Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Moms Are Making an Impact!

(On CounterPunch -- today.)
            The mothers are making an impact!
            A phenomenon in environmental activism in recent years has been the emergence of grassroots organizations “powered by the voices of mothers, dedicated to protecting children in global communities,” as one group, The Mothers Project, describes itself. 
            The Mothers Project, founded and headed by Angela Monti Fox, is based in New York City and global in scope. Fox is the mother of Josh Fox, the filmmaker who exposed the dangers of fracking in his award-winning documentaries Gasland and Gasland 2. Indeed, taking on fracking is a major focus of The Mothers Project.
            This week, the anti-environmental, arch-conservative entity named The Independent Women's Forum is staging a panel discussion in Manhattan to try to counter the mothers’ movement. It is titled “From Helicopter to Hazmat: How the Culture of Alarmism is Turning Parenting into a Dangerous Job.” The group, which gets its funding from right-wing foundations and other conservative interests including the Koch Brothers, got its start in 1992 as Women for Judge Thomas defending the nomination of Clarence Thomas to the U.S. Supreme Court. It fights feminist groups, promotes access to guns and has taken to denying global warming.
            Also involved in the event Thursday is the American Council on Science and Health, financed by polluting industries and long described as an industry front group. Its specialty has been issuing reports denying health damage caused by environmental pollutants, notably pesticides and other toxic chemicals.
Proclaims an announcement: "’Parents are bombarded with alarmist messages on a daily basis about how the food they eat, the habits they practice and the household products they use threaten their health and the health of their children,’ says Julie Gunlock, event moderator and director of Independent Women Forum’s Culture of Alarmism project. Rather than make women feel more informed, the onslaught of alarmist information makes moms (and dads) feel guilty, confused, even angry.”
Comments Angela Fox Monti about the event: “I think this is serious proof that we are making an impact.  I have no doubt that they know about The Mothers Project, ClimateMama, Toxic Baby, Moms Clean Air Force, etc., etc.” Organized moms, she declares, are seen as “a threat because they know politicians tend to cower when mothers show up!”
Monti points to the increase in major diseases “in both children and adults—now being seen by the scientific community as a result of environmental impacts. No longer can we look at simply defective genes for the rise in all cancers, new cancers, autism, ADHD, childhood diabetes and obesity. New research points to environmental impact on embryonic development that will span several generations and can be considered a pandemic when 25 percent of the global population born today will be affected by deleterious environmental impacts.”
Anna Grossman, founder and director of HRP Mamas/The Hudson River Park Mothers Group ( says: "In the absence of adequate legislation, and as a mother of two young children, I look to reputable medical organizations and research institutes such as the Mount Sinai Children's Environmental Health Center for guidance on keeping my children safe from unregulated chemicals. I wouldn't get medical and safety information from a chemical industry front group or from authors who appear to disregard plain science.”
“I find nothing alarmist in being empowered with the knowledge that EPA is simply unable to protect us from thousands of chemicals,” she says. “The EPA has acknowledged this and it's a known fact. No one is panicking. We are calling for action. Those are two distinctly different things. Trying to paint mothers like me as hysterical is an old and tired stereotype. Parents are agents for change and a tremendous market force. It would seem the chemical industry, as the tobacco industry before it, is terrified of the power of parents to educate their children about companies that don't value their future health or that of their planet. Europe has enacted REACH [Regulation on Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals] legislation. Why should the USA be left behind?”
Says Bobbi Chase Wilding, deputy director of Clean and Healthy New York ( : "This is clearly a response from an industry feeling the pressure from parents. They want us to go back to sleep. We’re outraged when we learn there’s no law against putting toxic chemicals in baby products. It happens all the time, and they don’t have to be listed on the label.”
“That’s what’s making us impotent: lack of information, lousy laws, and actions by chemical industry front groups like the American Council on Science and Health,” says the mother of two. “While it's their message that health advocates are making people feel impotent, it's exactly presentations like this that are designed to disempower people. There is so much parents can do. There’s a lot of good information that empowers parents to make safer, smart choices. Our message is: don't panic, take action."
A “featured panelist” at the event will be Josh Bloom of the American Council on Science and Health, its activities well-detailed in the book by Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber, Trust Us, We're Experts: How Industry Manipulates Science and Gambles with Your Future.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

World's Fair Opens 50 Years Ago -- And I Get Fired for Story About It

              Fifty years ago this week, the New York World’s Fair opened—and by the end of the week I was fired for writing about demonstrations on its opening day protesting racism.

“Mr. Moses called and is very upset with you,” Wilson Stringer, vice president of the Sunrise Press newspapers, told me. “You’re fired.”

