Monday, October 18, 2010

Nestlé Corporation Vs. America’s Water Supply

With Nestlé CEO Kim Jeffery’s induction into the absurd Beverage World Hall of Fame, a brief study of Nestlé Corporation’s bottled water operations in the U.S. seems necessary.
By D.J. Pangburn - Monday, October 18, 2010

Conventional wisdom states that if you create a heart-shaped logo for your company, it’s impossible for people to think it’s evil

A recent press release noted that Nestlé CEO Kim Jeffery was inducted into the Beverage World Hall of Fame for building his company into “one of the industry’s leading champions of environmental stewardship.” This despite Nestlé’s near constant effort to tap every last aquifer in America to sell to you at over a 4,000% markup.

Nestlé Corporation is the biggest food and beverage corporation in the world, operating in 86 countries with a workforce of 283,000 people. It is no Willy Wonka operation, though, because its fingers are in many different pies. (It should be noted that Nestlé, in fact, owns Willy Wonka Candy Company and marketed the Wonka Bar as a promotional tie-in to Tim Burton’s Roald Dahl adaptation.)

The Cheerios you eat? Nestlé. Juicy Juice? Nestlé. Growers Direct Organic Fruit Juices? Nestlé. Nestlé bottles and sells water with product names that hit nearly every letter of the alphabet. That elegant Perrier or San Pelligrino water you drink whilst gorging on escargot and a side of truffles — that’s Nestlé, too. The bottled water cooler in the kitchen area down the hall from your cubicle-lined and fluorescent-lit office? It could be any number of Nestlé’s products, like Powwow. The corporation also owns Häagen-Dazs. Nestlé’s greatest contribution to mankind’s health, however, has to be their export of Hot Pockets to the planet’s far-flung countries.

The world is dripping in Nestlé’s foods and beverage like some protoplasmic virus, but that is not enough for Nestlé. What is even more startling than the breadth of their products, is that the invasive tentacles of a multinational corporation like Nestlé is allowed to pump water in high volume from states and municipalities nationwide. That they are allowed to prey on rural communities and use their considerable financial and logistical resources to beat them into submission.

In July of 2010, Nestlé was given the go-ahead to begin pumping water from the Arkansas River to be bottled at a Denver plant and sold under their Arrowhead Springs label. They spent years buying up the land around the river’s spring and finally did enough politicking with the Chaffee Board of Commissioners and the Aurora City Council to get the bottling rights.

The nearby watershed and wetlands might be negatively effected in the surrounding areas, but that hardly matters to Nestlé, which saw huge dollar signs in the opprotunity to sell water to the dry Rocky Mountain West region.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the Nestlé Corporation is running into resistance in Cascade Locks, Oregon, where they hoped to tap a spring and siphon off 100 million gallons of water annually. Nestlé claims that municipal water can replace the tapped spring water and not cause harm to a nearby hatchery of endangered fish.

To that end, Nestlé has built a 1,700 gallon tank to test their theory, and it’s under lock and surveillance because Nestlé believes environmentalists might sabotage the facility.

In the Mount Shasta region of Northern California (supposed home of the subterranean Lemurians), the residents of McCloud battled Nestlé for six long years over the water rights to their region. Nestlé negotiated a sweetheart deal with the McCloud Services District in 2003.

According to Corporate Accountability International, the initial deal gave “Nestlé Waters North America… the town’s water for 50 years…with an option for 50 more.” The 1,300 residents of McCloud only had a few days to review the proposal and were unable to vote. All that Nestlé had to do was convince the five-member McCloud Community Service District board, thus bypassing the will of the people.

Nestlé pressured the board by threatening to take the offer off the table if the contract wasn’t signed quickly. The CAI also noted a revelation that “the Service District board’s legal representation during contract ‘negotiations’ with Nestlé consisted of an attorney paid for by Nestlé.”

McCloud residents later learned that Nestlé would pay 6/100 of the price of a gallon of water, and retail it for about the price of a gallon of gasoline. This, coupled with the other revelations, sent residents into a fury. Citizens formed the McCloud Watershed Council and had an independent analysis of Nestlé’s proposed plan, which proved there would be severe economic and environmental repercussions.

A court ruling allowed the Service District board to terminate the contract upon a state environmental review, which was the death knell to Nestlé’s assault on McCloud. They eventually withdrew from the village and opened a facility in Sacremento instead. (More politicians and bureaucrats to massage, you dig?)

In Fryeburg, Maine, Nestlé claimed it’s ability to grow market share and meet demand superceded the right of control held by the town of Fryeburg. In Mecosta, Michigan, Nestlé did so much damage to the local watershed from excessive tapping, that a judge ordered them to cease pumping. They responded by working out a deal by which they would halve their pumping rate. These are just a few of the well-known examples of Nestle’s actions in the bottled water industry.

The technique Nestlé uses is this: Find an economically weak region, buy up the land surrounding the water source and grease the political wheels by making a proposal the residents can’t possibly refuse. How can depressed regions resist new jobs and added local revenue? But, the revenue generated by these regions natural resource by and large goes to a corporation headquartered in Lake Geneva, Switzerland. And if the financial incentives aren’t enough to assuage concerned citizens, they’re more than happy to battle it out in court.

In a world with exponential population growth and the need to deliver precious water to humans who so desperately need it, whoever possesses the source of water will possess power.

Nestlé, and other mutli-national corporations like it, need to be stopped from buying up water rights across America and the globe.

11 Cute Costumes For Corporate Giants (Sell-out-itosis)

By Jason Notte 10/15/10 The Street

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- How does a big, scary corporation make itself look gentler to a nervous populace? By buying and putting on a mask.

Sometimes it's hard being a multinational corporation. Competitors are always gunning for you, regulators henpeck you about your every move and those underfed little activists think you're out to turn the world into a Dumpster and grind the mountains into your private parking lot. Sometimes you just want to hide out and remind people what they liked about you in the first place -- what good thing made you into the big bad creature that you are.

This is why Starbucks(SBUX_) lovers chuckle a little bit when friends say they prefer Seattle's Best -- which Starbucks bought in 2003. This is why Bud drinkers don't get too upset with beer snobs who sneer at them from behind pints of Boddington's or Bass -- which Bud maker Anheuser-Busch Inbev(BUD_) also owns. It's why someone who offers a coworker a Life-Savers mint and is rebuffed in favor of another coworker with a can of Altoids can hold their head high, as their halitosis-stricken workmate just turned down one Mars mint for another.

With Halloween little more than two weeks away, TheStreet took a quick stroll among the retail shelves and found 11 big bad companies hiding in the cutest little costumes. As is the case with most store-bought Halloween disguises, some do a better job of hiding one's identity than others:
Costume: Tom's of Maine 
Company: Colgate-Palmolive(CL_)
For starters: Yep, Colgate-Palmolive makes vegan toothpaste. The bucolic back story features Tom and Kate Chappell starting up Tom's in Kennebunk, Maine, in 1970 with $5,000 in seed money. They made toothpaste, soap and deodorant without animal testing and without animal product. They also took $100 million from Colgate-Palmolive for an 84% stake in the company, but kept the remaining 16% to ensure the products and formulas would remain intact. The Chappells get a nest egg and their integrity, Colgate-Palmolive gets to put some polish on its environmental image. Consumers seem none the wiser.

