Rachel's Democracy & Health News #839

"Environment, health, jobs and justice--Who gets to decide?"

Thursday, January 26, 2006
www.rachel.org -- To make a secure donation, click here.

Featured stories in this issue...

In 2005 the Wheels Came Off the U.S. Chemical-Regulation System
  In 2005 the Wall Street Journal blew the whistle on the U.S. system
  for regulating chemicals, showing that it is based on scientific
  assumptions that are simply wrong, and that the system is allowing all
  of the nation's babies and children to be exposed to combinations of
  industrial poisons that no one even knows how to evaluate for safety.
New Report: Half of All Breast Cancers May Be Tied to Environment
  A review of 350 studies of breast cancer concludes that exposure to
  chemicals and radiation may be contributing to half of all new cases,
  or 106,000 breast cancers each year.
One Third of All Americans Are Endangered by Air Pollution
  If you are one of the ninety-six million Americans who are exposed
  to excessive fine-particle air pollution (from diesel engines, coal-
  fired power plants and automobiles) you might be forfeiting 14 years
  (or more) of your life, says a new study by U.S. Public Interest
  Research Group. The good news is, this pollution is absolutely
  preventable -- all it requires is the political will to toughen our
  standards and develop clean alternatives.
World Bank Says Climate Change and Pollution Are Killing Millions
  The World Bank says almost 20% of all ill health, worldwide, plus
  millions of deaths each year, are caused by global warming and by
  pollution. Furthermore, pollution is holding back economic
Philanthropy and Democracy: A View from the U.S.
  "Democracy is in crisis in the so-called advanced countries of the
  world and in the so-called developing countries. Here I will reflect
  mainly on the United States because I know it best. In other countries
  the issues of democracy will differ. In most cases with which I am
  familiar the differences will be matters of degree. But the
  obligations of the philanthropic sector are the same." -- Stephen


From: Rachel's Democracy & Health News #839, Jan. 26, 2006


By Peter Montague

[In this series we are describing the important news of 2005. --

The wheels came off the U.S. chemical regulatory system in a very
public way in 2005. The Wall Street Journal published a 4-part series
showing that the system is scientifically bankrupt because it is based
on assumptions that are simply wrong.

Despite these revelations, bureaucratic inertia allowed the system to
keep on trucking, but I suppose that's to be expected. Acknowledging
the harsh truth would be too devastating, personally, for the well-
intended, hard-working civil servants who have devoted their lives to
the proposition that a chemical regulatory system like ours could
somehow protect human health and the environment from the industrial
poisons that are intentionally discharged in multi-billion-ton
quantities year after year into the air, water, and soil that make
life possible.

Think of it -- 1800 brand-new chemicals gushing into commercial
channels each year, without the responsible parties being required to
provide any detailed health or safety testing data. Armed with minimal
(or no) health and safety data, the government then has a scant few
months in which to prove that one or another of these 1800 new
chemicals poses an "unreasonable risk" to human health or the
environment. If by some miracle the government feels is can meet that
scientific and legal burden and it orders the responsible party to
produce some safety-test results, the responsible party can go to
court to dispute the government's order. In court, even a modest-sized
corporation like Monsanto can field an army of junkyard-dog lawyers to
oppose the government; the government, for its part, has been shredded
and downsized by decades of tax cuts, so its legal staff is a gaggle
of relative pipsqueaks compared to any major chemical corporation's.

Given such a system, what are the chances that industrial poisons will
NOT be released into the environment in harmful quantities? Zero. The
system was designed to fail from the get-go in 1965. What's amazing is
that all of us have been able to convince ourselves for 40 years that
the U.S. chemical requlatory system is basically sound -- that if we
all just keep pretending it is working, somehow it will work.

"Oh, our emperor is a wearing a fine set of threads, isn't he? Yes,
yes, look at that golden raiment glinting in the sunlight.... [40-year
pause]... Oh my, isn't that his willy I'm seeing?"

Today, I doubt you could find a single federal scientist who actually
believes in his or her heart that the chemical regulatory system is
presently protecting the public adequately from unwanted assault by
industrial poisons. But of course they could never admit anything like
that in public -- for one thing, they'd be fired or sent to Siberia
(or Kansas) almost immediately.

