Aug 10, 2007
Pepsi Forced to Admit It's Bottling Tap Water
>> By Amy Goodman
>> AMY GOODMAN: The soft drink giant Pepsi has been forced to make an
>> embarrassing admission: Its bestselling Aquafina bottled water is
>> nothing more than tap water. Last week, Pepsi agreed to change the
>> labels of Aquafina to indicate the water comes from a public water
>> source. Pepsi agreed to change its label under pressure from the
>> advocacy group Corporate Accountability International, which has been
>> leading an increasingly successful campaign against bottled water.
>> In San Francisco, Mayor Gavin Newsom recently banned city departments
>> from using city money to buy any kind of bottled water. In New York,
>> local residents are being urged to drink tap water. The U.S.
>> Conference of Mayors has passed a resolution that highlighted the
>> importance of municipal water and called for more scrutiny of the
>> impact of bottled water on city waste.
>> The environmental impact of the country's obsession with bottled water
>> has been staggering. Each day an estimated 60 million plastic water
>> bottles are thrown away. Most are not recycled. The Pacific Institute
>> has estimated 20 million barrels of oil are used each year to make the
>> plastic for water bottles.
>> Economically, it makes sense to stop buying bottled water as well. The
>> Arizona Daily Star recently examined the cost difference between
>> bottled water and water from the city's municipal supply. A half-liter
>> of Pepsi's Aquafina at a Tucson convenience store costs $1.39. The
>> bottle contains purified water from the Tucson water supply. >From the
>> tap, you can pour over 6.4 gallons for a penny. That makes the bottled
>> stuff about 7,000 times more expensive, even though Aquafina is using
>> the same water source.
>> Gigi Kellett of Corporate Accountability International joins us in
>> Boston, the group spearheading the Think Outside the Bottle campaign.
>> We're also joined by freelance writer Michael Blanding. Last year he
>> wrote an article for Alternet.org called "The Bottled Water Lie." We
>> welcome you both to Democracy Now!
>> I want to begin with Gigi Kellett. Talk about Pepsi's admission.
>> GIGI KELLETT: Well, after a couple of years of our Think Outside the
>> Bottle campaign, we have been asking of the bottled water corporations
>> to come clean about where they get their water, what is the source of
>> the water that they're bottling, because most people don't know that
>> Pepsi's Aquafina, Coke's Dasani, come from our public water systems.
>> And so, after thousands of phone calls, thousands of public comments
>> submitted to the corporation, and us taking these demands directly to
>> the corporation'
s annual shareholder meeting this year, Pepsi last
>> week made the announcement that it would reveal that it gets its water
>> from our public water systems.
>> AMY GOODMAN: Now, where exactly does Pepsi get it? Which public water
>> GIGI KELLETT: Well, that is the issue that we're really looking at
>> next, is what cities are they bottling the water in. You know, here in
>> Massachusetts, it's coming from Ayre, Mass. So we want to make sure
>> that on those bottles it says: "Public water source: Ayre,
>> Massachusetts." That way, people know exactly what they're getting
>> when they're buying that Aquafina bottled water.
>> AMY GOODMAN: Ayre being the name of a town in Massachusetts.
>> GIGI KELLETT: Ayre is the name of a town, right. Exactly.
>> AMY GOODMAN: And what happens to the town? They have their public
>> water supply, and they have the plant for Pepsi?
>> GIGI KELLETT: That's right. We want to make sure that -- you know,
>> Pepsi has certainly taken a lead on this for the bottled water
>> industry, and we want to make sure that Coke and Nestle also follow
>> suit. One of the things that we're finding as we're talking to people
>> about this issue on the street is that they don't know where the water
>> is coming from. And the bottled water corporations have spent tens of
>> millions of dollars on ads that make people think that bottled water
>> is somehow better, cleaner, safer than our public water systems. And
>> in reality, we know that that's not true. And so, we want to make sure
>> that we're increasing our people's confidence in their public water
>> systems once again and knowing that we need to be investing in our
>> public systems.
>> AMY GOODMAN: Gigi, can you go further on who owns what? You mention
>> Nestle. What does Nestle own?
>> GIGI KELLETT: Nestle owns several dozen brands of bottled water. The
>> bottled water brand they source from our public water systems is
>> called Nestle Pure Life. They also own Poland Spring, Ozarka,
>> Arrowhead. The list goes on. And regionally, it's distributed across
>> the country. And then we also have Coca-Cola, which bottles Dasani
>> water, and, of course, Pepsi with Aquafina.
>> AMY GOODMAN: And when it comes to being tap water, what is the
>> difference between plain tap water and distilled water from these
>> public sources.
>> GIGI KELLETT: Well, there's very little difference. You know, our
>> public water systems go through a very rigorous testing and monitoring
>> system and is tested by the Environmental Protection Agency. So we
>> want to make sure that people know that our public water systems are
>> much better regulated than these bottled water brands, which don't
>> have to go through the same rigorous type of process.
>> AMY GOODMAN: We're talking to Gigi Kellett, associate campaigns
>> director of Corporate Accountability International. Michael Blanding,
>> a freelance writer, has written the piece "The Bottled Water Lie."
>> Michael, what is the lie?
