Monday, October 30, 2006

Bird Flu

by Michael Greger, M.D.

The threat of pandemic influenza is real, and we may need look no further than our own actions to explain why we're facing this grave situation. Bird Flu attempts to unravel the knotted threads that weave the harrowing explanation of how and why a harmless intestinal virus of waterfowl has mutated into a human killer. It's incumbent on each of us to understand the impact and influence our choices have had on both the natural world and public health, and to prepare within our families and communities to mediate the impact of the next pandemic.

As such, this endeavor is not for profit. All of the proceeds I receive from all my books and speaking engagements are donated to charity and the entire manuscript is available here for free online. On this site you can navigate through each of the 21 chapters from the table of contents on the left, access the more than 3,000 references, and search the content by topic index.

Copyright ©2006

Global Warming Report Calls for Immediate Action

by Elsa McLaren
The Times of London

Hundreds of millions of people could suffer from hunger, water shortages and coastal flooding as the world gets warmer, according to a major report published today on the likely economic impacts of climate change.

Sir Nicholas Stern, the former chief economist at the World Bank, said at the launch of the 700-page report that it made good economic sense to tackle global warming now before irreversible damage is done to the planet and the costs mount.

The report - hailed by Tony Blair as the most important report on the future ever published by his Government - puts the cost of tackling global warming now at just 1 per cent of global GDP a year.

"That is manageable," Sir Nicholas said of that figure. "We can grow and be green."

But if nothing is done to reduce carbon emissions, the report predicted, the eventual cost would be a minimum of 5 per cent of economic activity and could rise as high as 20 per cent, costing the world as much as $3.68 trillion.

The report, commissioned by Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, comes in stark contrast to the Bush Administration's wait-and-see approach on global warming.

The Government hopes to use the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change to bring the United States, and India and China, on board an international agreement to succeed the Kyoto Protocol. Discussions on a post-Kyoto deal will resume at UN talks in Nairobi on November 6.

Mr Brown also confirmed today that Al Gore, the former US Vice-President who is now a leading campaigner against global warming, would act as an adviser to the Government on climate change.

Apart from its economic impacts, the Stern report also warns of the devastating effect that that uncontrolled climate change would have on the world’s population.

Failure to act could see 200 million people permanently displaced if the world’s temperature rises by 3C (5.4F) from pre-industrial levels.

Rising sea levels from melting glaciers and ice sheets could flood the homes of hundreds of millions of people each year with a warming of 3C-4C. And between 15 and 40 per cent of species could face extinction if the world’s temperatures rose by just 2C.

The report concludes that all countries will face global warming but those hardest hit will be poorer nations, many of which already struggle to produce enough crops to feed the population. The most serious and widespread consequences will be in Sub-Saharan Africa where millions more will die from malnutrition, diarrhoea, malaria and dengue fever, unless effective control measures are in place.

Sir Nicholas said: "The task is urgent. Delaying action even by a decade or two will take us into dangerous territory. We must not let this window of opportunity close.

"Government, businesses and individuals all need to work together to respond to the challenge. Strong, deliberate policy choices by governments are essential to motivate change."

Sir Nicholas admitted that the cost of reducing carbon emissions would ultimately fall to consumers who would pay more for carbon intensive goods or services, like cars or electricity. But he said that the extra costs would be "manageable".

The report highlighted the devastating effect that deforestation has on climate change, which it says contributes more to global emissions each year than transport industries. It also recommended that spending on research and development double to £10.5 billion and that more resources are given to poor countries to help them compete.

The Chancellor today set out proposals for a new European-wide target to reduce emissions by 30 per cent by 2020, and by at least 60 per cent by 2050. Mr Brown said he hoped it would eventually to be extended worldwide.

Speaking at the launch of the report, the Prime Minister said that failure to act now would be "disastrous" for the planet and the damage would be "irreversible".

He said: "There is nothing more serious, more urgent, more demanding of leadership - here, of course, but most importantly in the global community.

Mr Blair said that the report "demolished the last remaining argument for inaction in the face of climate change". He added: "Should we fail to rise to this challenge I don’t believe we will be able to explain ourselves to future generations that we have let down."

The climate report was widely welcomed by charities and businesses. Charlie Kronick of Greenpeace said it was "the final piece in the jigsaw" and that "everybody has to back action to slash emissions, regardless of party or ideology." The Confederation for British Industry said that the review was a "powerful argument for collective action by the nations of the world".