It may be years before the full extent of the system's essentially-
total failure is acknowledged in Washington -- if ever -- but to
anyone who reads the Wall Street Journal carefully, the U.S. chemical
regulatory system now looks like a 40-year-old jalopy, rusted out,
gussied up every four years with a fresh paint job of promises, its
credibility sustained mainly by the "Ooohs and aaahs" of the chemical
corporation flaks who designed and built the system 40 years ago and
who are desperately hoping no one will notice that their baby is a
tangled heap of legal junk that has NEVER protected workers, moms, or
babies -- not to mention the fish, birds, beasts and vegetables that
most of us eat, and the water we drink.

What's odd is that the truth leaked out in 2005 not through the
nation's "newspaper of record," the New York Times (which continues to
oooh and aaah that the system will be ready to roll any day now -- all
that's needed is more research) but through the Wall Street Journal
(WSJ). This leads me to believe that the editors of the Journal must
have seen clouds of liability lawsuits on the horizon for their main
readers, the corporate elite, and they felt they simply had to raise a
warning flag by revealing a modicum of the truth.

The truth, it turns out, ain't pretty, when you get it in concentrated
bites -- like four long stories by a powerful WSJ writer named Peter

In a series that began in July, the WSJ told its readers that, "For
years... something about modern living has driven a steady rise of
certain maladies, from breast and prostate cancer to autism and
learning disabilities."

In the very next paragraph the WSJ said "one suspect that is drawing
intense scrutiny" from scientists is "the prevalence in the
environment of certain industrial chemicals at extremely low levels --
minute levels previously thought to be biologically insignificant."

The third paragraph contains this bomb shell: "An especially striking
finding: It appears that some substances may have effects at the very
lowest exposures that are absent at higher levels."

Striking indeed. The WSJ goes on to explain that this "especially
striking finding" runs contrary to the basic premise of the science of
toxicology which was established 500 years ago by the Swiss physician
(and alchemist and astrologer) Paracelsus: "The dose makes the

If the "dose makes the poison" then tiny doses should be assumed non-
poisonous, shouldn't they? The entire chemical regulation system is
built on that assumption (as is the science of toxicology) -- but it
now turns out that this assumption doesn't necessarily hold true. A
striking finding, indeed. More like a Richter-8 earthquake. As the WSJ
said, "the new science of low-dose exposure is challenging centuries
of accepted wisdom about toxic substances and rattling the foundation
of environmental law" -- because U.S. environmental laws are ALL based
on the assumption that tiny doses don't have any biological

To its great credit, the WSJ doesn't flinch and doesn't stop there. It
immediately asks the obvious question: "But what if it turned out that
common substances have essentially no safe exposure levels at all?"
And it immediately offers a hard-edged answer: "That was ultimately
what the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency concluded about lead
after studying its effects on children for decades."

So there's no safe dose of lead for children, EPA acknowledges, yet
U.S. industry is allowed to continue to use about 260,000 metric tons
of lead each year all of which eventually enters the environment and
gets into air, soil, water, and the food chain. That fact alone sums
up the effectiveness of the U.S. regulatory system.

But it gets worse. The WSJ immediately points out that "...scientists
have found that with some chemicals, traces as minute as mere parts
per trillion have biological effects. That's one-millionth of the
smallest traces even measurable three decades ago, when many of
today's environmental laws were written." No wonder our laws have
failed us -- they were based on false assumptions about the biological
effects of low doses of chemicals.

Having completely discredited the basis of the nation's environmental
protection laws, the WSJ goes on to lob another grenade into the
crowd: "Some chemical traces appear to have greater effects in
combination than singly, another challenge to traditional toxicology,
which tests things individually." Whatever remained of traditional
toxicology has now been blown to smithereens (more on this below).

Now the WSJ starts blasting away with some evidence to back up its
frontal assault on toxicology and the nation's failed structure of
environmental protection laws:

** "Tiny doses of bisphenol A, which is used in polycarbonate plastic
baby bottles and in resins that line food cans, have been found to
alter brain structure, neurochemistry, behavior, reproduction and
immune response in animals....

** "Minute levels of phthalates, which are used in toys, building
materials, drug capsules, cosmetics and perfumes, have been
statistically linked to sperm damage in men and genital changes,
asthma and allergies in children. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention has detected comparable levels in Americans' urine....

** "A chemical used in munitions, called perchlorate, is known to
inhibit production of thyroid hormone, which children need for brain
development. The chemical has been detected in drinking-water supplies
in 35 states, as well as in fruits, vegetables and breast milk....