>> MICHAEL BLANDING: Well, there are actually several lies, I think, that
>> the bottled water companies perpetrate, but I think the main one is
>> exactly what Gigi said, that this image bolstered by, you know,
>> millions and millions of dollars of advertising that bottled water is
>> somehow better for you, it tastes better, it's more pure. And in many
>> cases, that's simply not true. People are paying enormous premiums for
>> bottled water and don't even realize the fact that in many cases not
>> only does tap water taste the same, but that it's actually more
>> tightly regulated and actually healthier for you. There have been, you
>> know, several cases of bottled water that's actually been contaminated
>> and found to contain hazardous chemicals. And tap water, there's
>> actually a rigorous testing and monitoring of the water supply that
>> actually in many cases makes it healthier.
>> AMY GOODMAN: When we come back from break, I want to talk about some
>> of those cases of contamination, but also talk about the community
>> struggles that are working to take back their water supply. Our guests
>> are Michael Blanding, who wrote "The Bottled Water Lie," and Gigi
>> Kellett of Corporate Accountability International. Stay with us.
>> AMY GOODMAN: Now, Michael, you begin your piece by talking about
>> Antonia Mahoney. Talk about who she is.
>> MICHAEL BLANDING: She was someone who was just walking down the street
>> in downtown Boston when the folks at Corporate Accountability -- Gigi
>> and the folks in her group -- were holding something called the Tap
>> Water Challenge, which was a taste test between tap water and various
>> bottled water brands, Aquafina and Dasani. And I stood there during
>> the afternoon and watched many people come up who were bottled water
>> drinkers and could swear that they could tell the difference and that
>> they could recognize their brand.
>> And Antonia Mahoney was one of those who -- she actually had given off
>> drinking tap water a few years ago and was drinking only Poland Spring
>> and knew that she would be able to tell Poland Spring from all the
>> other types of water that she was drinking there. And it turned out
>> that what she thought was Poland Spring was actually the tap water
>> from Boston, the good old tap water, which -- we actually have very
>> good tap water that comes from western Mass here. So she was very
>> surprised and shocked, and decided right there that she was going to
>> leave off her contract of paying $30 a month for Poland Spring water,
>> which she got delivered to her house. So it was very -- and there were
>> other experiences like that during the day that I witnessed.
>> AMY GOODMAN: Michael, you write about the problems of a suspected
>> carcinogen chemical, bromate. You talk about the contamination of
>> Dasani water, owned by Coca-Cola, in 2004. Explain what the problems
>> are, the contamination issues.
>> MICHAEL BLANDING: So, ironically, one of the processes that actually
>> takes the tap water and purifies it -- it's called ozonation -- can
>> actually in some cases have a byproduct, which is bromate, which is,
>> as you say, a suspected carcinogen. And the largest case of
>> contamination was in the U.K. in 2004, right when Dasani launched in
>> the United Kingdom. They had something like a half-million bottles of
>> Dasani water actually found to be contaminated, and people were
>> getting sick. And it's just indicative of the lack of controls and the
>> lack of monitoring that you find with bottled water.
>> And it's not an isolated case. There have been many others that have
>> occurred. Most recently up in Upstate New York, with an independent
>> bottled water company, there were multiple cases of bromate
>> contamination, as well.
>> AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the issue of filtering? First of all,
>> I don't know if people realize when something says "public water
>> source" that it means tap water. But then, what it means for that tap
>> water to be filtered -- you talk about additional techniques like
>> MICHAEL BLANDING: Right, yeah. So there are various techniques that
>> the companies use, and they tout them as these proprietary techniques
>> that they go through seven different phases of filtering, and all the
>> rest of it. And when you look at it, though -- reverse osmosis is the
>> main one, which is basically just pushing water through a membrane to
>> remove contaminants, and it's actually very similar to the type of
>> process that can be found in home water filters, just the kind that
>> you attach to your tap for a couple of hundred bucks. So -- it's not
>> as sophisticated as they might pretend that it is.
>> AMY GOODMAN: And internationally, the movements, from Bolivia to Peru,
>> La Paz, all over.
>> MICHAEL BLANDING: Yeah. What's interesting is that, here in the United
>> States, there are several communities that have actually had plants
>> take a lot of water from their groundwater up in Michigan where they
>> can actually see the water level of one of their streams declining
>> because of the massive amount that Nestle was taking from their water.
>> And it's even a more critical issue in other countries where water
>> scarcity is a real problem, so places like India, where Coca-Cola and
>> Pepsi have actually really depleted communities, and farmers have been
>> unable to grow their crops, it's kind of been a double whammy. They've
>> taken the water, and then the water that they -- the waste water
>> they've dumped back has been polluted, in many cases. And so, that's
>> one issue, is just the depletion of water from the plants themselves.
>> And then the other issue, which I know Gigi could talk about, is just
>> the perception that comes across that somehow tap water is --
>> municipal water is somehow not as good as water that's been
>> privatized. And so, you have -- it sort of starts this steady creep of
>> where privatization of water sources becomes OK. And there have been
>> many communities, like in Bolivia, where water supplies have been
>> privatized and have been sold back to -- water that was previously
>> free has, you know, skyrocketed in price. And people have taken to the
>> streets and protested and actually got the private companies to leave.
>> AMY GOODMAN: Gigi Kellett, let's talk about the tainting of the image
>> of the municipal water supply in this country, the effect of the
>> bottled water advertising industry campaigns.
>> GIGI KELLETT: Well, this is something that's of real concern to our
>> organization and our members and activists across the country, because
>> we are seeing this -- who are we turning to to provide our drinking
>> water? And there are -- these bottled water corporations are spending
>> tens of millions of dollars every year on ads that effectively
>> undermine people's confidence in their water.