Costume: Kashi
Company: Kellogg(K_)
Ah, Kashi. Back in 1984, the company wanted to change the world -- or at least the American diet -- through the power of whole grain and seeds. Its seven whole grains and sesame became a status symbol for self-aware but easily stereotyped consumers across the country. By the end of the millennium, however, even the big boys wanted a piece of the "natural foods" movement that the La Jolla, Calif.-based company was selling. Kellogg bought Kashi in 2000 and, while Kashi remains "independently operated" -- meaning it's really hard to find a reference to Kellogg on its boxes -- it's still fun to picture Tony the Tiger yelling "They'rrre grains!" or the look on Toucan Sam's face when his nose takes a wrong turn into the sesame silo.

Costume: Nantucket Nectars
Company: Dr. Pepper Snapple Group(DPS_)
One day back in 1990, a couple of guys named Tom (First and Scott) who'd graduated from Brown University the year before went down to Nantucket, Mass., and opened a floating convenience store called Allserve. They started mixing juice in a blender and, in seven years, expanded their business from a few flavors to a $30 million enterprise. The take was up to close to $60 million by 2002,when Cadbury Schweppes backed a truckload of cash up to the door opened by the Toms and the Ocean Spray collective. The brand ended up in the hands of Dr. Pepper Snapple Group years later and, while the Toms' Juice Guys Juice Bar still stands on Nantucket and their voices still grace the product's commercials, the drinks and their organic counterparts are now brewed and bottled in containers similar to Snapple's at the Snapple facility in Rye Brook, N.Y. While that's little more than 250 miles away from its place of birth, Nantucket Nectars is far removed from its humble roots.

Costume: Stonyfield Farms
Company: Groupe Danone
Roughly 27 years ago, Stonyfield Farm was just a little organic farming school in Wilton, N.H. In 2001, Groupe Danone -- makers of the Dannon yougurt and Evian water brands -- bought 40% of the company. That stake was kicked up to 85% in 2003, but the company maintained its healthy organic image by donating a 10th of its proceeds to environmental causes and maintaining a pesticide-free 130,000 acres of family farmland across America. The company's packaging, website and mission still screams down-home organic, but some of the company's recent stumbles resemble those of a multinational. In 2008, Stonyfield voluntarily recalled several batches of blueberry yogurt after consumers complained about finding plastic and glass bits in the mix. Last year, the company recalled containers of its plain yogurt because it could contain food-grade sanitizer.

Costume: Schwinn
Company: Dorel Industries
Once a successful, iconic American bicycle brand, Schwinn doesn't have one model manufactured in the U.S. After declaring bankruptcy in 2001, Schwinn was sold to Pacific Cycle. Pacific, in turn, was bought by Dorel Industries, a Canadian company that also makes furniture and baby products. The Schwinn bikes consumers see today at Wal-Mart(WMT_), Target(TGT_), the Sports Authority and elsewhere are built in Taiwan and China and have little in common with the company's history -- besides a nameplate.

Costume: Ben & Jerry's:
Company: Unilever(UL_)
Every once in a while, the nation gets a reminder that Ben & Jerry's isn't a funky, freewheeling ice cream company from Vermont, but a small cog in a very big system. The last clue came in September, when Ben & Jerry's vowed to stop referring to its ice cream and frozen yogurt as all-natural when the Center for Science in the Public Interest found corn syrup and other less-than-natural ingredients in its Cherry Garcia and Chunky Monkey, among other varieties. It's been nearly 10 years since Unilever bought up shares of the company and effectively supplanted Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, and while moves to make the brand more eco-friendly and continued commitment to flavors such as the Barack Obama-themed "Yes Pecan" and the gay marriage-supporting "Hubby Hubby" keep the brand rooted, Unilever still casts a cold shadow over the ice cream icon every once in a while.

Costume: Stowe Mountain Resort
Company: AIG(AIG_)
What, surprised another big company can hide out in Vermont? If U.S. taxpayers ever feel like they're not getting enough out of the $47.5 billion it paid to get AIG out of the mess it created by churning out credit default swaps, they should just head up to lovely Mount Mansfield in Stowe, Vt., to reap the benefits of the AIG-owned resort's recent $400 million overhaul. (Technically the resort is owned by an AIG spinoff that is, itself, owned by AIG.) There's skiing, snowboarding, shopping, dog sled tours, a spa, a performing arts center and more, with lift tickets starting at $71 for latecomers and topping out at $655 for 10 days of mountain trails and moguls. Is it worth it? It should be, considering the ownership. Fewer companies know more about going downhill fast than AIG.

Costumes: Zappos and
Company: Amazon(AMZN_)
If it's sometimes hard to put the two together, it's because Zappos hasn't really changed much since Amazon bought it out of its financial troubles for $1.2 billion last year. Amazon seems to like Zappos just the way it is. With free shipping to and fro, a yearlong return policy and a 24-hour call center, what's not to love? Don't go changing, Zappos.
If it's hard sometimes to remember Amazon started out by selling books, you can start by remembering how long ago it started selling videos and DVDS: 1998. That's also when it happened to buy the Internet Movie Database, or, the Web's premier spot for tracking the careers of everyone from Johnny Depp (appeared as Glen Lantz in A Nightmare on Elm Street in 1984) to Ray Garcia (key grip on Inception). The site, which is just about to turn 20, is a model for other sites (there's an Internet Broadway Database too) and now hosts original content, lots of streaming clips and plenty of ads for Amazon -- and itself owns two movie-related sites, Withoutabox and Box Office Mojo.

Costumes: Red Hook, Widmer, Goose Island and Kona
Company: Anheuser-Busch InBev
"Whoa, whoa, whoa, Anheuser-Busch doesn't own the Craft Brewers Alliance(HOOK_)!" Settle down, beer nerds, we're well aware that Anheuser-Busch InBev only has a 35% stake in the operation and the Craft Brewers Alliance pays A-B InBev a fee for distribution. That said, that's an extremely helpful arrangement for the Alliance, especially considering that A-B InBev just cut its fee by 30% this year so the Alliance can invest the difference into marketing its brands. There's been speculation that A-B InBev may just buy the Alliance outright, with craft beer sales growing 10.3% last year amid a 2.2% drop in overall U.S. beer sales, according to the Brewers Association. Yet while Red Hook, Widmer, Goose Island and Kona stay independent and retain their local ties, they're still being brought to the bar and the liquor store in Bud trucks.

Costumes: Old Style, Rainier, Ballantine, Stroh's, Schlitz, Lone Star, Olympia, Old Milwaukee, Schaefer, Piel's
Company: Pabst (with a big assist from MolsonCoors(TAP_))
Yes, Pabst was just sold to food investor C. Dean Metropolous for $250 million this summer, but Metropolous won't be getting a brewery as part of that purchase. He'll be getting the portfolio of brands bought over the years by the Kalmanovitz Charitable Foundation. Who's brewing those brands today? Miller. It's under contract, so when Schlitz reverted to its old formula last year, Miller just followed the instructions. Nevertheless, Schlitz is technically a Miller product, as are all of the above brands and an expansive collection of malt liquors. It's little wonder Miller High Life has mounted a challenge to Pabst Blue Ribbon for the hipster beer throne, considering they were both raised from the same stock.

Costume: Diaspora
Company: Facebook
If Diaspora ever becomes the next Facebook, it'll have Facebook to thank. Still under development, the project is the brainchild of four students from New York University who wanted to create an open-source Web server that would allow users greater control over information and content -- in other words, more of the privacy users felt had been violated by Facebook. An April announcement on fundraising site Kickstarter collected $200,000 from more than 6,000 donors ... including Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, who thought it was a "cool idea." The group's multimedia sharing, Voice over Internet Protocol and instant-messaging platform went live less than a month ago, so any judgment should be reserved for Diaspora's first controversy.