** "The weed killer atrazine has been linked to sexual malformations
in frogs that were exposed to water containing just 1/30th as much
atrazine as the EPA regards as safe in human drinking water....

** "Since the review panel met in 2000, scientists have published more
than 100 peer-reviewed articles reporting further low-dose effects in
living animals and in human cells.

The WSJ then goes on to give examples of chemicals that cause
biological effects at low doses but no such effects at high doses --
thus standing Paracelsus and the science of toxicology on their heads.
The mechanism seems to be that some hormone-disrupting chemicals at
low doses latch onto the "hormone receptor sites" on cells and trigger
unnatural biological responses, such as brain and reproductive system
abnormalities. At higher doses the same chemical overwhelms the
hormone-receptor system and the whole system shuts down, producing no
biological response at all.

The WSJ then gives an example of chemicals that, taken alone, produce
no biological response, but taken together add up to produce a
response: "Environmental chemicals don't exist in isolation. People
are exposed to many different ones in trace amounts. So scientists at
the University of London checked a mixture. They tested the hormonal
strength of a blend of 11 common chemicals that can mimic estrogen
[female sex hormone].

"Alone, each was very weak. But when scientists mixed low doses of all
11 in a solution with natural estrogen -- thus simulating the chemical
cocktail that's inside the human body today -- they found the hormonal
strength of natural estrogen was doubled. Such an effect inside the
body could disrupt hormonal action."

WSJ goes on to describe the response of U.S. Environmental Protection
Agency (EPA): "In 2000, a separate EPA-organized panel, after
reviewing 49 studies, said some hormonally active chemicals affect
animals at doses as low as the 'background levels' to which the
general human population is subject. The panel said the health
implications weren't clear but urged the EPA to revisit its regulatory
procedures to make sure such chemicals are tested in animals at
appropriately small doses.

"The EPA hesitated. It responded in 2002 that 'until there is an
improved scientific understanding of the low-dose hypothesis, EPA
believes that it would be premature to require routine testing of
substances for low-dose effects.'...

In other words, EPA's position is, "We don't even know enough to test
for these effects."

It must be obvious that as time has passed, our ignorance of chemicals
has grown, not diminished. We know that combinations of chemicals are
important. Each year, we add 1800 new chemicals into the mix and so we
know less and less about what's going on, year after year, because the
environment becomes ever so much more complicated. We are not making
scientific progress -- we are losing ground in the struggle to
understand what we are doing to ourselves and to all the other
creatures with whom we share the planet.

To summarize:

** Chemicals at low doses sometimes cause biological effects that are
not present when the same chemicals are present in high doses.

Obvious implication: Almost all chemical-safety testing done during
the past 40 years has been with high doses, on the erroneous
assumption that "the dose makes the poison." Therefore -- as a panel
of experts told the EPA -- testing needs to be done with low doses as
well as high doses. But EPA says we don't even know enough to begin
testing. In other words, much of the chemical testing completed during
the past 40 years needs to be re-done but the government hasn't a clue
about how to begin.

** Chemicals at levels that are biologically insignificant can combine
with other chemicals at levels that are biologically insignificant --
and, in so doing, can create biologically-significant combinations.

Obvious implication: Chemicals need to be tested in combinations, not
merely one at a time. But there aren't enough laboratories on earth to
test all the possibly-relevant combinations. There are 80,000
chemicals in current commercial use. Suppose we wanted to test only
1000 of them, and we wanted to test all possible combinations of 11
chemicals out of the 1000, How many test would be required?

The answer is 23,706,860,441,577,319,154,916,000 experiments.[1]
That's 23 million million million million safety tests. According to
WSJ, EPA is hoping to develop new techniques that would allow them to
do 15,000 safety tests in a year -- and at that rate they could test
all 11-chemical combinations of 1000 chemicals in only
1,580,457,400,000,000,000,000,000 years (1.5 million million million
million years).

OK, this is ridiculous. But suppose EPA wanted to test something more
realistic, like all 3-chemical combinations of only 1000 chemicals.
It's still impossible -- it would require testing 166 million
combinations and, at 15,000 tests per year, it would take 11,000 years
to complete. So we're never going to be able to test chemicals in
combinations in any thorough way -- even though the scientific
literature is full of statements saying "We need to test chemicals in
combination and we're working on it." Such statements are just eye
wash, perhaps intended to keep us believing that the current chemical
regulatory system can work if we just keep pretending that it can.

