From the Newsletter (10/1/07)   

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Taming the Giant Corporation - by Ralph Nader

Taming the Giant Corporation - II - Agenda and videos - Jane Zara

Abbott Lab Deletes Safety Info from Web - by Jeffery Light

Corn, Frankenculture and Seed Banks - by Peter Caplan

The Creation - by Tom Baugh

Why a DC Congestion Tax? - by David Schwartzman

Garden of Earthly Delights - by David Schwartzman

Scientists Ask Congress To Fund $50 Billion Science Thing - from The Onion 9/28/07

Books of Interest

Ask Dr. Science


Taming the Giant Corporation by Ralph Nader

[NOTE:The Center for Study of Responsive Law held a national conference on corporate accountability (and the lack thereof) in June of 2007. Discussions, speakers and panelists covered an array of topics, including but not limited to the deregulation of the energy industry and its effects on consumers, the privatization of natural resources including water, the expansive power of pharmaceutical companies, the atrophy of antitrust and its resuscitation, the effects of patents and corporate greed on "free trade", and the lack of regulation of the growing nanobiotechnology industry. The agenda is listed below , with links to all of the presentations, followed by some useful internet links for more information. Ralph Nader's piece below was the call to the conference(JZ)]

Back in the nineteen thirties, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt went on the national radio and declared what the basic necessities were for the American people--a wage that can support a family, decent housing, the right to health care, a good education and future economic security. Sound familiar today? It certainly would sound familiar to a majority of the American people. The struggle for livelihood, the struggles to escape poverty, calamitous health care bills, mounting debt, gouging rents and failing, crumbling schools continues year after year. What's that French saying--"the more things change, they remain the same." Things have changed for the rich and corporate, though. The rich have gotten richer. The talk now is about the super-rich and the hyper-rich. The richest 1 percent of people in this country has financial wealth equal to the combined financial wealth of the bottom 95 percent. The big corporations are more avaricious than ever. The past decade's corporate crime wave, dutifully reported in the major business media-newspapers and magazines-demonstrates how trillions of dollars were looted, or drained away, from tens of millions of small investors, pensioners and workers. In FDR's time, the CEOs of the top 300 corporations paid themselves about 12 times the average wage in their company. Now the "top greed" registers 400 to 500 times what the average workers eke out in a full year. WalMart is an example of that sheer self-serving power at the top. All this is occurring while the big companies deliver comparatively far less to the economic well-being of the American worker. The CEOs are otherwise preoccupied with figuring out how they can outsource more American jobs to China and India, how they can hollow out more communities and ship whole industries to those and other countries, many under authoritarian rule, that promise to keep the CEOs' operations at costs close to serfdom. Interesting, isn't it, that the CEOs say it is necessary to flee our country-where they were nurtured to their size and profits-in order to keep up with global competition. But they never urge outsourcing their own CEO jobs to hardworking, bilingual executives in the Third World willing to work for less than one-tenth of the U.S. CEOs' pay package. Besides, who wrote the rules (NAFTA, WTO) that define the global competition? Big Business and its lawyer-lobbyists. Uncle Sam has bent over to give Big Business what it has demanded in the past 25 years. Huge tax reductions, compared to the prosperous nineteen sixties. Massive deregulation, or the abandonment of law and order against criminal, negligent or defrauding corporations. Your tax dollars were transferred in the form of subsidies, handouts, giveaways and bailouts to demanding, mismanaged or corrupt large businesses. Still, it was not enough coddling to keep these giant companies from casting aside what allegiance they had to our country, its communities and people. The companies' standard is to control them or quit them as these CEOs see fit. When BusinessWeek Magazine answered a resounding YES to its cover story in 2000 "Too Much Corporate Power?" the editors were not kidding. They even wrote an editorial saying that "corporations should get out of politics." I guess they meant that since corporations do not vote, and are not human beings, that they should not be honing in on what should be the exclusive domain of real people. More and more conservatives believe that Big Business (Wall Street vs. Main Street) is out of control and stomping on conservative values. They don't like corporate welfare, corporate eminent domain against the little guys, commercial invasion of privacies, WTO and NAFTA shredding our sovereignty, corporate crimes (Enron, Worldcom, etc.) or Big Government on behalf of Big Business Empires around the world. They are appalled by corporations directly selling bad things and violent programming to their children, whom these companies teach to nag parents. It is time for the American people to get off the defense and take the offense against corporate power, the way it was done in the consumer, environmental and worker areas from 1965 to 1975 and beyond to new frontiers of subordinating the big corporations to the rights and necessities of real people.

Taming the Giant Corporation - II
With links to conference videos and PowerPoints; other links at bottom
NOTE: If you can't see the videos, try another browser

Ralph Nader
Video | PowerPoint
Warren Gunnels, senior policy advisor to Senator Bernie Sanders Video