How propaganda is disseminated: WikiLeaks Edition


This is how the U.S. government and American media jointly disseminate propaganda: in the immediate wake of some newsworthy War on Terror event, U.S. Government officials (usually anonymous) make wild and reckless -- though unverifiable -- claims. The U.S. media mindlessly trumpets them around the world without question or challenge. Those claims become consecrated as widely accepted fact. And then weeks, months or years later, those claims get quietly exposed as being utter falsehoods, by which point it does not matter, because the goal is already well-achieved: the falsehoods are ingrained as accepted truth.

I've documented how this process works in the context of American air attacks (it's immediately celebrated that we Killed the Evil Targeted Terrorist Leader [who invariably turns out to be alive and then allegedly killed again in the next air strike], while the dead are always, by definition, "militants"); with covered-up American war crimes, with the Jessica Lynch and Pat Tillman frauds -- the same process was also evident with the Israeli attack on the flotilla -- and now we find a quite vivid illustration of this deceitful process in the context of WikiLeaks' release of Afghanistan war documents:

CNN, July 29, 2010:
Top military official: WikiLeaks founder may have 'blood' on his hands

The top U.S. military officer said Thursday that Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, was risking lives to make a political point by publishing thousands of military reports from Afghanistan.

"Mr. Assange can say whatever he likes about the greater good he thinks he and his source are doing, but the truth is they might already have on their hands the blood of some young soldier or that of an Afghan family," Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at a news conference at the Pentagon. . . .

In equally stern comments and at the same session, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said the massive leak will have significant impact on troops and allies, giving away techniques and procedures.

"The battlefield consequences of the release of these documents are potentially severe and dangerous for our troops, our allies and Afghan partners, and may well damage our relationships and reputation in that key part of the world," Gates said. "Intelligence sources and methods, as well as military tactics, techniques and procedures will become known to our adversaries."
The Guardian, July 26, 2010:
The White House today condemned whistleblower WikiLeaks, accusing the website of putting the lives of US, UK and coalition troops in danger and threatening America's national security of the US after it posted more than 90,000 leaked US military documents about the war in Afghanistan.
Sen. Carl Levin, CNN, August 1, 2010:
CANDY CROWLEY: I want to turn you to WikiLeaks, which also comes under your bailiwick to a certain extent. Some 90,000 documents with secret information or top secret information. Can you quantify the damage?

LEVIN: Not yet. I think that's being assessed right now as to how many sources of information that gave us information that was useful to us are now in jeopardy. That -- that determination and damage assessment is being made right now by the Pentagon.But there quite clearly was damage.
DoD Spokesman Geoff Morrell, August 5, 2010:
WikiLeaks's public disclosure last week of a large number of our documents has already threatened the safety of our troops, our allies and Afghan citizens who are working with us to help bring about peace and stability in that part of the world.
The Heritage Foundation's Conn Carroll, August 24, 2010:
Julian Assanage -- you know, molesting charges aside -- is a criminal. He broke the law.He is, you know, a murderer of American and Afghani people. His carelessness has killed people.
Steven Aftergood, self-proclaimed transparency advocate and leading WikiLeaks critic, August 16, 2010:
Wikileaks has failed to demonstrate similar discernment in handling classified records, and it will be up to others to try to repair the damage it has caused.
Liz Cheney, August 2, 2010:
Dick Cheney's daughter, Liz Cheney wants the government of Iceland to stop its Wikileaks support. . . . "Our Government should make sure that Mr. Assange, Wikileaks founder and spokesman, never gets a U.S. Visa -- He has blood on his hands," Liz Cheney said.

She didn't stop there. She went on to say: "What he's done is very clearly aiding and abetting al Qaeda. And as I said, he may very well be responsible for the deaths of American soldiers in Afghanistan," she concluded.
Newt Gingrich, Newsmax interview, July 31, 2010:
Q: What does that do the Afghanistan war effort, and how does that put our men and women at risk?
GINGRICH: The release of these documents should be regarded as an act of treason. When you release 70 or 80,000 documents, you don't know how many people you're going to kill . . . . Frankly, I think we should be very aggressive about the website that was set up, WikiLeaks, and I think we should be very, very strong on the condemnation of the newspapers that published them.
Paul Rieckhoff, August 2, 2010:
At the end of the day I think Admiral Mullen is right. I think Julian Assange and WikiLeaks already probably have blood on their hands.
CNN, today:
The online leak of thousands of secret military documents from the war in Afghanistan by the website WikiLeaks did not disclose any sensitive intelligence sources or methods, the Department of Defense concluded. . . .
The assessment, revealed in a letter from Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to the Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sen. Carl Levin (D-Michigan), comes after a thorough Pentagon review of the more than 70,000 documents posted to the controversial whistle-blower site in July. . . .
The defense secretary said that the published documents do contain names of some cooperating Afghans, who could face reprisal by Taliban.

But a senior NATO official in Kabul told CNN that there has not been a single case of Afghans needing protection or to be moved because of the leak.

Let's repeat that. Despite Gates' ongoing assertion that "the initial assessment in no way discounts the risk to national security" and that "there is still concern Afghans named in the published documents could be retaliated against by the Taliban," even the DoD and NATO admit that the WikiLeaks release "did not disclose any sensitive intelligence sources or methods" and that "there has not been a single case of Afghans needing protection or to be moved because of the leak. "Nonetheless, the accusation that WikiLeaks and Assange have "blood on their hands" was -- as intended -- trumpeted around the world for weekswithout much question or challenge.

It's been clear from the start that -- despite the valid concern that WikiLeaks should have been more vigilant in redacting the names of innocent Afghan civilians -- the Pentagon (and its media and pundit servants) were drastically exaggerating the harms, as The Associated Press noted on August 17:

The WikiLeaks leak is unrivaled in its scope, but so far there is no evidence that any Afghans named in the leaked documents as defectors or informants from the Taliban insurgency have been harmed in retaliation.

Some private analysts, in fact, think the danger has been overstated. "I am underwhelmed by this argument. The Pentagon is hyping," says John Prados, a military and intelligence historian who works for the anti-secrecy National Security Archive. He said in an interview that relatively few names have surfaced and it's not clear whether their present circumstances leave them in jeopardy.

And on August 11, even the DOD was forced to admit to The Washington Post the complete absence of any evidence to support its wild accusations: 
"'We have yet to see any harm come to anyone in Afghanistan that we can directly tie to exposure in the WikiLeaks documents,' [Pentagon spokesman Geoff] Morrell said." 
Nonetheless, the initial spate of hysterically accusatory rhetoric, combined with the uncritical media dissemination, poisoned public opinion about WikiLeaks, and the fact that those accusations have been subsequently revealed as baseless will receive little attention and undo none of that deceit-based damage.

The benefits to the Government from spewing baseless accusations against WikiLeaks are obvious: they inure the public to the thuggish steps being taken to cripple and otherwise intimidate the whistleblowing site from exposing more government secrets about the truth of our wars. WikiLeaks' American spokesman, Jacob Appelbaum, was detained for hours at the airport when entering the U.S. in August, had his property seized (his laptop and cellphones), and was threatened with similar treatment each time he re-enters the U.S., and the following day was interrogated by FBI agents at a conference at which he spoke in New York. This week, WikiLeaks was notified that the service it uses to collect online donations "had closed down its account because it had been put on an official US watchlist and on an Australian government blacklist." And, of course, both the organization itself and Julian Assange have been repeatedly and publicly threatened with prosecution.

