November 23, 2006

Protect Corporations, Not Children!!!


By Peter Montague

The American Chemistry Council (ACC) -- formerly known as the Chemical Manufacturers Association -- on November 16 filed a second lawsuit against the City of San Francisco, aiming to prevent the City from protecting children from toxic chemicals in toys. San Francisco passed a law in June prohibiting the sale of toys containing six toxic chemicals called phthalates (tha-lates) and another toxicant called bisphenol-A.

In October, the ACC and other corporations sued the city in California state court, claiming that state law preempted the city's right to protect children by controlling toxics in toys. The second lawsuit was filed in federal court and it claims that federal law preempts the city's right to protect its children from toxic chemicals in toys. Specifically, the ACC's complaint says theFederal Hazardous Substances Act, plus decisions by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, make it illegal for municipalities to pass laws to regulate toxic materials in toys.

This is a definite trend -- corporations trying to prevent local governments from passing laws to protect citizens against hazards and dangers created by corporations. In many instances the federal Congress is passing laws that prevent local governments from passing laws to curb corporate abuses. It's called "federal preemption."

We can draw three conclusions from this second lawsuit:

1. This is a major attack on the precautionary principle. The American Chemistry Council has hired a fancy-pants law firm to pursue this case. Clearly the ACC is putting a lot of money behind its effort tostop San Francisco from taking a precautionary approach to protecting children.

2. This lawsuit is a sign of just how powerful and bold corporations have become that they would sue San Francisco, asserting that corporations have the right to expose children to known poisons and there's nothing local governments or individual citizens can do about it. They are thumbing their noses at the Moms of the world and at everyone else who may try to protect children from chemical trespass.

3. There is one benefit from a lawsuit like this: It allows us to see clearly that the system we call "regulation" was set up not to protect citizens from harm, but to protect corporations from citizens who try to curb corporate power. The regulatory system doesn't regulate polluters -- it regulates citizens, by strictly limiting how they are allowed to respond to corporate abuse.


Happy Thanksgiving.

November 16, 2006

Minimizing Male Violence

[I wrote this piece for publication as an op-ed in Vermont newspapers, in response to a recent upsurge here in murders by men of their girlfriends, and some minimizing coverage by media covering the stories.]

October was National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. If you didn't know that, it wasn't your fault. For the most part, the media chose to ignore the issue.

So, perhaps it was not surprising that, in some of the press reports about the murder of the woman in Lyndonville by her boyfriend, this murder/suicide was described as a "domestic dispute." Think about it. She wanted to break up with him, and in an act of ultimate power and control, he kills her and then himself. If a man rapes a woman on a date, is this a "dating dispute?" If a man rapes his wife, is this a "marital dispute?" If a man doesn't let his wife work, or have money, or see her friends, or drive a car, or he regularly threatens her, can this possibly be a "domestic dispute?" The "domestic dispute" characterization minimizes and normalizes what is actually an ongoing epidemic of male violence against women.

Every 15 seconds in America, a man beats his wife or girlfriend. Every 45 seconds, a man rapes a woman or girl, most often one he knows -- a wife, a girlfriend, a co-worker, or a family member. In the last ten years in Vermont, half of the murders of women by men were directly related to domestic violence. In the last few months, that figure has gone up, because of the murders in Lyndonville and Essex.

Women have led the way in America working to bring the issue of violence against women to the attention of our media, our community organizations, our governments, our schools, and our religious institutions. The time has come for men to stop being bystanders.

Most men in this country are not violent, most do not beat their wives and girlfriends. Despite that fact, domestic violence is really a gender issue. Men commit 90 to 95 percent of domestic violence acts. I think most men instinctively know this is true, but most men find it really hard to talk about it, think about it, or much less do anything about it. Some men believe that because he is not violent or it's not happening in his family, he needn't do anything. Some men believe it is a "woman's" issue, so he can really ignore it. Some men can't imagine talking about this issue with other men, some of whom he might suspect are abusing women in their lives.

Let's face it. This is an embarrasing issue for men. It's much easier for us to simply let women try to take care of this problem. It's really hard for most men to admit that this is our problem. Violence against women is men's violence. Can we find a way to help men own this problem and work together to solve it? How can we end the pervasive silence? How can we help our communities get past the attitude that this happens someplace else, certainly not where we live?
Given the prevalence of male violence against women, why has this not been a very public men's issue. Isn't it really in men's self-interest to address gender violence? Don't most of us really care about the women and girls in our lives?