[To be continued]


[1] The formula for combinations like these is n!/(r!*(n-r)!) where
n is the total number of chemicals, r is the number of chemicals in
each subcollection and n! means "n factorial" -- see any basic
introduction to statistics or probability.

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From: Oakland (Calif.) Tribune, Jan. 24, 2006


Analysis of 350 studies finds half of cases are unrelated to genetic
risk or lifestyle choices

By Douglas Fischer

As many as half of all new breast cancers may be foisted upon women by
pollutants in the environment, triggered by such items as bisphenol-A
lining tin cans or radiation from early mammograms, according to a
review of recent science by two breast cancer groups.

Their report, "State of the Evidence," released Tuesday [Jan. 24],
buttresses what many researchers increasingly suspect: that repeated
low doses -- particularly in early childhood -- to chemicals normally
considered harmless can have a profound effect.

It also suggests that, for half of the 211,240 woman diagnosed with
breast cancer in 2005, lifestyle choices and genetics played no role.

"You just can't blame it on lifestyle factors, like when you have
children, or if you have children," said Nancy Evans, health science
consultant for the Breast Cancer Fund and the report's principle

"Half the cases are not explained by genetics or the so-called 'known
risk factors." There's something else going on."

The report, by the San Francisco-based groups Breast Cancer Fund and
Breast Cancer Action, analyzed the findings of more than 350
experimental, epidemiologic and ecological studies assessing breast

Breast cancer rates have climbed steadily in the United States and
other industrialized countries since the 1940s. In the U.S., for
instance, one in seven women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in
her lifetime, almost triple the rate in the 1960s.

Researchers believe less than one in 10 cases occur in women born with
a genetic predisposition for the disease. Instead, the report says,
recent science makes very clear the cancer arises from a multitude of
factors, from slight genetic mutations to altered hormone production
to even radiation.

For instance, the report cited a study from Tufts University that
found that exposing pregnant mice to extremely low levels of
bisphenol-A altered the development of the mammary gland in their
offspring at puberty.

And that alteration makes the gland more susceptible to breast cancer,
Evans said.

Bisphenol-A, originally developed as a synthetic hormone in the 1930s,
today is used as an additive to make plastic shatterproof and to
extend the shelf-life of canned goods. Nearly 6 billion pounds are
produced annually.

Industry has long maintained there is no evidence repeated low doses
of compounds such as bisphenol-A can have such deleterious effects. A
legislative effort to ban some of these chemicals from children's toys
failed last week after industry scientists argued there was no cause
for concern.

"A lot of work has been done on those issues," said Lorenz Romberg, a
former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency scientist who now works as
a consultant and testified before the Legislature on behalf of the
chemical industry last month. "When you look at this body of evidence
in total, we didn't find any evidence that there is a marked,
repeatable-across-laboratories effect that has any clear scientific

But the report, Evans said, makes clear there is no one culprit for
rising breast cancer rates. What happens, for instance, when
bisphenol-A or any several estrogen-like synthetic compounds on the
market gets combined with the harm from a few low-dose X-rays?

No one knows, but new research from the National Academy of Sciences
suggests there is no safe radiation dose: The lowest possible dose
still increases cancer risk. Yet the American Cancer Society still
recommends women over age 40 have a mammogram, despite evidence such
procedures are not effective until women are 50 years old.

"We have to have a replacement for mammography. It's so aggressively
promoted, especially for young women," Evans said.

But does the chance of early detection outweigh the risks?

"I'm not saying they should or shouldn't," Evans said. "They need to
be aware of the risk. An additional 10 years of radiation is not

The report, "State of the Evidence," can be found here. Contact
Douglas Fischer at dfischer@angnewspapers.com.

Copyright © 2000-2006 ANG Newspapers

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From: U.S. Public Interest Research Group, Jan. 19, 2006


Air Pollution Bill Could Make Situation Even Worse

By Emily Figdor

WASHINGTON - Ninety-six million Americans -- 32% of the population --
live in areas with unsafe levels of fine particle, or "soot,"
pollution, according to a new report released Jan. 19 by the U.S.
Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG). The report is a
comprehensive analysis of levels of fine particle pollution in the
U.S. in 2004, based on a survey of state environmental agencies.

