hope that the spirit of '76 prevailed Tuesday in Humboldt County will spread until that day when American democracy is guided by the will of the people rather than the campaign contribution checks of the corporations that are the rampaging "empires" of our age.
** John Nichols is the Washington Correspondent for The Nation.
From: Environmental Policy Alert .........................[This story printer-friendly]
June 7, 2006
ACTIVISTS URGE EPA TO DRAFT NANOTECH RULE TO COUNTER INDUSTRY VIEWS
[Rachel's introduction: Environmental Defense (ED), a major U.S. environmental organization, has petitioned U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to regulate nanotechnology under the Toxic Substances Control Act TSCA). TSCA is widely acknowledged as one of the least-effective government regulations ever written. ED's petition could signal a rift between ED and some of its partners in the chemical industry. On the other hand, it might be viewed as ED asking EPA to throw their Brer Rabbit friends into the regulatory briar patch.]
A key environmental group, Environmental Defense (ED), is calling on EPA to issue guidance and possibly initiate a rulemaking regulating nanomaterials as new chemicals under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) in an effort targeting recent chemical industry arguments that the agency lacks authority under the toxics law to regulate the materials.
The group sent a letter May 22 to EPA's general counsel arguing that engineered nanomaterials are "new" substances under TSCA, which would mean industry would have to submit information to the agency in a pre- manufacture notice (PMN) on the makeup of a nanomaterial. Such an application can slow the process of bringing a product to market, but allows EPA to review and assess the potential for risks from a new material and allows the agency to limit use of, and exposure to, the material. Relevant documents are available on InsideEPA.com.
The dispute suggests a breakdown in joint efforts by the group and the American Chemistry Council (ACC) to develop consensus policies on nanomaterials. But ED and DuPont officials are still working on a joint nanotech policy process, sources say.
Nanotechnology is an emerging technology that is expected to have widespread uses in industry, medicine and consumer products. But activists are concerned about the potential risks to the environment and human health, and industry officials have called for a regulatory framework to limit future liabilities posed by nanomaterials. The unique makeup of the materials, however, poses challenges to EPA in determining how to regulate the technology and whether current statutes and regulations can adequately apply to nanomaterials.
EPA's general counsel is expected to release later this year a guidance on the scope of EPA's authority under TSCA to regulate nanomaterials and what materials require PMNs. EPA sources were unavailable for comment.
ACC and ED issued a joint statement last year at an EPA-convened public meeting on nanotechnology in which the two organizations outlined common principles for developing policies for the emerging technology. The statement called for, among other things, increased government investment in research on nanotechnology; development of international standardized testing protocols; regulation of nanomaterials in a "transparent process" that will minimize risks to human health and the environment; and a "multi-stakeholder dialogue" that will "assure the development of an effective program for nanoscale materials."
But last March, ACC's Nanotechnology Panel sent a document to EPA arguing that the definition of a "chemical substance" under TSCA limits the information EPA can seek on a chemical's makeup. This would minimize the volume of PMNs industry may have to submit before brining a nanotechnology product to market.
In its response to ACC's document, ED argues that it is "entirely consistent with both the language of TSCA and EPA's own regulations and practice to designate engineered nanomaterials as 'new' substances under TSCA and thus subject to PMN review, even where a material has a chemical structure that is identical to a substance already included on the [TSCA] Inventory, unless the nanomaterial's chemical and physical properties are demonstrably identical to an existing conventional substance with the same chemical structure."
The letter also argues that EPA can consider a broad range of information when it defines a "chemical substance" under TSCA, refuting a number of statements the ACC panel makes. The environmentalists point to a number of longstanding agency practices under which it considers factors beyond the basic chemical structure to define a substance.