Most men have a woman or girl in his life who has been a victim of male violence, a mother who was beaten, a co-worker who was abused, a sister or daughter who was raped or killed, a friend whose daughter was attacked, a friend whose wife was battered in a previous marriage. How would things change if our male governmental leaders, our male religious leaders, our male media leaders, our male teachers, our male business leaders, all of us began to speak out, identify male violence around them, and begin working to end it? How can we empower men to learn more, stand up and be heard on these issues? Knowledge is the first step.

In conjunction with Meg Kuhner of Battered Women's Services and Shelter in central Vermont, I co-facilitate a program in the schools about domestic and dating violence issues. Some schools have invited us, some have not. The information we bring to junior high school and high school students, girls and boys alike, is challenging and gives the students an opportunity to talk and ask questions. It really is encouraging to see how well most of these young men and women respond to learning about and talking about dating and domestic violence. It's almost as if they feel some relief to be able to talk about it.

The important institutions in our daily lives -- including our newspapers -- can be among the first places where men begin to address men's violence issues. Knowledge, information and understanding are the first steps. Maybe one day enough men will say that letting a ten-year old boy take a baseball bat and beat to death a black female prostitute might not be something we want in our video games. Maybe one day enough men will say to boys that calling each other names using denigrating terms for women and female body parts is not creating a good image of women in their heads. Maybe one day enough men will know that it takes more strength and courage to speak out than it does to remain silent.

November 12, 2006

What to Do About Mexico

Here is one reason of many why Mexicans want to come to America to live and work.

Editor Found Dead After Running Corruption Stories

Published: November 11, 2006 10:00 AM ET

ZIHUATANEJO, Mexico -- A newspaper editor was found dead in a hotel room in this Pacific resort city, a day after running stories about organized crime and corruption in the city government.

Misael Tamayo Hernandez, editor of El Despertar de la Costa, was found early Friday nearly naked, with his hands tied behind his back, in a room at the Venus Motel, Zihuatanejo police officials said.He was lying on a bed, covered only with a sheet, and investigators found three puncture marks on his body, one in his right hand and two others in a forearm. The cause of death was a heart attack, forensic investigators said.

Tamayo Hernandez, who was well-respected in the local journalism community, published a story on Thursday alleging that city officials gave illegal discounts on water services to individuals and businesses. The same edition also contained stories on organized crime.

Workers at the motel said they saw the editor arrive in a gray Volkswagen Jetta about 1:25 a.m. local time Friday, and that the car left at 2:30 a.m. Tamayo Hernandez's body was found at about 7:30 a.m., District Attorney Raciel Gonzalez said.

Numerous journalists have been attacked or killed in recent years in Mexico, presumably as revenge for unfavorable reports on criminals, including drug traffickers and corrupt government officials.

In some parts of Mexico, prosecutors go to work, do absolutely nothing, and then go home safely to their families. Corruption, greed, murder, and threats are everyday occurrences in Mexico. Essentially gangs are terrorizing Mexico.

Unemployment is rampant, despite all the vaunted NAFTA and CAFTA promises. And despite Rush Limbaugh's uninformed protestations to the contrary, millions of migrant Mexican workers, illegal and legal, work in jobs almost all Americans don't want. In fact, some American companies are leaving Mexico because they have found cheaper labor elsewhere.

Instead of focusing on how to keep these millions of people out, perhaps we should be focusing on how we can help them survive and thrive in their own country. Unfortunately, that would take more creative thinking, courage and compassion than this current US administration has.

Is There a Limit to Corporate Rapacity?

The corporate mentality that motivates tax breaks for the rich is itself richly reflected in the new advertisement from Lexus touting its new system that permits the car to park itself. The wealthy (the Lexus is not for the average worker) are too busy watching stock quotes on their Blackberrys to bother with parking the car themselves. This is a kind of wanna-be limousine driver for the not-yet super-rich.

Another delicious example of corporate rapacity can be found in a recent story and editorial from the New York Times. Here's part of the story by Stephen Labaton:

WASHINGTON, Oct. 28 — Frustrated with laws and regulations that have made companies and accounting firms more open to lawsuits from investors and the government, corporate America — with the encouragement of the Bush administration — is preparing to fight back.
Now that corruption cases like Enron and WorldCom are falling out of the news, two influential industry groups with close ties to administration officials are hoping to swing the regulatory pendulum in the opposite direction. The groups are drafting proposals to provide broad new protections to corporations and accounting firms from criminal cases brought by federal and state prosecutors as well as a stronger shield against civil lawsuits from investors.
Although the details are still being worked out, the groups’ proposals aim to limit the liability of accounting firms for the work they do on behalf of clients, to force prosecutors to target individual wrongdoers rather than entire companies, and to scale back shareholder lawsuits.
The groups hope to reduce what they see as some burdens imposed by the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, landmark post-Enron legislation adopted in 2002. The law, which placed significant new auditing and governance requirements on companies, gave broad discretion for interpretation to the Securities and Exchange Commission. The groups are also interested in rolling back rules and policies that have been on the books for decades.