"Soot pollution is a serious health risk. Children, senior citizens,
and even healthy adults suffer asthma attacks and other health
problems from soot pollution," said U.S. PIRG Clean Air Advocate Emily

Coal-fired power plants and diesel engines are the largest sources of
fine particle pollution.

Fine particle pollution is the nation’s deadliest air pollutant -- and
one of its most pervasive. Because of their small size, fine particles
can bypass the body’s natural defenses, such as coughing and sneezing,
and lodge deep within the lungs or even pass into the bloodstream,
causing serious respiratory and cardiovascular problems, such as
asthma attacks, heart attacks, and lung cancer. Fine particle
pollution cuts short the lives of tens of thousands of Americans each
year, according to EPA.

EPA estimates that particle pollution shortens the lives of its
victims by an average of 14 years.

The new report, called "Plagued by Pollution," is based on a U.S.
PIRG survey of the environmental agencies in all 50 states and DC. The
report looks at all of the instances in 2004 when pollution levels
exceeded EPA’s two health-based air quality standards for fine
particle pollution. EPA’s "annual" standard is based on how much fine
particle pollution is safe to breathe on a regular, everyday basis,
while EPA’s "24-hour" standard is based on how much fine particle
pollution is safe to breathe on any one day. Both types of exposures
are associated with illness and death.

Key findings for 2004 include the following:

** Fine particle pollution exceeded the annual and/or 24-hour health
standards in 55 large, mid-sized, and small metro areas in 21 states,
exposing 96 million people to this health threat.

** California, Pennsylvania, Utah, Georgia, and Ohio were the states
with the worst fine particle pollution.

** Among large metro areas, the Riverside (CA), Pittsburgh, Los
Angeles, Atlanta, and Cleveland metro areas ranked highest nationwide
for the worst chronic fine particle pollution. The top mid-sized metro
areas were the Bakersfield, Salt Lake City, Visalia-Porterville (CA),
Fresno, and Lancaster (PA) areas. And the top small metro areas were
the Hanford-Corcoran (CA), Macon, Weirton-Steubenville (WV-OH), Rome
(GA), and Hagerstown-Martinsburg (MD-WV) areas.

** The metro areas with the most dangerous spikes in fine particle
pollution included the Pittsburgh, Riverside, and Los Angeles areas
(large metro areas); the Salt Lake City, Provo-Orem (UT), and
Bakersfield areas (mid-sized metro areas); and Logan, a small
metropolitan area on the border of Utah and Idaho.

Senator Carper of Delaware plans to reintroduce his air pollution
bill, the Clean Air Planning Act, within the next few weeks.
Unfortunately, as drafted in 2003 (S.843), the bill would weaken or
eliminate critical Clean Air Act protections, including the New Source
Review (NSR) program, protections for parks and wilderness areas, and
the requirement that each and every power plant reduce its mercury
emissions to the maximum extent. Because the bill weakens facility-
specific requirements, individual power plants could increase their
fine particle pollution under the bill, further exacerbating this
already pervasive public health problem.

For instance, an analysis of data from EPA’s own consultants estimates
that eliminating the NSR program for existing power plants would be so
significant that it would cut short the lives of 70,000 Americans in
the next two decades. The NSR program requires aging power plants to
eventually install modern pollution controls.

"To protect public health, Senator Carper should substantially
strengthen his bill. Right now, it would make the problem worse and
too many Americans already suffer health problems from breathing
polluted air," said Figdor.

Emily Figdor, (202) 546-9707

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From: The Guardian (UK), Oct. 6, 2005


Poor sanitation to blame, says World Bank report....

By John Vidal

Almost a fifth of all ill health in poor countries and millions of
deaths can be attributed to environmental factors, including climate
change and pollution, according to a report from the World Bank.
Unsafe water, poor sanitation and hygiene as well as indoor and
outdoor air pollution are all said to be killing people and preventing
economic development. In addition, says the bank, increasing soil
pollution, pesticides, hazardous waste and chemicals in food are
significantly affecting health and economies.

More controversially, the report, released yesterday in New York,
links cancers to environmental conditions and says global warming has
a major impact on health. "For almost all forms of cancer, the risk of
contracting this disease can be reduced if physical environments are
safe for human habitation and food items are safe for consumption,"
says the report.

It also cites the spread of malaria and dengue fever as climate change
intensifies. Global warming, says the report, is leading to lower
yields of some crops and the salination of coastal areas.