 Robert Moses had been the public works czar of the New York area for decades. He ran to be  the state’s governor in 1934, and suffered a then record two-to-one defeat. So he amassed power instead by creating state commissions and authorities which he ran.

He pushed the building of parks, a good thing, but also the unbridled construction of bridges, tunnels and highways—highways that shattered traditional neighborhoods and tied up the New York area with loops of roads like the Long Island Expressway, often dubbed the world’s longest parking lot, at the cost of a balanced system of mass transportation. Moses loved the automobile.

It was a road project that Moses announced in 1962 that first caused me to tangle with him. He unveiled a scheme to build a four-lane highway on Fire Island which would have paved over much of the nature and communities on the narrow 32-mile-long ribbon of sand east of New York City. He claimed the highway would “anchor” Fire Island and protect it from storms.

It was my first week on my first job as a reporter for the Babylon Town Leader, a newspaper in the village where Moses lived. He had just announced the Fire Island project.

The Leader for decades had challenged Moses and his projects—quite unlike most of the daily papers in New York City which Moses, as notes the Pulitzer Prize-winning book on him,  The Power Broker by Robert Caro, long had in his pocket.

I began writing story after story in the Leader about the impacts of the proposed Moses highway on Fire Island. We pointed out, too, how the highway Moses built to the west, along Jones Beach, rather than anchoring the beach needed to be regularly bolstered with sand pushed along its edges by bulldozers working at night.

Moses had so much power in New York State he seemed unstoppable. So those endeavoring to save Fire Island turned to the federal government—a Citizens Committee for a Fire Island National Seashore was started. U.S. Interior Secretary Stewart Udall visited Fire Island and embraced the seashore idea.

 Also, conservation-oriented Laurance Rockefeller, brother of New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller, became chairman of the state Council of Parks in 1963 and liked the seashore concept.

Moses was furious. He confronted the governor insisting that the Fire Island highway must happen and that Rockefeller put a lid on his brother—or he would resign his commission and authority posts. Seemingly he thought New York State would fall apart without him. In this collision, Moses quit his various public positions.

A Fire Island National Seashore, happily, was established in 1964.

            Moses, meanwhile, remained in charge of the 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair.

In 1964, the Babylon Town Leader was bought by the Sunrise Press newspaper chain.

At the Leader I also covered the civil rights struggle then happening on Long Island. I went to the World’s Fair opening day to report on protests led by the then leading activist civil rights organization in the region, the Congress of Racial Equality, protesting racism in hiring by the Fair and racism in general in the New York area. 

All the Sunrise Press newspapers ran as a front-page piece the article I wrote about the demonstrators and their being bludgeoned by the Fair’s Pinkerton officers. My photos on this accompanied the piece.

But no longer did I have the protection when it came to Moses which I had with the Leader under its former management. Moses complained and I was promptly fired.

I placed ads beginning: “Reporter fired because of Robert Moses.” I got another job, at the daily Long Island Press. Moses’ power over much of the area’s press was reconfirmed on my first day there. An editor told me: “Now you understand you’re never to write a story about Moses or any agency he headed.” I was hired to cover police and courts and asked what was to be done if there is a fatal auto accident on one of the highways managed by one of Moses’ former agencies. “Have another reporter write it,” he advised.

Moses is dead. Fire Island has been preserved. The New York World’s Fair is a memory—most of it quickly bulldozed down after it closed.