Here's part of the editorial from today's edition:

It seems almost unbelievable, then, that corporate America would pick this moment to beg for relaxed regulation and enforcement, as well as more protection from investors’ lawsuits. But as Stephen Labaton reported recently in The Times, industry groups are seeking broad new protections for corporations and accounting firms, not through legislation but from the Bush administration through agency rule changes.

Corporate profits are never high enough. Corporate protections are never strong enough. Corporate personhood must be protected above and beyond any individual American's protections or rights. Whatever can be done to protect, serve, soothe and bouy corporations must be done. And while we're at it, let's not force the human agents of the corporatocracy be forced to park their own cars either.

November 10, 2006

Observations and Cautions

Have you noticed that, in the wake of the elections, Rumsfeld and Bush, among others, have been talking about how "complicated" the war in Iraq is, and how not many people really understand all the complexities? How odd to hear this from two men who had so little insight into the social, cultural, religious and political complexities of a country they decided they were going to invade. What hubris from two men who ignored the warnings from a slew of people who actually did understand the complex nature of Iraq and warned against the invasion. And what a convenient excuse for two men to employ in the face of defeat and rejection, as if they are saying "if only more people understood what we were trying to do."


Bush II is now looking to some personnel resources from Bush I whom he has ignored. Brent Scowcroft was one of Bush I's chief policy advisors, but he was not brought into the inner circle of Bush II advisors. Scowcroft has been critical of Bush II's Middle East policy of neglect, Bush II's "failing venture" in Iraq, and Bush II's unilateral approach around the world which has hurt our relations everywhere. Now, Bush II is looking to Scowcroft's former chief assistant, Bob Gates (and former Bush I CIA head), to help correct the course of the Iraq war and lead America out of this mess as the new Secretary of Defense.


The Democrats need to be careful about how they celebrate. If they begin to behave like Republicans did when they took over the House and Senate, they will just show themselves to be only another form of legislative bullies. They have a chance to set an example. The Democrats ought not to begin impeachment proceedings against Bush and they ought not to seek revenge against arrogant and anti-democratic behavior toward Democrats while Republicans ruled Congress.


Have you heard much from Karl Rove or Dick Cheney in the aftermath of their "thumping"? Not much, huh? Maybe we have seen a demotion of these two ideological creeps, and a muzzle on their ceaseless sneering, bragging, and disdainful words. Maybe I am wrong, but I think we will see less of them. Bush realizes he must, some how, some way, save whatever he has left of his legacy. Cheney and Rove are probably not the ones who are going to save his bacon. I think it's going to be his daddy.


Let's not expect too much. There will be some Congressional hearings and investigations that the Republicans have killed up to this point -- and that's a good thing. But what Congressional Democrats can accomplish is really limited. They do not have a veto-proof majority and are at the mercy of the process they fought to preserve -- the filibuster.

There is no "good" decision on the Iraq war. As one pundit put it, it's a choice among bad, worse and catastrophic. I will be surprised if anything even approaching a good resolution comes in the next two years. The next President will spend an enormous part of her or his time cleaning up this horrible mess.

November 02, 2006

What Would Karl Rove Have Done?

John Kerry is pilloried, hoisted on his own petard, ridiculed -- and all unnecessarily so. Why? Because he waffled. Because he hedged. Because he shuffled his feet and then apologized. All for something he did not need to apologize for.

Kerry's initial instincts were right. He got tough and stood up for himself.

What exactly did he say? Here it is:

"Do you know where you end up if you don’t study, if you aren’t smart, if you’re intellectually lazy? You end up getting stuck in a war in Iraq. Just ask President Bush.”

Why, in heaven's name, did he feel he needed to apologize for that remark? Here is the spin Karl Rove would have devised were he a Democratic Party strategist:

Rove would have turned it into an advantage. He would have had Kerry ask: "What's the matter with you all? Don't you get it? Bush didn't study, Bush isn't smart, Bush is intellectually lazy....and look where it has gotten us! The disaster in Iraq. All you have to do is ask most Americans who now disagree with the Bush Iraq war. He is stuck in his own mess. Let me repeat -- didn't study, isn't smart, and is intellectually lazy. How did we get in this horrible mess? George Bush. Need I say more?"