>> There was actually a poll done by the University of Arkansas earlier
>> this year that found young people tend to choose bottled water over
>> tap water, because they feel it's somehow cleaner or better than their
>> public water systems. And as we've already mentioned here, we know
>> that in reality that's not true. So there is a real concern about the
>> impact that these bottled water corporations are having on the way we
>> think about water.
>> And our Think Outside the Bottle campaign is aiming to change that,
>> and we're having real success with cities like San Francisco and Ann
>> Arbor, Mich., and New York City, taking a lead on putting their public
>> water systems back in the forefront and not contracting with bottled
>> water corporations, for example, like in Salt Lake City and in San
>> Francisco. And we're seeing restaurants turn to the tap in lieu of
>> bottled water. So there's a lot that people are starting to look at in
>> terms of this industry and what changes we can make to promote our own
>> public water systems here in this country and make sure that they have
>> the funding they need to thrive, and that also we're looking
>> internationally to make sure that countries that may be cash-strapped
>> also have the resources they need to have good, strong public water
>> systems and not turn to privatization.
>> AMY GOODMAN: Gigi, tell us about what happened in Salt Lake City and
>> in San Francisco, with the mayor announcing that city money cannot be
>> used to buy bottled water.
>> GIGI KELLETT: That's right. You know, the mayor of San Francisco,
>> Gavin Newsom, after we had been working with his staff there, working
>> with the San Francisco Department of the Environment and the San
>> Francisco Public Utilities Commission, they looked at how much money
>> they were spending on bottled water every year. It was close to a
>> half-million dollars. And they said, "We're the forefront. We're
>> cities. We're the forefront of ensuring that people have access to
>> good, safe, clean water. And we're also now at the forefront of
>> dealing with the waste that results from the bottled water industry.
>> So we need to take a stand as a city." And in June, Mayor Newsom
>> issued an executive order saying that the city would no longer be
>> buying bottled water. And he joined with the mayor of Salt Lake City,
>> Rocky Anderson, and also the mayor of Minneapolis, R.T. Rybak, to put
>> forward a resolution at the U.S. Conference of Mayors calling on a
>> study to really look at what are the impacts of bottled water on our
>> municipal waste. So it's a real great leadership that we're seeing of
>> these cities.
>> AMY GOODMAN: And, Gigi, what about the effect that the water in the
>> plastic bottle has? Is there any kind of leeching out? People think
>> that they're getting healthier water in all sorts of ways, but what
>> about the impact of that plastic?
>> GIGI KELLETT: Well, there are a number of concerns about the impact of
>> the plastic, yes, of course, in the leeching. These bottles that are
>> made are single-serve bottles, so they're not intended to be reused,
>> because of the potential for leeching of the plastic into -- when
>> you're drinking the water. And then, of course, there are the
>> environmental impacts of the bottles that are ending up in our
>> landfills and on the side of the road as litter. They're not being
>> recycled. Only about 23 percent of these plastic bottles are being
>> recycled. So it's a huge impact for our environment and, of course,
>> for people's health. So we want people to be looking at turning back
>> to the tap and thinking outside the bottle.
>> Amy Goodman is the host of the nationally syndicated radio news
>> program, Democracy Now!
>> © 2007 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
Jul 23, 2007
Political interference in science has hurt our air quality, allowed FDA approval of harmful drugs, and more. This spring, Americans showed their support for independent science by entering Science Idol: the Scientific Integrity Editorial Cartoon Contest.
Please vote on the right for your favorite of the 12 finalists. You'll be entered to win some great prizes!
Nov 9, 2006
Speciesism rears its ugly head
The United States Senate stands ready to debate and vote on the "American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act" (H.R. 503/S.). The House has already overwhelmingly passed this measure. Turns out that about 100,000 horses are slaughtered each year and shipped off to other countries for food. People have been eating horse, since people have been eating. It just never caught on big in this country.Probably because beef tastes better(I presume) and we have all the space we need to raise cattle. But we could have gone with the horse. It was a conscious decision on the part of our forefathers to eat cows , pigs, sheep, goats and even baby lambs and calves (born and unborn) instead of cooking horse.
I assume that the decision was made on the basis of the horse being a more reliable animal for transportation than the cow or goat (or chicken or duck for that matter). So the horse got the opportunity to live a longer life as a bearer of burdens. The cow got the shorter life, but, until the advent of the feed lot, arguably a better quality of life. No one asked it to pull a stagecoach or ride into battle against people firing guns at it.
So now, having only recently passed the Chimp retirement home act, which set up a series of old age homes for chimps to live out their last years in comfort, our Congress is on the verge of saving the nation's horses. This means that inevitably, Congress will have to pass some type of law to take care of the soon to be ageing horse population.But that's for another day and another Congress.
Doesn't it strike you as unfair that the United States would essentially ban the eating of horses and not lift a finger for the cow ? To me it is like passing a law stating that we can't euthanize dogs, but leaving cats out of the bill. What makes a horse more heroic than a cow, or a pig, or a goat ? We can't ride cows, but horses don't give us milk. It seems to me that the cow has done its part too and ought to participate in our country's largesse.I think it is time that the USA made a decision. Either we are meat eaters or we are not. Either animals are owned by humans and diposed of by them, for food or profit ; or, animals are our companions sharing the earth with us and we have no right to own them, work them, consume them or dress them up in tuxedos and make them smoke cigars.Turn them all loose I say. Let them fend for themselves. We have been feeding them for thousands of years, let them find their own browse and pasture, not to mention those big blocks of salt they like to lick. But it is not fair to signal out one species out over another just because we get sentimental about them when we watch "National Velvet" or because they carried John Wayne through some tough scrapes.