Copyright 2006 Times Newspapers Ltd.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Antarctic Ozone Hole Biggest on Record

by Reuters

This year's ozone hole over Antarctica is bigger and deeper than any other on record, U.S. scientists reported on Thursday.

The ozone layer shields Earth from the sun's harmful ultraviolet rays, and the layer thins out over the South Pole each year, primarily because human-made compounds release ozone-eating chlorine and bromine gases into the stratosphere.

"From September 21 to 30, the average area of the ozone hole was the largest ever observed, at 10.6 million square miles ," said Paul Newman of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center outside Washington.

If the stratospheric weather conditions had been normal, the ozone hole would be expected to reach a size of about 8.9 million to 9.3 million square miles, about the surface area of North America, NASA said in a statement.

Scientists measure the total amount of ozone from the ground to the upper atmosphere in Dobson Units, and a NASA satellite detected a low level of 85 Dobson Units on October 8 of the East Antarctic ice sheet.

Scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration used balloon-borne instruments to measure ozone right over the South Pole, and by October 9 the total ozone in a column from the ground to the upper atmosphere had dropped to 93 DU from about 300 DU in mid-July.

Temperature variations in the Antarctic stratosphere causes the severity of the ozone hole to vary from year to year. Colder temperatures result in larger and deeper ozone holes, while warmer temperatures lead to smaller ones. This year, the lower stratosphere was about 9 degrees Fahrenheit (5 degrees Celsius) cooler than average.

Concentrations of ozone-depleting chemicals in the lower atmosphere have been declining since 1995, and scientists estimate the ozone hole will be completely recovered by about 2065.

© Reuters 2006. All Rights Reserved.

World's Worst Polluted Places

by The Blacksmith Institute

La Oroya, Peru

Potentially affected people: 35,000

Type of pollutants: Lead, copper, zinc, and sulfur dioxide.

Site description: Since 1922, adults and children in La Oroya, Peru - a mining town in the Peruvian Andes and the site of a poly-metallic smelter - have been exposed to the toxic emissions from the plant. Currently owned by the Missouri-based Doe Run Corporation, the plant is largely responsible for the dangerously high blood lead levels found in the children of this community. Ninety-nine percent of children living in and around La Oroya have blood lead levels that exceed acceptable amounts, according to studies carried out by the Director General of Environmental Health in Peru in 1999. Lead poisoning is known to be particularly harmful to the mental development of children. A survey conducted by the Peruvian Ministry of Health in 1999 revealed blood lead levels among local children to be dangerously high, averaging 33.6 micrograms/deciliter for children between the ages 6 months to ten years, triple the WHO limit of 10 micrograms/deciliter.

Sulfur dioxide concentrations also exceed the World Health Organization emissions standards by ten fold. The vegetation in the surrounding area has been destroyed by acid rain due to high sulfur dioxide emissions. To date, the extent of soil contamination has not been studied and no plan for reduction of emissions has been agreed or implemented.

Numerous studies have been carried out to assess the levels and sources of lead and other metals still being deposited in La Oroya. Limited testing has revealed lead, arsenic and cadmium soil contamination throughout the town. However, all of these studies were focused on outdoor contamination and suspected severe indoor air pollution has not yet been assessed in detail..

Cleanup Activity
Peru's Clean Air Act cites La Oroya in a list of Peruvian towns suffering critical levels of air pollution, but action to clean up and curtail this pollution has been delayed for the 35,000 inhabitants. In 2004, Doe Run Corporation asked the government for a four year extension to the plants environmental management plan. A concerted NGO movement is now underway to pressure the company and the government to develop effective strategies for implementation of site remediation agreements and to provide health care for affected residents.


"Development of an integrated intervention plan to reduce exposure to lead and other contaminants in the mining center of La Oroya, Peru". Centers for Disease Control and Prevention National Center for Environmental Health/ Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry Division of Emergency and Environmental Health Services. (2005)

"Crisis Deepens in La Oroya" Oxfam America. (2004) December 20.

La Oroya is one of the Top Ten Worst Polluted Places. To see the entire list, go to

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Fear Itself

by Garry Trudeau

copyright ©2006 G.B. Trudeau

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Where There's War, There's Kissinger

by Molly Ivins
Creators Syndicate
October 6, 2006

The Old War Criminal is back. I try not to hold grudges, but I must admit I have never lost one ounce of rancor toward Henry Kissinger, that cynical, slithery, self-absorbed pathological liar. He has all the loyalty and principle of Charles Talleyrand, whom Napoleon described as "a piece of dung in a silk stocking."