"And any convoluted inference that I am dissing American troops is ludicrous and insulting. And those who attempt to misuse my words are the ones who are insulting our troops, not to mention insulting the intelligence of the American people."

Karl Rove would not have let Kerry apologize for anything.

Don't the Democrats have anyone who could have turned this to their advantage?

I despair when I see something like this happen.

A Liberal Screed Fails to Inspire

Thomas Jefferson and his fellow revolutionaries spent a great deal of time enumerating the crimes of King George, but once understood and felt intimately by most colonists, they then offered some very specific "political imagination" and inspiration that created a new country.

Bruce Ackerman and Todd Gitlin, along with 44 other "distinguished" liberals, have issued a joint statement in The American Prospect, defending and defining their idea of what it means to be a liberal. Starting off employing Bush's words "stay the course" and ending with his words "hard work," the authors offer almost nothing in the way of political imagination, nor much in the way of specifics. The online version of the statement refers to it, promisingly, as a "manifesto."

I was disappointed by the statement's concentration on "liberal" opposition to the Bush administration's war on terror and the war in Iraq. The statement never misses an opportunity to focus on the delusion and incompetence of the Bush administration and the "conservative movement." And as early as the second paragraph of the statement's substance (following two paragraphs of introduction), the authors feel compelled to take a gratuitous shot at Israel in a statement about "a moment for liberals to define themselves."

In one paragraph, these liberals give short-shrift to some heavyweight issues by declaring that they "believe passionately" in equal treatment under the law, rights to housing, affordable health care, equal opportunity for employment and fair wages, physical security, and a sustainable environment. Egads, it sounds like some planks from the platform of the Democratic Party. So what's new? And big deal.

Given an opportunity to defend and define liberalism, the signers, instead, obsess on the crimes of Bush and Cheney and, thus, miss the chance to illuminate and educate Americans in favor of alternatives.

For instance, there is no mention of corporate personhood and the catastrophic influence of corporate money that has corrupted our entire political system. There is not a word about trade policies that have denigrated the workforce in this country, resulting in the loss of substantial and rewarding jobs, and creating a service economy of underpaid and underskilled Americans by the millions -- essentially, millions who work and eat at fastfood joints, work and shop at Wal-Marts, and sit and watch reality TV and violence for hours at a time.

There is not a word about the huge budget deficit which sits like an anvil on the backs of future generations of Americans.

There is no imaginative solution offered to address the crisis of health care, or the inequitable tax system, or the corruption of the electoral process, or the challenges to social security. What do liberals stand for? This is more a statement of what liberals stand against.

There no mention of the ceaseless war that has been waged on trade unions and the right to organize, and what to do about it. No mention of the war on secular education, and what to do about it. No mention of the incessant attack on a woman's right to her own sovereign health decisions, and what to do about it. No mention of the male culture of violence, of a hyper-masculinity, indeed, of a cult of misogyny in America which has transformed our country into the most violent, gun-obsessed, most heavily-policed industrialized nation in the world, and what top do about it. No mention of a smaller and smaller concentration of media ownership and control which ignores anything that does not serve the bottom line and which promotes, among other things, a national obsession with emaciated women who are silent and submissive, and what to do about it. And no mention of a country which has more people in prison than most totalitarian states in the world, and what to do about it.

Nowhere could I find a word about the current genocidal slaughter in Darfur. How many of the signers of this statement wrote about Rwanda 12 years ago?

There is a great deal of substantive criticism in this statement of what the Bush administration has done wrong, and not enough of what could have been done right.

The authors conclude:

"We must engage in large acts of political imagination and inspire a new generation to take up liberal principles and adapt them inventively in a new century."

Unfortunately, the authors had an opportunity to perform an act of what they called "political imagination," but they didn't. They could have inspired, but they ended up mostly offering pablum and warmed-over pieties.

Yes, yes, you can only say so much in a short statement that you want alot of "distinguished" people to sign, but these liberals might have taken a look at some of the conservative messages that are replete with specifics about what they want to do. The Republican Contract with America is a good example of that. While some Republicans tried to fulfill all of the goals contained in that statement, in fact, many were not achieved. But at least it was a specific agenda behind which they recruited support, sufficient enough eventually to gain control of the Congress, White House, and the Supreme Court.

It would have been nice to see such clarity and specificity from Ackerman, Gitlin,