All of this does have a sad note to it. Whenever anyone says that they are so hungry "they could eat a horse", you will have to inform them , No you can't, it's against Federal law. On the bright side, it will piss the French off.
Jun 13, 2006
|Published on Tuesday, May 30, 2006 by the Independent / UK
Why It's Over For America
by Noam Chomsky
An inability to protect its citizens. The belief that it is above the law. A lack of democracy. Three defining characteristics of the 'failed state'. And that, says Noam Chomsky, is exactly what the US is becoming. In an exclusive extract from his devastating new book,"Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy," America's leading thinker explains how his country lost its way.
The selection of issues that should rank high on the agenda of concern for human welfare and rights is, naturally, a subjective matter. But there are a few choices that seem unavoidable, because they bear so directly on the prospects for decent survival. Among them are at least these three: nuclear war, environmental disaster, and the fact that the government of the world's leading power is acting in ways that increase the likelihood of these catastrophes. It is important to stress the government, because the population, not surprisingly, does not agree.
That brings up a fourth issue that should deeply concern Americans, and the world: the sharp divide between public opinion and public policy, one of the reasons for the fear, which cannot casually be put aside, that, as Gar Alperowitz puts it in America Beyond Capitalism, "the American 'system' as a whole is in real trouble - that it is heading in a direction that spells the end of its historic values [of] equality, liberty, and meaningful democracy."
The "system" is coming to have some of the features of failed states, to adopt a currently fashionable notion that is conventionally applied to states regarded as potential threats to our security (like Iraq) or as needing our intervention to rescue the population from severe internal threats (like Haiti). Though the concept is recognized to be, according to the journal Foreign Affairs, "frustratingly imprecise," some of the primary characteristics of failed states can be identified. One is their inability or unwillingness to protect their citizens from violence and perhaps even destruction. Another is their tendency to regard themselves as beyond the reach of domestic or international law, and hence free to carry out aggression and violence. And if they have democratic forms, they suffer from a serious "democratic deficit" that deprives their formal democratic institutions of real substance.
Among the hardest tasks that anyone can undertake, and one of the most important, is to look honestly in the mirror. If we allow ourselves to do so, we should have little difficulty in finding the characteristics of "failed states" right at home.
No one familiar with history should be surprised that the growing democratic deficit in the United States is accompanied by declaration of messianic missions to bring democracy to a suffering world. Declarations of noble intent by systems of power are rarely complete fabrication, and the same is true in this case. Under some conditions, forms of democracy are indeed acceptable. Abroad, as the leading scholar-advocate of "democracy promotion" concludes, we find a "strong line of continuity": democracy is acceptable if and only if it is consistent with strategic and economic interests (Thomas Carothers). In modified form, the doctrine holds at home as well.
The basic dilemma facing policymakers is sometimes candidly recognized at the dovish liberal extreme of the spectrum, for example, by Robert Pastor, President Carter's national security adviser for Latin America. He explained why the administration had to support the murderous and corrupt Somoza regime in Nicaragua, and, when that proved impossible, to try at least to maintain the US-trained National Guard even as it was massacring the population "with a brutality a nation usually reserves for its enemy," killing some 40,000 people. The reason was the familiar one: "The United States did not want to control Nicaragua or the other nations of the region, but it also did not want developments to get out of control. It wanted Nicaraguans to act independently, except when doing so would affect US interests adversely."
Similar dilemmas faced Bush administration planners after their invasion of Iraq. They want Iraqis "to act independently, except when doing so would affect US interests adversely." Iraq must therefore be sovereign and democratic, but within limits. It must somehow be constructed as an obedient client state, much in the manner of the traditional order in Central America. At a general level, the pattern is familiar, reaching to the opposite extreme of institutional structures. The Kremlin was able to maintain satellites that were run by domestic political and military forces, with the iron fist poised. Germany was able to do much the same in occupied Europe even while it was at war, as did fascist Japan in Man-churia (its Manchukuo). Fascist Italy achieved similar results in North Africa while carrying out virtual genocide that in no way harmed its favorable image in the West and possibly inspired Hitler. Traditional imperial and neocolonial systems illustrate many variations on similar themes.
To achieve the traditional goals in Iraq has proven to be surprisingly difficult, despite unusually favorable circumstances. The dilemma of combining a measure of independence with firm control arose in a stark form not long after the invasion, as mass non-violent resistance compelled the invaders to accept far more Iraqi initiative than they had anticipated. The outcome even evoked the nightmarish prospect of a more or less democratic and sovereign Iraq taking its place in a loose Shiite alliance comprising Iran, Shiite Iraq, and possibly the nearby Shiite-dominated regions of Saudi Arabia, controlling most of the world's oil and independent of Washington.
The situation could get worse. Iran might give up on hopes that Europe could become independent of the United States, and turn eastward. Highly relevant background is discussed by Selig Harrison, a leading specialist on these topics. "The nuclear negotiations between Iran and the European Union were based on a bargain that the EU, held back by the US, has failed to honor," Harrison observes.
"The bargain was that Iran would suspend uranium enrichment, and the EU would undertake security guarantees. The language of the joint declaration was "unambiguous. 'A mutually acceptable agreement,' it said, would not only provide 'objective guarantees' that Iran's nuclear program is 'exclusively for peaceful purposes' but would 'equally provide firm commitments on security issues.'"