"In short, EPA can and routinely does consider factors beyond chemical structure in order to define a chemical substance, and it does so in particular when chemical structure alone is insufficient," the letter says. "Engineered nanomaterials are perfect examples of such chemical substances: Their enhanced or novel properties, which in many cases are a direct function of the means by which they are produced, are what make them new, giving them their own molecular identify and distinguishing them from existing chemical substances possessing the same molecular structure. To ignore such factors would be to ignore the very nano-ness of engineered nanomaterials."
Meanwhile, ED and DuPont in recent weeks have been seeking verbal comment from scientists, industry and others on how to move forward with a framework for the development, production, use and disposal of nanomaterials that "identifies, manages and reduces potential risks across all lifecycle phases."
The framework, which was first outlined last year, hopes to identify potential hazards; assess the potential for exposure to such materials; demonstrate the application of the framework on at least one nanotechnology product; apply the framework to all of Dupont's involvement in nanotechnology; and promote the principles of the framework so that it will adopted broadly by government, industry, public interest groups and others.
From: Los Angeles Times ..................................[This story printer-friendly]
June 1, 2006
CHEMICAL IN PLASTICS IS TIED TO PROSTATE CANCER
Bisphenol A, found in baby bottles and microwave cookware, permanently altered genes in newborn lab rats, a study finds.
[Rachel's introduction: Important new research has linked prostate cancer to bisphenol A (BPA), a common chemical that leaches out of plastic food and drink containers. The chemical industry releases 6 billion pounds of BPA each year into products and waste. The new work reveals that small amounts of BPA can permanently change male animals in the womb, making it more likely that they will develop prostate cancer later in life. Prostate cancer has been steadily increasing among human males in recent decades, tracking the rise in use of BPA.]
By Marla Cone
Linking prostate cancer to a widespread industrial compound, scientists have found that exposure to a chemical that leaks from plastic causes genetic changes in animals' developing prostate glands that are precursors of the most common form of cancer in males.
The chemical, bisphenol A, or BPA, is used in the manufacture of hard, polycarbonate plastic for baby bottles, microwave cookware and other consumer goods, and it has been detected in nearly every human body tested.
Scientists and health experts have theorized for more than a decade that chemicals in the environment and in consumer products mimic estrogens and may be contributing to male and female reproductive diseases, particularly prostate cancer.
The new study of laboratory rats suggests that prostate cancer, which usually strikes men over 50, may develop when BPA and other estrogen- like, man-made chemicals pass through a pregnant woman's womb and alter the genes of a growing prostate in the fetus. One in every six men develops prostate cancer, a rate that has increased over the last 30 years.
Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Cincinnati exposed newborn rats to low doses of BPA and found the structure of genes in their prostate cells was permanently altered, a process of reprogramming in early life that promotes cancer in adulthood. One key gene was switched on, producing too much of a cell-damaging enzyme that has been detected in cancerous prostate cells but not normal cells.
Also, as the rats aged, they were more likely than unexposed animals to develop precancerous lesions, or cellular damage, in the prostate that have been known for years to lead to prostate cancer in humans. "The present findings provide the first evidence of a direct link between developmental low-dose bisphenol A... and carcinogenesis of the prostate gland," according to the researchers. Results from the team, led by Gail S. Prins, associate professor of andrology at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and Shuk-mei Ho, chair of environmental health at the University of Cincinnati, are reported today in the journal Cancer Research.
Exposure to the chemical "may provide a fetal basis for this adult disease" in humans, the report said.
Dr. Rebecca Sokol, a USC medical school professor who specializes in male hormone research, called the study "cutting-edge." She said it added to a growing body of research, called epigenetics, that suggested environmental chemicals could alter how DNA sequences turned on and off in a fetus, permanently imprinting the genes of a child and sensitizing him or her to disease in adulthood.
Such findings could have major implications for human disease and could, in part, explain why the prostate cancer rate has surged. BPA, used for about half a century, is a key building block in the manufacture of polycarbonate plastic and ranks among the world's most widely used industrial chemicals.