The effort to smear WikiLeaks is a by-product not only of anger over past disclosures, but fear of future ones as well. As CBS News reported yesterday
"The Pentagon is bracing for the possible release of as many as 400,000 potentially explosive secret military documents on the U.S.-Iraq war by WikiLeaks. The self-described whistleblower website could release the files as early as Sunday. . . . part of the fear about the potential release is the unknown: Defense officials are not sure exactly what documents WikiLeaks has."
Whatever else is true about this latest release (and future leaks by WikiLeaks as well), substantially greater caution is obviously warranted when assessing and repeating Pentagon accusations about the damage caused by these new documents and the supposed recklessness of WikiLeaks in releasing them. But that is unlikely to happen. If our established media is governed by any overarching principle, it's this: when the U.S. military speaks, its pronouncements -- especially in the beginning -- are to be respected, believed and repeated without question or challenge no matter how many times that deference proves to be unwarranted.

* * * * *

In order to combat the Obama supporter claim that his failures are due to an obstructionist Congress, Jane Hamsher has been asking various people to identify steps which Obama could take now to address various problems that require no action from Congress. My response is here; Alan Grayson's is here; James Galbraith's is here; Bill Black's is here.


by Tom Blanton of Richmond, Virginia

Throughout human history people have often made incredibly bad choices when choosing their leaders. It seems there exists in human nature the desire to be ruled by infallible god-like beings. The modern day professional politician is aware of this and every attempt is made to create the perception of infallibility.

It should be no surprise that narcissistic sociopaths are attracted to the great power that political office holders possess in the modern super-state. In fact, it is the sociopath that is most able to create the perception of being god-like. No lie is too big and no Machiavellian deception is too unscrupulous for the professional politician.

The concept of citizen legislators in America is long forgotten and the modern voter shows little of the skepticism that past generations had when confronted by silver-tongued snake oil salesmen. Today, voters not only accept without skepticism professional politicians that appear to be perfect, they insist on voting for these professional politicians.

It is no mistake that most professional politicians all look similar. Political consultants have made a science out of determining what the majority of voters want. Generally, the professional politician always wears a suit and tie. Of course, the suit is not an ordinary suit that one might wear to a funeral or wedding.

The politician's suit must be specially tailored and made of the finest material. The suits are generally dark and the silk tie must be of a simple design and only a certain range of colors is acceptable. The only deviation from the suit and tie is the occasional event where nobody in attendance will be wearing a suit. Then, the politician dresses down to show people (especially southerners) that he is just plain folk - just like them.

The professional politician rarely, if ever, has any facial hair. Often it appears that all facial hair has been removed by electrolysis. Blemishes are covered by makeup and unsightly moles or warts are removed by surgery. The professional politician's hair often appears to be a plastic wig molded in a manner that best compliments the politician's waxy facial features.

Fashion consultants and beauticians are indispensable to the professional politician. Voters refuse to accept a candidate that looks like an ordinary person. At a time when fewer and fewer people wear suits and ties, it is odd that people expect politicians to wear the costume of the least trusted people in society - lawyers, insurance salesmen and television news readers.

The consummate professional politician must also have the ability to smile. Political consultants have learned that a majority of voters want to see a smiling face. Even if a candidate's smile appears to be a cynical smirk or a hideous grimace, the candidate must smile. It would seem that voters might be suspicious of a person who is smiling when there is no reason to smile, but focus groups have apparently determined that a candidate must smile even when discussing grave issues.

The modern candidate must not only be obsessed by appearance, he must also have the ability to be deceptive. This is the area in which the sociopath truly excels. In addition to providing voters with vague platitudes and jingoistic rhetoric, the professional politician must be able to evade questions, promise the impossible and lie without remorse - all while smiling.

Many professional politicians preface nearly every remark with the phrase: "let me say this". The televised performance of the robotic political mannequin portrayed by the modern politician often consists of a forum where an entertainer posing as serious journalist appears with the politician.

The person playing the role of the journalist will often appear to be much like the politician - suit, tie, perfect hairdo, and unblemished skin. The journalist can be counted on to ask the professional politician questions that are often preselected by agreement.

The politician will usually thank the journalist for asking a question. The politician then responds by saying, "let me say this". Of course, the journalist lets him say whatever he wants without further questions. The politician will then rephrase the question and respond in an evasive manner.

The professional politician seeks to give an answer that can be interpreted in more than one way. He wants to please those who already support him while not saying anything that any opponents could use against him. Statements must be vague enough to allow the candidate wiggle room in the future should he change his message to reflect public opinion.

The best statements will include a slogan that everyone can agree with and even the most ignorant voter will understand and remember. The slogan is often a carefully crafted sound-bite written by a committee of political consultants.

Despite making voters feel good about a candidate, abstractions such as truth, justice and liberty do not motivate voters. They are motivated by fear, hatred and greed. Above all else, the professional politician knows what motivates voters. They spend thousands of dollars polling voters to find out what they want to hear and what will motivate them to vote a certain way.

Professional politicians can only be distinguished by the rhetoric they use to preach fear, hatred and greed to their supporters. They seek to appeal the the basest instincts of the voters and they use every opportunity to exploit the emotions of the voters.

It is no wonder that corrupt sociopaths seek public office and are the best at winning these offices. They are the only ones vile enough to cynically manipulate people to achieve their own goal: power.

Experts report swine flu jab 'may cause' deadly nerve disease

By Jo Macfarlane - 16th October 2010 - The Daily Mail UK

Health chiefs have for the first time acknowledged that the swine flu jab may be linked to an increased risk of developing a deadly nerve condition.

Experts are examining a pos sible association between the controversial jab and Guillain-Barre Syndrome, according to a report from official watchdog the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

Previously, the Government has always stressed there is no evidence to link the paralysing condition to the H1N1 vaccine.

After The Mail on Sunday revealed in August 2009 that doctors were being asked to monitor cases of GBS during the swine flu pandemic, a letter from the Health Protection Agency’s chief executive Justin McCracken stated: ‘There is no evidence to suggest an increased risk of GBS from the vaccines being developed to fight the current pandemic.’

Now the MHRA’s newly published report suggests the Government’s position has changed.

It says: ‘Given the uncer tainties in the available information and as with seasonal flu vaccines, a slightly elevated risk of GBS following H1N1 vaccines cannot be ruled out. Epidemiological studies are ongoing to further assess this possible association.’

It is not known precisely what causes GBS but the condition attacks the lining of the nerves, leaving them unable to transmit signals to muscles effectively.

It can cause partial paralysis and mostly affects the hands and feet – but it can be fatal.

Mother-of-two Hilary Wilkinson, 58, from Maryport, Cumbria, developed GBS following a chest infection and spent three months in hospital learning to walk and talk again.

She said: ‘It’s a frightening illness and I think more research needs to be done on the effect of the swine flu vaccine.’

A vaccine used to combat a different form of swine flu in the US in 1976 led to 25 deaths from the condition, compared with just one death from swine flu itself.

Amid fears there could be a repeat, neurologists were asked to record cases of GBS in the UK swine flu outbreak. Millions of people this year will be exposed to the swine flu vaccine as it has been included within the seasonal flu jab.

Government experts say there is no evidence of an increase in risk similar to 1976, but the MHRA report reveals they are calculating if there might be a smaller raised risk.

The MHRA had 15 suspected GBS cases after vaccination – and six million doses of the swine flu jab Pandemrix were given. It is not known if swine flu or the vaccine could have caused the suspected cases.

A spokeswoman for the MHRA said the risk with the vaccine had not changed and that the report ‘simply expands’ on ongoing GBS analysis.

