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#886 -- Capitalism 3.0, 21-Dec-2006

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Rachel's Democracy & Health News #886

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

Thursday, December 21, 2006.............Printer-friendly version
www.rachel.org -- To make a secure donation, click here.
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Featured stories in this issue...

Capitalism 3.0
  A provocative new book, Capitalism 3.0, aims to diminish the
  power of corporations by establishing a new "commons sector" within
  the economy -- creating new institutions to form a countervailing
  force.
Judges for Sale
  "It is no longer shocking that special interests have proved adept
  at corrupting Congress and state legislatures by using humongous
  campaign contributions to win government favors. Now, though, these
  same special interests are turning their attention, wallets, and
  political firepower to buying up state judges..."
Judges Strike Down A Ban on Corporate-owned Farms in Nebraska
  In 1982, citizens of Nebraska voted to prohibit corporations from
  farming in their state. Earlier this month, a group of unelected
  judges voted to overturn the will of the Nebraska citizenry and give
  corporations the same rights as the individual humans who operate
  family farms.
Environmentalists Start A Green Business To Rebuild the Gulf Coast
  Yesterday the environmental movement entered a new phase when the
  Healthy Building Network completed construction of its first "green
  building" to start replacing homes lost during hurricanes Katrina and
  Rita. Environmentalists running a local green business, serving a
  local need -- this is new. You can help.
Shutdown of EPA Libraries Worries Scientists, Advocates
  As part of his legacy to future generations, President Bush is
  dismantling the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's library system,
  destroying an irreplaceable resource developed at considerable expense
  over 35 years.
Are Hormone-Disrupting Chemicals Affecting Humans?
  Industrial chemicals are turning male fish into females. Are humans
  being affected? Some scientists say Yes. "This is a transgenerational
  problem that is undermining the integrity of humans," says Dr. Theo
  Colborn.
U.S. Laws Allow the Sale of Products Banned in Other Countries
  Chemical-laden goods outlawed in Europe and Japan are openly sold
  in the U.S.

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From: Rachel's Democracy & Health News #886, Dec. 21, 2006
[Printer-friendly version]

CAPITALISM 3.0

By Peter Montague

Books full of new ideas are rare, but here's one worth chewing on:
Peter Barnes's Capitalism 3.0. The book is original, readable and
provocative. It will definitely hold your attention.

But let's get one thing straight. Despite the title of his book, Peter
Barnes is no radical. He is an entrepreneur and investor who co-
founded Working Assets, the telephone company. He says, "As a
businessman and investor, I've benefited personally from the primacy
of capital and am not keen to end it." (pg. 24) On the other hand, he
recognizes that, "Capitalism as we know it is devouring creation. It's
living off nature's capital and calling it growth."(pg. 26) So, "to
save capitalism from itself," (pg. 66) the book offers a whole slew of
new ideas. the goal of which is to give capitalism a "software
upgrade" to fix what Barnes sees as the system's three major flaws:
(1) its disregard for nature; (2) its disregard for future
generations; and (3) its disregard for the poor.

Barnes's analysis of the problem is succinct: the history of
capitalism reveals two threads: the decline of "the commons" and the
rise of the corporation. These two threads are linked because
corporations make money largely by taking things from "the commons"
(or dumping wastes into the commons) without paying compensation to
its owners (all of us).

By "the commons" Barnes means "all the things we inherit or create
together," which none of us owns individually. The commons is like a
river with three forks:

1. Nature, which includes air, water, DNA, photosynthesis, seeds,
topsoil, airwaves, minerals, animals, plants, antibiotics, oceans,
fisheries, aquifers, quiet, wetlands, forests, rivers, lakes, solar
energy, wind energy... and so on;

2. Community: streets, playgrounds, the calendar, holidays,
universities, libraries, museums, social insurance [e.g., social
security], law, money, accounting standards, capital markets,
political institutions, farmers' markets, flea markets, craigslist...
etc.;

3. Culture: language, philosophy, religion, physics, chemistry,
musical instruments, classical music, jazz, ballet, hip-hop,
astronomy, electronics, the Internet, broadcast spectrum, medicine,
biology, mathematics, open-source software... and so forth. (pg. 5)

The commons is a set of assets that have two characteristics: they're
all gifts, and they're all shared. (pg. 5) Taken together, all the
assets in the commons are our "common wealth." Furthermore, the
commons are essential and indispensable; they provide sustenance for
everyone. If we fail to protect them, we're sunk.

Barnes points out that, "There's another quality to assets in the
commons: we have a joint obligation to preserve them. That's because
future generations will need them to live, and live well, just as we
do. And our generation has no right to say, 'these gifts end here.'
This shared responsibility introduces a moral factor that doesn't
apply to other economic assets: it requires us to manage these gifts
with future generations in mind." (pg. 5-6)

Our economic system (which Barnes called "capitalism 2.0, or "surplus
capitalism") is destroying all three forks of the commons river, and
the destruction is happening in two ways:

(1) corporations are "enclosing" (privatizing) the commons (bottling
water and selling it, for example; or using the airwaves without
paying the owners (all of us) anything; or taking our common-heritage
stories, such as Snow White, copyrighting them, and selling them back
to us);

(2) corporations are trespassing on the commons by "externalizing"
their costs -- dumping toxic wastes into air and water, for example.

Enclosure (privatization) and externalizing give a one-two punch: both
activities create corporate profits, simultaneously diminishing the
commons.

Because of this one-two punch, and because corporations grow ever-
larger without limit, capitalism creates three serious problems:

1. Nature is being destroyed.

2. Enormous inequalities have arisen -- the rich keep getting richer,
leaving everyone else behind. Today the wealthiest 5% of us owns more
than the other 95% of us. This makes a mockery of democracy, and of
the idea that we all start life with similar opportunities;

3. Happiness is in short supply. Despite the enormous capacity of
corporations to produce wealth (by enclosing and trespassing into the
commons), people say they are no happier now than they were 40 years
ago. Surplus capitalism has speeded up life, and made many of us
insecure about our future. So what's the point of all this economic
activity if it isn't improving people's quality of life? "We need
rest, relaxation, and time for companionship and creativity. Surplus
capitalism can't give us enough of those things," Barnes points out.

Now we get to the meat: Barnes says these problems cannot be fixed by
government regulation, taxation, or public ownership. Government is
too easily corrupted by money and power; Barnes sees no way around
this harsh reality.

** Regulatory agencies are routinely captured by the people they are
supposed to regulate.

** Green taxes will never be set high enough to make a difference, and
besides they disproportionately burden the poor.

** Public ownership is no guarantee that an asset will be managed for
the benefit of future generations, nonhuman species, or ordinary
people -- just look at the way grazing rights and mineral rights on
public lands have been mismanaged for more than 100 years. The state
does not promote the "common good" -- it rewards the wealthy and the
powerful.