    Deficiency: Corporate "Rights"
  • Freeing Politics from Corporate Control - Dr. Ron Daniels Video Constitutionalizing Freedom - Richard Grossman Video Corporations Are Not People - Carl Mayer Video
  • Panel Video
    Countervailing the Evolving Structure of the Corporation
  • The Challenges of Private Equity - Damon Silvers Video Blowing the Whistle on Corporate Wrongdoing - Louis Clark Video Institutional Shareholder Power Crippled by Conflicts of Interest - Robert Monks Video The Conversion of Community and Nonprofit Enterprises into For-Profit Corporations - Walter Smith Video
  • Video of Q&A session
    Subordinating Corporate Power
  • Resuscitating and Reclaiming Antitrust - Dr. James Brock Video Corporate Unaccountability and Corporate Charters - Mark Green Video Reining in the Drug Companies - Sidney Wolfe M.D. Video
  • De-Corporatizing Global Trade and Investment Rules - Lori Wallach Video
    Address by U.S. Representative Dennis J. Kucinich (D-OH)Video
    Eliminating Corporate Escapes
  • Imposing Global Liability - Katharine Redford Video Closing Down The Tax Haven Racket - Lucy Komisar Video
  • Corporate Taxes and Double Standards - Dean Baker Video
    Strategies to Subordinate Corporations: A Discussion About What Works
  • Gar Alperovitz Video Richard Grossman Video Kathryn Mulvey Video
  • Video of Q&A session
    People's Control to Prevent Corporate Wrongdoing: Tools for a Just Economy (I)
  • Access to the Courts to Curb Corporate Abuse - Laura MacCleery Video | PowerPoint Cracking Down on Corporate Crime - Russell Mokhiber Video Curbing CEO Excess - Sarah Anderson Video Government's Power: Procurement for Good, Sanctioning Wrongdoers - Danielle Brian Video
  • Video of Q&A session
    People's Control to Prevent Corporate Wrongdoing: Tools for a Just Economy (II)
  • Union Counterpower: Freedom to Organize - Thea Lee Video The Precautionary Principle and People-Centered Technology - Andrew Kimbrell Video Pensions: Controlling our Money and Retirement - Karen Friedman Video
  • Video of Q&A session
    Displacing Corporations: Expanding the Commons Protecting Our Right to Water - Wenonah Hauter Video
  • Removing Corporations From Health Insurance Provision - Stephanie Woolhandler M.D. Video | PowerPoint Knowledge as a Public Good, Changing the Pharmaceutical Industry Business Model - James Love Video | PowerPoint
  • Video of Q&A session
    Displacing Corporations: Alternative Institutions and the People's Priorities
  • Co-ops and Credit Unions: People's Businesses - Alisa Gravitz Video Taxing Corporate "Bads" - Brent Blackwelder Video Public Not Corporate Budgets - Robert Greenstein Video
  • Video of Q&A session
    Reasserting the People's Control
  • The Mechanics of Real Democracy - Rob Richie Video People's Controlled Media - Jeff Chester Video Public Control over Energy and Transportation - Tyson Slocum Video | PowerPoint
  • Organizing to Win - Ilyse Hogue Video
    From Corporate Hegemony to Subordination: The Path Forward
  • Ralph Nader Amy Goodman
  • Video

Relevant links
Center for Corporate Policy
Student Trade Justice Campaign
Houston Global Awareness
Physicians for a National Health Program
Environmental Research Foundation:
Food & Water Watch


Abbott Lab Deletes Safety Info from Web
big pharma

by Jeffrey Light (originally published in Corporate Crime Reporter, Aug 31, 2007)

Let's say you are a major drug company.

And let's say that there is a report from a reputable medical journal that says that patients taking one of your drugs face an elevated risk of causing certain kinds of cancers.

And let's say that Public Citizen says that another one of your drugs ought to be removed from the market.

And let's say that you don't like any of this on your company's Wikipedia entry.

And let's say your employees start deleting the safety information from the Wiki entry.

Welcome to the world of Abbott Laboratories.

There's a web site - WikiScanner - that allows anyone to check and see who made anonymous changes to Wikipedia articles.

And Jeffrey Light, executive director of Patients not Patents, decided to see how some of the major drug companies were editing their Wiki entries. Light found out that someone at Abbott has been deleting information questioning the safety of its top selling drugs.

Light discovered that in July of 2007, a computer at Abbott Labs' Chicago office was used to delete a reference to a Mayo Clinic study that revealed that patients taking the arthritis drug Humira faced triple the risk of developing certain kinds of cancers and twice the risk of developing serious infections

The study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2006. The same computer was used to remove articles describing Public Citizen's attempt to have Abbott's weight-loss drug Meridia banned after the drug was found to increase the risk of heart attack and stroke in some patients.

Light says that the site's editors restored the deleted information.

"But Abbott's activities illustrate drug companies' eagerness to suppress safety concerns," Light said. "The argument that drug companies can be trusted to provide adequate safety information on their own products has been used by the pharmaceutical industry to fight against government regulation of consumer advertising. Clearly such trust is misplaced.

As Abbott's actions have demonstrated, drug companies will attempt to hide unfavorable safety information when they think nobody is watching."

The changes are part of over one thousand edits made from computers at Abbott's offices, Light said.

Abbott's Kelly Morrison did not deny that company employees made the edits.

"From time to time, Abbott does edit simple factual errors about the company or its products in Wikipedia to ensure that the general public has correct information - and we do so openly and transparently," Morrison said in a statement sent to Corporate Crime Reporter. "Abbott does not, however, advocate the anonymous removal of safety information, scientific studies or controversial discussions from any site as a practice at our company. Any such action we take very seriously and will investigate fully. While we cannot account for the online activities of all of our 65,000 employees, we do expect them to use their computers appropriately and responsibly."


Corn, Frankenculture and Seed Banks
by Peter Caplan

Food is back on the Newsletter menu once more --this piece is about how it's now being raised and whether things can continue this way. Two recent-published articles have brought closer attention to some concerns traditionally of interest to us in SftP: the industrialization of agriculture, and the loss of genetic diversity in our food supply. One of them, "We're living on Corn" by Tim Flannery in the 6/28/07 NY Review of Books, brings back into the public eye the much-discussed 2006 book by journalist Michael Pollan "The Omnivore's Dilemma", (Penguin Press, 2006) and its timely warning that the whole national food chain in this country is focused on one "species of giant grass"-- corn. Of the 45,000 items found in American supermarkets, 25% contain corn(1). And of course it doesn't need repeating that, not only chicken, but most of the meat we eat comes from corn-fed animals, fattened on feedlots, where they stand up to their ankles in their own shit, heavily dosed with antibiotics partly to deal with the bacteria-rich environment and partly to help them digest their ill-suited all-corn diet. Even farmed fish eat mostly corn.

Pollan gives an account of the adventures of a bushel of corn as it makes its way from an Iowa farm to your table, in many cases broken down into its molecular ingredients and re-assembled into other food substances. Corn is in everything from frozen yogurt to ketchup, Ring-Dings and Gatorade, from mayonnaise and mustard to hot dogs and bologna, from salad dressings to vitamin pills. Even the alcohol in beer is corn-based. "Tell me what you eat," said the French gastronomist Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, "and I will tell you what you are". We're corn, says Pollan.

That ubiquitous ingredient, high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is in general serving as a covert way of sweetening just about everything to tempt us to eat more. Sweetness in nature is rare; we find some in fruit and of course in honey, but due to the processed-food industry, we're being hooked on sweetness. Consumption of HFCS has reached 66 pounds per person and is almost unavoidable in processed food.