Facebook apps transmitted personal info to Advertisers

Newspaper report: Facebook apps transmitted personal information to tracking companies
By The Associated Press
Monday, October 18th, 2010

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that 10 popular Facebook applications have been transmitting users' personal identifying information to dozens of advertising and Internet tracking companies (link).

The newspaper said Monday that the breach also includes users who set all their information to be completely private. And in some cases, it says, the apps provided access to friends' names. Wrote The Journal:
Many of the most popular applications, or "apps," on the social-networking site Facebook Inc. have been transmitting identifying information—in effect, providing access to people's names and, in some cases, their friends' names—to dozens of advertising and Internet tracking companies, a Wall Street Journal investigation has found. 
The issue affects tens of millions of Facebook app users, including people who set their profiles to Facebook's strictest privacy settings. The practice breaks Facebook's rules, and renews questions about its ability to keep identifiable information about its users' activities secure.
"A Facebook user ID may be inadvertently shared by a user's Internet browser or by an application," a Facebook spokesman told the paper. Such knowledge "does not permit access to anyone's private information on Facebook."

"Our technical systems have always been complemented by strong policy enforcement, and we will continue to rely on both to keep people in control of their information," the Facebook official added.

A Facebook spokesman told the Journal on Sunday that the company would introduce new technology to contain the breach. It's not clear how long the breach went on.

The paper says Facebook also has taken immediate action to disable all applications that violated their terms.

Most apps are made by independent software companies, not by Facebook.

US slips to 49th in life expectancy

By Sahil Kapur - Monday, October 18th, 2010

The United States currently ranks 49th in the world in overall life expectancy, according to a study published in the academic journal Health Affairs, slipping dramatically during the last decade.

"As of September 23, 2010, the United States ranked forty-ninth for both male and female life expectancy combined," concludes the study, conducted by Columbia University health policy professors Peter A. Muennig and Sherry A. Glied, which will appear in the November edition of the influential peer-reviewed journal.

The noteworthy decline is highlighted by the fact that in 1999, the World Health Organization ranked the US as 24th in the world in the same category, life expectancy.

The report by Muenning and Glied found the prime culprit of the plunge to be America’s deteriorating health care system, marred by ever-rising costs and growing numbers of uninsured and under-insured individuals.

Noting that the United States spends over twice as much per capita on health care than other industrialized nations, it adds: "The observation that Americans are spending relatively more on health but living relatively shorter, less healthy lives has led some critics to allege that the US health care system is 'uniquely inefficient.'"

The findings present a stark contrast to the claim – today an article of faith in the American conservative movement – that the United States has the best health care system in the world.

The United States, as is widely known, remains the only advanced democracy without a universal health care program. But sweeping reform legislation enacted by this March, while limited in its capacity for cost controls, offers a significant step towards universality – it is projected by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office to insure 94 percent of Americans in ten years, up from 83 percent today.

The authors of the report also posited that high rates of obesity, smoking, homicides and traffic fatalities may have contributed to the decline.

The study was flagged by a Daily Kos blogger and elevated by Glenn Greenwald of Salon. Apart from coverage in some blogs, medical journals, and an article by Reuters, it received scant attention in the mainstream US press.

Big Food's Blame Game

To distract us from the facts, the fast food industry and its defenders blame parents for the rising child obesity rate.
by Leslie Samuelrich - Monday, October 18, 2010 by OtherWords

Corporations spend hundreds of millions of dollars each year marketing a dangerous product to America's children.

No one disputes the danger of the product. No one disputes that the marketing successfully convinces millions of kids to use the product.
Yet these same corporations deny that they're endangering our children. Instead, they're blaming parents. It's mom's fault. Or dad's.

How could this be? If the product were a gun, or drugs, or even a poorly designed toy that could injure a child, the corporation responsible for making it and then marketing it to the most vulnerable among us would be on the hook.

Yet since the product I'm talking about is unhealthy food, corporations expect us to apply a different standard. They want us to blame the victim, or at least the people who love the victim the most.

In the past 30 years, U.S. obesity rates have tripled among children between 12 and 19 years old. A third of children today are now officially overweight or obese. Consequently, these children are more likely to suffer from diseases once limited to grownups, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and Type II diabetes.

Sick children often grow up to be sick adults--and we all pay. Obesity is costing our country $147 billion per year, according to government-sponsored research. As a group of retired military leaders pointed out earlier this year, the crisis even undermines our national security: Being overweight is the top reason military recruits are rejected.

In this context, calls for limiting fast food marketing to children are modest. Such initiatives don't call for banning fast food; they're simply an effort to level the playing field. Each year, McDonald's and its competitors move more than a billion unhealthy meals to kids under the age of 12, primarily on the wings of toy giveaways in its Happy Meals.

As it stands now, the fight is hardly fair. Messages from nonprofits and government agencies to promote healthy eating habits for kids are overwhelmed by the flood of advertising for Chicken McNuggets, Coke, Cocoa Puffs, and other things they shouldn't eat or drink.

Consider this: The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation spends $100 million a year to reverse child obesity trends--and that's the single largest effort of its type in history. In contrast, the Federal Trade Commission estimates major food and beverage corporations spend at least $1.6 billion in the United States every year--16 times more--to convince kids to eat unhealthy food. They augment traditional advertising with crafty public relations stunts, such as Ronald McDonald appearances at schools and children's hospitals.

Young children are exceptionally receptive to what they're hearing and seeing because they lack the maturity to separate reality from marketing. That's why the American Academy of Pediatrics says that "advertising directed toward children is inherently deceptive and exploits children under eight years of age."

But corporations resist reform. They know that children under 13 years old command $40 to $50 billion in direct purchasing power, and influence another $670 billion in family purchases each year.

To distract us from these facts, the fast food industry and its defenders blame parents. But the truth is simpler, revealed by the faith corporations place in their multi-million dollar marketing campaigns. Targeting children, they know, pays.

So the next time you hear moms and dads singled out for the epidemic of diet-related disease facing our country's children, follow the money.

Independent Groups Set Record Pace for Outside Spending in a Midterm Election

by Evan Mackinder - Sunday, October 17, 2010 by OpenSecrets Blog

Ideological groups, business associations and unions have set a record pace for outside spending in a midterm election cycle, according to a fresh analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics.

As of today, these independent groups combined have spent more than $167 million on independent expenditures, electioneering communications and internal communications.

That's up 367 percent from the $35.7 million spent at this point during the 2006 election -- the previous record for a midterm cycle. Such spending still does not match the amount tallied during the 2008 presidential election cycle, however, which set a high water mark of $220.4 million as of mid-October 2008.

And the money keeps on coming.

Just Thursday, the Center reported that these groups had reached the $153.4 million mark. In other words: Outside spending by independent groups has jumped $13.6 million in about 24 hours.

Furthermore, the $167 million figure does not account for spending by party committees. When added together, combined outside spending by independent groups and party committees reaches a staggering $247.6 million -- also a record-setting pace for this point in a midterm election cycle.


Foreclosure Fraud: Wall Street Cheats the Middle Class Again

Once again the big Wall Street banks are wreaking havoc with our economy in order to come away with outlandish profits at the expense of poor and middle-class people.

By Mike Lux, AlterNet
Posted on October 17, 2010, Printed on October 18, 2010
I was heartened to see a group of Democratic Senators write this great letter to Ben Bernanke and administration officials on the foreclosure fraud issue. They came out strongly for several important things regarding homeowners' rights, and they framed the issue perfectly: this is not some minor technical problem regarding some mislaid paperwork in a few cases, this is fraud by bankers on a massive scale. Along with this letter, check out this great op-ed by Sen. Whitehouse on the subject. 