"We face a disheartening quandary here. Profit-maximizing corporations
dominate our economy. Their programming makes them enclose and
diminish common wealth. The only obvious counterweight is government,
yet government is dominated by these same corporations." (pg. 45)

The old counterweight to corporate power -- organized labor -- has
been "decimated" and the other counterweight -- the mass media -- have
been turned into corporate mouthpieces. Campaign finance reform will
not work because, "Occasionally a breakthrough [has been] made in
campaign financing -- for example, corporations are now barred from
giving so-called soft money to political parties -- but corporate
money soon finds other channels to flow through. The return on such
investments is to simply too high to stop them." (pg. 47)

Barnes goes on to explain (chapter 4) why corporations can never be
made "socially responsible," can't be made less destructive by "free
market environmentalism," and won't be reformed by massive programs of
libertarian privatization.

This is a bleak picture, indeed, but one that longtime Rachel's
readers will probably greet with a nod of the head.

Peter Barnes's solution? A 30-to-50-year strategy:

"Throughout American history, anticorporate forces have come to power
once or twice per century.... it may take a calamity of some sort --
another war, a depression, or an ecological disaster -- to trigger the
next anticorporate ascendancy, but sooner or later it will come. Our
job is to be ready when it comes."

"What constitutes readiness? Three things, I believe," says Peter
Barnes:

** First, we must have a proper view of government's role. That role
isn't to run the economy, or even to manage the commons directly; it's
to assign common property rights to trustworthy guardians who will.

** Second, we must have a plan to fix our economic operating system,
not just to put patches on symptoms.

** Third, we must recognize that the duration of any anticorporate
ascendancy will be brief, and that we must use that small window to
build institutions that outlast it." (pg. 47)

Barnes's basic idea is "to fix capitalism's operating system by adding
a commons sector to balance the corporate sector." The corporate
sector can't be fixed or controlled by government, but perhaps it can
be counter-balanced by creating a large and robust "commons sector" as
part of the next phase of capitalism, which Barnes calls capitalism
3.0.

Barnes points out that, when we try to put a monetary value on the
commons, it far exceeds in size the totality of private wealth. The
commons is an enormous asset that we presently allow corporations to
use free -- they take valuable goods from it and the dump their
garbage into it, all for free. Barnes believes that, if we could
create "property rights" in the commons, and then charge corporations
for using the commons we could revolutionize the way the commons are
viewed and treated; we could create a stream of income for all
citizens, most especially benefiting the poor; and by strictly
controlling access to the commons, we could protect them for future
generations and for nonhuman creatures.

We already have many good examples of property rights in common
assets. The Alaska Permanent Fund, is an example Barnes likes. As oil
is extracted from the ground in Alaska, a small tax goes into a
special fund, which is invested in stocks and bonds. Each year, every
citizen of Alaska receives a check in the mail from the Permanent
Fund, valued at roughly $1000. To someone who makes $50,000 per year,
that $1000 may mean little; but to someone who earns $10,000 per year,
that bonus can make a real difference.

Barnes's point is to create a set of "common property rights" --
rights owned by all of us. He wants to "propertize" but not
"privatize" the commons, on the model of the Alaska Permanent Fund.
Another example is MALT, the Marin Agricultural Land Trust in Marin
County, Calif. Family-owned sheep, dairy and cattle ranches in Marin
-- on the close northern edge of San Francisco -- have managed to
remain in the ranching business by selling conservation easements to
MALT. Ranchers give up the right to develop their land, and the public
gets a lasting pastoral landscape and a viable agricultural economy.
Some 40,000 acres has been preserved by MALT -- about one-third of all
the agricultural land in the county.

In his next-to-last chapter, Barnes describes a whole range of
institutions -- many already functioning well -- that embody common
property rights for the purpose of protecting our common wealth.

By establishing common property rights, Barnes would create a "commons
sector" within the economy. He envisions it growing very large and
thus providing a countervailing force to the corporate sector. This
large commons sector is what would distinguish capitalism 3.0 from our
present economy. (More details -- and some questions -- next time.)

Return to Table of Contents

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From: New York Times, Dec. 12, 2006
[Printer-friendly version]

JUDGES FOR SALE

By Dorothy Samuels

It was bound to happen sooner or later. Special interests have long
targeted candidates for executive offices, like president and
governor, and legislative offices, like Congress and state
legislatures. It was just a matter of time before well-heeled business
and other interests would expand their influence-peddling efforts, and
begin pouring large amounts of money into previously sleepy judicial
campaigns.

Several years ago, it started happening -- first in just a few states,
then spreading to a lot more. The unwholesome result is the dawn of a
new era of raucous million dollar-plus campaigns for key state
judgeships that is forcing more and more would-be jurists to bond with
special interest backers, and invest in cheesy 15- and 30-second TV
spots, if they want to get on the bench, and stay there.

As spending by special interests in state judicial elections soars
into the stratosphere, something very precious to Americans is being
grievously compromised. And in certain pockets of the country, it
seems well on the way to being lost altogether. That precious
something is the integrity and impartiality of the nation's courts.

Justice, the saying goes, is blind -- symbolized in courthouses across
the country by statues of Lady Justice, blindfolded so she can rule
without fear or favor. But increasingly, there is one thing Justice in
America can see quite clearly -- who is giving her money. A modern
rendition of Lady Justice would show her with one arm extended,
reaching for large campaign contributions. Those contributions -- from
insurance companies, big business, tobacco companies, the building and
health care industries, unions, trial lawyers, the religious right,
and other special interests -- do more than create a bad appearance.
They seem to be having an effect on the decisions courts are making.

If we want to preserve an independent and impartial judiciary --
something that is a shining part of what America stands for, and an
indispensable guardian of American rights -- getting rid of the
corrupting influence of money sloshing around in judicial campaigns is
now a matter of genuine urgency.

I. Bad Alchemy: Turning Judges Into Politicians

It is no longer shocking that special interests have proved adept at
corrupting Congress and state legislatures by using humongous campaign
contributions to win government favors. Now, though, these same
special interests are turning their attention, wallets, and political
firepower to buying up state judges, calculating -- correctly, sad to
say -- that pouring millions into helping to seat judges likely to
side with them in important cases can be a darn good investment.

Just how good an investment was driven home last month, when the
United States Supreme Court declined, without comment, to review last
year's 4-to-2 Illinois Supreme Court decision that threw out, on
specious legal grounds, a $10.1 billion award against Philip Morris
U.S.A. for enticing consumers to buy "light" cigarettes on a
fraudulent promise they were lower in tar and nicotine.