Looking at a typical Midwest cornfield, Pollan claims that there is less pre-existing nature left in Iowa than NY or Cal; and yet it is strangely devoid of people. No fences, no farmers, one person per acre, its productiviity made possible by the efficiency of chemical pesticides and fertilizers. (At the time of writing, less than two years ago, Pollan was looking at corn prices under $1.50 per bushel; with the sudden surge of investment in corn-based ethanol as an answer to rising oil prices, the price has soared to levels between three and four dollars. Two years ago, he found that in spite of tremendous yields per acre, farmers were still losing money on corn and had to be heavily subsidized. The farmers are doing a lot better recently and so are the processors like Arthur Daniels Midland, but the subsidies keep pouring in at the rate of $3 bilion per year).A harvest of 200 bushels/acre (grandpa grew only 20) yields 56 pounds of just the kernel; at $4/bu today or $600/acre, this now brings about 8 cents/pound. This food then becomes cheap raw material which in the factories of outfits like Cargill and ADM can become an ingredient in almost anything; and anything makeable from oil can be made from corn.

Pollan is also eloquent about the role of corn and similar monocultures in massive losses of topsoil, and of large-scale poisoning of rivers and even nearby oceans by runoff of chemical and animal waste. Once upon a time, animals and vegetables were raised on the same farm, the vegetable products feeding the animals, and the animal waste fertilizing the vegetables. Now the two are separated, and a non-problem becomes two environmental problems. These are some of the reasons why there is a growing dead zone in Gulf of Mexico that's attained the size of New Jersey.

As the population of the U.S. as well as its landscape slowly turns into corn, and as the signs of global warming become more obvious each year, it's time to take a closer look at the question of biodiversity. Will the already alarming rate of habitat destruction caused by the spread of monocultures such as corn be accelerated by the coming rapid changes in temperature and rainfall? To what extent will the crops and ecosystems we presently depend on be endangered by climate change as well? Are there enough variants of the plant life we depend on still available to make the large changes in our agriculture that will become necessary to feed even the present six billion humans? In a simplified ecosystem will changing climate make it even easier for an insect or bacterial or virus pest to undergo a population explosions as they have in the past and wipe out key crops?

The second article, which appeared in the August 27, 2007 New Yorker, "Sowing for the Apocalypse", by staff writer John Seabrook speaks to these issues. We are introduced to . . .
Cary Fowler, a modern-day Noah, whose awesome task is to be the world's seed banker, guarding huge numbers of plant varieties otherwise doomed to extinction. In his official capacity as executive director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust, Fowler is responsible for the gathering and protection of some two million varieties of domestic food plants and their wild relatives.

Evidence of collection and preservation of seeds exists in traces found back almost to the beginnings of agriculture itself - for instance one seed deposit found in Jarmo, Iraq dates back almost 9000 years. Seeds were brought to and from the New World from the time of Columbus and forced to adapt to vastly different climatic conditions in some of the places to which they were spread, helping to generate increased genetic diversity Adaptation was especially important for colonial agriculture in the U.S., where early settlers found almost nothing in the way of domesticated species, except maize, which had been brought by Native Americans from Central America. The process of finding new homes for plants continued through hundreds of years of colonization and intercontinental trade, with seeds of such cash crops as coffee, tobacco and sugar as well as potatoes and corn finding their way to regions of colonial empires with ideal combinations of cheap labor and local climate.

While the millennia-old practice among farmers of saving their own seeds still continued, various countries and cultures gradually developed the practice of creating seed banks and distributing new varieties. "By 1898", Seabrook writes, "the [U.S.] government was distributing 20 million packets of seeds a year to farmers". Meanwhile, during the 20th century, as farmers gradually came to rely more on commercial and government providers of seeds, increasing institutional experimentation led to the emergence and spread of hybrid varieties. This proved a bonanza for the seed companies, because open-pollinated hybrids can't yield hybrid seeds and the farmer had to come back every year to buy seed for the following season. The use of corn hybrids rose from 0.5% in 1933 to 90% by 1945. The new hybrid seeds were spread toAsia and Africa through the "Green Revolution", producing greatly increased yields of wheat and rice as well as corn, and was estimated to have fed "at least a billion people who might otherwise have starved".

However, as Fowler pointed out in his 1993 book "Shattering", the new hybrids produced not only new crops, but brought with them agricultural and social systems, changes in "traditional values, cultures and power relationships both within villages and between them and the outside world"(quoted from Seabrook). On a global scale, farmers were buying chemicals and seed and growing crops for export. And hunger began to be caused not by scarcity of food, but by the enmeshing of poor countries in the global export system, driven by foreign agribusiness, as Francis Moore Lappé pointed out in 1971 in "Diet for a Small Planet" and in 1977 in "Food First", (and elaborated on by many writers in the excellent collection, "The Paradox of Plenty", edited by SftP's excellent Doug Boucher, Food First Books, 1999).

An even more serious consequence of the Green Revolution hybrids has been the steady loss of agricultural diversity, which even 40 years ago began to be felt in the form of increased vulnerability of crops to specific diseases and insect pests. After a 1970 corn blight destroyed 15% of the U.S. corn crop (50% in some Southern states), a NAS report [National Academy of Sciences (1972) Genetic vulnerability of major crops (ISBN 0-309-02030-1)] revealed that 70% of the U.S. crop consisted of just six varieties. The last 30 years have been marked by a struggle to preserve genetic diversity. The U.S. Plant Variety Protection Act of 1970 gave intellectual-property protection to seed developers, but outraged third-world countries from whom they had appropriated genetic material sometimes in use for millenia, creating agricultural industries and then asking them to buy it back in the form of patented seeds. It is estimated that 2/3 of the world's food crop production comes from crops that originated in the Near East and Latin America, and only 5% in Europe and North America combined. Fowler tells Seabrook how unfair he considers it that after "a century and a half of unimpeded geneflow from South to North, for the North to come along and say, OK, now you have to pay for the genes--genes we took from you--because now we have a patent on them".