Once again, in keeping with the pattern Digby first reported:
this is all Democrats doing the right thing, and not a single Republican lifting a finger to help. Another bit of great news: Elizabeth Warren echoed the Senator's message, calling the foreclosure issue "big and serious". This puts the administration clearly on the side of the idea that this problem isn't just a minor paperwork hassle, and that it matters a lot.
This foreclosure fraud issue is yet another domino falling, where once again the big Wall Street banks are wreaking havoc with our economy in order to come away with outlandish profits at the expense of poor and middle-class people. These huge banks are so powerful both politically and economically that they haven't worried about playing by the rules and following the law. Their thinking is that because they are too big to fail, and too influential in Washington, they can just get Washington to change the rules as they go along and bail them out whenever needed. They were shocked that their sneak attack at changing the mortgage rules got exposed by progressives and vetoed by the President, but they almost certainly still assume they can eventually get the rules changed to save them from their own fraud one more time.

This issue is example number one on why progressives need to remain focused on cleaning up Washington and standing up to the special interests who still act like they own the place. And our message has been getting through. Check out this striking new poll from
• An overwhelming 84% of voters polled, including 80% of Republicans and 81% of Independents, believe voters have a right to know who is paying for ads for a particular candidate.
• Fifty-six percent of voters overall (including 53% of Independents) are less likely to vote for a candidate if they know the ads supporting that candidate are paid for by anonymous corporations and wealthy donors.
• Forty-seven percent of all voters are more likely to support a candidate who insists that voters have a right to know who is paying for ads, with only 9% of total voters saying they are less likely to support a candidate who holds that position.
• Almost two out of three voters (63%) do not believe that the anonymous groups running ads hold the voters' best interest in mind. This belief is held by 65% of Independent and 70% of Democratic voters.
• A straight majority of total voters (53%) are less likely to trust a candidate to improve economic conditions if that candidate is supported by anonymous groups.
Those are very big, very dramatic numbers. People want to know who is behind these ads, and they want to kick the special interests off their throne of power. This message of changing and cleaning up Washington, challenging big corporate interests, and standing up to the banks on behalf of the middle class has the chance to come through in spite of the swarm of corporate money flowing into attack ads.

Whatever happens in the elections, this foreclosure crisis is ugly, and the economic dominoes that could fall as a result should scare all of us. It may well be that this fragile economy gets pushed into another crisis. The question then will be do we again arrange some kind of backroom sweetheart deal for the big banks that got us into this mess, or do we go the opposite direction, and save the economy by helping middle class homeowners first. If the bankers still "own the place" in Dick Durbin's famous words, we will get screwed again. If voters say no to these secretive special interest ads, and elect some more good down home Democratic populists like the Senators who wrote this letter, we might just win this round.

How to Create an Angry American

Only Fundamental Change Can Save Us

The Greatest Threat to Humanity
Quite simply, human-centered governance systems are not working and we need new economic, development and environmental policies.
By Maude Barlow, On the Commons
Posted on October 18, 2010

Maude Barlow gave this stirring plenary speech, full of hope even in the face of ecological disasters, to the Environmental Grantmakers Association annual retreat in Pacific Grove, California. Barlow, a former UN Senior Water Advisor, is National Chairperson of the Council of Canadians and founder of the Blue Planet Project. Barlow is a contributor to AlterNet's forth-coming book Water Matters: Why We Need to Act Now to Save Our Most Critical Resource.

We all know that the earth and all upon it face a growing crisis. Global climate change is rapidly advancing, melting glaciers, eroding soil, causing freak and increasingly wild storms, and displacing untold millions from rural communities to live in desperate poverty in peri-urban slums. Almost every human victim lives in the global South, in communities not responsible for greenhouse gas emissions. The atmosphere has already warmed up almost a full degree in the last several decades and a new Canadian study reports that we may be on course to add another 6 degrees Celsius (10.8 degrees Fahrenheit) by 2100.

Half the tropical forests in the world – the lungs of our ecosystems – are gone; by 2030, at the current rate of harvest, only 10% will be left standing. Ninety percent of the big fish in the sea are gone, victim to wanton predatory fishing practices. Says a prominent scientist studying their demise “there is no blue frontier left.” Half the world’s wetlands – the kidneys of our ecosystems – were destroyed in the 20th century. Species extinction is taking place at a rate one thousand times greater than before humans existed. According to a Smithsonian scientist, we are headed toward a “biodiversity deficit” in which species and ecosystems will be destroyed at a rate faster than Nature can create new ones.

We are polluting our lakes, rivers and streams to death. Every day, 2 million tons of sewage and industrial and agricultural waste are discharged into the world’s water, the equivalent of the weight of the entire human population of 6.8 billion people. The amount of wastewater produced annually is about six times more water than exists in all the rivers of the world. A comprehensive new global study recently reported that 80% of the world’s rivers are now in peril, affecting 5 billion people on the planet. We are also mining our groundwater far faster than nature can replenish it, sucking it up to grow water-guzzling chemical-fed crops in deserts or to water thirsty cities that dump an astounding 200 trillion gallons of land-based water as waste in the oceans every year. The global mining industry sucks up another 200 trillion gallons, which it leaves behind as poison. Fully one third of global water withdrawals are now used to produce biofuels, enough water to feed the world. A recent global survey of groundwater found that the rate of depletion more than doubled in the last half century. If water was drained as rapidly from the Great Lakes, they would be bone dry in 80 years.

The global water crisis is the greatest ecological and human threat humanity has ever faced. As vast areas of the planet are becoming desert as we suck the remaining waters out of living ecosystems and drain remaining aquifers in India, China, Australia, most of Africa, all of the Middle East, Mexico, Southern Europe, US Southwest and other places. Dirty water is the biggest killer of children; every day more children die of water borne disease than HIV/AIDS, malaria and war together. In the global South, dirty water kills a child every three and a half seconds. And it is getting worse, fast. By 2030, global demand for water will exceed supply by 40%— an astounding figure foretelling of terrible suffering.

Knowing there will not be enough food and water for all in the near future, wealthy countries and global investment, pension and hedge funds are buying up land and water, fields and forests in the global South, creating a new wave of invasive colonialism that will have huge geo-political ramifications. Rich investors have already bought up an amount of land double the size of the United Kingdom in Africa alone.

We Simply Cannot Continue on the Present Path

I do not think it possible to exaggerate the threat to our earth and every living thing upon it. Quite simply we cannot continue on the path that brought us here. Einstein said that problems cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them. While mouthing platitudes about caring for the earth, most of our governments are deepening the crisis with new plans for expanded resource exploitation, unregulated free trade deals, more invasive investment, the privatization of absolutely everything and unlimited growth. This model of development is literally killing the planet.

Unlimited growth assumes unlimited resources, and this is the genesis of the crisis. Quite simply, to feed the increasing demands of our consumer based system, humans have seen nature as a great resource for our personal convenience and profit, not as a living ecosystem from which all life springs. So we have built our economic and development policies based on a human-centric model and assumed either that nature would never fail to provide or that, where it does fail, technology will save the day.

Two Problems that Hinder the Environmental Movement

From the perspective of the environmental movement, I see two problems that hinder us in our work to stop this carnage. The first is that, with notable exceptions, most environmental groups either have bought into the dominant model of development or feel incapable of changing it. The main form of environmental protection in industrialized countries is based on the regulatory system, legalizing the discharge of large amounts of toxics into the environment. Environmentalists work to minimize the damage from these systems, essentially fighting for inadequate laws based on curbing the worst practices, but leaving intact the system of economic globalization at the heart of the problem. Trapped inside this paradigm, many environmentalists essentially prop up a deeply flawed system, not imagining they are capable of creating another.