Predictably, critics of big consumer class actions -- and of the
plaintiff-friendly Illinois jurisdiction of Madison County in
particular -- joined the world's largest cigarette company in
applauding the high court's pass.

But some victory. The state Supreme Court justice who cast the
deciding vote in the case, a former lower court judge named Lloyd
Karmeier, received million of dollars in campaign support in 2004 that
Philip Morris and other tobacco interests tendered for the very
purpose of trying to reverse the enormous "light" cigarette award.
They got what they paid for.

Judicial ethics rules exempt campaign contributions from their
otherwise strict approach of requiring judges to disqualify themselves
whenever their impartiality might reasonably be questioned. But given
the history, Justice Karmeier's failure to voluntarily recuse himself
was a disgrace.

The Philip Morris case, it should be noted, was not the first time
that Justice Karmeier, a Republican, ruled for big contributors in a
high-profile case.

In 2004, fresh from the record-setting campaign brawl in which he and
his Democratic opponent raised in the vicinity of $9.3 million in
political contributions -- an amount surpassing the fundraising totals
in 18 U.S. Senate races that year -- Justice Karmeier voted to reverse
a breach of contract verdict of more than $450 million against State
Farm Automobile Insurance Company. Legally, the result may not have
been unreasonable, but it nevertheless carried a stench. While the
case was pending, State Farm employees, lawyers, and others affiliated
with the insurance company made $350,000 in direct contributions to
Justice Karmeier's all-but-bottomless election war chest. Groups
closely tied to State Farm gave over $1 million more.

Mr. Karmeier is hardly alone.

Examples abound of state judges rendering rulings favorable to their
large contributors in significant cases. Indeed, a study last fall of
the Ohio Supreme Court by Adam Liptak, Janet Roberts, and Mona Houck
of The New York Times found that sitting on cases after receiving
campaign contributions from the parties involved, or from groups
filing support briefs, is routine. In the 215 Ohio cases with the most
glaring potential for conflicts of interest over a 12-year period,
state justices recused themselves just nine times. Ohio justices voted
in favor of their contributors 70 percent of the time.

In 2002, Justice-at-Stake, a judicial reform group, surveyed 2,428
state court judges around the country . More than half of them
candidly conceded that campaign donations influenced their decisions
at least some of the time.

With business interests -- including manufacturers of flawed and
unsafe products and big environmental polluters -- now outpacing the
organized plaintiffs bar and everyone else in underwriting candidates
in expensive judicial races, strong enforcement of established
consumer, health, and environmental protections is in serious
jeopardy, along with fair functioning of the legal system, and public
respect for the courts.

Although the judiciary's big money problem is most visible at the
state Supreme Court level, where high-spending TV advertising
underwritten by special interests is becoming the norm, money is
increasingly infecting the justice system at lower levels, too.

Last June, for example, The Los Angeles Times reported that 17
incumbent district judges in Nevada on the ballot of the last judicial
election raised over $1.7 million in campaign funds. Much of the money
was harvested from attorneys and casinos and other corporations with
cases pending before them. Of the 17 incumbents, the report further
noted, 13 ran unopposed, but collected nearly $1 million in campaign
contributions anyway.

At the end of the campaign, they were sitting on unspent contributions
of $634,000, which they were not required to return. Instead, Nevada
law provides broad leeway for judges to roll over excess contributions
to their next campaign -- discouraging future challengers -- or to pay
for fancy restaurant dinners or other lifestyle enhancing activity
that might creatively be justified as campaigning.

The resulting damage here is palpable. Courts derive their legitimacy
from their perceived neutrality and independence. Judges, whose
constitutional role it is to fairly apply the facts and law in
individual cases, are supposed to stand up to powerful interests when
necessary -- with no exemption for campaign contributors. When check-
wielding interest groups support congenial judicial candidates -- in
essence, buying up seats on the bench -- they undermine the
fundamental mission of the courts.

II. The Turning Point

Thirty-nine states choose at least some of their top judges by
election , creating a patchwork of partisan and non-partisan contests,
and uncontested up-or-down votes on appointed incumbents, known as
"retention elections."

In all, about 86 percent of America's judges are required to face
voters.

Judicial elections have always been a breeding ground for conflicts of
interest. Beyond a candidate's relatives and personal friends, and a
smattering of good government types, after all, who would feel
motivated to contribute to the average judicial contest -- except for
those looking to improve the odds of favorable rulings, namely lawyers
and their clients? But, until recently, contests even for the top
state judgeships were typically quiet, low-visibility affairs, and the
fundraising and conflict issues relatively benign. In many places,
campaign contributions were less of a worry than other perennial
problems, like undue clubhouse influence, partisan or ethnic voting
defeating worthy candidates, low voter interest, and a shortage of
quality candidates willing to run.

But in just a few short years, state judicial campaigns have changed
dramatically, and not for the better. Thanks to a huge influx of
special interest money, once tame and dignified judicial contests are
more and more degenerating into nasty and expensive partisan
slugfests, complete with inaccurate and distorting TV ads that mimic
the worst excesses of campaigns for Congress or governor.

In the December 1 issue of American Lawyer, Alison Frankel retraces
the history of the successful business-backed movement to remake the
civil justice system to render it less hospitable to product liability
suits and high damage awards for people's injury claims -- the prime
driving force turning judicial elections into corruptive money pits.
In the late 1980s in Texas, Ms. Frankel recounts, a coalition of
businesses and doctors formed the Texas Civil Justice League and
proceeded to lobby the state legislature for a cap on punitive damages
and other pro-defendant changes in the law.

As part of their strategy, they also got heavily involved in state
judicial elections by, among other things, distributing millions of
playing-card-sized voter guides through local businesses and doctors'
offices. By 1995, these efforts had succeeded in transforming the
Texas Supreme Court. "The new Texas court showed its allegiance
quickly," Ms. Frankel writes, "with pro-business ruling on punitive
damages and expert witnesses."

But the real turning point came in 2000.

In October of that year, the United States Chamber of Commerce, the
prominent business lobby, announced that it would spend more that $1
million on "educational" advertising in Mississippi and a handful of
other states where companies complained of "frivolous" lawsuits.

Its stated goal was to warn voters about judicial candidates who might
overrule so-called tort reform legislation backed by business. The
Ohio and Illinois Supreme Courts had already done just that, throwing
out sweeping tort law changes approved by those states' legislatures
on state constitutional grounds.

The $1 million the national chamber of commerce was committing came on
top of millions more it was already contributing to advertising
campaigns being conducted by its affiliates in Michigan and Ohio
dealing with Supreme Court races in those states.