Prins, Ho and other researchers cautioned that the study was conducted on rats, which sometimes reacted differently to chemicals than humans did. Replicating the work in humans is virtually impossible because 50 or more years usually pass from exposure in the womb to the onset of prostate cancer.
"You can't say from the results of this study that this is going to affect humans," Sokol said. But she said the results were in line with previous animal research that showed chemicals could induce genetic changes that altered sperm and other reproductive functions. The prostate gland, which develops in human males when they are fetuses, is extremely sensitive to natural estrogen. As a result, scientists have long theorized that prostate cancer could be increasing in men because of their exposure to estrogen-like chemicals in the womb.
Unlike carcinogenic chemicals that can cause profound damage to DNA, BPA seems to inflict subtle changes that are passed from one generation to the next, Sokol said.
"The big focus today is whether or not environmental toxicants will induce heritable changes in gene function.... In other words, is there something that happens to alter genes without actually altering the genetic code?" asked Sokol, who studies the effects of chemicals on sperm. "This [new study] is cutting-edge research in this field and the role that environmental toxicants may play in altering the genetics of exposed offspring."
Steve Hentges, a representative of the American Plastics Council, called it "fascinating research, a good piece of research" that should be studied further. But he said the "real question is what does this mean for human health," because there are too many limitations in the study for it to apply to humans.
"No one has actually observed prostate cancer after any treatment with BPA," he said.
The study's authors said the animals developed the precancerous lesions and genetic changes when exposed to low concentrations of the chemical similar to the amounts found in human blood and fetuses. But Hentges said the rats were injected with doses 100 to 1,000 times higher than the most recent human testing done by federal officials in 2004.
In recent years, evidence has been building that BPA causes changes in the hormones and reproductive tracts of male and female animals. Lower sperm counts, decreased testosterone and enlarged prostates were reported in male animals, and early puberty and disrupted hormonal cycles in female animals.
Of more than 100 studies that examined low doses of the chemical, 94 funded by government agencies found harmful effects in lab animals, and 11 funded by industry reported no effects, according to a 2005 review by Frederick vom Saal of the University of Missouri. Polycarbonate, which cannot be manufactured without BPA, is a clear and shatter-free plastic. In addition to beverage bottles, utensils and food packaging, it is used in automobiles, medical equipment and compact discs.
Small amounts of the chemical can leach from plastic containers, especially when heated, cleaned with harsh detergents or exposed to acidic foods or drinks. It also is used in children's dental sealants and as a resin lining metal food cans.
Last year, the California Legislature considered a bill, introduced by Assemblywoman Wilma Chan (D-Oakland), that would have banned children's products that contained BPA or other plastic compounds called phthalates. It died in an Assembly committee after sparking a scientific debate and intense lobbying by the plastics industry.
From: New York Times .....................................[This story printer-friendly]
June 4, 2006
UNCERTAINTY SURROUNDS PLANS FOR NEW NUCLEAR REACTORS
[Rachel's introduction: The U.S. nuclear industry is expecting orders soon for a dozen new nuclear power plants. It's a sweet deal because taxpayers are subsidizing it with billions of dollars and Uncle Sam is offering "risk insurance" for this latest military-industial adventure. If nuclear power were not subsidized, it would fall flat on its face. Investors reap the benefits, taxpayers bear the costs. Sweet indeed.]
By Matthew L. Wald
WASHINGTON, June 3 -- The nuclear industry is poised to receive the first new orders for reactors in three decades, but what remains unclear is whether the smartest buyers will be those at the head of the line or a little farther back.
The industry expects orders for a dozen or so new reactors. Since the last completed order was placed in 1973, much has changed. There are new designs, a new licensing system, new federal financial incentives, new costs and new risks, and no one is sure how the changes will play out as orders, or requests to build, are filed.
For example, the federal government is offering "risk insurance" for the first six reactors, to protect builders against bureaucratic delays, with the biggest share of the insurance going to the first two. Loan guarantees are also possible, but probably only for the first few plants.