Hence, the support of false solutions such as carbon markets, which, in effect, privatize the atmosphere by creating a new form of property rights over natural resources. Carbon markets are predicated less on reducing emissions than on the desire to make carbon cuts as cheap as possible for large corporations.

Another false solution is the move to turn water into private property, which can then be hoarded, bought and sold on the open market. The latest proposals are for a water pollution market, similar to carbon markets, where companies and countries will buy and sell the right to pollute water. With this kind of privatization comes a loss of public oversight to manage and protect watersheds. Commodifying water renders an earth-centred vision for watersheds and ecosystems unattainable.

Then there is PES, or Payment for Ecological Services, which puts a price tag on ecological goods – clean air, water, soil etc, – and the services such as water purification, crop pollination and carbon sequestration that sustain them. A market model of PES is an agreement between the “holder” and the “consumer” of an ecosystem service, turning that service into an environmental property right. Clearly this system privatizes nature, be it a wetland, lake, forest plot or mountain, and sets the stage for private accumulation of nature by those wealthy enough to be able to buy, hoard sell and trade it. Already, northern hemisphere governments and private corporations are studying public/private/partnerships to set up lucrative PES projects in the global South. Says Friends of the Earth International, “Governments need to acknowledge that market-based mechanisms and the commodification of biodiversity have failed both biodiversity conservation and poverty alleviation.”

The second problem with our movement is one of silos. For too long environmentalists have toiled in isolation from those communities and groups working for human and social justice and for fundamental change to the system. On one hand are the scientists, scholars, and environmentalists warning of a looming ecological crisis and monitoring the decline of the world’s freshwater stocks, energy sources and biodiversity. On the other are the development experts, anti-poverty advocates, and NGOs working to address the inequitable access to food, water and health care and campaigning for these services, particularly in the global South. The assumption is that these are two different sets of problems, one needing a scientific and ecological solution, the other needing a financial solution based on pulling money from wealthy countries, institutions and organizations to find new resources for the poor.

The clearest example I have is in the area I know best, the freshwater crisis. It is finally becoming clear to even the most intransigent silo separatists that the ecological and human water crises are intricately linked, and that to deal effectively with either means dealing with both. The notion that inequitable access can be dealt with by finding more money to pump more groundwater is based on a misunderstanding that assumes unlimited supply, when in fact humans everywhere are overpumping groundwater supplies. Similarly, the hope that communities will cooperate in the restoration of their water systems when they are desperately poor and have no way of conserving or cleaning the limited sources they use is a cruel fantasy. The ecological health of the planet is intricately tied to the need for a just system of water distribution.

The global water justice movement (of which I have the honour of being deeply involved) is, I believe, successfully incorporating concerns about the growing ecological water crisis with the promotion of just economic, food and trade policies to ensure water for all. We strongly believe that fighting for equitable water in a world running out means taking better care of the water we have, not just finding supposedly endless new sources. Through countless gatherings where we took the time to really hear one another – especially grassroots groups and tribal peoples closest to the struggle – we developed a set of guiding principles and a vision for an alternative future that are universally accepted in our movement and have served us well in times of stress. We are also deeply critical of the trade and development policies of the World Trade Organization, the World Bank and the World Water Council (whom I call the “Lords of water”), and we openly challenge their model and authority.

Similarly, a fresh and exciting new movement exploded onto the scene in Copenhagen and set all the traditional players on their heads. The climate justice movement whose motto is Change the System, Not the Climate, arrived to challenge not only the stalemate of the government negotiators but the stale state of too cosy alliances between major environmental groups, international institutions and big business – the traditional “players” on the climate scene. Those climate justice warriors went on to gather at another meeting in Cochabamba, Bolivia, producing a powerful alternative declaration to the weak statement that came out of Copenhagen. The new document forged in Bolivia put the world on notice that business as usual is not on the climate agenda.

How the Commons Fits In

I deeply believe it is time for us to extend these powerful new movements, which fuse the analysis and hard work of the environmental community with the vision and commitment of the justice community, into a whole new form of governance that not only challenges the current model of unlimited growth and economic globalization but promotes an alternative that will allow us and the Earth to survive. Quite simply, human-centred governance systems are not working and we need new economic, development, and environmental policies as well as new laws that articulate an entirely different point of view from that which underpins most governance systems today. At the centre of this new paradigm is the need to protect natural ecosystems and to ensure the equitable and just sharing of their bounty. It also means the recovery of an old concept called the Commons.

The Commons is based on the notion that just by being members of the human family, we all have rights to certain common heritages, be they the atmosphere and oceans, freshwater and genetic diversity, or culture, language and wisdom. In most traditional societies, it was assumed that what belonged to one belonged to all. Many indigenous societies to this day cannot conceive of denying a person or a family basic access to food, air, land, water and livelihood. Many modern societies extended the same concept of universal access to the notion of a social Commons, creating education, health care and social security for all members of the community. Since adopting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, governments are obliged to protect the human rights, cultural diversity and food security of their citizens.

A central characteristic of the Commons is the need for careful collaborative management of shared resources by those who use them and allocation of access based on a set of priorities. A Commons is not a free-for-all. We are not talking about a return to the notion that nature’s capacity to sustain our ways is unlimited and anyone can use whatever they want, however they want, whenever they want. It is rooted rather in a sober and realistic assessment of the true damage that has already been unleashed on the world’s biological heritage as well as the knowledge that our ecosystems must be managed and shared in a way that protects them now and for all time.

Also to be recovered and expanded is the notion of the Public Trust Doctrine, a longstanding legal principle which holds that certain natural resources, particularly air, water and the oceans, are central to our very existence and therefore must be protected for the common good and not allowed to be appropriated for private gain. Under the Public Trust Doctrine, governments exercise their fiduciary responsibilities to sustain the essence of these resources for the long-term use and enjoyment of the entire populace, not just the privileged who can buy inequitable access.

The Public Trust Doctrine was first codified in 529 A.D. by Emperor Justinius who declared: “By the laws of nature, these things are common to all mankind: the air, running water, the sea and consequently the shores of the sea.” U.S. courts have referred to the Public Trust Doctrine as a “high, solemn and perpetual duty” and held that the states hold title to the lands under navigable waters “in trust for the people of the State.” Recently, Vermont used the Public Trust Doctrine to protect its groundwater from rampant exploitation, declaring that no one owns this resource but rather, it belongs to the people of Vermont and future generations. The new law also places a priority for this water in times of shortages: water for daily human use, sustainable food production and ecosystem protection takes precedence over water for industrial and commercial use.

An exciting new network of Canadian, American and First Nations communities around the Great Lakes is determined to have these lakes names a Commons, a public trust and a protected bioregion.

Equitable access to natural resources is another key character of the Commons. These resources are not there for the taking by private interests who can then deny them to anyone without means. The human right to land, food, water, health care and biodiversity are being codified as we speak from nation-state constitutions to the United Nations. Ellen Dorsey and colleagues have recently called for a human rights approach to development, where the most vulnerable and marginalized communities take priority in law and practice. They suggest renaming the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals the Millennium Development Rights and putting the voices of the poor at the centre.

This would require the meaningful involvement of those affected communities, especially Indigenous groups, in designing and implementing development strategies. Community-based governance is another basic tenet of the Commons.