Officials of the national chamber contended more aggressive
involvement in judicial races was necessary to counteract the
influence of contributions trial lawyers were making to judicial
campaigns. They were suggesting a link, not entirely unfairly, between
trial lawyer largesse and rulings striking down pro-business "tort
reform" laws passed by state legislatures. (Of course those laws' path
through the legislatures had been well-greased by the chamber's own
generous donations to state lawmakers' campaigns.)

In 2000, state Supreme Court candidates collectively spent $45.6
million on their races , an astonishing 61 percent increase over two
years before, and double the total raised by judicial candidates in
1994.

At least half of all donations came from two sectors of society with a
big stake in court decisions: business interests and lawyers.

These swelling war chests launched unprecedented judicial "air wars,"
and a discernible coarsening in the tone of judicial campaigning. All
together, more than $10 million was spent barraging voters with more
than 22,000 airings of television ads, according to data contained in
the 2000 edition of "The New Politics of Judicial Elections," the bi-
annual report on judicial campaigns issued by Justice-at-Stake, New
York University Law School's Brennan Center for Justice , and the
National Institute for Money in State Politics .

The television commercials, many of them decidedly un-judgelike attack
ads, were bought either by the judicial candidates themselves or by
political parties and interest groups. But at least, all those 15-
second and 30-second TV ads were confined to just four states with
fiercely contested races -- Ohio, Mississippi, Michigan, and Alabama.
The rest of the country was spared.

III. The Virus Spreads

In the 2002 election cycle, regrettably, more states were infected by
this special-interest-money fever. More special interests began
targeting state Supreme Court seats, and television ads became a
mainstay of judicial elections in more than twice as many states as in
2000 -- even though fewer states had contested elections that year. In
Mississippi, the average cost of winning a judgeship skyrocketed to
more than $1 million, compared to just under $400,000 two years
earlier -- the increase, perversely, both driven and underwritten by
special interests.

In June 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court, made it harder to contain the
damage. Its 5-to-4 ruling in one landmark case, Republican Party of
Minnesota v. White, struck down, on free speech grounds, a Minnesota
rule forbidding judicial candidates from announcing their views on
contentious public policy issues.

The issue of candidate speech in campaigns for the bench, it should be
said, is not a simple one. Once states decide to elect judges, voters
need meaningful information so they can determine who, from their
standpoint, would make a better judge, and candidates are entitled to
leeway beyond what some state judicial codes have historically allowed
to make their case.

The difficult challenge, which Justice Antonin Scalia's majority
opinion brushes past, is to spell out an approach that leaves adequate
room for campaign speech while making clear that states retain the
authority to draw a line against judges and judicial wannabes
promising, or coming perilously close to promising, to rule a
particular way on an issue percolating in the courts.

Emboldened by the White ruling, state supreme court candidates and
special interests spending on their own ran television ads in 11
competitive judicial races in 2002, appealing to voters by invoking
hot button issues like tort liability and crime. In nine of those
contests, the candidates who spent the most on ads won.

Former Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, a fervent crusader in her
retirement for preserving judicial independence, has lately expressed
regret about her deciding vote in the White case.

Justice O'Connor devoted most of her concurring opinion to detailing
her longtime opposition to judicial elections and support for merit
appointment of judges, but ultimately concluded that if states persist
in having judicial elections, candidates must be allowed to have their
full-throated say.

Whatever one's view of the underlying First Amendment issue, the
eloquent dissenting opinion filed by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg ,
warning of the potential for increased politicization and undermining
of the judiciary's special role, now seems prescient. Justice Ginsburg
and her fellow dissenters, Justices John Paul Stevens, Stephan Breyer,
and David Souter, also pointed to the affront to due process when
litigants must appear before judges whose apparent neutrality is
compromised not just by campaign fundraising but by their outspoken
statements on issues during an election.

But back to the timeline. Since 2002, the involvement of moneyed
interests in state Supreme Court elections has only escalated . The
$24.4 million candidates and interest groups spent on TV ads in 2004
more than doubled the previous record set in 2000. The average amount
raised by winning candidates who raised any money was about $650,000,
compared to $450,000 in 2002.

"A perfect storm of hardball TV ads, millions in campaign
contributions and bare-knuckled special interest politics is
descending on a growing number of Supreme Court campaigns," declared
the 2004 edition of "The New Politics of Judicial Elections." State
supreme court contests, the report further noted, "are becoming epic
battlegrounds in the tort liability wars, the culture wars, and other
contests where powerful groups and wealthy donors seek to install
judges who will rule in their interest, not the public interest."

This year the trend continued. Voters went to the polls in 22
contested Supreme Court races in 11 states on November 7. TV ads
appeared in all but one of the states, and new candidate fundraising
records were set in four states , according to the Brennan Center of
Justice. In at least eight Supreme Court campaigns, fundraising totals
soared past $1 million. In Washington State, independent advertising
by special interest groups in furtherance of an unsuccessful primary
campaign to oust the state's incumbent Supreme Court Chief Justice,
Gerry Alexander, exceeded $1.3 million, according to a recent report
in the Seattle-Post-Intelligencer.

The doubts created about judicial impartiality are soaring just as
rapidly.

IV. The Race for a Cure

Federal court administrators use the term "judicial emergency" to
refer to federal jurisdictions where the appointment process has
lagged in filling judicial vacancies. In states where judges are
chosen by election, by contrast, the real "judicial emergency" isn't
vacancies, but the degree to which courts are now filled with judges
who are beholden to the moneyed interests that helped elect them.

Of course, no method of choosing judges is perfect or altogether free
of politics. Appointive systems breed their own set of confounding
issues. That has never been more true than today, with the tremendous
partisan wrangling at the federal level over the qualifications and
ideology of presidential court nominees.

But judicial elections that are increasingly polluted by enormous
floods of special interest money are far worse. The disturbing role
that money now plays -- which is only getting worse -- seals the case
for abandoning elections in favor of merit selection.

Even merit selection does not completely remove special interest money
from the process -- special interests can still contribute to
governors, or whoever is doing the appointing, and they lobby for
certain kinds of judges to be appointed. But by using a process that
assigns a major role in the winnowing of applicants to an independent
blue ribbon screening panel not controlled by the appointing elected
official -- the course long urged by many bar associations and civic
groups -- special interest influence can at least be limited.

Unfortunately, merit selection of state judges has to be a long-term
goal. There is still considerable popular support for the idea of
electing judges, and special interests that are doing well with their
pay-to-play contributions to judicial candidates have every selfish
reason to defend the status quo.

On the encouraging side, the defeat this past election of several
ballot initiatives backed by interest groups seeking to cut back on
judicial power and independence was a sign voters understand the
importance of maintaining a strong court system. In the aftermath of
November's elections, debate over the problem of money in judicial
elections is intensifying, and the list of states considering some
sort of reform is growing.