To protect themselves, many countries had set up their own seed banks, but in many cases storage conditions were less than ideal, or insecure against natural calamities or war. Despite opposition from seed companies in the US and other developed countries, Fowler was working with the UN's FAO to lay the groundwork for an international seed bank. He finally succeeded in 2001 (the bank is in Svalbard Norway), but at a price: the nations had to drop their opposition to the patenting of seeds. An important development that is outside the realm of the seed bank is the aggressive spreading of genetically modified crops, already being grown on 7% of the world's cropland, a percentage that is constantly increasing. Seabrook points, as an example, to what happened during the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the birthplace of agriculture: In 2004, Paul Bremer, in charge of the Coalition Provisional Authority issued an order that prohibited Iraqi farmers from using their own seeds, forcing them instead to buy them, many for genetically modified crops, from U.S.-based corporations.

What will the future bring? Will the world's agricultural lands eventually become an Iowa-style corporate-controlled monoculture, providing raw materials to construct synthetic corporate McFoods out of genetically-modified Frankenplants? Will giant regions of monoculture create increasingly fragile ecosystems, vulnerable to each new bacterial and insect pest outbreak, and vulnerable to the rapidly shifting climate zones and global warming that lie ahead? Or can genetically-engineered modifications succeed in continuing somehow to increase crop yields and save key vulnerable corporate-grown mega-crops from each new threat posed an increasingly unstable engineered environment?


(1) Two reviews of Pollan's book and an NPR interview of the author can be found online at dyn/content/article/2006/04/06/AR2006040601701.html

The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth
ethanol bubble

by Tom Baugh, published in Green Institute

OK, I'll admit it! I have heroes and among those very few heroes is biologist/naturalist E.O. Wilson. In fact, he's right at the top these days and has been for quite some while. I had recently read his book 'The Future of Life' (2002) and reread 'The Diversity of Life' (1992) in preparation to teach a short course in biodiversity and another in conservation biology. I had also spent the last decade of my life working at the intersection of my two fields, biology/ecology and religion/theology, in an emerging area called ecotheology (ecological theology). So, when I heard that Professor Wilson had opened his book, 'The Creation,' with the salutation 'Dear Pastor,' my interest was piqued, to say the least. Professor Wilson writes as if he is addressing a letter to a Southern Baptist pastor. In the 'letter' he asks for help in saving life on Earth.

I have to admit that had the book said nothing else I would have been impressed. Several years back I took one of those week long courses called 'intensives.' There were three instructors in the course and one of them took strong and pointed exception, umbrage is the term, I believe, when I suggested that the religions would have to become involved if we had any hope of saving at least part of what we call habitat and biodiversity. Not two years later my one time biology professor, thesis committee chair and long time friend Jim Deacon invited me to speak to his ecology class at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas where I encountered the same resistance, from one of Jim's teaching colleagues, to my suggestion that religion would have to become involved or continued ecocide and possibly ecocaust (2003) was inevitable. And now, here was one of my heroes saying the very same thing, only doing it better, much better than I ever did.

Professor Wilson begins by gently, and with the humility of the truly mature, contrasting the respective positions of the pastor, a literalist interpreter of Christian Holy Scripture, with Wilson who describes himself as a secular humanist. Regardless of where the respective metaphysics falls out, Professor Wilson admits "Pastor, we need your help"--"because religion and science are the two most powerful forces in the world today." He openly wonders at the ultraconservative Christian's widespread conviction that the Second Coming is imminent and along with it the destruction not only of humanity but ten million other life forms. He finds this to be a gospel of "cruelty and despair" and suggests instead a gospel of hope and compassion in which people everywhere have a decent standard of living "while preserving as much of the rest of life as possible." It is my guess that it is right about this point, and this is only page six, where Professor Wilson begins to lose his ultraconservative readers, if he had any to begin with. You see, while science would be the first to admit how little it knows, and Wilson makes this point, it would be a rare ultraconservative Christian leader who would make the same claim of humility. These are, mostly men, who Michael Ruse refers to as perpetrators of an "evangelical Puritanism, that is a blight on the country." They rarely admit that they are wrong.

Throughout this short, 175 page book, Professor Wilson uses many experiences from his own life as a biologist to portray a Nature seriously threatened by unthinking humanity destroying habitat, spewing pesticides, and belching carbon and methane into the atmosphere. There is nothing new about this story. Things are getting bad and they are going to get much, much worse before they get any better, if they do get better. Anyone who can read has encountered the challenge of thinking about extinction, deforestation, and global warming. Even if you can read, however, many ultraconservative Christians encountering these tales of environmental and biological disaster don't accept them, and that would include 47 percent of the population in the North Carolina county in which I live who do not accept the inconvenient but very real truth of global warming. These are the same people who are among the flocks pastored by the same ministers addressed by Professor Wilson in his salutation.

In the end, I'm afraid that Wilson's book 'The Creation' is simply more of Ed Wilson's wonder at the wonder of life and his terrible anxiety at its extirpation. His message will not reach the ultraconservative literalist preacher he says he is addressing. You see, these are primarily men less motivated by the spirituality and sacredness he attributes to them because of his boyhood among them; they are rather the perpetrators of a cult of intentional ignorance manipulating subcultures also of intentional ignorance, subcultures that include millions and millions and yet more millions of Americans. The odd thing is that these same ultraconservative Christians have absolutely no trouble accepting the horror of the prediction of the end of times but find the environmental impacts of global warming an incomprehensible plot by liberals.

Professor Wilson will make some progress with conservative Christians such as Jim Ball of 'what would Jesus drive' fame, and those in the National Evangelical Association who have somewhat belatedly realized that humanity does have something to do with environmental crisis and must now do something about the catastrophes of environmental Armageddon. But his target audience, the ultraconservatives, simply do not understand that Earth and all that it is and all that it holds is not facing a rapture but rather a rupture of those intricate balances that make the quantity and quality of life possible. It is not the end of times that is coming but rather a possibly very long interim, might I suggest a Purgatory, of any hope of times of peace and safety. The people that Professor Wilson sets out to address are the very people who will willingly help bring about that tragic interim.

(Personal Note: Ed, you keep writing 'em and I'll keep reading 'em, but don't get your hopes up. You are not talking to the same stern but kind pastors of your boyhood. Things have changed.)

Published May, 2007 Please cite this manuscript as follows: Baugh, T. 2007. A reflection. The Green Institute.