"In 2000 more than 150,000 premature deaths were attributed to various
climate change impacts, according to the World Health Organisation,"
it says. While tobacco, alcohol and unsafe sex are still the most
likely threats to health in developing countries, rapid urbanisation
and the spread of slum conditions are now major hazards, says the

"Some 1.1 billion people lack access to safe water and 2.6 billion
lack access to safe sanitation. [This leads to] about 4 billion cases
of diarrhoea a year, which cause 1.8 million deaths a year, mostly
among children under five," it says.

Sanitation, says the bank, which is committed to increasing spending
on the environment, is very much "a forgotten problem", with spending
on improvements estimated at just $1bn in 2000 -- less than 10% of
that spent on water.

Millions of people who have moved to cities to find work have swapped
indoor for outdoor air pollution, suggests the report. Urban air
pollution is estimated to cause about 800,000 premature deaths, it
says, approaching the number of people affected by indoor air
pollution from wood fires in poorly ventilated homes in rural areas.

According to the report, which uses WHO statistics, high
concentrations of minute particles released by smoky fires are now
responsible for over 1.6 million deaths a year. Acute respiratory
infection, largely caused by indoor air pollution, it says, was
responsible for 36% of all registered infant deaths in Guatemala
between 1997 and 2000.

The report also says manmade chemicals such as pesticides have an
increasing impact on the health of poor people. A survey of child
labour in several developing countries, it says, found more than 60%
of all working children were exposed to hazardous conditions, and more
than 25% of these hazards were due to exposure to chemicals

"Without a healthy, productive labour force, we will not have the
economic growth that is necessary to ensure a pathway out of poverty.
Poor people are the first to suffer from a polluted environment," said
Warren Evans, director of the bank's environment department.

Copyright Guardian Newspapers Limited 2005

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From: Rachel's Democracy & Health News #839, Jan. 26, 2006


By Stephen Viederman[1]*

Hope has two beautiful daughters: Anger and Courage. Anger at the way
things are, and courage to change them. -- St. Augustine

The question raised by the organizers of the Philanthropy Australia
Conference session October 12, 2005, was this:

"As I see it what is the role of philanthropy in modern democracy?"

My answer:

The role of philanthropy is to help ensure that modern democracy
fulfils its obligations to the commonweal by keeping governments and
other institutions wielding power, including corporations, the media,
and educational institutions, accountable and transparent to all
citizens and residents. Philanthropy has a unique opportunity, and
therefore responsibility, since it is master of its own resources, and
not reliant on outside funding. The ultimate goal must be structural
reform and transformation, not simply amelioration of the present
situation. It helps by supporting those organizations that are
committed in theory and in practice to community, equity, justice, and

Democracy is more than voting. It requires of us all a commitment to
the commonweal, the common good: to justice, equity and community.
Julian Burnside, in his opening address to the Philanthropy Australia
conference on October 9 spoke eloquently of the need for this when he
directed our attention to the needs of the vulnerable, the powerless,
and the unpopular.

Democracy is in crisis in the so-called advanced countries of the
world and in the so-called developing countries. Here I will reflect
on some of the issues and the responses in the United States because I
know it best. In other countries the issues confronting democracy will
differ. In most cases with which I am familiar these differences will
be matters of degree. The responses of philanthropy will also differ.
But the obligations of the philanthropic sector I assert are the same.

** Reacting to hurricane Katrina, President Bush stated that the
government would do all it could, and called on all Americans to do
their part in the recovery and rebuilding. Subsequent actions have
shown that the government is not fulfilling its obligations either
administratively or financially.

Foundations in the U.S. are supporting rebuilding efforts through
local organizations in the affected communities by dealing with
structural issues not just charity.

** Federal rules require Government contractors to pay the prevailing
wage in the place where the work is done, and to hire locals first. In
a series of cost-plus contracts for Katrina cleanup these rules were
waived. If these rules had been implemented they would have had a
significant social and economic impact on the survivors, and would
have reflected what many believe to be the Government's social compact
with its citizens.

Foundations support groups that monitor the actions of government and
the press making transparent the opaqueness of government and

** In October the Government emasculated the inter-governmental
National Environmental Justice Advisory Committee (NEJAC) by declaring
that race was no longer to be considered an issue in guiding federal
agencies in their cleanup of environmental problems. This despite the
fact that studies over the last two decades that led to the formation
of NEJAC to coordinate the work of all Federal agencies, demonstrate
that race is a central factor in environmental issues.