The phrase "security issues" is a thinly veiled reference to the threats by the United States and Israel to bomb Iran, and preparations to do so. The model regularly adduced is Israel's bombing of Iraq's Osirak reactor in 1981, which appears to have initiated Saddam's nuclear weapons programs, another demonstration that violence tends to elicit violence. Any attempt to execute similar plans against Iran could lead to immediate violence, as is surely understood in Washington. During a visit to Tehran, the influential Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr warned that his militia would defend Iran in the case of any attack, "one of the strongest signs yet," the Washington Post reported, "that Iraq could become a battleground in any Western conflict with Iran, raising the spectre of Iraqi Shiite militias - or perhaps even the US-trained Shiite-dominated military - taking on American troops here in sympathy with Iran." The Sadrist bloc, which registered substantial gains in the December 2005 elections, may soon become the most powerful single political force in Iraq. It is consciously pursuing the model of other successful Islamist groups, such as Hamas in Palestine, combining strong resistance to military occupation with grassroots social organizing and service to the poor.
Washington's unwillingness to allow regional security issues to be considered is nothing new. It has also arisen repeatedly in the confrontation with Iraq. In the background is the matter of Israeli nuclear weapons, a topic that Washington bars from international consideration. Beyond that lurks what Harrison rightly describes as "the central problem facing the global non-proliferation regime": the failure of the nuclear states to live up to their nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) obligation "to phase out their own nuclear weapons" - and, in Washington's case, formal rejection of the obligation.
Unlike Europe, China refuses to be intimidated by Washington, a primary reason for the growing fear of China on the part of US planners. Much of Iran's oil already goes to China, and China is providing Iran with weapons, presumably considered a deterrent to US threats. Still more uncomfortable for Washington is the fact that, according to the Financial Times, "the Sino-Saudi relationship has developed dramatically," including Chinese military aid to Saudi Arabia and gas exploration rights for China. By 2005, Saudi Arabia provided about 17 per cent of China's oil imports. Chinese and Saudi oil companies have signed deals for drilling and construction of a huge refinery (with Exxon Mobil as a partner). A January 2006 visit by Saudi king Abdullah to Beijing was expected to lead to a Sino-Saudi memorandum of understanding calling for "increased cooperation and investment between the two countries in oil, natural gas, and minerals."
Indian analyst Aijaz Ahmad observes that Iran could "emerge as the virtual linchpin in the making, over the next decade or so, of what China and Russia have come to regard as an absolutely indispensable Asian Energy Security Grid, for breaking Western control of the world's energy supplies and securing the great industrial revolution of Asia." South Korea and southeast Asian countries are likely to join, possibly Japan as well. A crucial question is how India will react. It rejected US pressures to withdraw from an oil pipeline deal with Iran. On the other hand, India joined the United States and the EU in voting for an anti-Iranian resolution at the IAEA, joining also in their hypocrisy, since India rejects the NPT regime to which Iran, so far, appears to be largely conforming. Ahmad reports that India may have secretly reversed its stand under Iranian threats to terminate a $20bn gas deal. Washington later warned India that its "nuclear deal with the US could be ditched" if India did not go along with US demands, eliciting a sharp rejoinder from the Indian foreign ministry and an evasive tempering of the warning by the US embassy.
The prospect that Europe and Asia might move toward greater independence has seriously troubled US planners since World War II, and concerns have significantly increased as the tripolar order has continued to evolve, along with new south-south interactions and rapidly growing EU engagement with China.
US intelligence has projected that the United States, while controlling Middle East oil for the traditional reasons, will itself rely mainly on more stable Atlantic Basin resources (West Africa, western hemisphere). Control of Middle East oil is now far from a sure thing, and these expectations are also threatened by developments in the western hemisphere, accelerated by Bush administration policies that have left the United States remarkably isolated in the global arena. The Bush administration has even succeeded in alienating Canada, an impressive feat.
Canada's minister of natural resources said that within a few years one quarter of the oil that Canada now sends to the United States may go to China instead. In a further blow to Washington's energy policies, the leading oil exporter in the hemisphere, Venezuela, has forged probably the closest relations with China of any Latin American country, and is planning to sell increasing amounts of oil to China as part of its effort to reduce dependence on the openly hostile US government. Latin America as a whole is increasing trade and other relations with China, with some setbacks, but likely expansion, in particular for raw materials exporters like Brazil and Chile.
Meanwhile, Cuba-Venezuela relations are becoming very close, each relying on its comparative advantage. Venezuela is providing low-cost oil while in return Cuba organizes literacy and health programs, sending thousands of highly skilled professionals, teachers, and doctors, who work in the poorest and most neglected areas, as they do elsewhere in the Third World. Cuba-Venezuela projects are extending to the Caribbean countries, where Cuban doctors are providing healthcare to thousands of people with Venezuelan funding. Operation Miracle, as it is called, is described by Jamaica's ambassador to Cuba as "an example of integration and south-south cooperation", and is generating great enthusiasm among the poor majority. Cuban medical assistance is also being welcomed elsewhere. One of the most horrendous tragedies of recent years was the October 2005 earthquake in Pakistan. In addition to the huge toll, unknown numbers of survivors have to face brutal winter weather with little shelter, food, or medical assistance. One has to turn to the South Asian press to read that "Cuba has provided the largest contingent of doctors and paramedics to Pakistan," paying all the costs (perhaps with Venezuelan funding), and that President Musharraf expressed his "deep gratitude" for the "spirit and compassion" of the Cuban medical teams.