--------------------------- References------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

  • Wilson, E.O. 2002. the future of life. New York. Vintage Books. Wilson, E.O. 1992. The diversity of life. London. W.W. Norton Company. Ltd. Budz, M. 2003. Clade. New York. Bantan Books.
  • Ruse, M. 2007. The god wars. Science & Spirit 18(1):51-53.

Why a DC Congestion Tax?

by David Schwartzman

Consider air pollution, health and global warming

by David Schwartzman

Air pollution and carbon emissions from transportation (and power plants) using fossil fuels go hand in hand. Hence, by taking timely steps to reduce carbon emissions that contribute to global warming we likewise reduce air pollution, with immediate benefits to the well being of our residents. I will present here the case for just such a step, implementing a DC congestion charge. A planning process should start now, involving those most affected, the working class majority living in the District.

A congestion charge is a payment required of drivers (or owners of vehicles) to enter a designated area of a city, usually the core business area which has the most traffic. The congestion charge approach to reducing traffic, air pollution levels and carbon emissions contributing to global warming is now being used in a growing number of cities around the world. London has had a congestion charge since 2003. Other cities include Bergen (Norway), Stockholm (Sweden), and Singapore. This past spring, Mayor Bloomberg of New York City proposed a plan to charge $8 a day for cars using the central business district of Manhattan. A Commission was created in July to study this proposal. There is $1.1 billion of federal aid available to fight urban traffic (1). A congestion charge for the District is now being widely discussed, and last May, District of Columbia officials requested $17.8 million from the federal government to study how to reduce traffic, including the possible options of a congestion charge, increasing taxation on downtown employee parking, as well as higher meter rates for designated hours. (2). San Francisco received $1 million from the federal government to study the feasibility of a congestion charge for its downtown area (3).

In July, the Government Accountability Office issued a report concluding "A toll or surcharge ... would create incentives for drivers to shift their travel to periods of lower demand, use other roads, or make other adjustments, when the costs of their decision to drive during congested periods exceed the benefits they receive."

Further, without such incentives, "the transportation system will be headed for more frequent occurrences of congestion that last longer, resulting in more time spent traveling, greater fuel consumption, and higher emissions in the long run." (4)

The London experience with its congestion charge shows its significant benefits. Traffic congestion has been reduced 30%, while carbon dioxide emissions declined by more than 15%, along with reductions in nitrogen oxide (8%) and particulates (7%) (5, 6). Revenues accrued went to subsidizing the London Underground and bus use, so students now ride free, and expanding the bus system, as the quickest and cheapest way to increase mass transit capacity (4). The next stage will include emission-based charging, targeting SUVs and other vehicles with the highest carbon emissions.

Air pollution's negative health impacts

Reducing air pollution would have immediate health benefits, particularly for DC's children. "Pollution from mobile sources (cars, trucks, vans, etc) is the leading cause of ozone and smog in the District of Columbia, dangerous compounds that cause respiratory illness and childhood asthma. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation, one in ten adults and children suffer from asthma in DC. The American Lung Association has rated Washington, DC as one of the top five most challenging places for people with asthma to live, particularly in the summer months. A typical summer in DC sends 2,400 people with respiratory related diseases to the hospital and causes 130,000 asthma attacks. The American Lung Association has rated DC's air quality as an "F." Pollution related to transportation (including cars and SUVs) can account for up to 70 percent of pollution during poor air quality days in the summer. While some pollution is obvious, ozone and other dangerous pollutants float unseen. The DC metro area is in violation of Clean Air Act standards for ozone and other pollutants, putting residents at higher risk for asthma, respiratory illness, and code-red smog days in the summer." (7). The DC Metro area now ranks 2nd in the nation for traffic congestion (8).

Urban air pollution is now linked to a wide variety of negative health impacts affecting both the unborn, children and adults. Besides increasing asthma attacks (9), these impacts include damage to children's lungs (10), birth defects affecting heart (11), harm to the fetus linked to low birth weights and cancer later in life (12) and damage to the cardiovascular system increasing the risk of heart attacks (13).

What's the connection to global warming?

Besides generating air pollution, cars and other vehicles that burn fossil fuels, whether it is gasoline or diesel fuel, contribute to carbon dioxide emissions that increase the greenhouse house effect leading to global warming. Even burning natural gas produces carbon dioxide, but lower levels for the same energy released, since natural gas has a higher hydrogen to carbon ratio than the other fossil fuels (hydrogen oxidized during combustion produces water instead of carbon dioxide).

The Metro DC area has seen a spike in carbon emissions from 2001 to 2005, increasing at more than two times the national rate. (14). A significant fraction of this increase has come from commuting from the suburbs. The signature of global warming is already apparent in the long-term rise of temperatures especially in the last decade. The global scientific consensus predicts flooding and heat waves in the coming decades. According to the Capital Climate Coalition "Two recent reports by the National Research Council of the National Academies have linked global warming to increased urban ozone levels. Studies have suggested that many of the deaths (up to 20-50 percent) that occurred in the 2003 heat waves in Europe could be directly attributed to increased ozone and particulate levels that occurred during the heat waves." (7).

So should there be a toll on commuters or a congestion charge?

Last spring a proposal to establish a commission to study possible tolls on commuters entering the District was introduced in the City Council by Councilmember Marion Barry (16). While some revenue is captured from commuters in the form of sales taxes, the District is explicitly forbidden by the Home Rule Act to impose any tax on the personal income of non-residents (17). Hence, until DC achieves statehood, reciprocal taxation of income with surrounding jurisdictions is not likely to be possible. Unlike sales taxes, a toll on commuters would be paid by non-residents only. Therefore, most informed observers believe Congress would reject such a commuter tax as contrary to the Home Rule Act. However, a congestion charge for the core business center of the District could be designed to affect both residents and non-residents, analogous to the District's sales taxes. Such a congestion charge could be implemented without toll booths, using street cameras, the same approach as London's program.