Come to think of it, Talleyrand looks pretty good compared to Kissinger, who always aspired to be Metternich (a 19th century Austrian diplomat). Just count the number of Americans and Vietnamese who died between 1969 and 1973, and see if you can find any indication he ever gave a damn.

As for Kissinger's getting the Nobel Peace Prize, it is a thing so wrong it has come to define wrongness -- as in, "As weird as the time Henry Kissinger got the Nobel Peace Prize."

Tom Lehrer, who was a lovely political satirist, gave up satire after that blow.

The War Criminal's return is the only piece of news I have yet found in Bob Woodward's new book, and what amazes me is the reaction to the work. Gosh, gasp, imagine, Woodward says the war's a disaster!

People who know a lot more than Bob Woodward have been saying the war's a disaster for years -- because war is self-evidently a disaster. Why this is greeted as an annunciation from on high just because Woodward, the world's most establishment reporter, now says so is a mystery to me.

I have read snippets here and there suggesting the self-important chattering class of Washington is massively resistant to admitting they were wrong about Iraq, and that you only have credibility as a critic of the war if you were for it in the first place. I missed a logical link there. I know how vain the chattering classes are, but the majority of the American people has since come to conclude they were wrong about the war -- and they say so without feeling disgraced.

What's wrong with the Washington press corps? Speaking of people who have trouble with the truth, here's a recent George W. line from two weeks ago I particularly prize: "There's kind of an urban myth here in Washington about how this administration hasn't stayed focused on Osama bin Laden. Forget it. It's convenient throwaway lines when people say that."

How do these urban myths get started? Perhaps with GWB on March 13, 2002: "I don't know where bin Laden is. ... You know ... I just don't spend that much time on him. ... I'll repeat what I said. I truly am not that concerned about him."

Or as Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on April 6, 2002: "The goal (in Afghanistan) has never been to get bin Laden. ... The goal there was never (to go) after specific individuals." Donald Rumsfeld: Bin Laden has been "neutralized." And Vice President Cheney: "Bin Laden himself is not that big a threat."

And etc., etc. We got two straight years of quotes from officials all across the Bush administration pushing the idea that Osama bin Laden is just a minor player, we're not hunting him, the war on terror is a much larger deal, and so on and so forth. You know, it's one thing to tell a whopper yourself -- it's adding insult to injury to call the people who point this out liars themselves.

A half-hour documentary about Granny D (Doris Haddock) will be playing throughout October on various PBS channels around the country. Granny D, the crusader for campaign finance reform, who hiked across the country at age 90, is now 96, and the documentary of her work is inspiring.

She's such an adorably "sweet old lady" that one forgets how tough she has been and how consistent she has been. You want to know where to get the strength, courage and optimism to keep fighting for change? Listen to Granny D. More at


U.S. Rules Allow the Sale of Products Others Ban

by Marla Cone
Los Angeles Times
October 8, 2006

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."

Copyright 2006 Los Angeles Times

Wednesday, October 04, 2006


by Paula McConnell
October 4, 2006

"But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you."
Luke 6:27-28

Dear Lord: Today may I take the lesson from my Amish brothers and sisters and forgive. It doesn't matter whom and for what, just forgive.


The Amish do not use insurance as they believe it interferes with trusting God. Today, several families are faced with incredible expenses as they continue to deal with the recent tragedy at the Nickel Mine School. Two organizations are collecting funds for these families and the Roberts family, who are also victims in the violence. Please consider donating.


Can America Ever Be Weaned Off Its Love Affair With Guns?

By Andrew Gumbel
The Independent
October 4, 2006

Why is US gun culture in the news?

This week's school shootings in Amish country, in which five children died, are just the latest in a seemingly never-ending string of spectacular mass murders to hit the headlines in the United States.

Last week, a gunman in the Colorado Rockies burst into a schoolroom and killed a student before turning his weapon on himself. Seven years ago, we had the bloodbath at Columbine High School. We've had disgruntled ex-employees shooting up their former workplaces, shootings in fast-food restaurants, and a parishioner in Fort Worth, Texas, shooting up his local church.