Foundations are supporting constituency-based economic and
environmental justice community organizations to reverse this
decision, working through their elected public officials and public

** Law in the U.S does not require voting. The proportion of
eligible voters who actually participate in elections is small.
Challenges to voting rights are increasing, especially the rights of
the poor and people of color. A requirement that voters show picture
identification recently adopted by some states in the south is in
effect a 'poll tax," requiring people to prove eligibility (and incur
cost to do so) rather than assuming they are eligible. In the November
2005 election for Mayor of New York City, and for the governorship of
New Jersey, fewer than 50 percent of eligible voters went to the
polls. Voter apathy is strong. The influence of corporate money and
lobbyists, the "K Street" phenomena, induces a sense of powerlessness.
The cost of elections favors candidates who are among the very rich,
like the New York winner, Michael Bloomberg, and the competing
candidates for the governorship of New Jersey, who self-financed their
bids for office. It also favors candidates with great money raising
machines that make big promises to the givers, especially the
corporations, to be made good at a later date.

Foundations are supporting nonpartisan voter registration and
education on the issues, and get-out-the-vote campaigns.

** Prospects for significant campaign finance reform are stymied
by promises made to the rich and powerful, and by the strength of
incumbency. As a result some of the very best possible candidates are
discouraged from running for public office, at any governance level.
Populist commentator Jim Hightower, in the sixties an elected
Secretary of Agriculture in Texas, highlighted the problem in the
title of his book, If the gods had meant us to vote they would have
given us candidates (2000).

Foundations are supporting efforts to describe a fair program for
campaign finance that does not favor the wealthy, and are actively
involved in supporting public education around these issues.

Foundations are also exercising their ownership obligations in the
companies in their financial portfolios by filing shareholder
resolutions and by voting their proxies requesting companies to
publish in their annual reports the recipients of their political

** The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) recently
proposed sweeping changes to the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI), which
became law in 1986, and which is the premier environmental regulation
credited with providing citizens with the right-to-know and actual
information about pollution sources in their neighborhoods. First,
EPA has proposed requiring facilities to report their toxic emissions
only once every other year instead of every year. Companies would not
be required to produce a report covering two years of data -- they
would simply get a pass every other year. The second proposal would
allow facilities to release ten times as much pollution before
triggering requirements to report on the quantity of toxic chemicals
released. In response, an industry group, the American Chemistry
Council, has launched a major chemical industry public relations
campaign claiming that the TRI is not so essential.

Foundations are supporting community-based and national environmental
organizations to respond to this effort at emasculating an important
tool to protect the health and welfare of communities.

** At the end of October the House of Representatives passed
overwhelmingly the Housing Finance Reform Act, which includes a
provision that disqualifies nonprofits from receiving affordable
housing grants if they have engaged in voter registration and other
nonpartisan voter activities, lobbying, or produced "electioneering
communications." Organizations applying for the funds are barred from
participating in such activities up to 12 months prior to their
application, and during the period of the grant even if they use non-
federal funds to pay for them. Most troubling, affiliation or
association with any entity that has engaged in any of the restricted
activities also disqualifies a nonprofit from receiving affordable
housing funds under the bill. This is a significant step back from
previous rules and regulations.

Foundations are supporting vigorous efforts at public education and
mobilization to maintain the right of community and nonprofit
organizations to participate in the democratic process.

** The Congress is now (mid-November 2005) considering
legislation that would reduce tax rates on the very wealthy while
considering cost-cutting offsets in Medicare, student loans, food
stamps for the poor, and programs for children, directed toward the
poor and middle class. The bi-partisan Congressional Budget office
found that similar tax cuts recently enacted have been ineffective in
stimulating the economy, the ostensible reason for the tax cuts then
and now.

Foundations are supporting public education efforts, advocacy and
mobilization to insure that people are aware of these assaults on the
'safety net' and activated to let their elected representatives know
their concerns.

** A foundation working on issues that are perceived as unpopular
by the present Administration was told by its lawyer not to engage in
policy or strategic discussions by email in order to avoid government
eavesdropping. What they are funding is perfectly legal.

The foundation in question is not backing down. In addition, groups of
foundations are protesting at this federal-level abridgement of their
rights as foundations to act in the public interest supporting causes
the present Administration considers unpopular.