I submit a DC congestion charge is worth fighting for, demanding Congress not turn it down if our city government passes it. An integral part of our struggle for full citizenship rights is pushing the limits of what is achievable under the Home Rule Act, our neo-colonial regime imposed by Congress. Gains in environmental, economic and social justice empower our struggle for DC Statehood. I see a parallel here with the challenge of restructuring our local tax structure to make it truly progressive and more capable of meeting essential needs of our residents. This will only be possible by raising the tax rate of the wealthy, especially millionaires, who now pay a lower rate than the working class majority. Our Mayor and most of the Council have held up the smokescreen of "we can't do better until Congress lets us have a commuter tax". This is a form of submission to the continued rule of the neo-liberal corporate elite (organized in the form of the Federal City Council), which sets the political economic agenda for the District. The result: DC has a higher income inequality than any state in the nation and the lowest life expectancy according to the most recent figures available (see documentation at the end of the DC Statehood Green Party Legislative Agenda for 2007-8).

Environmental, economic and social justice are inseparable

A congestion charge in the District would have the greatest benefit to its working class majority, low and middle income residents, particularly their children, by reducing traffic congestion and air pollution. Further, commuters would of course benefit from lower air pollution levels. Besides generating air pollution, traffic congestion increases fuel use because of idling motors, creates delays that create road rage, slows deliveries and chokes off downtown businesses, driving up prices, encouraging suburban shopping to Wal-Mart type megastores. For most commuters lower costs should result since the expenses entailed in automobile commuting would be greater than using the alternative of mass transit (Metro, buses), particularly if the revenues received from congestion charges will be used to expand and lower the cost of this alternative. The annual cost of congestion in the District has been estimated to be as high as $3.2 billion. Resources for the Future estimates $60 million in revenue would result from a $4.70 toll for entering the downtown area, reducing congest costs by $94 million per year (18). Just as London, the District should use congestion charge revenues to expand bus service and progressively lower their cost to riders. Further, buses should be converted to the lower polluting compressed natural gas technology and optimally to hybrid or purely electric. This approach would be a win-win outcome for both residents and commuters. But the residents of the District, particularly those most impacted by breathing polluted air, should have the decisive voice in the design of a congestion charge and the targeting of its revenues.

Free mass transit should be seriously considered for its social and environmental benefits, with operating costs paid by charges on car use and progressive taxation of corporations and individuals, as well as federal subsidies (19). But make no mistake; it will take a real mass movement to win these objectives. The experience of the Bus Riders Union in Los Angeles is very instructive (20). The challenge we face is demonstrated by the Metro Board's proposal for a congestion pricing plan that would increase all fares with bigger increases during rush hour! (21).

Other approaches that should be considered while a congestion charge is being planned

There is broad support for passage of a bill that would implement a California tailpipe emission standard for all new cars registered in the District (D.C. Clean Cars Program). However, this legislation would apply to cars sold in the District starting in 2011. We need to take action to reduce air pollution and carbon emissions much sooner. In addition, Ward 3 Council member Mary Cheh is planning to introduce new legislation that would implement the Mayor's Climate Protection Agreement, which required the District to reduce its overall carbon emissions to 7% below the 1990 levels by 2012 (22). Cheh is planning to focus on conserving electricity use and shifting to renewable sources. Electricity is currently generated by old polluting power plants at Benning Road and Buzzard Point, accounting for more than half the District's carbon emissions. Other more immediate steps that could be taken include: Demands are being made by environmental activists and the DC Statehood Green Party to:

  • 1) Enforce and improve the idling laws, through education and signs, not necessarily by fines. In particular, too many diesel-powered school buses spew out particulates while idling outside of schools, needlessly exposing children to these harmful pollutants linked to asthma.
  • 2) implement a parking surtax (parking lots/garages), with revenue designated to DC's mass transit needs.
  • 3) require businesses to give their workers a cost-of-travel bonus if they travel by public transportation, instead of driving and parking in a garage. California has a parking cash out law that requires employers to give the cash value of a parking space if an employee opts out of taking the parking. However, this approach needs to be carefully designed since most commuters nationally currently use a provision in the federal tax code to use their wages to pay for parking at work (23).
  • 4) implement a hybrid and then fully electric conversion program for the replacing the District's taxis. New York City has recently instituted a hybrid conversion program for its yellow taxicabs (24).
  • 5) encourage bicycle use by expanding bike lanes, and establishing a bike-share plan like Paris (25). With a congestion charge in place bike riding should be safer and more healthful as traffic and air pollution levels drop. Other approaches include:
  • 6) The challenge of global warming should be addressed in the District with a systematic approach starting now. The DC Statehood Green Party is urging immediate action to establish a Municipal/Community Task Force to generate a comprehensive plan for Greening the District, by retrofitting photovoltaics, solar heating and cooling, green roofs on existing infrastructure, promoting water harvesting, thereby generating 21st century employment for District residents, reducing air and water pollution.
  • 7) Grow organic food locally! An agroecological approach to urban and suburban gardening is now growing around the nation (26).

References and notes
Road pricing: go to
Environmental impact of public transportation ental_impact
"Emissions from road vehicles account for over 50% of U.S. air pollution. For every passenger mile traveled, public transportation uses less than one half of the fuel of private automobiles, producing 5% as much carbon monoxide and less than 8% as much as the other pollutants that create smog (such as volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides). Scientists estimate that public transportation already reduces emissions of carbon dioxide, which contributes to global climate change, by over 7.4 million tons annually. If Americans were to use public transportation at equivalent rates as Europeans, scientists estimate that U.S. dependence on imported oil would decrease by more than 40% and that carbon dioxide emissions would be reduced by more than 25%."
Sources Conserving Energy and Preserving the Environment: The Role of Public Transportation, Robert J. Shapiro, Kevin A. Hassett and Frank S. Arnold, July 2002 (