Short of the wholesale replacement of judicial elections with a merit
appointment system, the next best antidote would be replacing the
special-interest money flowing to judges with clean public financing.
North Carolina recently adopted a public financing system for judicial
elections , and it seems to be working well so far in enhancing
judicial independence.

More rigorous financial disclosure is also needed. As Public Citizen
has usefully detailed , for example, the Chamber of Commerce has a
history of channeling electioneering money to front groups in order to
disguise pro-business support for favored juducial candidates.

It would also help if judges who benefit from huge campaign donations
from special interests would have the good sense and decency to recuse
themselves when big cases involving those same interests come before
them. State bar associations, ethics boards, and state legislatures
should be pushing for tougher recusal rules -- and pointing out the
illogic of saying that a small gift by a litigant to a judge creates
an impermissible conflict, but a multi-million-dollar campaign
contribution, which can make the difference between a judicial
candidate winning or losing his judgeship, does not. In states that
hold partisan judicial elections, switching to nonpartisan campaigns,
which are typically less expensive, and bereft of party labels
inappropriate for judicial office, would be another positive tweak.

The U.S. Supreme Court, for its part, should revisit its decision in
the White case to at least make clear that its permissive attitude
toward candidate speech does not extend to barring states from curbing
the direct involvement of judges in hitting up donors, or promising
voters how they would resolve a particular case or churning legal
issue.

It is bad enough that the ever-increasing cost of running for
legislative or executive office fosters cozy ties between politicians
and special interests looking to influence government decisions. The
extension of that seamy pathology to powerful elected judgeships marks
a disturbing escalation of the political influence game.

Judges are supposed to be different.

Legislative and executive officials represent their various
constituencies. Judges, in contrast, are supposed to represent only
the ideal of justice. A judge deciding a case shouldn't be worrying
how ruling a certain way might affect campaign fundraising, or whether
it might invite a blitz of negative TV ads in the next election.

It is time -- long past time, really -- to drain the influence money
from America's system of justice.

Lela Moore contributed research for this article.

f

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From: Omaha (Neb.) World-Herald, Dec. 20, 2006
[Printer-friendly version]

NEBRASKA CORPORATE FARMING BAN STRUCK DOWN

By Bill Hord

Lincoln, Nebraska --- A three-judge panel of the 8th Circuit Court of
Appeals in St. Louis today ruled that Nebraska's ban on corporate
farming is unconstitutional.

The panel upheld a ruling last year by U.S. District Judge Laurie
Smith Camp that struck down the ban, enacted as Initiative 300 (I-300)
by Nebraska voters in 1982.

I-300 has been considered the toughest restriction in the nation on
farming by non-family corporations. Its demise also could bring an end
to corporate farming bans in five other states.

Smith Camp had ruled that I-300 discriminated against out-of-state
investors by requiring that one member of a Nebraska family
corporation be involved in the day-to-day operation of the farm.

An appeal is nearly certain, said Nebraska Farmers Union president
John Hansen, one of the leading proponents of Initiative 300. "But
that decision has not been made yet," Hansen said. Hansen said the
panel's ruling was under review by the Attorney General's Office and
other lawyers who are involved as defenders of I-300.

Before Smith Camp's ruling last year, Initiative 300 had withstood
numerous court challenges over its 24-year life. "This is not a good
day," said Hansen.

The appeals panel upheld Smith Camp's determination that Initiative
300 violated a federal constitutional provision that limits how much
states can regulate interstate commerce.

An appeal would first go to the full 8th Circuit Court. If again
upheld, an appeal would go to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The original case was brought by former State Sen. Jim Jones of
Eddyville and five others who said the ban restricted their right to
benefit from corporate business practices.

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From: Healthy Building Network, Dec. 20, 2006
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REBUILDING THE GULF WITH YOUR HELP

By Bill Walsh

Dear Friends,

Seasons Greetings from the Healthy Building Network (HBN). I've been
waiting to write to you this holiday season until the day I could
share this thrilling piece of news with you: Today, HBN's Unity Homes
project -- www.unityhomes.net -- has just completed construction of
the first prototype Unity Home in North Gulfport, Mississippi!

We are closer than ever to realizing our goal of providing healthy,
green, affordable housing to families in the region devastated by
hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and now I'm asking for your continued
support of this groundbreaking initiative.

Click to support the Healthy Building Network this holiday season.

North Gulfport Community Land Trust's Rose Johnson (center) with HBN's
Mississippi Operations Director Lillie Bender (right)

The first Unity Home is set in North Gulfport, Mississippi

The Unity Home improves upon standard modular design with numerous
energy saving components, low VOC finishes, and the elimination of
formaldehyde and PVC plastic (also known as vinyl) to the maximum
extent possible. Next month we will begin phase two of the project --
planning the construction of a modular home factory in the region. The
factory will have the capacity to produce a minimum of 250 affordable
homes per year, supplying people in the Gulf Coast and Delta regions
with hurricane resistant, energy efficient and comfortable homes that
are high quality and affordably priced.

The Unity Homes project fills a critical need for healthy affordable
housing in the Gulf Coast region. I hope we can count on your support
of this vital effort. Click here to make a secure online
contribution to HBN and the Unity Homes project.

The construction of the first prototype home is the result of
innovative collaborations that are the hallmark of the Healthy
Building Network. In Mississippi we have established essential new
partnerships with local community-based groups. In fact, the first
prototype Unity Home is being donated to the North Gulfport Community
Land Trust. We have also benefited from vast amounts of pro-bono legal
and strategic support, and worked with leaders in the fields of green
architecture and design. Visit the Unity Homes website to learn more
about our partnerships, view our construction gallery, and to take
a virtual tour of the home.

The Healthy Building Network and the Unity Homes project are both
nonprofit ventures supported entirely by contributions from charitable
foundations and individuals like you. Last year you helped HBN exceed
our goal in our first-ever public appeal for funds and your support
truly energized our work. We appreciate your support and hope that
this year you will make a generous contribution to help bring the
Unity Homes project into full scale production.

The need for rebuilding in the Gulf remains great and the Unity Homes
project offers proof that we can meet this urgent need with green,
healthy, affordable homes. To show our gratitude for your support,
when you make a monthly pledge or a one time gift to HBN you may
choose from this year's updated selection of special premium gifts.

With thanks in advance for your consideration, all of us at the
Healthy Building Network send our wishes for a happy and peaceful
holiday season.

Donate now at www.healthybuilding.net/donate.

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From: Contra Costa (Calif.) Times, Dec. 1, 2006
[Printer-friendly version]

SHUTDOWN OF EPA LIBRARIES WORRIES SCIENTISTS, ADVOCATES

By David Goldstein

WASHINGTON -- Concerned about the kinds of pollutants spilling into
your local rivers and streams and how they could affect your health?