Manufacturers have design costs that they will probably try to recoup from the first few reactors sold, increasing the cost. And no one seems eager to be the first to try out a radically different licensing system.
Substantial questions remain about the predictability of the regulatory process, said James R. Curtiss, a former member of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission who is a lawyer at Winston & Strawn. The firm recently helped with an application for a license for a new uranium enrichment plant in New Mexico.
Long delays occurred, Mr. Curtiss said, as new issues were argued before a three-judge administrative law panel and then went to the five-member commission for a ruling. Licensing a second plant will go much more smoothly, he said.
Progress Energy, a utility based in Raleigh, N.C., has preliminary plans for four new reactors, and it could be the first to announce that it is applying for a license.
But Keith Poston, a spokesman, said, "One can imagine the benefits of not being first, and watching and learning from others."
The industry itself has taken steps to lower the stakes.
For example, the energy bill created a production tax credit, a per- kilowatt-hour benefit, for the first 6,000 megawatts of new capacity, which would represent about five new reactors if applied on a first- come-first-served basis.
The total value is about $1 billion over eight years. But the industry persuaded the Bush administration to spread the credit around, so it will be shared by all the plants that are announced by the end of 2008 and have construction under way by 2014, reducing the value of being first in line.
Michael J. Wallace, the executive vice president at Constellation Energy, which is also contemplating a new reactor, said the industry's effort to spread the tax credit was intentional.
"This is not a race," he said.
"If I end up being the first, I'm quite comfortable with that," Mr. Wallace said, because the incentives would offset the extra risks. "If I'm third, I'm comfortable, because there is less incentive, but two guys will be two or three years in front of me."
The first buyer may get concessions from reactor vendors, who are eager to end a 33-year drought and position themselves for a big slice of the new market, which industry backers hope will include more than a dozen reactors in the next few years.
But opponents of new plants predict doom for any company that tries to build a reactor, with the first likely to draw the most opposition.
"It's like volunteering for an experiment," said Paul Gunter, a nuclear reactor expert at the Nuclear Information and Resource Service, an antinuclear group. "These first experimenters carry a lot of risk."
One, Mr. Gunter said, is getting negative credit reviews from the bond rating agencies.
Curt L. Hebert Jr., a former chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission who is now an executive vice president of Entergy, a potential builder, sized it up the other way. "I think the financial incentives and governmental guarantees certainly outweigh the risk," Mr. Hebert said. "As we look at this, we see there being more risk in being third or fourth than being first or second."
For all the companies, the biggest factor is the estimate of future electricity requirements, executives say. Next is the cost of competing technologies: the price of natural gas, as well as the price of coal, which is cheap but requires expensive pollution controls.
Speaking of the various kinds of aid offered in last year's energy bill, Mr. Poston said, "We would pursue incentives because they would be beneficial to customers and lower the project cost." That leaves open, however, whether going first is the lowest-cost option.
While the risk and cost of some factors can be calculated, there are nonfinancial considerations as well, said Richard J. Myers, executive director of the Nuclear Energy Institute, the industry's trade association. "It reflects the C.E.O.'s personality," he said. "Some corporations want to be the pioneer, want to be the first one out there. They earn a footnote in the history books by doing so."
Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company
From: International Herald Tribune .......................[This story printer-friendly]
May 31, 2006
MEANWHILE: WHERE HAVE ALL THE PROTESTERS GONE?
[Rachel's introduction: "The reason that youth aren't protesting about anything, let alone the war in Iraq, is because there is no longer a serious youth political culture in this country. And the reason for that is because this generation does not believe in its ability to alter, or even slightly disrupt, the status quo."]
By Sam Graham-Felsen
NEW YORK The greatest disappointment of my generation has been its failure to truly stand up to the Bush administration -- and particularly, its refusal to actively oppose the war in Iraq.
We are the youth who are living through what will perhaps be remembered as the most scandal-plagued, secretive, privacy-invading, rights-infringing, incompetent administration in American history - and we have barely made a peep.