  1. Danny Hakim and Ray Rivera, New York bid on traffic pricing draws state and U.S. support, N.Y. Times, June 8, 2007, A1.
  2. e_for_a_dc_congestion_tax.html Marc Fisher, Time for a D.C. Congestion Tax? "London has it, and traffic in the city is down by nearly half. New York is considering it, wowed by the possibility of thinning out the city's choking congestion. Now, Washington is talking about imposing a congestion tax, a daily fee for bringing a car into the District's downtown. Mayor Adrian Fenty raised the issue in an interview on WTOP radio Friday, and immediately the debate began." Eric M. Weiss, U.S. funds sought for D.C. traffic study, Washington Post, May 3, 2007, B3. A Dose of Decongestant, An innovative way to ease traffic jams, Editorial, Washington Post, Wednesday, February 14, 2007, A18.
  3. Becky Bowman, Move to charge toll for driving in core of downtown area, County transit panel to receive $1 million from U.S. for study, San Francisco Chronicle, March 28, 2006, B1.
  4. Michael Neibauer, Local Report: Tolls may be best way to reduce congestion, The Examiner, July 30, 2007.
  5. Ken Livingstone, Clear up the congestion-pricing gridlock, N.Y. Times, July 2, 2007, A21. Ken Livingstone is the Mayor of London.
  6. Cameron Munro, In support of the Congestion Charge. August 7, 2007,'s Think Tank Town.
  7. A fact sheet from the DC Clean Cars Program, Capital Climate Coalition, Chesapeake Climate Action Network. Also see: Dying for Clean Air. Why Black Mayors Should Support Tougher Ozone Standards by Robert D. Bullard, September 19th, 2007. air/ At a recent hearing considering lowering the ozone standard, "A slew of industry representatives along with a high-ranking official from the National Conference of Black Mayors urged EPA to keep its current standard. Industry leaders and NCBM claim tougher standard will hurt economic growth. "Cleaner air is important to our communities, but it is not the only thing that affects the health of our people. The health and welfare of our communities is also dependent on having good jobs, economic growth and the quality of life that goes with it," said Vanessa Williams, NCBM executive director, speaking on behalf of NCBM president Mayor George L. Grace. The asthma epidemic hits African Americans especially hard. Asthma attacks send African Americans to the emergency room at three times the rate (174.3 visits per 10,000 population) of whites (59.4 visits per 10,000 population). African Americans are hospitalized for asthma at more than three times the rate of whites (35.6 admissions per 10,000 population vs. 10.6 admissions per 10,000 population). The death rate from asthma for African Americans is twice that of whites (38.7 deaths per million population vs. 14.2 deaths per million population. In 2004, an estimated 3.5 million African Americans had asthma. African Americans have the highest asthma prevalence of any racial/ethic group; the asthma prevalence rate among Blacks was 36 percent higher than that for whites. African Americans make up about 12 percent of the U.S. population but account for 25 percent of the 4,099 deaths attributed to asthma in 2003."
  8. Jonathan Mummolo, A ranking writ in brake lights: area nudges up list as drivers spend 60 hours a year in jams., Washington Post, September 19, 2007, B1.
  9. NYU Study Links Bronx Pollution To Asthma (, February 22, 2007, 2:55 pm) Susan Levine, Region's Air Tough on Asthmatics [Region is Metro D.C.], Washington Post, February 16, 2005, B3.
  10. Polly Curtis, Living near a motorway damages children's lungs, research reveals. Bombshell' US study fuels call for action on car fumes Reduced lung growth found in 10-18 year olds, The Guardian, January 26, 2007.
  11. 075340.htm University Of California - Los Angeles, January 2, 2002 Urban Air Pollution Linked To Birth Defects For First Time; Research Links Two Pollutants To Increased Risk Of Heart Defects "Exposure to two common air pollutants may increase the chance that a pregnant woman will give birth to a child with certain heart defects, according to a UCLA study that provides the first compelling evidence that air pollution may play a role in causing some birth defects. Pregnant Los Angeles-area women living in regions with higher levels of ozone and carbon monoxide pollution were as much as three times as likely to give birth to children who suffered from serious heart defects, according to a study published in the Jan. 1 edition of the American Journal of Epidemiology".
  12. P. Barry, Pregnancy and Pollution. Women living in areas with poor air quality have babies with lower birthweights, Science News, April 28, 2007, 261) Pollution Is Linked to Fetal Harm, The New York Times, February 16, 2005 "Exposure to air pollution, even in the womb, may be linked to genetic changes associated with an increased risk of cancer, researchers said yesterday."
  13. Ed Edelson, Traffic Pollution Could Raise Heart Risks, HealthDay News, July 16, 2007 articlekey=82572 "People who regularly breathe in fumes from heavy traffic are more likely to get the hardening of the arteries that boosts heart attack risk, a German study finds. "It's not limited to freeways," said lead researcher Barbara Hoffmann, head of the unit of environmental epidemiology at the University of Duisburg-Essen. "We see it in inner-city dwellings on heavily traveled streets as well." Her team published the findings in the July 17 issue of Circulation."
  14. David A. Fahrenthold, D.C. area sees spike in rate of emissions. Carbon dioxide increases 13.4% in 4-year period. Washington Post, April 29, 2007, A1. Local Warming, Editorial, Washington Post, May 2, 2007, A14.
  15. Jim Hansen (NASA climatologist) June 2007: How Can We Avert Dangerous Climate Change? Paper posted to, based on testimony Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, U.S. House of Representatives, 26 April 2007, with some revisions and additions.
  16. Council Members Explore Tolls at D.C. Borders The Associated Press, May 2, 2007. "WASHINGTON - Some D.C. lawmakers want to study the idea of installing toll booths at the city's borders to collect money from commuters and visitors. D.C. Council member Marion Barry introduced legislation Tuesday that would create a commission to consider toll locations as well as the traffic and economic impact of such a program. The commission would then publish a report of its findings."
  17. District of Columbia Home Rule Act SEC. 602. [D.C. Code 1-233] (a) The Council shall have no authority to pass any act contrary to the provisions of this Act except as specifically provided in this Act, or to-- (5) impose any tax on the whole or any portion of the personal income, either directly or at the source thereof, of any individual not a resident of the District (the terms "individual" and "resident" to be understood for the purposes of this paragraph as they are defined in section 4 of title I of the District of Columbia Income and Franchise Tax Act of 1947[, approved July 16, 1947 (61 Stat. 332; D.C. Code 47-1801.4)]).
  18. Would congestion fees clear your way? Washington Post, July 22, 2007, C2.
  19. Fare-Free Public Transit Could Be Headed to a City Near You, Dave Olsen, The Tyee. Posted July 26, 2007. "It's time to give people a free ride on public transit. And here's proof it works. The time has come to stop making people pay to take public transit. Why do we have any barriers to using buses and urban trains? The threat of global warming is no longer in doubt. The hue and cry of the traffic-jammed driver grows louder every commute. And politicians are getting the message. San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom has ordered his staff to seriously examine the costs of charging people to ride public transit. And Michael Bloomberg, mayor of New York, recently voiced to a reporter his top dream: "I would have mass transit be given away for nothing and charge an awful lot for bringing an automobile into the city." "
  20. option=com_content&task=view&id=317&Itemid=33 Eric Mann , Fighting Transit Racism: Building the Environmental Movement on the Buses of L.A., August 15, 2007.
  21. Eric M. Weiss, D.C. area's effort against crowded roads a test case. Washington Post, December 25, 2006, A1.
  22. David Iscoe, Cheh pushes city council on environmental agenda, The Northwest Current, September 5, 2007, p. 7, 30.
  23. Parking Cash out: tm William Neuman, Mixed signals: driving to work as a tax break, NY Times, May 16, 2007, A1.
  24. /2/hi/americas/6682427.stm NY yellow taxicabs ' to go green', BBC News, May 22, 2007, "New York's yellow taxis will go hybrid in five years, in an effort to cut air pollution and tackle climate change, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has said."
  25. David Haskell, The path of least congestion, Op-Ed, NY Times, July 18, 2007, A19.
  26. Phoebe Connelly and Chelsea Ross, Farming the concrete jungle. In These Times, September 2007, 20 24. _concrete_jungle/