Some analysts have suggested that Cuba and Venezuela might even unite, a step towards further integration of Latin America in a bloc that is more independent from the United States. Venezuela has joined Mercosur, the South American customs union, a move described by Argentine president Nestor Kirchner as "a milestone" in the development of this trading bloc, and welcomed as opening "a new chapter in our integration" by Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. Independent experts say that "adding Venezuela to the bloc furthers its geopolitical vision of eventually spreading Mercosur to the rest of the region."
At a meeting to mark Venezuela's entry into Mercosur, Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez said, "We cannot allow this to be purely an economic project, one for the elites and for the transnational companies," a not very oblique reference to the US-sponsored "Free Trade Agreement for the Americas," which has aroused strong public opposition. Venezuela also supplied Argentina with fuel oil to help stave off an energy crisis, and bought almost a third of Argentine debt issued in 2005, one element of a region-wide effort to free the countries from the control of the US-dominated IMF after two decades of disastrous effects of conformity to its rules. The IMF has "acted towards our country as a promoter and a vehicle of policies that caused poverty and pain among the Argentine people," President Kirchner said in announcing his decision to pay almost $1 trillion to rid itself of the IMF forever. Radically violating IMF rules, Argentina enjoyed a substantial recovery from the disaster left by IMF policies.
Steps toward independent regional integration advanced further with the election of Evo Morales in Bolivia in December 2005, the first president from the indigenous majority. Morales moved quickly to reach energy accords with Venezuela.
Though Central America was largely disciplined by Reaganite violence and terror, the rest of the hemisphere is falling out of control, particularly from Venezuela to Argentina, which was the poster child of the IMF and the Treasury Department until its economy collapsed under the policies they imposed. Much of the region has left-center governments. The indigenous populations have become much more active and influential, particularly in Bolivia and Ecuador, both major energy producers, where they either want oil and gas to be domestically controlled or, in some cases, oppose production altogether. Many indigenous people apparently do not see any reason why their lives, societies, and cultures should be disrupted or destroyed so that New Yorkers can sit in SUVs in traffic gridlock. Some are even calling for an "Indian nation" in South America. Meanwhile the economic integration that is under way is reversing patterns that trace back to the Spanish conquests, with Latin American elites and economies linked to the imperial powers but not to one another. Along with growing south-south interaction on a broader scale, these developments are strongly influenced by popular organizations that are coming together in the unprecedented international global justice movements, ludicrously called "anti-globalization" because they favor globalization that privileges the interests of people, not investors and financial institutions. For many reasons, the system of US global dominance is fragile, even apart from the damage inflicted by Bush planners.
One consequence is that the Bush administration's pursuit of the traditional policies of deterring democracy faces new obstacles. It is no longer as easy as before to resort to military coups and international terrorism to overthrow democratically elected governments, as Bush planners learnt ruefully in 2002 in Venezuela. The "strong line of continuity" must be pursued in other ways, for the most part. In Iraq, as we have seen, mass nonviolent resistance compelled Washington and London to permit the elections they had sought to evade. The subsequent effort to subvert the elections by providing substantial advantages to the administration's favorite candidate, and expelling the independent media, also failed. Washington faces further problems. The Iraqi labor movement is making considerable progress despite the opposition of the occupation authorities. The situation is rather like Europe and Japan after World War II, when a primary goal of the United States and United Kingdom was to undermine independent labor movements - as at home, for similar reasons: organized labor contributes in essential ways to functioning democracy with popular engagement. Many of the measures adopted at that time - withholding food, supporting fascist police - are no longer available. Nor is it possible today to rely on the labor bureaucracy of the American Institute for Free Labor Development to help undermine unions. Today, some American unions are supporting Iraqi workers, just as they do in Colombia, where more union activists are murdered than anywhere in the world. At least the unions now receive support from the United Steelworkers of America and others, while Washington continues to provide enormous funding for the government, which bears a large part of the responsibility.
The problem of elections arose in Palestine much in the way it did in Iraq. As already discussed, the Bush administration refused to permit elections until the death of Yasser Arafat, aware that the wrong man would win. After his death, the administration agreed to permit elections, expecting the victory of its favored Palestinian Authority candidates. To promote this outcome, Washington resorted to much the same modes of subversion as in Iraq, and often before. Washington used the US Agency for International Development as an "invisible conduit" in an effort to "increase the popularity of the Palestinian Authority on the eve of crucial elections in which the governing party faces a serious challenge from the radical Islamic group Hamas" (Washington Post), spending almost $2m "on dozens of quick projects before elections this week to bolster the governing Fatah faction's image with voters" (New York Times). In the United States, or any Western country, even a hint of such foreign interference would destroy a candidate, but deeply rooted imperial mentality legitimates such routine measures elsewhere. However, the attempt to subvert the elections again resoundingly failed.
The US and Israeli governments now have to adjust to dealing somehow with a radical Islamic party that approaches their traditional rejectionist stance, though not entirely, at least if Hamas really does mean to agree to an indefinite truce on the international border as its leaders state. The US and Israel, in contrast, insist that Israel must take over substantial parts of the West Bank (and the forgotten Golan Heights). Hamas's refusal to accept Israel's "right to exist" mirrors the refusal of Washington and Jerusalem to accept Palestine's "right to exist" - a concept unknown in international affairs; Mexico accepts the existence of the United States but not its abstract "right to exist" on almost half of Mexico, acquired by conquest. Hamas's formal commitment to "destroy Israel" places it on a par with the United States and Israel, which vowed formally that there could be no "additional Palestinian state" (in addition to Jordan) until they relaxed their extreme rejectionist stand partially in the past few years, in the manner already reviewed. Although Hamas has not said so, it would come as no great surprise if Hamas were to agree that Jews may remain in scattered areas in the present Israel, while Palestine constructs huge settlement and infrastructure projects to take over the valuable land and resources, effectively breaking Israel up into unviable cantons, virtually separated from one another and from some small part of Jerusalem where Jews would also be allowed to remain. And they might agree to call the fragments "a state." If such proposals were made, we would - rightly - regard them as virtually a reversion to Nazism, a fact that might elicit some thoughts. If such proposals were made, Hamas's position would be essentially like that of the United States and Israel for the past five years, after they came to tolerate some impoverished form of "statehood." It is fair to describe Hamas as radical, extremist, and violent, and as a serious threat to peace and a just political settlement. But the organization is hardly alone in this stance.