Each time it happens, a panoply of reasons comes to the fore. Gun-control activists blame the phenomenon largely, if not wholly, on easy access to firearms. Cultural conservatives like to blame Hollywood for its violent movies and video games. Other frequently identified causes are the prevalence of antidepressant prescriptions, the peculiar alienation of new white suburbs and the warp-effect of the media.

Is it about the guns?

There's no question that the gun culture - stemming back to the frontier spirit of the 19th century and justified, at least by gun-ownership advocates, by the Second Amendment of the Constitution - plays a major role in perpetuating the high numbers of violent deaths.

In the US, there are roughly 17,000 murders a year, of which about 15,000 are committed with firearms. By contrast, Britain, Australia and Canada combined see fewer than 350 gun-related murders each year. And it's not just about murder. The non-gun-related suicide rate in the US is consistent with the rest of the developed world. Factor in firearms, and the rate is suddenly twice as high as the rest of the developed world.

Children are affected particularly hard. An American youth is murdered with a firearm every four and a half hours on average. And an American youth commits suicide with a firearm every eight hours. It's worth remembering that many of the most spectacular mass murders of recent years were really suicides, with the perpetrators choosing to take a few other people with them while they were at it. Gun-control advocates argue they manage to carry out their murderous fantasies only because firearms give them the means to do so.

Why is gun control so ineffective?

Any adult with a clean criminal record can buy a gun in the US with relative ease. Gun shops and dealers will conduct mandatory background checks - introduced under the 1993 Brady bill, named after the White House Press Secretary James Brady, who was hit and disabled during an assassination attempt on President Reagan in 1981. But dealers at gun shows - popular throughout the heartland - are exempt from the federal law, making it easy for criminals or children to lay their hands on whatever they want. The semi-automatic TEC-9 machine pistols used by Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold at Columbine were bought at a Colorado gun show.

Federal law, more generally, is subject to constant pressure from the National Rifle Association, the powerful gun-ownership lobby group, which has the influence to run elected officials out of office if they dare to challenge its agenda. That explains why a nationwide ban on semi-automatic assault weapons, introduced during the Clinton administration, was allowed to expire on the eve of the 2004 presidential election - despite the abiding fear of al-Qa'ida sleeper cells possibly operating in the US and planning another attack. Not only did John Kerry, the Democratic candidate, not feel able to use this as a campaign issue against President Bush. He felt obliged to tout his own gun-loving bona fides for fear of losing key swing states such as Pennsylvania.

State by state, gun-control laws vary widely. California is relatively strict. Colorado closed the "gun-show loophole" in the wake of Columbine, and Oregon has followed suit. Seven states have assault weapon bans, and 19 have laws making it a crime for gun owners to leave weapons in places where they might fall into the hands of a child. Pennsylvania, with its hunting and shooting traditions (the movie The Deerhunter was set there), has one of the worst gun-control regimes. The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence gave Pennsylvania a D+ grade last year.

What about the broader culture?

Donald Sutherland, the Canadian-born actor, once pointed out it is almost as easy to buy a gun in Canada as it is in the US, yet the incidence of gun-related deaths in Canada is dramatically lower. He argued that both countries have a frontier spirit, only that the iconic figure of the Canadian West is the Mountie - a law officer - while the iconic figure of the American West is the outlaw. Gangsters and crime syndicates have flourished in the US, and Hollywood has certainly done its bit to glamourise the empowerment of a man wielding a firearm.

Even the most ardent gun-control advocates will acknowledge there is more going on than just access to deadly weaponry. Tom Mauser, who lost a son in the Columbine shootings, blames several other factors. He sees a latent violence in the culture, spanning everything from television shows to the uncompromising rhetoric of talk-radio to the eruption of road rage. He also worries about alienation among young people, poor parental oversight and inadequate communication between school authority figures and students - especially in a suburban high school such as Columbine.

What role does the media play?

Park Dietz, perhaps America's foremost criminal profiler, believes saturation media coverage of one mass murder will lead, almost inevitably, to another mass murder within a couple of weeks. He told The Independent recently: "It's not that the news coverage made the person paranoid, or armed, or suicidally depressed. But you've got to imagine this small number of people sitting at home, with guns on their lap and a hitlist in their mind. They feel willing to die. "When they watch the coverage of a school shooting or a workplace mass murder, it takes only one or two of them to say - 'that guy is just like me, that's the solution to my problem, that's what I'll do tomorrow'."