As the Environmental Protection Agency closes some scientific
libraries around the country, EPA scientists and other environmental
advocates worry whether that kind of information could become harder
to find.

They fear that the agency's plan to save money by replacing printed
resources with digitized versions on the Internet could make
information less -- not more -- accessible.

"Nobody is against modernization, but we don't see the digitization,"
said Francesca Grifo, a botanist and the director of scientific
integrity at the Union of Concerned Scientists, an advocacy group for
the environment and other scientific issues. "We just see the
libraries closing. We just see that public access has been cut off."

The EPA has closed three of its 10 regional libraries, branches in
Kansas City, Mo., Dallas and Chicago that serve 15 states. EPA
officials said that no information would be lost and that public
access would be improved rather than compromised.

"EPA is committed to ensuring the agency's library materials are
available to employees, the public, the scientific community, the
legal community and other organizations," Linda Travers, the acting
assistant administrator of the EPA's Office of Environmental
Information, said in an e-mail.

Travers said material from the closed libraries would be available on
the agency's Web site (www.epa.gov) in January and was accessible now
through interlibrary loans. She said EPA-produced documents from all
21 libraries in the agency's network that could be digitized would be
accessible through the Internet within two years.

But the closing gives ammunition to scientists, open-records
supporters and members of Congress who think that the Bush
administration is weakening the EPA. An internal agency memo last
summer spelled out plans to close laboratories, cut senior-level
scientists and reduce environmental oversight.

Steve Kinser, a Superfund project engineer in Kansas City and the
president of the local chapter of the National Treasury Employees
Union, which represents the EPA's professional employees, said the
developments had made him look forward to his retirement next year
even more.

"Our ability to do our job is being tested at every turn," he said. "I
don't know if I can say anything more plain than that."

Unions that represent 10,000 EPA scientists, engineers and other
employees have complained to Congress about the library closings.
Several lawmakers have asked the Government Accountability Office to
investigate.

In a letter Thursday to EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson, four
Democrats in the House of Representatives who probably will play
influential roles next year on EPA issues told him to stop
"destruction or disposition of all library holdings immediately."

"It now appears that EPA officials are dismantling what is likely one
of our country's most comprehensive and accessible collections of
environmental materials," they wrote.

The authors were the ranking Democrats on four House committees that
oversee EPA issues: Reps. Bart Gordon of Tennessee, Science; John
Dingell of Michigan, Energy; James Oberstar of Minnesota,
Transportation; and Henry Waxman of California, Government Reform.

Regional EPA libraries in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Atlanta,
Denver, San Francisco and Seattle remain open, though some have
reduced hours. EPA spokeswoman Suzanne Ackerman said she knew of no
current plans to close any others.

The EPA also has shuttered its headquarters library in the nation's
capital as well as a specialized library on chemicals, with little or
no public notice.

"They're really acting like their hair's on fire," said Jeff Ruch, the
executive director of Public Employees for Environmental
Responsibility, a nonpartisan watchdog group. "They're quickly closing
the collections, boxing them and shipping them to repositories."

Critics have questioned why the EPA is closing libraries to save $2
million when its own study in 2004 found that they saved the agency
more than $7.5 million annually in staff time.

Travers said staff use of the libraries was down dramatically in
recent years because of the ease and speed of the Internet.

The agency isn't digitizing everything from the closed libraries,
however. Critics worry that some non-EPA materials might be destroyed,
though EPA spokeswoman Jessica Emond said that only outdated documents
would be discarded.

But Bill Hirzy, an EPA chemist, said the chemical library was told to
"just literally throw in the Dumpster" a valuable collection of
environmental journals.

"Just throw them out," he said. "We managed to put a halt to that.
It's that kind of craziness that's going on down there."

The libraries contain scientific data on a variety of environmental
topics, from acid rain to wetlands. Trained librarians guide EPA
scientists -- as well as the homeowner concerned about the
construction
project next door -- through a trove of reports, books, scientific
journals, maps, microfilm and other resources.

Among their holdings are obscure articles and publications usually
unavailable on the Internet.

"We don't know which items are being tossed and which items are being
saved," said Leslie Burger, the president of the American Library
Association. "They have 35,000 to 50,000 unique documents available
only in EPA libraries. If that information is not saved, it's gone
forever."

Martha Keating, a former EPA air-quality expert who's now a children's
environmental health researcher at Duke University, said the library
closings and the boxing-up of their contents for storage reminded her
of the ending of the film "Raiders of the Lost Ark."

"It's like that last scene where the forklift is putting the boxed-up
ark in a federal warehouse," she said. "That's what I envision. It's
something that's never to be seen again."

Copyright 2006 McClatchy Washington Bureau and wire service
sources.

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From: Washington Post (pg. B1), Dec. 4, 2006
[Printer-friendly version]

INQUIRY TURNS TO HUMANS ON POLLUTANT, HORMONE TIE

Evidence Such as Eggs In Male Fish Spurs Push

By David A. Fahrenthold

Growing evidence that chemicals in the environment can interfere with
animals' hormone systems -- including the discovery that male Potomac
River fish are growing eggs -- has focused the attention of
environmentalists and scientists on a new question: Are humans also at
risk?

A decade ago, the very idea that pollutants could interfere with a
body's chemical messages was near the fringes of science. But now, it
is an urgent topic for lawmakers and researchers around the world, and
especially in the Washington area.

In recent years, researchers have linked some common chemicals to
troubling changes in laboratory rodents and wild animals, including
reproductive defects, immune-system alterations and obesity.

========================================================

Sidebar

In recent years, scientists and lawmakers have become more concerned
about pollutants in the environment that appear to interfere with
natural hormone systems. A few of the most widely known examples:

Bisphenol A -- Description: Building block for plastics. Found in:
Clear plastic bottles such as those used by hikers and infants, as
well as resins used to line food and drink cans. Results of research:
In animals, low doses have been linked to low sperm production,
altered growth and behavioral changes. The chemical industry says
other studies show that the chemical is safe.

Phthalates -- Description: Chemical additives that increase plastic's
flexibility. Found in: Flexible vinyl toys, wallpaper and electronic
devices. Results of research: In animals, these chemicals affect the
functioning of male brains and sex organs. In humans, one recent study
found a correlation between mothers' exposure and subtle developmental
changes in baby boys. The chemical industry says that there is no
proof that human health is at risk.

Treated sewage -- Description: Can include natural hormones excreted
by humans and artifi cial hormones such as those in birth-control
pills. Found in: Rivers and streams where treated sewage is released,
including the Potomac River. Results of research: Blamed for causing
fi sh in several streams to be "intersex," with both male and female
characteristics.