Wednesday, April 2, 2014

"G.M. Flaw" and the Deeply Flawed Regulatory System

            “U.S. Agency Knew About G.M. Flaw But Did Not Act,” was the front-page headline of the New York Times this week. The article told of a memo released by the House Energy and Commerce Committee that related how scandalously, shamefully the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration “ignored or dismissed warnings for more than a decade about a faulty ignition switch” in General Motors cars.
            “Federal regulators decided not to open an inquiry on the ignitions of Chevrolet Cobalts and other cars even after their own investigators reported in 2007” knowing about fatal crashes, complaints and reports of a defect in the autos, said the article. It continued that in 2010 the agency “came to the same decision”—not to do anything—“after receiving more reports” about the fatal problem.
A separate article on the front-page of the Times’ business section, “Carmakers’ Close Ties to Regulator Scrutinized,” reported on “former top N.H.T.S.A. officials who now represent companies they were once responsible for regulating, part of a well-established migration from regulator to the regulated in Washington.” The “revolving door between the agency and the automotive industry is once again coming under scrutiny as lawmakers investigate the decade-long failure by General Motors and safety regulators to act more aggressively.”
In fact, the words “G.M. Flaw” could be substituted for by “G.E. Flaw” in its nuclear plants—like the G.E. plants at Fukushima and the dozens of the same fault-plagued model that are still operating in the U.S., or the words could be replaced by “Pollution Caused by Fracking” or “Poisons in Food.”
From national administration to administration, corporations have run roughshod and those who are supposed to protect us from the danger and death these industries cause have regularly not done their jobs. Sometimes the situation is more pronounced as during the Reagan administration—a thoroughly obvious time of foxes guarding henhouses.
I wrote a book about this extreme situation. The book jacket highlighted some of the Reagan foxes: Rita LaValle, a PR person for Aerojet General Corp. involved in hazardous waste-dumping and water pollution, who became director of the “Superfund” program; John Todhunter, an opponent of restrictions on pesticides with the chemical industry-financed American Council on Science and Health, who became assistant administrator for pesticides and toxic substances at EPA; Kathleen Bennett, who as a lobbyist for the paper industry fought the Clean Air Act, named assistant EPA administrator for air pollution control programs and  supervisor of the Clean Air Act; and on and on.
This sort of thing has an early history. In a chapter titled “Why the Supposed Protectors Don’t Protect,” I related the story of Dr. Harvey Washington Wiley, a physician who came to Washington in 1882 to become chief chemist for the Department of Agriculture. The U.S. was undergoing a transition from a rural country to an increasingly industrial society with industries arising that processed food—food commonly doused with dangerous chemicals. Wiley endeavored to do something about this. He was a leader in working for pure food legislation and  between his efforts and those of Progressive Era reformers and the publication of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle came passage of the landmark Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906.
The act, signed into law by President Theodore Roosevelt, defined as adulterated foods those containing “any added poisonous or other added deleterious ingredient which may render such article injurious to health.”  Wiley, who the U.S. government honored in 1956 with a postage stamp picturing him and has described as the “father of food and drug regulation,” tried to enforce the law as head of the Bureau of Chemistry of the Department of Agriculture, predecessor agency to the Food and Drug Administration, but found that all but impossible.
As a matter of conscience, Wiley resigned from the U.S. government in 1912 and wrote a book, The History of a Crime Against the Food Law.” The law intended to protect the health of people was “perverted to protect adulteration of food,” he wrote.
“There is a distinct tendency to put regulations and rules for the enforcement of the law into the hands of industries engaged in food and drug activities,” declared Wiley. “I consider this one of the most pernicious threats to pure food and drugs. Business is making rapid strides in the control of all our affairs. When we permit business in general to regulate the quality and character of our food and drug supplies, we are treading upon very dangerous ground. It is always advisable to consult businessmen and take such advice as they give that is unbiased, because of the intimate knowledge they have of the processes involved. It is never advisable to surrender entirely food and drug control to business interests.”
Throughout the many decades since, government control, regulation, has been surrendered, in part and sometimes entirely, to business interests. This includes not only the food and drug industries but the auto industry, the nuclear industry, now the gas industry for the toxic process called hydraulic fracturing or fracking, and on and on.  
I titled my 1983 book The Poison Conspiracy and began it by writing about how “the world is being poisoned,” lives are being lost and protection “by government is a sham.” Those in government who are “supposed to protect not because of the power of the industries” they are supposed to regulate. “These corporations have been able to warp, distort and neutralize those social mechanisms of protection.”
For example, regarding nuclear power and Fukushima, Gregory Jaczko, chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission when the catastrophe began in 2011, was forced out in 2012 because of nuclear industry pressure after calling for the NRC to apply the “lessons learned” from the disaster. “I cannot support issuing this license as if Fukushima had never happened.” Jaczko stated as the other four NRC commissioners rubber-stamped the construction in Georgia in 2012 of two new nuclear plants. Jaczko, said U.S. Senator Edward Markey of Massachusetts, “led” a “fight” against those in the nuclear industry opposed to “strong, lasting safety regulations.” And he paid the price.
            And so do we—whether we drive a G.M. Cobalt car or are impacted by the permitted radioactive emissions or accidental discharges from nuclear power plants or water contaminated by the fracking process or food loaded with genetically modified organisms, GMOs, and chemical poisons.
            What’s to be done? Our elected representatives aren’t innocent in this. There are a few good ones, like Senator Markey, but overall those who on the elective level are supposed to watchdog the lame would-be regulators of the bureaucracies have in large measure been captured themselves by the monied corporate interests. “There is a deeply entrenched network” and the challenge to it “will not be easy,” I conclude in The Poison Conspiracy. Most importantly, there needs to be intense grassroots activism to deal with, to remake, a system of government regulation long broken that needs to be, at long last, truly and fundamentally reformed.