The Amish country murders bear a disconcerting similarity to last week's shootings in Bailey, Colorado. In both cases, the gunman released the boys in the room and attacked the girls. Coincidence? Perhaps more a case of one high-profile event triggering another.

Is there hope for an end to America's gun violence?


* With every high-profile mass murder, victims' advocates and gun-control lobbyists gain more visibility, and more influence

* Someone, eventually, will make the link to homeland security: why make it so easy for al-Qa'ida to acquire assault weapons?

* The numbers of American children who die in gun violence means sooner or later, the madness will stop


* Congress is in thrall to the NRA, and is too scared to act

* The burst of reformist energy that followed Columbine has subsided, and the most recent mass murders have been greeted with resigned indifference

* The US media is too addicted to its regular, real-life horror show to want it to stop

© 2006 Independent News and Media Limited

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Lincoln Weeps

by Bill Moyers
Common Dreams News Center
October 3, 2006

Back in 1954, when I was a summer employee on Capitol Hill, I made my first visit to the Lincoln Memorial. I have returned many times since, most recently while I was in Washington filming for a documentary about how Tom DeLay, Jack Abramoff, Ralph Reed and Grover Norquist, among others, turned the conservative revolution into a racket—the biggest political scandal since Watergate.

If democracy can be said to have temples, the Lincoln Memorial is our most sacred. You stand there silently contemplating the words that gave voice to Lincoln's fierce determination to save the union—his resolve that "government of, by, and for the people shall not perish from the earth." On this latest visit, I was overcome by a sense of melancholy. Lincoln looks out now on a city where those words are daily mocked. This is no longer his city. And those people from all walks of life making their way up the steps to pay their respect to the martyred president—it's not their city, either. Or their government. This is an occupied city, a company town, and government is a subservient subsidiary of richly endowed patrons.

Once upon a time the House of Representatives was known as "the people's house." No more. It belongs to K Street now. That's the address of the lobbyists who swarm all over Capitol Hill. There are 65 lobbyists for every member of Congress. They spend $200 million per month wining, dining and seducing federal officials. Per month!

Of course they're just doing their job. It's impossible to commit bribery, legal or otherwise, unless someone's on the take, and with campaign costs soaring, our politicians always have their hands out. One representative confessed that members of Congress are the only people in the world expected to take large amounts of money from strangers and then act as if it has no effect on their behavior. This explains why Democrats are having a hard time exploiting the culture of corruption embodied in the scandalous behavior of DeLay and Abramoff. Democrats are themselves up to their necks in the sludge. Just the other day one of the most powerful Democrats in the House bragged to reporters about tapping "uncharted donor fields in the financial industry"—reminding them, not so subtlely, of the possibility that after November the majority leader just might be a Democrat.

When it comes to selling influence, both parties have defined deviancy up, and Tony Soprano himself couldn't get away with some of the things that pass for business as usual in Washington. We have now learned that Jack Abramoff had almost 500 contacts with the Bush White House over the three years before his fall, and that Karl Rove and other presidential staff were treated to his favors and often intervened on his behalf. So brazen a pirate would have been forced to walk the plank long ago if Washington had not thrown its moral compass overboard.

Alas, despite all these disclosures, nothing is happening to clean up the place. Just as the Republicans in charge of the House kept secret those dirty emails sent to young pages by Rep. Mark Foley—a cover-up aimed at getting them past the election and holding his seat for the party—they are now trying to sweep the DeLay-Abramoff-Reed-and-Norquist scandals under the rug until after Nov. 7, hoping the public at large doesn't notice that the House is being run by Tom DeLay's team, minus DeLay. All the talk about reform is placebo.

The only way to counter the power of organized money is with organized and outraged people. Believe me, what members of Congress fear most is a grassroots movement that demands clean elections and an end to the buying and selling of influence—or else! If we leave it to the powers that be to clean up the mess that greed and chicanery have given us, we will wake up one day with a real Frankenstein of a system—a monster worse than the one created by Abramoff, DeLay and their cronies. By then it will be too late to save Lincoln's hope for "government of, by, and for the people."

Bill Moyers is a veteran television journalist for PBS and the president of the Schumann Center for Media and Democracy. This week, Bill Moyers returns to investigative journalism with MOYERS ON AMERICA, taking on crucial issues facing our nation. Previews available at

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