How is it possible, that during a time of unprecedented promise for youth mobilization that this generation has remained so silent, so acquiescent?
Many point to the lack of personal threat; there is, as of now, no draft to frighten us into action. Others suggest that the pressures of an unstable and uncertain economy have caused my generation to look inwards, focusing on creating a solid economic future for themselves rather than dilly-dally with Utopian visions.
All of these explanations have merit, but I want to offer an alternative hypothesis. The reason that youth aren't protesting about anything, let alone the war in Iraq, is because there is no longer a serious youth political culture in this country. And the reason for that is because this generation does not believe in its ability to alter, or even slightly disrupt, the status quo.
Community service and volunteering is at an all-time high, so young people do, in fact, care. But this generational shift from activism to volunteerism reflects our lack of faith in our ability to affect broad social change.
We were force-fed the ideology that there is no alternative to the existing model of neoliberalism and corporate-controlled globalization. If we tried to suggest that we could play a role in molding our own destinies, we were laughed at. What's best for business is what's best for the world, we were told, and if you disagree with the bosses, too bad, because no one's going to listen.
All you can do is face this cold reality, get a good job, and try to keep as warm as possible within the confines of your isolated, insulated home.
Idealism died in this country because the doctrine of "There Is No Alternative" killed it. We don't dream of utopia anymore. So it's no wonder that our parents, not us, are showing up to protest the war in Iraq. They believe in the power of social movements because they saw the civil rights movement and the anti-Vietnam War movement shape history before their very eyes.
I grew up with the belief that the only people who had real power were CEOs. When you grow up in an age of tax cuts for corporate bosses and slashed social programs, this is what happens.
But we are not asleep. We realize, plainly, that we're inheriting a profoundly precarious world. We know our economy is on the verge of collapse, that the climate crisis will soon leave our cities under water, that nuclear weapons will soon find themselves in the hands of willing detonators.
We know that the current course is unacceptable. We know that the future they want to hand us is far from what we want. And we are finally beginning to channel this anxiety into action.
This month, in one of the most significant moment of youth opposition to the war yet, New School undergraduate Sara Jean Rohe boldly challenged commencement speaker and uber-hawk John McCain. "I am young," Rohe stated after scrapping her original speech, "and although I don't profess to possess the wisdom that time affords us, I do know that pre-emptive war is dangerous and wrong, that George Bush's agenda in Iraq is not worth the many lives lost." Her speech created a buzz on the blogosphere and Internet news sites, where those of us who do follow the news read it.
Because the war in Iraq embodies nearly every problematic aspect of the "There Is No Alternative" doctrine, it is the natural starting point for a youth social movement in this country.
If America's young are ever going to shape their own futures, they must first help put an end to this costly, bloody, directionless war.
And if millions of young people take to the streets -- as they have in other countries, and as they have in the past in this country - policies will change, the status quo will shift, and young people will once again believe in their own power.
Sam Graham-Felsen writes about youth and campus politics for The Nation.
From: Rachel's Democracy & Health News #858 ..........[This story printer-friendly]
June 8, 2006
CORRECTION: RACHEL'S NEWS #857 -- HORMONE-IN-MILK STORY
[Rachel's introduction: Our story last week about Monsanto's hormone- treated milk was accurate, but the introduction we added to the story was not.]
Last week in our introduction to the story linking Monsanto's milk additive, bovine growth hormone (rBGH, also known as rBST), to a five-fold increases in the chances of a woman giving birth to twins, we mischaractertized the study described in the story. The story that we ran was accurate, but our introduction to the story erroneously stated that the study being reported compared women drinking Monsanto- treated milk against women drinking normal milk. In fact the study compared women drinking Monsanto-treated milk against women drinking no milk.
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?"
Rachel's Democracy and Health News is published as often as necessary to provide readers with up-to-date coverage of the subject.
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