** The Administration has been secretly paying psuedo journalists
significant amounts of money to report favorably on its initiatives.

Foundations are supporting watchdog groups that are exposing
government's efforts to at best confuse, at worst to lie, to the

** Corporate power is at an historical peak, and the abuse of
that power, including a lack of accountability to shareholders,
stakeholder, employees and communities, is considerable.

Foundations are owners of significant corporate assets and some of
them use these assets to achieve great corporate accountability and
transparency toward the common good. Corporations are the greatest
economic force in the world today. Foundations in collaboration with
other concerned owners are increasingly filing shareholder resolutions
and voting proxies in support of shareholder resolutions that support
human rights, the environment, workers, and equal opportunity, among
other things. These combined efforts have been successful in changing
corporate behavior.

These observations on the state of democracy are not a counsel of
despair, as dispiriting as they are. They are rather a call to action
for the philanthropic community in the U.S. to provide more support to
assist community and watchdog groups hold governments and other
powerful organizations at all levels accountable to all citizens and
residents of the country, not just to a chosen few. They can help
groups to insist on greater transparency on all aspects of government,
corporate and other institutional activities.

Foundations in the U.S. can fund community organizing, advocacy and
mobilization around public issues, although they cannot fund support
for the passage of specific legislation. There are many non-
governmental organizations that desperately need support to defend the
public good at community, municipal, state and national levels.
Foundations support voter education and registration, and 'get out the
vote' campaigns. Voting is a basic right in a democracy. Foundations
also support public education campaigns around specific issues.

Many foundations in supporting these efforts focus on groups that have
real constituencies, grassroots rather than Astroturf. The groups they
seek are those where the dialog and decisions are part of a democratic
process, to which the group is accountable. This is democratic base

Any response to the challenges to democracy requires philanthropy to
look inwardly as well. To whom are we accountable? Are we transparent
in our relations with grant seekers and the public-at-large? Are our
efforts focused on structural and systemic change to protect
democracy, or are we satisfied with amelioration of the problems
facing our nation, filling in for government?

As the African-American slave, abolitionist and intellectual Frederick
Douglass observed in the 19th century: "If there is no struggle, there
is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, yet depreciate
agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the
ground...Power concedes nothing without a demand."

South African Archbishop and Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu a century
later notes: "There can be no neutrality. If you are neutral in
situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If
an elephant has his foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you
are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality."

What philanthropy in the U.S. is doing pales in the face of challenges
to democracy today. Social justice philanthropy, a rough measure of
what is needed, is estimated to be only about 15 percent of total

Philanthropies in every country will have to assess the problems of
democracy in their countries, the political and social culture, and
design appropriate responses to protect and nourish democracy. To
reframe Julian Burnside's challenge to foundations, democracy cannot
survive without inclusion of the vulnerable, the powerless, and the
unpopular. Who comes to the table of democracy will decide what
democracy really means. This is the challenge to philanthropy in the
U.S. and worldwide.


* Stephen Viederman is an activist, educator, writer, speaker and
consultant on a wide range of issues including sustainability; the
social role of higher education; the future of philanthropy and
whether it can meet the challenges of democracy and civil society;
environmental and economic justice; redefining fiduciary
responsibility and issues of social investment; the limits of
corporate social responsibility within the context of how we define
the economy; population and the environment; and science and public
policy. An underlying theme in his work is the problem of effecting
long-term institutional change toward a just society. In 2000 Steve
retired as President of the New York-based Jessie Smith Noyes


[1] These notes are an expansion of ideas presented at Philanthropy
Australia's Conference in Melbourne on October 12, 2005. I am
profoundly indebted to PA for their invitation to participate. On
October 17 I delivered the Stegley lecture at the Centre for Asian
Philanthropy and Social Investment at Swinburne University, "Equity,
democracy, community, and philanthropy". The text of that lecture will
be available on the Centre's website sometime in February 2006.
Since I see these remarks as part of a continuing dialog, reactions as
well as comments and critiques are very welcome. Contact me at
stevev@igc.org, with "NZ Philanthropy" in the subject line since I
have a very active spam blocker.

This article was prepared at the request of Philanthropy New Zealand.
An earlier version appeared in Philanthropy New Zealand News, Vol. 2,
No. 40, Summer 2005, pgs. 14-16.

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