========================================================

For now, no connections to human ailments have been proved. But some
studies have provided hints that people might be affected by crossed
hormones, and activists wonder if this kind of pollution could
contribute to diabetes, birth defects and infertility.

"There's a lot of concern that a lot of chemicals to which we are
exposed routinely, and without our knowledge, are interfering with the
way hormones work," said R. Thomas Zoeller, a professor of biology at
the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments is planning to host
a public forum about hormone-disrupting pollution this spring. U.S.
Reps. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) have
said they plan to press the Environmental Protection Agency about its
failure to develop a program to test chemicals for hormonelike
effects, as ordered by Congress in 1996.

The idea that natural hormone messages can be tampered with is not
new; for decades, women using birth-control pills have been counting
on a man-made chemical to do just that.

But the current concern is much wider: Some fear that modern chemistry
might have unwittingly created other compounds with hormonelike
effects and that they might have spread widely around the globe.

In the past few years, scientists working with animals have found
potential problems with several pollutants, among them rocket-fuel
components, pesticides and additives to soap. Among the most heavily
researched:

** Phthalates, a family of additives used to make vinyl plastic
flexible and prevent perfume from evaporating, have been linked to
lower sperm counts and other sexual problems in male rats, as well as
to heightened allergic reactions in the animals. Chemical industry
officials have said that these tests used unrealistically high doses
and that the results are not likely to translate to humans.

** Bisphenol A, used as a building block for hard plastic goods like
bottles and as a resin to line food cans, has been connected in some
experiments to abnormal sexual development in male lab rodents, as
well as a predilection for obesity. Officials from the chemical and
pesticide industries have vigorously criticized these results, saying
that other studies have shown the chemical to be harmless.

** Treated sewage, which carries human estrogen and birth-control pill
components excreted in waste, has been linked to "feminized" male fish
in waters around the world. In the St. Lawrence River in Canada, a
recent study found that a third of male minnows had female
characteristics. Another example might be the Potomac, though the
cause of its problems has not been officially pinpointed. The EPA and
sewage-plant officials have said they are working on ways to better
clean the wastewater.

The study of endocrine disruptors began in the late 1980s and early
1990s, with scientists struggling to add up such oddities as male
birds with female organs in the Great Lakes and sexual defects in
Florida alligators.

They eventually found that some chemicals were turning on hormone
switches in the body's endocrine system that trigger biological
processes. Others blocked the switches so natural hormones couldn't
get through.

That revelation meant that a pollutant could be harmful even if it
wasn't poisonous and didn't cause cancer. Even small doses could cause
major damage, if they came at a key time when hormones were guiding
pregnancy or early development.

"We have to ask different questions," said John Peterson Myers, an
activist and former scientist based in Charlottesville. He joined with
scientist Theo Colborn and writer Dianne Dumanoski to write a book
laying out their concerns, 1996's "Our Stolen Future."

Today, despite the wealth of studies in animals, the implications for
human health are unclear. One of the most dramatic studies examined
the sons of mothers whose bodies contained phthalates. It found no
major birth defects but did show that the higher the phthalate level,
the greater chance that the boys' bodies would show subtle signs of
being "undermasculinized," according to researcher Shanna Swan,
director of the Center for Reproductive Epidemiology at the University
of Rochester.

Still, that falls well short of a smoking gun: Humans are not
laboratory rats, so scientists say it is exceedingly hard to craft a
study that shows a particular chemical caused a particular problem,
and not genetics, diet or some other factor.

"They're nowhere near cause-and-effect," L. Earl Gray Jr., a senior
research biologist at the EPA, said of human studies. "We're showing
correlations and associations" between pollutants and human health
effects, he said, but no indisputable sign that one causes the other.

Officials from the chemical and pesticide industries have vigorously
defended their products, saying they see no reason for concern about
products in the environment interfering with human hormones.

Some scientists have also pointed out that human diets have always
included some estrogen-like compounds: They occur naturally in wine
and soy-based products, for example.

Stephen H. Safe, a professor of veterinary physiology and pharmacology
at Texas A&M University, said that overall, despite our poor diets,
"what does the data say about our health in this country? We're living
longer... You know, where are these endocrine threats?"

Still, concerns that human health might be in danger have led to
recent bans on certain phthalates in young children's toys imposed by
the European Union and the City of San Francisco.

Activists in the United States have attacked the EPA for what they
believe is a delayed response to the problem. The agency has defended
itself by saying that it has spent millions on other research programs
looking at ways to identify and limit endocrine disruptors and that it
hopes to begin the long-delayed chemical testing program next year.

Some activists fear that damage is already being done. They caution
avoiding plastic baby bottles, which could contain bisphenol A, and
reducing consumption of animal fat, where some environmental
pollutants can concentrate.

"I feel terrible because we haven't moved on this faster," said
Colborn, the activist who has served as an unofficial leader among
endocrine-disruptor researchers. "This is a transgenerational problem
that is undermining the integrity of humans."

But Paul Foster, an official who evaluates risks to human reproduction
at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, said it
was hard to give useful advice at this point because the chemicals
being investigated are so ubiquitous.

"There's very little that they can do," said Foster, whose agency is
part of the National Institutes of Health. "That's why you can't be
too alarmist about it, because you can't stop people living."

Copyright 2006 The Washington Post Company

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From: Los Angeles Times, Nov. 8, 2006
[Printer-friendly version]

U.S. RULES ALLOW THE SALE OF PRODUCTS OTHERS BAN

By Marla Cone

OAKLAND -- Destined for American kitchens, planks of birch and poplar
plywood are stacked to the ceiling of a cavernous port warehouse. The
wood, which arrived in California via a cargo ship, carries two
labels: One proclaims "Made in China," while the other warns that it
contains formaldehyde, a cancer-causing chemical.

Because formaldehyde wafts off the glues in this plywood, it is
illegal to sell in many countries -- even the one where it originated,
China. But in the United States this wood is legal, and it is
routinely crafted into cabinets and furniture.

As the European Union and other nations have tightened their
environmental standards, mostly in the last two years, manufacturers
-- here and around the world -- are selling goods to American
consumers that fail to meet other nations' stringent laws for toxic
chemicals.

Wood, toys, electronics, pesticides and cosmetics are among U.S.
products that contain substances that are banned or restricted
elsewhere, particularly in Europe and Japan, because they may raise
the risk of cancer, alter hormones or cause reproductive or
neurological damage.

Michael Wilson, a professor at UC Berkeley's Center for Occupational
and Environmental Health, said the United States is becoming a
"dumping ground" for consumer goods that are unwanted and illegal in
much of the world. Wilson warned earlier this year in a report
commissioned by the California Legislature that "the United States has
fallen behind globally in the move toward cleaner technologies."