Elsewhere traditional means of undermining democracy have succeeded. In Haiti, the Bush administration's favorite "democracy-building group, the International Republican Institute," worked assiduously to promote the opposition to President Aristide, helped by the withholding of desperately needed aid on grounds that were dubious at best. When it seemed that Aristide would probably win any genuine election, Washington and the opposition chose to withdraw, a standard device to discredit elections that are going to come out the wrong way: Nicaragua in 1984 and Venezuela in December 2005 are examples that should be familiar. Then followed a military coup, expulsion of the president, and a reign of terror and violence vastly exceeding anything under the elected government.
The persistence of the strong line of continuity to the present again reveals that the United States is very much like other powerful states. It pursues the strategic and economic interests of dominant sectors of the domestic population, to the accompaniment of rhetorical flourishes about its dedication to the highest values. That is practically a historical universal, and the reason why sensible people pay scant attention to declarations of noble intent by leaders, or accolades by their followers.
One commonly hears that carping critics complain about what is wrong, but do not present solutions. There is an accurate translation for that charge: "They present solutions, but I don't like them." In addition to the proposals that should be familiar about dealing with the crises that reach to the level of survival, a few simple suggestions for the United States have already been mentioned: 1) accept the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court and the World Court; 2) sign and carry forward the Kyoto protocols; 3) let the UN take the lead in international crises; 4) rely on diplomatic and economic measures rather than military ones in confronting terror; 5) keep to the traditional interpretation of the UN Charter; 6) give up the Security Council veto and have "a decent respect for the opinion of mankind," as the Declaration of Independence advises, even if power centers disagree; 7) cut back sharply on military spending and sharply increase social spending. For people who believe in democracy, these are very conservative suggestions: they appear to be the opinions of the majority of the US population, in most cases the overwhelming majority. They are in radical opposition to public policy. To be sure, we cannot be very confident about the state of public opinion on such matters because of another feature of the democratic deficit: the topics scarcely enter into public discussion and the basic facts are little known. In a highly atomized society, the public is therefore largely deprived of the opportunity to form considered opinions.
Another conservative suggestion is that facts, logic, and elementary moral principles should matter. Those who take the trouble to adhere to that suggestion will soon be led to abandon a good part of familiar doctrine, though it is surely much easier to repeat self-serving mantras. Such simple truths carry us some distance toward developing more specific and detailed answers. More important, they open the way to implement them, opportunities that are readily within our grasp if we can free ourselves from the shackles of doctrine and imposed illusion.
Though it is natural for doctrinal systems to seek to induce pessimism, hopelessness, and despair, reality is different. There has been substantial progress in the unending quest for justice and freedom in recent years, leaving a legacy that can be carried forward from a higher plane than before. Opportunities for education and organizing abound. As in the past, rights are not likely to be granted by benevolent authorities, or won by intermittent actions - attending a few demonstrations or pushing a lever in the personalized quadrennial extravaganzas that are depicted as "democratic politics." As always in the past, the tasks require dedicated day-by-day engagement to create - in part recreate - the basis for a functioning democratic culture in which the public plays some role in determining policies, not only in the political arena, from which it is largely excluded, but also in the crucial economic arena, from which it is excluded in principle. There are many ways to promote democracy at home, carrying it to new dimensions. Opportunities are ample, and failure to grasp them is likely to have ominous repercussions: for the country, for the world, and for future generations.
Noam Chomsky, the eminent intellectual and author, is a professor of linguistics and philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
© 2006 Independent News and Media Limited
Mar 10, 2006
Sugar or Sweetener? Sucrose Has its Problems, But so do Artificial Substitutes
Article By Brian C. Howard - Mar 07 2006
But we also swallow enormous amounts of “hidden” sugars that are added to a bewildering array of processed foods, from cereals to ketchup and from canned fruits to some vitamins.
Americans are known around the world for our voracious appetite for sugary treats. Our collective sweet tooth compels us to ingest mountains of candy and cookies, truckloads of ice cream and sodas, and many other confections.
Consumption of sweeteners in the U.S. has risen from 113 pounds per person per year in 1966 to around 142 pounds per person per year in 2004, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Compare that to an average of 8.3 pounds of broccoli and 25 pounds of dark lettuces for 2003, according to U.S. News and World Report. Americans now consume an average of 61 pounds a year of high fructose corn syrup (especially in sodas), and we scarf down 20 teaspoons of added sugar a day (not including lactose or fructose naturally found in milk and fruit).
The USDA recommends adults consume no more than eight or nine teaspoons of sugar for a typical 2,000-calorie diet. Staying within this limit can be much easier said than done, however, considering that some candy bars, 12-ounce sodas and one-cup servings of ice cream contain around nine teaspoons of sugar.