Inspiring Successes Around the Globe

Another crucial tenet of the new paradigm is the need to put the natural world back into the centre of our existence. If we listen, nature will teach us how to live. Again, using the issue I know best, we know exactly what to do to create a secure water future: protection and restoration of watersheds; conservation; source protection; rainwater and storm water harvesting; local, sustainable food production; and meaningful laws to halt pollution. Martin Luther King Jr. said legislation may not change the heart but it will restrain the heartless.

Life and livelihoods have been returned to communities in Rajasthan, India, through a system of rainwater harvesting that has made desertified land bloom and rivers run again thanks to the collective action of villagers. The city of Salisbury South Australia, has become an international wonder for greening desertified land in the wake of historic low flows of the Murray River. It captures every drop of rain that falls from the sky and collects storm and wastewater and funnels it all through a series of wetlands, which clean it, to underground natural aquifers, which store it, until it is needed.

In a “debt for nature” swap, Canada, the U.S. and The Netherlands cancelled the debt owed to them by Colombia in exchange for the money being used for watershed restoration. The most exciting project is the restoration of 16 large wetland areas of the Bogotá River, which is badly contaminated, to pristine condition. Eventually the plan is to clean up the entire river. True to principles of the Commons, the indigenous peoples living on the sites were not removed, but rather, have become caretakers of these protected and sacred places.

The natural world also needs its own legal framework, what South African environmental lawyer Cormac Culllinen calls “wild law.” The quest is a body of law that recognizes the inherent rights of the environment, other species and water itself outside of their usefulness to humans. A wild law is a law to regulate human behaviour in order to protect the integrity of the earth and all species on it. It requires a change in the human relationship with the natural world from one of exploitation to one of democracy with other beings. If we are members of the earth’s community, then our rights must be balanced against those of plants, animals, rivers and ecosystems. In a world governed by wild law, the destructive, human-centred exploitation of the natural world would be unlawful. Humans would be prohibited from deliberately destroying functioning ecosystems or driving other species to extinction.

This kind of legal framework is already being established. The Indian Supreme Court has ruled that protection of natural lakes and ponds is akin to honouring the right to life – the most fundamental right of all according to the Court. Wild law was the inspiration behind an ordinance in Tamaqua Borough, Pennsylvania that recognized natural ecosystems and natural communities within the borough as “legal persons” for the purposes of stopping the dumping of sewage sludge on wild land. It has been used throughout New England in a series of local ordinances to prevent bottled water companies from setting up shop in the area. Residents of Mount Shasta California have put a wild law ordinance on the November 2010 ballot to prevent cloud seeding and bulk water extraction within city limits.

In 2008, Ecuador’s citizens voted two thirds in support of a new constitution, which says, “Natural communities and ecosystems possess the unalienable right to exist, flourish and evolve within Ecuador. Those rights shall be self-executing, and it shall be the duty and right of all Ecuadorian governments, communities, and individuals to enforce those rights.” Bolivia has recently amended its constitution to enshrine the philosophy of “living well” as a means of expressing concern with the current model of development and signifying affinity with nature and the need for humans to recognize inherent rights of the earth and other living beings. The government of Argentina recently moved to protect its glaciers by banning mining and oil drilling in ice zones. The law sets standards for protecting glaciers and surrounding ecosystems and creates penalties just for harming the country’s fresh water heritage.

The most far-reaching proposal for the protection of nature itself is the Universal Declaration on the Rights of Mother Earth that was drafted at the April 2010 World People’s Conference on Climate Change in Cochabamba, Bolivia and endorsed by the 35,000 participants there. We are writing a book setting out our case for this Declaration to the United Nations and the world. The intent is for it to become a companion document to the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Every now and then in history, the human race takes a collective step forward in its evolution. Such a time is upon us now as we begin to understand the urgent need to protect the earth and its ecosystems from which all life comes. The Universal Declaration on the Rights of Mother Earth must become a history-altering covenant toward a just and sustainable future for all.

What Can We Do Right Now?

What might this mean for funders and other who share these values? Well, let me be clear: the hard work of those fighting environmental destruction and injustice must continue. I am not suggesting for one moment that his work is not important or that the funding for this work is not needed. I do think however, that there are ways to move the agenda I have outlined here forward if we put our minds to it.

Anything that helps bridge the solitudes and silos is pure gold. Bringing together environmentalists and justice activists to understand one another’s work and perspective is crucial. Both sides have to dream into being – together – the world they know is possible and not settle for small improvements to the one we have. This means working for a whole different economic, trade and development model even while fighting the abuses existing in the current one. Given a choice between funding an environmental organization that basically supports the status quo with minor changes and one that promotes a justice agenda as well, I would argue for the latter.

Support that increases capacity at the base is also very important, as is funding that connects domestic to international struggle, always related even when not apparent. Funding for those projects and groups fighting to abolish or fundamentally change global trade and banking institutions that maintain corporate dominance and promote unlimited and unregulated growth is still essential.

How Clean Water Became a Human Right

We all, as well, have to find ways to thank and protect those groups and governments going out on a limb to promote an agenda for true change. A very good example is President Evo Morales of Bolivia, who brought the climate justice movement together in Cochabamba last April and is leading the campaign at the UN to promote the Rights of Mother Earth.

It was this small, poor, largely indigenous landlocked country, and its former coca-farmer president, that introduced a resolution to recognize the human right to water and sanitation this past June to the UN General Assembly, taking the whole UN community by surprise. The Bolivian UN Ambassador, Pablo Solon, decided he was fed up with the “commissions” and “further studies” and “expert consultations” that have managed to put off the question of the right to water for at least a decade at the UN and that it was time to put an “up or down” question to every country: do you or do you not support the human right to drinking water and sanitation?

A mad scramble ensued as a group of Anglo-Western countries, all promoting to some extent the notion of water as a private commodity, tried to derail the process and put off the vote. The U.S., Canada, the UK, Australia and New Zealand even cooked up a “consensus” resolution that was so bland everyone would likely have handily voted for it at an earlier date. But sitting beside the real thing, it looked like what it was – an attempt, yet again, to put off any meaningful commitment at the UN to the billions suffering from lack of clean water. When that didn’t work, they toiled behind the scenes to weaken the wording of the Bolivian resolution but to no avail. On July 28, 2010, the UN General Assembly overwhelmingly voted to adopt a resolution recognizing the human right to water and sanitation. One hundred and twenty two countries voted for the resolution; 41 abstained; not one had the courage to vote against.

I share this story with you not only because my team and I were deeply involved in the lead up to this historic vote and there for it the day it was presented, but because it was the culmination of work done by a movement operating on the principles I have outlined above.

We took the time to establish the common principles that water is a Commons that belongs to the earth, all species, and the future, and is a fundamental human right not to be appropriated for profit. We advocate for the Public Trust Doctrine in law at every level of government. We set out to build a movement that listens first and most to the poorest among us, especially indigenous and tribal voices. We work with communities and groups in other movements, especially those working on climate justice and trade justice. We understand the need for careful collaborative cooperation to restore the functioning of watersheds and we have come to revere the water that gives life to all things upon the Earth. While we clearly have much left to do, these water warriors inspire me and give me hope. They get me out of bed every morning to fight another day.

I believe I am in a room full of stewards and want, then to leave you with these words from Lord of the Rings. This is Gandalf speaking the night before he faces a terrible force that threatens all living beings. His words are for you.

“The rule of no realm is mine, but all worthy things that are in peril, as the world now stand, those are my care. And for my part, I shall not wholly fail in my task if anything passes through this night that can still grow fair, or bear fruit, and flower again in the days to come.
For I too am a steward, did you not know?” —J.R.R. Tolkien