The European Union, driven by consumers' concerns, has banned or
heavily restricted hundreds of toxic substances in recent years,
invoking its "precautionary principle," which is codified into law and
prescribes that protective steps should be taken when there is
scientific evidence of risks to public health or the environment.

Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Agency and other federal
agencies have relied on voluntary steps from industries rather than
regulations, saying the threats posed by low levels of chemicals are
too uncertain to eliminate products valuable to consumers or
businesses.

In the absence of U.S. regulations, some international corporations,
including Hewlett-Packard, Dell, Mattel, Revlon and Orly
International, have declared that all their products, no matter where
they are made or sold, will comply with EU standards, the most
stringent chemical laws in the world.

"We don't operate to different standards in different parts of the
globe, regardless of differing environmental standards," said John
Frey, manager of corporate environmental strategies at Palo Alto-based
Hewlett-Packard.

But many U.S. and foreign companies do.

Some toys, nail polishes and other beauty products are made with
plastic softeners and solvents called phthalates that the EU has
banned as reproductive toxins. Several of U.S. agriculture's most
popular herbicides and insecticides, including atrazine, endosulfan
and aldicarb, are illegal or restricted to emergency uses in other
countries. And a few electronic items, including Palm's Treo 650 smart
phone and Apple's iSight camera, were pulled off shelves in Europe
this summer because of lead components but are still sold here.

Industry groups say their products have undergone rigorous reviews in
the United States and are not only legal here but safe. They say some
governments, particularly the EU, have overreacted and banned
chemicals with little or no evidence of a human health threat.

"Consumers can remain confident about using their cosmetics given
their oversight by the Food and Drug Administration, the extensive
research on their safety and long history of safe use," the Cosmetic,
Toiletry and Fragrance Assn. said.

The EPA hasn't eliminated any industrial compounds since it sought
unsuccessfully to ban asbestos 18 years ago. Unlike EU policies, U.S.
law requires the EPA to prove a toxic substance "presents an
unreasonable risk of injury to health or the environment," consider
the costs of restricting its use and choose "the least burdensome"
approach to regulate industry.

"The dumping problem is concentrated in a few product sectors. But
these sectors happen to be really ubiquitous in the everyday lives of
Americans. Chemical risks are being spread all over the country in
ways that are invisible to consumers," said Alastair Iles, an
international chemical policy expert who was a research fellow at UC
Berkeley and still works with faculty there on consumer issues.

Last year alone, China exported to the United States more than half a
billion dollars' worth of hardwood plywood -- enough to build cabinets
for 2 million kitchens, a sixfold increase since 2002. Though China
sends low-formaldehyde timber to Japan and Europe, Americans are
getting wood that emits substantially higher levels of the chemical.

One birch plank from China, bought at a Home Depot store in Portland,
gave off 100 times more formaldehyde than legal in Japan and 30 times
more than allowed in Europe and China, according to July tests
conducted by a lab hired by an Oregon-based wood products
manufacturer. Formaldehyde exposure has been shown in human studies to
cause nose and throat cancer and possibly leukemia, as well as
allergic reactions, asthma attacks, headaches and sore throats.

With no government standards, monitoring or labeling, U.S. consumers
cannot easily identify chemical-free products.

"I'll guarantee you that no one tells a customer building a $75,000
kitchen that their cabinets contain plywood from China that will off-
gas formaldehyde," said Larry Percivalle of Oakland-based EarthSource
Forest Products, a distributor that sells low-formaldehyde and
sustainably grown wood.

In the wood industry, even though low-cost, chemical-free substitutes
are available, much of the plywood, fiberboard and particleboard sold
in the United States is manufactured with adhesives, or glues, that
contain formaldehyde, said Michael Wolfe, a wood products consultant
in Emeryville, Calif.

The only formaldehyde standard for wood in the U.S. is one that
applies just to subsidized, low-income housing. U.S. companies
voluntarily meet it for all products, though it allows 10 times more
formaldehyde than Japan's standards.

California may step in. The Air Resources Board is considering
standards roughly equivalent to Europe's for 2008 and Japan's for 2010
through 2012.

The air board estimates that one of every 10,000 Californians is at
risk of contracting cancer from breathing average formaldehyde levels
found in homes and offices.

"We have a problem that needs to be addressed, we have technology to
do it, and there is no requirement for it to happen. Nationally, no
one is stepping forward, so we think this is an area where we can,"
said Mike Scheible, the air board's deputy executive officer.

Columbia Forest Products, which spent $8 million to switch all its
factories to nontoxic glues made of soy flour, says it is being hurt
by the lack of U.S. standards for wood.

"While I believe in free trade, I also believe that everybody ought to
be held to the same standard," said Harry Demorest, the Portland-based
company's president and chief executive. "It's particularly galling
and frustrating in the Chinese case, when they're taking our market
with products that have high formaldehyde content when we know full
well that they can produce it with lower formaldehyde."

Despite its capital investment, Columbia, which is North America's
largest producer of hardwood plywood and veneer, has not raised its
prices to compensate because the soy glues are as inexpensive as
formaldehyde glues, Demorest said.

The state air board estimates that switching to formaldehyde-free
glues like those required in Japan would increase the price of a sheet
of particleboard from today's $7 to about $9 in 2010.

California's proposal is opposed by nearly all wood producers, who say
it could drive them out of business if they are forced to do what
Columbia did.

"The entire industry is not ready to make this change. Today we could
not be competitive by changing resins," said Darrell Keeling, a
general manager at Roseburg Forest Products in Oregon.

Keeling said his company makes some low-formaldehyde products but most
customers aren't interested because they cost more.

"Even though people talk green and think green, they won't demonstrate
their commitment to it with their wallet," he said. "More regulation
and more bureaucracy is not the best way to drive change."

But selling products with risky chemicals to Americans while removing
them for consumers elsewhere is shortsighted, said Robert Donkers, the
European Commission's Environmental Counselor in Washington, D.C.

"If companies decide to wait and see rather than innovate, they will
lose the market," he said. "American consumers follow closely what is
happening in other parts of the world. So they can say, 'Hey, you make
them in Europe, why don't you sell them to us?'

"Legally, you can still use these chemicals, but you're not doing your
company any favors."

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::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

  Rachel's Democracy & Health News (formerly Rachel's Environment &
  Health News) highlights the connections between issues that are
  often considered separately or not at all.

  The natural world is deteriorating and human health is declining  
  because those who make the important decisions aren't the ones who
  bear the brunt. Our purpose is to connect the dots between human
  health, the destruction of nature, the decline of community, the
  rise of economic insecurity and inequalities, growing stress among
  workers and families, and the crippling legacies of patriarchy,
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  therefore ruled by the few.  

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Environmental Research Foundation
P.O. Box 160, New Brunswick, N.J. 08903
dhn@rachel.org
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