For a visionary approach go to:
Garden of Earthly Delights
a film review, by David Schwartzman

Postmodernist Materiality from a Camcorder: My review of Lech Majewski's "The Garden of Earthly Delights" (seen at National Gallery, Washington, D.C., August 12, 2007)

Yes, Majewski's cinematography is brilliant, the images are haunting if not particularly profound. But as a postmodernist discourse on our fleeting material existence it brings more laughs and smiles than grief and reflection. Claudine Spiteri is dying of throat cancer, yet looks smashingly healthy up to her final collapse as she vomits ketchup on the ever present video camera lens. Her throat bandage first appears to be a fashionable scarf. A dead giveaway to the end: we know already she will pass into biogeochemical cycles in the next hundred minutes when she coughs ever so slightly at the beginning of this tedious theatre of "lets do the toad on the chest scene" in Bosch's painting of the film title (the toad was the real star of this film). And the scenes of copulation, Majewski's affirmation of life, are of course reprises of other Bosch cameos.

As a postmodern rejection of the existence of soul, we are reminded that we consist of so many kilos of carbon and nitrogen (with Latin names of course) while consciousness ceases to exist upon death, Dah! Any real new ideas here? A juxtaposition of the Refoundation Communist office with an adjacent altar to a Catholic saint? Well, we are informed that the world is overpopulated. Since Chris is appalled at sharing that piazza in Venice with a dozen Italians, we are treated to a lecture on exponential growth of Homo sapiens. Was it this invocation of neo-Malthusianism, so user friendly to imperial ruling classes, that turned me off to the entire film? Or perhaps the rent I imagined these art scholars paid to have a view of the Venetian canals while they fucked to Hieronymus Bosch's instructions?

I guess until I actually receive a coherent program from postmodernist artists, an impossible expectation from this unity of opposites, I will remain an unrepentant refoundation green communist. And what gall I have to complain, given the excellent free film offerings every weekend at the National Gallery, East Wing.


Scientists Ask Congress To Fund $50 Billion Science Thing

from The Onion Sept 28, 2007

WASHINGTON, DC-Top physicists from several major American universities appeared before a Congressional committee Monday to request $50 billion for a science thing that would further U.S. advancement science-wise and broaden human knowing.

The scientists spoke for approximately three hours about the complicated science machine, which is expensive, and large, telling members of the House Committee on Science and Technology that the tubular, gamma-ray-using mechanism is vital in some big way. Yet the high price tag of the thing, which would be built on a 40-square-mile plot of land where the science would ultimately occur, remained a pressing question.

"While expense is something to consider, I think it's very important that we have this kind of scientific apparatus, because, in the end, I have always said that science is more important than it is unimportant," Committee chairman Rep. Bart Gordon (D-TN) said. "And it's essential we stay ahead of China, Japan, and Germany in science. We are ahead in space, with the NASA rockets going to other planets, so we should be ahead in science too."

According to the scientists, the electromagnetic science-maker will make atoms move and spin around very quickly, though spectators at the hearing said afterward...

For the remainder of this article, please go to The Onion

Books of Interest

"The Divine Right of Capital: Dethroning the Corporate Aristocracy" by Marjorie Kelly (Berrett-Koehler Publishers 2003) "In the worldview of corporate financial statements, the aim is to pay stockholders as much as possible, and employees as little as possible..."

Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, Jared Diamond, 2005,New York: Viking Books

"What's Love Got To Do with It? A Critical Look at American Charity" by David Wagner (2001) (ISBN: 978-1-56584-637-1) "An argument that American charity lines the pockets of the well-heeled while it screws the poor," or put more politely, "how non-profits have been co-opted and diverted from demanding radical social change.

"Unequal Protection: The Rise of Corporate Dominance and the Theft of Human Rights" by Thom Hartmann (2002)

"The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals", Penguin Press, 2006, by Michael Pollan. In tracing typical food we eat from farm to table, Pollan indicts the dysfunction of the entire American industrial food complex.

"The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth" by E.O. Wilson, An Appeal to Save Life on Earth, September 2006, W. W. Norton. See review above by Tom Baugh.


Ask Dr. Science

Dear Dr. Science, I was wondering whether any of the Vietnam veterans that died from complications (later in life) from Agent Orange exposure while serving in Vietnam are listed on the Wall of the Vietnam Memorial. It seems that they should be there.

Dr. Science Responds:That's a very thoughtful question. I will inquire about any such claims or requests made to the government. As a matter of fact, your question triggers other questions: What about all the thousands that are dying and suffering from the devastation of lives that have been ruined by Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, not only from Vietnam, but now from Iraq and Afghanistan? What is their compensation? Mental disease appears to be on the rise in the US. It is rampant in the homeless population, the elderly, children, in prisons, in the displaced populations from Katrina. And data are now beginning to emerge about the effects of increasing environmental toxins on cognitive development in the US. I will get back to you on these issues in the next newsletter. Thanks for asking.