What’s wrong with sugar? In addition to its tooth-rotting properties, Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition and public health at New York University, explains, “Sugar’s empty calories (meaning lack of nutrients) contribute to the big problem with the American diet: too many calories.” Sugar has also been widely linked to increasing risk for type II diabetes. Plus, the sweet stuff has a considerable environmental footprint (see EarthTalk, this issue).
Closely related to sugar is the now ubiquitous high fructose corn syrup, which is prepared by treating cornstarch with acids or enzymes. The sticky, tooth-attacking syrup is often made with genetically engineered corn, and, like sugar, it contains no nutritional value beyond its caloric content. During the past few decades, corn syrup (which tastes sweeter than sugar) has become the sweetener of choice for many food processors, who load it into everything from baked goods to sauces, jellies, drinks and even frozen fruit. In fact, corn syrup recently overtook sugar itself as America’s most popular sweetener.
Corn syrup is a blend of fructose and glucose, while refined sugar is made of the larger molecule sucrose. Recent research suggests that fructose may be handled differently in the body than other sugars. “It appears to behave more like fat with respect to the hormones involved in body weight regulation,” Peter Havel, associate professor of nutrition at the University of California, Davis, told the Washington Post. “Fructose doesn’t stimulate insulin secretion. It doesn’t increase leptin production (a hormone that helps regulate appetite and fat storage) or suppress production of ghrelin (which helps regulate food intake). That suggests that consuming a lot of fructose, like consuming too much fat, could contribute to weight gain.”
Partly because they are also sweeter than sugar pound for pound, a number of artificial sweeteners have been on the U.S. market for years, and are ubiquitous in such foods as diet soda and “sugar-free” candy. Perhaps echoing the sentiment of many environmentalists, Nestle cautions, “I don’t like artificial sweeteners because I do not like artificial anything when it comes to food.” Observers have also questioned whether the widespread adoption of artificial sweeteners has made much of a dent in the ever-growing American waistline.
Less popular than it once was, saccharin (often known as Sweet ‘N Low) has long raised red flags among food safety scientists after it was definitively linked to bladder cancer in male rats. The industry denies those studies have any application to human beings, but the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) points out, “In some studies, saccharin has caused bladder cancer in mice and in female rats and other cancers in both rats and mice.”
The group also suggests staying clear of the German-made sweetener acesulfame-k, which it says has been linked to cancer and other ailments in lab animals. Safety tests of the chemical, conducted in the 1970s, were of “mediocre quality,” reports CSPI.
The sugar substitute aspartame, known as NutraSweet, Equal and Spoonful, accounts for 75 percent of adverse reactions to food additives reported to the FDA. In recent years, aspartame has been at the center of an Internet firestorm, in which various advocacy websites have linked it to cancer, ADD, autism, Parkinson’s disease and other problems. CSPI cautions, “Most such claims are not supported by studies.” However, the group does point out that a 2005 study found that “even low doses of aspartame increased the incidence of lymphomas and leukemia in female rats and also might have caused occasional brain tumors.”
A relatively new sweetener on the block is British-made Splenda, which was first approved in the U.S. in 1998. Splenda is the trade name of the patented sweetener sucralose, which is marketed solely by Johnson and Johnson subsidiary McNeil Nutritionals.
When it was first introduced, sucralose sparked considerable consumer excitement, because it is extremely low in calories. Sucralose is now appearing in everything from baked goods to sweetener packets, and makes up about 50 percent of the U.S. sugar substitute market, according to the Associated Press.
However, Splenda’s success hasn’t been entirely sweet. Lawsuits have been filed in several states against McNeil Nutritionals on behalf of the sugar industry, which claims the company misrepresents Splenda with its slogan “made from sugar, so it tastes like sugar.” In fact, Splenda is made in a patented, highly industrial process that adds chlorine atoms to sucrose. McNeil countersued, claiming the sugar industry is waging a “malicious smear campaign”—including promotion of the slick Truth About Splenda website—by trying to convince consumers that Splenda is “unhealthy or unsafe” and that they “would be better off consuming refined sugar.”
Jim Murphy, a Sugar Association lawyer, told the Associated Press, “I think one of the concerns is that there really have been no long-term studies that resolve whether or not consumption of Splenda is healthy.” Echoing this concern, natural products retailer Whole Foods moved to ban sucralose from its stores on the basis that there aren’t enough studies to prove that it is safe and the fact that it requires heavy industrial processing.
The good news is a number of more natural alternatives are becoming widely available to help people enjoy their food without risking their health (see “How Sweet It Isn’t,” Eating Right, November/December 2003). Better choices include maple syrup, honey and date sugar, which at least provide some nutrients in the form of vitamins, amino acids, enzymes and minerals, even though their sugar content is very similar to regular sucrose.
Agave nectar absorbs more slowly into the bloodstream than traditional sugar, making it less likely to result in an energy “crash” after consumption. Natural birch sugar, called xylitol, packs fewer calories than cane or beet-based sugar. Some nutrients are also found in Sucanat, a brand name for organically grown, dehydrated cane juice.
BRIAN C. HOWARD is managing editor of E.
Center for Science in the Public Interest
1875 Connecticut Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20009
Phone: (202) 332-9110
Tel: (301) 827-5006
Mar 10, 2006 10:43am
Mar 8, 2006
It's Happened in South Dakota - Protect Choice in Your State Now!
The worst has happened: South Dakota has banned abortion.
What does the law do? South Dakota’s criminal ban outlaws abortion in almost all cases and does not protect a woman in cases of rape or incest or even when her health is in danger. Doctors who violate the ban could face up to five years in prison.
Mar 8, 2006 5:52am
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